- The agnichayana, or “ritual of building the fire altar,” was one of the grandest rituals in the Vedic sacrificial tradition; it played an extremely important role in the development of Hinduism. It is most completely described in the sixth book of the SHATAPATHA BRAHMANA, which is attached to the YAJUR VEDA. The ritual involves building a temporary shelter of posts and roof thatching to serve as the site for the ritual and all of its adjuncts, which last for more than two weeks. Once the shelter has been created, a huge falcon is built from consecrated bricks. This bird is homologized or understood to be PRAJAPATI or the PURUSHA, the Universal Being. Seventeen special-ized priests are required for this most elaborate of Vedic rituals. A sacrifice of 14 goats formed a central part of the early ritual.The agnichayana is understood as a renewal or re-creation of the universe through ritual. A late verse in the RIG VEDA recounts how the Primordial Man offered himself in sacrifice to create all of the universe; the agnichayana reenacts this process. SOMA, the special drug taken by the Vedic BRAH-MINS, was used during this ritual.The agnichayana ritual, and the theory that developed around it, helped define Indian notions of ADVAITA or non-duality—the equation of the individual self with the Universal Self or Real-ity. The Shatapatha Brahamana, where this ritual is described, says that it must be understood as the universe itself. As the later Vedic texts, the Aranyakas, show, this Vedic ritual can be done esoterically within the body and being of one person. If the agnichayana is the Universal Reality and a person’s being is the ritual, then one can conclude that a person’s being is the Universal Reality, or all that is. This insight leads to the philosophical identification of the individual self and the Ultimate Reality, later found explicitly in the Upanishads.Further reading: Julius Eggeling, trans., The Satapatha-Brahmana, Part 1, According to the Text of the Madhyan-dina School (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1982); J. Frits Staal, AGNI: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, 2 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983); Robert Gardner and Frits Staal, Altar of Fire (videorecording) (Cambridge, Mass.: Film Study Center at Harvard Uni-versity, 1983).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.
Look at other dictionaries:
Prajapati — Prajapati, “lord of all born beings,” was a Vedic divinity of some importance. In the period of the BRAHMANAS his status rose even higher, as he was ritually identified with the cosmic PURUSHA, the source of all reality. In the Rig Veda,… … Encyclopedia of Hinduism
purusha — The term purusha has two meanings. In the ancient RIG VEDA, X. 90, the Purusha (usually spelled in English with a capital P) is the divine being who existed before time and was sacrificed to create both the transcendent and the material realms … Encyclopedia of Hinduism
rita — Rita is a VEDIC concept that means “cosmic order.” VARUNA was most specifically charged with its maintenance, but many other gods such as AGNI and INDRA were sometimes also said to maintain rita. It was understood that the Vedic rituals were… … Encyclopedia of Hinduism
Savitri — 1) mythic princess The story of Savitri and Satyavan, told in the Mahabharata, is one of the most poignant in Indian literature. The beautiful maiden Savitri falls in love with a hermit’s son, Satyavan, and marries him. Savitri learns from… … Encyclopedia of Hinduism
Shatapatha Brahmana — The Shatapatha Brahmana (c. 700 B.C.E.) is one of the most important texts for the interpretation of late Vedic ritual (see VEDAS). Its treatment of certain ritual ideas may have strongly influenced later Hindu philosophical developments. This … Encyclopedia of Hinduism
Veda(s) — Veda is derived from the word, vid, “to know.” A Veda, then, would literally be a compendium of knowledge. In Indian tradition the four Vedas (sometimes collectively referred to as “the Veda”) are the ancient scriptural texts that are… … Encyclopedia of Hinduism
yajna — Yajna is from the SANSKRIT root yaj, “to honor a god with oblations.” A yajna is a ritual involving oblations in the Vedic tradition. It may be simply an offering of clarified butter into a fire, or it may involve 17 priests in an elaborate 12 … Encyclopedia of Hinduism