Atithi in Sanskrit means “the one who comes un-announced”. As per the principle of Atithidevobhava (the un-announced visitor is god), once this visitor gate-crashes at our home, the host would not ask this visitor to leave home till he or she leaves. I remember from my childhood how my parents followed this principle. We once had an unfamiliar visitor arrive from a village for some work in the city. Our house was recommended to him by a distant relative of ours. He stayed for several days until his work was completed and he left. He was fed well, given a place to sleep and no questions asked. Such is the magnanimity of the principle of atithidevobhava which is tied to the concept of “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam” (Universe itself is one family). Understandably it works well if the visitor and the host have a working knowledge of the magnanimous gesture. However, problems arise if the visitor has no such concept or disregards it for personal gain. In ancient India, necessary precautions have not been taken to understand the nature of such visitors leading to painful changes to the land and its people.
Here are 10 questions our ancient kings should have asked themselves when the Atithi (the un-announced visitor landed at their door step or the seashore.)
1. What is the reason for their arrival in India? Are they refugees, businessmen, tourists, or intruders? In other words, what agenda do they have, if any?
2. What is their pattern of belief and behaviour?
3. Are they eligible to be hosted?
4. What may be the repercussions to the society, land and dharma in future?
5. Am I (the king and now the common Indian) likely to be responsible for these repercussions in future?
6. What is their historical background? Do they have a track record of abuse, violence, deceit and persecution on their subjects?
7. Do they understand the concept of vasudaiva kutumbakam or do they carry primitive instincts of barbarism and dominance over others?
8. Are they enticing you with rewards and favours to be allowed entry and stay within the country?
9. Will I prioritize my and my nation’s Atmagauravam (self-respect) ahead of appeasing the visitors? Will there be any chance of danger to the land, finance and people?
10. If there is a chance that the visitors may indeed turn to be predators, will I fight with all my intellectual and military might to stay in my Svadharma?
Svadharma has been beautifully explained in Bhagavad Gita by Sri Krishna Paramatma.
śhreyān swa-dharmo viguṇaḥ para-dharmāt sv-anuṣhṭhitāt । swa-dharme nidhanaṁ śhreyaḥ para-dharmo bhayāvahaḥ ।। 3.35 ।।
"Even if there are excellent tenets in another dharma, you should adhere to your own dharma despite its flaws, as your dharma is the best for you. It is desirable to die within one’s own dharma as any other dharma is undesirable for you". Thus said SriKrishna Paramatma.
As Svadharma can be a tricky concept for some, let us go through this example. Rajesh is facing severe hardships in his parental home as they are financial broke, parents always quarrel and father drinks heavily. Rajesh often expressed disgust for having been born into this family. His friend, Charan, on the other hand has a beautiful and serene home with loving parents. You can say it is heaven. Charan and his parents suggest to Rajesh to come over and live in their house permanently and that they will adopt him. If Rajesh agrees to this suggestion and walks out of his parent’s lives then he has left his Svadharma. As per Svadharma, he could choose to study at Charan’s place but should make a commitment to gradually work with his parents to improve the situation at home.
Perhaps our ancestors have not gone through this systematic review of the Atithis (un-announced visitors) before granting them the right to enter the country. This magnanimous gesture has been misused by the foreign visitors for fulfilling their agendas leading to large scale destructions over several centuries to come. While religion itself was an alien concept to our land, religious fanaticism was unprecedented with crores either converted or killed. Temples and universities have been destroyed. Alas, these historical tragedies took place long time back and we were not witness to them. Hence it is not fair to criticize our benevolent ancestors without going through their experience. Centuries have passed.
India was declared an independent nation and the painful separation of our own motherland for no fault of ours. Even then we stayed sincere to our Dharma of Atithidevobhava and not only did we refrain from declaring our nation as our “Svadharma Rashtra” but we declared that all religions can co-exist in this Dharma Bhoomi. The irony is that the visitors turned persecutors declared their divided nation based on religion whereas we the victims remained inclusive as ever. Well those were yesteryears and it is not fair to assess our benevolent ancestors decisions as we haven’t witnessed what happened at that time. Decades have passed.
Now in 2020, we are yet again facing the same conundrum. Be it those who compromise on their and the nation’s Atmagauravam to allow infiltrations across the border for political gains, or those who leave their Svadharma to accept an alien religion turning a blind eye on the worldwide historical atrocities that have been committed by the adherents of these religions, or those who can’t dare to open their mouths for the fear of being labelled right wing or politically incorrect by the media, liberals and the international political experts, or those who let go of their Svadharma to neglect their native language and culture for the job fetching global language. If one looks carefully, all these are culprits in allowing un-invited visitors to not only enter in their lives and the nation but they are also facilitating these Atithis in the form of people, language and culture to settle down in the landscapes and mindscapes permanently thereby further accelerating the erasure of the already fading collective memories of our ancient roots.
In this context, we should ask ourselves this question. If there is such heavy price we pay as collateral damage of Atithidevobhava, then is this principle flawed? Or is the understanding and application of this principle that is flawed? There should be no doubt in our mind that the principle is sound as it has spiritual foundation for the welfare of the universal family. After all, it is common understanding that we are Atmaswaroopas (I am divine- Aham Brahmasmi) and we belong to the universe and not to the body. If someone believes that converting others by manipulation or force or annihilating civilizations in the name of god gives them a ticket to eternal bliss then they got it completely wrong. They are not going anywhere. Their karma brings them right back to another and lot more lives on our beautiful planet for them to learn all those important lessons of love and compassion and many more universal principals of Sanatana Dharma.
That said, henceforth, we should learn to be smart in applying Atithidevobhava only after the systematic review as listed above without compromising on Atmagauravam and Svadharma. While SriKrishna Paramatma would protect our eternal sanatana dharma and its followers, as stated in the sloka below, if we fail to be vigilant and do not apply our dharmic duties smartly, then Paramatma would not rescue us nor pardon us.
paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṁ vināśhāya cha duṣhkṛitām । dharma-sansthāpanārthāya sambhavāmi yuge yuge ।। 4.8 ।।