The Agnistoma Somayaga in the Shukla Yajurveda

by Madan Haloi | 2018 | 109,416 words

This page relates ‘Part 3: The Adhikarins’ of the study on the Agnistoma Somayaga as described in the Shukla Yajurveda (dealing with Vedic Rituals). The Agnistoma sacrifice (lit. “praise of Agni”) connects god with men and is performed in the spring season. It is the model of all the Soma sacrifices and forms a large and complicated ceremony preceded by four preliminary ritualistic days. This thesis deals with all the details involved in the Agnistoma sacrifice.

The word adhikāra means right to do something and the person who enjoys that right is called adhikārin. Thus, according to the Karkabhāṣya, whenever a man performs an act, he does so for gaining some fruit of that action. The act of performing a sacrifice is no exception to this. From this it follows that an adhikārin of Vedic sacrifice is the one who has the right to enjoy the fruit of the sacrifice he performs. From this it also follows that every act of sacrifice is connected to certain fruit of the action i.e., yajñaphala.

Hence, Kātyāyana has said—

phalayuktāni karmāṇi.[1]

Now it may be argued that as every person desires to enjoy the fruit of his or her action, therefore all human beings irrespective of caste, creed, qualities etc. should have the right to perform Vedic Yajñas.[2]

Refuting such an argument, Kātyāyana states-


This means that humans barring those with (a) defective limbs., (b) those who have not studied the Vedas, (c) the eunuchs and (d) those of the Śūdra caste, can have the right to perform sacrifices. People with defective limbs are barred from performing sacrifices because of the simple reason that a lame man cannot perform the rite called Viṣṇukrama, the deaf cannot hear when the Mantras are being recited, the dumb cannot recite the Mantras and so on and without these acts, the sacrifice remains incomplete. A person who has not studied the Vedas cannot be adhikārin to a Yajña for the obvious reason that he can neither recite the Mantras nor can understand the meanings of the Mantras being recited. The eunuch was not given the right to perform a Yajña because in Vedic society, he was looked upon as impure. The Śūdra caste had no right to sacrifice for in Vedic India he did not enjoy the right to Upanayana and thus could not study the Vedas.

As stated by Kātyāyana, people belonging to the three upper castes viz., Brāhmaṇa, Kṣatriya and Vaiśya who lived in Vedic society enjoyed the right to perform all kinds of sacrificial rituals—

brāhmaṇarājanyavaiśyānāṃ śruteḥ.[4]

Not only the men but also the women belonging to three upper castes enjoyed the right to sacrifice as they do not represent a separate class other than the humanbeing[5]. But they enjoyed the religious rights only with their husbands. These three upper castes were called traivarṇika.

According to Āpastamba too the practice of Vedic religion was the common to the upper three castes—

sa trayāṇāṃ varṇānāṃ brāhmaṇarājanyayoḥ vaiśyasya ca/[6]

From the Vedic texts it becomes clear that for being an adhikārin of Vedic sacrifices one must have three essential qualities viz., study of the Vedas (svādhyāya), establishment of the sacred fires (agnyādhāna) and physical fitness (sāmarthya).

In a sacrifice, oblation is offered in the fire by reciting the Vedic Mantras. The sacrificer should have fluency in the recitation of the Vedic Mantras as well as knowledge of the deities. But in the Vedic period the study of the Vedas was allotted only to the three upper classes. It was strictly prohibited to the Śūdras.

Thus, due to lack of Vedic knowledge, they could not be Adhikārins of Vedic rites. Karka says as follows—

ataḥ tadabhāvāt avedyatvāt anadhikāraḥ śūdrasya.[7]

Jaimini in his Mimāṃsāsūtra expresses the same view thus…

avaidyatvāt karmaṇi abhāvaḥ syāt.[8]

The Adhikārins of Vedic Yajña were required to be Āhitāgnis i.e., those who have set up the sacrificial fires viz., āhavanīya, gārhapatya and dakṣiṇāgni. The rite of setting of the sacred fires is known as the Ādhāna ceremony. Only the traivarṇika were eligible to perform this rite.

The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa has enjoyed the performance of Ādhāna as follows...

brāhmaṇo vasante ādadhīta /...kṣatriyo grīṣme ādadhīta /…vaiśyo varṣāsu ādadhīta /[9]

This injunction has excluded the Śudras. Karka says—

na śudraḥ / ādhānābhāvāt / ataḥ śudrasya anadhikāraḥ /[10]

It should however be noted here that another caste rathakāra by name, although not a traivarṇika was given the right to Ādhāna and hence also to perform Vedic rituals. Kātyāyana says thus-rathakārasya ādhāne.[11] Āpastamba too supports this view.[12] It may be stated in this context that a rathakāra represents a sub caste. For he is born of amāhiṣya father and a karaṇī mother. A māhiṣya again is one who has a Kṣatriya father and a Vaiśya mother whereas a karaṇī is a women born of a Vaiśya father and Śūdra mother.[13]

In the Yajñatattvaprakāśa, the qualities of an adhikārin have been cited in one sentence as follows—

kṛtādhānasya dāravataḥ traivarṇikasya tatra adhikāraḥ, na akṛtadārasya, na vā mṛtapatnīkasya.[14]

Through this statement it is made clear that a man without a wife could not be an adhikārin to a ritual.

The sacrificer in order to be eligible to perform a sacrifice must be married. Because, as per Vedic rule, an apatnīka could not be an adhikārin of Vedic rites.

The Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa says—

ayajño vā eṣa yo’patnīka/[15]

The Aitareya Brāhmaṇa says that if an apatnīka person wants to perform the Agnihotra sacrifice, he should accept Śraddhā as his wife and he himself should be a symbol of truth.[16] Although a woman could not perform a sacrifice alone, yet she had to be present by the side of her husband at a sacrificial ceremony. Pāṇini by the rule patyurno yajñasaṃyoge[17] says that the word patnī has been derived from the word pati by adding the suffix na and i to imply a helper.

Besides the four castes, there lived in Vedic society a fifth class of people called the Niṣādas . The Niṣādas did not enjoy the right to perform the great Vedic sacrifices. But a man who himself was a Niṣāda and at the same time who ruled over his people was allowed to offer gāvedhuka caru to Rudra.

Kātyāyana says—


It has been laid down that if Rudra kills his animal i.e., if his animals are killed by thunderbolt, he should offer a caru made of wild wheat (gāvedhuka) to propitiate Rudra.[19] This rite should be held within the compound of his dwelling house.

Again there was provision for an expiatory rite for one who has broken the vow of brahmacarya.

In the Kātyāyana Śrautasūtra it is said—

vāvakirṇino gardabhejyā[20]

An avakirṇi is a brahmacārīṇ who has broken his vow of virginity. Such a person in Vedic times was given the right to perform expiatory rite in the household fire by offering a donkey as a ritualistic paśu.[21]

As stated in the Taittirīya Saṃhitā, the physicians are impure.[22] So, they were not admitted in performing the Vedic Yajñas.The deities Aśvinswere the physicians of the gods. Therefore, they were considered to be impure and as a result, they did not have the right to drink soma. For this reason, the Brāhmaṇas were prohibited from this particular profession[23].

Footnotes and references:


Kātyāyana Śrautasūtra ,1.2.


Ibid., 1.3




Ibid., 1.6


Ibid., 1.7


Āpastamba Śrautasūtra ,24.1.12.


Karka on Kātyāyana Śrautasūtra ,1.6.


Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa ,


Karka on Kātyāyana Śrautasūtra ,1.6.


Kātyāyana Śrautasūtra ,1.9


Āpastamba Śrautasūtra ,5.1.18


Karka on Kātyāyana Śrautasūtra ,1.10.


Cinnasvamishastri, Pattabhiramashastri(ed.), op.cit.,p.14


Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa ,


cf., apatnīkaḥ agnihotraṃ kathaṃ juhuti? śraddhā patnī satyaṃ yajamānaḥśraddhayā satyena mithunena... / Aitareya Brāhmaṇa , 7.2.9.


Kātyāyana Śrautasūtra ,1.12.


Karka on Kātyāyana Śrautasūtra ,1.12.


Kātyāyana Śrautasūtra ,1.13.


Pāraskaragṛhyasūtra, 3.12


cf.,aputau vā imau manuṣyacarau bhiṣajaviti / Taittirīya Saṃhitā ,


cf., tasmāt brāhmaṇena bheṣajaṃ na kāryamapūto hyeṣo’medhyo yo bhiṣaktau / Taittirīya Saṃhitā ,

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