From the Wikipedia article on Aśvamedha Yajña:

After this, the horse, a hornless he-goat, a wild ox (go-mrga, Bos gaurus) are bound to sacrificial stakes near the fire, and seventeen other animals are attached to the horse. A great number of animals, both tame and wild, are tied to other stakes, according to a commentator, 609 in total.

The chief queen ritually calls on the king's fellow wives for pity. The queens walk around the dead horse reciting mantras. The chief queen then has to spend a night with the dead horse.

Why is the queen required to spend a night with the dead horse? Is it to test her courage or is it symbolic of something else?


I found some verses from The Harivaṃśa that support Wikipedia's claims:

rAjApi hAstinapuraM jagAma svajanAvR^itaH |
anvashAsachcha muditastadA pramuditAH prajAH || 3-5-10

The king (janamejaya) also returned to the city of elephant, surrounded by his own people and happily protected his subjects, who lived happily.

kasyachittvatha kAlasya sa rAjA janamejayaH |
dIkShito vAjimedhena vidhivadbhUridakShiNaH || 3-5-11

After the passage of some time, king janamejaya, who offers plenty of tributes (in sacrifices) observed the horse sacrifice as ordained.

saMj~naptamashvaM tatrAsya devI kAshyA vapuShTamA |
saMviveshopagamyAtha vidhidR^iShTena karmaNA || 3-5-12

devI vapuShTamA, the daughter of the king of kashi, went and slept with the slain horse, according to the ritual as prescribed.

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    Post with proper reference like text name and chapter verse number etc Feb 24 '18 at 3:33
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    wikipedia is not scripture. post with proper reference. Many of the posts on wikipedia are done by Christian neo-orientalists. Feb 24 '18 at 4:17
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    @SwamiVishwananda As an asker I'm under no obligation to cite scriptures for the claims. Please stop badmouthing Wikipedia on this site. If you think it's rigged you're free to 'fix' it according to your taste. Feb 24 '18 at 5:19
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    @RakeshJoshi That's the job of the answerer. If I do all that you're asking me to do in the question, I might well be writing my own answer. Feb 24 '18 at 5:23
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    @sv, I agree with Rakesh Joshi & Swami Vishwananda. If you post a random article from a random site and expect to get an answer with a scriptural reference from actual texts, you're not doing enough on your part. You're stretching the argument by likening it to answering your own question. On that line, I might as well post an article from a blog that i write by myself and expect people on this site to give their interpretations.
    – mar
    Feb 25 '18 at 2:23

In The Origins and Development of Classical Hinduism, A. L. Basham talks about the symbolism behind this practice.

Ch. 2. Early Speculations and the Later Sacrificial Cults


A feature of the aśvamedha which has aroused considerable comment is the sexual character of one of the concluding ceremonies. The chief queen lay down beside the body of the sacrificed horse and simulated copulation with him, to the accompaniment of obscene remarks by the priests and nobles standing by. This shows that the aśvamedha had some of its roots in very ancient fertility ceremonies, and its purpose was partly to ensure the productivity of the land, represented by the queen.

Nevertheless the main emphasis of the aśvamedha was on political power. The political system envisaged by those who developed this sacrifice was what has elsewhere been called quasi-feudal, wherein a powerful overlord received homage and tribute from a circle of less powerful subordinates. If in the course of the horse's wanderings any king had tried to block his passage and had been defeated in the ensuing battle, there was no question of such a king being dethroned or of the annexation of his lands by the conqueror. The defeated king was merely expected to appear at the final ceremony and to accept the overlordship of the victor. Thus the tradition of the aśvamedha did not encourage the building of solid centralized empires; rather, it visualized a loose federation of kingdoms under a single overlord, all virtually independent in respect of their internal affairs.


(p. 33-34)

Due to the offensive nature of certain verses in the Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda that describe the aśvamedha-yajña, Arthur Berriedale Keith, whose translation is available at sacred-texts.com has excluded them from his work.

vii. 4.19.

a O Amba! O Ambali! O Ambika!
b No one leadest me.
The wicked horse is sleeping.
c O fair one, clad in fair raiment in the world of heaven be ye two covered....
{...several verses omitted from original translation...}
1 When the deer eateth grain,
He deemeth not his flock fat.
When the Çadra woman is the loved of the Aryan,
She seeketh not wealth for prosperity....
{...several verses omitted from original translation...}
q Dadhikravan have I sung,
The swift strong horse.
May he make our mouths fragrant;
May he lengthen our days.
r Ye waters are healing;
Further us to strength,
To see great joy.
s The most auspicious flavour that is yours
Accord to us here
Like eager mothers.
t To him may we come with satisfaction,
To whose dwelling ye quicken us,
O waters, and propagate us.

For those contesting the authenticity of these verses or their translation, this is what Swami Vivekananda says:

And in the Vedic Ashvamedha sacrifice worse things would be done.... All the Brāhmanas mention them, and all the commentators admit them to be true. How can you deny them?

What I mean by mentioning all this is that there were many good things in the ancient times, but there were bad things too. The good things are to be retained, but the India that is to be, the future India, must be much greater than ancient India.

( Home/ Complete-Works/ Volume 6/ Epistles – Second Series/ LXXI Rakhal )

  • As far as I have read the concluding ceremony doesn't have any "sexual innuendo", similar rituals are found in all vedas- for example the widow rituals in rig and atharva Veda have very similar ceremony where the wife sleeps next to the husband at a distance and then the priest wake her up telling that she should move on. It's symbolic. Also the sacrificial ground is open area in ashvamedha where rituals are done.
    – Anisha
    May 29 '18 at 15:26
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    Yes, it appears/must be symbolic as the horse is already dead. The question was about the symbolism itself. @Anisha May 29 '18 at 15:42
  • Imho asva can't be translated as horse. Connotations changed over centuries. It's a common metaphor used in ancient dharmic texts. Arjuna(jiva), Krishna (Siva), chariot(body), horses(senses). Also Surya on chariot of seven horses(rays). Refers to seven flames of Agni. They had advanced knowledge of panchatattva in connection to entire universe. Thus Agni parixa of Sita is about this knowledge. To prepare for yagyas tapas was required to manifest mantras. Svaha was called consort of Agni, but it's end word of mantras.Asva is flame of Agni. Medh is essence as per dictionary. Apr 29 '19 at 13:24
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    @SonaParivraj See this and this. If you think 'ashva/horse' is not to be taken literally, what about the 299 other animals that were also sacrificed? Apr 29 '19 at 18:00

Why is the queen required to sleep next to the dead horse at the end of Aśvamedha Yajña?

Because it is a fertility rite that rejuvenates the kingdom and makes it prosper. There are material and spiritual rewards from doing those things as part of the yajna.

From the Taittiriya Brahmana:

[The Mahishi (chief queen of the king performing the Ashwamedha) lies down beside the horse]

He (the Adhvaryu addressing the Mahishi) says, "Oh fair one, clad in Kampila garment". He thereby brings her ardor (in heat).

He (the Adhvaryu) says: "Do both of you (horse and queen) envelop yourselves in the heavenly world." He thus makes her go to the heavenly world.

[The Mahishi then puts the penis of the horse on her lap]

She then recites the mantra, "I will urge that which produces the embryo; urge you that which produces the embryo." The embryo, surely, means offspring and cattle. It is offspring and cattle she (in consequence of the uttering of that formula) bestows on herself.

So as you can see, it is a fertility rite in which the sexual themes and acts are symbolic of things in the kingdom.

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