Page images
PDF
EPUB

we

compatible with a Midwinter rite, when heat is needed for the earth and there is every reason to stimulate fertility.

It is, however, true that an explanation can be offered of the facts if they are regarded as taking place at Midsummer. Dr. Frazer quotes cases both of May and Midsummer pairs as representatives of the spirit of vegetation in its reproductive capacity, and the drumming might be a thunder-magic, as at Dorpat in Russia.? A further support for this theory may be found in a feature of the ritual which has not yet been mentioned. Maidens with water pitchers dance round a fire singing, in one version 3 – The cows smell pleasantly : here is sweet drink! The cows smell with sweet odour : sweet drink ! The cows are mothers of butter : sweet drink! May they increase amongst us : sweet drink !

The cows would have bathe (in water) : sweet drink!' As they dance they strike their right thighs with their right hands, or, according to Hiraṇyakeśin, beat the ground with their right feet, and their dance is pradaksiņam,4 following the sun's motion. Finally, they cast the contents of their pitchers into the Mārjāliya fire. With such a dance may, of course, be compared the dance of the “Sweethearts of St. John' and others on St. John's Eve in Sardinia, or the dance of the Oraons and Mundas of Bengal (a non-Aryan people) around the Karmatree. Nor can there be any doubt that the rite is essentially a rain-spell of a common type, and it is possible that the ceremonial beating of the thighs is a remnant of a more serious effort to expel evil influences and promote fertility. But granting all this, there is still no cogent reason for transferring the time to Midsummer. The rains which it is sought to invoke may, as Professor Oldenberghas pointed out, quite as well be the Winter rains necessary for the production of the Spring crops, which we have independent evidence I were already reaped in early Vedic times, and the connection of the sun with rainspells would seem a most natural conjunction, the combined influence of both heat and rain being essential for the production of crops. Professor Hillebrandt uses, however, the fact that the water is poured over the fire as a piece of evidence in favour of the Midsummer date. In his view the act symbolises the extinction of the burning heat of Summer by the rain of the monsoon, and is a spell to bring down the rains. But this view seems somewhat far-fetched. For it must be noted that de facto there is no hint in any of our texts that the fire is extinguished by the water, and, indeed, no one familiar with the ritual would expect that a sacred fire should be so summarily disposed of, so that (unless we assume that the original practice has been obliterated by priestly developments) the magic spell would hardly be successful as a spell, if in fact it fails to accomplish even its proximate purpose, the quenching of the terrestrial fire. If a symbolical explanation must be found, it would seem preferable to take the union of water with the fire as denoting the xpâors of the wet and warm elements to bring forth the harvest. Or, more simply, the rite may be regarded as a water-spell in the dashing of the water over the fire, the fire being chosen as the receptacle simply because it is the natural place in which all offerings are made, and the song of the maidens shows that the water they bear is regarded as more than mere water, as madhu, and a suitable drink for the god Aditya, who is clearly intended to drink it, as is shown onclusively, e.g. in the Aitareya version.

i Adonis, Attis, Osiris?, pp. 208, 209. 2 Golden Bough, i, 13. 3 Oldenberg, Religion des Veda, p. 445. 4 See Caland & Henry, L'Agniştoma, p. xxxvii. 5 Adonis, Attis,Osiris, pp.198 seq.; Hillebrandt, Vedische Mythologie, ii, 190.

6 Cf. the rite of the Lupercalia (Warde Fowler, op. cit., p. 311) and the Thesmophoria (Farnell, op. cit., iii, 104); Kāthaka, xiii, 10.

7 Religion des Vedá, p. 445 ; cf. Hillebrandt, Vedische Mythologie, iii, 205 ; and for the great economic importance of these rains, Ind. Emp.,,

i, 140, 141.

So far we have found no trace in the ritual of the most characteristic feature of modern vegetation rituals at Midsummer, the animal or human representation of the corn or vegetation spirit, nor does Professor Hillebrandt seek to find any such phenomena in the Mahāvrata. It is, however, only fair to note the evidence which could be alleged in favour of this view. The Mahāvrata is by no means a bloodless sacrifice. There fell to be offered either one beast to be sacrificed to Indra and Agni or a batch of eleven, and in either case there is an additional sacrifice of a bull to Indra or to Prajāpati, and in the former case of a goat to Prajāpati. Now at least in some cases the skin of the sacrificial animal was removed and used to form the drum (bhūmidundubhi), on which, with the tail of the victim, the priest made solemn music. With this usage may, of course, be compared the legends of the skin of Marsyas and of other sacred skins, like the ægis, collected by Dr. Frazer. But it is clear that the skin may equally well be regarded as the natural means of making a drum, nor need we be anxious to deny that the skin may have seemed particularly effective for its purpose because it had come from an animal which by sacrifice had come into close contact with divinity, and in a sense itself was not without a share in the divine.3

1 Taittiriya Samhitā, vii, 2, 10, 1 seq. ; Kaușītaki Brāhmaṇa, xix, 3, where in Caitra the sasya is ready.

More obscure is another rite mentioned in all the sources. To the left of the Āgnidhra priest were placed two posts on which was hung up as a target a completely round skin, or, according to Lātyāyana, two skins, one for the chief archer and the other for any others who were good shots. At one point in the ceremony the king or a Rājput mounted the chariot, and driving round the Vedi pierced with three arrows the skin, leaving the arrows to stick in the skin.

The exact sense of this rite is by no means clear. It may possibly be compared with the Lapp ritual reported by Dr. Frazer.' After slaying a bear with ceremonies intended to deprecate the wrath of the ghost and of the bear tribe, they hung its skin on a post and women blindfolded shot arrows at it, a custom comparable with the myth of the death of Balder and the blindness of Hödur, who slew him. But the parallel is hardly clear or cogent. In the Mahāvrata there is no hint of blindness; the archer is the best bowman available, and the skin is nowhere stated to have been that of the sacrificial animal. On the contrary, it is described by Āpastamba as a 'dry skin, and further there is no trace in the ritual of the animal being treated as anything more than a mere sacrificial victim on the gift theory of sacrifice, which notoriously is the one represented in the Brāhmana texts as the normal one. If, therefore, there were ever any vegetation spirit in the rite, it has departed without leaving a clear trace of its presence.

1 Also, in the Aitareya, a bull to Viśvakarman.

The details vary ; cf. Friedländer, op. cit., p. 30.

2 Adonis, Attis, Osiris, pp. 242 seq. For the ægis cf. Farnell, op. cit., i, 100; for the peculiar magic potentialities of the tail--as the home of the vegetation spirit or_for other reasons —cf. Frazer, Golden Bough, i, 408 ; ii, 3, 42; Warde Fowler, op. cit., pp. 246, 247.

3 For other examples of this idea in Vedic religion, cf. J.R.A.S., 1907, pp. 938 seq. ; Maitrāyaṇi Samhitā, iii, 7, 8; Aitareya Brāhmaṇa, ii, 3, 11.

* Golden Bough, ii, 360, n. 3.

The rite, therefore, still remains to be explained. The bow and the three arrows remind us of the ritual of the Rājasūya, in which the king shoots three arrows at the princes of his family as a token of superiority. The similarity of the picture suggests that the act is hostile rather than an act of sympathetic magic; otherwise we might have compared the shooting of the arrows with the custom of the Ojibways in firing fire-tipped arrows to rekindle the expiring light of the sun in an eclipse, or the practice of throwing blazing discs shaped like suns in the air in the Midsummer rites. But there is no hint here of fire-tipped arrows, and it is probably simplest and best to consider that the arrows are used to pierce the sky and bring down the rain. The round shape of the target can hardly be used as an argument against this view, for though round-and, therefore, so far like the sun-it is not claimed to have been white, nor is even its roundness mentioned in most of the authorities, nor indeed is there any difficulty in regarding the sky as circular, since even in the Rgveda it is compared to a wheel and to a bowl, while the earth itself, its counterpart, is described as circular. The question, however, still remains why the arrows are not allowed to go right through the skin, and the most plausible answer is perhaps that it was desired to

1 Cited in Sāyaṇa on Aitareya Āranyaka, v, 1, 5.

2 Cf. Caland & Henry, L'Agniştoma, App. iii. The only rival theory is that of the magic effect of the sacrifice, Lévi, La Doctrine du Sacrifice, pp. 122 seq. 3 Hillebrandt, Vedische Opfer und Zauber, p. 145. * Frazer, Golden Bough, i, 22; ii, 268. • Cf. for their later use in Epic war, Hopkins, J.A.O.S., xiii, 277, 298. • Macdonell, op. cit., p. 9; Hillebrandt, Vedische Mythologie, ii, 93, n. 2.

keep open the rents in order that the rain might continue to fall; the arrow might be conceived as allowing enough room for the escape of the rain while still remaining in the wound.

The rite is therefore merely a rain-spell, and is perfectly compatible with a Midwinter date for the Mahāvrata. Other parts of the ritual are also designed for the same end, notably the ceremonial washing of the swing,' while the burning of the material whence had been formed the seats of the officiating priests is clearly a sun-spell, comparable with the lighting of bonfires at Christmas ? and at Midsummer. As the swing symbolises the sun, we may see, if we like, in its bathing another symbolism of the fertilising union of sun and water.

It would, of course, be useless to expect the Mahāvrata to have survived in modern India, but it is not uninteresting to note that in the worship of Krşņa, who unites, it seems most probable, in himself the attributes of sun-god (Vişņu) and a vegetation spirit (perhaps non-Aryan), are found, on the 12th and 13th of January, rites including sun and fertility magic, and that, later, on the 14th of the light half of Phālguna, takes place a dolāyātrā, in which the image of Krşņa is swung to and fro. Moreover, in Southern India, 4 long the chief home of Brahmanism, in January, when the sun enters the tropic of Capricorn, there is celebrated the feast of Pongol, in which bonfires are made in every street and lane, and young people leap over the fire or pile on fresh fuel. The fire is an offering to Sūrya or to Agni (the identification is parallel with that of Aditya and Agni in the Vedic rite), and is purposed to awaken him to make glad the earth with his heat and light. The parallel to the Mahāvrata is striking; the solemn dance round the fire of the maidens in the Vedic ritual is parallel with the less formal leap over the fire, and leaves little doubt that we need not see in the Mahāvrata any priestly transformation of a Midsummer rite, but a genuine adoption into the priestly ritual of a popular festival. Nor, indeed, is it likely

1 Aitareya Aranyaka, v, 3, 2, with my note. 2 Frazer, Adonis, Attis, Osiris?, pp. 254 seq. 3 Cf. Wilson, Works, ii, 216 seq., 225 seq. * Glover, J.R.A.S., 1870, pp. 96 seq.

« PreviousContinue »