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Taittiriya Upanishad 1.11 (Siksha Valli) declares that:

मातृदेवो भव । पितृदेवो भव । आचार्यदेवो भव । अतिथिदेवो भव ॥ ४ ॥

mātṛdevo bhava | pitṛdevo bhava | ācāryadevo bhava | atithidevo bhava || 4 ||

4. Treat thy mother as a God; as a God treat thou thy father; as a God shalt thou treat thy teacher; thy guests as Gods shalt thou treat.

It is understandable that one should treat one's mother, father and guru as God itself. But what's the need to treat one's guest too as God?

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In a guest all Gods are united. This is what the Shastras declare.

48.   (A guest) should not be asked his family or his clan ; [Lit., his gotra] he should not be questioned as to learning or knowledge. [But the host] should take him to be a god himself; for, in him are united all the gods.

(Parashara Smriti, Chapter 1)

Further verses depicting the importance of guests (from Parashara):

45.   Where a guest goes back from a person's house, ' – his hope of a welcome unfulfilled, – the forefathers of the householder do not eat, during the period of ten years and five.

46.   Where a guest is disappointed in his hopes – useless are the burnt-offerings made by the host, although he may burn a thousand loads of wood and a hundred jars of ghee.

58.   Those who do not perform the rite for the Visvadevam, or the rite of hospitably receiving guests, – they all are destined to go to hell, and in the next existence are born as crows.

62.   Whether it be a robber, or a Chandala (the lowest of all the castes), or an enemy, or a parricide, – any one arrived at the time of the rite for the Visvadevam, is to be welcomed as a guest, who is like a bridge for crossing over to the seats of bliss.

Similarly, the Manu Smriti says:

Manu Smriti 3.72. But he who does not feed these five, the gods, his guests, those whom he is bound to maintain, the manes, and himself, lives not, though he breathes

An interesting story, told in the Linga Purana, which emphasizes the fact that guests are always to be treated as God, is as follows:

In the secluded and thick Forests of Daruvana, select Munis including Sapta Rishis and Maha Yogis were engaged in deep Tapasya along with their wives and children. As the Munis were busy with their meditation and Yagna Karmas, the wives who were all Maha Pativratas were serving them in their spiritual activities and family chores. Maha Deva appeared in Daruvana to test the depth of the Rishis and their Tapasya. He assumed the form of a semi-lunatic but of an astonishingly handsome and shapely physique; as a ‘Digambara’ or naked, he was laughing loudly some times and behaving erratically always. Soon he became the talk of Daruvana especially the feminine gender. Even the renowned Pativratas of leading Maharshis, let alone the unmarried Kanyas and elderly women, spontaneously professed attraction and infatuation for the Stranger. Parama Shiva in disguise who terminated Kama Devata into ashes with his anger by his third eye had kindled passion among the Rishi Patnis including of the Sapta Rishis! Some of the enterprising women entered his ‘Parnashala’, declared love for him and enquired of his antecedents. He smiled but would not reply.The Maharshis reacted sharply against the Stranger as he was ruining their family lives; they all confronted him one day and gave him a ‘Shaap’that since he provoked his wives with his nudity, his Linga should be dropped down to the ground. Parma Shiva retaliated that since no fault of his the Maharshis gave the ‘shaap’, he would not give a return curse but his Linga would get fixed there as also multiply into innumerable forms to burn off the areas of their presence; further they (Sapta Rishis) would be hanging on the Sky along with Nakshatras for ever! Having heard this the Sapta Rishis were shaken up as the forest was gradually getting burnt off and the fire was spreading far and wide. They approached Brahma at once and the latter confirmed to the Rishis that the ‘Atithi’ or the Guest was none other than Maha Deva Himself and that they were most unfortunate in not realising the actuality. In fact Brahma reprimanded the Rishis as they did not observe one of the fundamental Precepts of Dharma viz. that a Grihasti or a Family Man ought to treat Guests as Devatas (Athithi Devo Bhava)!

  • Just a curious question.. Why do you base all your answers on smritis? – Vineet Menon Dec 21 '16 at 12:27
  • @VineetMenon a lot actually depend on the Q itself..Now if it is such that it can't be answered from the Smritis then i'm ready to answer them citing the suitable Scriptures provided that i'm versed in them..The Smritis are called the Dharma Shastras because they teach us what is Dharma and what is Adharma ..So there is no denying the fact that most practical hinduism Qs can be answered from them.. – Rickross Dec 21 '16 at 15:13
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But what is the need to treat guest as God?

The exact answer to your above question is given in Skanda Purana Book 6 ,Nagara Khanda ,Chapter One Hundred Eighty six ( Importance of an Atithi).

It's said in Skanda Purana that Lord Shambhu and Lord Vishnu gets pleased with worship of Atithi including all the gods .Hence Atithi is full of all the devas.

Here are the excerpt-:

9 : If the Guest is pleased with the householder, all the devas are also pleased with him.If he is displeased (keeps his face averted) ,all the devas are also displeased.

23 : Shambhu is pleased if he is given Arghya and all the devas including Vasava.Vishnu shall be pleased if food is offered to the guests.. Hence Atithi is full of all the devas.

4 : There is no greater duty of Householders than worship of a guest.

10: Hence the guest must always be satisfied by a householder ,even by sacrificing himself if he wishes for his own good.

So from above excerpts we can conclude that Atithi is equal to god and so treating Atithi (guest) as a god is advised.

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