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śrauta


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In Vedic or Brahmanical religion, an adjective applied to a person, practice, or text ‘related or adhering to the ritual actions enjoined in śruti’ (i.e. the Veda). It therefore refers to the expanded and extended public ritualism of those who choose to perform the śrauta sacrifices (śrauta-yajñas), as opposed to the limited, single fire (ekāgni) ritualism of the domestic (grhya) sacrificer. The minimum qualification for a śrauta sacrificer (known as the yajamāna—‘the patron of the sacrifice’) is birth into one of the three higher varṇas, to have received upanayana, to be married (the yajamāna and his wife act as a ritual unit), and to have set up the gṛhyāgni (‘domestic fire’). From the latter, three (or in some Vedic schools, five) sacred fires are installed: the gārhapatyāgni, the āhavanīya, and the dakṣināgni (the fourth and fifth being the sabhya and the āvasathya). Sacrifices are performed in an enclosure set up for the duration, composed of the three (or five) fires, and a vedi, or altar. The basic components of the sacrifice are Vedic mantras enjoining the action, the action itself (an offering to a deity or the pitṛs, made into a fire), and the fees (dakṣinā) paid to the officiating priests. Once the sacred fires have been installed, the yajamāna has an obligation to carry out a particular sequence of rites for the rest of his life (unless he becomes a saṃnyāsin, or infirm), each rite presupposing that preceding it. The sequence is as follows: the agnihotra, the darśapūrṇamāsa, the caturmāsya, the paśubandha, the agniṣṭoma. Notable optional śrauta rites include the agnicayana, and, for kings, the rājasūya and the aśvamedha. All the larger śrauta rituals (i.e.those succeeding the agnihotra) require the collaboration of four groups of hereditary brahmin priests (one representing each Veda): the adhvaryu priests (Yajur Veda), the hotṛs (Ṛg Veda), the udgātṛs (Sāma Veda), and the brahmans (masc.) (Atharva Veda), the last being a somewhat later addition.

The practice and theology of śrauta ritual were explicated at length in the Brāhmaṇas, which provided the core material for Mīmāṃsaka analysis. (The Śrautasūtras are simply concerned with the detailed rules for correct performance.) Śrauta ritual's paradigmatic significance is therefore immense, but its actual practice must have always been limited, given the expense and time involved. Even in the Brāhmaṇas themselves, condensed or internalized forms of ritual are being advocated, a process carried further still in the Āraṇyakas and Upaniṣads. Nevertheless, some brahmins, notably the Nambūdiris of Kerala, appear to have maintained the tradition for 2 000 years or more. See also yajña.

Subjects: Hinduism.


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