Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

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ASVAMEDHA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] 'The sacrifice of a horse.'

This is a sacrifice, which, in Vedic times, was performed by king's desirous offspring. The horse was killed with certain ceremonies, and the wives of the king had to pass the night by its carcase. Upon the chief wife fell the duty of going through a revolting formality which can only be hinted at.

Subsequently, as in the time of the Mahabharata, the sacrifice obtained a high importance and significance. It was performed only by kings, and implied that he who instituted it was a conqueror and king of kings. It was believed that the performance of one hundred such sacrifices would enable a mortal king to overthrow the throne of Indra, and to become the ruler of the universe and sovereign of the gods.

A horse of a particular colour was consecrated by the performance of certain ceremonies, and was then turned loose to wander at will for a year. The king, or his representative, followed the horse with an army, and when the animal entered a foreign country, the ruler of that country was bound either to fight or to submit. If the liberator of the horse succeeded in obtaining or enforcing the submission of all the countries over which it passed, he returned in triumph with the vanquished Rajas in his train; but if he failed, he was disgraced and his pretensions ridiculed. After the successful return a great festival was held, at which the horse was sacrificed, either really or figuratively.


Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM