[Advaita-l] Purusamedha

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Sun Sep 20 22:59:43 CDT 2009

On Sun, 20 Sep 2009, Satish Arigela wrote:

> This is from an acquaintance.
> ----------------
> Much like the cow sacrifice and horse sacrifice, which people have
> tried to explain away as not implying a real slaying, the human
> sacrifice has also been denied. However, there is really no point being
> coy about our past, based on modern notions and standards.

The difference is as Ramakrishnan mentioned, we have literary and 
archeological evidence for the historical performance of those yajnas 
involving real slayings while we do not for the purushamedha.

> The puruSha medha was a rare rite, as it finds very infrequent
> mention in Indic literature. Typically, it was a exaggeration of the
> ashvamedha that was occasionally conducted by victorious kings.

I do not see any evidence for this.  From the ritualistic point of view, 
the purushamedha is not related to the ashvamedha.

> In the puruSha medha rite the rival king was captured and brought as 
> prisoner by the sacrificing king. The rite lasted a whole year. At the 
> end of it he was smothered and sacrificed by the use of the puruSha 
> hymn. Along with him, his animals may also be sacrificed and immolated 
> as offerings. The pUru king, ayutanAyi is said to have performed the 
> puruSha medha rite with his enemies.

He is mentioned in the saMbhavaparvan of the Adiparvan of the Mahabharata, 
adhyaya 90, shloka 19 in the BORI critical edition

mahAbhaumaH khalu prAsenajitImupayeme suyaGYAM nAma
tasyAm asya jaGYe ayutanAyI
yaH puruShamedhAnAmayutam Anayat
tadasyA  AyutanAyitvam ||

"Mahabhauma[1] married the daughter of Prasenajit named Suyajna. From her was 
born Ayutanayi.  He performed a purushamedha in which an ayuta[2]  was 
brought.  Because of this he was called Ayutanayi."

[1] this shloka is part of a geneology of the Paurava dynasty.
[2] A regiment of 10,000 men.

I direct you to the word Anayat which means "brought near" or "collected." 
does this necessarily imply the sacrificial victims were killed?  Or were 
they just bound?  It is too ambiguous to say conclusively.  Also why 
assume the ayuta was composed of his enemies?

> In many ways this gory rite was
> reminiscent of the rite of Julius Caesar when he slew some detractors
> of his along with the sacrificial horse. The puruSha medha may have
> been seen as a more formal mode of eliminating ones foes in the context
> of a pious ritual, as compared to a bland execution.

I think you are reading way more into this shloka than it will allow. 
The motifs of the ashvmedha are unmistakably royal.  They celebrate a 
powerful kings physical domination over the land and the submission of its 
people.  By contrast the purushamedha as per the descriptions in the 
Brahmanas is about "becoming all" in a metaphysical as well as a physical 
sense.  It is about lordship through diffusion of power not concentration 
of power.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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