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Achamanam: A Simple Internal Purification Process

Santana dharma, like we all know is the way of life. For ages many rishis and munis have experienced the various dimensions of the universe with their sadhana. With these experiences they have also devised rituals that facilitate a connection of human self with the absolute self. The complexity of these rituals have a wide range depending on the purpose. But all the rituals have many common elements and one of them is “Purity”. These rituals would meet its purpose only when carried out being in highest state of purity. Purity is possible at two levels, internal and external.

Purifying oneself externally is done by taking a shower which all of us do every day. This is something that is tangible, that can be seen and experienced easily. Another level of purity for us humans is the internal purity.

Internal purification is a process in which one has to stimulate the mind that carries our intent and awareness to ward off evil elements within us and prepare to focus. This can only be experienced by doing it right with the right intent and not with a critical intent. Achamanam is a simple internal purification process that can be used on any necessary occasion.

This process has deeper philosophical meaning. But this article is intended to keep it simple and encourage youngsters to practice it. So I will limit the content to practical aspects and benefits.

How does it work?

Our body is made up of 5 elements namely Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Ether/Space. Keeping these elements in the right balance is directly linked to the flow of bio-electricity in our body. Finger tips are the terminal points for bio-electricity and each fingertip is associated with one element. Thumb with fire, index finger with wind, middle finger with ether, ring finger with earth and little finger with water. Achamanam process triggers these elements that help in keeping the elements in balance. Also it is done sitting in “Kukkutasana” (refer to illustration) that puts pressure on toes. This helps in proper functioning of thyroid, pituitary and adrenal glands.

In the Ramayana, when Ravana finally comes out to fight Sri Rama and Sri Rama who is extremely tiered already, gets worried as how to fight such a great warrior. At this point Agastya maharishi intervenes and teaches Sri Rama the Aditya Hrudayam, chanting which gives immense power that can defeat any enemy. Aditya Hrudayam has an explicit sentence that says “त्रिराचम्या शुचिर्भूत्वा”.   This means, Sri Rama having purified himself by doing Achamanam thrice. It further goes on to say, Sri Rama killed Ravana by putting all the mighty effort that was necessary.

Achamanam is also repeatedly done during every vedic ritual including the daily Sandhya Vandanam. Having mention both the extreme situations in which this is done, I stress upon the importance and effectiveness of it. There are many ways in which Achamanam is done, but all the methods are in approval of rishis. Here I write the “Srivaishnava” way of doing Achamanam.

How is it done?

A vedic verse says “आपः पुनन्तु पृथिवीम्”, meaning “May the water purify the earth”. Thus, water which is the ubiquitous resource that can purify earth can verily purify us. So water is used for purification, both external and internal. The process is very simple, there are “Mantras” to be chanted while sipping water. Then touching various parts of the body with fingertips chanting specific mantras to trigger bio-electricity.
So what are Mantras? Mantra is defined as मननात् त्रायते, which loosely translates to “protects on thoughtful repetition”. These are verses that are composed with particular combination of letters and rhythm that have power, when chanted in the right way with right understanding. One has to master the mantras by chanting it repeatedly in the right way and with proper understanding. This process is called “Mantra Siddhi”. Some are easy to achieve and some are immensely difficult.

posture for Achamanam

First part of the process is as follows

  1. Wash the hands. Sit down facing east in “Kukkutasana”.
  2. Take a small quantity of pure water  in to the right hand holding in a cup shape
  3. Chant “Achyutaya Namaha” into the water to energize it
  4. Sip the water through the tip of the palm without making any sound and swallow.
  5. Repeat the process twice more with the mantras “Anantaya Namaha” and “Govindaya Namaha”
  6. Wipe the lips with fingers and wash the hand with little water.

While this process is done one should try and experience the following.

  1. The flow of the sipped water through the food pipe must be felt.
  2. The mind should be full of imagining Vishnu as imperishable (Achyuta), Infinite (Ananta) and Transending (Govinda) while chanting the respective mantras.

In the second half of the process, one touches 12 parts of the body with the purified hand while chanting the “Dwadasha Naama” of lord Vishnu as described in the table below. Remember the five elements we discussed earlier.

While doing this one should carry the image of Vishnu in these forms in the mind to stimulate awareness at each stage.

This coordinated act of Kaayaka, Vaachaka and Maanasa (Hand movement, Chanting and Mind) makes “Achamanam” a comprehensive method of internal purification. On constant practice one achieves a state where the process becomes natural and doesn’t need much thinking.

When to do this?

Simple answer to this is, any moment you feel the need to wash your hands. But definitely under the following situations. Immediately after brushing, bathing, before and after meals, if possible after attending natural calls.

Now finally, can anyone do this or only Brahmins? Well, the answer is YES anyone can, rather everyone should. It is high time that we put an end to this stigma of social divide and move towards true Sanatana Dharma.

I encourage the readers to practice this if you are not already doing. And share this with wider audience so that more and more people get benefited.

Illustration Image: Nithyashree Govindarajan
Featured Image: Vaishnavi Gopinath

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