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Valmiki Ramayana - Bala Kanda in Prose Sarga 14


The Horse Ritual of Emperor Dasharatha is started on the banks of Sarayu River. The details of the arrangements for the participants, and visitors along with some aspects of the Vedic Ritual are narrated.




Then after completion of one year and on regaining the ritual horse, the Emperor Dasharatha commenced his Vedic Ritual on the northern banks of River Sarayu.

Comment: In aswametha yaga , a well-decorated horse will be let out with an insignia on its forehead challenging any king to capture it and face the wrath of releasing king. If any one captures the horse, he shall be strong enough to incite a war. Otherwise, the valour and invincibility of releasing king are well established and he may proceed with the ritual proper. Now that the ritual horse released during last year by King Dasharatha has come back without being captured by anyone, thus establishing the invincibility of King Dasharatha, as such he can commence the ritual proper.

Keeping Rishyasringa at the helm of affairs those eminent Brahmans commenced, ashva medha , the Horse-ritual of that noble-souled Dasharatha. Those well-versed conductors of Vedic rituals called ritviks, have started to perform works relating to ritual as per canon and rules, and conducted them scripturally and customarily. On performing pravargya ritual as per scriptures, like that upasada ritual too, those Brahmans have customarily performed all of those other rituals incidental to the main one scripturally.

Then all of those distinguished sages are contended with what they have performed by worshipping gods already summoned, they also conducted early morning savana ritual and its ancillaries as enjoined. The oblations addressed to Indra are well given as ordained, and the flawless king Dasharatha also crushed the Soma creeper to squeeze Soma juice, and thus the mid-day savana ritual has come to pass according to sequence.

Soma creeper is from Sacrostemma Brevistigma of Asclepiadacea family and some other scholars hold the view that it is from Sarcostema Viminalis family.

Like that those proficient Brahmans have also performed the third savana , ritual of that great-exalted soul Dasharatha according to the viewpoint of scriptures. Rishyasringa and other best scholars with their well lettered and intonated Vedic hymns have invoked Indra and other gods to that place. The hotaa-s, invocators, have welcomed the celestials for partaking oblations by singing saama Veda hymns sweetly and harmoniously, and on inviting them with Vedic hymns they have offered oblations to them.

There is no unburnt oblation resulted in that fire-ritual nor even a small mishap slipped in the performance of ritual. Everything appeared canonically correct and hymn oriented. Indeed the ritual is performed in a secure way. In these days of ritual none found there to be weary or hungry, and there is no single unscholarly person, nor any Brahman without at least a hundred apprentices.

Given anytime the Brahmans, servants, sages, and pilgrims are fed with food for their arrival at the place of boarding is unpredictable, and that arrival is dependent on their duties for Brahmans, and by their masters for servants, and for pilgrims that do not have a particular time of arrival or departure.

Some scholars tend to conclude that Ramayana might have been written in post Buddhist period by finding the words like shramaNa etc., the famous wandering Buddhist monk sect. The word shramaNa in Sanskrit means only a pilgrim, and pilgrimage is an ordained aspect of salvation as per Indra is the friend of traveller. Therefore wander - aitareya brahmaNa [VII.33.3] The Buddhist shramaNa -s are the wandering monks in search of converts whereas Hindu shramana-s are pure sanyasi-s wandering for their own salvation.

Elderly people, sick ones, women and children though dining on always thus, no satisfaction to complete the meal is attained for themselves, as the food served is that pleasant.


Elderly people, sick ones, women and children though dining on always thus, there is no satisfaction to Emperor Dasharatha, for it appeared to be too meagre a serving and a lot more is to be served.

"Food be given abundantly, clothing be given variously" are the directives, accordingly the king's men have distributed numerously there at the ritual place. Heaps of foodstuffs are also appearing there, many of them and mountain similar, which is made available customarily, day after day. To that ritual of that great-souled Dasharatha masses of men and women have arrived from different countries, and they are all well-pleased with the sumptuous food and drink supplied.

"The eminent Brahmans have appreciated the food that is prepared by perfect cooking to be relishable, and it is heard as they said, "oh, Raghava, blessed are you for we are satisfied..." Well-decorated men have served food to Brahmans, while others who wore gem-studded and lustrous earrings have helped them. Those eminent Brahmans that are good debaters have debated many intellectual debates to defeat each other, during the gap-periods of ritual works.

Day by day those expert Brahmans have performed all ritual works as encouraged by Vashishta, and others and as contained in scriptures.

There is no scholar without the knowledge of the six branches of Vedas, none who is an unavowed scholar, none who heard learnt less scriptures, and none among the members of the ritual of that king Dasharatha is an inexpert in debating, thus all are scholarly Brahmans.

The six branches of Veda-s are: 1] sikSa - phonetics, 2] vyaakaraNa - grammar, 3] chandas - prosody, 4] nirukta - etymology, 5] jyotiS - astronomy, 6] kalapa - ritual acts.

When the time came to stake wooden ritual posts, six posts of bilwa wood, six posts of khadira wood, and further the same number of posts of parnina wood are staked. One post of sleshmaataka wood and two of devadaaru wood as stipulated are staked. Then the distance between each post is maintained at the length of extended arms.  All of those the posts are made by the authorities on scriptures and ritual scholars, and they are gold-pleated and decorated for the purpose of elegance to that ritual. They are altogether twenty-one posts, each post is twenty-one cubits in height, and each is decoratively clothed with each cloth. Carpenters have carved all the posts well, and built them strongly with octahedral surfaces that are smoothened, and thereby they are implanted procedurally. Those posts draped in cloths and worshipped with flowers and perfumery are irradiant, and they shone forth like the constellation of Seven Sages in the sky.

The Seven Sages is the constellation of stars in the Ursa Major - The Great Bear, and is called sapta R^ishi maNDala . The Indian names of the Seven Sages are 1] atri , 2] angiirasa , 3] pulastya , 4] pulaha , 5] kratu , 6] mariichi , 7] vashiSTha .

The bricks for Altar of Fire are well designed and made according to rules and standard measurements. The Brahmans who are experts in the architecture of laying Fire Altar, by calculating the ritual field with a one-ply rope and decide where and how the that shall be, the Altar of Fire is layered well with bricks in that ritual.

The construction of Fire Altar itself is a ritual, called iSTikaa chayana , where each brick is to be consecrated with hymns. On completion of the layering of bricks to the required shape, i.e., that of an eagle-like platform for a garuDa yaj~na vedi etc., then Holy head bath abhiSeka is performed to the brick-work of the Altar by pouring milk and other sacred liquids to the chanting of Vedic hymns.

That Altar of Fire of that King, the Lion, is layered by expert Brahmans in the shape of an eagle with golden wings, with its size being three folds bigger than the altars of other rituals, thus it has eighteen separators, and fire is laid on it.

The garuDa , the Divine Eagle is the vehicle of Vishnu with an all-pervading vision and fastest wings. He is the only one who once brought amrita, the Divine Elixir, for the release of his mother from slavery. Hence, the Altar of Fire is given the shape of this Divine Eagle, with its wings and tail outstretched, head turned downward, and the eyes looking eastward. yaj~na is also termed as suparNa i.e., su good, parNa winged; carrier of the oblations with his golden wings to heavens. Or its wings are glittering with gold sahasram hiraõya þakalai× prati dinam agnim prokÿati - þruti meaning every day with thousands of gold chips oblate the fire... scriptures say so. So the Altar of fire is glittering with thousands of gold chips sprinkled every day. This altar is laid threefold bigger than the usual one.

In that ritual animals, serpents and birds designated to such and such deities are readied according to the scriptural directives. The sages have arranged those animals that are to be there in animal sacrifices, like horse and other aquatic animals, in that ritual according to scriptures.

Many animals are sacrificed in Horse ritual. But they will be segregated as forest animals and village animals. In them many of the forest animals will be let off by taking them round the fire on to their right in salutation to fire, agni paradakshiNa namaskara. The animals pertaining to village will be sacrificed in ritual. Hence it is up to the priests to decide which is to be retained or let off.

Three hundred animals are tied to the ritual posts, along with the gemlike best ritual horse of that King Dasharatha.

 With great delight coming on her Queen Kausalya reverently made circumambulations to the horse, and symbolically killed the horse with three knives.

Here Kausalya did not butcher the horse as queens do not butcher animals in rituals, but the horse is already sacrificed. It is a symbolical act of queens to pierce with three golden knives like needles. The scripture says that all the eligible wives of the performer of ritual have to pierce that way. sauvarõŸbhi s¨cŸbhi× patnayo× aþvasya asipath˜n kalayanti - þruti / scripture. So all the three queens have performed that symbolic act by piercing that horse, which is already dead, with golden needle-like knives. Govindaraja.

Queen Kausalya desiring the results of ritual disconcertedly resided one night with that horse that flew away like a bird.

Thus, the officiating priests of the ritual, namely hota, adhwaryu and udgaata have received in their hand the Crowned Queen, the neglected wife, and a concubine of the king, next as a symbolic donation in the ritual by the performer, the king.

There will be four officiating priests for these Vedic rituals. 1. brahma , 2. hota , 3. adhvaryu , 4. udgaata , to whom the king has to donate his inner core properties like wives, lands etc. By practice a king has to marry four wives. The four women of the king are 1. mahiSi = Queen, 2. parivR^itti = neglected women, 3. vaavaata = concubine, 4. paalaakali = goblet-maid. The order of donation is that the Queen to brahma , concubine to hota , neglected woman to udgaata , and the goblet-maid to the adhwaryu . Here, though the brahma ritvik is not cited along with paalaakali, goblet-maid, they are implied. The donation is symbolic and later bartering with some valuable items that is redeemed. Govindaraja. There is another way of translating this. For the wording, hastena samayojayan the priests took these wives by hand to bring them in contact with the dead horse.

Then the priest, one with controlled senses and rich in scriptural wealth, took up the omentum [fat] of the horse and cooked it as per scriptures while dropping into the altar of fire to bake as a food to the celestials.

Some more scholars give a non-violent touch to this act and they say that a medicinal plant ,is offered in altar and its smell is smelt. That plant is substituted for omentum of the horse, and the wording is read differently. When the sequence is running on horse and horse's body parts how a medical plant is brought in, is unclear. And some say that a horse will not have omentum according to Vedic texts.

The king Dasharatha smelt the smell of smoke as per time and procedure to cleanse his own sin. Those remaining body parts that horse are there, the sixteen officiating priests have procedurally oblated all of them into fire.

In other rituals the oblations will be offered into sacrificial fire with spoon-like sticks of plaksha tree, but in Horse-sacrifice ritual they are offered through the vetasa creeper, a rattan plant, cane.

The Horse Ritual is to be performed for three days as laid down in kalpa sutra-s, the rules governing such rituals, and by brahmaNa-s, the penultimate parts of Veda-s, and the one performed on the first day is called chatuhSToma ritual. The ritual on the second day is called ukthyam, and the next one performed on third day is called atiraatra. These apart many of the preordained rituals are performed there in that ritual as envisaged in scriptures.

The horse-ritual is conducted only for three days. But Dasharatha got it performed with more variously connected rituals, in all his eagerness to appease gods for progeny.

The rituals called jyothiSToma, aayuSi, and atiraatra rituals are performed. And also rituals of great kind like abhijit, vishwajit, aptoryaama are performed.

As the promoter of his own dynasty that king Dasharatha donated eastern side to hota, western to adhvaryu, and southern to brahma. And to udgaata northern side is given in donation. These were the donations stipulated in that great ritual, ashwamedha, by the Self-Created Brahma from earlier times. On completing the ritual thus that best man Dasharatha justifiably donated those lands to the officiating priests, called ritwiks, to promote of his dynasty.

Thus on giving away the vast expanses of his kingdom he that glorious one born in Ikshvaku dynasty is gladdened, but all the officiating priests said to the king who by now is rid of his sins. "You alone are capable to protect the earth in its entirety, and there is no use for us with these lands, and we are not capable to rule it, either." Thus the priests are addressing the king.

"We are always preoccupied with self-study and teaching of scriptures, oh, king, thus you may give us something else in barter, any modest thing.  Let best gems, gold, or cows or anything else that is available you may give us, what is the use of these vast expanses to us." So said the scholars.

The king Dasharatha, the lord of people, thus requested by the scholarly Vedic Brahmans gave them millions of cows, ten of ten million gold coins, and the silver four times thereof.

Silver is prohibited for donation in such rituals, but here it is being given as barter for the lands earlier donated, hence it is an acceptable item.

Then all those officiating priests collectively gave that wealth to sage Rishyasringa and to the enlightened sage Vashishta. Then all of those Brahmans are well satisfied at heart and distributed among themselves the wealth passed on by Rishyasringa and Vashishta, and then they said, "We are highly gladdened." Then to the other Brahmans who arrived there to see the ritual, King Dasharatha sincerly donated ten million gold coins. That descendent of Raghava dynasty gave an excellent hand ornament to someone who is an impoverished Brahman and who is beseeching.

While those Brahmans are becoming happy then that king and the patron of Brahmans venerated them dutifully with his senses fluttering with happiness. Then that benevolent and valiant King Dasharatha prostrated on ground venerating the Brahmans, and the Brahmans too chanted various blessing hymns on that prostrating king.

The blessings are also Vedic hymns and particular parts of Vedic hymns are chanted for particular occasion called aashiirwachana hymns. To date this practice is continued where a Brahmin priest is commissioned to perform even a domestic ritual. In effect, it shall be construed that these are not the blessings of the Brahmin priests who are chanting, but it is the blessing of Veda itself.

Then that king is gladdened at heart for the successful achievement of the completion of that excellent ritual that removes sin and that leads to heaven as well, and that which cannot be undertaken by many of the best kings. Thereafter king Dasharatha said to sage Rishyasringa thus, "oh, sage with best vows, you alone are eligible to perform the ritual for the expansion of my dynasty."

That best Brahman Rishyasringa saying yes to the proposal, said this to king Dasharatha, "oh, king, there will be four sons to you that ennoble your dynasty. On hearing the sweet words of Sage Rishyasringa, he that king of kings Dasharatha went into a state of ecstasy and venerating that great soul, Rishyasringa, again said this to him.


yajna - the Vedic Ritual

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Vedic yajna-s are the rituals of many kinds. Mainly there are 21 types of these yajna-s, 1] sapta paaka yajna-s are 7; 2] sapta havir yajna-s are 7; 3] sapta soma yajna-s are 7. Apart from these rituals, there are rituals for the overall development of society at large, called abhyudayaka yajna-s and under them categorised are: 1] ashvanmedha, 2] raajasuuya, 3] paunDariika, 4] bR^ihaspati sava, and some more are there. These grand scale rituals require a great patronage and support, not only of money but also of a variety of paraphernalia that go into the ritual. Hence only kings and emperors of yester years could conduct them.

The yaaga shaala The Hall of Vedic ritual will be erected with platforms containing areas 1] yuupa stambha-s wooden posts to which the animals are tied. There will be 21 such posts, staked in the Vedic ritual hall, along with a half post staked near at the main altar; 2] uttara vedi, posterior platform; 3] dasha pada, platform for scholars; 4] havirdhaana, place for oblatory paraphernalia; 5] sadas, place for assemblages; 6] agnihotra shaala, place of sacrificial fire; 7] vedi, main Altar of Fire; 8] patnii shaala, place for the wife / wives of the performer and other females. The main activity of the ritual is around the vedi, the 7th item as above, where a garuDa vedi, an Eagle shaped Alter of Fire will be constructed with bricks, where the brick laying and paving itself is a ritual, called iSTikaa chayana . Into this yajna vedi, Altar of Fire, all the oblations are poured.

The Hindu temples will be built in accordance with the layout of yajna shaala, since the daily puuja, at home or in a temple, is a micro-yajna, equable to Vedic Ritual itself. The layout of the temple is comparable to the above layout of yajna shaala .

1] dhavaja sthambha, flag post; 2] bali griha, sacrificial house; 3] bali piiTtha sacrificial platform, where usually the fruits, coconuts, prasada, food items etc., are presented to the deity firstly, before the devotee partakes them, as a kind of sacrifice; 4] havirdhana, preparatory places for havis, the food for sacrifice, usually in north-east or south-west corners; 5] mandapa open hall, where Vedic recitations are chanted; 6] garbha griha, sanctum sanctorum, in this there are two places one is, 7] pratishtha, the place where the picturesque idol is installed, and the other, 8] shakti sthaana, where the power of the installed deity will be installed, in the form of an yantra, a geometrical layout or other form. [For more information, please turn to The cultural Heritage of India, Vol IV, Religion.]

The next epitome of yajna, is human body. It is said that deho devalayaH proktaH ‘human body itself is a temple...’ The above places of Ritual Hall or a Temple are located on body as this: 1] sthuupi [kalasha], the top most golden pot of flagpoist of temple; 2] mahaa nashi the right nostril and kshudra nasi, left nostril; 3] shikhara, temple tower; 4] ghaTa, neck like structure; 5] prastaaram, shoulder like structure of temple; 6] paada, trunk of temple; 7] adhiSTaana, elevation; 8] upa piiTha, secondary seating. This is compared with human body as: Item 1] to human pate with hair-locks; 2] eye - on right and nose on left [for humans have one-eyed vision of God, where God is Omniscient; 3] face; 4] neck; 5] shoulders; 6] arms; 7] leg and thigh; 8] foot.

‘A temple is not a home of god but it is the form of god... the temple layout is the extended form of the rhythm of the innerspace of humans, called dahara aakaasha similar to cosmos of the universe...' [cf. What is a temple? What is its significance? Ganapathi Sthapati, Vaastu Vedic Research Foundation, Chennai, India.] Thus human body itself is identified with the temple, and the temple in turn with Vedic yajna shaala , and therefore it is said to keep the body clean and mind pure... which again is a Vedic import.

The grand scale yajna-s as described in these epics like Ramayana and Maha Bharata are non-existent. But in recent times, such types of yajna-s were conducted on two occasions, once in 1975 and again in 1990. Here are some excerpts from The Indian Express, daily newspaper, published during May 1990: ‘Prof. Frits Staal, with financial assistance from several American funding agencies including the Smithsonian Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation, organized the agni chayana ritual in 1975. In spite of innumerable hurdles, Staal succeeded in persuading the elderly nambudri-s [scholarly priests of Vedic lore] to put together a team of ritualists old and young, give them through training, hold rehearsals for several months and finally put up performance for filming and documentation. Staal followed this up with the publication of his book called Agni ...'

Readers who are interested to know more about yajna, the Vedic ritual, may please look for the works of Prof. Frits Staal, Indologist, at whose instance such rituals were conducted in Southern India. The two-volume book of Prof. Frits Staal: AGNI: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, running over some two thousand pages. Another book is The Mantra, which is an attempt to analyse the Vedic Hymns, published by State University of New York Press, State University Plaza, Albany, N.Y., 12246, also now available with Indian Book Centre, Delhi

According to Staal, a Vedic ritual is very different from a health cure, a psychoanalyst session, an anthropological meeting or a religious service. Staal maintains that a Vedic ritual follows its own principles and leads a life of its own. He points out that a Vedic ritual requires very detailed and specific knowledge. He estimates that the extent of specialised knowledge needed to put the sacrificial altar together ritually is on a par with the extent of technical knowledge required to build an aeroplane. ‘The bird shaped altar is in fact a kind of aeroplane…’ says Stall ‘only it takes off in a different way…’ Scientific evaluations were also made on the changes occurred on physical and metaphysical levels on the individuals who performed the ritual, by experts from Canada and in association with Prague Institute of Czechoslovakia. Kirlion photography was also undertook by Mrs. Rose Mary Steel from London to record aura or the Electro-magnetic radiation around the human organism and hundreds of pictures of not only the performers but also of the visiting people and of their finger tips are recorded.

Usually at the end of any Vedic ritual the Hall of Ritual, a thatched shed, will be put to fire. This called puurNa aahuti, complete oblation into fire. And then a rain occurs. It used to rain every time when the ritual is totally offered as an oblation into fire at the conclusion of such a ritual. ‘The association between the yajna and rain is indelible. Did it rain on [the day of puurNa aahuti ] i.e., May 9, 1990? It did...’ The Illustrated Weekly of India, May 27, 1990.



Thus, this is the 14th chapter in Bala Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana, the First Epic poem of India. 

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© 1999, Desiraju Hanumanta Rao [Revised: March 04]