Gosava and Bovine Mimesis in Ritual-Part 1
Disclaimer: The article discusses a rite commonly associated with sexual deviancies that may be very disturbing to those who are used to reading texts in a Victorian moral framework. Not your cup of tea if your mental images of the Dharma are mainly that of Rāma as a filial son, Kṛṣṇa stealing butter or Bāl Hanuman cartoons.
And definitely not for the likes of a certain vṛddhastrī who, by virtue of her colossal ignorance, had the gall to insult a śatāvadhānin for pointing out the factuality of the consumption of gomāṃsa in vedic ritual and abuse commenters for pointing out the reality of rituals such as puruṣamedha.
Truly, there is no greater enemy for the Dharma than the ignorant who have no tolerance for facts when facts do not appeal to their puny intellects. If the Āryas of today had the fortitude of their fathers and Dharma still flourished in the land of the Kuru-Pañcalas, Indra will do to her what he did to the Yatis. Perhaps, being an animal lover, she would be pleased to be of use to the Śālāvṛkas 🙂 //End of Disclaimer
The idea to write on this particular topic has always been present. However, I had indefinitely postponed it due to a few reasons (For one, my parents read this blog! And to those already familiar with the topic at hand, the discomfort is readily understandable. To those who are not, read on to understand why so, at your own risk). Also, academic commitments had been incredibly heavy. A renewed urge to write on this came as a result of an incident that happened a while ago on an online forum (referred to in the disclaimer) which once again stood to prove the lack of mental strength and intellectual maturity among Hindus. Hindus cower in the face of information about the “obscenities” of the aśvamedha or the puruṣamedha, which was initially modelled on the real sacrifice of a human being. Since that time, I had been slowly compiling the notes I had taken on this subject whenever I got the time.
The default strategy for many Hindus, when presented with such questions by their opponents, is to rush into panic-mode and go on the defensive, unwittingly signalling an open admission to the world at large that they themselves believe their Dharma to be flawed. A favourite strategy would be “symbolic interpretation” where, by sheer torture of the language and its rules, even the most explicit passage enjoining a certain ritual injunction can be construed to mean otherwise. It is not that the rituals themselves are devoid of philosophical, mystical or esoteric significance. However, the denial of the literal reality of the controversial rituals, while accepting only the symbolic understanding as the genuine one, is not doing Hindus any favour.
Sophisticated Hindus can internalize the world-view, the collective inner mind of their ancient forebears and understand these rituals as it would have been understood by the people among whom they were practiced. In that spirit, we will briefly explore the topic of Gosava, related rituals and I hope to trace out the complex history of the ritual developments. At this point, I must kindly remind the reader that this is not one of those “apologetics” pieces you see from the preta-worshippers. In other words, this long series of articles is not intended to be a ‘defense’ of gosava, whatever that means. The purpose is to help Hindus better understand the ritual for what it is.
Firstly, a major misconception needs to be dealt with, which is that the gosava rite is in and of itself a ritual with sexual elements. The controversial acts are limited to the variant given in the jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa (2.113), the āpastamba śrautasūtra (22.13.1-3), the hiraṇyakeśi śrautasūtra (17.5.25-26) and the brahmāṇḍa purāṇa (2.36-64) in a comparatively larger array of texts. Vasubandhu the Bauddha scholar from Gandhāra, in his criticism of the Veda, quotes a verse which is only a slightly modified version of the jaiminīya material. The reference in the jaiminīya itself is situated near the tail-end of a long series of developments within the proper Vedic textual canon. To bank our entire understanding of gosava on this particular variation is not only unfair but rather unintelligent and befitting of anyone who claims to employ clinical objectivity in their approach towards texts.
Surveying the wide corpus of texts available for study, one is able to identify passages which are relevant to explaining the evolution of the concept of bovine mimesis. It would be useful for the reader to keep in mind that the rites described in the various texts have some or all of the three distinct components:
i. Sexual Imitation: This would be in reference to ritual injunctions that enjoin imitation of the sexual acts of bulls in general.
ii. Non-Sexual Imitation: There are other acts of bovine mimicry that are non-sexual in nature.
iii. Non-Imitation: This would refer to all other, core ritual acts in the rite that do not involve mimicking a bull.
2. anaḍudvrata of the śaunakīya atharvans
To understand the gosava rite and the idea of bovine mimesis as fully as possible, one has to appreciate the several intricate strands of ritual developments and I have, to the best of my limited ability identified the starting points of these developments in three very distinct textual traditions: a sūkta of the śaunakīya Atharvaveda saṁhitā, a brāhmaṇa passage from the Taittiriya (184.108.40.206) and a dyad of brāhmaṇa passages from the pañcaviṃśa (19.13) and the Taittiriya (2.7.6). The anaḍutsūkta (śaunakīya AV 4.11) or the ‘Hymn of the Bull’ speaks of an anaḍudvrata (4.11.11: anaḍuho vratam) that is centred on the Gharma-containing cauldron (mahāvīra) and the bull forms of Indra and is a rite of the atharvan ritualists. I was unable to examine corresponding, relevant material in the paippalāda recension and thus the precise details of the observance are wanting. However, it would suffice to note the following points about this hymn:
i. Though not explicitly stated in the sūkta, the fruit of the vrata seems to be definitely a prototype of anaḍuha loka, meaning, ‘world of the Bull’. The fourth verse of the hymn describes a world inhabited by the bull: anaḍvān duhe sukr̥tásya loká (The Bull pours milk in the world of rewards [for meritorious deeds]). This world is the phala of the vrata as stated in 4.11.6: téna geṣma sukr̥tásya lokáṃ (May we go to the world of rewards for merit). In the gosava rite as given in the Brāhmaṇa of the jaiminīya-s (2.113), anaḍuha loka is the explicitly stated fruit to be won: ‘anaḍuho ha lokaṃ jayati’.
ii. There is no suggestion of any sexual or non-sexual imitation per se but Indra, as the primordial performer of the stated observance, manifests as the bull (4.11.2). Apart from the meme of anaḍuha loka, the anaḍudvrata serves as a prototype for some of the later rites in other ways as well. The hymn states in 4.11.7 that prajāpati-parameṣṭhī-virāṭ proceeds via viśvānara, vaiśvānara and the anaḍuha (the bull) and 4.11.11 declares that the observance of twelve nights is for prajāpati. (índro rūpéṇāgnír váhena prajāpatiḥ parameṣṭhī virāṭ viśvānare akramata vaiśvānaré akramatānadúhy akramata) This centrality of prajāpati is emphasized in later texts (see section 3, point i) that expressly discuss the gosava rite:
taittiriya brāhmaṇa 220.127.116.11 (prajāpatiḥ svārājyaṃ parameṣṭhī,
pañcaviṃśa brāhmaṇa 19.13.3 (prajāpatir hi svārājyaṃ parameṣṭhī svārājyam)
Āpastamba śrautasūtra 22.12.20 (prajāpatestvā parameṣṭhinaḥ svārājyenābhiṣiñcāmīti)
iii. Also, ‘anaḍvān duhe’ (the bull pours or yields milk) at 4.11.4 reminds us, once again, of the later brāhmaṇa texts (see section 3, point iv) where the abhiṣeka is performed by having milk poured over the sacrificer-i.e. the performer of the gosava.
iv. It is also clear that this anaḍutsūkta was also employed as part of a sava-type rite. The kauśikasūtra (the gṛhya kalpasūtra of the atharvans) at kaṇḍikā 66.12 (or adhyāya 8.7) briefly states thus: ‘anaḍvān’ ity anaḍvāham. Later, the great Keśava in his kauśikapaddhati more elaborately states, in his commentary on this particular sūtra: ‘anaḍvān dādhāra’ iti sūktena anaḍvāhaṃ savam. The meaning is that by [the employment of] the sūkta starting with the words ‘anaḍvān dādhāra’ (AVŚ 4.11), the anaḍvāha sava [should be performed].-
For specific details as to how this anaḍvāha sava was performed, please refer to an excellent article by the atharvavedin and learned ārya here. He does highlight the fact that the sava-s of the atharvan tradition are unique and distinct from those of the other vedas. Nevertheless, it is possible that that the philosophical tenor (i.e. references to a transcendental world, sukrtasya loka) of AVŚ 4.11, in addition to its application at a savayajña may have played a profound role in the way the jaiminīya-s conceived the gosava.
3. The gosava proper from the pañcaviṃśa and taittiriya brāhmaṇa-s
In understanding the development of the gosava rite, the śaunakīya AV 4.11 may have impacted more than just the jaiminīya-s. The gosava rite, in its proper form is found in two passages, one from the pañcaviṃśa brāhmaṇa at 19.13 and another in that of the taittiriyakas at 2.7.6, both of which are quite different in tenor, content and aim from the above-mentioned anaḍudvrata of the śaunakīyas. Yet the former two texts seem to be deeply influenced by the latter as we will note in some of the numbered points below. Instead of narrowing the discussion to one of these texts, I have decided to bring in both for the following reasons:
a. At any rate, both texts are amongst the earliest discussions of the gosava rite in and there is more or less, a respectable consensus that these two brāhmaṇa-s are earlier than the text of the jaiminīya-s. Hence, it makes good sense to discuss both texts at one place.
b. For various reasons, it is near impossible to arrive at a precise dating for which of the two brāhmaṇa-s is older. My own opinion, as far as the particular passages on gosava are concerned, is that the pañcaviṃśa description of the rite is the older one. But I will not delve into this, leaving readers to refer to a brief Note 1 at the end of this essay.
The following is a summary of the aspects of the gosava rite as given in both passages:
i. taittiriya Brāhmaṇa (TB) 18.104.22.168.8 (prajāpatiḥ svārājyaṃ parameṣṭhī) Pañcaviṃśa Brāhmaṇa (PB) 19.13.3 (prajāpatir hi svārājyaṃ parameṣṭhī svārājyam)
To reiterate what we had already noted in point ii of section 2, svārājya is the aim of gosava in both texts while prajāpati and parameṣṭhin are identified with svārājya (sovereignty, independence) itself.
ii. In both texts, the bṛhat and rathantara sāman-s are both employed here in this rite. The gosava is even given as one of a few examples of rituals with this supposed liturgical peculiarity in Śābarasvāmin’s bhāṣya on Mīmāṃsāsūtra (9.2.49) (PB 19.13.5. ubhe bṛhadrathantare bhavatas, TB 22.214.171.124.3)
iii. Both texts mandate the giving of a myriad (ayutaṃ) of cows as the fee. (PB 19.13.6 ayutaṃ dakṣiṇās, TB 126.96.36.199.5)
iv. In both texts, unction (abhiṣeka) is performed with milk being poured upon the sacrificer’s head (PB 19.13.7 pratiduhābhiṣicyate, TB 188.8.131.52.7). Furthermore, this act is performed at the time of chanting of the bṛhat saman (PB 19.13.8 bṛhataḥ stotra pratyabhiṣicyate, TB 184.108.40.206.9) and should be performed to the south of the āhavanīyāgni on unraised, flat ground. Again, compare this with the poetic imagery of the bull (anaḍuha) pouring streams of milk. (see section 2 point iii, “anaḍvān duhe” 4.11.4)
v. In both texts, the employment of the ṣaṭtriṃśa stoma (a stoma containing thirty-six verses) is indicated. (PB 19.13.10 sarvaḥ ṣaṭtriṃśastena gosavaḥ, TB 220.127.116.11.5) Basically, a stoma is a certain manner of chanting a stotra (both words deriving from the same root, ‘stu’, as in stuti, meaning, “To praise”). A stoma is often named after the number of verses it contains. For example, the pañcadaśa stoma contains fifteen verses. It is such that the total number of verses are actually built up by means of a structured repetition of a smaller number of unique verses in three turns (paryāya).
There are a few other ritual details but they are not too important to note here. Nor am I interested in delving into technicalities of sāman recitation which are far beyond my abilities at the moment.
An interesting point of distinction that had struck me between the pañcaviṃśa and taittiriya texts, and I believe provides an insight into the eventual transformation of the gosava rite, is the refrain at TB 18.104.22.168.9-10: svā́rājyaṃ gáurevá gáuriva bhavati. svārājyam (the state of having svārājya, or sovereignty) verily is gaur (cattle). It is (or becomes) like the gaur.
At first sight, this may look puzzling. I was able to intuit that the taittiriyaka had seen the quintessential correspondence (or if I may add, bandhutā) between cattle as a category and the very idea of svārājya. But I had to confirm my suspicions. Sāyaṇa made the obvious connection between the term ‘gaur’ and the name of the rite, ‘gosava’ but had failed to get the essence of the verse at hand. He thus writes: in his commentary as follows: svārājyaṃ hi sarvaiḥ prārthyate/ svārājyaṃ nāma gaureva gosava eva svārājyaprāptihetutvat/
“svārājya is indeed sought by all/ svārājya, namely, is the gaur (cattle); the gosava indeed is the cause of the attainment of svārājya/
In my opinion, Bhāskara had, more or less, got the gist of this simple yet poignant phrase. I do not state this under the spell of a self-confirming bias. In stating, “svā́rājyaṃ gáurevá”, it is very clear that the veda wants us to see the bandhutā between the two terms. Bhāskara’s commentary speaks for its own merit:
yathā gauraraṇye svacchandacārī evamayaṃ brahmaloke’pi svatantro bhavati
“Like cattle, in the forest, acting/moving of their own volition, even thus in this brahmaloka, there is independence (svatantra)”
At this point, I must note my disagreement with Bhāskara’s defining svārājya in terms of svatantra in brahmaloka as the TB expressly recommends the gosava to be performed by members of the kṣatra (TB 22.214.171.124.7: kṣatrā́ṇāṃ kṣatrabhŕ̥ttamo vayodhā́ḥ) for whom svārājya must have been a phala to be enjoyed in this world rather than svatantra to be enjoyed in the hereafter. But the point to note is that a comparison is made between the manner of life of cattle and the unbounded freedom that comes with svārājya.
This ‘free’, uninhibited behaviour of cows and bulls is succinctly captured in the taittiriya brāhmaṇa but is an important meme that underpins the description of gosava in the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa and repeats in later texts such as the mahābhārata, pāśupata sūtras and even in a lately inserted chapter in the brahmāṇḍa purāṇa. We will look at those texts in a subsequent part of this series and more importantly the verses from the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa.
- pāpmānam apahanta: The sin-dispelling ritual of the taittiriyakas
As of now we have considered two of the three starting points-i.e. śaunakīya AV 4.11 and the gosava proper as described in two early brāhmaṇa passages. The last starting point is found in the taittiriya brāhmaṇa 126.96.36.199. In this passage, certain acts are prescribed whose stated purpose is the dispelling of sins (188.8.131.52.10: pāpmānam apahanyūriti) from the performer of those acts. When one reads the whole passage, no express mention of imitation of any sort is found. However, when one looks closely at the prescribed acts, the connection between the rite and bovine mimesis becomes more evident. The prescribed acts are: preva calet vyasyevākṣyau bhāṣeta maṇṭayediva krāthayediva sṛṅgāyeteva. Given the peculiarities of the Vedic language, I must humbly admit that it was very difficult to comprehend the meaning of the component phrases and submit the disclaimer that I am, by no means, adequate for this task; the difficulty accentuated by the fact that I, residing in a land of the mlecchas, have limited resources and access to texts at my disposal. I had to consult classical commentaries and compare with other Vedic verses in order to arrive at a decent, if yet incomplete, understanding. The first three, “preva calet”, “vyasyevākṣyau bhāṣeta” and maṇṭayediva are especially difficult to translate.
Firstly, we shall look at the term, preva. The commentary of Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara seems to get the meaning right although the derivation is not as straightforward. He comments on it as prakṛṣṭamiva (prakṛṣṭam+iva, violent+as if). In the context of the later terms (maṇṭayediva, krāthayediva, etc), this meaning makes perfect sense; but with preva split as a simple pra+iva, it would have clearly puzzled the commentator who would have struggled with the ‘pra’ here, on two grounds.
a. The preverb pra, as the very term suggests, directly precedes a verb. (prasūta, prayāti, etc) It is used in the sense of ‘forward’ and ‘forth’.
b. The comparative adverb iva always follows the word compared with. (RV 5.30.8d: pra cakriyeva rodasī marudbhyaḥ-Literal rendering: go forth like wheels, rodasī (Heaven and Earth) to the Maruts)
The key points to be noted in our discussion:
i. Naturally, with iva following a commonly used preverb, pra, instead of proper verbs or nouns, it would be challenging for the commentator. Perhaps, here, it is best to take the suggestion of divākara ācārya. (see How to Behave like a Bull? New Insight into the Origin and Religious Practices of Pāśupatas, 2013)
He suggests that the word pra, in an archaic usage, could have been irregularly used here as a noun. Hence, pra+iva=preva possibly means, “as if [charging] forward”. “calet” is an optative verb in the third person. The phrase, “preva calet” could then be interpreted as, “as if [charging] forward, let him move”.
ii. With respect to vyasyevākṣyau, Bhāskara comments, “vyasyevākṣyau: vikṣipyeva akṣyau akṣiṇī cakṣaṣī”. In other words, the performer of the rite is to look around. The commentator understands the term, “vyasya” as meaning “to scatter”, which is the meaning of the unconjugated root verb, “vikṣipa”. (vikṣipyeva= vikṣipa+iva) and given the term’s usage, the interpretation seems entirely appropriate. The performer is to look hither and thither with his sight and focus being scattered in all directions.
iii. Bhāskara’s commentary on bhāṣeta reinforces the idea that hostile looks are enacted by the performer, “bhāṣeta: atimātraviṣphāritākṣo vaktavyāni pratipadyeta”. He says, “bhāṣeta: with excessively wide-open eyes, let him begin to speak (pratipadyeta, 3rd pers., singular, optative) reprehensible things”.
iv. Finally, we shall briefly look at maṇṭayediva where the commentator writes, “maṇṭayediva: unṃatta iva avyavasthita ceṣṭita”, meaning that the performer of the rite is, like a lunatic (unmatta iva), to display antinomian behaviour (avyavasthita ceṣṭita).
Without delving too deep into grammar by explaining the entire cited passage from the Taittiriya Brāhmaṇa, we can decently render it in english as thus:
preva calet vyasyevākṣyau bhāṣeta maṇṭayediva krāthayediva sṛṅgāyeteva
“[The observer of this rite], as if [charging] forward, let him move, let him [be of] agitated eyes, let him speak [reprehensibly], let him [act] as if a lunatic, let him [act] as if hurting [and enact] as if head-butting.”
The reader may be puzzled as to the relevance of bringing TB 184.108.40.206 in the context of gosava. While there is no obvious connection between the two, it represents the earliest (as far as I am aware of) textual tradition explicitly implementing a ritual regime of bovine mimesis and as such has a bearing on our understanding of how the radically deviant variant of the gosava rite, as practiced by the jaiminīya-s, came into effect.
On a deeper level, the philosophical significance of the rite cannot be understated. Why is the performer asked to do strange and aggressive movements? What could possibly be the purpose of all this? This in itself would require an essay on its own. However, the soteriological significance of TB 220.127.116.11 is something to be considered in a subsequent part of this series, with special reference to the pāśupata sutra-s where, in 3.11-12, 14-15, the verses from TB are practically reproduced with only a few modifications.
5. A Brief Summary of Key Preliminary Points
i.In section 2, we looked at the anaḍutsūkta of the śaunakīya Atharvaveda (4.11) which is the oldest source used in this discussion. The hymn did not discuss any imitation per se, but revolved around a narrative of Indra’s manifesting as the bull (4.11.2).
ii. If not similarities, we saw, in the numbered points in sections 2 and 3, noteworthy correspondences between the traditions of the anaḍutsūkta and the gosava rite as described in taittiriya brāhmaṇa 2.7.6 as well as pañcaviṃśa brāhmaṇa 19.13, such as the centrality of prajāpati and parameṣṭhin in all three texts. Another example would be the ‘pouring of milk-streams’ meme, used as an imagery in anaḍutsūkta (4.11.4) and performed as a ritual act of unction (abhiṣeka) over the performer’s head (see section 2 point iii, section 3, point iv).
iii. We also looked into the concept of svārājya in section 3, right after the numbered points. The concise and subtle comparison drawn, in taittiriya brāhmaṇa 18.104.22.168.9-10, between the uninhibited behaviour of cattle and the unbounded independence one obtains in being a sovereign was also noted by us. The concept of svārājya seems to have been gradually transforming from that with a worldly understanding of sovereignty in terms of political power, into one with soteriological underpinnings (i.e. the question of boundless freedom in the afterlife.
iv. Lastly, in section 4, we looked at taittiriya brāhmaṇa 22.214.171.124 which seems to be one of the earliest textual traditions of bovine mimesis or even animal imitation in general.
v. The single most important point to take away is that the gosava rite, in and of itself, does not have any intrinsic sexual element. As a matter of fact, it does not even have any mimetic ritual component. The contentious jaiminīya variant is clearly an anomaly. What ought to interest a bright mind is the question how and why this anomaly evolved or came into being.
- Naturally, a question may arise as to why the pañcaviṃśa version of the gosava rite should be treated as the starting point. The issue of which of the two brāhmaṇa passages, (pañcaviṃśa and taittiriya) describing the gosava, ought to be treated as the earlier one is an incredibly complex question. One way of approaching the problem could be to attempt to determine, as a whole, which brāhmaṇa is the earlier one and thus, consequently, which passage is the earlier one. Many scholars do consider the pañcaviṃśa as one of the earliest brāhmaṇa texts. Pargiter, in particular, in his Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, argued that since the pañcaviṃśa contains no allusion to the united kuru-pañcala while the taittiriya does, the former is older than the latter (kuru-pañcala unity being a relatively late, post-mahābhārata event). Of course, such arguments are quite weak for a few reasons. When dating vedic texts, which are primarily concerned with ritual rather than history, an argumentum ex silentio may not exactly be the right approach. Furthermore, a general attempt to prove one work as older than another is not helpful in our case. The vedic texts were constantly “revised and updated”, so to speak and thus there may be later additions in an “older” work, which may be more recent compared to a “younger” work, or even borrowed from this “younger” work. Hence, the better approach would be to compare the two particular passages and see which one is likely to be the older one. But to avoid undue complexity, I will not deal with that issue as it is irrelevant for the purposes of this essay. However, to interested readers, I will humbly suggest them to look closely at the wording and structure of the taittiriya version. The additional instruction to employ of the kanvarathantara saman in the first stotra of each savana is found only in the TB (126.96.36.199.3) version, as is the ‘gaureva’ reference (see section 3). These seem to be innovations, built onto the seemingly simpler structure envisioned in the pañcaviṃśa.