The Sacrifices of Rajasuya, Vajapeya and Ashvamedha (study)

by Aparna Dhar | 2016 | 61,606 words

This page relates ‘Details of the Agnicayana (fire-building ceremony)’ of the study dealing with the Sacrifices such as Rajasuya, Vajapeya and Ashvamedha including their ritualistic and monarchial strata with reference to the Shatapatha-Brahmana. These Brahmanas represent a category of ancient Sanskrit texts dealing with ancient Vedic rituals and ceremonies based on the Vedas.

Details of the Agnicayana (fire-building ceremony)

In the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, the Agnicayana (fire-building ceremony) is dealt with in the kāṇḍas from VI to X. Thus it can be said that the one third of the kāṇḍas are attributed to Agnicayana in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. The Agnicayana means the building of the fire-altar which is an optional ancillary rite of a soma sacrifice. Thus, it is very interesting that an ancillary rite has been occupying a big part of the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa for its description and explanation. The reason behind this may be explained thus-that this ceremony contains a large number of activities and also deals with the philosophical speculations of life. Along with philosophical discussion, the Agnicayana ceremony also has some political character in it which will be discussed further.

The ritual procedure of the Agnicayana:

In the beginning of the Agnicayana, an animal sacrifice is performed in which a man, a horse, a bull, a ram and a he goat are offered[1]. Kātyāyana suggests an option that instead of killing these animals, golden or clay heads of these animals may be used[2]. This animal sacrifice takes place on the full moon day of phālguna[3]. On the eighth day, after the full moon, the materials for Ukhā (fire-pan) are to be collected[4]. Then an abhri (spade) made of bamboo is to be taken. On the same day a horse, an ass and a he goat are taken in procession by the Adhvaryu towards the east. To the east of the fire a square pit is dug and a ball of clay is put there in. The priests and the sacrificer go to the ball of clay and made the horse to put its foot on the clay in the pit. The Adhvaryu makes an offering upon the clay and on the horse’s foot print[5]. Then the Adhvaryu digs and deposits the clay on the lotus leaf which is spread on the black antelope skin[6]. After that the Adhvaryu takes the black antelope skin and the lotus leaf and ties the lump of the clay[7]. Then the Adhvaryu calls the animals, holds the clay over the animals one by one and returns along with all the priests and the sacrificer. After that the clay has been taken down, water is poured in it and the goats hair and gravel, stone iron rust are mixed in it[8]. Thus from that mixed clay the wife of the sacrificer makes the first brick called Āṣāḍha[9]. With the same clay the sacrificer prepares an Ukhā (fire-pan) and also the bricks called the Viśvajyoti bricks. The Adhvaryu first fumigates the fire pan with smoke and then put on the fire till it is baked. After that goat’s milk is sprinkled on it and other bricks are made and baked till they are red.

Then there are the oblations connected with the dikṣā ceremony, which takes place on the amāvasya of the phālguna. The Adhvaryu puts the fire pan on the fire and when the flame mounts up to it, he puts a kindling stick of krimuka wood on the pan[10], then a kindling stick of Vikankata wood[11], then one of Udumbara wood[12], one which is not cut by an axe[13], one that has lain on the ground[14] and then the remaining sticks of Palāsa wood[15] are used. After that the sacrificer adores the fire with the Vatsaprā hymns and takes the Viṣṇu strides. He also removes the ashes and puts fuel sticks on the fire in the Ukhā.

Then begin the building of the fire altar. Both the Gārhapatya and Āhavaniya altars are prepared. First the place which is to be used as Vedi is measured with rope. The length of that place is equal to the length twice the height of the sacrificer. The land for the Uttaravedi on which the altar is to be constructed is ploughed with an udumbara plough and the rope is used which is made of munja grass. The Vedi has five layers or five courses of bricks making 10800 bricks in all[16]. The first and the fifth layers are arranged in the same pattern and the second and fourth in the same. The altar may have various shapes for the attainment of different rewards, such as–the svargakāmi yajamāna constructs the vedi in a shape of hawk (śyena), one who desirous of supremacy, constructs the Vedi in a shape of heron (kanka) and so on. The bricks of various shapes like triangular, square, rectangle and others shape are also used. A sound knowledge of geometry and mason craft is required for constructing the Vedi. Each brick is placed after repeating a mantra.

Five layers of the Vedi:

In the first layer bricks are in the form of lotus leaf, a gold plate and a golden man. The sacrificer stands near by the golden man and warships it with the Sarpanāma formulas[17] and offers on the gold man with ghee[18]. Then, the two offering spoons are laid down, by one of kārṣmarya wood and the other of Udumbara wood[19]. This is followed by lying down of the Svayam-ātṛṇṇā (naturally perforated brick), Dūrvā-brick, Dviyajus-brick, two Retaḥsic (seedshedding) bricks, Viśvajyoti brick, two Ṛtavyā bricks, Aṣāḍhā brick, a tortoise as a brick, mortal and pestle and the Ukha brick. After that the heads of the five victims (man, horse, ram, bull and he-goat) are laid down upon them and an offering is also made. Then the Apasyā-brick, the Chandasya bricks, fifty Prāṇabhṛt bricks and the Lokaṃpṛnā-bricks are laid down and thus the first layer becomes complete.

In the second layer, the Aśvini bricks, Ṛtavya-bricks, Vaiśvādeva bricks, Prāṇabhṛt-bricks, Apasyā-bricks, Chandasyā-bricks and the Lokaṃpṛṇā-bricks are laid down and thus this layer becomes complete.

The third layer consists of several bricks, such as the Svayamātṛṇṇa bricks, Diśyā-bricks, Viśvajyoti-brick, Ṛtavyā-bricks, Prāṇabhṛt-bricks, Chandasyā-bricks, Vālakhilya-bricks and the Lokaṃpṛṇā-bricks.

In the fourth layer, the sacrificer lays down the Stoma-bricks, Spṛt-bricks and the Lokaṃpṛṇā-bricks and thus this layer becomes complete.

The fifth layer becomes complete by means of the Asapatane-iṣṭakās, Chandasyā-bricks, Stoma-bhāga- bricks, Nākasad- bricks, Pañcacūḍā-bricks, Chandasyā- bricks, Gārhapatya-bricks, Punaściti-bricks, Ṛtavyā-bricks, Viśvajyoti-bricks, Lokaṃpṛṇā-bricks, Vikarṇī-bricks and the Svayamātṛṇṇā-bricks. On the Lokaṃpṛṇā-bricks, sāmans are sung by the sacrificer and he bestrews the fire-altar with chips of gold[20].

When all the layers have become complete, the Āhavaniya fire is established and an offering is made on that fire by the milk of a dark cow whose calf is white and the Śatarudriya homa is offered to Rudra[21]. Then the Adhvaryu sings sāmans round the altar and makes it complete. After that the sacrificer mounts upon the altar and makes several libations:-

At first the sacrificer makes libations on the Svayamātṛṇṇa-bricks[22] and sprinkles the altar. After having descended from the altar, the sacrificer proceeds with the Pravargya and Upaṣads and oblations are made on the Gārhapatya fire. Then the sacrificer takes a burning piece of stick and kept it on the Āgnidhra range and an offering is also made upon it. After that oblations a full oblations is made. Then there are the Vaiśvāṇara-homa[23], Maruta-homa[24], Vasordhārā-homa[25], Ardhendra libations[26], libations connected with Grahas[27], Yajña-Kratus[28], Uneven stomas[29], Even stomas[30], Vayas[31], libations with uttering the names[32], the Kalpa-libations[33], Vājapravaviya-libations[34] and Pārtha-libations[35]. After the consecration of the sacrificer there follows the Rāṣṭrabhṛddhoma[36], an offering to the Gandharvas and Apsarās[37], an offering on the head of the chariot, the Vāta-homa[38], Runmati-homa[39], Varuni-homa[40], Santati-homa[41] and any additional offering for obtaining any desire[42].

The various types of bricks[43] are listed below in the alphabetical order with the layers in which they are used. In this list, the non-clay ‘bricks’ (vānaspatyā hiraṇyayā and others) are not included–

Apasyā bricks:Used in the 1st layer and 2nd layer, stands for waters and rain and laid alongside with the Chandasyā bricks.

Aṣāḍha bricks: Used in the 1st layer, which represents earth, speech and vital airs. It is made by the chief queen Mahiṣī.

Asapatnā bricks: Used in the 5th layer, symbolizes enemy-avoiders.

Aśvini bricks: Used in the 2nd layer, represents the part of the body of Prajāpati above the feet and below the waist.

Chandasyā bricks: Stands for cattle and food and used in the 1st, 2nd and in the 3rd and 5th layers.

Diśyā bricks: Used in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd layers and stands for the quarters.

Dvi-yajus bricks: Used in the 1st layer and stands for the sacrificer’s body.

Logeṣṭakā bricks: These are unbaked bricks and used in the 1st layer.

Lokampṛṇā bricks: It is used in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and in the 5th layer. It represents commoners, nobility, cows and various things. It is also used in the Gārhapatya altar.

Nairṛtī bricks: Used in the first layer for avoiding evil power.

Nākasad bricks: It represents the gods and priests in the heaven and also the sacrificer. It is used in the 5th layer.

Prāṇabhṛt bricks: Used in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd layers.

Retaḥsic bricks: Used in the 1st layer and it is two in number.

Ṛtavyā bricks: It stands for seasons and months and used in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and in the 5th layer.

Spṛtā bricks: Used in the 4th layer and it symbolizes freedom.

Stomabhāgā bricks: Used in the 5th layer which symbolizes food, quarters, three worlds, the sun and the heaven.

Stomeṣṭakā bricks: Used in the 4th layer which stands for vital air and foods.

Sṛṣṭi bricks: It indicates creation and used in the 4th layer.

Svayam-ā-tṛṇṇā bricks: It stands for vital airs, earth and food and used in the 1st, 3rd and 5th layer.

Vaiśvadevī bricks: Used in the 2nd layer and it stands for creatures.

Vālakhilyā bricks: Used in the 3rd layer.

Vayasyā bricks: Used in the 2nd layer.

Yajuṣmatī bricks: It represents food, the noble warrior class (kṣatra) and used in the 1st layer.

Observances in the Agnicayana Ceremony:

The performer of the Agnicayana ceremony has to maintain some observances (vrata) for a period of one year. In that period the sacrificer is not allowed to bow to any one, not to walk in the rain, not to eat the flesh of birds and not to live with a woman except of his own wife belonging to his own caste. After the second Agnicayana sacrifice, the sacrificer should not live with a woman except his own wife and when the sacrificer performs the Agnicayana ceremony for the third time, he should not even approach his own wife. If the sacrificer fails to attain the fruits of the sacrifice by performing it first time, he may perform the Agnicayana ceremony for the second time. The Agnicayana ceremony being a most complicated sacrifice has many prāyaścittas, for committed mistakes.

The Agnicayana or the fire-altar ceremony is identified with the worlds:

The fire building ceremony or the Agnicayana represents all the worlds. It is said in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa that the fire-altar is this world[44].

The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa identifies the building of the fire-altar with that of the world and this as follows:

“Verily, this built fire-altar is this (terrestrial) world:-the waters are its enclosing stones; the men its Yajusmati bricks, the cattle its Sūdadohas, the plants and trees its earth fillings (between the layers of bricks), its oblations and fire-logs, Agni (the terrestrial fire) its Lokampṛṇā (space filling brick)…….But indeed fire altar is also identified with the air:-the junction of heaven and earth (the horizon) is its circle of enclosing stones, for it is beyond the air that heaven and earth meet, and that junction is the (circle of) enclosing stones, the birds are its Yajusmati bricks, the rain its Sūdadahas, the rays of light its earth fillings, oblations and fire log, the Vāyu (the wind) is its space-filler; thus this comes to make up the whole Agni………..But indeed, that fire-altar is also the sky: the heavenly waters are its enclosing stones, for even as a case here is closed up so are these worlds (enclosed) with in the waters, and the waters beyond these worlds are the enclosing stones-the gods are the Yajuṣmati bricks, what food there is in that world is its sudadohas, the Nakṣatras (lunar mansions) are the earth-fillings, the oblations and the firelogs; and Āditya (the sun) is the space-filler;-thus this comes to make up the whole Agni; and the whole Agni comes to be the space-filler; and, verily, whosoever knows this, thus comes to be that whole (Agni) who is the space-filler.”[45]

Construction of the fire-altar is identified with the reconstruction of Prajāpati:

The fire altar is often marked out as Prajāpati[46]. It is also mentioned that one who builds the fire altar, reconstructs Prajāpati. In the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa[47] it is mentioned that Prajāpati after creating the beings have become relaxed, the vital air went out from him, then his vigour went out and then he fell down. The Gods then restored Prajāpati and made Agni as the foundation to restore Prajāpati. The Gods heated Prajāpati in the fire, and fire rose over him when heated. Thus, being heated, the same vital air, food, vigour which had gone out from him, came back to him and the Gods put it in to him (Prajāpati). Thus the Prajāpati who became relaxed is the same as Agni who is now built up. In the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa we also read that—“Prajāpati is no other than the fire-altar which is now built up, and what five mortal parts there were of him, they are these layers of earth, and those which were immortal they are these layers of bricks”[48]. Thus from the above reference it is clear that Agni (fire-altar) is often identified as Prajāpati.

Thus Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa has also identified the fire-altar with the year. There are five layers in the fire altar; these are five seasons of the year. Hence, the fire-altar is identified with the year[49].

Thus, form the above discussion it can be said that the Agnicayana (firebuilding) ceremony gives us enough scope for Philosophical speculations of life. The Brāhmaṇa texts develop their views in connection with the Agnicayana ceremony.

Some noted features of the Agnicayana ceremony with political or royal significance:

Along with the Philosophical character, the Agnicayana ceremony deals with some oblation conveying political significance. As already discussed that in the Agnicayana ceremony the sacrificer after completing the five layers of the Vedi mounts upon the altar and makes several libations. Among them some libations convey monarchial strata-such as, the Vājaprasaviya-oblation, Pārtha-oblations, Rāṣṭbṛddhoma and so on.

This Pārtha oblation is first introduced by the mythical king Pṛthi Vainya at his royal consecration. The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa states that the Pārtha oblations are the Vājaprasaviya of the Rājasūya; and by performing these oblations the sacrificer is consecrated by the Rājasūya, and the first seven of the succeeding fourteen (Vājaprasaviya oblations) are the Vājaprasaviya ceremony of the Vājapeya. By performing these oblations, the sacrificer is consecrated by the Vājapeya sacrifice. And what other seven there are, they belong to Agni or the Agnicayana, by offering these the sacrificer is consecrated by the Agni-consecration[50].

The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa also mentions that, he (the sacrificer) offers those of the Rājasūya first and then those of the Vājapeya. For by performing the Rājasūya one becomes king (rājā) and by the Vājapeya emperor; hence after performing the Vājapeya, one could not perform the Rājasūya, -it would be a descent, just as if one who is a emperor were to become a king[51]. And those (seven Vājaprasaviya oblations) of the fire altar the (sacrificer) offers last, for the Agni consecration is equal to all those rites of consecration. And who is consecrated by the Agni-consecration rite becomes everything, king and emperor. Thus, the sacrificer offers these oblations to the fire-altar last of all[52]. After that the sacrificer offers the Rāṣṭabhṛt (realm-sustaining) oblations. The realm-sustainers doubtless are the kings; for it is that sustains realms[53]. The sacrificer by offering these oblations sustains realm.

Thus, from the above discussion it can be said that these oblations of the Agnicayana ceremony have some political significance. As by performing these oblations (Pārtha oblations and the Vājaprasaviya oblations), the sacrificer is consecrated by the Rājasūya and the Vājapeya sacrifice of high monarchial strata. These oblations are performed in the same way as that in the Rājasūya and the Vājapeya. It is regarded as Agni’s Abhiṣeka[54]. And by the Rāṣṭabhṛt (realm-sustaining) oblations, the sacrificer sustains realms. As mentioned above that Agni consecration rite is considered as everything, hence by offering these oblations the sacrificer may become everything, the king, the emperor as he wants. From this, we can say that along with philosophical discussions, the Agnicayana (fire-building) ceremony also attached with some political character in it.

Footnotes and references:


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa -VI/2/1/15-“Puruṣo’śvogauravirajo bhavanti|”


Kātyāyana-śrauta-sūtra-XVI/1/32-“Anyāni vā hiraṇmayāni vā mṛnmayāni vānālavyaitān|”


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa–VI/2/2/17-“Tadvai purṇamāsyāmeva| Asau vai chandra paśustaṃ devā paurṇamāsyāmālabhate||”


Ibid-VI/2/2/23-“Aṣṭakāyāmukhāṃ saṃbharati”


Ibid–VI/3/3/22-“Aśvasya pade juhati|”


Ibid-VI/4/1/6-“Athainaṃ kŗṣṇājne saṃbharati | Yajño vai kŗsnājinaṃ|”


Ibid-VI/4/4/6-“Atha kŗnājinaṃ ca puṣkara parnaṃ ca samudgŗhnāti| Yonirvai puṣkara parṇaṃ Yonnyā tadet sikta|”


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa -VI/5/1/6-“Athi tat trayaṃ piṣṭaṃ bhavati|Śarkarā’śmāyorsastena sa sŗjati…………………..tāvatīmevaināmetatkorat||i”


Ibid-VI/5/3/1-“Tasyā etasyā āṣāḍaṃ pūrvāṃ karoti|”




Ibid-VI/6/3/1-“Atha vaikaṃtīmādadhāti|”






Ibid-VI/6/3/6-“Athā’dha śayamādadhāti|”


Ibid-VI/6/3/7-“Atahita uttarā pālāssyo bhavahti|”


Keith, A.B, RPVU (Vol-32), Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1989, Page-354.


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa–VII/4/1/25-“Atha sarpanāmairupatiṣṭhate|”


Ibid-VII/4/1/32-“Athainamupavisyābhijuhoti ājjyena pañca gṛhitena tasyokto..................pṛnāti|”


Ibid-VII/4/1/37-38-“kārṣmaryamayī dakṣinata upadadhāti|” “Athaudaṃbarīm uttarata upadadhāti|”


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa -VIII/7/4/7-“Athaina hiraṇyaśakalai prokṣati|”


Ibid -IX/1/1/1-“Athāta śatarūdriyaṃ juhoti| Atraiṣa sarvo’gni saṃkŗtaṃ sa…………syāditi |”


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa -IX/2/1/3-“Āruhyāgni svyamātṛṇāṃ vyāghārayati|”


Ibid–IX/3/1/1-“Athāto vaiśvāṇaraṃ juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/3/1/7-“Atha mārutānjuhoti|”


Ibid–IX/3/2/1-“Athāto vasorddhārāṃ juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/3/2/9-“Athārddhendrāni juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/3/2/10-“Atha grahānjuhoti|”


Ibid–IX/3/3/1-“Athaitān yajñakratūn juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/3/3/2-“Athāyuja stomānjuhoti|”


Ibid–IX/3/3/4-“Atha yugmato juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/3/3/7-“Atha vayāsi juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/3/3/8-“Atha nāmagrāhaṃ juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/3/3/12-“Atha kalpān juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/3/4/1-“Athāto vājaprasavīyaṃ juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/3/4/6-“Atha vā etad pārthānyapi juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/4/1/1-“Athāto rāṣṭrabhṛto juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/4/1/4-“Gandhvarvāpsarobhyo juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/4/2/1-“Atha vātohomān juhoti|”


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa–IX/4/2/12-“Atha runmatīr juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/4/2/15-“Atha vārunīm juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/4/2/18-“Athārkaśvamedhayo santatīr juhoti|”


Ibid–IX/4/2/27-“Athā’ta āhutināmevāvapanasya| Yāṃ kāñca brāhmaṇavatīmāhutiṃ…………………juhotyāptām tā satīnjuhoti|”


Dange, A. Sadashiv, Vedic sacrifices early nature, Aryan Book International, New Delhi, 2000, Page-439-441.


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa-VII/3/1/13-“ime vai lokā eṣo’gniḥ|”


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa -X/5/4/1-3—
Ayaṃ vāva loka eṣo’gniśicita|Tasyāpa eva pariśśrato manuṣyā yajuṣmatya iṣṭakā Paśaba sudadohā oṣadhayas cca vanaspatayascca puriṣamāhutaya samidho’gnirlokampṛṇā tadvā etadsarvamgnimevābhisampadyate…………..abhisampadyate||”
“Antarikṣa hattvevaiṣognisiccata| Tasya davyā pṛthivyoreva sandhi pariśiśrata parena hāntarikṣan dyāvā pṛthivī sandhatstā ……………………….. abhisampadyate||

Daurha tvevaiṣo’gniriccata| Tasyāpa eva pariśiśrato yathā ha vā idamkosā samujta evamime lokā āpsvantastdyā imāllokannaparenāpastā pariśiśirato devā………………… abhisampadyate||


Ibid VI/5/3/7, VII/2/4/30, VIII/2/1/18, X/4/1/12—“Prajāpatireṣo’gni




Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa -X/1/3/5-“Sa yah sa prjāpatiḥ | Ayameva sa yo’yamagiściyate’tha yā asya tāh pañca martyāstanva āsannetāstāḥ puriṣacitayo’tha yā amṛta etāstā iṣṭakācitayaḥ”


Ibid-VI/3/1/25-“Te pañca sampadā bhavanti pañca citiko’gni pañcartava saṃvatsaraṃ saṃvatsaro’gniryāvānagnir yāvangnir yāvatasya mātrā tāvat tad bhavati|”


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa–IX/3/4/7-“Tadyāni Pārthāni| Tāni rājasuyasya vājaprasavīyaṃ tadyattāni juhoti tadrājasū yena suyate’tha yāni caturdasottarāṇi tato yāni sapta pūrvāni tāni vājapeyasya vājaprasaviyaṃ tadyattāni juhati tadvājapeyena suyate’tha yāni sapto’ttarāṇi tānnyagnestadyattāni juhoti tadagnisavena stūyate||”


Ibid-IX/3/4/8-“Sa vai rājasūyasya pūrvāni juhoti| Atha vājapeyasya rājā vai rājasūyeneṣṭvā bhavati samrād vājapeyena rājyamu vā agne’tha sāmrājyaṃ tasmād vājapeyeneṣṭvā na rājasūyena yajet pratyuvaraha sa yathā saṃrāṭ sanrājā syāttādṛktat||”


Ibid -IX/3/4/9-“Agneruttamāni juhati| Sarve hai te sa vā yadagnisava sarva haitadagnisvena suto bhavati rājā ca samrāt ca tasmādgneruttamāni juhoti||”


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa -IX/4/1/1-“Athāto rāstrabhṛta juhoti|Rājano vai rāstrabhṛtaste hi rāstrāni……………………………..rāstrabhṛt||.”


Ibid -IX/3/4/3-“Abhiṣeka evāsyisṣa etad vā enaṃ devā etenānnena…………………….evābhiṣiñcati||”

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: