The Atharvaveda Samhita, more than any other Vedic text, is an irreplaceable source of data on the Indian society and its non-ritualistic aspects. With regard to animals, the numerous Atharvanic hymns witness a deep conditioning, either positive or negative, of them on the psyche of the Vedic social structure at that stage. Images, metaphors, descriptions of wild and domestic animals abound through the 20 books of this Samhita, together with terrific and theriomorfic descriptions of demons in the act of killing children, women and Brahmans or destroying human bodies, health and peace. The “Vedic eye” created a stunning range of scenarios in-between dream and nightmare of an unparalleled visual and terminological power. This lecture will highlight the relationship between human beings and animals from a moral, linguistic, religious and psychological point of view, also emphasizing interesting aspects of the irrational Vedic fear for the microcosm of the “invisible” animal enemies.
The snān-yātrā is a pilgrimage celebrated once a year in the town of Salkia (Howrah district, West Bengal). Attracting thousands of pilgrims, the festival is the occasion to celebrate Śītalā as Choṭa Mā, a loving and benevolent protective mother. The yātrāemphasises devotion but is also an arena for tense performances. Phenomena of individual and collective possession (bhar) are extremely common and are viewed as a much needed proof of the auspicious presence of the goddess. But possession is also a way to claim (or challenge) power in and across specific contexts (family, jāti, gender, political circles, etc.). It is thus not unusual that many (especially women, or non-Bengali migrants) are accused to cheat, to enact fake possessions, or to be ‘mad.’ Contention also features the day after snān-yātrā, which is dedicated to Bao Mā. This form of Śītalā is radically different. Bao Mā is believed to be potentially dangerous, and is a hungry goddess. The ritual killing of animals (balidān) is the distinctive feature of her service, a performance aiming at pleasing, feeding and thanking the goddess. Regardless of its importance, balidān does not enjoy much popularity. Temple attendance is limited to locals and the sebāits of the temple are indicated by outsiders as ignorant and violent. Such views are validated on a broader scale. In contemporary Bengal practices such as possession and sacrifice are objected by intellectuals and teachers, the middle class, the media and religious authorities from all faiths. In this climate, many facets of local folklore are increasingly dismissed, diminished and ridiculed (often aggressively) as a heterogeneous bunch of backward practices and superstitions. The snān-yātrā is not just an occasion to experience local variations of Śītalā and the gentrification of the goddess. This paper, part of a larger study on Śītalā and medical folklore in North India, reflects on the meaning and destiny of vernacular culture in contemporary India.
Professor Ferrari was educated in Indology and South Asian languages and literatures (Hindi and Sanskrit) at the University of Venice (Italy) and received his PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) for a study on Bengali folklore. After teaching South Asian religions and Religious Studies for two years at SOAS, he joined the University of Chester in 2007. He is an active fieldworker and regularly conduct ethnographic research in India. He specialises in the study of vernacular Hinduism and folklore and is particularly interested in ritual healing and therapeutic possession; ritual theory and Marxist approaches to the study of religion.
This paper provides a critical overview of select aspects of religious material culture among the people of Tamilnadu. It first discusses how materials are construed in the ritual context, their agency and efficacy and the continuities seen in the process of engagement between the people and the objects. Secondly, it deals with the changing dynamics of the engagement between the people and the ritual objects, the changing social lives of these objects and examines the processes of commoditization, aestheticization and appropriation. These changes have resulted in the circulation of ritual objects and the shifting boundaries between ritual objects and other categories like crafts, curio items, home collectibles and objects in public display on the one hand and transgressing caste/ethnic boundaries on the other hand. Finally, this paper also focuses on the shared material culture between Hindus and Christians in Tamilnadu during religious ceremonies and practices of worship which are explored using examples such as thali (sacred chain in the marriage ceremony), saris etc.
The term japa is one that has a long history within the family of Hindu traditions but the difference between the murmuring of Vedic mantras as an accompaniment to sacrificial rituals and the meditative repetition of a divine name in bhakti traditions is considerable. In an attempt to find some evidence for the development process involved, I shall examine theJāpakopākhyāna (MBh 12.189–93), a text which seems in some ways incongruous in its context, and will also survey the occurrence of japa and its cognates throughout theMahābhārata. I seek to unravel the textual history of the passage and the logic of combining its parts, as well as the message that it conveys. The prominence of Brahmā in the passage may form one key to its interpretation, while the fact that the next highest (though much lower) frequency of japa and related terms is in the Nārāyaṇīya seems to offer another clue, especially in conjunction with the significance of japa in the developed Pāñcarātra system.
Professor Brockington is emeritus Professor of Sanskrit in the School of Asian Studies (of which he was the first Head) and an Honorary Fellow in the Centre for South Asian Studies. He has written several books and around 75 articles on his special area of research, the Sanskrit epics, as well as on other topics. He is the Secretary General of the International Association of Sanskrit Studies and was the chair of the organising committee of the 13th World Sanskrit Conference, held at Edinburgh in July 2006. Among his many publications areThe Sacred Thread: Hinduism in its continuity and diversity, (1981); Righteous Rama: the Evolution of an Epic; Hinduism and Christianity; Epic and Puranic Bibliography (up to 1985) (1992); The Sanskrit Epics (Handbuch der Orientalistik, 2.2.12; A Descriptive Catalogue of the Sanskrit and other Indian Manuscripts of the Chandra Shum Shere Collection in the Bodleian Library, Part II, Epics and Puranas; Epic Threads: John Brockington on the Sanskrit Epics, ed. Greg Bailey and Mary Brockington (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2000); Indian Epic Traditions – Past and Present (Papers presented at the 16th European Conference on Modern South Asian Studies, Edinburgh, 5–9 September 2000) ed. by Danuta Stasik and John Brockington (2002); The Intimate Other: Love Divine in Indic Religions, ed. by Anna S. King and John Brockington (2005); and Rama the Steadfast: An Early Form of the Ramayana,tr. by John Brockington and Mary Brockington (2006).
This paper explores a pilgrimage the author undertook with a group of pilgrims to the Bhuban cave in Assam, the assumed starting point of a religious reform movement known as the Heraka. He examines the interaction of the Heraka with different religious groups in the Bhuban cave (various ‘Hindus’, and indigenous religions). Dr. Longkumer is particularly interested in how different communities reify religious identification to the extent that other identities of shared interests attenuate, especially evident in the main ‘cave ritual’. Such encounters, he argues, not only sharpen Heraka identity vis-à-vis other communities, but also emphasise religious boundaries more generally. Such incidents can be read as a complex confluence of reform, intuition, experience and history. Dr. Arkotong Longkumer is a Departmental Lecturer in the Study of Religions at Oxford University. His research interests revolve around the anthropology of religion and history, with a south/southeast Asian focus. He has conducted fieldwork amongst the Nagas of India since 2005 and is currently interested in Naga nationalism, particularly the interaction between religion, nationalism and indigeneity.
Session 8 of the 2007 Shivdasani Conference. The correlation between yajña and puja may well be one of the most complicated problems in Indology. Yajña and puja are known to have been mutually counterposed in the Indian tradition. At any rate, they were topical in different periods of its evolution. Yajña held pride of place as a solemn rite in the Vedic time, while puja became widespread in the post-Vedic era to become the central ritual of Hinduism. Many scholars cling to the idea of a Vedic origin of puja, regarding it as a yajña which went through specific transformations, though no substantiated explanations of these supposed changes have yet appeared. Perhaps, the only attempt of this kind was made by J.A.B. van Buitenen, who hypothetically traced puja to the Pravargya, a Vedic ritual, which included the soma offering. Based on a similarity of the purely external aspects of ritualism, his concept failed to win broad recognition but, on the contrary, was subject to ample and well-deserved criticisms.
Attempts to compare yajña and puja have either emphasized the similarities between the two, or brought out the differences. Irrespective of this, they all proceeded from comparisons between the outward aspects of the ritual practice, with extremely vague results. A comparison of rituals appears to be destined for success only if it proceeds from a specific methodological approach, which allows comparison not only of the outward aspects of rites but ritual principles underlying them. Here, our task is reduced to the identification of what we may conventionally term the “ritual archetype” at the basis of yajña and puja. As I see it, the most salient features of a ritual archetype are determined by three principal aspects, which can be put into the form of three queries. The first, “Where?” pertains to the arrangement of the ritual space; the second, “How?” to the type of the offering; the third, “What for?” describes the ritual goals of the worship.
To bring out the ritual archetype of yajña, I proceeded from the Brahmanas, which characterized the principal conceptual bases of the Vedic ritualism, as well as the srauta- and sulba-sutras, which contained essential technical details of the actual ritual. The ritual archetype of puja was reconstructed on the basis of ritualistic chapters of the Natyasastra, the Atharvaveda Parisistas, the Sattvata Samhita, which preserved testimony of the ritualism of the Pancharatra, and the Saiva Agamas – the Ajita, the Raurava and the Mrgendra.
Text, context, and interpretation seminars
Recently there has been a general interest in the relation of religion to kingship in the history of Indian religions. In the context of this interest, the seminar examines the relationship between power and ritual through showing how sovereignty is expressed in Vedic liturgies.
This lecture counters the linear view of religious change in South Asia, which suggests that the Hindu temple came into its own after the decline of Buddhism in the fourth-fifth centuries AD. Instead the presentation shows that the temple form was part of a common architectural vocabulary widely used from the second century BC onwards not only for the Buddhist shrine, but also for the Hindu and Jain temples and several local and regional cults. The speaker thus makes a case for plurality of religious beliefs and practices in ancient South Asia as against the prevailing view that these local and regional cults were gradually subsumed under the mantle of Sanskritisation starting from the 4th-5th centuries onwards.