By Swami Harshananda
Pañcatapas literally means ‘austerity involving five fires'.
Tapas or austerity is must before embarking any important venture or even for self-purification. One such tapas is pañcatapas or pañcāgnitapas. In this mode of austerity, the aspirant has to sit in the midst of four blazing agnis or fires in an open place, with the sun burning above his head as the fifth fire. He has to sit in their midst from dawn to dusk for a specified period after preparing himself ceremonially as per the prescribed rules. According to some, this is a substitute for the performance of Vedic sacrifices, while maintaining the duly consecrated Vedic fires. Śrī Śāradā Devi, the consort of Rāmakṛṣṇa Paramahaṅsa is known to have performed this tapas in A. D. 1893.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore