Ashvamedha Yaga

Ashvamedha Yaga is a Vedic ritual, translating to “sacrificing horse”. General understanding of this is that, a horse is left to roam around freely and king wins the lands wherever it roams. That’s it. That’s all most of our popular poems explain, be it Ramayana or Mahabharata. They don’t explain the fate of the horse in most of the versions told to us. Naturally, they are customised for 12 year olds, where if you include all these nasty stuff, will we continue to celebrate the greatest epics of India?

This ritual dates back to around four millenniums from now. Many kings have registered to have done this, both in our history and mythology. If it helps understanding, this is equivalent to a Nobel Prize for a king then. His name would be written in the history with golden letters. He would be called with “the great” throughout the history, so much for killing a horse. Something similar to Alexander or Genghis Khan achieved.

Let me paste some of the findings registered in Wikipedia before I place my arguments. It’s not only Wikipedia; I have read it in few other books as well. Apparently they are not welcome in mainstream(TV serials for eg.), because they are unpleasant.

The Ashvamedha could only be conducted by a king ( rājā ). Its object was the acquisition of power and glory, the sovereignty over neighbouring provinces, and general prosperity of the kingdom.

… The horse is sprinkled with water, and the Adhvaryu and the sacrificer whisper mantras into its ear. Anyone who should stop the horse is ritually cursed, and a dog is killed symbolic of the punishment for the sinners. The horse is then set loose towards the North-East, to roam around wherever it chooses, for the period of one year (or half a year, according to some commentators). …. If the horse wanders into neighbouring provinces hostile to the sacrificer, they must be subjugated. The wandering horse is attended by a hundred young men, sons of princes or high court officials, charged with guarding the horse from all dangers and inconvenience.

… the horse, a hornless he- goat , a wild ox ( go-mrga , Bos gavaeus ) are bound to sacrificial stakes near the fire, and seventeen other animals are attached to the horse. A great number of animals, both tame and wild, are tied to other stakes, …

…Then the horse is slaughtered …

Steed, from thy body, of thyself, sacrifice and accept thyself. Thy greatness can be gained by none but thee. The chief queen ritually calls on the king’s fellow wives for pity. The queens walk around the dead horse reciting mantras. The chief queen then has to mimic copulation with the dead horse, while the other queens ritually utter obscenities.

On the next morning, the priests raise the queen from the place where she has spent the night with the horse.

… The horse is dissected, and its flesh roasted. Various parts are offered to a host of deities and personified concepts with utterances of svaha “all-hail…

…It repeatedly states that “the Asvamedha is everything”…

Well, this is the procedure. If a king conducts this, he would become an emperor, which would be promotion from Raja to Chakravarthy. Similar to present day, do something nasty for quick promotion.

I have bit more to talk about, on culture and history and Vedic contribution to it.

We announce whole world that Vegetarianism is another contribution of India to the mankind and it dates back to Indian civilisation itself. Well, it is a contribution, but not as old as it is described. Vedic nomadic tribes used to eat sacrificed roast animals (dipped in ghee), and we held it for long long time. It’s not a complaint, just suggesting that we need correct the dates. So everyone were meat eaters including Brahmins, who now are taking great credit for spread of vegetarianism in India. Even Ahimsa is certainly not Vedic

On Yaga (Yajnya) itself, Yajnya is designed by some higher class priests for their king, just to give him a reason to invade his neighbours. It’s merely “Dude! My horse just stopped by you and now I am gonna kick your ass, take your kingdom and add your women to my collection!” Anyone who stops the horse is a sinner – what does this mean anyway?


The queen’s part in is ritual is really embarrassing. She has to spend an entire night with the dead headless horse with symbolic copulation. Symbolic generally are enactment of something which was originally there. For example smashing pumpkin in temples with red (kumkum) is symbolic of animal sacrifice. They no longer sacrifice animals in most of the temples, instead a pumpkin is cut, with kumkum symbolising blood. With this and various examples, can we not guess what ritual actually could have been? If it turns out to be true, we had some disgusting practices in Vedic tribes.

Rest all left to you to dispute.[tweetmeme]

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15 thoughts on “Ashvamedha Yaga

  1. Pretty barbaric.

    There are more descriptions of horse sacrifice which bears similar characteristics.

    A hint back to the common “Proto-Indo-Europeans” origin. Sharing language origin, beliefs and rituals.

    Thankfully such rituals have been done away with for centuries. Or we might have been witnessing similar Yagnas by our political parties every five years to decide who governs instead of the elections. White stallions, accompanied by party members, crisscrossing across constituency margins.

    I am glad we no longer insist on continuing these sacrifices in the name of our religion. There is no place for such illogically gruesome beliefs and rituals in this 21st century.


    1. What kind of minds created such rituals?

      I read the link by Little Indian and it seems there is some Indo-European connection.

      I had blogged about Brahma chasing Saraswati in Indian mythology, and turning into a swan amongst many other forms. The Greek mythology has Zeus chasing Leda and turning into a swam amongst other animals – what’s the connection?

      Achillies heels and Krishna’s heels were the only weak spot on their bodies. Both were killed by an arrow. Both were responsible for convincing some unwilling soldiers to fight a war.

      There are many other coincidences, and now you have added horse sacrifice to that.

      Loved your post. About non vegetarianism from what I know – only the ‘upper caste’ brahmins were vegetarian, Kshatriyas ate animals all along. And shudras were supposed to eat pork also. But I am not sure – I may be wrong.


      1. Oh yes, I have seen a complete documentary on similarities between many stories we now consider mythology (including Jesus, Horus and Krishna). Total worth a watch, “zeitgeist”s the movie:-).

        On vegetarianism, i do not agree with you. I feel even Brahmins were meat-eaters. They switched to veg, some point of time, when they no longer could justify it.


  2. Gross but at least we are ALLOWED to discuss this and have evolved. Same habits but have manifested themselves to pumkins and chariots 😉


  3. Aswamedha does not mean horse sacrifice at Yagna.

    It is impossible to give an exposition of Aswamedha ceremony in this article. The Yajurveda clearly mentions that a horse ought not to be slaughtered.

    Do not slaughter this one hoofed animal that neighs and who goes with a fast speed faster than most of the animals [Y.13.48]

    The one-hoofed animal is definitely a horse, as is clear from the following statement of the Sathapatha Brahmana:

    By one hoofed is meant a horse. Do not slaughter him [VII, v, ii 33]

    In Shathapatha, Aswa is a name of Rastra. Or empire and Yagna done with a view to consolidate an empire is named as Aswamedha. The word medha does not mean slaughter. It is done simply an act done in accordance to the intellect [or medhas] Alternatively it could mean consolidation, as evident from the root meaning of medha i.e. medhru sangame.

    Ajamedha is not the goat-sacrifice. It is a Yagna done with grains. The word aja means goat as well as grain. This duality of meaning has given rise to notion that ajamedha means goat sacrifice. The following passage from Mahabharata clarifies this point very definitely.

    “The sense of the Veda is to perform Yagna with grains or seeds. Aja is another name for seed. It is not desirable to slaughter goats. Good people do not indulge in slaughter of animals. This krtayuga is the best of all; how can the killing of animals be permissible during the period? [Shantiparva]”

    The passages from panchatantra also substantiate these views. “Those who sacrifice animals in Yagna are great fools; they do not the real sense of Veda. The Veda simply says; the Yagna should be performed through the oblations of aja; but the word aja means ‘paddy seven years old’. It does not signify any special animal. [Tantra.3, katha 2]

    This is what meant by Aswamedha Yagna and Aja medha Yagna. We hear in Ramayana that Aswamedha Yagna was performed by setting loose a decorated horse carrying a state emblem. Whoever stopped or impounded the horse the king used to enquire and if this meant defiance to authority war was initiated to submit them. Precisely this is what was meant by Aswamedha.

    Maharshi Dayananda Saraswathi, a doyen among our religious and social reformers was an outstanding scholar of Vedas as well. Dismissing the meaning that Aswamedha meant horse sacrifice he states in his immortal work Satyartha prakash {Light of Truth} as under.

    “They interpolated these and similar other verses into the works of the seers, and also wrote books in the name of many great sages and savants, and thus introduced such sacrifices as Gomedha—a sacrifice in which cows were slaughtered – and Aswamedha—one in which horses were killed. They declared that by slaughtering these animals and offering them as a sacrifice both—the animals sacrificed and the Yajamana—went to Heaven. This evil practice seems to have originated on account of their ignorance of the true meanings of such words as Aswamedha, Gomedha, and Naramedha that occur in the Brahmanas, for had they understood them; they would not have committed such blunders.

    O—what are then the true meanings of such words as Aswamedha, Gomedha, and Naramedha?

    A—their meanings are noted what the Vamamargis think. Nowhere in the scriptures and other authentic books it is written that horses, cows and human beings should be killed and offered as sacrifice in the sacred fire called Homa. It is only in the books of the Vamamargis that such absurd things are written. Whatever in the authentic books of the sages the sanction of such a sacrifice is found, it should be understood that the verse or the passage has been interpolated by the Vamamargis. Now mark! What the Shathapatha Brahmana says on the subject: “A king governs his people justly and righteously. This is called Aswamedha. “A learned man gives a free gift of knowledge to people. This is called Aswamedha. Again “the burning” of clarified butter and odoriferous and nutritious substances in the fire in order to purify the air is also called Aswamedha”. “To keep the food pure or to keep the senses under control, or to make the food pure or to make a good use of the rays of Sun or keep the earth free from impurities[clean] is called Gomedha”. “The cremation of the body of a dead person in accordance with the principles laid down in the Vedas is called Naramedha”.


  4. the queen is allowed to sleep the whole night with the live horse
    i am of the opinion that they might experiment the mixing of human DNA with the animal


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