Bhumidana in Ancient India: A Religious and Spiritual Perspective


Dr Rajeev Pratap *
In India, the act of dana (The nearest English equivalent for
word „dana‟ is „the act of giving‟ „oblation‟, „donation‟, „gift‟;
Monier Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary. p. 474)1
has been
highly appreciated right from earliest times. There are danastutis
(eulogies of gifts) in the Rigveda (1.125)2
in which the gifts made by
king and dana in general are eulogised. Among the objects gifted, the
most important are cows. In Rigveda (1.126.3)3 Kaksivat represents
that he received sixty thousand cows from Svanaya, along with ten
chariots to each of which four bays of horses were yoked and in
which young girls were seated. Right from the Rigvedic times, the
literature on dana is of enoromous extent. Satapatha Brahmana,
Aitareya Brahmana, Chhandogya Upanishad, Puranas, Matsya(82-
91 and 274-89: Agni 208-215-217; Varaha 99-111)4
Anusasanaparva of Mahabharata, Smiritis particularly Manu,
Yajnavalkya, Brahaspati etc. contain numerous verses on dana.
There are treatises especially devoted to the subject of dana, the most
important being, Hemadri‟s Danakhanda of Caturvarga Cintamani;
Danakriyakaumudi of Govindananda, the Danamayukha of
Nilakantha, Danaprakasa of Mitramisra and Dana of Ballalasena etc.
The ancient Dharamasastras clearly made a distinction
between yaga, homa and dana. The yaga is constituted by
abandoning something that belongs to one, intending it for a deity
and accompanying it with vedic mantra. The homa is offering into
fire something belonging to oneself over which one abandons one’s
ownership and which is (thing) intended for a deity.
Dana consists in the cessation of one’s ownership over a
thing and creating the ownership of another over that thing and this
last occurs when the other accepts the thing, and the acceptance may
be mental or vocal or physical; (vide Sabra on JaiminiIV. 2. 28, VII.
1.5, IX. 4.32 and the Mitaksara on Yajnavalkyasmriti II. 27)5
. The
Mitakasara explains that physical acceptance may be effected in
various ways such as by actually receiving the thing in one‟s hand or
by simply touching it. Yajnavalkyasmriti illustrates this, “one should

  • Assistant Professor, Amity University Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow
    Bhumidana in Ancient India: A Religious and Spiritual Perspective 451
    give (and the donee may accept) a deer skin (by touching it) on the
    hairy side, a cow by its tail, all elephant by its trunk, a horse by its
    mane, a female slave by (touching) her head.” The Mitaksara adds
    that as it is impossible to accept a field physically (except by
    enjoying its fruits), its acceptance is effected by some enjoyment,
    however small, of its produce. According to Dharamasastras, merely
    taking the thing does not constitute the pratigraha(acceptance of
    gift). The pratigrahais applicable only to a particular kind’ of
    acceptance viz., when a person accepts what is given by the donor
    with the idea that he (the donor) will drive from that act some unseen
    spiritual merit (adrsta-punya) and when in making the gift a vedic
    mantra is repeated. Without the recitation of vedic mantra the
    acceptance of all article given means that it is given through affection
    to a friend or to a servant. Devala (as quoted by Aparark p. 287 and
    Hemadri Danakhandap. 13)6
    , defines dana (the sastric kind) as “that
    is described as dana when wealth is given according to sastricrites so
    as to reach a receiver who is fit recipient as defined in the sastra”.
    Devala defines six constituents (angas) or dana viz. (i) the donor
    (data), (ii) the donee(patra), (iii) charitable attitude (shraddha), (vi)
    the subject of gift (deya) which must have been acquired by the
    donor in proper way, (v) a proper time (kala), and (vi) a proper place
    (desa).(Devala quoted by Hemadri in Danakhanda: p.14)7
    It is important to discuss these six constituents (angas) of
    danain some detail :
  1. Data (Donor) : According to sastras anyone could give dana
    including women and sudras and much emphasis has been laid for
    making dana. According to Devala, the donor should be free from
    incurable diseases, be religious, charitably inclined, free from vices,
    pure, and following a blameless profession for livelihood. It appears
    that even in early times, though dana was so much eulogised, there
    were few donors. Several smritis note that it is a rare sight to see a
    map. giving. away in charity wealth earned by him. Vedavyasa
    (IV.60)8
    says· “amongst of hundred men, one may be found to be
    brave. among thousands one learned man, among hundreds of
    thousands an orator, but a donor mayor may not be found.”
  2. Patra(Donee) : About the person who is fit to be a donee(patra)
    Daksha (III.17-18)9
    states “a gift made to one’s parents, guru, friend,
    to a well conducted man, to one who has laid the donor under
    obligation, to the poor, the helpless, those endowed with special
    excellence, leads to rewards while gifts made to rogues, to bards, to
    wrestlers, to those who devote time to bad lores, to gamblers and
    452 JIGYASA, ISSN 0974-7648, Vol. 12, No. III, April 2019
    deceitful persons, to catas, to caranasand thieves brings no fruit or
    merit”.
    Manu (IV. 193-200)10
    , Vedavyasa (IV.55-56)11
    . Brhat
    Parasara (VIII. 24-42)12
    , Gautam (III.508-509)13 and Vanaparva (II
    .5-9)14 lay down not only who deserves to receive the gift but also
    what would not bring fruits, if given in donation. They very clearly
    lay down that Brahmanas who are wicked, do not know Vedas,
    addicted to bad actions, do not perform sandhya, etc. do not deserve
    to receive the gift. Similarly, wealth acquired, by unjust mean, fruits
    left by others etc. cannot be given as gift because it will not bring any
    religious merit.
  3. Shraddha(Charitable attitude) : Devala (quoted by Aparaka.
    288)15 says that when on seeing a needy person, the donor feels
    pleasure and indicates it by a similar face, when he shows honour and
    is free from a feeling of ill-will or irritation (towards the suppliant),
    that is said to be shraddha. Manusmriti (IV.235)16 says that he who
    gives a gift with honour and he who accepts it with honour both go to
    heaven, but if the reverse is the case they go to hell.
  4. Deya(Subject of gift) : Numerous rules are laid down about the
    things that can be the subject of gifts (deya). Anusasanaparvaof
    Mahabharata (59.7)17; Markandeya Purana (35.52-53)18; Matsya
    Purana (72.39)19; and Vishnu Purana (92.32)20; mention that
    whatever is the most desirable thing in this world and what one prizes
    most in one‟s house may be given to a man endowed with good
    qualities by a donor who desires inexhaustible (merit) from it.
    According to (quoted by Aparaka:290; Asvamedhicparva: 90.96-97;
    Agni Purana211.1)21; that is a proper subject for a gift, which has
    been acquired by the donor himself without causing pain or loss to
    another or without worry or trouble to himself, whether it be small or
    valuable (or much). It is not the extent of gift that causes greater or
    lesser merit. Merit (punya) of gifts depends upon the mental attitude,
    the capacity of the giver and the way in which the donor acquired his
    wealth and with shraddha he is giving.
    Anusasanaparva of Mahabbarata mentions that the gifts of
    three things are said to be superior to the gift of anything else and are
    known as atidana viz., of cows, land and Sarasvati(vidya). After
    eulogising the gift in a very eloquent way VedaVyasa, (IV.30-31)22
    ,
    Yajnavalkya (II.175)23 and Baudhayan Dharmasatra(II.3.19)24 very
    clearly lay down that one should make gift in such a way that it does
    not cause hardship to the family and those dependent on him.
    Manusmriti(XI. 9-10)25 says, “The charity of him, who has wealth
    Bhumidana in Ancient India: A Religious and Spiritual Perspective 453
    enough to make gift to strangers when his own people live a life of
    misery, is only a false imitation of dharma (and not the true dharma).
    it is at first like honey but will taste like poison (hitter). Whatever the
    man does for his welfare in the next world by stinting those whom he
    is bound to maintain, results in unhappiness to him while living and
    also after death”. All Shastras are of the opinion that gift should be
    given in such a way that it does not cause hardship to the dependents
    of the donor.
    Naradasmriti (111.6, IV.9-12)26 and Brihaspatismriti
    (XIV.3, XI.5, XIV.6,15-17)27 has also laid down rules for the dana
    (gift) of land by private owners. Narada says “that only may be given
    -which is left after the cost for living has been defrayed for those
    whom the head of the family is bound to suggest. Any gift on the
    other hand, which causes hardship to the family, is reprehensible and
    not meritorious”. Brihaspati agrees with Narada’s view and adds that
    the self acquired property may be given away at pleasure by its
    owner; but in the case of property received as a married gift or
    inherited from ancestors, the dana of whole is not permitted. When
    however, a marriage gift or inherited property, or what has been
    obtained as a valour, is given with the assent of the wife, kinsmen or
    supreme ruler, the gift acquires validity.
  5. Kala (Time) : The rules were laid down for the proper occasion
    and time of giving dana. Apart from the daily duty to give dana, it
    had to be made on special occasions. Laghu Satatapa28 has given the
    days of special occasion for making dana. These are: (i) first day of
    each ayana(the sun‟s passage to north or south); (ii) at the beginning
    of Sadasati; and (iii) at the time of lunar and solar eclipse. The
    rewards of the gift made on these occasions are inexhaustible.
    Vanaparva of Mahabbarata (200.125)29 mentions a gift made on
    Amavasya imparts rewards a hundred times more than reward made
    on ordinary time, a thousand times when made on the suppression of
    a tithia hundred thousand times when made on the equinoctial day
    and gifts bring endless reward when made on Vyatipata.
    Vishnudharmasaatra mentions (chapt.89)30 the rewards of the gifts of
    various articles made on the full moon days and on Amavasyas of the
    twelve months of the year. Visvarupa (on Yajnavalkyasmriti(1214-
    217)31.Prajapati states that the times specified as the proper occasion
    for shraddha are the most appropriate times for making gifts.
    The above rules about the special occasions for gifts are
    amply borne out by epigraphic evidences. These gifts given on
    special occasions by kings of four dynasties are given in the tables.
    454 JIGYASA, ISSN 0974-7648, Vol. 12, No. III, April 2019
  6. Desa(Proper Place) : The places (desa) where gifts are to be
    made are also specified in the Smritis, Puranasand treatises etc. Gifts
    made in the house yield ten times as much merit (as when made
    elsewhere). a hundred times when made in cow pen; a thousand times
    when made at sacred places (tirthas) and an infinite number of times
    when made near an image of Siva (or linga). The Skanda Purana
    (quoted by Hemadridanakbandap. 83)32 states that Kasi,
    Kurukshetra, Prayaga, Pushkara, banks of the Ganga and of the
    ocean, Naimisa forest. Amar/Kantaka, Sriparvata Mahakala (at
    Ujjain), Gokarana, Veda-paivata, and other are holy places resorted
    to by gods and Siddbas; all mountains, all rivers and all the oceans
    are holy; whatever is donated at these sacred places confers infinite
    rewards.
    Ways. Means and Rules of Bhumidana : The general procedure of
    making gifts has been given in all the Dbarmasastras. According to
    these, the donor and donee should have taken their bath and should
    wear two white garments each, the donor should wear an Rpavitra,
    perform achamana, should face the east, should wear the sacred
    thread in the upavita form, be seated on a pure seat (of kusa) and the
    seat of the donee should face north, then the donor should utter the
    name of the subject of gift, its presiding deity and the purpose for
    which he makes the gift, and say‟ “I make a gift to you of such and
    such an article,” pour water on the donee‟s hand, and when donee
    says give‟ the donor should sprinkle water on the subject of gift and
    place it into the hands of the donee, who utters the syllable „Om’ and
    say „Svasti’. Then daksina is given to the donee.
    The Dharmasastras prescribe spiritual merit of dana. Daksha
    (III, 32-33)33 says “the merit of him that established a Brahmana who
    is without father or mother by performing his samkaras and by
    getting him married, is beyond reckoning. A man does not secure that
    bliss by observance of agnihotra or the performance of agnistoma,
    which he secures by establishing a Brahmana in life”. Apararka
    (377)34 quotes a long passage from Kalikapuranaabout
    Naivesikadana and says, “The donor should choose eleven
    Brahmanas of Srotriya families (devoted to the study of veda) and of
    good conduct and character, should build eleven houses for them,
    should get them married at his expense, should furnish the houses,
    with stores of corn, With cattle and maid servants, beds, seals,
    vassals of clay and copper and other utensils for taking food and with
    garments; and having thus furnished the houses, should settle the
    eleven Brahmanas in the eleven houses and for their maintenance
    Bhumidana in Ancient India: A Religious and Spiritual Perspective 455
    bestow upon each one hundred nivarttanas of land or hamlet or half a
    village; he should induce to the Brahmanas to be agnihotrins. By
    doing so he secures all the merit that is secured by the performance
    of sacrifices, vratas, various danas or pilgrimages to sacred places
    and enjoys in heaven all pleasures. A man who is unable to do as
    much as above may settle only one Brahmana according to his means
    and he secures the same rewards”.
    As the Brahmanas were supposed to lead· a life of simple
    living and high thinking and as they were the inheritors, preservers
    and transmitters of the sacred literature of the country, as they were
    also engaged in teaching without stipulating for any fee, the state in
    those days deemed its duty to provide the resources which would
    enable the Brahmanas to canyon their self imposed task.
    Yajnavalkyasmriti(II. 185)35 dec1ares that the king should set apart in
    his capital a place for habitation of Brahmanas learned in the vedas,
    should establish them there, should provide means of maintenance
    for them and then say to them „follow their duties‟ (svadharma).
    Further, the king should bestow on the Brahmanas, who are learned
    and kindled the sacred fires (agnihotris), houses and land under his
    own edicts from which no taxes in the present or in future would be
    levied. The Brahmanas so settled should perform for the citizens
    their religious rites whether daily or to be performed on occasions or
    kamya or for averting evil omens or for the sake of prosperity and
    should give decisions in the cases of doubts. They should make rules
    and conventions for whole village or for corporations, and guilds and
    for religious purposes. Kautilya(II. 1)36 also prescribes that on the
    lands free from taxes and fines should be settled upon Purohitas,
    Srotriyas etc.
    The gift of land has been eulogised as the most meritorious
    of all gifts from ancient times. The Anusasanaparva of Mahabharata
    (62.19)37says that “whatever sin a man may commit when in
    straitened circumstances he is purified there from by making a gift of
    only as much land as is equal to gocarma”. Brihaspatismriti defines
    gocarma as equal to ten nivarttanas and a nivarttana is defined by
    him as land that is 30 rods (square) with a rod of ten cubits,
    Brihaspatismriti gives another definition of gocarma “that extent of
    land which a thousand cows with their calves and a bull occupy wit
    hout being compelled to stand doing’ nothing is called gocarma”.
    Parasara (XII. 49)38 says that the land which a hundred cows with a
    bull occupy without being closely packed together is equal to one
    gocarma. Vishnu Purana (5, 181)39 defines gocarma differently as
    456 JIGYASA, ISSN 0974-7648, Vol. 12, No. III, April 2019
    “that much land of whatever extent the crops raised on which will
    maintain one man for a year”.
    The Vanaparva(93:78-79)40 also declares that, “whatever
    sins a king is guilty bringing the earth under his control, all those he
    gets rid off by performing sacrifices with magnificent gifts; by
    bestowing on Brahmanas, lands and cows in thousands, the king
    becomes free from all sins as the moon is freed from darkness”.
    Anusasanaparva (59.5)41 voices the popular sentiment that, “gifts of
    gold, cows, and land save even the wicked”.
    As the gift of land was so highly valued, the Smritiscontain
    numerous rules about them. Yajnavalkyasmriti (I.318-320)42
    prescribes the rules when a king makes a gift of land or bestows a
    nibandha. For the information of future king he should execute in
    writing (about gift). He (the king) should issue a permanent edict
    bearing his signature and the date on a piece of cloth or on a copperplate marked at the top with his seal and write down thereon the
    names of his ancestors and of himself, the extent (or measurements)
    of what is gifted and set out the passage (from Smritis) that condemn
    the resumption of gifts.
    Visavarupa, the oldest extent commentator of
    Yajnavalkyasmriti, states that the edict or order should bear the name
    or signature of royal officer such as ajna, dutaka, the name of the
    place where the king‟s army is encamped and that the names of
    women (such as queen mother or queen) should be mentioned, and
    that verses stating the result of resuming gift made by former kings
    should find place in the edict. Apararka(pp. 579-580)43 quotes long
    extracts from Brihaspatismritiand Vyasaon the same subject.
    Brihaspatialso says that a royal edict recording a gift of land should
    be executed on a piece of cloth or on copper plate, should state the
    place (of issue) and (the names of) king’s ancestors, that it should be
    stated to last till the sun and moon endure, that it was not to be
    resumed or taken back, and was to be free from all future taxes and
    that it was to go on to the sons and grandsons from generation to
    generation (to the donee), it should state that heaven would be
    rewarded to the donor and those that continued the gift, would be hell
    for 60,000 years to the resumer, and it should bear the signature of
    superintendents (royal officers). Vyasa after stating these requisites
    adds that the, edict should be addressed to Brahmanas and other
    respectable people, to the king‟s officer, to all householder and to all
    other including medas, candalas, that it should state that the gift is
    made for securing merit for one‟s parents and ones self.
    Bhumidana in Ancient India: A Religious and Spiritual Perspective 457
    A large number of copperplates and stone inscriptions
    (containing the donations) show that the directions contained in
    Yajnavalkyasmriti, Brihaspatismriti and Vyasa have been followed
    from, at least, 5th century onwards. In the earliest inscriptions verses
    about the merit of gifts and sin of resumption do not occur. For
    example, a Gupta inscription (No.8 CII. (III). pp. 36ff, dated, 88 of
    the Gupta Era (i.e. 407-8 A.D.)44 of Chandragupta (II) the only
    words (in praise) are “whoever would destroy this charity now set on
    foot would be guilty of the murder of Brahmanasand cows and of the
    five sins that bring immediate punishment”.
    In the earliest records, verses lauding gifts and deprecating
    their resumptions are few but in later records, specially after 7th
    century onwards, the mention of these verses becomes a common
    practice. Most of the inscriptions contain these laudatory and
    imprecatory verses from Vyasa or Manu or from Smritis in general.
    The evidences show that these verses occur in inscriptions from all
    parts of India. The verses say that the donor of land enjoys bliss in
    heaven for sixty thousand years and be who destroys (or resumes) it
    or who abates the destruction dwells in hell for the same period. (For
    original quotations from various sources like Mahabharata, and
    Smritisetc. see Kane 1974. Vol. II. (II). pp. 1271-77)45
    .
    From the above foregoing discussion it may be seen that
    dana has been an important part of religious/spiritua1 life and social
    responsibility of the rulers as well as individuals. So much sanctity
    and sa redness has been attached to dana and various aspects of
    danaland that it is difficult to believe that it can be equated with that
    of a fief or a manor or merely a small piece of land in a feudal
    structure as in European society.
    References :
  7. Dana – The nearest English equivalent for word „dana‟ is „the act
    of giving‟ „oblation‟, „donation‟, „gift‟; Monier Williams Sanskrit
    English Dictionary. p. 474).
  8. Rigveda(1.125).
  9. Rigveda(1.126.3).
  10. Matsya(82-91 and 274-89: Agni 208-215-217; Varaha 99-111
  11. Vide Sabra on JaiminiIV. 2. 28, VII. 1.5, IX. 4.32 and the
    Mitaksara on Yajnavalkyasmriti II. 27.
  12. Devalaas quoted by Aparark p. 287 and HemadriDanakhandap.
    13.
  13. Devala quoted by Hemadri in Danakhanda: p.14.
    458 JIGYASA, ISSN 0974-7648, Vol. 12, No. III, April 2019
  14. Vedavyasa (IV.60).
  15. Daksha (III.17-18).
  16. Manu (IV. 193-200).
  17. Vedavyasa (IV.55-56).
  18. BrhatParasara (VIII. 24142).
  19. Gautam III.(508-509).
  20. Vanaparva(200.5-9).
  21. Devala (quoted by Aparaka. 288).
  22. Manusmriti(IV.235).
  23. Anusasanaparvaof Mahabharata (59.7).
  24. MarkandeyaPurana (35.52-53).
  25. MatsyaPurana(72.39).
  26. Vishnu Purana (92.32).
  27. Aparaka:290; Asvamedhicparva: 90.96-97; Agni Purana211.1.
  28. VedaVyasa, (IV.30-31).
  29. Yajnavalkya (II.175)
  30. BaudhayanDharmasatra(II.3.19).
  31. Manusmriti(XI. 9-10).
  32. Naradasmriti(111.6, IV.9-12).
  33. Brihaspatismriti(XIV.3, XI.5, XIV.6,15-17).
  34. LagbuSatatapa(145-153).
  35. Vanaparvaof Mahabbarata(200.125).
  36. Vishnudharmasaatramentions (chapt.89).
  37. Visvarupa (on Yajnavalkyasmriti1214-217).
  38. Prajapati (25 and 28).
  39. Atri (327)
  40. SkandaPurana(quoted by Hemadridanakbandap. 83).
  41. Yajnavalkyasmriti(II. 185).
  42. Kautilya(II. 1).
  43. Anusasanaparvaof Mahabharata (62.19).
  44. Parasara (XII. 49).
  45. Vishnu Purana (5, 181).
  46. Vanaparva(93:78-79).
  47. Anusasanaparva (59.5).
  48. Yajnavalkyasmriti(I.318-320).
  49. Apararka(pp. 579-580).
  50. Gupta inscription (No.8 CII. (III) pp. 36ff, dated, 88 of the Gupta
    Era (i.e. 407-8 A.D.).
  51. Kane 1974. Vol. II. (II). pp. 1271-77.

Bhumidana in Ancient India: A Religious and
Spiritual Perspective
Dr Rajeev Pratap *
In India, the act of dana (The nearest English equivalent for
word „dana‟ is „the act of giving‟ „oblation‟, „donation‟, „gift‟;
Monier Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary. p. 474)1
has been
highly appreciated right from earliest times. There are danastutis
(eulogies of gifts) in the Rigveda (1.125)2
in which the gifts made by
king and dana in general are eulogised. Among the objects gifted, the
most important are cows. In Rigveda (1.126.3)3 Kaksivat represents
that he received sixty thousand cows from Svanaya, along with ten
chariots to each of which four bays of horses were yoked and in
which young girls were seated. Right from the Rigvedic times, the
literature on dana is of enoromous extent. Satapatha Brahmana,
Aitareya Brahmana, Chhandogya Upanishad, Puranas, Matsya(82-
91 and 274-89: Agni 208-215-217; Varaha 99-111)4
Anusasanaparva of Mahabharata, Smiritis particularly Manu,
Yajnavalkya, Brahaspati etc. contain numerous verses on dana.
There are treatises especially devoted to the subject of dana, the most
important being, Hemadri‟s Danakhanda of Caturvarga Cintamani;
Danakriyakaumudi of Govindananda, the Danamayukha of
Nilakantha, Danaprakasa of Mitramisra and Dana of Ballalasena etc.
The ancient Dharamasastras clearly made a distinction
between yaga, homa and dana. The yaga is constituted by
abandoning something that belongs to one, intending it for a deity
and accompanying it with vedic mantra. The homa is offering into
fire something belonging to oneself over which one abandons one’s
ownership and which is (thing) intended for a deity.
Dana consists in the cessation of one’s ownership over a
thing and creating the ownership of another over that thing and this
last occurs when the other accepts the thing, and the acceptance may
be mental or vocal or physical; (vide Sabra on JaiminiIV. 2. 28, VII.
1.5, IX. 4.32 and the Mitaksara on Yajnavalkyasmriti II. 27)5
. The
Mitakasara explains that physical acceptance may be effected in
various ways such as by actually receiving the thing in one‟s hand or
by simply touching it. Yajnavalkyasmriti illustrates this, “one should

  • Assistant Professor, Amity University Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow
    Bhumidana in Ancient India: A Religious and Spiritual Perspective 451
    give (and the donee may accept) a deer skin (by touching it) on the
    hairy side, a cow by its tail, all elephant by its trunk, a horse by its
    mane, a female slave by (touching) her head.” The Mitaksara adds
    that as it is impossible to accept a field physically (except by
    enjoying its fruits), its acceptance is effected by some enjoyment,
    however small, of its produce. According to Dharamasastras, merely
    taking the thing does not constitute the pratigraha(acceptance of
    gift). The pratigrahais applicable only to a particular kind’ of
    acceptance viz., when a person accepts what is given by the donor
    with the idea that he (the donor) will drive from that act some unseen
    spiritual merit (adrsta-punya) and when in making the gift a vedic
    mantra is repeated. Without the recitation of vedic mantra the
    acceptance of all article given means that it is given through affection
    to a friend or to a servant. Devala (as quoted by Aparark p. 287 and
    Hemadri Danakhandap. 13)6
    , defines dana (the sastric kind) as “that
    is described as dana when wealth is given according to sastricrites so
    as to reach a receiver who is fit recipient as defined in the sastra”.
    Devala defines six constituents (angas) or dana viz. (i) the donor
    (data), (ii) the donee(patra), (iii) charitable attitude (shraddha), (vi)
    the subject of gift (deya) which must have been acquired by the
    donor in proper way, (v) a proper time (kala), and (vi) a proper place
    (desa).(Devala quoted by Hemadri in Danakhanda: p.14)7
    It is important to discuss these six constituents (angas) of
    danain some detail :
  1. Data (Donor) : According to sastras anyone could give dana
    including women and sudras and much emphasis has been laid for
    making dana. According to Devala, the donor should be free from
    incurable diseases, be religious, charitably inclined, free from vices,
    pure, and following a blameless profession for livelihood. It appears
    that even in early times, though dana was so much eulogised, there
    were few donors. Several smritis note that it is a rare sight to see a
    map. giving. away in charity wealth earned by him. Vedavyasa
    (IV.60)8
    says· “amongst of hundred men, one may be found to be
    brave. among thousands one learned man, among hundreds of
    thousands an orator, but a donor mayor may not be found.”
  2. Patra(Donee) : About the person who is fit to be a donee(patra)
    Daksha (III.17-18)9
    states “a gift made to one’s parents, guru, friend,
    to a well conducted man, to one who has laid the donor under
    obligation, to the poor, the helpless, those endowed with special
    excellence, leads to rewards while gifts made to rogues, to bards, to
    wrestlers, to those who devote time to bad lores, to gamblers and
    452 JIGYASA, ISSN 0974-7648, Vol. 12, No. III, April 2019
    deceitful persons, to catas, to caranasand thieves brings no fruit or
    merit”.
    Manu (IV. 193-200)10
    , Vedavyasa (IV.55-56)11
    . Brhat
    Parasara (VIII. 24-42)12
    , Gautam (III.508-509)13 and Vanaparva (II
    .5-9)14 lay down not only who deserves to receive the gift but also
    what would not bring fruits, if given in donation. They very clearly
    lay down that Brahmanas who are wicked, do not know Vedas,
    addicted to bad actions, do not perform sandhya, etc. do not deserve
    to receive the gift. Similarly, wealth acquired, by unjust mean, fruits
    left by others etc. cannot be given as gift because it will not bring any
    religious merit.
  3. Shraddha(Charitable attitude) : Devala (quoted by Aparaka.
    288)15 says that when on seeing a needy person, the donor feels
    pleasure and indicates it by a similar face, when he shows honour and
    is free from a feeling of ill-will or irritation (towards the suppliant),
    that is said to be shraddha. Manusmriti (IV.235)16 says that he who
    gives a gift with honour and he who accepts it with honour both go to
    heaven, but if the reverse is the case they go to hell.
  4. Deya(Subject of gift) : Numerous rules are laid down about the
    things that can be the subject of gifts (deya). Anusasanaparvaof
    Mahabharata (59.7)17; Markandeya Purana (35.52-53)18; Matsya
    Purana (72.39)19; and Vishnu Purana (92.32)20; mention that
    whatever is the most desirable thing in this world and what one prizes
    most in one‟s house may be given to a man endowed with good
    qualities by a donor who desires inexhaustible (merit) from it.
    According to (quoted by Aparaka:290; Asvamedhicparva: 90.96-97;
    Agni Purana211.1)21; that is a proper subject for a gift, which has
    been acquired by the donor himself without causing pain or loss to
    another or without worry or trouble to himself, whether it be small or
    valuable (or much). It is not the extent of gift that causes greater or
    lesser merit. Merit (punya) of gifts depends upon the mental attitude,
    the capacity of the giver and the way in which the donor acquired his
    wealth and with shraddha he is giving.
    Anusasanaparva of Mahabbarata mentions that the gifts of
    three things are said to be superior to the gift of anything else and are
    known as atidana viz., of cows, land and Sarasvati(vidya). After
    eulogising the gift in a very eloquent way VedaVyasa, (IV.30-31)22
    ,
    Yajnavalkya (II.175)23 and Baudhayan Dharmasatra(II.3.19)24 very
    clearly lay down that one should make gift in such a way that it does
    not cause hardship to the family and those dependent on him.
    Manusmriti(XI. 9-10)25 says, “The charity of him, who has wealth
    Bhumidana in Ancient India: A Religious and Spiritual Perspective 453
    enough to make gift to strangers when his own people live a life of
    misery, is only a false imitation of dharma (and not the true dharma).
    it is at first like honey but will taste like poison (hitter). Whatever the
    man does for his welfare in the next world by stinting those whom he
    is bound to maintain, results in unhappiness to him while living and
    also after death”. All Shastras are of the opinion that gift should be
    given in such a way that it does not cause hardship to the dependents
    of the donor.
    Naradasmriti (111.6, IV.9-12)26 and Brihaspatismriti
    (XIV.3, XI.5, XIV.6,15-17)27 has also laid down rules for the dana
    (gift) of land by private owners. Narada says “that only may be given
    -which is left after the cost for living has been defrayed for those
    whom the head of the family is bound to suggest. Any gift on the
    other hand, which causes hardship to the family, is reprehensible and
    not meritorious”. Brihaspati agrees with Narada’s view and adds that
    the self acquired property may be given away at pleasure by its
    owner; but in the case of property received as a married gift or
    inherited from ancestors, the dana of whole is not permitted. When
    however, a marriage gift or inherited property, or what has been
    obtained as a valour, is given with the assent of the wife, kinsmen or
    supreme ruler, the gift acquires validity.
  5. Kala (Time) : The rules were laid down for the proper occasion
    and time of giving dana. Apart from the daily duty to give dana, it
    had to be made on special occasions. Laghu Satatapa28 has given the
    days of special occasion for making dana. These are: (i) first day of
    each ayana(the sun‟s passage to north or south); (ii) at the beginning
    of Sadasati; and (iii) at the time of lunar and solar eclipse. The
    rewards of the gift made on these occasions are inexhaustible.
    Vanaparva of Mahabbarata (200.125)29 mentions a gift made on
    Amavasya imparts rewards a hundred times more than reward made
    on ordinary time, a thousand times when made on the suppression of
    a tithia hundred thousand times when made on the equinoctial day
    and gifts bring endless reward when made on Vyatipata.
    Vishnudharmasaatra mentions (chapt.89)30 the rewards of the gifts of
    various articles made on the full moon days and on Amavasyas of the
    twelve months of the year. Visvarupa (on Yajnavalkyasmriti(1214-
    217)31.Prajapati states that the times specified as the proper occasion
    for shraddha are the most appropriate times for making gifts.
    The above rules about the special occasions for gifts are
    amply borne out by epigraphic evidences. These gifts given on
    special occasions by kings of four dynasties are given in the tables.
    454 JIGYASA, ISSN 0974-7648, Vol. 12, No. III, April 2019
  6. Desa(Proper Place) : The places (desa) where gifts are to be
    made are also specified in the Smritis, Puranasand treatises etc. Gifts
    made in the house yield ten times as much merit (as when made
    elsewhere). a hundred times when made in cow pen; a thousand times
    when made at sacred places (tirthas) and an infinite number of times
    when made near an image of Siva (or linga). The Skanda Purana
    (quoted by Hemadridanakbandap. 83)32 states that Kasi,
    Kurukshetra, Prayaga, Pushkara, banks of the Ganga and of the
    ocean, Naimisa forest. Amar/Kantaka, Sriparvata Mahakala (at
    Ujjain), Gokarana, Veda-paivata, and other are holy places resorted
    to by gods and Siddbas; all mountains, all rivers and all the oceans
    are holy; whatever is donated at these sacred places confers infinite
    rewards.
    Ways. Means and Rules of Bhumidana : The general procedure of
    making gifts has been given in all the Dbarmasastras. According to
    these, the donor and donee should have taken their bath and should
    wear two white garments each, the donor should wear an Rpavitra,
    perform achamana, should face the east, should wear the sacred
    thread in the upavita form, be seated on a pure seat (of kusa) and the
    seat of the donee should face north, then the donor should utter the
    name of the subject of gift, its presiding deity and the purpose for
    which he makes the gift, and say‟ “I make a gift to you of such and
    such an article,” pour water on the donee‟s hand, and when donee
    says give‟ the donor should sprinkle water on the subject of gift and
    place it into the hands of the donee, who utters the syllable „Om’ and
    say „Svasti’. Then daksina is given to the donee.
    The Dharmasastras prescribe spiritual merit of dana. Daksha
    (III, 32-33)33 says “the merit of him that established a Brahmana who
    is without father or mother by performing his samkaras and by
    getting him married, is beyond reckoning. A man does not secure that
    bliss by observance of agnihotra or the performance of agnistoma,
    which he secures by establishing a Brahmana in life”. Apararka
    (377)34 quotes a long passage from Kalikapuranaabout
    Naivesikadana and says, “The donor should choose eleven
    Brahmanas of Srotriya families (devoted to the study of veda) and of
    good conduct and character, should build eleven houses for them,
    should get them married at his expense, should furnish the houses,
    with stores of corn, With cattle and maid servants, beds, seals,
    vassals of clay and copper and other utensils for taking food and with
    garments; and having thus furnished the houses, should settle the
    eleven Brahmanas in the eleven houses and for their maintenance
    Bhumidana in Ancient India: A Religious and Spiritual Perspective 455
    bestow upon each one hundred nivarttanas of land or hamlet or half a
    village; he should induce to the Brahmanas to be agnihotrins. By
    doing so he secures all the merit that is secured by the performance
    of sacrifices, vratas, various danas or pilgrimages to sacred places
    and enjoys in heaven all pleasures. A man who is unable to do as
    much as above may settle only one Brahmana according to his means
    and he secures the same rewards”.
    As the Brahmanas were supposed to lead· a life of simple
    living and high thinking and as they were the inheritors, preservers
    and transmitters of the sacred literature of the country, as they were
    also engaged in teaching without stipulating for any fee, the state in
    those days deemed its duty to provide the resources which would
    enable the Brahmanas to canyon their self imposed task.
    Yajnavalkyasmriti(II. 185)35 dec1ares that the king should set apart in
    his capital a place for habitation of Brahmanas learned in the vedas,
    should establish them there, should provide means of maintenance
    for them and then say to them „follow their duties‟ (svadharma).
    Further, the king should bestow on the Brahmanas, who are learned
    and kindled the sacred fires (agnihotris), houses and land under his
    own edicts from which no taxes in the present or in future would be
    levied. The Brahmanas so settled should perform for the citizens
    their religious rites whether daily or to be performed on occasions or
    kamya or for averting evil omens or for the sake of prosperity and
    should give decisions in the cases of doubts. They should make rules
    and conventions for whole village or for corporations, and guilds and
    for religious purposes. Kautilya(II. 1)36 also prescribes that on the
    lands free from taxes and fines should be settled upon Purohitas,
    Srotriyas etc.
    The gift of land has been eulogised as the most meritorious
    of all gifts from ancient times. The Anusasanaparva of Mahabharata
    (62.19)37says that “whatever sin a man may commit when in
    straitened circumstances he is purified there from by making a gift of
    only as much land as is equal to gocarma”. Brihaspatismriti defines
    gocarma as equal to ten nivarttanas and a nivarttana is defined by
    him as land that is 30 rods (square) with a rod of ten cubits,
    Brihaspatismriti gives another definition of gocarma “that extent of
    land which a thousand cows with their calves and a bull occupy wit
    hout being compelled to stand doing’ nothing is called gocarma”.
    Parasara (XII. 49)38 says that the land which a hundred cows with a
    bull occupy without being closely packed together is equal to one
    gocarma. Vishnu Purana (5, 181)39 defines gocarma differently as
    456 JIGYASA, ISSN 0974-7648, Vol. 12, No. III, April 2019
    “that much land of whatever extent the crops raised on which will
    maintain one man for a year”.
    The Vanaparva(93:78-79)40 also declares that, “whatever
    sins a king is guilty bringing the earth under his control, all those he
    gets rid off by performing sacrifices with magnificent gifts; by
    bestowing on Brahmanas, lands and cows in thousands, the king
    becomes free from all sins as the moon is freed from darkness”.
    Anusasanaparva (59.5)41 voices the popular sentiment that, “gifts of
    gold, cows, and land save even the wicked”.
    As the gift of land was so highly valued, the Smritiscontain
    numerous rules about them. Yajnavalkyasmriti (I.318-320)42
    prescribes the rules when a king makes a gift of land or bestows a
    nibandha. For the information of future king he should execute in
    writing (about gift). He (the king) should issue a permanent edict
    bearing his signature and the date on a piece of cloth or on a copperplate marked at the top with his seal and write down thereon the
    names of his ancestors and of himself, the extent (or measurements)
    of what is gifted and set out the passage (from Smritis) that condemn
    the resumption of gifts.
    Visavarupa, the oldest extent commentator of
    Yajnavalkyasmriti, states that the edict or order should bear the name
    or signature of royal officer such as ajna, dutaka, the name of the
    place where the king‟s army is encamped and that the names of
    women (such as queen mother or queen) should be mentioned, and
    that verses stating the result of resuming gift made by former kings
    should find place in the edict. Apararka(pp. 579-580)43 quotes long
    extracts from Brihaspatismritiand Vyasaon the same subject.
    Brihaspatialso says that a royal edict recording a gift of land should
    be executed on a piece of cloth or on copper plate, should state the
    place (of issue) and (the names of) king’s ancestors, that it should be
    stated to last till the sun and moon endure, that it was not to be
    resumed or taken back, and was to be free from all future taxes and
    that it was to go on to the sons and grandsons from generation to
    generation (to the donee), it should state that heaven would be
    rewarded to the donor and those that continued the gift, would be hell
    for 60,000 years to the resumer, and it should bear the signature of
    superintendents (royal officers). Vyasa after stating these requisites
    adds that the, edict should be addressed to Brahmanas and other
    respectable people, to the king‟s officer, to all householder and to all
    other including medas, candalas, that it should state that the gift is
    made for securing merit for one‟s parents and ones self.
    Bhumidana in Ancient India: A Religious and Spiritual Perspective 457
    A large number of copperplates and stone inscriptions
    (containing the donations) show that the directions contained in
    Yajnavalkyasmriti, Brihaspatismriti and Vyasa have been followed
    from, at least, 5th century onwards. In the earliest inscriptions verses
    about the merit of gifts and sin of resumption do not occur. For
    example, a Gupta inscription (No.8 CII. (III). pp. 36ff, dated, 88 of
    the Gupta Era (i.e. 407-8 A.D.)44 of Chandragupta (II) the only
    words (in praise) are “whoever would destroy this charity now set on
    foot would be guilty of the murder of Brahmanasand cows and of the
    five sins that bring immediate punishment”.
    In the earliest records, verses lauding gifts and deprecating
    their resumptions are few but in later records, specially after 7th
    century onwards, the mention of these verses becomes a common
    practice. Most of the inscriptions contain these laudatory and
    imprecatory verses from Vyasa or Manu or from Smritis in general.
    The evidences show that these verses occur in inscriptions from all
    parts of India. The verses say that the donor of land enjoys bliss in
    heaven for sixty thousand years and be who destroys (or resumes) it
    or who abates the destruction dwells in hell for the same period. (For
    original quotations from various sources like Mahabharata, and
    Smritisetc. see Kane 1974. Vol. II. (II). pp. 1271-77)45
    .
    From the above foregoing discussion it may be seen that
    dana has been an important part of religious/spiritua1 life and social
    responsibility of the rulers as well as individuals. So much sanctity
    and sa redness has been attached to dana and various aspects of
    danaland that it is difficult to believe that it can be equated with that
    of a fief or a manor or merely a small piece of land in a feudal
    structure as in European society.
    References :
  7. Dana – The nearest English equivalent for word „dana‟ is „the act
    of giving‟ „oblation‟, „donation‟, „gift‟; Monier Williams Sanskrit
    English Dictionary. p. 474).
  8. Rigveda(1.125).
  9. Rigveda(1.126.3).
  10. Matsya(82-91 and 274-89: Agni 208-215-217; Varaha 99-111
  11. Vide Sabra on JaiminiIV. 2. 28, VII. 1.5, IX. 4.32 and the
    Mitaksara on Yajnavalkyasmriti II. 27.
  12. Devalaas quoted by Aparark p. 287 and HemadriDanakhandap.
    13.
  13. Devala quoted by Hemadri in Danakhanda: p.14.
    458 JIGYASA, ISSN 0974-7648, Vol. 12, No. III, April 2019
  14. Vedavyasa (IV.60).
  15. Daksha (III.17-18).
  16. Manu (IV. 193-200).
  17. Vedavyasa (IV.55-56).
  18. BrhatParasara (VIII. 24142).
  19. Gautam III.(508-509).
  20. Vanaparva(200.5-9).
  21. Devala (quoted by Aparaka. 288).
  22. Manusmriti(IV.235).
  23. Anusasanaparvaof Mahabharata (59.7).
  24. MarkandeyaPurana (35.52-53).
  25. MatsyaPurana(72.39).
  26. Vishnu Purana (92.32).
  27. Aparaka:290; Asvamedhicparva: 90.96-97; Agni Purana211.1.
  28. VedaVyasa, (IV.30-31).
  29. Yajnavalkya (II.175)
  30. BaudhayanDharmasatra(II.3.19).
  31. Manusmriti(XI. 9-10).
  32. Naradasmriti(111.6, IV.9-12).
  33. Brihaspatismriti(XIV.3, XI.5, XIV.6,15-17).
  34. LagbuSatatapa(145-153).
  35. Vanaparvaof Mahabbarata(200.125).
  36. Vishnudharmasaatramentions (chapt.89).
  37. Visvarupa (on Yajnavalkyasmriti1214-217).
  38. Prajapati (25 and 28).
  39. Atri (327)
  40. SkandaPurana(quoted by Hemadridanakbandap. 83).
  41. Yajnavalkyasmriti(II. 185).
  42. Kautilya(II. 1).
  43. Anusasanaparvaof Mahabharata (62.19).
  44. Parasara (XII. 49).
  45. Vishnu Purana (5, 181).
  46. Vanaparva(93:78-79).
  47. Anusasanaparva (59.5).
  48. Yajnavalkyasmriti(I.318-320).
  49. Apararka(pp. 579-580).
  50. Gupta inscription (No.8 CII. (III) pp. 36ff, dated, 88 of the Gupta
    Era (i.e. 407-8 A.D.).
  51. Kane 1974. Vol. II. (II). pp. 1271-77.

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