Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 27


The rock-cut Buddhist viharas and chaityas of Ajanta Caves,
built under the patronage of the Vakataka rulers

May 14, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Vakatakas

'The Vakataka Empire was a contemporary of the Gupta Empire, and the successor state of the Satavahanas. They formed the southern boundaries of north India and ruled over today's modern day states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra during the 3rd and 5th Centuries.

The rock-cut Buddhist viharas and chaityas of Ajanta Caves were built under the patronage of the Vakataka rulers. They were eventually overrun by the southern Chalukyas.

Asvamedha-yajna in the Vakataka-Gupta Age


In Srimad Bhagavatam Sixth Canto, verses 13.3-23 is the story of how Lord Indra absolved himself of the sin of killing a brahman when he dispatched the demon, Vrtrasura. As instructed by the great sages, Indra became purified of this sin by performing asvamedha-yajna. The great horse sacrifice, although generally thought of in the context of very ancient Vedic history, was also performed in relative modern times, as recently as 460 A.D.

This period of ancient Indian history known as the Vakataka-Gupta Age, from 250 A.D. to 500 A.D., is discussed at length in The Vakataka-Gupta Age by R.C. Majumdar and A.S. Altekar (1946). The authors document numerous examples during this time of the performance of asvamedha-yajna. 'Even in Dravidian south, the sacrificial post (velvittuna) of the Vedic ritual figures as a thing of common knowledge in popular Tamil literature. A number of Vedic sacrifies were performed by rulers of the period, the asvamedha among them.

The great horse sacrifice was observed not only by big emperors like Pravara-sena I, (c. 275 A.D.), Sumudra-gupta (c. 375 A.D.) and Kumara-gupta I (c. 430 A.D.), but also by small kings like Santamula of the Ikshvaku dynasty (c. 250 A.D.), Vijayadeva-varman of the Salankayana family (c. 320 A.D.) and Dahrasena of the Traikutaka house (c. 460 A.D.). Even the Kadamba ruler, Krishna-varman, who was a mere feudatory, is known to have performed it. There is no wonder that the Bharasivas and the Pallavas, who claimed to be powerful rulers, should have performed it several times.

The great Vakataka emperor Pravara-sena I not only celebrated four asvamedha-yajnas, but also performed agnishtoma, aptoryama, ukthya, shodashin, brihaspatisava and vajapeya. The last mentioned one was celebrated to proclaim the formal assumption of the imperial title of Samrat by the Vakataka emperor.

The early Pallavas performed so many sacrifices that they claim to have become satakratukalpa, 'almost similar to Indra' in their greatness. [1] According to this conception, Indra owes his position to the successful performance of a hundred sacrifices, and the implication of the above expression is that the Pallavas had almost reached that limit. Agnishtoma, vajapeya and the asvamedha figure prominently among the sacrifices performed by them as well as by the Ikshvakus. [2]

The Maukharis of Gaya were a petty ruling family, but they also performed a large number of Vedic sacrifices in the 4th Century. It is believed that Indra had to come down to earth so frequently to accept their oblations, that his poor consort became lean and thin owing to her enforced and prolonged separation from her husband. [3]

The Maukharis of Badva in Kotah state were by no means less enthusiastic in the cause of the Vedic religion. Sacrificial pillars have been recently discovered commemorating the Triratra sacrifices performed by four of them. [4]

Two other chiefs in Jaipur State performed the same sacrifice towards the end of the 3rd Century A.D. [4] The Malava chief who regained independence for his country in 226 A.D. signalised the event by the celebration of the ekashashti-ratra-sattra, which was quite an appropriate one for the occasion. [5] The Pundarika sacrifice was performed by another local ruler in Bharatpur State in 372 A.D. [6]

In Srimad Bhagavatam 6.13.3-23 the benefits of bona fide performance of asvamedha-yajna in accordance with sastra is described:

    "Maharaja Pariksit inquired from Sukadeva Gosvami: O great sage, what was the reason for Indra's unhappiness? I wish to hear about this. When he killed Vrtrasura, all the demigods were extremely happy. Why, then, was Indra himself unhappy?

    Sri Sukadeva Gosvami answered: When all the great sages and demigods were disturbed by the extraordinary power of Vrtrasura, they had assembled to ask Indra to kill him. Indra, however, being afraid of killing a brahmana, declined their request.

    King Indra replied: When I killed Visvarupa, I received extensive sinful reactions, but I was favored by the women, land, trees and water, and therefore I was able to divide the sin among them. But now if I kill Vrtrasura, another brahmana, how shall I free myself from the sinful reactions?

    Sri Sukadeva Gosvami said: Hearing this, the great sages replied to King Indra, "O King of heaven, all good fortune unto you. Do not fear. We shall perform an asvamedha sacrifice to release you from any sin you may accrue by killing the brahmana."

    The rsis continued: O King Indra, by performing an asvamedha sacrifice and thereby pleasing the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the Supersoul, Lord Narayana, the supreme controller, one can be relieved even of the sinful reactions for killing the entire world, not to speak of killing a demon like Vrtrasura.

    One who has killed a brahmana, one who has killed a cow or one who has killed his father, mother or spiritual master can be immediately freed from all sinful reactions simply by chanting the holy name of Lord Narayana. Other sinful persons, such as dog-eaters and candalas, who are less than sudras, can also be freed in this way. But you are a devotee, and we shall help you by performing the great horse sacrifice. If you please Lord Narayana in that way, why should you be afraid? You will be freed even if you kill the entire universe, including the brahmanas, not to speak of killing a disturbing demon like Vrtrasura.

    Sri Sukadeva Gosvami said: Encouraged by the words of the sages, Indra killed Vrtrasura, and when he was killed the sinful reaction for killing a brahmana [brahma-hatya] certainly took shelter of Indra.

    Following the advice of the demigods, Indra killed Vrtrasura, and he suffered because of this sinful killing. Although the other demigods were happy, he could not derive happiness from the killing of Vrtrasura. Indra's other good qualities, such as tolerance and opulence, could not help him in his grief.

    Indra saw personified sinful reaction chasing him, appearing like a candala woman, a woman of the lowest class. She seemed very old, and all the limbs of her body trembled. Because she was afflicted with tuberculosis, her body and garments were covered with blood. Breathing an unbearable fishy odor that polluted the entire street, she called to Indra, "Wait! Wait!"

    O King, Indra first fled to the sky, but there also he saw the woman of personified sin chasing him. This witch followed him wherever he went. At last he very quickly went to the northeast and entered the Manasa-sarovara Lake.

    Always thinking of how he could be relieved from the sinful reaction for killing a brahmana, King Indra, invisible to everyone, lived in the lake for one thousand years in the subtle fibers of the stem of a lotus. The fire-god used to bring him his share of all yajnas, but because the fire-god was afraid to enter the water, Indra was practically starving.

    As long as King Indra lived in the water, wrapped in the stem of the lotus, Nahusa was equipped with the ability to rule the heavenly kingdom, due to his knowledge, austerity and mystic power. Nahusa, however, blinded and maddened by power and opulence, made undesirable proposals to Indra's wife with a desire to enjoy her. Thus Nahusa was cursed by a brahmana and later became a snake.

    Indra's sins were diminished by the influence of Rudra, the demigod of all directions. Because Indra was protected by the goddess of fortune, Lord Visnu's wife, who resides in the lotus clusters of Manasa-sarovara Lake, Indra's sins could not affect him. Indra was ultimately relieved of all the reactions of his sinful deeds by strictly worshiping Lord Visnu. Then he was called back to the heavenly planets by the brahmanas and reinstated in his position.

    O King, when Lord Indra reached the heavenly planets, the saintly brahmanas approached him and properly initiated him into a horse sacrifice [asvamedha-yajna] meant to please the Supreme Lord.

    The horse sacrifice performed by the saintly brahmanas relieved Indra of the reactions to all his sins because he worshiped the Supreme Personality of Godhead in that sacrifice. O King, although he had committed a gravely sinful act, it was nullified at once by that sacrifice, just as fog is vanquished by the brilliant sunrise.

    King Indra was favored by Marici and the other great sages. They performed the sacrifice just according to the rules and regulations, worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Supersoul, the original person. Thus Indra regained his exalted position and was again honored by everyone.

    In this very great narrative there is glorification of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayana, there are statements about the exaltedness of devotional service, there are descriptions of devotees like Indra and Vrtrasura, and there are statements about King Indra's release from sinful life and about his victory in fighting the demons. By understanding this incident, one is relieved of all sinful reactions. Therefore the learned are always advised to read this narration. If one does so, one will become expert in the activities of the senses, his opulence will increase, and his reputation will become widespread. One will also be relieved of all sinful reactions, he will conquer all his enemies, and the duration of his life will increase. Because this narration is auspicious in all respects, learned scholars regularly hear and repeat it on every festival day."

    Bhaktivedanta Book Trust


[1] Indian Antiquary, Bombay, V, 155., p. 358

[2] Epigraphica Indica, XX, 16; XV 251.

[3] Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum (Inscriptions of the Early Gupta Kings and their Successors by J.F. Fleet, Calcutta, 1888, III, 224

[4] Descriptive Lists of Inscriptions in the Central Provinces and Berar by Rai Bahadur Hiralal, Nagpur, 1916, XXII, 52.

[5] Ibid. XXVI, 118.

[6] When the gods first offered this sacrifice, everything around them had become sapless; trees had lost their freshness and kine their strength; as a result of the sacrifice nature regained its original vigour and brilliance and there ensued a period of all-round prosperity like the one which must have begun in Malava when it got its freedom from the foreign rule.


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