This is the 3rd in the series of articles on Yajna by Mr R. Ramanathan. The previous posts can be read here:-
The Ashvamedha yajna(Cont…)
During the course of performance of the sacrifice, the shruti says that due to certain acts, the performer is bound to loose certain things. For example in Taittriya Brahmana 3rd Ashtaka, 9th Prashna, 5th Anuvaka, the performer would lose his luster and brahmvarchas Luster attained due to the tapas of Vedic study). So as an expiation for this is the utterance of the famous riddle hymn, by both the Hota (the Rig Vedic priest) and the Brahma (The superintending priest). It is in the form of a ritual question and answer session. It goes something like this
· "Who is called poorvachitti?:- The rain falling is called poorva chitti"
· "What is the cure for snow or chillness? :- Heat is the cure"
· "Who is born after death? :- The moon"
· "Who moves in the sky alone? :- The sun"
· "What is the navel of the world?:- The yajna "
Then comes the famous ritual dialog between the 3 queens and the priests (which one differs between authorities). This dialog is actually sexual in content. Here the sacrificed horse is considered a bestower of virility and fertility. The dialog runs something like "ohh Amba, Ambika, Ambalika!!! No one can lead me to the horse. The horse is sleeping with a lady from kaampila ……". This is to evoke sexual feelings for getting progeny. After this discussion among the 4 people, a prayaschitta mantra is uttered and they purify themselves. The shruti says that if this is not done the vital airs would leave the body.
Then there are various offerings for Brahma hatya dosha. As per the the shruti this oblation for Brahma hatti was seen by the sage Mundiba Audanya. Then there are offerings to Mrityu, Rudra, Pushan.
One more interesting feature here is the playing of the Veena by both Kshatriya and a Brahmin player during some preliminary ceremonies. This is done during an Ishti performance for Savitri. During the Savitra ishti the Brahmin veena player is asked to sing about famous Brahmins saying "such and such a sacrifice he offered" and so on. Also the Taittriya Brahmana says a Brahmin should not seek wealth and only sacrificial works.
Also after the horse is released for roaming the, Dhriti offering is done during which a Kshatriya veena player is called on to sing about some famous king saying "He fought so and so war". The shruti says that Yuddha (war ) is an important part of Raja dharma. So in essence the Shruti says that a Brahmin should not seek wealth and should concentrate on vedic sacrificial works. Also a Kshatriya cannot avoid fighting dharmic wars. This is what is told to Arjuna by Krishna in the Geetha.
Period of performance
The sacrifice is started in the Indian spring season in the March/April time frame and goes on for one year.
Lists of kings who performed them with their priests and the gifts they gave
The Shatapatha Brahmana of the Shukla Yajur veda gives a list of kings and priests who performed the sacrifice, with a particular form of hymns (sthomams). The most known among all the names is Janamajeya, son of Parikshit of Bhagavata fame. His priest Saunaka performed it for him and he became free of Brahma hatthi. Some of the other kings are
· Srutasena Parikshita sons of Parikshit probably.
· Hairanyanabha para of k-Kausalya.
· Purukutsa another descendant of the Ikshavaku dynasty
· Maruta Âvikshita king of Ayogava. The SB says that the maruts became the guardsmen, agni his chamberlain and the vishwa devahs his ministers, after he performed this.
· Kraivya, king of Panchala desha
· Dhvasan Dvaitavana, king of Matsya desha
· Bharata Dauhshanti. The son of king Dushyanta. From where the name Bharata arouse. Also is mentioned here that Bharata was conceived by Shakuntala.
· Satânîka Sâtrâgita performed the Govinata (form of Asvamedha), after taking away the horse of the Kâsya (king); and since that time the Kâsis do not keep up the (sacrificial) fires.
The list is not exhaustive. This gives an idea of how important the Ashvamedha was for the Kshatriya rulers of ancient Bharat. The gifts they gave to their priests for these sacrifices are beyond the pale of common men and not listed here as they are too big to write. They involve thousand hundred steeds, cows, unimaginable quantity of precious stone and gold, armies etc. The wealth so obtained as a dakshina from the sacrifice was used by Brahmins to continue their sacrificial works and not for material accumulation of wealth. The range of gifts also show how wealthy the kings were in ancient Bharat.