Negotiating Ritual Repair

Kathryn McClymond

in Negotiating Rites

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199812295
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919390 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Ritual Studies Series

Negotiating Ritual Repair

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The chapter examines prāyaścitta material (priestly texts focused on correcting ritual error) in the Baudhāyana Śrauta Sūtra (BSS), a Vedic ritual text. The BSS presents ritual mistakes as a normal aspect of sacrifice, and it offers ritual correctives that make ongoing ritual practice and authority possible in the face of ritual performance mistakes. Vedic texts assume that ritual mistakes occur, and they incorporate that fact into their understanding of the very nature of ritual. Careful attention to the prāyaścitta material (and similar material in other sacrificial traditions) suggests that modern ritual theorists should embrace the fact that rituals frequently go wrong, rather than treating ritual mistakes as anomalies that are irrelevant for sacrificial theorizing. In sharp contrast to a popular approach to ritual that distinguishes between the ritual realm (what “ought to be”) and the mundane realm (what “is”), Vedic literature presents a spectrum of ritual activity that repeatedly defers the boundaries of ritual activity by providing corrective measures. Ritual errors, in fact, demonstrate the dynamic elasticity of the ritual system, because they offer an opening for ongoing negotiation of what constitutes a correct or valid ritual performance.

Keywords: prāyaścitta; baudhāyana Śrauta Sūtra; vedic ritual text; ritual errors

Chapter.  9900 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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