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Traditionally considered a duty and an act of ritual worship. According to Manusmṛti (3.70), the honouring of guests (atithis) is the ‘sacrifice to humans’ (manuṣya-yajña), i.e. the fifth of the ‘five great sacrifices’ (mahāyajña) incumbent upon the householder (gṛhastha). The technical definition of a ‘guest’ in this literature (written from the brahmins' point of view) is a brahmin who spends a single night with his host; the term does not imply that the person has been specifically invited. Others too may be treated as ‘guests’ as long as they fulfill certain conditions, such as having used up their own provisions, and arriving from another village at a mealtime. The generosity of hosts should not, however, be abused. Basic hospitality consists of offering a seat, water (for washing the feet and rinsing the mouth), food, and, if necessary, somewhere to sleep. The more important the guest—a saṃnyāsin, for example, would be considered important—the greater the hospitality required. Just as the guest is regarded as doing the host a favour by giving him the opportunity to fulfill his obligations, as well as to earn merit, so neglect of a guest is thought to have disastrous consequences. Notable examples of the latter are Śakuntalā's neglect of the brahmin ṛṣi Durvāsas in Kālidāsa's play, rewarded with a curse, and Death's keeping the brahmin Naciketas waiting in the frame story of the Kaṭha Upaniṣad, which requires three gifts as compensation. The general idea that hospitality is an obligation is, however, widespread, throughout South Asian cultures, and by no means confined to Brahmanical circles. Since hospitality itself is a kind of ritual worship, then it is not surprising that in many forms of pūjā the deity is treated as an honoured guest whose particular needs must be supplied by the worshipper.

Subjects: Hinduism.

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