Asvala was the hotri priest of Raja Janaka. Yajnavalkya was acclaimed rishi or scientist in those times. During a debate held in the court of Raja Janaka, Asvala raised several questions relating to Vedic Ritual to Yajnavalkya. The debate has been mentioned in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
Vedic Yajna or fire-sacrifice has four priests viz. Hotri, Adhvaryu, Udgatr and Brahma who pronounce Rig, Yajur, Sama & Atharva Vedic matras respectively.
Yajnavalkya explained the technical matters of the ritual, modalities and benefits of fire-sacrifice or Yajna. The questions rose by Asvala and explanations given by Yajnavalkya are mentioned as under:
Answer: It is not possible to escape death as long as the sacrificer considers himself as a human being. As long as this assertion of individuality is there and the Truth behind this individuality is not known, one cannot escape death. There should be, simultaneously, together with the sacrifice, a meditation. It is not enough if you merely offer oblations into the sacred fire during Yajna or give material objects in charity. Internal contemplation is necessarily to be associated with the sacrifice. All are four priests in a fire-sacrifice i.e. yajna and Yajmana cannot escape death unless they meditate that the principle of speech which is responsible for the recitation of the Mantra and the human beings. This knowledge is liberation. This is called Mokṣha. This is freedom from the trammels of death.
Answer: All perceptions are Yajnas are performed through the senses. The time factor is in the process of day and night. The moment you become one with the seeing principle i.e. sun, you are freed from death. And the time factor in the process of days and nights will not work there. In the sun, there is no day or night. This is how freedom from the operation of days and nights and the time element is achieved. This is freedom from the death.
Answer: The breath, the vital force, with the operation of which the chant of the Sama is made possible, should be regarded as the real chanter of the Sama. The reciter of the Sama Veda, can identify himself with the principle of breath and vital energy inside, and that vital energy be identified with the Cosmic Vital Force, in other words, if the meditation on Hiranyagarbha be conducted simultaneously with the sacrifice, then the priest can be freed from death.
Answer: If a sacrifice is merely a performance without a meditation, death cannot be escaped. But if the meditation is done simultaneously with the performance of the sacrifice by which the performers get identified with the deities at once, there would be a final harmonious adjustment of all the four conductors, in a unity of purpose which will culminate in the realization of the one Divinity, which is the aim of the sacrifice, and then, there will be no death.
5. In this sacrifice, how many Rig verses are used, and what types of verses are used? What is the purpose of this chant? What does he gain by it? Do you know what he will gain by the recitation of these Mantras which are of a very comprehensive nature?
Answer: The Hotr, the Rig Vedic priest, uses three types of verses viz. the introductory verses, the principal Mantras which are connected directly with the offering of the oblations and the Mantras which are having their concern with the results of the sacrifice, the glorification of the deity of the sacrifice called Sasya. These Mantras are forces which are released by a method of recitation, and these forces are directed to all those objects which can be regarded as living or non-living. So it is an all-powerful chant which can exercise a control over all beings and gain everything.
6. How many oblations are offered in the sacrifice the Adhvaryu, the Yajurvedic priest? What are those Mantras and what is the connection between these Yajurvedic Mantras that he chants and the results that he expects from the performance of the sacrifice?
Answer: There are three oblations which are offered along-with three types of Mantras. These will produce three kinds of effects. First type of Yajurvedic Mantras when recited causes the flames to flare up vertically in the direction of the sky or the heaven. Second type of Mantras in the Yajur Veda will cause the flames to make a roaring noise and they rush upwards as if a lion is opening his mouth. Third set of Yajurvedic Mantras will make the flames go down and bury themselves in the Yajna Kunda. When he recites Mantras which are capable of flaring up the flames vertically, they will produce a force which will take him to the celestial region. The celestial region shines like the flames that go upto the sky, deva-lokah; When he chants Mantras which will make the flames roar with gusto, they will produce a strength and a force and potential by which he will gain the Pitr Loka, or the world of the ancestors and When he chants Mantras which will make the flames go down and bury themselves in the pit, they will produce another kind of vibration which will make him a good human being in the next birth i.e. manusya-lokah.
7. Which is the deity, by the power of which Brahma, the Atharva Vedic priest protects this sacrifice? How many gods are there whom he resorts to for the protection of this Yajna that is being performed here?
Answer: There is only one God i.e. the mind of the Brahma, the priest. He conducts his mind in such a manner in respect of the purpose of the sacrifice that it becomes a force by itself. The mind can assume infinite forms through the functions that it performs. So the mind is identical with what is known as a group of celestials called the Visve-devahs (deities of universe). These are the protectors of the sacrifice. As a matter of fact, every god is nothing but one function of the mind. The Atharva Vedic priest raises himself to the status of an all-comprehensive force, by the very concentration that he practices.
8. What are the set of Mantras which the Udgatri, the Sama Vedic priest chants here and the purpose?
Answer: The Sama Vedic priest chants three types of Mantras – the introductory, the oblationary and the laudatory i.e. the Prana, the Apana and and Vyana respectively. He must meditate in a manner by which the vital breath within becomes the deity of the Samaveda. The whole earth can be governed by him, by the force generated by the introductory chant. The atmospheric world can be controlled by him by the recitation of the middle one. The heavenly world can be gained and controlled by him by the recitation of the third chant, namely, the laudatory one.
Asvala felt that every question was answered and that he could not put any further questions.