The Ramayana/Book I/Canto XIII: The Sacrifice Finished

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The Ramayana of Valmiki by Valmiki, translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith
Book I — Canto XIII: The Sacrifice Finished

The circling year had filled its course,
And back was brought the wandering horse:
Then upon Sarjú's northern strand
Began the rite the king had planned.
With Rishyas'ring the forms to guide,
The Bráhmans to their task applied,
At that great offering of the steed
Their lofty-minded king decreed.
The priests, who all the Scripture knew,
Performed their part in order due,
And circled round in solemn train
As precepts of the law ordain.
Pravargya rites [1]were duly sped:
For Upusads [2]the flames were fed.
Then from the plant [3]the juice was squeezed,
And those high saints with minds well pleased
Performed the mystic rites begun
With bathing ere the rise of sun.
They gave the portion Indra's claim,

And hymned the King whom none can blame.
The mid-day bathing followed next,
Observed as bids the holy text.
Then the good priests with utmost care,
In form that Scripture's rules declare,
For the third time pure water shed
On high souled Das'aratha's head.
Then Rishyas'ring and all the rest
To Indra and the Gods addressed
Their sweet-toned hymn of praise and prayer,
And called them in the rite to share.
With sweetest song and hymn intoned
They give the Gods in heaven enthroned,
As duty bids, the gifts they claim,
The holy oil that feeds the flame.
And many an offering there was paid,
And not one slip in all was made,
For with most careful heed they saw
That all was done by Veda law.
None, all those days, was seen oppressed
By hunger or by toil distressed.
Why speak of human kind? No beast
Was there that lacked an ample feast.
For there was store for all who came,
For orphan child and lonely dame;
The old and young were well supplied,
The poor and hungry satisfied.
Throughout the day ascetics fed,
And those who roam to beg their bread:
While all around the cry was still,
'Give forth, give forth,' and ' Eat your fill.'
'Give forth with liberal hand the meal,
And various robes in largess deal.'
Urged by these cries on every side
Unweariedly their task they plied:
And heaps of food like hills in size
In boundless plenty met the eyes:
And lakes of sauce, each day renewed,
Refreshed the weary multitude.
And strangers there from distant lands,
And women folk in crowded bands
The best of food and drink obtained
At the great rite the king ordained.
Apart from all, the Bráhmans there,
Thousands on thousands, took their share
Of various dainties sweet to taste,
On plates of gold and silver placed,
All ready set, as, when they willed,
The twice-born men their places filled.
And servants in fair garments dressed
Waited upon each Bráhman guest.
Of cheerful mind and mien were they,
With gold and jewelled earrings gay.
The best of Bráhmans praised the fare
Of countless sorts, of flavour rare:
And thus to Raghu's son they cried:
'We bless thee, and are satisfied.'
Between the rites some Bráhmans spent
The time in learned argument,

With ready flow of speech, sedate,
And keen to vanquish in debate. [4]

There day by day the holy train
Performed all rites as rules ordain.
No priest in all that host was found
But kept the vows that held him bound:
None, but the holy Vedas knew,
And all their six-fold science [5]too.
No Bráhman there was found unfit
To speak with eloquence and wit.

And now the appointed time came near
The sacrificial posts to rear.
They brought them, and prepared to fix
Of Bel [6]and Khádir [7]six and six;
Six, made of the Palás'a [8]tree,
Of Fig-wood one, apart to be:
Of Sleshmát [9]and of Devadár [10]
One column each, the mightiest far:
So thick the two, the arms of man
Their ample girth would fail to span.
All these with utmost care were wrought
By hand of priests in Scripture taught,
And all with gold were gilded bright
To add new splendour to the rite:

Twenty-and-one those stakes in all,
Each one-and-twenty cubits tall:
And one-and-twenty ribbons there
Hung on the pillars, bright and fair.
Firm in the earth they stood at last,
Where cunning craftsmen fixed them fast;
And there unshaken each remained,
Octagonal and smoothly planed.
Then ribbons over all were hung,
And flowers and scent around them flung.
Thus decked they cast a glory forth
Like the great saints who star the north. [11]
The sacrificial altar then
Was raised by skilful twice-born men,
In shape and figure to behold
An eagle with his wings of gold,
With twice nine pits and formed three-fold
Each for some special God, beside
The pillars were the victims tied;
The birds that roam the wood, the air,
The water, and the land were there,
And snakes and things of reptile birth,
And healing herbs that spring from earth;
As texts prescribe, in Scripture found,
Three hundred victims there were bound.
The steed devoted to the host
Of Gods, the gem they honour most,
Was duly sprinkled. Then the Queen
Kaus'alyá, with delighted mien,
With reverent steps around him paced.
And with sweet wreaths the victim graced;
Then with three swords in order due
She smote the steed with joy, and slew.
That night the queen, a son to gain,
With calm and steady heart was fain
By the dead charger's side to stay
From evening till the break of day.
Then came three priests, their care to lead
The other queens to touch the steed,
Upon Kaus'alyá to attend,
Their company and aid to lend.
As by the horse she still reclined,
With happy mien and cheerful mind,
With Rishyas'ring the twice-born came
And praised and blessed the royal dame.
The priest who well his duty knew,
And every sense could well subdue,
From out the bony chambers freed
And boiled the marrow of the steed.
Above the steam the monarch bent,
And, as he smelt the fragrant scent,
In time and order drove afar
All error that his hopes could mar.
Then sixteen priests together came
And cast into the sacred flame
The severed members of the horse,
Made ready all in ordered course.
On piles of holy Fig-tree raised

The meaner victims' bodies blazed:
The steed, of all the creatures slain,
Alone required a pile of cane.
Three days, as is by law decreed,
Lasted that Offering of the Steed.
The Chatushtom began the rite,
And when the sun renewed his light,
The Ukthya followed: after came
The Atirátra's holy flame.
These were the rites, and many more
Arranged by light of holy lore,
The Aptoryám of mighty power,
And, each performed in proper hour,
The Abhijit and Vis'vajit
With every form and service fit;
And with the sacrifice at night
The Jyotishtom and Áyus rite. [12]

The task was done, as laws prescribe:
The monarch, glory of his tribe,
Bestowed the land in liberal grants
Upon the sacred ministrants.
He gave the region of the east,
His conquest, to the Hotri priest.
The west, the celebrant obtained:
The south, the priest presiding gained:
The northern region was the share
Of him who chanted forth the prayer, [13]
Thus did each priest obtain his meed
At the great Slaughter of the Steed,
Ordained, the best of all to be,
By self-existent deity.
Ikshváku's son with joyful mind
This noble fee to each assigned,
But all the priests with one accord
Addressed that unpolluted lord:
'Tis thine alone to keep the whole
Of this broad earth in firm control.

No gift of lands from thee we seek:
To guard these realms our hands were weak.
On sacred lore our days are spent:
Let other gifts our wants content.'
The chief of old Ikshváku's line
Gave them ten hundred thousand kine,
A hundred millions of fine gold,
The same in silver four times told.
But every priest in presence there
With one accord resigned his share.
To Saint Vas'ishtha, high of soul,
And Rishyas'ring they gave the whole.
That largess pleased those Brahmans well,
Who bade the prince his wishes tell.
Then Das'aratha, mighty king.
Made answer thus to Rishyas'ring:
'O holy Hermit, of thy grace,
Vouchsafe the increase of my race.'
He spoke; nor was his prayer denied:
The best of Bráhmans thus replied:
'Four sons, O Monarch, shall be thine,
Upholders of thy royal line.'


  1. 'The Pravargya ceremony lasts for three days, and is always performed twice a day, in the forenoon and afternoon. It precedes the animal and Soma sacrifices. For without having undergone it no one is allowed to take part in the solemn Soma feast prepared for the gods.' HAUG's Aitareya Bráhmanam. Ved. II. p. 41. note,. q. v.
  2. Upasads. 'The Gods said, Let us perform the burnt offerings called Upasads (i. e. besieging). For by means of an Upasad, i. e. besieging, they conquer a large (fortified) town.' --Ibid. p. 32.
  3. The Soma plant, or Asclepias Acida. lts fermented juice was drunk in sacrifice by the priests and offered to the Gods who enjoyed the intoxicating draught.
  4. 'Dum* in caerimoniarum intervallis Brachmanae facundi, sollertes, crebros sermones de rerum causis instituebant, alter alterum vincendi cupidi. This public disputation in the assembly of Bráhmans on the nature of things, and the almost fraternal connexion between theology and philosophy deserves some notice; whereas the priests of some religions are generally but little inclined to show favour to philosophers, nay, sometimes persecute them with the most rancorous hatred, as we are taught both by history and experience.... This s'loka is found in the MSS. of different recensions of the Rámáyan, and we have, therefore, the most trustworthy testimony to the antiquity of philosophy among the Indians.' SCHLEGEL.
  5. The Angas or appendices of the Vedas, pronunciation, prosody, grammar, ritual, astronomy, and explanation of obscurities.
  6. In Sanskrit vilva, the Aegle Marmelos. 'He who desires food and wishes to grow fat, ought to make his Yúpa (sacrificial Post) of Bilva wood.' HAUG'S Aítareya Bráhmanam. Vol. II. p. 73.
  7. The Mimosa Catechu. ' He who desires heaven ought to make his Yúpa of Khádira wood.' --Ibid.
  8. The Butea Frondosa. 'He who desires beauty and sacred knowledge ought to make his Yúpa of Palás'a wood.' --lbid.
  9. The Cardia Latifolia.
  10. A kind of pine. The word means literally the tree of the Gods; Compare the עצי יהוה 'trees of the Lord.'
  11. The Hindus call the constellation of Ursa Major the Seven Rishis or Saints.
  12. A minute account of these ancient ceremonies would be out of place here. 'Ágnishtoma is the name of a sacrifice, or rather a series of offerings to fire for five days. It is the first and principal part of the Jyotishtoma, one of the great sacrifices in which especially the juice of the Soma plant is offered for the purpose of obtaining Swarga or heaven.' GOLDSTÜCKER'S DICTIONARY. 'The Ágnishtoma is Agni. It is called so because they (the gods) praised him with this Stoma. They called it so to hide the proper meaning of the word: for the gods like to hide the proper meaning of words.'

    'On account of four classes of gods having praised Agni with four Stomas, the whole was called Chatushtoma (containing four Stomas).'

    'It (the Ágnishtoma) is called Jyotishtoma, for they praised Agni when he had risen up (to the sky) in the shape of a light (jyotis).'

    'This (Ágnishtoma) is a sacrificial performance which has no beginning and no end.' HAUG'S Aitareya Bráhmanam.

    The Atirátra, literally lasting through the night, is a division of the service of the Jyotishtoma.

    The Abhijit, the everywhere victorious, is the name of a sub-division of the great sacrifice of the Gavámanaya.

    The Vis'vajit, or the all-conquering, is a similar sub-division.

    Áyus is the name of a service forming a division of the Abhiplava sacrifice.

    'The Aptoryám, is the seventh or last part of the Jyotishtoma, for the performance of which it is not essentially necessary, but a voluntary sacrifice instituted for the attainment of a specific desire. The literal meaning of the word would be in conformity with the Praudhamanoramá, a sacrifice which procures the attainment of the desired object. GOLDSTÜCKER'S DICTIONARY.

    'The Ukthya is a slight modification of the Agnishtoma sacrifice. The noun to be supplied to it is kratu. It is a Soma sacrifice also, and one of the seven Sansthas or component parts of the Jyotishtoma. Its name indicates its nature. For Ukthya means "what refers to the Uktha," which is an older name for Shástra, i.e. recitation of one of the Hotri priests at the time of the Soma libations. Thus this sacrifice is only a kind of supplement to the Agnishtoma.' HAUG.
  13. 'Four classes of priests were required in India at the most solemn sacrifices. 1. The officiating priests, manual labourers, and acolytes, who had chiefly to prepare the sacrificial ground, to dress the altar, slay the victims, and pour out the libations. 2. The choristers, who chant the sacred hymns. 3. The reciters or readers, who repeat certain hymns. 4. The overseers or bishops, who watch and superintend the proceedings of the other priests, and ought to be familiar with all the Vedas. The formulas and verses to be muttered by the first class are contained in the Yajur-veda-sanhitá. The hymns to be sung by the second class are in the Sama-veda-sanhitá. The Atharva-veda in said to be intended for the Brahman or overseer, who is to watch the proceedings of the sacrifice, and to remedy any mistake that may occur. The hymns to he recited by the third class are contained in the Rigveds,' Chips from a German Workshop.