By Swami Harshananda
Purusamedha literally means ‘human-sacrifice'.
Human sacrifice, however detestable it is, has existed in many ancient countries and cultures, including the Semitic, the Celtic, the Chinese, the Greek, the Iranian, the Japanese and the Korean. The word ‘Puruṣamedha’ means a sacrifice in which a human being is also one of the ‘animals’ to be immolated. It is stated to be a Somayāga of five days’ duration. The Śrautasutras of Apastamba and Bodhāyana deal with it.
The story of Śunaśśepha as it occurs in the Aitareya Brāhmana and referred to even in the Ṛgveda raises the suspicion that such a sacrifice might have been existing in the most ancient period. However, even by the time of the Śatapatha Brāhmana sacrifice of human beings, whether in Puruṣa-medha, Aśvamedha or Rājasuya, had already become symbolical. After the usual rites, the human being would be let off.
The purāṇas and the tantras refer to another type, called ‘narabali,’ wherein human beings were sacrificed to appease the fierce goddess Kālī. This practice has somehow survived even today, especially among the aboriginal tribes, though getting more and more rare.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore