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From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Śapatha literally means ‘special oath’.

In the ancient days, when a king could not decide whether a person brought before him as guilty was really guilty or not, due to lack of direct or circumstantial evidence, he could take to two methods:

  1. Divya - divine proof through ordeals
  2. Śapatha - oath

A śapatha is actually an oath taken by the accused to prove his innocence. Instances of śapathas are found in the Ṛgveda,[1] the epics[2] and the smṛtis. For example, Vasiṣṭha when accused, declares in the Rgveda[3]

‘If I am a yātudhāna,[4] may I die this very day!’

This is a śapatha. The king in such cases of śapathas had to wait for a week or the stipulated period, whichever is less, to know the results.


  1. Ṛgveda 7.104.15, 16
  2. Mahābhārata, Anuśāsanaparva 95.13-35
  3. Rgveda 7.104.15, 16
  4. Yātudhāna means sorcerer.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore