The Shyena yajna is a sorcery ritual in the Vedas meant to kill others. According to the followers of Mimamsa and other schools, this ritual is considered "adharma" because it causes violence, and violence is forbidden.

Shabara, the most influential Mimamsa commentator on Jaimini's purva mimamsa sutras, says this about the Shyena yajna:

हिंसा हि सा। हिंसा च प्रतिषिद्धेति

Because it is violence, and violence is forbidden

But why isn't this an exceptional case of violence enjoined by the scriptures themselves like animal sacrifice?

To this, Shabara says:

नैव श्येनादयः कर्त्तव्या विज्ञायन्ते। यो हि हिंसितुमिच्छेत् ,तस्यायमभ्युपाय इति हि तेषामुपदेशः। श्येनेनाऽभिचरन् यजेतेति हि समामनन्ति, न अभिचरितव्यमिति

It is ascertained that the harmful sorceries like Shyena and others are not supposed to be done. But for one who desires to cause injury, this is the way; this is what is intended. In other words, the person who is transgressing the scriptural prohibition should sacrifice with the Shyena ritual; this is what these statements mean. This does not mean that sin should be done.

He is saying that because the Shyena yajna is done out of personal desire, it is not "dharma".

Medhatithi, a famous commentator on the Manusmriti, says the same thing:

In connection with the Śyena sacrifice we have the Vedic text—‘one may kill living beings by means of the Śyena sacrifice,’ (श्येनेन​ हिंस्यात् भूतानि) — and this makes the performance of this sacrifice possible; but only for one who has become blinded by extreme hatred; so that when the man does perform the act, it does not become regarded as ‘Dharma,’

But at the same time, we also have a similar Vedic verse:

स्वर्गकामो ज्योतिष्टोमेन यजेत​

One who desires svarga, should sacrifice with the Jyotishtoma ritual

In the same way as the Shyena yajna, the Jyotishtomena yajna involves violence (animal sacrifice), and a person does this ritual because he is motivated by a personal desire. So why isn't the Jyotishtomena ritual considered adharma too?

Both of these verses have the same sentence structure in the Vedas:

"If one wants to kill, then he should sacrifice with the shyena yajna."

"If one wants to reach heaven, then he should sacrifice with the jyotishtomena yajna."

And in Sanskrit, "would", "could", "should", etc. all fall under "viddhi ling lakAra" verb form. For example, the verb "syAt" means "could be", "would be", "should be", "may be", etc. So on what basis is Shabara making a distinction between "should do" and "if he wants to do"?

1 Answer 1


The shyena yajna is not adharma in itself, but is only only adharma when used to kill innocents because killing innocents is prohibited by the Vedas:

अहिंस्यात् सर्वभूतानि (One should not hurt any living being [because it is sinful]) - cited in Ramanujacharya's Sri Bhashya

However, killing others in self-defense is allowed, and in these cases, one can use black magic like the shyena ritual to achieve it, as sanctioned by the Manusmriti:

He should make use of the sacred texts of the Atharva-Veda, without hesitation. Speech indeed is the Brāhmaṇa’s weapon; by that should the twice-born strike his enemies. - Manusmriti 11.31

The Kṣatriya shall cut through his misfortunes by the strength of his arms; the Vaiśya and the Śūdra by their wealth, and the chief of the twice-born by muttered prayers and oblations into the fire. - Manu 11.34

So why isn't the Jyotishtoma ritual considered adharma too?

Because it does not involve killing, as the sacrificial animal goes to swarga:

You do not die, you go on a quick path to the gods where evil people do not go. May the god Savita take you there - Yajur mantra

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