By Swami Harshananda
Apastamba is one of the few highly venerated ancient sages accredited with the authorship of important, authoritative texts. Tradition ascribes his works to the period Kali 450 (i.e., 2652 A.D.).
The name is sometimes spelt as ‘Āpastambha’ (‘one who could restrain water’). The puranas attributes to him the yogic power to stay under water for long. This would often attract the aquatic creatures to him. Fishermen interested in making a bonanza of the catch, once spread their nets in the place where he was seated in yoga and unwittingly netted him. King Nābhāga is then said to have freed him honoring him with a cow and a calf and sent him back to his hermitage.
The four or five works ascribed to him may be grouped under one title, the Apastamba Kalpasutras. The ‘Kalpa’ (or Kalpasutras) is a class of literature grouped under the Vedāñgas and is further subdivided into following four branches:
The Apastamba Kalpasutras is a fairly voluminous work comprising 30 praśnas, or sections. Out of these, the first 24 praśnas accumulate a lion’s share, form the Srautasutras. The next two sections are called Mantrapātha. The 27th praśna is the Grhyasutras. The next two make up the Dharmasutras whereas the last is known as Sulbasutras. Of course, when these works are treated as independent treatises, they are prefixed by the author’s name.
- The Srautasutras deal exhaustively with the conduct of Vedic sacrifices from Darśapṅmamāsa up to Aśvamedha and Puruṣamedha. It is assigned to the Krṣna Yajurveda and has been commented upon by Dhurtasvāmin and Kapardisvāmin.
- The Mantrapātha gives the prayers or hymns to be used at appropriate places during the conduct of rituals and sacrifices.
- The Grhyasutras deal mainly with the rites connected with the family (gṛha = home, family) life, like upanayana (initiation into Vedic studies), samāvartana (returning from the guru’s house after Vedic studies), marriage, rites to be performed on the birth of children as also certain magical rites. The work has been commented upon by Haradatta Miśra and Sudarśanācārya.
- The Dharmasutras give a fairly good account of the duties of the four āśramas and the four varṇas and also describe the sixteen samskāras (purificatory rites).
Haradatta Miśra has written a beautiful commentary on it, which he has named as Ujjvalā. The Sulbasutras is a highly technical work dealing with the construction of altars for Vedic sacrifices. Out of the three commentaries available, Kapardisvāmin is the oldest.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore