Ashwamedha

                                            Each of the organisms 
                                              that flies in the sky
                                                swims the water,
                                                 walks the land
                                           is the sacrificial horse.

The adhvaryu measures the sacrificial land,
fills chants like breath into an inert body:

thus an unremarkable clearing 
becomes centre of heavens and earth:

what is the navel of the universe?
what is the farthest end of the earth
?

The sacrifice is the navel of the universe
the altar  is the farthest end of earth

Temporary huts spring up, become little factories,
a  melee of activities: stakes built from felled trees,

knobs fashioned with care to bind the stake;
ropes made by firmly twisting durba grass,

finely woven cloth to lay the sacrificial horse  
and shroud him with the chief queen,

gold smelted in furnaces for the queens
for the sacrificial horse on its return a year after –

all strung by chants, words coded in brain
first to last – last to first. He builds the altar

eyes feverish, mind in vigilance.
Every utterance, action unites the horse with

Prajapati whose right eye fell down and swelled,
became the white horse with dark patch –

stories that the hotŗ narrates,
the sacrificer king listens while the horse roams,

a year his thoughts follow  the horse across the earth,
the cloud of dust it leaves with a retinue of 400 people.

(First, the poets created the world in metaphors:

Drops of gold
melted from the sun, the horse –
the whinnying white animal
with wings of eagle
gait of antelope, flashes across the sky;
its russet mane
like light dances on the floor of forests.

This, coded as manual of rituals,  
mnemonic verses welded in memory

notwithstanding obscurities
where cognition crumbled.)  

Prajapati desired the horse that he was, desired sacrifice;
desire is heat that dispersed as gods to be propitiated –

a sacrificial animal victim for each of the gods,
parts of the universe: the sky, grass, heavens. 

Bestow dark necked goat, a deep hued goat,
a white one, black one, two with shaggy hind thighs.

And the horse for Prajapati.
Queens like the metre of  poetry
 
write on the horse, mark the path for the knife; 
adhvaryu carves the ribs dexterously,

cleaving the limbs with love and without hurt,
endearingly: you do not die, you are not harmed.

one two three four… thirty-four
, calling them out
offers the first to Agni … the thirteenth to Yama…

every muscle, every tendon to each of the organisms
that flies in the sky, swims the water, walks the land. 

_________________________________


From the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and Shatapatha Brahmana.

Among these, the Rig Veda is the oldest text, dated to 1500 – 1000 BCE . The Rig Veda consists of ten books or ten mandalas (about 1028 verses), composed by different families of priests.  These are hymns dedicated to Agni, Indra, Surya, Varuna, Rudra, Vishnu, Soma, Ushas.

Ashwamedha finds a mention in 2 consecutive verses in the  Book I of Rig Veda (1.6.2, 1.6.3). One verse through exuberant poetic imagery celebrates the beauty and power of the sacrificial horse, it is compared to Aditya, Yama and Varuna. The other verse details the horse sacrifice; though it states the slaughter of the animal, there is an urge in the poets to communicate the deathless quality of the animal because of its divine nature, there is a plea not to harm the animal. Sacrifice is metaphoric in the early Vedic world. It got interpreted as a ritualistic exercise in the later Vedic period.

Yajur Veda that includes two branches- the Krishna Yajur and the Shukla Yajur, contains mantras and verses to be recited during various rituals and different sacrifices. It is dated to have been composed after 1000 BCE and not later than 900 BCE and 800 BCE respectively.

Shatapatha Brahmana (700 BCE) contains explanations and discussions on various sacrifices and rituals. It executes minute detailing of how various rituals and sacrifices have to be performed.

Adhvaryu recited the verses from the Yajur Veda and oversaw the rituals involved in a sacrifice. He practically did all the manual work of the sacrificial rites. Hotŗ recited verses from the Rig Veda.



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Visitation

Speaking of lost souls, one sat on the drumstick tree
at the farthest end of the garden pelting stones at passersby.

I kept the windows closed, the tuber rose on the window sill
brought her over at night.  I heard the grating of sticks,

dry, one against the other: sticks that crow from the broom carried
on trips back forth back forth to the hollow of a coconut tree.

Satyavati And Vyasa

The man from the mountains
ferreted out the fish girl; feet sore

with calluses, he descended the hills
like a mountain lion and sniffed her skin

scaled in water. (He stepped out the river boat
water at the bottom slurped, a hood over

his head he disappeared beyond the copse
to a path that took him again to the mountains.)

Like a sprig of herb ruffled by breeze 
smelling of radiance, in the warmth

between her legs she cradled silence.
A word snarled in skeins of sounds

swelled in her belly, looped into tales
till the tangles stretched her uterus;

her story got written in her womb
where the Kuru dynasty swam:   

Vyasa birthed Satyavati and the Kuru clan,
blurring who mothered whom.

Yama And Yami

Yama died, stepped across the divide of the pasture;
there he sat on the cool grass, drank the fresh pressed Soma
as he thought of his sister Yami he left behind: she was
a lover he had denied, his twin of destiny /desire –
they lay together in their mother’s womb – man/woman.

Her flesh he shared, her breath his, the hair that
blew  on his face as she bent to pick a flower,
he had gathered into curls of order on her neck,
the down on her neck he had seen bristle on cold evenings
that they as children spent alone on the banks of the river.

Their beautiful mother the dear daughter of Tvastr,
the free spirit of the skies could not be made to yield to
banalities of parenting: changing diapers, cleaning snot,
spooning messy drools of porridge. She complained
she had perpetual headache and that light swam behind her eyes.

After bearing Yama Yami she refused to lie with her husband,
Vivasvat – the glorious Sun; he was too radiant, gave her a migraine.
She darkened the chambers in her palace with thick curtains,
desultorily spent the afternoons sipping cool chalices of Soma
as her neglected children sat in the cold porch outside her room.

Yama and Yami the inseparable twins were the only mortals
in the world of gods – blood and clay, sweat and desire
that made and unmade them at birth. One day was like another
as she baked bread and stirred soup for him – she felt
alone as life passed by, angry that he never touched her.

Eyes rheumy with age she sat in the dark kitchen
not quite recognising the man her brother became –
shifting on his feet, looking into the blue depths of the sky
beyond the radiance that their father shed on the earth.
One day she brought him a kernel of pumpkin soup

and found him dead, the breeze from the mountains
on the skin that she knew so well.  It had never happened before-
Death. Gods didn’t know what to do with a dead man.
But Yama knew, lived for this death 
to step into a world that was left for him to create.

No Viswakarma could do that convincingly:
you should have lived to die, have the fire claw-singe your flesh,
feel the body mix with the earth, eyes with the sun,
breath with the wind. Death calls for compassion,
to deliver the dead you must be compassionate like Yama.

(Yama and Yami were twins, born to Saranyu and Vivasvat or Surya. Saranyu was the daughter of Tvastr or Hiranyagarbha, she was a wild and free spirit who could not be pinned to domesticity of marriage and child raising. Yama was the first mortal to experience death . This poem is drawn from the allusions to Yama and Yami in the Rig Veda (10.13, 10.14, 10.15) where Yama is still a human persona and has not been mythologised into the Lord of Death.)

 

Satyavati And Parashar

He seeks her in the crevices under the arms –
smell of fish, the river bed, weeds that dance in the water;

she ferries him across the Ganga, dreams in her eyes
like the distant moon, blue in a honeyed night.

In the velvety darkness through speeding currents
in the folds of her misted skin he inhales

the smell of worms and algae that swim
in the depths of her eyes; as the pool of passion

surges and stirs, he ingests fragrance of the musk
under her breasts that roll down the waist like heads of

sleepy children. She is no longer a secret he carries
in his loins, she has spilled into kingdoms far and in history.

(Out of this union Satyavati gave birth to Vyasa, the master story teller of the great Indian story)