Atirātra

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By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Atiratra, AtirAtra, Atiraatra


Atirātra literally means ‘that which extends beyond a night’.

Vedic sacrifices were the most common aspects of practical religion in the early days of civilization. Among them, one variety called Somayāga is said to have seven ‘sarīsthās’ or forms. They are :

  1. Agniṣṭoma
  2. Atyagniṣṭoma
  3. Ukthya
  4. Soḍaśin
  5. Vājapeya
  6. Atirātra
  7. Aptoryāma

Atirātra, the sixth in this series, derives its name from the fact that its performance extends beyond a day and a night. It is said to be a modification of Agniṣṭoma. Since it is mentioned in the Rgveda[1] it can be inferred as a very ancient sacrifice. These are some of the essential features of this sacrifice :

  • The chanting of 29 stotras and 29 śastras (the additional ones being recited in the night in four rounds)
  • Offering of six oblations in the night
  • Chanting of the long Āśvinaśastra (comprising 1000 verses) at dawn
  • Sacrificing an ewe to Sarasvati on the day of pressing the soma juice
  • Offering of puroḍāśa cakes in potsherds to the twin Aśvins


References

  1. Rgveda 7.103.7
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore