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Vedic Sacrifices: Early Nature (Two Volumes)

Vedic Sacrifices: Early Nature (Two Volumes)
Item Code: IDK970
Author: Sadashiv A.Dange
Publisher: Aryan Books International
Edition: 2000
ISBN: 817305195X
Pages: 282 (Illustrations throughout in B/W)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.9" X 5.8”
weight of the book: 1.150 kg
From the Jacket

The book is meant to mark the state of ritual as found in the Samhita and Brahmana texts. This is much before the Srautasutras, which in later times codified every matter of the then developed elaborate ritual. The glimpses from the Rgveda do not correspond to the details of the ritual found in these later texts. With the Brahmanas, the so-called Srauta type of Vedic ritual was almost fixed, though the Srautasutras at some places show changes – omissions or additions.

Even at the Samhita-Brahmana period, the institution of Vedic sacrifices evolved to such a level as to make a labyrinth of rules, options and explanatory myths. Without the knowledge of ritual of this stage, the picture of the ritual got from the Srautasutras would remain incomplete.

The present book is meant for both scholars and those elite readers, who are interested in knowing the main sacrifices without getting lost in the net of rites.

Prof. Sadashiv Ambadas Dange is very well known in India and outside India for his contribution to the study of Sanskrit and Indology and is considered to be an authority on Veda – myths, rituals and practices.

His numerous books include – pastoral Symbolism from the Rgveda (University of Poona, 1970), Vedic Concept of ‘Field’ and the Divine Fructification, (University of Bombay, 1971), Sexual Symbolism from the Vedic Ritual Symbolism from the Vedic Ritual (Ajanta Publications, Delhi, 1979), Divine Hymns and Ancient Thought, 2 Vols., (Navrang, New Delhi, 1992,1995), Encyclopedia of Puranic Beliefs and Practices, Vols. I-V, (Navarang, New Delhi, 1986-90) and the latest Towards Understanding Hindu Myths (Aryan Books Inter-national, New Delhi, 1996).

Prof. Dange was R.G. Bhandarkar Professor and Head, Dept. of Sanskrit, University of Bombay (Mumbai) and twice President of the Vedic Section at the All India Oriental Conference (1980 & 1985). He was Consultant Editor for the Encyclopedia of Human Ideas on Ultimate Reality and Meaning and Editor for the Indian Section of its Journal, Ultimate Reality and Meaning, Fegis College, Toronto (Canada) for more than a decade.

The honours conferred on him include – Silver Medal from the Asiatic Society of Bombay (1983), ‘Special Honour’ by the Uttar Pradesh Sanskrit Academy (1989), Felicitation by the State Govt. of Maharashtra (1990) and the Certificate of Honour from the President of India, to mention a few.



Vedic ritual has come down to us through various types of ritual sources. They are the post-Rgvedic Samhita-s, the Brahmana-texts and the Srautasutra-s. Though domestic rituals developed side by side with what are termed the Srauta rites, there is no consolidation of these rituals prior to the Grhyasutra-s, whose period concurs with the Srautasutra-s (600 B.C. to 200 B.C.). The Srautasutras are different from the Grhyasutra-s in as much as the latter deal with the domestic rites, while the former with the isti and yaga forms of sacrifice, which is also the subject matter of the earlier texts, i.e. the Samhita-s and the Brahmana-s. The visible difference between the Srauta rites and the Grhya rites is that the former require three fires; and the number of fires gets to be increased with certain bigger sacrifices. For the Grhya rite, the household (grhya) fire is sufficient, except in certain cases where a fire is freshly required outside the locality as with the rites at least four, and sometimes sixteen, priests are required (as in the case of the Agnistoma and other Soma-sacrifices). The Grhya rites can be performed by the householder himself or with the help of a single priest. It is to be noted that certain rites such Full-moon days and also the funeral rites find place in the books of both types.

At the Srauta period, many of the Vedic sacrifices got fattened up and mixed up with rites from other Vedic Schools. Even at the Samhita-Brahmana period (much earlier to 600 B.C.), the institution of Vedic sacrifice evolved to such a level as to make a variable labyrinth of rules, options and explanatory myths. To understand its nature, any whole Samhita or Brahmana text (available also in translation) may stand as testimony. Simplification for understanding the smooth growth of ritual was felt necessary and the present work is an attempt in that direction. The title ‘Vedic Sacrifices-Early Nature’ is meant to mark the state of ritual as found in the Samhita and the Brahmana texts, i.e. prior to the Srautasutra-s, with glimpses, that we get, from the Rgveda. The glimpses from in these later texts. With the Brahmana-s, the so-called Srauta type of Vedic ritual was almost fixed. In fact, the project that was submitted to the University Grants Commission was ‘Variation and Evolution of Ritual in the Brahmana Texts’. The same is now modified, in the present work, keeping in view both scholars and those elite readers, who are interested in knowing the main sacrifices without getting lost in the net of rites; hence some rites are even passed over, where not felt absolutely necessary. Attention has been given to the beliefs, behind the rites, found in the texts.

I am thankful to the University Grants Commission for aiding the project (1984-87). The publication was delayed as I had been busy with some other works of mine, which were required to be completed and published during this period. I could resume the work on the present project only after a gap.

My wife (my former student) Mrs. Sindhu (R.G. Bhandarkar Professor and Head, Dept. of Sanskrit, University of Mumbai, now retired) went through the whole script checking it thoroughly, to prepare a final press-copy, during my prolonged indisposition and illness, which considerably thwarted my academic vigour. Even though it is against her wishes. I cannot rest without acknowledging her help, especially as she had to temporarily stop work on her own project on: Arthavada – Vedic Ritual Reasoning, which is almost complete and needs attention. Jacket design with the picture and the line-drawings have been done by Mrs. Vidya Joshi, Lecturer in Art at the J.J. School of Arts, Mumbai.

I am thankful to the publishers, Aryan Books International, for publishing the present work with elegance and within time.



It is impossible to imagine a people who have no rituals. It is also well known that the Vedic people had a multitude of rituals; and their nature, by the period of the Srautasutra texts, had grown to be not only complex, but also voluminous. Yet, the rituals recorded in the Srautasutra-s show mixture of various schools. Though these Sutra-s in many eases, help fill the lacunae in the earlier Samhita and Brahmana texts, the latter could no be taken as already having them and lost during the march of time, to reappear in the later period of the formation of the Srautasutra-s. There appears variation in ritual already by the period of the Brahmana-texts, which is a clear indication of the various Vedic clans, laid by their ritual-guides, the priests, drifting away from some common stream. However, even with such variations there had evolved a set cycle of sacrifices and rituals connected with them. They were Agnyadhana (the establishing of the fires), which included the Agni-pranayama (carrying of the freshly kindled fire) to the three altars – Garhapatya, Dakshna and the Ahavaniya; Agnihotra (daily, morning and evening offerings into the fire) Darsapuranamasa (sacrifices on the new-moon and the full-moon days); Caturmasya (the seasonal or four-monthly sacrifices); Pusubadha; Agnistoma; Vajapeya; Rajasuya; the Horse-sacrifice and the Agnicayana with the introduction of the brick-altars and other intricate rituals. The whole mass of rituals and sacrifices obviously had a steady growth over years. This is the stage of sacrifices which got called by a common name Yajurveda.

About what was the nature of Vedic ritual of the period of the Fgveda, there is very little help; and from the mention of some terms it is different to get a comprehensive idea of such ritual or sacrifices. Thus the yajna was known, as is clear from the many references to it. But, its types, as mentioned in the (later texts of the) Yajurveda tradition are not mentioned. Also the names of the three fires – Garhapatya, Daksina and Ahavaniya – are not mentioned. We may surmise that fire was established in the three altars (ef. RV II.36.4b – ni sada yonisu trisu, addressed to the fire-god); but their specific nature is missing. Fire (thus established) was invoked to accept his share of offering from the agnidhra (ibid.). This agnidhra probably refers to the priest of that name (ef. Ibid. II.1.2 Agnidh and I. 162.5 agnim-indha)2 of the later period. Sayana simply renders agnidhrat as agmodjra-yagat (the agnidhra-sacrifice), which meaning is unhelpful. However, it is clear that even at the Rgvedic period the ‘fire-kindler’ (agnidh) had a special office and importance, probably, due to the skill required in churning the fire from the apparatus, which included the two arani-s, as another priest (the udgatr) sang the ptaise. Though the vedi is mentioned at various places, and there is reference to the ground being measured to prepare it (RVX. 61.2 amimita vedim), no exact measurement appears. In the same context the expression sudair amimita vedim might reflect the idea of preparing the alter. Whether there were required seven Hotr-s (ibid.1-sapta hotrn) is anybody’s guess; because, generally there is one Hotr priest. At one place the vedi is referred to as the ‘young woman with four hair-tufts’ (ibid. X.114.3 – catuskaparda yuvatih), which gives the picture of the Ahavaniya fireplace having four corners; and the tufts may be suggested from some tufts of sacred grass. Ritual indications are strewn at many places; but, some of them are not exactly clear about their context. Thus, for example, when the seer says to Indra, “I shall cook a fat bull for you. I shall spritkle (purify) strong juice of soma that is fifteen-fold” (pancasam; RV X.27.2), one has the feel of a ritual. But, it does not tally totally with later ritual details when the detail of bull-cooking (whole) is taken note of. However, it has an exact parallel in the same hymn (v. 17) when we read, “The sons (of some one; of Angiras, according to Sayana) cooked a fat ram. The dice were scattered in the gambling hall.” Dice-playing formed an important part at the Rajsuya; but the cooking (or roasting?) of a whole beast is never heard of in the later sacrifices. Cooking of a dog’s entrails never formed part of any regular sacrifice in the later Vedic period. However, the RV is clear about it in a rain-charm. Even so, it appears that it was a stray event of a necessitated ritual (borrowed from some other tribes). The Horse-sacrifice is clearly mentioned; and from the description (RV I.162-163) it appears to be not so elaborate as in the later Vedic period. (A full treatment appears in a separate chapter in this book.) In certain cases, lost rituals remain in memory as myths; and they have to be reconstructed with parallels from the same tradition and also from elsewhere. Such one is the Ape-sacrifice that appears fossilized in the form of a myth and a riddle of Vrsakapi (RV X.86). On the face of it this also does not seem to have been a regular ritual; but, a further probe shows that it was a yearly affair. This is evident from the fact that Vrsakapi is urged to arrive again (v.21 – punar ehi vrsakape). There is a close similarity with the details in the Vrsakapi hymn and the Horse-sacrifice; and both have parallels elsewhere.



  Preface vii
  Sanskrit Texts with Abbreviations xi
  Adhana (Introduction) xiii
1. The Vedic Altar – Types and Evolution 1
2. Agni-adhana (Establishment of the Fires) 21
3. Agnihotra (The Daily Offering to the Fire) 57
4. Darsapurnamasa isti (The Half-monthly Sacrifices) 79
5. The Caturmasya Rites 106
6. Agnistoma - Diksa 133
7. Agnistoma (Agnisomiya Beast and the Ritual-waters) 150
8. The Prayaniya and the Udayaniya isti-s 170
9. Agnistoma – The Purchase of Soma 182
10. The Havirdhana and Other Sheds 211
11. The Pressing of Soma – And the ‘Graha’-s 227
12. Yupa 254
13. Vajapeya 270
14. Rajasuya 285
15. Asvamedha (Horse-sacrifice) 361
16. Agnicayana (Piling of the Fire) 429
  Appendix – A: Vedic Gods – Classification and Evolution 455
  Appendix – B: Vedic Influence on Puranic Rituals 478
  Appendix – C: Audumbari – In Puranic Myths 485
  Illustrations 495
  Bibliography 501
  Index 505


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