In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gṛhya Rites

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Codification of the Gṛhya Ritual
  • Mantra Collections for the Gṛhya Ritual
  • Later Expansions of the Gṛhya Liturgy
  • The Atharva Veda Pariśiṣṭa
  • Dharma Sutras as Sources for the Gṛhya Rites
  • Domestic Offering Services
  • Other Domestic Rites
  • Sectarian Adaptations

Hinduism Gṛhya Rites
Timothy Lubin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 January 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0024


The Vedic religion primarily involved veneration of a wide range of divinities by means of formulaic prayers (mantras) and food offerings. The earliest Vedic ritual texts ordain a complex priestly “high cult” involving multiple fires and priests, later called Śrauta ritual (referring to śruti, “what is heard,” regarding the mantras and ritual injunctions of the Veda). Parallel to and ultimately presupposed by the Śrauta ritual system were the simpler, less theorized rites performed in the household (gṛha), mainly by the paterfamilias himself. These “domestic” (Gṛhya) Vedic rites comprised fire offerings (homa), fireless offerings (bali), rites of the life-cycle (saṃskāra), and a wide variety of rites believed to confer blessing, protection, healing, power over others, and other practical purposes. Such rites are alluded to in passing in the Rig Veda, an anthology of the oldest compositions in Sanskrit and the basis for Śrauta liturgy, and are described more extensively in the Atharva Veda. But we find the first formal, systematic treatment of them in the Gṛhya sutras, a genre of ritual codes modeled on the more extensive Śrauta sutras. These first promulgations of these domestic ritual codes mark the moment when the Vedic priesthood began to extend its professional functions into a wider range of society and into more areas of everyday life. Indeed much of the interest of the Gṛhya texts lies in the detailed (if idealized) picture they present of household customs, everyday concerns, gender roles, familial and social relations, and prevailing beliefs about the divine and supernatural forces that affect human welfare.

General Overviews

The topic of Vedic domestic ritual has never received as much attention as the Śrauta “high cult” of the Vedic tradition. Inevitably, then, much of the scholarship mentioned in this article is rather old, though in many respects it is not out dated. Hillebrandt 1897 is an introduction to the Vedic ritual literature as a whole, but more than half of the work concerns Gṛhya topics (including funerary cults). Kane 1941 and Kane 1953 together consider the subject within the broader framework of Dharmaśāstra, the norms of religious and legal practice. Gopal 1983 covers the same ground, assuming somewhat uncritically that the rulebooks may be treated as historical records. Gonda 1980 introduces a new organization of the material and integrates the contributions of the Atharva Veda more explicitly. Olivelle 1993 situates the Gṛhya rites, especially the saṃskāras, in relation to the emergent doctrine of four sequential life stages. Lubin 2010 makes a case for seeing the canonization of a Gṛhya liturgy as a strategy for the Brahman priesthood both to expand its lay clientele and to promulgate a this-worldly religious system predicated upon ascetical modes of self-discipline. Stevenson 1920 is a faithful, if not wholly objective or scholarly, account of early 20th-century domestic ritual practice among North Indian Brahmans.

  • Gonda, Jan. Vedic Ritual: The Non-Solemn Rites. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1980.

    An encyclopedic treatment of the entire Gṛhya liturgy, with ample references to the sources. The classification of the material is helpful, but like much of Gonda’s work, the book reads like a catalogue of citations.

  • Gopal, Ram. India of Vedic Kalpasūtras. 2d ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1983.

    A one-volume encyclopedic survey of Vedic ritual, with an extensive treatment of Gṛhya ritual and many references to the best-known primary sources. Synthetic rather than historical in orientation.

  • Hillebrandt, Alfred. Ritual-Litteratur, vedische Opfer und Zauber. Grundriss der Indo-Arischen Philologie und Altertumskunde 3, Bd. 2, Heft. Strassburg, Germany: Trubner, 1897.

    A comprehensive early descriptive survey of Vedic ritual: the first half provides a general overview of the history and sources of Vedic ritual, followed by a survey of the Gṛhya texts and rites, while the final chapter treats “magical” and healing rites.

  • Kane, Pandurang Vaman. History of Dharmaśāstra. Vol. 2. Pune, India: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1941.

    Part of Kane’s monumental eight-part work, Volume 2, in two parts, contains most of the material pertaining to domestic ritual: chapter 6 on the saṃskāras as a group, chapter 7 on the initiation, chapter 9 on the wedding, and chapters 17–24 on the rest of the ritual acts associated with the household, family, Veda study, and domestic worship of the gods.

  • Kane, Pandurang Vaman. History of Dharmaśāstra. Vol. 4. Pune, India: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1953.

    Complementing the general overview of Gṛhya ritual in Kane 1941 (pp. 179–266), Volume 4 gives a detailed overview of the Brahmanic cremation, with ample references to primary sources.

  • Lubin, Timothy. “The Householder Ascetic and the Uses of Self-Discipline.” In Asceticism and Power in South and Southeast Asia. Edited by Peter Flügel and Gustaaf Houtman. London: Routledge, 2010.

    Argues that the earliest attested ascetic practices in India were within the framework of the householder ideal. Focuses on the Gṛhya sutras as a turning point in Brahmanism, noting that the extension of Vedic initiation and Gṛhya ritual models to non-Brahman groups became the basis for the notion of the “twice-born” Ārya as the model of purity and piety.

  • Olivelle, Patrick. The Āśrama System: The History and Hermeneutics of a Religious Institution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

    A fundamental study of the classical notion of āśramas as stages of life. Includes an extensive discussion of the life-cycle rites that begin each ashrama as well as the householder state and the ritual duties pertaining to it.

  • Stevenson, Margaret Sinclair. The Rites of the Twice-Born. London: Oxford University Press, 1920.

    This famous—and now much criticized—book is a richly detailed description of the whole cycle of domestic ritual based on the author’s observations and information supplied by three Saiva pandits and other locals. Written as a cultural guidebook for foreigners new to India, the work is sympathetic yet colored by the social reformist’s urge to edify and to condemn pernicious customs.

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