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From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Paramahansa literally means ‘the great swan’.

Classification of Sanyāsins[edit]

Some of the purāṇas as also the dharmaśāstras categorize the sanyāsins[1] into four groups:

  1. The kuṭicakas - A kuṭīcaka[2] is the one who lives in an āśrama,[3] eats only eight morsels of food per day and performs yogic practices.
  2. The bahudakas - A bahudaka[4] wears the ochre-colored cloth[5] and carries a kamaṇḍalu[6] and also a tridaṇḍa.</ref>Tridaṇḍa means staff made of three bamboo sticks tied together.</ref> He lives by begging from not more than seven houses.
  3. The hansas - The hansa[7] is an ekadaṇḍi[8] lives under trees or in mountain caves and such other solitary places, going into the village once a day for begging his food.
  4. The paramahansas - The paramahansa[9] is the best of these four sanyāsins. He is said to live in deserted places, cremation grounds or dilapidated structures and is completely indifferent to physical comforts and is perfectly equanimous under all the circumstances of life.

Qualities of Paramahansa[edit]

The word ‘paramahansa’ perhaps means a person possessing supreme discrimination like a hansa or a swan which can leave off water and drink only milk from the diluted mixture of the two which ultimately results in the knowledge of Brahman. It may also mean a person of the highest spiritual experience, who is constantly aware that he is one with Brahman.[10][11]

Literature on Sanyāsins[edit]

Works like the Vaikhānasa Sutras,[12] Laghuviṣṇupurāṇa,[13] Bhikṣukopaniṣad and Sutasamhitā[14] give a description of these four types of sanyāsins.


  1. Sanyāsins means monks.
  2. Kuṭīcaka means the ‘one who lives in a hut’.
  3. Āśrama means monastery.
  4. Bahudaka means the ‘one who drinks water from many sources’.
  5. It is an insignia of a monk.
  6. Kamaṇḍalu means the water-pot prepared out of the bitter gourd.
  7. Hansa means ‘the swan’.
  8. Ekadaṇḍi has one staff only, signifying the control of the mind.
  9. Paramahansa means ‘the great swan’.
  10. Ham means aham which means I.
  11. Sah means he, God or Brahman.
  12. Vaikhānasa Sutras 8.9
  13. Laghuviṣṇupurāṇa 4.14.23
  14. Mānayoga- khanda 6
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore

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