Amrita (Sanskrit: अमृत, IAST: amṛta), Amrit or Amata in Pali, (also called Sudha, Amiy, Ami) is a Sanskrit word that means "immortality". It is a central concept within Indian religions and is often referred to in ancient Indian texts as an elixir.[1] Its first occurrence is in the Rigveda, where it is considered one of several synonyms for soma, the drink of the devas.[2] Amrita plays a significant role in the Samudra Manthana, and is the cause of the conflict between devas and asuras competing for amrita to obtain immortality.[3]

A stone carving of a standing woman with a pot in her left hand and lotus in right
Mohini, the female form of Vishnu, holding the pot of amrita, which she distributes amongst all the devas, leaving the asuras without it. Darasuram, Tamil Nadu, India

Amrita has varying significance in different Indian religions. The word Amrit is also a common first name for Sikhs and Hindus, while its feminine form is Amritā.[4] Amrita is cognate to and shares many similarities with ambrosia; both originated from a common Proto-Indo-European source.[5][6]

Etymology Edit

Amrita is composed of the negative prefix, अ a from Sanskrit meaning 'not', and mṛtyu meaning 'death' in Sanskrit, thus meaning 'not death' or 'immortal/deathless'.

The concept of an immortality drink is attested in at least two ancient Indo-European languages: Ancient Greek and Sanskrit. The Greek ἀμβροσία (ambrosia, from ἀ- “not” + βροτός “mortal”) is semantically linked to the Sanskrit अमृत (amṛta) as both words denote a drink or food that gods use to achieve immortality. The two words appear to be derived from the same Indo-European form *ṇ-mṛ-tós, "un-dying"[7] (n-: negative prefix from which the prefix a- in both Greek and Sanskrit are derived; mṛ: zero grade of *mer-, "to die"; and -to-: adjectival suffix). A semantically similar etymology exists for Greek nectar, the beverage of the gods (Greek: νέκταρ néktar) presumed to be a compound of the PIE roots *nek-, "death", and -*tar, "overcoming".

Hinduism Edit

Amrita is repeatedly referred to as the drink of the devas, which grants them immortality. Despite this, the nectar does not actually offer true immortality. Instead, by partaking it, the devas were able to attain a higher level of knowledge and power, which they had lost due to the curse of the sage Durvasa, as described in the Samudra Manthana legend. It tells how the devas, after the curse, begin to lose their immortality. Assisted by their rivals, the asuras, the devas begin to churn the ocean, releasing, among other extraordinary objects and beings, a pitcher of amrita, held by the deity Dhanvantari.[8]

Brahma enlightens the devas regarding the existence of this substance:[9]

O Devas, in the northern division and on the northern bank of the ocean of milk there is a most excellent place called Amrita (nectar): so the wise say. Go there and being self-controlled practise hard austerities. There you will hear most sacred, purified words relating to Brahman grave like the muttering of clouds surcharged with water in the rainy season. That celestial speech is destructive of all sins and was spoken by the god of gods of pure soul. So long as your vow will not terminate you will hear that great universal speech. O gods, you have come to me and I am ready to grant you boons. Tell me what boon you do want.

— Harivamsa Purana, Chapter 43

When the asuras claim the nectar for themselves, Vishnu assumes the form of the enchantress Mohini, and her beauty persuades the asuras to crudely offer her the task of its distribution:[10]

Seeing that beautiful form, they were fascinated and were overwhelmed with the passion of love. Giving up their mutual struggle, they approached and spoke:

“O blessed lady! Take this pitcher of Nectar and distribute it amongst us. We are the sons of Kaśyapa; O lady with beautiful buttocks, make us all drink it (Nectar).”

Requesting her thus, they handed it over to the lady who was reluctant. She spoke, “No faith should be entertained in me, as I am a self-willed (i.e. wanton) woman. You have done an improper act. I shall, however, distribute it as per my will.” Though she told them so, those stupid ones said, “Do as you please”.

— Skanda Purana, Chapter 13
Vishnu took the form of the beauty Mohini and distributed the amrita to devas. When Svarabhānu tried to steal the amrita, his head was cut off.

When the danava Rahu disguised himself as a deva and sat in the clan's row to partake in consuming the nectar, Surya and Chandra alerted Mohini of his presence. Mohini sliced his head off with her Sudarshana Chakra, and continued to distribute the nectar to every single one of the devas, after which she assumed her true form of Narayana and defeated the asuras in a battle.[11]

Sikhism Edit

In Sikhism, amrit (Punjabi: ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ) is the name of the holy water used in Amrit Sanchar, a ceremony which resembles baptism. This ceremony is observed to initiate the Sikhs into the Khalsa and requires drinking amrit.[12] This is created by mixing a number of soluble ingredients, including sugar, and is then rolled with a khanda with the accompaniment of scriptural recitation of five sacred verses.

Metaphorically, God's name is also referred to as a nectar:

ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਸਬਦੁ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਹਰਿ ਬਾਣੀ ॥
Amrit sabad amrit hari bāṇī.
The Shabda is Amrit; the Lord's bani is Amrit.
ਸਤਿਗੁਰਿ ਸੇਵਿਐ ਰਿਦੈ ਸਮਾਣੀ ॥
Satiguri sēviai ridai samāṇī.
Serving the True Guru, it permeates the heart.
ਨਾਨਕ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਨਾਮੁ ਸਦਾ ਸੁਖਦਾਤਾ ਪੀ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਸਭ ਭੁਖ ਲਹਿ ਜਾਵਣਿਆ ॥
Nānak amrit nāmu sadā sukhdātā pī amritu sabha bhukh lahi jāvaṇiā.
O Nanak, the Ambrosial Naam is forever the Giver of peace; drinking in this Amrit, all hunger is satisfied.[13]

Old Sikh fresco art from the Akal Takht, Amritsar of Guru Gobind Singh preparing Amrit

Buddhism Edit

Buddha is called as "Amata Santam" in Pali Literature.

Theravada Buddhism Edit

According to Thanissaro Bhikkhu, "the deathless" refers to the deathless dimension of the mind which is dwelled in permanently after nibbana.[14]

In the Amata Sutta, the Buddha advises monks to stay with the four Satipatthana: "Monks, remain with your minds well-established in these four establishings of mindfulness. Don't let the deathless be lost to you."[15]

In the questions for Nagasena, King Milinda asks for evidence that the Buddha once lived, wherein Nagasena describes evidence of the Dhamma in a simile:

"Revered Nagasena, what is the nectar shop of the Buddha, the Blessed One?"

"Nectar, sire, has been pointed out by the Blessed One. With this nectar the Blessed One sprinkles the world with the devas; when the devas and the humans have been sprinkled with this nectar, they are set free from birth, aging, disease, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. What is this nectar? It is mindfulness occupied with the body. And this too, sire, was said by the Blessed One: 'Monks, they partake of nectar (the deathless) who partake of mindfulness that is occupied with the body.' This, sire, is called the Blessed One's nectar shop."

— Miln 335[16]

Chinese Buddhism Edit

Chinese Buddhism describes Amrita (Chinese: 甘露; pinyin: gānlù) as blessed water, food, or other consumable objects often produced through merits of chanting mantras.

Vajrayana Buddhism Edit

Amrita (Tibetan: བདུད་རྩི་, Wylie: bdud rtsi, THL: dütsi) also plays a significant role in Vajrayana Buddhism as a sacramental drink which is consumed at the beginning of all important rituals such as the abhisheka, ganachakra, and homa. In the Tibetan tradition, dütsi is made during drubchens – lengthy ceremonies involving many high lamas. It usually takes the form of small, dark-brown grains that are taken with water, or dissolved in very weak solutions of alcohol and is said to improve physical and spiritual well-being.[17]

The foundational text of traditional Tibetan medicine, the Four Tantras, is also known by the name The Heart of Amrita (Wylie: snying po bsdus pa).

The Immaculate Crystal Garland (Wylie: dri med zhal phreng) describes the origin of amrita in a version of the samudra manthana legend retold in Buddhist terms. In this Vajrayana version, the monster Rahu steals the amrita and is blasted by Vajrapani's thunderbolt. As Rahu has already drunk the amrita he cannot die, but his blood, dripping onto the surface of this earth, causes all kinds of medicinal plants to grow. At the behest of all the Buddhas, Vajrapani reassembles Rahu who eventually becomes a protector of Buddhism according to the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Inner Offering (Wylie: Nang chod, Chinese: 内供) is the most symbolic amrita offering assembly, and the Inner Offering Nectar Pill (Wylie: Nang chod bdud rtsi rilbu, Chinese: 内供甘露丸) is a precious and secret medicine of Tibetan Buddhism, which are only used internally for higher-ranking monks in Nyingma school. Its ingredients including Five Amrita and Five Meat, which represents five buddhas, and five elements respectively. According to Tantras of Chakravarti, and Tantras of Vajravārāhī, a ceremony needs to be held for melting and blessing the Inner-Offering Nectar. Five Nectar needs to be arranged in four directions: yellow excrement in the east, green bone marrow in the north, white semen in the west and red blood in the south; blue urine is placed in the center. Four Nectar should come from wise monks and the ova should be collected from the first menstruation of a blessed woman. The Five Meats are arranged similarly, meat of black bull in the southeast, the meat of the blue dog in the southwest, the meat of the white elephant in the northwest, the meat of the green horse in the northeast, and the meat of a red human corpse in the center. After the ceremony, these ingredients will transform into a one taste (ekarasa) elixir, which bestows bliss, vitality, immortality and wisdom. Actual modern practitioner will take a 'synthesized essence' of the Nectar Pill and combined it with black tea or alcohol, but mostly the "Nectar Pill" are derived from plants.[18]

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. ^ "amrita | Hindu mythology | Britannica". Retrieved 2021-11-13.
  2. ^ "Soma: The Nectar of the Gods". History of Ayurveda. Retrieved 2021-11-13.
  3. ^ Pattanaik, Devdutt (February 27, 2016). "Good deva-bad asura divide misleading". The Times of India. Retrieved 2021-11-13.
  4. ^ "BBC - Religions - Sikhism: Amrit ceremony". Retrieved 2021-11-13.
  5. ^ Walter W. Skeat, Etymological English Dictionary
  6. ^ "Ambrosia" in Chambers's Encyclopædia. London: George Newnes, 1961, Vol. 1, p. 315.
  7. ^ Mallory, J. P. (1997). "Sacred drink". In Mallory, J. P.; Adams, Douglas Q. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Taylor & Francis. p. 538. Mallory also connects to this root an Avestan word, and notes that the root is "dialectally restricted to the IE southeast".
  8. ^ Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam (ed.). India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 66.
  9. ^ (2020-11-14). "Brahma Instructs the Devas to Go to Vishnu [Chapter 43]". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  10. ^ (2020-03-05). "Gods Drink the Nectar [Chapter 13]". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  11. ^ (2020-03-05). "Gods Drink the Nectar [Chapter 13]". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  12. ^ "Taking Amrit: Initiation". Retrieved 2021-11-13.
  13. ^ Guru Granth Sahib, page 119
  14. ^ "All About Change", by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 5 June 2010,
  15. ^ "Amata Sutta: Deathless" (SN 47.41), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 17 February 2012,
  16. ^ "The Blessed One's City of Dhamma: From the Milindapañha", based on the translation by I.B. Horner. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013,
  17. ^ Dutsi, A Brief Description of the Benefits of the Sacred Ambrosial Medicine, The Unsurpassable, Supreme Samaya Substance that Liberates Through Taste.
  18. ^ The handbook of Tibetan Buddhist symbols, Robert Beer. ISBN 1590301005, Boston, MA. :Shambhala, 2003.

Sources Edit

External links Edit