Reading a comment made on this site, I saw something very curious:

Why not blame it on the ancient Hindu belief that traveling overseas pollutes a person irredeemably, thereby stunting the growth of Indian naval technology and ensuring Europeans came to India rather than vice versa?

Searching on Google, I find quite a few people debating whether there are current rules against overseas travel, or what the penalties are, but I haven't been able to find anything about this belief in ancient days.

I know that Hinduism did spread to Indonesia at one point, so I imagine there was no prohibition against overseas travel in those days. So, to be more specific:

When did Hinduism first prohibit overseas travel, and when did it stop prohibiting overseas travel?

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    Googling for this (as I did) came up with a number of conflicting claims on this point, so it seems like a legitimate question to ask here.
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 4:01
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    If you cite the conflicting claims, you prove that you've done the research, and help us to deconflict and resolve the claims.
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 10:52
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    It seems to me that the beliefs of Indians during the Iron Age are quite on topic here. I'm confused why this would be held as off-topic.
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 0:57
  • Putting this question on hold for insufficient research does seem reasonable, though. (@MarkC.Wallace)
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 0:58
  • Most of the questions related to Indian culture and hinduism are offtopic here, why is it so? Are religions not a part of history? Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 7:27

4 Answers 4


According to this article in Hinduism Today (July/August/September 2008), samudrayana (ocean voyage) is forbidden in the Shastras, but it may not be binding on current followers -- instead they may go through ritual purification after travel. The relevant passage is below:

The Baudhayana Sutra, one of the Hindu Dharma Shastras, says that "making voyages by sea" (II.1.2.2) is an offense which will cause pataniya, loss of caste. It offers a rather difficult penance: "They shall eat every fourth mealtime a little food, bathe at the time of the three libations (morning, noon and evening), passing the day standing and the night sitting. After the lapse of three years, they throw off their guilt."

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    Loss of caste; for many (such as untouchables), wouldn't that be an incentive rather than a disincentive to take a sea voyage? Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 0:16
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    @PieterGeerkens There are four castes (varnas). Untouchable is the state you enter when you lose your caste. Sometimes it is referred to as the fifth caste, but it is not technically so. So, in this case, loss of caste is not something anyone would want--though technically I suppose it would have no effect on someone who is already an untouchable. Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 14:47
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    @called2voyage: Thank you for the explanation. Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 21:38
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    How did Ghandi purify himself after traveling to England?
    – RonJohn
    Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 3:11
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    @RonJohn Mahatma Gandhi was from the merchant / Baniya caste so, as Pradeep explains below this would not apply to him as it mainly focuses on higher caste people.
    – sventechie
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 23:47

The term in Sanskrit "Sagara Ullanghana" or "Samudra Ullanghana" is the term mainly used to prohibit upper caste i.e. Brahmins who have learnt Vedas and do daily 'Pujas' and 'Sandhyavandanam' from crossing the sea or ocean. This article Hindus and Ocean Taboo gives the complete picture of it and also what a Brahmin says about "making voyages by sea".

Baudhayana Dharma and Grahya Shastra and Manu Smriti extensively mentions castes and imposes strict rules to be followed by those castes. But most of them concentrate on Brahmins and their Do's and Don'ts. But samudrayana was allowed to other castes because since Vedic period people from India have traveled across the world for trade. And another example is Hindu culture in Indonesia.


Samudrayana, overseas travel, has always been forbidden to an observant Hindu because it would necessarily involve coming into contact with a non Hindu, which is an uncleansable defilement. In itself, there is nothing wrong with travel, but to have contact with foreigners, with the Dasyu, and their food is a fundamental violation of Hindu Brama, purity of being.

In Hinduism, everything is gradation. Thus, a Brahman who defiles himself by martial activities becomes a Ksatriya, which in itself has its own honors, or perhaps something worse. The more defilement you bring upon yourself, the deeper your dishonor and degradation. This is what is meant by "loss of caste". Conversely, by right and pure conduct a person may ascend and become higher in grade, even a Brahman.

To have regular contact with unbelieving foreigners, the Dasyu, is considered to be so defiling that there is no coming back in one lifetime.


Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the first hindu Brahmin who ignored the old rule of ocean travelling prohibition... on 15th November 1830.

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    Do you have a source for this? Can you say a bit more about the circumstances (e.g. why he ignored it)? Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 5:00

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