Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Atithi Devo Bhava....Anyone?




"Don't forget, you have to come back again soon, very soon and next time stay back for longer!" my Grandmother called after me, holding back tears as she bid me farewell. I stoically kept waving back, clutching onto the large parcel of handmade goodies till the shriveled old figure I could see no more.
It is ages since I have heard that line from anyone besides my immediate family! 
 
As a kid, I remember listening in amazement to tales my Dad told us from his trips to the U.S way back in the 1970's (Yes folks! I am from that era!). He told us that in the U.S if people had to visit or call on a friend or family, one had to schedule an appointment with them for the weekend of course, informing them precisely when you would be coming, how many of you would be coming and how long you would be staying! They didn't appreciate people just dropping in on them unannounced and if you did that on a weekday - blasphemy!

You ask: That is normal etiquette, isn't it?
The sad truth - Welcome to modern India: Our social interactions are at par with International standards i.e non-existent, formal, inhibited and restricted at best!

Gone are those days when you could land up at your Geeta Aunty's place unannounced with your family in tow and expect a hearty meal in response to your impromptu visit. They would be so glad you visited them that all the fancy cooking, crockery, tit-bits and what-not would be out in your honor. You would be pressed to down at least 3 cups of your favorite payasam that only Aunty could make! This Geeta Aunty being a family friend of your grandmother would want to know every little detail about the entire family's gossip, who married whom, is the new son-in-law as tall as he looks in the photographs, does Sitamma's daughter-in-law cook as well as she was bragging about, is there any eligible boy from blah gotram in the family and so on....mind-blowing gossip and recipes were exchanged in the kitchens, while the menfolk loftily expounded their supremely important judgements and path-breaking views regarding the state of politics in the nation over steaming cups of coffee and home-made savories!

Can one imagine doing the same now? 
A visit to an acquaintance:  Who does that? Won't a hi/chat on WhatsApp do?
A visit to a friend/relative: Call up a week in advance and enquire whether a visit on so-and-so date from such-and-such time is conducive to them. Also offer to do potluck, just to ease things a bit!
A stay at a friend's place: Be forewarned, to host similar situations yourself - no free lunches folks, everything comes at a price!
A stay at a relative's place: Are you joking? What are OYO rooms for?

Did you know, Atithi Devo Bhava, an ancient line from the Hindu scriptures - Tattiriya Upanishad (Shikshavalli I.20 chapter ) was coined to explain the importance and conduct to be meted to a guest at one's doorstep.
'Athithi': guest and literally meaning - without fixed calendrical time
'Devo': God
'Bhava': Be/Is. 
Hence the whole phrase meaning: The Guest is God


This is not just a catchy slogan that promotes Indian Tourism, it signifies the importance of the warmth and hospitality offered by Indians to their guests. India has the unique practice of offering preferential treatment to their guests, making them experience Atithi Satkaar.
I am not very sure, whether in this day and age, this feeling extends beyond the boundaries of five-star properties ensconcing VIP's, flourishing locals and foreign travelers! 

The happiness that one gets by showering attention and affection on a guest is probably paralleled only by experiencing the same ourselves!

Hospitality, honoring and caring for guests over oneself, is something which was an essential part of not only Indian but other cultures worldwide. 
There are scores of stories exemplifying this honorable tradition of putting the interests of the guests over one's own.
So many well-known stories from Hindu Mythology pertain to this theme:  
Sudama playing host to Krishna,  
Shabari entertaining her Shri Ram, 
the tale of Bakasura where the Pandavas are guests to a Brahmin family, 
the generosity of the noble King Rantidev
Duryodhana employing the trickery card of repaying a host against King Shalya of Madra to make him fight on the Kaurava side and so on....

I would like to share some of the lesser known tales I have heard/read about an extinct species that practised this now forgotten tradition of hospitality! 

1. The Tale of Appar Tirunavukarrasar Nayanar and Appudi Adhikalar


The name Tirunavukarrasar means: King of Divine Speech (Let's cut short this tongue twisting name to Appar, shall we?)
Okay so Appar was this great Shaivaite (Devotee of Lord Shiva) Tamil poet-saint from mid 7th century, who dabbled for a few years in Jainism and then went back to Shaivism and became one of its big proponents. He was a revered sage who extolled his devotion for Lord Shiva through scores of stanzas, which are read till date.
Appar one day visited the town of Thingalur and was impressed by the Vedic chanting of Appudi Adhikalar. The sage was invited to a feast at the home of this devotee. When the sage accepted, the host was as delighted as he would have been if he had received a boon! 
His family prepared the most delicious feast and arrangements thereof in honor of the saint. When everything was ready, Appudi Adhikalar instructed his son to pluck some fresh plantain leaves for the revered guest to dine upon. 
The ill-fated boy was bitten by a snake in the garden while obeying his father's orders. However, being an equally ardent devotee of the sage also now their guest, the boy somehow managed to deliver the leaves to his parents before dying.
The couple though inconsolable, also had unmatched dedication towards their duty as hosts. They hid the son's body and proceeded to host the feast. However, the sage came to know of the tragic happening and he was appalled and overwhelmed by the couple's sacrifice and dedication. Appar prayed to the Almighty and his prayers revived the lost son. The sage then proceeded to appease the gracious couple who were upset with the delay in the seer's feast by having food at their place.
All was well and songs were sung in the Lord's name!
Source 

2. The Tale of Philemon and Baucis (Roman Mythology)
According to ancient Roman mythology and Ovid's Metamorphoses, Philemon and Baucis had lived out their long lives nobly, but in poverty. Jupiter, the Roman king of the gods, had heard of the virtuous couple, but based on all his previous experiences with humans, he had serious doubts as to their goodness.
Jupiter was about to destroy mankind, but was willing to give it one final chance before starting over again. So, in the company of his son Mercury, the wing-footed messenger god, Jupiter went about, disguised as a worn and weary traveler, from house to house among the neighbors of Philemon and Baucis.  
As Jupiter feared and expected, the neighbors turned him and Mercury away rudely. Then the two gods went to the last house, the cottage of Philemon and Baucis, where the couple had lived all their long married lives.
Philemon and Baucis were pleased to have visitors, and insisted that their guests rest before their little hearth fire. They even lugged in more of their precious firewood to make a greater blaze.
Unasked, Philemon and Baucis then served their presumably starving guests, fresh fruits, olives, eggs, and wine.
Soon the old couple noticed that no matter how often they poured from it, the wine pitcher was never empty. They began to suspect that their guests might be more than mere mortals. Just in case, Philemon and Baucis decided to provide the closest they could come to a meal that was fit for a god. They would slaughter their only goose in their guests' honor. Unfortunately, the legs of the goose were faster than those of Philemon or Baucis. Even though the humans were not as fast, they were smarter, and so they cornered the goose inside the cottage, where they were just about to catch it. At the last moment, the goose sought the shelter of the divine guests. To save the life of the goose, Jupiter and Mercury revealed themselves and immediately expressed their pleasure in meeting an honorable human pair. The gods took the pair to a mountain from which they could see the punishment their neighbors had suffered -- a devastating flood.
Asked what divine favor they wanted, the couple said that they wished to become temple priests and die together. Their wish was granted and when they died they were turned into intertwining trees.
Source

3. The Bedouin Code of Hospitality

Two men were crossing the desert when they saw a Bedouin’s tent and asked him for shelter. Even though he did not know them, he welcomed them in the way that the conduct of nomads dictates: a camel was killed and its meat served in a sumptuous dinner.

The next day, as the guests were still there, the Bedouin had another camel killed.
Astonished, they protested they had not yet finished eating the one killed the day before.
“It would be a disgrace to serve old meat to my guests,” was the answer.
On the third day, the two strangers woke early and decided to continue on their journey.
As the Bedouin was not at home, they gave his wife a hundred dinars, apologizing for not being able to wait, because if they spent any more time there, the sun would become too strong for them to travel.
They had traveled for four hours when they heard a voice calling out to them. They looked back and saw the Bedouin following them.
As soon as he caught up with them, he threw the money to the ground.
“I gave you such a warm welcome! Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves?” In surprise, the strangers said that the camels were surely worth far more than that, but that they did not have much money.
“I am not talking about the amount,” was the answer.
“The desert welcomes Bedouins wherever they go, and never asks anything in return. If we had to pay, how could we live? Welcoming you to my tent is like paying back a fraction of what life has given us.”
Source 



Weren't they all lovely tales? 
Didn't they make you go all warm and kind-hearted?
Do you know of some such tales that enumerate this ancient and amazing tradition of Hospitality and Kindness towards guests?

Do share, be my guest!

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This post was written in response to the Weekly Prompt: Be my Guest 
from @Blogchatter - A wonderful platform where Bloggers Blog Together to Blog Better!

Also linking this post to Vidya Sury's February 2016 Gratitude Circle BlogHop 
 









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