[Advaita-l] ’atiraatram' - a Vedic ritual coming up in Kerala

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Wed Apr 6 01:58:57 CDT 2011

On Sat, 26 Mar 2011, V Subrahmanian wrote:

> There is a vedavAkyam: '*अतिरात्रे*. *षोडशिनं* गृह्णाति' 'नातिरात्रे *
> षोडशिनं* गृह्णाति' that is quoted by Shankaracharya in the BhAShya/s.  Is
> this sentence related to the above ritual?

Yes but that is not the reason Shankaracharya quotes it.

A common concept in mimamsa both purva or uttara (aka Vedanta) is that the 
Vedas teach a unified concept though hey differ on what that is.  For 
purva mimamsa it is karma.  All statements in the Vedas either enjoin or 
prohibit some action.  Those statements which concern apparently 
historical, mythological, or poetic subjects also aid in 
understanding injunction or prohibition.  Even the upanishads are only to 
be understood as extolling the self as the agent of action.  For the 
uttara mimamsa it is jnana, either alone as per the Advaita Vedantins, or 
combined with karma to a lesser or greater degree as per other 
sampradayas.  The problem is that the Vedic texts are not entirely clear 
so the task of mimamsa is to analyze, interpret, and harmonize them.  (And 
this also applies to all that is dependent on the Vedas such as smrti, 
purana and even secular law.)

The atiratra is a grand soma yajna in which atleast 15 cups of soma are 
drunk by the yajamana.  There is controversy as to whether a 16th 
(ShoDashi) should be drunk.  One vedic text says atirAtre ShoDashinaM 
gR^ihNAti "In the atiratra, the Shodashi should be drunk",  while in 
another it says nAtirAtre ShoDashinaM gR^ihNAti "In the atiratra, the 
Shodashi should not be drunk."  Both of these are commands yet they are 
contradictory.  After discussion, the mimamsaka conclusion is that when 
there is a situation like this where both options are of equal strength 
and there is no additional factors which could favor one option over the 
other (the technical term is vikalpa,) the yajamana (or more realistacally 
the supervising purohit) can feel free to pick one or the other as he 
wishes.  In either case his decision will be dharmic.

Similar problems occur in the jnanakanda.  Sometimes brahman is spoken of 
as many (sarvaM khalvidam brahma) and sometimes as one (ekaM eva 
advitIyaM.)  A saMkhyA/yogi brings this up in brahmasUtra 2.1.26-29 in the 
context of brahman being the cause of creation.  In 2.1.26 He says one of 
the reasons it cannot be is because the definition of Brahman as one and 
without a second would become contradictory if it were said to become 
many.  Therefore it is more reasonable that plurality is the result of a 
separate entity (prakrti in his system.)  The rejoinder in 2.1.27 is that 
the oneness of brahman cannot be denied because it is said to be so in 
Shruti and only Shruti is pramANa for brahman.  Perhaps this argument 
would not convince a nAstika but as saMkhyA/yoga also claims to be Vedic 
it must acknowledge this.  So the opponent backtracks a bit to by saying 
the contradiction is not a problem because it is a vikalpa.  It is 
optional whether to conceive of Brahman as one or many as perhaps one part 
of brahman stays the same and other parts change.  Shankaracharya 
acknowledges the idea of vikalpa ('nAtirAtre...' is quoted) but rejects 
its applicability here because vikalpa only concerns actions and is the 
choice of a particular person.  But existence is not a choice and is 
universal.  In the rest of the adhikarana it is established that 
multiplicity in Brahman is only apparent because of avidya so the issue of 
contradiction is moot.

On Sat, 26 Mar 2011, D.V.N.Sarma డ.వ.ఎన.శరమ wrote:

> Yes. This is a case of contradictory injunctions concerning 'shodasi'.
> It is resolved by Purva Mimamsa by saying that in such case taking
> 'Shodasi' is optional.
> Purva Mimamsa does not answer the question " Why there should be
> contradictory injunctions at all?".

We do not know how exactly the Rshis came to "see" or "hear" the Vedas, we 
only know the results.  And it seems that in different shakhas there are 
different injunctions which seem contradictory when taken as a whole.

On Wed, 30 Mar 2011, D.V.N.Sarma డ.వ.ఎన.శరమ wrote:

> That means there are two atiratras one with shodasi and another without 
> shodasi. Do we have any scriptural authority for that? Scriptures speak 
> of only one atiratra I think.

Unfortunately none of the various books on mimamsa I consulted, mentioned 
where exactly in Shruti these vakyas are to be found but given that this 
is the stock example for vikalpa in ancient authors such as Kumarila 
Bhatta, Shankaracharya, and modern ones such as Laugakshi Bhaskara and 
Krishna Yajvan, I think the genuineness is unassailable.

> Again does the scripture spell out the different qualifications required for
> the adhikaris to
> perform them?

If there is adhikara bheda then there is no vikalpa because it is possible 
to determine which option is superior.  (Or if for instance as Venkata 
Shriramaji says below the tradition favors one option.) Only when the two 
options are exactly equal in force can they be freely chosen.

On Thu, 31 Mar 2011, Venkata sriram P wrote:

> There are 2 aspects here viz., atirAtra & nAtirAtra.    As we are 
> familiar with the word "atirAtra", i need not explain this.  That said, 
> "shodasi pAtra dhAraNa & sweekAra" is MANDATORY in atirAtra ritual.   
> Now, if we observe the other statement which "seems to be" 
> contradictory, infact is not contradictory.    It emphasizes the 
> importance of "shodasi pAtra dhAraNa & sweekara" even in nAtirAtra 
> also.  So, what is "nAtirAtra"?    The 4 pillars of yajna here are 
> brahma, hota, udgata & adhwarya.  Each one has again 4 different 
> assistants to assit them in atirAtra ritual.  This atirAtra ritual 
> should be done with extreme care & shraddha.  Any omission of the 
> yajnAnga, mistake committed, there is no prAyaschitta for this atirAtra 
> ritual.  So, among one of the yajnAngAs, there is a ritual of holding 
> other person's uttariya.  So, 4 x 4 = 16 ritwiks hold the uttariya by 
> holding the other person's uttariya in a cyclic fashion and 
> circumumbulate around the yajna vedika.  Any mistake committed in this 
> yajnAnga, the order of the rituals of atirAtra is disturbed and it is 
> called "atirAtra bhanga".  This results in yajna bhanga and such a 
> disturbed atirAtra is called "nAtirAtra". 
> So, in the case of nAtirAtra, the shodasi pAtra sweekara has to be
> performed again.  So, in either case, shodasi is not optional but
> mandatory. 
> BTW, there is only one atirAtra. 

What you say is no doubt true of the living tradition in which Shrautis 
only belong to a few shakhas but perhaps in less evil times there were 
Shakhas extent that did not drink the ShoDashi.  Certainly the impression 
I get from reading Kumarila Bhatta (he mentions this in the tuptika on PM 
sUtra 10.8.6) and other mimamsaka authors suggests that they thought these 
vAkyas (which as I said, are a stock example of vikalpa) were contradictory.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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