Category Archives: Vedic Religion

Gaudapada (and Advaita Vedanta)

Legendary Life

Of the many philosophers in the history of Hinduism, Gaudapada is one of whom little is known, although he had a large effect on the tradition as a whole. His origin is the most prominent feature in legends concerning him; however, due to liberties taken in the oral tradition, they are rarely a strong source of factual information (Pande 96). For example, some legends state that Patanjali himself taught Gaudapada, and due to his disobedience, had cursed him until Gaudapada could find a suitable student (Pande 96). Of course, there is great scepticism surrounding this story, as the timelines in which Patanjali and Gaudapada are proposed to have lived are separated by hundreds of years (Pande 96). Other sources seem to believe that he was, at some point, the student of a sage named Suka. However not much is known about Suka, other than he was believed to be the son of the legendary Vyasa (Comans 2). As such, Gaudapada emerges as more of a pseudo-legendary person, than a concrete historical figure. There is virtually no indication of his existence other than his works, or reference to him by his students later in history (Comans 1).

The estimated periods when Gaudapada lived varies greatly, according to different sources. Generally, it is calculated in relation to the dates of his distant student Sankara, who was believed to live around 780-820 CE. This placed Gaudapada at around 680 CE, although it shifts based on estimation of Sankara’s life time (Isayeva 15). Scholars also examine motifs used by Gaudapada in his works, which seem to reflect particular Buddhist values. They thus propose that Gaudapada had lived during the time when certain Buddhist philosophies flourished (Isayeva 15).

Similarly, we are uncertain as to where Gaudapada came from or lived. Some propose that he lived in northern Bengal, near the Hiraravati River, where a tribe known as the Gaudas resided. As such, some propose Gaudapada lived as a master, taking his name from the tribe of which he was a part of (Isayeva 15).

Although we know little about how, when, or where he lived, we know more about whom he influenced via his philosophical ideas. The most well-known of these is the great thinker Sankara, whos strong influence from Gaudapada is evident in his own work (Isayeva 14). The time gap between Sankara and Gaudapada leads scholars to generally agree that Gaudapada perhaps taught a man named Govinda, who went on to teach Sankara (Isayeva 14).



Gaudapada is most well-known for his commentary on the Mandukya Upanisad. Of the ten Upanisads, the Mandukya is the shortest, and deals with cosmology as well as absolute truth known as brahman (Isayeva 16). His works, known as the Mandukya-Karika, is made up of four chapters: “treatise concerning the scriptural text”, “treatise concerning unreality”, “treatise on non-duality”, and “treatise on the quelling of the fire brand” (Comans 2). Of the four chapters, only the first is tied to a text, which Gaudapada discusses, namely the Mandukya Upanisad. The other three chapters are not involved directly with any other text, but expand on the ideas developed in the first chapter (Comans 2).

The basis of Gaudapada’s philosophy, which makes up Advaita Vedanta, is concerned with the illusory nature of things. In particular, this stem of Hindu philosophy focuses on absolute reality, brahman, the inner self, atman, and maya, which is the illusion that holds us in the cycle of samsara, rebirth (Rodrigues 94). Gaudapada explains four stages, or steps, that one would go through in order to achieve the state of absolute reality. As well, he holds that the concept of absolute truth or reality is already in each individual (Isayeva 23).

The first stage, called vaisvanara, means waking self or waking state (Comans 3). This stage pertains to the self as it lives within the illusion of maya, unaware of its illusory nature (Isayeva 21). In essence, it is the spiritual ignorance of the self that this stage speaks of. The Mandukya Upanisad describes atman here as having “seven limbs, nineteen mouths, and who experiences gross objects” (Comans 3). Gaudapada explains that it is these extremities that the atman uses to experience illusory existence. In this waking state, the atman is unaware and so it thrashes about, attempting to experience everything it can. In this way, the consciousness of the atman is seen as external here (Comans 3).

The next stage pertains to the dream like state, taijasa, where the atman notices the illusory nature of everything (Comans 4). In this state, Gaudapada would maintain that consciousness begins to move inward as it starts to realize the nature of itself (Comans 4). It is essentially at this stage that one could say the atman, previously external and ignorant, begins its journey inward towards truth, as it begins to see the existence of maya (Isayeva 21).

Prajna, stage three, speaks of deep sleep, or slumber (Comans 4). In this stage, Gaudapada holds that one is saved from illusion, though not truly liberated (Isayeva 22). In contrast to the previous two states, in which the self is separated due to its interaction with illusion, self, illusion, and consciousness all become one here; just one “lump of consciousness” (Isayeva 22). Instead, he cautions about this stage because those on their way to truth may get caught up in the bliss of freedom from maya, thinking they are liberated just because they have become aware that they were ignorant before. He says that although it is a wonderful state to be in, even greater bliss comes from full understanding of the nature of the atman, which cannot be obtained whilst in this stage (Isayeva 22).

Finally, the last stage is where the main concept of advaita emerges. Advaita means non-dualism, and refers to absolute truth, or brahman (Isayeva 23). In essence, brahman is seen as the only thing, rather than multiple aspects of reality, as described in more dualistic philosophies of Hinduism like Sankhya (Rodrigues 199). This stage is called turiya, although Gaudapada would argue that even giving this state a name undermines the very idea of it (Comans 5). Examples such as, “brahman is neither here nor there”, “living nor dead”, “waking or asleep”, are all given by Gaudapada to illustrate this view. As an absolute truth, there is nothing but it, which in turn means it is all, and it is nothing (Comans 5). This is the essence of what advaita means as well, which conflicts with the general dualistic orthodox view of brahman and atman (Absolute Reality, and Self) being two different things (Rodrigues 71).


Later Influences

Hundreds of years after his time, Gaudapada’s philosophies live on through his students. The most noted of these distant students was Sankara, whose teacher was taught by Gaudapada. Within Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta, we see many parallels between the two philosophers. A major similarity is that Sankara proposed that the only absolutely real thing is brahman, which is the only thing in existence (Rodrigues 374). Although this may seem completely identical to Gaudapada’s belief, the emphasis Gaudapada put on the paradoxical nature of brahman varies slightly with Sankara’s viewpoint. Instead Gaudapada held that brahman neither exists, or exists, among other examples of his extreme non-dualistic viewpoint or darsana (Comans 5). Sankara still held many other core values that were quite similar to Gaudapada’s viewpoint. The concept of neti-neti­, meaning not one or the other, in regards to absolute truth (Rodrigues 374). This is more aligned with the idea that Gaudapada seems to be conveying in regards to brahman, as well as the abstract concept of understanding brahman. It is in this unification of brahman that causes Advaita Vedanta to be considered so radical. Many other philosophies, such as Sankhya, propose that brahman is made up of many aspects that make up our reality. In the particular example of Sankya, prakrti and purusa, the creator and observer (Rodrigues 199). Although Advaita Vedanta seems to undermine philosophies such as this, the Vedas themselves are not openly criticized, and as such Advaita Vedanta is accepted within the Hindu orthodoxy (Rodrigues 376).



Comans, Michael (2000) The Method of Early Advaita Vedanta: A Study of Gaudapada, Sankara, Suresvara and Padmapada. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Isayeva, Natalia (1995) From Early Vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism: Gaudapada, Bhartrhari, and Abhinavagupta. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Pande, Govind (1994) Life and Thought of Sankaracarya. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: the EBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books Ltd.

Tenzin, Kencho (2006) Shankara: A Hindu Revivalist or a Crypto-Buddhist? Atlanta: Georgia State University.


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Noteworthy Websites / Additional Readings

Banerji, Sures (1989) A Companion to Sanskrit Literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Dvivedi, Manilal (trans.) (1894) Mandukya-karika. Boimbay: Tatva-vivechaka Press.

Karmarkar, Raghunath (trans.) (1953) Mandukya-karika. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

Lochetfeld, James (2002) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism. The Rosen Publishing Group.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2011) Studying Hinduism in Practice. Abingdon: Routledge.

Wilson, Horace (trans.) (1837) Samkhya-karika. London: Valpy.


Article written by: Jordan Wingfield (February 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Agni (God of Fire)

Agni is said to be one of the closest connected gods with humans than any of the other deities in the Hindu tradition. The god Agni is identified with being the producer of fire and referred to as being Indra’s (god of thunder and lightning) brother (Macdonell 57). There are many different myths as to how Agni was born; some say that the deity was born three times, once from water, then air and last on Earth. A common myth is that Agni was made from the coupling of the god of the earth (Prthivi) and god of the heavens (Dyaus) and is said to be the son of Brahma. Agni was born fully-grown and was said to be ravenously hungry which led him to devour his parents (McLeish 1996). Agni is the intercessor between the deities and humankind, and is of the few gods in the Hindu tradition that has retained its power to this day (Chandra 9-10).

Agni is identified as one of the first deities to take human form. He is said to be a red man who has seven tongues with which he licks up the butter offered in sacrifices. He is also portrayed as having seven arms, three legs and two heads. Agni is almost always portrayed with a ram as his vehicle, and is occasionally shown riding in a chariot with fiery horses or goats (Jansen 64). His eyes and hair are both black, and on his head he often bears the horns of a bull. He is usually seen wearing a yellow waistcloth. He appears to be young man, which is due to his rebirth everyday through the friction of two sticks. Agni is immortal and lives amidst humankind, yet in heaven he is portrayed as the sun. Agni’s image of fire is a symbol of destruction, which explains why his attributes include an axe, torch and flaming spear, as well as prayer beads (Jansen 64).

Soma (the moon) is a deity who is regarded as a link between the human and the divine, just like Agni. Soma is identified with the moon, which is said to “contain the ambrosia of immortality” (Flood 46). Agni and Soma are said to be the most significant gods (devas) placed at the level of the Earth. They are connected in the sense that the moon is identified with Soma, as Soma is with Agni, and Agni is with the Sun. The public (srauta) rites are primarily focused on Agni and Soma in which vegetarian and non-vegetarian items are offered into multiple sacrificial fires. The (srauta) rites require the burning of three sacred fires. Items such as milk, animals, vegetable cakes and stalks of the soma plant are all offered into the fires (Flood 41-54).

Agni is addressed in approximately one third of the hymns in the Rg Veda. He was central in sacrificial ritual because it was the fire that transformed the offerings into something accessible to the gods (Fowler 98). Agni was a very important deity, and this was evident through the high degree to which he was worshipped. He is described as a divine sage and a swift messenger between the gods and humans, which is why he is still widely worshipped to this day. His worshippers are said to thrive and have a prolonged life (Wilkins 24). He announces hymns to immortals and brings them down from heaven above to sacrifice them. Without Agni, the deities do not experience any satisfaction. Agni is worshipped in many forms such as, a wise director, a protector of all ceremonies and a successful accomplisher (Wilkins 23).

Agni is portrayed in the Mahabharata as being drained of all his energy. Through devouring the Khandava forest he regains his strength. In that story, Indra attempts to stop Agni, but with the assistance of Krsna, Agni ends up consuming the forest (Wilkins 27). Agni is known by multiple names such as, Vahni which means “burnt sacrifice”, Jivalana as “He who burns”, and Dhumketu which is “He whose sign is smoke” (Wilkins 27). Agni is said to have formed heaven and earth and is spoken of as the son of both worlds. He is said to have created the sun and decorated heaven with stars.

The importance of fire in Hindu rituals remains today, as does the deity Agni. Among the directional guardians, Agni was in control of the southeast, which is where dawn breaks. Agni was born fully mature and was able to consume everything, pure and unpure.  (Andrews 8). Fire was widely worshipped because it represented heat and light and was believed to have come from the sun. Fire was a very important part in Hindu rituals because it allowed people a way to give sacrificial offerings to the gods. This is why Agni is still important in today’s society. Agni is known to forgive sin, and offers boons that usually have to do with offspring, prosperity and domestic welfare. Indra’s boons give power, glory and victory (Macdonell 98). All gods had equal power at one time, but after acquiring immortality through sacrifices, Agni, Indra and Surya became grander than the other gods (Jansen 63). The god of war, Skanda, later became the successor of Agni and Indra.

In the epic Ramayama, the king of demons abducted Rama’s wife Sita. After Rama wins a battle with the army of demons, he is able to take his wife home, but doubts her loyalty. He accuses her of being unfaithful while she was away from him and in response, Sita throws herself into a fire to prove herself loyal. Agni, god of fire, did not harm Sita in any way and placed her into Rama’s arms without injury. This led Rama to believe his wife’s words (Jansen 78). This reveals aspects of how Agni has the power to control outcomes such as Sita being harmed or not.

Agni takes part in blessings at occasions such as marriages and deaths, and he commands riches in earth and heaven. He is prayed to by individuals and worshipped as a forgiver of sins, and it is said that he surrounds other gods as the “circumference of a wheel does the spokes” (Wilkins 24). The god Siva has three eyes: the sun, the moon and fire. His third eye is the eye of inner vision and is often invoked at the time of meditation. The third eye also burns with desire (Kama) (Badlani 95).

Agni is also said to be the son of Angrias and grandson of Sandila who is one of the great sages. Agni is the eldest son of Brahma and his wife is Swaha. Through this marriage, he has three sons, Pavak, Suchi and Pavman, and forty-six grandsons for a total of forty-nine descendants (Chandra 10). Agni’s attendant, Matarisvan, is a minor messenger god (Chandra 220). Agni symbolizes a spark in nature through the image of two pieces of wood being rubbed together. This produces the fire in that Agni dwells. (Andrews 8).

Another story in the Mahabharata is one in which Bhrigu curses Agni. Bhrigu married a woman named Puloma who was promised to a demon. Through seeing her exquisiteness, Bhrigu decides to take her away without the knowledge of anyone. Agni assists the demon in finding the bride’s hideaway and claims her back. Bhrigu curses Agni because he helped the demon and says, “from this day you shall eat everything.” Agni did not understand why he was being cursed because he had been honest and accomplished his task of assisting the demon in finding the bride’s hideout. He refers to himself as the mouth of the gods and ancestors. Bhrigu alters his curse by changing it so that Agni purifies all that is passed through him (Wilkins 366). Agni is a Kravyad (flesh-eater), and is represented under an unsightly form. He is called upon to devour meaning he places his enemies into his mouth and engulfs them. He sharpens his tusks and eats his enemies (Wilkins 27).

Agni is the lord of knowledge and fire; he is the chief deity and he is the power of inner and outer illumination. He is the mouth of the gods and the wealth giver (Danielou 64). He is said to have two shapes: one being fearful and the other benevolent. He is called Rudra. Agni is known as a devourer and a god of many powers, one being fire. He is of great importance and is highly worshipped. He is one of the highest gods in the Hindu tradition.


References and Related Readings

Andrews, Tamra (2000) Dictionary of Nature Myths: Legends of the Earth, Sea and Sky. Santa Barbara: Oxford University Press.

Badlani, Hiro G (2008) Hinduism: Path of the Ancient Wisdom. New York: iUniverse Inc.

Chandra, Suresh (1998) Encyclopaedia of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons.

Danielou, Alain (1991) The Myths and Gods of India: The Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism from the Princeton Bollingen Series. Rochester: Inner Traditions International.

Findly, Ellison B. 2005. “Agni.” In Encyclopedia of Religion 2nd Edition, edited by Lindsay Jones, 178-179. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Accessed February 3, 2016.

Flood, Gavin D (1996) An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fowler, Jeaneane D (1997) Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.

Jansen, Eva Rudy (1993) Gods, Manifestations and Their Meaning. Havelte: Binkey Kok Publications.

Leeming, David (2005) The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lochtefeld, James G (2002) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group

Macdonell, Arthur Anthony (1898) Vedic Mythology. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) “Agni.” Bloomsbury Dictionary of Myth. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc: Accessed February 4, 2016.

Wilkins, W.J (2003) Hindu Gods and Goddesses. London: W. Thacker and Co.


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Article written by: Kimberly Sitter (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Vedangas

The word Vedangas in Sanskrit means “limbs of the Vedas” which is appropriate because it is a collection/genre that is an appendage of the Vedas. The origin of the Vedangas can date back to as early as 1200 BC but some speculate on an even earlier date of 1800 BC. The jyotisa collection for instance refers to the beginning of the Vedangas during a winter solstice, which may have occurred closer to 1800 instead or 1200 BC (Achar 173).  The Vedangas consist of six appendages: siksa, chandas, vyakarna, nirukta, jyotisa [oldest in Hindu history], and kalpa. The first four of the appendages are considered exegetical, meaning they are used as aids to help understand the Vedas. The last two appendages are regarded as ritual because they deal with rites and laws as well as the proper time and place to perform the appendages (Bhat 10).


The first appendage of the Vedangas is siksa, which is the category related to correct pronunciation and accentuation. Siksa is proper pronunciation and in order to have proper phonics, there have to be rules. A major rule under this category pertains to the sound of syllables because being off pitch by even a slight degree would alter the result and therefore the effect of the word trying to be pronounced (Tiwari 1).  There are four main pratisakhya; which deals with the phoenics of the Sanskrit language. Pratisakhya also falls under siksa: Rgveda-Pratisakhya of Rgveda, Taittiriya-Pratisakhya of Krishna Yajurveda, Vajasaneyi Pratisakhya of Shukla Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda-Pratisakhya of Atharvaveda. These pratisakhya are responsible for determining the relationship between Samhita; the most ancient layer of text in the Vedas, consisting of mantras, hymns, prayers, litanies and benedictions, to Padapathas; which are recitation styles designed to complete and memorize a text,  and also vice versa. They are also important for the interpretation of the Vedas (Bhat 11).


The second appendage of the Vedangas is kalpa, which is the category related to Vedic rituals. If the Vedas were imagined as a person (Purusa), this section would be known as the arms. Rules referring to sacrifice, excluding things that are not directly connected to the ceremony are found in the Kalpa-sutras [contents directly connected to the Brahmanas and Aranyakas] (Tiwari 1). The Kalpa-sutras is broken down into three categories (1) the Srauta-sutras, (2) the Grhya-sutras, and (3) the Dharma-sutras. The Srauta-sutras consist of great sacrificial rites, where the most priests were employed. The Grhya-sutras consist of household rituals that do not need a priest’s assistance. The Dharma-sutras consist of customary law prevalent at the time (Bhat 13).


The third appendage of the Vedangas is vyakaraṇa, which is the category related to Vedic grammar. Parts of this section have been lost over time because of pratisakhya, which also connects to grammar but has surpassed Vyakarana (Bhat 11). However, one major figure when Vyakarana is being discussed is Panini, primarily because he was one of the most, if not the most significant grammarian alive. His book the Astadhyayi is possibly the reason Panini surpassed all other grammarians of the period. Vyakarana is called the mouth of the Veda Purusha and is also seen as crucial for understanding the Vedas (Tiwari 1).


The fourth appendage of the Vedangas is nirukta, which is the category related to why certain words are used. This section is known as the ears of the Veda Purusa. Under this category, there has only been one text that is based on “etymology” that has survived known as the Nirukta of Yaska. In this text, it explains words found in the Vedas are explained and then assigned to one of three sections based on the type of word. The first category are words that were collected under main categories, the second category are more difficult words found, and the third category are words based on the three regions (earth, sky, and heaven) and the classification of deities (Tiwari 1). These three categories are known as the Naighantuka-kanda, Naigama-kanda, and the Daivata-kanda. The Vedangas put lots of emphasis towards this category for increase growth in the grammatical science in India (Bhat 12).


The fifth appendage of the Vedangas is chandas, which is the category related to meter, which covers the sense of the Mantra. Even though there has been no exclusive Vedic meter that survived there is the Chandas-shastras (book by Pingala). This section is often referred to as the feet of the Veda Purusha. This is because the Vedas are known as the body, which relies on the chandas [feet]. The use of this appendage is so reading and reciting is done properly (Tiwari 1). The chandas discuss the number of syllables in texts and poems which is linked to meter. This category is connected to the Brahmanas, which created the syllable and verse, however research could not find a meter in it. There are also two different types of meters based on the Rg Veda and the Yajur Veda based on the recessions (Bhat 12).


The sixth appendage of the Vedangas is jyotisa, which is the class related to the knowledge of astronomy. This section is the oldest text about astronomy in Hindu literature and dates back to around 1300 BC (Abhyankar 61). Since this category was supposedly created during a winter solstice when the sun and the moon were aligned, the date of 1820 BC has been proposed and is said that astronomy started shortly after (Achar 177). Jyotisa is known as the eye of the Veda Purusha. Jyotisa is not the teaching of astronomy, but the use of astronomy to fix the appropriate time [days and hours] for sacrifices (Tiwari 1). The most substantial sources of knowledge on astronomy can be found early in the Brahmanas. Jyotisa is especially useful because it can give positions of the moon and sun for solstices as well as other useful information (Bhat 13).


Since the Vedangas are appendages of the Vedas they can be seen as equally important in the studying and learning of the Hindu culture. Siksa provides the phonics of the Sanskrit, and without it speaking and understanding would be near impossible. Kalpa provides the proper steps towards performing rituals and when to do them. Vyakaraṇa is similar to the phonics but provides proper grammar for words that are used in the Vedas. Nirukta contains etymology (ie. meaning of usage). Chandas provide the meters in Vedic hymns to help proper reading. Jyotisa is the knowledge of astronomy to help with dating events in Hindu history and other useful information. The origins of the Vedangas can also be traced to the Brahmanas, which are a collection of ancient commentaries based on the Vedas. This connection can be made because the Brahmanas also have discussions on grammar, meter, etymology etc. (Bhat 10).


References and Further Readings

Abhyankar, K. D (1998) “Antiquity of the Vedic Calendar.” Bulletin of the Astronomical Society of India, Vol. 26, 61-66.

Achar, B.N (2000) “A Case For Revising The Date or Vedanga Jyotiṣa” Indian Journal of History of Science, Vol. 35, No. 1: 173-183.

Arnold, E.V (1905) Vedic metre in its historical development: Cambridge, UP.

Bhat, M. S (1987) Vedic Tantrism: A Study of R̥gvidhāna of Śaunaka with Text and Translation: Critically Edited in the Original Sanskrit with an Introductory Study and Translated with Critical and Exegetical Notes. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Brockington, J. L (1989) “Review of Literature in the Vedic Age.” The Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas, Upaniṣads and Vedāṅga Sūtras. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 52(3), 569–570.

Tiwari, Sashi (2014) “The Vedangas – Vedic Heritage.” The Vedangas – Vedic Heritage. Delhi: Delhi University.


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Nirukta of Yaksa




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Article written by: Ryan Loman (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Spiritual Healing Practices in Hinduism

In western culture, different forms of possession, mental illness, and spiritual disorders are often categorized as pathological and abnormal; these pathologies are usually treated with psychoanalysis, psychiatry and mass amounts of medication with less frequent attention paid to spiritual treatment. In the east, and more specifically, in the Hindu tradition, spiritual abnormalities and anomalies are oftentimes treated using various religious practices and spiritual healing techniques that date back to the time of the Vedas (Frawley 1997).

Many forms of spiritual healing exist in the Hindu tradition, from the time of the Vedas to Hinduism in its contemporary form, and this article will only scratch the surface. Historically, the Ayurveda—which is an ancient, five thousand year old Vedic system of medicine known as the “Science of Life” (Frawley 1997; Jones and Ryan 2007)—placed emphasis on the pure self (Atman) and true consciousness and its relation to the universe (Brahman). Essentially, the Ayurveda gave Hinduism a guide for medical and spiritual healing and enlightenment (Frawley 1997; Jones and Ryan 2007). Furthermore, exorcisms have always played a fundamental role in cleansing and ridding the soul of unwanted negative possession (Sax 2011; Crapanzano 1987), and gemstones, Soma, sacred ash, and healing amulets also serve a symbolic healing purpose with respect to protecting the soul from demonic and ghostly entities (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2009).

The Ayurveda is the oldest of traditional healing guides that Hinduism has to offer us. “Diet, herbs, water, minerals, and other treatments are [typically] used for cures” (Jones and Ryan 58) in this system of healing. Traditionally, yoga (which has presently become popularized in the west) was therapeutically used as a part of Ayurvedic practices to delve into the actualization of the true self (atman) and the nature of reality (Brahman). Spiritually speaking, the Ayurveda and the practice of yoga ultimately seek to liberate the soul (jiva) from the cycles of rebirth (samsara) and the tremendous constraining moral principle that is karma (Frawley 1997).

To understand spirituality and spiritual healing in Hinduism one must first understand the ultimate goal in Hindu philosophy, which is to free oneself from the cyclical nature of existence. This liberation is termed moksa—which is essentially the same ultimate goal in the practice of yoga, termed kaivalya. Techniques such as mantras and meditations used in yoga, which have been adopted from the Ayurveda, attempt to spiritually link the self and consciousness to the natural world that surrounds it (Frawley 1997). This broad look at the spiritual focus of Hindu philosophies to maintain the well being of the self is linked to the spiritual healing that accompanies anomalies in one’s spirit, such as spiritual possession.

Possession can be understood as an altered, unusual or extraordinary state of mind due to the controlling power of a spirit, god, goddess, or demon over an individual’s consciousness (Crapanzano 1987). Spirit possession can be distinguished into two broad categories: positive possession and negative possession (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2009; Sax 2011). Positive possession is when the individual is spiritually possessed by a deity, a god or a goddess (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). Negative possession, on the other hand, is when the individual is spiritually possessed by a devil, a demon or a ghost-like figure (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). When an individual’s spirit is possessed, the individual will display behaviours that are uncharacteristic of it; this is due to the fact that the body is possessed by some other entity—one that is no longer the normal self (Sax 2011). The possessed body may actually experience pain and various symptoms of disease and illness while under possession (Crapanzano 1987). In the Hindu tradition, spiritual healing (with regards to curing these aversive mental and physical symptoms) comes in many practices, objects and materials, including but not limited to: exorcisms, temples, healing amulets (tabiz), healing ash (vibhuti), gemstones, and Soma (Crapanzano 1987; Jones and Ryan 2007; Sax 2009; Sax 2011).

Healing, in the form of an exorcism, can be a one-on-one ritual (puja) between the patient and the exorcist, or it can be a pubic affair, involving the whole community (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). In William Sax’s chapter “A Himalayan Exorcism” in Studying Hinduism in Practice (Sax 2011) he outlines a specific instance of fieldwork in which he witnessed, and contributed to, a communal exorcism. Possession is an uncommon phenomenon in the west and in Europe, but in India, possession is a relatively frequent occurrence, and as such, exorcisms are often a site of public gathering (Sax 2011). Holistically, Sax describes his fieldwork as “psychologically demanding […] because the rituals were so exciting and dramatic: the drumming and singing, the ecstatic dancing of possessed people, the awesome appearance of fearsome deities, and the ghosts from the past, wailing and shrieking in a stuffy, crowded room” (Sax 154). In general, musical sounds, singing, and dancing are important ritual components in the process of exorcizing an unwanted spirit from a body (Crapanzano 1987). There are three important roles in the musical background of the Himalayan exorcism as studied by Sax: (1) the huraki, which is an unusual sounding drum that effectively invokes spiritual awakening; (2) the thakalyor, “who plays a metal platter with two wooden drumsticks” as a background beat (Sax 150); and (3) the bhamvar, who sings the final lines of each verse of the exorcism song—the bhamvar is known in English as “the bumblebee” (Sax 2011).

In the exorcism that Sax describes, multiple spirits uncontrollably possesses multiple people; these possessions are often observable via shrieks, screams, unconsciousness, odd bodily positioning and violence (Sax 2011).  This state of mind, this altered state of consciousness, can be best described as a trance; that is: “[t]he subject experiences a detachment from the structured frames of reference that support his usual interpretation and understanding of the world [around] him” (Crapanzano 8688). These altered states of consciousness are not only healable with drums, chants, songs and dancing, as is found in the practice of exorcism, but spirit possession can be cured via other spiritual methods as well.

Essentially, the goal of spiritual healing in Hindu philosophy seeks to protect the soul from demonic spiritual powers; the influence of this negative spiritual energy can be, and should be, warded off. Negative spiritual possession can be counteracted by the use of Soma, which is an intoxicating, mind-altering, hallucinogenic drink that is perceived as divine and therefore connects the spirit of the ingesting person to higher understanding and consciousness (Crapanzano 1987). Negative influences on the mind and spirit in general have been understood as celestially caused; the inauspiciousness that is associated with the universe at certain times is counteracted by the wearing of specific gemstones that repel negative spirits from interacting with the body (Sax 2009). Along the same lines as the wearing of gemstones, the protection from evil spirits is also sought in other objects such as sacred healing ash (vibhuti/bhasman/bhabhut), and healing amulets (tabiz). Vibhuti is ash derived from the cremation of humans or from the excretion of a sacred animal in the Hindu tradition—the cow (Sax 2009). The sacred ash is not only seen as protection from evil spirits but also as rejuvenation and revitalization of the material and spiritual aspects of one’s life (Sax 2009). Rituals that invoke the use of vibhuti essentially serve as a purification of the mind and the spirit. Tabiz, on the other hand are lockets in which sacred Vedic or other Hindu textual verses are held, they are usually made of copper, brass or iron, similar to the ta’wiz in the Islamic tradition (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). Interestingly, the sacred healing ash (vibhuti) to which I made reference above is oftentimes placed inside the amulet for the same spiritual protection purposes (Dwyer 2003). Most importantly, the amulets serve as a force that diverts evil, malevolent and harmful spiritual entities (Sax 2009). Tabiz and vibhuti are both ritual symbols that are commonly used in exorcisms (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). As we discussed earlier, exorcisms can take place privately, but they are just as likely to be performed publically—sometimes at a shrine (Crapanzano 1987).

There are many shrines in India that are dedicated solely to the curing of the spirit and the mind. A famous symbolic site that is renowned for spiritual healing in the Hindu tradition is the Balaji Mandir—this temple is located in Rajasthan, a north Indian state near the village of Mehandipur (Sax 2009). The shrine is dedicated to the Hindu god Hanuman, who is a mythical destroyer of demons and Pretraj, who is the “King of Ghosts” (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). Demonic and ghostly possession, trances and exorcisms are all commonplace at the Balaji temple—the temple is notorious for the healing of mental illness (Sax 2009). Daily, thousands of pilgrims, devotees and spiritually suffering persons visit the shrine in the hopes of having their soul cured from any negative spiritual possession (Sax 2009).

Contemporarily, exorcisms, gemstones, intoxicating substances and yoga still play important spiritual healing roles not only in India but in the west as well. Mindfulness, spiritual awareness and yoga are implicated in contemporary western conceptions of spiritual well being (Srivastava and Barmola 2013). The present psychological healing that Hindu rituals have on positive thinking and spirituality worldwide shows that spiritual healing should not be underestimated as a powerful tool in curing mental illness (Srivastava and Barmola 2013). The most vital aspect to understanding our own consciousness is to understand how the spirit can be healed and refurbished with guidance from the spiritual healing practices of the Hindu tradition.



Crapanzano, Vincent (1987) “Spirit Possession: An Overview” in Encyclopedia of Religion. Jones, Lindsay (ed.). United States: Thomas Gale. pp. 8688-8694.

Dwyer, Graham (2003) The Divine and the Demonic: Supernatural Affliction and Its Treatment in North India. London: Routledge.

Frawley, David (1997) Ayurveda and the Mind: The Healing of Consciousness. Wisconsin: Lotus Press.

Jones, Constance A. and James D. Ryan (2007) “Ayurveda” in Encyclopedia of Hinduism. J. Gordon Melton (ed.). New York: Facts on File Publishing. pp. 58.

Sax, William (2009) “Healers” in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Jacobsen, Knut, A. (ed.)  Leiden: Brill.

Sax, William (2011) “A Himalayan Exorcism” in Studying Hinduism in Practice. Hillary P. Rodrigues (ed.). New York: Routledge. pp. 146-157.

Srivastava, Kailash Chandra and K. C. Barmola (2013) “Rituals in Hinduism as related to spirituality.” Indian Journal of Positive Psychology 4.1:87-95.


Related Topics for Further Investigation










Pretaraj (King of Ghosts)





Mehandipur Balaji Temple




Spiritual Healing





Huraki drum



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Article written by: Tanner Layton (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kubera: God of Wealth

Kubera holds a variety of titles within Hinduism, most notably being the god of wealth and riches. He is also regarded as the god of fertility, a tutelary household spirit, the protector of sailors and god of the dead (Coulter and Turner 283). In the Satapatha Brahmana, he is the lord of thieves and criminals (Sutherland 63), and these are but a few different titles he possesses. Despite having various titles and responsibilities, he is often associated with having a lesser role in Hindu mythology in relation to other deities (Wilkins 388). However, this does not mean that Kubera does not have a rich history and importance within the mythological realm of the Hindu tradition. One of the main reasons that Kubera is not regarded as being a prominent deity is due, in part, to the lack of images and monuments dedicated to him. When he is depicted in images, which mostly come from the Himalayan regions, Kubera has a large potbelly and he holds a mongoose that vomits jewels when he squeezes it (Buswell). Another way he is depicted is as the guardian of the north and is portrayed as a dwarfish figure with a large paunch, holding a money bag or a pomegranate. He is also sometimes depicted riding on a man (Britannica), which makes him unique in relation to other gods, who usually are mounted on animals. Kubera is a lokapala or “world guardian” (Sutherland 65), deities who are usually illustrated as being mounted on animals such as elephants, whereas Kubera is described as being a naravahana or “one whose mount is a man”(Sutherland 67). Although Kubera is regarded as a god in Hindu mythology, he is also often depicted as a demon. The classification of Kubera being a demon, therefore, cause some discrepancies in his physical appearance, with some illustrations of him depicting a more hideous, monster-type of figure. In these portrayals, Kubera is described as being a pot-bellied, three-legged, one-eyed dwarf with eight snaggle-teeth (McLeish). He is also often illustrated as having ugly, black skin, again with a potbelly and is heavily jeweled, sits cross-legged and holds a purse (Coulter and Turner 283). Despite these more unsightly physical attributes associated with the demonic side of Kubera, many depictions of him offer a gentler, appealing visual of the god, illustrating him with gold coloured skin and studded with gems (McLeish), a visual representation of his role as the lord of wealth and prosperity.

Kubera’s lineage can be a bit confusing, as different sources and literature state different familial lines. In the Artharvaveda, Kubera is said to be the son of Vaisravana. In the Mahabharata, he is son of Vaisravana and Idavida, and brother of Visravas; this is further complicated by the Puranas, which states that Kubera was born to Visravas and Ilibila (Williams 190). He also has a half brother named Ravana, who is the notable demon in the Ramayana (Williams 190). Kubera also has a wife, named Hariti (Werner 51) and a daughter named Minaksi, who becomes one of Siva’s wives (Werner 73). He also had a son, named Nalakubera (Williams 219). In addition to his family, Kubera had a few close companions. Kubera is usually accompanied by two friends named Yaksa and Yaksi (Coulter and Turner 283). He is also associated socially with Charvi, Danava and Rambha (Coulter and Turner 282). According to most accounts, Kubera is said to reside in a palace in the country of Sri Lanka. However, Kubera does not live there permanently, as he is driven out of his palace and the country by his power hungry half-brother Ravana (Britannica). The relationship that Kubera and Ravana have with one another does not prove to be very hospitable and cooperative, as they are often depicted in feuds with each other. This hostile relationship ultimately causes Kubera to relocate to a residence on Mount Kailasa, which is also home to other deities, such as Siva (Britannica).

Kubera is most notably known as being the lord of riches and wealth, which includes the resources and elements that are contained within the earth (Williams 190-191). As the ruling god of wealth and riches, Kubera is responsible for possessing and distributing the wealth, as well as guarding the earth’s treasures (Kinsley 226). He is granted the power to move the earth’s riches from one place to another, and he often brought gems and precious metals near the surface during the rule of righteous kings and hid them during times of wickedness (Williams 190-191).  Kubera exercises this power over the elements when he sides with Rama in the war between Rama and Ravana, Kubera’s half-brother. Kubera decides to align himself with Rama, rather than be loyal to his brother, because Ravana dethrones and exiles Kubera from his palace in Sri Lanka (McLeish). Ravana does this in order to try and win himself a queen and kidnaps Rama’s wife, Sita, causing there to be a war between the two men (McLeish). Rama wages war on Ravana for the actions taken against Sita, and by the end of the feud, Rama is victorious (McLeish). Kubera, who remained loyal to Rama throughout the feud, is granted the responsibility of being the shepherd of all the precious stones in the world, as a reward for his assistance in the war against Ravana (McLeish). Kubera was, therefore, allowed to dictate over these stones and control their movements (McLeish), which meant he could determine who had access to them.

Among other roles and responsibilities that Kubera was attributed to was being the leader of the yaksas, creatures who dwell in the woods and forests and promote the growth of plants (Kinsley 226). It is understandable that Kubera would be well acquainted with the yaksas as they both have roles associated with prosperity, with the yaksas encouraging the growth of plans and Kubera being a symbol of richness. The yaksas are depicted as being sharp and cunning, with a benevolent earthly temperament, which Kubera is depicted as embodying (Sutherland 64). Kubera exudes this temperament most notably through his physical appearance, which includes a potbelly, a common Asian motif for good luck and more importantly, abundance (Sutherland 64). However, the yaksas also articulate a notion of ethical ambivalence, suggesting that they also possess a more corrupt, evil side (Sutherland 63). This can be associated with Kubera’s more unethical approaches that cause him to not only be classified as a god, but as a demon as well.

Within Hindu mythology, Kubera is depicted as being a rather unforgiving god. In one particular myth in the Padma Purana, Kubera is portrayed as being a devotionalist, who had an abundantly beautiful garden that contained flowers that are utilized in daily temple worship (Williams 153). Kubera had a hired gardener named Hemamali, who tended to the flowers everyday. One day, Hemamali took a trip to Manasasaras, the lake of the gods, and forgot that it was his duty to get the flowers to Kubera for worship. Kubera waited all day at the temple for Hemamali, but he did not show up, which caused Kubera to become very angry. Hemamali was summoned to Kubera’s palace, where he was punished for his absence by being cursed as a leper. To make things even worse, Hemamali was expelled from Kubera’s heaven, Alakapuri (Williams 153). This story illustrates some of Kubera’s less desirable personality traits, as he can be viewed as being an unforgiving and strict ruler. This can further demonstrate how he was often categorized as being a demon throughout different stories in Hindu mythology, as he could be a menacing and merciless god. However, Kubera has a benevolent and softer side to him as well that is revealed through his more noble actions. Through his protective guardianship and distribution of the earth’s secret resources, he is seen as a paternal, manipulatable figure (Sutherland 65). He is also regarded with holding the title of lokapalas, meaning he is a world guardian, as well as being a dikpalas, a guardian of the directions (Sutherland 65).

It is quite apparent that the Hindu god of wealth possesses many different traits and abilities. Kubera can be described as being a noble god, who possesses and distributes wealth and riches, protecting it from the less desirable, corrupt peoples of the world. However, he is regarded as having a more temperamental side showcasing a strict and menacing personality, which sometimes causes him to be depicted as a demon. Because of these dichotomies, it is difficult to fully comprehend what Kubera looked like physically, as he is depicted in many different forms. It is also unclear as to what his familial lineage looks like completely. Despite these discrepancies, it is clear that Kubera was an important god in Hindu mythology.



Buswell, Robert E. Jr., and Donald S. Jr. Lopez (eds.) (2013) “Kubera”. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Coulter, Charles Russell, and Patricia Turner (2000) Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers.

Kinsley, David (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) “Kubera”. In Myth: Myths and Legends of the World Explored. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Sutherland, Gail Hinich (1991) The Disguises of the Demon: The Development of the Yaksa in Hinduism and Buddhism. New York: State University of New York Press.

Wilkins, W.J. (2009) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Williams, George M. (2008) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

____(2016) “Kubera”. Encyclopaedia Britannica: Britannica Academic. Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc.

Werner, Karel (2005) Popular Dictionary of Hinduism. Taylor and Francis E-Library.


Related Topics for Further Investigation





Padma Purana

Mount Kailasa

Satapatha Brahmana






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Article written by: Kara Johnston (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content


Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad is the primary book of the Upanishads, a collection of Hindu philosophical texts. It is one of the oldest Upanishads and its name translates into “the Great Forest Book” (Sastri 29). Written entirely in prose form, this text is one of the more philosophical books of the Upanishads and largely comments on the nature of reality and the basic identity of atman.

The history and dates of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad is still a somewhat debated topic. Through analyzing the linguistics used in the text, philologist Max Muller speculated that the text was written between 1000-800 BCE (Muller 333). Other estimates have been given around the same time period but due to the antiquity of the text it is difficult to confidently date the text.

The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad largely follows the sage Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi. Yajnavalka is sage who is portrayed to be an important advisor in the court of Janaka. Through the stories of the Brhadaranyaka, Yajnavalkya comments on many philosophical issues including consciousness and perception, creation and self, and the laws of karma. The main virtues that occur in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad are self-restraint, giving, and compassion, or self-restraint, self-sacrifice, and merciful-benevolence (Sastri 16).

Some evidence suggests that the text was written in a ring composition, where themes are discussed in a cyclical fashion (Hock 279). Ring composition is commonly found in narratives that have a history of being orally passed through generation (Hock 279).

There is one story that is particularly interesting because it is told twice in the Brhadaranyaka with one version differing only slightly from the other. This story follows a conversation between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi on the nature of knowledge. In one version Yajnavalkya uses the word “vijnyanam,” meaning “knowing apart,” and later in the same version uses the phrase “nothing but discerning knowledge,” to describe vijnyanam (Wood 7-9). In the other version of the story, Yajnavalkya uses the term “prajnyanam,” meaning “knowing before,” and “nothing but underlying knowledge,” (Wood 7-9). In both versions of the story Maitreyi is confused by Yajnavalkya’s comments and in response to her confusion Yajnavalkya begins a discussion on dual and non-dual ideas of knowledge. Duality of knowledge can be thought of as knowledge gained through perception and non-duality can be thought of in Cartesian terms; the only knowledge one can be certain of is the knowledge of self (Wood 6-8). With this, Yajnavalkya ends the conversation with Maitreyi and leaves her, along with the reader, wondering about the nature of knowledge, consciousness, and perception (Wood 6-8). The two versions of this story in the text offer evidence of ring composition structure perhaps, in this particular case, to portray a different concept to the reader (Hock 282). In the first telling of the story, Yajnavalkya responds to Maitreyi’s question of whether having wealth would make her immortal with a blunt “neti,” or “no.” This is different from the second telling where he answers her question with “neti neti,” (Hock 282). This respond is a clear allusion to the advaita refrain (Hock 282).

The advaita refrain is a passage that is found in multiple places in the Brhadaranyaka (Hock 280). The passage describes the nature of atman using negative definitive approach (Hock 280).

“This atman is “not (this), not (this)”; not comprehensible, for it is not comprehended; not destructible, for it is not destroyed; not attached, not fettered, (for) it is not (being) attached, it does not suffer” (Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 3.9.26, Hock 280)

Another story involving Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi that is of interest is one concerning the absolute nature of the self. This conversation between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi addresses the difference between true happiness and happiness that arises from the acquisition of material possessions. In this story, Yajnavalkya tells Maitreyi that he has decided to leave the householder stage of life and move onto the next stage, a stage of renunciation. He announces that he is going to divide his possessions between Mairtreyi and his other wife Katayani. In response to this, Maitreyi asks Yajnavalkya if she will be able to gain happiness from the acquisition of the property and, further, if it is possible to gain true happiness from the satisfaction and comforts that accompany material possessions. The story portrays Yajnavalkya as being very pleased with Maitreyi for asking such a question. He tells her that one cannot attain true happiness through the comfort and satisfaction through material possessions or anything that gives any comfort, including psychological or social comfort (Sastri 348-357).

Here, the conversation shifts to properties of material possessions. Yajnavalkya explains to Maitreyi that the laws of time give material possessions a temporal aspect and that things with temporal aspects cannot bring true happiness. Things that are exempt from temporal properties are what is needed to attain true happiness, and things of this nature are known a eternal or immortal (Sastri 348-357).

Another main concept discussed in the Brhadaranyaka is the nature of creation. The text describes creation as coming from one absolute self that existed before creation on its own (Wood 35). This portion of the text has many psychological and metaphysical aspects. The text asserts that in the beginning there was nothing and this is likened to darkness and light, with darkness being characterized by a lack of sensory perception and light being characterized by perception being possible. A metaphysical question that arises from this is how did something (the universe) come to be if in the beginning there was nothing? It is illogical to believe that something came from nothing, and the text addresses this through saying nothing is fully created but only transformed into something different (Sastri 308-315). The text also says that each person’s true self is the same as complete reality and because of this it is possible to understand reality through understanding the inner self, the emphasis here is on creation from self (Wood 26).

Another large part of the Brhadaranyaka is spent on the laws of karma. The text describes how the laws of karma predict one’s rebirth. The text describes karma as

“…after death we go to the next world, bearing in mind the subtle impressions of our deeds; and after reaping there harvest of such deeds, return again to this work of action. Thus, whoever has desire continues subject to rebirth.” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.1-2)

Through this passage, the Brhadaranyaka sums up karma to say that rebirth is a product of one’s actions and desires in life, and rebirth will continue as such. Another passage describes the cessation of the rebirth cycle if one desire has been calmed (Brahamaprana 4). The latter part of this passage may be interpreted to mean that rebirth will cease if one has attained the highest form of realization, brahman. After attaining brahman, the text implies that the cycle of karma will stop.

This view is carried over into the description of death as well. Death is described as a state where one has no perception of the senses and one is detached from the physical body of life (Brahamaprana 6). The text articulates that all souls that have passed will momentarily stay in a state of light. Those who have attained realization will stay in this state, while those souls who did not attain realization will pass through karmic retribution until a future rebirth occurs (Brahamaprana 6-7).


References and Further Recommended Readings

Sastri, S.K. (1950) The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad with commentary by Sankaracarya. Advaida Ashrama: Mayavati Almora, Himalayas.


Singh, U. (2008) A history of ancient to medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th century. Delhi: Pearson Longman.


Wood, A. E. (1996) Interpreting the Upanisads. East Anglia: Full Circle Publishing.


Radhakrishan, S. (1953) The Principal Upanishads. New York: Harper.


Brahmaprana, P (2001) “Vedanta: Death and Art of Dying.” Cross Currents, Fall 2001: 337-345.


Hock, H.H. (2002) “The Yajnavalkya cycle in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad” Journal of American Oriental Society 122(2), 279-286.


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Max Muller

Chandogya Upanishad




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Article written by: Brinn Lemke (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.





The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad

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Apr. 15/’13

The Satapatha Brahmana

The Brahmanas are part of Hindu Vedic religion, which emerged after the Samhitas. Mainly, they describe details of Vedic ritual, including sacrificial rites (yajna), philosophical, and mythological background. More specifically, the Brahmanas dealt with proper performance of rituals, especially for the priestly class (Brahmins) (Rodrigues 59). It is insinuated that yajna was performed to give the gods their powers and to provide sustenance. One such Brahmana, The Satapatha Brahmana, has become famous in modern Vedic literature with the help of the translation by Julius Eggeling in the Sacred Books of the East (Vol. XII, XXVI, XLI, XLIII, XLIV. 1963).

The Satapatha Brahmana was composed around 300 BCE. It prescribes many rituals, as it is sometimes translated as The Brahamana of a Hundred Paths. In its fourteen kandas, the Satapatha Brahmana details many simple sacrificial rites but also goes into great detail of the most famous rituals in Hinduism; new and full-moon sacrifices, asvamedha (horse sacrifice) and rajasuya (consecration of a king), and agnicaya. Although the majority of the Satapatha Brahmana (SB) details Brahminic rituals, it also elaborates on ancient creation mythology such as the Flood of Manu.

Yajna are some of the most important rituals in the practice of Hinduism. As translated by J. Gonda (1) from the SB, “by reciting definite texts in a continuous, uninterrupted way one makes the days and nights of a year revolve in a continuous, uninterrupted way” (SB. 1, 3, 5, 16) “man, in being born, is born as a debt to death; in that he sacrifices he redeems himself from death” (SB. 3, 6, 2, 16).

There are many inclusions of fire sacrifices to the Hindu Fire God, Agni, in most of the kandas. This implies an importance placed on Agni in early Vedic religion to help maintain the order of the universe. Agnicayana or Building of the Sacred Fire Altar, is described in detail in the sixth, seventh and eighth kandas. Agnicayana is possibly one of the oldest surviving human rituals, as it is still performed today within Hinduism. This twelve-day ritual is premised upon attaining vitality, offspring or immortality. Before beginning the elaborate ritual, seventeen priests work for months to ensure the proper required preparations are completed (Rodrigues 64). Particular attention is paid to the detail of the layers of the bricks to construct the fire altar (vedi) (Eggeling vol. XLIII:1-147).  Historically, over the twelve days of ritual animal and soma sacrifices are made to the god Vayu (wind) and Agni (fire), purification rites for the patron are performed, construction of the fire altar, oblations of water and ghee, and many more animal and Soma sacrifices are made (Rodrigues 66) [see summary of agnicayana in greater detail in Rodrigues 64-67, or full translation in Eggeling, vol. XLI:143-419 and vol. XLIII:1-405].

Ancient social order of the Vedic peoples is studied in reference to the asvamedha and rajasuya. The asvamedha (horse sacrifice) [no longer performed because of its elaborate nature] was regarded as an important kingship ritual. A king, aspiring to achieve emperor status and attain offspring, would set free a stallion to wander about the land for one year accompanied by the king’s army. As the horse wandered upon another king’s land, the ruler would have to choose whether to relinquish his land or keep the horse and thus, initiate war. In this way, a king would acquire enough land to become an emperor. At the end of the one-year period of wandering, the horse [as a representative of the king] would be sacrificed. During the sacrificial rite, before the horse was killed, a ritual with the king’s chief queen would take place. The queen would simulate copulation with the horse under a large blanket as a representation of her relationship with the king. Rice would be cooked to represent the king’s virility, which later was to be consumed by the king’s wives. A dog was also sacrificed during this ritual to represent the killing of the king’s enemies. This ritual was very expensive and performed only by the wealthiest kings. Furthermore, the performance of one hundred asvamedhas in a single lifetime would grant the ruler the throne of Indra, ruler of the gods (Rodrigues 64) [see further summary in Rodrigues 62-64, full translation in Eggeling, vol. XLIV:274-440, and an example in the Ramayana epic].

Another form of societal ritual outlined in the Satapatha Brahmana is the rajusaya, or Inauguration of a King (Eggeling vol. XLI:42-129). A king who sought to become emperor would embark on a journey to conquer a kingdom, much like the horse representative of the king did in the asvamedha. Upon his return, the general would invite the conquered kings to join in a sacrificial ceremony. Since this was a riskier way to obtain a kingdom, it was more rare than the asvamedha [see further example explanation of the rajusaya ritual in the Mahabharata epic].

Included in parts of the agnicayana, asvamedha and rajusaya rituals, the sacred plant, Soma, also appears in numerous other rituals throughout the Satapatha Brahmana. Soma was first described in the RgVeda in little detail and further elaborated on in many other Vedic literatures, including the SB. Unfortunately, the Vedic peoples left little evidence of what soma actually was (Staal 747). Scholars regard Soma as a hallucinogenic, even though the true nature of the plant has not been verified (Rodrigues 67). Nevertheless, more than one hundred Vedic texts refer to the use of Soma (Rodrigues 67). Soma rituals prescribed throughout the SB, are mainly associated with fire sacrifices to the god Agni and Indra, who were believe to frequently drink the Soma extract (Rodrigues 67). A Soma feast is also described scrupulously in the third and fourth kandas (Eggeling vol. XXVI:226-3910)

Another important historic ritual, the new and full moon rituals, was performed twice a month, every month. The rituals were prescribed to retain the natural order of the universe. During the full moon (purnima), Hindus would observe a daylong fasting period while worshiping the god Visnu. During the new moon (amavasya) ritual, Hindus would again fast for a day in which they often worship ancestors. Clarified butter, fruit and animal sacrifices were made, as prescribed by the Satapatha Brahmana (Eggeling vol. XII:1-262, vol. XLIV:1-131). This was thought to be a central ritual, which preceded many other sacrificial rituals outlined in the Brahmanas (Eggeling vol. XLIV:1-131).

Along with rituals, the Satapatha Brahmana details creation myths, such as the Flood of Manu (Eggeling vol. XII:216-230). The Flood of Manu has recently been compared with the Noah’s Ark story in the Bible. While Manu was bathing, a fish asked to be moved into a bowl, as he was too small for the sea and the other fish would eat him. The fish promised to tell Manu how to save the world if he carried out the fish’s requests. The fish grew and grew, always requesting a bigger vessel. He quickly grew too big for any vessel and requested to be placed into the River Ganga. The fish then proceeded to instruct Manu to build a ship to hold animals when the great flood came. Manu did as he was told by the fish and saved the animals. The fish is thought to be a manifestation of Pajrapati [creator God] (Sehgal 401-402). In the interest of brevity, many points of the Flood of Manu have been excluded for this article (for short summary see Sehgal 401-402 and full translation Eggeling vol. XII:216-230).

Some rituals outlined in the Satapatha Brahmana are still maintained today, but many have been left in the past. Some rituals go into particular detail regarding animal sacrifice, which would only be prescribed for certain animals. Modern-day Hindus however, rarely use animal and blood sacrifices, instead using clarified butter, fruit and rice to feed the gods (Rodrigues 61). Modern interpretations have been made in regards to the Vedas in order to fit with current social norms.



References and Further Recommended Readings

Eggeling, Julius (trans.) (1963) Satapatha Brahmana: Sacred Books of the East, vols. XII, XXVI, XLI, XLIII, XLIV. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1882-1900.

Gonda, J. (1905) Mantra Interpretation in the Satapatha Brahmana. Leiden: Brill.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The eBook. Journal Buddhist Ethics Online Books,Ltd.

Seghal, Sumil (1999) Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Sarup & Sons.

Staal, Fritz (2001) “How a Psychoactive Substance Becomes a Ritual: The Case of Soma.” Social Research, Vol. 68 No. 3: 745-778

Stutley, Margaret (1969)The Aśvamedha or Indian Horse Sacrifice.” Folklore, Vol. 80 No. 4: 253-261



Related Topics for Further Investigation




Laws of Manu








Noteworthy websites


Article written by Alyssa Wadman (April 2013) who is solely responsible for the content.

The Brahmanas

The Brahmanas are a section in the Vedas and were said to be mostly written in 1400-1200 BC (Haug 47). The Brahamanas mostly consist of the proper way to conduct ritual practices of the priestly class. Hindus believe that if they practice these rituals it will grant them pride of acting rightly because performance of rituals was equal to acting rightly (Satheye 435). Each particular Veda has a Brahamana (Haug 6), but some of the teachings in each may be a little different, but still represent the same general idea. Each Brahmana was not just one part of itself, but each Brahmana was broken into more precise parts explaining different ideas and rituals.

The first Brahmana that will be looked at is Aitareya Brahmana, which is appended to the Rg Veda. At the time these hymns were written the caste system was not absolute and was subject to change because it was possible for the lower classes to become Brahmins (Satheye 436). At the time Hindus also relied on ritual practices in order to survive and they also had to be correctly done otherwise they were not legitimate (Satheye 440). The Aitareya Brahmana shows what Hindus are supposed to do through their life and the details associated with these rituals. For instance, Brahmin priests were evaluated on how correctly they would perform rituals (Satheye 435). They were made to believe that what they do in their life, good or bad, could affect their descendents, so behavior along with ritual practice was taken very seriously (Satheye 439). The Aitareya Brahmana also discusses the meaning of mantra and the application of mantra to the Hindus (Haug 3). Hindus believe that there are connections between the origins of their existence and the sacrificial rituals they perform and the Aitareya Brahmanas help explain the meaning of this (Haug 3). The many gods’ that they recognize now were not very consistent in the Aitareya Brahmana, which means there wasn’t much knowledge about these gods except for the ones that are known about now (Satheye 439). Finally, the Aitareya Brahmana is “inspired by ideals of safety, self-preservation, and rare preservation” (Satheye 440) and goes into detail of what this is all about.

The next Brahmanas are attached to the Vedic hymn collection called the Sama Veda, which also talks about the rules of certain rituals and practices. The one section of these Brahmanas that will be discussed is the Jaiminiya Brahmana. The second Brahmana of the Sama Veda is called the Chandogya Brahmana. One of the things explained is what type of person is allowed to participate in rituals and which people are not (Bodewitz 151). The sacred plant soma, which is a hallucinogenic used in some rituals, is also only to be consumed by certain individuals during rituals (Bodewitz 151). As mentioned in the Aitareya Brahmana, the Jaiminiya Brahmana also reinforces the fact that there is a certain way that rituals should be performed (Bodewitz 151). Lastly, the Jaiminiya Brahmana has very close similarities with that of another Brahmana called the Catayana Brahmana (Oertel 15). The reason that these two Brahmanas are similar is due to the stories that are told in them.

The second Brahmana which is part of the Sama Veda is one of the more popular. The Chandogya Brahmana is described as being quite long and a very important text (Lincoln 128). Where and when it was written are hard to tell, but scholars say it most likely comes from Northern India (Lincoln 128). The Chandogya Brahmana was a lot like other Vedic texts as it referred to other texts or most of it was made up of previous texts maybe just written in different context (Lincoln 128). One of the reasons that it was written was to explain the significance and the meaning of the four asramas (Olivelle 205). The four asramas refer to the four stages in a Hindu’s life: the student stage, the householder stage, the forest dweller stage and finally the renouncer stage. Although there is some speculation from certain scholars whether or not this is actually what the Chandogya Brahmana consists of; there is a lot of disagreement (Olivelle 206). Those that believe this is true have studied that the Hindus believe the first three stages only get you merit where as if you are able to get to the renouncer stage you will able to achieve immortality (Olivelle 205). Some of the other rituals and ideas mentioned are that of sacrificial practices and even about the “understanding of the cosmos, the self and nature of being” (Lincoln 128).

The Yajur Veda contains two Brahmanas, the Shatapatha Brahmana and Taittirya Brahmana. The Shatapatha Brahmana explains how the Vedic hymns are used in certain areas of Brahmanical rituals (Muir 31). The Shatapatha Brahmana is the only one that gives any detail on the ritual of human sacrifices (Dumont 177). The concept of certain gods or deities also comes up and how they came into being and certain myths believed about these divine beings. The god Visnu is mentioned in previous Vedic hymns, but in this particular Brahmana Visnu is perceived a little different and even portrayed in new legends that were not heard of before (Muir 32). Visnu is a also portrayed as a tortoise instead of Prajapati who was usually depicted as a tortoise in earlier mythology (Muir 40). There is also the myth of all the gods creating Prajapati (Muir 38), but then their sort of confusion with the creation of Agni (the fire god) by Prajapati (Muir 40). Another myth known in the Shataptha Brahmana is about the gods being able to achieve immortality (Muir 41), but even though they were all immortal there was still an inequality that developed among the gods (Muir 44).

The Taittiriya Brahamana is second Brahmana that is part of the Yajur Veda and has some contrasting rituals and explanations of these rituals. The Shatapatha Brahmana mentioned human sacrifices, but in the Taittiriya Brahmana these human sacrifices were symbolic and that were allowed to go as soon as the fire was about to consume them (Dumont 177). The interesting thing was that they even had a list of the names that were to be used in these human sacrifices (Dumont 178-182). Although both of these texts talk about human sacrifice as an important ritual there is no evidence of actual human sacrifice (Dumont 178). Another ritual discussed in the Taittiriya Brahmana is the full moon sacrifices (Dumont 585), which require following certain procedures in order for it to be done correctly. One of these procedures would be the “ritual cleaning, heating and brushing of sacrificial spoons” (Dumont 585).

The final Brahmana that will be explained is the Gopatha Brahmana, which belongs to fourth Veda; the Atharvaveda. This Brahmana itself is split into two separate parts: the Uttara-Brahmana and the Purva-Brahmana. The Uttara-Brahmana has about 123 different sections, but 79 of these sections take ideas from other texts or they are very closely linked (Bloomfield 4-5). The Purva-Brahmana is all about “mystics, theosophical treatment of the sutra and other forms of soma sacrifice” (Bloomfield 7). Three different soma sacrifices are discussed in the Brahmana (Bloomfield 11). Since the two parts discuss different topics, scholars suggest that the Gopatha Brahmana are written by two different people (Bloomfield 8). The Gopatha Brahmana is also said to not have much originality because it was written so late in history (Bloomfield 10).

In conclusion, the Brahmanas discussed are not necessarily the most popular, but scholars had done the most research on these Brahmanas and their relation to Hindu spiritual life. Even though some of the sources provided in these Brahmanas are taken from other texts they are still considered some of the most prestigious and respected texts not only by Hindus, but by scholars as well. Another misconception is that these would be the only Brahmanas surviving, but there are many more surviving that are appended to each Veda, but are not as well known. The Brahmanas are very complex so this research would only be the scratching of the surface of the Brahmanas, but gives the basic details of what they are all about.



References and Further Recommended Reading


Bloomfield, Maurice. (1898) “The Position of the Gopatha-Brahmana in Vedic Literature.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 19, 1-11.

Bodewitz, H.W. (1977) “Notes on the Jaiminiya Brahmana.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 2, 150-157.

Dumont, Paul-Emile. (1959) “The Full-Moon and New-Moon Sacrifices in the Taittiriya-Brahmana (Second Part): The Third Prapathaka of the Third Kanta of the Taittiriya-Brahmana with Translation.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 103 (April), 584-608.

Dumont, Paul-Emile. (1963) “The Human Sacrifice in the Taittiriya-Brahmana: The Fourth Prapathaka of the Third Kanda of the Taittiriya-Brahmana with Translation.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 107 (April), 177-182.

Haug, Martin. (1863) The Aitareya Brahmanam of the Rigveda. Bombay: Government Central Control Book Depot.

Lincoln, Bruce. (2006) “How to Read a Religious Text: Reflections on Some Passages of the Chandogya Upanisad.” History of Religions, 46 (November), 127-139.

Muir, J. (1863) “Legends Chiefly from the Satapatha Brahmana.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 20, 31-48.

Oertel, Hanns. (1897) “Contributions from the Jaiminiya Brahmana to the History of the Brahmana Literature.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 18, 15-48.

Olivelle, Patrick. (1996) “Dharmaskandhah and Brahmasamsthah: A Study of Chandogya Upanisad.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 116 (April-June), 205-219.

Sathaye, S.G. (1969) “The Aitareya Brahmana and the Republic.” Philosophy of East and West, 19 (October), 435-441.


Related Topics for Further Identification

Shatapatha Brahmana

Gopatha Brahmana

Taittiriya Brahmana

Jaiminiya Brahmana

Chandogya Brahmana

Aitareya Brahmana





Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by Tyler Scholten (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.


The Sama Veda

The Sama Veda is one of the four Vedas of Hindu scriptures. The Vedas are believed to be of divine origin, belonging to a class of literature known as sruti, meaning “that which is heard” (Bharati 82). According to Hindu tradition, the Vedas were divinely “heard” by seers known as Rsis, and therefore are not the product of human work or skill (Rai 2). As one of the Vedas, alongside the Rg, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas, the Sama Veda shares this divine status, and therefore a place of honor in the Hindu tradition. Although the Sama Veda is often considered the third Veda after the Rg and Yajur Vedas, in the Bhagavad Gita, one of the great epics of the Hindu tradition, Krsna describes the Sama Veda as the most important of the Vedas (Mitra 9).

While the high status that the Sama Veda has enjoyed in Hinduism is clear, unfortunately its origin is not. Many schools of thought in the history of the Hindu tradition have believed that the Sama Veda is eternal, not as a divine creation, but as co-eternal with the divine (Bharati 82). The Satapatha Brahmana claims that the Sama Veda originates from the sun, which is embodied by the deity Surya (Rai 4). In the Purusa-Sukta, the Sama Veda is said to come from the hairs of the great deity Purusa, the sacrifice of whom is said to have created the entire cosmos in the Hindu tradition (Rai 4), while still other traditions account for the origin of the Sama Veda in different ways, [for more traditions on the origin of the Vedas see Rai 1977]. Some scholars, including Raja Rai, have argued that the hymns of the Vedas were originally passed on as one before being later organized and subdivided into the four Vedas as they exist today (Rai 8). This idea accords well with the tradition of the Visnu Purana, which states that the Vedas were divided from a single source (Rai 6).

Like the Hindu thinkers of the past, modern scholars have developed varying ideas about the origin of the Sama Veda. Some scholars, working backward from the rise of Buddhism in 500 BCE, date the origin of the Vedas to roughly 1000 B.C.E. (Rai 17). Other scholars date the Vedic hymn collections as being composed over a longer period of time between 1400 and 500 B.C.E. (Rai 19). The dating of the origin of the Sama Veda is complicated by the fact that the text is comprised of a number of sections, some of which are earlier than others. Although it is impossible to say exactly when the Sama Veda was first composed, or who first composed it, it is fairly safe to date its oldest portions to the Aryan period, beginning around 1500 B.C.E. (Griffith vii). Interestingly, this inability to pin down the authorship and origin of the Vedas has been used as an argument by Hindus to support the claim that the Vedas are of divine origin (Rai 11).

The Sama Veda is not a monolithic text, but rather is comprised of a number of texts written over a large period of time, dealing with a variety of subjects. The Sama Veda is comprised of a Samhita, or collection of hymns, a Brahmana, which provides exegesis on the hymn collection, and an Upanisad, which is a text of a more philosophical nature (Rai v).

The Samhita of the Sama Veda, the oldest text of the Sama Veda, is a collection of hymns, the vast majority of which are taken from the Rg Veda (Griffith vii). The Sama Veda Samhita is not, however, simply a restatement of the Rg Veda. The hymns of the Sama Veda are altered from the form in which they are found in the Rg Veda in several meaningful ways to facilitate their ritual use (Griffith vii). The Sama Veda hymns are designed to be sung in the context of ritual and are therefore altered from the way that they appear in the Rg Veda in ways that alter the singing of the hymns (Griffith vii). Every nuance involved in the recitation of Sama Veda hymns, in a ritual context, is extremely important to the Hindu tradition, as it is believed that the truths of the Vedas become manifest in the performance of rituals (Howard 11). Also, the extent to which the hymns of the Sama Veda are considered effective, within the context of a ritual, in securing benefits for the one for whom the ritual is performed is believed to depend on the correct chanting of the hymn (Rai 38). The hymns of the Sama Veda also differ from their arrangement in the Rg Veda, as the Rg Veda organizes its hymns according to their attributed author, while the Sama Veda organizes its hymns topically, according to the object of worship (Stevenson 12). While some of these variations on the hymns of the Rg Veda are alterations of the existing Rg Veda, Griffith argues that some variant versions may even preserve an older reading than what is found in the Rg Veda (Griffith vii).

In addition to the Samhita, the Sama Veda also contains a Brahmana, which, according to an analysis of the writing style, was composed some time after the hymn collection (Stevenson 10). This Brahmana is largely concerned with describing the necessary procedures to be done before and during the chanting of the Sama Veda Samhita (Stevenson 10). The Brahmanas of the Sama Veda set the standard for the proper recitation of the Samhita, and claim that only when such standards are followed correctly will the hymns have power (Stevenson 11). Although the correct performance of ritual is central to the Sama Veda Brahmanas, these Brahmanas do cover a diversity of topics, ranging from social customs to ways of countering bad omens (Mitra 17, 18).

The Sama Veda also contains an Upanisad known as the Chandogya Upanisad (Rai 39). This Upanisad also bears a great difference in style compared to the hymn collection, which reveals that it is the product of a later time than the hymn collection (Stevenson 12). The Chandogya Upanisad is part of a larger work known as the Chandogya Brahmana. The Chandogya Brahmana is ten chapters in length, the first two chapters belonging to the genre of Brahmana and the last eight comprising the Chandogya Upanisad (Mitra 37). The Chandogya Upanisad contains an important discussion of the syllable Om, a sacred utterance in the Hindu tradition (Mitra 27). The Upanisad describes Om as the source of being, and as superior to ritual (Mitra 27).

The Chandogya Upanisad also contains several elements that subvert the social hierarchy of its time. In a number of places throughout the text, the importance of the priestly hegemony, the Brahmin class, is downplayed, while the warrior class, the Ksatriyas, are raised to a higher status (Mirta 27). This reversal suggests that true knowledge is not only available to the priestly elite. This subversion of the standard social hierarchy is continued within the seventh chapter of the Chandogya Upanisad. In this section it is argued that knowledge, even Vedic knowledge, is worthless without knowledge of Brahma, the divine essence behind all things (Mitra 35).

This subversive element is further expounded upon in the sixth chapter of the Chandogya Upanisad, which contains the famous story of Uddalaka and Svetaketu. In this story Svetaketu is a young Brahmin, who is excessively proud of his learning (Johnston 199). However the young Brahmin’s learning is proved obsolete, for throughout the story, Uddalaka, Svetaketu’s father, shows a greater depth of knowledge. Uddalaka, through a series of images, proves his greater philosophical depth by instructing his son as to the nature of Brahma, the discrete essence behind all things (Mitra 34). In this story, as in other passages of the Chandogya Upanisad, philosophy triumphs again over book learning, [for more on the story of Uddalaka and Svetaketu, see Johnston 1910]. These texts suggest a movement within Hinduism away from an emphasis on ritual and the socioreligious hierarchy, towards philosophical speculation, making the Chandogya Upanisad of the Sama Veda a key text as far as the development of Hindu thought is concerned, [For more on the Chandogya Upanisad see Mitra 1862].

The way in which the Sama Veda has been used throughout Hindu history is best exemplified through an analysis of the way it is used in the Somayaga ritual, the ritual at which the Sama Veda is primarily designed to be sung (Griffith vii). The term Somayaga refers to a sacrifice in which Soma, a plant with narcotic properties used in Hindu worship, is offered to a deity or deities (Howard 11), [for the use and possible identification of Soma see McDonald 2004]. This ritual is described in detail in the Praudha Brahmana, one of the most prominent sections of the Sama Veda (Mitra 16). The beneficiary of this sacrifice, known as the Yajamana, is responsible for funding the ritual (Stevenson iv). The ritual, which involves the burnt sacrifice of animals as well as Soma libations (Stephenson iv-vi), must be performed exactly as prescribed or, as the Praudha Brahmana argues; it will bring no benefit to the Yajamana. Throughout the Somayaga, six different groups of priests are employed by the Yajamana to assist in the performance of the ritual (Stevenson 9). These groups of priests perform different roles throughout the ritual including the preparation of various elements of the sacrifice and the singing of Vedic hymns (Stevenson 9). The group of priests, known as the Udgatar, is the group responsible for singing verses of the Sama Veda during the Somayaga (Stevenson 9). It is through this group of priests that the Sama Veda plays a crucial role in the Somayaga. The various hymns of the Sama Veda sung throughout this ritual perform the function of consecrating the sacrificial fire as well as the Soma juice that is offered as a libation (Stevenson 6), [For more on the Somayaga see Stevenson n.yr.].

The strong connection that the Sama Veda has to the Somayaga ritual is due to the very nature of the text itself. A brief look at an index of Sama Veda hymns reveals that the vast majority of the Samhita is dedicated to the praise Agni, the Hindu deity that personifies fire (Gonda 140), Soma, and Indra, the Hindu deity personifying storms (McDonald S148), [for more on Agni and his relationship to the Samhitas see Gonda 1979]. The prominence of hymns worshiping Agni and Soma corresponds to the importance of the burnt offering and Soma libation in the Somayaga. In addition to this fact, the various prescriptions governing the practice of the Somayaga are found within the Sama Veda itself, in the Praudha Brahmana (Stevenson 6).

Despite its status as sruti, the role Sama Veda has diminished significantly in contemporary Hinduism. This is partially due to the fact that such extensive sacrifices as the Somayaga, which may take anywhere from a day to over a week to perform (Mitra 16), have become less common, with the Somayaga being only performed a few times since the British colonization of India (Stevenson 11). This diminishing use of the Vedas in contemporary Hinduism is further revealed by a study published in the mid-1970s. In a survey of educated Hindu youth from across all castes, only ten percent had received any formal Vedic instruction (Ashby 52-53). Despite this shift away from Vedic study in contemporary Hinduism, the Sama Veda still holds an important place in history as a pivitol text which has significantly shaped Hindu belief and practice throughout the centuries.



Ashby, Philip (1974) Modern Trends in Hinduism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Dayanand, Bharati (2005) Understanding Hinduism. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Gonda, J. (1979) “Agni in “Rgveda-Samhita” 9, 66 and 67.” The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland Vol. 2: 137-152

Griffith, Ralph (1986) Hymns of the Samaveda: Translated with a Popular Commentary. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Private Ltd. in

Howard, Wayne (1986) Veda Recitation in Vsranasi. Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

Johnston, Charles (1910) “The Dramatic Element in the Upanishads.” The Monist 20 #2 (April): 185-216.

McDonald, Andrew (2004) “A Botanical Perspective on the Identity of Soma (Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.) Based on Scriptural and Iconographic Records.” Economic Botany 58 (Winter): S147-S150, S51, S152-S173

Mitra, Rajendralala (1862) The Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama Veda: With Extracts from the Commentary of Sankara Acharya. Calcutta: C.B. Lewis, Baptist Mission Press.

Parpola, A (1973). The Literature and Study of the Jaiminīya Sāmaveda. In Retrospect and Prospect. Studia Orientalia XLIII:6. Helsinki.

Rai, Raja (1977) The Vedas: The Scripture of the Hindus. Delhi: Nag Publishers.

Stevenson, John (n.yr.). Translation of the Sanhita of the Sama Veda. London: Oriental Translation Fund.

Wilkins, William Joseph (1975) Modern Hinduism: An Account of the Religion and Life of the Hindus in Northern India. Delhi : B.R. Pub. Corp.


Related Topics for Further Investigation


Bhagavat Gita


Chandogya Upanisad



Praudha Brahmana

Rg Veda


Satapatha Brahmana




Tat Tvam Asi




Visnu Purana

Yajur Veda


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by Matthew Pawlak (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

Yajur Veda

The Yajur Veda is one of the oldest books in the Vedas and arguably one of the oldest texts recorded in the world. The Yajur Veda is a Samhita, which is one of four sections of the Hindu holy scriptures which has the highest influence upon the lives of the Hindus (Rai 10). A Samhita is a collection of mantras, or hymns, most of which sing the praises of one or another personal god (Prabhavananda 31). Its origins are speculated to go as far back as 2000 B.C. when the Vedas were orally kept (Santucci xi). It was not until a millennium later around 1000 B.C. when the Yajur Veda was compiled (Staal 749). In the Rgveda itself the Yajurveda and the Samaveda are mentioned in a number of passages (Saraswati 192), leading to the assumption that these three Samhitas were around at the same time.

The ‘Yajur Veda’ is translated as “the knowledge of sacrificial formulae (yajus)” (Santucci 11). The Vedas – Rg veda, Yajur veda, Sama veda and Atharva veda — are the first four of the pramanas (authoritative texts) of the religion and also the most important (Saraswati 136). The Yajur Veda along with the other Vedas (Rg, Sama, Atharva) is considered to be apauresya (divine in origin) (Prabhavananda 25). In particular the Yajur Veda is referenced to and used by the Adhvarya priest (Santucci 11).

The Vedas are considered to be “revealed”, divinely inspired (Jamison 10). The Vedas are regarded as sruti: uncreated, eternal and revealed to sages (Sharma 6).   The Vedas were received by visionaries (rsi) who saw with a special psychic perception the sacred mantras upon which they meditated and finally communicated in the form of the Vedas (Cush, Robinson, York 694). The Vedas are ‘revealed’ at the beginning of each cosmic age to seers who ‘see’ the Vedas and teach it orally to their disciples (Sutherland, Houlden, et al. 575).

The Yajur Vedas’ origins are legendary. Dvaipayana (known as Veda Vyasa) the primordial sage in the second yuga compiled the Vedas after they were revealed to him (Sharma 6, Rai 1). Dvaipayana taught a Samhita to each of his many pupils over time (Rai 1). The knowledge of the Yajur Veda was taught to one of his students named Vaisampayana (Rai 1).  A rsi by the name of Yajnavalkya was a disciple of the great rsi Vaisampayana (Prabhavananda 28). After Vaisampayana had missed a very important council he was said to have sinned (Prabhavananda 28). In order to rid himself of his sin he ordered his disciples to do austerities (Prabhavananda 28). Yajnavalkya questioned his great master by saying “Master, how can you expiate your sin by the austerities of these thy worthless disciples?” (Prabhavananda 28). At this Vaisampayana grew angry, and said: “How dare you speak thus? I want no such hot-headed, egotistical disciple as you! Give back what you have learned from me, and be off!” (Prabhavananda 29). So Yajnavalkya recited all he had learnt and departed from Vaisampayana (Prabhavananda 29). That which he recited back to Vaisampayana is known as the Black Yajur Veda (Prabhavananda 29). Now Yajnavalkya, having cast away his knowledge of the Vedas, felt empty and realized what kind of man he had become (Prabhavananda 29). He asked himself “But where might I find a teacher” (Prabhavananda 29). Then it occurred to him that the sun-god never separated himself from the Vedas (Prabhavananda 29). Yajnavalkya accepted the sun-god as his master, and prayed to him for knowledge (Prabhavananda 29). The sun-god, pleased with the fervour of his new votary, answered his prayers (Prabhavananda 29). The sun-god taught Yajnavalkya and the teachings henceforth became known as the White Yajur Veda (Prabhavananda 29). Then in turn Yajnavalkya taught this White Yajur Veda to his disciples (Prabhavananda 29).

Deriving from the story above, the Yajur Veda itself has two divisions; the White (Sukla) Yajur Veda and the Black (Krsna) Yajur Veda (Santucci 11). The White Yajur Veda contains only the sacrificial formulae without any explanation to their uses in the rituals (Santucci 11). While the Black Yajur Veda on the other hand contains an explanation and discussion of the sacrificial rites to which the formulae belong (Santucci 11).   These explanations are called brahmanas, which are written in prose style (Jamison 13). The White Yajur Veda also has a brahmana, but it is separate from the Yajur Veda text itself (Jamison 13). Because of the these differences and overall presentation of each recension, the White Yajur Veda is commonly known as clear and precise in presentation (Jamison 13). These attributes give rise to the White Yajur Veda having a ‘clear’ Samhita and a ‘clear’ brahmana (Kapoor 1851). The Black Yajur Veda is known to be ‘mixed up’ because the brahmana is mixed in with the Samhita writings (Jamison 13). Also with the chronology of the legend of the Yajur Veda, the White Yajur Veda is more recent and an improvement on the Black Yajur Veda (Kapoor 1852). Despite this major difference in the structure, the sacrifices that both the White and Black Yajur Vedas outline are almost identical (Rai 35).

The divisions as stated before are the White Yajur Veda and the Black Yajur Veda. The White Yajur Veda has one Samhita with two recensions and the Black Yajur Veda has four different Samhitas (Santucci 11). The White Yajur Veda is also known as the Vajasaneyi-Samhita (Suntucci 12). The Vajasenyi-Samhita exists in two very similar recensions, the Madhyamdina and the Kanva (Jamison 13). These two recensions are almost identical; the chief difference is in the variance of the sacrificial formulae themselves (Santucci 12). The Black Yajur Veda Samhitas are very closely interrelated to each other (Santucci 11). All four discuss the same subject matter, sometimes in identical or nearly identical language (Santucci 11). Their individual titles are Kathaka-Samhita, Kapisthala-Samhita, Maitrayani-Samhita, and the Taittriya-Samhita (Santucci 12). They are considered Samhitas and not recensions because of the differences in their brahmana portions, which take independent and in some cases opposing positions (Jamison 13). The Kathaka-Samhita and the Maitrayani-Samhita are often in agreement and are in opposition to the Taittriya-Samhita (Jamison 14). The brahmana proses of these texts are the oldest expository prose written in Sanskrit (the ancient text in which the Vedas were written), even older than the texts specifically called Brahmanas (Jamison 13).

The Black and White Yajur Vedas have different ways of organizing their contents (Rai 30). The White Yajur Veda has forty lectures (adhyaya) which are unequally subdivided into shorter sections (kandika), each of which has a prayer or mantra (Rai 30). Each of the forty lectures contains between thirteen and one hundred and seventeen sections (Rai 30). The Black Yajur Veda is divided into seven books (astaka) each containing anywhere from five to eight lectures (adhyaya) (Rai 35). Likewise each lecture is subdivided into sections with a total of six hundred and fifty sections (Rai 35). The books of the Black Yajur Veda are more commonly known as Kandas (Rai 35).

The most important feature of the Yajur Veda is that it supplies the formulae for the entire sacrificial ceremony (Santucci 12). The prose formulae and prayers are called yajus (plural yajums); the verses are called rc (plural rces) (Winternitz 152). There are two ways of performing the yajus; one is by muttering the prayer which is called yajus and the second is by speaking aloud the prayer which is called nigada (Alper 6). Within the formulae there are mantras associated with each ritual (Sharma 185). A mantra is understood by the tradition as a polyvalent instrument of power (Alper 6). As for the sacrifice itself, the name that has been used for millennia is yajna (Rodrigues 28). The sacrifice, once performed, goes to the god which it is being performed for as a gift (Oldenberg 184). Through the rituals which humans perform, the gods can be manipulated to a certain extent (Sutherland, Houlden, et al. 576). The sacrificing part of a yajna ceremony falls under the duty of the Adhvaryu priest (Jamison 22). The Adhvaryu by consulting the Black Yajur Veda receives a step-by-step procedure which goes down to the minutest of procedures (Oldenberg 8). Not only does the Adhvarya perform the yajus but he also prepares the sacrificial grounds, the implements, and the oblations (Jamison 22). The priest performing the yajna hopes that it will have an effect on the mind of the god through awakening of his good will in favor of humans (Oldenberg 184). An example of this in Vedic lore is when the Vedic god Indra asks a man named Susravas to do a yajna and after he does as he is commanded, the god Indra loves Susravas for it (Oldenberg 184). The importance of precision cannot be overstated when performing a ritual (Winternitcz 150). If an act is not performed exactly as prescribed, a prayer, mantra or a melody sung wrong brings ruin to the performer (Winternitz 150). The center of the religious practice of the entire Aryan (early Hindu) people was the sacrificial rituals (Sutherland, Houlden, et al. 576).

The Yajur Veda holds some of the grandest and most important mantras and rituals in the Hindu religion (Winternitz 163). For instance, the Taittiriya-Samhita contains the Gayatri mantra four times (Sharma 21). It also contains the Sarvamadha or “all-sacrifice”, which is the highest sacrifice that exists (Winternitz 163). Along with one of the grandest of all the yajna which is the asvamedha or horse-sacrifice (Rodrigues 30). An example of a section in the Taittiriya-Samhita is:

“yo’sman dvesti

Yo’sman dvesti yam ca vayam dvisma

Idam asya griva api krntami”

(Taittriya-Samhita c)

The translation of this mantra with accompanying brahmana is:

“The enemy has to be excluded from the alter, for making the alter is a cruel act. “Let him think of anyone he hates; he does truly inflict trouble upon him!”


(Apler 49-50)

The version of the Yajur Veda you will read may depend on where you are in the world (Sharma 21). For instance if you go to India’s second largest temple, Ranganathaswamy at Srirangan, their rituals are performed under the Kanva shakha (Sharma 21). Even though different recessions of the Yajur Veda are used in different areas, various mantras within the Yajur Veda should be known by all Brahmins (Saraswati 263). The Gayatri mantra (Taittiriya Samhita, once learnt from a Guru, should be recited by the Brahmin every day (Saraswati 263). Some of the mantras from the Yajur Veda that every Brahmin should be able to chant are the Purusha Sukta (Vajasenayi Samhita 31.1-6) and the Sri Rudram (Taittiriya Samhita 4.5, 4.7) (Saraswati 264).

The Yajur Veda is seen as the most important of the four Vedas (Kapoor 1965). Without the Yajur Veda one cannot understand the Brahmanas and without these, the Upanisads (Winternitz 174). Sayana, the great commentator of the Vedas, said “the poetry of the Rg Veda, and even the collection of the Sama Veda, are of far less importance than the Yajur Veda” (Kapoor 1852). In his introduction to the Taittiriya-Samhita he says “The Rg Veda and Sama Veda are like fresco-painting, whereas the Yajur Veda is the wall on which they stand” (Kapoor 1852). The Yajur Veda is a complex and ancient text. It is a text that has many intricacies and many versions to study from. It has been used since the time of the Aryans up until this day. It is prominent now just as it was three thousand years ago. The essence of pleasing the gods and balancing the cosmos is brought out in the Yajur Veda through its rituals. The Yajur Veda holds a special place in not only the Vedic canon but also to anyone who believes in the Vedas.



References and Further Recommended Reading

Alper, Harvey P. (1989) Mantra. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Cush, Denis, Catherine Robinson, and Michael York (2008) Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Abingdon: Routledge Publishers.

Kapoor, Subodhi (2000) The Hindus Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New Delhi: Cosmo Publishers.

Jamison, Stephanie W. (1991) The Ranenous Hyenas and the Wounded Sun, Myth and Ritual in Ancient India. New York: Cornell University Press.

Oldenberg, Hermann (1988) The Religion of the Veda. New Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

Prabhavananda, Swami (1979) The Spiritual Heritage of India. Hollywood, California: Vedanta Press.

Rai, Raja Rammohan (1977) The Vedas-Scripture of the Hindus. Delhi: Nag Publications.

Rodrigues, Hilary (2006) Introducing Hinduism. New York: Routledge Publishers.

Santucci, James A. (1976) An outline to Vedic literature. Missoula: Scholars Press.

Saraswati, Chandrasekharendra (1995) Hindu Dharma. Delhi: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Publishers.

Sharma, P.R.P. (2007) Encyclopedia of Vedas. New Delhi: Anmol Publications.

Staal, Frits (2001) How a Psychoactive Substance Becomes a Ritual: The Case of Soma, Social Research, Vol. 68, No. 3, Altered States of Consciousness.

Sutherland, Stewart, Leslie Houlden, Peter Clarke and Friendhelm (1988) The World’s Religions. Boston, Massachusetts: G.K.Hall and Co. Publishers.

Winternitz, Maurice (1981) History of Indian Literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.


Related Websites


Related Topics


Rg Veda

Sama Veda

Atharva Veda

Vedic Priesthood







Article written by Brayden Wirzba (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.