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Purushamedha

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Purushamedha (literally translated, "human sacrifice") is a Vedic yajna (ritual) described in the Yajurveda (VS 30–31). The verse describes people from all classes and of all descriptions tied to the stake and offered to Prajapati.

The Purusha Sukta describes the process of creation of matter from the cosmic Purusha (universal spirit) which is shown as a human-like entity. The Purusha Medha is an enactment of the sacrifice of Purusha that leads to creation.

The ritual in many aspects resembles that of the Ashvamedha (horse sacrifice), with, according to Griffith (1899)

man, the noblest victim, being actually or symbolically sacrificed instead of the Horse, and men and women of various tribes, figures, complexions, characters, and professions being attached to the sacrificial stakes in place of the tame and wild animals enumerated in Book XXIV [VS 24]. These nominal victims were afterwards released uninjured, and, so far as the text of the White Yajurveda goes, the whole ceremony was merely emblematical.

The ceremony evokes the primordial mythical sacrifice of Purusha, the "Cosmic Man", and the officiating Brahman recites the Purusha sukta (RV 10.90 = AVS 5.19.6 = VS 31.1–16).

However, in a late Vedic Brahmana text, the Vadhula Anvakhyana 4.108 (ed. Caland, Acta Orientalia 6, p.229) actual human sacrifice and even ritual anthropophagy is attested: "one formerly indeed offered a man as victim for Prajāpati", for example Karṇājāya. "Dhārtakratava Jātūkarṇi did not wish to eat of the ida portion of the offered person; the gods therefore exchanged man as a sacrificial animal with a horse." References to anthropophagy are also found in Taittiriya 7.2.10 and Katha Samhita 34.11.


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