Ṛṇatraya (‘three debts’)

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Ṛṇatraya literally means ‘three debts'.

The idea of ṛṇatraya, the three debts under which every human being is born, has been referred in the Rgveda.[1] However it is more explicit in other Vedic literature like the Taittiriya Samhitā[2] and the Satapatha Brāhmana.[3] These ṛṇas are:

  1. Deva-ṛṇa - debt to gods : It is repaid by the performance of yajñas or Vedic sacrifices.
  2. Pitṛ-ṛṇa - debt to the manes : It is repaid by begetting sons and doing śrāddhas or obsequial ceremonies.
  3. Rṣi-ṛṇa - debt to the sages : It is repaid by svādhyāya[4] and tapas.[5]

Deva-ṛṇa may be repaid by worship of gods, fasting and other types of austerities also, if one is unable to perform yajñas. Sometimes two more ṛṇas are added as follows:

  1. Brāhmaṇa-rṇa - It is repaid by giving gifts to brāhmaṇas since they perform many religious rites for us.
  2. Ātma-ṛṇa - debt to the jīvātman, repaid by taking care of the body-mind complex properly.

The Mahābhārata[6] mentions an interesting aspect of debt, ānṛśaiṅsya[7] since we can live here only by the goodwill of others.


  1. Rgveda 8.32.16; 6.61.1
  2. Taittiriya Samhitā
  3. Satapatha Brāhmana
  4. Svādhyāya means study of the Vedas.
  5. Tapas means practicing austerities.
  6. Ādiparva 120. 17-20
  7. Ānṛśaiṅsya means not being cruel to other living beings.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore