Rites and Rituals of Ancient Assam essay

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Rites and Rituals of Ancient Assam


A distinctive feature of orthodox Hindu society is the series of rites and rituals in accordance with

  • scriptural revelation and
  • religious tradition.

We know in a general way that these rites and rituals were performed since the fourth century A.D., when Brahmanas, learned in the Vedas, began to settle in Assam in large numbers.

Our epigraphs also offer us some information about the life and conduct of the people, especially of the Brahmanas, which were regulated by the rites and ceremonies enjoined by these Dharma-sastras.

Among the domestic rites, the Smrtis enjoin the performance of the five great sacrifices, namely,

  1. Deva-yajna: offering to the gods, in which food was offered to five various deities;
  2. Bhuta-yajna: an offering of different foods which were laid on carefully purified places for certain gods and spirits;
  3. Pitr-yajna: offering to the deceased ancestors,
  4. Brahma-yajna: offering to Brahma, i.e. the study of the Vedas; and
  5. Manusyayajna: the offering to mankind, namely, the entertainment of guests. Most of the Brahmanas of our records are described as having performed these sacrifices.

The agnihotra, a form of haviryajna, was fairly common. It was performed every morning and evening. This rite was obligatory on Brahmanas.

In agnihotra, the homa was performed with cow’s milk for him who performed it as a sacred duty and not for any particular reward in view, but one, who desired to secure a village or plenty of food, or strength or brilliance, employed respectively gruel, cooked rice, curds, or clarified butter.

Agnistoma is one of the seven soma sacrifices, and it is a one day sacrifice. It is so called because in it Agni is praised or because the last chant is addressed to Agni. It is to be performed in spring every year, and on the New Moon or Full Moon day.   The kshatriyas appear, also, to have performed elaborate sacrifices.

As recommended by Atri and Vyasa, the Brahmanas recited sandhya thrice a day. They also took three baths daily, and observed various fasts and or austere ceremonies.

Related with the Vedic idea of religion was the ascetic outlook on life. Ascetic practices formed an important part of the religious life of the Brahmanas.

Pilgrimages were popular during the period. Most of the sacred places were situated either on the river banks or on the tops of mountains. Various were the merits of bath, worship, and offering of pinda in these tirthas.

The ultra-sacredness of the place where the two holy rivers, the Ganges and the Yamuna united was already well-known. It appears that the river Lauhitya had already attained religious sanctity. It is said that mere bath in the Lauhitya leads to emancipation and purification of all sins.

Besides the Lauhitya, other rivers of Assam are also described as containing holy waters due to their association with holy places.

The earning of merit through charity was a common practice.

Verses regarding dana were cited in the inscriptions of the land grants from the Mahabharata and the Puranas.

In the religious texts, gifts of certain kinds are called mahadana. According to the Agni Purana, the mahadana were ten, namely, gifts of gold, horses, sesame, elephants, maids, chariots, land, house, bride, and a dark brown cow. In some Puranas they are, however, enumerated as sixteen of which tulapurusa is the chief.

From the Grant of Vanamala, it also appears that during the period, besides others, the gifts of elephants, horses and women were common.

But of all these gifts, the gift of land, both bhumi and agrahara, was regarded as the most meritorious.

For it was laid down that the donor of a piece of land resided in heaven for sixty thousand years in happiness. It is interesting to note that there is evidence of gift of land by kings to young Brahmanas after their completion of study to enable them to marry and settle down as householders.

As to the general procedure and proper times of gifts, it seems that the rules laid down in the Dharmasastras were followed; according to which gifts made on certain occasions were more meritorious than at other times. The donor used to make gifts after taking a bath.

Bihu is the most special festival. These days are still observed in Assam as festival days.

The ostensible object in all such land grants is no doubt the enhancement of the fame and religious merit of the donor and his parents. Considering the fact that such acts of charity with a religious motive or with a view to social or public welfare was deemed to be a commendable thing because it would bring in its train not merely religious merit but public applause, that is, fame and renown for the donor and his parents, we may well infer that at the back of such endowments there was also the desire to encourage others to follow such examples of charity.

We may therefore treat these grants to some extent as being utilitarian, that is to say, as being prompted by a motive to move the public mind towards some noble object or object of public good.

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