Impact of Vedic Culture on Society

by Kaushik Acharya | 2020 | 120,081 words

This page relates ‘Religious Sacrifices’ of the study on the Impact of Vedic Culture on Society as Reflected in Select Sanskrit Inscriptions found in Northern India (4th Century CE to 12th Century CE). These pages discuss the ancient Indian tradition of Dana (making gifts, donation). They further study the migration, rituals and religious activities of Brahmanas and reveal how kings of northern India granted lands for the purpose of austerities and Vedic education.

5. Religious Sacrifices

In the vedic period, religious ideas were centered on vedic sacrifices. It was the form of a cult that the Āryans addressed to divinities.The main purpose of this religious practice was the gratification of the gods and to obtain boons from them. The vedic sages, only who knew the rituals by which the gods were brought to the place of a sacrifice, were the creators of the sacrificial system. The sacrifices consisted of offering oblations to the sacrificial fire accompanied with vedic hymns. Many vedic hymns are nothing but dedicated songs (mantras). The Ṛgveda mentions the sacrifice of two types: Firstly, at birth, marriage and other occasions, certain hymns and verses were used as benedictions and prayers. These house-hold ceremonies were associated with simple sacrifices which the householder himself could perform as a rule. Secondly, the great grand sacrifices associated with Soma-dharma, especially regarding Indra, can only be conducted by aristocratic and wealthy people and kings. Such sacrifices required a good number of vedic priests and a wide area suitable for such sacrifices. In the post-vedic age, the sacrifices became very extensive and complicated.

Brāhmaṇas were given land mainly to perform some vedic sacrifices on behalf of the king. The pañca-mahāyajñas (five great sacrifices) were the main ones among them. Pañca-mahāyajñas consisted of bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, Agnihotra and atithi, the last of which is ordinarily omitted mention. Sometimes it has been mentioned as atithya or havana.[1] Lands were granted to maintain (which was already there) or to perform such sacrifices afresh on behalf of the kings to secure religious merits for them or their parents. These sacrifices are meant to propitiate, Brahmayajña (also called Vedayajña, an homage to brāhmaṇa or the Vedas or the sages), Devayajña (homage to Gods and elementals), Pitṛyajña(homage to ancestors), Manuṣyayajña (homage to men) and Bhūtayajña (homage to beings) as described in the Vedas. The performance of these five great sacrifices is conducive to the spiritual evolution or growth of man. He gradually learns that he is not a separate entity or an isolated creature or an isolated unit, he is a great part of the whole. He gets help from his friends, relatives, and colleagues. His parents gave him his body. His body is nourished with milk from cows, grains, vegetables, and fruits. These five elements, these ideas, and living this way help him togrow up as an ideal human being. And that is why these sacrifices are not really like the sacrifices as we usually see or we understand but have been called such great sacrifices.

Pañca-mahāyajñas: The Five Great Vedic Sacrifices

Name of the Sacrifice Brief information of Five Great Vedic Sacrifices
In the Vedas In North Indian Sanskrit Inscriptions Description of these sacrifices What is Sacrificed? Sacrifice to Whom? Frequency of the Sacrifice
Bhūtayajña Bali Feeding animals and birds, caring for the environment Food cakes Sacrifice to living beings (animals, birds, etc.) Daily
Manuṣyayajña Atithi Honoring the guests and visitors Alms and water (service, charity) Sacrifice to fellow human beings/ reception of guests Daily
Pitṛ- yajña Caru Libations for the manes Libations and water Sacrifice to Manes Daily
Deva-yajña Vaiśvadeva Fire-ritual or Agnihotra Firewood and Clarified butter Sacrifice to gods/ offering made to the Vaiśvadevas (all Deities) Daily
Brahma-yajña It is excluded from the list. However, kings were not tired to donate land for the studies of the Vedas Studying and teaching the Scriptures(Vedas) Words, read the Vedas Sacrifice to brahmaṇa (ultimate reality) When possible but, daily for a brahmacārī

Five Great Sacrifices as Described in the Inscriptions

In the inscription, Agnihotra is listed as one of the five great sacrifices instead of Brahmayajña. Moreover, nothing had changed except for the names.


The term bali denotes an offering of portions of food, such as grain, rice, etc., togods or semi-divine beings like sages, household divinities, spirits, men, birds, other animals and all creatures including even lifeless objects, made before the daily meal by arranging portions of food in a circle or by throwing them into the air outside the house or into the fire. This is quite similar to Bhūtayajña as described in the Vedas.


Caru or carukā indicates offering to Manes. This is an oblation of rice, barley, and pulse boiled with butter and milk for Manes similar to Pitṛyajña. It is of interest to note that bali, caru were among the services that were expected to be executed in the temples or it was to be executed on behalf of the gods in the temples.[2]


Vaiśvadeva is offering made to all deities. This is a religious ceremony which ought to be performed morning and evening and especially before midday meal, it consists of the homage paid to the Viśvadevāḥ followed by the bali or offerings of small portions of the cooked food to all the gods and especially to the god of fire who (is believed) bears the offering to heaven.


Agnihotra is an oblation to Agni . It was an obligatory vedic sacrifice, from the day of the establishment of the sacred vedic fire. The sacrificial ingredients may be cow's milk or gruel or cooked rice or yogurt or ghee. [3] In the absence of the host (yajamāna), his wife, or his son or his student can do it on his behalf. The purpose of saying this is that once this vedic yajña is started, it should not be stopped under any circumstances. And with that in mind, items that may be readily available in a householder's home were set up as sacrificial items.


Atithya/ atithi denote hospitality, reception of guests consisted of feeding and receiving guests, especially brāhmaṇas. If it is understood as sacrificing, it must be seen that yajña has been taken care of in Agnihotra, this is extra and inadmissible,[4][5] but it is as important as the Manuṣyayajña of the vedic age.

Chronological list of North Indian Sanskrit Inscriptions

[That mentioned “Pañca-mahāyajñas” (The Five Great Vedic Sacrifices)]

Land grant charters Donor King and Dynasty Grant Donee/ Brāhmaṇa Purpose of the Grant Year
Palitānā Plates of Dhruvasena, [USVAE, vol. III, pp. 370-373] Dhruvasen a-I, Maitrakas of Valabhī Granted 396 (140+16+14 0+100) pādavartas of land in total in four different places. Two Brāhmaṇas Kumāraśarman and Jarabhajyi of Chāndogya branch of Sāmaveda. To perform the rites of bali, c aru, vaiśvadeva (First three of the Five great Sacrifices). Notably, here the Sāmavedīya brāhmaṇas were gifted lands for the vedic sacrifice. c. 525 CE
Palitānā Plates of Dharasena II Dhruvasen a-II, Granted 530 (180+120+1 30+100) pādavartas of land in Two Brāhmaṇas Rodha and śyena of VājasaneyaMādhyandina (Kṛṣṇa-Yajurveda) To perform the five great sacrifices (bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, c. 571 CE
[USVAE, vol. III, pp. 448-452] Maitrakas of Valabhī total in four different places. school and of Kauśika gotra. Agnihotra, and atithi).  
Mankani Plates of Taralasvāmi n, [USVAE,vo l. IV, part I, pp. 19-23] Taralasvā min, Kaṭaccuri Granted a field capable of sown with a piṭaka of paddy. Here Piṭaka actually means a box or a basket.[6] Jyeshṭha-sena, a student of Vājasaneya school belonging to Jātūkarṇa-sagotra. To perform the five-fold mahāyajña (daily) rituals- bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, Agnihotra havana. c. 595 CE
Kaira Plates of Dadda (Prasantarag a) -A [USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 355- 366] Dadda II, Praśāntarā ga, Early Gūrjara Granted the village Śirīshapadra ka included in the Akrūreśvaraviṣaya along with usual rights and privileges. Forty brāhmaṇas belonging severally to the four caraṇas (branches) all the preceding thirtyfive brāhmaṇa donees who were adherents of Ṛgveda, Yajurveda and Chāndogya śākhās of Sāmaveda and the rest five were Athavavedins. For the promotion of the (study of the) four branches of Vedas and helping them to perform the five-fold rituals viz bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, Agnihotra. c. 629 CE
Sankhed Plates of Dadda II–A and B, [USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 523- 529] Dadda II, Praśāntarā ga, Early Gūrjara Granted a field capable of sown with a piṭaka of paddy. Brāhmaṇa-Sūrya, a student of Vājasaneya Mādhyandina śākhā belonging to Bhāradvājasagotra. Observance of the pañca- mathāyajña rituals, bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, Agnihotra, etc c. 642 CE
Umetā Plates of Dadda II [USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 580- 587] Dadda III, Early Gūrjara Granted the village Niguḍa along with usual rights and privileges. Brāhmaṇa Bhaṭṭa- Mādhava, son of Bhaṭṭa Mahīdhara, a scholar adherent of the Bahvṛca school, belonging to Kānyakubja cātur- vidyāsāmānya, of Vaśiṣṭha-sagotra. To perform the (daily routine) rituals of the five great sacrifices, (pañca-mahāyajña) (i.e.) bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, Agnihotra, and such. c. 648 CE
Jethwai Plates of the Rāṣṭrakūṭa Queen Śilamahāde vī, [USVAE, vol. V), pp. 434-442] Queen Śilamahād evī, Early Rāṣṭrakūṭa Granted a village Kolep adra, situated in the district of Nāndīpuradvā. Two brāhmaṇas, One was Mārachcha, son of Māradi who was an Adhvaryu (officiating priest) and a student of the Kāṇva-śākhā and the other donee was Durgāditya, son of Bhaṭṭanārāyaṇa belonged to the Jātūkarṇya-gotra. He also was an Adhvaryu and a student of Mādhyandinaśākhā and well- versed in the four Vedas (cāturvidyāsāmānya). To perform the five rituals (paṇca-mahā yajña) bali, caru etc. c. 786 CE
Rādhānpur Plates of Govinda III, [USVAE, vol. VI, pp. 71-75] Govinda III, Rāṣṭrakūṭa Granted a village Rattajjuṇa or Rattajuṇa with usual rights and entitlements. Brāhmaṇa Parameśvarabhaṭṭa, son of Chandi yamma- Gahiyasāhasa belonged to the Bhāradvājagotra and was a student of Taittirīya śākhā (branch of Black Yajurveda). To maintain the rites of the five great sacrifice (pañchamahāya jña), viz., bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, and Agnihotra. c. 808 CE
Barodā Grant of Karka Suvarṇavarṣ a, [USVAE, vol. VI, pp. 110-121] Karka Suvarṇavarṣa, Rāṣṭrakūṭa of Gujarat Having seen that life is unstable as the lightening Karka Suvarṇavarṣa records this grant of a village Vaḍapadrak a as a religious gift. Brāhmaṇa Bhānu, the son of Bhaṭṭa Somāditya, who belonged to the society of the Chaturvedīs, Vātsyāyana-gotra and who was a student of the Mādhyandina- śākhā (of the Śukla Yajurveda). To maintain the sacrificial rites of the bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, Agnihotra, and atithi. c. 812-13 CE
Brahmaṇap allī Grant of Karkka Suvarṇavarṣ a, [USVAE, vol. VI, pp. 157-161] Karka Suvarṇava rṣa, Rāṣṭrakūṭa s of Gujarat For the increase in the religious merit and glory of his parents and of his own self, King Karka granted the village Brāhmaṇapal likā in the Māhishakaviṣaya of forty-two villages to the donee. Brāhmaṇa Nāgakumāra, son of Bhaṭṭa Dāmodara belonged to the Kauṇḍinyasagotra and a student of the Vājasaneyī school (of Yajurveda). To perform the Pañcamahāyajñas, bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, Agnihotra and atithi. c. 824 CE
A RāṣṭrakūṭaG rant of Kṛṣṇa II, [USVAE, vol. VII, pp. 6-14] Kṛṣṇa II, Rāṣṭrakūṭa Granted the village of Vyāghrāsa or Vallūrikā. Brāhmaṇa Brahmabhaṭṭa, son of Vavva, who lived at Bhaṭṭa (name of the place), belonged to the Bharadvājagotra and who was a student of the Vāji- Mādhyandinaśākhā. To perform the bali, caruka and vaiśvadeva. c. 910- 11 CE
Cambay Plates of Govinda IV, [USVAE, vol. VII, pp. 156-166] Govinda IV, Rāṣṭrakūṭa Granted the village of Kevañja, lying near the holy place Kāvikā and situated in Kheṭaka. Brāhmaṇa Nāgamayya, son of Mahādevayya, belonging to the Māṭhara-gotra and a student of the Vāji-Kāṇvaśākhā. To maintain the bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, and atithitarpaṇa along with other religious purposes. c. 930 CE
Kairā Plates of Vijayarāja, [USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 538- 547] Vijayarāja, Cālukya Granted the village Pariyaya along with the usual rights and privileges. A group of sixtytwo brāhmaṇas, good Adhvarjus (priests engaged for specific duties in a sacrifice) belonging to the Kānva branch of the Vājasaneya (white Yajurveda). To perform the prescribed daily routine rituals, viz., bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, Agnihotra etc. c. 643 CE
Mudgapadr a Grant of Yuvarāja Śreyāśraya Śilāditya, [USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 363- 369] Vikramādi tya I; Śreyāśraya Śilāditya -Yuvarāja, Cālukyas of Bādāmi Granted the village Mudgapadra including Vichihāra. Brāhmaṇa Revāditya, son of Baramhasvāmin of Aupamanyava-sagotra, a Chāndogyabrahmacārī. To perform the five great sacrifice viz. bali, caru, vaiśvānara rituals, and for gratifying the guests (Atithi). c. 668 CE
Surāt Plates of Yuvarāja Śreyāśraya Śilāditya, [USVAE,vo l. IV, part II, pp. 546- 553] Yuvarāja Śreyāśraya Śilāditya, Cālukyas of Gujarat Granted the field included in the territorial division (viṣaya) of Karmmaṇeyāhāra. Brāhmaṇa Dikṣita Mātrīśvara, son of the Brāhmaṇa Naṇṇasvāmin, a student (sabrahmachāri) of the Kāṇva (school) of Adhvaryu (Yajurveda), belonging to Śāṇḍilya sagotra, very familiar in or alumni of the school for (teaching) the four vidyās (Vedas). To perform the pañcha- mahāyajña and among others. c. 693 CE
Navasāri Plates of Pulakeśirāja, [USVAE, vol. V, pp. 200-209] Pulakeśirā ja, Cālukyas of Gujarat Granted the village Padraka, included in Kārmmaṇeya -āhāra with the usual rights and entitlements. Brāhmaṇa Kānchala well versed in two Vedas, son of the Brāhmaṇa Govandali, a Student of the Taittirika school, belonging to Vatsa-sagotra. To perform the daily routine rituals, bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, Agnihotra. etc, c. 739 CE
Dungarpur Plates of Bhavihitra [USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 44- 52] Bhāvihita, Guhilās of Kiṣkindhi pura Granted a village (unreadable). in Purapaṭṭaviṣaya along with the right to the enjoyment of uparikara, bhūta-Vātāādi- pratyāya, all bhogabhāga, daśā-paradha etc. Brāhmaṇa Asaṅga-śarman, son of Brāhmaṇa Indraśarman, a sa-brahmachāri of the Māddhyandina (the Śukla- Yajurveda school) belonging to Dauṇḍāyanasagotra a sāmānya of Kūragirikā. To perform the daily routine rituals bali, caru, sattra, vaiśvadeva and Agnihotra. c. 655 CE
A Grant of Guhilā Babhata, [USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 485- 495] Bābhaṭa, Guhilās of Kiṣkindhi pura Granted a plot known as (or belonging to) Pāhaka- Pāhakapābhaka with all possible privileges. Five brāhmaṇas, Gopāditya, Gopāḍhya, Debhaṭa, Ḍhoṇḍha, and Gopasvāmi who were brothers and were sons of the brāhmaṇa Gopa, belonging to (sāmānya) Kūragiri, who belong to Dāṇḍāyana- sagotra and are adherents of Vājasaneyamāddhyandina one of the schools. Carrying out the routine rituals known as the five great yajñas. c. 679 CE
Bagunra Plates of Allāśakti, [USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 66- 74] Allāśakti, Sendraka Having learned about the great reward/fruit (obtainable from grants of land), the king granted the village Balis, included in the viṣaya included in the Treyaṇṇāhára. Brāhmaṇa Bappasvāmin, a student of Vājasaneya- Mādhyandina (school) belonging to Bhāradvājasagotra. To perform daily rituals, bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, Agnihotra properly. c. 656 CE
Grant of the Time of Saindhava king Agguka II, [USVAE, vol. VI, pp. 169-175] Agguka II, Saindhava Granted the village Ḍhaṅkatīrtha and one- tenth of the village of Gulamikā, both villages situated in the Pachchhatrīp rāveśa (district). brāhmaṇa Mādhava, well versed in four Vedas, who was a ṛgvedin (Bahvṛca), who belonged to the Sāṃkṛtya gotra, who was the son of Kalyāṇa. To continue or maintain the daily sacrificial rites, bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, Agnihotra, and other Brahmanical rites. c. 832 CE

Footnotes and references:


USVAE, vol. IV, part-I, no. 5, Mankani Plates of Taralasvamin, no. 107, Sankheda Plates of Dadda II–B.


Ibid., vol. IV, part-1, no.1, Khoh Plates of Maharaja Samkshobha.


Ibid., vol. II, no.237.


Ibid., vol. IV, part-1, no.5, Khoh Plates of Maharaja Samkshobha, no.107, Sankheda Plates of Dadda II-B..


Yājñavalkyasmṛti, ed. J.R. Gharpure.


It is rarely found to refer to a standard measure according to D.C. Sircar. The boundary description of the field as mentioned in the description part of this record was not a small place; it can be said for sure. (D.C. Sircar, Indian Epigraphical Glossary, p. 251).

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