What is Achamanam meaning and it’s significance
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In Hindu Sanatana Dharma sampradaya / tradition any nitya / daily or Nymittika Karma always begins with a sacred ritual known as ‘Aachamanam’ followed by ‘Sankalpam’ which has a dharmic and adhyatmic / spiritual significance.
Aachamanam is very easy and very simplest of all the ‘Vaidika karmas’.
But still it is none the less in importance than even an ‘Aswamedha Yaagam’.
Aachamanam importance can be well understood and realized when we note that Aachamanam forms the prelude to all the rituals. We should note that ‘no Vedic karma begins without Aachamanam’.
Meaning of Aachamanam
If we have to explain in simple words then, the process of reciting the names of sarvottama / supreme Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu while performing ‘Jalapanam’ (sipping few drops of water) as per Vaidika Shastras / scripts is called Aachamanam.
Aachamanam is a purification ritual, wherein one sips some water three times from the Brahma Theertham (base of the right thumb) while reciting divine names of Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu.
This is done three times to make ourselves free from three shortcomings, that is, ‘Kayika’ (physical), ‘Vachika’ (verbal) and ‘Manasika’ (mental).
If may have observed in a temple that the priest offers theertham (sacred water) three times to us.
Here number three denotes Tridevas (that is, Sri Chatur Mukha Brahma Deva, Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu and Sri Maheshwara).
These Tridevas also represent the three gunas, that is, Rajasa, Satvika, and Tamasika.
(We should note that Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu is free from all these three gunas.Here only example is given, so that the less intelligent can easily understand the terminology.)
Same these gunas or states of mind are present in human beings also.
Aachamanam is an act of purifying the inner body (soul) by sipping some water while praying to Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu, the Primordial purushottama / best among all.
Aachamana literally means to sip some water.
But as a ritual part of the purification, it means to sip some water three times from the right hand and then to touch the various sense organs and parts of the body while calling out the divine names of Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu.
This form of purification is in vogue since time immemorial (since unknown time).
The physical benefit and uses of this exercise is that, by sipping some water thrice, the throat is cleared from ‘vaata’, ‘pitta’ and ‘kapha’ doshas / problems and one is then able to chant the mantra or recite divine names of Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu very clearly.
How we need to perform Aachamanam
Very simplest version of performing Aachamanam is:
1. Firstly, we need to take a spoonful (Uddharana) of water poured into the cupped palm of the right hand (in Sanskrit this process of hand is called ‘anjali’),
2. Secondly, we need to recite “Keshavaaya Swaaha” and sip that water without making noise with the Palm tipped back slightly from the base of the thumb in the name of Bhagavan Sri Keshava (right palm should be in the form of ‘anjali’).
3. Thirdly, same act is performed for the second time reciting of “Narayanaaya Swaaha” in the name of Bhagavan Sri Narayana.
4. Fourthly, the act is performed a third time reciting “Madhavaaya Swaaha” in the name of Bhagavan Sri Madhava.
(Please note that all the three names, that is, Sri Keshava, Sri Narayana and Sri Madhava are the names of Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu. All are same names, but with different forms of Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu.)
Above same act is again followed by reciting the other 21 names of Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu called ‘Keshava Naamas’ (names of Bhagavan Sri Keshava) by touching our various sensory organs and other parts of the body.
Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu different names with our corresponding body parts:
1. Govindaya Namaha and Vishnave Namaha
Both the hands are washed
2. Madhusudhanaya Namaha and Trivikramaya Namaha
Both the upper and lower lips are touched with the right hand fingers
3. Vamanaaya Namaha and Sridharaya Namaha
Left and right cheeks are touched
4. Hrusheekeshaya Namaha
Hands are touched
5. Padmanabhaaya Namaha
Sprinkle water on the feet
6. Damodaraaya Namaha
Centre of the head is touched with the middle finger
7. Sankarshanaaya Namaha
Nose edge is touched with the fist
8. Vasudevaaya Namaha and Pradhyumnaaya Namaha
Left and right nostrils are touched
9. Aniruddhaaya Namaha and Purushottamaaya Namaha
Right and left eyes are touched
10. Adhokshajaaya Namaha and Narasimhaaya Namaha
Right and left ears are touched
11. Achyutaaya Namaha
Navel portion is touched
12. Janardhanaaya Namaha
Chest is touched
13. Upendraaya Namaha
Head is touched
14. Haraye Namaha and Sri Krishnaya Namaha
Right and left shoulders are touched
Different types of Aachamanam
Aachamanam may be of variety of types arising from different shastras / scriptures, that is, ‘Vaidika’, ‘Srauta’, ‘Smartha’, ‘Pouranic’ and also ‘Tantric’ based on the ceremony / ritual being performed and on the line of learning that is being followed.
There can also be difference in the rules followed.
The difference may mainly lies in the mantras recited. Reciting of mantras during Aachamanam differs from place to place, region to region based on sampradaya / tradition.
In some places we find people recite Achyutaaya Namaha, Anantaaya Namaha, and Govindaaya Namaha in the beginning while sipping water three times and thereafter 24 Keshava Naamas are recited by touching the body parts with fingers.
Generally family sampradaya / tradition is followed.
Whatever may be the type of Aachamanam followed, it’s very objective is one and the same, that is, purification of the body, mind and aatma / soul.
It is said that Aachamanam should be performed twice at the beginning of ‘Sandyaavandana Kriya’ and once / twice at the end.
Practically, we find there are two types of Aachamanam which are in vogue and they are:
1. ‘Sroutaachamanam’ and
2. ‘Pouranikaachamanam’ (also called Smarthaachamanam.)
The one that is performed with Gayatri mantra is called ‘Sroutaachamanam’ and the one which is performed with ‘Keshavadi Naamas’ (Keshava and other names) is called ‘Pouranikaachamanam’.
Most of the people follow the system of ‘Pouranikaachamanam’.
It is said that while performing ‘Sandyaavandana Kriya’ one should follow the ‘Pouranikaachamanam’ and while performing ‘Brahma Yajna’ ‘Sroutaachaamanam’ should be followed.
How should be the Place & Posture while performing Aachamanam
1. The place we perform the Aachamanam should be purified, cleaned, should be free from any impurities.
2. One should sit on an asana (wooden mat preferably) facing East (first preference) or North (second preference, if East facing is not at all possible) in Padma or Swastika asana.
3. Knees and feet should not be protruding.
4. One should not stand while performing Aachamanam.
5. Always in Kukkutasana (hen-like posture) sitting down with the soles of the feet firmly planted on the ground, the hands between the knees.
How should be our hand posture
1. The right hand should be held so that the forefinger, middle finger and ring finger are together and slightly bent upwards.
2. While the little finger and the thumb are separated from the other three fingers.
1. Water used for Aachamanam (for sipping purpose) should be pure, clean, normal room temperature water, but should not hot, without foam or stagnation bubbles, without foul odour or bad taste.
2. Water should be untouched by fingernails or hair or any other impure items.
3. Water should be of the quantity to cover a grain of Urad Dal (Black gram) should be poured from the left hand by spoon (Uddharana) into the right palm.
4. One should say the appropriate mantras and sip the water from the Brahma Theertham of the right hand without making any noise.
In our Shastras it is said that a Brahmana should always perform Aachamanam using Brahma Theertham.
A Brahmana can also do it using ‘Rishi theertham’ and ‘Deva theertham’, but he should never do it using ‘Pitru theertham’.
This classification is done based on where we hold the water in our right hand:
1. If we hold it just below the thumb it is ‘Brahma Theertham’.
2. If we hold it just below the little finger it is ‘Rishi Theertham’
3. If we hold it at the edge of four fingers, then it is ‘Deva theertham’.
4. If we hold it between the thumb and the first finger it is called ‘Pitru Theertham’.
When we can perform Aachamanam
Aachamanam generally precedes all karmas. There are specific occasions when it is called for / prescribed. They are as below:
1. As a simple preliminary to all nitya and naimittika karmas like, Sandyavandanam, Devatha Archanam, Brahma Yajnam, Vedaadhyayanam, Pithru Yajnam (Shraddham / Tharpanam), Mantra Japam, Homam etc
2. Immediately after waking up in the morning
3. After completing urination and other forms of excretion
4. After brushing one’s teeth
5. Before and after taking bath
6. After wearing clothes
7. Before and after the meals
8. Speaking with or touching unsuitable persons
9. After telling a lie
10. Before and after giving or accepting alms or donation
11. After sneezing, shedding tears or blood
12. Upon physical contact with women
13. Before and after crossing a river
When we shouldn’t perform Aachamanam
1. Aachamanam should not at all be done in a standing posture.
2. Exception is, one may perform Aachamanam while standing if one is in water which is above the knees, but water should be below the navel.
3. Aachamanam is not to be done facing west or south. Should always be done facing east or north.
4. Aachamanam should not be done with impure or falling water as from a tap or rain,
5. But usually with water from a river or tank, or from a vessel held in the left hand.
6. When doing in a river or tank, the left hand should be touching the water.
7. It should not be performed casually and mindlessly: like while speaking to others, by wearing a shirt or footwear, with a covered head, with laughter etc.
8. It should be performed with bhakti / devotion and with the consciousness that one is uttering the holy names of the ‘Almighty Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu’ who purify and protect us.
9. Aachamanam should not be done wearing a Pavitram (Yagnopaveetham / Janeu).
10. While performing Aachamanam, Pavitram (Yagnopaveetham / Janeu) 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 Pavitram hurting the eyes.
When all the Aachamanam is forbidden
Aachamanam is not to be done immediately after taking ‘prasadam’ or sipping ‘theertham’. This is because as these are holy and pure and the symbolic act of purifying oneself through Aachamanam insults ones’ holiness and sacredness.
Exemption from Aachamanam
There is one more type of Aachamanam that is in vogue.
It often happens like this:
Even though we need to purify ourselves through Aachamanam, no water may be available at that particular time and place.
In such a situation our great shastras / scriptures prescribe an easy way of purification as below:
Just touching the tip of the nose and then the right ear uttering Pranava mantra.
It is based on the Shastras / Scriptural texts which say “Agni resides in the Brahmana’s nose tip and holy rivers like the Ganga and others in his right ear”.
Hence simply touching these two purifies a person immediately.
One may have keenly observed elders reciting names of Bhagavan like Sri Krishna, Sri Govinda etc, whenever they sneeze or yawn or cough etc.
Perhaps this is with respect to the above principle itself.
It is to be noted that this short cut is to be adopted only when performing regular Aachamanam is not at all possible.
Significance of Aachamanam
Jala / water is profusely glorified in our great Vedas and is used in Vedic rituals for sipping, touching to parts of the body, sprinkling over the body, and for bathing our body.
Taking pure, normal (room temperature) water internally is purifying and invigorating both physically and mentally.
When this is accompanied by utterance of the divine names of Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu, one becomes filled with adhyatmik / spiritual qualities.
Aachamanam is a standard and easy form of purification, prerequisite for meditation, pooja, homa and other sacred and holy activities.
1. A Brahmana becomes purified by performing Aachamanam if the water penetrates to the heart (i.e. by swallowing the water completely).
2. A Kshathriya becomes purified by performing Aachamanam if the water reaches his throat.
3. A Vysya becomes purified if the water reaches his palate (inside the mouth).
4. A Shudra or a woman becomes purified if the water touches his or her lips.
During Aachamanam, one touches various parts of the body because in different organs of the body are located various energies and their abhimani Devatas / deities.
It is said in our Shastras that, as per Bhagavan Sri Veda Vyasa Ji (he is also an avatar of Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu), all the Devatas / deities are propitiated by the intake of water with the naama / names of Sri Achyuta, Sri Ananta and Sri Govinda.
1. Wiping the lips pleases Ganga and Yamuna;
2. Touching the eyes pleases Surya and Chandra.
3. Similarly Asvini Devatas are propitiated by touching the nose,
4. Agni and Vayu by the ears.
5. With the Padmanabha mantra all the thirty-three crore Devatas / Deities are pleased.
6. And the Paramatma (Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu) is pleased by touching the head.
When mantras are recited / chanted, a lot of heat is produced in the body due to which the throat and the mouth can become dry.
Aachamanam done three times in a day, aims at remedying this dryness.
One need not drink mouthful of water in Aachamanam.
One needs to sip water as much as is required to make the mouth and throat wet and reach the heart.
It is said that any ritual performed without Aachamanam and Sankalpam do not yield any results and is useless.
All karmas performed without Aachamanam are destined to fail and would be indeed futile.
“Anaachamyakritam yachha yachha sankalpa varjitam rakshasam thattbhavet.”
It is said as per Sri Bhagavata Purana that, Bhagavan Sri Krishna had observed these rituals very strictly in his daily routine and shown to the world the significance of Aachamanam and Sankalpam.
(We need to note that Bhagavan Sri Vishnu or any of his avatars including Sri Krishna, need not do anything to please anyone or anything. Bhagavan is ‘aatma kaami’ and doesn’t need anyone’s help or support.)
Aachamanam and 24 Keshava Namas significances
Among the unlimited naamas / names of Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu (Vishnu Sahasranama), these 24 names called “Chaturvimshati Keshava Naamas” are very important.
We recite 24 names of Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu during Aachamanam, the first three while sipping water and remaining 21 while touching the body parts.
Those naamas / name are:
23. Hara, and
24. Sri Krishna
It is said in that ‘Manu Smruti’ compares these 24 names of the Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu with 24 tattvas (elements) of creation with which the universe is formed.
1. Kesava represents Avyaktha tattva,
2. Narayana represents Mahatattva,
3. Madhava represents Ahankara tattva, and
4. Govinda represents Manotattva.
5. Remaining twenty names represents
6. Pancha Gnanendriyas (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin),
7. Pancha karmendriyas, (hands, legs, speech, and two excretory organs),
8. Pancha Pranas (prana, apana, vyana, udana, and samana) and
9. Pancha Bhoothas (sky, water, fire, air, and earth).
It is believed that, the first three names Keshava, Narayana, Madhava are Taapatraya Nivarakas.
These 24 names also represent the 24 syllables of Gayatri Mantra called Beejaksharas that have influence on the human body.
For performing any Kriya / work, one should have Anthhakarana Suddhi (purity of inner body) that is possible only by praying Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu and by reciting Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu’s daivi / divine names (mantras). Also, the process of Aachamanam is only meant for that purpose.
By reciting 21 names, a person is getting purified from bodily and by reciting three names a person is getting purified internally also.
Reciting these names of sarvottama / supreme Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu is the link for bhakti / devotion, as it cleanses the inner body of the human being that helps in attaining quick results.
The name of Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu is so powerful that it has the capacity to vanquish any papa karma / sins and desires.
Whether it is done knowingly or unknowingly with or without understanding its meaning and significance, reciting daivi / divine name of Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu will never became a waste.
Best example we find in the story of Ajaamila as given in ‘Ajaamilopakhyanam’ of ‘Srimad Bhagavatam’:
In the story, as per called Ajaamila chants unknowingly the name of Bhagavan Sri Narayana at the time of his death and gets rid of all his sins which he had done until date.
The one that is done by knowing its meaning and significance will not only eliminate the sins but also helps in gaining the daivi / divine knowledge that leads to ultimate salvation, that is ‘moksha / mukti’.
Aachamana Vidhi / rules for inner cleansing as prescribed by our great Rushi
Bhagavan Sri Deva Vyasa Ji (He is an avatar of Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu)
We need to wash our hands and legs and face, keep the sacred thread (Yagnopaveetham / Janeu) in normal position, and keeping both hands in between the knees, we have to do Aachamana.
Later, we have to clean our teeth.
We need to make our right hand in the shape of the ear of the cow (form of ‘anjali’) and take water three times.
Then, we need to wipe our lips twice.
Keeping the thumb and little finger open and folding the other three fingers, we have to drink the water. This is called the Aachamana method.
Every time, you have to take water sufficient to drown a single grain of black gram.
Dharmic Aachamana should not be done standing or sitting firmly on a chair or with hands held outside the knees.
Immediately after meals Aachamana can be done sitting firmly on the earth.
We should not do Achamaneeyam with upper cloth worn on one side of the body or with cloth hiding the shoulders.
It should also not be done without sacred thread (Yagnopaveetham / Janeu), wearing dirty cloths and not tying the hair.
All activities following such wrong Aachamanam need to be repeated again.
If Aachamanam is done facing south or west, then we need to take bath again and perform Aachamanam again facing East or North.
Sri Yama Deva
While we are doing Aachamanam, we have to touch water (pot or river) with our left hand. This is because in the left hand reside the twelve Adityas as well as Varuna the Devata of water.
Water in the Bronze vessel, copper vessel and silver vessel will always pure and will be free of any bacterias. So we have to hold the Uddharana (ceremonial spoon) and take the water from the vessel and pour it in the right hand and do Aachamana.
Taking it directly by the left hand is considered equivalent to drinking of Alcohol.
The great and yet the simple Aachamana should be done using ‘Brahma theertha’ which should not be hot, facing east or north.
For getting clean we should bathe in water reaching up to the chest in case of Brahmana, reaching up to the neck in case of Kshatriya, reaching up to the mouth in case of Vysyas and reaching up to the bottom of the mouth in case of Shudras and ladies.
Aachamanam must be performed after bath, after taking food, after drinking fluids, after sneezing and after sleep.
If during chanting of mantra, we happen to see anything dirt, Aachamanam should be performed and chanting recommenced.
After eating mango, sugarcane piece, betel leaf and Soma Paana, there is no need to do Aachamanam. After taking the Vishnu Paada Theertha also Aachamana should not be performed.
Manu and Parasara are of the opinion that the sacred waters of the river like Ganges & other rivers, Sun, Varuna, Chandra, Fire and wind are always in the right ear of a Brahmama.
When we have to do Aachamana, at that time if we are not able to do Aachamanam for any reason, or if we are not able to get water for Aachamanam, we need only have to touch our right ear.
This is equivalent to Aachamanam. But this has to be done only during rarest of the rare cases.
During meals, Homa, taking of alms, eating, or giving of alms, we need to perform Aachamanam twice.
The water has to be taken after washing our both hands and legs.
The water that we see clearly should be used. The water which can just drown a black gram should be taken and it is sufficient if it reaches up to the chest.
After the Aachamanam, we have to close our lips and wipe the mouth by the base of the thumb twice.
Then we have to touch our mouth by all fingers held together.
It is said after this, all organs should be touched by the fingers.
We should drink the water by saying:
“Achyutaaya Namaha, Anantaaya Namaha and Keshavaaya Namaha”,
and touch the organs using fingers chanting the 12 names of Bhagavan Sri Maha Vishnu.
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