Bringing the Gods to Mind: Mantra and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice

Bringing the Gods to Mind: Mantra and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice

Bringing the Gods to Mind: Mantra and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice

Bringing the Gods to Mind: Mantra and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice

Synopsis

This elegantly written book introduces a new perspective on Indic religious history by rethinking the role of mantra in Vedic ritual. In Bringing the Gods to Mind, Laurie Patton 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. Treating Vedic mantra as a sophisticated form of artistic composition, she develops the idea of metonymy, or associational thought, as a major motivator for the use of mantra in sacrificial performance. Filling a long-standing gap in our understanding, her book provides a history of the Indian interpretive imagination and a study of the mental creativity and hermeneutic sophistication of Vedic religion.

Excerpt

It is early morning in a small village in western Maharashtra, India. The pravargya rite is being performed — an introductory Vedic ritual with an obscure and intriguing history. During the ceremony the doors of the sacrificial arena are closed. Everyone knows that the sacrificer’s wife is present, but she is hidden from view. The chanting of Ṛg Vedic hymns makes this rite all the more mysterious. But it is not the sound alone that makes the atmosphere so intriguing. The hymn being chanted is Ṛg Veda 10.177 —the māyābheda hymn —which helps to discern illusion. Does the placement of this hymn about discerning illusion in this secretive rite matter?

I argue in these pages that the placement of the hymn indeed matters. In the Vedic period, ritual was the location in which both imaginative and social realities were brought to mind and played out in the public arena. Through the medium of esoteric poetic utterance, chanted by hereditary classes of performers, Vedic society assembled its collective life. Much of Indological scholarship, grounded as it has been in the distinction between imagination and empirical experience, has tended to view aspects of Vedic culture as “solemn prayer” and other, usually later, aspects as “magical spell.” This book will attempt to rethink this aspect of Vedic reality by questioning the distinction between magic and religion, focusing instead on the use of Ṛg Vedic mantras in particular ritual . . .

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