This is the 2nd in the series of articles on Yajna by Mr R. Ramanathan. The previous post can be read here:-
The Ashvamedha yajna
The Ashvamedha yajna is a very grand & elaborate shrauta sacrifice ("Shruti" means veda, thus the adjective "shrauta" means a sacrifice as told in the vedas). It is performed by the king (Kshatriya) of a country. It can be performed only by a Kshatriya, like the Rajasuya, usually after a victory in war. The Yajur veda has a very detailed description of the yajna. In the Taittriya shaka, the Ashvamedha occupies a very large portion of the samhitas and Brahmana(The 8th and 9th prashnas in the 3rd ashtaka). The Brahamana gives explanations and procedures to be adopted during performance and explanations for mantras. In the Samhita portion the mantras used are given usually at the end of each prashna (For example in the 7th kanda the end of all the prashnas have the Ashavamedha swaahakaras and other mantras). Also in the Shukla yajus , the Shatapata Brahmana also gives a detailed description.
As per the puranas & Ithihaasas, this Yajna has been performed by almost all famous kings of the lunar and solar dynasties. As is known, the birth of Shri Ramachandra murthy happened after Dasharatha performed the Ashvamedha followed by the putrakameshti. Also Prithu Maharaja has the fame of performing 100 Ashvmedhas. Also kings, Sagara, Rama Daasharathi, Rishaba Deva, Bharata (After which India is known as Bhaarata. In subsequent births, this king becomes the famous Jada Bharata an Athi-Varnashrama dharma sanyasi), Yudhishtira, Shri Krishna performed it.
In the Ramayana of Valmiki, Lava & Kusha narrate the Ramayana during the Ashvamedha of Rama
Purpose and results of the Ashvamedha
· Political expansion: Usually a king as mentioned above releases a horse to graze and it usually goes out into the neighboring kingdoms. If the king of that country into which the horse strays, wishes to fight, then he captures the horse. Then a call for battle is made and the intended performer fights the king who captures the horse. If he loses the battle, he forfeits the right to perform the Yajna. This is provides a dharmic way of expansion of the kingdom.
· Prayashchitta for Brahmahatti and other sins: The Ashvamedha has been prescribed as a prayaschitta for brahmahatti dosham (killing of a brahmana learned in the vedas and who is established in tapas.). Rama performed it on killing Ravana. Also Dasharata was asked to perform it as a general expiation of sins and purification by Vasishta.
· As a fertility rite: In the Ithihaasas and puranas, many issueless kings begot sons after performance of the yajna. The sacrificial horse is considered to be a fertility giver and there is the famous dialog between the one of the priests (called the Subrahmanya) of the sacrifice with the 3 main wives of the king. The dialog is essentially sexual in nature and is intended to promote fertility. But immediately after this ritual dialog, expiations are prescribed for this kind of speech.
· General welfare of subjects: Benefits like plenty of food(Grains and fruits) in the kingdom, a pleasant weather in the kingdom, Abundant rains, increase of material wealth in general(Yoga kshemam), military might & strength etc are said to accrue for the country of the performing king.
· Miscellaneous benefits: Benefits like ascendency to heaven, Brahmavarchas, destruction of one's enemies, a pleasant speech, cure for certain skins disease, etc are also mentioned.
Salient features and an overview the method of performance
The Yajna is a very grand and elaborate and prohibitively expensive to perform for a commoner. Only a king could undertake such an extravaganza. This also goes to indicate the prosperity of ancient India since many kings have performed this. The yajna begins by releasing of the ritual horse in spring season of the current year. The king also undergoes a tough diksha for a year. Restricting thus speech, food and thought and undergoing very rigorous physical penances like inserting a deer horn inside the upper portion of his garment on his waist. Cupping his palms and holding together during the entire day etc. In the course of the year, the king may have to fight many battles if needed to recover and protect the horse.
The actual performance begins with the saangrahanya ishti. Here the king brushes his teeth, cuts his nails and shaves and wears new clothes. This is followed by some other small prayashchittas for eliminating enemies. Then this is followed by the benediction of the four main priests.
There is also sutya day, where soma is crushed and offered. There are 3 soma sessions. Each session of offering the soma is called savanam. The praatasavanam (morning), the Madyandhina savanam (afternoon) and the Thritiya savanam (3rd session) respectively. Special offerings made of rice flour mixed with ghee, called the purodasha are made in potsherds. In the morning 8 potsherds of purodasha is offered. In the afternoon 11 potsherds are offered and 12 potsherds are offered in the 3rd session. The main deity for these sessions is Savitr.
Then there are many homas like anna homa, ashvastomiyam (praise of the horses qualities) etc. The anna homa is done with 10 edible materials like honey, puffed rice, rice grains etc. Then the sacrificial post called yupa is erected. The wood for the post can be of Bilva, Butea Frondosa (palasha), or khaadira. The sacrificial animals are then tied to the posts.
During the course of performance of the sacrifice, the shruti says that due to certain acts, the performer is bound to loose certain things. For example in Taittriya Brahmana 3rd Ashtaka, 9th Prashna, 5th Anuvaka, the performer would lose his luster and brahmvarchas Luster attained due to the tapas of Vedic study). So as an expiation for this is the utterance of the famous riddle hymn, by both the Hota (the Rig Vedic priest) and the brahma (The superintending priest). It is in the form of a ritual question and answer session. It goes something like this
· "Who is is called poorvachitti?:- The rain falling is called poorva chitti"
· "What is the cure for snow or chillness? :- Heat is the cure"
· "Who is born after death? :- The moon"
· "Who moves in the sky alone? :- The sun"
· "What is the navel of the world?:- The yajna "
Then comes the famous ritual dialog between the 3 queens and the priests.
(Continued in the next part)