The Fourth Priest (the Brahmán) in Vedic Ritual

in Vedic Cosmology and Ethics

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

The particular position of the Brahmán among the priests of the classical Vedic ritual is evident. He has no special connection with one of the three main streams of the Veda: he does not (exclusively) recite the hymns of the Ṛgveda like the Hotṛ, sing the Sāmans1 of the Sāmaveda like the Udgātṛ, utter the ritual formulas of the Yajurveda like the Adhvaryu. Originally he had no Vedic corpus of his own; his association with the Atharvaveda seems to be secondary.2 Pañcaviṁśa Brāhmaṇa 18, 1, 23 calls him the indistinct (anirukta) among the priests. The same word anirukta may also refer to silence. However, the inactivity of the Brahmán relates to more than just sound;3 it also concerns the whole performance of the sacrifice. As in the case of the institutor of the sacrifice (the Yajamāna) his presence and attention shown by strict silence, apart from the incidental utterance of a formula, are essential. The Yajamāna is mainly passive, the Brahmán is rather passive, but attentive. Knowledge is the contribution of the Brahmán, which is only actualized under exceptional circumstances, when something goes wrong.

The characterization of this priest as given in the latest handbook, “Er sitzt, im Prinzip schweigend, im Süden, behütet das Opfer, überwacht die Tätigkeiten, Rezitationen usw., gibt die vom Adhvaryu erbetene Erlaubnis zu verschiedenen Handlungen und vollzieht, wenn Fehler gemacht werden, die Wiedergutmachungsriten” (Gonda 1960, 142), is hardly contestable. Different opinions, however, have been expressed on the original position of the Brahmán and on the essence of his function. It has been doubted whether brahmán in the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā already denotes the specific Brahmán priest.4

Since the brahmán is the person who deals with bráhman or bráhmans, the meaning assumed for the neuter bráhman may also determine the formulation of the relation between bráhman and brahmán.5 Moreover it is questionable whether the Brahmin in general, who may also be denoted by the term brahmán,6 has to do with the same bráhman as the specific Brahmán priest. On the other hand the Purohita, the Brahmin looking after the political, social and religious affairs of a particular king, has been associated with the Brahmán priest by some scholars;7 i.e. the Brahmán may also be interpreted as a special Brahmin, the king’s own Brahmin. Even if one assumes that originally Brahmán and Brahmin (Brāhmaṇa) were identical, a correct evaluation of the term brahmán remains connected with the interpretation of the neuter bráhman and of the development of its meaning.8

In this paper I will briefly discuss some of the opinions expressed. The main emphasis, however, will be laid on a sketch of the interrelation of the several qualifications and aspects of this priest, as they appear in the Vedic prose texts. In the classical, (probably) secondary systematization he is the fourth priest. His fourth position will be connected with the fourth item in Vedic classifications in general. Even if this systematization may be secondary, the functional aspects of the fourth priest need not be late.

In the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā the word brahmán occurs about fifty times. In most cases there is no clear reference to a special type of priest, which agrees with the quoted characterization of the Brahmán. The brahmán who seems to be different from the Brahmán priest, has been variously interpreted. In some instances brahmán seems to be identical with the brāhmaṇācchaṁsin-priest.9 Some scholars regard the brahmán of the Ṛgveda in most cases as the priest in general in opposition to the non-priest.10 As such brahmán would denote a member of the Brahman class with special reference to the ritual.

The relation between brahmán (= priest in general) and the Brahmán priest remains unclear in most publications. Some scholars assume that the Brahmán specialist has developed out of the brahmán generalist. Geldner (1892, 146) regards the specific Brahmán priest as older than the general Brahmin. See also Henry (1904, 37). According to Krick (1982),11 the Brahmán has a special antithetical relation with the Hotṛ or the Yajamāna (originally the same), in which the Brahmán functions as the guest and rival. His association with the southern fire and with the southern position in general might be a trace of the preclassical situation, which has disappeared: “Wenn auch der brahmán-Gast im Ritual nicht mehr der Gegenspieler des Yajamāna-Gastherrn ist, bleibt doch die Assoziation ‘Rivale’ mit dem Dakṣiṇāgni verbunden” (376). Even if one does not completely accept Krick’s ideas (based on Heesterman 1964 and other publications of the same author), it has to be admitted that the Brahmán has a definite relation with the Yajamāna, is not just one of the officiants and as such does not look like the product of a late development.

In the preceding lines the Brahmán specialists and the brahmán in general have been regarded from the point of view of ritualism. The corresponding neuter bráhman, however, mostly refers to poetry and poems in the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā, especially in the plural. Thieme (1952a) translates bráhman with “Gedicht.” The masculine brahmán consequently might be expected to denote the poet/reciter12 rather than the priest in general let alone the silent Brahmán priest.

Now it is true that poetry in the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā can hardly be dissociated from the ritual, but the poetical activities of the Brahmin cover only part of the ritual. Therefore it is strange that poetry should form the starting point for both the Brahmin and the Brahmán priest.

In post-Ṛgvedic literature13 the neuter bráhman mostly refers to the cosmic principle, the cosmic mystery and to knowledge of the cosmic-ritualistic correspondences (especially as preserved in Vedic literature) rather than to poems. According to most scholars this is a later development of the meaning of this term.14

From our treatment of the typifications of the Brahmán (based on the Brāhmaṇas) it will appear that he is related to the cosmic aspects of the bráhman concept.

This means that the following possibilities arise as to the original position of this priest:

  1. He is a rather late creation belonging to a period when bráhman had lost its original meaning “verse, formula, poem.”
  2. The Brahmán has neither to do with Vedic poems in general nor with the cosmic principle, but is the one who acts with magical charms (brahmāṇi).15
  3. Originally he was the producer of hymns and later on he got a different function.16
  4. In the oldest period bráhman could denote more than just poem and refer to a cosmic entity.

Against the first hypothesis speaks the occurrence of the term brahmán in some Ṛgvedic verses side by side with other specific priests.17 The fact that bráhman does not mean “magical charm” in the Ṛgveda, whereas the word brahmán already occurs in this text, indicates that we should not assume a Brahmán-sorcerer-priest associated with bráhman “charm.”

The third possibility might have a parallel in the Hotṛ priest who originally (as the etymology shows) poured out the oblations, but in the classical Vedic ritual only invokes the gods.18 However, it is difficult to prove that in the ṚV brahmán should exclusively mean “composer of hymns, poet.” On the other hand the cosmic implications of the term bráhman are also uncertain in the ṚV.

The only conclusion one may draw is that in a few instances brahmán seems to denote the Brahmán priest in the ṚV. His relation to poems as well as to the cosmic principle remains unclear. I.e. it is uncertain whether this Brahmán knows about the bráhman or is a maker of bráhmāṇi. It is also difficult to ascertain what is the relation between the Brahmán priest and the brahmán in general.19 Undoubtedly the Brahmán priest and the Brahman class have to be regarded in opposition to the king and the Kṣatriya class. Two points are of crucial importance in considering the original situation of the Brahmán: his relation to bráhman/bráhmāṇi and his functional opposition to the Yajamāna/Kṣatriya.

We will not enter here into a discussion of the hypothetical preclassical position of the Brahmán, but will try to analyse the available data. It seems then that the Brahmán priest and the brahmodya (the verbal contest) form a parallel in that both have to be connected with the singular bráhman (the object of knowledge and the subject of the debates) rather than with the plural bráhmāṇi (poems, hymns, magical charms, riddles).

1 The Brahmán as the Fourth Item

In the classical Vedic ritual the Brahmán is regarded as the fourth priest (after Hotṛ, Adhvaryu and Udgātṛ). As such he cannot be disconnected from the other fourth items which are found in the classifications of the Brāhmaṇas.

On the cosmic level this fourth item is associated with the moon, the nocturnal sky, death, the celestial (night) ocean as well as the primeval waters, chaos, the undifferentiated state, the asat (the undifferentiated chaos existing before the cosmos) situation, the supracosmic or precosmic sphere, Prajāpati, totality.20 The fourth world does not lie above heaven (i.e. the day-time sky) in a cosmographical sense. It lies “above” the third world in the classification only. Actually the fourth world is situated outside the triadic cosmos, which is the “tripartite visible universe” (Gonda 1966, 92). It is on a level with the threefold cosmos, because the nocturnal situation and the day-time form two equal parts. Moreover the nether world, which is mythologically identical with the nocturnal sky, represents the totality existing before the origin of cosmos. The fourth cosmic item and the threefold cosmos form a dualism.

Some aspects of the Brahmán considered in relation to the other three priests, agree with what has been described above. He also balances the other three items,21 is associated with totality22 and with non-differentiation.23

In the microcosmic (adhyātma) classification manas often forms the fourth and last item. It is always equated with the moon as well as with the Brahmán priest.24 It is characterized as aparimita (unlimited), ananta (endless) and anirukta (unexpressed), adjectives which also qualify yonder world, not necessarily to be taken as the third world.25 As far as it is regarded as undifferentiated, it agrees with the fourth world. It represents indistinctness as well as totality. The differentiation of the other vital powers or senses is controlled by manas, the general and co-ordinating activity. This central organ, involved in the activities of the other vital powers, supervises, but does not look or speak itself. Again agreements with the situation of the Brahmán may be noticed. In the same way as the Brahmán is ardhabhāj (sharing half) with regard to the other ṛtvijs (officiants, see n. 21), manas (mind) is ardhabhāj with regard to the other prāṇas (vital powers) (ṢaḍvB 1, 5).

So far about the microcosmic and cosmic counterparts of the ritualistic fourth item.

In my thesis (Bodewitz 1973, 87 ff.) I have discussed the fourth item in connection with the Anuṣṭubh metre and the Viśve Devas (the All-gods). There I observed that in numerical symbolism the principle of the element added to a totality plays an important role and that this element surpasses, summarizes and encompasses the entities of the preceding fixed series. The inclusive character of e.g. the fourth element appears in all kinds of classifications. Often totality26 is expressed or implied. E.g. the quarters of space (diśas) sometimes are the fourth item after the cosmic triad. On the one hand they are different from this triad, on the other they cover (and are present in) all the three levels of this cosmos. This means that totality, inclusiveness and non-differentiation are present in every fourth and last item of a classification. These aspects are not exclusively connected with yonder world, Prajāpati and supracosmic or precosmic undividedness and totality. The neuter bráhman as the fourth item after the threefold Veda shows the same characteristics.27

Turning now to the Brahmán priest, who is evidently a fourth priest after the well-known triad28 Hotṛ, Adhvaryu and Udgātṛ, we may try to explain several aspects of this priest in the light of what has been observed above. In the classificatory system of the Brāhmaṇas not only lists of coherent entities are drawn up; these lists counting a fixed number of items are also equated with each other. Now it might be possible that characteristics of the cosmic and microcosmic fourth items have been transferred to the fourth ritualistic item, the Brahmán priest. I.e., some qualifications of the fourth priest might give more information about the number four in classifications than about the actual position of this particular priest. However, I am under the impression that the prescientific logic of the Vedic classifications is rather cogent and that the common aspects of the fourth items are based on correct observation in most cases. This means that a common characteristic like e.g. totality and indistinctness does not only belong to the fourth item in general, but also applies to every single fourth (and final) item and that, in the case of the Brahmán priest, it gives information on the essential function of this item.

In this connection we have to criticize Bloomfield (1899, 51): “Whereas the Brāhmanical texts in general present times without end a cosmic Vedic triad …, the Atharvan writings, craving a cosmic base for their Veda, expand this into a tetrad or pentad, by the addition of Candramas, or Candramas and the waters.”29 Fourfoldness and the association of the fourth item with moon, night and waters have no exclusive connection with the Atharvaveda.30 Bloomfield’s statement (1899, 107) “The waters are the element of the Atharvan throughout” is not correct. In non-Atharvavedic texts the fourth metre Anuṣṭubh is equated with the waters (ŚāṅkhB 24, 4), with rain (PB 12, 8, 8) and with night (AB 4, 6) and it is called the metre of Soma (ŚāṅkhB 15, 2). The fourfold classification was already established before the Atharvavedins got the chance to claim the fourth Veda. The fourth position of the Brahmán priest in post-Ṛgvedic classifications is based on the addition of bráhman31 to the triad Ṛc, Yajus and Sāman rather than on the addition of the Atharvan texts to the threefold Veda, which outside the Atharva tradition took place rather late. The Atharvaveda was accepted and tolerated as fourth; bráhman was extolled as the fourth which includes and surpasses the mentioned triad.

We shall see that the qualifications of the Brahmán refer both to what he is supposed to do and to what he represents. In this connection the meaning of the neuter bráhman, which is represented, activated or produced by the Brahmán, is important. This bráhman can hardly be associated with hymns or poems (a current meaning of the word in the ṚV). It also does not seem to refer to the Atharvavedic magic formula, though magic may play a role in the expiations performed by the Brahmán. The Brahmaveda of the Brahmán is not the knowledge of the brahmavid who is skilled in magic spells, it is rather the brahmavidyā, the knowledge of the cosmic bráhman, the sarvavidyā,32 the knowledge of the universe or the total, universal knowledge in distinction to the knowledge of one particular Veda. Perhaps this brahmavidyā or sarvavidyā may be connected with the Ṛgvedic jātávidyā expressed by the Brahmán (ṚV 10, 71, 11).33

In the tripartite homology of the fourth world, manas (situated in the heart like the ātman) and the Brahmán priest (the heart of the sacrifice according to ŚB 12, 8, 2, 23), the bráhman concept with which this priest is associated hardly refers to sorcery and magic or to hymns. The bráhman of the Brahmán rather seems to have connections with the cosmic item of the tripartite homology. AB 2, 41, 6 equates moon and bráhman (candramā vai brahma). Knowledge about this can only be obtained by means of the microcosmic counterpart: manas. He whose manas is most qualified to have and to use this knowledge, seems to be the Brahmán priest, the mind of the sacrifice (BĀU 3, 1, 6).

Now I will discuss the following aspects of the Brahmán: his silence, his connection with the South, his complete knowledge and his expiatory function.

2 Silence

The silence of the Brahmán priest is in agreement with the significant aspects of his cosmic (adhidaiva) and microcosmic (adhyātma) counterparts. The microcosmic manas always forms a couple with, or stands in opposition to, vāc. It is called anirukta, which not only refers to indistinctness, but also literally to not being expressed by words. This manas implies knowledge, but also the mental approach. The adjective mānasa denotes the mental execution of the rites. It is to be observed that the Brahmán is not only silent, but also (rather) inactive. Actually he mentally performs the whole sacrifice and only where he observes disagreements between his mental sacrifice and the actual performance, he takes action.

The most specific mānasa element of the sacrifice is the silent oblation, the oblation which is accompanied with formulas not recited aloud, or which is performed without any formula. These oblations are sometimes the last of a series of two, three or more.34 As such they may be compared with other elements added to a specified totality such as the fourth priest and the fourth world, both characterized by silence as well.

In the case of such silent oblations the mantra, if existent at all, is recited manasā. The deity to whom the oblation is dedicated, is Prajāpati, the god of the fourth (or fifth) world, the world added to the triadic cosmos. Prajāpati is often associated with silence and manas. He also represents the neuter bráhman, which itself is anirukta like Prajāpati.35 He is identified with the Brahmán (TB 3, 3, 8, 3; GB 2, 3, 18; 2, 5, 8).

The Brahmán priest excellently suits the series of equations: manas, Prajāpati, anirukta, bráhman, undifferentiated totality, indistinctness, silence.36

The silence of the last oblation implies by its being anirukta that the undifferentiated totality (sarvam) of the deities is reached. No god is excluded. Compare the role of the Viśve Devas in final position. The silence of the fourth (and last) priest in the classical systematization may also aim at totality, secures totality (the symbol of yonder world) for the sacrificer in the same way as ritual acts which aim at the unlimited world should be unlimited themselves.37 By indistinctness the indistinct is won.

According to TS 7, 3, 1, 4 Ṛc, Yajus and Sāman (all in the plural) are parimita (limited), but bráhman (singular) has no anta.38 Probably bráhman here refers to the transcendental counterpart of diversified speech or nāmarūpa (individuality). For the distinction between the unexpressed bráhman and its concrete manifestation(s) see MaiU 6, 3 dve vāva brahmaṇo rūpe mūrtaṁ cāmūrtaṁ ca / atha yan mūrtaṁ tad asatyam / yad amūrtaṁ tat satyaṁ tad brahma (There are indeed two forms of the bráhman, material and immaterial. What is material is untruth; what is immaterial is truth, is bráhman). See also 6, 15 on the two rūpas (forms) of bráhman: kālaś cākālaś ca (time and non-time), the world differentiated by time and the undifferentiated, primeval world of eternity, which is not only precosmic, but also the supracosmic goal. The one is undifferentiated (akāla), the other differentiated (sakāla).39 The same text also states that brahman is ananta (endless) (6, 17; cf. TS 7, 3, 1, 4 above). See also BĀU 2, 3, 1 ff. on the mūrta (material) and the amūrta (immaterial) brahman. The opposition is between:

triadic cosmos


supracosmic totality

specialistic ṛtvijs (priests)

Brahmán priest

specific senses

manas (mind)


undifferentiated totality

mūrtaṁ brahma (material)

amūrtaṁ brahma (immaterial)

vāc (speech)

manas (mind)



The Brahmán priest, manas and silence form the means, the supracosmic totality, the transcendental, amūrtaṁ brahma, the goal.

3 The Brahmán and the South

All the actions of the Brahmán are connected with the South (see ĀpŚS 14, 8, 5–6). Mostly the Brahmán is supposed to guard the sacrifice against evil influences coming from the South, the quarter of death. Especially also on account of the relation between the Brahmán and the Purohita the protecting function of this priest has been generally emphasized. The fact that the Brahmán sits in the South and looks at the North has been observed.40 However, every action of this priest has southern aspects.

Still I believe that he does not primarily protect41 against the South, but rather represents the South and everything connected with it. Similarly the Dakṣiṇāgni, the southern fire, does not only ward off evil coming from that quarter. It also symbolizes one of the worlds in this universe. The Gārhapatya-fire represents the earth, the Āhavanīya-fire heaven and the Dakṣiṇāgni (in the form of a half-moon) the nocturnal sky. Mostly the cosmos of the day-time is a triad (and the Dakṣiṇāgni is also equated with the Antarikṣa, space between heaven and earth) and the nocturnal sky is then regarded as the fourth world, on a level with other fourth items like the Anuṣṭubh metre and the Brahmán priest. Sometimes, however, the Antarikṣa is left out and the Pitṛloka (world of the fathers) of the moon forms the third world. The moon, generally the symbol of the fourth world, is always equated with manas (mind), the adhyātma (microcosmic) counterpart of the Brahmán.

I doubt whether the Brahmán in the South should be regarded as representing death,42 one of the symbols of the fourth world.43 Of course the Brahmán priest may be interpreted within the framework of a dualistic approach and be associated with the Asuras,44 chaos and death in opposition to the Devas, cosmos and life. However, the central and controlling role of this priest in Vedic ritual seems to speak against this assumption.

The bráhman concept, which in my view determines the position of the Brahmán priest and which I consider to be cosmic, does not suit the antithetical interpretation. The fourth world, the counterpart of the Dakṣiṇāgni, does not only stand in opposition to this cosmos, it is also the element added to a fixed and specified series and as such it represents totality. The South may represent here the primeval world, the undifferentiated totality, the source of all creation, which is different from, and at the same time equal to, this creation.

The fourth world has negative as well as positive aspects. In the Brāhmaṇas enumerations of seven or even more worlds, precursors of the seven worlds of Hindu cosmology, are found. In these lists the fourth world (after the cosmic triad) is differentiated into several representatives of night and death.45 Above (i.e. in the classification higher than) these worlds, which seem to represent the negative aspects of the fourth world, these texts mention Brahman (6) and Nāka (7), the vault of heaven, resp. Brahman (7) and, in an other text, Suvar (9), Nāka (10). Perhaps the Brahmaloka transcends the dualism of day (worlds 1–3) and night (worlds 4–6), but it may also represent the positive aspect of the fourth world above the cosmic triad.46 In the later enumeration of seven worlds the seventh is the Satyaloka. On the one hand satya (truth) is often equated with ṛta (truth; cosmic order), a symbol of the fourth world,47 on the other hand it is also associated with bráhman. The fourth world of the later sevenfold series, the maharloka, is identified with bráhman in TU 1, 5, 1.

In view of this I propose to connect the South and the Brahmán priest with the positive aspects of the supracosmic worlds, i.e. with Bráhman.48 The Brahmán represents Bráhman. See JUB 3, 17, 6 (quoted in n. 22), where a śloka is found which applies to the Brahmán, described as the all-inclusive Bráhman. The fourth item in classifications, the fourth world, the supracosmic world, admits of more than one interpretation.49 As was observed above, the South and the southern fire50 may also be associated with the antagonist in a dualistic-agonistic interpretation. However, the role and the name of the fourth priest have transcendental rather than Asuric implications.

4 Complete Knowledge

The aspect of knowledge evidently may be connected with manas, which not only stands in opposition to vāc and then implies silence, but also to performance and execution, and as such represents design and knowledge. The Brahmán priest is not primarily an executive officiant. He knows what should be performed and, what is more important, the implications of this performance. I think that the knowledge of the Brahmán especially refers to the cosmic background of the rite. Discussions on this subject are called brahmodyas, explanations in prose texts brāhmaṇas. They deal with the relation between sacrifice and bráhman or only with bráhman.

The knowledge of the Brahmán is sometimes called complete.51 This completeness refers to the fact that the Brahmán is not a specialist like the other priests who are connected with their own Veda and only contribute to the totality of the Vedic sacrifice. The opposition between specialisation and universal knowledge is also present in the adhyātma (microcosmic) counterpart: the manas (mind) notices every impression and co-ordinates the action of the senses.

Perhaps on account of this overall knowledge the Brahmán is called “Oberpriester” by some scholars. It may be doubted whether this is correct.52 In the Vedic ritual he is not the active leader or conductor. He should know and notice everything and sometimes give his permission for a particular action. He does not primarily direct, but redresses. Where he participates in the sacrifice outside the expiations, e.g. in the brahmodyas, his role may be explained as based on his knowledge. The completeness of this knowledge is related to its indistinctness.

Totality is one of the characteristics of every fourth and final item, especially also of the fourth world. The knowledge of the Brahmán is complete, because it is the fourth vidyā (wisdom) after and above the trayī vidyā (threefold wisdom). This totality is the indistinct whole (sarva) rather than the sum of all the vidyās (viśva). In the same way as the original Brahmaveda was a rather abstract, elusive entity (cf. n. 31) rather than a concrete text or corpus of texts, the complete wisdom (sarvavidyā) of the Brahmán is unspecific. It includes the trayī vidyā but may cover more. It is the bráhman, which is more than “die Gesamtheit der überlieferten ṛc, sāman und yajus, des ‘dreifachen Wissens’ ” (Thieme 1952a, 120). The bráhman of the brahmodya refers to more than the transmitted Vedic knowledge. The Brahmán has universal knowledge and knows the implications of what happens in the universe.

5 Expiations

The Brahmán has to signalize and correct the mistakes and mishaps in the ritual. This function has been differently explained.

He is called the doctor (bhiṣaj) of the sacrifice in the Brāhmaṇas. Caland (1900, 124) interprets the prehistorical Brahmán i.a. as “… der Zauberartzt. Er ist mit dem Shamanen der Nichtcultur-völker am besten au vergleichen.” More scholars have associated the healing, expiatory function of the Brahmán with magic and medicine especially in combination with the Atharvaveda and the original Purohita.

Thieme regards the development of the Brahmán purely from the point of view of poetical creativity and he explains the corrections of the priest in this context (see n. 16).

The bhiṣaj function should have had different aspects in the preclassical Vedic ritual according to Heesterman (1964, 4): “He is the bhiṣaj, the healer, of the ritual, but this must originally have referred to the healing of death.” I.e. the Brahmán takes over the burden of death from the Yajamāna.53 The change is rather great. The object and contents of his activities are entirely different in the preclassical ritual (acceptance of gifts) and in the classical Vedic ritual (redressing of faults).

In the period between the hypothetical, preclassical Vedic sacrifice and the association of the Brahmán priest with the Atharvaveda the Brahmán was the best qualified priest to correct the mistakes of the others, since his activity was not exclusively connected with one of the Vedas. It is hardly imaginable that an Adhvaryu should correct the Hotṛ or the Udgātṛ. Correction by their respective assistents seems to be out of the question. The generalist, the Brahmán, was the only one who could control the specialists.

Now expiations are not only required when a mistake has been made, but also in case something is going wrong due to external influences. It is uncertain how far the Brahmán as the protector of the sacrifice is the successor of the primitive magician.

As the manas (mind) of the sacrifice he is supposed to pay attention to everything which takes place and in that connection he has to signalize mishaps and to take measures, the more so since he is regarded as the sarvavid (all-knowing one).

Moreover sarva (all), one of the significant qualifications of the fourth and final item in the classifications, does not only denote totality, but also (as the etymology indicates) wholeness and unimpairedness. The Brahmán who is associated with sarva himself is the best healer. He can make the sacrifice whole, where it is broken. See ŚB 14, 3, 2, 2 sárvaṁ vaí pū́rṇáṁ sárveṇaivaìtád bhiṣajyati yát kíṁ ca vívṛḍhaṁ yájñasya “The all is the full, thereby he heals, by means of the all, whatever is broken of the sacrifice.”

The fourth world is also connected with satya (truth) and ṛta (truth; cosmic order). The correctness and good order of the sacrificial procedure rightly forms the concern of the fourth priest.

6 Conclusion

The function of the Brahmán priest in the classical Vedic ritual seems to be explainable within the framework of the classifications. Here every connection with (the production of) poems (bráhmāṇi) is missing. His silence, southern position, complete knowledge and expiatory function are to be associated with the fourth and final item of the classifications which is i.a. characterized by totality and indistinctness. The singular bráhman with which the Brahmán priest is connected seems to have cosmic or rather supracosmic aspects.

This does not mean that originally the significance of this priest may not have been different. Being a wise man the Brahmán can be interpreted as a kavi (poet), whose original products of wisdom indeed were hymns. The poetical aspect, however, should not be overestimated.

The fourth position of the Brahmán may be based on a late systematization. The priest as such does not seem to be due to a late development. His connection with the South (= moon = fourth world) may also point to a binal opposition. The sacrifice is directed towards the East. To the right (South) and the left (North) the representatives of two parties may have been situated. The preclassical stage, however, is still hypothetical and has not been extensively discussed in this paper. It is clear that in the originally rather simple sacrifice the Brahmán may have been one of two performers.54 It is also possible that the differentiation Kṣatriya-Brahmin has developed out of the pairs gṛhapatibrahmán (householder/leader of the sacrifice—Brahmán), hotṛ/yajamānabrahmán (chief priest/institutor of the sacrifice—Brahmán), grāmaṇīyajñanī (leader of the clan—leader of the sacrifice). Whether guest or professional, the Brahmán originally seems to have been the invited one. From the singular one who had a particular knowledge of the bráhman he became the generalist in the classical Vedic ritual in distinction to the specialist.

*First published in Selected studies on ritual in the Indian religions: essays to D.J. Hoens, 1983, pp. 33–68.
1See, however, Krick (1982, 55 and 293) on the incidental singing of Sāmans by the Brahmán. Of course he also recites Yajus sometimes. See also Weber (1868a, 136).
2Bloomfield (1899, 30 ff.). See, on the other hand, Henry (1904, 37): “il n’ est même pas douteux que le premier brahman de l’ Inde n’ ait été tout uniment le sorcier-guérisseur, le colporteur des remèdes et des charmes de l’ Atharva-Véda ou Brahma-Véda.” For a reaction on Bloomfield’s statement, “The entire question of the relation of the Atharvaveda to śrauta-practices is a rather obscure point in the history of Vedic literature, it being assumed generally that the Atharvaveda had originally nothing to do with the larger Vedic ritual” (p. 33), see Caland (1900), who observes that the Śrauta Sūtra of the Atharvavedins aims at giving the prescripts for the role of the Brahmán priest in Vedic ritual. Now the problem is that the brahmatvam is also treated by the Sūtras of the other Vedas, which are definitely older than the Atharvavedic Vaitānasūtra. Caland (p. 124 f.) introduces a hypothesis to save the relation between the Atharvavedic tradition and the Brahmán. In his view “Der Brahman war ursprünglich, in vorhistorischer Zeit, nur der Hauspriester des Laien, der Purohita des Königs; er stand ursprünglich ausserhalb des Kreises der vedischen Opfer … . Als aber der häusliche Cult sich entwickelte und von den vedischen Priestern anerkannt werden musste, da räumte man dem Brahman auch ein Plätzchen, aber ein sehr bescheidenes, beim Śrautaopfer ein … . Als nun endlich der Brahman, der Atharvanpriester, zum heiligen Somaopfer zugelassen wurde, da waren die Atharvans bestrebt sich des Brahmatvam zu vindiciren durch Einführung eines umständlichen Anumantraṇa mit Sprüchen, die sie in ihre Saṁhitā aufnahmen.” I have some doubts about this hypothesis. The terms brahmán and puróhita occur already in the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā. If the Atharvavedins originally were outside the Śrauta ritual, then it is not clear how the assumedly Atharvavedic brahmán could turn up already in the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā. See also Gonda (1950, 56) for a criticism of Caland’s paper. Krick (1982, 329, n. 863) commenting on TB 1, 2, 1, 25 (“Atharva, behüte meine Nahrung …”) states: “Die Anrede atharva dürfte wohl doch auf die Verwandschaft des Dakṣiṇāgni mit dem Familienfeuer des atharvanischen Brahman hinweisen, der durch sein Feuer gegen Schädigung jeder Art immun ist and heilende Zauberkräfte besitzt” (see also 337, n. 1021). The original connection between Atharvaveda and Brahmán, which is assumed here, needs more proof.
3The Brahmán is often regarded as the silent priest. See e.g. Geldner (1892, 150); Renou (1949a, 16; 1949b, 11 ff.). On the other hand he is also connected with the verb vad (Geldner 1892, 147 ff.), which denotes talk rather than recitation; this may refer to the brahmodya. He may also recite and even sing (cf. n. 1). The neuter bráhman stands in opposition to speech. See JUB 1, 40, 2–3 vāg eva sāma / vācā hi sāma gāyati / vāg evoktham / vācā hy ukthaṁ śaṁsati / vāg eva yajuḥ / vācā hi yajus anuvartate / tad yat kiṁcārvācīnam brahmaṇas tad vāg eva sarvam / atha yad anyatra brahmopadiśyate / naiva hi tenārtvijyaṁ karoti / parokṣeṇaiva tu kṛtam bhavati. Evidently this passage, which comments on ṚV 1, 164, 45, interprets bráhman as the transcendental counterpart of that which is expressed by human speech. This usual fourth item after ṛc (or uktha), yajus and sāman, which is mostly associated with the Brahmán priest, here is said to have no ritualistic (vocal) application. Apparently bráhman rather than Brahmán implies silence.
4Oldenberg (1912, 295, n. 1): “Auftreten des Brahman im späteren technischen Sinn im ṚV ist zweifelhaft oder höchstens ganz selten”; (1917, 395): “Deutliche Spuren aber scheinen darauf zu führen, dass man dies Priestertum in ältester Zeit noch nicht kannte.” On the other hand see Geldner (1892, 145): “Jedenfalls muss schon im ṚV das Wort brahmán viel öfter in dem spezifischen Sinn eines Oberpriesters oder Purohitas gefasst werden als dies das PW thut.” Macdonell-Keith (1912, 77 f.) more or less agree with Oldenberg, but accept the occurrence of the Brahmán priest in a few instances. Renou (1949a, 16, n. 1) assumes references to the specific priest. See also Gonda (1950, 56): “There is no sufficient reason to suppose that his rȏle in the ritual as described in Vedic prose texts … does not date ‘from the beginning’.” For Thieme (1952a) the Brahmán priest is a later development of the brahmán poet.
5See e.g. Bloomfield (1899, 30): “… the most successfull attempt at describing the religious literature and action as a whole is the word bráhma, and, correspondingly, he that knows the religion as a whole is a brahmán”; Henry (1904, 35): “L’ Atharva-Véda est aussi le Brahma-Véda; son interprète, le prêtre … c’ est le brahmán”; (id. 37): “Le mot bráhman neutre … a certainement signifié d’ abord ‘formule occulte’ … Le brahmán, dès lors, c’ est l’ organe de la formule, ‘l’ homme de la parole sainte’, en un mot le magicien”; Renou (1949a, 18): “Le brahmán est le possesseur des ces révélations ‘connectives’ qui sont la solution du bráhman-énigme.” Gonda (1950, 50) mentions some interpretations. He himself stresses the “identity of the human brahmán and the ‘metaphysical’ bráhman.” See also Gonda (1976, 150). According to Krick (1982, 293) the Brahmán is “Besitzer von (Verfüger über) bráhma d.h. über jene fundamentale sakrale Kraft, die vor allem in der magischen Wirkung von rhythmischer Sprache und Gesang zum Ausdruck kommt.”
6In compounds brahma continues to be used with the general meaning Brahmin. See e.g. brahmabandhu, brahmarṣi, brahmaputra.
7Geldner (1892, 145), Henry (1904, 34), Caland (1900, 124). A more cautious view was expressed by Bloomfield (1899, 32): “A complete survey of the character of each, as well as their respective names establishes a fortiori genuine differences in their character. There is, however, one striking point of similarity between them, namely this, that they have in charge, each in his own way, the general interests of their noble employers.” For a different opinion see Oldenberg (19172, 381, followed by Macdonell-Keith 1912, 78), who observes that originally the Purohita could function as a Hotṛ: “Später, als … man sich begnügte, die Schöpfungen der alten Dichter zu wiederholen, ging der höchste Rang auf einen, wie es scheint, um dieselbe Zeit neu aufgekommenen Priester über, auf den das Opfer in seiner Gesamtheit beaufsichtigenden Brahman.” Krick (1982), on the one hand places the couples Yajamāna-Brahmán, Rājan-Purohita and “Wagenkämpfer-Wagenlenker” on a level (336, n. 893) and associates the Brahmán with the Atharvaveda (see n. 2), on the other hand she observes in a note on the substitution of the Adhvaryu priest in the gṛhya version of the Agnyādhāna by “der Hauspriester (Guru) bzw. bei den Atharvavedins der Brahman”: “Dieser einem Schamanen vergleichbare Brahman hat mit der Sonderfunktion des Brahman im Śrauta-Ritual an sich nichts mehr gemein” (57, n. 136). It seems that in Krick’s interpretation the Atharvavedic shaman/brahmán should be distinguished from the Brahmán priest who forms one of the two parties in her view of the dualistic, preclassical Vedic ritual. However, the Purohita on the one hand has retained characteristics of the shaman and on the other he only functions in relation to the Yajamāna/Kṣatriya. Moreover, if “hat … nichts mehr gemein” implies that originally the Brahmán of the śrauta ritual did continue the shaman, I do not understand how a functional, more or less professional category (i.e. the shamans) could form the model for the originally non-functional Brahmán-guest, who in Krick’s (and Heesterman’s) view reverses the roles in the next sacrifice and then becomes the host.
8On bráhman see Renou (1949a), Gonda (1950) and Thieme (1952a). For a survey of the discussion see Schmidt (1968, 16–22). See also Gonda (1974a, 311 f., n. 15).
9Oldenberg (19172, 395 f.), Renou (1949a, 16, n. 1).
10See e.g. Gonda (1950, 56 f.). Renou (1955a, 431) observes that the term brahmán in the AV is as vague as in the ṚV. One would expect more explicit starting points for the Brahmán priest in the first mentioned text, since the Atharvavedic tradition later claims the brahmatvam.
11Krick (1982, 117, n. 307; 245, n. 599; 336, n. 893; 375, n. 1016; 376; 449, n. 1221).
12Geldner (1892, 152) observes “… dass die Dichtung unter Umständen in das Ressort des brahmán gehörte.” See also p. 146 on the Brahmán “… der das bráhman innehat oder hervorbringt.” According to Thieme (1952a) the brahmán is simply “Dichter,” but Renou (1949a, 16) asks the question: “Comment un type d’ homme dont la fonction est de surveiller en silence … les rites pourrait-il en effet avoir été dénommé le brahmán (masc.), si le bráhman (nt.) ne consistait qu’ en la ‘parole’?” For Thieme’s answer see n. 16.
13Thieme (1952a, 117) assumes that Ṛgvedic “dichterische Formulierung” becomes “Wahrheitsformulierung” in the Brāhmaṇas, which he explains as “irgendeine geformte priesterliche Rede,” “Wahrheitsformulierung” and “die Gesamtheit der überlieferten ṛc, sāman und yajus, des ‘dreifachen Wissens’.” The rather different cosmic implication of bráhman “begegnet in jüngeren āraṇyaka- und upaniṣad-artigen Abschnitten” (121). This historical sketch is far from convincing to me; especially the banishment of the cosmic connotations of bráhman to late Vedic texts raises doubts.
14Gonda (1950) seems to become more and more isolated in his interpretation of the word bráhman, which does not start from the meaning “poetical formulation,” but projects the cosmic meaning into the Ṛgveda, where the undoubtedly current signification “poem, hymn” is interpreted as a manifestation of the cosmic power bráhman. Gonda denies the possibility of reconstructing a semantical development and has been criticized on that point by Thieme (1952a, 94), whose own evolutionistic reconstruction is debatable.
15The Brahmaveda, connected with the Brahmán priest, has no relation with charms and incantations (brahmāṇi). It is a late word denoting the Veda of the bráhman (Bloomfield 1899, 1). This bráhman has to be interpreted as the “Ultimate Principle, soul of the universe” according to Gonda (1975c, 267–268). Originally the Brahmaveda had no association with the Atharvaveda tradition (Bloomfield 1899, 31). For a different opinion see Krick (1982, 279, n. 695): “Diesen Namen beansprucht der Atharvaveda für sich, der das sakrale Wissen und die Zaubersprüche (brahma) der weissen und schwarzen Magie (der Atharvans und Aṅgirasen) enthält und dem atharvanischen Brahman zu eigen ist.” The late Gopatha Brāhmaṇa (1, 2, 19) actually connects the Brahmaveda with the Brahmán priest: “Aus der Tatsache, dass Indra sich im Form des Turbantragenden Brahmaveda im Süden aufgestellt hatte, daraus entstand der Brahman, das ist die Brahman-Funktion des Brahman” (tr. Krick 1982, 388, n. 1047). According to Thieme (1952a, 122) the Atharvaveda was called Brahmaveda “weil er das Wissen, das in der ‘Dichtkunst’ besteht, zu einer Zeit darstellt, da der ṚV längst nur noch auswendig gelerntes Wissen war. In ihm erlebt ja die altvedische ‘dichterische Formung’ ihre letzte Nachblüte,” which to me sounds quite unconvincing.
16Thieme (1952a, 122): “So gilt denn auch der AV als der Text des ‘brahmán’, jenes Priesters, der der Nachfahre des vedischen Dichters, der im ṚV brahmán heisst, auf dem Opferplatz ist.” See also p. 123: “Im Schweigen des ‘brahmán’ … hat sich ein Zug des brahmán [i.e. the poet] erhalten: die stumme Konzentration … in der er seine Gedichte formt. Wir müssen noch genauer definieren: Der ‘brahmán’ ist der Nachfahre des auf dem Opferplatz anwesenden brahmán … . Es gibt nun in der Tat eine … Motivierung für die Anwesenheit des brahmán [i.e. the poet] auf dem Opferplatz, aus der sich zugleich die Rolle des ‘brahmán’ [i.e. the Brahmán priest] einwandfrei ableiten lässt: Kraft seiner Gabe, die Wahrheit zu formulieren, konnte der Dichter gegebenenfalls—bei einer misslungenen Rezitation oder einem sonstigen unvorhergesehenen Unglücksfall—auch aus dem Stegreif eine neue wirksame Formulierung finden und somit tatsächlich die Aufgabe erfüllen, die später dem ‘brahmán’ ausdrücklich gestellt wird: ‘Artz des Opfers’ zu sein.” I am afraid that the “stumme Konzentration” prevents the Brahmán from being an attentive corrector of faults, since creative concentration on unpredictable situations is hardly possible.
17See ṚV 2, 1, 2 (= 10, 91, 10); 10, 52, 2; 71, 11 and 107, 6 for explicit or implicit references to the Brahmán together with two, three or six other priests. Oldenberg (19172, 392) regards the seventh priest of the enumeration made by ṚV 2, 1, 2 as the Brāhmaṇācchaṁsin. Compare, however, 2, 1, 2 … brahmā́ cā́si gṛhápatiś ca no dáme with 4, 9, 4, where again Agni is described as Brahmán and as Gṛhapati in the house (dáme). The narrow relationship (which looks like an opposition) between the Gṛhapati (= Yajamāna) and the Brahmán prevents us from interpreting brahmán as Brāhmaṇācchaṁsin. See, however, also Weber (1868b, 376).
18See Oldenberg (19172, 386 f.) on the original function of this priest, who already in the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā was the reciter of hymns. He lost the ritualistic function denoted by his name and from a maker and reciter of hymns he became just a reciter (381). In the Ṛgveda the Hotṛ was “der Inhaber der Poetenkunst und der die Götter gewinnenden Überredung”; “Hotarpriester führen ja vorzugsweise in der vedischen Dichtung das Wort” (128; see also p. 388 on the Hotṛ being praised as “schönzüngig”). One may ask what is the relation between the Hotṛ as Ṛgvedic poet and the Brahmán regarded by Thieme as “Dichter.” See also Geldner (1892, 153): “Die Wechselbeziehungen zwischen Dichter und Hotṛ sind weit geringer als zwischen Dichter und Purohita. 1, 151, 7 nennt sich der Hotṛ einen Kavi. Aber das Ideal des vedischen Dichters bleibt die Purohita-Brahmán-Würde.” In the ritual texts Hotṛ and Brahmán sometimes seem to be opposite numbers. See also ṚV 10, 88, 17 on the two priests participating in the brahmodya, probably Hotṛ and Brahmán.
19Gonda (1976, 147): “It does not seem possible to maintain that brahmán first denoted ‘poet, sage’, then ‘officiating priest’, still later a member of a special class of priests; any attempt at reconstructing semantic developments within one and the same collection of texts is hazardous.” For an example of an unproven evolution dating from the beginning of this century see Henry (1904, 38): “Telles ont donc été, préhistoriques puisque déjà le Véda en connaît toutes les acceptions, les étapes successives de ce mot brahmán et des dérivations qui s’ y rattachent:—sorcier-médecin,—sorcier-prêtre,—prêtre défenseur et redresseur du sacrifice,—enfin, prêtre en general.”
20Bodewitz (1982, 24–25, this vol. pp. 41–42).
21AB 5, 34, 3 atho yad bhūyiṣṭhenaiva brahmaṇā chandasāṁ rasenārtvijyaṁ karoti yad brahmā, tasmād brahmā ’rdhabhāg gha vā eṣa itareṣām ṛtvijām agra āsa yad brahmā ’rdham eva brahmaṇa āsārdham itareṣām ṛtvijām. Cf. also ŚāṅkhB 6, 11; ŚB 11, 5, 8, 7; JB 1, 358; JUB 3, 17, 5.
22JUB 3, 17, 6–10 tasyaiṣa śloko: mayīdam manye bhuvanādi sarvam / mayi lokā mayi diśaś catasraḥ // mayīdam manye nimiṣad yad ejati / mayy āpa oṣadhayaś ca sarvā // itisa ha vāva brahmā ya evaṁ veda. This Brahmán is sarvavid according to the Atharvavedins (Bloomfield 1899, 31; 105; 116).
23PB 18, 1, 23 brahmā vā ṛtvijām aniruktaḥ. He has no Veda of his own, but works indiscriminately with all the three Vedas (AB 5, 33, 1; ŚB 11, 5, 8, 7).
24ŚāṅkhB 17, 7; GB 1, 2, 10; 2, 5, 4; 1, 4, 2 (candramā vai brahmā ’dhidaivam mano ’dhyātmam); BĀU 3, 1, 6.
25See Gonda (1966, 87) on yonder world (unspecified) which is described with these qualifications. Prajāpati, the “supreme anirukta-” (Gonda ibid.), comes fourth after the three worlds according to ŚB 4, 6, 1, 4 and 11, 1, 2, 8. See also Gonda (1976, 120). AB 6, 9, 10 places the svarga loka as a fourth world above asau loka.
26Organ (1973, 8) gives some examples of wholeness in connection with the fourth item.
27ŚB 10, 2, 4, 6 dealing with the sevensyllabled bráhman (Ṛc is onesyllabled, Yajus twosyllabled, Sāman twosyllabled and Brahman twosyllabled) observes about the fourth and last item: átha yád áto ’nyád bráhmaivá tát dvyàkṣaraṁ vaí bráhma tád etát sárvaṁ saptā́kṣaraṁ bráhma.
28On these and other fixed ritualistic triads see Gonda (1974b) and (1976).
29On the general phenomenon of the introduction of a fourth item to an original triad see Organ (1973), who gives four hypotheses to account for this extension.
30For details see Bodewitz (1982; this vol. ch. 4). Anyhow Soma in connection with the fourth item refers to the moon and the nocturnal celestial ocean rather than to the Soma drink. Consequently Geldner’s explanation (1892, 149) “Die Beziehungen zwischen dem brahmá und dem Soma … erkläre ich mir daraus, dass der Soma das inspirierende, Zunge und Rede lösende … Getränke des brahmá und der brahmakṛtaḥ war” has to be rejected.
31On this unspecified bráhman in fourth position see e.g. AV 15, 6, 3; JB 1, 2 and n. 27 above. Similarly the Brahmaveda originally was a rather vague category after the three specified Vedas. See Bloomfield (1899, 30 ff.) on this bráhman, the Brahmaveda and the Brahmán priest.
32Bloomfield (1899, 116) is right in equating sarvavidyā and Brahmaveda, but I doubt whether in the last compound brahman denotes “the religious action as a whole” (p. 30). The totality is based on the fourth and final position. Just as the Viśve Devas are on the one hand a separate category and on the other sarve devāḥ (“all the gods”), the Brahmaveda is a vidyā which includes the trayī vidyā and at the same time is different from it. This Brahmaveda-sarvavidyā may also (like the brahmavidyā) denote the knowledge about Brahman-sarvam, about the cosmic mystery.
33The problem with this verse (brahmā́ tvo vádati jātavidyā́m) is that jātávidyā has been variously interpreted and that it is not certain whether the subject is the specific Brahmán priest. According to Bloomfield (1899, 31) “the ‘own wisdom’ is the bráhma (neuter), and vadati jātavidyām foreshadows the brahmodya.” I doubt whether jāta means “own” (elsewhere, (1897, lxiv), Bloomfield renders jāta by “innate”). Renou (1949a, 18), “développant ce qu’ en a dit Bloomfield,” translates “la science des origines” and regards these “origines” as “connexions-causales.” I.e. both Renou and Bloomfield interpret jāta as bráhman, but their interpretation of the latter word is different. See also Gonda (1950, 54). Thieme’s analysis is completely different: “der andere, der Dichter, trägt das [eben erst] geborene Wissen vor” (1952a, 124); i.e. Thieme makes jātavidyā refer to improvisation, the activity of the poet, and does not interpret brahmán as the Brahmán priest. I follow Gonda (1963, 109) “… the brahman enunciates the ‘knowledge of what exists’ …” See also Mayrhofer’s etymological dictionary s.v. jāta mentioning jātavidyā “das Wissen von den Wesen” and referring to ṚV 6, 15, 13 viśva veda jánimā jātávedāḥ. One may also compare ṚV 9, 97, 7 prá kā́vyam Uśáneva bruvāṇó devó devā́nāṁ jánimā vivakti. The Brahmán is the initiated seer, the kavi of the oldest Vedic texts, who knows the cosmic mysteries, the birth of the gods etc, just like Uśanā who himself was a Purohita (of the Asuras); see Kuiper (1979, 97). Perhaps jāta- in the compounds jātavidyā and jātavedas refers to what exists in general rather than to births; cf. -jāta at the end of compounds denoting totality.
34See Renou (1949b, 13).
35Renou (1949b, 15).
36Thieme (1952a: 123) gives a different explanation of the silence: “Im Schweigen des ‘brahmán’ … hat sich ein Zug des brahmán erhalten: die stumme Konzentration, in der er seine Gedichte formt.”
37Gonda (1976, 120) observes on the fourth silent oblation, which according to TB 3, 2, 4, 6 secures that which is unlimited (aparimita): “A noticeable feature of that which is beyond phenomenal reality as viewed by the authors of the brāhmaṇas is its being boundless. … This view leads them to the logical conclusion that ritual acts performed in order to ‘gain the beyond or the unlimited’ should in some way or other be unlimited also.” See also Gonda (1966, 87) referring to PB 9, 8, 14 asaṁmitaṁ stotraṁ syād asaṁmito hy asau lokaḥ.
38According to Thieme (1952a, 112) this should refer to poetry: “In der Dichtung findet die Rede nicht nur ihre kräftigste, sondern auch ihre reichste Form.” I doubt whether boundlessness is a characteristic of poetry. Moreover it should be observed that poetry and the Ṛgveda do not form an opposition.
39See Bodewitz (1974a, 295, n. 14; this vol. p. 32, n. 13).
40Gonda (1965b, 183) emphasizes the fact that the Brahmán faces the North regarded as the auspicious region.
41Caland (1900, 125) mentions “… Handlungen, welche die Absicht haben das Opfer und die Opfernden zu schützen, besonders vom Süden, von der Todesgegend her.” Henry (1904, 37) observes: “le sud est la région des Mânes, le lieu sinistre d’ où viennent les influences démoniaques et nocives; sentinelle avancée, le brahmán veille à les prévenir.” See also ŚB 1, 7, 4, 18, where the Brahmán sitting in the South is explicitly called the abhigoptṛ of the sacrifice. Cf. ŚB 5, 4, 3, 26; 12, 6, 1, 38. This interpretation may be secondary.
42However, ŚB 13, 2, 7, 7 identifies Brahmán and moon (sometimes associated with death) and ŚB (Kāṇva) 5, 4, 1, 23 even equates the Brahmán with Yama.
43Bodewitz (1982, 26; this vol. p. 43).
44Krick (1982, 375, n. 1016): “Die Verbindung des Feuers mit dem Gast und die Nord-/Südstellung der beiden Parteien (Gastherr im Norden / Gast im Süden) haben zur klassischen Vihāra-Struktur devāḥ-Āhavanīya gegenüber ‘Gast’ (= Brahman, Asura-Feind, Manengast)-Dakṣiṇāgni geführt.” See also (id., 245, n. 599).
45ŚāṅkhB 20, 1 mentions Varuṇa and Mṛtyu as the deities of the fourth and fifth lokas. Varuṇa, Death and Hunger appear in fourth, fifth and sixth position in JB 1, 333. See also JB 3, 341 ff., where the moon, Varuṇa, Death, Hunger and Desire form the differentiation of the fourth, supracosmic level.
46That which is beyond this cosmos is undifferentiated and may be interpreted as asat. In as far as this asat is precosmic, it stands above the dualism of negative and positive. Gods of totality like Prajāpati are also described as undifferentiated (anirukta). In the dualistic conception asat may have inauspicious aspects. See Kuiper (1979, 13 and 38, n. 121). The aspect of totality which is connected with every fourth and final item and which in the cosmic classification is represented by the regions (diśas) is positive. The nocturnal aspect of the fourth item (moon, night, waters, Varuṇa) may be negative (= Death), but may also have positive connotations (moon = Soma = amṛta). Unlike Prajāpati Varuṇa is not connected with totality.
47Varuṇa (see n. 45) is connected with the Ṛta. The Ṛta is equated with Brahman (ŚB 4, 1, 4, 10) as well as with manas (JUB 3, 36, 5), the fourth item. The moon is devasatyam (ŚāṅkhB 3, 1). The fourth metre, the Anuṣṭubh, is regarded as satyānṛte by TB 1, 7, 10, 4.
48Bráhman is also the fourth item after the threefold division of the gods according to the Nirukta. See Organ (1973, 9): “… but to this threefold division, says Yaska, a ‘Fourth’ was added. This is the Brahman which is not a deva and which has no spatial location in the cosmos.”
49Organ (1973, 10) gives four hypotheses to account for the introduction of a fourth to an original triad, i.a. polarization (associated by him with binal opposition). Gonda (1976, 119, n. 356) may be right in criticizing Organ and in observing that the fourth “can be interpreted in various ways and its relation with the three can vary with the context,” but he seems to have overlooked the fact that in the cosmic classification 1–3 and 4 also form an opposition.
50See Krick (1982, 364, n. 994) on the Dakṣiṇāgni: “… steht als Odanapacana auch mit dem profanen Kochfeuer, d.i. mit dem ‘asurischen’ Feuer von Nicht-Ariern und Gegnern der Āhitāgnis … in Beziehung und steht ähnlich als auf den Manenkult beschränktes Opferfeuer im Gegensatz zum Deva-Kult.” See also p. 245, n. 599 on “die—ursprünglich positive—Asura-Natur dieses Feuers … das als Manenfeuer den Gegenpol zum Āhavanīya der Götter bildet.” This fire is also called Brāhmaudanika. The Brahmaudana cooked on this fire is mostly offered to four priests, but may originally have been destined for the Brahmán (p. 281). The cātuḥprāśyaṁ brahmaudanam is given to the Brahmán and the other three priests and has cosmic implications of totality (Gonda 1965b, 60). The bhojana in the Śrāddha ritual also is a brahman-sacrifice, a cosmic sacrifice, offered into the Brahmins, but at the same time it has relations with the Pitṛs. Cf. the brahmodya, the verbal contest on the cosmic bráhman, which according to Manu 3, 231 is agreeable to the Pitṛs.
51According to Yāska (Nirukta 1, 3, 3) the Brahmán is sarvavidyaḥ, i.e. sarvaṁ veditum arhati. On sarvavid and sarvavidyā see Bloomfield (1899, 30, 105 and 116). See also TB 3, 10, 11, 4 on the sarvavidyā of the Brahmán.
52Caland (1900, 125, n. 1) criticizes this view. According to him the active direction of the sacrifice rather rests with the Sadasya. On the other hand, though being the fourth priest, he is often placed above the others. He may even be elected first as priest (Krick 1982, 53, n. 131). ṚV 10, 107, 6 mentions him first before the other three. He may be one of the two yajñanīs at ṚV 10, 88, 17 and the yajñanī at ṚV 10, 107, 6. He is especially mentioned together with the Gṛhapati by ṚV 2, 1, 2.
53See also Heesterman (1964, 20) “… the brahman, whose original function is not to redress the ritual fault, but to ‘heal the sacrifice’, i.e. to take over the burden of death” and Krick (1982, 375, n. 1016): “… das Feuer, mit dem die alte Gastmahl-Opferstruktur erhalten geblieben ist, wurde auf die Südstellung fixiert, und es vertritt selbst den ‘die Schuld übernehmenden Brahman,’ was sich in seiner Verwendung zu Entsühnungsrite … zeigt.”
54It is remarkable that in the Pākayajñas of the Gṛhya ritual the only officiant besides the sacrificer himself (who acts as a Hotṛ) is the Brahmán. See e.g. GobhGS 1, 9, 8. His activity is not great and his presence is optional in most cases (see e.g. ĀśvGS 1, 3, 6), but then a substitute (a bundle of grass, a pot of water or something else) should be placed, where the Brahmán uses to sit (i.e. in the South). See GobhGS 1, 6, 21. This means that this priest represents or symbolizes something; his activity is not essential. VaiGS 1, 9 and 6, 1 mention two priests, the Brahman and the Soma, who are sitting to the South resp. to the North of the fire facing each other; they may be replaced by bundles of grass. According to PārGS 1, 11, 1 in the fourth night after the wedding the fire is established, a seat is assigned to the Brahman to the South of it and a pot of water is placed to the North of it. For the combination of the Brahman and someone else see also ṚV 10, 88, 17 (the two leaders of the sacrifice, probably Hotṛ and Brahmán) and 2, 1, 2 (Gṛhapati and Brahmán).

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

Vedic Cosmology and Ethics

Selected Studies


Table of Contents
Index Card


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 19 19 5
PDF Downloads 11 11 2
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0
Related Content