By Swami Harshananda
Aghamarṣaṇa literally means ‘destroyer of sins’.
Sandhyā or sandhyākarma or sandhyā van-dana is a fundamental Vedic ritual obligatory on all the dvijas (the ‘twice born,’ viz., the brāhmaṇas, the kṣattriyas and the vaiśyas). It is essentially an upāsanā (meditation, spiritual practice) and has several steps designed to elevate the mind to the level of meditation and mysticism.
Aghamarṣaṇa is one such step in the process. It consists of taking a few drops of water in the right hand shaped like the gokarṇa (the ear of a cow), holding it near the nose and breathing out from the nose on the water (with the idea of driving away sin from oneself). This action is accompanied with the three Rgvedic verses beginning with ‘ṛtarh ca’ and throwing away the water to one’s left on the ground.
Though the subject matter of these mantras is creation and the Creator, the mantras themselves are reputed to be ‘aghamarṣana’ or sin-effacing. These mantras can also be repeated during bath as an expiation of sins. The mantras beginning with ‘hiraṇya- śṛngaiii varuṇam. prapadye’ and ending with ‘ākrāntsamudrah’ which forms a part of the Mahānārāyana Upanisad are known as Aghamarsanasukta. The three ṛks of the aghamarṣaṇa ritual (‘ṛtarn ca’) are also included in this. This Aghamarsanasukta is normally recited while taking bath in ponds or rivers. It is accredited with the power of destroying all sins, whether ordinary ones like the one incurred by eating the food given by evil ones or heinous ones like committing adultery and murder of the embryo.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore