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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