Gṛhya Rites

Timothy Lubin

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:
Gṛhya Rites

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The Vedic religion primarily involved veneration of a wide range of divinities by means of formulaic prayers (mantras) and food offerings. The earliest Vedic ritual texts ordain a complex priestly “high cult” involving multiple fires and priests, later called Śrauta ritual (referring to śruti, “what is heard,” regarding the mantras and ritual injunctions of the Veda). Parallel to and ultimately presupposed by the Śrauta ritual system were the simpler, less theorized rites performed in the household (gṛha), mainly by the paterfamilias himself. These “domestic” (Gṛhya) Vedic rites comprised fire offerings (homa), fireless offerings (bali), rites of the life-cycle (saṃskāra), and a wide variety of rites believed to confer blessing, protection, healing, power over others, and other practical purposes. Such rites are alluded to in passing in the Rig Veda, an anthology of the oldest compositions in Sanskrit and the basis for Śrauta liturgy, and are described more extensively in the Atharva Veda. But we find the first formal, systematic treatment of them in the Gṛhya sutras, a genre of ritual codes modeled on the more extensive Śrauta sutras. These first promulgations of these domestic ritual codes mark the moment when the Vedic priesthood began to extend its professional functions into a wider range of society and into more areas of everyday life. Indeed much of the interest of the Gṛhya texts lies in the detailed (if idealized) picture they present of household customs, everyday concerns, gender roles, familial and social relations, and prevailing beliefs about the divine and supernatural forces that affect human welfare.

Article.  10725 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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