Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh (early history)

by Prakash Narayan | 2011 | 63,517 words

This study deals with the history of Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh (Northern India) taking into account the history and philosophy of Buddhism. Since the sixth century B.C. many developments took place in these regions, in terms of society, economic life, religion and arts and crafts....

Vedic Sacrifices and Cattle Wealth

Cattle wealth was being destroyed in large proportion by slaughter in sacrifices in the land of Kuru and Pancala, in western Uttara Pradesh, which were undoubtedly refined and shophisticated methods to meet dietary needs during the prefield agriculture stage. The indication by the shatapatha Brahmana proves that the case was same in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The destruction of cattle wealth through sacrifices became a senseless source after getting sanctioned by religion and successively a hindrance to the progress of agriculture. In late Vedic texts, numerous types of cattle and goats were specified for sacrifice to various gods. A bull or vrishbha was sacrificed to Indra, a dappled cow to the Maruts, and a copper-coloured cow to the Ashvins. A cow was also sacrificed to Mitra and Varuna.[1] Sacrifices of the cattle on many occasions in public rites were common. As many as six-hundred animals of different kinds were killed in the ashvamedha sacrifice.[2] A new sacrifice was noticeable at the end of the ashvamedha in which twenty-one sterile cows were killed.[3] The sacrificing of the horse was not an incessant happening, but the sacrifices of the cows on different occasions were common and less expensive. The sacrificing of cow in the fire-laying (agnyadheya) ceremony ushered all public rituals.[4] The sacrifice of the ox on the split[5], or shulagava, the sacrifice of a sterile cow or that of eleven animals in the agnishtoma has been heard.[6] The corpse is decorated with a cow, limb by limp for its protection against the flame[7] in a later Vedic ritual in the funeral ceremony. According to one text, in the funeral ceremony (shraddha) at a crossroad a cow is killed, and its members are cut to pieces and given to the passers-by.[8] It has been considered by most authorities that certain animals are pleasing to the manes, and beef is considered to be a delicacy for a dignified persons who is known as a killer of the cows (goghna).[9]

Numerous terms indicating the practice of cow-killing have been mentioned in Vedic and allied texts. For instance, it has been mentioned govikarta[10] (a cow-sacrifice), and goyajna[11] (one who kills or torments a cow), gosava[12] (a cow-sacrifice) and goyajna[13] (a cow-sacrifice). There are different terms suggesting the sacrifice of cattle of various categories in the Atharva Veda and the Kaushika sutra. A white calf (Karti), a young or (anuduha), a dappled cow (prishni), a bull (rishabha) and a sterile cow (vasha)[14] are also offered. A suggestion has been conveyed that only dappled and sterile cows were sacrificed; otherwise all the other categories were given to the brahmanas including the sterile and dappled cows.[15] It has been believed that all these types of cattle-sacrifice took place initially, but with the growing needs of agriculture they may have been given the brahmanas.

Various references to cow-killing are contained in the early Pali texts. Similies speaking of skilled cow-butchers or apprentices to those butchers engaged in their job on the crossroads are used[16] repeatedly in the Majjhima Nikaya. We hear of death taking toll of living beings, who are compared to cows meant for killing[17] in the suttanipata. The same text gave the information that a sacrifice was performed by Ikshvaku at the advice of the brahmanas in which many hundreds and thousand of cows[18] were slaughtered by him. The text bewails that the king who caught the cow by their horns and then killed them. It further includes that cows are innocent like sheep and by no means they cause violence for example, through their feet, or horns, or any other limb and they also give so much milk that it fills the whole jar.[19] The affirmation of the Vedic practice is by excavations, for animals bones of cattle in large amount has been bound from Atranjikhera. They bear clear cut-marks and mostly antedate 500 B.C. The Vedic religious ideology was not convenient for the iron-plough agriculture because it was primarily conditional on animal husbandry. In this way both the Vedic and non-Vedic practice supplied for the killing of cattle, and it is necessary to preserve them to meet the demands of the iron plough agriculture. Agriculture and cow-keeping are considered to be similar in the suttanipata. The identification of a cultivator[20] is known through his living on cattle rearing. The details concerning cultivating and sowing can deduce the concern of the early Pali texts for plough agriculture. The farmer (gahapati) is trained for preparing the ground orderly, sowing seeds carefully, and providing water to the land timely.[21]

The following simile used by Buddha in course of his religious discourses given to farmer Bharadvaja provides the significance of agriculture:

Faith is the seed, and rain the discipline.
Insight for me is the plough fitted with yoke,
My pole is conscience and sense-mind the tie,
And mindfulness my ploughshare and my good.[22]

The functions of a peasant and that of a monk can be understood allegorically. The work of a peasant householder includes the cultivation of his field, making its soil convenient, planting seedlings and supplying water and taking it out. These are the three important responsibilities[23] of a peasant householder. In the same way a monk is trained to undertake training in higher morality, higher thought and higher insight.[24] As soon as the paddy field is ready to be reaped, the peasant householder reaps it, harvests it, puts it in stooks; treads it out, pulls off the stalks, winnows away the chaff, collects the rice, threshes it out and removes the husks. In this way his crops become perfect.[25] Similar active service and alertness is necessary for the Aryan disciple to gain spiritual growth and final freedom from fetters.[26] These similies prove that Agricultural operations were extremely significant for the Buddhists.[27]

Footnotes and references:


All these details are found in A.B. Keith, The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda (and Upanisads), HOS, XXXI, I, Hindi, tr., Suryakant, Delhi, 1963, pp.348-9.


Louis Renou, Vedic India, Varanasi, 1971, p. 109.




Ibid., pp. 101-2.


Ibid., pp. 113-14.


Ibid., p.105.


Ibid., p.118.


Ibid., p.120.


For the nature of references to cattle slaughter in the Dharmasutrs, some of which also prohibit it, see S.C. Banerjee, Dharma-Sutras, Calcutta, 1962, p.139. The term goghna is used in Panini, iii, 4.73; Cf. Louis Renou, op. cit., p.113.


Maitrayani samhita, II.6.5, IV.3; cf. shat. Br., V.3.1f.


Kathaka samhita, XV.4.


S.V. Gosava (Taittiriya Br., II; Latyayana, Katyana shrautasutra), Monier Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary.


S.V. Goyajana (Gobhila, Paraskara Grihyasutra), Monier-Williams, op. cit.


Rajcchatra Misra, op. cit., pp. 88-9.


Ibid., p. 89.


dakho goghatako va goghatakantevavi va gavim vadhitva catumahapathe bilaso vibhajitva assa. MN (Nalanda edu.), iii. 153.


govajjho viya niyyati. Suttanipata, ed. And tr. Into Hindi, Bhikshu Dharmaraksita, Varansi, 1977, Salla-suttam, 7 (p.156).


tato ca raja sannatto brahmanehi rathesabho, nekasatasahassiyo gavo yanne aghatayi. Ibid., Brahmanadhammikasuttam, 25 (p.76).


na pna visanena nassu himsanti kenaci, gavo elakasamana sorata kumbhaduhana, ta visane gahetvana raja sotthena ghatayi. Ibid., 26 (p.76). It may be added that both the Braahmanadhamnika sutta and salla sutta are ascribed to the pre-Maurya stratum of the sutta Nipata.


yo hi koci manussesu gorakkham upjivati, evam vasettha janahi kassako so na brahmano. Ibid., Vasettha-suttam, 19 (p.164)


AN (PTS), i, 230.


Samyutta Nikaya (PTS), i. 217.


kassako gahapati sigham sigham khettam sukattham karoti sumatikatan... sigham sigham bijani patitthapeti Sigham sigham udakam abhineti va apaneti va. AN, i. 239-40. The term patitthapeti, as its later connected derivations show, means ‘planting’. Letting in and draining out water presuppose wet rice production.


Ibid., pp. 239-40.


Ibid., p.241-42. Based on the translation in the Book of Gradual Sayings, PTS, London, 1975, i. 221.


Ibid., pp. 221-22.


R.S. Sharma, Material Culture and Social Formations, p. 120.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: