Yajna and Puja: A Comparison of the Ritual Archetypes

Speaker: Dr Natalia R. Lidova
Date: October 20, 2007
Time: 10:00

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.