People who have never read Vedas often say that Vedas are full of animal sacrifice.
One may pose a question to all those lesser read ones: "Who taught you Vedas? Have you learnt Shiksha (Phonetics), Vyakarana (Grammar), Nirukta (Philology), Nighantu (Vocabulary), Chhanda (Prosody), Jyotish (Astronomy), Kalpa and so on that are critical for correct interpretation of the Vedas?"
Reproducing relevant info for everyone's benefit here: Yajna never meant animal sacrifice in the sense popularly understood. Yajna in the Vedas meant a noble deed or the highest purifying action.
Adhvara iti Yajnanaama – Dhvaratihimsaakarmaa tatpratishedhah Nirukta 2.7 According to Yaaska Acharya, one of the synonyms of Yajna in Nirukta or the Vedic philology is Adhvara. Dhvara means an act with himsa or violence. And therefore a-dhvara means an act involving no himsa or no violence. There are a large number of such usage of Adhvara in the Vedas.
In the post-Mahabharata period, misinterpretation of the Vedas and interpolations in other scriptures took place at various points in time. Acharya Shankar reestablished the Vedic values to an extent. In the more recent times, Swami Dayanand Saraswati – known as the grandfather of modern India – interpreted the Vedas as per the correct rules of the language and authentic evidences. His literature, which includes commentary on the Vedas, Satyarth Prakash loosely translated as Light of Truth, An Introduction to the Vedas and other texts led to widespread social reformation based on Vedic philosophy and dispelling of myths surrounding the Vedas. Let us discover what the Vedas have to say on Yajna. Agne yam yagnamadhvaram vishwatah pari bhuurasi Sa id deveshu gacchati Rigveda 1.1.4 O lord of effulgence! The non-violent Yajna, you prescribe from all sides, is beneficial for all, touches divine proportions and is accepted by noble souls.
The Rigveda describes Yajna as Adhvara or non violent throughout. Same is the case with all the other Vedas. How can it be then concluded that the Vedas permit violence or slaughter of animals? The biggest accusation of cattle and cow slaughter comes in the context of the Yajnas that derived their names from different cattle like the Ashwamedh Yajna, the Gomedha Yajna and the Nar-medh Yajna. Even by the wildest stretch of the imagination the word Medha would not mean slaughter in this context. It’s interesting to note what Yajurveda says about a horse
Imam ma himsirekashafam pashum kanikradam vaajinam vaajineshu Yajurveda 13.48 Do not slaughter this one hoofed animal that neighs and who goes with a speed faster than most of the animals.
Aswamedha does not mean horse sacrifice at Yajna. Instead the Yajurveda clearly mentions that a horse ought not to be slaughtered. In Shathapatha, Ashwa is a word for the nation or empire The word medha does not mean slaughter. It denotes an act done in accordance to the intellect Alternatively it could mean consolidation, as evident from the root meaning of medha i.e. medhru san-ga-me Raashtram vaa ashwamedhah Annam hi gau Agnirvaa ashwah Aajyam medhah (Shatpath 188.8.131.52)
Swami Dayananda Saraswati wrote in his Light of Truth: A Yajna dedicated to the glory, well being and prosperity of the Rashtra the nation or empire is known as the Ashwamedh yajna.
“To keep the food pure or to keep the senses under control, or to make the food pure or to make a good use of the rays of Sun or keep the earth free from impurities[clean] is called Gomedha Yajna”. “The word Gau also means the Earth and the yajna dedicated to keep the Earth the environment clean is called Gomedha Yajna” “The cremation of the body of a dead person in accordance with the principles laid down in the Vedas is called Naramedha Yajna”."
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