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A Dictionary of the Vedic Rituals (Based on the Srauta and Grhya Sutras)

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About the Book

This dictionary, based on the Srauta and Grhya Sutras, attempts to explain all significant terms related to the Vedic sacrificial rituals. Besides the Sanskrit term and its transliteration in Roman as well as its meaning in English, Chitrabhanu Sen tries to describe the exact purport of the term, different usages and its correlation with other sacrificial concepts.

For the Srauta rites, this work focusses mainly on As' valayana Sutra of Aitareya Brahmana; Bandharadvaja and Apastamba Sutras of the Taittiriya Brahmana, and the Katyayana Sutra of the Satapatha Brahmana, which are code books of the Hotr, and Adhvaryu priests. For the domestic rites, the author has used Asvalayana, Kathaka, Baudhayana, Bharadvaja, Apastamba, Hiranyakesin Paraskara, Gobila and Kausika grhyasutras. All the important implements and utensils, which were used in Vedic sacrifices, also find place in Appendices.

About the Author

The author was the University Librarian at North Bengal University. After his retirement, he joined the Asiatic Society, Calcutta.


Our knowledge of the vedic ritual is derived with a varying degree of accuracy from three sources: the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Srauta and Grhyasutras. But none of these books can be taken as the starting point of the vedic ritual. The earliest form of the vedic ritual remains unrecorded.

But the earliest reference to the vedic ritual is found in the Rgvedasamhita. The names of sacrificial objects are mentioned: yupa, idhma, samidh, juhu, gravanah, drona, camasa etc. The three savanas of the Sama sacrifice have been mentioned. The Rgveda also knew the existence of at least seven priests: Hotr, Potr, Nestr, Agnidh, Prasastr, Adhvaryu and Brahman. A stage was reached when the hymns, as a poet claims, could only be understood by means of a sacrifice. It is certain therefore that in the Rgvedic period the ritual was fairly extensive.

There are, on the other hand, a large number of hymns in the Rgveda which have no sacrificial use. The Rgvedasamhita was not a book of ritual. Asvalayana could not maintain the order of the hymns in his sutra. Sayana, who was brought up in the orthodox ritualistic tradition, believed that the Rgvedasamhita was a book of ritual. He took pains to prove that there was no anomaly when Asvalayana in his Srautasutra could not employ the first verse of the samhita in the first sacrifice, Darsapurnamasa he described.

There are instances that the meaning and purpose of the hymns were disregarded or arbitrarily altered when a hymn was employed in a rite. The word kasmai, an interrogative pronoun, meaning to whom, when used in a rite was turned to a deity. Ka became Prajapati. Max Muller comments: But soon a new adjective was formed, and not only the hymns, but sacrifice also, offered to the god, were called Kaya or who-ish. In course of time the word kaya was legitimatized, and Panini had to frame a rule to form the word. In the sacrificial practice the Rgvedasamhita has been assigned to the Hotr, one of the principal priests, whose duty it is to recite certain hymns called sastras, distinctly with proper accent.

The Atharvavedasamhita, which contains popular spells, has no practical use in the srauta rites. Consequently, the Brahman priest to whom the samhita has been assigned remains silent most of the time during the service. His duty it is to supervise the sacrifice. Keith observes: A deliberate attempt was later made to bring the Atharvaveda into the-circle of the three orthodox Vedas by the addition to the collection of book XX which contains the hymns to be used by the Brahmanacchamsin priest in the ritual of the Soma sacrifice. But despite the attempts it remained beyond the pale of orthodoxy. In many grhya rites, however, a large number of the verses of the Atharvaveda have been used.

But the case with the samhitas of Yajurveda and Samaveda is quite different. In the very arrangement of these later samhitas the ritualistic bias can easily be seen. The Adhvaryu and his assistants who carried out the manual operations of the sacrifice required a special type of formulas. These formulas consisting of prose and verse were collected in a separate samhita called Yajurveda, and the formulas were called the yajus. This was obviously a priestly creation. The samhita of Yajurveda which has been preserved in two schools, sukla (white or pure) and krsna (black), in five recensions, were created exclusively for the ceremonial purpose. The verses of the Yajurvedasamhitas are mostly borrowed from the Rgvedasamhita for the sacrificial purpose of the Adhvaryu, in many cases without any real propriety and with deliberate alterations to adapt them to the ritual.

In the ritual application of the verses a significant change occurred. The accentuation of the verses is entirely ignored. The Adhvaryu simply mutters the verses in accentless tone, and no one at a distance can hear or understand him. This mode of pronunciation is called upamsu. Evidently, the system of accentuation which was an integral part of the text lost its force in the ritual. So is the case of all other hymns when used as mantra. It is enjoined that all mantras except japa etc. are to be pronounced in ekasruti (q. v.), monotone. The grammarians were, however, sticklers for the use of accents, and they insisted on it. As a note of warning to the delinquents Patanjali quotes a verse in his Mahabhasya: dustah sabdah svarato varnato va mithyaprayukto na tamarthamaha. sa vagvajro yajamanam hinasti yathendrasatruh svarato' paradhat. An interesting legend is repeatedly cited to show what would befall a person who put a wrong accent on a wrong place. Vrtra performed a sacrifice to punish Indra who desicrated his sacrifice by forcibly drinking soma juice without being invited. The mantra was indrasatrur-varadhasva, "O Agni, the foe of Indra," prosper, and the word indrasatru being a tatpurusa compound should have acute accent on its last syllable. But Vrtra pronounced the mantra with a misplaced acute accent on the first syllable of Indrasatru, and as a result the word became a bahuvrihi compound, meaning having Indra as a foe prosper. Vrtra himself was killed.

In spite of the views of the grammarians a fundamental change occurred, and the mantras had lost the accents. It follows therefore that the Adhvaryu who is the most important functionary in the manual operations of the sacrifice did not have to learn the accents of his prayer book. With a penchant for variety the priests introduced another methed of pronunciation which is said to be a little louder than upamsu. This is called dhvana, murmur, in which vowels and consonants can be distinguished but as a whole the letters cannot be distinguished. It is certainty a sign of decay.

The Samavedasamhita is also a liturgical collection. But by no means it is an original one. It is almost entirely a verbatim copy of the Rgvedasamhita. Of the total 1810 verses or 1549 verses (261 verses are repetitions) contained in arcika and the uttararcika all but 75 are found in the 8th and 9th mandalas of the Rgvedasamhita. The Samavedasmhita has been assigned to the Udgatr priests who chant the verses called stotras set to a melody called saman chiefly in the Soma sacrifice. The Udgatr priests have hardly any role in the sacrifice apart from chanting the stotras. While the Adhvaryu priests have discarded the accent of the Yajurvedasamhita, the Udgatr priests adopt a peculiar fashion in chanting the stotras. The verse is broken up in various parts called prastava, udgitha, pratihara, upadrava and nidhana, and then by repetition of the padas (see [/product_description] [product_video]
Item Code: NAN912
Cover: Hardcover
Edition: 2001
Publisher: Concept Publishing Company
ISBN: 8170229456
Language: Sanskrit Text With Transliteration and English Translation
Size: 9.5 inch x 7.5 inch
Pages: 168
Other Details: Weight of the Book: 510 gms[/product_video]


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A Dictionary of the Vedic Rituals (Based on the Srauta and Grhya Sutras)

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