The appropriate item for charity, Danavastu, called Deyam (Samskrit : देयम्) is a vast topic described in the ancient hindu literature. Among the deya things, many puranas refer to different things as best, medium and of least significance each in a different way. Example : Skanda purana refers to curd and honey dana is of least type whereas they are among the best according to Hemadri (Page 16 of Reference).
- 1 Definition of Deyam
- 2 Deya Things
- 3 Best of Dana
- 4 Dana Forms
- 5 References
Definition of Deyam
A simple definition of Deyam as given by Devala quoted in Chaturvarga Chintamani of Hemadri is
अपराबाधमक्लेशं प्रयत्नेनार्जीतं धनम् । स्वल्पं वा विपुलं वापि देयमित्यभिदीयते ॥ (Page 15 of Ref )
aparābādhamakleśaṁ prayatnenārjītaṁ dhanam । svalpaṁ vā vipulaṁ vāpi deyamityabhidīyate ॥
Meaning : That is deyam, (proper subject for a gift) which has been acquired by the donor himself without causing pain or loss to another or without worry of trouble to himself, whether it be small or valuable.
It is not the extent of the gift that causes greater or lesser merit. Merit (punya) depends upon the mental attitude, the capacity of the giver and the way in which the donor acquired his wealth.
If a man were to given even the whole earth acquired by unjust means, or if he gives without shraddha or to an unsuitable recipient, he would secure no prosperity (religious merit) thereby. On the other hand, even a handful of vegetables with a heart full of shraddha given to a worthy person, secure him all prosperity. Instantly, the offer of amla (small gooseberry) to Adi Shankaracharya (the worthiest recipient) which secured immense prosperity to the donor, comes to one's mind.
If one possessing a thousand gives away a gift of 100 or one having ten gives away 1 and another gives only water according to his ability, they all reap an equal reward.
Among many things that are given in general for dana such as food, land, cows, gold, honey, clothes, lamps, education etc, on special occasions such as during shraddha, sesame are given. A brief exposure to different items for gift is given in the following section as explained in a few texts as follows:
According to this smriti, a person making a gift of land (capable of yielding a crop or fruits), lamp, wood, garment, water (water reservoir), sesame, ghee, rest house for travellers, money for getting a person married, gold, draught ox, is honoured in the heavenly world. One who makes a gift of a house, corn, protection from danger, shoes, umbrella, flowers, fragrances, conveyance (chariot etc), tree, a desired thing, a cot secures endless happiness.
भूदीपांश् चान्नवस्त्राम्भस्- तिलसर्पिःप्रतिश्रयान् । नैवेशिकं स्वर्णधुर्यं दत्त्वा स्वर्गे महीयते ॥ यास्मृ१.२१० ॥
गृहधान्याभयोपानच्- छत्रमाल्यानुलेपनम् । यानं वृक्षं प्रियं शय्यां दत्त्वात्यन्तं सुखी भवेत् ॥ यास्मृ१.२११ ॥ (Yajn. Smri. 1.210 and 211)
bhūdīpāṁś cānnavastrāmbhas- tilasarpiḥpratiśrayān । naiveśikaṁ svarṇadhuryaṁ dattvā svarge mahīyate ॥ yāsmr̥1.210 ॥
gr̥hadhānyābhayopānac- chatramālyānulepanam । yānaṁ vr̥kṣaṁ priyaṁ śayyāṁ dattvātyantaṁ sukhī bhavet ॥ yāsmr̥1.211 ॥ (Yajn. Smri. 1.210 and 211)
Gifts of three things are said to be superior to the gift of anything else, and are styled Atidana, namely of cows, land, and Sarasvati (vidya) according to Vashishta Dharmasutras.
त्रीण्याहुरतिदानानि गावः पृथ्वी सरस्वती । अतिदानं हि दानानां विध्दानं ततोऽधिकम्॥ (Vash. Dhar. 29.19)
trīṇyāhuratidānāni gāvaḥ pr̥thvī sarasvatī । atidānaṁ hi dānānāṁ vidhdānaṁ tato'dhikam॥ (Vash. Dhar. 29.19)
Among the various things classified as Deyam, a different view of Hemadri quoting Devala is as follows:
अन्नं दधि मधु त्राणं गोभूरुक्माश्वहस्तिनः । दानान्युत्तमदानानि उत्तमद्रव्यदानतः ॥
विद्यादानादनावास-परिभोगौषधानि च । दानानि मध्यमानीह मध्यद्रव्यदानतः ॥
परिभोग इति परिभोगसाधनं खट्वासनादि । उपानत्प्रेङ्खयानानि छत्रपात्रासनानि च । दीपकाष्ठफलादीनि चरमं बहुवार्षिकम् ॥
बहुत्वादर्थजातानां संख्या शेषेषु नेष्यते ।अधमान्यवशिष्टानि सर्व्वदानान्यती विदुः ॥ (Page 16 of Reference).
annaṁ dadhi madhu trāṇaṁ gobhūrukmāśvahastinaḥ । dānānyuttamadānāni uttamadravyadānataḥ ॥
vidyādānādanāvāsa-paribhogauṣadhāni ca । dānāni madhyamānīha madhyadravyadānataḥ ॥
paribhoga iti paribhogasādhanaṁ khaṭvāsanādi । upānatpreṅkhayānāni chatrapātrāsanāni ca । dīpakāṣṭhaphalādīni caramaṁ bahuvārṣikam ॥
bahutvādarthajātānāṁ saṁkhyā śeṣeṣu neṣyate ।adhamānyavaśiṣṭāni sarvvadānānyatī viduḥ ॥ (Page 16 of Reference).
Summary : Food, curds, honey, protection, cow, land, gold, horses and elephants - gifts of these nine are said to be uttama (best). Vidya (gift of education), house for unsheltered, domestic household items of comfort (परिभोग such as cots), medicines - gifts of these four are said to be of medium level. Shoes, swings, carts, umbrellas, vessals, seat to sit, lamps, wood, fruits, whatever is old and worn out, and all other unspecified objects are inferior.
Best of Dana
Although various occasions have different things prescribed as deyam according to texts, following are considered as the greatest of gifts donating which brings unsurpassed rewards to the donor.
Along with Vashistha dharmasutras, Manusmriti (4.233) and Atrismriti (340), Yajnavalkya smriti (1.212) say that vidyadana (the gift of vidya) is foremost among other gifts such as those of water, food, cows, land, garments, sesame, gold and clarified butter.
Mahabharata, Anushasana Parva describes jaladana (the gift of water) to the thirsty as the greatest of gifts and charity.
सर्वदानैर्गुरुतरं सर्वगानैर्विशिष्यते । पानीयं नरशार्दूल तस्माद् दातव्यमेव हि॥ (Maha. Anush. 58.21) 
sarvadānairgurutaraṁ sarvagānairviśiṣyate । pānīyaṁ naraśārdūla tasmād dātavyameva hi॥ (Maha. Anush. 58.21)
Bhishma says 'O Narashardula (Lion among men) jaladana (gift of water) is the greatest and supreme among all danas, hence it should always be performed.'
Mahabharata, Vanaparva describes annadana (gift of food) as one which bestows immense punya and is equal to no other gift.
तस्मात् त्वं सर्वदानानि हित्वान्नं सम्प्रयच्छह न हीदृशं पुण्यफलं विचित्रमिह विद्यते। (Maha. Vana. 200.35)
अन्नमेव विशिष्टं हि तस्मात्परतरं न च॥ (Maha. Vana. 200.37)
tasmāt tvaṁ sarvadānāni hitvānnaṁ samprayacchaha na hīdr̥śaṁ puṇyaphalaṁ vicitramiha vidyate। (Maha. Vana. 200.35)
annameva viśiṣṭaṁ hi tasmātparataraṁ na ca॥ (Maha. Vana. 200.37)
According to Vashishta Dharmasutras (29.16) Matsya Purana and Mahabharata Anushasana parva (Adhyaya 62), the gift of land, is proclaimed to be the highest of dana.
अतिदानानि सर्वाणि पृथवीदानमुच्यते । अचला ह्यक्षया भूमिर्दोग्ध्री कामानिहोत्तमान् ॥ (Maha. Anush. 62.2)
atidānāni sarvāṇi pr̥thavīdānamucyate । acalā hyakṣayā bhūmirdogdhrī kāmānihottamān ॥ (Maha. Anush. 62.2)
Bhishma says 'It is said that the greatest of all great danas is prthvidana (पृथवीदानम्). Prthvi is immovable and imperishable. It bestows the best of pleasures in this world.
Vishnudharmasutras (92.1) says that the gift of protection from danger is the highest.
Danas of various types are seen associated with individual's religious activities such as yajna, yaga, shraaddha, vratas, and samskaras, during eclipses and sankranti (sun's passage into a zodiac sign), teerthayatras. Dana for community benefit is called as Utsarga, which was mainly taken up by the governance involving kings and emperors. Gifts of certain kinds are called Mahadanas. A brief list of deya things are mentioned here under different headings.
These include the Dashadanas (दशदानानि) which are ten in number and Shodashadanas (षोडशदानानि) which constitute donation of 16 kinds of things. We see from the following information that some items of dana are of the same material even though their construction is different (dhenu or parvata). These are described in great detail in Puranas viz.
Dashadanas : Agnipurana (209.23-24) describes them in detail - dana of gold, horses, sesame, elephants, maids, chariots, land, houses, a bride, and a dark - brown (kapila) cow constitute the ten dashadanas.
Shodashadanas : Agnipurana (210.1 to 4) Matsya Purana (274 to 289) Linga Purana (Uttaratha.28) describe the sixteen mahadanas as :
- तुलापुरुषदानम् । Tulapurusha dana
- हिरण्यगर्भदानम् । Hiranyagarbha dana
- ब्रह्माण्डंदानम् । Brahmanda dana
- कल्पवृक्षदानम् । Kalpavriksha dana
- गोसहस्रदानम् । Gosahasra dana
- हिरण्यकामधेनुदानम् । Kamadhenu or Hiranyakamadhenu dana
- हिरण्याश्वदानम् । Hiranyashva dana
- हिरण्याश्वरथदानम् । Hiranyashvaratha or Ashvaratha dana
- हस्तिरथदानम् । Hemahastiratha or Hastiratha dana
- पञ्चलाङ्गलदानम् । Panchalangala dana
- धरादानम् । Dharadana or Haiadharadana
- विश्वचक्रं दानम् । Vishvachakra dana
- कल्पलता दानम् । Kalpalata or Mahakalpalata dana
- सप्तसागरदानम् । Saptasagara dana
- रत्नधेनुदानम् । Ratnadhenu dana
- महाभूतघटदानम् । Mahabhutaghata dana
Each of these is considered sacred and is expected to enhance the donor's age and virtue, to absolve one of all guilt and save him/her from nightmares. While the shodasha danas are clearly royal gifts or ones that are feasible only for the very rich, dasha danas are for people with more limited means. Both are accompanied by dakshina to the brahmins and elaborate rituals, ceremonies, feast for the guest and annadana and vastradana to the poor.
In imitation of the gift of the cow, gift of certain articles were made and they are described as dhenus. Matsya Purana (82.17 to 22) and Agnipurana (210.11-12) enumerate the same ten dhenus made of different materials. Matsya Purana cites the following dhenudanas along with three others
- गुडधेनुः । Gudadhenu (jaggery)
- घृतधेनुः । Ghrtadhenu (ghee)
- तिलधेनुः । Tiladhenu (sesame)
- जलधेनुः । Jaladhenu (water)
- क्षीरधेनुः । Kshiradhenu (milk)
- मधुधेनुः । Madhudhenu (honey)
- शर्कराधेनुः । Sharkaradhenu (sugar)
- दधिर्धेनुः । Dadhidhenu (curds)
- रसधेनुः । Rasadhenu (Other liquids)
- धेनुः स्वरूपतः । Dhenu swaroopa (dhenu itself)
- सुवर्णधेनुः । Suvarnadhenu (gold)
- नवनीतधेनुः । Navanitadhenu (butter)
- रत्नधेनुः । Ratnadhenu (precious stones)
These mostly follow the same template: a motif of a cow and calf made on a dark coloured antelope skin laid on the floor, cleaned with cowdung and has been covered with kusha grass with the neck portion facing east direction. A smaller skin (represents a calf) is also spread prepared in the same manner. The body is made with main item of the dana, for example if jaggery is the item to be donated a mound of 2 or 4 bharas (a unit of measure) is placed on the skin. If this is in liquid form, then pots are used to keep the material. If the material is dry, then it is kept in a mound. Various articles such as conch shells, sugarcane pieces, pearls, chowries, corals are placed on the skin to represent various limbs of the cow. This is then worshipped with dhupa (incense) and lamps and invoked with pauranika mantras. The the articles are donated to a brahmana.
- धान्यशैलः। Dhanya (grains)
- लवणाचलः । Lavana (salt)
- गुड़ाचलः । Guda (jaggery)
- हेमपर्वतः । Hema (gold)
- तिलशैलः । Tila (sesame)
- कार्पासपर्वतः । Karpasa (cotton)
- घृतशैलः । Ghrta (ghee)
- रत्नशैलः । Ratna (precious stones)
- रजताचलः । Rajata (silver)
- शर्कराचलः । Sharkara (sugar)
This dana is performed after observing Meru Vrata on Kartika Poornima as described in Agnipurana (Adhyaya 212). It can also be made on Sankranti when surya transits into a new zodiac (takes 30 days). Meru refers to a legendary sacred mountain, considered to be the centre of Universe. Meru dana refers to a pile (symbolizing Meru mountain) made with a particular item, surrounded by twelve smaller piles (symbolizing Malyavaan, Bhadrashv, Riksh, Nishadh, Hemkoot, Himvaan/ Himalaya, Neel, Shwet, Shringvan, Gandhmaadan, Vaikang and Ketumaal mountains). Different forms of Meru Dana are:
1. Ratna Meru
2. Suvarna Meru
3. Rajata Meru
4. Bhoomi Meru
5. Hasti Meru
6. Ashva Meru
7. Go Meru
8. Vastra Meru
9. Ajya Meru
10. Khanda Meru
11. Dhanya Meru
12. Tila Meru
Tila Dana (तिलदानम्)
Donation of sesame is very important and many special forms of this have evolved, each with a specific purpose. Specific forms of Til Dana are:
1. Tila Rashi Dana
2. Tila Patra Dana
3. Maha Til Patra Dana
4. Tila Padma Dana
5. Tila Poorna Kamsya Patra Dana
6. Tila Kumbha Dana
7. Tila Karaka Dana
8. Tilaranjaka Dana
9. Tila Peetha Dana
10. Tila Adarsha Dana
11. Ahamkara Dana
12. Rudra Ekadashi Til Dana
13. Tila Garbha Dana
Tila dana is done to expiate one from various sins, including patricide. Significance of Tila dana is noted for healing as remedy to cure many diseases such as tuberculosis, skin diseases such as eczema, leprosy, speech impediment and mental diseases such as hallucinations and nightmares.
Grahashanti Dana (ग्रहशान्तिदानम्)
Yajnavalkya smriti (1.295 to 308) deals extensively with Grahashanti or propitiation of planets for beneficial results. He who desires for prosperity, to avert calamities, get good rains, long life and health should perform yajnas to propitiate the nine grahas (planets) viz. ravi (sun), chandra (moon), kuja (mars), budha (mercury), guru (jupiter), sukra (venus), sani (saturn), Rahu and Ketu grahas. The Matsya purana (Adhyaya 93) contains a detailed procedure of grahashanti and adhyaya 94 describes how the images of nine planets are to be represented. In modern times the articles to be donated to propitiate the nine planets are stated in Dharmasindhu (Vol 2, Part 2)
- Agarwal, Sanjay. (2010) Daan and Other Giving Traditions in India. New Delhi: AccountAid, India
- Pt. Bharatachandra Siromani (1873) Chaturvarga Chintamani by Hemadri, Vol 1, Dana kanda. Calcutta: The Asiatic Society of Bengal
- Kane, Pandurang. Vaman. (1941) History of Dharmasastra, Volume Two, Part 2. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
- Yajnavalkya Smriti (Adhayaya 1 Acharyadhyaya)
- Vashistha Dharmasutras (Adhyaya 29)
- Pt. Ramnarayandatt Shastri. Mahabharata with Hindi Translation, Volume 6. (Anushasana Parva Adhyaya 57). Gorakhpur : Gita Press
- Pt. Ramnarayandatt Shastri. Mahabharata with Hindi Translation, Volume 6. (Anushasana Parva Adhyaya 58) Gorakhpur : Gita Press
- Pt. Ramnarayandatt Shastri. Mahabharata with Hindi Translation, Volume 6. (Anushasana Parva Adhyaya 62). Gorakhpur : Gita Press
- Agni Purana (Adhyaya 210)
- Matsya Purana (Adhyaya 82)
- Matsya Purana (Adhyaya 83)