The Sacrifices of Rajasuya, Vajapeya and Ashvamedha (study)

by Aparna Dhar | 2016 | 61,606 words

This page relates ‘Dichotomic interpretation of the Rajasuya Sacrifice’ 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.

Dichotomic interpretation of the Rājasūya Sacrifice

Among the various soma sacrifices the Rājasūya is one of the prominent sacrifices in ancient India. It is a soma sacrifice to be performed by a Kṣatriya Yajamāna. Performance of the Rājasūya yajña is always considered to be a pride and honour for a king. It has been discussed in the chapter-IV that he who performs the Rājasūya assuredly gains for himself all sacrificial rites, all offerings, even the spoon-full oblations. The Rājasūya, a time old ceremony of royal inauguration has some popular rites and rituals accompanied with it. Among the various rituals of the Rājasūya sacrifice some rituals have both political as well as ritualistic significance which are as follows:

• In the Rājasūya ceremony, we have seen that the consecrated king makes offerings to the houses of the eleven Ratnins known as ‘Ratnināṃ haviṃsi’ ceremony. The king goes to the houses of each Ratnins and makes offering except the Kṣatra and Akṣāvāpa and Govikartana together. For them offerings are made at the royal palace.

The offerings made by the consecrated king to the houses of Ratnins are very significant. These Ratnins actually represent different classes of people in the society. The consecrated king makes offering to the houses of Ratnins with the intension to seek their support, which speaks and supports for mass contact and connection.

Besides this, in the list of the Ratnins we find the four social classes of people, such as, the Brāhmaṇa (the Purohita), the Kṣatriya (the king himself), the Vaiśyas (Grāmanȋ) and the Śudras (the Akṣāvāpa and the Govikartana). The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa[1] mentions that the participation of the Śudras in these offerings are sanctified by a purificatory rite known as ‘Soma-Rudra iṣṭi’ In the same Brāhmaṇa it is recorded that once upon a time Svarbhānu, the Aśura struck the sun with darkness and striken with darkness he did not shine. Soma and Rudra removed that darkness of him (Sun) and released him from the evil. And in like manner the king when he put those unworthy of sacrifice either in contact with the Śudras or whomever else performed the Soma rudra iṣṭi. The Soma and Rudra removed that darkness of him and he becomes consecrated.

Thus, from the above discussion it can be said that the ‘Ratnināṃ haviṃsi’ or offering to the houses of the Ratnins is politically as well as ritualistically very important.

• The purificatory rite in the consecration ceremony mainly consists in sprinkling the king with holy waters collected from various seventeen sources. The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa[2] gives the reason as to why the seventeen kind of water is mixed together is that the Prajāpati is seventeen fold and Prajāpati is the sacrifice. This is why he (Adhvaryu) brings together seventeen kinds of water and elevated this sprinkling ceremony as high as Prajāpati.

Moreover, this sprinkling or anointing ceremony is not only considered as sacred bath but it is regarded as the bestower of kingship. Regarding this ceremony the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa makes the statement that–“he (Adhvaryu) there by makes the people steady and faithful to him”[3]. As a matter of fact, this consecration ceremony symbolizes some holy power or character of the king such as-the flowing river symbolizes vigour, flood for plenty, sea for dominion and so on. Hence, the priest sprinkles the sacrificer with the intention that he should possess such quality in him. It is expected that the king should be vigorous like flowing river, loyal to the people, should be sincere and harmless like the waters of a stagnant pool and so on. Hence, by performing this ritual, the priest connects the sacrificer with constitutional power.

• The consecration ceremony of Rājasūya sacrifice begins with the offering to the eight gods, which are known as ‘Devāṣu’ offering or Divine Quickness. The offerings are made to the eight gods with their epithets are described in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa[4] as follows:

i) For Sāvitṛ Satyaprasava of true impulse.
ii) For Agni Gṛhapati (the house lord).
iii) For Soma Vanaspati (the wood lord or tree).
iv) For Bṛhaspati Vāk (the lord of speech).
v) For Indra Jyeṣṭha (the most excellent).
vi) For Rudra Paśupati (lord of beasts).
vii) For Mitra, Satya (the true) and
viii) For Varuṇa, Dharmapati (the lord of the law).

The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa gives the reason as to why these offering are made is thus-“that those gods have the power of quickening, whence their name ‘devasu’ (Divine Quickeners). It is those gods who quicken him (sacrificer) and thus quickened (consecrated) by them he will be consecrated on the morrow”[5].

Besides this, these epithets also give the pattern of royal duties and functions which are expected that the king designated may follow these ideals.

• In the Rājasūya sacrifice we have come across that the Brāhmaṇa hands over the sacrificial wooden sword to the king as a mark of royal power and military strength. The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa declares the sword as Indra’s thunderbolt[6]. In the same Brāhmaṇa it is also clearly mentioned that the receiver of the sword becomes weaker than the giver[7]. Thus the king receives the sword from the Brāhmaṇa and hands it over to his brother. His brother hands over the sword to Suta. Then the Suta to Grāmanī and finally Grāmanī hands over the sword to a Sajāta, a tribe’s man. Thus, from the above statement it is clear that the king’s position is next to the Brāhmaṇa as he receives the sword from the Brāhmaṇa. And in like way the King becomes stronger than his brother, his brother than the Sūta, the Sūta than the Grāmanī. And in last the Grāmanī becomes stronger than the Sajāta. Hence, it can be said that this ritual corroborates the gradual deficiency in power which is intended for the proper functioning of the body of politics.

Besides this, the same Brāhmaṇa text also gives the reason as to why this ritual is performed is stated thus-“they mutually hand it on in this way, they do so lest there should be a confusion of classes and in order that society may be in the proper order”[8]. These rituals actually reflect the ideal of monarchy and that of a class society.

• The game of dice or mimic cow raid is a part of the Rājasūya sacrifice. In this ritual the sacrificer who has been elected for king, places a hundred of cows of his relative to the north of the Āhavaniya fire and takes part in a sham fight. The king or the sacrificer pulls up his chariot in the middle of cows which is guarded by a Rājanya with a bow in hand. The king then shoots his arrow at him and having thus, as it were, he wheels round. Then the sacrificer touches the cow with the end of his bow and says-“Together with energy, I overpower them, I seize them”[9]. The mimic cow raid is actually an imitation of the cow raids of the earlier pastoral tribes. The successful leadership in such raids was once regarded as an essential qualification for the ruler. In later times when the institution of kingship was established, the kings in the time of royal inauguration used the feasts like mimic cow raid, which their ancestors once performed in reality.

According to J.Gonda-“this race like the cow raid and a dice play in the inauguration ceremonies represents a test for recognizing the ruler’s superiority in valour and physical prowess, and a means of enabling him the fittest man for kingship”[10]. We may here note that in this ceremony the sacrificer has to win cows not from any enemy, but from one of his relative. Therefore, it is an event of sham raid. This rites associated with the sprinkling ceremony imply the unrivalled greatness which every king should possess.

Besides this, the importance of this ritual can be interpreted in another way. In the Vedic age cow was regarded as an asset and desire for cows was used in the Ṛgveda and in the Atharvaveda as a means of war[11]. Hence, the cattle were regarded as a form of wealth and successful leadership in cattle raids was regarded as one of the essential qualifications for the candidature of kingship in the early Vedic age. Thus, it can be said that the cattle is used in the ‘cow raid’ as a means of asset or wealth.

• In the consecration ceremony of the Rājasūya the Adhvaryu spreads the Tiger-skin in front of the Maitrāvaruṇa’s hearth and says—“you are Soma’s beauty. For because when Soma flowed through Indra, he (Indra) thereupon became a tiger, therefore he is Soma’s beauty: that is why he (Adhvaryu) says-You are Soma’s splendor-may my beauty become like unto you! He thus bestows the tiger’s beauty on him”[12]. After that he offers the Pārtha oblations. These oblations are twelve in number as there are twelve months in a year. The Adhvaryu offers six before the consecration and six after the consecration and thereby he (the Adhvaryu) places the sacrificer in the very middle of the Prajāpati, as Prajāpati is year. Now which he offers before the consecration, Bṛhaspati is the last (recipient) and those of which he offers after the consecration Indra is the first. Bṛhaspati is the priestly dignity (brahma) and Indra is might vigour[13]. Therefore, the Adhvaryu by making these offerings encloses him (the sacrificer) on both sides with two kinds of vigour.

Moreover, as to why the tiger’s skin is spread, the reason is mentioned above. Besides this, we may make our own opinion that spreading of the tiger’s skin indicates the symbol of gaining the strength and the pre-eminence of the tiger. As the tiger is the king of all beasts, hence, the spreading of the tiger’s skin is the symbol of royal dignity and power.

In the Rājasūya sacrifice, the Adhvaryu makes the sacrificer to ascend the regions and says[14]

“Ascend thou the East! May the Gāyatrī metre protect thee, the Rathantara-sāman, the three fold stoma, the spring season, the priesthood, that precious treasure.”

“Ascend thou the South! May the Triṣṭubh protect thee, the Bṛhatsāman, the fifteen fold stoma, the summer season, the knighthood, that precious treasure!”

“Ascend thou the West! May the Jagati protect thee, the Vairūpasāman, the seventeen fold stoma, the rainy season, the Peasantry that precious treasure!”

“Ascend thou the North! May the Anuṣṭubh protect thee, the Vairāja sāman, the twenty fold stoma, the autumn season, fruit, that precious treasure!”

“Ascend thou the upper region! May the Paṅkti Protect thee, the Sākvara and Raivata sāmans, the thrice nine fold and three thirtyfold stomas, the winter and deway season, spiritual lusture, that precious treasure!”

Thus, having mounted the quarters the sacrificer wins the season, the year and becomes high above everything and everything is below him[15]. In spite of this, the kings symbolical walking towards the various quarters is an indication of his universal rule. Hence, ascending of the four quarters has the great constitutional import. As by ascending the four quarters it is thought that the king is to be protected by the four estates of the realm[16]. So, by ascending the quarters, the king wins both the season and the year and that of the realm.

• In the Abhiṣeka of the Rājasūya we notice that the priests take up a stick and silently strike the king on his back with those sticks. The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa gives the reason behind this striking is as follows-“By striking him with sticks they take him beyond the pale of judicial punishment; hence the king is exempt from or beyond the reach of punishment”[17]. Elsewhere, the beating is also well known in fertility rite to stimulate the productive power or in driving out maleficent demons[18].

Hence, it can be resumed that the rituals of the Rājasūya sacrifice bears a double standard. Through the series of performances of the rituals of this sacrifice a strong blending for monarchial strata is also incorporated therein which works for a firm foundation for kingship and kingdom.

Footnotes and references:


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa–V/3/2/2-“Svarbhānur ha vā āsura | Sūrya tamasā viyādha sa tamasā viddho na vyarocata tasya somārudrāvevaitat tamo’pāhatām……………………………..etad yajñena prasajati sudrāstvadyāstvattasya somārudrāvevaitat tamo’pahata|”


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa–V/3/4/22-“Saptadasāpa saṃbharati saptadaśo vai prajāpati |”


Ibid–V/3/4/14-“Rāṣṭrammuṣmai datteti tabhirbhisincati viśamevā’smā etadsthāva rama napa kraminīṃ karotyetā vā ekā āpastā evaitatsaṃbharati|”




Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa -V/3/3/13-“Etā ha vai devatā savasyeśate|Tasmāddevāsvo nāma tadenamatā eva devatā suvate tābhi suta śva suyate|”


Ibid–V/4/4/18-“Indrasya vajro’si tena|”


Ibid-V/4/4/15-20-“Taṃ rājā rājabhrātebhya prayacchati………………..rājabhrātā sūtāya vā sthapataye vā prayacchati………………sūto vā sthapatirvā grāmanye prayacchati……………..grāmanīṃ sajātayā prayacchati…………………..atha sajātascca pratiprasthātā ca ||”


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa -V/4/4/19-“Tadyadeva samprayacchante netpāpavasyasamasdhyathā pūrvamasaditi tasmātdeva saṃprayacchante||”


Ibid–V/4/3/10-“Atha dhanurātnyā gāmupaspṛśati |Samindriyeṇe’tīndriyaṃ vai vīryaṃ gāva indriyamevaitadvīryamātmandhatte’thāha jināmimā kurva imā iti |”


Ibid-XIII /6/2/16-“Udayanīyāyāṃ saṃsthitāyāṃ| Ekādasā vasā anubandhyā ālabhate maitrāvarunīrvaiśvadevī bārhaspatyā||”


Ṛgveda-I/91/22-23 “Tvamima oṣadhīḥ soma viśvāstvamapo ajanayas tvaṃogāḥ|
Tvamā tatanthor vantarikṣaṃ jyotiṣā bi tamo babartha||

Devena no manasā deva soma rayo bhāgaṃ sahasāvannabhi yudhya|
Mā tvā tanadīśiṣe viryasyo bhayebhyaḥ pra cikitsā gaviṣṭo||


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa V/3/5/3—“Agreṇa maitrāvaruṇasya dhisnya| Śārdula carmopaṣṭṛṇāti somasya tviṣirasītī yatra vai soma’indramatya pavata sa yattata sārdula …………… tviṣirbhuyāditi||


Ibid V/3/5/7—“Brahmya vai bṛhaspatirindriyaṃ viryamindra |


Ibid V/4/1/3-7—“Athainaṃ diśa samārohayati | Prācīmāroha gāyatrī tvā’vatu rathantara sāma trivṛtstomo vasanta riturbrahma dravināṃ||
Dakṣināmāroha | Triṣṭupatvā’vatu vṛhatsāma pañcadaśa stoma grīṣma ṛtuṃ kṣatraṃ draviṇaṃ|
Pratīcīmāroha | Jagatī tvā’vatu vairupa soma saptadasastoma varṣā ṛtuvid dravinaṃ|
Udīcīmāroha | Anuṣṭupatvā’vatu vairāja sāmaikviśstoma saradṛtu falaṃ dravinaṃ|
Ūddhvārmāroha | Panktistvā’vatu śākkor rai vate sāmanī triṇavtrayastri śau stomau hemanta śiśirābṛtu varccho dravinamiti ||


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa–V/4/1/8-“Tadyadenaṃ disaṃ samārohayati| Ṛtunāmevainametadupamṛtunevaitat saṃvatsara samārohayati sa ṛtuna saṃvatsara samāruhya sarvamevedamuparyapari bhatyarvāgevā’śmādid sarvaṃ bhavati||”


Chakraborty, Haripada, Vedic India-Political and Legal Institutions in Vedic Literature, Kolkata, Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, 1981, Page-196.


Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa–V/4/4/7-“Taṃ daṇḍairghanto daṇḍavadhamatinayanti tasmād rājā adaṇḍyo yadenaṃ daṇḍavadhamatinayanti|”


Heesterman, J.C, The Ancient Indian Royal Consecration, Mouton and Co, 1957, Page-156.

Let's grow together!

I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased sources, definitions and images. Your donation direclty influences the quality and quantity of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual insight the world is exposed to.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: