Human Sacrifices In Hindu Dharma

1. Introduction

1.1 Human Sacrifices

Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more humans as part of a ritual, which is usually intended to please or appease gods…”

Human Sacrifices In Hindu Dharma

Purushamedha (or Naramedha) is a Śrauta ritual of human sacrifice. The Vajasaneyi Samhita-Sataphana Brahmana-Katyayana Srauta Sutra sequence of Shukla Yajur Veda texts contains the most details.”  –Wikipedia

“Purusha” and “Nara” = ‘man/human’

“Medha” and “Bali” = ‘Sacrifice’

Purushamedha is still practised today,

• According to CBS news, over 100 cases of human sacrifices have been reported in India from 2014 to 2021, with five men arrested for carrying out a sacrifice in a Hindu temple in 2019, and two people beheading themselves with a guillotine as a sacrifice in 2023. –Wikipedia • In 2002, the BBC reported on the revival of the practice of human sacrifices at the Kamakhya Temple, one of India’s holiest pilgrimage sites near the state capital Guwahati. The sacrifices are conducted at midnight on the day of Ashtami during the 10-day autumnal Durga Puja dedicated to the Mother Goddess Shakti. Research indicates that human sacrifice at Kamakhya was first revived 75 years ago but was later discontinued, with effigies being used instead. However, reports in the news suggest that human sacrifices continue to be practiced despite the use of effigies.  –BBC • In 2012, The Hindustan Times reported the discovery of a man’s severed head in a bag on a road leading to the temple. Alongside the head was a paper containing religious hymns written on it.  –The Hindustan Times • In March of 2017, the BBC reported on the sacrifice of a 10-year-old to allegedly cure another man who was paralyzed.  –BBC • According to The Hindu in 2015, Jivan Kohar, a 10-year-old boy, had gone missing. On the same day, a neighbor hosted a gathering of villagers where they claimed that their own son was possessed by evil spirits and needed a human sacrifice to cure him. Tragically, the boy’s body was later discovered on the banks of a river in Kudiya, a farming village near the Indian border. His throat had been slit.  –The Hindu • News24 reported on an incident where an Indian witch doctor beheaded a toddler in a human sacrifice ritual dedicated to a Hindu goddess. In response to the gruesome murder, angry villagers in Andhra Pradesh state’s Prakasam district tied the 35-year-old suspect to a tree and set him on fire. The report, as mentioned by the Times of India, stated that the suspect had abducted the child and after decapitating him, offered his blood to Hindu goddess Kali, believing that he would gain occult powers and wealth through the sacrifice.  –News24 • Acting on the instructions of the tantrik, the couple orchestrated the kidnapping of a 6-year-old neighbor last month. As the tantrik led them in chanting mantras, they mutilated and killed the child, Monu Kumar, on the bank of an irrigation canal, as mentioned in the police report. Murti Simaru reportedly completed the fertility ritual by washing herself in the child’s blood.  –Washington Post • The NZHerald reported in October 2016 that a 4-year-old girl went missing from her home in the Charaideo district of upper Assam, India. Tragically, the child’s body was found with her head decapitated, and her arms had been severed. This horrifying incident occurred because a 14-year-old girl who lived in the same village had lost her phone and wanted it back. As a result, her parents offered a human sacrifice to supposedly retrieve the lost phone.  –NZHerald

• According to Daily Bhakshar in 2013, a tragic incident occurred in the Vidarbah area of Maharashtra where a 10-year-old girl named Sapna was killed by her grandmother, Yashodabai Pandurang. Shockingly, Yashodabai not only killed Sapna but also drank her blood and bathed in it, all in an attempt to seek the blessings of a goddess.  –Daily Bhakshar

• In November 2014, a man abducted the nine-year-old son of an acquaintance, killed him and ate his body parts to acquire “special powers” to recover “hidden treasures”, according to the Indian Express.  –Indian Express

More often than not, children are the victims of these human sacrifices, and the perpetrators are usually someone known to the child, including family members. Countless reports about human sacrifices have emerged in the news, providing evidence that the practice is still prevalent in India today. Numerous reports can be found on various websites, and a simple Google search yields a never-ending list of such cases.

1.2 Cannibalism

Human cannibalism is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh or internal organs of other human beings. A person who practices cannibalism is called a cannibal. The meaning of “cannibalism” has been extended into zoology to describe an individual of a species consuming all or part of another individual of the same species as food, including sexual cannibalism.  –Wikipedia

Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22). Wood engraving, published in 1862.

The Aghori are Indian ascetics who believe that eating human flesh confers spiritual and physical benefits, such as prevention of aging. They claim to only eat those who have voluntarily granted their body to the sect upon their death, but an Indian TV crew witnessed one Aghori feasting on a corpse discovered floating in the Ganges and a member of the Dom caste reports that Aghori often take bodies from cremation ghats (or funeral pyres).  –Wikipedia

2. Human Sacrifices (Purushamedha)

Sacrificing humans to ensure victory in battle,

📚Agni Purana 125.49-50📚
I shall describe rites relating to fire which ensures victory in battle etc. The votary should remain nude, have the tuft untied, face the south and offer human flesh, blood and poison mixed with chaff of grain, pieces of bone as oblations to fire kindled with logs of wood at the cremation ground in the night uttering the name of the enemy one hundred and eight times. “Oṃ obeisance to Goddess Kaumāri! (You) dally, (You) coax! O Ghaṇṭādevī! (You) kill this person at once. Obeisance to you O Goddess of knowledge! Oblations.” By oblations made with this formula the enemy gets fettered. Oṃ! One having a hardy frame! One having a fierce mouth! One possessing a tawny complexion! One having a dreadful face! One possessing erect hairs! One having great strength! One possessing a red face! One having the lightning as the tongue! Most fierce! Possessing large teeth! Having dreadful form! One who strikes very firmly (at the battle)! One who built the bridge to the city of Laṅkā! The carrier of the mountain! One who moves about in the ethereal space! You come O lord! Possessor of great strength! Valiant! The Bhairava makes known (his presence). O Great Raudra (fierce) you come! You encircle this person with the long tail, pierce and trample him. Hrūṃ phaṭ. O Goddess! (oblation should be made) one hundred and thirty-eight times (with the above). Hanumat (monkey-faced god) accomplishes all acts. The enemies get routed on seeing Hanumat in the picture.”  (source)

Sacrificing humans to get a good progeny,

📚Padma Purana 4.12.6-22📚
O king, I shall tell you in brief the cause of a son’s birth about which you have asked me. Listen attentively. O best king, perform the sacrifice called Naramedha. Then you will have progeny endowed with all (good) characteristics. O preceptor, O brāhmaṇa, tell me by bringing what kind of man I shall perform the great human sacrifice, the best among sacrifices. If a man has a handsome body, a charming face and is proficient in all sacred texts, then he is fit for sacrifice. He who is crippled, has a black complexion, is a fool, would not be fit (for sacrifice).”  (source)

Sacrificing humans to satisfy the deities,

📚Mahabharata 9.50📚
The intelligent Devala then saw him proceed from those regions of persons performing sacrifices by killing animals to that pure region which is worshipped by the very gods. Devala next saw the mendicant proceed to the place of those ascetics that perform the sacrifice called Caturmasya and diverse others of the same kind. Thence he proceeded to the region belonging to the performers of the Agnishtoma sacrifice. Devala then saw his guest repair to the place of those ascetics that perform the sacrifice called Agnishutta. Indeed, Devala next saw him in the regions of those highly wise men that perform the foremost of sacrifices, Vajapeya, and that other sacrifice in which a profusion of gold is necessary. Then he saw Jaigishavya in the region of those that perform the Rajasuya and the Pundarika. He then saw him in the regions of those foremost of men that perform the horse-sacrifice and the sacrifice in which human beings are slaughtered.”  (source)

The following verse says that Manu’s wife was sacrificed,

📚Shatapatha Brahmana📚
These two said, ‘God-fearing, they say, is Manu: let us two then ascertain!’ They then went to him and said: ‘Manu! we will sacrifice for thee!’ He said: ‘Wherewith?’ They said: ‘With this bull!’ He said: ‘So be it!’ On his (the bull’s) being killed the voice went from him. It entered into Manâvî, the wife of Manu; and when they heard her speak, the Asuras and Rakshas were continually being crushed. Thereupon the Asuras said to one another: ‘Hereby even greater evil is inflicted on us, for the human voice speaks more!’ Kilâta and Âkuli then said: ‘God-fearing, they say, is Manu: let us then ascertain!’ They went to him and said: ‘Manu! we will sacrifice for thee!’ He said: ‘Wherewith?’ They said: ‘With this thy wife!’ He said: ‘So be it!’ And on her being killed that voice went from her.”  (source)

Following two verses (below) from Shatapatha Brahmana illustrates how the essence of sacrifices went from humans to animals,

📚Shatapatha Brahmana📚
At first, namely, the gods offered up a man as the victim. When he was offered up, the sacrificial essence went out of him. It entered into the horse. They offered up the horse. When it was offered up, the sacrificial essence went out of it. It entered into the ox. They offered up the ox. When it was offered up, the sacrificial essence went out of it. It entered into the sheep. They offered up the sheep. When it was offered up, the sacrificial essence went out of it. It entered into the goat. They offered up the goat. When it was offered up, the sacrificial essence went out of it. It entered into this earth. They searched for it, by digging. They found it (in the shape of) those two (substances), the rice and barley: therefore even now they obtain those two by digging; and as much efficacy as all those sacrificed animal victims would have for him, so much efficacy has this oblation (of rice &c.) for him who knows this. And thus there is in this oblation also that completeness which they call ‘the fivefold animal sacrifice.”  (source)

📚Shatapatha Brahmana📚
A man (purusha) he slaughters first, for man is the first of animals; then a horse, for the horse comes after man; then a bull, for the bull (or cow) comes after the horse; then a ram, for the sheep comes after the cow; then a he-goat, for the goat comes after the sheep: thus he slaughters them according to their form, according to their excellence.”  (source)

📚Hymn to Kali Verse 19📚
O dark one, wondrous and excelling in every way, becomes the accomplishment of those worshippers who living in this world freely make offering to Thee in worship of the greatly satisfying flesh, together with hair and bones, of cats, camels, sheep, buffaloes, goats and men.”  (source)

📚Shatapatha Brahmana📚
He then lifts up the human head–he thereby exalts it–with, ‘Giver of a thousand thou art: for a thousand thee!’ a thousand means everything: thus, ‘the giver of everything, for everything (I bestow) thee!’. He then puts them (the heads) in (the fire-pan), first (that of) the man–having taken possession of the man by strength he sets him up;–the man in the middle; on both sides the other victims: he thus sets the man, as the eater, in the midst of cattle; whence man is the eater in the midst of cattle. These are the victims; separately he puts them down, separately he ‘settles’ them, and separately he pronounces the Sudadohas on them; for separate from one another are those animals. He then offers on the human head, sacrifice is offering: he thus makes man the one among animals fit to sacrifice; whence man alone among animals perform sacrifice.”  (source)

📚Shatapatha Brahmana📚
By means of the Purusha Nârâyana (litany), the Brahman priest (seated) to the right (south) of them, praises the men bound (to the stakes) with this sixteen-versed (hymn, Rig-v. X, 90, Vâg. S. XXXI, 1-16), ‘The thousand-headed Purusha, thousand-eyed, thousand-footed…–thus (he does) for the obtainment and the securing of everything, for everything here consists of sixteen parts, and the Purushamedha is everything: in thus saying, ‘So and so thou art, so and so thou art,’ he praises and thereby indeed magnifies him (Purusha); but he also thereby speaks of him, such as he is. Now, the victims had had the fire carried round them, but they were not yet slaughtered,– Then a voice said to him, ‘Purusha, do not consummate (these human victims): if thou wert to consummate them, man (purusha) would eat man.’ Accordingly, as soon as fire had been carried round them, he set them free, and offered oblations to the same divinities, and thereby gratified those divinities, and, thus gratified, they, gratified him with all objects of desire.”  (source)

📚Yajur Veda 30.1-22📚
OUR sacrifice, God Savitar! speed onward: speed to his share the sacrifice’s patron…For Brahman (Priesthood) he binds a Brahman to the stake; for Kshatra (Royalty) a Râjanya; for the Maruts a Vaisya; for Penance a Sûdra; for Darkness a robber; for Hell a homicide or a man who has lost his onsecrated fire; for Misfortune a eunuch; for Venality an Ayogû; for Kâma a harlot; for Excessive Noise a Mâgadha…Now he ties up the eight following variform men: one too tall, one too short, one too stout, one too thin, one too white, one too black, one too bald, one too airy. These must be neither Sûdras nor Brâhmans, and must be dedicated to Prajâpati.”  (source)

📚Mahabharata 14.3📚
O Yudhishthira, those that commit sins, can always free themselves from them through penance, sacrifice and gifts. O king, O foremost of men, sinful people are purified by sacrifice, austerities and charity. The high-souled celestials and Asuras perform sacrifices for securing religious merit; and therefore sacrifice are of supreme importance. It is through sacrifices that the high-souled celestials had waxed so wondrously powerful; and having celebrated rites did they vanquish the Danavas. Do you, O Yudhishthira, prepare for the Rajasuya, and the horse-sacrifice, as well as, O Bharata, for the Sarvamedha and the Naramedha.”  (source)

📚Mahabharata 9.50📚
He then saw him in the regions of those foremost of men that perform the horse-sacrifice and the sacrifice in which human beings are slaughtered.”  (source)

The Jain saint censured the sacrifices of the Vedas and expressed their disapproval to King Vena, highlighting the perceived evils associated with such rituals,

📚Padma Purana 2.37.32b-42📚
I shall tell you another fierce act (mentioned) in the Vedas. When a guest goes (i.e. arrives) to the house, a brahmana (kills and) cooks (the flesh of) a great bull; or O king of kings, he would feed the guest (with the flesh of) a goat. (They kill) a horse in a horse-sacrifice, and a bull in a bull-sacrifice; a man in a human sacrifice and goats in a Vajapeya sacrifice…”  (source)

📚Padma Purana 1.59.187-191a📚
Aditya (i.e. the Sun) well-settled in the twelve mouths is always pleased with him who puts a rudraksa with twelve mouths round his neck. He quickly obtains the fruit which one gets by a cow-sacrifice or a human sacrifice…”  (source)

📚Agni Purana 311.31-33📚
(Goddess) Śīgrā (Tvaritā) should be worshipped on a cloth or in an image or on the altar. It is said that hundred, thousand or ten thousand are the counts for the repetition (of the mantra) or oblation (with that). After having repeated thus as laid down one should offer oblation one lakh (times) with the fat and flesh of a buffalo or goat or the body of a man.”  (source)

📚Vamana Purana 50.15📚
There, wherein the eminent king Gaya had performed the horse sacrifice a hundred times completed with the payment of liberal presents, the human sacrifice a hundred times and a thousand times as also the Rajasuya sacrifice a thousand times.”  (source)

3. Cannibalism

📚Brahmanda Purana Lalita Mahatmya 12.65-69📚
Even if we flee, there is no place of refuge for us anywhere. Hence, we shall make a sacrificial pit one Yojana in breadth. Let it be splendid and dug perfectly well. We shall prepare the sacrificial fire in accordance with the injunction of a Mahayaga. O Suras, we shall then worship the greatest Sakti by means of Mahamamsa (great flesh i.e. human flesh). We shall become Brahman or we will be able to enjoy heaven.” On being told thus, the Devas with Indra as their leader duly performed Homa by chopping off the flesh, to the chanting of Mantras. When all the flesh of the victim had been dropped into the holy fire including feet and hands and when Devas were desirous of offering the entire body, an excellent huge mass of brilliant lustre appeared in front of them.”  (source)

📚Kalika Purana 35.11-17📚
Those who worship the deity with the wine kept in the vessel of Brahmakapal, sacrifice (food) with the flesh of the brain, sacrifice (food) with the flour of the brain, always drink blood; They wear sura (liquor) and ut (uprooted) skull in the yagyas. The crematorium Bhairav ​​is called Mahabhairav. That Bhairav ​​child is as bright as the sun, always adorned with eighteen arms, those with red-red eyes, always play in the group of heroines like Kaliprachanda etc. The one who eats the flesh of a burnt human being, adorned with bleeding arms, the one who eats blood (false food), always seated on the pretasan, the one with the huge mouth and the long lips, the one with the short legs and the one who plays the funny instrument, remains Bhairav.”  (source)

📚Manusmriti 10.105📚
Ajigarta, buffering from hunger, went forward to kill his son; and as he sought a remedy for hunger, he did not become tainted with sin.”  (source)