Aśvalāyana

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By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Asvalayana, AZvalAyana, Ashvalaayana


Aśvalāyana literally means

  1. which causes breath
  2. which revives
  3. A Vedic teacher and sage who was the author of the Aśvalāyana Śrauta-Sutra in the Rgveda
  4. A son of Viśvāmitra[1]

One of the authors of Rgveda

Each of the four Vedas has several ‘śākhās,’ branches. The origin of these śākhās probably lies in the fact that each of the principal sages like Paila or Vaiśampāyana, who transmitted the Vedas, had several disciples. These disciples did some editing and readjustments of the Vedic mantras to suit the needs of the rites which they performed. The local culture too, sometimes, had its effect on these changes. This led to the birth of these branches.

The name of Aśvalāyana is connected with the Rgveda as one of the authors of its śākhās. Less information is known of Aśvalāyana except that he was the disciple of Śaunaka. Though one Kauśalya Aśvalāyana is mentioned in the Praśna Upanisad[2] and an Aśvala in the Brhadāranyaka Upanisad[3] it is very difficult to establish any connection between them and this Aśvalāyana. The Anuśāsanaparva[4] mentions one Aśvalāyana belonging to the gotra or lineage of Viśvāmitra and other great sages. Some scholars opine that he is the same Aśvalāyana, the author of the Rigvedic śākhās.

Literary works of Aśvalāyana

The Aśvalāyana śākhās of the Rigveda is almost identical with the Sākala śākhās except that the latter recognizes the Vālakhilya supplementary hymn. One or two works of Āśvalāyana, out of the four attributed to him, are extant now :

  1. Āśvalāyana Śrautasutras
  2. Āśvalāyana Grhyasutras

Gist of Aśvalāyana Śrautasutras

It closely follows the Aitareya Brāhmana and consists of twelve chapters. Each chapter is further subdivided into ‘khaṇḍas’ or subsections. The total number of such khaṇḍas are 164. Each khaṇḍa is mostly in the form of a long sentence. The followers of this work are mostly in the southern regions of the river Godāvarī. The whole work, since it belongs to the Rigvedic group, deals mainly with the duties of the ‘hotṛ,’ the priest connected with the chanting of the Rigvedic mantras during the sacrificial rites. The sacrifices and rites dealt with in this work are :

  1. Darśapurṇamāsa
  2. Agnyādhāna
  3. Piṇḍapitṛyajña
  4. Āgrayaṇī
  5. Kārīrīṣṭi
  6. Cāturmāsya
  7. Sautrāmaṇi
  8. Somayāga

Gist of Āśvalāyana Grhyasutras

It consists of four chapters divided into 48 ‘kaṇḍikās’ or subsections. Rules for the recitation of the Vedas are given in one of the chapters. This work gives us the names of many ancient sages which are not found elsewhere.The topics dealt with in this work are :

  1. Pākayajña
  2. Baliharaṇa
  3. Ṣoḍaśa (Sixteen) sanskāras


References

  1. Mahabharata
  2. Praśna Upanisad 1.1; 3.1
  3. Brhadāranyaka Upanisad 3.1.1
  4. Mahābhārata 7.54
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore
  • Aśvalāyana by Jit Majumdar