Manusmriti (II.39) notes that over time, dwija who remain uninitiated and become vratya, fallen from Savitri and left out by the aarya: ata uurdhvam trayo apy ete yathaakaalam asamskrtaah saavitripatitaa vraatyaa bhavanty aaryavigarhitaah. Some scholars , however , suggest, Vratya does not necessarily denote a person who has not undergone upanayana samskara; but, it refers to one who does not offer Soma sacrifice or keep the sacred fire(agnihotra).


Vratyakaanda of AV refer to vratya worshipping Rudra, the wind divinity. Vratya gave the knowledge and tradition of both Pitryaana (Path of the fathers) and devayaana (Path of the divinities) (AV XV.12.4-5, 8-9). Yajnavalkya recognized this tradition. Vratya world-view is that of four quarters of the universe (AV XV.2.1-4) and a Cosmic person (AV XV.18). Vratya interactions with Mesopotamia  may explain a few Akkadian words in the Atharva Veda, the concept of the Purushasukta. Vratya asidiyamana eva sa prajapatim samaisyat (AV 15.1-4)(loc.cit. Hiralal Jain, Jainism in Buddhist literature, fn14:  notes that Pali literature (Theragaatha) also refers vratyas. Cf. Ananda Guruge, Vidyodaya Lipi, Colombo, 1962, p. 71, where arguments are adduced to prove that vratyas of an Eastern India were survivals of the Indus valley civilization).

S. Kalyanaraman

9 Oct. 2009 kalyan97@gmail.com


Srinivasa Rao Subbanna’s detailed account (August 2008) on vratya contain many insights, excerpted below:

The Rig Veda mentions Vratyas about eight times (e.g. 3:26:6; 5:53:11; 5:75:9; 9:14:2); and five groups of the Vratyas are collectively called pancha-vrata (10:34:12)…

The Rig Veda, generally, employs the term Vratya  to denote: breakaway group or an inimical horde or a collection of men of indefinite number; living in temporary settlements.The Atharva- Veda too, uses the word in the sense of a stranger or a guest or one who follows the rule; but, treats it with a lot more respect.

The Jaiminiya Brahmana (2:222) describes  Vratyas   as ascetics roaming about themselves in an intoxicated state. The Tandya (24:18) however addresses them as divine-Vratyas (daiva vai vratyah). The Vajasaneyi-samhita refers to them as physicians and as guardians of truth. They seem to have been a community of ascetics living under a set of strange religious vows (Vrata).

Interestingly, Shiva–Rudra is described as Eka –Vratya (AV

The Atharva Veda (15.2.a) makes a very ambiguous statement: "Of him in the eastern quarter, faith is the harlot, Mitra the Magadha, discrimination is the garment, etc.....” in the southern quarter Magadha is the mantra of the Vratya; in the other two quarters  Magadha is the laughter and the thunder of the Vratya. (Mitra, maAtm, hasa and stanayitnii). It is not clear what this statement implies.But it is taken to mean that the Magadha tribes were friends, advisers and thunder (strong supporters) of the Vratyas. 

The implication of this is rather interesting. The breakaway group from among the Vedic people (including the pre Vedic tribes), that is, the  Vratyas left their mainland and roamed over to the East; and ultimately settled in the regions of Magadha, where they found friends and supporters…

The Vratyas roamed about, mostly, in the regions to the East and North-west of the Madhyadesha, that is, in the countries of Magadha and Anga They spoke the dialect of Prachya, the source of the languages of Eastern India. They lived alone or in groups, away from populated areas. They followed their own cult-rules and practices. They drifted far and wide; roamed from the Indus valley to banks of the Ganga. They were the wandering seekers.

[According to Mahamahopadhyay Haraprasad Sastri, the vast territory to the South of the Ganga and North of the Vindhya ranges extending from Mudgagiri (Monghyr) in the East to the Charanadri (Chunar) in the West was called the land of Magadha tribes. The Anga region was around Bhagalpur area.] 

The Kesi-suktha of Rig Veda (10:13:6) and vratya- suktha Atharva Veda (15th kanda), carry graphic descriptions of these magis, the Vratyas.

They were distinguished by their black turbans (krishnam ushnisham dharayanti), a set of round ornaments for the ears (pravartau),a jewel (mani) hanging by the neck, rows of long necklaces of strange beads swinging across the chest , two(dvi) deer-skins tied together for lower garment, and sandals for the feet (upanahau), so on. They wore long and often matted hair (kesi).They used a peculiar type of reclining seats (asandi)…

They did not care either for the rituals or for initiations (adhikshitah); and  not at all for celibacy (Na hi brahmacharyam charanthi).They did not engage themselves in agriculture (Na krshim) or in trade (Na vanijyam).They behaved as if they were possessed (gandharva grithaha)…

The Atharva Veda (Vratya Kanda) mentions that Vratyas were also a set of talented composers and singers…They learnt to live in harmony with nature. There is, therefore, a school of thought, which asserts, what came to be known as Yoga in the later periods had its roots in the ascetic and ecstatic practices of the Vratyas. And, the Vratyas were, therefore, the precursors of the later ascetics and yogis. 

It is said, the theoretical basis for transformation of cult-practices into a system (Yoga) was provided by the Samkhya School. Tantra thus yoked Samkhya and Yoga. Over a long period, both Samkhya and Yoga schools merged with the mainstream and came to be regarded as orthodox (asthika) systems, as they both accepted the authority of the Vedas…

Interestingly, Arada Kalama, the teacher of Gotama who later evolved in to the Buddha, belonged to Samkhya School. Gotama had a teacher from the Jain tradition too; he was Muni Pihitasrava a follower of Parsvanatha. The Buddha later narrated how he went around naked, took food in his palms and observed various other rigorous restrictions expected of a Sramana ascetic. The Buddha followed those practice for some time and gave them up, as he did not find merit in extreme austerities.  The Buddha, the awakened one, was a Yogi too. His teachings had elements of old-yoga practices such as askesis (self- discipline), control, restraint, release and freedom. The early Buddhism, in fact, preserved the Yogi – ideal of Nirvana… 

The term Vratya, in the Jaina context, means the observer of vratas or vows…The Vedic and the Jain traditions both glorify certain Kings who also were great religious Masters. In the Hindu tradition, Lord Rsabha - son of King Nabhi and Merudevi, and the ancestor of Emperor Bharata (after whom this land was named Bharatavarsha) is a very revered figure. The Rig Veda and Yajur Veda, too, mention Rishabhadeva and Aristanemi. According to the Jain tradition Rishabhadeva is the first Tirthankara of the present age(avasarpini); and, Aristanemi is the twenty-second Tirthankara.

The Jain tradition refers to Rishabhadeva as Maha-Vratya, to suggest he was the great leader of the Vratyas.

Further, the Mallas, in the northern parts of the present-day Bihar, were a brave and warlike people; and were one of the earliest independent republics (Samgha), and were a part of a confederation of eight republics (atthakula)  until they were vanquished and absorbed into the Magadha Empire, at about the time of the Buddha. The Mallas were mentioned as Vratya - Kshatriyas.

Similarly, their neighboring tribe, the Licchhavis who played a very significant role in the history and development of Jainism were also called as the descendents of Vratya-Kshatriyas. Mahavira was the son of a Licchhavi princess; and he had a considerable following among the Licchhavi tribe.

The Buddha too visited Licchhavi on many occasions; and had great many followers there. The Licchhavis were closely related by marriage to the Magadhas.

Apasthamba (ca. 600 BCE), the Lawgiver and the celebrated mathematician who contributed to development of Sulbasutras, refers to Vratya as a learned mendicant Brahmin, a guest (athithi) who deserves to be welcomed and treated with respect. Apasthamba, in support of that, quotes sentences to be addressed by the host to his guest from the passages in Atharva Veda (15:10-13).

According to Atharva Veda, Vratya is a srotriya, a student of the scriptures, (of at least one recension), and a learned person faithful to his vows (vratas). In summary, the passages ask:

” Let the king , to whose house the Vratya who possesses such knowledge comes as a guest , honor him as superior to himself, disregarding his princely rank or his kingdom.

 Let him, to whose house the Vratya possessing such knowledge comes as a guest, rise up of his own accord to meet him, and say “Vratya, where didst thou pass the night? Vratya, here is water; let it refresh thee.Vratya let it be as thou pleasest. Vratya, as thy wish is so let be it done.”

 [From Hymns of the Atharva Veda, by Ralph T.H. Griffith…Hymn x and xi of Book 15]

Manusmriti (verse X.20)  also informs that those whom the twice-born  (Brahmin , Kshatriya and Vaishya ) beget from  wives of equal caste, but who, not fulfilling their sacred duties, are excluded from the Savitri (initiation), must also designate by the appellation Vratyas.

The smritis provided a provision for purification of the errant persons through a ritual (vratya stoma)…

That synthesis was symbolized when the post Vedic tradition hailed and worshipped its god Ganapathy with the joyous chant Namo Vratapataye –salutations to the chief of the Vratyas.( Ganapaty-atharva-shirsha)

*.Vratya stoma ceremonies were performed before anointment and coronation of kings, in the middle ages. For instance, Shivaji went throughVratya stoma and upanayana ceremonies, on May 29, 1674, before he was crowned.

*. Even as late as in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Hindus returning from foreign lands were purified through Vratya stoma.

*.Dr. S. Radhakrishnan stated that individuals and tribes were absorbed in to Hinduism through vratyastoma. (The Hindu View of Life)

*.Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami cites many instances of people forcibly converted to other faiths re -admitted to Hinduism and issuedVratya stoma certificates.

 Sources and references:

Early Indian Thought by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao

http://www.jainworld.com/jainbooks/Books/ARHAT.htm 'The Path of Arhat: A Religious Democracy' by Justice T. U. Mehta

http://www.jainworld.com/jainbooks/life%20&legacy%20of%20mahavira/CHAPTER%20I.pdf  Jaina Tradition and Buddhism:

http://jainsamaj.org/literature/atharvaveda-171104.htm RSABHA IN THE ATHARVAVEDA by Dr. Satya Pal Narang

http://www.bihar.ws/info/History-of-ancient-Bihar/Mention-of-Magadha-in-vedic-literature.html Mention of Magadha in Vedic Literature

http://www.sanathanadharma.com/samskaras/sources.htm SanatanaDharma –sources


Sanathana Dharma - Vratya

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/av/av15011.htm Hymns of the Atharva Veda, by Ralph T.H. Griffith…Hymn x and xi of Book 15


Does Hinduism Accept Newcomers? Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami