Krishna sets the example of how to receive a respectable guest. Here, in a story from the Bhagavata-Purana, he washes the feet of an impoverished brahmana.

Offering hospitality is fundamental to Hindu culture and providing food and shelter to a needy stranger was a traditional duty of the householder. The unexpected guest is called the atithi, literally meaning “without a set time.” Scripture enjoins that the atithi be treated as God. It was especially important to extend hospitality towards brahmanas, sannyasis and other holy people. There are many stories regarding the benefits of offering a suitable reception and the sins that accrue from neglecting one’s guests. Tradition teaches that, no matter how poor one is, one should always offer three items: sweet words, a sitting place, and refreshments (at least a glass of water). The flower garland is offered to special guests and dignitaries, as a symbol of loving exchange.

Scripture also enjoins that one should treat visiting enemies so well that they will forget their animosity. A graphic example is that of the warrior class who would fight during the day and in the evening socialise with adversaries.Westerners visiting India (and other places in the East) are often astonished by the welcoming attitude towards guests and visiting strangers, strikingly different from the Western “beware of the dog” culture.

Related Stories

King Rantidev (STO-206)
Who set the ideal example for receiving guests.

The Gift of the sun-god (STO-801)
Overcoming some of the problems created by guests.

Related Values and Issues

  • Valuing and caring for others
  • Magnanimity
  • Giving and receiving

Personal Reflection

  • What experience do we have of being well or poorly received? How did we feel?
  • How do we receive others?
  • What are the reasons that we receive guests well or poorly?
  • Have we experienced the pleasure of giving?
  • What different types of pleasure do we experience by receiving?

Scriptural Passages

“Even an enemy must be offered appropriate hospitality if he comes to your home. A tree does not deny its shade even to the one who comes to cut it down.”

Mahabharata 12.374

“The uninvited guest should be treated as good as God.”

Popular Proverb