Rtvik or Rtvij (Samskrit : ऋत्विक् / ऋत्विज् ) are professional priests who play an important role in conducting yajnas (usually Shrauta yajnas) and establish the connection between the devatas of the yajna and the yajamana (यजमानः). Well versed in vedic procedures by studying different Kalpas and qualified to conduct yajnas they conduct appropriate rituals while reciting mantras. Rtviks are trained in the particular vedic kalpas and they attain proficiency by practice.
व्युत्पत्ति: || Etymology
Shabdakalpadruma defines ऋत्विज् ॥ Rtvij as follows
- ऋतौ यजतीति । r̥tau yajatīti one who performs yajnas in all the six seasons (vasanta, grishma, varsha, sharad, hemanta, shishira).
- अग्न्याधेयं पाकयज्ञानग्निष्टोमादिकान्मखान् .यः करोति वृतो यस्य स तस्यर्त्विगिहोच्यते | agnyādheyaṁ pākayajñānagniṣṭomādikānmakhān .yaḥ karoti vr̥to yasya sa tasyartvigihocyate | - one who is selected to perform Agnyadheya, pakayajnas, Agnishtoma and other yajnas 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).
janmanā brāhmaṇo jñeyaḥ saṁskārairdvija ucyate vidyayā yāti vipratvaṁ tribhiḥ śrotriyalakṣaṇam .. iti prāyaścittavivekaḥ |
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. Shatapatha Brahmana gives the definition vipra as follows
ये वै ब्राह्मणाः शुश्रुवांसोऽनूचानास्ते विप्रास्तानेवैतदभ्याह.. | (Shat. Brah. 22.214.171.124)
ye vai brāhmaṇāḥ śuśruvāṁso'nūcānāste viprāstānevaitadabhyāha.. |
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)
agnyādheyaṁ pākayajñānagniṣṭomādikānmakhān । yaḥ karoti vr̥to yasya sa tasya rtvigihocyate ॥ 2.143 ॥
He who, being (duly) chosen for the purpose, performs the Agnyadheya, the Pakayajnas, and the Shrauta Yajnas such as Agnishtoma (for another person) is called his Rtvik (officiating priest).
चातुर्होतृ || Four Rtviks for yajna
In Shrauta yajnas rtviks play a very important role. They are called as Hota, Adhvaryu, Udgata (उद्गाता), and Brahma collectively called as चातुर्होतृ || Chaturhotr.
The Rig-Veda Samhita is the oldest text of Sanatana Dharma. Its rtvik is called the Hotr. 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 Udgatr. 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.
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 अनुवाक्यम् || Anuvakya and याज्य: || Yajya mantras. He pronounces "वशट्कारः || vashatkara" at the time of placing the ahuti in the agnihotra. In the Darshapurnamasa yaga he recites सामिधेनि: || samidheni mantras and in Somayaga he recites शास्त्रम् || Shastra with his assistants. 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 - अध्वरस्य नेता । adhvarasya netā (Nirukta 1.8.1) अध्वरं युनक्तीति अध्वर्युः । adhvaraṁ yunaktīti adhvaryuḥ - one who relates to the yajna, completes all works of the yajna, he is the leader of the yajna.
The adhvaryu's duties include measuring the ground, to build the yajnavedi, homakunda, prepare the yajna patras (vessels and tools), fetch samidhas (wood) and water, light the fire, arrange for dravyas (milk, honey, tila etc), cook the required havirdravyas (purodasa, odana, animal parts in case of Pasuyaga) and offer the ahutidravyas in the fire.
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 Udgata and his assistants is necessary only in the Somayaga. He plays a specialized role in the Somayaga - a characteristic function of the udgātṛ is to sing samagana (सामगानम्) in praise of the invigorating properties of soma pavamāna, the freshly pressed juice of the soma plant.
The Brahma is the protector and supervisor of the yajna. He is knowledgeable in the three Vedas, so he is called Trivedavid. In the Shatapatha Brahmana, it is clearly mentioned that one who has the knowledge of the three vedas may take the charge of Brahma.
Brahma's position is said to be high in the yajnas and it was believed that only silent sitting of Brahma and observation of the procedures makes the yajna successful. He uses Atharvaveda mantras to 'heal' it when mistakes have been made. In the Aitareya Brahmana it is mentioned that half the portion of yaga 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 ॥
tavāgne hotraṁ tava potramr̥tviyaṁ tava neṣṭraṁ tvamagnidr̥tāyataḥ । tava praśāstraṁ tvamadhvarīyasi brahmā cāsi gr̥hapatiśca no dame ॥
The above mantra enumerates the rtviks as the hotṛ, potṛ, neṣṭṛ, agnīdh, prashāstṛ (meaning the maitrāvaruna) and adhvaryu.
According to Asvalaayana Shrauta sutras (4.1.16) the following assistants are listed in each gana of the rtviks. In the systematic expositions of the shrauta sutras, the assistants are classified into four groups associated with each of the four rtviks.
|Rig Veda||Hotagana||Hota||Invoker chants mantras||Prashasta or Maitravaruna||Acchavaka||Gravastut|
|Yajur Veda||Adhvaryugana||Adhvaryu||Executor of yaga||Pratiprasthata||Neshta||Unneta|
|Sama Veda||Udgatagana||Udgata||Singer of samans||Prastota||Pratiharttaa||Subrahmanya|
|Atharva Veda||Brahmagana||Brahma||Protector of yaga||Brahmaacchamsi||Potaa||Agnidhra|
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 Somayaga.
According to Kaushitaki sampradaya there must be seventeen rtviks in the somayaga and they are called "Sadasya". Shatapatha Brahmana clearly prohibits the appointment of seventeenth rtvik (Shatapatha brahmana 10.4.1.19).
However, the presence of all the sixteen rtviks is not necessary in every yajna and different rtviks are required for different types of yajnas.
Importance of Assistants
Assistants rtviks have important roles during yagas. Among them assistant of Hota, namely Maitravaruna, assistant of Adhvaryu, Pratiprasthata and assistant of Brahma, Agnidhra have important role in the conduct of different yagas and isthis.
For example : Maitravaruna has to recite the shastras for the dual deities Mitra and Varuna in Somayaga. Pratiprasthata has to initiate others in diksha during ceremonies of Satrayaga. Agnidhra maintains the agnihotras in Somayaga.
यजमानः ॥ yajamana
यजतीति स यजमानः | yajatīti sa yajamānaḥ | - One who performs yajnas is yajamanaha (Shabdakalpadruma).
It is the Yajamana, who intents to conduct, takes the diksha and starts a yaga or isthi with the ceremony Rtvikvarana and ends it with the Dakshinadana 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 yaga, is a direct participant with others take his stead in situations when he is unable to participate. The Agnihotra homa is performed by the yajamana only. Only if he falls ill, in his place a rtvik conducts it.
Yajnapatni also has a role to play in many yagas. Any yajna or yaga is to be performed only by a sapatnika yajamana. When yajamana 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 yagas like Somayaga and Satrayaga are rigorous and professional rtviks only can guide and perform them adequately without mistakes.
In the Samvastsarsadhya satra yaga, the yajamanas are the rtviks and there are no other rtviks to preside over the yaga.
In ancient days, brahmanas, kshatriyas and vaishyas had the right to perform yajnas and yagas. Example: Rajasuya yaga 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 Agnihotra on everyday basis.
Domestic nityakarmas (sandhyavandana, agnihotra, panchamahayajnas), naimittika karmas conducted for particular reasons (Shraddha, samskaras, shanti prakriyas in the events of earthquakes, maharudrabhisheka, chandi homa, mahasudarshana homa, vishnu yaga etc) are widely practiced in the present generation and do not require the elaborate procedures as required for Shrauta yagas. Rtvik or purohits who are educated in Grhyasutras are conducting these activities. Hence, with the disappearance of Vedic yaga practices, purohita has become a generic term for "priest".
- Satapatha Brahmana Kanda 3
- Manusmriti (Adhyaya 2)
- Manusmrti English Translation (Page 26)
- Swami Sivananda, All about Hinduism, Page 32
- Purkayastha, Dipanjona (2014) Ph. D Thesis from Assam University : A Study of the Asvalayana srauta sutra with reference to the principal sacrifices.
- Rig veda mantra
- Shānkhāyana SS 13.4.1, Āsvalāyana SS 4.1.4-6.