By Swami Harshananda
Śapatha literally means ‘special oath’.
In the ancient days, when a king could not decide whether a person brought before him as guilty was really guilty or not, due to lack of direct or circumstantial evidence, he could take to two methods:
- Divya - divine proof through ordeals
- Śapatha - oath
A śapatha is actually an oath taken by the accused to prove his innocence. Instances of śapathas are found in the Ṛgveda, the epics and the smṛtis. For example, Vasiṣṭha when accused, declares in the Rgveda
This is a śapatha. The king in such cases of śapathas had to wait for a week or the stipulated period, whichever is less, to know the results.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore