From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Dāna literally means ‘gift’ and is the most commonly used word in Sanskrit. Giving gifts to worthy persons has been considered as a meritorious act of great value by all the important religions of the world. It has its origin in the Ṛgveda itself, the concept has gradually evolved to an astonishing degree of details and finesse over the centuries. It has been extolled equal to tapas or austerity. It is considered as a primary religious duty of this Kaliyuga or Iron-age.

Dāna As per Ṛgveda

The concept first appears in the Ṛgveda[1] as dakṣiṇā or sacrificial fee to be paid to the priests and gifts of cows and gold to deserving persons. Anna-dāna or giving food to hungry beings has also been extolled there highly.[2]

Dāna As per Upaniṣads

The Upaniṣads describe dāna as a religious duty and a discipline that helps one conquer one’s greedy nature. The Bhagavadgitā[3] calls it as a divine quality and classifies it into three categories.

Dāna as per Dharmaśāstras and Purāṇas

It is in the dharmaśāstras (independent compendiums on the various aspects of dharma, as related to varṇa and āśrama) and the purāṇas that the meticulously worked out details about dāna are met with.The dharmaśāstras and the purāṇas eulogize certain special gifts like godāna (gift of cows), suvarṇadāna (gift of gold) and tulāpuruṣa (weighing a person against the things to be gifted and then give them away). Gifts given in places of pilgrimage are also extolled highly. Gift of knowledge, especially spiritual wisdom, has been considered as the highest and the best gift.

Categories of Dāna:

Following are four categories of dāna:

  1. Nitya - obligatory daily- duty. For e.g. Giving food to hungry beings.
  2. Naimittika - Occasional. For e.g. Gifting of useful things on special occasions like the periods of eclipses.
  3. Kāmya - Desire-motivated. For e.g. Presenting cows or other prescribed things as a part of rituals performed with desires.
  4. Vimala - Pure. For e.g. Donations conferred upon persons of saintly character with the sole object of pleasing God.

Rules for Giving Dāna:

Apart from this, it is also emphasized that dāna should be given ostentatiously and unknown to others. Since dāna has been considered as a religious act and also acquire a ritualistic color certain rules, regulations and formalities have been associated with it. These rules are:

  • The dātā or the person giving gifts must be free from incurable diseases and heinous sins.
  • He should be virtuous, clean, and must have acquired his wealth by right means.
  • The receiver must be in a real need of what he is asking for,and these may be the basic things required for a living like food, clothing, shelter or money in the form of gift.
  • Persons of evil or doubtful character like gamblers, cheats, drunkards or criminals should not be helped with gifts.
  • It is essential that the giver must have śraddhā or faith in the act of giving as religious or meritorious. Only śraddhā matters and not the quality or the quantity, though a minimum standard is expected to make it really useful.

Restrictions to Give and Accept Dāna

  • The dharmaśāstras vehemently oppose the gifts made by persons who have amassed wealth by unrighteous means and the receiver too should never accept them if he knows about it.
  • A householder should never give gifts beyond his means and should not make his family and dependents suffer on account of it. Generally ten per cent of the earnings is given as the limit for giving gifts.
  • Certain things which cannot be offered or accepted as gifts has also been mentioned like no one can gift away things that do not rightfully belong to him, as for instance, things that have been borrowed from others or kept in one’s safe keeping.
  • If the dāna is against one’s svadharma or sense of righteousness and prescribed duties one should not accept it. For an instance, a brāhmaṇa devoted to Vedic learning and a purely spiritual life should not accept weapons or intoxicating substances even if offered.
  • Gifts given by mentally deranged persons or those suffering from very serious illnesses or immature young children are considered invalid.
  • Objects once given away as a gift should never be taken back. This applies even to promises of gifts.

Auspicious Period to Give Dāna

The religious works prescribe certain periods or times as very auspicious for giving gifts. These days include:

  1. The two solstices - summer and winter
  2. Days of eclipses of the sun and the moon
  3. New-moon and full-moon days
  4. Important festival days


To summarize:

  1. Giving dāna or gifts is a sacred act that helps one to earn religious merit
  2. One can give gifts only from what one has earned by right means
  3. One should never give beyond one’s means and capacity
  4. Things given should be useful to the donee
  5. Rules concerning time, place and occasion should be observed as far as possible


  1. Ṛgveda 1.125.6
  2. Ṛgveda 10.117
  3. Bhagavadgitā 16.1; 17.20-22
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore