Talking About Rajasuya Sacrifices

[Bhima killing Jarasandha]“Unless we are victorious over all the kings, no one can perform this Rajasuya sacrifice. In other words, it is to be understood that King Yudhishthira cannot perform this great sacrifice without gaining victory over the belligerent King Jarasandha. The Rajasuya sacrifice can only be performed by one who has gained victory over all directions. Therefore, to execute both purposes, we first of all have to kill Jarasandha.” (Uddhava speaking to Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 16)

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Friend-One: I heard an interesting question today relating to kshatriyas and certain things they would do in ancient times.

Friend-Two: Kshatriya is an interesting word. You don’t really have that combination of letters in English words, so it makes it difficult to pronounce. The meaning is significant, though.

F1: It’s a warrior, right? Someone within the second of the four orders in the varnashrama system.

F2: Yes, but the root of the word has a specific meaning. It consists of the two terms “kshat” and “trayate.” The first means “injury” and the second means “to protect against.” So the kshatriya is one who protects against injury.

F1: Okay, that’s a perfect segue into the question I was asked. As you say, the person in the warrior occupation is supposed to protect against injury. Shouldn’t that also mean they don’t cause unnecessary injury to others?

F2: Absolutely.

F1: Aggression is good if you’re protecting, but if you use your powers for evil then the opposite situation results. It’s sort of like what we learn in those Karate Kid movies. Mr. Miyagi is expert at karate, but you rarely see him fight. He only defends.

[Mr. Miyagi]F2: Yeah, you have no disagreement from me here.

F1: So this is the issue. If you read Vedic texts like the Mahabharata and Shrimad Bhagavatam you’ll come upon something called the rajasuya sacrifice.

F2: Oh, yes. That is considered very auspicious. A king who can pull that off is truly special.

F1: That’s how I’ve always known it to be. King Yudhishthira famously performed at it the urging of Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So though it was an act of karma within the system of varna and ashrama, it also qualified as bhakti, or love and devotion.

F2: Because it was done directly at God’s request. The same goes for the Bharata War and the fighting of the Pandavas. The Bhagavad-gita has this issue as its setting. It’s the seemingly paradoxical situation. You have war and you have God. He speaks the highest wisdom, that which transcends bodily designations that change with the passing of time. Yet Krishna still urges Arjuna to fight. Trying to understand that is difficult.

[Krishna and Arjuna rushing on chariot]F1: Well, it looks like you’re trying to answer my question before I ask it.

F2: You were going to ask how fighting can be pious? How can a kshatriya make spiritual advancement if they are involved in killing people?

F1: No, I think I got that down. The Kauravas were the aggressors in the Bharata War. They had illegally taken their cousins’ property. The Pandavas were merely defending righteousness. It’s not that difficult to understand. This question is about the Rajasuya sacrifice in particular.

F2: Okay.

F1: From what I’ve read, the way it’s performed is to first have all the neighboring kings admit to the supremacy of the king doing the sacrifice. If they refuse to yield, they must fight. This is what makes the sacrifice difficult and risky. The king must be able to successfully defend against any other king who challenges his supremacy.

F2: Yeah. If you ponder the matter seriously, you’ll see why the sacrifice is so pious. If you try to put yourself in the shoes of the king, you’ll understand why the Rajasuya sacrifice was performed.

F1: Well, this is the question I was asked that I am now forwarding to you. In recorded history, we have so many examples of aggressors. There’s Alexander the Great, the British Empire, the crimes committed against the Native Americans, slavery with Africans – the list goes on. Isn’t the Rajasuya sacrifice similar to this? Isn’t demanding that other kings pay tribute akin to taking over their lands?

F2: It’s not. The king here is not taking over lands. They are giving protection, first and foremost. The king is the ideal leader. To protect against injury, a kshatriya must be able to fight valiantly against anyone who challenges them. The king is the top kshatriya. In other words, he is the best at protecting the bodies of others.

F1: But where is the protection with the Rajasuya sacrifice? It seems contradictory. It is forced aggression, not defense.

F2: You are mistaken. The way you asked the question actually gives the answer, but you don’t see it.

F1: Please explain.

F2: You told me that history is riddled with tragedies relating to greedy rulers. These empires wanted to expand. They wanted to exploit the natural resources in other areas of the world. In the case of slavery, they wanted to take advantage of an entire race of people to get free labor.

F1: Yeah.

F2: Well, do you actually want to do anything to prevent that? Or would you rather just cry about it for eternity?

F1: What do you mean?

F2: What is preventing the same things from happening right now? If you know all of this has happened in the past, it must mean that it will happen again in the future. People haven’t changed all that much. The animal activities are still the same: eating, sleeping, mating and defending.

F1: I never thought about it that way.

F2: If you had powerful leaders who were capable of performing Rajasuya sacrifices, things like that would never have happened. You know there are going to be aggressors; that you have already established with your question. You fail to see the other side. How will you defend yourself against those aggressors?

F1: How is a Rajasuya sacrifice going to accomplish that, though?

[Bhima killing Jarasandha]F2: Take the case of Maharaja Yudhishthira. One of the kings he had to conquer was named Jarasandha. Krishna’s cousin Uddhava rightly advised that before even thinking of doing the Rajasuya sacrifice, Jarasandha would have to be taken out.

F1: He was killed by Bhima, right? That is Yudhishthira’s brother.

F2: Jarasandha was a great aggressor. He attacked Krishna and His kingdom repeatedly, only to fail each time. Under the pretense of Jarasandha’s attacks, the underwater city of Dvaraka was built. So by conquering Jarasandha, a dangerous aggressor was removed. This was part of the Rajasuya process.

F1: I see.

F2: Vedic philosophy is not based on bodily distinctions. It does not put practices into place that lay the foundation for blaming this group or that after the fact. The Rajasuya and other such things are for the defense of all innocent people. The kshatriya who risks his life to defend his people earns great merit. Even if he dies on the battlefield, he is guaranteed a place in the heavenly realm. Those who follow varnashrama make advancement in a gradual way. They follow the duties prescribed to them that allow society to function peacefully.

F1: So the Rajasuya sacrifice is basically a material thing?

[Maharaja Yudhishthira]F2: Yes. Everything can be either material or spiritual. There is the spiritual act of offering food to Krishna with love and devotion. But if you make the offering because you want to enjoy so much good food, you don’t get the benefit. Similarly, if you use the duties of your occupation as a way to satisfy your lust, then you don’t get the benefit. Therefore following Krishna and His representative is always the safest play. This is what makes Yudhishthira and his Rajasuya sacrifice special.

In Closing:

Ways of Rajasuya sacrifice made,

Obeisances by all kings to be paid.


Not way for dominion to extend,

Meant for innocent to properly defend.


Like Jarasandha people attacking,

Devotion for Bhagavan Krishna lacking.


By pious Bhima then taken out,

Material desires this without.

Categories: conversations

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1 reply

  1. Respected Sir,

    Thank you for sharing this article. While you discuss the episode of Jarasandha and it is totally correct the actions taken against him, in the light of the fact that he forcibly abducted kings for human sacrifice. My concerns about the idea behind Rajsuya take negative turn in the Digvijaya parva. Pandavas engage in battle with over 20 kings across the length and breadth of the country, friends and foes alike, not everyone was Adharmic, there was Bhagdutta etc, family friends, all were engaged in war if they did not agree to Yudhishthir being the samrat. How is that justifiable ? They might not be killing kings are re-establishing them after the battle, but when you attack a kingdom with your four fold army, army men will surely die. What about them ? Is god only for the rich and powerful ? Is the life of soldiers not dear to the creator that they can die like ants only so that Yudhishthir secures a position by force ?

    Please share your thoughts.


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