Religion in a Changing World: Comparative Studies in Sociology

By Madeleine Cousineau | Go to book overview

example will help to show the part played by spirits in shaping the behavior of the living. Brahmins who die prematurely either by murder or accident become spirits known as brahms. As spirits, they cannot be seen, but they remain active in society. If their death came by murder, they might seek revenge against the murderer or his family. Fearing reprisal, those individuals are likely to propitiate the victim at a small shrine built by his family to honor him. In time, stories may be told of cures and other benefits that came to people who showed their respects at that site. As his reputation grows even larger, a minor spirit earlier feared and propitiated by only a few people can become a regional godling revered and worshiped by many thousands of devotees. Belief in the power of murder victims to take revenge helps protect Brahmins--and to a lesser extent, members of other castes--from violence. Belief in brahms serves to reenforce the high rank of Brahmins and helps to show that in the Hindu worldview there is no clear line between this world and the next.


CONCLUDING COMMENTS

Hindu functionaries vary immensely in kind and in the breadth of their duties, in the extent to which their services are available through other providers, in the geographic scope of their reputation and following, and in the timing according to which their services are sought. Male Brahmins are key providers especially for rites of passage and worship at temples for major deities. Women are important in rituals for the well-being of family members and for rituals involving children. Low-caste functionaries are the primary providers of rituals pertaining to the dangerous transitions of birth and death; they also are the leading functionaries associated with exorcism and worship of those gods requiring animal sacrifice. In the end, the extraordinary array of Hindu functionaries reflects not only the complexities of Hindu social structure but the tremendous diversity in the powers of the gods they serve.


NOTES

I wish to thank Rana P. B. Singh, Lalta Prasad, and Vinita Sharma for their indispensable help with the field work for this study. I wish also to thank Meeta Mehrotra for translating many of the taped interviews and for her comments on earlier drafts of this chapter.

1.
Hinduism is a culture or set of regional and linguistic subcultures that permeates the lives of its adherents. The boundaries between religious and secular activities and roles are much less clear than in Western society. For overviews of Hinduism as culture, see Babb ( 1975), Chaudhuri ( 1979), Hertel and Mehrotra ( 1996), and Milner ( 1994).
2.
See Vidyarthi ( 1978) and Vidyarthi, Saraswati, and Jha ( 1979) for descriptions of pandas and other functionaries at Hindu pilgrimage centers.

REFERENCES

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

Chaudhuri Nirad C. 1979. Hinduism: A Religion to Live By. New Delhi: B. 1. Publications.

-86-

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