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A Dictionary of the Vedic Rituals (Based on the Srauta and Grhya Sutras)

A Dictionary of the Vedic Rituals (Based on the Srauta and Grhya Sutras)
Item Code: NAN912
Author: Chitrabhanu Sen
Publisher: Concept Publishing Company
Language: Sanskrit Text With Transliteration and English Translation
Edition: 2001
ISBN: 8170229456
Pages: 168
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.5 inch x 7.5 inch
weight of the book: 510 gms
About the Book

This dictionary, based on the Srauta and Grhya Sutras, attempts to explain all significant terms related to the Vedic sacrificial rituals. Besides the Sanskrit term and its transliteration in Roman as well as its meaning in English, Chitrabhanu Sen tries to describe the exact purport of the term, different usages and its correlation with other sacrificial concepts.

For the Srauta rites, this work focusses mainly on As' valayana Sutra of Aitareya Brahmana; Bandharadvaja and Apastamba Sutras of the Taittiriya Brahmana, and the Katyayana Sutra of the Satapatha Brahmana, which are code books of the Hotr, and Adhvaryu priests. For the domestic rites, the author has used Asvalayana, Kathaka, Baudhayana, Bharadvaja, Apastamba, Hiranyakesin Paraskara, Gobila and Kausika grhyasutras. All the important implements and utensils, which were used in Vedic sacrifices, also find place in Appendices.

About the Author

The author was the University Librarian at North Bengal University. After his retirement, he joined the Asiatic Society, Calcutta.


Our knowledge of the vedic ritual is derived with a varying degree of accuracy from three sources: the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Srauta and Grhyasutras. But none of these books can be taken as the starting point of the vedic ritual. The earliest form of the vedic ritual remains unrecorded.

But the earliest reference to the vedic ritual is found in the Rgvedasamhita. The names of sacrificial objects are mentioned: yupa, idhma, samidh, juhu, gravanah, drona, camasa etc. The three savanas of the Sama sacrifice have been mentioned. The Rgveda also knew the existence of at least seven priests: Hotr, Potr, Nestr, Agnidh, Prasastr, Adhvaryu and Brahman. A stage was reached when the hymns, as a poet claims, could only be understood by means of a sacrifice. It is certain therefore that in the Rgvedic period the ritual was fairly extensive.

There are, on the other hand, a large number of hymns in the Rgveda which have no sacrificial use. The Rgvedasamhita was not a book of ritual. Asvalayana could not maintain the order of the hymns in his sutra. Sayana, who was brought up in the orthodox ritualistic tradition, believed that the Rgvedasamhita was a book of ritual. He took pains to prove that there was no anomaly when Asvalayana in his Srautasutra could not employ the first verse of the samhita in the first sacrifice, Darsapurnamasa he described.

There are instances that the meaning and purpose of the hymns were disregarded or arbitrarily altered when a hymn was employed in a rite. The word kasmai, an interrogative pronoun, meaning to whom, when used in a rite was turned to a deity. Ka became Prajapati. Max Muller comments: But soon a new adjective was formed, and not only the hymns, but sacrifice also, offered to the god, were called Kaya or who-ish. In course of time the word kaya was legitimatized, and Panini had to frame a rule to form the word. In the sacrificial practice the Rgvedasamhita has been assigned to the Hotr, one of the principal priests, whose duty it is to recite certain hymns called sastras, distinctly with proper accent.

The Atharvavedasamhita, which contains popular spells, has no practical use in the srauta rites. Consequently, the Brahman priest to whom the samhita has been assigned remains silent most of the time during the service. His duty it is to supervise the sacrifice. Keith observes: A deliberate attempt was later made to bring the Atharvaveda into the-circle of the three orthodox Vedas by the addition to the collection of book XX which contains the hymns to be used by the Brahmanacchamsin priest in the ritual of the Soma sacrifice. But despite the attempts it remained beyond the pale of orthodoxy. In many grhya rites, however, a large number of the verses of the Atharvaveda have been used.

But the case with the samhitas of Yajurveda and Samaveda is quite different. In the very arrangement of these later samhitas the ritualistic bias can easily be seen. The Adhvaryu and his assistants who carried out the manual operations of the sacrifice required a special type of formulas. These formulas consisting of prose and verse were collected in a separate samhita called Yajurveda, and the formulas were called the yajus. This was obviously a priestly creation. The samhita of Yajurveda which has been preserved in two schools, sukla (white or pure) and krsna (black), in five recensions, were created exclusively for the ceremonial purpose. The verses of the Yajurvedasamhitas are mostly borrowed from the Rgvedasamhita for the sacrificial purpose of the Adhvaryu, in many cases without any real propriety and with deliberate alterations to adapt them to the ritual.

In the ritual application of the verses a significant change occurred. The accentuation of the verses is entirely ignored. The Adhvaryu simply mutters the verses in accentless tone, and no one at a distance can hear or understand him. This mode of pronunciation is called upamsu. Evidently, the system of accentuation which was an integral part of the text lost its force in the ritual. So is the case of all other hymns when used as mantra. It is enjoined that all mantras except japa etc. are to be pronounced in ekasruti (q. v.), monotone. The grammarians were, however, sticklers for the use of accents, and they insisted on it. As a note of warning to the delinquents Patanjali quotes a verse in his Mahabhasya: dustah sabdah svarato varnato va mithyaprayukto na tamarthamaha. sa vagvajro yajamanam hinasti yathendrasatruh svarato' paradhat. An interesting legend is repeatedly cited to show what would befall a person who put a wrong accent on a wrong place. Vrtra performed a sacrifice to punish Indra who desicrated his sacrifice by forcibly drinking soma juice without being invited. The mantra was indrasatrur-varadhasva, "O Agni, the foe of Indra," prosper, and the word indrasatru being a tatpurusa compound should have acute accent on its last syllable. But Vrtra pronounced the mantra with a misplaced acute accent on the first syllable of Indrasatru, and as a result the word became a bahuvrihi compound, meaning having Indra as a foe prosper. Vrtra himself was killed.

In spite of the views of the grammarians a fundamental change occurred, and the mantras had lost the accents. It follows therefore that the Adhvaryu who is the most important functionary in the manual operations of the sacrifice did not have to learn the accents of his prayer book. With a penchant for variety the priests introduced another methed of pronunciation which is said to be a little louder than upamsu. This is called dhvana, murmur, in which vowels and consonants can be distinguished but as a whole the letters cannot be distinguished. It is certainty a sign of decay.

The Samavedasamhita is also a liturgical collection. But by no means it is an original one. It is almost entirely a verbatim copy of the Rgvedasamhita. Of the total 1810 verses or 1549 verses (261 verses are repetitions) contained in arcika and the uttararcika all but 75 are found in the 8th and 9th mandalas of the Rgvedasamhita. The Samavedasmhita has been assigned to the Udgatr priests who chant the verses called stotras set to a melody called saman chiefly in the Soma sacrifice. The Udgatr priests have hardly any role in the sacrifice apart from chanting the stotras. While the Adhvaryu priests have discarded the accent of the Yajurvedasamhita, the Udgatr priests adopt a peculiar fashion in chanting the stotras. The verse is broken up in various parts called prastava, udgitha, pratihara, upadrava and nidhana, and then by repetition of the padas (see stoma) and interpolations of syllables (see stobha), the chant assumes a bizarre form. It is so intricate that it is almost impossible to determine its exact nature. A stage of stagnation has been reached when no new literary piece can be created, and the technicalities of recitation or chanting are the primary aims.

It is a very fond practice of the priests to render a word unintelligible by a peculiar process of permutation and combination. Thus the summons samsava, let us praise, becomes somsavom or sosomsavom or somsavo (see ahava & partigara). It becomes a meaningless jargon.

It is no wonder therefore that long before the Buddha there grew a strong resentment against the ritual practice: Then the seers, the kavaseyas, knowing this, say, 'To what end shall we repeat the veda, to what end shall we sacrifice? For we sacrifice breath in speech, or in breath Speech'. Or again: People say, Hymn, Hymn. The hymn is indeed the earth. For from it all that exists springs.

Apart from the technicalities which were constantly developed, changed and added, the sacrifice itself suffered a considerable transformation. The sacrifice once represented the social activity of the worshippers. It was a web of practices, emanating from the social thinking and emphasizing particular aspects of life. But with the decay of the society and the change in the social life the sacrifice, in abstraction, drifted to its natural death. We shall find that within a sacrifice various rites have been combined indiscriminately. They have no logical bearing on the sacrifice in which they are included. Keith observes: As a result of the constant development of the ritual, the festivals of the srauta type are full of details which are of no consequence with regard to the meaning of the sacrifice: practically in no case is an important rite addressed to one god only: the effort on the contrary was clearly to find as much room as possible for as many gods as possible.

The proliferation and transformation of the vedic sacrifice that took place have been confirmed by the ritualists. Some sacrifices are considered models and called prakrti. These sacrifices form the basis of other rites which are looked upon as modifications and called vikrti. Only the prakrti form of a sacrifice is described in detail in the Sutras. Thus it is held that the Darsapurnamasa is a model of all other sacrifices known as Isti, and so is the Agnistoma of all other Soma sacrifices.

Oldenberg has pointed out: It shows how much system there is in the Indian sacrifices, and how fully and minutely that system must have been elaborated, before it assumed that form in which we find it in the Brahmanas and Sutras. On account of the detailed exposition of the prakrti class of sacrifices it must not be supposed, however, that these sacrifices are historically the most ancient.

It is held that the animal sacrifice belonging to the Soma sacrifice the agnisomiya or saumya is a model of all other animal sacrifices. Therefore the so called independent animal sacrifice known as the Nirudhapasubandha is termed as nirmita, made (see Pasu). But the Nirudhapasubandha itself becomes the prakrti of all other animal sacrifices other than the savaniya and anubandhyapasu. Similarly, the Pravargya is really an independent rite but incorporated into the Soma sacrifice. Apastamba treats it separately; and does not consider it as an essential part of the Agnistoma.

According to the sacrificial theory some rites within a sacrifice are marked as pradhana, main and the others as anga, limb. These minor anga rites may recur in various other sacrifices as ancillary rites. The anga rites are called the web of a sacrifice (see tantra).

But the most significant change in the arrangement of the sacrifice that occurred in the recorded period was the interpolation of the diksa rite in the Soma sacrifice. The central feature of the rite is the ritual rebirth of the sacrificer. The idea of rebirth has been vividly emphasized in the Brahmanas. The sacrificer becomes an embryo. He closes his fists like a foetus in the womb, which is represented by the shed for the initiate (diksitavimita), he gets a piece, of cloth, a covering which stands for the placenta. He mimics stammering (parihvala). The Satapatha Brahmana says: he who is consecrated becomes an embryo.

The etymology of the word diksa has drawn much more attention of the scholars than the nature of the rite itself. The diksa rite has obvious affinities with the ceremony of initiation pracused by the primitive people all over the world. In the hunting stage of economy of the primitive society the birth of a child, specially a male child, was a very important event. A male child would augment the food supply by hunting. It is no wonder therefore that so much emphasis has been laid on the domestic rites relating to the child birth: Simantonnayana, Pumsavana Jatakarman.

Far more important is the event in the tribal life when the boy is an adolescent. He is now ready to accept his share of social and economic responsibilities of the society. In the tribal belief every stage of the physical change is the death and the rebirth of the novice. The initiation rite by which the novice is ushered into the next stage of life is a drama of life and death.

The initiation rite was so important that even when the vedic society had moved forward from the tribal life the vedic ritual could not discard it altogether. As a relic of the past it found its place in the preparatory rite which consecrates the sacrificer to the Soma sacrifice.


Introduction 9
Acknowledgements 17
Abbreviations 18
List or Works and Authors 21
Transliteration and Order of the Nagari Letters 25
Arrangement of the Entries 27
Measurements 28
The Dictionary: Srauta Section 29
The Dictionary: Grhya Section 127


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