Hinduism Ritual in Hinduism
by
Axel Michaels
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0187

Introduction

Due to ritual traditions preserved in normative texts from Vedic times until the present, but also due to its great variety of local and regional practices, South Asia offers a vast richness of textual and ethnographic material on Hindu rituals. Since the Hindu gods are not always present at fixed places, they have to be invoked and addressed, and rituals and prayers are the favorite means for that. In nearly every Hindu household, people, mostly women, worship “their” gods daily; in cars, Gaṇeśa is invoked, while shopkeepers adorn a picture of the goddess Lakṣmī with flowers and incense. Along with this lively everyday religiosity, there are special religious occasions for rituals—festivals, pilgrimages, or life-cycle rituals. There are elaborate rituals with a long tradition involving many well-educated Brahmins, but also a great number of small, folk rituals performed by individuals; there are old Vedic rituals that are still performed today, but also modern semi-religious rituals such as the Republic Day parade. Tradition differentiates between three salvational forms or paths (mārga; unless otherwise noted, all non-English terms in the following are from Sanskrit) of religiosity: the path of ritual and of sacrifice (karmamārga), the path of knowledge (jñānamārga), and the path of devotional participation (bhaktimārga). To this, the path of honor and heroism may be added (vīramārga, see Michaels 2016, cited under Theory). All these paths include more or less ritual elements. Major types of Hindu rituals include life-cycle rituals (saṃskāra), especially initiation, marriage, and death and ancestor rituals; worship and prayer (pūjā); sacrifices, especially Vedic fire sacrifices (yajña, iṣṭi, homa) and blood sacrifices; collective and individual festivals (utsava) and processions (yātrā, tīrthayātrā); and individual vows (vrata). Highly ritualized is also the giving of a gift (dāna). In recent years, special rituals for and by women have received more attention. Most of these rituals are based on Brahmanical handbooks in Sanskrit and the vernaculars. Ritual theory in general has been greatly inspired by Indian material. This holds especially true for theories about sacrifice, performance, ritual grammar, and the meaning or meaninglessness of rituals. Hinduism is the only non-Western culture that produced a complex indigenous theory of ritual, the Pūrvamīmāṃsā system.

General Overviews and History

The most comprehensive overview of Brahmanical Vedic and Smārta rituals and their histories is Kane 1930–1962. That should be complemented by Gonda 1977 and Gonda 1980, which give a concise and almost comprehensive listing of texts and their contents. Hillebrandt 1921 is the more compressed overview. However, these works mostly leave out overviews of folk rituals, for which see Abbott 2000 and especially Claus, et al. 2003 (cited under Reference Works and Bibliographies).

  • Abbott, Justin. Indian Ritual and Belief: The Keys of Power. New Delhi: Manohar, 2000.

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    This book was first published in 1932 under the title The Keys of Power: A Study of Indian Ritual and Belief. It is a study on powers of man, woman, evil eye, fire, trees, animals, and so on, which, according to the author, must be controlled through rituals.

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  • Gonda, Jan. The Ritual Sūtras. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1977.

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    Presents a descriptive overview of the main Vedic ritual texts and their commentaries, especially Śrautasūtras and Gṛhyasūtras, as well as a chapter on the transmission of these texts.

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  • Gonda, Jan. The Non-Solemn Rites. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1980.

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    The book treats the ancient Vedic rituals and presents a thorough description of ancient Indian domestic and public rites based on the extensive Sanskrit literature.

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  • Hillebrandt, Alfred. Ritualliteratur: Vedische Opfer und Zauber. 2d ed. Strassburg, France: Karl J. Trübner, 1921.

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    Slightly outdated but still very useful summary of the main Brahmanical rituals and their literature. Addresses mainly Vedic rituals and includes a chapter on witchcraft (rituals).

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  • Kane, Pandurang Vaman. History of Dharmaśāstra. 5 vols. Poona, India: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1930–1962.

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    A monumental compendium in five volumes and eight parts of all major Vedic rituals, especially in Vol. II (2 parts, 1st ed. 1941, 2nd ed. 1974), focusing on life-cycle rituals, sacrifice, gift-giving, and temple consecrations; Vol. IV (1st ed. 1953), with chapters on pilgrimage and ancestor rituals; and Vol. V (2 parts, 1st ed. 1982 and 1962), on vows and festivals. Several reprints.

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Reference Works and Bibliographies

Almost any reference work on Hinduism includes a chapter or lemma on rituals. The following is a selection of longer articles. Jacobsen 2009–2015 has become the best and most comprehensive encyclopedia on Hinduism, with entries written by outstanding experts in the relevant fields. For folk rituals, Claus, et al. 2003 is essential, since it covers most parts of South Asia, whereas Crooke 1894 treats mostly North Indian folk rituals. The best bibliography for ritual in general is Kreinath, et al. 2007, the authors of which have also edited a recommendable volume on ritual theory (Kreinath, et al. 2006). Mylius 1995 and Ranade 2006 are dictionaries on Vedic ritual terms, the latter with a number of instructive illustrations.

  • Claus, Peter, Sarah Diamond, and Margaret Ann Mills, eds. South Asian Folklore: An Encyclopedia; Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. London: Routledge, 2003.

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    A comprehensive encyclopedia with more than five hundred articles, alphabetically arranged, and covering a wide range of folk rituals in South Asia. Most of the articles include a general introduction to a topic followed by case study articles.

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  • Crooke, William. An Introduction to the Popular Religion and Folklore of Northern India. Allahabad, India: Government Press, 1894.

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    Still a valuable book for the study of folk rituals in Hinduism. Chapters include rituals for godlings of nature, heroic and village godlings, godlings of disease, death rituals, the evil eye, tree and serpent worship, and animal worship. Descriptions are not always very detailed.

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  • Jacobsen, Knut A., ed. Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. 6 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2009–2015.

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    An essential up-to-date encyclopedia with instructive articles on almost all types of rituals. Volume 2 (2010) deals with rituals and “ritual traditions,” including domestic rituals, sacrifice (yajña), worship (pūjā), life-cycle rituals (saṃskāra), possession, vows (vrata), and ritual food.

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  • Kreinath, Jens, Jan Snoek, and Michael Stausberg, eds. Theorizing Rituals: Issues, Topics, Approaches, Concepts. Vol. 1. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006.

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    The volume contains significant articles on aspects of ritual theory, partly written by Indian studies specialists, including “Agency” by William S. Sax, “Dynamics” by Bruce Kapferer, and “Ritual in Society” by Ursula Rao.

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  • Kreinath, Jens, Jan Snoek, and Michael Stausberg, eds. Theorizing Rituals: Annotated Bibliography of Ritual Theory, 1966–2005. Vol. 2. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.

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    This volume complements the previous one (Kreinath, et al. 2006) by presenting short descriptions and summaries of major publications on ritual.

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  • Mylius, Klaus. Wörterbuch des altindischen Rituals. Wichtrach, Switzerland: Institut für Indologie, 1995.

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    This small introductory book (147 pp.) contains an overview of the ancient Indian sacrifice and a plan of the sacrificial arena.

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  • Ranade, H. G. Illustrated Dictionary of Vedic Rituals. New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, 2006.

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    A useful dictionary of Sanskrit technical terms used in the ritual context, partly illustrated and referring to Vedic ritual texts.

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Edited Volumes

Edited volumes are often based on specific conferences and workshops. The most comprehensive conference on ritual dynamics, which also had several panels on India and Hinduism, was held at Heidelberg in 2008 (see, for instance, Michaels and Mishra 2010, cited under Theory). Other topics have been ritual failure (Huesken 2007), initiation rituals (Zotter and Zotter 2010), festivals (Welbon and Yocum 1982, Huesken and Michaels 2013, Sax 1995), the homa sacrifice (Payne and Witzel 2016), the concept of divine play (Sax 1995), and women’s rituals (see Leslie 1992, cited under Women’s Rituals, Women in Rituals).

  • Colas, Gérard, and Gilles Tarabout, eds. Rites hindous, transfers et transformations. Paris: Éditions de l’EHESS, 2006.

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    The book contains articles on Hindu rituals by nine anthropologists and five Sanskritists, dealing mainly with genesis and transformation, models, and debates on rituals, including A. Henn on the genesis and worship of an urban god in Goa, G. Toffin on the Indrajātrā festival in Nepal, S. Einoo and D. Goodall on various forms of initiation rituals, G. Colas on the relationship between Vedic sacrifice and worship (pūjā), and Ph. Granoff on image worship in Indian religious texts.

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  • Gengnagel, Jörg, Ute Hüsken, and Srilata Raman, eds. Words and Deeds: Hindu and Buddhist Rituals in South Asia. Ethno-Indology 1. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2005.

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    A collection of articles on rituals in South Asia, with a special focus on their texts and contexts. Contributors include G. Colas on Vaikhānasa rites, O. Freiberger on the Brahmanical renunciation ritual, J. Gengnagel on texts and processions in Benares, M. Horstmann on an 18th-century debate regarding the necessity of a ritual, U. Hüsken on saṃskāra rituals in theory and practice, A. Michaels on the ritual decision (saṃkalpa), and A. V. Rospatt on the transformation of the monastic ordination in Newar Buddhism.

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  • Huesken, Ute, ed. When Rituals Go Wrong: Mistakes, Failure, and the Dynamics of Ritual. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2007.

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    This volume, the first book-length study on ritual mistakes and failure, is dedicated to the investigation of the implications and effects of breaking ritual rules or of failed ritual performances. It contains fifteen case studies of mistakes, or failure of rituals, together with an introduction by E. L. Schieffelin and a summary by the editor, who points out that failure is an integral part of any ritual.

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  • Huesken, Ute, and Axel Michaels, eds. South Asian Festivals on the Move. Ethno-Indology 13. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2013.

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    Focuses on traditional and modern festivals as sites of public negotiations (e.g., U. Hüsken on managing conflicts in a South Indian temple or Rich Freeman on spirit mediums in the multimedia of Malabar), the globalization aspects in festivals (e.g., Chr. Brosius on the spatial politics of a public art festival, L. Lowthorp on the translation of Kuttiyattam dances into national and world heritage on the festival stage), and on transcultural festivals and processions as public events (e.g., A. Wilke on Tamil festival culture in Germany or P. Younger on Hindu pilgrimage in a Canadian temple).

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  • Payne, Richard K., and Michael Witzel, eds. Homa Variations: The Study of Ritual Change across the Longue Durée. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

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    The editors collected contributions on textual as well as descriptive studies on the fire ritual (homa). Contributors focusing on the Hindu homa include N. Chaulagain on the Navarātra homa, D. B. Gray on types of the fire sacrifice, H. Grether on the ritual interplay of fire and water in Hindu and Buiddhist tantras, T. Lubin on the relationship between Vedic homa and the pūjā worship, V. A. Wallace on homa rituals in the Kālacakratantra tradition, and M. Witzel on Agnihotra rituals in Nepal.

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  • Penkower, Linda, and Tracy Pintchman, eds. Hindu Ritual at the Margins: Innovations, Transformations, Reconsiderations. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014.

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    The book focuses on the theory of rituals as well as individual Hindu rituals in South India and the diaspora, across gender, ethnic, social, and political groups. Rituals are analyzed through films, texts, and art. It concentrates on contexts where traditionally marginalized participants dominate. Contributors include D. L. Haberman, A. Hiltebeitel, P. Lutgendorf, L. Orr, and P. Younger.

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  • Sax, William S., ed. The Gods at Play: Līlā in South Asia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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    This is still one of the most profound studies on the Hindu concept of the divine play (līlā). The first part focuses on the traditional Śaiva, Vaiṣṇava and Śākta concepts of līlā, the second half on case studies of various ritual and theatrical performances. Contributors include B. Bäumer, N. Kumar, R. E. Goodwin, J. S. Hawley, and D. Wulff.

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  • Welbon, Guy R., and Glenn E. Yocum, eds. Religious Festivals in South India and Sri Lanka. New Delhi: Manohar, 1982.

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    This is one of the first volumes on a wide range of festivals in South Asia. It contains articles on the Hindu festival calendar (K. L. Merrey), festivals in the Pāñcarātra literature (H. D. Smith) and on various South Indian rituals (G. R. Welbon, F. W. Clothey, J. B. Long, S. Hanchett, and others).

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  • Zotter, Astrid, and Christof Zotter, eds. Hindu and Buddhist Initiations in India and Nepal. Ethno-Indology 10. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 2010.

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    Focuses on various aspects of Hindu and Buddhist initiations, such as the Nepalese vratabandha ritual (Chr. Zotter), the Ihi “mock” Marriage in Bhaktapur (N. Gutschow), initiation as a site of a cultural conflict (D. Gellner), the tantric abhiṣeka ritual initiation (H. Isaacson), or the removal of sectarian marks in Śaiva Siddhānta (J. Gengnagel).

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Texts and Translations

In Hinduism, the number of ritual handbooks, in which rules have been laid down as scripts and in a written form, is impressive. They build the base of rule-governed behavior in liturgically fixed rituals. Even if not all rules are noted in such handbooks (much knowledge is transmitted orally in tacit forms), they could be so—in principle. At nearly all times, Brahmins, priests, and other ritual specialists have described the procedures of what they were doing. This was due to the complexity of many rituals, or to the need to avoid any mistake in rituals. In order to make everything correct, every step was noted down, including the mantras that go along with many actions. Very few ritual handbooks have been edited or translated, and there are only a few studies on the textual and contextual peculiarities of such texts. In Sanskrit, ritual handbooks are mostly called paddhati (“compendium”), vidhi (“rules, norms”), prayoga (“manual”), prakaraṇa (“dissertation”) or vidhāna. There can be great differences in the style and size of ritual handbooks. There are also collections of partly unedited or anonymous ritual handbooks, such as the Trikāṇḍamaṇḍana of Bhāskara Miśra (11th century, see under Sacrifice), Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭa’s Prayogaratna (16th century), author also of the Antyeṣṭipaddhati (Bhaṭṭa 1915) and Tristhalīsetu (Bhaṭṭa 1985), Tryambakayajvan’s Strīdharmapaddhati (18th century, see Leslie 1989, cited under Women’s Rituals, Women in Rituals) and compendia of Dharmasūtra and Gṛhyasūtra texts such as Nirṇayasindhu (17th century, see Bhaṭṭa 1930), Saṃskārakaustubha, and Smṛtikaustubha. Of great importance is the Mīmāṃsāsūtra of Jaimini and its commentaries (e.g., Mīmāṃsānyāyasaṃgraha; see Vedāntin 2010), which contain the only elaborate non-Western indigenous ritual theory, which is mainly concerned with the function of ritual for realizing dharma or religious and spiritual merit. This idea is grounded on the concept that dharma is accessible neither to perception nor to reason, but mainly through practice prescribed by the Veda. It is thus a closed system that has its own efficacy and functions ex opere operato (i.e., independent of the capacities of the priests, sacrificers, and participants).

  • Bhaṭṭa, Nārāyaṇa. Antyeṣṭipaddhati (= Uttaranārāyaṇabhaṭṭī). Edited by Vāsudeva Paṇāśīkar. Bombay: Nirṇaya Sāgara, 1915.

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    German translation by Klaus Werner Müller, Das brahmanische Totenritual nach der Antyeṣṭipaddhati des Nārāyaṇabhaṭṭa (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1992). A major text on the Brahmanical death ritual.

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  • Bhaṭṭa, Kamalākara. Nirṇayasindhu. Edited and translated by Kṛṣṇambhaṭṭa and Gopāla Śāstrī Nene. Chowkhaṃbā Sanskrit series 52.1–3. Benares, India: Caukhambā Saṃskr̥ta Sīrija Āphisa, 1930.

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    A classical compendium (nibandha) of orthodox Brahmanical texts on Hindu rituals, especially life-cycle rituals, the consecration of images, and the auspicious times for rituals.

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  • Bhaṭṭa, Nārāyạna. The Bridge to the Three Holy Cities: The Sāmānya-praghaṭṭaka of Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭa’s Tristhalīsetu. Edited and translated by Richard Salomon. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1985.

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    A text on processions and the soteriological importance of holy places (tīrtha).

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  • Jha, Ganganatha, trans. Mīmāṃsāsūtra with Śābarabhāṣya. 3 vols. Gaekwad Oriental Series 66, 70, 73. Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1933–1936.

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    This is the classical text on Vedic ritual theory from an orthodox point of view. (Reprint, Baroda 1973–1974).

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  • Manusmṛti. Manu’s Code of Law: A Critical Edition and Translation of the Mānava-Dharmásāstra. Edited and translated by Patrick Olivelle. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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    A classical text from the 2nd or 3rd century CE on law and customs, including norms and rules for a number of rituals.

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  • Narain, V., and Hermann Oldenberg, eds. Pāraskaragṛhyasūtra: Sanskrit Text, Complete English Translation with Introduction. Delhi: Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan, 2005.

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    One of the most widespread texts on domestic rituals.

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  • Olivelle, Patrick, trans. Dharmasūtras: The Law Codes of Āpastamba, Gautama, Baudhāyana and Vasiṣṭha. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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    Contains excellent translations of the oldest law texts, which also include many instructions for domestic and ascetic rituals. It should be used or compared with Manu’s Law Book (Manusmṛti 2005).

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  • Somaśambhu. Somaśambhupaddhati. Edited and translated by Hélène Brunner-Lachaux. 4 vols. Pondichéry, India: Institut Français d’Indologie, 1963–1998.

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    An important Śaiva ritual handbook from the 11th century on daily, occasional, and optional rituals in South India. Vol. 1: Le rituel quotidien dans la tradition śivaïte de l’Inde du Sud; vol. 2: Rituels Occasionnels dans la tradition śivaite de l’Inde du Sud: Pavitārohana, Damanapūjā et Prayaścitta; vol. 3: Rituels occasionnels dans la tradition śivaïte de l'Inde du Sud selon Somaśambhu II: dīkṣā, abhiṣeka, vratoddhara, antyeṣṭi, śrāddha; vol. 4: Rituels optionnels: Pratiṣṭhā.

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  • Vedāntin, Mahādeva. Mīmāṃsānyāyasaṃgraha: A Compendium on the Principles of Mīmāṃsā. Ethno-Indology 5. Edited and translated by James Benson. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2010.

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    An extensive commentary on Jaimini’s Mīmāṃsāsūtra.

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Forms of Rituals

Major types of Hindu rituals include life-cycle rituals (saṃskāra), especially initiation, marriage, and death and ancestor rituals; worship and prayer (pūjā); sacrifices, especially Vedic fire sacrifices (yajña, iṣṭi, homa) and blood sacrifices; collective and individual festivals (utsava) and processions (yātrā, tīrthayātrā); and individual vows (vrata). Highly ritualized is also the practice of gift giving (dāna), and specifically women’s rituals. Most of these rituals are based on Brahmanical handbooks in Sanskrit and the vernaculars (see Texts and Translations).

(Temple) Festivals and Processions

Where individuals and their ritual transformations are at the center in rites of passage, and in collective rituals such as cyclical festivals, many people from different social groups and castes gather. It is this collective and communal aspect that matters in festivals. South Asia is known for its many festivals called utsava, or melā (“fair”; from mil-, “to meet”) or play (līlā, see Sax 1995, cited under Edited Volumes). All terms commonly denote communal festivals, which are related to mythological events of deities or localities, the harvest cycle, or ancestors. Festivals thus typically follow a calendar (Anderson 1993, Davis 2010) and depend on the seasons and certain days of the year. Quite often, processions are part of the festivals, either temple processions or processions that have been used or created for political demonstrations, such as the mass conventions of sādhus during the kumbhamelās or the chariot procession created by the Bharata Janatiya Party (BJP) to the claimed birthplace of Rāma in Ayodhya. Individual processions or pilgrimages called tīrthayātrā (Bhardwaj 1973, Gold 1989, Jacobsen 2013, Morinis 1984) to a number of sacred places may be part of or based on vows. Examples of overviews of festivals at a specific location, which are also found in many anthropological village studies, are Freed and Freed 1998 and Michaels 2008. Instructive reading are also the articles on processions (K. A. Jacobsen) and festivals (P. Younger) in Jacobsen 2009–2015 (cited under Reference Works and Bibliographies).

  • Anderson, Leona M. Vasantotsava: The Spring Festivals of India. New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1993.

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    This book treats the spring festival Vasantotsava as a pansectarian pattern embracing a range of other spring festivals celebrating or reinforcing the king’s power, renewing social bounds, or reestablishing the links between humans and gods. It also includes studies of texts to explore the rituals, symbols, and motifs of the Vasantotsava.

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  • Bhardwaj, Surinder Mohan. Hindu Places of Pilgrimage in India: A Study in Cultural Geography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.

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    A classical work on pilgrimage places based on the great epic Mahābhārata, and an in-depth study of the various aspects of the institution of pilgrimage as an integrative force in South Asia.

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  • Davis, Richard H. A Priest’s Guide for the Great Festival: Aghorasiva’s Mahotsavavidhi. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    Aghorasiva’s Mahotsavavidhi is a 12th-century ritual handbook for the traditional celebration of a nine-day “great festival” (mahotsava) for Śiva celebrated throughout India. Davis presents a richly annotated translation of the text.

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  • Freed, Stanley A., and Ruth S. Freed. Hindu Festivals in a North Indian Village. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 81. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 1998.

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    The authors describe Hindu festivals in a North Indian village, including aspects of caste, kinship, and seasonal agricultural activities. They also include comparisons with practices in other villages and references to Indian and Hindu history, mythology, astronomy, and astrology.

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  • Gold, Ann Grodzins. Fruitful Journeys: The Way of Rajasthani Pilgrims. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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    The strength of this book lies in the focus on the motifs of the pilgrims. Gold also develops a typology of pilgrimage types and a theory of Hindu pilgrimage and its tīrthas.

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  • Hiltebeitel, Alf. The Cult of Draupadī. Vol. 2, On Hindu Ritual and the Goddess. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

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    This study on the little-known South Indian folk cult of the goddess Draupadī, the chief heroine of the Mahābhārata, includes chapters on ritual officiants, the ritual cycle, and descriptions of various rituals focusing on the dynamics of popular devotional Hinduism.

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  • Jacobsen, Knut A. Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition: Salvific Space. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2013.

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    Focusing on the salvific aspect of pilgrimages, Jacobsen analyzes the history of pilgrimage in the Hindu tradition. He argues that that traditions of salvific space contributed to a decentered polycentrism that defines Hinduism. The book is based on field research and textual studies.

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  • Michaels, Axel. Śiva in Trouble: Festivals and Rituals at the Paśupatinātha Temple of Deopatan (Nepal). Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    This is a book on various rituals and festivals that take place at Hindu Nepal’s most prominent sacred place, the Paśupatinātha Temple. It analyzes the tensions and conflicts between local and supra-regional traditions. The author argues that Brahmanical Hinduism has internalized ritual behavior to the extent that it has become the most distinctive feature, permeating social and personal life alike. Hinduism can thus be seen as a particular case in the history of religions in which ritual form dominates belief.

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  • Morinis, Alan E. Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition: A Case Study of West Bengal. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1984.

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    The author exposes the ethnography of three pilgrimage sites of the Hindu tradition in West Bengal: Tārakeśvara, a Śaiva sanctuary; Navadvīpa, a sanctuary of prime importance to the Caitanya sect of Vaiṣṇavism; and Tarapīṭha, a Devī sanctuary. He aims at demonstrating the link between pilgrimage as an individual behavior and as a sociocultural institution.

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  • van der Veer, Peter. Gods on Earth: The Management of Religious Experience and Identity in a North Indian Pilgrimage Centre. London: Athlone, 1988.

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    A detailed historical anthropology of Ayodhya, the alleged birthplace of Rāma, that analyzes how religious values influence political and economic processes.

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Life-Cycle Rituals

Life-cycle rituals or rites of passage, as they have been termed since Arnold van Gennep’s 1909 book on the subject, are universally observed rites to ritually indicate changes in life and mark major physical and/or psychological developmental stages. In the Hindu context, these rituals are mostly called saṃskāra. Hindu tradition knows up to forty saṃskāras, of which, by the medieval period, sixteen had achieved an almost canonical status, even though they are sometimes differently denoted. Three saṃskāras (initiation, marriage, death rite) are still observed today by almost all traditional Hindu families. Most other rituals have lost popularity, are pulled together with other rites of passage, or are shortened considerably. Although saṃskāras vary from region to region, class (varṇa) to class, and caste to caste, core elements remain the same due to the common sources, the Veda. Most indological studies (Caland 1896, Olivelle 1993, Pandey 1969; see also Gonda 1977 and Gonda 1980, both cited under General Overviews and History) treat the life-cycle rituals from a textual point of view; ethno-indological studies include Stevenson 1971 (originally 1920), Huesken 2009, and the three volumes by Gutschow and Michaels (Gutschow and Michaels 2005, Gutschow and Michaels 2008, Gutschow and Michaels 2012).

  • Caland, Willem. Die altindischen Toten- und Bestattungsgebräuche. Amsterdam: Müller, 1896.

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    A classical monograph on death and ancestor rituals based on the study of Vedic texts.

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  • Gutschow, Niels, and Axel Michaels. Handling Death: The Dynamics of Death and Ancestor Rituals among the Newars of Bhaktapur, Nepal. Ethno-Indology 3. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2005.

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    This book, together with the later two volumes, presents detailed and richly illustrated descriptions of almost all life-cycle rituals at a certain place (Bhaktapur, Nepal). They also contain editions and translations of Nepalese handbooks and a DVD with ethnographic films of the main rituals. Handling Death focuses on the ancestor ritual (sapiṇḍīkaraṇa) and on aspects of pollution, purification, deification, and mourning.

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  • Gutschow, Niels, and Axel Michaels. Growing Up: Hindu and Buddhist Initiation Rituals among Newar Children in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Ethno-Indology 6. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2008.

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    Growing Up describes birth and initiation rituals and especially the unique ritual of marrying a girl to the Bel fruit (ihi). Theoretically, it addresses the dynamics of childhood as well as the relationship between the individual and the social.

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  • Gutschow, Niels, and Axel Michaels. Getting Married: Hindu and Buddhist Marriage Rituals among the Newars of Bhaktapur, Nepal. Ethno-Indology 12. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 2012.

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    Getting Married focuses on marriage rituals of three castes and includes chapters on love, marriage, and wedding bands.

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  • Huesken, Ute. Viṣṇu’s Children: Prenatal Life-Cycle Rituals in South India. Ethno-Indology 9. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2009.

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    This volume examines life-cycle rituals (saṃskāra) that precede the birth of a child according to the texts and practices of the Vaikhānasa school of South India. They are regarded as an initiation of the child into Viṣṇu worship. Huesken’s book is based on fieldwork and textual studies, with theoretical remarks addressing the agency of the rites and notions of social and religious empowerment.

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  • Michaels, Axel. Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

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    Includes an extensive description and analysis of high-caste life-cycle rituals in Nepal.

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

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    An important study on the relationship between renunciation and the world that a renouncer intends to leave and that is characterized by the domestic rituals, especially the Vedic fire rituals.

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  • Pandey, Raj Bali. Hindu Saṃskāras: Socio-Religious Study of the Hindu Sacraments. 2d ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1969.

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    This book is a readable summary of all Brahmanical life-cycle rituals, based on a wide reading of ritual handbooks.

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  • Sayers, Matthew R. Feeding the Dead: Ancestor Worship in Ancient India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199917471.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Focuses on the history of ancestral rites (śrāddha), as well as on aspects of soteriology and mediation.

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  • Stevenson, Sinclair. The Rites of the Twice-Born. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1971.

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    This book from 1922 is still worth reading due to its extensive descriptions of the practice of all major life-cycle rituals of castes that employ Brahmin priests.

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Sacrifice

The ancient Indian tradition differentiates between two major types of sacrifices: (a) public rituals (śrauta), such as piling up of large fire altars (agnicayana, see Staal 1983), are performed by a sacrificer or ritual patron (yajamāna) and one or more Brahman priests who act on behalf and for the benefit of the yajamāna (the textual basis of the śrauta sacrifice is formed by the Śrautasūtras); and (b) domestic sacrifices (gṛhya), which are performed by the head of the house and his wife, in some cases with the help of a (domestic) priest (purohita, pūjāri); these include saṃskāras (see under Life-Cycle Rituals) or morning and evening rituals (agnihotra, saṃdhyā). The ritual handbooks for the domestic rituals are the Gṛhyasūtras and a large number of similar texts (vidhi, paddhati). Essential for studies on the Vedic and Hindu sacrifices are Hubert and Mauss 1899, Thite 1975, Biardeau and Malamoud 1976, Heesterman 1993, and Malamoud 1996. For a short overview, see Karin Steiner’s article “Yajña” in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism (Jacobsen 2009–2015, Vol. 2, cited under Reference Works and Bibliographies).

  • Biardeau, Madeleine, and Charles Malamoud. Le sacrifice dans l’Inde ancienne. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1976.

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    A collection of essays, among which “Le sacrifice dans l’hindouisme classique” (pp. 7–154) is the longest, and proposes a continuity between Vedism and Hinduism.

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  • Heesterman, Jan. The Broken World of Sacrifice: Essays in Ancient Indian Ritual. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226922553.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »

    A collection of articles on the origins and nature of the Vedic sacrifice, in which Heesterman—sometimes without sufficient textual evidence—reconstructs the ideal sacrifice as consisting of killing, destruction, feasting, and contest.

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  • Hubert, Henri, and Marcel Mauss. “Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice.” L’année sociologique 2 (1899): 29–138.

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    A classical and influential study on the schemes and functions of the animal sacrifice, relying widely on Indian material. The essay defines sacrifice as any oblation, even of vegetable matter, whenever the offering or part of it is destroyed and offered to a god, thus effecting communication between the sacred and profane.

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  • Malamoud, Charles. Cooking the World: Ritual and Thought in Ancient India. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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    Cooking the World, a collection of fifteen articles originally written in French between 1968 and 1987, focuses on the Vedic sacrifice. Malamoud elaborates that “the sacrifice itself is, in brahmanic thought, an explanatory schema . . . not only for the world order, but also for all human actions and aspirations” (p. 2).

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  • Patton, Laurie. Bringing Gods to Mind: Mantra and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520240872.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »

    The author takes a new look at mantra as “performed poetry,” and in five case studies draws a portrait of early Indian sacrifice that moves beyond the well-worn categories of “magic” and “magico-religious” thought in Vedic sacrifice.

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  • Smith, Frederick. The Vedic Sacrifice in Transition: A Translation and Study of Trikāṇḍamaṇḍana of Bhāskara Miśra. Poona, India: Bhandarkar Oriental Institute, 1987.

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    The book contains the Śrauta text Trikāṇḍamaṇḍana (11th century), on Vedic ritual and performance, with English translation and a long introduction in which the author discusses many important topics related to the development and decline of the Vedic sacrifice.

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  • Smith, Brian K. Reflections on Resemblance, Ritual, and Religion. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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    Smith shows that representations of ritual theory and practice can be understood in terms similar to basic Vedic conceptions of the cosmos, as well as the nature of human being and afterlife. He explains these connections through the category of hierarchical resemblance that forges interconnections and analogies between seemingly disparate things and beings.

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  • Staal, Frits. Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar. 2 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

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    The first volume contains a detailed and well-illustrated description of the twelve-day performance of the Vedic Agnicayana ritual; the second volume, edited by Frits Staal, contains studies on various aspects of the ritual.

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  • Thite, Ganesh Umakant. Sacrifice in the Brāhmaṇa-Texts. Poona, India: Poona University Press, 1975.

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    This is a classical study of the Vedic sacrifice as described in the Brāhmaṇa texts.

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Gift-Giving and other Vows

Many festivals and ritual performances include other rituals such as worship (pūjā, see under Worship and Prayer), sacrifices, dances, or music. Especially important are religious vows (vrata, see Raj and Harman 2006), such as fasting or night vigil, processions (yātrā), and pilgrimages—all of which bring religious merit for the individual and his extended family through performing the meritorious darśana, the beneficial view of a deity at a pilgrimage site. See also Pintchman’s article on Vratas in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism (Jacobsen 2009–2015, Vol. 2, 426–434, cited under Reference Works and Bibliographies). Many vows came along with rituals of giving gifts. Giving and receiving are then formalized with respect to time, place, cardinal direction, type of gift, and so on. There are many forms of gift-giving: dāna is a kind of offering to gods and high-standing persons that transforms impurity or sin into purification (Raheja 1988); dakṣinā is a kind of payment to the priest for his ritual services; bhīkṣā are alms given to ascetics and monks; and prasāda (Pinkney 2013) is the return gift that devotees receive from the priest when they worship a deity by giving a number of items. Gift-giving in Hinduism often implies certain forms of hierarchy that are laid down in a system of prestrations (dānadharma), which encompass rules and norms such as that the gift must be given to a worthy recipient, it must be given in a liberal spirit, it may harbor the risk of defilement, and it produces religious merit for the giver (Heesterman 1964).

  • Heesterman, Jan. “Brahmin, Ritual, and Renouncer.” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd- und Südostasiens 8 (1964): 1–31.

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    Heesterman developed an influential theory of the competitive and asymmetrically reciprocal nature of the ancient Indian sacrifice (see Heesterman 1993, cited under Sacrifice, where the article is reprinted) from the theory of gift-giving.

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  • Mauss, Marcel. “Essai sur le don: Form et raison de l’échange dans les sociétés archaïques.” L’Année Sociologique 1 (1925): 30–186.

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    A seminal article using much Indian material. English translation: M. Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. W. D. Halls (London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2002). Mauss argues that early exchange systems center around the obligations to give, to receive, and to reciprocate due to a personal power contained in the gift. This exchange form contributes to building social alliances.

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  • Pearson, Anne MacKenzie. “Because it gives me peace of mind”: Functions and Meanings of Vrats in the Religious Lives of Hindu Women in Banaras. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

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    This is the first book-length study on the history and nature of vratas, especially fasts, the role these rites play in the religious lives of Hindu women in North India, and the meanings these women attribute to them. It offers insight into the nature of Hindu popular religion in general, and of women’s religion in particular.

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  • Pinkney, Andrea Marion. “Prasāda, the Gracious Gift in Contemporary and Classical South Asia.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 81.3 (2013): 734–756.

    DOI: 10.1093/jaarel/lft022Save Citation »Export Citation »

    The article focuses on the gift given in temple or domestic worships to gods and returned to the giver in a form enriched by the god’s grace. Based on her thesis, “The Sacred Share: Prasāda in South Asia” (Columbia University, 2008), the author intends to show “how a multidisciplinary approach is more effective in contending with the range of data on prasāda and reveals a more holistic portrait of its significance in Hindu religious life over time” (p. 735).

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  • Raheja, Gloria Goodwin. The Poison in the Gift: Ritual, Prestation, and the Dominant Caste in a North Indian Village. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

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    A detailed ethnography of gift-giving in a North Indian village, introducing the concept of ritual centrality. Raheja also focuses on the impurity (the poison) in various forms of gift-giving.

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  • Raj, Selva J., and William P. Harman, eds. Dealing with Deities: The Ritual Vow in South Asia. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.

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    Based on fieldwork, this richly illustrated book includes articles on Hindus taking vows at Muslim or Catholic shrines and Jains worshipping Hindu deities and guardian spirits. It also includes a contribution on monastic vows. Especially instructive is the Introduction and “Typology of South Asian Lay Vows,” by the editors.

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Women’s Rituals, Women in Rituals

Quite often rituals, and especially vows, are performed by women (McDaniel 2003, see also Pearson 1996, cited under Gift-Giving and other Vows), but not, as is often assumed, just for the benefit of others. Hindu women also developed a number of their own rituals (Pintchman 2007), or perform rituals that have been designed for them by mostly Brahmin priests (Leslie 1989, Leslie 1992).

  • Bennett, Lynn. Dangerous Wives and Sacred Sisters: Social and Symbolic Roles of High-Caste Women in Nepal. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

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    The author analyzes traditional attitudes and values related to women in a high-caste community in Nepal. The book contains detailed descriptions of calendrical and life-cycle rituals.

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  • Jamison, Stephanie. Sacrificed Wife/Sacrificer’s Wife: Women, Ritual, and Hospitality in India. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

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    This book concerns the conceptual position of women in Vedic India, focusing on the female role as the “Sacrificer’s Wife” in solemn ritual. By extracting the rich materials on this role from ritual manuals, the author isolates a set of conceptual functions the wife fills in ritual practice. These functions can then be observed in other cultural institutions in which women participate—particularly the system of hospitality and gift exchange that also dominates the system of marital exchange as found in the Mahābhārata, for example.

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  • Leslie, Julia. The Perfect Wife: The Orthodox Hindu Woman according to the Strīdharmapaddhati of Tryambakayajvan. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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    The book contains the norms and rules for women from an orthodox Brahmanical point of view, based on an 18th-century text. Tryambaka, according to Leslie, selectively extracts verses from many chapters of the Mahābhārata and other ancient Indian texts.

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  • Leslie, Julia, ed. Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1992.

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    Twelve contributors, among them F. M. Smith, W. Menski, M. McGee S. Kersenboom, and Sanjukta Gupta, study the role of women in Hindu rituals, both past and present, and explore the socio-religious context of their various communities.

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  • McDaniel, June. Making Virtuous Daughters and Wives: An Introduction to Women’s Brata Rituals in Bengali Folk Religion. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.

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    This book, based on fieldwork in low- and high-caste traditions, surveys a variety of vratas, along with vrata stories, songs, poems, and ritual activities. According to the author, vratas maintain traditional Hindu values, but also emphasize the power of women, whose virtues can save their husbands from misfortune.

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  • Pintchman, Tracy, ed. Women’s Lives, Women’s Rituals in the Hindu Tradition. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    The volume contains articles on women’s rituals within and beyond the domestic sphere and highlights the importance of women as important agents in domestic and public rituals. Contributors include K. Erndl (“The Play of the Mother”), L. Harlan on women’s rituals in Rajasthan, L. Orr (“Domesticity and Difference/Women and Men: Religious Life in Medieval Tamilnadu”), V. Narayanan (“Performing Arts, Re-forming Rituals”), and L. L. Patton on the performance of Sanskrit and the religious experience of women.

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Worship and Prayer

The most popular ritual is a kind of worship (pūjā), which includes the often-devotional worship of deities according to a ritual script that traditionally involves certain elements of service (upacāra), and which can be performed in simple but also and comparatively complex and highly varied ritual forms. The practice of the pūjā is not just prayer or communication with god, but also entails less “religious” notions of individual or social power, gender, leisure, play, or commodification. The most comprehensive studies on traditional forms of pūjā are Bühnemann 1988 and Tripathi 2004—both mostly based on textual studies. Much information on the performance of worshipping gods is contained in Babb 1975, Fuller 1992, and Tachikawa 1983. Examples of special aspects of pūjā are dealt with by Eck 1985 on darśana (a kind of “religious sight-seeing”) and Rodrigues 2003 on the Durgāpūjā. Lubin 2016 presents a comparison between homa and pūjā.

  • Babb, Lawrence A. The Divine Hierarchy: Popular Hinduism in Central India. New York: Columbia University Press, 1975.

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    Based on the concept that Hinduism is “a thing done, not a thing believed,” Babb looks into ritual action and analyzes “the meanings that meaning makes possible” (p. 28) in Hindu worship. Chapters’ topics refer to pūjā, life-cycle rituals, and festivals.

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  • Bühnemann, Gudrun. Pūjā: A Study in Smārta Ritual. Vienna: Institut für Indologie der Universität Wien, 1988.

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    A book on the theory and practice of the pūjā based on the Ṛgvedīyabrahmakarmasamuccaya, a ritual handbook. It contains prescriptions for the ritual elements (upacāra) and various forms of pūjā.

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  • Eck, Diana L. Darśan: Seeing the Divine Image in India. 2d ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

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    Sanskrit darśana means seeing, and in the ritual context it expresses the most intensive moment when a worshipper and a god see each other. The book focuses on this aspect and other forms of imagining and visualizing the deities.

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  • Fuller, Christopher J. The Camphor Flame: Popular Hinduism and Society in India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    The Camphor Flame combines ethnographic case studies with comparative anthropological analysis and draws on textual and historical scholarship as well. The book contains chapters on worship, sacrifice, rituals of kingship, and rituals of the village.

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  • Lubin, Timothy. “The Vedic Homa and the Standardization of Hindu Pūjā.” In Homa Variations: The Study of Ritual Change across the Longue Durée. Edited by Michael Witzel and Richard Payne, 143–170. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199351572.003.0005Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This article analyzes the transition from the solemn Vedic rites with its three fires to simpler domestic forms of worshipping such as the pūjā.

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  • Rodrigues, Hillary. Ritual Worship of the Great Goddess: The Liturgy of the Durgā Pūjā with Interpretations. New York: State University of New York Press, 2003.

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    One of the most popular festivals in India is the nine-day worship of Durgā. The book also contains a Sanskrit litany along with an English translation. The author maintains that the Durgāpūjā is a rite of cosmic rejuvenation, of empowerment at both the personal and social levels, and a rite that orchestrates manifestations of the feminine, both divine and human.

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  • Tachikawa, Musashi. “A Hindu Worship Service in Sixteen Steps, Shoḍaśa-upacāra-pūjā.” Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology 8.1 (1983): 104–186.

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    This is a well-documented description of the pūjā at the Catuḥśṛṅgī temple near Pune with all traditional sixteen elements (upacāra), including a great number of photographs.

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  • Tripathi, Gaya Charan. Communication with God: The Daily Pūjā Ceremony in the Jagannātha Temple. New Delhi: IGNCA, 2004.

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    In this comprehensive book, the author provides a comprehensive description of the rituals associated with the daily pūjās of the four deities in one of the most famous Hindu temples, the Jagannātha Temple in Puri, Orissa. The study is based on a large number of manuscripts and substantiated by the author’s extensive fieldwork.

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Theory

The study of Hindu rituals has stimulated a number of theories that have been influential beyond the indological sphere. The most important concern the theories on sacrifice (especially Hubert and Mauss 1899, cited under Sacrifice), on meaning or meaninglessness of rituals (Humphrey and Laidlaw 1994, Staal 1979 and Staal 1989), the importance of the performative aspect (Tambiah 1981), and the grammar of rituals (Michaels 2016). The fact that India has developed an elaborate indigenous theory of ritual, the Pūrvamīmāṃsā system, has attracted the attention of further theoretical studies (Clooney 1990, Michaels 2016).

  • Clooney, Francis Xavier. Thinking Ritually: Rediscovering the Pūrva Mīmāṃsā of Jaimini. Publications of the De Nobili Research Library 17. Vienna: Institut für Indologie der Universität Wien, 1990.

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    Clooney proposes that the Mīmāṃsāsūtra presents us with the idea that human existence achieves significance only though ritual action (i.e., the Vedic sacrifice), which has its own order.

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  • Humphrey, Caroline, and James Laidlaw. The Archetypal Actions of Ritual: A Theory of Ritual Illustrated by the Jain Rite of Worship. Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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    Although based on fieldwork focused on Jaina rituals, especially the pūjā, the book develops an important theory for Hinduism as well. The authors propose a theory of ritual action by contrasting it with nonritualized action, suggesting that ritual is a special mode of action.

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  • Michaels, Axel. Homo ritualis: Hindu Ritual and Its Significance for Ritual Theory. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190262624.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Based on textual studies and fieldwork in Nepal and India, Michaels argues that ritual is a distinctive way of acting, which can be distinguished from other forms of action. The book analyzes ritual in these cultural-specific and religious contexts, taking into account how indigenous terms and theories affect and contribute to current ritual theory. It describes and investigates various forms of Hindu rituals and festivals, such as life-cycle rituals, the Vedic sacrifice, vows processions, and the worship of deities (pūjā).

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  • Michaels, Axel, and Anand Mishra, eds. Grammars and Morphologies of Ritual Practices in Asia. Ritual Dynamic and the Science of Ritual 1. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2010.

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    Section I of this volume deals with grammar and morphology of South Asian rituals. Contributions include articles by J. Bronkhorst (“Ritual, Holophrastic Utterances, and the Symbolic Mind”), M. Gaenszle on grammar in ritual speech, J. E. H. Houben on the formal structure and self-referential loops in Vedic ritual, R. Freeman on the meta-grammatics of Tantric Rites in Kerala, T. Lubin on the semiotics of ritual indices, F. M. Smith on the interrelations between Vedic ritual and temple constructions in modern India, and F. Staal on “A Theory of Ritual: The Indo-Iranian Fire Offering.”

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  • Sanderson, Alexis. “Meaning in Tantric Ritual.” In Essais sur le rituel III: Colloque du centenaire. Edited by Anne-Marie Blondeau and Kristofer Schipper, 15–95. Louvain, Belgium, and Paris: Peeters, 1995.

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    Sanderson first mentions that in Kashmir Śaivism, rituals are performed in explicit opposition to the Vedic prescriptions of the meaning of these rituals. He then presents several examples from the Śaiva texts in which the aims of certain rituals are more or less explicit. Finally, he asks, if rituals were performed in order to reach a liberated state, why are these rituals to be performed even after reaching liberation?

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  • Sanderson, Alexis. “Ritual for Oneself and Ritual for Others.” In Body, Performance, Agency, and Experience. Edited by Angelos Chaniotis, 9–20. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2010.

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    An article on the ritual service that Śaiva officiants offered to others, for example the initiation of kings, service of gurus as royal perceptors, involvement in temple cult, or initiation of candidates from all four classes (varṇa).

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  • Staal, Frits. “The Meaninglessness of Ritual.” Numen 26 (1979): 2–22.

    DOI: 10.1163/156852779X00244Save Citation »Export Citation »

    A seminal article. Staal develops his theory of the meaninglessness of ritual out of extensive studies on the Vedic ritual. He describes it as rule-governed pure activity, “without function, aim or goal” (p. 9).

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  • Staal, Frits. Rules without Meaning: Ritual, Mantras and the Human Sciences. New York: Peter Lang, 1989.

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    This is a book on rituals and mantras, in which Staal tries to show that rituals lead a life of their own, widely unaffected by religion or society. In his analysis of Vedic ritual, Staal uses methods inspired by logic, linguistics, anthropology, and philology.

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  • Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja. “A Performative Approach to Ritual.” Proceedings of the British Academy 65 (1981): 113–169.

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    The author treats the seemingly invariant and stereotyped aspects of rituals vis-à-vis its performative and varying elements. He sees ritual as a “culturally constructed system of symbolic communication” (p. 119).

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