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Indian Fire Ritual

Indian Fire Ritual
Item Code: NAB347
Author: Musaschi Tachikawa, Shrikant Bahulkar and Madhavi Kolhatkar
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2001
ISBN: 8120817818
Pages: 212 (140 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
weight of book 617 gms

From the Jacket:

From the Vedic Samhitas down to the manuals of Vedic schools, it is observed that the Vedic ritual has undergone considerable modifications as a result of changing geographical, social and economic conditions. The tradition of solemn Vedic ritual is fast disappearing and it is becoming more and more difficult to witness a proper performance of a sacrifice that follows the tradition faithfully. It is therefore imperative to record whatever is available at present with a view to providing material necessary for compiling the cultural history of India. A considerable amount of literature relating to Vedic ritual has been preserved down to the present day and the volume of translations of this literature into European languages is also quite large. But for a reader who has not specialized in Vedic studies, it is difficult to understand the details of the sacrificial performance merely by reading the text or even witnessing the actual performance. This book is an attempt to explain the most basic ritual called Isti with the help of the original texts and the photographs of the actual performance of that sacrifice that took place in Pune, India, in July 1979. The book contains in all 140 photographs showing various stages of the sacrifice with explanation of the rites. It also provides a Roman transcript of the Sanskrit text of the Pavitrestiprayoga along with its English translation.


India's contact with the outer world developed in the eighteenth century A.D. It brought a new awakening among the Indian Society, and shed new light on the understanding of India's old tradition. Some of the officers of the East India Company of England who came to India for the progressive administration of Indian territories themselves learnt the Sanskrit language with great effort and discovered the hidden treasure of culture and philosophical knowledge. They managed to transport to Europe and America Sanskrit manuscripts of classical philosophical and religious literature including the Vedic religion. This resulted into the publication of scientific and historical studies pertaining to hundreds of texts. The Vedic religion and literature drew attention of a number of scholars. As a result, critical editions, translations and cultural historical studies were published.

There have been scholars who dived deep into the intricacies of ritualistic religions. It was really creditable that they succeeded in understanding the complicated rites simply through a close study of the text with or without commentaries belonging to a tradition totally foreign to them. In the course of time, it was felt that the witnessing of actual performance of various rituals would help a fuller understanding. Many a scholar consequently visited India, and availed themselves of the opportunities to personally attend such performances with great efforts. This has had a favourable effect on a deeper study of the Vedic ritualistic religion which ultimately contributes to the scientific knowledge of religion in general.

In this connection, the study of the Vedic ritual, namely Pavitresti, presented in the following pages by Dr. Musashi Tachikawa, Dr. Shrikant Bahulkar and Dr. Madhavi Kolhatkar on the basis of the actual performance deserves appreciation.

The Pavitresti has first been described in the Prayascitta section of the Baudhayana Srautasutra (28.2), the oldest of the Srautasutras, which belongs to the Taittiriya recension of the Yajurveda. The Baudhayana Srautasutra is mainly a pravacana representing the oral discourses delivered by the Acarya. To the original discourses were added certain portions by the followers of the school, and the Prayascitta section belongs to such portions. Even then it is much old. Basically the Pavitresti was an expiatory rite to be performed by an Ahitagni in case he went on a journey lone for a period less than a year, while his sacred fires were maintained and worshipped at home by his wife. This Isti was also regarded as an optional sacrifice to be performed for allaying some deficiency. As the word denotes, the Isti aims at achieving purification in some form. Its performance for a number of consecutive days imports power to remove evil of generations together.

This Isti is prescribed also in a few other Srautasutras belonging to the Teittirtye recension. Thus, the Vadhula Srautasutras which is almost as old as the Baudhayana Srautasutra has prescribed this Isti (XII.S). The Pavitresti prescribed by Vadhula is intended for removing some deficiency-ritualistic or otherwise. Vadhula has not mentioned the deficiency caused by going on a journey for a period less than a year. The Bharadvaja Srautasutra, a senior contemporary of the Apastamba Srautasutra has described the Pavitresti in its supplementary portion (Perisesesutras 189-201). Its performance aims at removing impurity occurred in some form. The same Sutra-text (sutras 202-209) has prescribed the Atipavitresti in which additional offerings have been prescribed. This Isti is prescribed for the fulfilment of a positive desire. It may be performed by an Ahitagni who has gone on a journey for a period more than a year, having his sacred fires at home. It may also be performed for general purification. The Asvalayana Srautasutras (11.13) has prescribed the Pavitresti for one going on a journey for a period over a year. No other Srautasutra has prescribed the Pavitresti or Atipavitresti. Rudradatta in his commentary on Apastamba Srautasutras (VI.26) has mentioned these two Istis prescribed in the Bharadvaja Parisesesutra.

Thus the Pavitresti which is not described in any Brhmaa text, is prescribed in some Srautasutra for achieving purification in some form. The variations in their forms can be explained on chronological grounds.

It is customary among the ritual texts to adopt, from other Vedic texts, ritual which is absent in one's own Vedic school. The Pavitresti is an instance of this custom. Barring a single instance of the optional sacrifice called Mitravindesti, the Sukla Yajurveda (Mantra, Satapatha Brhmaa and the Katyayana Srautasutra) has not prescribed any optional performance. The Pavitresti is therefore not prescribed in the Sukla Yajurveda recension. The followers of this recension thought it expedient to borrow the Pavitresti-ritual from the Baudhayana Srautasutra. The Baudhayana school, the oldest one, had an honoured place among the followers of the other Vedic schools. In the field of the domestic rites, the Udakasanti prescribed in a supplement to the Baudhayana Ghyasutra has been traditionally adopted by the followers of all Vedic schools.

From the Mantra-Brahma down to the manuals of the various Vedic schools, it is observed that the procedure of the rituals and expiatory rites have undergone modifications under the influence of geographical, social and economic conditions. Even more modifications have occurred in the present days. The editors of the present work have carefully noted such changes. The ritual tradition is fast disappearing in India. It is therefore imperative to record whatever of it is available at present so that such records may provide material necessary for compiling the cultural history of India.

Studies in Indology took root in Japan particularly in the nineteenth century A.D. It is gratifying to find that the tradition is going on. The traditions would go a long way in promoting the study of comparative religion and cultural history of Japan. The editors therefore deserve congratulations for contributing their mite towards that end.


This book illustrates the Pavitresti ritual performed in the Vaidika Samsodhana Mandala, Pune, Maharashtra, India, on the morning of the 27th July, 1979. The Pavitresti ritual is a modified form of the Darsapurnamasa (the New Moon and the Full Moon sacrifice) which is one of the most basic Vedic rituals. Nowadays, however, it is difficult to observe Vedic rituals being performed, because they have become almost obsolete. A number of Srauta texts explain the procedures of the Darsapurnamasa and other Vedic rituals fully, but they fail to give a clear image of the priests' gestures and of the ritual utensils to those who live outside India. Therefore, in the spring of 1979, M. Tachikawa asked S. Bahulkar to arrange matters so that we could have a chance to observe a Vedic ritual being performed. At the request of S. Bahulkar a team of priests then came from Nasik to perform the Pavitresti ritual in Pune.

Here we wish to express our deepest gratitude to the priests who performed the ritual and permitted us to photograph it. We must thank the Vaidika Samsodhana Mandala for allowing us to use the main hall for the performance of the ritual. We also thank those ex-students of the Department of Indian Philosophy of the Nagoya University who were staying in Pune at that time and helped us in taking records of the ritual : Dr. Yuko Miyasaka photographed the ritual; except Nos. 1-9, 34, 39, 41, 48, 55, 60, 74, and 150-154, which were taken by M. Tachikawa. Dr. Shoun Hino was engaged in taking the 8m.m. movie film of the ritual. Miss Mitsue Iwai and Mr. Kuniharu Hojo recorded the priests' recitations of the Mantras. Miss Yuko Yagami drew the illustrations by tracing the photographs.

In summer of 1981, M. Tachikawa was given the chance to read the Katiyestidipaka, which describes the procedure of the Darsapurnamasa, under the guidance of the late Dr. Vidyadhar Bhide of the University of Pune, who had participated in the performance of the Pavitresti as a Sadasya. Without his initiating Tachikawa in Srauta studies, this book would not have seen the light of the day. From 1986, M. Kolhatkar started to work on this book.

Prof. C. G. Kashikar, spared no pains in going through the manuscript of this book, made valuable suggestions and was kind enough to write the foreword. The Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute kindly permitted us to reproduce the manuscript in their possession, on which the performance of the Pavitresti was based. Shri Abhay Pathak of Abhay Mudranalaya diligently carried out the complicated work of the typesetting. Shri. N. P. Jain of Motilal Banarsidass readily accepted the book for publication. We are grateful to all of them and also others who participated-directly or indirectly-sin the performance of the ritual and offered their help in bringing out this book.


The Structure of Pavitresti In ancient India, the fire ceremony was performed as the basic part of the Vedic ritual which continued in the post-Vedic tradition--generally called Hindu tradition--in a modified form. Although not great in number, there are also some instances in which Vedic rituals have, with the addition of some Hindu elements, been preserved in a form close to that of ancient times.

Here we shall undertake an examination and analysis of one of the Vedic rituals. The rite with which we shall deal here cannot be described as a complete re-enactment of that ancient Vedic ritual, nor is there any need to maintain it in that manner. We should rather first take note of the fact that even if it was simplified in later times and did incorporate some non-solemn elements, the traditions of this rite have been preserved for approximately three thousand years virtually in the manner laid down in the ritual texts.

A considerable amount of literature relating to Vedic ritual has been preserved down to the present day, and the volume of translations of this literature into European languages is also quite large. But for people living outside India, it is difficult to draw mental picture of altars and utensils that they have never seen and to understand the actions performed during a rite simply by reading the ritual texts. In what follows we shall endeavour to deepen our understanding of a typical rite that has been performed in India since ancient times through the use of photographs of its actual performance in contemporary India.

The fire ceremony, basic to Vedic ritual, was also eventually incorporated into Tantric Buddhism, and the homa rite thus absorbed by Indian Mahayana Buddhism was disseminated throughout Nepal, Tibet, China and Japan. In the course of this it continues to be performed in Tibet, Nepal and Japan. For an understanding of the structure of Buddhist homa too, the knowledge of the structure of homa as it was performed in ancient India is indispensable.

The Vedic ritual is described in an- orderly form in the ceremonial guides called Kalpa-Sutras pertaining to the various schools of the Vedas. The sacrifices are: (i) obligatory (nitya), to be performed daily or on certain days of the lunar calender throughout the life, as a cycle of rituals; (ii) incidental (naimittika), to be performed on certain events; (iii) optional (kamya), performed for special ends and (iv) expiatory (prayascitta), to be performed in the case of any ritualistic deficiency. Moreover, the sacrifices are divided into two groups: (i) Srauta i.e., the sacrifices described in the Sruti, viz., the Samhita and the Brahmana and dealt with in the Srauta-Sutras, a part of the Kalpa-Sutras; and (ii) Grhya 'domestic rites', otherwise called Samhita based on Smrti 'remembrance', laid down in the Grhya-Sutras, another part of the Kalpa-Sutras.

The prominent Srauta sacrifices are counted as seven Havis- sacrifices consisted of the oblations such as clarified butter (ajya) or sacrificial cake (purodasa) and seven Soma-sacrifices with the oblations of the Soma-juice. The animal-sacrifice is also performed in some of the sacrifices. There is a similar grouping of the domestic rites (paka) too.

The Darsapurnamasa sacrifice forms one of the seven Havis- sacrifices. According to the order of time, it comes after the Agnyadheya 'setting up of the three sacred fires', namely, Garhapatya, Ahavaniya and Daksina and the Agnihotra 'daily offerings to the sacred fires'. However, the Srautasutras commence the description of the sacrifices with that of the Darsapurnamasa, for this sacrifice is a model (prakrti) of the type of sacrifices called Isti. The other sacrifices styled after the model are 'modifications' (vikrti) which include various oblations offered to different deities for various ends.

The word Darsapurnamasa means an Isti to be performed on the new moon day (darsa) and the full moon day (purnamasa). It is a kind of obligatory sacrifice (nitya); nevertheless, it can be performed also for the accomplishment of various desires with an addition of certain offerings. Though it is called the New Moon and the Full Moon sacrifice, the former is performed on the day when the full moon day and the first day of the dark half of the month (pratipad) are joined, and the latter on the combination (sandhi) of the new moon day and the first day of the bright half of the month. According to the tradition of the Sukla Yajurveda, the sacrifice is performed on the day in which the fourteenth day (caturdasi) and the last day of the fortnight (paurnamasi or amavasya) are joined. The performance occupies two days, i.e., the full moon day and the first day and the new moon day and the first day (pratipad). On the full moon day and the new moon day, some preliminary rites are performed and the main sacrifice is performed on the subsequent day. The Full Moon sacrifice may be compressed into one day; in that case, the whole sacrifice is performed on the pratipad.

The sacrificer is the one who has set up the three sacred fires (agnyadhana) and is engaged in the daily offerings to them (agnihotra). He should begin the performance from the first Full Moon Day that comes after the setting up of the sacred fires. First, he performs an Isti called Anvarambhaniya and then proceeds to the Purnamasa.


List of Figures23
Part I - Priests, Utensils and Preparations29
Part II - Preliminary Rites53
Part III - Main Rites115
Part IV - Concluding Rites167
Appendix I - Translation of the Pavitrestiprayoga175
Appendix II - Sanskrit Text of the Pavitrestiprayoga191

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