The Archetypal Actions of Ritual: A Theory of Ritual Illustrated by the Jain Rite of Worship

The Archetypal Actions of Ritual: A Theory of Ritual Illustrated by the Jain Rite of Worship

The Archetypal Actions of Ritual: A Theory of Ritual Illustrated by the Jain Rite of Worship

The Archetypal Actions of Ritual: A Theory of Ritual Illustrated by the Jain Rite of Worship

Synopsis

Humphrey and Laidlaw present a new and radical general theory of ritual by drawing on an ethnographically rich account of the ritual worship of the Jains of western India. Ritual, they argue, is not a logically separate type of activity, but rather a quality that can be attributed to a wide range of everyday activities. In exploring the issue of what is distinctive about actions which are ritualized, this book makes an ambitious and controversial contribution to social and religious anthropology.

Excerpt

One day we went to see our Jain friend Ravindra Golecha in his villa in the suburbs of Jaipur. We had both worked before, at different times, among Jains in Jaipur. This visit was to start a new project together, one which we confidently expected to be manageable in a short time, on the symbolism of the puja, the ritual of morning worship performed in Jain temples. Golecha had offered to tell us all about it. When we arrived, a man dozing in the shadow of the verandah rose to show us through to a ground-floor room, which was tightly shuttered against the sun. Here we found Golecha, and some other dignified old men, comfortably reclined on a huge mattress, playing cards. Several younger men lounged at the sides watching and a little girl lay sprawled asleep in the centre of the group. Slightly taken aback at our arrival, Golecha nevertheless jumped to his feet, and brushing aside our apologies for disturbing him, took us inside the house to a more suitable place for our conversation. This was his bedroom, which was on an upper floor, reached by passing through the dining room and skirting round the kitchen where some of the women of the house were preparing food. Here in the bedroom we found Golecha's wife fast asleep on a capacious bed. To our embarrassment she was unceremoniously dismissed and sent to bring tea and biscuits. We were all seated on the bed: Ravindra himself, James, Caroline, and Anju Dhaddha, our assistant, who comes from another of Jaipur's prominent Jain families. 'Now', said Golecha, with a beaming smile, 'ask me your questions. It is my duty to tell you about Jainism, it is a religious duty.' He proceeded to tell us about some of the minutely detailed 'rules which must be followed' to be a good Jain.

This encounter was not exceptional, just one of many conversations we had with Jain people in their homes. But it hints at some of the things we came to find so difficult to understand and which transformed our limited project into something unmanageable (and to which this book is only a partial and imperfect answer). What was this combination of languid informality with the exacting and multifarious 'rules which must be followed'? What was this 'religious duty' which so firmly and generously displaced everything else going on in the household? Though we knew Golecha quite well, it was apparent that it was because of our religious purpose that we were invited into the sanctum of his bedroom. It was because he thought of us as seekers after the truth about Jainism that he . . .

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