yé devā́ yajñaháno yajñamúṣaḥ: Or the Devas who injure the sacrifice-Part One

This is one of those articles that has been in the works for almost one and a half years. The commitments of daily life had caused me to shelve this piece for a long time. Even as the ashes of sagara’s sons were waiting for the waters of the gaṅgā, this article was waiting for the manas to be inundated by the creative rasa-s flowing from the buddhi. Motivated as I was, by an abiding love of reading and understanding the texts of the śruti, the following text in question posed a puzzle to me.

That text is the portion of the taittirīya saṃhitā beginning with “yé devā́yajñaháno yajñamúṣaḥ pṛthivyā́m” and ending with the penultimate verse of 3.5.4.2, “śráiṣṭhya ā́ dhehyenam” is the set of yajūṃṣi mantras (plural of yajus) known as the atimokṣa mantras. The ending of 3.5.4.2, “yajñaháno vái devā́ yajñamúṣaḥ” is the start of a brāhmaṇa discussion of the atimokṣa mantras. (And as any reader familiar with the basics of the veda ought to know, the kṛṣṇa yajur veda saṃhitā-s have their mantra portions tightly interspersed with brāhmaṇa passages).

Now, the terms, yajñahana and yajñamuṣa mean, respectively, “sacrifice-killing” and “sacrifice-stealing”. Interestingly, it is not the rakṣāṃsi (the plural of rakṣas, “demons”)  being referred to here, who are traditionally known to attempt to injure the yajña, the sacrifice. It is verily devas (“gods”) being referred to by these menacing epithets! The idea of devas as injurers of the sacrifice must have bewildered a scholar as great as C.G. Kashikar so much that he, in his translation of the baudhāyana śrautasūtra, where the mantras are cited and injunctions for their employment are given, translates the term, “devā” as “demons!

Now, by sheer conincidence, when I was investigating a different matter altogether, I came across a passage from the mahābhārata referring to yajñamuṣa devas who steal and ruin a sacrifice! I presented my findings to KRK and TD who offered a number of insights on this correspondence, which we will discuss as the essay continues.

Initially, I had just planned to write about the interesting correspondence between a certain set of mantras found in just three kṛṣṇa yajurveda saṃhitā-s and a passage in the mahābhārata. The atimokṣa mantras are found in the taittirīya, maitrāyaṇīya and caraka saṃhitā texts. But since taittirīya is svaśākhā, I shall present it first. Here is a brief synopsis of the two-part essay.

Part One

1 A presentation of the atimokṣa mantras as recorded in taittirīya saṃhitā followed by a literal translation

2 The relevant excerpt from the mahābhārata with translation and a brief analysis of the correspondence between the two passages

Part Two

3 Classical commentaries on the taittirīyaka atimokṣa mantra-s (some surprises here)

4 Presentation of the atimokṣa mantras as recorded in the maitrāyaṇīya and caraka saṃhitā texts with some analysis of the variations between the taittirīya and the latter two, as well analysis of some secondary material as necessary

Part Three (If there is time):

Analysis of all other relevant śrauta material: vaisarjana homa, avabhṛtha as well as viṣṇukrama, viṣṇvatikrama and atimukti mantras with aid from śrautasūtra texts

 

Part One:

The atimokṣa mantras of the saṃhitā bhāga of the taittirīya śākhā, 3rd kāṇḍa, 5th prapāṭhaka, 4th anuvāka:

yé devā́ yajñaháno yajñamúṣaḥ pr̥thivyā́m ádhyā́sate / agnír mā tébhyo rakṣatu gáchema sukŕ̥to vayám //

The devas, killing the sacrifice, stealing the sacrifice, that are seated on earth, may agni protect me from them; may we go to those that do good deeds.

ā́ganma mitrāvaruṇā vareṇyā rā́trīṇām bhāgó yuváyor yó ásti / nā́kaṃ gr̥hṇānā́ḥ sukr̥tásya loké tr̥tī́ye pr̥ṣṭhé ádhi rocané diváḥ //

We have come, oh mitra and varuṇa, most excellent, to the share of the nights that is yours, Grasping the firmament, in the world of good deeds, on the third ridge/elevation above the light of the sky.

yé devā́ yajñaháno yajñamúṣo ‘ntárikṣé’dhyā́sate / vāyúr mā tébhyo rakṣatu gáchema sukŕ̥to vayám //

The devas, destroyers of the sacrifice, stealers of the sacrifice, who sit in the atmosphere; from them may vāyu guard me; May we go to those that do good deeds.

yā́s te rā́trīḥ savitaḥ+ // 3.5.4.1

The nights of yours, oh savitṛ+ //3.5.4.1

+devayā́nīr antarā́ dyā́vāpr̥thivī́ viyánti / gr̥háiś ca sárvaiḥ prajáyā nv ágre súvo rúhāṇās taratā rájāṁsi //

+that go, traversed by devas, between sky and earth; with all your houses and offspring, do you, first mounting the light, traverse the regions.

yé devā́ yajñaháno yajñamúṣo divyádhyā́sate / sū́ryo mā tébhyo rakṣatu gáchema sukŕ̥to vayám //

The devas, destroyers of the sacrifice, stealers of the sacrifice, who sit in the sky; from them may Surya guard me; to the well-made world may we go.

yénéndrāya samábharaḥ páyāṁsy uttaména havíṣā jātavedaḥ / ténāgne tvám utá vardhayemáṁ sajātā́nāṁ śráiṣṭhya ā́ dhehyenam //

That highest oblation wherewith, oh jātaveda, Thou didst collect milk for indra, Therewith, oh agni, do thou make him grow; Bestow on him pre-eminence over his clansmen/brethren. (End of atimokṣa mantra-s)

yajñaháno vái devā́ yajñamúṣaḥ+ // 3.5.4.2

The devas are destroyers of the sacrifice, stealers of the sacrifice+//3.5.4.2

+santi tá eṣú lokéṣv āsata ādádāna vimathnānā́ yó dádāti yó yájate tásya / yé devā́ yajñahánaḥ pr̥thivyā́m ádhyā́sate yé antárikṣe yé divī́ty āhemā́n evá lokā́ṁs tīrtvā́ ságr̥haḥ sápaśuḥ suvargáṃ lokám eti

+they sit these worlds taking and destroying from him who gives and sacrifices. ‘The gods, destroyers of the sacrifice, that sit on the earth, in the atmosphere, in the sky’, he says; verily traversing the worlds, he goes to the world of heaven with his household, with his cattle.

ápa vái sómenejānā́d devátāś ca yajñáś ca krāmanty āgneyám páñcakapālam udavasānī́yaṃ nír vaped agníḥ sárvā devátāḥ // 3.5.4.3

From him who has sacrificed with the Soma, the deities and the sacrifice depart; he should offer to agni on five potsherds as the final act; all the deities are agni //3.5.4.3

pā́ṅkto yajñó devátāś caivá yajñáṃ cā́va runddhe

The sacrifice is fivefold; verily he wins the deities and the sacrifice.

gāyatró vā́ agnír gāyatráchandās táṃ chándasā vy ardhayati yát páñcakapālaṃ karóty aṣṭā́kapālaḥ kāryò ‘ṣṭā́kṣarā gāyatrī́ gāyatrò ‘gnír gāyatráchandāḥ svénaiváinaṃ chándasā sám ardhayati

Now agni is with gāyatrī and has the gāyatrī as his metre; he severs him from his metre, if he offers on five potsherds; it should be made on eight potsherds; the gāyatrī has eight syllables, agni is with the gāyatrī and has the gāyatrī for his metre; verily he unites him with his own metre.

paṅktyàu yājyānuvākyè bhavataḥ pāṅkto yajñás ténaivá yajñā́n náiti // 3.5.4.4

The yājya and the anuvākya are in the pañkti metre the sacrifice is fivefold; verily thereby he does not depart from the sacrifice.

Now, these yajūṃṣi mantras have not received much attention or a study just devoted to them. Therefore, it was all the more interesting to note a correspondence between these mantras and a passage from the vanaparva of the mahābhārata: 3.209.10b-20a. Those interested cna read the full passage here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/mbs/mbs03210.htm and Ganguli’s translation here at http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m03/m03219.htm (One can see that the translation presented below differs slightly).

To give a context to this passage, it deals with the diverse progeny generated by pāñcajanya (also known as tapasaḥ), (of the five peoples) the son of uktha, himself born to agni and svāhā, the daughter of tārā and bṛhaspati, the illustrious son of the great aṅgīras. So this describes the mythical progeny of agni-aṅgīras.

devān yajñamuṣaś cānyān sṛjan pañcadaśottarān /10b

Afterwards, he (pāñcajanya) created fifteen other deities who steal/obstruct the yajña (yajñamuṣa: root: muṣ=to steal/obstruct)

abhīmam atibhīmaṃ ca bhīmaṃ bhīmabalābalam /11a

etān yajñamuṣaḥ pañca devān abhyasṛjat tapaḥ /11b

sumitraṃ mitravantaṃ ca mitrajñaṃ mitravardhanam /12a

mitra dharmāṇam ity etān devān abhyasṛjat tapaḥ /12b

surapravīraṃ vīraṃ ca sukeśaṃ ca suvarcasam /13a

surāṇām api hantāraṃ pañcaitān asṛjat tapaḥ /13b

Summary translation-These deities are as follows: abhīma, atibhīma, bhīma, bhīmabala, abala; sumitra, mitravanta, mitrajña, mitravardhana, mitradharma; surapravīra, vīra, sukeśa, suvarcasa, surāṇāmhantṛ; all created by pāñcajanya (also known as tapasaḥ/tapaḥ)

trividhaṃ saṃsthitā hy ete pañca pañca pṛthak pṛthak /14a

muṣṇanty atra sthitā hy ete svargato yajñayājinaḥ /14b

teṣām iṣṭaṃ haranty ete nighnanti ca mahad bhuvi /15a

spardhayā havyavāhānāṃ nighnanty ete haranti ca /15b

havir vedyāṃ tad ādānaṃ kuśalaiḥ saṃpravartitam /16a

tad ete nopasarpanti yatra cāgniḥ sthito bhavet /16b

cito ‘gnir udvahan yajñaṃ pakṣābhyāṃ tān prabādhate /17a

mantraiḥ praśamitā hy ete neṣṭaṃ muṣṇanti yajñiyam /17b

Summary translation-These [deities] are divided into three groups of five each. Established here [in this world], these deities obstruct/molest (muṣṇanti-3rd person plural from root, muṣ) those who offer the sacrifice (yajñayājinaḥ) and are gone to heaven (svargato). They take away and slay their sacrifices (teṣām iṣṭaṃ, iṣṭa meaning sacrifice here) and rival havyavāhāna (agni the carrier of the havis/oblations) here by carrying away large quantities of the havis on the vedi (altar). If cleverly undertaken, they will not approach where the fire has been established. The piled-up fire carrying up the sacrifice repels them on both sides [of the vedi]. When pacified by mantras, they do not steal the sacrifice.

bṛhaduktha tapasyaiva putro bhūmim upāśritaḥ /18a

agnihotre hūyamāne pṛthivyāṃ sadbhir ijyate /18b

rathaṃtaraś ca tapasaḥ putrāgniḥ paripaṭhyate /19a

mitra vindāya vai tasya havir adhvaryavo viduḥ /19b

mumude paramaprītaḥ saha putrair mahāyaśāḥ /20a

Summary Translation: bṛhaduktha, another son of tapasaḥ (that is, pāñcajanya) abides on earth. He is worshipped in this world by men of piety who are engaged in the sacrifice of the agnihotra. rathantara, another son of tapasaḥ and fire is proclaimed. His offerings (tasya havir) are for mitravinda; [that] the adhvaryava know (plural of adhvaryu, who is the ṛtvij or priest of the yajurveda). He (tapasaḥ) was hence supremely pleased with his sons of great fame (mahāyaśāḥ).

The points to note and deduce from a reading of the two translated passages are as follows:

  1. It is manifestly clear that the above passage from the mahābhārata is discussing the very same sacrifice-stealing, sacrifice-killing devas referred to in the atimokṣa yajūṃṣi of the taittirīya saṃhitā. Note the phrases, “devān yajñamuṣaś” at 10b as well as “trividhaṃ saṃsthitā hy ete pañca pañca pṛthak pṛthak” at 14a. śloka 14a speaks of a threefold classification of the fifteen sacrifice-stealing sons of tapasaḥ. This coheres well with the fact that the yajñahána/yajñamúṣa devas of the taittirīyaka-s are found in the three broad divisions of the cosmos: pr̥thivi (earth), antárikṣa (atmosphere) and divi (sky).
    Also, it is clear that both texts refer to a “journey” being undertaken by the sacrificer. A plain reading of the yajūṃṣi of TS 3.5.4.1-4 makes it apparent that the reciters of the verses are proceeding gradually from earth to the atmosphere and eventually to divi. The brāhmaṇa passage following the atimokṣa mantra-s states, “evá lokā́ṁs tīrtvā́ ságr̥haḥ sápaśuḥ suvargáṃ lokám eti” (verily traversing the worlds, he goes to the world of heaven with his household, with his cattle). On the other hand, the mahābhārata account states: “muṣṇanty atra sthitā hy ete svargato yajñayājinaḥ” (Established here [in this world], these deities obstruct/molest those who offer the sacrifice and are gone to heaven. The sacrificer’s upward “journey” will be dealt with in what hopefully gets published as part 2 of this series.
  2. That passage of the mahābhārata was possibly edited by the adhvaryava or an ākhyānavid of the adhvaryava. The reference to mitravinda in 19b is rather puzzling since it is the name of an iṣṭi from the śatapatha brāhmaṇa but is given as the name of a deity in the Mahābhārata account. There is no record of a deity named mitravinda anywhere else. It does not seem to be the result of any shoddy scholarship on part of the author and most likely preserves an authentic tradition that we are no longer able to make sense of.
  3. If the mitravinda in 19b indeed refers to the iṣṭi unique to the śukla yajurveda tradition, this would be interesting as the same passage contains a reference to the yajñamúṣa devas with the atimokṣa yajūṃṣi being unique to the kṛṣṇa yajurveda tradition. This could possibly mean that the mahābhārata account in question was redacted at a time when the yajurveda had not split yet and was a single school.TD suggested that the tradition of mitravinda as a distinct deity probably existed as a “khila” (appendix) of the oldest kṛṣṇa yajur śākhā-s (the caraka-s) at a time when the śukla schools did not exist yet. It is possible that this “khila”, so to speak, containing the base material for the soon-to-be śukla school, was rejected by the dominant yajur school of the caraka-s and later rearranged and expanded by yajñavalkya.
  4. Both KRK and I agreed that the mitra-names appearing in the mahābhārata account have been mistakenly assumed to refer to the Iranian mitra by the Burdwan pandits. mitra (or mithra as is spelt in avestan) as a deity of the mazdayasna is not found in its oldest texts, the gathas, indicating his late entry into the mazdayasna pantheon. By the time mitra/mithra found his way into mazdayasna, there was barely any contact between us, the worshippers of the devas and those of the ahura.Furthermore, the Iranian hypothesis only “explains” the mitra-group among the fifteen deities. It does not explain the bhima group (abhīma, atibhīma, bhīma, etc) or the third group consisting of su-prefix and vīra elements (surapravīra, vīra, sukeśa, etc).

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