Athithi Devo Bhava is an expression from Taittirya Upanishad

A Letter From Grandpa

Niranjan Shah, a civil engineer, who pioneered famous high-rise buildings in Baroda, is a broadcaster in India and the USA and a prolific writer. Under “A Letter from Grandpa.” he has been writing since 2002 on India’s historical, philosophical, and literary heritage. He can be reached at   

By Niranjan Shah
My dear Snehi and Sohan:
Atithi Devo Bhava (Treat your guest as god)  mantra comes from Taittiriya Upani-shad (11:2).  It is the tagline of the Indian Tourism Development Corporation. The full verse of the mantra  is:  Deva pitrukaryabhyam na pramaditavyayam; matru devo bhava; Pitru devo bhava; Aacharya devo bhava; Atithi devo bhava; Yaanyanavadyaani karmaani; tani sevitavyani; na itarani; Yaanyasmakam sucharitani; tani tvayopasyani.

It means: “One should not neglect one’s duties to gods and ancestors. Treat your mother as god. Treat your father as god. Treat your teacher as god. Treat your guest as god. Whatever deeds are faultless, they are to be performed, not by others. Whatever good works have to be performed, those should be  performed by you.”

Athihi devo bhava  has become part of the “code of conduct” for Indian society. It is   a procedure of the host-guest relationship. 

Tithi in Sanskrit means a date. In ancient times, when means of communication were limited and it was not possible for guests to anticipate their date of arrival, Atithi  was coined to depict a visiting person, who had no fixed date of arrival or departure. Devo means god and bhav means “Be” or “Is.”

The Taittiriya Upanishad belongs to Taittiriya school of the Yajur Veda. The Taittiriya Upanishad is one of the older, primary Upanishads commented upon by Shankara. It figures as number 7 in the Muktika canon of 108 Upanishads. It belongs to the Taittiriya recension of the Yajurveda and is constituted by the seventh, eighth and ninth chapters of Taittiriya Aranyaka. The 10th chapter of the same Aranyaka is the Mahanarayana Upanishad. The Taittiriya Upanishad describes the various degrees of happiness enjoyed by the different beings in creation. It is divided into three sections called Vallis. The first is the Siksha Valli. Siksha Valli is the first of the six Vedangs (limbs or auxiliaries of the Veda); it is the science of phonetics and pronunciation. The second is the Brahmananda Valli and the third is the Bhrgu Valli. Each Valli is further subdivided into anuvakas or verses. 

Atithi devo bhava, a tradition of hospitality is still in vogue in India, which attracts millions of tourists every year. Taking advantage of this, the Tourism Department of India has started a Atithi devo bhava campaign with the theme The Incredible India. The Indian government’s Ministry of Tourism is using this ancient adage to promote tourism by a publicity campaign to sell Incredible India. Atithi Devo Bhava is a social awareness campaign aimed at providing the inbound tourist a sense of being welcomed to the country. Bollywood actor Aamir Khan is the brand ambassador of Atithi Devo Bhava.

— Grandpa’s blessing
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