Donor or data (Samskrit : दाता) is one who consciously gives up the ownership over a thing/substance/item (eligible for dana) to another person (or community) who accepts mentally, vocally or physically the thing or material from the donor.
According to Devala, the donor should be free from incurable or disgusting diseases, be religious, charitably inclined, free from vices, pure and following a blameless profession for livelihood. Veda Vyasa in his smriti says (also seen in Skanda Purana) 
शतेषु जायते शूरः सहस्रेषु च पण्डितः । वक्ता शतसहस्रेषु दाता भवति वा न वा ॥ (व्यासस्मृति ४।५८-५९; स्कन्दपुराण, मा॰ कुमा॰ २।७०).
śateṣu jāyate śūraḥ sahasreṣu ca paṇḍitaḥ । vaktā śatasahasreṣu dātā bhavati vā na vā ॥ (vyāsasmr̥ti 4।58-59; skandapurāṇa, mā॰ kumā॰ 2।70).
Meaning: Amongst a hundred men, one may be found to be brave, among thousands a learned man, among hundreds of thousands an orator, but a donor may or may not be found.
Scriptures have not laid any restrictions as who can take the sankalp of donation and be a donor. Any person irrespective of age, gender can make a donation
When on seeing a needy person the donor feels pleasure and indicates it by a smiling face, when he shows honour and is free from a feeling or ill-will or irritation (towards the supplaint), that is said to be shraddha according to Devala. Manu says that he who gives a gift with honour and he who accepts it with honour both go to the heaven, but if the reverse is the case they go to hell. (Manu. 4.235)
It is mentioned in Mahabharata (Anushashana Parva 59.7) that whatever is in this world a most desirable thing 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 Yajnavalkya, the reward of making gifts secretly, possessing knowledge without having pride and engaging in japa without others noticing it is infinite. Devala says sacrifice, gift and study lose their power and perish by being declared to others, by boasting about them or by repenting of having done them. Therefore, one should not without good reason proclaim one's meritorious act.
Several smritis note that it is a rare sight to see a man giving away in charity wealth earned by him. Vedavyasa smriti, Jaimini smriti (6.7.1 to7) establishes several propositions namely - a donor can gift only those objects that he owns and has earned them by just means. He cannot make a gift of what one's relatives (parents, sons and others) own in the Visvajit yaga among other things. Yajnavalkya Smriti (2.175) states
- स्वं कुटुम्बाविरोधेन देयं दारसुतादृते इति । svaṁ kuṭumbāvirodhena deyaṁ dārasutādr̥te iti ।
Meaning : One's property may be given as gift without detriment to the family.
Narada Smriti (Dattapradanika) also says that the donor has to provide for his family and part of the remaining income can be given as gift.
कुटुम्बभरणाद्द्रव्यं यत्किंचिदतिरिच्यते । तद्देयं उपहृत्यान्यद्ददद्दोषं अवाप्नुयात् । । ४.०६ । ।
kuṭumbabharaṇāddravyaṁ yatkiṁcidatiricyate । taddeyaṁ upahr̥tyānyaddadaddoṣaṁ avāpnuyāt । । 4.06 । ।
Meaning : After providing for maintenance of the family, only the remainder alone may be given (as gift). By giving away more than that, the owner incurs censure. Manu summarizes this aspect by saying
शक्तः परजने दाता स्वजने दुःखजीविनि । मध्वापातो विषास्वादः स धर्मप्रतिरूपकः । । ११.९ (Manu. Smri. 11.9)
śaktaḥ parajane dātā svajane duḥkhajīvini । madhvāpāto viṣāsvādaḥ sa dharmapratirūpakaḥ । । 11.9 (Manu. Smri. 11.9)
The charity of him who has wealth enough to make gifts to strangers, when his own people live a life of misery, is only a false imitation of dharma, it is at first like honey but will taste like poison (later).
Hemadri quotes Sivadharma to the effect that a man should set apart three parts out of five from his acquisitions for himself and his family and two parts for dharma as life is evanescent.
Guidelines for a Donor
The Shastra Granthas take great care in enumerating the precautions to be taken by a donor. For, the Patrata (पात्रता । Eligibility) of the receiver, the appropriateness of the time and place of charity decide the fruitfulness of the act of donation.
Apastamba Dharma Sutra
- Expounding on how should a Dana be given, the Apastamba Dharma Sutra says,
१ तत्र गुणान्समीक्ष्य यथाशक्ति देयम् || tatra guṇān samīkṣya yathā śakti deyam || 2:5:10:2.||
Meaning: [The donor] must examine the qualities [of the petitioner] and give according to his means.
- What requests as charity should be disregarded ? Apastamba Dharma Sutra says,
२ इन्द्रियप्रीत्यर्थस्य तु भिक्षणमनिमित्तम् । न तदाद्रियेत || 2:5:10:3.|| १७ योक्ता च धर्मयुक्तेषु द्रव्यपरिग्रहेषु च || 2:8:20:18.|| १८ प्रतिपादयिता च तीर्थे || 2:8:20:19.||
indriya prīty arthasya tu bhikṣaṇam animittam | na tad ādriyeta || 2:5:10:3.|| yā-uktā ca dharma yukteṣu dravya parigraheṣu ca || 2:8:20:18.|| pratipādayitā ca tīrthe || 2:8:20:19.||
Meaning: But if persons solicit donations for the sake of sensual gratification, that is improper; one should disregard them. And let him acquire money in all ways that are lawful. And let him spend money on worthy [persons or objects].
Manusmriti (11.6) also advices the same.
- Whom should a donation NOT be given to ? According to Apastamba Dharma Sutra,
१९ यन्ता चातीर्थे यतो न भयं स्यात् || 2:8:20:20.|| २० संग्रहीता च मनुष्यान् || 2:8:20:21.||
yantā ca-atīrthe yato na bhayaṃ syāt || 2:8:20:20.|| saṃgrahītā ca manuṣyān || 2:8:20:21.||
Meaning: And let him not give anything to an unworthy [person], whom he does not fear. And let him conciliate people [by gifts or kindness].
- What are the parameters for an appropriate donation ? Apastamba Dharma Sutra says,
११ देशतः कालतः शौचतः सम्यक् प्रतिग्रहीतृत इति दानानि प्रतिपादयति || 2:6:15:12.||
deśataḥ kālataḥ śaucataḥ samyak pratigrahītṛta iti dānāni pratipādayati || 2:6:15:12.||
Meaning: One shall distribute his gifts at the proper places, at the proper times, at the occasion of purificatory rites, and to proper recipients.
Manusmriti (3.98) also gives a similar instruction to the donor.
Great Donors in History
Danaveera is an interesting concept and is used to denote a person who is very courageous and true to his/her words in matters related to dana. Bharat's texts abound with stories of many such donors.
- Vagdana - Satya Harishchandra (सत्यहरिश्चन्द्रः)
- Bhudana - Bali Chakravarti (बलिचक्रवर्तिः)
- Abhayadana - Shibi Chakravarti (शिबिचक्रवर्तिः)
- Annadana - Rantideva (रन्तिदेवः)
Apart from these great people who went to great lengths to fulfill their sankalpa of giving mostly for community welfare, a special mention of fame of Karna (कर्णः) is made in Mahabharata as Danaveera.
During the battle of Mahabharat, Karn donated his life-saving armour to Shri Krishn, disguised as a Brahmin, knowing fully well that it may lead to his death.
Another popular story relates to the time when Karn lay dying on the battlefield. According to this version, Shri Krishna expressed remorse at Karn's imminent death, as he was a great donor. Arjuna was not convinced. To prove his point, Shri Krishn went to Karn, dressed as a Brahmin, and asked for some help. Karn advised the Brahmin to visit his house, as he had no money. When the Brahmin hesitated, Karn requested him to extract his gold tooth instead. The Brahmin again resisted this offer, which involved violence. Karn then dragged himself to a stone nearby, and removed his tooth himself. He then washed it with water extracted from Earth, and offered the gold as daan to the Brahmin. At this Shri Krishn showed his real self, and blessed Karn.
This story also refers to another popular tale of Karn’s generosity. A Brahmin approached King Yudhishthir for some dry sandalwood to cook his food. As it was raining, all the sandalwood was wet, and none could be obtained from the city’s merchants either. King Yudhishthir then apologized to the Brahmin for not being able to arrange the sandalwood. The Brahmin then went to Karn's house. Karn also had no dry sandalwood. However, he immediately pulled off the sandalwood doors to his mansions, and gave the wood to the seeker. This story is meant to illustrate the depth of Karn's generosity, about how he was innovative in ways to help any seeker who approached him.
- Kane, Pandurang. Vaman. (1941) History of Dharmasastra, Volume Two, Part 2. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
- Skanda Purana (Khanda 1 Mahesvara khanda Kaumarika Khanda)
- Yajnavalkya Smriti (Vyavahara Adhyaya Dattapradanika Prakarana)
- Justice M. Rama Jois. (First Ed: 1984 Reprint: 2010) Legal and Constitutional History of India - Ancient Legal, Judicial and Constitutional System. New Delhi: Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd.
- Narada Smriti (Vyavaharapadani Dattapradanikam)
- Apastamba Dharma Sutra
- Pandit Rama Ramanujachari, Apastamba Dharma Sutras, Simha Publications (2012)
- Agarwal, Sanjay. (2010) Daan and Other Giving Traditions in India. New Delhi: AccountAid, India