Sura-The Liquor and the Vedic Sacrifice


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Associated with wrath, gambling and, at the symbolic level, with darkness and misery, sura has been strongly condemned in Vedic literature. Yet, paradoxically, it has not just found its way into a Vedic sacrifice itself: called sautramani, but has even been sanctified in the rajasuya and punarabhiseka rituals as well. However, it is sautramani's sacrificial fire alone to take in liquor as an oblation material. Dr. Madhavi Kolhatkar here offers an indepth study of this sura-related Vedic ritual: of both its caraka and kaukili forms, together with all their attendant details.

The book explores the possible origin and nature of sautramani sacrifice, addressing itself to a range of the hitherto-unanswered questions, for instance; How did sura come to have its acceptance in a srauta ritual (like sautramani), despite its outright disapproval in the Vedic texts? Why is the sautramani performed after rajasuya? Is there any linkage between sautramani and punarabhiseka – which both happen to involve the sura-ritual? How is, then, sautramani related to the agnicayana? And, what is the underlying importance of the myths that tell about the primeval performance of the sautramani?

In spelling out the social, medicinal and ritualistic significance of sautramani, the author also shows how the Brahmanas often compare it with a soma sacrifice, and how sautramani itself has evolved over the time. In the context of this Vedic ritual, she also highlights the hierarchic contentions between the brahmanas and the ksatriyas in the ancient Indian society.

It is a piece of valuable research for Indologists, especially the scholars of Sanskrit, Vedic studies and ancient Indian history and culture.

About the Author

Madhavi Bhaskar Kolhatkar is Pune University's Ph.D (Sanskrit); knows German, Russian, Tibetan and Japanese; and has been at Nagoya University, Japan for her postdoctoral research in 1986 on a Japanese government scholarship. In 1987, she visited Nepal to participate in Gurumandalapuja – a project undertaken by the Department of Indian Philosophy, Nagoya University, Japan.

Started her career in 1973 as a Research Assistant in Sanskrit Dictionary Department, Deccan College, Pune. A Research Associate, 1985 onwards, Dr. Kolhatkar has published over thirty articles on a variety of themes bearing notably on Vedic ritual, religion, Japanology and Sanskrit literature, and has co-authored Pavitresti: An Indian Fire Ritual.


It gives me great pleasure to introduce the work Sura, The Liquor and the Vedic Sacrifice.

During the last few years, many scholars have written books on various Vedic rituals such as rajasuya, caturmasyas, pravargya, etc. in this line of the research-work, the present book on the sautramani sacrifice is a welcome addition.

The offerings of sura (liquor) in the Srauta sacrificial fire is the distinguishing feature of the sautramani sacrifice. It is claimed in this work that the punarabhiseka (the reanointment) might have been the origin of the sautramani sacrifice. This punarabhiseka has its roots in the struggle for supremacy between the brahmanas and the ksatriyas. It is of a redressing nature, as it were. It is performed for a ksatriya sacrificer – the King himself – who has undergone the abhiseka (anointment) rite in the rajasuya sacrifice. Since he has temporarily become a brahmana during the sacrificial performance, he performs this punarabhiseka ceremony and attains his ksatriya-hood again.

The present work highlights the sociological state of affairs in the Vedic period with special reference to the mutual relation of the brahmana and the ksatriya in the context of the rajasuya, the punarabhiseka and the sautramini sacrifice. In ancient India, there was a constant rivalry between brahmana and ksatriya for the superior position. As a result of it, the ksatriya sacrificer was denied the right of partaking of the sacrificial soma-drink in the rajasuya sacrifice and was given sura instead of it. Similarly, in the punarabhiseka ceremony also, he was given sura as his own drink. Thus, the sautramani sacrifice plays an important role in the medicinal, sociological and ritualistic way of thinking of the Vedic people.

I could like to specially draw the attention of the readers to the anthropological importance of the myths. The myths in the Brahmana-texts are very closely connected with the sacrificial ritual. In the present work, due emphasis has been given to the myths and an effort is made to explain the mythological background of the sautramani sacrifice.

I am of the opinion that the author has been quite successful in dealing with the complicated ritual procedure, as well as the conceptual background of this sacrifice in the Vedic texts.


The Srauta ritual comprises two sacrificial institutions: (1) The soma-sacrifices and (2) The havis-sacrifices. This division is based mainly on the oblation-material used in a sacrifice. It is obvious that in a soma-sacrifice, the main oblation is the juice extracted from the soma-stalks. In the havis-sacrifices, the oblations are given of milk, curds, ghee, clarified butter and various grains. Paddy, barley, wheat, syamaka, etc. are the sacrificial grains. Generally, rice pap or a cake made of the flour of the sacrificial grains is offered in havis-sacrifices. Sometimes, the grains are parched and the pop-corns are offered. An animal also is an oblation offered in havis-sacrifices The animal-sacrifice is called the nirudhapasubandha.

Besides the difference in the oblation-material, there are some other differences also between havis-sacrifices and soma-sacrifices. More priests are needed in a soma-sacrifice than in a havis-sacrifice. Further, the singing of the saman and the avabhrtha isti are peculiar to a soma-sacrifice; these are generally absent in the ritual procedure of a havis-sacrifice.

Among the havis-sacrifices is included the sautramani-sacrifice. It has two forms: (1) The caraka and (2) The kaukili. The caraka is performed after the rajasuya and also after the agnicayana (the rite of building the fire-altar). Occasionally, it is performed also for one who has vomited soma (somavamin) or for one who is excessively purged by soma (somatiputa). The kaukili is an obligatory (nitya) rite. Incidentally, it is performed for a somavamin or a somatiputa. It is prescribed also for the fulfillment of certain desires. The oblations offered in it are those of rice, milk, clarified butter, etc. Animal-offerings also are to be made in the course of its performance. Three animals are offered to the asvins, Sarasvati and Indra Sutraman, and it is called both an isti and a pasubandha (animal-sacrifice, SatBra, XII.7.2,12,21) Besides these offerings, sura is also offered in this sacrifice. Sura is a kind of beer prepared from grains. Three cups are filled with it and are offered to the abovementioned deities.

Sura, as we find it, is condemned in Vedic literature. It is grouped together with wrath, dice, etc. and is held to be the reason of various offenses and guilts, (RV, VII.86.6). In SatBra, V.1.2.10 in the discussion regarding the vajapeya sacrifice, sura is compared with the soma and it is said that soma is truth, prosperity and light, whereas sura is untruth, misery and darkness. Similarly, in KathS, XII. 11 and MaiS, II. 4.2 Also sura is said to be untruth.

Further, in KathS, XII. 12 and MaiS, II.4.2, sura is said to be unwiseness, thoughtlessness or foolishness of Prajapati. It also said" 'due to such nature of sura, the elder one and the younger one, the daughter-in-law and the father-in-law chatter foolishly after drinking it. Therefore, a brahmana should not drink sura. If he does so, he brings himself in contact with the evil.

However, despite such severe condemnation, sura has found a place in the Vedic ritual. It is used in some grhya rites: AsvaSS, II.5.4 prescribes t

Item Code: IDD108
Cover: Hardcover
Edition: 1999
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
ISBN: 8124601143
Language: English
Size: 8.8" X 5.6"
Pages: 232
Other Details: Weight of the Book: 480 gms