A collection of texts taken from the Khuddaka Pátha, the Anguttara Nikáya, the Majjhima Nikáya and the Sutta Nipáta, and recited on special occasions to ward off illness and danger. The word "paritta" means protection. The Milinda-Pańha (p.150f) gives a list of the chief Parittas:
(for particulars of these see s.v.; also Dial.iii.185).
To these are generally added, in the extant collection of Parittas,
The word paritta first occurs in the Culla Vagga (Vin.ii.110) in connection with the Khandha-paritta, which was allowed by the Buddha as a watch, a guard, a protection for oneself, for the use of the Order. The occasion of the delivery of this general injunction was the death of a monk from snake bite. The Milinda-Pańha states (see above) that the recital of the Paritta had the Buddha's express sanction.
The collection of Parittas is, to this day, more widely known by the laity of Burma and Ceylon than any other Páli book, and is generally used in times of danger or of sickness, both individual and national. Thus, Sena II., king of Ceylon, made the community of monks recite the Paritta, and by sprinkling the water charmed with Paritta he made the people free from illness, and so removed the danger of plague from the country.
He also decreed that this practice should continue every year (Cv.li.80).
Kassapa V. is said to have had a Paritta ceremony performed by the three fraternities of monks to protect his people from danger and plague and bad harvest (Ibid., lii.80).
In the recent (1935) epidemic of malaria in Ceylon, monks were taken in carts through the badly affected areas reciting the Paritta and sprinkling water. The ceremony is held on most diverse occasions such as the inauguration of a new house, the starting of a journey, of a new business, etc. For a discussion on the Paritta see Dial.iii.180 ff.; also P.L.C.75f.
Bode says (Op. cit., 4) that in the days of King Anorata of Burma corrupt and cynical monks used the recital of the Paritta as an easy means of clearing man's guilty conscience from all wrong doing, even from matricide.
Buddhaghosa is mentioned (Cv.xxxvii.226) as having once attempted to compile a Parittatthakathá. Geiger (Cv. Trs.i.24, 3) calls this a commentary on the Paritta, but it is more probable that paritta is here used as an adjective, meaning short, concise, and that what is meant is a short or concise commentary on the Pitakas.