Questions about Asvamedha in Ramayana



Ok I don't know Sanskrit, but I hear there are like 3 or 4 (maybe 5) major recensions of Valmiki Ramayana and they are all like 90% or so the same except differ from each other by a few interjected verses here and there, and the critical edition by the University of Baroda in India has expunged the interjected verses. So if I am not mistaken, if a verse appears in the critical edition of the Ramayana, it means that it exists in all of the major recensions. I would assume that is why the verse numbers for the critical edition will be a little different than the non-critical edition(s). Like the asvamedha episode, where Rama's mother Kausalya engages in sexual union with the horse, takes place in 1:14 (Balakanda Sarga 14) in the non-critical edition(s) (as shown on, but in the critical edition the exact same verses appear in 1:13 (Balakanda Sarga 13). Similarly, Sita's wicked verbal assault on Laxman takes place in 3:45 (Aranyakanda Sarga 45) of the non-critical edition(s) but in the critical edition the exact same incident takes place in 3:43 (Aranyakanda Sarga 43).

If the critical edition of Valmiki's Ramayana did not contain the asvamedha sacrifice (in Bala Kanda) and if it did not contain Sita's verbal assault on Laxman (in Aranya Kanda), one could make the argument that they were interjected verses (if they did not appear in the critical edition). However, it appears this argument is not possible since these two incidents do in fact show up in the critical edition of the Ramayana as well as the non-critical edition(s).

I have discovered that the Princeton University Press translation of the Ramayana of Valmiki is translated from the critical edition of the Ramayana. I've heard they're the first to have translated the critical edition. Below are verses 27 and 28 of Balakanda Sarga 13 of the critical edition:

Title:The Ramayana of Valmiki:AN Epic of ancient India
Volume I: BalaKanda
Translated by: Robert P. Goldman, Sally J. Sutherland
Princeton University Press:princeton New Jersey

27. Her mind unwavering in her desire for righteousness, Kausalya passed one night with the horse.

28. The priests- the hotr, the adhvaryu and the udgatr- saw to it that the second and the junior most of king's wives, as well as his chief queen, were united with the horse.

Now an Indian translator who has apparently translated a non-critical edition of the Ramayana at shows that this incident takes place in 1:14 (Balakanda Sarga 14):

"Queen Kausalya desiring the results of ritual disconcertedly resided one night with that horse that flew away like a bird." [1-14-34]

"Thus, the officiating priests of the ritual, namely hota, adhwaryu and udgaata have received in their hand the Crowned Queen, the neglected wife, and a concubine of the king, next as a symbolic donation in the ritual by the performer, the king." [1-14-35]

Then the Indian translator has a note which says "There is another way of translating this. For the wording, hastena samayojayan the priests took these wives by hand to bring them in contact with the dead horse."

It's also in the Vedas, the Satapatha Brahmana (in a book called "Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism" by O'Flaherty), that in the asvamedha sacrifice the penis of the horse is placed in the vagina of the chief queen:

"A cloth, an upper cloth, and gold is what they spread out for the horse, and on that they 'quiet' him. When the sacrificial animals have been 'quieted', the (king's) wives come up with water for washing the feet -- four wives, and a maiden as the fifth, and four hundred women attendants. When the water for washing the feet is ready, they make the chief queen (Mahishi) lie down next to the horse, and they cover the two of them up with the upper cloth as they say the verse, 'Let the two of us cover ourselves in the world of heaven', for the world of heaven is where they 'quiet' the sacrificial animal. Then they draw out the penis of the horse and place it in the vagina of the chief queen, while she says, 'May the vigorous virile male, the layer of seed, lay the seed'; this she says for sexual intercourse..." (Satapatha Brahmana 13:5:2:1-10).

Therefore it would be difficult to make the argument that this was mere hand-shaking with the horse or some kind of non-sexual contact with the horse. It appears that Kausalya and the other two wives of the king were sexually united with the horse.

As a proud Hindu, I don't really have a problem with the fact that some ancient Hindu queens committed a necrophiliac form of bestiality with a horse. Of course, I definitely find such bestiality to be very disgusting and reprehensible behavior. But I think it's kind of funny that some ancient Indian queens did this.

I also don't have a problem with Rama eating meat. I don't really consider eating meat as reprehensible behavior for Hindus. I'm not vegetarian, and on the Indian translator's Ramayana site it says that Rama did in fact eat meat and that some translations of the Ramayana have incorrectly contrived alternate meanings out of this:

The thing I do find a little weird though, as I stated, is that Rama's mothers appear to have actually engaged in this asvamedha sacrifice (and they are not just some generic ancient Indian queens whom we don't really care about).

My questions are:

What is this "Tamil" version of the Ramayana of Valmiki, does it contain the asvamedha incident in 1:14 (Balakanda Sarga 14), and is the Tamil version considered one of the major recensions?

And how about the Gita Press translation of the Ramayana. I have heard that it is one of those translations that refuses to acknowledge meat-eating tendencies of Rama (is this true?). Well what I especially want to know is if someone can post the Gita Press translation of 1:14 showing what it says about whether Kausalya spent a night with the horse (I believe Gita Press is not based on the critical edition so if it shows up it should be around 1:14 and not 1:13 if I'm not mistaken).

And on the site, why does it say the horse "flew away like a bird." What does that mean exactly?

Now, about Sita's verbal assault on Laxman in Aranyakanda:

This occurs in 3:45 (Aranyakanda Sarga 45) in the non-critical edition on

And in volume 3 of the Princeton University Press translation of the Ramayana of Valmiki (critical edition) the same dialogue occurs in 3:43. Sita refers to Laxman as "ignoble" "cruel man" "disgrace to your house" etc. Laxman responds by saying Sita and women in general are "perverse" and other things. I think Sita is definitely the one to blame for this incident. She throws some rude words at Laxman, and then Laxman simply responds back. Can someone check the Gita Press translation to see if it contains the same incident, and if so, can you post the translated verses here.

Raj Sharma.
Hi Raj, and welcome to the forums. :)

I'm afraid the question is a little out of my area - but hopefully someone else will be able to help answer this for you. :)
Namaste Raj,

welcome to the forum, enjoy your stay.

indeed, this query is beyond my depth in SantanaDharma. my experience with your tradition is usually obliquely through the Buddhist tradition.

as of this moment, we only have a few SantanaDharma adherents that visit the site, hopefully, this will be changing as we gain broader exposure to the internet viewing audience :)