What is PUNYA

  • By Swami Mukhyananda
  • June 14, 2020


The word punya is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word punya is merit. However, it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root.

The word punya is derived from the root word pu. The root word pu means to cleanse, purify, purge, clarify, brighten, illustrate, illumine, sift, discern, discriminate, think of, invent, compose, purify oneself, be or become clear or bright, flow off clearly, expiate, atone for, to pass so as to purify, to purify in passing or pervading, or ventilate.

The word punya means virtuous; pure; righteous; beautiful; pleasing; fragrant; virtue; moral or religious merit; a good action; purity; purification; a trough for watering cattle; holy tulsi leaf; lucky; auspicious; solemn; festive; holy; sacred; good; meritorious; favourable; propitious; convenient; beneficent; agreeable; lovely; sweet; a virtuous or meritorious act; a religious ceremony performed by a wife to retain her husband’s affection and to obtain a son; the seventh house from the house of birth in a horoscope; the union of the Indian astrological constellations of Mesha, Karka, Tula, and Makara; the River Ganga; one of the 108 names of Sri Krishna; the name of a poet; of another man; the name of a sacred lake situated near the River Para or River Kaushiki and the mountains Mainaka and Asita; the name of Ashvagandha or Physalis Flexuosa; the name of a daughter of Kratu and Sannati and daughter-in-law of Parvasha; the name of a king; name of the son of Sage Dirghatamas; one of the forty-seven tanas or tones used in Indian music; the name of a Sanskrit metre or chhandas defined by Bharata and called Samriddhi by Hemachandra; the name of another Sanskrit metre called by Hemachandra as mada; the strength of merit that is one of the ten strengths of the Bodhisattvas; or the name of the ashrama of the highly advanced soul Kashyapa on the River Kaushiki.

The word punya is quite old and is found in the Rig Veda. According to the Nyaya school of Indian philosophy, punya means one’s well-being.

According to Jainism, forty-two kinds of karmas produce punya. Punya also refers to the moral principles governing an ethical Jain life. It is said that one should not speak of the punya one has done.

Bathing in sacred rivers like the River Ganga is considered to produce punya. In Sanatana Dharma, a person earns punya or merit by doing good actions and this punya is experienced by getting an appropriate birth or by enjoying different higher worlds like the world of the king of the gods, Indra. When such punya is exhausted, one is again born in this world. Attaining punya does not guarantee moksha or liberation from the continuous cycle of repeated births and deaths, or samsara. One’s true nature, the Atman, is not affected by punya.

Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata. The Balabodha series as written is a glossary of words and not an article.

To read all articles by the Author

This article was first published in the April 2020 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe https://shop.advaitaashrama.org/subscribe/

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