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Pryascitta - The Theory and Principle*

In the foregoing chapter we have aeen that karma persist#

throughout the existence of the soul as a separate entity.


is known as the clinging or bondage of karma (karmabandha).


ia there no way out for release from this binding of karma?


it go on for eternity in a cycle of death# and births?


dharmasistras - rather all the scriptures are at one in declaring

that this release is possible only on attainment of true knowledge
of Brahman, the knowledge par excellence*
self i* the nnly criterion for the release.

So the realisation of
But here also a man

who has achieved the final realisation cannot escape the effects if
karma that has already begun its fruition, i.e. started yielding

its fruit (Prarabdha).

It may be stated here that actions are

classified under three groups viz. Sancita, prarabdha and krlyamana.

The first is the totality of accumulated deeds of all past existences,
the fruits of which have not been experienced.

The prarabdha action

as the very name signifies, is that which has started its fruition
with the present body as its basis and is the strongest among the

This is the strongest because it cannot be nullified even

when Brahman is realised.

Once it has started it cannot be checked

in the midway Juat as the tempo of an arrow shot from the string
of a bow cannot be held back.
Just as the potter*s wheel (Kulalchakra)
1. M a m Smrti_XII. 91-91
2. Bhagavad Gita 4.37 Sridhara Sviml on it Xtmajnana-svaru^oo agnity prarabhdhgkarma
Vyrtiriktani sarvayi karmlni bhasmlkaroti
3. Samkaraoarya on B.G. 4.37


goes on revolving till It* momentum 1* exhausted even after the

stick that rotate* it 1* removed, likewise prarabdha karma continue*
bearing it* fruit* *o long it* momentum continue* notwitstanding
the fact that the man concerned has attained God-realisation.


the often quoted passage of the Chandogya Up an i*ad observes *

"tasya tabadeba ohiram yabanna bimoksyd. atha sampatsy*"3
philosophy stresses on this theory again and aglan.

The VenAanta

What a person

goes on accumulating during the present existence or current cycle of

U f a 1* called Kriyamana and the next existence is determined by
the strongest among the sancita and kriyamana deeds put together.
There are certain Impediments in the realisation of the self
such as anger, greed, hatred etc.

When a person falls a prey to

these propensities he commits sin and his path of self realisation

is obstructed.

Thus to get rid of these handicapm^certain disciplines

are prescribed by the sastras such as giving gift, iapa etc. Over
above these, undergoing of some form of hardships and privations
are also enjoied when a person commits certain deeds knowingly or
inadvertently there is a fall.

This fall may be spiritual in the

sense that the impressions of bad deeds stick to the mind which are
carried away by the soul with its subtle body.

The fall again may

be social in as much as it disqualifies the person committing sin

from certain duties of his cast* and general social behaviour.
a person stives to be free from the shackles of karma and so to
attain liberation he must at the first instance neutralise the
effects of his sin.
3. Cha up. VI.N^,2..



Further, whenever there is a f a l l there is always a natural

urge in him to raise himself up, a desire fo r spiritual and social
reh abilitation .

Sin is often figu ra tively called 'mala1, dirt*

attached to the body.

I f the sin is the d irt o f the body and the

soul i t should be possible to wash i t away.

In the case of a

sp iritu al f a l l and accumulation o f d ir t the aim is fo r pu rification


In the case of social f a l l sastras prescribe rules fo r

retrievement (uddhara)* I t is here, that the need fo r the perfor

mance o f prayascitta comes in .

Thus there are twofold functions

o f prayascitta - pu rification and regaining o f so cia l mights.


Purposes of Prayascitta

YaJnavalkfC0.(III.22O) explains the purpose of prayascitta as

conceived by the dharma sastras v iz . purging of sin (or p u rifica tion ),
the sa tisfa ction of the sinner's mind, admission to intercourse with
a ll people and restoration of right to scriptural duties as w ell.
The f ir s t two pertain to mental and sp iritu al pu rifica tion and the
second pair to restoration of social righ ts.
The sin committed clings to the body of the person as d irt
sticks to a clo th .

Thus i t could safely be asserted that the main

purpose of prayascitta is to remove the d irt attached to the person the sinner and to purify him.

This, on the other hand, pu rifies

the mind of the sinner and thereby his inner atman is appeased.

4 . Prayas Viveka p.16

5. YaJ Smriti III 220


I t i s assumed that p u rificatio n of the mind i s an indispensable

condition fo r the higher stages of the moral l i f e .

Hense i t i s

necessary that he should not be led away by the mere Intensity of

the impulse of the moment.

The natural man shemld be purified and

sp iritu a lise d and should learn through a proper understanding ef his

inner nature to subordinate the lower to the higher impulses and
to maintain the balance and tra n q u illity of the soul which are the
pre-condition of proper eth ical valuation.
But the most important purpose served by the performance of
penance i s to restore back the sinner to h is caste d u tie s.


leads to a f a l l from caste statu s and in grave cases i t puts a

person outside the four varnas as an outcasts ( p a t it a ) ; in other
words, i t excommunicates the sinner.

He i s completely cut away from

a l l so c ia l Intercoursey religio u s communication, matrimonial a llia n c e s,

fam ily t i e s as declared by Mann.6 The performance of penances
resto res back to him the righ t of admission to Intercourse with a l l
people and the righ t to scrip tu ral d u ties.
In th is regard a pertinent question a rise s that has been a
matter of great controversy among the w riters on the dharma sa str a sj
whether an act of penance can remove the e ffe c ts of an act of sin?
The prime fa c ie view (pogrva-paksha) as stated by Gautama, the e a r lie s t
among the authors of the Dharma-sutras now extant i s that penances
should not be done, because the deed i s not exhausted (nahl karma
kslyate) - no action exhausts I t s e lf completely.
6. Menu Smrti IX. 238

Both the merits


and the demerit* generated by the aetion and only with the bringing
about of their proper effects*

Ho action ever disappear until they

That is what ig meant by the famous

have produced their effects.

assertion "no action is ever lost".

Hence the man who commits a

transgression must experience the tortures of hell, - the natural

consequence of that transgression*
transgression is possible.

Thus no expiation of any

Gautama concludes that the effect of his

not performing the prescribed expiatory rites would be that he shall

also transgress the obligatory lav j^rlng down such rite in the Vedas
thereby bringing in a further offence.
for the following reason.

This, however, is not right

Simply because the text lay down that

the rite shall be performed, such rite does not become compulsory
and it is only the omission of a compulsory act that involves sin.
All that is said is that through the performance of these rites the
man becomes cleaned.

This it is clear that the cleansing is the

purpose served by the expiatory rite.

So that when expiatory rites

are performed, one would wash off his sin, and this mould be done
because of the sin having been committed by the man himself.**
Thus a sin has twofold capacity i so far as it relates to
the inner self it leads to hell or ignominious rebirth and in its
social aspect it obstructs dealing among people in the form of
segregation from the society.

These consequences serve noth as

corrective and deterrent measure on the offender.

The elaborate

rites of the excommunication of the fallen (patita) and rehabilitation

in the society after he undergoes the required penances and punishment


are visible signs of the sinner's social responsibility,


theless, it is doubtful whether a purificatory rite performed can

nullify the sin.

A clear and definite view on this problem is

no where to be found.

In fact no convincing argument could be

deduced by the protagonists of Prayascitta against the indelibility

of karma and as a last resort they had to take shelter under the
Yedic statements of casual nature (arthavada) of the efficacy of
performing sacrifices in removal of sin.
As the origin of sin is ascertained from s*astra, so also one
must look to the sistras for means of its erodlction.

So Gautama

Dharma Sutra can also be quoted to support the argument laid down
in the above passages There they are in doubt if he should perform
a penance or he should not.

He further declares that he should not

do; because indeed an action does not perish.

he should perform.

The others hold that

For it is declared in the vedas, that he who

has offered a 'punostoma sacrifice may again come to partake of the

libation of soma.

Likewise one who has offered the vratyastoma -

sacrifice may practice the vow of celibacy from upanayana.

He who

offers the horse sacrifice conquers the sin of killing a Brahmana".

Manu perhaps has this controversy in view when he enjoins prayascitta
for sins committed intentionally although such an injunction seems
to be redundant after asserting that prayascitta is necessary even
for unintentional sins.

7. Gaut. Dh. Su. XIX. 3-9; Pra vlveka p.16

8. Manu Smrti ti.45


However, one eannot overlook the second Important and at

the same time visible purpose of prayascitta.

The expiatory

rites are effecting in removing the social stigma attaching to a

person who commits sin.

It is to this aspect of the matter that

the dharma slstras pay much attention as the term pataka', 'patana',
etc. signify.

Phraseitta - What it li
Prayascitta has been defined as an action which is an
unfailing Instrument for the destruction of sins* but produces no
further beneficial result.

Where an act is performed with a

desire for merit it cannot be called to have been done for atonement*
An action for purification purpose should always be devoid of any
desire or wish.

Most digests and commentaries rely on a verse which

is generally attributed to Angiras derive the word prayascitta*

from the combination of two words - i.e. - 'prayah' meaning 'tapes'
and 'citta' meaning resolve or firm belief.
This derivation thus,
stands to mean that prayascitta is so called because of its association with or emergence from a resolve to undergo hardship and
privation (tapas) or because of the firm belief that it will be a
means for the removal

of sin.

However, there are many more derivations

of the word put forward by different authorities.

Some such derirations

are briefly discussed in the following lines.

Hemadri refers to an unnamed bhasyakaras explanation viz*

9. Prayo riama tapah proktanj chitjtam nichaya mchayate

Tapo nlchayasamyuktam priyascittamiti smrtam.


praya' means destruction or omission or departure from normal life

citta' means Joining together - thus prayascitta or the whole
means making good what is lost.

Harita gives yefc;another definition

'prayata* means pure and 'cita* means collected) the work prayascitta
means such action as tapasf gifts, sacrifices whereby a man becomes
purified (prayata) and destroys his accumulated sins (%ita' being
equivalent to the term 'upacita') Just as clothes are made clean
by the use of salts, moist heat, putting in boiling water on the
fire and washing in water.

In Sayanas eommentory on the Sammildhana

Brahmana another derivation is suggested vis. 'prayah* consists of

two parts 'pra' and 'ayah* which means happening and finding of
the performance of what is enjoined and citta means knowledge and
so religious observers after knowing certain happening are called

According to the well-known texts of Manu and Yajnavalkjra.

supported by older authorities, a man who omits a prescribed act,

or performs a censurable one, or cleaves to sensual enjioyments,
must perform a penance.
Of all these definitions are offered by Angira is perhaps
true to the original sense and seems plausible also.
'prayah* has several meaning.

The word

That the word meant privation or

voluntary selfinfliction is clear from such as 'prayqpavesana*.

The word 'prayana* is also used in the same sense by Manu in such
expressions as 'prayanam rane*.

The word citta goes very often

with the word 'vrata' in the Saohitas and Upanishadas.

These two

words meant almost the samething with slight different shades.

perhaps used to mean determined undertaking and citta for mental



d .te rm in a tio n ..

So when Angira .a y . th at PAya

mean.' tapa.ya

which u l t i m a t e l y " * S f - l n f l l c t .d hard .h ip and p riv a tion and o it t a

mean. nl.eaya he made a near approaeh to the o r ig in a l purport of
the word P r iy c it t a .
Manu says therefore ( o f the Tenants o f the g u il t o f crimes
in former liv e s nen are born blin d and b d io t e tc * ) penances must
always be performed f o r the sake o f p u r ific a t io n , because those

whose sins have not been expiated are born w ith d is g r a c e fu l marks".
The work nityan* used by Manu here r e fe r s to that when a sin is
committed, a p ra y a scitta must n e c e s s a rily be performed and i t is
not l e f t to the v o li t i o n o f the sinner whether to perform i t or
n o t.

No option i s allow ed.

On the other hand Yijnavalkjta says t "When a men f a l l s to

perform what i s la id down and perform something which i s oensured,

he thereby s u ffe r s a f a l l and f o r that reason th at person should
undergo penanoe f o r the p u r ific a t io n o f h is s o u l" .


While commenting on th is verse explain s that by the expression

"What i s la id down to be perform ed", as the performance o f Sandhya,
Agnihotra and other n lty a karmas are compulsory in fu tu r e .


e t c . are a ls o in dicated as n ity a karmas which i s occasioned by s p e cia l

olrcum stances such as the con tact o f impure things and so on.


the word 'p r a y a s c it ta ' i s commonly employed in the sense o f p a rticu la r

r e lig io u s observance occasioned by s p e cia l circum stances and performed
f o r the purpose o f d e stru ctio n o f s in s .
11. Manu Snujtl X I. 52
12. YaJ Smr I I I . 219-220

When a penanoe is a ccord in g ly

performed tha inner Atman i appeaaad In being purified and the

world aa wall aa ia appeaaad to have aoolal intercourae with him.
Further MadhaVa while commenting on Paraaara ftarti derivea tha word
prayascitta aa that which quie terns the agitated heart of a ainner.
To him prayascitta ia that h e r e b y 'eitta'Cthe mind) of a repeniant
ainner ia made generally free (from amotion i.a. brought to a
normal atate) by tha Par sad (aaaambly of the learned).
Tha smrftia raiae a point whether penancea are nitya, naimittika
or kamya.
or action.

Hitya, naimittika and kimya are the three kinds of karma

Hitya acta are those daily acta like sandhya vandana,

Agnihotra etc. - which are obligatory and paraormed dialy aa a duty

and which if not performed lead to sinfulness) naimittika are those
acts which have to be dona only on soma special occasions as a bath
om an eclipieand kamya rites are those which are performed out of
desire to secure some object of desire, i.a. the sacrifice for
begetting a son called 'putresti'.

According to some amritikaras

'prayaacitta* ia a naimittika form of work.

Paraaara Madhaviya quotes

verses from Brhaspati which clearly takes it as naimittika.


Prayaa'cittas may be both kamya and naimittika according to Sulapini

who quotes the authority of Javala.
But Raghunandana regards it
as being for nitya, ksuaya and naimittika.

On the other hand,

Mltaksara says that the work *prayascitta* conventionally denotes a

certain act or riti of the naimittika type since it takes place
only when an occasion arises.

They are intended for the destruction

13. Kadhava,on P.S. Il.Pt.I p.3

14. ^Prayascittam yat kryate tannaimittikamucyate Para Ma.Il.Pt.|,P.7
15. Pra viv. p 17
E 3 . 2 3 0 - 'praynai UiiTmbUtchayam
.itw1 m l it.Ike Karma vlasse rurah".


of sin and therefor* being desired for removal of sin it may also
be called kamya action too.

Kinds of Prayascitta t
Penance and expiation are logical parts of the religious and
philosophical theories sincerely believed and accepted by the Hindus.
The numerous sins have innumerable corresponding rites of expiation
Here we do not intend to discuss the rites prescribed for vashixt
off individual sins, but shall discuss wily the modes as established
by the authors of dharma-sastras.

The following are the chief

mode of expiating different kinds of sin i

(a) Death * The following are some of the offences for the expiation
of which nothing save death is considered sufficient t adultery with
preceptor's wife, friend's wife, sister, wife of a pupil, daughterin-law, then again murdering a brahmana, stealing etc.


modes prescribed for expurgating the sin may be enumerated as follows*

Dying down on a hot iron bed, embracing a burning effigy made of
iron (surml), cutting down ones genital organ along with testioles,
to be devoured by dogs, pouring hot win* in the mouth etc.
(b> Krcchra - This appears to be a generic name in waich is included
a number of forms of expiation.

It is broadly divided into the

following kinds , (i) Ati krcchra <li) Tapta-Krcchra and (iii) Krcchratlkrcchra.

16. Hit on Yaj Smrti III.220 - "prayascittashabdaohaya* papaksayirthe

naimittik* karmavlsese rurah".


Krcchra consists in eating in the morning alone for three days,

subsisting during another three daye cm food obtained unasked for
and fasting during three days*

If while observing the above rules,

one eats at each meal only one mouthful, it will be called atikrcohra.
Tapta-krcchra is that form in which one has to drink the next
three days, hot ghee for another thr&e days and subsists on air for
the last three days.
Krcchratlkrcchra on the other hand, consists in subsisting on
water only.

Besides these V i s m mentions the following forms of

krcchra **>
prajapatiya,u*aka, mula, srlphala, parSka, sintupana, mahisantapana,
ati-santapana, tula-purusa, parua-krcchra.

(c) Candrayana i The general rules of kr,cohra ere applicable here

in this fora also.

The most noteworthy additional feature of

that one will eat on the day of the full moon fifteen

mouthfuls and during the dark half, dally diminish on. portion by
on. mouthful.

Then one will fast on the lew Moon day and during

the bright half daily Increase one's portion by one mouthful.

mod. tallies with th. name given to thi* form.


Gautama m o t i o n s

that to some other scholars the order i. just th. reverse.


mentions th. following form, of it , Java-madhya, piplliii-aadhya,

Yati-eandrayana, Sisu-oandrayana etc .17
Thsre is another sat of practices connected with the removal

17. Visnu.dh.S. TI.XLVI

of sin which present difficulties! end which are only recorded at

the very end of the vedlc period*

The Brahaana student is under

a duty of chastltyj if he fails in his duty he is required to make

an offering of an ass to the godess Hirrti* thereafter ihe goes
about clad in skin of the victim and begging for alms and declaring
to those from whom he begs about his sins.

The husband who sins

against his wife wears also an ass's skin and begs proclaiming that
h. ha. slimed against her.18

There are obviously many and ratted

elements of belief the element of confession Is clear In all

these cases . The wickedness 1. being mad. less by declaring,

second motive may be the warning of others of the nature of the

being with idiom they deal, to a primitive people, believing In the
Physical transfer of evil, such a warning





Is parallel with the fact that the guilty people are often barred
from any contact with the living.19
Expiations are generally meant to be both deterrent and refor

Modern penology also emphasise, these to be the proper ,1m

Of punishment.

The necessary conditions precedent to a prSyascltta

(expiation) are anutSpa (repentance) and up.ram. (W S olv. not to

commit the wrongful act again).
the repented mind.

The work prayascltta Itself Implies

Thu. repent*,., and contrition


. vital element

ih all ceremonial, of expiation. Irrespective of their form.

at the same time a means for proving repentance



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b worthy of th gift.

A person may give away the whole of his

wealth or a house with every household necessities.

It seems that

these actions are meant only for those who are rich and are competent
to donate extravagantly.

But a person with a limited source of

income cannot possibly give a way in gift so extravagantly and for

them different kinds of ejjpiations are laid down.

Further, donation

of the entire wealth perhaps refer to the case of a slayer who has
no good qualities but has ample wealth.

Making over of the entire

wealth refers to a person w h o has n o off-spring but one having an

off-spring may donate a house with all the household necessities.
D a n a is constituted by abandoning something that belongs to

That can be described as d 5 n a w h e n wealth is given according

to sastrlc as to reach a receiver who is a fit recipient

as defined in the sSstras.

Whatever is in this world, a most desirable

thing and what one prises most in one's house

m a y be given to a

m a n endowed with^good qualities by a donor who desires inexhaustible

(merit) from it.

According to Devala, that is proper subject for

a gift which has been acquired b y the donor himself without causing
pai n or loss to another or without w o r r y or trouble to himself,
whether it be small or valuable (or much).

The idea of sacrifice seems propitiation of gods and averting

th wrath of gods for the sin committed.

is not required or demanded by the God.

Sacrifice, it is believed,
Probably it is regarded

as a gift which pleases God, induces Him to forgive a man for his
transgression and enables erring man to retain his position which
was lost due to some erring.

Sacrifices, therefore, have an

expiatory or cleansing function or character.

Hanu lays down that

a brahman becomes free from all distresses by vedic recitations and

Japa is of three kinds as laid down by Laghu Harita.
are *


Vacika (audibly uttered), Dpaiisu (inaudibly uttered) and

manasa (mentally recited), each succeeding are being ten times


Maxxu lays down *

"the performance of japa is ten

times more efficacious than the sacrifices, prescribed by the rules

of the vedas, japa when carried on inaudibly is a hundred times
superior to sacrifices and mental revolution of mantras is thousand
times superior".
When japa accompanied with fasting is performed, that becomes
a superior mode of expiation.

In fact the word *prayah* means

'abhojanam' fasting which strictly means total abstinence from food

and drink but it also means light food restricted in quantity.

Gautama Dharma Sastra includes upavasa among the several means of

removing sins.
The same authority further includes upavasa among

When a person is observing fasting he must at the same time

24. Manu Sm?ti XI .33 .

26. Ibid X.85*87; Tas.dh.S.26.9.11; Visnu Dh.S.55.10-21
26. Gaut.Dh.8w. 19.11

restrict his action.

There is no doubt about the fact that fasting

helps in restraining the senses and therefore they are placed at

such a high position.
There are different vows prescribed for different sins. Of
these Krcchra and Cahdrayana are worth mentioning.,
penances are only divisions of these two.

The other

The word "krcchra" is a

significant term as it produces bodily mortification and thus is

in the nature of an austerity.

Totally abstaining from any other

food, on the first day one should mix and drink the fine materials
{forming the five gaqryas along with water in which kusa grass has
been boiled, and then fast on the second day and this procedure
constitutes a sahtipana krecha.

In the same context the word

Cahdrayana' is also significant.

That act is called Cahdrayana

wherein partaking of food is like and is regulated by the 'ayana'or

phase, of the moon (candra), i.e. by diminishing and increasing.
Now there being different kinds of sins, prayascittas prescribed
for them are also many.

Such sin has this or that kind of prayascitta

attached to it according to gravity attached to it.

When we pile

pu ill these prayascittas together, we find some qualities common

to them.

From this we can put forward a broad classification of

these prayascittas.

This classification can be drawn up as follows s

(a) Prayascittas involving death

(b) Prayascittas involving physical hardship
(c) Prayascittas involving mental agony in the form of repentance
and confession (azxutapa, khyapana) and public declaration.


(d) Prayascittas involving performance of sacred duties

(e) Prayascittas involving social segregation.
It would however he borne in mind that this classification
is not watertight in character.
several of them.

The same penance may involve

It is the preponderance of one or the other that

Justifies our classification.

This would be clear while dealing

with the different types of penances.

These principles aci discussed

in details in the following lines with reference to the prayascittas

connected with them.
(a) Prayascittas involving death *
The general rule for prlyasclttas of intentional murder of a
Brahman is the penance to end in death. This has been specifically
mentioned by both Manu and Yajnavalkpo.. According to Manu and
Yaj. if a ksatriya intentionally killed a brahmin he may at his will
enter a fight and if he were killed in such a fight he is free from
the taint of brihmana murder.
The sinner also may throw himself

headlong thrice into a biasing fire.

For a person who kills a

Brahman Unintentionally has to undergo the twelve-year sojourn

in a jungle living only on alms and carrying a skull as a mark of
Likewise for committing sin by drinking wine, the sinner must
expiate his sins by drinking hot liquor.
in death for the sinner.

This ultimately results

In a sin for violating the preceptor's bed

27. Manu Smrti XI.88} Yaj. Smr,ti III.246

28. Ibid XI.71) Ibid. Ill.248
29. Ibid.XI.71) Ibid. Ill.243

the sin n er has t o e x p ia te h im s e lf by s le e p in g in a heated ir o n bed

or he s h a ll embrace a b la z in g ir o n image o f woman.

There i s another

e x p ia t io n p rovid ed f o r th e same o ffe n c e as ManjR la y s down Having

cu t o f f h is pen is and t e s t i c l e s ) he s h a ll take them in h is jo in e d
hands and walk s t r a ig h t on towards the r e g io n o f E v i l S p i r i t s ) u n t il
he f a l l s down.50
A l l these e x p ia tio n s r e fe r r e d t o above are p rob a b ly f o r sins
committed in t e n t io n a lly as a l l o f them r e s u lt in death o f the sin n er.

i s to be noted a ls o th a t p r a y a s o itta s in v o lv in g death a re g e n e r a lly

p r e s c r ib e d f o r the mahapatakas o n ly .
noted above in t h is co n n ectio n .

T h is i s c le a r from the examples

We can quote the li n e s o f Apararka

t o support t h is v ie w s In cases o f in t e n t io n a lly committed maliapataka sin s th ey cannot be d e stro y ed by perform ance o f penances.
T h is is on ly so in the cases o f mahapatakas alone but in oth er oases
such as upapatakas e t c . sin s committed in t e n t io n a lly can be d e stroyed
through the perform ance o f penance.
I t i s h ea rten in g t o note th a t
in l a t e r sta ges th e p r a y a s o itta s In v o lv in g death are r a r e ly in s is t e d

T h is i s p o in ted out by the f a c t th a t many rem ission s are

p ro v id e d f o r these o ffe n c e s and i f the sin ner undergoes any o f those

penances he becomes f r e e from g u i l t .
( b ) P r a y a s o itta s In v o lv in g p h y s ic a l hardship s
P h y s ic a l hardship can be d iv id e d in t o two d iv is io n s t ( a )
by em an iation th a t i s e a tin g under r e s t r i c t i o n .

30. Manu^Smrti. E l .104-465

31 . Apura on Y a j . I I I . 2 2 6 .

D iff e r e n t v ra ta s

such as k rcch ras, caxdrayana and (b) by ann ih ilatio n such as ( i )

mutiiJatlon ( i i ) death on a b a ttle f ie ld or by drinking hot liquor

or giving protection a t the ris k of one*s l i f e or embracing a
tfcUng iron Image of a woman etc*

This l a t t e r kind of physical

hardship amounting in death has been described above*

So here wb

w ill discuss only th at which r e s u lt*in emaciation - physical

weakness and d is a b ility *
Most of the p ray ascittas emphasise the con tro llin g of senses
so these p ray ascittas as a rule require physical hardship.


otherwise the presence of th is idea can be f e l t almost in a l l kinds

of p ra y a scitta s in some way or the other*

The penance fo r brahmana

murder requires that the murderer should construct a hut in a fo re st

and dwell therein fo r twelve years and should su b sist on alms.


i t i s c le a r th at the sinner must lead a regulated l i f e fo r twelve

years in order to regain h is statu s in the society*
h is caste d u ties and i s branded from the so cie ty .

He f a l l s from
The commentators

are of opinion that the lig h te r p ray asolttas holds good only in the
case of unintentional k illin g of a Brahmin*
For most of the mahapitakas penances involving death i s

But there are also optional penances involving s e lf -

m ortificatio n are prescribed fo r them*

Manu lays down - He who

remains firm in h is vow, always chaste and with concentrated mind,

shakes o ff the sin of brahmana-slaying, on the completion of the
tw elfth year*
In connection with the case where wine has been
32* Manu Smrti XI .80

drunk unintentionally it is laid down that he should pass through

the following penanee - "for the expiation of the guilt of wine-drinking
he may, for one year eat only once at night either pieces of grain
or oil cake, put on cloth made of fur, keep his hair matted and
carry a sign indicating wine.33
Yajnavalk^a provide* four separate prlyascittas for 'govadha'
one of which is - "the killer of a cow should control his senses
for a month, should subsist on panchagavya (cow's urin, Cow-dung,
milk, curds and ghee) should sleep in a cowpen, should follow the
cows (by day) and at the end of a month donate a cow.34

In this

penance too, a rigorous and regulated life for the sinnir is pres

So controlling of different senses is the prime factor in

almost all the prSyascittas which do not involve death.

Fasting is

another physical hardship that a sinner has to undergo during

performance of expiation.

Fasting strictly means total abstinence

from food and drink) but it also means light diet restricted in
quantity and also in regards the nature of the articles taken.


can free himself of sins by taking of strenuous journey to all distant

sacred places.

Menu prescribes that a sinner may walk 100 yejanas

reciting one of the four vedas.36

The word krcchas is a significant term as it produces b o d ily

It is of the nature of an austerity.


attaining from any other food, on the flret day on. ehould ml* and
33. Manu Smrti XI .91
Smrti III.264-265
35. Manu Smrti XI.76


drink the five materials forming the five gavyas along with water
in which kusa grass has been boiled and then fast on the second
day and this procedure constitutes a Santapana krochra. In the
same way the wordoyana is also significant.

That act is called

candrayana wherein 'ayana* or partaking of food is restricted and

restricted in accordance with waning and growth of the lunar orb.
As Manu provides that for the rtinoval of the sin of the
murder of a brahaana (brahmahatya), the sinner may walk one hundred
'yojana' subsisting on limited food, controlling his senses and
reciting one of the foam vedas.

The most Important factor to be

marked here is the use of the words 'controlling the senses',

_ y
which is a pre-condition for all sorts of prayaccittas. Uttess and
otherwise a person control his senses there is no use in the perfor
mance of any sacred duties.

Moreover, a person commits a sin when

he fails to control his senses.

Failure to control the senses

always amounts to sin and crimes of some sort



So in order

to prevent him from committing any further error of that kind, it

has been coded that a person must control his senses if he wants
to perform any sacred duties to compensate for the error done.

As we have mentioned above gifts (dana) plfya a great role

in expiation of sin.

But accepting presents from censured persons,

trading, serving Sudras and speaking falsehood, make a rersonrde*

unworthy to receive gifts*

Further, killing of worms, insects ana

birds, eating anything kept close to spirituous liquor, stealing


fruit, firewood or flowers and offences which make one impure.

Even the women suffer degradation in the same way as men and their
penance is half of what it would he for men.
on account of contact with mortal sinners.

They suffer degradation

For such a person who

becomes Impure through such contact expressed provisions have been

laid down to purify himself through performance of an Isti.
(c) frayftggftttai. toglYlBlLIff&tek iffgrfftftUffl 1
Social segregation alone does not constitute any form of
prayascitta but all praymmcittas prescribed for grave sins generally
have a long and tidious course.

The period thus covered may have

twelve years of duration in some particular cases.

The sinner

remains out side the path of society and debarred from all religious
and social caste rights during this period.

Segregation thus

imposed itself becornea a part of the course of the prayascitta


This in turn produces deep repentance on the mind of

the sinner ending on a resolve not to repeat any more such acting
during the rest of his life.
This discussion leads us to another complicated question , i.e.,
whether a person after the performance of penance can associate himself
with good men if he is guilty of a wilful sin.

Some of tho Smrtis


opine that one who has performed the penance prescribed for a sin
does not fall into hell, but he cannot be allowed to associate with
good men (sistas), if he is guilty of a wilful sin.

Manu also sets

forth that one should not associate with those who siay children,
who return evil for the good done to them, who slay those that came


for protection and who kill women, even though they might have
become purifled by undergoing the appropriate penance.


holds that those who are awarded the highest fine should not be
allowed to associate themselves with others and talk to them.
But as we have mentioned above one of the purpose of prayascitta
is to make sinners free to associate with others.

By the perfor

mance of penances the person becomes free to associate himself with

others, but it does in no way save him from undergoing the consequences
of committing a sin, especially when it is committed wilfully.
Prayascittas involving mental privation i

Mow we revert to the next principle of prayascittas i.e. mental

privation and agony in the form of repentance and confession and
subjecting oneself to public censure.

This prlN&ple is very much

present even in the prayascittas for the murder of a Brahmin.

Prayascitta vlveka lays down the penance for a brahmin murder in the
following light - the murderer of a brahmana should construct a hut
in a forest and dwell therein for twelve year* should subsist on alms
and should carry a piece oc the head bones of the murdered man on
a staff.
The main purpose of this penance is probably to bring
about rependance and confession in the form of public declaration
The Mitaksara commenting on Yajnavalkpaadds to the above description
of the penance of a murderer of a brahmana that the staff with the
head bone is symbolic to remind him and other of his being guilty

36. Mar. Sm^i Sahas a verse II

37. Pra Viveka p.63

of a brahmana murder.

Prayasoitta-Sara provides that sinner

should announce sin entering a v illa g e fo r begging alms.


confession and repentance play ah major role in expiating a sin .39

Ap.DwS. declares that the person undergoing a penance fo r being
an abhispsta or for un justly forsaking h is wife or fo r the murder
of a karned brahmana has to declare h is misdeed while begging for
alms to support him self.

Manu holds that the vedic students who

are g u ilty of sexual intercourse has also to proclaim h is lapse

while begging fo r alms a t seven houses.41 Manu Smrti further
Indicates fiv e ways of ejqpiatlng sin t by confession, by repentance,
by a u ste r itie s (ta p a s), by recitin g the Yeda(^SS2yJg*a)and by
ch a ritie s (dana).42 I t has been la id down that the more a mind
loathes h is own e v il deed the more does h is body become freed from
Efljformance of acrd

Performance of sacred duties is almost invariably recommended

throughout the works on p ra y ascitta.

This along with the principle

of physical hardship is conspicuous by i t s presence in the entire

arena of pray ascitta*

Manu prescribes that the murderer of a

brahmana may perform the Asvamedha sa c rific e or Osava or Abhljit

or V isv a jit or the three fold Agnistut.

The Asvamedha could to

performed only by a king or an eiqperor (Sam raj). Visnudharma Sutra

that a l l persons gu ilty of any of the mahapatakas are purified

41. Manu Smyti X I.122

42. Ibid X I.226
43. Ibid X I.229-30


by the performance o f Asvomedha or by undertaking a Journey to a l l

the sacred p la ce s .
But these do not c le a r ly emphasise whether
these sacred a cts can d estro* s in .

A ll that i s a id i s that these

a c ts p u r ify one Mho performs them.

Probably the word f pur i f tca tim *

used here im plies that he who performs these sacred a cts a ft e r

committing a sin bee ernes capable o f mixing with other people in the
s o c ie t y making h im self fr e e from the sta in a risin g from the sin
Importance o f r e c itin g the Veda f o r ex p ia tion is m anifold.
In some cases i t p u r ifie s the person who wishes to undergo p ra y a scltta s
and in some other i t i s one o f the procedures o f a p ra y a scitta .
V ir t u a lly i t amounts to the same th in g . This is c le a r in the verse
o f Manu ( X I .76) and YaJ . ( I I I . 249) ..the murderer should r e c it e in a
f o r e s t th rice the Samhita te x ts of the Veda while su bsistin g on lim ited
fo o d .

Here r e c it a t io n o f the Samhita is a procedural part o f the

penance i t s e l f .
G ift o f wealth (dana) a lso has been given a very prominent
p la ce in the modes

o f e x p ia tio n .

Manu as w ell as Yajnavalkya lay

down that the murderer o f a brahmana may make a g i f t o f the en tire

amount o f h is wefath to a brahmana who has studied the Veda,

So as

to be s u f f ic ie n t f o r the la t t e r to maintain h im self throughout h is

l i f e with a house with a l l p a ra p h e rn a lia .^

4 4 . Visnu Dh.S. 35.6

4 5 . Manu Smrti X I .75, Y aj. Smrti I I I . 250


Gautama provides that gold, a cow, a dress, a horse, land

sesamum, clarified butter and food are the gifts that is to be
donated (which destroy sin) and may be optionally undergone as
46 /
penance if no express mention is made thereof.
Yas. quotes
several verses on gifts one of which states "whatever sin a man
distressed for livelihood commits he is purified from that by giving
land even if it be as small in extent as *g o c a r i n a * O 00 C vaV3'u *
It is believed that going on a pilgrimage and bathing in such

holy rivers as the Ganges, frees a man from sins.

Yisnu Dharma Sastra

lays down that those guilty of a m&h&pataka may become pure by

Asvamedha sacrifice or by visiting all the sacred places on the earth.
Parasara prescribes pilgrimage to see Hama's bridge to Lanka for a
murderer of brahmana who has studied the Yedas.
Manu lays down 'sixteen pranayamas attended by the vyahrtis
and pranava (omkara), if performed every day, would purify after a
month even the murderer of a bhruna (of a learned Brahmana)'.
Yas. Dharma Sastra provides that on the proper performance of three
pranayamas all the sins committed by day or in the night are at once
Yajnavalkya states that for the removi.1 of all sins
for which no special expiation is provided by the texts are hundred
_ _

pranayamas should be performed.
Baqdhayana Dharma Sastra prescribes
that he who considers himself impure should offer burnt oblations


Gaut. Dh. S. XIX.16

Va/. Dh.S. 29.16
Vis .Dh.S . 36.6
ParS Smrti XII.58

50. Manu Smrti X I .247

51. Yarf". Dh.S.26.1-3
62. YaJ. Smrti III.305


reciting the Kusmanda mantras, that he who has forbidden Intercourse

becomes even like a thief or even like a slayer of a learned brahmana
and that by performing homa with kusmandas he becomes free from any
sin that is less than the murder of a brahmana.


provides that whenever a twice born man feels himself mixed up in

heavy sins he should perform a homa with sesame with the sacred

Giyatri mantra.
Both Manu and Vasistha bay u that a brahmana
becomes free from all distresses by Yedie recitations (Japa) and
sacrifices (homa).

As the sacrifice was regarded as a gift which

pleased Gods and induced him to forgive a man for transgress ion, so
it had an expiatory or cleansing function or character.
Japa i.e. recitation of the Vedic passage is another important
function of the prayascitta in expiation of sin.
of Japa was highly spiritual.

The original idea

Japa at the highest level was

contemplation of God and endeavour to attain unity with God.


demands three things, purity of heart, detachment and placing oneself

in the hands of God.
Manu provides that a sin unintentionally committed is explained
by recitation of Vedic passages.
He again lays down 'the performance
of Japa is ten times more efficacious than the sacrifices (like
Darsapuranamasa) prescribed by the rules of the Veda) Japa when carried
on inaudibly is a hundred times superior (to sacrifices) and mental
revolution of mantras is a thousand times superior.'

Band. dh.8. III.7.1

YaJ.Smrti III.309
Ves'. dh.S.26.16
Manu Smrtl XI .45
Ibid. Ii. 85-87


brahmana attain s perfection by japa.

Hanu a sse r ts that the f ir e of vedic study consumes g u ilt caused

by e v il deeds Ju st as a f ir e burning strongly consumes even green
trees or that a brahmana who remembers Egveda in not tained by any
g u ilt , though he may have destroyed the three worlds and have eaten
the food of any person whatever.


Austerity (tapas) also plays a prominent role in p ray ascitta.

Hanu declares that those gu ilty of mahapatakas and others gu ilty $
of e v il deeds are fre d from sin s by w ell-practised tapas and that
whatever sins are committed by people in thought, word and bodily
action are a l l quickly burnt up by tap as.
Hanu further says that
au sterity i s one of the ways of expiatory sin .
Apart from th is , Hanu enumerates even other causes known as
causes of lo ss of c a ste , causes of degradation to mixed c a ste s,
causes rendering one u n fit to receive g i f t s and causes making one
impure. "Giving pain to a Brahmana (by a blow), smelling things
which ought not to be smelt or drinking of spirituous liq u o r,
cheating and an unnatural offence with a man are declared to cause
lo ss of c a ste .

K illin g a donkey, a horse, a camel, a deer, an

elephant, a goat, a sheep and likewise of a f is h , a snake, or a

buffalo must be known to degrade the offender to a mixed c a ste ."
P ray ascitta for sins committed intentionally and unintentionally


The opinions of the scholars d iffe r as to whether prayascittas


Ib id .
Ib id .
Ib id .
Ib id .

X I.261-262
XI 238-240
X I.226
XI. 69-6%


can destroy sins committed both intentionally and inintentionally.

H A o s t all scholars are positive that sins committed unintentionally
are destroyed by prayascittas or by studying Veda*

But the difficult*

arises with sins cosimitted intentionally or with full knowledge.

Thus^a detailed discussion on the topic is necessary.
As we have mentioned above, it has been held by some scholars
that no action is ever lost ( na hi karma kslyate)
no expiation of any transgression is possible.


This view has been

refuted on the ground that the main purpose of expiatory rites is

So that when expiatory rites are performed one would
wash off his sins and become pure."
According to some scholars acts committed through ignorance
or without any Intention do not Involve sins because when a man
commits an act unintentionally he is not the doer of the met.


one is called the 'doer* of an act only when he does it intentionally

But this has been refuted by Medhatithi on the ground that a man
can be a 'doer' even without knowing it as when he falls down a
river bank.

Thus it can safely be asserted at this juncture that

acts committed unintentionally incur sin through a lighter expiation

is prescribed for them. Yajnavalkya also lays down 'wfcatever sin is
committed unconsciously that is removed by means of penances'.

Gautama states two views which are also accepted by Vasistha.

One holding that prayascitta should not be performed since deeds

62. 'Prayasclttam Visudhyarthe- Yaj. Smrtl III.221

63. Ibid.
III. 221


are not destroyed (except by experiencing the consequences thereof),

the other view holding that priyascittas ahould be performed for
the removal of the effects of sin.***
two contradictory statements*

B o t h these statements Imply

They d o not clearly say w h i c h way

to take, i*e., whether to perform penances or not.

Again this does

not clearly state whether referred to here imply intentional or

unintentional acts.

Manu, however, states that according to some

prayascittas m a y be prescribed for the removal of intentionally

committed sins from indication contained in the Veda.


while commenting on this verse says that this declaration has been
made for the purpose of indicating that in cases of intentional
offence, the eaqalatory rite should be of a particularly serious

This conclusion has b e e n drawn basing the arguments on

the Vedic texts indicating that prayascittas m a y be prescribed for

the removal of Intentionally committed sins.

It is found in the

U p a havya Brahmana (the story of tfpahavya) - "Indra gave away the

ascetics to the dogs".

Such giving away could never have been

unintentional and yet the story goes it was for the purpose of
expiating this sin that Prajapati made over Upanavya to Indra.
M i taksara commenting on Yajnavalkya on the other hand holds
that prayascittas do not destroy sins Intentionally committed but
the sinner undergoing the prescribed penance becomes fit to be
associated with others.


Qau. dh. Su. 19.3*6) Vasistha dh. S. 22. 2-5

M a n u Smrtl XI. 4 5
K X t h a k a Sam VIII. 5) Ait. Bra. 35.2) T a i Sam. V I .2.7.5
Hit. on Yaj. Smrti 221


M a n u






























n o










v i e w










h i m





f r o m










m a n

f rom









u n i ntentionally,





















P a r ij a t a





















h im

















n o
















H e n # *







m a h a p a t a k a s .














knowing l y


























l o w


















d . S u t r a





X I .88






















decided by the Smrtis. Still. We can atleaat draw some assumption

from the language of the text.

For example speaking about dana

(gift) it has been declared by Brhaspati that "whatever sin a man

in distress commits he is purified from that by giving away and
in gift even if the land so made over is smi.ll in extent of the
measure known as gocarma . 70

Medhatithi commenting on Manu remarks

that the verse implies that as to sins arising from injury to

living being gifts are the principal expiations . 71
But the difficulty arista with the Text of Manu which lays
down that a sin unintentionally committed is expiated by the recita
tion of Vedic texts as prayers, but that which men in their folly
commit Intentionally is expiated by prayascltta . 72

So this verse

makes it clear that the recitation of the Veda, gift etc. are enough
for expiating a sin unintentionally committed.

Manu XI.261-262 goes

so far as to assert that the fire of Veda study consume, guilt caused
by evil deeds just as a fire burning strongly consumes even treesoor
that a brahmana who remember Rgveda (studied by him) is not tainted
by any guilt, though he may have destroyed the three worlds and have
eaten the food of any person.

But this probably is a lamdatory

erse and should not be taken literally.

Vas', d. 8 . clearly lays

down that one should not become addicted to evil deeds relying on
the power of the Veda . 73

So the effects of actions done through

ignorance and negligence are alone consumed by the study of the Veda
and not those of actions committed intentionally.
70, Brh, 3. SI 7-8 - O o c a r m a ^ U ) A m.asure of land 300 hast, x
Pjot of land where a thousand cows with
^c * San
be accommodated
7, M
difficulty.8 Brh*
I .8-9.
vwauBOUaiea without
71. Medha on Manu XI.138

,l8nu Smrti XI .46 73. Vas 0*8.27.4.


We can presume on the basis of the text of Yajnavalkya that

these penances do not destroy sins intentionally committed but the
sinners when perform# such sacred acts become fit to be associated
with other people.74

But as we have mentioned above that the sins

intentionally committed are expiated with prayascittas involving

greater efforts and hardship.

In the same way gift, visit to

sacred places etc. being of the nature of penance can expiate a

sin intentionally committed provided they are more arduous and
heavier than the ordinary ones.
It is interesting to note that *he prayascitta prescribed for
certain sins is almost similar n nature with the act of the sin
hot liquor.

A drinker of liquor must expiate himself by drinking

An act of incest is to be expiated by embracing a red

hot iron image of a woman.

These are, in all probability are the

remnants of the earlier form of punishments meted out to persons

guilty of such crimes or sins.

Nevertheless towards later period

__ x
some substitutes for these heavy prayascittas are found and are

About those sins in regard to which no specific expiation has
been prescribed, or those whose commitment may be only suspected
and not definitely proved or ascertained Gautama lays down t
"these namely, a combination of these two krcchra and Atikrcchra
and the Candrayana form the penance in the cases of all sins".

74. Yaj. Smrti III.226j

75. Gau. d. 3. XIX.20

Manu Smrti X I .46


Candrayana may also be undergone not as a penance but for the

purpose of accumulating merit mod happiness.
In that case of
course it is not priyascltta.

Yajnavalkya on the other hand

observes that in regard to which no direction has been given, the

purification is by the Candrayana.
Mitaksara commenting on this
verse lays down that the use of the word 'cha' in that verse refers
to prajapatya and others too.
Pravasoltta for being an accessory t o i J a i
We have discussed in details the definitions of these in the
first chapter.

Here we are only to discuss how far they are

responsible for the performance of a penance in destroying the guilt.

Mitiksara lays down that an instigator, an abetter etc. lm responsible
for the offence and they must undergo penances keeping pace with the
heavy or light nature of the offence.

If the aot done by the abetter

or accomplice belong to the lightest category, they must also undergo

a heavy expiation.

The instigator though he himself does not perform

the act yet due to his association with the offence is blended with
the sin and consequently must undergo penance for self-purification.
while commenting on Yajnavalkya
lays down i In the

case of the supporter instigator and other, however, the choice as

to the prayaseltta is to be determined with due regard to the guilt.
There the supporter (anugrahaka) should perform a quarter less of

76. Gau. dfc 8. XXVII1.18

77. YaJ. Smrti III-. 326


the p ray asclttas than of the man whom he supports and who has
incurred the p ra y a sc ltta s.

Therefore, for him one fo r twelve years,

one quarter le s s i . e . for nine years, while for the in stigato r

(prayojaka) h alf le s s i . e . six years should be performed.


anumanta, moreover, should perform for h alf and one quarter i .e .

fo r three years.
Parasara Madhaviya puts forth two views concerning the efficacy
of p ray aseitta and also c ite s the view of Babdhayana that there i s
no p ray asclttas fo r sins committed knowingly as well as the view
of Anglras that the penance i s double in the la te r case.

Manu lays

down to support the same view, "A sin which has keen committed
involuntarily in expiated by the study of the vedas.

That, however,

which has been intentionally committed through illu sio n i s expiated

by penances of various s o r ts ."

The tex t of Mitaksara a lso says

"For a man who intentionally commits a heinous sin in any manner no

expiation has been stated excepting throwing himself down from a
height or into the f i r e . "
That in case of Intentional offence,
the expiatory r ite should be of a p articu larly serious nature.
So now with regard to the purpose of p ray aseitta i t could be
said that sins committed through ignorance can be diminished
through the performance of penance.
purging of sin .

In such case there i s to ta l

But a sin committed Intentionally cannot be absorbed

or destroyed so e a s ily .

In such cases generally penances m aterialise

only to the extent of right ^admission with members of the society
78. K it. on Y aj. Smrti I I I . 227
79. Manu Smrti XI .46
80. Mit. on'YaJ. Smrti I I I . 221


to which the sinner belongs but no further.

There can never be

destruction of sins unless and otherwise the sinner performs

penance ending in death or penance double than the ordinary one.
Regarding this Sulapani says that even in the case of sins committed
wilfully the sins are removed but the sinners remain unassociable.
Bhanadeva also supports this view and holds that such men will
remain publicly denounced.

Sulapanif however, agrees with Mitaksara

that in the case of repetition the penance will be threefold and

in the case of wilful commission it will be double.
Secret penances (Rahasya-Prayascitt&l
Prayascittas *e of two kinds i prakasa (undergone openly)
and rahasya (undergone secretly)

He whose sin is not known by

the people other than persons concerned in committing might perform

the penance secretly l.e. without disclosing it.

Thus in such sins

as enjoying a woman in a guilty manner, the secret vow of penance

holds good in the case of him whose sin is not known by any other
than that particular woman, she too, being concerned in the act.
This is because of the fact that prayascitta being of the reformative
type and being ethical in nature the sinner may undergo it without
anybody having any knowledge of it.

This gives him a chance to

associate himself again with the people of the society without causing
any disturbance in the functioning of the social order.

It may so

happen that if the people came to know about the sin he may not be
accepted in the society even after he performs the particular

If the expiator himself is an adept in the dharma sastra

then he need not le t any other know about the sin and observe the
penance best suited for the sin committed.

But when he i s one who

i s not himself learned in i t , then he should learn i t through the

pretext of some indefinite person.

For th is very reason, even in

the case of women and Sudras, i t i s possible to know the form of

secret penance in the same way and are en titled to the performance
of such penance.

I t i s argued by some that as the meditative

repetition of mantras form the chief feature of the secret vows of

penance, women and Sudras are not en titled to them.

But th is is

refuted on the ground that meditative repetition does not exclusively

form the chief feature of the secret vows of penance but even g i f t
making e tc . have also been ordained fo r the same purpose.
However, the reason for making provision fo r secret penances
i t s e l f remains a secret and the Smrtikaras or the nibandhakaras
have not cared to explain why some penances may be performed secretly
or why some persons may be exempted from openly confessing or
declaring th eir sin s.

I t i s also not stated clearly who are the

persons who may be allowed to confine h i. sin . to himself and perform

expiatory r it e s without le ttin g other person, to know anything about
U L H^re the 8iXiner Can do away vjLth th f i r s t requirement of a
p ra y ssc itta i . e , making a confessional statement (khyipana) as
by Manu.79 In a l l probability th is was a t f i r s t a concession
reserved for extreme oases when a confessional statement or public
declaration of a .in committed secretly might lead to serious so cial
repurcusslon and even p o lit ic a l d isa s te r .
79. Manu Smrti XI.226

This was perhaps origin ally


meant for persons like the king whose personal behaviour had much
to do with the life of the people and any swerving from the
righteous path on the part of such persons might act as an indirect
encouragement to the ordinary people forperformamee of similar sinful

The law of a country, even today, grant certain privileges

to heads of the state and even to legislators.

Exemption and


The whole idea of prayascitta is to punish the sinner for

the transgression done in the moral order of the society.
in it a reformative overtone.

It has

The aim of prayascitta is to

the sinner repent for the act done by him and to dissuade him from
repeating the act in future.

In order to meet this end it has to

make many exemptions and remissions.

We discuss in short below the

exemption and remission of the prayascitta offered in various

circumstances and for various reasons.
The sages observed that some of the penances mentioned in the
old Smrtis were terrible Ind involved loss of life.


gradually more humane and easier penances came to be prescribed.

Harita states 'brihmanas who have studied dharmasastra should
prescribe a penance appropriate to the age, the time and the strength
or physical capacity of the brlhmana (sinner), the sinner being such
that he may not lose hi. life and yet may be purified, one should
not prescribe an observance that will cause great distress to the

As times changed Smrtikaras became flexible and easier

80. Harita Quoted by Parasara Hdhabiya II.1.235 page



substitutes (called pratyamnayas) were formed and prescribed* Prayas.

Sara States that if a sinner is unable to undergo Prajlpatya penance,
he may donate the full price of a cow (dhenumulya).
provides four substitutes for a Prajapatya penance viz. the recital
of the famous Gayatri mantra ten thousand or two hundred
pranayamas or bathing twelve times in a sacred watery place after
drying the head on each bath, or taking to a journey of two yojanas
towards a holy place.
The Caturvixsisatlmata quoted by Pra. Mayukha
provides several pratyamniyas for prajapatya viz. recital of Gayatri
ten thousand times, standing in water, gift of a cow to a brahmana these four are equal as also a thousand homas with S e a s o n m ,recitation

of the whole Samhita of the Veda, feeding twelve brahmanas.
ultimately proves that there was a sliding scale of penances ultimately
ending in feeding brahmana or making monetary or other presents
to them.

For example, the Hit* says that in the case of the twelve

years' penance, optionally 360 prajapatyas could be performed, each

pra jap a ty a extending over twelve days, that if a man was unable to
undergo this he should donate as many (i.e. 360) milch cows, if
that was impossible he may donate their price or 360 Niskas or even
half or quarter thereof.
Penance for expiating Brihmana slaughter
lasting for twelve yaars and so on, of which some are heavy and some
are light in accordance with the expiator's caste, ability, quality
and so on.


Prayas Sara p.203

PaTasara Smrtl XII. 63-64
Pra. Han. p.26
Hit on Vaj. Smrti III. 326


Thus i t can be gathered that the nature o f p ra y a scitta d i f f e r s

in accordance with the con d ition and etatu s o f the person concerned
whether they are c h ild r e n , a d u lts , males and fem ales and Brahmins
or some other varnas.

In p rescrib in g a prSTyascitta tim e, age, a b ilit y

and the sin should be considered and concession i s o ffe r e d to d iffe r e n t

sin s and penances with con sid era tion to those f a c t o r s .
P re scrip tio n o f penance should be governed by con sid era tion
o f age f o r one who i s n in ety years old or f o r one who i s under
twelve years o f age, a penance la s tin g f o r twelve years i s p rescrib ed ,
then these may r e s u lt in the lo s s o f th e ir very l i v e s and th erefore
penance p rescribed should vary according to age f a c t o r .

Some Smrtis

lik e Brhad yama and Sankha sta te that a boy over f i v e years o f age
and le s s than eleven years o ld , i f g u ilt y o f some patakas such as
drinking sura, has not to undergo penance p e rso n a lly , but h is b roth er,
fa th e r or other r e la tiv e or fr ie n d has to undergo i t f o r him and
that i f a ch ild is l e s s than f iv e years then whatever a ct i t may do,
i t is n ot deemed a c r ia e , nor is i t a sin and i t i s not lia b l e to
any le g a l penalty n ot to any p r a y a s c itta .86
the p r in c ip ie while commenting on Y iJ .86

H it. a ls o lays down

He comments that these

v erses are not meant to p rescrib e a t o t a l absence o f prayasCitta in

case o f ch ild ren o f f iv e or l e s s but are meant to convey that tney
are not lia b le f o r f u l l prayasCitta p rescribed fo r a s in .
The ca ste of the offen d er as w ell as o f the v ictim m kes a
d iffe r e n c e in the prayasC itta.
IS* 5?had yana I I I . 1-2
88. H it on Y a j. 8mrti I I I .243

The M it. quoting Angiral says that


the rules about punishments apply to prayasolttas for slaying a person

l*e. if a brahmana slays anybody and a certain penance is prescribed
to him, then a ksatriya killing the person would have to perform
double the penance prescribed for the brahmana and a vaisya offender
three times as much.

Hit. on Taj lays down that one who has violated

his Guru's bed shall perform penance ending in death where the
Guru's wife is of one's own varna, and a twelve years penance if she
is of inferior Varna*87

If we go through the different kinds of

prayasolttas we would see that for expiating a particular sin

different procedures of prayascitta are prescribed.

Of these prayas-

cittas the first in the list is generally harder in nature and mostly
ends in death.

But along with it some lighter penances are also

prescribed which are easy to undergo and through performing them

one could purify himself.

These remissions (anukalpa) are of later

period and mark a sociological change in the Indian society.

Modes of prayascitta depended also on the question whether
a sinner had repeated

the lapse or was a first offender.

If the

person commits the sin for the first time the penance is of lighter
nature but if it is a repeated one the nature of penance becomes

The Ap. Dharma Sastra prescribes that a brahm ana who has

once committed adultery with a married woman of equal class shall

perform one-fourth of the penance prescribed for a Sudra having
intercourse with a woman of the three upper castes, that for every
repetition of the sin one fourth of the penance must be added and

87. Hit. on Taj. Smrtl III.260


if he commit* adultery for the fourth time, the whole penance of

twelve year* must he performed*


The H i t on Yaj. remarks that

when a sin is repeated then for the repeated lapse prayascitta is

four times as much as that for the same deed done unintentionally
for the first time.
Procedure to appear, before ft
One guilty of sin, though himself an adept in deciding the
meaning of all ^astras, shall appear before a Parisad and act
according to the direction of the Parisad.

The rule laid down for

that is expressed in Pray. Sara in the following way.

When it is

known beyond doubt that sin has been committed, one without partaking
of food should appoa* before a parsad.

But one who eats, increases

his sin so long as he does not confess it before a parsat.
man, along with his dress, shall bathe with restrained speech and
with his wet clothes on and being attentive shall at the desire of
the Parsat, declare the whole truth.

He shall accept the vow of

penance prescribed by them and bathing similarly again shall observe

the vow of penance.

Moreover, declaration of the sin must be made

after the offeringofo a fee to the Parsat.

On performing such aets

and postrating himself on the ground, the elders of the assembly ask
the man 'what is your business, what 1* the trouble and what do you
ask from us?

The assembly then asks him to go aside a little and

debate among themselves what the penance should be, considering

88* Ap. Dh.S. II. 10.27. 11-13

89. Mit on Yaj Smrti III. 293
90. Prayas" Sara Pi7. 17-20

all the circumstance* of time, place, nature of the lapse.


ne of them at the desire of the assembly should declare the

assembly*s decision as to the proper penance after citing the Smrti
passages and reducing the penance in view of the weakness and oth^r
circumstances of the offender.

Thus the principal stages in a

penance were four vis,. approaching the Pariftad, the declaration of

the appropriate penance by the parlsad, the actual performance of
the penance deolared and the announcing of the sinner*s freedom
from taint.
Constitution of the Assembly
low we pass over to the constitution of the assembly.


in different places, has laid down the constituent parts of the

assembly. "One who is well versed in the three Vedas, a Haituka,
a logician, one who is well versed in Nlrukta, one who has studied
to the first three Ashrams - (an assembly of these) not less than
ten is called Par sat.
A Haituka as referred to above, is one who
has understood the real nature of the teachings of Mlmimsa and the
like sciences and a logician is he ttoo has mastered the solenoe of
Similftly, two other sorts or parsats have been pointed out
by Manu himself s "He who has mas t e n d the Rgveda, he who has
mastered the Yajurveda, and also he who has mastered the Slmaveda
are declared to be another sort of Parsat in deciding doubtful points

91. Manu Smrti XII* XIJ




, H

, U

. Q

f l









cow-dung, holy water etc., drink clarified butter, make a declaration

of performing the penance indicated by the assembly of the learned

On the next day he should bathe, perform s'riddha, drink

Panchagavya, should perform homa, give daksina (gold, cow, etc.)

to the brahmanas and feed them.

Parasara says that at the end of

the rite of the penance panchagavya should be taken and one, two



__ /

three or four cows should be donated respectively to a brahmana,


/m m

ksatriya, a vaishya and a

lays down

that when undertaking a penance one should begin with the mantra
"Agne vratapate vratam oarisyami" and when finishing a penance one
should repeat the mantra.
It is believed that if a person does not undergo penances
then the king had jurisdiction to make him do so or punish under

But it is very doubtful whether he exercised jurisdiction in

all cases.

Society also had a weapon in its hand viz. that of

excommunication by ghatasphota prescribed.


This question will be

dealt with in details in the next chapter i.e. ohapter on danda.

Those who do not perform penances out of hertisay are in the
first instance dealt with by the people of their respective commu*
nities, who must ostracise them in the Indian style.

For the effect

of a penance is the fitness for social fellowship (sanvyava^haryata).

Secondly, they come under the provisions of danda (criminal law)
and are inflicted as corporal punishment and fines.

If, however,

they perform the due penances fines alone are to be imposed on them.

93. Par alar a Smrti XI .3

94. Pra ?iv 603-506) Pra Sara 200-203) Pra Praklsa 38b to