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[sv-rituals] Achamanam

From: sadagopan iyengar (
Date: Sat Aug 03 2002 - 08:34:34 PDT

      Srimate SrivanSatakopa Sri Vedanta Desika
Yatindra Mahadesikaya Nama:


        An Achamanam is the simplest of Vaidika
karmAs, yet none the less in importance than an
AsvamEdha Yagyam. Its importance can be well realised
when we note that it forms the prelude to all rituals.
No vaidika karma can be begun without an Achamanam. 

       What is the role of this short, simple act? Its
main function is to purify the body and the mind. One
may ask: before performing any ritual, we usually
bathe well, wear a pure cloth, and apply TirumaN to
the forehead and at eleven other places in the body,
and are as pure as can be. What indeed is the need for
another purificatory act, however short or simple? The
answer to this question lies in an analysis of the
ritual of Achamanam.
The act consists of sipping water in a cupped palm
thrice, to the accompaniment of the mantras “AchutAya
nama:, AnantAya nama: and GovindAya nama:, with the
PraNava preceding these nAmAs, and thereafter touching
twelve parts of the body with various fingers of the
right hand and the palm, chanting  twelve  holy names
of the Lord, all the while keeping the mind fixed on
Him. Simple as it may sound, there are many do’s and
don’ts relating to this function, some of which are
enumerated here.

Some of the don’ts first-
Achamanam in not to be done standing up, but always in
the “KukkutAsanam” or a hen-like posture, sitting down
with the soles of the feet firmly planted on the
ground, the hands between the knees.

Achamanam is not to be done facing the west or the
south, but always facing the east or the north. 
Achamanam should not be done with impure or falling
water, as from a tap or rain, but usually with water
from a river or tank, or from a vessel held in the
left hand. When doing this in a river or tank, the
left hand should be touching the water.
It should not be performed casually, while speaking to
others, wearing a shirt or footwear, with a covered
head, with laughter etc., but with devotion, and with
the consciousness that one is uttering the holy names
of the Almighty, which purify and protect.
Nor should it be done while wearing a “Pavithram”.
While performing an achamanam, the pavithram should be
kept in the gap between the right ear lobe and the
head. This is perhaps meant to avoid the sharp ends of
the pavithram hurting the eyes.

 Though an Achamanam generally precedes all karmAs,
there are specific mentions in the Smritis about the
occasions that call for one. These are enumerated
Immediately after waking up in the morning
After urination and other forms of excretion
After brushing one’s teeth
Before and after a bath
After wearing clothes
As a preliminary to all nitya and naimittika karmAs
(daily and occasional rituals) like Sandhyavandanam,
Brahmayagyam, Adharashakti tarpanam, VedAdhyayanam,
PitrutarpaNam, mantra japam,etc.
Before and after a meal
Speaking with or touching 
 Unsuitable persons
Before and after giving or accepting alms or donation
After sneezing, shedding tears or blood
Upon association with contact with women, blood, human
hair, fire, cows, cats, mice, refuse, etc.
Before and after crossing a river
The aforesaid are only indicative occasions for
Achamanam and not an exhaustive list.

It is not enough that water is sipped with the mantra-
it must reach the heart, and not merely stop with the
tongue, mouth or throat. This will be possible only if
enough water is taken in the cupped hand. Smritis lay
down that the quantum of water should be such that the
“Masha” rEkhA in the palm is immersed. This water is
to be conveyed into the mouth via the bottom of the
palm, known as the “Brahma TIrttham”.

It is a measure of this act’s significance that the
mantras accompanying it are acclaimed to be the
 The tirunAmAs Achyutha, Ananta, and Govinda are a
panacea for all ills, and destroy all disease, however
deep-rooted and serious, says Sage Vyasa-
“Achyuta Ananta Govinda nAma ucchAraNa bhEshajAt
  nasyanti sakalA: rOgA: satyam satyam vadAmyaham”
These words come from the mouth of one of the most
erudite, venerated sages, who was a master of the
Scriptures and the author of the Brahma SutrAs, whose
credibility is beyond question.
The Achyuta nAmA indicates the Lord’s attachment to
His devotees and His promise never to forsake them,
especially in times of distress.
It is significant that this tirumama has the akAra or
the letter A at the very beginning, because the letter
alone is considered very auspicious and symbolic of
Emperuman (“akAra: Vishnu vAchaka:”  “akArArtthO
Vishnu:” etc.)
The Ananta nAma describes Emperuman’s Paratvam or
supremacy. He is limitless-unlimited by time, place or
object (“dEsa, kAla, vastu paricchEda rAhityam”). He
pervades all objects, and is present always at all
places. Thus this sobriquet declares that the Lord is
capable of protecting His devotees.
The Govinda nAma indicates the Lord’s soulabhyam or
The omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient Lord took
birth in the midst of unlettered cowherds, sharing
fully in their happiness and sorrow, stealing butter
like an ordinary greedy mortal child and getting
punished for it, etc. If the Lord were to be only
supreme and inaccessible, He would not be of much
succour to us. On the other hand, if He were to be
accessible but not possess omnipotence, He wouldn’t be
capable of protecting and preserving us. This unique
combination of Paratvam and Soulabhyam makes Emperuman
both capable of and inclined to rush to the rescue of
souls in distress.

What better evidence of the efficacy of the Govinda
nAma do we need, than the episode of the Damsel in
Distress-Draupati. When she cried out “Govinda!
PundarIkAksha!Raksha mAm sharanAgatAm” the Lord
protected her modesty with bales of clothing appearing
miraculously to overwhelm even the powerful
DucchAsana, intent on disrobing her.
Sri LokAchArya goes to the extent of
saying:”Draupadikku Apatthil pudavai surandadu
tirunAmam irE”( it is indeed the Govinda nAma that
saved PanchAli’s modesty- by implication, this denies
the credit for this act of protection to the Lord
Himself, and ascribes the same to His tirunAmam). The
Acharya says that Emperuman’s holy names are more
powerful than He Himself is, lauding the comparative
greatness of the “Vachaka”( the name) over that of the
“VAchyam” ( the possessor of the name). Even when the
Lord is too far away to protect us, His hallowed name,
if it is on our tongue, will protect us immediately
(“avan doorastthan AnAlum idu kiiti nindru udavum”).
 The combination of the Achyuta, Ananta and Govinda
nAmAs has the effect of purifying us bodily and in
spirit, of destroying all disease, whether of the body
or the soul, of affording us constant protection, and
washing away all sin, past, present and future.
Thus it is out of their infinite mercy that the
Maharshis who authored the various Smritis prescribed
Achamanam as a prelude to and as a concluding act to
all vaidika karmAs, and even to our daily ablutions.

Though there is a wealth of information on Achamanam
to be found in the Ahnika granthAs, especially the one
by prakritam Srimad Azhagiasingar, Smritis and their
commentaries, notably the “Smriti MuktAphalam” etc.,
adiyen stops here, seeking the Bhagavatas’ permission
to cover some other aspects of this important
purificatory rite later. 

Srimate Sri LakshmINrsimha divya paduka sevaka
SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana yatindra Mahadesikaya

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