purohita पुरोहित

Definition: (‘Placed in front,’ ‘appointed’) is the name of a priest in the Rigveda and later. The office of Purohita is called Purohiti and Purodhā. It is clear that the primary function of the Purohita was that of ‘ domestic priest ’ of a king, or perhaps a great noble; his quite exceptional position is shown by the fact that only one Purohita seems ever to be mentioned in Vedic literature. Examples of Purohitas in the Rigveda are Viśvāmitra or Vasiçtha in the service of the Bharata king,.Sudās. of the Trtsu family; the Purohita of Kuruśravana; and Devāpi, the Purohita of Santanu. The Purohita was in all religious matters the alter ego of the king. In the ritual it is laid down that a king must have a Purohita, else the gods will not accept his offerings. He ensures the king's safety and victory in battle by his prayers; he procures the fall of rain for the crops j he is the flaming fire that guards the kingdom. Divodāsa in trouble is rescued by Bharadvāja; and King Tryaruna Traidhātva Aikçvāka reproaches his Purohita, Vj?śa Jāna, when his car runs over a Brahmin boy and kills him. The close relation of king and Purohita is illustrated by the case of Klltsa Aurava, who slew his Purohita, UpagfU Sauśravasa, for disloyalty in serving Indra, to whom Kutsa was hostile. Other disputes between kings and priests who officiated for them are those of Janam- ejaya and the Kaśyapas, and of Viśvantara and the śyā- parnas;lβ and between Asamāti and the Gaupāyanas. In some cases one Purohita served more than one king; for example, Devabhāg a Srautarṣa was the Purohita of the Xufus and the Sfñjayas at the same time, and Jala Jātū- karnya was the Purohita of the kings of Kāśi, Videha, and Kosala. There is no certain proof that the office of Purohita was hereditary in a family, though it probably was so. At any rate, it seems clear from the relations of the Purohita with King Kuruśravana, and with his son Upamaśravas, that a king would keep on the Purohita of his father. Zimmer thinks that the king might act as his own Purohita, as shown by the case of King Viśvantara, who sacrificed without the help of the śyāparṇas, and that a Purohita need not be a priest, as shown by the case of Devāpi and śantanu. But neither opinion seems to be justified. It is not said that Viśvantara sacrificed without priests, while Devāpi is not regarded as a king until the Nirukta, and there is no reason to suppose that Yāska's view expressed in that work is correct. According to Geldner, the Purohita from the beginning acted as the Brahman priest in the sacrificial ritual, being there the general superintendent of the sacrifice. In favour of this view, he cites the fact that Vasiṣtha is mentioned both as Purohita and as Brahman: at the sacrifice of Sunahśepa he served as Brahman, but he was the Purohita of Sudās; Bṛhaspati is called the Purohita and the Brahman of the gods; and the Vasisthas who are Purohitas are also the Brahmans at the sacrifice. It is thus clear that the Brahman was often the Purohita; and it was natural that this should be the case when once the Brahman’s place became, as it did in the later ritual, the most important position at the sacrifice. But the Brahman can hardly be said to have held this place in the earlier ritual; Oldenberg seems to be right in holding that the Purohita was originally the Hotr priest, the singer par excellence, when he took any part at all in the ritual of the great sacrifices with the Rtvijs. So Devāpi seems clearly to have been a Hotr; Agni is at once Purohita and Hotr; and the two divine Hotṛs ’ referred to in the Apr! litanies are also called the ‘two Purohitas.’ Later, no doubt, when the priestly activity ceased to centre in the song, the Purohita, with his skill in magic, became the Brahman, who also required magic to undo the errors of the sacrifice. There is little doubt that in the original growth of the priest¬hood the Purohita played a considerable part. In historical times he represented the real power of the kingship, and may safely be deemed to have exercised great influence in all public affairs, such as the administration of justice and the king’s conduct of business. But it is not at all probable that the Purohita represents, as Roth and Zimmer thought, the source which gave rise to caste. The priestly clcss is already in existence in the Rigveda (see Varṣa).

Dictionary: vedic_index
Literary Sources: