There are a number of references to the Ritvij priests in the Mimansa, and they are said to take part in a sacrifice at the desire of the Yajamana or the institutor of the sacrifice. They are four in number, Brahmana, Udgatr, Hotr, and Adhvaryu; and each of them again has three assistants. The assistants of the Brahmana are Brahmanachchansin, Agnidhra, and Potr; of the Udgatr, Prastotr, Pratihartr, and Subrahmanya; of the Hotr, Maitravaruna, Achchhavaka, and Grava-stut; and of the Adhvaryu, Prati-prasthatr, Neshtr, and Un-netr.
With regard to the principal Ritvij priests, the Mimansa has told us that the Brahmana refers to the intellect and the Adhvaryu to the ten senses of knowledge and action; and it has further been stated that the meaning of all can be obtained by means of the method of interpretation explained in the Mimansa. Indeed, this should apply not only to the principal priests, but to their assistants too.
In this connection we have observed that the four principal priests are really the four principal faculties of man, his intellect, ahankara or the I-as-an-actor, mind, and the senses; while the Yajamana or the institutor of the sacrifice is the soul, for whose sake all of them act. We have also stated that the three assistants of Brahmana or the intellect are the three remaining faculties of man, his ahankara, mind, and the senses; of the Udgatr or ahankara, the three remaining faculties, intellect, mind, and the senses; of Hotr the mind, the intellect, ahankara, and the senses; and of Adhvaryu or the senses, the intellect, ahankara and the mind.
The idea of all this obviously is that, when an action is performed at the bidding of the soul, that is, a conscious or deliberate action while the principal role may belong to any one of the four faculties of man, his intellect, ahankara, mind, or the senses they cannot act without the assistance of the remaining three. That is to say, all the four faculties of man are required to function in the performance of a deliberate action, though the principal role may belong to any one of them. Thus, when a person sees, while the principal role belongs to a sense of knowledge, the other three faculties also play their part.
We have observed that the Yajamana or the institutor of the sacrifice is the soul, which desires that an action should be performed; and, as it cannot act by itself, it has to make use of these faculties. The Yajamana is accordingly stated to engage these 'priests' and to 'pay' for what they do; and the Mimansa has explained that this 'payment' is meant to show that the work has been properly done, and that the faculties derive their share of satisfaction from it.
As we have been told that it is possible to find out the meaning of all these names, let us see how it can be done.
The word Ritvij is derived from the root Ri, which has a number of meanings, including "to pierce through, go toward, apply" etc., all of which imply action. The word Rita, derived from the same root, accordingly means "a sacred action". The word Ritvij is also derived from the root Yaj, which means "to sacrifice"; and sacrifice, as the Bhagavad Gita tells us, arises from action. The Ritvij priests may accordingly be said to be the devotees of action, and refer to the faculties of man that take part in it.
We have observed that the Mimansa has explained that the Brahmana refers to the intellect; and it may be of interest to point out that that is also one of the dictionary meanings of the word.
Similarly, we are told that the Adhvaryu priests are ten in number, and this number refers to the ten senses of knowledge and action. In this connection we have explained that the word is really derived from the root Dhvr, which, when properly analyzed, gives us the idea of the senses of knowledge and action.
The word Hotr is derived from the root Hu, which means "to sacrifice"; but as this does not explain the idea, we need to divide it into parts to understand its meaning. Hu (h, u) accordingly means "(h, the moon, a symbol of the mind) mind associated with (u) the senses of knowledge". Hotr would accordingly mean the mind associated with the senses of knowledge. We have a reference to the senses, because it is not easy to conceive of the mind entirely by itself and the "mind associated with, the senses of knowledge" gives us as good an idea of the mind as we can imagine. Indeed, the mind itself is sometimes spoken of as an organ of sense, the sixth sense; and it may be of interest to point out that Hotr is also a name of Siva, who is specially associated with the character of the mind, as has been explained elsewhere.
The word Udgatr is made up of (ud, ga, tr), of which the last is a suffix, as in the case of kartr etc., signifying an actor; and so we have to understand its meaning in the light of ud and ga. It usually means "a chanter of hymns"; and it would be permissible to infer that this should refer to ahankara or the I-as-an-actor, as being the chief actor or "singer of hymns". The same idea is, however, conveyed by the two parts of the word, ud and ga. The word ud has a number of meanings, and implies "superiority in place, pride, pre-eminence, power, motion upwards," etc. all of which can be associated with the idea of ahankara. Similarly, ga means not only 'singing', but also "to obtain, to pursue, to come into a state," etc. Udgatr would accordingly mean "(tr, a suffix denoting an actor) he who (ga) pursues (ud) pride"; and that may be said to be a description of ahankara, even as we find in the Bhagavad Gita.
Thus we might say that the four Ritvij priests, Brahmana, Udgatr, Hotr, and Adhvaryu refer to the four faculties of man, his intellect, ahankara, mind and the senses respectively. We have now to understand the meaning of the 'assistants' of the Ritvij priests.
Of the three assistants of a Brahmana, Brahmanachchansin is composed of two parts, Brahmanat-sansin; and the meaning is "(sansin) announcing, as arising (Brahmanat) from Brahmana (or what relates to a Brahmana or the intellect)". Now the Sankhya system tells us, and all others agree that what arises from Mahat or the intellect is ahankara or "the I-as-an-actor"; and so this may be said to be the meaning of the word.
The second assistant of a Brahmana is Agnidhra, (Agni, i, dhra) which means "(dhra or dhara) sustaining (i) the mind, associated with (Agni) the intellect". He refers, therefore, to the mind, associated with the intellect. We have already observed that we cannot think of the mind by itself, and so it needs to be associated with something else to be properly understood; and here it is associated with the intellect, as it is with the senses in the case of Hotr.
The third assistant of a Brahmana is Potr, (pa, u, tr) meaning "(tr, a suffix signifying an actor) he who refers to (u) the senses of knowledge, associated with (pa) the objects of the senses". As the senses of knowledge refer also to those of action, and one of them, the Tongue, is also a sense of action, Potr would refer to the senses of knowledge and action associated with their objects.
Thus we see that the three assistants of the Brahmana or the intellect are ahankara, mind, and the senses of knowledge and action.
Of the three assistants of Udgatr or ahankara (I-as-an-actor), the first is Prastotr; and this word is derived from Pra-stu, meaning "to praise before anything else". It would accordingly refer to the first manifest form of life, praised before anything else, and that can only be Mahat or the intellect, the first to arise from Prakrti.
The second assistant is Prati-hartr, meaning "(Prati) relating to (hartr) one who seizes or takes away, or one who severs or cuts off"; and that would obviously refer to the senses of knowledge and action whose function it is to do so.
The third assistant is Subrahmanya, (Su, brahmanya) meaning "(Su, good) goodness, associated with (brahmanya) what relates to a Brahmana or the intellect". As goodness is an essential element of desire, which is an attribute of the mind, it refers to the mind; and that would be the idea of the word, mind associated with the intellect. We have already explained that the mind needs to be associated with something else to be properly understood.
Thus the three assistants of Udgatr or ahankara (I-as-an-actor) are the intellect, senses, and the mind.
Of the three assistants of Hotr, Maitravaruna means "descended or derived from Mitra and Varuna". We have explained that Mitra refers to the intellect; while Varuna, the deity of the waters, refers to Nature or Prakrti. We have already explained that what, according to the systems of Hindu philosophy, is derived from the intellect is ahankara; and that is specially mentioned in the Sankhya, the system based on Nature as the supreme creator of the universe symbolized by the idea of Varuna. Hence Maitravaruna, or what is derived from Mitra and Varuna, is ahankara or the I-as-an-actor.
The second assistant is Achchha-vaka, achcha, v, a, ka meaning "(ka) the intellect (a) leading to or associated with (v) Nature (achcha) clearly". Hence, he refers to the intellect. The third assistant is Grava-stut, (g, r, a, va, stut) meaning "(g) the senses of knowledge and (r) the senses of action (a) associated with (a) Nature, conceived as (stut) a hymn of praise". He refers, therefore, to the senses of knowledge and action.
The three assistants of Hotr or the mind are accordingly ahankara, intellect, and the senses.
Of the three assistants of the Adhvaryu, the first is Pratiprasthatr, meaning "(prati) concerns (prasthatr) one who urges on"; and that would appear to refer to ahankara or the I-as-an-actor, whose function it is to urge one to action.
The second assistant is Neshtr. The nominative form of this word is Neshta, (na, ishta) and its meaning would be "(ishta, fem. of ishta) what is desired in association with (na) the senses of knowledge". As desire is an attribute of the mind, Neshtr would refer to the mind in association with the senses of knowledge; and we see again that the mind needs to be associated with something else.
The third assistant is Un-netr, which is derived from Un-ni, meaning "to infer, discover by inference". As this is a special function of the intellect, Un-netr would refer to the intellect. Thus the three assistants of the Adhvaryu priests or the senses of knowledge and action are ahankara (or the I-as-an-actor), mind, and the intellect.