Agonistic Scenes of the mahāvrata Rite

The Praiser-abhigara and the Reviler-apagara




Mahābhārata, sattra, vrātya, poetry of praise, poetry of blame


The present paper focuses on one of the competitive scenes staged during the Vedic classical mahāvrata rite: a sort of “agonistic” play performed between someone defined as abhigara, basically translated as “praiser,” and someone who is called apagara, interpreted as “reviler.” They appear to take part only in a verbal and not a physical duel. In fact, scholars consider the scene an example of a verbal contest. However, given that abhigara and apagara are never mentioned in the Rigvedic and Atharvavedic collections and rarely occur in the Vedic corpus, appearing mostly in sections concerning the peculiar mahāvrata ceremony, this dichotomous pair certainly sparks interest since they are associable with the Mahābhārata context. The analysis of the Vedic textual sources concerning the abhigara / apagara contest on the mahāvrata day, a survey of the terminology correlated to these two terms and their etymological reconstruction may offer a peculiar perspective on the relationship between violence, ritualism and narration in the Mahābhārata.

PlumX Metrics of this article


Amano, K. 2016. Ritual Contexts of Sattra Myths in the Maitrāyaṇī Saṃhitā. In: T. Pontillo et al. (eds). Vrātya Culture in Vedic Sources. Bangkok: DK Publishers: 35–72.

Austen, C. R. 2008. The Sārasvata Yātsattra in Mahābhārata 17 and 18. In: International Journal of Hindu Studies 12(3): 283–308,

Biardeau, M. 1976. Études de mythologie hindoue (IV): Bhakti et avatâra. In: Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient 63: 111–263,

Biardeau, M. 2002. Le Mahābhārata I et II: Un récit fondateur du brahmanisme et son interprétation. Paris: Le Seuil.

van den Bosch, L. P. 1985. The Āprī Hymns of the Ṛgveda and Their Interpretation. In: Indo-Iranian Journal 28(2): 95–122,

Brereton, J. P. 2004. Bráhman, Brahmán, and Sacrifice. In: A. Griffiths and J. E. M. Houben (eds). The Vedas: Texts, Language, and Rituals: Proceedings of the Third International Vedic Workshop, Leiden 2002. Groningen: Egbert Forsten: 325–344.

Bronkhorst, J. 2021. Sacrifice in the Mahābhārata and Beyond, or Did the Author(s) of the Mahābhārata Understand Vedic Sacrifice Better Than We Do? In: I. Andrijanić and S. Sellmer (eds). Mythic Landscapes and Argumentative Trails in Sanskrit Epic Literature: Dubrovnik International Conference on the Sanskrit Epics and Purāṇas DICSEP publications. Zagreb: Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts: 23–38.

Burrow, T. 1957. Sanskrit “gṝ-/gur-” ‘to Welcome’. In: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 20(1/3): 133–144,

Caland, W. 1931. Pañcaviṃśa-Brāhmaṇa: The Brāhmaṇa of the Twenty Five Chapters. Calcutta.

Caland, W. 1953. Śāṅkhāyana-Śrautasūtra: Being a Major yājñika Text of the Ṛgveda Translated into English for the First Time by W. Caland, Edited with an Introduction by Lokesh Chandra. Nagpur: The International Academy of Indian Culture.

Campanile, E. 1990. Il concetto di gloria nella società indoeuropea. In: E. Campanile. La ricostruzione della cultura indoeuropea. Pisa: Giardini Editori: 87–113.

Candotti, M. P. and T. Pontillo. 2015. Aims and Functions of Vrātyastoma Performances: A Historical Appraisal. In: T. Pontillo et al. (eds). The Volatile World of Sovereignty: The Vrātya Problem and Kingship in South Asia and Beyond. New Delhi: DK Printworld: 154–215.

Collins, B. 2014. The Head Beneath the Altar: Hindu Mythology and the Critique of Sacrifice. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

Crevatin, F. 2016 [2017]. ĀRYA. In: Άλεξάνδρεια: Alessandria: Rivista di glottologia 10: 15–31.

Durante, M. 1976. Sulla preistoria della tradizione poetica greca: Parte seconda: Risultanze della comparazione indoeuropea. Roma: Edizioni dell’Ateneo.

Elizarenkova, T. Y. 1987. Notes on Contests in the Ṛgveda. In: Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 68(1/4): 99–109.

Elizarenkova, T. Y. 2000. About the Meaning of vṛjána. In: R. Tsuchida and A. Wezler (eds). Harānandalaharī: Volume in Honour of Professor Minoru Hara on His Seventieth Birthday. Reinbek: Inge Wezler: 63–75.

Falk, H. 1985. Zum Ursprung des Sattra-Opfers. In: Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft: Supplement 6: 275–281.

Falk, H. 1986. Bruderschaft und Würfelspiel: Untersuchungen zur Entwicklungsgeschichte des Vedischen Opfers. Freiburg: Hedwig Falk.

Feller Jatavallabhula, D. 1999. Raṇayajña: The Mahābhārata War as a Sacrifice. In: J. E. M. Houben and K. R. van Kooij (eds). Violence Denied: Violence, Non-Violence and the Rationalization of Violence in South Asian Cultural History. Leiden–Boston–Köln: Brill: 69–103,

García Ramón, J. L. 1992. Mycénien ke-sa-do-ro / Kessandros /, ke-ti-ro /Kestilos /, ke-to / Kestōr /: grec alphabétique Aἰvησιμβρότα, Αἰvησίλαoς, Αἰvήτωρ et le nom de Cassandra. In: J.-P. Olievier (ed.). Bulletin de Corresponance Hellénique: Supplément XXV: Mykenaika. Paris: Diffusion de Boccard: 239–255.

Gonda, J. 1966. Loka: World and Heaven in the Veda. Amsterdam: NoordHollandsche U.M.

Gonda, J. 1979. The Śatarudriya. In: M. Nagatomi et al. (eds). Sanskrit and Indian Studies: Essays in Honour of Daniel H. H. Ingalls. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company: 75–91,

Gotō, T. 1987. Die “I. Präsensklasse” im Vedischen. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Hauer, J. W. 1927. Der Vrātya: Untersuchungen über die nichtbrahmanische Religion Altindiens. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.

Heesterman, J. C. 1962. Vrātya and Sacrifice. In: Indo-Iranian Journal 6: 1–37,

Heesterman, J. C. 1985. The Inner Conflict of Tradition: Essays in Indian Ritual, Kingship, and Society. Chicago–London: Chicago University Press.

Heesterman, J. C. 1993. The Broken World of Sacrifice: An Essay in Ancient Indian Ritual. Chicago–London: Chicago University Press,

Hillebrandt, A. 1890. Die Sonnwendfeste in Alt-Indien. In: Romanische Forschungen 5: 299–340.

Hillebrandt, A. 1897. Ritual-Litteratur, vedische Opfer und Zauber. Vol. 1–2. Strassburg: Karl J. Trübner.

Hiltebeitel, A. 1976. The Ritual of Battle: Krishna in the Mahābhārata. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Hiltebeitel, A. 2001. Rethinking the Mahābhārata: A Reader’s Guide to the Education of Dharma King. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Hiltebeitel, A. 2005. Buddhism and the Mahābhārata: Boundary Dynamics in Textual Practice. In: F. Squarcini (ed.). Boundaries, Dynamics and Constructions of Tradition in South Asia. Firenze: Firenze University Press: 107– 131,

Hintze, A. 2005. Indo-Iranian *gar ‘to Raise Aloft’. In: G. Schweiger (ed.). Indogermanica: Festschrift Gert Klingenschmitt: Indische, iranische und indogermanische Studien. Taimering (Riekofen): Schweiger VWT: 247–260.

Hintze, A. 2007. A Zoroastrian Liturgy: The Worship in Seven Chapters (Yasna 35–41). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Hintze, A. 2013. Perceptions of the Yasna Haptaŋhāiti. In: É. Pirart (éd.). Le Sort des Gâthâs et Autres Études Iraniennes In Memoriam Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin (Acta Iranica 54). Leuven–Paris–Walpole: Peeters: 53–73.

Hock, H. H. 2016. “Vrātya Prakrit,” Ritual Concerns, or Anti-vrātya Propaganda? Aduruktavākyam in Its Broader Context. In: T. Pontillo et al. (eds). Vrātya Culture in Vedic Sources. New Delhi: DK Publishers: 103–116.

van den Hoek, B. and B. Shrestha. 1992. The Sacrifice of Serpents: Exchange and Non-Exchange in the Sarpabali of Indrāyaṇī, Kathmandu. In: Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient 79(1): 57–75,

Horsch, P. 1966. Die vedische Gāthā- und Śloka- Literatur. Bern: Francke.

Jamison, S. 1996. Sacrificed Wife/Sacrificer’s Wife: Women, Ritual, and Hospitality in Ancient India. New York–Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jamison, S. W. and J. P. Brereton. 2014a. The Ṛgveda: The Earliest Religious Poetry of India. Oxford–New York: Oxford University Press.

Jamison, S. W. and J. P. Brereton. 2014b. Ṛgveda Translation: Commentary (accessed on 10.03.2024).;;;

Kane, P. V. 1941. History of Dharmaśāstra: Ancient and Mediaeval Religious and Civil Law in India. Vol. 2.2. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

Keith, A. B. 1908. The Mahāvrata. In: A. B. Keith (ed.). The Śāṅkhāyana Āraṇyaka: With an Appendix on the Mahāvrata. London: Royal Asiatic Society: 73–85.

Keith, A. B. 1909. The Mahāvrata Ceremony, and the Relation of Aitareya Āraṇyaka I and V to the Śāṅkhāyana Āraṇyaka. In: A. B. Keith (ed.). The Aitareya Āraṇyaka. Oxford: Clarendon Press: 26–31.

Kershaw, P. K. 1997. The One-Eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-)Germanic Männerbünde. In: Journal of Indo-European Studies: Monograph 36. Washington: Institute for the Study of Man.

Kuiper, F. B. J. 1960. The Ancient Aryan Verbal Contest. In: Indo-Iranian Journal 4(4): 217–228,

Kuiper, F. B. J. 1962. Rigvedic pārye diví. In: Indo-Iranian Journal 5(3): 169–183,

Kuiper, F. B. J. 1974. ví dayate and vidátha-. In: Indologica Taurinensia 2: 121–132.

Lath, M. 1990. The Concept of ānṛśaṃsya in the Mahābhārata. In: R. N. Dandekar (ed.). The Mahābhārata Revisited. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi: 113–119.

Lelli, D. 2023. A Poet at the Assembly: Some Remarks on a Feature of Rudra in the Atharvaveda. In: E. Poddighe and T. Pontillo (eds). Resisting and Justifying Changes II: Testifying and Legitimizing Innovation in Indian and Ancient Greek Culture. Pisa: Pisa University Press: 21–36.

Malamoud, C. 1998. Rite, simulacre, théâtre: Observations sur les éléments dramatiques dans le culte solennel védique. In: L. Bansat-Boudon (ed.). Théâtres indiens (Puruṣārtha 20). Paris: 25–43,

Malamoud, C. 2002. Le Jumeau solaire. Paris: Seuil.

Mayrhofer, M. 1956–1978. Kurzgefaβtes etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindischen: A Concise Etymological Sanskrit Dictionary. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.

Mayrhofer, M. 1992–2001. Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindoarischen. Vols. 1–3. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.

Minkowski, C. Z. 1989. Janamejaya’s Sattra and Ritual Structure. In: Journal of the American Oriental Society 109(3): 401–420,

Minkowski, C. Z. 1991. Snakes, Sattras and the Mahābhārata. In: A. Sharma (ed.). Essays on the Mahābhārata. Leiden: Brill: 384–400,

Minkowski, C. Z. 1992. Priesthood in Ancient India: A Study of the Maitrāvaruṇa Priest. Vienna: Sammlung de Nobili, Institut für Indologie der Universität.

Nagy, G. 1979. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Baltimore–London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Norelius, P.-J. 2021. Kings and Serpents: The Mahābhārata and the Transformations of Vedic Snake-lore. In: Zeitschrift für Indologie und Südasienstudien 38: 199–222.

Oberlies, T. 2012. Der Rigveda und seine Religion. Berlin: Insel.

Parpola, A. 2000. Vāc as a Goddess of Victory in the Veda and Her Relation to Durgā. In: Zinbun 34(2): 101–143.

Pinault, G.-J. 2006. Compétition poétique et poétique de la competition. In: G.-J. Pinault and D. Petit (eds). La langue poétique indo-européenne: Actes du Colloque de travail de la Société des Études Indo-Européennes (Indogermanische Gesellschaft/Society for Indo-European Studies): Paris, 22–24 octobre 2003 (Collection linguistique publiée par la Société de Linguistique de Paris. Vol. 91). Leuven–Paris: Peeters: 367–411.

Proferes, T. 2007. Vedic Ideals of Sovereignty and the Poetics of Power. New Haven: American Oriental Society.

Reich, T. C. 2001. Sacrificial Violence and Textual Battles: Inner Textual Interpretation in the Sanskrit Mahābhārata. In: History of Religions 41(2): 142–169,

Reich, T. C. 2010. The Interruption of the Sacrifice and the Verbal Contest: Three Different Epic Interpretations of a Pair of Vedic Motifs. In: D. Shulman (ed.). Language, Ritual and Poetics in Ancient India and Iran: Studies in Honor of Shaul Migron. Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities: 136–160.

Rolland, P. 1973. Le Mahāvrata: Contribution à l’étude d’un rituel solennel védique. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Rossi, P. M. 2022. Dynamics of Otherness and Identity in the Vedic mahāvrata Rite: The Contest Between ārya and śūdra. In: Rivista degli Studi Orientali 95(3): 195–219.

Rossi, P. M. 2023. From Conquering the Sun to Conquering Heaven: Spatio-Temporal Cosmographies and Sovereignty in the Ṛgvedic and Atharvavedic Collections. In: E. Poddighe and T. Pontillo (eds). Resisting and Justifying Changes II: Testifying and Legitimizing Innovation in Indian and Ancient Greek Culture. Pisa: Pisa University Press: 37–87.

Sadovski, V. 2018a. Vedic and Avestan Parallels from Ritual Litanies and Liturgical Practices I. In: L. Beek et al. (eds). Farnah: Indo-Iranian and Indo-European Studies in Honor of Sasha Lubotsky. Ann Arbor–New York: Beech Stave Press: 307–327.

Sadovski, V. 2018b. Indo-Iranian Sacred Texts and Sacrificial Practices: Structures of Common Heritage (Speech and Performance in the Veda and Avesta, III). In: J. Braarvig and M. J. Geller (eds). Studies in Multilingualism, Lingua Franca and Lingua Sacra. (accessed on 10.03.2024).

Schlerath, B. 1960. Das Königtum im Rig- und Atharvaveda: Ein Beitrag zur indogermanischen Kulturgeschichte. Wiesbaden: Steiner.

Schlerath, B. 1984. Zur Bedeutung von ved. śáṃsa- und aw. sə̄ngha-. In: S. D. Joshi (ed.). Amṛtadhāra: Professor R. N. Dandekar Felicitation Volume. Delhi: 371–375.

Schlerath, B. 1995. Georges Dumézil und die Rekonstruktion der indogermanischen Kultur 1. Teil. In: Kratylos 40: 1–48.

Schmidt, H.-P. 1992. The Place of Ṛgveda 4.42 in the Ancient Indian Royal Ritual. In: A. W. van den Hoek et al. (eds). Ritual, State and History in South Asia: Essays in Honour of J. C. Heesterman. Leiden: Brill: 323–349,

von Schroeder, L. 1908. Mysterium und Mimus im Rigveda. Leipzig: Haessel.

Selva, U. 2019. The Paippalādasaṃhitā of the Atharvaveda: New Critical Edition of the Three ‘New’ Anuvākas of Kāṇḍa 17, with English Translation and Commentary. Leiden–Torino: Universiteit Leiden–Università degli Studi di Torino.

Skjærvø, P. O. 2002. Praise and Blame in the Avesta: The Poet-Sacrificer and His Duties. In: Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 26: 29–67.

Thapar, R. 1984. From Lineage to State: Social Formations in the Mid-First Millennium B. C. in the Ganga Valley. Bombay–Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thite, G. U. 1975. Sacrifice in the Brāhmaṇa-Texts. Poona: University of Poona.

Weber, A. 1868. Indische Studien: Beiträge für die Kunde des indischen Alterthums, im Vereine mit mehreren Gelehrten. Vol. 10. Leipzig: Brockhaus.

Werba, C. H. 1997. Verba indoiranica: Die primären und sekundären Wurzeln der Sanskrit-Sprache. Wien: Verlag der Österreischischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

West, M. L. 2007. Indo-European Poetry and Myth. New York–Oxford: Oxford University Press,

Whitaker, J. L. 2011. Strong Arms and Drinking Strength: Masculinity, Violence and the Body in Ancient India. Oxford: Oxford University Press,

Whitney, W. D. and C. R. Lanman. 1905. Atharva-Veda Saṁhitā: Translated with a Critical and Exegetical Commentary by William Dwight Whitney […], Revised and Brought Nearer to Completion and Edited by Charles Rockwell Lanman. Vols. 1–2. Cambridge: Harvard University.

Witzel, M. 1984. Sur le chemin du ciel. In: Bulletin d’Études Indiennes 2: 213–279.

Witzel, M. 1987. The Case of the Shattered Head. In: Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik 13/14: 363–415.

Witzel, M. 1995. Early Sanskritization: Origins and Development of the Kuru State. In: Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies 1(4): 1–26.

Witzel, M. 1997a. The Development of the Vedic Canon and Its Schools: The Social and Political Milieu. In: M. Witzel (ed.). Inside the Texts, Beyond the Texts: New Approaches to the Study of the Vedas. Cambridge: Harvard University Press: 257–345.

Witzel, M. 1997b. Saramā and the Paṇis: Origins of Prosimetric Exchange in Archaic India. In: J. Harris and K. Reichl (eds). Prosimetrum: Crosscultural Perspectives on Narrative in Prose and Verse. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer: 387–409.

Witzel, M. 2005. Vala and Iwato: The Myth of the Hidden Sun in India, Japan, and Beyond. In: Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies 12(1): 1–69.




How to Cite

Rossi, Paola M. 2024. “Agonistic Scenes of the mahāvrata Rite: The Praiser-Abhigara and the Reviler-Apagara”. Cracow Indological Studies 26 (1):13-60.