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Ashvamedha

illustration

of

the Ramayana by

Sahib

Din,

1652.Kausalya is depicted slaying the horse (left) and


lying beside it (right).
The Ashvamedha (Sanskrit: avamedh), horse sa
crifice, is a Agnicayana ritual of rauta.[1]
Contents
[hide]

1Broad outline

2Historical performers

3Sanskrit epics and Puranas

4In Hindu revivalism

5Reception

6See also

7Notes

8References

9Sources
o

9.1Printed sources

9.2Web sources

Broad outline
A stallion is selected and released for a year of wandering
in the company of a hundred or more warriors [2] The king
remains

at

home

and

turns

over

rulership

to

the adhvaryu who makes daily ghee libations into a


footprint of the absent horse.[3] The hotr recites evening
narrations of the exploits of past kings.[3] After almost a
year the horse is guided home.[3] Soma pressings and
various animal sacrifices are performed during the building
of a great altar.[3] The four major priests symbolically
receive the four quarters of space and the four royal
queens.[3] On the second of three pressing days, the
horse,

hornless goat and gayal are

dedicated

to

Prajapati.[3] Other animals are dedicated to a variety of

deities.[3] Three of the queens wash the horse and adorn it


with jewelry and ghee.[3] The horse, hornless goat, and
gayal are asphyxiated.[4] The chief queen lies down and
the

adhvaryu

guides

the

horses penis against

the

queen'svagina.[4] The animals are dismembered.[4] The


king ascends the throne while the Purusha Sukta is
recited.[4]
The adhvaryu takes the dismembered parts of the three
chief animals and assembles them on the ground with the
head of the goat facing west, the other two animals facing
east.[4] All the parts are then offered into the ahavaniya.
[4]

The adhvaryu makes three additional offerings into the

gayals throat, on the right front hoof of the horse, and into
an iron bowl.[4] A final offering is made using a leper who
stands in water as an altar.[5]
Historical performers

Satakarni I of the Satavahana dynasty[6]

Samudragupta of the Gupta Empire[7]

Pulakeshin I founder of Chalukya dynasty[8]

Sanskrit epics and Puranas


Sanskrit

epics and Puranas mention

numerous

performances of the horse sacrifice.[1]


In Hindu revivalism
In

the Arya

Samaj reform

movement

of Dayananda

Sarasvati, the Ashvamedha is considered an allegory or a


ritual to get connected to the "inner Sun" (Prana)
[9]

According to Dayananda, no horse was actually to be

slaughtered in the ritual as per the Yajurveda.[10] Following


Dayananda, the 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 s the Sun. In respect to the adhyatma
paksha, thePrajapati-Agni, or the Purusha, the Creator, is
the Ashva; He is the same as the Varuna, 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'.[11]
He argues that the animals listed as sacrificial victims are
just as symbolic as the list of human victims listed in
the Purushamedha.[11] (which is generally accepted as a
purely symbolic sacrifice already in Rigvedic times).
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

million

participants

in Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh on April 16 to 20, 1994.


[12]

Such modern performances are sattvika Yajnas where

the animal is worshipped without killing it,[13] the religious


motivation being prayer for overcoming enemies, the
facilitation

of

child

welfare

clearance

of

debt,[14] entirely

and

development,

within

the

and

allegorical

interpretation of the ritual, and with no actual sacrifice of


any animal.
Reception

The earliest recorded criticism of the ritual comes from


the Crvka, an atheistic school of Indian philosophy that
assumed various forms of philosophical skepticism and
religious

indifference.

A quotation

of

the

Crvka

from Madhavacharya's Sarva-Darsana-Sangraha states:


"The three authors of the Vedas were buffoons, knaves,
and demons. All the well-known formulae of the pandits,
jarphari, turphari, etc. and all the obscene rites for the
queen commanded in Aswamedha, these were invented
by buffoons, and so all the various kinds of presents to the
priests, while the eating of flesh was similarly commanded
by night-prowling demons."[15]
Griffith (1899) omits verses VSM 23.2031 (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.[16]
This part of the ritual offended the Dalit reformer and
framer of the Indian constitution B. R. Ambedkar and is

frequently mentioned in his writings as an example of the


perceived degradation of Brahmanical culture.[17]
While others such has Manohar L. Varadpande, praised
the ritual as "social occasions of great magnitude".[18] Rick
F.

Talbott

writes

that

"Mircea

Eliade treated

the

Ashvamedha as a rite having a cosmogonic structure


which

both

regenerated

the

entire

cosmos

and

reestablished every social order during its performance."[19]