6.20.2005

Ashwamedha Yagnya - Indian Horse sacrifice.

I remember the first time I heard of this ritual. It was a glorified act of a Great king flaunting his superiority by letting loose a well bred horse which was free to go where ever it wanted. When it enetered the territory of another ruling king, the king there either challenged the Great king which resulted in war or submitted and paid tribute to him. This defined the Great kings superiority and if in the condition he had performed the Ashwamedha yagnya more than 10 times, he was as good as Indra. It is believed that Indra jealously guarded his position and kept an eye on all those Kings who performed this grand ritual.

Sounds fantastic, leaves a feeling of deep respect in the mind of the reader wondering how great those days might have been. Moving on, the next occasion i came across the Ashwamedha yagnya, was when i was in college, going through a book on manuscript painting, and to my shock i found a whole new twist to this ritual. The manuscript painting clearly indicated an act of possible copulation of the Head Queen with the sacrificial horse after it returned. This was to be performed in the presence of priests and other royal members of the family.

Shaken with the posibility that there could be more than this, the imagery of the manuscript painting stayed etched in my mind. It didnt go, purely on the grounds of disbelief. How could someone do something like that?@?@?

Well, if that was not all, last night i was reading about the sakta cult and the worship of the Mother Goddess when i came upon yet another reference of the ashwamedha yagnya. By this time it was bordering on barbarousness. This is what it was all about!!

There were clear rules to the ritualistic performance of the ashwamedha yagnya. Human sacrifice was a must in those sacrifices that involved the worship of the Mother Goddess, largely being Durga, Kali, Varahi, Chamunda, Chandi or the like. The initial offering included flowers, bark and sandal wood paste with recitation of mantras during the performance of the ritual. further to this the worshipper brought in the victim of the sacrifice. The victim cannot be a priest or a slave, hence he had to be from the kshatriya or the vaishya class (trader or warrior clan).

The worshipper recites the relevant mantra, places the victim on the sacrificial altar head facing east, worshipper standing north and recites a mantra which would state that the victim has been granted this birth to be the sacrificial meat for the goddess and with the performance of this sacrifice this shall not be taken as murder. After reciting the mantra, the worshipper tosses a flower over the victim and holds a sword up into the air which has already been concecrated and....... chop!

Its very possible that the victims were prisoners of war. Its also possible that the tradition of human sacrifice was converted to ritual and might essentially been a barbarous act in the initial stages of civilization. Or maybe all this is faith. Killing one self as a sacrifice to the divine Mother is one thing, taking someone else's life is another. How much of this is tradition, how much of it is primitive practise, and how much of it is faith... is well anybody's guess. End of the day ashwamedha yagnya included, the horse sacrifice which does not explicitly indicate that the horse was killed at the end of it, a copulation act with the head queen if that were ever possible and a human sacrifice which looks more digestable though ugly.

The only point it brings home is that our ancestors were a completely different breed from what we are today. And as my friend put it buddhism did our ancestors a lot of good with the introduction of ahimsa - live and let live.

8 comments:

abhilash warrier said...

dear friend,

as we all know, adi sankaracharya in the 11th century (i think) had to regroup and restrategize hinduism for it to be again acceptable to the masses, who were being magically converted to buddhism or jainism due to their very core values. these were two very humane, very monotheistic religions. There was no "caste" system as such. Though such a mindset will take years to be driven out from the heads of those who think it is relevamt in changing times.

also, the different cults in hinduism made it difficult for the ignorant masses to decide which is the "right" path. They wanted a common book, a common god, a common follower. Like other modern religions.

sankaracharya gave this to the religion. but, however, as the religion was born out of nature, an d from the very nature of man... hinduism also has the barbaric rituals which were passed down as part of tradition.

we need to filter what is barbaric and what is faith and truly religious in nature not on the basis of any religious reformer or any holy sacred scriptures or texts, but on the basis of our very own conscience.

Kavi, you have to search for the answers not outside but inside yourself.

kavitha said...

dear abhi,

my answered are for myself and so are my searches, but i cant escape the various views that come in for different rituals over time and through different sources. they do leave me shell shocked. this is one such place, one such ritual and there are many more remaining uncovered!

yes revival of bhakti cult did make a difference, it was to reconvert all the masses to hinduism. it was a fight against buddhism and hence, taking up the same logic of non violence helped.
i am not a crusader for caste system, i just believe it will not go and its too much a part of our culture to try and wipe out.

social problems are plenty and never ending. dalits will continue to be discriminated and women will continue to be raped and oppressed. cant say it should be wiped out, for it never will be.

i bring these examples to the forefront because i feel we are looking at life with a very biased approach thanks to the brits. i feel we should to a certain extent open out minds out a bit more towards rituals and other religious practices as there is some sense to it.

my appeal to the audience is to see the world around them with their eyes and understand it their own way, not through what has been taught and what has to be followed out of fear.

JC Joshi said...

As I said elsewhere too, astronomers find the universe to be expanding like a balloon, such that the heavenly bodies - including our Sun, a symbol of life and strength for the terrestrials - also expanded within it. As per indications available even today, ancient Hindus were perhaps more advanced than the present day ‘Scientists’ in all aspects, and they had realized man to be a model of the universe. Conforming to the model like behaviour, to establish his empire as advised by sages the believably sun like powerfulmost kings performed Ashvamedha Yagya a number of times to reflect the likely expansion in size as well as influence with passage of time, using a strong white horse that obviously was symbolic of strength and a representative model of the source of white sunlight… In the long run, after a few wars, they would have ultimately found out who in fact was really the powerful most king, and thus capable of managing the vast empire, just as our Sun has an influence extending to about 14 billion kilometers from it, and for 4.6 billion years till today… Rama’s sun like characteristics, viz., bringing Ahalya back to life merely with the touch of his feet, best archer of his time with arrows flowing freely and in straight lines from his bow, and so on, presents him as an ideal king any time…

God’s creation extends from minus infinity to plus infinity, from the depest ocean to the highest mountain. The tantrics, who dealt with souls, or their exploitation for the selfish interest of a particular king, pursued with the ‘black art’ - as against use of energy in white light - which according to history proved weaker in the long run. For example, Assam ruled by Ahom kings, that was for years the stronghold of practitioners of ‘black art’, was easily conquered by the Sikh army of Aurangzeb when it was led by their spiritual leader, Guru Teghbahadur, who met initial resistance only from a washerwoman at Dhubri town that is located on the bank of the River Brahmaputra towards Assam...

Generally, it is a common observation that the kings, who amassed excess of wealth, looked for physical pleasures that money could buy, and they therefore were attracted towards Tantra. One could perhaps also read in the book titled ‘Maharaja’, Dewan Germany Das’ account of the tantric practice in Maharaja of Patiala’s court, besides other descriptions of the sensuous life the rajas lived during the British regime in recent times… In fact aren’t we aware in the present of the depth upto which lust for power, money, and sensual pleasures could lead man to?

abhilash warrier said...

I am not looking at life or religion through the eyes of my schooling or eductaion. I have, in fact, learned and unlearned quite a lot.

So much so that at this moment i can say that my views are mine. Or what I have believed after a series of self- realizations in various aspects of life.

I, as a person, am more attracted towards religions and ways of life that preach ahimsa. I feel that every religion should change with time, for nothing is constant.

As Mr Joshi says, we as a race and as a religion have been the only people to expand and assimilate and absorb other races and religions.

In that respect, Hinduism is truly the only world religion. It has something for everybody. Nothing is dogma, nothing is a must-do practice.

Hinduism has sprung from nature itself. And right through history, nature has been man's best teacher. And friend too.

I do understand that different sects followed different methods of worship and union with God. I have no problems with these practices per say.

But I have a problem when it involve s human rights. I believe, I have a right to reform, change what is not relevant to the changing times.

We all have that right. Just because somethings are too rooted in mind does not mean that it cannot be changed. It will take time. It will take effort.

Remember, once upon a time, the sun
never set on the British Empire. All it needed to set was a thin, frail looking man and his way.

We don't need another Buddha; we don't need another Gandhi. We can be one ourselves. If you become one as such through blood sacrifice or human sacrifice, so be it.

JC Joshi said...

Everyone sees life from from one’s own perspective depending upon the path one has followed for progress into maturity of body, mind, and spirit. And, even then one’s views might change when new data becomes available at any time later in life that might result in change of mind… I had cited the example of moths burning in a candle’s flame and possible reactions of some observers… One might find that even the ‘peace loving’ people in the society could be indifferent to the fact that moths die by large numbers everyday because one knows in one’s heart that there is no solution possible. And, of course, it doesn’t apparently concern humans. We become concerned only when some species, e.g., tiger today is found on the verge of extinction… The Rajputanis performed sati at a given time in the history of Mughal India for a certain reason of dignity etc. They continued the practice even when India came under the British rule. It then needed Raja Ram Mohan Roy to point to the foolhardiness of the Rajput community... Still, despite effective regulations on paper, the practice continues even today, including bride burning for dowry, burning in trains/ buildings/ certain states at a certain given time, and so on, premeditatedly, accidentally, or maybe ‘naturally’!!

Perhaps man is a helpless spectator only…

After two World Wars, the human race realized the futility of wars, which result in devastation of human life and material, and yet, despite the UNO, wars are being fought between different Nations or with underground forces even. And not only that these have become much more bloodier with time, leading to a possibility that man himself might one day find himself almost wiped off the surface of earth, perhaps with only ‘Adam and Eve’ or 'Shiva & Parvati' left to start the human drama again!! That’s perhaps possible as we are apparently watching life moving towards the starting point of the race, the beginning of Kaliyuga, and are perhaps very close to it! The Hindus said that Pralaya or Doomsday could occur at any moment, so one should prepare for a better life/ role, in the next episode!

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Anonymous said...

well hinduism was a pagan religeon after all, and in most pagan cultures sex was worshipped,for example, even to this day the shiva ling (shiva's sex) is worshipped by all active hindus. So, the distinction between humane and insane in these matters remains esoteric. Weather you view the sacrifice (bali) of a human life as an inhuman combination of suicide and murder or an act driven by destined belief depends on what level you can follow hinduism. Anyway the act of ashwamedha is banned in the kalyug (yajurveda) so its details do not really matter.

Srikanth said...

The sacrifices, human or animal were not unique to Hinduism. Most of the ancient faiths (Druidism in England, Scottland, Wales, etc.), Roman/Greek/Egyptian religions, etc. had these too. Now that does not necessarily justify it. I'm not even trying to comment here about whether anything is just or unjust. Consider this as an academic comment, if you will:
People in the ancient times had to have some way to get rid of the weaklings of the society. THe weaklings could weaken th entire clan/society. e.g.: In a hunter-gatherer society, life is on the run all the time. If you were not able to move/run etc., you could cost dearly to the entire clan. The whole clan had to act like one unit, struggling for life, scraping to find food, always be on the lookout for predators to evade, fight diseases & infections (without the drugs we have today), etc. So if you were one injured/sick/weak person, you could put everyone at risk if you made the others wait/adjust to your deficiencies. So, what was good for the survival of the clan/tribe/society/kingdom or whatever the domain may be was to get rid of you. I feel this is one reason why human sacrifices may have evolved.
And regarding animal sacrifices: People have always wanted to present or give away whatever they value to a deity/God or some authority, real or imaginary in order to exhibit their allegiance so that they may get favours in return. The favors may be real or perceived. e.g. sacrificing a goat and feeling thankful that it rained the next day is a perception that your prayers are being answered. Its very clear to us today how it rains and why. But for the ancient peoples, everything was the will or God or some kind of supreme, mystical & elusive being. Since this mystical being was by definition whimsical, you had to keep doing things to be in it/his/her good books in order to keep receiving their favor. And what better could you do to prove that you hold your undivided reverence to that being than offering a thing that you value lot (goat, grains, fruits, cow, fish...HUMAN??)
Makes sense??