Āśvalāyana Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Āśvalāyana (AWSH-vah-LAH-yah-nah), a sage Vedic teacher, is associated with writing two of the Śrauta Sūtras, or functional manuals for priests conducting ritual sacrifice relating to the Rigveda (also known as rgveda, c. 1500-1000 b.c.e.; English translation, 1896-1897). The two texts bear his name, the Āśvalāyana Śrauta Sūtra (c. 400 b.c.e.; English translation, 1958) and the Āśvalāyana Grhya Sūtra (c. 400 b.c.e.; English translation, 1958). He was a student of Śaunāka, who composed the first Kalpa Sūtra (fourth century b.c.e. or earlier; English translation, 1958) and other important texts. It is reported that when Āśvalāyana composed one of his works and announced it to his teacher, the latter destroyed his own treatise and proclaimed that Āśvalāyana’s sūtra was superior and should be adopted by the students of that Vedic Śākhā (school). There can be no doubt that Āśvalāyana was greatly indebted to his teacher because he wrote at the end of the Āśvalāyana Grhya Sūtra the words namah Śaunākaya, or salutation to Śaunāka.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Āśvalāyana’s works provided a guide for performing household or domestic rites. He gives succinct accounts of the sacrifices without introducing any philosophical speculations or doctrinal materials. The texts, produced in succinct and straightforward prose as opposed to verse, provide systematic descriptions of the necessary domestic rites that facilitated Vedic life. All the ceremonies were performed with the help of the grhya (sacred household) fire. He methodically described setting up the fire, the marriage rites, rites relating to the conception and bearing of children, ceremonies for blessing the child throughout various stages of life, the duties of the student while staying in the teacher’s house, ceremonies for various vows, and ceremonies connected with cattle welfare, agricultural operations, and house building. He also includes rites for expiating neglect of duties and special sacrifices for fulfillment of desires.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Gonda, Jan. The Ritual Sutras. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1977.

Gopal, Ram. India of Vedic Kalpasutras. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 1983.