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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?


UPDATE

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, 2018 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, 2018 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, 2018 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, 2018 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, 2018 at 2:23

3 Answers 3

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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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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 )

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  • 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, 2018 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, 2018 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, 2019 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, 2019 at 18:00
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This is just nonsense ashwa medha doesn't include either of that whatever Swami Vivekananda said he said that after being friends with Max Muller! These verses are wrongly translated- The only Original Ramayana and Ramcharitmanas we have doesn't mention about this also in Mahabharata the translations by Griffith says that at the end a mangoose appeared and the grains were distributed as suggested by the mangoose please leave Zakir Naik University or internet University.
You must read the brihadaranyka upanishad (important vedic scripture) and avadhuta Upanishad (important vedic scripture). Both of these Upanishads explicitly talks about performing internal ashvamedha (which involves no sacrifices) instead of external ashvamedha (this external ashvamedha talks about symbolic rituals). Hindu texts also mention pitr-yagna and atithi-yagna. Will these so-called scholars translate them to mean “ritual of the father” and “ritual of the guest” where the father and the guests were sacrificed at the altar respectively? No they ain't did that they explained them in the original way but whenever it was possible for them to edit they did it. Hindus didn't become pure vegetarians after Dayanand Saraswati Ji correcting Vedas hindus were vegetarians before colonials ruled us!

Rigveda

“One who partakes of human flesh, the flesh of a horse or of another animal, and deprives others of milk by slaughtering cows, O King, if such a fiend does not desist by other means, then you should not hesitate to cut off his head.”
Rig-veda (10.87.16)

Manu-Samhita:

“Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to the attainment of heavenly bliss; let him therefore shun the use of meat. Having well considered the disgusting origin of flesh and the cruelty of fettering and slaying corporeal beings, let him entirely abstain from eating flesh.” (Manu-samhita 5.48-49)
“He who permits the slaughter of an animal, he who cuts it up, he who kills it, he who buys or sells meat, he who cooks it, he who serves it up, and he who eats it, must all be considered as the slayers of the animal. There is no greater sinner than that man who though not worshiping the gods or the ancestors, seeks to increase the bulk of his own flesh by the flesh of other beings.” (Manu-samhita 5.51-52)
“If he has a strong desire (for meat) he may make an animal of clarified butter or one of flour (and eat that); but let him never seek to destroy an animal without a (lawful) reason. As many hairs as the slain beast has, so often indeed will he who killed it without a (lawful) reason suffer a violent death in future births.” (Manu-samhita 5.37-38)

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  • These scriptures tell to avoid meat if for own satisfaction. Mimansa is the branch based purely upon vedic karmakanda & they do sacrifice. Thus all claims can be over looked. Now, thou Sanatanis r vegetarians, but sacrifice in prescribed yajnas do happen. Internal Yajna or Manasa puja, can never be learnt untill external puja or yajna is done, (expect few Sadhakas of highest level). And nothing is interploted, it's just the matter of perceiving things. Jul 13 at 5:57
  • @Chamunda das, Mimamsa roughly translates into hermeneutics, science of interpreting veda vakhyas, that does not exclude vedanta although they contrast, 'vidhi' vakyas (injunction) that enjoin an action to be done .However purva mimamsa may connote karm kanda.Owing to lack of authority over the understanding of yajnas(involving animal sacrifice and some others), their practice is prohibited in kali age.(as per Brahma vaivarta purana)
    – Athrey
    Jul 13 at 11:25
  • consequently all form of animal sacrifices are forbidden pertaining to Yajnas .(this is told by Pujyasri Chandrashekara Saraswati Swami).Though seen in the context of yatha pinde tatha brahmande,it may not always mean an ascend to Para vidya,unless construed in those lines
    – Athrey
    Jul 13 at 11:31
  • @Athrey If that comes from Kanchi Mahaperiyava I don't feel to add any comments further. But, the Puri Shankaracharyas both Shri Karpatriji Maharaja & his sishya the recent peethdishwar, Nischalanda Saraswati, also Mulakpeethadhishwar Shree Rajendradasji Maharaj, Shridham Jagadguru Raghvacahrya, all favour the vedic sacrifices, and I have heard in their lectures. Here even Vaishnava acharyas r talking about them in acceptance. That's true what u said abt contxt thing. Mimansa is already gone by now, and rarely any Animal is sacrificed in vedic yajna (not in Tantric puja, as they follow agams). Jul 13 at 19:29
  • @Chamunda das Hindu Dharma-Universal way of life(Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan) /Voice of God are the books that contain speeches of Kanchi Mahaperiava, which reveal the intricacies of sanathanadharma.Concerning this topic I infer , though not all sacrifices like Agniyadhana are eschewed,certain types of sacrifices need not be gone through in the age of Kali,(mostly involving animal sacrifices)as it may be improbable to find one who can truly officiate it. (If there is an exception, we may not know)Excerpt from this book is avail. for ref. kamakoti.org/hindudharma/part5/chap24.htm
    – Athrey
    Jul 14 at 13:26

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