A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The professions of a qualified brähmaëa are paöhana, päöhana, yajana, yäjana, däna and pratigraha. The words yajana and yäjana mean that a brähmaëa becomes the priest of the populace for the sake of their elevation.
(Srila Prabhupada in Srimad Bhagawatam SB 6.7.35)
““Brahmanas generally used to become astrologers, Ayur-vedic physicians, teachers and priests.”
(Srila Prabhupada in Caiatanya-Caritamrta, Adi-lila 17.103)
Just like there are various subjects that a modern professor can specialize in, in Vedic times the Brahmanas, those situated in mode of goodness, would specialize in particular fields. Dronacarya, a famous brahmana during the battle of Kuruksetra five-thousand years ago, was a martial teacher. Mukunda, a companion of Lord Caitanya in Bengal five hundred years ago was a Ayur-vedic physician.
Similarly, the fire sacrifices or yajnas were performed by brahmanas specializing as yajnic brahmanas.
éje—worshiped; açvamedhaiù—by performing the horse sacrifice yajïas; adhiyajïam—to satisfy the master of all yajïas; éçvaram—the Supreme Personality of Godhead; mahä-vibhütyä—with great opulence; upacita-aìga-dakñiëaiù—with all prescribed paraphernalia and contributions of dakñiëä to the brähmaëas; tataiù—executed; vasiñöha-asita-gautama-
such brähmaëas as Vasiñöha, Asita and Gautama; dhanvani—in the desert;
abhisrotam—inundated by the water of the river; asau—Mahäräja Ambaréña;
sarasvatém—on the bank of the Sarasvaté.
In desert countries where there flowed the River Sarasvaté, Mahäräja Ambaréña performed great sacrifices like the açvamedha-yajïa and thus satisfied the master of all yajïas, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Such sacrifices were performed with great opulence and suitable paraphernalia and with contributions of dakñiëä to the brähmaëas, who were supervised by great personalities like Vasiñöha, Asita and Gautama, representing the king, the performer of the sacrifices.
When one performs ritualistic sacrifices as prescribed in the Vedas, one needs expert brähmaëas known as yäjïika-brähmaëas.
There were four kinds of yäjïika-brähmaëas.
“catuù-hotraka—of the four kinds of Vedic priests, known as hotä, adhvaryu, brahma and udgätä;”
(SB 7.3.30 Word to word translation)
“To perform a sacrifice successfully, at least four expert priests are needed: one who can offer (hota), one who can chant (udgata), one who can kindle the sacrificial fire without the aid of separate fire (adhvaryu), and one who can supervise (brahma). Such sacrifices were conducted from the birth of Brahma, the first living creature, and were carried on till the reign of Maharaja Yudhisthira.”
(SB 2.6.25 Purusa-sukta Confirmed)
Srila Prabhupada in Srimad Bhagawatam describes these yäjïika-brähmaëas as rtvik(pronouced-ritvik) for the duration of the sacrifice.
“Acting as Supersoul, the Lord gives inspiration to a suitable person to perform the Vedic ritualistic ceremonies. In this connection, four classes of priests, known as rtvik, are required. They are mentioned as hota, adhvaryu, brahma and udgata.”
(SB 7.3.30 P Hiranyakasipu's Plan to Become Immortal)
They have been used in sacrifices since the beginning of creation.
There is mention of rtviks in other famous sacrifices.
- sacrifice performed by Daksa. (SB Canto 4, Chapters 5-7)
- sacrifice performed by King Nabhi. (SB Canto 5 Chapter 3)
- King Prthu' s One Hundred Horse Sacrifices (SB Canto 4 Chapter 5)
- sacrifice performed by King Bharata (SB Canto 5 Chapter 7)
- sacrificial arena of Maharaj Bali (SB Canto 8 Chapter 8)
Generally for the sacrifice, the rtviks would work as assistants to an acarya-spiritual master.
“Sukadeva Gosvami said: Thereafter, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Ramacandra, accepted an acarya and performed sacrifices [yajnas] with opulent paraphernalia. Thus He Himself worshiped Himself, for He is the Supreme Lord of all demigods. Lord Ramacandra, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, performed various sacrifices by which to worship Himself, and at the end of these sacrifices He gave land to the hota, adhvaryu, udgata and brahma priests. He gave them the eastern, western, northern and southern directions respectively, and the balance He gave to the acarya. Thereafter, thinking that because the brahmanas have no material desires they should possess the entire world, Lord Ramacandra delivered the land between the east, west, north and south to the acarya.”
(SB 9.11.1-3 Lord Ramacandra Rules the World)
“One should satisfy the spiritual master [acarya], who is very learned in Vedic literature, and should satisfy his assistant priests [known as hota, udgata, adhvaryu and brahma]. One should please them by offering them clothing, ornaments and cows. This is the ceremony called visnu-aradhana, or worship of Lord Visnu. O most auspicious lady, one should perform all the ceremonies under the direction of learned acaryas and should satisfy them and their priests. By distributing prasada, one should also satisfy the brahmanas and others who have assembled. One should satisfy the spiritual master and assistant priests by giving them cloth, ornaments, cows and also some monetary contribution. And by distributing prasada one should satisfy everyone assembled, including even the lowest of men, the candalas [eaters of dog flesh].
(SB 8.16.53-55 Executing the Payo-vrata Process of Worship)
Note: If we look at the word-to-word translation of the verses 8.16.53-55 for the “priests”, Srila Prabhupada gives the following interesting translation.
“rtvijah--the priests recommended by the spiritual master”
“rtvigbhyah ca--and to the priests engaged by the spiritual master”
Please compare this with a conversation Srila Prabhupada had with his GBC disciples on 28th May 1977 in Vrindavan.
Satsvarupa: ... Then our next question concerns initiations in the future, particularly at that time when you're no longer with us. We want to know how first and second initiation would be conducted.
Prabhupada: Yes. I shall recommend some of you. After this is settled up, I shall recommend some of you to act as officiating acaryas.
Tamala Krsna: Is that called rtvik-acarya?
Prabhupada: Rtvik, yes.
Note the use of the word “recommend(ed)” .
Yajnic-brahmans were learned and respectable...
“Brahmanas generally used to become astrologers, Ayur-vedic physicians, teachers and priests. Although highly learned and respectable, such brahmanas went from door to door to distribute their knowledge.”
(Adi. 17.103 The Pastimes of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu in His Youth)
..and were offered daksina.
“The brahmanas and yajnika priests should be sufficiently paid for their expert service. This payment is called daksina.”
(SB 9.4.22 P Ambarisa Maharaja Offended by Durvasa Muni)
“One should satisfy the spiritual master and assistant priests by giving them cloth, ornaments, cows and also some monetary contribution.”
(SB 8.16.53-55 Executing the Payo-vrata Process of Worship)
The yajnic brahmanas acting as rtviks used to perform the sacrifice with their own assistants called sadasyas.
“After completing the sacrifice, Lord Parasurama gave the eastern direction to the hota as a gift, the south to the brahma, the west to the adhvaryu, the north to the udgata, and the four corners--northeast, southeast, northwest and southwest--to the other priests. He gave the middle to Kasyapa and the place known as Aryavarta to the upadrasta. Whatever remained he distributed among the sadasyas, the associate priests.
(SB 9.16.21-22 Lord Parasurama Destroys the World' s Ruling Class)
To be continued....tomorrow "Rtvik Part 2-The Modern Touch"
 Bengali Pronunciation is rittik