(or, 'Naramedha') is a Śrauta ritual of human sacrifice,
closely related to the Ashvamedha. The Vajasaneyi Samhita-Sataphana
Brahmana-Katyayana Srauta Sutra sequence of White Yajur Veda texts
contains the most details. Whether actual human sacrifice was
taking place has been debated since Colebrooke brought the issue under
attention in 1805. He regarded it as a symbolic ritual. Since there
is no inscriptural or other record of
performed, some scholars suggest it was invented simply to round out
suggests actual human
sacrifices are described in Vedic texts, while the Brahmanas show the
practice diminishing. In Shatapatha
13.6.2, an ethereal
voice intervenes to halt the proceedings. The dhatupatha of
defines the root medha as synergizing
the energy to perform something fruitfull. Naramedha simply means
dedicating life for a spiritual or social cause.
1 Historical development
1.1 During the Vedic period
1.2 Rise of Sramanic religions
1.3 Mimamsa movement
1.4 Medieval period
2 Performance in Hindu epics
3 In Vedanta and the Puranas
5 See also
8.1 Printed sources
8.2 Web sources
During the Vedic period
Scholars doubt the
Purushamedha was ever performed.[note 1]
According to Jan Houben, the actual occurrence of human sacrifice
would be difficult to prove, since the relevant pieces of evidence
would be small in number.
Rise of Sramanic religions
According to Jan Houben, the early Vedic period was followed by a
period of embarrassment about violence in rituals. This period
corresponds to the rise of Sramanic religions such as Buddhism and
Jainism, both of which place emphasis on non-violence (ahimsa). This
period also corresponds to the composition of the Shatapatha Brahmana,
which states that the victims of a
Purushamedha are supposed to be
released, and the composition of the Chandogya Upanishad, which lists
non-violence as a virtue.
According to Jan Houben, the Sramanic period was followed by another
period where Vedic ritualists tried to defend their actions against
Buddhist and Jain criticism. This period corresponds to the rise of
the Mimamsa school of philosophy, which claimed that the
the sole authority regarding matters of dharma. This movement
culminated in the 7th century CE with the writings of Kumarila Bhatta
By the 10th century, the
Purushamedha was included in lists of
Kali-varjyas, or actions which were prohibited for the Kali Yuga. This
suggests that human sacrifice had become obsolete by the time the
texts were composed. However, it also suggests that the Purushamedha
may have in some cases consummated with the actual sacrificing of a
human. That is, the existence of inclusion of the prohibition in the
list of Kali-varjyas demonstrates that at least one author seriously
feared the possibility that a ritual practitioner might take the
description of the ritual as a moral license to perform the rite to
the extent of murder and cannibalism. This is a plausible reason to
include it in the list of Kali-varjyas, even if it was a purely
symbolic ceremony during the period of the composition of the
Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. Whether or not the rite ever consummated in
the slaughter of a human and the consumption of their flesh, however,
remains so far a matter of scholarly speculation.
Performance in Hindu epics
Brahmana tells the story of a sacrifice carried out by
King Harischandra. The childless king asked
Varuna to provide him with
a son, and in return,
Varuna asks him to sacrifice the child to him.
Harischandra delays the performance of the sacrifice and allows his
son, named Rohita, to grow older. Eventually, Rohita wanders into the
forest to find a substitute for himself. He comes across a poor
Brahmin named Ajigarta, who sells his son
Sunahsepa to him. Sunahsepa
is bound to the stake, but he frees himself by reciting some mantras
that were taught to him by Vishvamitra. This story is reproduced in
the Bhagavata Purana.
In Vedanta and the Puranas
Human sacrifice and cannibalism are explicitly condemned in the
Bhagavata Purana (5.26.31). The
Chandogya Upanishad (3.16) states that
Purushamedha is actually a metaphor for life itself, and it
compares the various stages of life to the oblations that are offered.
Brahmanda Purana tells a story where "mahamamsa",
literally meaning "great flesh", used for the term human flesh was
used in the story of Lalita-Mahutmya. "We shall prepare the
sacrificial fire in accordance with the injunction of a Mahayaga. O
Suras, We shall worship the greatest Shakti by means of Mahamamsa."
Helmer Ringgren regarded that the traces of Purushameda are not
Dayananda Saraswati, founder of
Arya Samaj has rejected any kind of
human or animal sacrifice in vedik yagyas.
In November 2000, a modern version of
Purushamedha was organised by
All World Gayatri Pariwar at
Shantikunj Haridwar marking completion of
12 year Yugsandhi Mahapurascharana. In this program, named as Srijan
Sankalp Vibhuti Mahayagya, participants had to tie themselves with Yup
and take an oath to spend their life for social cause as a
sacrifice. Yagya was performed on 1551 kundas on the bank of holy
Ganges and was attended by four million devotees.
Historical Vedic religion
^ pg. 237 "There is no inscriptional or other record that a
purusamedha was ever performed, leading some scholars to suggest it
was simply invented to round out sacrificial possibilities."
^ a b c d e Knipe 2015, p. 237.
^ Parpola (2007) p. 159
^ I therefore discuss first a few important textual references and
their interpretation, hoping to establish beyond reasonable doubt that
Vedic texts do indeed attest to real human sacrifices performed within
the memory preserved by the authors, and that by the time of the
Brahmana texts, the actual practice of bloody offering had already
begun to diminish. Parpola (2007) p. 161
^ Oliver Leaman (2006), Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy, Routledge,
ISBN 978-0415172813, page 557, Quote: "It should be mentioned
that although provision is made for human sacrifice (purusha-medha)
this was purely symbolic and did not involve harm to anyone".
^ a b c d Violence Denied: Violence, Non-Violence, and the
Rationalization of Violence in South Asian Cultural History.
pp. 120–124, 133, 153.
^ Chandogya Upanishad, 3.17.4
^ Parpola (2007) pp. 161–164
^ Bhagavata Purana, Canto 9, Chapter 7
^ Brahmanda Purana, Section IV, Section 12, Verse 66
^ "Paths to the Divine: Ancient and Indian", by Vensus A. George, p.
169, ISBN 9781565182486
^ Akhand Jyoti. Akhand Jyoti Sansthan, Mathura. 64 (1): 59–62.
January 2001. Missing or empty title= (help)
Knipe, David M. (2015), Vedic Voices: Intimate Narratives of a Living
Andhra Tradition, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Parpola, A. 'Human Sacrifice in India in Vedic Times and Before' in
Bremmer, J.N. (2007): The Strange World of Human Sacrifice, Peeters