By Swami Harshananda
It is natural for the human being to react with the fear of the unknown when eerie unnatural incidents take place. Right from the most ancient times, they have also tried to forestall such happenings that might follow with appropriate propitiatory rites called śāntis by the scriptures in advance. The word is derived from the root śam which means to appease. It is a śānti which means a rite that can offset or reduce the evil effects prognosticated by bad omens.
Reference of Śāntis
Literature on the Śāntis
The literature on the śāntis is quite large. A few of the works may be mentioned here:
- Apastamba Gṛhyasutras
These works have dealt with the śāntis in all their aspects quite extensively.
Adbhuta, Utpāta and Nimitta
The treatises dealing with śāntis generally use three words that prognosticate future events. They are:
Adbhuta refers to any occurrence which has not happened before or a total change coming over what has happened earlier. The adbhutas are divided into seven groups relating to the deities. They are:
When some adbhutas take place related to these deities, certain śāntis are prescribed. For instance, when a rainbow is seen at night, Indra is the god to be appeased. If there is smoke without fire, the deity is Agni. The śānti consists in the japa of certain mantras of the Atharvaveda.
Utpāta & Nimitta
The word utpāta refers to occurrences that portend evil to all. It is the reverse of the usual natural order. Nimitta, on the other hand, is a prognostic sign which may indicate either an auspicious or an inauspicious event. Generally, it is restricted to the throbbing of a person’s limbs, though it may be used in a wider sense as utpāta also. Examples of utpātas and nimittas usually unfavorable occur plentifully in the Mahābhārata.
The chief utpātas and adbhutas foreboding evils are:
- Terrible dreams
- Falling of meteors
- Howling of jackals facing south
- Solar eclipse at an unusual time
- Vultures sitting on temples
- Spontaneous fires
- Halos around the sun or the moon
- Rain of blood red water
- Sudden darkness in the sky
- Horses shedding tears
- Rivers flowing in the reverse direction
- Throbbing of left eye or arm in men
- Images of gods trembling, dancing or weeping
On the other hand, the auspicious signs are:
- Clear and cloudless sky
- Cool and pleasant wind
- Fire without smoke
- Shower of flowers
- Auspicious birds like herons and peacocks chirping
- So on
Such omens and portents are generally described as occurring at the certain important times and events as on the eve of battle, coronation or exile of a king and so on.
- Atharvaveda 19.9
- Taittiriya Samhītā 126.96.36.199-8
- Aitrareya Brahmaṇa 13.10
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore