Ashvamedha

Ashvamedha

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The Ashvamedha was one of the most important royal ritual
Ritual
A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers....

s of Vedic religion
Historical Vedic religion
The religion of the Vedic period is a historical predecessor of Hinduism. Its liturgy is reflected in the mantra portion of the four Vedas, which are compiled in Sanskrit. The religious practices centered on a clergy administering rites...

, described in detail in the Yajurveda
Yajurveda
The Yajurveda, a tatpurusha compound of "sacrificial formula', + ) is the third of the four canonical texts of Hinduism, the Vedas. By some, it is estimated to have been composed between 1400 and 1000 BC, the Yajurveda 'Samhita', or 'compilation', contains the liturgy needed to perform the...

 (TS 7.1-5, VSM 22–25 and the pertaining commentary in the Shatapatha Brahmana
Shatapatha Brahmana
The Shatapatha Brahmana is one of the prose texts describing the Vedic ritual, associated with the Shukla Yajurveda. It survives in two recensions, Madhyandina and Kanva , with the former having the eponymous 100 adhyayas,7624 kandikas in 14 books, and the latter 104 adhyayas,6806 kandikas in 17...

 ŚBM 13.1–5). The Rigveda
Rigveda
The Rigveda is an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns...

 does have descriptions of horse sacrifice, notably in hymns RV 1.162-163 (which are themselves known as ), but does not allude to the full ritual according to the Yajurveda.

However Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati was an important Hindu religious scholar, reformer, and founder of the Arya Samaj, a Hindu reform movement. He was the first to give the call for Swarajya – "India for Indians" – in 1876, later taken up by Lokmanya Tilak...

 rejected the classical commentaries of the Vedas by Sayana
Sayana
' was an important commentator on the Vedas. He flourished under King Bukka I and his successor Harihara II, in the Vijayanagar Empire of South India...

, Mahidhara
Mahidhara
Mahīdhara was a 16th century commentator of the Vedas, author of the Mantramahodadhi Mahīdhara (the name means "earth-bearing", a mythological mountain in the Mahabharata, and also an epithet of Vishnu) was a 16th century commentator of the Vedas, author of the Mantramahodadhi Mahīdhara (the name...

 and Uvata as medieval corruptions "opposed to the real meaning of the Vedas" (p. 443) in order to arrive at an entirely symbolic interpretation of the ritual: "An empire is like a horse and the subjects like other inferior animals" (p. 448). Thus, VSM 23.22, literally "he beats on the vulva (gabha), the penis (pasas) oozes repeatedly (ni-galgaliti) in the receptacle" is interpreted not in terms of the horse and the queen, but in terms of the king and his subjects, "The subjects are called gabha (to be seized), kingly power called pasa (to be penetrated)" (p. 454). This interpretation is apparently based on a verse from Shatapatha Brahmana.. According to him, no horse was actually to be slaughtered in the ritual as per the Yajurveda.

The Vedic sacrifice


The Ashvamedha could only be conducted by a king (rājā
Raja
Raja is an Indian term for a monarch, or princely ruler of the Kshatriya varna...

). Its object was the acquisition of power and glory, the sovereignty over neighbouring provinces, and general prosperity of the kingdom.

The horse
Horse
The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

 to be sacrificed must be a stallion, more than 24, but less than 100 years old. The horse is sprinkled with water, and the Adhvaryu and the sacrificer whisper mantras into its ear. Anyone who should stop the horse is ritually cursed, and a dog is killed symbolic of the punishment for the sinners. The horse is then set loose towards the North-East, to roam around wherever it chooses, for the period of one year (or half a year, according to some commentators). The horse is associated with the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

, and its yearly course.
If the horse wanders into neighbouring provinces hostile to the sacrificer, they must be subjugated. The wandering horse is attended by a hundred young men, sons of princes or high court officials, charged with guarding the horse from all dangers and inconvenience. During the absence of the horse, an uninterrupted series of ceremonies is performed in the sacrificer's home.

After the return of the horse, more ceremonies are performed. The horse is yoked to a gilded chariot
Chariot
The chariot is a type of horse carriage used in both peace and war as the chief vehicle of many ancient peoples. Ox carts, proto-chariots, were built by the Proto-Indo-Europeans and also built in Mesopotamia as early as 3000 BC. The original horse chariot was a fast, light, open, two wheeled...

, together with three other horses, and RV
Rigveda
The Rigveda is an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns...

 1.6.1,2 (YV VSM 23.5,6) is recited. The horse is then driven into water and bathed. After this, it is anointed with ghee
Ghee
Ghee is a class of clarified butter that originated in South Asia and is commonly used in South Asian cuisine....

 by the chief queen and two other royal consorts. The chief queen anoints the fore-quarters, and the others the barrel and the hind-quarters. They also embellish the horse's head, neck, and tail with golden ornaments. The sacrificer offers the horse the remains of the night's oblation of grain.

After this, the horse, a hornless he-goat
Goat
The domestic goat is a subspecies of goat domesticated from the wild goat of southwest Asia and Eastern Europe. The goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep as both are in the goat-antelope subfamily Caprinae. There are over three hundred distinct breeds of...

, a wild ox (go-mrga, Bos gavaeus) are bound to sacrificial stakes near the fire, and seventeen other animals are attached to the horse. A great number of animals, both tame and wild, are tied to other stakes, according to a commentator 609 in total (YV VSM 24 consists of an exact enumeration).

Then the horse is slaughtered (YV VSM 23.15, tr. Griffith)
Steed, from thy body, of thyself, sacrifice and accept thyself.
Thy greatness can be gained by none but thee.


The chief queen ritually calls on the king's fellow wives for pity. The queens walk around the dead horse reciting mantras. The chief queen then has to mimic copulation with the dead horse, while the other queens ritually utter obscenities.

On the next morning, the priests raise the queen from the place where she has spent the night with the horse. With the Dadhikra verse (RV 4.39.6, YV VSM 23.32), a verse used as a purifier after obscene language.

The three queens with a hundred golden, silver and copper needles indicate the lines on the horse's body along which it will be dissected. The horse is dissected, and its flesh roasted. Various parts are offered to a host of deities and personified concepts with utterances of svaha "all-hail". The Ashvastuti or Eulogy of the Horse follows (RV 1.162, YV VSM 24.24–45), concluding with:
May this Steed bring us all-sustaining riches, wealth in good kine, good horses, manly offspring
Freedom from sin may Aditi
Aditi
Aditi in Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language. In the Vedas Aditi is mother of the gods from whose cosmic matrix the heavenly bodies were born...

 vouchsafe us: the Steed with our oblations gain us lordship!


The priests performing the sacrifice were recompensed with a part of the booty won during the wandering of the horse. According to a commentator, the spoils from the east were given to the Hotar, while the Adhvaryu a maiden (a daughter of the sacrificer) and the sacrificer's fourth wife.

The Shatapatha Brahmana
Shatapatha Brahmana
The Shatapatha Brahmana is one of the prose texts describing the Vedic ritual, associated with the Shukla Yajurveda. It survives in two recensions, Madhyandina and Kanva , with the former having the eponymous 100 adhyayas,7624 kandikas in 14 books, and the latter 104 adhyayas,6806 kandikas in 17...

 emphasizes the royal nature of the Ashvamedha:
Verily, the Asvamedha means royal sway: it is after royal sway that these strive who guard the horse. (ŚBM 13.1.6.3 trans. Eggeling 1900)

It repeatedly states that "the Asvamedha is everything" (ŚBM 13.4.2.22 trans. Eggeling 1900)

The Ashvamedha, the highest expression of royal authority, is a soma sacrifice and incorporates other important sacrifices. The Ashvamedha is intended to secure prosperity for the kingdom and its subjects. It is a bloody sacrifice in which the domestic animals are killed and non-domestic animals are set free. It ends with a further sacrifice of twenty one cows. Gifts are then given to the officers, culminating in the gift to the priests of the four wives of the king or their attendants. . The human sacrifice, the Purushamedha, followed a similar format, but included a man with the animals to be sacrificed. The price of the man was set at one thousand cows and a hundred horses. Like the horse, the man chosen for sacrifice was allowed to wander for a year. Once he had been killed, the queen lay with his corpse.

The Ashvamedha celebrated the king as king of the whole world, not as king of a part of the world that constituted his kingdom. The stature of a king was not related to a particular part of the world that might have been his kingdom. As in ancient Rome, the horse was considered a noble animal and was associated with the military class. When the Asvamedha has been performed in historical times, it has been more to demonstrate Vedic orthodoxy than for genuinely religious reasons.

The Laws of Manu refer to the Ashvamedha (V.53): 'The man who offers a horse-sacridice every day for a hundred years, and the man who does not eat meat, the two of them reap the same fruit of good deeds.'

Known historical performances


Pusyamitra Sunga
Pusyamitra Sunga
Pusyamitra Sunga was the founder and first King of the Sunga Dynasty in Northern India.Pusyamitra Sunga was originally a Senapati of the Mauryan empire. In 185 BCE he assassinated the last Mauryan Emperor during an army review, and proclaimed himself King...

 is said to have performed the Ashvamedha rite after he toppled Mauryan rule in 185 BC.


A historically documented performance of the Ashvamedha is during the reign of Samudragupta
Samudragupta
Samudragupta , ruler of the Gupta Empire , and successor to Chandragupta I, is considered to be one of the greatest military geniuses in Indian history according to Historian V. A. Smith. His name is taken to be a title acquired by his conquests...

 I (d. 380
380
Year 380 was a leap year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Augustus and Augustus...

), the father of Chandragupta II
Chandragupta II
Chandragupta II the Great, very often referred to as Vikramaditya or Chandragupta Vikramaditya in Sanskrit; was one of the most powerful emperors of the Gupta empire in northern India. His rule spanned c...

. Special coins were minted to commemorate the Ashvamedha and the king took on the title of Maharajadhiraja after successful completion of the sacrifice.

There were a few later performances, one by Raja of Kannauj in the 12th century, unsuccessfully, as Prithviraj Chauhan thwarted his attempt and later married his daughter. The last known instance seems to be in 1716 CE, by Jai Singh II of Amber
Jai Singh II of Amber
Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh was ruler of the kingdom of Amber . He was born at Amber, the capital of the Kachwahas. He became ruler of Amber at the age of 11 after his father Maharaja Bishan Singh died on 31 December 1699...

, of Jaipur
Jaipur
Jaipur , also popularly known as the Pink City, is the capital and largest city of the Indian state of Rajasthan. Founded on 18 November 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amber, the city today has a population of more than 3.1 million....


Performances in Hindu epics



Performances of the Ashvamedha feature in the epics Ramayana
Ramayana
The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic. It is ascribed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon , considered to be itihāsa. The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India and Nepal, the other being the Mahabharata...

 (1.10–15) and Mahabharata
Mahabharata
The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and Nepal, the other being the Ramayana. The epic is part of itihasa....

.

In the Mahabharata, the sacrifice is performed by Yudhishtira (Book 14), his brothers guarding the horse as it roamed into neighbouring kingdoms. Arjuna
Arjuna
Arjuna in Indian mythology is the greatest warrior on earth and is one of the Pandavas, the heroes of the Hindu epic Mahābhārata. Arjuna, whose name means 'bright', 'shining', 'white' or 'silver' Arjuna (Devanagari: अर्जुन, Thai: อรชุน, Orachun, Tamil: Arjunan, Indonesian and Javanese: Harjuna,...

 defeats all challengers. The Mahabharata says that the Ashvamedha as performed by Yudhishtira adhered to the letter of the Vedic prescriptions. After the horse was cut into parts, Draupadi
Draupadi
In the epic Mahābhārata, Draupadi, also known as ' is the "emerged" daughter of King Drupada of Panchāla and the wife of the five Pandavas. When Yudhisthira becomes the king of Hastinapura at the end of the war, Draupadi becomes the queen of Indraprastha...

 had to sit beside the parts of the horse.

In the Ramayana, Rama
Rama
Rama or full name Ramachandra is considered to be the seventh avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism, and a king of Ayodhya in ancient Indian...

's father Dasharatha performs the Ashvamedha, which is described in the bala kanda (book 1) of the poem. The Ramayana provides far more detail than the Mahabharata. The ritual take place for three days preceded by sage Rishyasringa
Rishyasringa
Rishyasringa or ' was a boy born with the horns of a deer in Hindu-Buddhist mythology, who became a seer and was seduced by a King's daughter, which had various results according to the variations in the story.-Hindu versions of the...

 and Vasista(1.14.41,42). Again it is stated that the ritual was performed in strict compliance with Vedic prescriptions (1.14.10). Dasaratha's chief wife Kausalya
Kausalya
Kausalya in the Indian Rāmāyaṇa epic was the eldest of King Daśaratha's three wives and a queen of Ayodhyā, she was the daughter of the King of the Kosala Kingdom. She was the mother of Rama, the king of Ayodhya, upon whom the story of the Ramayana is based....

 circumambulates the horse and ritually pierces its flesh (1.14.33). Then "Queen Kausalya desiring the results of ritual disconcertedly resided one night with that horse that flew away like a bird." [1-14-34]. The fat of the sacrificed horse is then burnt in ritual fire and after that the remaining parts of the body with spoons made out of Plaksha tree branches(1.14.36,38-39). At the conclusion of the ritual Dasharatha symbolically offers his other wives to the presiding priests, who return them in exchange for expensive gifts (1.14.35). The four sides of the Yagna altar is also donated to priests who had done the ritual and it is exchanged by them for gold, silver, cows and other gifts(1.15.43-44).
The ritual is performed again towards the end of the poem, but in very different circumstances. It figures centrally in the uttara kanda (book 7) where it leads to the final major story in the poem. In this narrative, Rama was married to a single wife, Sita
SITA
SITA is a multinational information technology company specialising in providing IT and telecommunication services to the air transport industry...

, who at the time was not with him, having been excluded from Rama's capital of Ayodhya. She was therefore represented by a statue for the queen's ceremony. Sita was living in Valmiki
Valmiki
Valmiki is celebrated as the poet harbinger in Sanskrit literature. He is the author of the epic Ramayana, based on the attribution in the text of the epic itself. He is revered as the Adi Kavi, which means First Poet, for he discovered the first śloka i.e...

's forest ashram with her twin children by Rama, Lava
Lava (Ramayana)
Lava or Luv and his twin brother Kusha, were the children of the Lord Rama and his wife Sita, whose story is recounted in the Ramayana. Per that text, he is known as the founder of Lavapuri,that is, the modern day city of Lahore,...

 and Kusha
Kusha (Ramayana)
Kusha , in Hindu mythology, was one of the twin sons of Lord Rama and Sita . Born in the Forest after Sita had been banished from Ayodhya, they were educated and trained in military skills and were under the care of Sage Valmiki....

, whose birth was unknown to Rama. In its wanderings, the horse, accompanied by an army and Hanuman
Hanuman
Hanuman , is a Hindu deity, who is an ardent devotee of Rama, a central character in the Indian epic Ramayana and one of the dearest devotees of lord Rama. A general among the vanaras, an ape-like race of forest-dwellers, Hanuman is an incarnation of the divine and a disciple of Lord Rama in the...

, enters the forest and encounters Lava, who ignores the warning written on the horse's headplate not to hinder its progress. He tethers the horse, and with Kusha challenges the army, which is unable to defeat the brothers. Recognising Rama's sons, Hanuman sends them to Ayodhya where they are reconciled with their father, who also accepts Sita back at court. Sita, however, no longer wishes to live, and is absorbed by the earth. It is never stated whether the sacrifice was completed, but after Sita's death Rama is said to have repeatedly performed the Ashvamedha using the golden statue as a substitute for his wife.

In the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, the sacrifice is performed by King Vasu Uparichara. By the king's decree, no animals were slain during the yagna, and the only offerings that were made were "products of the wilderness."

Some historians believe that the bala kanda and uttara kanda were latter interpolations to the authentic form of the Ramayana, due to references to Greek, Parthians and Sakas, dating to no earlier than the 2nd century BCE

Indo-European comparison



Many Indo-European
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

 branches show evidence for horse sacrifice, and comparative mythology suggests that they derive from a Proto-Indo-European ritual
Proto-Indo-European religion
Proto-Indo-European religion is the hypothesized religion of the Proto-Indo-European peoples based on the existence of similarities among the deities, religious practices and mythologies of the Indo-European peoples. Reconstruction of the hypotheses below is based on linguistic evidence using the...

. The Ashvamedha is the clearest evidence preserved, but vestiges from Latin and Celtic traditions allow the reconstruction of a few common attributes.

The Gaulish personal name Epomeduos is from *ek'wo-medhu- "horse+mead", while ashvamedha is either from *ek'wo-mad-dho- "horse+drunk" or *ek'wo-mey-dho- "horse+strength". The reconstructed myth involves the coupling of a king with a divine mare which produced the divine twins
Divine twins
The Divine twins are a mytheme of Proto-Indo-European mythology.*the Greek Dioscuri*the Vedic Ashvins*the Lithuanian Ašvieniai*the Latvian Dieva dēli*Alcis *Romulus and Remus*Hengest and Horsa...

. Some scholars, including Edgar Polomé, regard the reconstruction of a Proto-Indo-European ritual as unjustified due to the difference between the attested traditions (EIEC s.v. Horse, p. 278).

Vedanta and Puranas


The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (a mystical appendix to the Shatapatha Brahmana
Shatapatha Brahmana
The Shatapatha Brahmana is one of the prose texts describing the Vedic ritual, associated with the Shukla Yajurveda. It survives in two recensions, Madhyandina and Kanva , with the former having the eponymous 100 adhyayas,7624 kandikas in 14 books, and the latter 104 adhyayas,6806 kandikas in 17...

 and likely the oldest of the Upanishads) has a creation myth where "Death" takes the shape of a horse, and includes an identification of the Ashvamedha with the Sun:
Then he became a horse (ashva), because it swelled (ashvat), and was fit for sacrifice (medhya); and this is why the horse-sacrifice is called Ashva-medha [...] Therefore the sacrificers offered up the purified horse belonging to Prajapati
Prajapati
In Hinduism, Prajapati "lord of creatures" is a Hindu deity presiding over procreation, and protector of life. He appears as a creator deity or supreme God Viswakarma Vedic deities in RV 10 and in Brahmana literature...

, (as dedicated) to all the deities. Verily the shining sun [ye tapati] is the Asvamedha, and his body is the year; Agni is the sacrificial fire (arka), and these worlds are his bodies. These two are the sacrificial fire and the Asvamedha-sacrifice, and they are again one deity, viz. Death. (BrUp 1.2.7. trans. Müller)


The Upanishad
Upanishad
The Upanishads are philosophical texts considered to be an early source of Hindu religion. More than 200 are known, of which the first dozen or so, the oldest and most important, are variously referred to as the principal, main or old Upanishads...

s describe ascetic austerities as an "inner Ashvamedha", as opposed to the "outer" royal ritual performed in the physical world, in keeping with the general tendency of Vedanta
Vedanta
Vedānta was originally a word used in Hindu philosophy as a synonym for that part of the Veda texts known also as the Upanishads. The name is a morphophonological form of Veda-anta = "Veda-end" = "the appendix to the Vedic hymns." It is also speculated that "Vedānta" means "the purpose or goal...

 to move away from priestly ritual towards spiritual introspection; verse 6 of the Avadhuta Upanishad has:
"Through extreme devotion [] he [the ascetic] performs ashvamedha within []. That is the greatest sacrifice [] and the greatest meditation []."


According to the Brahma Vaivarta Purana
Brahma Vaivarta Purana
Brahma Vaivarta Purana, one of the major eighteen Puranas, a Hindu religious text, is divided into four parts. First part describes the creation of the universe and all beings, the second part relates to description and histories of different goddesses...

 (185.180), the Ashvamedha is one of five rites forbidden in the Kali Yuga
Kali Yuga
Kali Yuga is the last of the four stages that the world goes through as part of the cycle of yugas described in the Indian scriptures. The other ages are Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga and Dvapara Yuga...

.

In Hindu revivalism


In the Arya Samaj
Arya Samaj
Arya Samaj is a Hindu reform movement founded by Swami Dayananda on 10 April 1875. He was a sannyasi who believed in the infallible authority of the Vedas. Dayananda emphasized the ideals of brahmacharya...

 reform movement of Dayananda Sarasvati, the Ashvamedha is considered an allegory
Allegory
Allegory is a demonstrative form of representation explaining meaning other than the words that are spoken. Allegory communicates its message by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation...

 or a ritual to get connected to the "inner Sun" (Prana
Prana
Prana is the Sanskrit word for "vital life" .It is one of the five organs of vitality or sensation, viz. prana "breath", vac "speech", chakshus "sight", shrotra "hearing", and manas "thought" Prana is the Sanskrit word for "vital life" (from the root "to fill", cognate to Latin plenus...

)
Dayananda in his Introduction to the commentary on the Vedas rejected the classical commentaries of the Vedas by Sayana
Sayana
' was an important commentator on the Vedas. He flourished under King Bukka I and his successor Harihara II, in the Vijayanagar Empire of South India...

, Mahidhara
Mahidhara
Mahīdhara was a 16th century commentator of the Vedas, author of the Mantramahodadhi Mahīdhara (the name means "earth-bearing", a mythological mountain in the Mahabharata, and also an epithet of Vishnu) was a 16th century commentator of the Vedas, author of the Mantramahodadhi Mahīdhara (the name...

 and Uvata as medieval corruptions "opposed to the real meaning of the Vedas" (p. 443) in order to arrive at an entirely symbolic interpretation of the ritual: "An empire is like a horse and the subjects like other inferior animals" (p. 448). Thus, VSM 23.22, literally "he beats on the vulva (gabha), the penis (pasas) oozes repeatedly (ni-galgaliti) in the receptacle" is interpreted not in terms of the horse and the queen, but in terms of the king and his subjects, "The subjects are called gabha (to be seized), kingly power called pasa (to be penetrated)" (p. 454). This interpretation is apparently based on a verse from Shatapatha Brahmana.

Following Dayananda, Arya Samaj disputes the very existence of the pre-Vedantic ritual; thus Swami Satya Prakash Saraswati claims that
"the word in the sense of the Horse Sacrifice does not occur in the Samhitas [...] In the terms of cosmic analogy, ashva is the Sun. In respect to the adhyatma paksha, the Prajapati-Agni, or the Purusha
Purusha
In some lineages of Hinduism, Purusha is the "Self" which pervades the universe. The Vedic divinities are interpretations of the many facets of Purusha...

, the Creator, is the Ashva
Ashva
Aśvaḥ is the Sanskrit word for a "horse", one of the significant animals finding references in the Vedas as well as later Hindu scriptures. The corresponding Avestan term is aspa...

; He is the same as the Varuna
Varuna
In Vedic religion, Varuna is a god of the sky, of water and of the celestial ocean, as well as a god of law and of the underworld...

, the Most Supreme. The word medha stands for homage; it later on became synonymous with oblations in rituology, since oblations are offered, dedicated to the one whom we pay homage. The word deteriorated further when it came to mean 'slaughter' or 'sacrifice'."

arguing that the animals listed as sacrificial victims are just as symbolic as the list of human victims listed in the Purushamedha
Purushamedha
Purushamedha is a Vedic yajna described in the Yajurveda . The verse describes people from all classes and of all descriptions tied to the stake and offered to Prajapati....

. (which is generally accepted as a purely symbolic sacrifice already in Rigvedic times).

Other commentators accept the existence of the sacrifice but reject the notion that the queen lay down with the dead horse. Thus Subhash Kak
Subhash Kak
Subhash Kak is an Indian American computer scientist, most notable for his controversial Indological publications on history, the philosophy of science, ancient astronomy, and the history of mathematics...

 in a blog posting suggests that the queen lay down with a toy horse rather than with the slaughtered stallion, due to presence of the word Ashvaka, similar to Shivaka meaning "idol or image of Shiva"

All World Gayatri Pariwar since 1991 has organized performances of a "modern version" of the Ashvamedha where a statue is used in place of a real horse, according to Hinduism Today with a million participants in Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh , often called the Heart of India, is a state in central India. Its capital is Bhopal and Indore is the largest city....

 on April 16 to 20, 1994. Such modern performances are sattvika Yajna
Yajna
In Hinduism, yajna is a ritual of sacrifice derived from the practice of Vedic times. It is performed to please the gods or to attain certain wishes...

s where the animal is worshipped without killing it, the religious motivation being prayer for overcoming enemies, the facilitation of child welfare and development, and clearance of debt, entirely within the allegorical interpretation of the ritual, and with no actual sacrifice of any animal, nor any sexual connotations.

Criticism and controversy


The earliest recorded criticism of the ritual comes from the Cārvāka
Carvaka
' , also known as ', is a system of Indian philosophy that assumes various forms of philosophical skepticism and religious indifference. It seems named after , the probable author of the and probably a follower of Brihaspati, who founded the ' philosophy.In overviews of Indian philosophy, Cārvāka...

, an atheistic school of Indian philosophy that assumed various forms of philosophical skepticism
Philosophical skepticism
Philosophical skepticism is both a philosophical school of thought and a method that crosses disciplines and cultures. Many skeptics critically examine the meaning systems of their times, and this examination often results in a position of ambiguity or doubt...

 and religious indifference. A quotation of the Cārvāka from Madhavacharya's Sarva-Darsana-Sangraha states:
The mock bestiality and necrophilia
Necrophilia
Necrophilia, also called thanatophilia or necrolagnia, is the sexual attraction to corpses,It is classified as a paraphilia by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. The word is artificially derived from the ancient Greek words: νεκρός and φιλία...

 involved in the ritual caused considerable consternation among the scholars first editing the Yajurveda
Yajurveda
The Yajurveda, a tatpurusha compound of "sacrificial formula', + ) is the third of the four canonical texts of Hinduism, the Vedas. By some, it is estimated to have been composed between 1400 and 1000 BC, the Yajurveda 'Samhita', or 'compilation', contains the liturgy needed to perform the...

. Griffith
Ralph T.H. Griffith
Ralph Thomas Hotchkin Griffith , scholar of indology, Son of B.A. of Queen's College was elected to the vacant Sanskrit Scholarship on Nov 24, 1849. He translated the Vedic scriptures into English. He also produced translations of other Sanskrit literature, including a verse version of the...

 (1899) omits verses VSM 23.20–31 (the ritual obscenities), protesting that they are "not reproducible even in the semi-obscurity of a learned European language" (alluding to other instances where he renders explicit scenes in Latin rather than English). A. B. Keith's 1914 translation also omits verses.

This part of the ritual offended the Dalit reformer and framer of the Indian constitution
Constitution of India
The Constitution of India is the supreme law of India. It lays down the framework defining fundamental political principles, establishes the structure, procedures, powers, and duties of government institutions, and sets out fundamental rights, directive principles, and the duties of citizens...

 B. R. Ambedkar
B. R. Ambedkar
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar , popularly also known as Babasaheb, was an Indian jurist, political leader, philosopher, thinker, anthropologist, historian, orator, prolific writer, economist, scholar, editor, a revolutionary and one of the founding fathers of independent India. He was also the Chairman...

 and is frequently mentioned in his writings as an example of the perceived degradation of Brahmanical culture.

See also

  • Horse sacrifice
    Horse sacrifice
    Many Indo-European religious branches show evidence for horse sacrifice, and comparative mythology suggests that they derive from a Proto-Indo-European ritual.-Context:...

  • Animal sacrifice
    Animal sacrifice
    Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing of an animal as part of a religion. It is practised by many religions as a means of appeasing a god or gods or changing the course of nature...

  • Purushamedha
    Purushamedha
    Purushamedha is a Vedic yajna described in the Yajurveda . The verse describes people from all classes and of all descriptions tied to the stake and offered to Prajapati....

  • Somayajna
  • Ashva
    Ashva
    Aśvaḥ is the Sanskrit word for a "horse", one of the significant animals finding references in the Vedas as well as later Hindu scriptures. The corresponding Avestan term is aspa...