The shrauta animal sacrifice

The shrauta animal sacrifice is a tradition of great importance in the development of Hindu science because it was here that they first learned their anatomy. This knowledge was to come of good use in their medical tradition. However, the rise of counter-sacrifice traditions resulted in a general decline of this tradition – by the medieval period we already had prayoga manuals that were recommending piShTa-pashu-s in place of real animals (piShTapashu-vichAraH). However, in several parts of the country the shrauta animal sacrifice continued until relatively recently (in remote areas to this date). My shrauta ritualist clansmen last performed such rites in the 1950s, complete with the consumption of the cuttings of the pashu-puroDAsha. Since this complex rite is poorly understood, and there is much confusion regarding it among modern day veda students, we shall look into several fine points of it.

First, it should be noted that the brAhmaNa-s of all the four veda-s primarily deal with the agnIShomIya sacrifice in which animal victims are offered to the deva-s agni and soma within the more complex agniShToma ritual. They consider it the model for all other animal sacrifices. However, the shrautasUtra-s lay down a necessary sacrifice for the Arya ritualist, known as the nirUDhapashubandha, which is the model of all other animal sacrifices. Nevertheless, shA~NkhAyana of the RV tradition holds that the agnIShomIya is the model. Traditionally, unlike the agnIShomIya, the deities of the nirUDhapashubandha are indra and agni. Though later when prajApati and the solar (sUrya) worship started encroaching into the old shrauta system, this sacrifice was optionally dedicated to either of those two deities by certain teachers. While it would appear that the nirUDhapashubandha has been secondarily derived from the earlier agnIShomIya, we are of the contrary opinion that it was probably always present. We suspect that the brAhmaNa-s omit it for reasons of economy of learning associated with oral traditions. In support of this we would point out the specific calls of the adhvaryu such as: “indrAgnibhyAM chAgasya vapAyA medaso .avadIyamAnasyA .anubrUhi |” and “indrAgnibhyAM chAgasya vapAm medaH prasthitaM preShya |” In response to which in our version of the taittirIya tradition the maitravaruNa recites the RV mantra: “A bharataM shikShaM vajrabAhU…” and then the hotar recites the mantra: “upo ha yad vidathaM vAjino gUr…”. Similarly in the maitrAyaNIya tradition the maitrAvaruNa recites the RV mantra: “ubhA vAM indrAgnI AhuvadhyA…” and the hotar recites pra charShaNibhyaH pR^itanAhaveShu…” This suggests that there were probably old mantra-s to indrAgnI that were specifically used in the pashubandha context (distinct from the mantra-s of the agnIShomIya pashu), though others might have been similarly for the darshapUrNamAsa.

The ritual was done once an year on the new moon or full moon day in the rainy season or once in 6 months on the winter or summer solstice. The ritualist should collect the following: 1) pine tree firewood; 2) paridhi-s of kArshmarya wood (Gmelina); 3) guggulu resin; 4) sugandhitejana perfume; 5) a wad of white wool; 6) two threads respectively with two and three strands: 7) two vapAshrapaNI forks with one and two prongs respectively for offering the omentum; 8) a spike for impaling the heart of the animal during the offering; 9) a daNDa for the maitravaruNa reaching to the height of his mouth made of the udumbara fig tree wood; 10) a twig of the plakSha fig tree; the wooden plank known as the iDasUna; barley flour to make the barley water in prokShaNI vessel; 11) barley flour for the offering; 12) curds; 13) gold leaves; all this in addition to the usual samidh-s, ghee, and barhiSh. As per the tradition of the maitrAyaNIya-s the prastara bundle should be made of ashvavAla reeds instead of the usual darbha bundle.

Having performed the saMkalpa of the sacrifice the yajamAna should elect 6 R^itvik-s: the hotar, the adhvaryu, the brahmA, the AgnIdhra (assistant of brahmA), the pratiprasthAtar (assistance of adhvaryu) and the maitravaruNa (assistant of hotar). Then proceeding to the AhavanIya fire, the adhvaryu recites the ShaDDhotR^i mantra and makes an offering of ghee with a svAhA. If it is the first time the yajamAna is doing the sacrifice then the adhvaryu necessarily sets up 11 kapAla-s in the AhavanIya and offers a cake to agni and viShNu (or he offers ghee) with the agnAviShNU mantra. He may do this rite every time he does a pashubandha. Then he offers a ladle full of ghee to viShNu into the AhavanIya using the mantra: “uru viShNo vikramasvo .uru …” This is the yUpAhuti. Then the yajamAna, the brahmA, the adhvaryu along with a woodcutter go to the forest and pass by a few suitable trees and finally pick one to chop for the yUpa (sacrificial post). Depending on the yajamAna’s desire palAsha, khadira or bilva woods might be used for the yUpa. After the tree has been chopped down, making it fall east or northwards, the adhvaryu places the gold leaf on the stump and strews barhiSh around it and makes an oblation of ghee to the vanaspati with “vanaspate shatavalsho…” By default a yupa of 3-4 aratnis in length is prepared and it is shaped to have the cross-section of a regular octagon (though in some traditions if this is not possible, a square is allowed). The stock to be buried into the ground is however kept circular in cross-section. The top is fashioned to hold the wooden cap, the chAShala made from the remaining wood. Also made from the remaining wood is a wedge called the svaru.

In the sacrificial arena the adhvaryu strews barhiSh and takes away the bunch of darbha grass known as the stambayajus to the utkara dumping ground reciting the abhichAra formula to indra, to cut down the enemies. He then lays out of a trapezium altar with a west-facing base of 10 pada-s, east-facing top of 8 pada-s and height of 12 pada-s, having area as the holy number of 108 square pada-s, muttering the appropriate mantra of his tradition. He then excavates the vedi and and the AgnIdhra casts the earth away three times. This is the main vedi. Then the adhvaryu accompanied by the yajamAna marks the chAtvAla 2-3 pada-s to the north of the top of the vedi using his peg compass. He then uses the sphya to mark the chAtvAla muttering the appropriate mantra-s of his tradition and deeply excavates the chAtvAla pit (using the mantra devasya tvA savituH… to deva savitA) to obtain earth. The AgnIdhra takes out the earth in three scoops. The adhvaryu takes this earth close to the center of the top of the trapezium and wets the ground with the barley water from the prokShaNI chanting the indraghoSha mantra-s and marks the side of a new altar. With this mark as a guide a square, raised vedi with sides of 36 a~Ngula-s and height up to the yajamAna’s knees. This northern altar the is the uttaravedi, main fire altar for the animal sacrifice. At the center of the uttaravedi he prepares a square nave the size of 4 a~Ngula-s. Directly to the east of the uttaravedi he marks a cricle for erecting the yUpa such that its diameter lies on the top side of the trapezium altar. He gives a call for the agnIdhra to dig up the hole for the yUpa. He places the saMbhAra-s in the nave of the uttaravedi and pours ghee on the uttaravedi in different directions using the siGMhIr asi… mantra-s. During this he places the gold leaf in front of the mouth of the ladle to let ghee drip via it. He then lays the pine wood on three sides of the uttaravedI reciting the dR^iGMha mantra-s. He then places as saMbhAra-s the guggulu, the sugandhitejana perfume, and the wad of white wool on the uttaravedi uttering the agner bhasmA .asi… mantra and pours ghee over them. He then carries forth a samidh from the AhavanIya and places it on the uttaravedi with the mantra yaj~na pratitiShTha sumatau… As he is carrying forth the samidh the hotar recites hiM bhUrbhuvas-svarO3M and recites the 8 mantra-s beginning with pra devaM devyA dhiyA… reciting mantra 1 and 8 three times, all ending in OM. He then makes the fire flare up and offers the adhvara oblations with the mantra-s: agnir yaj~nAnAM…, vayur yaj~nAnAM…, sUryo yaj~nAnAM…, yaj~no yaj~nAnAM…. Then the yajamAna steps forward and offers three oblations to agni, vAyu and the Aditya-s agnir annAdo…; vAyuH prANadAH… and adityo bhUridA… mantra-s. He then prepares the ladles by filling them with ghee for the oblations and places them on the vedi.

Then moving westwards the adhvaryu asks for the prokShaNI-pAtra filled with barley water, a handful of barhiSh, a vessel of ghee with a darvI ladle, the svaru, the rope, the daNDa for the maitrAvaruNa, the gold leaf and a pot of water. Having placed these down, the adhvaryu washes the yUpa with water either without a mantra or reciting “yat te shikvaH …” It is then brought between the chAtvAla and the utkara dumping area and is fitted with the chAShala cap. Standing to the north of the AhavanIya the adhvaryu then sprinkles it with barley water deploying the mantra-s pR^ithivyai tvA, antarikShAya tvA, dive tvA from bottom to the top. Then the adhvaryu pours water into the post hole with “shundhatAM lokaH…” and casts barley into it with “yavo .asi…” Then he places darbha on top of the hole with pitR^inAGM sadanam asi and offers ghee dripping over the gold leaf with pitR^ibhya svadhA and throws the splinters of wood from the making of the yUpa into the whole with “svAvesho .asy agregA…” Then the yajamAna standing together with his patnI take out the chaShAla and smears the top of the yUpa and the interior of the chaShAla with ghee reciting devas “tvA savitA madhvA .anaktu”. He fits it back on to the yUpa uttering supippalAbhyas tvau .aShadhIbhyaH. The adhvaryu then gives a call to the hotar to recite the mantra-s of the smearing of the post. The hotar throws away a grass blade from the vedi and sitting to the west of the uttaravedi begins reciting the 7 mantra-s beginning with “a~njanti tvAm adhvare…”. As this is going on the adhvaryu pours ghee on the yUpa from top to bottom. After the hotar has recited the first verse from the 7 two and half times, he stops. Then the adhvaryu gives the call to recite the verses for erecting the yUpa. The hotar completes the remaining half of the 3rd repetition of the first verse and then continues till the first half of verse 6 and stops. In the mean time the adhvaryu erects the yUpa while reciting “ud divaGM stabhAnA .antarikShaM…” He then screws the yUpa into the hole reciting “te te dhAmAny…” and “viShNoH karmANi…”; with that the post is identified with viShNu. The yajamAna standing with his patnI recites “tad viShNoH paramam…” gazing at the chaShAla. Then the adhvaryu fills in the hole with mud using “brahmavaniM tvA…” and then hammers it down with the maitrAvaruNa’s daNDa uttering brahma “dR^iGMha kShatraM dR^iGMha…” Then he begins winding he rope around the yUpa he gives a call to the hotar to reciting the winding verses. The hotar completes the second half of verse 6 and continues with a triplication of verse 7. As the adhvaryu winds the rope to the height of the yajamAna’s navel he recites 3 times the mantra “parivIr asi pari tvA…” Then tying up the rope, to the north of the face that is directed towards the AhavanIya he inserts the svaru into the coils reciting the mantra: “antarikShasya tvA sAnAv ava gUhAmi”.

The adhvaryu then has the sacrificial ram (goat) to be bathed and leads it from the direction of the chAtvAla to the yUpa and makes it stand facing the west. Then he picks two darbha blades and the plakSha fig twig, utters iShe tvA and dedicates the animal to indra and agni using the mantra: “upavIr asy upo devAn daivIr viShaH”; “imam pashum pashupate te adya…” and indrAgnibhyAM tvA juShTam upAkaromi…” Then the places the darbha blades and the plakSha twig away in a known spot. Then he arranges the ritual fire drill with the specified mantra-s and asks the yajamAna to recite the three prajAti mantra-s beginning with “gAyatraM chando .anu…” and asks the hotar to recite the agni-manthana mantra-s. The hotar begins chanting hiM bhUrbhuvassvarO3M and three times “abhi tvA deva savitar…” When the fire is generate the adhvaryu gives a call to the hotar again, and he recites “uta bruvantu jantavaH…”. Then the adhvaryu places the fire on the AhavanIya and recites “bhavataM naH sumanasau…” and gives a call to the hotar before that. The hotar responds by reciting the 6 mantra beginning with “pra devam devavItaye…” triplicating the last mantra. The adhvaryu then offers ghee in the fire with “agnAv agnish charati…” Then he lassos the ram with a lasso with a two-stranded rope while reciting R^itasya tvA… and ties it to the rope wound round the yUpa with the mantra “dharSha mAnuShAN”. Uttering “adbhyas tvau…” he sprinkles the animal with water. Then he gives it its last drink with “apAm perur asi” and sprinkles its rear “svAttaM chit sad evaGM…” Then taking a samidh the adhvaryu gives a call to the hotar to recite the 17-fold sAmidhenI (additional varuNa mantra inserted for vasiShTha-s and kShatriya-s). As he does so the adhvaryu places one samidh per sAmidhenI and keeps one final samidh aside. He then fans the fire into a blaze and pours an AghAra libation of ghee with the darvI. Then he pours a second AghAra with the sruva and sruch. The hotar then makes the offerings of ghee to sarasvatI in the AhavanIya with the 6 mantra-s ending in svAhA with a darvI. The adhvaryu then anoints the animal with ghee using the anointing mantra-s. Then the pravara rite is performed as per the yajamAna’s clan. Then the adhvaryu gives the O shravAya call. The AgnIdhra returns “astu shrauShaT”. Then then calls the maitrAvaruNa and gives him his daNDa with the appropriate mantra-s.

Here concludes the first part of the account for now… We might resume later when we get a chance.

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