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Ashvamedha ( Sanskrit : अश्वमेध, aśvamedha ; German: horse sacrifice ) is one of the most important royal sacrificial rituals of the Vedic religion . In the older Vedas (especially in Yajurveda ) many rituals or sacrifices were described that were offered to the gods in order to fulfill certain wishes or promises.


The Ashvamedha was a sacrifice reserved exclusively for the king and closely related to the respective ruler's claim to power. It is mentioned in several places in ancient Indian literature; in the Mahabharata (book 14) it is described as follows:

The sage Veda Vyasa had advised King Yudhishthira after the battle of Kurukshetra to make such a horse sacrifice in order to regain his old strength. For this a horse was chosen that was released on an auspicious day. The army had to follow the beast wherever it went and to fight with anyone who dared to catch the beast and thereby challenge the power of the king. Although in this particular case the sacrifice had an atoning character, the army had to fight against many tribes under the leadership of the great hero Arjuna . Many kings of the land offered their submission to Yudhishthira, but others captured the horse and fought with Arjuna. Meanwhile, a place was chosen where the sacrifice would be performed. The square was covered with a cloth interwoven with gold and the builders built palaces for the residence of the princely guests. Separate houses were also built for their wives. Brahmins and vaishyas were fed every day until their number reached a hundred thousand.

When the army returned with the sacrificial horse, the king was very happy. The horse was killed and sacrificed. According to the text, the women of the royal house also attended the sacrifice of the horse. The heart of the beast was thrown into the sacrificial fire by the high priest, and Yudhishthira and his brothers breathed in the scent. This should cleanse their souls and make them sinless.


The horse sacrifice ritual was revived hundreds of years later in the Gupta Empire under the rule of King Samudragupta ; His grandson, Kumaragupta I , also performed this royal ritual - as coinage shows - which, however, was largely forgotten again afterwards. A corresponding ritual by the Raja of Kannauj is mentioned in the 12th century; in 1716, it seems that Raja Jai Singh of Amber organized the last Ashvamedha. Indian nationalists or traditionalists, however, took up the topic again in 1994 and once again held a horse sacrifice ritual - however, only the paper mache statue of a horse was sacrificed.


The archaeologists William Foxwell Albright and PE Dumont drew a parallel between the Vedic horse sacrifice and the bull sacrifice in Babylonia accompanied by the drum lilissu .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ William Foxwell Albright , PE Dumont: A parallel between Indian and Babylonian sacrificial ritual. In: Journal of the American Oriental Society, No.54, 1934, pp. 107-128.

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