Today on social media, I learnt that University of California, Berkeley in the USA is arranging a conference in September on Prof Ganesh Umakant Thite(also known as G U Thite). The conference is arranged to honor his contribution to Vedic Studies, particularly, Vedic rituals and sacrifices. For those who are interested to know more about it here is the link. On this occasion, I wanted to share my experience with being at Vedic ritual/sacrifice done verbatim and authentic manner, and to my fortune, Prof G U Thite, among other experts, also was present there.
I used to study Indology at Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth(TMV) in Pune few years back. I have written on many Indology topics on this blog in the past. Among other subjects of this Indology course, we also had subjects on ancient literature of India, including Veda and its ancillary literature. We, of course, did not study, Veda texts in detail, as they study during undergraduate and graduate course majoring Sanskrit language. But we got fair idea about that literature and also about socio-religious life during vedic period. That was the time we came to know of many experts in the field of Veda such s Bahulkar, Kashikar, western scholars such as Frits Staal and of course Thite, their work. The TMV premises also has research center for Vedas. It is called Vedic Sanshodan Kendra, which has a museum of collection of items used in Vedic rituals. They also have been publishing audio recordings of various rituals and sacrifices. There are many institutes and organizations where research on this various topics of Veda is going on since so many years. Apart from preservation that oral tradition, the focus also has been to test and verify applying scientific knowledge.
In 2010, when I learnt about visit to institute where Vedic ritual/sacrifice in authentic manner is going to take place, I immediately planned to accompany. Later I learnt that G U Thite also would be present at the occasion, then it was certainly a bonus. There is a organization called Yogiraj Ved Vidnyan Ashram located near Barshi in Maharashtra. This ritual was meant for getting good rains. They also had made studies on the effect of such rituals, which is what I found interesting. The ritual/sacrifice was called Vajpeya Yagya(Shardiya) Somayag. This ritual spans multiple days. And it had animal sacrifice. There was an area where we saw male goats were lying in dead state and certain portion from their abdomen was being removed. Unfortunately, I could not take any photographs as it was not allowed. During ancient days, somayag was performed for rejuvenation of nature and thus of mankind. It is said that this somayag awakes cosmic, satvik subtle energies which create healthy atmosphere for the life on earth. Somayag offering soma elixir(soma rasa, extract of soma plant which famous herb which supposed to cause elevation of energies) to appease deities of all the 6 seasons. The one I attended was part season of Sharada(hence name Sharadiya Somayag).
We spent there almost entire day watching different activities which were being performed as part of somayag, also lending keen ear to discussions which G U Thite, and others were having on the various parts of the sacrifice. Study of veda, its literature, and specific details of various aspects of that, is such a huge area. Various scholars have spent entire life understanding them. For instance, G U Thite’s doctorate itself is in sacrifices as mentioned Bramhana text(late ancillary text of main Vedic corpus). What I witnessed that was very very minor piece in the whole scheme, but it certainly gave some glimpse into the past. This ashram also has performed 16 somayag in 2006 at difference places in India, for the good rains. The project was called Saumit Suvrushti Project. They also have published project report containing details of the impact caused by somayag.
The conference by University of California on G U Thite’s work is certainly a commendable one and I certainly relate and appreciate to the extent, despite knowing hardly about the subject. He is going to deliver a keynote on the The Role of Brāhmaṇa Texts in the Development of Vedic Ritual, which is his area of expertise.