8/02/2006

Carvaka on rituals, Aswamedha and self contradictions in Vedas

Here is some Carvaka stuff from Sarvadarsanasamgraha by Madhavacarya. (Please note that this is the monist Madhavacarya and not the dualist Madhvacarya.) In the text below, Carvaka very strongly critises rituals as well as the obscenety bestiality/necrophilia associated with Aswamedha [*].

" If a beast slain in the Jyotistoma rite will itself go to heaven, Why then does not the sacrificer forthwith offer his own father? If the Sraddha produces gratification to beings who are dead, Then here, to, in the case of travelers when they start, it is needless to give provisions for the journey. If beings in heaven are gratified by our offering the sraddha here, Then why not give the food down below to those who are standing on the housetop? While life remains let a man live happily, let him feed on ghee even though he runs in debt; When once the body becomes ashes, how can it ever return again? How is it that he comes not back again, restless for love of his kindred? Hence it is only as a means of livelihood that Brahmins have established here. All the ceremonies for the dead, there is no fruit anywhere. The three authors of the Vedas were buffoons, knaves, and demons All the well-known formulas of the pandits, jarphari, turphari, &c. And all the obscene rites of the queen commanded in the Asvamedha, These were invented by buffoons, and so all the various kinds of presents to the priests, While the eating of flesh was similarly commanded by night prowling demons. "


In the following para, Carvaka derides the Agnihotra as merely a waste of money and useful only to keep the brahmins employed. It goes on to explain how the vedas are full of untruth, self contradictions and tautulogies.

If you object that if there be no such thing as happiness in a future world, then how should men of experienced wisdom engage in the Agnihotra and other sacrifices, which can only be performed with great expenditure of money and bodily fatigue, your objection cannot be accepted as any proof to the contrary, since the Agnihotra are only useful as a means of livelihood, for the Veda is tainted by the 3 faults of untruth, self contradiction, and tautology; then again the imposters who call themselves Vedic pandits are mutually destructive, as the authority of the jnana-kanda (section on knowledge) is overthrown by those who maintain that of the karma-kanda (section on action), while those who maintain the authority of the jnana-kanda reject that of the karma-kanda; and lastly, the three Vedas themselves are only the incoherent rhapsodies of knaves, and to this effect runs the popular saying:

"the Agnihotra, the three Vedas, the ascetic's three staves, and smearing oneself with ashes, - Brhaspati says these are but means of livelihood for those who have no manliness nor sense. "




[*]

I was shocked myselves initially about what all was involved in Aswamedha. Its a ceremony performed by a king for expanding territory, beget sons and for the well being of his country in general. When its performed to beget sons, a horse is slained and the chief queen is supposed to then "unite" with the dead horse. Apparently, this is what happens in the Bala Kanda of Ramayana when King Dasharatha performs the Aswamedha to beget sons. Chief Queen Kausalya is supposed to have "united" with the horse after the sacrifice. Valmiki's Ramayana mentions this as follows:

Kausalya walked reverently all around the horse and then with the greatest joy cut it with three knives. Her mind unwavering in her desire for righteousness, Kausalya passed one night with the horse. The priests-- the hotri, the adhvaryu and the udgatri-- saw to it that the second and the junior most of the king's wives, as well as his chief queen, were united with the horse. Then the officiating priest, who was extremely adept and held his senses in check, removed the fat of the horse and cooked it in the manner prescribed in the ritual texts.


Source: The Ramayana of Valmiki: An Epic of Ancient India, Volume 1: Balakanda

Alternate Source: www.valmikiramayan.net . Go to verse 33 on the link provided.

Valmiki does not give any more specific details about the Aswamedha in Ramayana. The complete details about this yagna is found in the 13th Kanda of Satapatha Brahmana (White Yajur Veda). There are many translations of this book available, most popular being one translated by Julius Eggeling. If you can read and understand Sanskrit, you can access this book online here. Use the right frame to jump to Book 13, Chapter 5, Paragraph 2. A very direct and gory translation of the verses pertaining to this ritual is given here.


B. R. Ambedkar, in his essay titled "Riddles in Hinduism", has also used this practise (among many other things) to criticise Vedas.