Vedic sacrifices are an ancient religious institution. The Vedas and their allied works are intimately related to them. Hence, an understanding of the Vedic sacrificial system will definitely help us to understand and esteem, not only the Vedas, but also the Upanisads.
Since the Vedic sacrifices have almost gone out of vogue, it has become very necessary to give some idea of the same, to the average educated person, who still has faith and pride in our religion and culture. Eventhough this may be a purely academic exercise it is worth attempting it! This booklet has been written with that spirit. We do hope that this spirit is at least recognised, if not appreciated.
The whole subject being unfamiliar, sketches of altars and some implements have been provided in the appendix to enhance the utility of this work.
In Indian vernaculars, especially those derived from Sanskrit, the word 'yajna' is commonly used to indicate any work that involves great effort and needs the active cooperation of many. It is perhaps an indication of the tremendous influence the system of Vedic sacrifices-generally called as yajnas or yagas-e-has had on the Hindu society over the millennia.
Fortunately for the scholars of Indology and Vedic studies, Vedic sacrifices have not totally disappeared as yet, though they have become very rare. Even during this 20th century, as many as 70 Vedic sacrifices are known to have been performed. They include the wellknown sacrifices like Agnistoma, Aptoryama, Atiratra, Caturmasya, Nirudhapasubandha, Sautramanl and Vajapeya .
Ahitagnis (those who have ceremonially estab- lishedthe Vedic fires) are to be found even today. However they seem to be slowly becoming a vanishing species.
By the time of the Rguedasamhita itself, considered to be the oldest among the Vedas-nay, the oldest scripture in the world-Vedic sacrificial system seems to have taken a definite and dear shape. Names of the Vedic fires like the garhapatya, of some sacrifices like the Atiratra, of the sixteen priests needed in a Somayaga like hotr, nestr and agnldhra, of the implements used like yupa (sacrificial post), juhu (wooden ladle) and camasa (wooden vessel for the soma juice), as also some technical terms like ahava (call, seeking permission, by the hotr priest) and avabhrtha (concluding bath) find a place in the Rgvedic hymns, thereby confirming the inference drawn above.
A study of the Vedic sacrifices helps in a proper understanding of the Vedic literature as such, since the latter is closely connected with the former. In fact, the very arrangement of the mantras in the Vedic Samhitas to suit the sacrificial needs, supports this view. Hence such a study can be useful in fixing the chronology of the Vedic literature, the development and stratification of the different portions of that literature and the influence that literature has exerted on the varna-system and the caste-system.
Information about the sacrifices has been spread out, allover the Vedic literature. In the Brahmanas one can get more details including instructions for their performance. However, it is In the srautasutras and the sulbasutras that a systematic treatment of the subject is obtained. Whereas the latter is concerned solely with the constructional and engineering aspects of a sacrifice like the measurement and formation of the vedi (altar), it is the former that is the functional manual for the priests and hence gives us the modus operandi of the various rites in detail. Therefore its help is invaluable in the study of Vedic rituals.
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