Achamanam (achamana, achmana) is one of the most important rituals in the Hindu tradition. It is a purification ritual that is believed to cure all physical and mental illnesses. As such, it is performed prior to almost all other Brahmin rituals.
Times when necessary
Achamanam generally precedes all Brahmin rituals, as it is necessary to be purified for the performance of all other major rituals. However, various daily acts are also believed to invalidate one's purity in the Hindu tradition, and achamanam is to be performed in order to rectify this. These occasions include:
- 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
- Before and after a meal
- Before and after giving or accepting alms or donation
- After sneezing, shedding tears or blood
- Upon association or contact with ritually "impure" substances such as blood, semen, human hair, fire, cows, cats, mice, refuse, etc.
- After sexual contact.
Performance of Achamanam
There are various forms of Achamanam depending on which set of Hindu beliefs one ascribes to and the context within which one is performing the ritual. The most common forms of Achamanam are the smriti and pañcaratra achamana, and they are the most generally practiced. The next most common is the purana form, which is practiced by Vaishnavites, and Shaivites and others.
Smriti and Smarta achamana
The simplest versions of achamanam consist of swallowing(not sipping) water 3 times from the Brahma-Grantha (base of the right thumb) while reciting different mantras in praise of the lord. Water is first poured into the cupped palm of the right hand. One then recites the specific mantra and silently swallows the water from the base of the thumb.
In the pañcaratra achamanam, the three mantras are:
- Achyutaya Namaha (In the Name of the Innumerable Lord)
- Anantaya Namaha (In the Name of the Infinite Lord)
- Govindaya Namaha (In the name of Lord Govinda)
- Tát savitúr váreṇyaṃ
- Bhárgo devásya dhīmahi
- Dhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt
These forms of achamanam are performed constantly throughout most major Hindu rituals. Important examples include marriages and upanayana.
As part of sandhyavandanam, some of the achamana are replaced by the longer purana achamana, which extends the sruti achamanam. First, the sruti is performed, and then it is extended to the purification of the chakras through the touching of certain fingers of the right hand to certain points on the face and body, along with mantras. These are:
- Keshavaya Namaha - Thumb to touch the right cheek
- Narayanaya Namaha - Thumb, left cheek
- Madhavaya Namaha - Ring finger, right eye
- Govindaya Namaha - Ring finger, left eye
- Vishnave Namaha - Index finger, right side of the nose
- Madhusudhanaya Namaha - Index finger, left side of the nose
- Trivikramaya Namaha - little finger, right ear
- Vamanaya Namaha - little finger, left ear
- Shridharaya Namaha - third (middle) finger, right shoulder
- Hrishikeshaya Namaha - third finger, left shoulder
- Padmanabhaya Namaha - four fingers (hand with thumb folded inwards), navel
- Damodaraya Namaha - four fingers, head.
- Sankarshanaya namaha
- Vasudevaya namaha
- Pradyumnaya namaha
- Anirudhaya namaha
- Purushothamaya namaha
- Adhokshajaya namaha
- Narasimhaya namaha
- Achyutaya namaha
- Janardanaya namaha
- Upendraya namaha
- Hariye namaha
- Sri krishnaya namaha
These may be performed whether or not a ritual is to follow; its significance in ritual purification is as valid as "basic" achamanam, and vice versa.
When Achamanam is forbidden
Achamanam is not to be done immediately after taking prasad, or swallowing tirtha - as these are holy and pure in itself and the symbolic act of purifying oneself through achamanam insults these articles' holiness.