Utsarga (Samskrit : उत्सर्गः) literally means ‘letting go’. This happens when a property or item is dedicated or released for general public use. Pratishta and Utsarga involve acts of foundation of temples and dedication of wells, tanks, parks for the benefit of the public. Such works of public utility have been highly recommended from very ancient times.
- 1 Definitions
- 2 Importance of Utsarga
- 3 जलाशयोत्सर्गत्वम् ॥ Utsarga of Jalashaya
- 4 द्वारी बन्ध ॥ Dvari Bandh
- 5 वापीकूपतडागोत्सर्गविधिवर्णनम् ॥ Dedication of Water Reservoirs
- 6 वृक्षारोपणम् ॥ Vrksharopana
- 7 Ashraya and Pratishraya
- 8 References
There is a difference in the technical meaning of Dana and Utsarga. Pratishtha, however, involves the concept of Utsarga but differ in the things beings dedicated.
दानम् ॥ Dana
Dana (दानम्) is when the donor gives up his ownership over a thing, makes another the owner of it and cannot thereafter use it nor has any control over it.
उत्सर्गः ॥ Utsarga
Utsarga means 'divesting oneself of ownership over a thing and dedicating it for the use of all'. Thus, when a man makes an Utsarga, he no doubt gives up his ownership, but he gives up the thing for the benefit of all (he uses the word sarvabhutebhayah) and so the opinion of most writers is that he can as a member of the public make use of the thing dedicated by him, though a few authors recommended that he should not do so.
प्रतिष्ठा ॥ Pratishta
According to Danakriyakaumudi (p. 166) Pratishta (प्रतिष्ठा) generally means dedicating to the public with prescribed rites.
प्रतिष्ठापनं सविधिकोत्सर्जनमित्यर्थः । pratiṣṭhāpanaṁ savidhikotsarjanamityarthaḥ ।
While both Utsarga and Pratishta involve giving up ownership for the benefit of the community, Utsarga is the term used with regard to dedication of water bodies (vapi, kupa, pushkarini and tadaga). In case of installing images in temples, the proper word to use is Pratishta and not Utsarga. Pratishta as a procedure involves Utsarga (which is the act of divesting one's ownership) as one of the steps.
Importance of Utsarga
Construction of temples, digging of wells, and establishing religious and charitable foundations and institutions is included under purtadharma and people of all varnas, ashramas, women and widows could perform such dharma. The Istadharma included vedic sacrifices and danas associated with them had some restrictions about who should perform them and the procedures involved. Shabara in his Bhashya on Jaimini sutras (1.3.2) refers to the Smrti rules about charitable objects which are based on Shruti passages as
प्रपास्तडागानि च परोपकाराय न धर्मायेत्येवावगम्यते तथा च दर्शनम् धन्वन्निव प्रपा असीति तथा स्थलयोदकं परिगृह्णन्तीति च ॥
प्र ते यक्षि प्र त इयर्मि मन्म भुवो यथा वन्द्यो नो हवेषु । धन्वन्निव प्रपा असि त्वमग्न इयक्षवे पूरवे प्रत्न राजन् ॥१॥ (Rig. Veda. 10.4.1)
prapāstaḍāgāni ca paropakārāya na dharmāyetyevāvagamyate tathā ca darśanam dhanvanniva prapā asīti tathā sthalayodakaṁ parigr̥hṇantīti ca ॥
pra te yakṣi pra ta iyarmi manma bhuvo yathā vandyo no haveṣu । dhanvanniva prapā asi tvamagna iyakṣave pūrave pratna rājan ॥1॥ (Rig. Veda. 10.4.1)
'O Agni, who art ancient and a raja, thou art to the man who desires to offer a sacrifice like Prapa (shed where water is distributed to travellers) in a desert." In Rigveda, mandala 10, a mention of pushkarini is made as given
भोजायाश्वं सं मृजन्त्याशुं भोजायास्ते कन्या शुम्भमाना । भोजस्येदं पुष्करिणीव वेश्म परिष्कृतं देवमानेव चित्रम् ॥१०॥ (Rig. Veda. 10.107.10)
bhojāyāśvaṁ saṁ mr̥jantyāśuṁ bhojāyāste kanyā śumbhamānā । bhojasyedaṁ puṣkariṇīva veśma pariṣkr̥taṁ devamāneva citram ॥10॥ (Rig. Veda. 10.107.10)
The Vishnu Smrti (Adhyaya 91) extensively deals with the rewards obtained by conducting acts of digging wells, planting trees, building new temples and renovating dilapidated temples. Even later day Samskrit texts such as Kadambari by Banabhatta mentions that smritis enjoined upon men the foundation (for public use) of halls, shelters, wells, prapas (water sheds), gardens, temples, embankments, and water wheels.
इष्टापूर्तौ स्मृतौ धर्मौ श्रुतौ तौ शिष्टसंमतौ । भुक्तिमुक्तिप्रदं पूर्तमिष्टं भोगार्थसाधनम् ॥ Kalika Purana 
iṣṭāpūrtau smr̥tau dharmau śrutau tau śiṣṭasaṁmatau । bhuktimuktipradaṁ pūrtamiṣṭaṁ bhogārthasādhanam ॥ Kalika Purana
It is said that the reward of sacrifices is only heaven, but by purta (consecration of temples etc) one secures release from samsara as per Kalika purana.
Mahabharata, Danadharma parva of Anushasana parva extolls the greatness of charity to brahmanas as well as that made to community.
This shows that charitable works for the use of the public or large sections of the public came to be regarded as more meritorious than sacrifices where gifts benefited only brahmanas.
जलाशयोत्सर्गत्वम् ॥ Utsarga of Jalashaya
Reservoirs of water that are dug out by man are of four kinds, viz.,
- कूपः ॥ Kupa : a well (5 to 50 cubits in length or in diameter if circular), generally with no flight of steps to reach the water.
- वापी ॥ Vapi : a slightly bigger well (50 to 100 cubits) with a flight of steps on all sides or on three or two sides or even only one side.
- पुष्करिणी ॥ Pushkarini : is a water body, a pond from 100 to 200 cubits in length or diameter.
- तडागः ॥ Tadaga : is a tank from 200 to 800 cubits in length or diameter.
Providing water for travellers or general public through dedication of Jalashaya (wells, ponds and reservoirs) is an ancient practice. That the beings of all worlds depend in water and so having water reservoirs, ponds, lakes is well documented in the words of Bhishma as follows
देवा मनुष्यगन्धर्वाः पितरोरगराक्षसाः। स्थावराणि च भूतानि संश्रयन्ति जलाशयम्॥ (Maha. Anush. 13.58.8)
devā manuṣyagandharvāḥ pitaroragarākṣasāḥ। sthāvarāṇi ca bhūtāni saṁśrayanti jalāśayam॥
Devatas, human beings, gandharvas, forefathers, nagas, rakshasas and all the immobile beings (such as plants and trees) are dependent on water bodies (for sustenance).
Detailed guidance for construction of water bodies is given in traditional texts. It is also preserved among local communities and artisans.
The Puranas deal mainly with the ritualistic aspects.
An elaborate dedication ceremony for the ponds etc. has been described in Matsya Purana. This calls for creation of vedi, havana, Vastu pooja, etc. The following are required to be placed in a jewelled pot made of gold:
● A tortoise and a crocodile, made of gold
● A fish and snake/chameleon, made of silver
● A crab, frog, crow and shishumar (शिशुमार a water creature similar to crocodile), made of copper.
Dust from elephant stables, horse stables, valmeeka (ant-hill), river confluence, cow-hoof dust, cow-shed and cross-roads is also used in the ceremonies. After the rituals, 25-100 cows are given as dakshina to Brahmins. Finally, one of the cows is made to enter the pond briefly, and the donor is required to wade after her, holding on to her tail. The metal tortoise, etc. from the jewelled pot are then placed in the pond at various places. The pot itself, containing curd, rice and water from a great river, is emptied in to the pond. The pond is then dedicated for public use.
The havana ritual continues for another four days, when finally the mandapa is broken up. The items used in the havana are distributed to the Brahmins who performed the ceremonies. The ceremony ends with a feast for 20-1000 Brahmins. If funds are a constraint, a simpler dedication ceremony can be performed.
The Danadharma parva of Anushasana parva describes the greatness of danas of various things and the rewards for doing so in a detailed manner. Digging of ponds, wells and setting up of gardens for public use has been highly recommended in the Danadharma parva in Adhyaya 58. Upon being questioned by Yudhisthira, Bhishma explains the rewards of making jalashayas and gardens for the community.
त्रिषु लोकेषु सर्वत्र पूजनीयस्तडागवान्॥ (Maha. Anush. 13.58.4)
धर्मस्यार्थस्य कामस्य फलमाहुर्मनीषिणः। तडागसुकृतं देशे क्षेत्रमेकं महाश्रयम्॥ (Maha. Anush. 13.58.6)
triṣu lokeṣu sarvatra pūjanīyastaḍāgavān॥
dharmasyārthasya kāmasya phalamāhurmanīṣiṇaḥ। taḍāgasukr̥taṁ deśe kṣetramekaṁ mahāśrayam॥
One who constructs tanks (तडागाः) for the benefit of community, will be revered in the three worlds. Construction of even a single water body, will bestow the rewards of adhering to Dharma, Artha and Kama; such a place endowed with beautiful lakes will support many beings.
देवा मनुष्यगन्धर्वाः पितरोरगराक्षसाः। स्थावराणि च भूतानि संश्रयन्ति जलाशयम्॥ (Maha. Anush. 13.58.8)
devā manuṣyagandharvāḥ pitaroragarākṣasāḥ। sthāvarāṇi ca bhūtāni saṁśrayanti jalāśayam॥
Devatas, humans, gandharvas, forefathers, nagas, rakshasas, and all the immobile beings (such as plants and trees) depend on lakes (water bodies) and ponds.
The rewards linked to the availability of water in the pond are also explicitly given as follows (Anushasana Parva 58.10 to 14): (Table as given on pg. 55 of Reference )
|Availabilty of water||Reward|
|During rains (Varsha Kala)||Equivalent to Agnihotra Yajna|
|During Autumn (Sharat Kala)||Equivalent to 1000 Godana|
|During Hemanta Kala||Equivalent to large Yajna, with gold dakshina|
|During Winters (Shishira Kala)||Equivalent to Agnishtoma Yajna|
|During Spring (Vasanta Kala)||Equivalent to Atiratra Yajna|
|During Summers (Grishma Kala)||Equivalent to Ashvamedha yajna|
Anushasana Parva (58.16 to 18) describe the rewards linked to the usage pattern. Vishnu Dharmottara Purana describes the rewards of water availability in the pond during rainy season to be equivalent to performance of Agnishtoma yajna.
प्रावृट्काले तु पानीयं तडागे यस्य तिष्ठति ॥१२ ॥(Vish. Dhar. Pura. 296.12)
अग्निष्टोमफलं तस्य पुरुषस्य प्रकीर्तितम् । (Vish. Dhar. Pura. 296.13)
prāvr̥ṭkāle tu pānīyaṁ taḍāge yasya tiṣṭhati ॥12 ॥
agniṣṭomaphalaṁ tasya puruṣasya prakīrtitam ।
Benefits of water and constructing water bodies depending on their location has been described in Vishnudharmottara Purana.
शक्रलोकमवाप्नोति तडागकरणात्पथि । मरौ तडागे पानीयं यस्य तिष्ठति वै द्विजाः ॥११॥(Vish. Dhar. Pura. 296.11)
विमानेनार्कवर्णेन ब्रह्मलोकं स गच्छति । (Vish. Dhar. Pura. 296.12)
śakralokamavāpnoti taḍāgakaraṇātpathi । marau taḍāge pānīyaṁ yasya tiṣṭhati vai dvijāḥ ॥11॥
vimānenārkavarṇena brahmalokaṁ sa gacchati ।
The following table summarizes the benefits of constructing tadaga-s and kupa-s in different locations:
|Anywhere||Attainment of Varunaloka|
|Public Pasture||Attainment of Goloka|
|Along the roads||Attainment of Indraloka|
|In a desert||Attainment of Brahmaloka|
|Construction of a canal||Attainment of heaven|
The following are the details from Vishnu Smrti (Adhyaya 91) outlining the rewards of digging wells and planting trees.
अथ कूपकर्तुस्तत्प्रवृत्ते पानीये दुष्कृतस्यार्धं विनश्यति ॥ ९१.१ ॥ तडागकृन्नित्यतृप्तो वारुणं लोकं अश्नुते ॥ ९१.२ ॥ जलप्रदः सदा तृप्तो भवति ॥ ९१.३ ॥
atha kūpakartustatpravr̥tte pānīye duṣkr̥tasyārdhaṁ vinaśyati ॥ 91.1 ॥ taḍāgakr̥nnityatr̥pto vāruṇaṁ lokaṁ aśnute ॥ 91.2 ॥ jalapradaḥ sadā tr̥pto bhavati ॥ 91.3 ॥
The digger of a well has the half of his evil acts destroyed as soon as water springs forth in it. One who digs water reservoirs is for ever freed from thirst and attains Varuna loka. One who gives water will be satisfied for ever (never suffer from thirst).
देवायतनकारी यस्य देवस्यायतनं करोति तस्यैव लोकं आप्नोति ॥ ९१.१० ॥ सुधासिक्तं कृत्वा यशसा विराजते ॥ ९१.११ ॥विचित्रं कृत्वा गन्धर्वलोकं आप्नोति ॥ ९१.१२ ॥
devāyatanakārī yasya devasyāyatanaṁ karoti tasyaiva lokaṁ āpnoti ॥ 91.10 ॥ sudhāsiktaṁ kr̥tvā yaśasā virājate ॥ 91.11 ॥vicitraṁ kr̥tvā gandharvalokaṁ āpnoti ॥ 91.12 ॥
One who constructs temples enters the loka of the deity for whom he erected that temple. He who paints the temple, white, acquires brilliant fame while one who colours it with different paints attains gandharva loka.
पुष्पप्रदानेन श्रीमान्भवति ॥ ९१.१३ ॥ अनुलेपनप्रदानेन कीर्तिमान् ॥ ९१.१४ ॥दीपप्रदानेन चक्षुष्मान्सर्वत्रोज्ज्वलश्च ॥ ९१.१५ ॥अन्नप्रदानेन बलवान् ॥ ९१.१६ ॥
puṣpapradānena śrīmānbhavati ॥ 91.13 ॥ anulepanapradānena kīrtimān ॥ 91.14 ॥dīpapradānena cakṣuṣmānsarvatrojjvalaśca ॥ 91.15 ॥annapradānena balavān ॥ 91.16 ॥
By giving flowers he becomes fortunate. Charity of aromatic applications (and scents) endows one with fame. By giving lamps one obtains an excellent eyesight and becomes radiant with lustre. By giving food the donor obtains strength.
देवनिर्माल्यापनयनात्गोदानफलं आप्नोति ॥ ९१.१७ ॥देवगृहमार्जनात्तदुपलेपनात्ब्राह्मणोच्छिष्टमार्जनात्पादशौचादकल्यपरिचरणाच्च ॥ ९१.१८ ॥ कूपारामतडागेषु देवतायतनेषु च । पुनः संस्कारकर्ता च लभते मौलिकं फलम् ॥ ९१.१९ ॥
devanirmālyāpanayanātgodānaphalaṁ āpnoti ॥ 91.17 ॥devagr̥hamārjanāttadupalepanātbrāhmaṇocchiṣṭamārjanātpādaśaucādakalyaparicaraṇācca ॥ 91.18 ॥ kūpārāmataḍāgeṣu devatāyataneṣu ca । punaḥ saṁskārakartā ca labhate maulikaṁ phalam ॥ 91.19 ॥
By removing the devanirmalya (remains of an offering to a deity) he obtains the same reward as for giving a cow. Same reward is also obtained by scouring a temple, smearing it with cow-dung, removing the left-overs of the food of a brahmana, by washing his feet and nursing him when sick. One who consecrates anew a well, garden, a pool or water reservoir, a temple (which have been soiled in time) obtains the same reward as he who first made them.
द्वारी बन्ध ॥ Dvari Bandh
Apart from water bodies, construction of dams was also referred to in later texts. Dvari Bandh refers to a dam, created by collecting flow of water from a waterfall or mountain stream. A detailed description of the dvari bandh has been given by Devipurana as quoted by Hemadri (Chaturvarga Chintamani Danakanda Adhyaya 13 p. 1007), along with the dedication ceremony and benefits.
According to this, several channels are provided to carry the water to fields or to the village. Gates may be added to regulate the flow of water. Dvari Bandh are categorised as uttam, madhyam and adham, depending on the amount of water collected. A dam which collects water in an area of 100,000 danda (stick length, an ancient measure of land) is considered best. The dam may be constructed with stones and rocks, over which Vajralepa (a kind of organic plaster) is applied. Parks and orchards may be provided around the dvari bandh for public use, along with ponds and wells.
The dvari bandh is dedicated for public use (utsarga) in an elaborate ceremony. Gifts of thousand cows is auspicious along with gifts of land, gold and dakshina as given in the sloka below:
द्वारीबन्धिषु कर्तव्यमुत्सर्गं गोप्रदानिकम् । गोसहस्रं शुभं देयं महीं हेमञ्च दक्षिणाम् ॥
dvārībandhiṣu kartavyamutsargaṁ gopradānikam । gosahasraṁ śubhaṁ deyaṁ mahīṁ hemañca dakṣiṇām ॥
The donor is rewarded with benefits far exceeding those of Ashvamedha Yajna, and attains divine worlds.
वापीकूपतडागोत्सर्गविधिवर्णनम् ॥ Dedication of Water Reservoirs
Sevaral works give a very comprehensive procedure of the consecration of wells, ponds and tanks, based on the grhyaparisishtas, the puranas, the tantras, Pancharatras and other works. A few works that cite these procedures include
- Matsya Purana (तड़ागारामकूपादीनां प्रतिष्ठाविधिवर्णनम् । Adhaya 58)
- Bhavishya Purana (Parva 4 Uttaraparva, Adhyaya 127)
- Apararka (p. 409-414)
- Hemadri (Danakanda. p.997-1029) in Chaturvarga Chintamani
- Danakriyakaumudi (p.160-181)
- Jalashayotsarga-tattva of Raghunandana
- Pratishtamayukha and Utsargamayukha of Nilakantha
- Rajadharmakaustubha (p. 171-223)
जलपवित्रीकरणम् ॥ Sanctifying Waters
The central idea is that unless the reservoir was consecrated in the way prescribed its water is not holy and when consecrated it became holy. Bhavishya purana quoted by Nirnayasindhu (p.238) says the following 
सदा जलं पवित्रं स्यादपवित्रमसंस्कृतम् । कुशाग्रेणापि राजेन्द्र स्प्रष्टग्यमसंस्कृतम् ॥
वापीकूपतडागदौ यज्जलं स्यादसंस्कृतम् । अपेयं तद्भवेत्सर्वे पीत्वा चान्द्रायणं चरेत् ॥
sadā jalaṁ pavitraṁ syādapavitramasaṁskr̥tam । kuśāgreṇāpi rājendra spraṣṭagyamasaṁskr̥tam ॥
vāpīkūpataḍāgadau yajjalaṁ syādasaṁskr̥tam । apeyaṁ tadbhavetsarve pītvā cāndrāyaṇaṁ caret ॥
Water has to be consecrated to purify or make it holy, as waters in the wells, tanks and reservoirs are not sacred.
उत्सर्गविधिः ॥ Procedure of Utsarga
From very ancient times the procedure of dedicating a well or tank to the public has been settled. Among the earliest is the Shankhyayana Grhyasutras (5.2) outlines the following steps briefly as given below 
- अथ पुष्करिणीकूपतडागानां १ Now about the consecration of ponds, wells and tanks.
- शुद्धपक्षे पुण्ये वा तिथौ २ । In the bright fortnight or on an auspicious tithi (lunar day)
- पयसा यवमयं चरुं श्रपयित्वा ३ । having cooked चरुं (boiled food) with yava (barley) in milk
- त्वं नो अग्न इति द्वाभ्यामव ते हेळ इमं मे वरुणोदुत्तमं वरुणेमां धियं शिक्षमाणस्य ४। he (the donor) should perform yajna to the devatas with the mantras 'त्वं नो अग्न । tvam no agne' (Rig. Veda. 4.1.4 and 5), 'अव ते हेळ। ava te hela' (Rig. Veda. 1.24.14), 'इमं मे वरुण । imam me varuna' (Rig. Veda. 1.25.19), उदुत्तमं वरुण । uduttamam varuna' (Rig. Veda. 1.24.15), 'इमां धियं । imam dhiyam' (Rig. Veda. 8.42.3)
- गृह्योऽपगृह्यो मयोभूराखरो निखरो निःसरो निकामः सपत्नदूषण इति वारुण्या दिक्प्रभृति प्रदक्षिणं जुहुयान् ५। (he should) using the words 'the domestic one, one who goes away from the house, the refreshing one, etc circumambulate to the different directions beginning with the west from left to right.
- मध्ये पयसा जुहोति विश्वतश्चक्षुरिदं विष्णुरिति ६ । in the centre he makes ahuti with milk uttering the mantras 'विश्वतश्चक्षुः । visvatas chakshu (Rig. Veda. 10.81.3) and 'इदं विष्णु । idam Vishnu (Rig. Veda. 1.22.17)
- यत्किं चेदमिति मज्जयित्वा ७ । and he dives into the water uttering the mantra 'यत्किंचेदं वरुण । yat kim chedam varuna (Rig. Veda. 7.89.5). Even in the mantra 'यासां राजा वरुणो याति मध्ये । yasam raja varuno yati madhye' of Rig Veda (7.49.3) Varuna is described as the lord of waters and there it is appropriate that in dedicating wells and tanks to the public Varuna should be invoked in several mantras.
- धेनुर्दक्षिणा वस्त्रयुग्मं चातो ब्राह्मणभोजनम् ९ । A cow and a pair of clothes are the fee for this activity followed by the feeding of brahmanas.
वृक्षारोपणम् ॥ Vrksharopana
Trees have been highly prized in Bharatavarsha at all times. Apart from the general food, building and construction purposes, they are used for
- worship and circumbulation as part of tradition
- yajnas for making the yupa (the post to which the animal was tied)
- idhma (samidhas to offer in Agnikarya) in several rites
- several ladles like srk, sruva and juhu etc.
- decoration of homes and temples with leaves of chuta tree (mango) and flowers
- fruits and flowers used for general consumption and for worship of devatas and pitrs)
- dvaja-stamba or temple pillars
- planting of trees as part of worship during vratas (observance of sacred vows such as during Vata Savitri vrata)
Trees are like sons for the person who plants these and ensure prestige for him / her in this world as also after death.
पुष्पैः सुरगणान् वृक्षाः फलैश्चापि तथा पितॄन् । छायया चातिथिं तात पूजयन्ति महीरुहः ॥ (Maha. Anush. 58.28)
puṣpaiḥ suragaṇān vr̥kṣāḥ phalaiścāpi tathā pitr̥̄n । chāyayā cātithiṁ tāta pūjayanti mahīruhaḥ ॥
Plants offer worship with flowers for devatas, fruits for ancestors and shade for those unexpected guests. All kinds of beings take shelter under trees.  Vishnu Smriti eulogizes the greatness of planting of trees thus
वृक्षारोपयितुर्वृक्षाः परलोके पुत्रा भवन्ति ॥ ९१.४ ॥वृक्षप्रदो वृक्षप्रसूनैर्देवान्प्रीणयति ॥ ९१.५ ॥फलैश्चातिथीन् ॥ ९१.६ ॥छायया चाभ्यागतान् ॥ ९१.७ ॥ देवे वर्षत्युदकेन पितॄन् ॥ ९१.८ ॥ सेतुकृत्स्वर्गं आप्नोति ॥ ९१.९ ॥ (Vish. Smrt. 91.4 to 9)
vr̥kṣāropayiturvr̥kṣāḥ paraloke putrā bhavanti ॥ 91.4 ॥vr̥kṣaprado vr̥kṣaprasūnairdevānprīṇayati ॥ 91.5 ॥phalaiścātithīn ॥ 91.6 ॥chāyayā cābhyāgatān ॥ 91.7 ॥ deve varṣatyudakena pitr̥̄n ॥ 91.8 ॥ setukr̥tsvargaṁ āpnoti ॥ 91.9 ॥
One who plants trees will have them as sons in future existence. One who plants trees please the devatas by their flowers, atithis by their fruits, travellers by the shade of those trees. He pleases the forefathers with the water (trickling down from their leaves) when it rains. One who builds dikes (dams, water reservoirs) attains heaven.
Bhavishya Purana quoted in the Utsargamayukha (p.16) states " he who plants either one asvattha or one pichumarda or nyagrodha or ten tamarind trees, or the three trees namely kapittha, bilva, and amlaka or plants five mango trees would not see naraka ( i.e. would not be condemned to naraka for his sins). Vasishta Dharmasutras (19.11 and 12) prescribes that no one should injure trees that yield fruits and flowers except for purpose of cultivation of land and for yajnas as laid down in Vishnu Smrti (51.63). It also prescribes that fines should be levied against those who wrongfully cut fruit bearing trees, creepers, shrubs and even grass.
Bharatiya samskruti thus, proclaiming divinity in all beings, extols the sanctity and need for protection of all beings by instilling a moral outlook towards every creature.
Types of Plants
Planting of trees and orchards, gardens etc. for public use has been praised in almost all the Puranas and Smrtis. After the battle of Mahabharata (Anushasana Parva, Adhyaya 58), Bhishma talks to Yudhishthira about the importance of planting trees. Accordingly, the immovable beings (स्थावराणां । plants and their class of beings) are classified into six types:
स्थावराणां च भूतानां जातयः षट् प्रकीर्तिताः । वृक्षगुल्मलतावल्ल्यस्त्वक्सारास्तृणजातयः॥ (Maha. Anush. 58.23)
sthāvarāṇāṁ ca bhūtānāṁ jātayaḥ ṣaṭ prakīrtitāḥ । vr̥kṣagulmalatāvallyastvaksārāstr̥ṇajātayaḥ॥
- वृक्षः ॥ Trees (Ex. Peepul)
- गुल्मः ॥ Bushes or Shrubs (Ex. Kusha)
- लता ॥ Climbers (that cling to the trees)
- वल्ली ॥ Creepers (which spread on the ground)
- त्वक्सारः ॥ Twaksara (whose bark is strong while the inside is hollow Ex. Bamboo)
- तृणम् ॥ Trna (Ex. Grasses)
The trees listed as beneficial in Vishnu Dharmottara Purana (Kanda 2 Adhyaya 30) explains under the heading Vrkshayurveda-varnana (वृक्षायुर्वेदवर्णनं) where each of the plants should be located.
उत्तरेण शुभः प्लक्षो वटः प्राग्भार्गवोत्तम । उदुम्बरश्च याम्येन सौम्येनाश्वत्थ एव च ।। १ ।। (Vish. Dhar. Pura. 2.30.1)
On the north Plaksha (प्लक्षः। Peepal or White Fig, Ficus virens) Vata (वटः । Banyan, Ficus bengalensis) Audumbara (औदुम्बरः। Cluster Fig, Ficus racemosa) and Asvatha (अश्वत्थः। Holy fig, Ficus religiosa).
The auspicious trees to be planted in gardens are also described extensively in this Purana as follows
अथोद्याने प्रवक्ष्यामि प्रशस्तान्पादपान्द्विज । अरिष्टाशोकपुन्नागशिरीषाम्रप्रियङ्गवः ।। १० ।। (Vish. Dhar. Pura. 2.30.10)
पनसाशोकदचलीजम्बूलकुचदाडिमाः । माङ्गल्याः पूर्वमारामे रोपणीया गृहेषु वा ।। ११ ।। (Vish. Dhar. Pura. 2.30.11)
शाल्मलिं कोविदारं च वर्जयित्वा विभीतकम् ।। १२ ।। (Vish. Dhar. Pura. 2.30.12)
असनं देवदारुं च पलाशं पुष्करं तथा । न विवर्ज्यस्तथा कश्चिद्देवोद्यानेषु जानता ।। १३ ।। (Vish. Dhar. Pura. 2.30.13)
athodyāne pravakṣyāmi praśastānpādapāndvija । ariṣṭāśokapunnāgaśirīṣāmrapriyaṅgavaḥ ।। 10 ।।
panasāśokadacalījambūlakucadāḍimāḥ । māṅgalyāḥ pūrvamārāme ropaṇīyā gr̥heṣu vā ।। 11 ।।
śālmaliṁ kovidāraṁ ca varjayitvā vibhītakam ।। 12 ।।
asanaṁ devadāruṁ ca palāśaṁ puṣkaraṁ tathā । na vivarjyastathā kaściddevodyāneṣu jānatā ।। 13 ।।
Neem (अरिष्टः), Ashoka (अशोकः), Naagkesar / Champa (पुन्नाग), Shireesh (शिरीषः), Mango (आम्रः), Mehendi (प्रियङ्गुः) Jackfruit (पनसः) Banana (दचली) Jamun (जम्बू) Anjeer (लकुच) and Anaar (दाडिमाः). These auspicious trees are to be planted in houses or in Aramas (guest houses).
Trees recommended for sacred groves for devatas include Shalmali (शाल्मलिः) Kanchanara (कोविदारः) Vibheetaki (विभीतकः) Vijaysara (असनः) Cedar tree (देवदारुः) Flame of the forest tree (पलाशः) Indian Lotus (पुष्करः). The chapter also describes in detail when and how the trees should be planted, nurtured and cured of diseases.
Sanctity of Certain Trees
Vrddha Gautama identifies the Asvattha tree with Srikrishna (Sri Mahavishnu).
आम्राश्च सिक्ताः पितरश्च प्रीणिताः ॥ āmrāśca siktāḥ pitaraśca prīṇitāḥ ॥
The above verse from Mahabhashya (Vol. 1 p.14) conveys that if a person waters and tends to mango trees, his ancestors or pitrs, feel extremely pleased.
Manusmrti (4.39) and Yajnavalkya smrti (1.133) require the snataka (one who finished his studies and is about to enter the grhastha ashrama) to cirumambulate well-known trees (like asvattha) if he happens to meet them on his way.
Taittriya Samhita (184.108.40.206) states that Idhma (samidha) should be of the nyagrodha, audumbara, asvattha and plaksha trees as they are the abodes of gandharvas and apsaras.
नैयग्रोध औदुम्बर आश्वत्थः प्लाक्ष इतीध्मो भवत्येते वै गन्धर्वाप्सरसां गृहाः ॥ naiyagrodha audumbara āśvatthaḥ plākṣa itīdhmo bhavatyete vai gandharvāpsarasāṁ gr̥hāḥ ॥
Hemadri cites a passage from the Brahmapurana that the twigs and leaves of the Asvattha, Audumbara, Plaksha, Chuta (mango) and Nyagrodha are styled Panchabhanga and are auspicious in all rites. The Palasa tree was held to be so sacred that one was not to make seats, sandals or tooth brushes from it or its branches and twigs (Baud. Dhar. Sutr. 2.3.25). Mahabharata Shanti Parva (69.42) forbids even the felling of leaves of trees like the Asvattha that have a platform built for them.
प्रतिष्ठाविधानम् ॥ Procedure of Pratishta
Hemadri in Chaturvarga Chintamani (Dana Kanda p.1029 - 1055) deals at length with the planting of trees, the dedication of a garden and the merit acquired by making gifts of various trees. The procedure of dedicating a garden is prescribed in Shankhyayana grhyasutras (5.3), Asvalayana grhyasutra parisishta (4.10), Matsya purana (58 and 59), Agnipurana (70) and in many other works. It is modelled in the dedication of wells and tanks.
Procedure of Utsarga
The Matsyapurana expressly states that the procedure of the consecration of a tank is extended to the consecration of everything, such as a prasada (large house or hall for public use), a garden, the only difference being that the mantras are different.
एवमेषु पुराणेषु तडाग विधिरुच्यते।। ५८.५० ।।
कूपवापीषु सर्वासु तथा पुष्करिणीषु च। एष एव विधिर्दृष्टः प्रतिष्ठासु तथैव च।। ५८.५१।।
मन्त्रतस्तु विशेषः स्यात् प्रसादोद्यानभूमिषु। (Mats. Pura. 58.50 to 52)
evameṣu purāṇeṣu taḍāga vidhirucyate।। 58.50 ।।
kūpavāpīṣu sarvāsu tathā puṣkariṇīṣu ca। eṣa eva vidhirdr̥ṣṭaḥ pratiṣṭhāsu tathaiva ca।। 58.51।।
mantratastu viśeṣaḥ syāt prasādodyānabhūmiṣu। (Mats. Pura. 58.50 to 52)
In most cases, a well or pond is also provided in an orchard to ensure water supply for the trees. The procedure for dedicating trees is similar to that of dedication of a pond. The plants should first be watered, and then rice and curd is to be sprinkled over them. These should be decorated with garlands, and clothes. Two leaves of each plant should be pierced with a gold needle to symbolise Karnavedha (कर्णवेधः). Seven or eight fruits made of gold are also used in the rituals.
A pot should be placed near each tree (or near at least eight out of the lot), filled with water and a gold piece dropped in each pot. Homa should be performed in the evening. Next day, a cow covered in white, and embellished with gold plated horns should be released among the trees. The water in the pots is then used to bathe the donor, after which the Brahmins are given dakshina, including the cow and gold. Homa is continued over the next four days, when once again a feast is organised, and dana of various items are made. The entire ceremony then concludes with giving of dakshina.
Particular dates or methods
Bhavishya Purana describes specific dedication ceremonies for different types of trees and orchards. While these broadly run along lines discussed above, there is some additional information about the form and purpose of these ceremonies.
For example, while dedicating a garden for public use, the donor also makes a specific prayer that if anyone is hurt or dies due to a fall from the trees, (or from the walk-way) then the donor should not be held adhyatmikly liable. (Madhya Parva. Bhaga 3. Adhyaya 1. (उपवनादिप्रतिष्ठावर्णनम्) 31 and 44)
वृक्षाग्रात्पतितस्यापि आरोहात्पतितस्य च। मरणे वास्थिभङ्गे वा कर्ता पापैर्न लिप्यते ।।३१।। (Bhav. Pura. Madh. Parv. 3.1.31)
vr̥kṣāgrātpatitasyāpi ārohātpatitasya ca। maraṇe vāsthibhaṅge vā kartā pāpairna lipyate ।।31।।
गोप्रचारः ॥ Pasturage for Cattle
Similarly, as mentioned in Bhavishya Purana (Madhya Parva. Bhaga 3. Adhyaya 2. (गोप्रचारवैशिष्ट्यवर्णनम्)), in the case of a Goprachara, a shelter and grazing land dedicated for all living beings, trees should be planted in the East, a walk-way or bridge constructed in the South, fire-place built in the West, and a pond or well dug in the North. Anyone who digs up or misuses such a place suffers from loss of family and lineage.
The donor invokes Indra, Agni, Yam, Varun, Vayu etc. to protect the shelter.260 He/she also prays for welfare of all who use the shelter, and that the donor should not be held liable for any accidental loss of life among those who take shelter. Pardon is also sought for any trees that may be lost due to lightening.
Additional guidance on specific ceremonies and rituals for different categories of trees is given in Madhyama Parva of Bhavishya Purana:
● Laghu Upvana - Adhyayas. 3, 4, 6
● Specific Trees - Adhyayas.7 (श्रेष्ठवृक्षप्रतिष्ठाविधानवर्णनम्) , 11 (सद्वृक्षप्रतिष्ठाविधानवर्णनम्)
● Peepal - Adhyaya. 8 (अश्वत्थप्रतिष्ठाविधानवर्णनम्)
● Banyan - Adhyaya. 9 (वटप्रतिष्ठाविधानवर्णनम्)
● Bael - Adhyaya. 10 (बिल्वप्रतिष्ठाविधानवर्णनम्)
● Flower Garden - Adhyaya. 14 (पुष्पवाटिकाप्रतिष्ठाविधानवर्णनम्)
● Tulsi shrub - Adhyaya.15 (तुलसीप्रतिष्ठाविधानवर्णनम्)
Bhavishya Purana (Madh. Parv. 3.15.16 to 18) lays down that certain trees do not need Pratishta. These include Jayanti, Soma Vat, Jackfruit, Kadamba, Neem, Patala, Kanaka, Shalmali, Pomegranate, and Ashoka.
जयंत्याः सोमवृक्षस्य तथा सोमवटस्य च । पनसस्य कदंबस्य निंबस्य द्विजसत्तमाः ।। १६ ।। (Bhav. Pura. Madh. Parv. 3.15.16)
पाटला कनकस्यैव शाल्मलीनिंबकस्य च। बिंबाशोकवटस्यैव प्रतिष्ठां नैव कारयेत् ।। १७ ।। (Bhav. Pura. Madh. Parv. 3.15.17)
भद्रकस्य शमीकोणचंडातकबकस्य च । खदिरस्यैव कर्तव्यं कर्णवेधं न कारयेत् ।।१८।। (Bhav. Pura. Madh. Parv. 3.15.18)
jayaṁtyāḥ somavr̥kṣasya tathā somavaṭasya ca । panasasya kadaṁbasya niṁbasya dvijasattamāḥ ।। 16 ।।
pāṭalā kanakasyaiva śālmalīniṁbakasya ca। biṁbāśokavaṭasyaiva pratiṣṭhāṁ naiva kārayet ।। 17 ।।
bhadrakasya śamīkoṇacaṁḍātakabakasya ca । khadirasyaiva kartavyaṁ karṇavedhaṁ na kārayet ।।18।।
Similarly, Bhadraka, Shami, Kona, Chandataka, Bakavriksha, and Khadira need to be invoked by Pratishta. However, Karnvedha is not done for these trees.
Ashraya and Pratishraya
These terms refer to the building of rest houses and shelters for travellers and orphans or other destitute persons as quoted in Kalika Purana given in Danakanda of Chaturvarga Chintamani. Bhavishya Purana also gives similar quotes
कारयित्वा दृढस्तंभं शुभपक्वेष्टकामयम् । शुभं कमठपृष्ठाभं भाभासितदिगंतरम् ।।
प्रतिश्रये तु विस्तीर्णे कारिते सजले घने ।। १२ ।। दीनानाथजलार्थाय कृतं किं न कृतं भवेत् ।। (Bhav. Pura. Uttar. Parv. 4.168.12)
kārayitvā dr̥ḍhastaṁbhaṁ śubhapakveṣṭakāmayam । śubhaṁ kamaṭhapr̥ṣṭhābhaṁ bhābhāsitadigaṁtaram ।।
pratiśraye tu vistīrṇe kārite sajale ghane ।। 12 ।। dīnānāthajalārthāya kr̥taṁ kiṁ na kr̥taṁ bhavet ।।
Hemadri has quoted Agni Purana (p. 673 of Reference ) to say that these should have strong pillars, and large areas. The rooms should be comfortable and painted in a pleasant manner. There should be provision for food and water. These should be dedicated to the homeless, orphans, and travellers.
Similarly, Devi Purana has been quoted to describe the placement of various divine images in and around the Pratishraya. Quoting Yama Smrti, Hemadri says that the visitors should be provided with places to sit, place to wash their feet, lighting, food, and shelter. This is equivalent to doing five yajnas with dakshina, and gives benefit equivalent to 1000 Ashwamedha Yajna or 100 Rajsooya Yajnas. Similar commendations are found in Vishnu, Brahaspati, and other Smritis.
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- Kane, Pandurang Vaman. (1941) History of Dharmasastra (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law) Volume 2, Part 2. Poona : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
- Vishnu Smrti (Adhyaya 91)
- Pt. Ramnarayandatt Shastri. Mahabharata with Hindi Translation, Volume 6. (Anushasana Parva Adhyaya 57). Gorakhpur : Gita Press
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