Rtvik (ऋत्विक्)

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Rtvik or Rtvij (Samskrit : ऋत्विक् ऋत्विज् ) are professional priests who play an important role in conducting yagnas (usually Srauta yagnas) and establish the connection between the devatas of the yagna and the yajamaana. Well versed in vedic procedures by studying different Kalpas and qualified to conduct yagnas they conduct appropriate rituals while reciting mantras. Rtviks are trained in the particular vedic kalpas and they attain proficiency by practice.

All homas and yagnas do not require the appointment of Ritviks. For Smarta karmas and nityakarmas such as sandhyavandana, agnihotras, panchamahayagnas, devata pujas at home, rtviks are not required.

To perform elaborate Srauta karmas (Somayaganas and a few Haviryagnas) presence of four official rtviks are very important.

व्युत्पत्ति || Etymology

Shabdakalpadruma defines ऋत्विजः ॥ Rtvij as follows

  • ऋतौ यजतीति one who performs yagnas in all the six seasons (vasanta, greeshma, varsha, sharad, hemanta, shishira).
  • अग्न्याधेयं पाकयज्ञानग्निष्टोमादिकान्मखान् .यः करोति वृतो यस्य स तस्यर्त्विगिहोच्यते - one who is selected to perform Agnaayadheya, paakayagnas, Agnistoma and other yagnas he is termed as Rtvik (Manava Kosha 2.143)
  • पुरोहितः ॥ Purohita (Kalpadruma), आग्नीध्रः, याजकः (amarakosha) are synonyms for Rtvik.
  • As members of a social class, they belong to the class of विप्रः ॥ vipra.

जन्मना ब्राह्मणो ज्ञेयः संस्कारैर्द्विज उच्यते विद्यया याति विप्रत्वं त्रिभिः श्रोत्रियलक्षणम् .. इति प्रायश्चित्तविवेकः (Shabdakalpadruma).

Meaning : One who is born as a brahmana, who after upanayana samskara is a divja and is after (veda) abhyasam is termed as vipra, these are the three lakshanas of a Srotriya according to Prayaschittaviveka as given in Shabdakalpadruma.

Satapatha Brahmana gives the definition vipra as follows

ये वै ब्राह्मणाः शुश्रुवांसोऽनूचानास्ते विप्रास्तानेवैतदभ्याह.. (Shat. Brah.[1]

ऋत्विक् ॥ Rtvik

Manu defines the activities of the Rtvik as follows in Manusmriti

अग्न्याधेयं पाकयज्ञानग्निष्टोमादिकान्मखान् । यः करोति वृतो यस्य स तस्य र्त्विगिहोच्यते ॥ २.१४३ ॥ (Manu. Smrt. 2.143)[2]

He who, being (duly) chosen for the purpose, performs the Agnyadheya, the Pakayajnas, and the Srauta Yajnas such as Agnistoma (for another person) is called his Rtvik (officiating priest).[3]

चातुर्होत्र || Four Rtviks for Yagna

In Srauta yagnas rtviks play a very important role. They are called as Hota, Adhvaryu, Udgaata, and Brahma collectively called as चातुर्होत्र || Chaaturhotr.

The Rig-Veda Samhita is the oldest text of Sanaatana Dharma. Its rtvik is called the Hotri. The Yajur-Veda Samhita is mostly in prose and is meant to be used by the Adhvaryu, the Yajur-Vedic rtvik for explanations of the rites, supplementing the Rig-Vedic Mantras. The Sama-Veda Samhita is mostly borrowed from Rig-Vedic Samhita and is meant to be sung by the Udgatri. The Atharva-Veda Samhita is meant to be used by the Brahma, the Atharva-Vedic rtvik, to correct the mispronunciations and wrong performances that may accidentally be committed by the other three rtviks[4].


The hotṛ is the reciter of invocations or mantras. These could consist of single mantras (ṛca), pair of them (pragātha) or in triplets ( tṛca), or entire set of mantras (suktas), belonging to the ṛgveda.

Hota's duties include reciting the अनुवाक्य || Anuvaakya and याज्य || Yaajya mantras. He pronounces "वशट्कारः || vashatkaara" at the time of placing the aahuti in the agnihotram. In the Darsapurnamaasa yaaga he recites सामिधेनि || saamidheni mantras and in Somayaaga he recites शास्त्र || Shastra with his assistants[5]. Thus his role as an invoker of devatas by reciting the appropriate propitiatory mantras is clearly significant.


The adhvaryu is in charge of the physical details of the sacrifice. In particular the term अध्वर || is defined by Maharshi Yaska in Nirukta as - Adhvarasya netaa (Nirukta 1.8.1) adhvaram yunakti iti adhvaryuh - one who relates to the yagna, completes all works of the yagna, he is the leader of the yagna[5].

The adhvaryu's duties include measuring the ground, to build the yagnavedi, homakunda, prepare the yagna patras (vessels and tools), fetch samidhas (wood) and water, light the fire, arrange for dravyas (milk, honey, tila etc), cook the required havirdravyas (purodasa, odhanam, animal parts in case of Pasuyaaga) and offer the aahutidravyas in the fire[5].

Each action is accompanied by yajus belonging to the yajurveda.


The udgātṛ was a chanter of mantras set to melodies (sāman) taken from the sāmaveda.

There presence of Udgaata and his assistants is necessary only in the Somayaaga. He plays a specialized role in the Somayaaga - a characteristic function of the udgātṛ is to sing saamagaana in praise of the invigorating properties of soma pavamāna, the freshly pressed juice of the soma plant.[5]


The Brahma is the protector and supervisor of the yagna. He is knowledgeable in the three Vedas, so he is called Trivedavid. In the Satapata Brahmana it is clearly mentioned that one who has the knowledge of the three vedas may take the charge of Brahma.[5]

Brahma's position is said to be high in the yagnas and it was believed that only silent sitting of Brahma and observation of the procedures makes the yagna successful. He uses Atharvaveda mantras to 'heal' it when mistakes have been made.[5] In the Aitereya Brahmana it is mentioned that half the portion of yaaga Dakshina should be given to Brahma and remaining half to be paid to other priests.

Assistants and Rtvik sankhya

Mantra 2.1.2 of Rigveda states:

तवाग्ने होत्रं तव पोत्रमृत्वियं तव नेष्ट्रं त्वमग्निदृतायतः । तव प्रशास्त्रं त्वमध्वरीयसि ब्रह्मा चासि गृहपतिश्च नो दमे ॥[6]

The above mantra enumerates the rtviks as the hotṛ, potṛ, neṣṭṛ, agnīdh, prashāstṛ (meaning the maitrāvaruna) and adhvaryu.

According to Asvalaayana Srauta sutras (4.1.16) the following assistants are listed in each gana of the rtviks. In the systematic expositions of the shrauta sutras,[7] the assistants are classified into four groups associated with each of the four rtviks.

Veda Ganas Chief Priest Role Assistants
Rig Veda Hotagana Hota Invoker chants mantras Prashasta or Maitravaruna Acchaavaaka Graavastut
Yajur Veda Adhvaryugana Adhvaryu Executor of yaagam Pratiprasthata Neshta Unneta
Saama Veda Udgaatagana Udgaata Singer of saamans Prastota Pratiharttaa Subrahmanya
Adharva Veda Brahmagana Brahma Protector of yaagam Brahmaacchamsi Potaa Agniidhra

Each of the four rtviks has three assistants with them. The assistants together with their main rtvik forms their individual ganas, namely Hotagana, Adhvaryugana, Udgatagana, Brahmagana, thus the number totals to 16 rtviks.

A total of sixteen rtviks are mandated to be present in conducting Somayaaga.

According to Kaushitaaki sampradaya there must be seventeen rtviks in the somayaga and they are called "Sadasya". Satapata Brahmana clearly prohibits the appointment of seventeenth rtvik Satapata brahmana

However, the presence of all the sixteen rtviks is not necessary in every yagna and different rtviks are required for different types of yagnas.

Importance of Assistants

Assistants rtviks have important roles during yaagas. Among them assistant of Hota, namely Maitravaruna, assistant of Adhvaryu, Pratiprasthata and assistant of Brahma, Agnidhra have important role in the conduct of different yaagas and isthis.

For example : Maitravaruna has to recite the sastras for the dual deities Mitra and Varuna in Somayaaga. Pratiprasthata has to initiate others in diksha during ceremonies of Satrayaaga. Agnidhra maintains the agnihotras in Somayaaga.

यजमानः ॥ Yajamaana

यजतीति स यजमानः - One who performs yagnas is yajamanaha (Shabdakalpadruma).

It is the Yajamaana, who intents to conduct, takes the diksha and starts a yaaga or isthi with the ceremony Rtvikvarana and ends it with the Dakshinadaana ceremony. In the middle though it is done by the rtviks the yajamana is also mandated to recite mantras and perform some ceremonies. He takes part in offering the havis into the agnihotra and consumption of the havis during havirhbhakshana by the rtviks. Thus, the yajamana who is the intended beneficiary of the yaaga, is a direct participant with others take his stead in situations when he is unable to participate. The Agnihotra homa is performed by the yajamaana only. Only if he falls ill, in his place a rtvik conducts it.

Yajnapatni also has a role to play in many yaagas. Any yagna or yaaga is to be performed only by a sapatnika yajamaana. When yajamaana is unable to perform his role, his wife, son, brother-in-law and ultimately the rtviks are authorized to take his role.

The requirements of the fully developed yaagas like Somayaaga and Satrayaaga are rigorous and professional rtviks only can guide and perform them adequately without mistakes[5].

In the Samvastsarsaadhya satra yaaga, the yajamaanas are the rtviks and there are no other rtviks to preside over the yaaga.[5]

In ancient days, brahmanas, kshatriyas and vaisyas had the right to perform yagnas and yaagas. Example: Raajasuya yaaga is performed by Kshatriyas.

पुरोहितः ॥ Purohita

In the present days, the growing importance of the purohita is seen primarily because fewer people are taking part in learning the vedic scriptures and practicing Agnihotram on everyday basis.

Domestic nityakarmas (sandhyavandana, agnihotra, panchamahayagnas), naimittika karmas conducted for particular reasons (Shraadha, samskaaras, shanti prakriyas in the events of earthquakes, maharudrabhishekam, chandi homa, mahasudarshana homa, vishnu yaaga etc) are widely practiced in the present generation and do not require the elaborate procedures as required for Srauta yaagas. Rtvik or purohits who are educated in Grhyasutras are conducting these activities. Hence with the disappearance of Vedic yaaga practices, purohita has become a generic term for "priest".

See also


  1. Satapatha Brahmana Kanda 3
  2. Manusmriti (Adhyaya 2)
  3. Manusmrti English Translation (Page 26)
  4. Swami Sivananda, All about Hinduism, Page 32
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Purkayastha, Dipanjona (2014) Ph. D Thesis from Assam University : A Study of the Asvalayana srauta sutra with reference to the principal sacrifices.
  6. Rig veda mantra
  7. Shānkhāyana SS 13.4.1, Āsvalāyana SS 4.1.4-6.