The Shankha Smriti

 Shankha Smriti


In this chapter sage 'Shankha' has directed and instructed about the six duties of the Brahmins that is
1) Performing Yagya. 2)helping in the performance of Yagya. 3) Studying 4) Teaching 5) Taking alms or donation and 6) Giving alms or donation to others.

The Kshatriyas and the Vaishyas have been asked to study, donate and perform Yagya with appropriate method just like the Brahmins. In addition to this the Kshatriyas have been asked to look after the welfare of the subjects and the Vaishyas has been asked to undertake agricultural works, to serve the cows and engage himself in business. The fourth of the Varnashrams i.e the Shudra has been asked to create useful items for the society by the means of handicrafts. Apart from specifying duties for every caste Sage 'Shankh' has also ordered all of them to imbibe the values of forgiveness, truthfulness, forbearance and purity.

At the time of his birth every child is in the same state and condition. They have to go through the 'Yaygyopavit' ceremony (investiture with the sacred thread) after which a child wears 'munj' ( a kind of long thread) and becomes a 'Dwij' (second birth).


The second chapter gives details about the rules for conception in all the four castes and the various rites and ceremonies that are to be performed during pregnancy and after the birth of the child.
  • PUNSAWAN SANSKAR : It is the first ceremony or rite which should be performed on the third month after conception when the movements of the unborne child becomes evident.
  • SEEMANTONNAYAN : It is the second rite performed in the sixth or eighth month of pregnancy.
  • JAAT KARMA : It is the third rite which should be performed at the time of the child's birth.
  • NAAMAKARAN SANSKAR : It is the fourth rite which should be performed after the 'uncleanness period' of the child's birth is over.
  • 'SURYA DARSHAN' (SIGHT OF THE SUN) : A child is helped to catch sight of the sun in his fourth month after his/her birth.
  • ANNAPRASHAN (FEEDING COOKED FOOD) : Cooked food is given to a child in his sixth month after birth. This rule of giving cooked food to the child for the first time in his sixth month after birth is still being followed even in the modern age. According to Ayurveda the digestive system of the child cannot digest cereals and grains before the age of six months.
  • CHUDAKARAN KARMA (TONSURE CEREMONY) : The first three castes have been asked to perform the tonsure ceremony of the child as per their respective customs.
  • UPANAYAN CEREMONY (SACRED THREAD) : Sage Shankha has demarcated the upper and lower age limits for the performance of this ceremony, for the first three castes which are as follows.
  • BRAHMIN: between the age of 8 years to 16 years
  • KSHATRIYA: between the age of 11 years to 22 years
  • VAISHYA: between the age of 12 years to 24 years.

In the third chapter there is a detailed description of the rights and duties of the first phase of life that is 'Brahmacharyashram' (maintenance of celibacy).

The position of the preceptor is considered supreme in the process of learning the Vedas. A preceptor who is virtuous himself and follows what he preaches only can teach the Vedas properly to his disciples.

Sage Shankh has asked the preceptors to teach his disciples about the values of right conduct,'havana' (offerings made to the sacrificial fire) and 'Sandhyopasana' (worship in the dusk time). Sage Shankh has also considered a 'mother' to be the first preceptor because she gives birth, the father is the second preceptor because he looks after the well being of the child, the Acharya (teacher) is the third preceptor because he is the one who gives knowledge. All these three are worshipped by a man, as he achieves success in life only by their blessings otherwise he is doomed for failures.

Study of the Vedas are prohibited on the following days and situations- fourteenth day of the lunar moon, full moon day, eighth day of the lunar month, solar eclipse, lunar eclipse, clashing of the stars, earthquakes, impurity due to birth and death, calamities like flood, famine etc. sexual intercourse, thundering of the clouds and loud noise of music. This rule is followed even today especially by the students who study Sanskrit.

The following acts have been prohibited for a celibate- eating honey and meat, using collyrium on the eyes, having food at the death ceremony (Shraadh), music, dance, violence, putting the blame on others, disputes and arguments. A disciple has been especially warned against seeing the sensual postures of a woman.

A celibate has been allowed to keep the following items with him- putting 'Maunji' (sacred thread made of long reeds around his waist), putting' yagyo pavit' made of deer skin on his body, keeping a stick of 'palash' tree in his hands. The celibate has been instructed to always sleep on the ground. Although the rules established by sage Shankh are not visible nowadays for the simple reason that the concept of Gurukul system itself has vanished but still the pupils studying in Sanskrit schools strictly follow them. Some rites like putting on 'Yagyopavit' and chanting Gayatri Mantra are still in practice.


In this chapter sage Shankh has described in details about marriage.

Sage Shankh disapproves of the marriage in the same lineage that is, both the bride and bridegroom belonging to the same family. He has also stressed on the importance of 'proper-marriage' amidst of 'Vedic mantras' because such a marriage helps the married couple to enjoy a satisfying married life for a long time.

According to sage Shankh till the fifth generation in the mother's lineage and till the seventh generation in the father's lineage relation cannot be formed. But except for the above mentioned generations of both the lineage a boy and a girl belonging to the same lineage (gotra) can marry. A marriage between different 'gotras' are the best choice and the children born from these marriages are more intelligent and healthy than the children born from the marriage between the same 'gotra'. This rule is followed even today.

TYPES OF MARRIAGES : According to sage Shankh there are eight types of marriages. They are

  • Brahm: When the bride is given to the bridegroom without a demand, it is called Brahm marriage.
  • Daiva: When a bride is presented to a sage during the performance of a Yagya, it is called Daiva marriage.
  • Arsha: In this type of marriage two cows are presented along with the bride.
  • Prajapatya: In this type of marriage the presentation of the bride is made on demand.
  • Asur: Acquirement of bride in lieu of wealth is called Asur marriage.
  • Gandharva: Marriage after mutual agreement between the bride and bridegroom is called Gandharva marriage. In this type of marriage the opinion of the parents is immaterial.
  • Rakshasa: Abducting a bride after a battle and then marrying with her is called Rakshasa marriage.
  • Paishach: Marrying after abducting a girl by deceit is called Paishach marriage.

While describing about the qualities of a good wife sage Shankh says:" Only that woman is a wife who helps her husband during 'havana', who does not go against the wishes of her husband, who is very dear to her husband and becomes a mother of her husband's child."



The fifth chapter of the Shankh Smriti describes about the means for atonement of sins, which are committed, either knowingly or unknowingly. These five Yagyas are as follows:

Deva Yagya : Offerings made to the sacrificial fire in the name of Gods, daily.

Bhoot Yagya : Feeding the living creatures whose physical bodies consists of the five basic elements.

Pitar Yagya : Performing religious rites like 'tarpan' and 'pinda kriya' for the dead ancestors.

Brahma Yagya : Self-study of the mantras and the chanting of the 'richas' of the Vedas.

Nri Yagya : Honouring and treating the guests.

Grihastashram (the life of a householder) is considered as the supreme among all the four ashrams (stages) of a man's life. This is the stage where a man engages himself in various kinds of activities like Yagya, penance, charity and honouring his guests. It is also the base upon which the success of the next two stages of life depend that is, 'Vanaprastha' (going to the forest) and 'Sanyaas' (renunciation).

Not only that, it is only the householder on whose virtuosity and generosity the success of the celibates, renunciators etc. depends. The most important duty of a householder is to honour his guests with due respect. Elaborating the importance of the guests, Shankh Smriti says "Just as the master of the wife is considered to be the man (husband) who looks after her well being and just as the Lord of all the three castes is considered to be the Brahmin, in the same way the guest is considered as the 'Lord' of the householder". Sage Shankh goes to the extent of saying that a householder can attain heaven just by serving his guests.

According to the Shankh Smriti, the yogis and sages have been instructed to take a bath and meditate three times a day, but a householder has been given some concessions in this regard considering his busy schedules. Sage Shankh says that a man who has a family should make offerings to the sacrificial fire twice a day i.e. in the morning and in the evening.

The Shankh Smriti has instructed the householder to perform oblation by sacrificing animals. This tradition is still prevalent. A sacrifice of a young male goat is a norm in the worship of goddess Durga.


The creator of Shankh Smriti has shed light on the third and fourth stages (ashrams) of life in this chapter. Both these stages of life had great importance till Dwapar Yuga. Sage Shankh says: "Seeing the wrinkles of old age on his body and after seeing his grandson, a householder should proceed towards the forest. If his wife wishes to live with the son, he should leave her but if she is willing to go to the forest along with him, the Shankh Smriti gives permission for that. Normally, during that period the wife went to the forest along with her husband.

The life of a Vanaprasthi (one who lives in the forest) was very tough and he had to follow strict rules by having only the roots, fruits and stems as his food and quitting all sensual pleasures he had been accustomed to till then. Even if his wife was present with him she used to sleep separately. The quantity of food a man should have in the third stage of Ashrams has also been stated in the Shankh Smriti: " Taking alms from a nearby village he (Vanaprasthi) should eat only eight morsels of food."

Shankh had given some rules regarding penance, which a man living in the forest (Vanaprasthi) had to follow. "Engaging himself in self-study and all the other moral duties he (Vanaprasthi) should grow his hair to form locks."


Advising to expand the path of asceticism sage Shankh says: " An ascetic should wear wet clothes during the autumn season, during the summer season he should keep the 'panchagni’ fasts. (Panchagni is a collection of five fire altars amidst which penance is performed under the sun) and during the rainy season he should keep himself in the open and should always have only one meal a day i.e. in the night.

Shankh had established very strict rules for an ascetic to be followed in the fourth stage of his life. In this, an ascetic had to repeat the life of a celibate just like in the first stage. He had also to keep all kinds of attachments, lusts far from him.


The seventh chapter of Shankh Smriti deals with the life of an ascetic. It says: "One who sees God in every soul and performs oblations (yagya) according to the rules mentioned in the Vedas is called a Sanyaasi (a hermit)"

Here Shankh has also advised an ascetic to practice ‘pranayam’ (breath control), Dharana (retention) and Dhyan (contemplation or meditation). He says that an ascetic who is constantly engaged in contemplation and practices yoga achieves salvation and heaven.

‘Sanyas Ashram’ (life of an ascetic) is also called ‘Brahmashrama’. It means contemplation in the name of Brahma. In this fourth stage of a man’s life, he could engage himself in the thoughts of Brahma after he has enjoyed all the pleasures of life during the second stage (grihasthashrama). Shankh Smriti has also instructed a man to engage himself in nine ways of devotion, which are :

1) listening to the tales of Lord Vishnu. 2) to chant his name. 3) his remembrance. 4) Servitude towards his lots feet. 5) his worship. 6) Adoring him. 7) to be his servant, friend etc. 8) Total surrender to him.

JAAT KARMA : It is the third rite which should be performed at the time of the child's birth.

NAAMAKARAN SANSKAR : It is the fourth rite which should be performed after the 'uncleanness period' of the child's birth is over.

Sage Shankh also instructed the common people to give names to their children according to the profession they follow or their own caste.For this reason a child born in a 'Brahmin' family is given a name which shows auspiciousness, a child born in a Kshatriya's family is given a name which shows valour and bravery, a child born in a Vaishya family is given a name which shows prosperity and a child born in the family of Shudra is given a name which is based on his profession i.e. handicrafts.According to this rule, with a Brahmin's name 'Sharma' is attached 'Verma' is attached to the name of Kshatriyas, Dhan (wealth) is attached to the names of Vaishyas and Das(servant) is attached with the names of Shudras.

Sage Shankh has instructed about the way Pranayam should be performed- After purifying the mind, pronouncing Bhoorh, Bhuvah, Swaha, Mahah, Janah, Tapah and Satyam while the process of inhalation is continuing and chanting the Gayatri Mantra thrice is real pranayam. This process of Pranayam is capable of giving salvation.

Shankh Smriti has also specified about the time of taking alms. Considering the busy schedule that a householder observes till noon, an ascetic has been instructed to ask for alms only after noon. An ascetic has also been instructed to be full of love for the mankind and not to harbour any kind of hatred against it. He should accept whatever he gets in alms and he should be satisfied with it. He should not waste the food.

Regarding the movements of an ascetic Shankh Smriti says: “ An ascetic should cover his private parts with a piece of cloth and without making any friends he should be constantly on the move. When evening approaches, he should find a reclusive place and rest there. He is strictly prohibited either to rest in a householder’s place or to have food at his place.”

Sage Shankh considers it as his duty to help a recluse unite with the Supreme Almighty and hence he has repeatedly pointed towards the futility of this world. He says: "This world is full of sorrows like 'cries in the forest' without any essence and harmful thinking about it as a ‘land of pleasures’, a man ultimately quits this world after becoming disillusioned with it." An enlightened ascetic after contemplating upon his ‘bitter experience of a common man’ embraces renunciation within a fraction of a second.

It is true that an individual soul comes in this world with the purpose of enjoyment but at the same time it is also his duty to expand the path of his return. Seeing the 'Lord of the Lords' in one’s heart with the help of Yogic power is called meditation. Meditation is considered to be the stairs which lead us to that supreme status which is salvation. Shankh has asked an ascetic to immerse himself in the thoughts of Almighty God and try to reach as near as possible.

Heart of a man is the place where all the deities have their abode. For this reason Shankh had instructed an ascetic to quit all of his ‘outwardly’ tendencies and to engage himself 'inwardly'. Here Shankh has tried to draw the attentions of men to the eight organs of the yoga system. Among all the philosophies that is Nyaya, Yoga, Sankhya, Vaisheshik Nyaya, Purva Mimansa and uttar mimasana or even among the Vedantas and Upanishads, Yoga holds the supreme place.

The term Yoga itself means to unite oneself with somebody else. Hence it is clear that all the six philosophies favour 'Yoga'.

The eighth chapter of the Shankh Smriti gives details about the different types of bath and the superiority of different types of water. Sage Shankh has described about six types of bath for the purification of the body.
  1. Nitya (daily bath)
  2. Naimittik (bath for a specific purpose)
  3. Aichchik or Kamya (bath on special occasions with aspirations for the fulfillment of a desire)
  4. Kriyang (bath before the chanting of a mantra or before worship of god or during the performance of Shraadh ceremony)
  5. Malapkarshan (washing of the dirt only)
  6. Kriya (Taking bath during pilgrimage in the holy rivers).
Shankh has made clear about the greatness of the pilgrimage in the following way: "Being in a pilgrimage eliminates all the sins of the pilgrims and the virtuous people attain rare virtues because of that sacred and holy place".

In the ninth chapter of Shankh Smriti, the importance of Kriya-Snana has been described.The method of taking bath in the holy water of a pilgrimage place as described by Shankh is as follows- One should first worship the deity of water, Varuna and then invoke the water that is the destroyer of all sins. He should then humbly request the deities Rudra, Agni and Sarpa to destroy his sins and to protect him.

In this chapter of Shankh Smriti, sage Shankh has described about the methods of performing 'achaman' correctly.

  • The learned men have thought of pilgrimage at the base of the little finger. At the base of the thumb is situated a pilgrimage pertaining to Lord Brahma the creator and it is called 'Prajapatya Trith'. At the uppermost part of the finger is situated ‘Divine pilgrimage’ (Divya Teertha). At the base of the index finger is the pilgrimage of the dead ancestors (Pitar Teertha). The supreme teacher had instructed the Brahmins of Mahabharat era to perform the act of achaman in the following way- " Both the ears should be toouched joining the thumb with the ring finger and after that both the shoulders should be touched by joining the thumb and the little finger". At last he has instructed to touch the navel, the heart and the forehead with all the fingers.
  • During the performance of Achaman, water is sipped thrice which is an appeasement to the Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva respectively. Touching the ears pleases the deity Agni (fire) and the deity Vayu (wind), the shoulder-touch pleases all the rest of the deities, the touch of the eye pleases the Moon and the Sun and the touch of the forehead satisfies the ‘Param Purush’ Lord Vishnu.
  • According to sage Shankh, a Brahmin who performs the Vedic rites without ‘Janeu’ (sacred thread) and open top-knot (shikha) he does not accomplish any result and virtue because such a Brahmin is impure. Shankh has also instructed to perform worship in the morning in standing position and in the evening in the sitting position.

In this chapter of Shankh Smriti gives many discourses on different austerities and study of sacred scriptures as the means for the atonement of sins. According to Sage Shankh the following seven austerities liberate man from his sins.
  1. Shatrudri patha (related to Lord Shiva)
  2. Atharvasheersha patha (related to Lord Ganesha etc)
  3. Trisuparna Mahavrata
  4. Gosukta (related to cow worship)
  5. Ashwa sukta (related to horse worship)
  6. Indra Sukta (related to the worship of Indra)
  7. Samani Vrata.
Further Shankh says that “ for the prevention of the ill effects of the sins Tryabhist, Drupada, Stom, Vyahriti, Bharund, Sam, Gayatri and Aushan are the names of few austerities which help in that direction.

Besides the above mentioned austerities Shankh has also instructed the people to follow the following austerities-
a) Shuddh Gatya b) Startasama c) Kushmand d) Pavamanya e) Purushvrata f) Soma Vrata g) Abling h) Brihaspati I) Trinyajyadoha j) Rathantar k) Agnivrata and l) Vamdeva.

These austerities were strictly followed during the Dwapar era and continued to be practiced till the Mahabharat period. Though many of the above mentioned austerities have almost extinct in the modern age but still a few of them have survived and are practiced even today like Gayatri, Bhash, Shatarudri, Atharvasheersha, etc.


In this chapter Shankh has described the rules and regulations of chanting Gayatri mantra.


Narrating about the importance of Gayatri mantra, the Vedas says- “ A chanter of Gayatri mantras attains the desired world (loka) and the desired object. ‘Gayatri’ is the mother of the Vedas and destroyer of the sin.”

For chanting, Gayatri mantra is considered to be the best and for performing a ‘homa’ (offerings made to the sacrificial fire), Vyahrili havan is the best. Chanting of Gayatri mantra for 108 times eliminates the sins which are committed daily knowingly or unknowingly. Chanting of the Gayatri mantra for eleven hundred times eliminates all the sins and chanting it for ten thousand times gives salvation.


In this chapter sage Shankh has described in detail about the methods of libation of water to the dead ancestors.

  • After taking a bath and chanting the mantras, a man, facing east first of all should make libation of the deities by the water from the pilgrimage. After that, libations should be made to the seven nether worlds and the Jambu island respectively. Then the provision is to make libation to all the seven seas with one mantra each taken from the Purush Sukta. At last libation is made to the dead ancestors facing south and wearing the ‘Yagyopavit’ across the left shoulder.
  • According to Shankh the following dead ancestors should be satisfied by libation of water to them- “ Father, grandfather, great-grandfather, Mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, maternal grandfather maternal great-grandfather, father of maternal great-grandfather, maternal grand mother, maternal great-grandmother and mother of maternal great-grand mother.
  • Today even in Kaliyuga, this tradition still continues , though with a slight change in the methods of libation as mentioned in Shankh Smriti. In the modern age libations are made to the deceased male from the father’s side, deceased male from the mother’s side, deceased female from the father’s side and at last deceased female from the mother’s side.
  • Some people even make libations by using silver utensils just like it was done in the Dwapar Yuga, but it is also true that golden utensils are not in use nowadays though this shortcoming is made up by wearing either silver or golden rings.
  • Shankh has instructed to make libations to the relatives from the father’s side till seven generations. Elaborating on the importance of libation Shankh says- “ A man who makes libation of water with sesame after taking a bath satisfies his dead ancestors and attains the reward similar to that of ‘Pitra- yagya’.


In this chapter Shankh says that the worth and mettle of a Brahmin is tested during the ceremony of Shraadh and not during worship of the deities.

  • Describing about the qualities of a impure Brahmin, he says: “ A pathless and corrupt Brahmin, a Brahmin who is apparently polite but possesses hatred within his heart, a crippled Brahmin or having extra organ are considered to be impure and not fit to be invited for the ‘pitra-karma’ (offerings of water, food etc. to the manes).
  • Describing about the qualities of pure Brahmin he says- “ A Brahmin who performs meditation, who is learned, who is an ascetic is fit to attend the occasion of Shraadh-karma and guide it”.
  • Shankh has instructed the host to feed the Brahmins cheerfully, He says: “ After performing the Shraadh karma, a host should immediately and without being angry provide freshly cooked food to the Brahmins.”
  • The use of red flowers is prohibited during the performance of ‘pitra-karma.’ But according to Shankh red flowers which grow in the water are acceptable. He says- “ Red flowers which have bloomed in the water are especially worth offering.
  • Shankh advocates donation of new woolen and cotton clothes to the Brahmins. This tradition of donating clothes is still followed in the present age. It is worth noting that the ‘Shraadh’ ceremony is performed for one’s own satisfaction. It has been the belief of Indian theist tradition that the soul of the dead person goes to heaven after his death. For this very reason Shraadh is performed.
  • Regarding defects in the character of a Brahmin invited to preside over the Shraadh ceremony Shankh says- “ If a Brahmin who has been invited in the Shraadh ceremony indulges in copulation before attending it commits a grave sin”. Here both the priest and the host have been prohibited from indulging in sexual acts during Shraadh period.
  • Sage Shankh has said in his treatise Shankh Smriti that a person who donates liberally when on a pilgrimage gets indestructible and ever lasting results. Performing ‘pind daan’ (oblation of cooked rice to the manes) help deceased ancestors to go to heaven and attain supreme abode. According to Shankh donating liberally at the following pilgrimages gives eternal fruits. “ Gaya, Prabhas, Pushkar, Prayag and Naimisharanya.” According to the Shankh Smriti making donations at the banks of the Ganga and Yamuna, Ayodhya, Amarkantak, at the banks of the Narmada, Kashi, Kurukshetra etc. gives eternal fruits. Even in the present age, the tradition of donations and ‘pind daan’ at these sacred pilgrimages is alive.
  • Shankh Smriti prohibits the performance of ‘Pitra karma’ in certain situations. It says: “ Pitra karma should not be performed by a learned at ‘Mlechch Sthaan, in the night and especially during the evening time.”
  • Today , the instructions of sage Shankh regarding the performance of ‘pitra karma’ are followed by people in India. People try to finish the act of ‘pitra karma’ before sunset and avoid passing through the defiled places.
  • Shankh Smriti recognizes that an appropriatlly accomplished pitra karma satisfies the dead and they bless their following generations with joy and prosperity. At last it would be appropriate to come to the conclusion that ‘Shankh Smriti’ was like a sacred scripture during Dwapar Yuga and its instructions and advises were followed unfailingly during religious activities, rites and rituals. Even today, we see the indelible impacts of Shankh Smriti in our society here and there.

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