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Hinduism Reference

Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism: Volume One: Regions, Pilgrimage, Deities edited by Knut A. Jacobsen (Handbook of Oriental Studies / Handbuch Der Orientalistik: Brill Academic) The five-volume Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism is a thematically organized encyclopedia, presenting the latest research on all the main aspects of the Hindu traditions. Its essays are original work written by the world’s foremost scholars on Hinduism. The encyclopedia aims at a balanced and even-handed view of Hinduism, recognizing the divergent perspectives and methods in the academic study of a religion that is both an ancient historical tradition and a flourishing tradition today. Following a pluralistic approach, the encyclopedia embraces the greatest possible diversity, plurality, and heterogeneity. It thus emphasizes that Hinduism encompasses a variety of regional religious traditions, as well as a global world religion.

To the extent we are able to review individual volumes we will review each section by its theme.

Volume I of the Encyclopedia of Hinduism covers two main thematic fields. First it presents the regional traditions of Hinduism with articles on the Indian states and main regions of India and on historical regions outside of India. Here the reader will also find entries on sacred space and pilgrimage traditions, sacred time and festival traditions. The second thematic field concerns the various gods, goddesses and divine powers of Hinduism past and present.

Volume II: Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism: Sacred Texts and Language, Ritual Traditions, Arts, Concepts Volume II  edited by Knut A. Jacobsen (Handbook of Oriental Studies: Brill Academic Publishers) This is the second of the five volumes of Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism. The goal of the Encyclopedia is to present the latest scholarship on all aspects of the Hindu religious traditions. The Encyclopedia makes available in-depth critical scholarship, and the depth and breadth of information provided in this work are unmatched by any reference work on Hinduism. I should appeal to a wide range of readers. At the foundation of the Encyclopedia is a fascination with a phenomenon that we as humans share, and in the examination of this phenomenon, the emphasis is on critical knowledge. Hinduism as a religious tradition functions on a number of different levels, from the most complex architecture, philosophy, and linguistic activity to the performance of short ritual acts: a woman connecting for a brief moment to a statue of the god Ganesa in a wayside shrine on her way to work, a Hindu holy man performing his morning rituals in the Himalaya, a young boy learning to recite Sanskrit ritual texts at a school for priest education in South India, a dance performance in a temple, an astrologer giving advice to a client, the tying of a short thread to a tree by a pilgrim at a Hindu sacred place, a meeting of the organizational committee of a Hindu temple anywhere in the world, a philosophical discussion at an assembly of learned persons in Benares, artisans making stone sculptures for temples, Vedic sacred formulas and texts recited daily, and manuscripts of Hinduism being preserved in facilities and libraries worldwide. In these and many other ways, the Hindu traditions are performed by hundreds of millions of people every day. The goal of the Encyclopedia is to present the Hindu traditions as they take place on all these levels. Hinduism, it is often observed, has no common church and no common creed, and it is not based on a holy book or a single founder. That may be so, but Hinduism has many organizations, many creeds, many sacred texts, and founders of a number of organizations and knowledge traditions. The vision of this work is to approach the mosaic and network of Hindu traditions in all their multiplicity, and as both historical and contemporary institutions from different angles and in a variety of contexts, and to document a number of connections and networks.

For many scholars whose work is dedicated to understanding the history, structure, and pluralism of Hindu traditions, Hinduism is definitely the world's most exciting religion. This enthusiasm for the subject is displayed in the articles of the Encyclopedia. The articles are clear, comprehensive, interesting and exciting, and they do justice to the Hindu traditions both in the context of ancient civilizations and as global living traditions. 

Sacred Texts and Languages

Ritual Traditions



Volume III

Social Organization

Religious and Professional Roles

Religious Communities and Traditions

Philosophical Schools

Volume IV

Historical Periods

Philosophers, Poets, and Saints

Relation to Other Religions and Traditions

Hinduism and Indian Politics

Hinduism and the Indian Constitution

Hinduism and Contemporary Issues

Volume V

Religious Symbols

Hinduism and Migration: Contemporary Communities outside South Asia

Some Modern Religious Groups and Teachers

Detailed look at volumes seen:

Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism: Volume One: Regions, Pilgrimage, Deities edited by Knut A. Jacobsen (Handbook of Oriental Studies / Handbuch Der Orientalistik: Brill Academic)This is the first of the five volumes of Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism. The goal of the Encyclopedia is to present the latest scholarship on all aspects of the Hindu religious traditions. The Encyclopedia makes available in-depth critical scholarship, and the depth and breadth of information provided in this work are unmatched by any reference work on Hinduism. I hope it will appeal to a wide range of readers. At the foundation of the Encyclopedia is a fascination with a phenomenon that we as humans share, and in the examination of this phenomenon, the emphasis is on critical knowledge. Hinduism as a religious tradition functions on a number of different levels, from the most complex architecture, philosophy, and linguistic activity to the performance of short ritual acts: a woman connecting for a brief moment to a statue of the god Ganesa in a wayside shrine on her way to work, a Hindu holy man performing his morning rituals in the Himalaya, a young boy learning to recite Sanskrit ritual texts at a school for priest education in South India, a dance performance in a temple, an astrologer giving advice to a client, the tying of a short thread to a tree by a pilgrim at a Hindu sacred place, a meeting of the organizational committee of a Hindu temple anywhere in the world, a philosophical discussion at an assembly of learned persons in Benares, artisans making stone sculptures for temples, Vedic sacred formulas and texts recited daily, and manuscripts of Hinduism being preserved in facilities and libraries worldwide. In these and many other ways, the Hindu traditions are performed by hundreds of millions of people every day. The goal of the Encyclopedia is to present the Hindu traditions as they take place on all these levels. Hinduism, it is often observed, has no common church and no common creed, and it is not based on a holy book or a single founder. That may be so, but Hinduism has many organizations, many creeds, many sacred texts, and founders of a number of organizations and knowledge traditions. The vision of this work is to approach the mosaic and network of Hindu traditions in all their multiplicity, and as both historical and contemporary institutions from different angles and in a variety of contexts, and to document a number of connections and networks.

For many scholars whose work is dedicated to understanding the history, structure, and pluralism of Hindu traditions, Hinduism is definitely the world's most exciting religion. This enthusiasm for the subject is displayed in the articles of the Encyclopedia. The articles are clear, comprehensive, interesting and exciting, and they do justice to the Hindu traditions both in the context of ancient civilizations and as global living traditions.

Organization. The Encyclopedia of Hinduism contains in-depth, critical research articles that are thematically organized, rather than short, alphabetically organized dictionary entries containing only information that would be easily retrieved from the Internet. The organization of articles within each theme is alphabetical. Many local gods and goddesses, festivals, castes, sacred places, saints, organizations, and so on are not given separate entries, but information about them is nevertheless found in a number of articles. The index, to be included in volume V, will be comprehensive for all volumes and will serve as the alphabetical tool of the Encyclopedia.

Common terms and concepts. Some terms — such as those for certain bodies of Hindu sacred texts such as Sruti ("Revealed Texts"), Smrti ("Texts Committed to Memory": texts based on revelation but composed by humans), Agama ("Scripture": texts considered revelation by certain Hindu traditions), and those for the three major divisions of the Hindu traditions, Vaisnava (traditions related to the worship of the god Visnu and his embodiments), Saiva (traditions related to the worship of the god Siva and his entourage), and Sakta (traditions related to the worship of the Goddess, Sakti, and goddesses identified with her) — are used and referred to in a number of articles and are explained and treated in overview articles (for Sruti, Smrti, and Agama, see overview article "Canon and Texts" [vol. II]; for Vaisnava, Saiva, and Sakta, overview article "Religious Communities and Traditions" [vol. HI] ), in addition to being index words and searchable through the index.

Hinduism includes many gods and goddesses, but many Hindus and many Hindu textual traditions also insist that behind the multiplicity of gods there is in reality only one God, or that all the goddesses similarly are manifestations of one and the same great Goddess. To cope with this plurality of conceptions of the divine, the generic term God is used when speaking of the one God of whom it is believed that all distinct gods or goddesses are but forms, and the term Goddess is used when speaking of the one Goddess, of whom all distinct goddesses are believed to be manifestations. The Devi refers to the Goddess, while devi refers to one of the many goddesses, devis.

Theme One: Regions and the Regional Traditions

The term "region" refers to the characteristic features of the social groups that belong to a distinct geographical realm or territory. Ideas about what would define such a realm vary considerably. Modern concepts of the region are often based on a scientific mapping of the earth with its continents and poles, perceived as parts of nation-states with fixed territorial boundaries and a commitment to preserving each area's territorial integrity. Seen from a historical perspective, regions are thought to be the result of a complex interplay of geographical and topographical features, ethnic groupings, and linguistic, economic, and historical dimensions that all contribute to the emergence of a regional culture. This can even result in an intense awareness of the value of the region as a cultural realm in its own right, as the emergence of regionalism as part of a political agenda even in times of "globalization" shows. Such notions were also implied in the emergence of India as a nation-state and the formation of the Indian Republic as a federal state (- historical periods; -> Hinduism and Indian politics). Although India now appears to be mapped, with clear-cut boundaries as a territorial unit comprising federal states, one should not forget that this is only the most recent formation and demarcation of regional differences under the paradigm of the nation-state. For the Indian subcontinent, this came at the price of the Partition and the creation of the new states of Pakistan and Bangladesh, resulting in the resettlement of millions of people, costing many their lives. It also meant the separation of regions that in the past had formed one cultural and economic realm, as well as severing the social, religious, and linguistic bonds among the people inhabiting it. Such cultural regions had previously served as a common, but not necessarily clearly demarcated, point of reference on various levels of communication and social interaction. While the Partition resulted in establishing a central government in Delhi vis-a-vis the federal states, it also created the paradigm for claims of greater regional autonomy and regional independence that have been raised throughout much of the history of post-Independence India, as can be seen in the case of Punjab or the newly created federal state of Jharkhand.

While in general the analysis of Hinduism in the regions in the articles assembled in this volume mirrors the contemporary situation and thus takes the present federal states as the point of departure, there is still a strong awareness that historically, socially, and religiously, the regions may follow different lines of both demarcation and cohesion from those produced by modern governors, administrators, and politicians. Neither the history nor the geographical boundaries of what has now come to be India have been static and unchanging, but have been subject to various cultural, religious, and political formations as well as interpretations. This is also true of the past, where state formation and regionalization resulted from complex situations and various causes. Among these causes were migration, conquest, and natural disaster, as well as the introduction of new forms of administration, government, economic infrastructure, technology, new religions and philosophies, and a variety of art, architecture, and cultural performances. Nowadays, therefore, the development, formation, and dissemination of Hindu religious traditions and communities do not correspond to modern political formations, but continue to be part of multilayered, decentralized processes. This is also one of the reasons why this volume includes not only the regions of contemporary India, but also what could be called "historical" regions into which Hindu communities traveled long before "South Asia" or "Southeast Asia" became the names of world regions. Indicative of this is the fact that until 2008, -÷ Nepal - the only country with a Hindu monarchy - lay outside India. This is one example of territorial boundaries implying a history and political claims that do not necessarily converge with religious traditions. This can be seen in the fact that the ancient land of Nepal was certainly not conceived as being outside of India, but was rather praised in a Sanskrit text called the Nepalamahatmya (The Glorification of Nepal) as one of the places worth visiting in order to fulfill one's religious quest (see Uebach, 1970). Another example is - Bangladesh, which before Partition was part of the larger cultural realm of east India and was characterized by its specific forms of Hindu-Muslim encounters and examples of syncretistic religious traditions that often cannot be described without crossing over to West - Bengal.

While many aspects of the modern conceptualization of a region are connected to the political, economic, social, and intellectual changes that became the driving force in the creation of modern societies, the notion and awareness of regional differences and of the impact of such differences on the self-perceptions of social groups or religious traditions is already common to many older textual sources. However, the defining features of a region are markedly different from modern ideas. They often include religious aspects, such as defining a region by the catchment area of a central temple or other sacred centers, or by the presence of certain ritual practices - designations that are already present in the earliest textual sources of Hindu religious traditions (see below). These sources remained influential when more-expanded notions of regional culture and regional identity developed, which are often based on the acknowledgment of regional languages as avenues for literary production and religious expression. Dealing with the region from a historical perspective thus implies exploring both indigenous ideas and the findings of historical and anthropological studies. Both aspects can be contextualized by drawing upon scholarly approaches to the topic of region in the history and anthropology of the Indian subcontinent and its religious traditions.

Indigenous Perspectives and Early Sources for Region and Place

Concepts of region and an awareness of regional differences are already present in early Indian texts. Geographical aspects of place, as well as distinctive components used to draw distinctions -such as language, ritual, social structure, diet, and other customary features of lifestyle (acara) - are often depicted as being interconnected and mutually dependent. In some texts, cultural traits are given priority in defining a region, while in other cases, environmental aspects are considered the reason for distinction. The region as primarily a politically defined, mapped territory does not play a prominent role. Such notions seem to be connected with the rise of larger empires or (in recent times) with the introduction of new political and administrative structures. In most of the earlier sources, the region is not dealt with as a topic in its own right as such, but only when discussing other issues, such as the principles of law and order (9 dharma), religious teachings, or medical treatment. In many instances, differences are construed against the background of a taxonomy of values or an assessment of suitability and appropriateness. As a consequence, some regions or places are regarded as better places to live in than others. While giving preference to certain ideas of normativity and spiritual conduciveness, the texts also demonstrate an interest in accommodating differences. This is especially true of law texts and medical treatises. Although regional customs and lifestyles are classified as more or less good, pure, or healthy, this does not necessarily result in calls for change or condemnation. Rather, a pragmatic attitude emerges indicating that no centralized authority could put an end to certain customs, even if this would be desirable when seen from a normative perspective. In dealing with the texts, it is therefore important to consider the intentions of the authors and the preferences and values that influence their assessments as well as the perception of the regional differences they find important to mention.

Perhaps one of the best-known sources in dealing with regional differences in terms of ritual 0 practices, the cultural elite, and social structure is the description of the different North Indian regions in the Manusmrti, one of the most influential law texts (Dharmasastra) of ancient India Dharmasutras and Dharmasastras). The term for region, land, or country most often used is desa. The relevant passage (2.17-24) begins with the definition of the "region of brahman," brahmavarta. The term brahman can be understood as either referring to the Brahman priests or to brahman, the sacred language and knowledge of Vedic ritual transmitted by the priests. It is defined as a place made by the gods (devanirmita) between the rivers Sarasvati and Drsadvati. It is the place to turn to when one wants to establish right conduct (acara), which is regarded as one of the sources of dharma (law, order, merit): "The conduct handed down from generation to generation among the social classes and the intermediate classes of that land is called the 'conduct of good people' (sadacara)." (MaSm. 2.18; trans. Olivelle) The neighboring region is the "region of the brahmanical sages" (brahmarsidesa), defined by the clans and peoples living there, namely, the Kurus, Matyas, Pancalas, and Surasenakas. This corresponds to the land between present-day Delhi and Mathura, which in ancient times was the region in which the Mahabharata epic was set. Manu recommends that "all the people on earth should learn their respective practices (caritra) from a Brahmin born in that land" (2.20). The rest of the Gangetic Plain, which stretches "from the eastern sea to the western sea [to Prayaga]" (2.23) and between the Himalaya and the Vindhya Mountains, is called the "middle country" (madhyadesaa); Manu ultimately views them as one land, the "land of the Aryas" (aryavarta). In this way, the whole land is classified as being inhabited or dominated by the aryas, the "nobles" who are initiated into the Veda and Vedic ritual practices. The connection between Vedic rituals and the region is also emphasized when Madhyadea is said to be the "region fit for sacrifice" (yajniyo desaa), defined by the natural range of the black antelope (krsnasaras). This wild animal serves as a marker of ritual boundaries since its skin is used in Vedic rituals and as a marker of an initiate's ritual status. The idea of the "land of the Aryas" is not mentioned in the oldest Dharmasutras, but emerges in the younger ones such as Baudhayanadharmasutra and Vasisthadharmasutra, which can be dated to the mid-2nd century BCE (see Olivelle, 1999, xxxiii).

The distinctions among the different regions of the land "fit for sacrifice' are made on the basis of ritual, ethnic, and geographic components, while their unity as the "land of the nobles" is established on the basis of ritual practice. This is also emphasized when Manu defines the "land of the foreigners" (mlecchadesa) as being beyond the country in which Vedic rituals are performed (mlecchas). In consequence, the boundaries of the land "fit for sacrifice" change with the dissemination of Vedic ritual and social practices (BaudDhS. 1.2.9-12 on different definitions of the boundaries of Aryavarta). In conclusion, Manu recommends that a member of the three upper castes - that is, the "twice-born" who receive the sacred thread during an initiation ritual which authorizes them to perform household rituals ( samskarras) - should settle in one of the countries that constitute Aryavarta, while a servant may also live elsewhere if necessary. This passage shows that the countries south of the Vindhya Mountains where of no concern to Manu's understanding of dharma, which indicates the treatise's own "regional" affiliation. However, the situation is different in other texts, such as the Ramayana epic, which does stage important parts of its plot in Southern India. With the emergence of a more or less stable cosmography in the epics and Puranas, the whole subcontinent is given due consideration as the southernmost region (varsa) of the continent (dvipa) called Jambudvipa ( cosmic cycles, cosmology, and cosmography). The name of this region is Bharatavarsa, derived from the name of the legendary King Bharata and the clan of the Bharatas. Still today, Bharat is the indigenous name for India. In many texts it is defined geographically as the land that has four frontiers (caturanta), defined by the Himalaya Mountains and the three coastlines. However, it is also defined in religious terms as the only region in which the law of karman (retribution) is valid, and therefore it is called the land of karman (karmabhumi). As a consequence, it is the best place to pursue religious aspirations, since one's efforts bear fruit there. In addition, it is the region of the cosmic and social order, of dharma, and the hierarchy of castes, and thus of true and appropriate behavior. Yet, this idea of the cosmographic and territorial unity as well as religious-social conduciveness of India as a cosmic region has not resulted in effacing the special features or qualities of different regions and places on the subcontinent.

Testimony of this can be found, for instance, in dharma texts and medical treatises ( Ayurveda). There is also a term for such regional features: desadharma, the norms, practices, and lifestyle characteristic of a region. Seen from the more general perspective of the experts of dharma, this can be regarded as a variant or specific case of acara - common, customary, and therefore accepted forms of behavior. It is therefore open to debate and interpretation when and why such behavior is regarded as bad conduct (duracara). However, even if people can be seen as practicing bad conduct, this does not necessarily imply that they must be condemned or changed. On the contrary, by declaring a form of conduct that does not follow the general norms and demands of dharma, to be "regional" is in some texts somewhat justified and accepted. This strategy of dealing with regional differences is already present in the older Vedic law texts ( Dharmasutras) such as Baudhayanadharmasutra (1.2.5-6), where it is said that one should not follow the practices of one region in another, which implies that one should abide by the customs and norms of the region in which one lives. However, this rule is rejected by other authorities as a general principle for assessing the acceptability of a specific custom. The Gautamadharmasutra (11.20) states, for instance, that the "laws of a region" are only valid if they do not run contrary to scripture or tradition (amnaya) (see also BauDhS.; ApDhS.2.14.7-15.1). This rule seems to have prevailed, as similar statements are made in Yajnavalkyasmrti 1.343 and Manusmrti 8.46.

Regional boundaries and differences were often construed according to either the cardinal points or the names of peoples living in a certain area. Again, one of the older dharma texts may serve as an example of what were regarded as characteristic differences in the practices of the Northern and Southern regions:

There are five areas in which the practices of the south and the north differ from each other. We will explain the ones peculiar to the south. They are: eating in the company of an uninitiated person, eating in the company of one's wife, eating stale food, and marrying of the daughter of the mother's brother or the father's sister. The ones peculiar to the north are: selling wool, drinking rum, trafficking animals with teeth in both jaws, making a living as a soldier and travelling by sea. (BaudDhS. 1.2.2-4)

However, what is actually meant when texts refer, for instance, to north or south is often not clear, and one must be careful not to project contemporary ideas and maps back onto the sources of the past (see Olivelle, 1999, xxvii).

In addition to differences in cultural and social practices, the various geographical conditions and environmental qualities became an important topic in poetic literature and treatises when dealing with the different landscapes in which a plot should be staged. One example of this is the concept of the "five landscapes" (aintinai), which was developed in ancient Tamil poetics (- Tamil texts). This concept has also been employed by modern academics as a template for analyzing religious traditions (see Sontheimer, 1985; see below). The concept of the five landscapes serves to establish different settings for typical romantic situations. Each landscape is accorded not only a specific economic basis but also specific deities. Although the description of the different regions follows a poetic interest, they are nevertheless based on actual geographical features. The five landscapes are described as follows: (1) mountain regions with dense forests (kuiñci) inhabited by tribal populations of hunters and gatherers who worship the god Murukan; (2) coastal regions (neytal) with fishing and salt production as their economic basis and the vedic god Varuna is the patron deity; (3) desert or wasteland (palai) without any natural resources for livelihoods, so people live by robbery, and since there is no basis for a cult, some texts do not list a deity, while others mention the goddess - Durga and the sun god, Surya ( navagrahas); (4) pastoral forest landscape (mullai) with millet fields and cattle breeding, in which the people are herdsmen living in villages or small towns and worship Vasudeva/ - Krsna (Mayon); and (5) river basins (marutam) with agriculture and irrigation systems for rice cultivation with Indra (- Vedic gods) as a patron deity who is both the Vedic king of gods and the rain god (see Zvelebil, 1973, 85ff.). The evocation of landscapes and regions is a characteristic feature of many poetical, musical, and dance traditions. These traditions play a central role in the representation of a region and are vital for embedding religious scriptures and practices into a sacred landscape and in thus enhancing its uniqueness, as is the case, for instance, with the region of Braj in Kmaism or Pandharpur for the  Varkari Sampradaya.

Indicative of the importance of place and perhaps also of the competition among regions are the different sets and networks of sacred places; these not only attract pilgrims but also became objects of praise literature in the genres of Mahatmyas (glorifications) and Sthalapuranas (Puranas dealing with the mythology and ritual of a temple or sacred site), which specialize in narrating the mythological origin of the place and its special qualities that support religious practice and/or a commendable and respectable life. With the rise of the vernacular languages and regional cults as media of religious texts, an awareness of the advantages and cultural uniqueness of the region in which a language is spoken seems to increase as well. Some regions seem to lay greater emphasis on regional identity than others, as far as this can be assessed on the basis of available or studied literature (see also languages and literatures in the North/South Indian vernaculars). A 14th-century theological treatise of the Mahanubhav community (--> Mahanubhavas) in Maharashtra, the Sutrapath, recommends that one should better live in Maharashtra:

One should live in Maharastra. The soil of the country may be hot and dry, but the people are not violent-tempered. In another country the people are violent-tempered and the soil is either excellent or bad... In this way the composition of the different countries changes; the people are different, food is different, the wind is different, rain, heat, water and even the trees, grain, diet and plants vary according to the region. Therefore one should leave a bad place and stay in Maharastra. (acara [rule] 24; see Sontheimer 1985, 130; trans. Malinar)

The text also draws distinctions within Maharashtra by pointing to different circles (mandala) defined by topographical and linguistic features (see Sontheimer, 1985, 131f.). Sontheimer's work shows that instead of rejecting older, nonacademic notions in the scientific study of regions outright, indigenous traditions, perceptions, and concepts can enrich scholarly perspectives.

Academic Perspectives in the Study of Regions

Concepts of region or regional tradition in studies of Hinduism often summarize social, cultural, and religious formations, which are defined in relation to individual localities, on the one hand, and larger cultural constellations on the subcontinent, such as pan-Indian traditions or larger political formations such as the present Indian Republic, on the other. The majority of studies focus on the geographical, economic, political, and historical factors that have contributed to the emergence of a regional tradition or cult and aim to explain its unique features. Some of these studies include definitions of what constitutes a region, although there is a strong awareness that there "seem to be as many definitions of regions as there are social science disciplines" (Cohn, 1967, 5). Most studies accept geographical or environmental features as a point of departure for exploring other components that contribute to the emergence of regional identities and traditions, such as the historical, linguistic, religious, or sociocultural ones. Cohn, for instance, distinguishes a linguistic region, "one in which there is a shared and recognized literary language," from cultural regions, which can be described by drawing on certain customs such as dress codes as well as religious features such as deities, festivals, and rituals. Another important parameter for defining regions is provided by the analysis of variations in social organization, such as caste ranking or - kinship (Marriott, 1960). While these criteria work on a general level and some (such as the linguistic definition) have been used in establishing most present-day federal states in India, the actual boundaries of a linguistic region, for instance, are usually difficult to establish. For example, the presence of local dialects and other language groups in a region places limits on the mutual intelligibility to be expected in a linguistic region. Therefore, most scholars employ a perspective that would allow different criteria to be combined in order to deal with the history, religion, or culture of a region. This is especially important in studies of historical regions and when tracing the histories of individual regions. Many historians accept the idea that India is characterized by different nuclear regions, which are thought to be the economic basis for the creation of larger state formations (Cohn, 1967, 12f.; based on Day, 1949; and expanded upon, for instance, with regard to South India by Stein, 1977). These nuclear regions are based around the principal river basins, which are also the major agricultural areas, such as those formed by the rivers Indus, Ganga, Yamuna, Tapti, Kistna (Krsna), or Godavari. These areas provided enough resources to build up larger kingdoms together with their administrative structures, as well as to create and maintain religious and cultural institutions. These nuclear regions remained points of reference for local and regional networks even when they were contested and exposed to various invasions and conflicts. H. Kulke and D. Rothermund give special emphasis to such processes of institutionalization when identifying regional traditions and view a regional tradition as a "multi-layered sediment of past institutional imprints. Early kingdoms, religious cults and holy sites, language and literature may all have contributed to this tradition" (Kulke & Rothermund, 1985, x).

Contrasting nuclear regions, B. Cohn (1967) describes the characteristic features of "route areas" as being less stable and more of a mosaic, since they serve to connect the different nuclear areas, as the case of the region of Malwa shows. Still different are regions of relative isolation, whose ecological characteristics prevent any easy access - such as the mountain areas of the Himalayas or remote areas like Chhattisgarh (- Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh). However, as historical studies demonstrate, these distinctions are not absolute or stable in the sense that they would determine the actual importance of a region and its interaction with other regions and traditions. The case of Chhattisgarh shows to what extent remoteness can turn into centrality when new economic demands arise. The interplay between topographical-ecological features and shifting historical constellations has also been drawn upon in studies of individual regional cults and was used to explain certain characteristic features of regional forms of Hinduism.

In response to the question of what constitutes a region and a regional religious tradition, some scholars have sought explanations by developing theoretical perspectives with regard to the interplay between regional and pan-Indian traditions. This interplay is generally viewed as a bidirectional process characterized by mutual influences. These perspectives provide a referential framework for explaining continuities and "family resemblances" that connect regional and pan-Indian traditions. This framework also helps in exploring the processes that enable the dissemination of a regional cult in other regions and the acquisition of a pan-Indian presence. Other scholars take some of the characteristic features of Indian cultural and religious history as a point of departure. This is the case with M.N. Srinivas' seminal study on the Coorgs (1952) in - Karnataka, in which he suggests that the tendency amongst lower-caste groups to emulate the norms and practices of the Brahmans reflect a process of "Sanskritization." This term refers to the situation of Brahmanical elites (being in charge of the Sanskrit tradition as teachers, interpreters, and performers) spreading throughout India and implementing their values and practices by assimilating local cults to more Sanskritized forms and ideals. According to M.N. Srinivas, Sanskritized Hinduism spreads in two directions: by the extension of Sanskritic deities and ritual forms to an outlying group, as well as by the greater Sanskritization of the ritual and beliefs of groups inside Hinduism. Both these processes are at work, and the first results in Sanskritic deities' assuming different forms in their travels all over India while the second results in local deities' assuming Sanskritic labels and forms. (Srinvas, 1952, 214)

This idea was taken up by the anthropologist R. Redfield (1955) when he applied his distinction between the "great tradition" and "little traditions" to India and equated the great tradition with the Sanskrit tradition. In several studies, M. Singer (1955-1956; 1959) employed this distinction, identifying local traditions as little traditions that become absorbed by the "great" Sanskritic tradition. This model has proved very influential in exploring the development of Hinduism as a highly diversified and yet connected field of religious doctrines and practices. However, it was pointed out by other scholars that it may be an oversimplification, given the situation that Sanskrit is not always the medium of cultural change and because local traditions also contribute to - or even become - pan-Indian traditions. B. De (1967) makes the important point that the focus on Sanskritization tends to marginalize and neglect the importance of the interaction with Muslim Persian traditions between the 13th and 18th centuries (- Hinduism and Islam). Another important point of criticism is that the notion of Sanskritization does not give enough credit to the composite nature of the Sanskrit tradition itself and therefore tends to neglect the other side of the process: the little traditions. V. Raghavan (1955-1956) and F. Staal (1963) argue that the great tradition is not monolithic, but is in itself a result of the aggregation and assimilation of many different regional and local traditions. The great tradition is thus "based upon little traditions. The origins of the Great Tradition lie in numerous little traditions, widespread throughout Indian history and geography" (Staal, 1963, 267). Staal points out that the idea of Sanskritization needs to be qualified, especially when it is used not only in order to describe linguistic change but also to analyze larger cultural and social processes. This means that it is necessary to consider the different levels on which both unifying and diversifying components are located.

Such considerations are central to a short but important article by B. Cohn and M. Marriott (1958) in which they suggest a four-level model for analyzing both diversifying and integrative structures in the Indian context, addressing the following levels of study: (1) all India, (2) the region, (3) the subregion, and (4) the local level. This model allows the scale of diversity and integration to be qualified and therefore more specific statements to be made about the focus of investigation. On the all-Indian level, diversity appears to be most intense, given the different regions that make up the subcontinent. The region is defined by a major literary language and a unique hierarchy of caste. Next is the level of the subregion, which is defined as the area of a principal spoken language and some cultural distinctiveness, as well as territorial demarcations (in subsequent studies called "little kingdoms," for instance). Further differences are encountered on the local level. The authors point out that these levels, especially the regional and subregional ones, are primarily defined in cultural and social terms and do not necessarily correspond to political divisions. The definition of region as a primarily political and administrative unit within the Indian nation state is a recent development. While diversity may be most prominent on the all-India level, integration and unification do not necessarily increase on the other levels. Migration or other forms of displacement of populations caused, for instance, by natural catastrophes or war had an impact on not only regions but also localities, as can be seen in the juxtaposition and differentiation of distinctive ways of life (Cohn & Marriott, 1958, 80) — for instance, in the distinction between Left-Hand and Right-Hand castes in southeast India. Migrating populations may adapt to the regional or local culture, "but cultural distinctions as well as marital or kinship ties with the distant home are more often preserved for centuries by expatriate caste groups" (Cohn & Marriott, 1958, 80). While these components of diversity can be detected on many levels, there are also important "integrative patterns" at work such as networks and centers, including religious ones. Since networks are not clearly demarcated, but rather diffuse patterns of relationships, they serve to describe both the integrative structure within a region and connections with other regions that constitute a unifying component on the all-India level. Most important here seem to be networks of trade and marriage, as well as those formed by religious travelers (religious teachers, bards, etc.) and traveling (- tirtha and tirthayatra). In this connection, centers can be considered nodal points in which networks crystallize at a greater or lesser scope in religious institutions and in the range of specialists. The importance of such centers, however, did not necessarily result in political or religious centralization or a stable hierarchy of centers. Rather, centers are characterized by their heterogeneity, and they "contribute to India's diversity even in the process of organizing that diversity" (Cohn & Marriott, 1958, 85). Powerful political centers (such as the Muslim Mogul court in Delhi) as well as successful sacred centers became models for other parts of India and in this way functioned as integrative factors. An often-cited example is the replicas of the sacred city of Varanasi (- Uttar Pradesh) or parts of it elsewhere in India. Sacred cities can be regarded as an arena that allows residents and visitors alike to view "Indian civilization as multiple orderings of diversity" (Cohn & Marriott, 1958, 85). Many studies have demonstrated the importance of .sacred centers in the creation of regional identities and as places of intense cultural productivity in terms of the presence of religious specialists, creation of literature and other cultural media, and the accumulation of economic resources and political power. They play an important role in exploring the relationship between region and religion. Other patterns of integration in terms of the dissemination of religious traditions across the regions are established by a variety of performative traditions and artistic idioms.

Region and Religion

When it comes to exploring the characteristic features of Hindu traditions in a region, many of the issues discussed earlier come into play, while the analytical focus differs depending on the research methods and interests of the different disciplines. Apart from studying regional cults in their own right, the relationship among the local, regional, and pan-Indian levels of dissemination and representation has been a major point of investigation. The way in which interactions between the little and great traditions are viewed depends on whether synchronic or diachronic aspects are being stressed. Therefore, some cult formations have been described as indicative of syncretism, hybridity, or tolerance, as well as the results of a history of Hinduization, integration, or amalgamation in which, more often than not, the great tradition provides the referential framework. Yet many studies also demonstrate the opposite: the persistence of individual cults and deities on local and regional levels, which do not lose their characteristic features even if they become associated with larger cults. Sometimes local and regional cults are disseminated and travel to other places, thereby influencing the shape of a regional cult constellation, as is the case with the car festival of god Jagannatha, which is also celebrated outside its regional home of Orissa. Another important aspect of the interplay between the regional and pan-Indian levels is that the myths and cults of the great tradition often show distinct features and are given rather diverse interpretations in the different regions so that one may wonder what their form in the great tradition would be. Textual authority does not always provide an answer to this question, since it is often also highly diversified — or, if not, then open to different commentarial and performative interpretations. The case of the one all-Indian festival, the autumnal festival of the goddess Durga, proves this point, since we find marked differences not only in the celebration of the festival but also in the interpretation of the myth and the persona of the goddess. The dissemination of this cult also provides a basis for exploring Hinduism in a larger South Asian and Southeast Asian context, as well as in contemporary diaspora communities (- Hinduism and Migration).

The goddess cults became especially prominent in studies that deal with the emergence of regional forms of Hinduism, which are considered to be the results of the process of the integration and transformation of tribal cults into patterns of Brahmana- or Ksatriya-based Hinduism. A. Eschmann studied such processes as forms of "Hinduization" in which tribal deities that had been previously worshipped in aniconic form with animal sacrifices and rituals that often include different forms of possession and trance became integrated into the iconic cult of Hindu temples administered by a Brahmanical priest. More often than not this implied the adoption of the goddess as a relative of the "dynastic deity" (kuladevata; -> kuladevi) of the ruling royal family. H. Kulke expanded this line of research into the political aspects while studying the formation of "little kingdoms" in the tribal — Hindu interface in the mountain regions of Orissa as an emulation of the central regional cult located on the coastal belt. This resulted in what H. Kulke calls "Ksatriyaization," that is, the expansion of Hindu chieftains and kings in the tribal areas, which resulted in moving the tribal population from the dense, mountain forests (vana) into the agricultural areas (ksetra) by employing them in the fields or recruiting them as soldiers. This political and economic alliance is also represented in certain cults (Kulke, 1992; 1993). While processes like these lend the region of Orissa some of its characteristic features, similar patterns can also be detected in other parts of India, as has been shown, for instance, by G. Sontheimer (1985) for Maharashtra or H. Basu (2004) for Gujarat. While G. Sontheimer employs the indigenous distinction between the geographically and economically distinct areas of "forest" (vana) and "field" (ksetra) or "village" (grama) as a heuristic device for analyzing such processes, H. Basu focuses on the integration of royal and local cults. in the cultural memory of the region provided by a caste of genealogists and - bards and enacted in various ritual traditions. G. Sontheimer's studies show that the correspondence among landscape, religion, and economic structure can be seen as one of the reasons for the continuity between ritual affiliations and regional characteristics even in changing political or economic circumstances. These studies also stress the significance and the heuristic value of indigenous ideas about the impact of geographical features or landscapes on the religion and lifestyles of its people in order to analyze the religious history of a region. This is also demonstrated in another of Sontheimer's studies in which he employs the concept of five landscapes (aintinai) developed in ancient Tamil poetics as a template for analyzing religious traditions in Maharashtra (see above).

The specific religious features of a region are often analyzed with reference to its sacred topography, that is, the distribution and location of sacred sites, pilgrimage routes, processional festivals, and sacred fields (dhaman or ksetra). From a religious perspective, regions are often regarded and described according to their sacred value for the particular community that is institutionalized in a region and/or venerates a god or teacher associated with it. The networks and interconnections of sacred centers in and across the regions create structures of cohesion and integration. All these activities, which crystallize at such sites, as well as the political and economic support given to them contribute to the emergence of a "regional cur This term has been applied in anthropological studies of various religious traditions. According to R. Werbner (1977, ix), "regional cults" are cults of the middle range - more far-reaching than any other parochial cult, yet less inclusive in belief and membership than a world religion ... Their central places are shrines in towns and villages ... where great populations from various communities come to supplicate, sacrifice or simply make pilgrimage. They are cults which have a topography of their own conceptually defined by the people themselves and marked apart from other features of cultural landscapes by ritual activities.

Many regional cults and sacred centers in India match this general definition, although the processes that led to their emergence do not follow a singular pattern and result in quite different structures. Much attention has been given to the study of the sacred centers in terms of history, topography, festivals, pilgrimage, and procession, as well as social structure. In his case study of Puri (Orissa), J. Rösel (1985) shows how sacred cities crystallize a regional tradition by accumulating religious, economic, and political resources (see also Freitag, 1989, for Banaras). Regions and subregions are characterized by such centers and ritual forms that are more or less explicitly connected to the all-Indian and local levels, respectively.

The consideration of both indigenous concepts and academic approaches to regional diversity not only has proved useful in the study of Hinduism in the different parts of South Asia, but also has demonstrated that pluralism and diversity do not rule out the existence of integrative and unifying features. Rather, the interplay between regional diversity and overarching, integrative patterns - be they geographical, cosmic, performative, or conceptual - is one of the most important dimensions in the study of Hinduism past and present.

Hinduism and Migration: Contemporary Communities outside South Asia Some Modern Religious Groups and Teachers

Theme One Part Two: Tirtha and Tirthayatra: Salvific Space and Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage to powerful places is of great importance in numerous religious traditions of South Asia, particularly in Hindu traditions, in which such powerful places are believed to be salvific space - that is, a location in which religious goals such as health, wealth, moral purity, divinity, rebirth in heaven, and final salvation are believed to be available. To take advantage of this salvific power, a person must take a journey - mentally or physically - to the salvific space and perform ritual acts.

The Sanskrit word tirtha (Hind. tirth) can be translated as "sacred space," "pilgrimage place," and "salvific space." Tirthayatra means pilgrimage or travel to a sacred place. The word tirtha has a number of additional meanings such as way, road, advice, instruction, parts of the hand, holy person, and virtues (see Kane, 1973; Sarasvati, 1985, for some of the meanings), but this essay will focus on tirtha in the geographical sense - that is, as a place of divine or extraordinary power that is believed to fulfill wishes and grant salvation: the aim of pilgrimage travel (tirthayatra). Such places are often but not always associated with water. The translation of tirtha as "salvific place" is meant to emphasize not only the power of place but also the fruit (phala) of visiting - that is, the salvific promises of the pilgrimage places. According to Hinduism, especially the traditions represented in the Mahabharata and the -> Puranas and the local traditions of numerous Hindu sacred places, presence at the salvific place is itself a way to attain the highest salvific goals of religion: moksa (either freedom from rebirth or a life in some divine heaven; liberation) and bhoga (the highest enjoyments of life such as health, wealth, and happiness). Everything one might wish for will be granted at sacred places (see Tirthacintamani 30). The places themselves, and often the water associated with the place, have this power. This power of tirthas to grant salvific rewards to all regardless of -) gender, caste, or morally impure acts performed previously (purity and impurity) is significant and is not always sufficiently noted in scholarly presentations of Hinduism, which often favor more conservative or restrictive traditions.

Although the attainment of salvation (moksa) is often depicted as difficult and time consuming (requiring numerous lifetimes), it is presented in the Mahatmyas and Sthalapuranas (texts celebrating sacred places), as easily accessible and available to all, regardless of a person's moral impurity, lack of restraint, or ignorance (avidya). As it is said about the sacred place Kurukshetra, the site of the battle of the Mahabharata war between the Pandavas and Kauravas and the site of the conversation between Arjuna and Krsna found in the  Bhagavadgita, "If one desires to go to Kurukshetra, even in thought, all his moral impurities (papa) disappear and he goes to the world of Brahma" (manasapy abhikamasya kuruksetram yudhisthira, papani vipranasyanti brahmalokarn ca gacchati; 3.81.5). It is also said in Mahabharata, Vanaparvan (repeated in the ninth book of the Mahabharata, the Salyaparvan), "Just the dust of Kurukshetra blown by the wind shall take even persons of wicked acts to the highest salvific goal" (pamsavo 'pi kuruksetrad vayuna samudiritah, api duskrtakarmanam nayanti paraman gati; 3. 81.175; 9.52.18). Statements like these are sometimes interpreted as "great exaggerations and overstatements" (Kane, 1973, 565), but how Hindu pilgrims in the past understood these statements is not always clear. Judging from the number of people visiting sacred places, the statements represent not only the views of the pilgrim priests but also the hopes of the pilgrims. However, in the dharma (law) texts (- Dharmasutras and Dharmasastras) treating the topic of tirtha and tirthayatra and presenting the promises of sacred space, the restrictions on salvific fruits were also promoted, and the inclination was to make the attainment of the fruits of pilgrimage dependent upon personal sacrifices, restraint of the senses, ritual performance (puja; samskaras), and moral purity.

Performance of the ritual of tirthayatra is not required for the attainment of moksa, but tirtha traditions promise that such performance is the means to attain whatever one wishes. Tirthayatra is mostly an opportunity, not a duty, although it may become a duty in connection with rituals such as sraddha and pindadana (parts of the rituals to the ancestor, especially to one's own parents; - death and afterlife). Many Hindus use the opportunity of pilgrimage to wash away moral impurity in the hope of securing a good rebirth in a rich family, life in heaven, or final salvation; elderly people conscious of death approaching particularly think it is important to visit tisathas to wash away moral impurities (papa) before death arrives. At most tisathas these days, a visit lasts from a few hours to a few of days at most. However, at some places such as Prayag and Nimsar (Naimisa, Naimisaranya), people are encouraged to stay for a month, and the texts celebrating the greatness of Varanasi (Banaras) encourage people to settle there for life. It is claimed that only a fool leaves the sacred city (see in the Skandapurana the Kasikhanda [Book on Kasi, i.e. Varanasi] and Matsyapuriina). This focus on staying permanently distinguishes Varanasi (although it is not the only one encouraging settling permanently): the point here is not just to visit and take a sacred bath, as most pilgrims indeed do, but ideally to stay and finally die there. In Varanasi, the tradition of institutions, called moksabhavans, allows people from the surrounding villages as well as areas farther away to come to the sacred city and stay there to die. Earlier wealthy families built houses along the riverfront in order to settle there in old age. A few people spend a lifetime in Varanasi, never going outside of the borders of the sacred city.

Extraordinary religious landscapes play a significant role in Hindu sacred narratives. Narratives of gods and goddesses are integrated into and identified with landscapes, and geography and mythology are blended in the traditions of tisathas and tirthayatra. It is a typical feature of Hinduism that sacred narratives are attached to landscapes and geography - that sacred narratives are localized. Gods or goddesses present in the landscape break through (as in cases of the svayambhulirigas [natural aniconic, mostly phallic symbols of - Siva, see - liriga] that figure frequently in the narratives to explain the origin of sacred places), descend from above (as in the case of the body parts of the goddess falling to the ground, claiming to give rise to the saktipithas [pilgrimage places to the goddesses]), or are born (as in the case of the - avataras [descents] of- Visnu). Evidence of places being centers of sacred power -locations where divine power can be harvested -lies in a svayambhuliriga appearing at a place, part of the goddess, the avataras, a shrine of Siva or Visnu, and so on. It has been argued that what distinguishes the Tamil myths (- Tamil Nadu;  Tamil texts) from the classical corpus of Sanskrit hymns is the persistent localization of the mythic action. However, this localization is typical in not only Tamil but also Sanskrit myths; the association of myths with places on earth characterizes many Hindu traditions.

That divine power manifests itself in the landscape relates to the word tisatha in two senses, First, a tisatha is a ford, a crossing point, a place where divine power is made available for the ritual of worship (puja). And second, a tisatha is a ford, a crossing point, a place where it is possible for humans to cross over - samsara (cycle of birth and rebirth), which is an ocean of sorrow (duhkhasagasa). The events related to gods or sages are often ascribed to an earlier age (yuga; -> cosmic cycles), a unique concept that allows one to assign divine qualities to places. Although the places are different in different ages, their localization is the same.

Salvific space not only designates individual shrines, but also may include large areas (ksetras) with hundreds of shrines, which might take many days to visit or circumambulate. The 12th-century text, Laksmidhara's Tisathavivecanaka Oa, in the description of Varanasi, lists more than 200 sacred lingas, wells, and ponds, as well as the salvific powers and the benefits (phala) related to each of them. Sacred space, especially in North India, often includes larger landscapes, even whole cities, with healing, enriching, and salvific power attributed to hundreds of sacred centers. Examples of such ksetras in North India are Ayodhya, Vrindavan, Nimsar, Chitrakut, Varanasi, and Kurukshetra. Rivers and mountains also constitute entire sacred areas (- river goddesses). The whole of the river Narmada is a sacred area, and what is probably the longest pilgrimage in India performed regularly by lay pilgrims is along this river. The pilgrims first walk from the ocean to its source Amarkantak on one side of the river and return to the ocean on the other side.

Theme Two: Gods, Goddesses, and Divine Powers

Hindu texts and communities conceptualize and experience the divine as one, as many, and as being beyond numerical count; as male, female, androgynous, and transcending gender; as having form and being formless; as transcendent and immanent; as fully present in the local temple and in a heavenly abode; as unmanifest and as manifesting itself through trees, plants, animals, birds, and snakes; as being present in or appearing as human beings and as being trans-human; and as ineffable. The same person may sometimes hold many of these beliefs simultaneously or at different times. Some gods and goddesses may be worshipped only by a few families, or a village; others are revered by Hindus all over the world.

There have been hundreds of divine powers over four millennia in the network of what we call the Hindu traditions today. Many gods and goddesses popular about three thousand years ago are no longer worshipped, and others, like Indra (Vedic gods), may have a minor role now in the pantheon. Some of the deities we encounter in Hinduism today are present in the - Vedas (although not in a prominent role); some scholars even hold that the prototype of a few gods may be found as early as in the Indus Valley civilization (historical periods). Others have a very recent history. In general, not too many deities totally disappear; they may, over the centuries, be superseded by others. There are also many overlapping categories of divinities. For instance, some local gods may, over time, become identified with one of those in the Puranas and gain a larger audience, but some, like the Tamil god - Murukan are known in Sanskrit texts but worshipped only in the southern part of India. Some are personifications of natural phenomena or are able to control illnesses; others may be identified with one's ancestors.


The origin of the deities in literature or material culture and the relationship of the earliest named gods and goddesses to those worshipped today are contested. A plethora of gods and goddesses are mentioned in the Vedas, and most of them are not worshipped today, at least, not by the names by which they are known in the early texts. Early Vedic gods like Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and Nasatiya are mentioned in the Mittani inscriptions in northern Syria. Scholars both affirm and deny the connection between the godlike being with buffalo horns — which is surrounded by animals, seen in a seal excavated from the Indus Valley civilization — and the - Siva of the Puranas. Both - Visnu and Siva are mentioned in Vedic literature but have relatively minor roles. However, devotees have frequently identified Siva with the Rudra or Prajapati of the Vedas. Likewise, the followers of Visnu identify him with the Purusa, the cosmic man of the famous Rgvedic hymn. In this hymn, all creation begins from a cosmic ritual in which Purusa is sacrificed. Some devotees today also interpret Vedic verses as referring to Ganesa (- Ganapati/Gainesa).

Among the Vedic deities, Indra, Varuna, Agni, and Soma (the sacred plant and the moon) are prominent. Some, like Varuna, guard the universal force of rta which sustains the universe and undergirds all of society. Goddesses such as Aditi (the mother of the adityas, the solar deities) and Usas ("Dawn") are also revered but are not held as supreme beings. Max Muller and other Indologists have used the term henotheism to refer to the theological culture of the Vedic period in which one god was conceptualized as supreme, and the others were simultaneously valorized as divine powers, but the usefulness of this term has been questioned.

In Vedic literature, we see a broad classification between the devas (divine beings) and asuras (taken to mean demons in post-Vedic Hinduism, but having a more ambiguous meaning in the Vedas). We also see the presence of - Yama who rules over dead, specifically ancestors collectively called pitr (fathers; - death and afterlife). Devas and asuras consummate enemies, along with the pitr figure prominently into later Hindu traditions in India and in Southeast Asia.

The many Vedic gods are marginalized in the - Upanisads which focus primarily on the ineffable - brahman which is neither male nor female, but is just described as being the ultimate reality (sat), consciousness (cit), and bliss (ananda). The Taittiriyopanisad refers to brahman as truth/reality (- satya), knowledge (jnana; - wisdom and knowledge), and infinite (ananta). There are some attempts to identify this brahman as Siva or Visnu-Narayana in various Upanisads, but, in general, it is not seen as a personal being.

It is in the contexts of the epics, - Ramayana and -) Mahabharata, and the Puranas (which span more than a millennium) that we begin to see the popularity of many of the deities worshipped today. Hindus have held these gods and goddesses in great esteem for centuries. Prominent among these are Visnu, Siva, Devi ( Manadevi, the Great Goddess, and her many forms as - Parvati - Durga, etc.), Laksmi (- Sri Laksmi), Ganesa, as well as the many incarnations of Visnu, and the manifestations of Siva and the Goddess.

Composed in the early centuries of the Common Era, Tamil literature (- Tamil texts) mentions five landscapes, each associated with a flower, a bird, and a god, and signifying a situation in love. The primary gods and goddesses mentioned in this literature are Ceyon ("The Red-Colored One," an epithet of Murukan or Skanda), Mal or Mayon ("The Dark One," referring to Visnu/ Krsna), and Korravai, a goddess of war. Regional goddesses such as Korravai (no longer worshipped) and Pattini (revered in some parts of - Sri Lanka) are described in considerable detail in these texts. Although Murukan is identified with Skanda or Kartikkeya of the Puranas, he largely remains a deity important in the Tamil region and in places of the world where there is a large Tamil population such as - Malaysia and Singapore.

Siva, Visnu, and Sakti/Devi (the Goddess) are the center of sectarian movements. There have been other sectarian movements in the past as well, and in the Tamil region, a group of six faiths has long been recognized. Known as sanmatha (six sects or religious groups), and popularly attributed to the 8th-century philosopher - Sankara it provides a frame of social movements attached to six gods and goddesses. These sectarian movements were called Saura (referring to the followers of Surya or the sun; - navagrahas),Saicta (followers of Sakti), Kaumara (followers of Kumara or Murukan), Vaisnava (followers of Visnu), Saiva (followers of Siva), and Ganapatya (followers of Ganesa). This acceptance of six sectarian movements corresponded to a larger philosophical frame whereby the devotee was expected to transcend the worship of an individual deity and realize the truth of nondualism (advaita; -> Vedanta).

Deities and concepts, in general, are not completely discarded in the Hindu traditions. Things are just piled up, and older notions or gods are ignored until, eventually, they are discovered afresh and retrieved by someone. Instead of Indra, the Avins, or Varuna (the important gods of the Vedas), the chief deities of the Puranas are Visnu, Siva, and Devi (the Goddess) in their many manifestations. As these gods and goddesses emerged in the epics and Puranas, the Hindu traditions as we know them today crystallized. We observe in the Puranas an amalgamation of Vedic culture and autochthonous structures. The puranic literature brings together and makes explicit notions that were implicit in the epics and in the - Bhagavadgita. One such concept is the idea of Visnu's descents (avataras) or incarnations on earth.

Incarnations and Manifestations

Visnu ("The All-Pervasive One") is portrayed as having several incarnations (avataras); he comes down to earth eon after eon in animal and human form to rid it of evil and establish - dharma or righteousness. While texts speak of several incarnations, by the 5th century CE, ten incarnations were deemed to be most important. Nine of these are said to have already happened, and the tenth will take place at the end of this eon of time (- cosmic cycles).

The first incarnation was as a fish. Although this story is found in gatapathabrahmana, a Vedic text (Vedas and Brahmanas), fuller versions are seen in later Puranas. In this story, reminiscent of the flood myths in other religions, Visnu saves Manu (the progenitor of the human species), his family, and many animals from a flood. Visnu later incarnates as a tortoise, a boar, a half lion-half man, and as a short, young man. The fully human incarnations of Visnu follow and include the warrior Parasurama, -> Rama (the prince who is the hero of the great Hindu epic the Ramayana), Balarama, and Krsna. It is believed that the tenth incarnation will come at the end of the present eon of time, which started around 3102 BCE. Since this eon is calculated to last 432 thousand years, the end is not imminent.

Some texts omit Balarama and instead mark Krsna as the eighth incarnation. They then introduce the religious teacher Buddha as the ninth incarnation, immediately after Krsna. According to some interpreters, the Buddha is said to have diverted people from Hindu teachings, but according to others, he is praised because he gave an important place to nonviolence (-> ahimsa) as an ethic.

Although there is no official set of incarnations listed for Siva or Devi, they are connected to a number of manifestations, recognizable through both the pan-Hindu world and manifestations that are very local. For instance, the Great Goddess' manifestation as one who killed the buffalo-demon (Mahisamardini; -> Durga) is known by Hindus all over, but her appearance as Akilantecuvari (Skt. Akhilandesvari) - in the large temple complex at Tiruvanaikka, near Srirangam/Tirucchirapalli in Tamil Nadu - is known only to residents of this metropolis. It is an important temple locally and is attested to in Tamil literature and several inscriptions. The temple is more than a thousand years old, and the deity is clearly identified as the Goddess in Sanskrit literature who not only is the consort of Siva but also is supremely powerful. Nevertheless, this temple and the goddess, like many others, are known in this urban area.

Siva has dozens of manifestations. Many of them are described in Tamil Puranas, such as the Tiruvilaiyatalpuranam (The Purana of the Sacred Playful Acts), a text composed around the 13th century. Most of these stories, again, are known only locally; nevertheless, this is still the Siva of the Sanskrit texts. Siva is also known by many specific iconographic forms, and some are identified with particular temple towns in India or as present in specific parts of a temple. As Daksinamurti, his icon (murti) is located in the walls of the inner shrine, facing out towards the south (daksina). Devotees believe that it is through this form that Siva teaches; here is the - guru seated under a banyan tree (bot. Ficus benghalensis), teaching -> wisdom and yoga. While his form as the king of dance (Nataraja) is known by most Hindus, it is particularly beloved in South India, especially in the temple of Chidambaram.

The manifestation of the goddess in diverse forms is one of the main characteristics of the Hindu traditions. Laksmi, Parvati, Durga, and -> Sarasvati are well known, as are specific local manifestations such as Vaisno Devi in Jammu and -> Kashmir. The legion of goddesses includes benevolent and gracious deities such as Laksmi and Parvati, the powerful Ambamata ("Mother Goddess") sometimes identified with the Great Goddess, the strong, warriorlike Durga, and the complex Kali who transcends and defies human categories. Kali can be death and destruction; but Kali is also the redeemer of the human souls and the entire universe, pushing the human being to go beyond conventionally accepted norms and concepts. In addition to these, there are the many village deities (gramadevata). Although one can distinguish among all these deities in theory, in practice, Hindus tend to think of goddesses in one of three categories: Laksmi and her many manifestations in temples, Sarasvati (who is seldom worshipped in temples), and the plethora of female deities including Mahadevi, Sitaladevi Kali, Parvati, and Durga, who are grouped together in a loose manner and sometimes connected with Siva.

The Hindu "Trinity"

The notion of the trimurti (three forms) seems to be quite old within the Hindu traditions. It is discussed by the time of the poet-playwright Kalidasa (see Sanskrit texts) around the 4th century. In the symbolism of trimurti the gods Brahma, Visnu, and Siva coalesce into one form with three faces. The concept is sometimes interpreted to imply a polytheism of the Hindu people, with a belief in Brahma as creator, Visnu as preserver, and Siva as destroyer. This interpretation has a grain of truth, for the concept does try to bring together the three great functions of a supreme God and divide them up among known deities. However, in two ways the notion misleads more than it informs.

First, the trimurti is taken to imply that Hindus give equal importance to all three gods. In practice, however, most Hindus do not worship Brahma. While portrayed in mythology as the creator god, he is himself created by another god; he is the agent of either Visnu, Siva, or the Goddess, creating, to the pleasure of the supreme deity. It is possible that Brahma was worshipped before the 2nd century BCE (Bailey, 1983, 3-36), but he was never exalted like Siva or Visnu. Unlike these gods, he "does not transcend rightness (dharma) or reflect the notion of moksa [liberation] as his ultimate value" .

Second, the trimurti suggests that creation, preservation, and destruction are separate functions. But followers of Visnu, Siva, or the Goddess commonly understand that the deity they hold supreme is responsible for an integrated creation, preservation, and destruction of the world. In this context, destruction is not forever and not unplanned; it is in the cosmic nature of the evolution and devolution of the universe. All of creation temporarily enters or becomes one with the body of Visnu or Siva until a new cycle of creation begins again. These cycles will go on forever for all the souls still caught up in the wheel of life and death samsara)). Thus, the devotee of Siva, Visnu, or the Great Goddess would say that the supreme deity he or she worships is the creator, maintainer, and destroyer of the universe. The trimurti however, is very popular in iconography. Large sculptures of Brahma, Visnu, and Siva have been found in many parts of India and Southeast Asia.

Amalgamated Deities

There are strands within the Hindu traditions that seek to reconcile and bring together deities into a composite entity or concept. The trimurti concept is one such strand. There are other deities who are the combination of two or three, or have characteristics of multiple deities. Harihara, carved on the walls of the 6th-century Badami caves in Karnataka is a combination of Visnu and Siva. This deity is also known as Sankara-Narayana in parts of South India. Harihara is also a popular deity in pre-Angkorian - Cambodia (c. 7th-8th cents. CE). Harihara is visually represented as half Visnu, half Siva; split right down the middle, the left side is frequently depicted as Vigil' and the right side as Siva.

The coming together of Visnu and Siva is depicted in yet another way in the Bheigavata-purarta.iva desires Visnu, who is the form of the enchanting Mohini, and from this desire comes Hariharaputra ("The Son of Hari and Hara"), a name of Ayyappan.

In some deities, we see the coming together of a god and a goddess. This image emphasizes the idea of a divinity that encompasses both genders or suggests that the supreme being is beyond gender. One such example is the philosophic notion of Siva and Sakti being united; icon graphically, and in the devotional world, the deli) called Ardhanarisvara ("The God Who Is Hall Female") is popular. In this divinity, seen in the Elephanta caves, in Chalukya architecture (Badami caves, Pattadakal, - Karnataka), as well as in the Chola bronzes, the left side is depicted as female (Parvati or Sakti) and the right side of the body has the attributes of Siva.

Gods such as - Dattatreya and goddesses like Gayatridevi have characteristics of many deities Although Dattatreya is considered to be an incarnation of Visnu, he bears a resemblance to Siva as well as deities possibly of regional origin. While it is generally believed that these deities bring together various sectarian groups, it is also possible that they were valorized by political patronage.

Local and Family Deities

Local manifestations of the deity and sacredness of the local place are extremely important features of the Hindu traditions. Every village has its own deity, and while those acquainted with other forms of Hindu traditions (sampradaya) may identify this deity with a pan-Indian one, the local people usually regard that god or goddess as autonomous and as supreme, with his/her own unique history and personality. The local deities may or may not be explicitly identified with one of the major deities. Some gods and goddesses of considerable local renown, like Sundaresvara and Minaksi of Madurai, are identified with Siva and Parvati. Although --> Venkatevara is identified as Visnu, he became well known in other parts of India only in this century. Others, too, through the process of Sanskritization, have been assimilated (at least in theory) to the puranic deities. The process and degree of Sanskritization - by which local deities become amalgamated into their more famous counterparts seen in Sanskrit texts, and by which they acquire a different mode of worship - are frequently uneven and variable. The changes that accompany such a process of Sanskritization may include, for instance, the introduction of worship in Sanskrit by Brahman priests instead of people from other - castes or vegetarian food being offered to the deity instead of animal sacrifices. Some gods and goddesses, even after several decades, retain a very local persona.

There are hundreds of deities whose power may extend only as far as a village or a suburb, or perhaps impact as much as an ethnic group. The goddess Muntakanni Amma ("The Goddess with Prominent Eyes") in the suburb of Mylapore, in Chennai (Madras), is an example of a "village" goddess in an urban area and well known within a few miles' radius; but the goddess Mariyamman is recognizable by most Tamil-speaking people worldwide. Mariyamman is the deity who presides over infectious diseases, especially measles, chicken pox, and smallpox. Although local, there are deities with similar functions in other areas of India; Sitaladevi, worshipped in the - Bengal region, for instance, is believed to heal cases of smallpox and chicken pox.

Gods and goddesses are also associated with families, castes, and communities. A family goddess (- kuladevi) could be one of the better-known deities or one known only by a clan or extended family. Propitiation of these is necessary for well-being; ignoring them can wreak havoc in the family.

Although some gods and goddesses have a long history, some are very new on the scene.  Santosi Ma for instance, has become popular only after the 1970s, following the release of a famous Hindi movie by the same name.

Spatial Deities

Some of the earliest deities in the Vedas represent space and territory. The earth is personified as a goddess, as are the guardians of the various directions in space. Earth (Prthivi, - Bhudevi) is prominent in puranic literature also and is represented as the consort of Visnu. Iconographically, in South Indian temples, Visnu is portrayed with Sri Laksmi on one side, and earth or Bhudevi on the other side. In the narrative of Visnu's incarnation as a boar (Varaha), earth is taken away by a demon, and Visnu rescues her from the depths where she is kept hidden. In puranic and later narratives, she embodies patience and forbearance, and it is to alleviate the havoc caused on her that Visnu incarnates himself.


Not just earth but also the guardians of the world (lokapalas) or the eight directions (astadikpala) are venerated as minor deities in the Hindu traditions. These gods are seen in the Vedas; while initially snakelike beings (nagas; 9 sacred animals) in the Atharvaveda eventually their functions are assumed by other deities. Thus, Isana rules over the most auspicious region of the northeast, Varuna oversees the west, Agni is in charge of the southeast, and so on. These functions are applied in a number of ways in the life of a Hindu; since Agni or the god of fire presides over the southeast, the manuals on the art of building (9 vastusastra) mandate that a kitchen should be placed in that direction in a house. One's dwelling, then, is preferably to be in harmony with the functions of the gods of the eight directions.

Rivers and Planets

Apart from the many gods and goddesses, many Hindus also deify natural phenomena like rivers ( river goddesses). The rivers Kaveri, - Ganga Yamuna and others are personified and worshipped as mother goddesses. Many regions celebrate river-goddess festivals with considerable éclat and joy. Rivers are said to promote agricultural prosperity and satisfy people's desires for wealth, health, and all forms of happiness. The Ganga and the Yamuna are particularly popular river deities; they are worshipped in the north, and, in many parts of India, their images are seen carved on pillars near the entrance of temples.

Hindus also revere planets and propitiate the 9 navagrahas (nine planets) with rituals. The nine planets include the sun, the moon, Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and two mythical entities called Rahu and Ketu, identified with the ascending and descending nodes of the moon. Many temples in South India and Hindu temples in the diaspora have images of the nine planets. They are installed in a square, with the sun in the middle. None of the planets faces another directly, indicating that they are all on different orbits. Astrology ( astrological traditions) is an important feature of a Hindu's life, and in many families, a child's horoscope is drawn immediately after its birth. While family astrologers - whose relationship to a family was similar to that of the family physician - generally cast the horoscope in the past, computer software programs now do the job all over India ( Hinduism and the Internet). A person would still need the astrologer to interpret trends in one's life and to keep tabs on the movement of planets. Astrologers may attribute a series of bad events in a client's life to the adverse positioning of planets in one's horoscope and usually suggest remedies to propitiate the deities who preside over these planets. Such treatments to alleviate the malefic influence of the planets may include visits to the navagraha shrine, worship of a powerful god, reading of sacred texts, changes in diet, and so on.

Historically, of the many planets, the sun (Surya) is singled out for special worship. Temples to Surya are found in India, including Konark (Konarak; - Orissa). There is also some evidence that he was considered to be the supreme deity by a sectarian movement; the Saura (followers of Surya) sect is mentioned as one of the traditional groups recognized supposedly by the 8th-century philosopher Sankara.

Nation as Goddess

While the earth, planets, directions, rivers, and mountains are all seen as gods and goddesses, in the last two centuries, mother India herself is personified and seen as a goddess. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, India personified as the mother (Bharata Maa) has been important in political thinking. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (1838-1894) wrote the famous book Ananda Math containing the poem Vande Mataram (I Bow Down to the Mother), which was set to music and considered to be India's national song. Mayuram Viswanatha Sastri (1893-1958), a musician who participated in the struggle to free India from colonial rule, also composed a song popular among all South Indian classical singers, called Victory, Victory to Mother India (Jayati Jayati Bharata Maa). In these songs, India is both a goddess and a mother; she protects her children, and the children, in turn, have to protect her.

Trees and animals are also considered divine, but snakes (naga) in particular are worshipped as gods in many parts of India. While in northern India, live snakes may be ritually venerated under controlled circumstances, and in the south, icons with carved snakes are worshipped. Under the sacred trees in many villages, and in many places in large cities, there may be many small stone images of intertwined snakes. These serpent images are venerated with red spots of kumkum powder (made from turmeric or saffron), which is used to adorn the forehead of women. Women come to these open-air shrines to worship at particular times of the year, or when they need a wish to be fulfilled. The serpents, called nagas, may well be one of the earliest features of the Hindu traditions. We have very little evidence that their worship was prevalent in the Harappa culture since only one seal possibly depicting the serpent has been found there, but it is possible that they were venerated in other parts of the subcontinent.

Human Beings as Gods and Goddesses

In Hindu text and practice, the line between gods/goddesses and human beings is often indistinct. Sometimes the statements may be metaphorical as when the Taittiriyopanisad says that one's mother, father, teacher, and a guest in the house are all divine (deva). Philosophically, in many communities, a human being is considered to be either brahman or the body of brahman but in practice, of course, they are not considered to be deities. Nevertheless, at particular times and in some ritual contexts, young, prepubescent girls may be seen as representing or embodying the Goddess herself - as seen most famously in -› Nepal. In many parts of India, during the autumn -> festival of navaratri women see young girls as representing the Goddess. These young girls (frequently aged seven or nine) are invited home, venerated briefly as divine, and sent back with - gifts.

More commonly, many gurus and religious teachers are considered to be the very incarnation or manifestation of a particular god or goddess. The identification is very loose and flexible and may change over time. Some gurus are worshipped as the manifestation of Sarasvati or Kali; others are seen as Siva or as a combination of Siva and Sakti. Occasionally, religious leaders also claim to be Kalki, the last avatara of Visnu.

In many Hindu communities, both in India and in the diaspora, men and women sometimes become possessed by a god or goddess in specific ritual situations (-> possession). The deity speaks through the devotee, and as long as that human body is occupied by the goddess, that human being is considered to be the deity and is venerated. Such possession can occur either spontaneously or induced through rituals, drumbeats, and so on.

Although the Sanskrit texts clearly distinguish between the gods (devas) and ancestors (pitrs), the two categories are sometimes conflated in practice. Thus, when Hindu temples were built in Cambodia, for instance, the Siva or goddess icons installed in them would be known by one of their many divine epithets; and these would also be the names of the ancestors of the kings who dedicated the temples. The kings, therefore, thought that their parents or deceased family were worthy of veneration, and in a ritual punning, the kings identified their ancestors with Siva and the goddess.

Temples and Iconography

Most Hindu deities have a specific -> iconography and are depicted with recognizable attributes (-) divine attributes). Whether it is an icon in a temple, in a street side shrine in a town or village, or on a calendar picture, Laksmi is depicted as seated on a lotus flower and carrying lotus buds in her hands. Visnu has a conch, discus, and mace, while Siva carries a trident, Ganesa rides on a mouse, and so on.

Gender and the Deities

I have noted that the Hindu perceives the supreme being as a god and as a goddess. Vedic hymns and many puranic texts frequently refer to a deity in the masculine gender. The Upanisads, however, portray the supreme being as transcending gender. One can say that for the Hindu, the ultimate deity is male, female, and beyond the category of gender.

It is important to note, however, that male deities frequently have characteristics that are culturally associated with women or motherhood in India, and goddesses have weapons of war connected with gods. Although it may be problematic in modern discourse to identify virtues or qualities that are "male" or "female," such associations have been strong in the Hindu traditions. Visnu is seen as having the quality of vatsalya or maternal affection. Vatsalya is a Sanskrit word that describes the love a mother cow has for its calf. Poets also frequently address this male deity as "mother." Some goddesses, like Durga and Kali, carry weapons like the male gods. They go to battle and fight to destroy evil, behaving like "male" warriors.

Visnu also incarnates himself as Mohini or "Enchanting Woman." The Puranas contain several stories about this incarnation. It is held that Visnu takes this form to allure his devotees, and in some cases, to distract his enemies. For instance, he takes the form of an enchanting woman to distract the demons in the story of the churning of the ocean of milk. Visnu is dressed to look like a woman (as the " Mohini" incarnation) once a year in South Indian Vaisnava temples. This is usually on the eve of the festival called vaikuntha ekadasi (in Dec—Jan). While there are specific legendary contexts for appearing as a woman, theologians say that Visnu will assume any form to attract the devotee.

The supreme being is frequently represented as a married couple. Vaisnavas think of Visnu and Laksmi as inseparable, like a flame and its light; Saivas say that Siva and Parvati are always in union. The idea that the supreme being can be understood as the inseparable pair is portrayed in a number of ways in iconography. I just noted that Visnu and Laksmi, and Siva and Parvati, are presented as loving, married couples. There are also other ways of depicting this inseparability. Visnu is always portrayed with Laksmi on his chest. Siva and Sakti (Parvati) are depicted as the linga and yoni. These pictures show that the supreme being contains both types of energies, male and female. Iconographically, the form of Siva in union with the female energies is perhaps the most commonly seen image all over India. In temples and in wayside shrines, Siva is frequently usually portrayed as a linga an upright, conical structure, often made of stone within a hole, representing the womb (yoni). The word linga means "distinguishing symbol." It is placed in a receptacle called yoni the womb and abode of all creation. For most Hindus, the union between the linga and the yoni is a reminder that male and female forces are united in generating the universe.

Although the term linga is sometimes translated as phallus, Hindus do not normally interpret this as a physical object. Rather than reminding them of sexual connotations, it serves as a reference point to the spiritual potential in all of creation, and specifically to the positive energies of Siva. Although Siva is stereotyped as the "destroyer" in some literature, his creative role is what is represented in the temple.

Lingas are made from many materials. Texts give exact specifications of the ratio of height, width, and curvature of the linga. Lingas are sometimes carved with faces, manifesting the different personalities of Siva. In the temple the Siva linga is bathed, anointed, and worshipped.

The most striking image of the androgynous deity concept is seen in the anthropomorphic picture of Siva and Parvati, known as Ardhanarisvara. The name literally means "The Lord Who Is Half Female:' This depiction of Siva is common in South India. The left half of the body is seen to be that of a female; the hair, the soft, rounded cheeks, the breast, the curved hips, and the long legs are exquisitely graceful. The right side, however, is all male. The hands carry the weapons and symbols associated with Siva and Parvati. The picture presents a graphic combination of male and female bodily frames, and like Visnu's incarnation as Mohini, it startles the devotees' minds and jolts their understanding that god is male or female. The supreme being is both male and female and transcends sex as well. But for those who think of the supreme as male, or as female, the deity appears fully and completely in that form.

Monotheism and Polytheism

Hindu texts, communities, and practices constantly move between notions of one god and many gods. A famous conversation in the Brhadaranyakopanisad expresses the paradox between the one and the many:

Vidagdha Sakalya asked: Yajnavalkya: "How many gods are there?" He answered ... in line with the ritual invocation "... three hundred and three, and three thousand and three..."
"Yes, but Yajnavalkya, how many gods are there, really?"
"Thirty three:'
"Yes, but really, how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"Yes, but really, how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"Yes, but really, how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
..."Yes, but really, how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"One and a half"
"Yes, but really, how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"Yes, but who are those three hundred and three and three thousand and three?"
"They are but the powers of the gods; but there are only thirty three gods:'

From a refusal to attribute gender or number to limit the infinity of the supreme being, to glowing praise for various deities, the Hindu traditions are filled with several viewpoints. When the theologian Yajnavalkya is asked how many gods there are, he replies with a formulaic number. Yajnavalkya is pressed again and again by the interrogator. His final answer seems to be "one," but he adds that all the deities are the powers of the gods and says there are 33 deities, an answer that is somewhat ambiguous.

Hindus have spoken about the ineffability of the supreme being in Sanskrit and in vernacular languages. And yet, most Hindus also believe that this supreme being also takes name and form and manifests him/herself to the devotees. Thus, the supreme power spoken of in the Upanisads as "brahman" is identified with Visnu, Siva, or a goddess, and in addition to these, several other gods and goddesses are also worshipped.

It is a matter of heated debate and scholarly controversy about using labels such as "monotheism" in Hinduism. Some Hindus, if they had to use a term to describe themselves, may well use the words "nondualist" or "monist." These are the followers of the philosopher Sankara, and, in the 20th century, followers of the many "neo-Vedanta schools:' Theism implies belief in and worship of a personal deity, and it is argued that in certain readings of the Upanisads, and from the viewpoint of Sankara, there is no ultimate, personal god with name and form. Rather, according to this philosophical vision, the whole universe, and all human beings, are really brahman the supreme being. The followers of the nondualist philosophy hold that every individual is brahman and it is because of both individual ignorance avidya) and a cosmic, illusory power (called - maya) that one thinks one is a mere created being. Thus, although one may worship a "god" in this phenomenal world, ultimately when one has attained liberation there is no personal deity. Absolute identity of the human and the supreme implies that there is only one reality in this universe, and, hence, the terms "monist" and "nondualist" are used as descriptors. People who adhere to variations of this philosophy would think that theism, from the viewpoint of enlightenment, is a temporary reality.

Most Hindus, however, worship the supreme being in the form of a god or goddess. This actually includes those who espouse the "nondualist/ monist" philosophy because they would assert that distinction is a part of this reality that they now live in. Nondualism is experienced only in the state of liberation. So, as long as they are part of this phenomenal world, they live by its reality structures.

Early accounts of India describe Hindus as polytheists and use this term in a pejorative fashion. Hindu family altars and temples have icons and pictures of multiple deities, but almost every Hindu would categorically reject the term "polytheist."

Some Hindu sampradayas (traditions) are clearly monotheistic. A classic example is the Sri Vaisnava tradition (- Sri Vaisnavism), which crystallized around the 11th century. Followers of this tradition worship Laksmi (also known as Sri) and Visnu, hence, the name Sri Vaisnava. All other deities are seen as votaries of Visnu and Laksmi. Sometimes, theologians state that it is Visnu who is the "inner controller" of Siva, Brahma, and other gods, implying that Visnu resides in their souls. Followers of this community take seriously the words spoken by Krsna in the Bhagavadgita verse:

Letting go all dharma, take refuge in me alone. I shall save you from all sins; do not grieve" (18.66).

Although verses such as these mandate exclusive worship of Krsna/Visnu, in practice the interpretation of this verse may be different from what one considers to be uncompromising monotheism. Worship of Visnu entails worship of all his incarnations. It also means that Visnu may be worshipped in his different manifestations in different temples, and each one of them has a distinct personality as manifest in the history and oral tradition associated with the temple. Visnu is worshipped as Venkatesvara in Tirupati, and as Rariganatha in Srirangam. One also worships Laksmi, the wife of Visnu, in her many manifestations in local temples. A typical temple in Srirangam has a main shrine dedicated to Ranganatha, and another to Laksmi, who is known here as Rariganayaki. But there are also individual, separate shrines for Krsna, Rama, and Vaikunthanatha (Visnu as he appears in heaven [Vaikuntha], shrines for the traditional devotees of Visnu such as Garuda, as well as many historical poet-saints and revered teachers of the community. Although it is clear that the latter are venerated and not thought of as deities, they are still included in one's worship. Devotees frequently see the other deities as conduits to the supreme being, as interceding on behalf of the deity, and so they believe that they are still monotheistic.

When texts enjoin worship of Visnu or Siva or any form of the supreme goddess, devotees believe that their consorts are also to be worshipped. Although several Hindu communities consider Laksmi, Parvati, and Siva (when conceptualized as a consort of Devi, the supreme goddess) to be distinct entities, they would not think that worshipping them contradicts the principles of monotheism. Sometimes they are cast in the role of votaries of the main deity; at other times, they are seen as inseparable, like the sun and sunlight.

In some traditions, Rama or Krsna are "exclusively" worshipped. Such communities in India come close to the Western notion of monotheism, but with important differences. Monotheism, in the Western understanding, refers to worship of one god; in the Hindu cases, it includes the many manifestations and incarnations of that god that may be seen as having distinctive personalities. It is also important to note in the Hindu context that such worship also includes the deity in relation to other divinities and to an entourage whose members are, in legendary or historical terms, connected with the worship. It may be convenient to call this kind of worship "relational monotheism," to distinguish it from Western variations of the term.

There are still other ways in which Hindus speak of one and many gods. Some of them acknowledge that there are many deities, but maintain that only one of them is really supreme. This is the deity that they worship, the one that is dear to them and their family.

Still others may say that there is only one supreme being, but it appears as many. It all depends on one's perspective and the angle from which one perceives the supreme one. The supreme being may take different forms to attract different kinds of devotees. There is also simultaneous manifestation of the deity on two or more forms. Thus, the goddess appears both in the temple icon and in a primary votary called Bangaru Adigalar in the temple at Melmaruvathur, Tamil Nadu. Seranvali, in northern India, appears both in a flame that has been consecrated in a worship ceremony and also in the form of a young girl whom she temporarily possesses.

Some Hindus say that the same god may appear in different forms, appropriate to the time of the incarnation and the - cosmic cycles. Thus, in certain earlier ages of time, when dharma was more prevalent, Visnu appeared incarnate as Rama and Krsna. In the kaliyuga of today, he appears in temples. In a Sanskrit verse, quoted in oral tradition, it is said that Visnu appeared as a fish, tortoise, and so on, in the first, golden age (krtayuga). In the tretayuga he appeared as Rama; in the eon just preceding ours, he appeared as Krsna. This verse concludes by saying that Venkatesvara is the appropriate deity for the kaliyuga. In this form of thinking, although there are many forms of Visnu, only one is appropriate for the times.

This idea can be carried over to other contexts as well. Theologically, many traditions and many devotees have a sense of monotheism. However, Hindus frequently worship many deities. Each one of them to which they pray, however, is the right one for the moment, for the job. When one begins a new venture, one prays to Ganesa. For a happy married life, one may pray to the goddess. For career advances, one may, for the short term, worship a deity or adopt a worship rite that was recommended by a friend or family member. Gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon intervene on behalf of human beings. We see this in the story of the gracious Parvati, who comes down as a princess and begins a new Pandyan dynasty, thus nurturing her subjects. We see this faith when one prays to Ganesa to help one find lost keys or get out of a difficult situation.

The divine person or deity Hindus venerate may even belong to another faith; but Sakti or power is not considered to be confined within certain religious boundaries. The attitude a Hindu may take in going to a specific deity for a special need is similar to going to a medical specialist; one goes to a cardiologist or a rheumatologist for different needs. Many Hindus think they are strict monotheists; others would hold that god is beyond number. To them, to insist that there is only one god is to limit the potential of the divine, comparable to limiting the deity to one gender; and so, some Hindus may argue that one and many are both human concepts and that the supreme being, by definition, is greater than numbers and gender. They would quote the Vedas: according to the Purusa Sukta (The Hymn to the [Primeval] Man) the "primeval man" (purusa) was everything - that is, everything a human being can think of; but in addition to it, "this person extends ten fingers beyond." The last line, for most Hindus, would imply that this cosmic/primeval person extends beyond human thought. Each manifestation of the deity is important to the Hindu, and each deity is unique. So, while one may talk of the various ways in which a Hindu is a monotheist, it is equally important to recognize that the worship of the ultimate power in many forms and the worship of gods and goddesses with different names and personalities is also a reality within the Hindu traditions.

Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism: Sacred Texts and Language, Ritual Traditions, Arts, Concepts Volume II  edited by Knut A. Jacobsen (Handbook of Oriental Studies: Brill Academic Publishers) This is the second of the five volumes of Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism. The goal of the Encyclopedia is to present the latest scholarship on all aspects of the Hindu religious traditions. The Encyclopedia makes available in-depth critical scholarship, and the depth and breadth of information provided in this work are unmatched by any reference work on Hinduism. I should appeal to a wide range of readers. At the foundation of the Encyclopedia is a fascination with a phenomenon that we as humans share, and in the examination of this phenomenon, the emphasis is on critical knowledge. Hinduism as a religious tradition functions on a number of different levels, from the most complex architecture, philosophy, and linguistic activity to the performance of short ritual acts: a woman connecting for a brief moment to a statue of the god Ganesa in a wayside shrine on her way to work, a Hindu holy man performing his morning rituals in the Himalaya, a young boy learning to recite Sanskrit ritual texts at a school for priest education in South India, a dance performance in a temple, an astrologer giving advice to a client, the tying of a short thread to a tree by a pilgrim at a Hindu sacred place, a meeting of the organizational committee of a Hindu temple anywhere in the world, a philosophical discussion at an assembly of learned persons in Benares, artisans making stone sculptures for temples, Vedic sacred formulas and texts recited daily, and manuscripts of Hinduism being preserved in facilities and libraries worldwide. In these and many other ways, the Hindu traditions are performed by hundreds of millions of people every day. The goal of the Encyclopedia is to present the Hindu traditions as they take place on all these levels. Hinduism, it is often observed, has no common church and no common creed, and it is not based on a holy book or a single founder. That may be so, but Hinduism has many organizations, many creeds, many sacred texts, and founders of a number of organizations and knowledge traditions. The vision of this work is to approach the mosaic and network of Hindu traditions in all their multiplicity, and as both historical and contemporary institutions from different angles and in a variety of contexts, and to document a number of connections and networks.

For many scholars whose work is dedicated to understanding the history, structure, and pluralism of Hindu traditions, Hinduism is definitely the world's most exciting religion. This enthusiasm for the subject is displayed in the articles of the Encyclopedia. The articles are clear, comprehensive, interesting and exciting, and they do justice to the Hindu traditions both in the context of ancient civilizations and as global living traditions.

Sanskrit Texts and Language

Sanskrit belongs to the Indo-European Language family. Within this it forms, together with the closely related Iranian languages, the Indo-Iranian subfamily. Commonly three major forms of Sanskrit are distinguished, namely Vedic, classical Sanskrit, and epic Sanskrit. Vedic is the language of the Indic tribes who entered the South Asian subcontinent probably during the early to mid-2nd millennium BCE, migrating from the Iranian Plateau northwest of present-day Pakistan into the Punjab in eastern Pakistan, northwest of the contemporary Republic of India. The earliest preserved "document" of these tribes is the Rgveda ( Vedas). The language of its oldest parts is early Vedic, which is based on a western dialect. The less ancient parts of the Rgveda, the Atharvaveda, and the rest of Vedic literature are composed in later Vedic, which displays more features deriving from central dialects. In the following centuries, the language continued to change, developing towards classical Sanskrit, which is, like later Vedic, based on a dialect of the central region of India. While it shares many features with later Vedic, the differences in phonology, morphology, and syntax are sufficient to distinguish Vedic and classical Sanskrit. Such a distinction did not receive much emphasis in the ancient brahmanical writings, but the mere creation of the Sarphitapathas (continuous recitation) from the Padapathas (word-by-word recitation; see also below) already indicates that the language of the Vedas was perceived as distant. Yaska's Nirukta as well as Panini's Astadhyayi (see below; for all grammarians and their works mentioned, see also language and linguistics) certainly display awareness of the difference between the language of the Vedas and their contemporary language (see esp. AstA. 1.1.16). Panini, for instance, explicitly distinguishes between the (metrical) Sanskrit language of the Vedic texts (chandas) and that spoken in his time (bhasa). It was his grammar, then, which regulated Sanskrit so effectively that essentially all the classical literature of that language adheres to his rules. This "classical Sanskrit" was no longer subject to the normal laws of linguistic development. The "colloquial" forms of Sanskrit — the most important one being the so-called epic Sanskrit, which is the language of the  Mahabharata and  Ramayana, and, essentially, the  Puranas —were, by contrast, still affected by language change.

While the Vedic texts do not offer a proper name for their language of composition, in later eras the Indian word samskrta was established as a characterization or denomination of the language we know by the (anglicized) term "Sanskrit." The earliest usage of this term is found in the Ramayana (3.16.14; 5.28.17-19). From about the beginning of the Common Era onwards, samskrta was established as the usual way to refer to Sanskrit. Samskrta, the verbal adjective of the verbal root kr- "to do," along with the prefix sam- "together," generally means "put together," "a ned," "purified," "prepared." Essentially it refer to heightening the quality of something. Fo , for instance, is called samskrta when it is improved by cooking (Ka.§. 4.2.16; 4.4.3). In a similar way, the language Sanskrit is believed to be "superior" due to its "built-up" or "regularly formed" character. It is said to be endued with the masculine noun samskara, "composition," "correct formation" (a masculine noun that, like samskrta, is derivation of sam + kr-). With regard to the characterization of language, samskara has two major aspects. Firstly, it may be used for a particularly distinct articulation, when it is intended to insist on sound being "formed correctly" (see MaBh. 1.5.7; MBh. 14.43.22; VakPad. 1.144). Secondly, samskara is defined by Yaska and Katyayana (Nir. 2.1 and 4.1; VajPrat. 1.1) as the regular word formation of Sanskrit, taught by Samiskrta speech, that is, speech "which has samskara" (samskaravati), constitutes an adornment for the speaker (Kumsambh. 1.28; atTr. 1.19). It is also samskrta in the derived sense "made fit for," "prepared for [a purpose]," this purpose characteristically being ritual.

While Sanskrit is claimed to be endowed with samskara, other languages are, because of their lack of samskara, regarded as corruptions of it (Natga. 17.2). These other languages, the Middle Indic vernaculars, are designated as prakrta (Prakrit), "original," "natural," "ordinary" and

Tamil Texts and Language

Tamil (Tam. tamil) belongs to the Dravidian family of languages and has a continuous literary history that can be traced to at least 1st century CE. It is primarily spoken in South Asia, with the greatest concentration of speakers in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. As a result of migrations and resulting diaspora communities, Tamil is also spoken widely in -> Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Fiji, and  Mauritius.

The earliest strata of Tamil literature, referred to as Cankam literature, dates from the 1st-3rd centuries CE. This literature is largely secular and is broadly categorized into poetry about love (akam) and war (puram). The sacredness of the language is not of great concern to these early poets, although late Cankam devotional poems (c. 3rd cent. CE) such as Tirumurukarruppatai (The Guide to Murukan) and anthologies like Paripatal suggest that the language was beginning to be used to express the new, emergent idiom of Tamil religious devotionalism. In the hands of the Saiva and Vaisnava bhakti poets (6th-9th cents. CE), Tamil emerges as a sweet language (iniya tamil) worthy of praising the great gods. In the postbhakti period (10th-13th cents. CE), medieval commentators from both the Saiva and Vaisnava traditions take pains to assert the revealed nature of the Tamil texts, and the suitability of the same for liturgical use in the ritual lives of the temple complexes that had begun to dot the Tamil landscape. These early attempts to establish the sacredness of Tamil were overshadowed by the concerted efforts from the mid-19th century to establish Tamil's inviolable sanctity and divinity. These efforts, which crystallized around the figure of Tamil embodied in the goddess Tamilttay, took place against the backdrop of emergent Indian nationalism and the regional Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu (see also -› Hinduism and Dravidian identity).

Vedas and Brahmanas

The Vedas constitute a corpus of orally composed religious texts that were produced by the priestly class of the earliest Sanskrit-speaking inhabitants of the South Asian subcontinent between approximately 1600 and 600 BCE. For centuries they were preserved by generation after generation through rote memorization before eventually being written down. The Vedas contain a diverse collection of material, including direct invocations of and appeal to divinities, ritual formulas designed to accompany the performance of rites, expositions of proper ritual procedure and its meaning, and metaphysical speculation. The Vedas also contain legendary and mythological narratives or allusions to such narratives, although material of this kind is generally subordinate to the main aim of presenting, justifying, or explaining ritual practice. Similarly, the speculative thought contained in the Vedas often grows out of and elaborates on ritual exegesis. Therefore it is more accurate to characterize the Vedas as being principally oriented to ritual practice than to define them as the expression of religious belief per se.

The Vedas proper comprise three or four subdivisions, depending on what taxonomy one is following. Generally, the oldest references speak of three Vedas, whereas later ones sometimes speak of four. By the "Three Vedas" is meant the Rgveda, the Samaveda, and the Yajurveda. These three collections receive their names from the type of liturgical utterance with which each is primarily concerned, the Rgveda being concerned with knowledge regarding recited verses of praise (rc), the Samaveda with knowledge regarding verses sung to melodies (saman), and the Yajurveda with knowledge regarding spoken ritual formulas (yajus). References to the "Four Vedas" intend the addition of the Atharvaveda, a heterogeneous collection closely akin to, but more easily discussed separately from, the others. Furthermore, each Veda is associated with the priest responsible for its particular type of liturgical contents: the Rgveda with the hotr, the Samaveda with the udgatr, the Yajurveda with the adhvaryu, and (probably secondarily) the Atharvaveda with the brahmana (Brahman).

According to the traditional scheme, each Veda is subject to a fourfold subdivision into Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka, and Upanisad ( Upanisads and Aranyakas). These subdivisions are partially based on the nature of the content they contain and in certain cases roughly correspond to the chronological layers of the texts. Nevertheless, an overly rigid attachment to this tradition scheme often obscures the structure of the corpus and the relation between individual texts. For example, material contained in the Brahmana of one Vedic school may find close parallels in the Samhita of another, and the Aranyakas and the oldest Upanisads are included as part of the Brahmanas of the schools to which they belong and do not necessarily indicate a chronologically later provenance.

A more analytically useful distinction regarding the constituent portions of the Vedic corpus is between (a) the liturgical material intended for use within the immediate context of ritual performance and (b) the commentarial material providing exegesis of the rites and speculations of various sorts regarding them. The first group consists of those texts that contribute to the "script" uttered by the participants in a particular ritual ceremony, and they are known generically as mantras. The second group consists, for the most part, of running prose commentary on the individual actions of whatever rite is under discussion, in addition to explanations of the meaning and usage of the liturgical texts that are employed during its course. Certain sections of the Brahmanas and Aranyakas are much less tightly indexed to ritual performance, while the Upanisads, though often taking an element of the ritual as their starting point, consist primarily of speculations regarding the foundation of life and the cosmos.

From the point of view of relative chronology, the liturgical texts predate the commentarial texts, which necessarily presuppose them. Using linguistic development as a criteron, one may distinguish five broad chronological layers to the Vedic corpus (including the Srautasatras), starting with the oldest:

  • the Rgveda, excluding the youngest parts of book 10;
  • All other mantra texts, including parts of book 10,
  • the Rgvedakhila,
  • the Atharvaveda,
  • Upanisads and Aranyakas

The Upanisads and Aranyakas are two classes of texts belonging to the Veda, the most authoritative body of sacred scripture within the Hindu tradition. These two kinds of texts follow the fourfold division of the Veda into Rgveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda, and are integral parts of the Brahmanas of these four Vedas, even though we do not have Aranyakas belonging to the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda. The Upanisads and Aranyakas constitute the last portions of the Brahmanas both chronologically and within their literary context (Jamison & Witzel, 2003). Even though they share a common intellectual milieu with the Brahmanas, especially in their focus on the ritual and its significance, they begin to formulate new religious and theological views in somewhat innovative literary styles, reflecting the new social, political, and economic milieu in which they were composed ( Vedas and Brahmanas).

These two classes of texts, especially the Upanisads, are important not only as significant historical documents but especially because they played, and continue to play, a pivotal role in the religious and theological history of India.


The term Aranyaka is derived from aranya, which means "wilderness:' and refers specifically to a cultural geography different from and opposed to pima, the village as the locus of social and civilized living. Aranyaka thus means texts connected in some way with the wilderness. In a particular way, aranya is associated with various sorts of ascetics who left home, society, and village to live a life of austerity ( tapas) in the wilderness. A text found in both the Brhadaranyakopanisad (6.2.15-16) and the Chandogyopanisad (5.10.1-3) contrasts people who live in the village and their religious activities with those who live in the aranya and their distinct religious practices. This association between aranya and ascetics, especially a type of ascetic known as vanaprastha or forest hermit, led both native commentators and an earlier generation of modern scholars to assume that the Aranyakas were intended to be recited and studies by forest-dwelling ascetics (Deussen, 1966).

There is, however, no evidence for such an association and the Aranyakas themselves have little to say about ascetics. They are rather texts that contain ritual formulas and esoteric interpretations of the ritual, formulations that were regarded as secret and dangerous. They were to be rehearsed outside human habitations and the earshot of others; hence their connection with the wilderness. This is corroborated by the two sections of the Samaveda: the one is called Gramageyagana na (songs that may be sung in a village) and Aranyagana (songs that can be sung only in the wilderness because of their power and danger).

The major Aranyakas include the Aitareyaranyaka and the Kausitakyaranyaka (also called Sarikhayanaranyaka) of the Rgveda, forming parts of the Aitareyabrahmana and Kausitakibrahmana. These two Aranyakas deal with the winter solstice rite called mahavrata. Within the tradition of the Black Yajurveda, we have the Taittiriyaranyaka, the largest extant Aranyaka comprising the last ten chapters of the Taittiriyabrahmana, as well as the Kanatharanyaka from the Kathaka branch of the same Black Yajurveda. In the White Yajurveda, the last book of the voluminous Satapathabrahmana is designated as Aranyakakanda (Aranyaka section). While the Aranyakas of the Rgveda focus on the mahavrata, those of the Yajurveda deal with the pravargya, an important rite preliminary to the Vedic sacrifice in which the holy soma is offered (for the rites, see yajna).

The Aranyakas also contain metaritual speculations on the efficacy of certain ritual formulas and rites. It is the secret knowledge (rahasya) of the essential meaning of these ritual elements that connects the Aranyakas to the Upanisads, both of which continue the theological speculations of the Brahmanas that sought ritual, cosmic, and bodily equivalences often referred to as bandhu (Renou, 1946), to which I will turn later in this discussion.


The category "Dharmasastra" refers to the expert tradition of scholarship focusing on dharma and especially to the literature produced by significant scholars belonging to that tradition. Dharmasastra is thus both a scholarly tradition and a genre of literature.

The beginnings of this literary tradition is lost in the fog of early Indian history, but by at least the 3rd century BCE a genre of literature focusing on the central notion of dharma came into existence. Composed first in an aphoristic style (sutra) and then, beginning around the turn of the millennium, in simple verse (sloka), this vibrant textual production continued probably until about the 9th century CE. It was around this time that another textual form took over. In place of original compositions, experts in dharma began writing commentaries (Bhasyas) on the ancient Dharmaastras and, from about the 12th century CE, thematically arranged digests (Nibandhas) with copious citations from the Dharmasastra and other authoritative texts, such as the Puranas. Although these three stages of textual production broadly follow a chronological sequence, there is much overlap, with Sutra texts being produced as late as the 7th century CE and original Dharmasastras being produced well into the Middle Ages. With an unbroken history of over two millennia, the literary production in the field of Dharmasastra is undoubtedly one of the longest in Indian history.


The Mahabharata is a widespread family of South Asian literary and performance traditions that has grown from roots that reach back across all of the history of India into Vedic times, and past that into Indo-Iranian and Indo-European times. It thrives today in South and Southeast Asia and beyond: in various South and Southeast Asian traditions of theatre (such as terukkuttu and kathakali); in an all-India television production of the 1990s that enjoys a powerful afterlife on DVDs, especially in South Asian diaspora communities throughout the world; in Peter Brook's powerful stage adaptation of the 1980s and in two different film versions of that; in various literary versions in Indian vernacular languages; in countless adaptations and allusions in contemporary South Asian literature ( Hinduism and Modern Literature) and cinema ( Hinduism and Film); and in translations in various European languages. One of the most ancient, powerful, and centrally important traditions of South Asian Hindu culture, the Mahabharata is in the process of becoming recognized as one of the most powerful and widespread narrative traditions of all human history, something that is also true of the other major epic of South Asian Hindu culture, the Ramayana.

The Mahabharata undoubtedly goes back to ancient oral traditions of "epic" poetry, a genre that is best thought of in the functional and expansive terms of R. Martin's essay "Epic as Genre" (Martin, 2005). Making use of evidence from ancient Greece and a variety of other societies ancient and contemporary, R. Martin defines epic poetry not in terms of any particular content (such as war or heroism) or type of verbal art (such as narrative or song), but in terms of its occurrence as the primary, least marked, and most capacious communicative institution standing at the center of a society, an institution typically characterized by a traditional elite of performers ( bards) presenting a traditional repertoire to the general assembly of the society and modifying its performances based upon audience response. The function this institution performs is to raise the abiding concerns of the society in the hearing of all and elaborate upon them publicly in terms of the society's fundamental categories and values.


The Bhagavadgita is perhaps one of the most renowned and often-quoted texts in Hindu religious traditions. It is one of the oldest comprehensive presentations of early Hindu theology that deeply influenced subsequent religious tradilions and has gained, in some of them, the status of an authoritative text. The text sets a paradigm in that it mediates the otherworldly concerns of ascetic teachings, advocating "final liberation" with a call to accept the performance of social and ritual duties as a task necessary for the sustenance of cosmic order and the welfare of all living beings. This mediation is brought about, firstly, by turning the fulfillment of social duties into an ascetic practice of yoga and, secondly, in revealing a single, highest god (Vasudeva-Krsna) as the creator of the world as well as the guarantee of liberation when he is approached with bhakti, love, and devotion. The doctrine of bhakti that became so influential in Hinduism is for the first time comprehensively explained in the Bhagavadgita. It can be regarded as the referential framework of meaning that joins into a monotheistic theology the different views and arguments contained in the text.


The term ramayana, literally "the journey or career of Rama," has two different, but related, senses in the cultural history of South and Southeast Asia. In the first of these, the term refers to one or another of the myriad folk, epic, dramatic, and literary versions of the tale of the ancient Indian prince -> Rama. Thus one may hear such expressions as the "Tulsidas Ramayana," the Tampon Ramayana;' and the "Thai Ramayana" to refer, respectively, to the Ramcaritmanas, the Iramavataram, and the Ramakien. These and countless others are highly influential and religious texts in the literary canons of virtually every one of the major languages of South and Southeast Asia. In the second sense, the term is often used to refer collectively to the tale and, by implication, all of its many variants. It is our belief that all versions of this immensely popular and influential tale derive either directly or indirectly from the monumental Sanskrit epic poem of the 1st millennium BCE attributed to the legendary seer and "first poet" Valmiki, but this remains a subject of scholarly debate. This poem is often referred to by the specific title, the Valmiki Ramayana.

In the following essay, we will therefore focus on this seminal work, which we shall, in the interest of brevity, in general, refer to simply as the Ramayana. When other versions of the tale of Rama are referred to, they will be identified by their specific author, title, and/or language of composition. When we wish to refer to the collectivity of versions, we will use the term Ramakatha, "the story of Rama."

Valmiki's immortal poem, some 25 thousand Sanskrit couplets in length, has, through its poetic form, its dramatic narrative, its theological innovation, and its larger-than-life characters, established itself as a critical touchstone in the aesthetic, social, political, and religious life of virtually all of southern Asia from antiquity to the present day. All subsequent versions, we believe, take its central theme as a point of departure, elaborating upon it, emphasizing one or another of its aspects, reimagining it, or even contesting it, according to the ethnic, social, religious, or political stance of their respective authors and intended audiences. For this reason, we will begin with a summary and analysis of the Valmiki Ramayana as it has come down to us, before discussing the impact of the story across the languages, cultures, religions, and nations of South and Southeast Asia. We will also discuss some of the major scholarly debates that the study of this epic has provoked both in a historical perspective and in the arena of contemporary Indological scholarship.

The Text of Valmiki's Ramayana

When one thinks about the text of Valmiki's great poetic composition, one should not envisage a fixed and delimited body of text, as one might find, say, in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, whose author may have left, at most, some drafts of marginalia to his final manuscript. Because of its antiquity and enormous popularity, the Ramayana, which claims to have been orally composed and transmitted by its legendary author, has been copied literally thousands of times in manuscripts representing virtually all of the numerous scripts in which Sanskrit has been recorded in the various regions of the Indian subcontinent. Although the text must have been copied since early antiquity, climatic conditions in southern Asia have left us with no manuscript evidence earlier than the turn of the 2nd millennium CE. As a result of its long and complex history of textual transmission, the poem came to be characterized by two major regional recensions, the northern and southern, each of which has several subrecensions based on region (e.g. northwest recension) and/or script (e.g. Malayalam, Sharada, and Devanagari). Although the general outlines of the narrative are constant among all recensions and subrecensions, the two major regional recensions have only about one-third of their text in common, while exhibiting some significant differences in the division of the text as well as in the inclusion and omission of certain passages. In modernity, the text is probably best known and most widely circulated in a series of published editions of one of two similar versions of the southern Devanagari text, sometimes referred to as "the Vulgate' There is also an important


The Puranas are a body of Hindu religious texts that have been transmitted in manuscript and printed form, behind which there exists a much larger, vibrant and continuing oral tradition. Constituting a distinct literary genre - with some hundreds, if not thousands, of texts - dating back to the early centuries of the Common Era and continuing until the present day, the Puranas defy easy description. Their apparent generic looseness, bulk, repetition, stylistic and verbal sloppiness has appalled Western scholars and led to multiple efforts to impose a conceptual order upon them that would fit more the demands of another culture than the one in which they were initially composed. A desire to fit them into a particular thematic/syntactic frame is the product of a conviction that they be read in a manner Westerners find acceptable and comprehensible within their own frame of reference. Yet the Puranas themselves provide many clues as to how they should be read and are certainly aware of their status as constituting a specific genre.

Considering the constancy of production of Puranas in India from about the beginning of the Common Era, it is appropriate to regard the process of puranic production, transmission and reception, as being so embedded in the larger sphere of transmission and renewal of Indian culture and caste society that in studying Puranas we are also studying deep elements within Hindu culture and society. Additionally, in arguing that Hinduism as a specific religio-cultural phenomenon occurs on the cusp of the completion of some of the late major redactions of the -> Mahabharata and the appearance of the earliest Puranas, it is further arguable that the Puranas are Hindu texts par excellence in contrast to the - Vedas that were originally associated with another cultural phenomenon typically called Vedic religion, not having the range of religious options found in the Puranas.

It is not possible to describe the Puranas as a body of texts standing within a distinctive generic space without being aware that they function in a powerful performative mode as a process of transmitting the past to the present. Indeed, the very word purana means "old:' "ancient:' "primordial," such that the Puranas could always be regarded as narratives of the past and as referring to events and institutions that have always been there and are to be adhered to every time the Purana is evoked (Rocher, 1977), and, apart from a few specific sections, they are narrated in the past tense, as if detailing events that occurred in a past quite different from the narrator. Above all they are originary in explaining how contemporary institutions, social practices, and modes of worship began. Besides this anchorage in the past, a certain subgenre of the Puranas called Sthalapurana derives an increased significance from the localization of their narratives around particular sacred places and temples long used for ritual and devotional purposes. They demonstrate how the puranic genre moves from the universal to the general and from the pan-Indian to the regional and local. In processual terms, this means the Purana tradition localizes what forms part of the broad pan-Indian Sanskritic tradition and integrates what is local - often the worship of a particular goddess - into the universalist tradition and practices associated with Sanskritic Hinduism.

Besides being celebrated as a body of texts, the Puranas also imply a huge performative process that has gone on and continues to operate ever since the individual texts were first composed and given the name Purana. Oral performance of a Purana brings with it a strong ritualistic dimension, sophisticated modes of singing and recitation, interaction between singer and audience, and the elaboration of local cultural and religious concerns within an easily communicable framework appealing to various levels of society. Moreover, the existence of Sanskrit versions of the Puranas gives authority to the vernacular recitations of the puranic reciter, even where recitations diverge widely from the manuscript versions of a written text passed down to the present day. It is very likely that the vernacular versions describing specific castes and tribal origins are more common in a performative context than the Sanskrit Puranas. However, because they are usually not printed and are alluded to mainly in ethnographic accounts, they seem to be subsidiary to the texts composed in Sanskrit. From this perspective, statistically speaking the Sanskrit Puranas are in the great minority, and the vernacular caste Puranas are in the majority.

Vaisnava Samhitas

In this article the expression "Vaisnava Samhitas" refers to the Vaisnava manuals that lay down rules for private, domestic, and temple worship, guide theological and theogonic - meditation, and so on. Though Vaisnavism includes all the religious movements that advocate Visnu or one of his manifestations as the main god, this article will be confined to the Samhitas of the -> Pancaratra and o Vaikhanasa Vaisnava traditions. Vaisnava Samhitas are also called Adhikara, Tantra, and so on. The extant Samhitas, except for a few, do not predate the 8th century and were probably preceded by older handbooks that are lost. Late Smirta Vedic texts (like Vaikhanasasmartasutra, 4th cent. terminus a quo) and their annexes (like the Baudhayanagrhyaparisistasutra) had already integrated practices like image worship. Rules guiding image worship, especially in public temples, gained in complexity, and they were standardized as independent works such as Samhitas. There is no evidence that Pancaratra and Vaikhanasa Samhitas were composed against Vedic prescriptions. The emergence of the genre Vaisnava Samhita is a result of a global socioreligious evolution in the Indian subcontinent. The first centuries of our era saw the slow decline of Vedic ritual culture and the concomitant development of institutionalized demonstration of devotion through private and temple worship. Devotion also found expression in literary works like the Tamil poems of the -o Alvars and the growing stock of Sanskrit F Stomas. Vaisnava Samhitas are concerned with F the ritual techniques that rule devotional practices, but they constantly refer to the necessity of sincere devotion. In addition, religious  from Vedic rituals (mainly reserved to twice-borns) to non-Vedic rituals accessible to people identified as Sudras or mixed -> castes. Yet another aspect of the change was the increased emphasis on meditation on deities, often ritualized, and on the direct relation of the devotee with the deity. Various religious groups standardized and routinized devotional practices, adapting them to their own theological and theogonic tenets. The sense of singularity of these groups with regard to religious practices, together with the rise of new social alliances (religious patronage, temple clienteles, etc.), no longer governed by Vedic influence, could have led to the production of new regulatory treatises. The elaboration of Vaisnava Samhitas in this context furthered the sectarization of Vaisnava communities. However, the highly conventional and idealized structure of society reflected in the Vaisnava Samhitas does not precisely reveal the sociological status of the Vaisnava groups to which they were addressed. The Vaikhanasa community, apparently a Vedic group that transformed into an endogamic caste over time, appears homogeneous throughout the centuries. The Pancaratra milieu seems to be more complex, for Pancaratra Samhitas present varied pictures of the groups of Pancaratra followers.

Samhitas, like  Puranas, underwent constant changes. Scholars often suspect the presence of various strata of composition in the Samhitas. But the work of disentangling the different versions in a given Samhita text proves to be difficult, given the absence of information, firstly, of the historical context that occasioned changes in the subject matter and, secondly, of the conditions of transmission of manuscripts. An old manuscript, even dated, cannot be said to represent the exclusive ancient version of a text. It only records a particular state of the Samhita and of its transmission at a juncture of time in a certain region.


Because of its historical fluidity, traditional secrecy, and frequently insalubrious associations, the term tantra is one of the most difficult to define in all of Hinduism — more difficult still in that its boundaries are by no means limited to Hindu practice. Given the complications in definition, which will be addressed in some detail below, it will be useful to first understand the term as used in popular discourse. "Tantra" has distinct, but related, connotations as it is employed in modern Indian languages compared with its usage in contemporary Western popular culture. While these popular usages of the term differ somewhat from the more technical understanding of the term according to its historical emergence and developments, they nevertheless provide a useful entry into a fuller evaluation of Tantra (see also Tantrism).

Modern Indian languages frequently use tantra in a sense more or less equivalent to the concept of black magic. Tantrics are marginal and mysterious supposed practitioners of the dark arts, and as such they are regarded with suspicion by the mainstream culture, be it in a traditional village or modern urban context. Tantrics are often blamed for causing misfortune for their neighbors and enemies with their sorcery, and occasionally they are even accused of more serious and scandalous acts, such as the kidnapping of children or even cannibalism. Still, some Tantrics play vital roles in the community as - healers, mediums, and prognosticators who are called upon for assistance in all areas of life: to heal a disease, exorcise a troublesome spirit, woo a potential lover or mate, settle a score with a neighbor, or pass an exam. Tantrics by no means constitute a singular, discretely defined community, and many who are said to be (or are accused of being) Tantrics may not in fact identify themselves as such. There are, however, a wide range of individuals and institutions today that do claim to be Tantric; among these, too, the adoption or nonadoption of the term is often political rather than descriptive. Some self-identified Tantrics retain the term in connection with a particular lineage and will often attempt to distance themselves from the more unsavory implications of the term. Others court and cultivate the mystery and power surrounding the designation: the "Tantric" label serves as an effective means of attracting newcomers, while ensuring that outsiders keep their distance (Khanna, 2010).

In the global West, contemporary popular culture has repackaged tantra in a very particular way, as an Asian religious-inspired "spirituals technique — a consciousness-expanding spirit practice that allows one to access deep levels d insight and bliss, by means of certain allegedly ancient techniques of mental and physical sell control and awareness practice. Here too there is a great variety in defining the specifics of tantric practice. In many articulations of Western Tantra, the distinctively Hindu/Buddhist focus on Gnostic illumination and insight is frequently con Hated, or in some way blended, not only with the literature pertaining to Indic Kamasastra (treatises on erotics, especially the well-known Kamasutra; see kama), but also with traditions! Chinese sexual techniques for enhancing energy and longevity. Tantra, which in this context use ally means tantric sex, is held to be a means d accessing the highest levels of insight usual associated with the more austere and world renouncing paths of asceticism. Unlike these traditions, however, the tantric path achieves its god of insight, not through an ascetic reigning in of sensual experience, but through its very opposite a full and conscious embrace of sensuality Another distinctive feature of Western articulations of Tantra is its commercial commodification: the primary means by which contemporary Western Tantra is propagated is through the mar keting of seminars, retreats, and popular books and magazines, competing with a wide range of other spiritual self-help techniques in the crowded marketplace of New Age spirituality.

The present essay will not debate the authenticity of either of these two popular perspectives, but will attempt a broader historical survey of its emergence, development, and characteristics Scholarly attempts to purify the term tantra olds overly exoticized modern associations are legion, but these popular understandings of the term, besides being a legitimate subject of scholarly study in their own right, can serve to highlight some of the most distinctive features that havecharacterized Tantra from its origins. In particular, these are esotericism and erotic mysticism.


Not only are tantric practices mysteries, secret and accessible only through initiation and affiliation with a lineage (parampara), but they are also potentially dangerous, involving the manipulation, control, and propitiation of powers that can yield tremendous results, but can also cause great harm. It is often said that Tantra is a path of power. Distinguished from the rules and practices deemed suitable for mainstream practice, Tantra is deemed fit only for the most qualified practitioners. This particular transgressive character evolved in response to the ideas of purity and impurity peculiar to the Indic cultural context, including prominent taboos related to caste, and to the normative practices of monastic orders (both Hindu and non-Hindu), or those represented in texts such as the Dharmasastras and Puranas.

It is clear in many tantric texts that the most secret tantric practices involved the ritual consumption of prohibited substances such as alcohol and meat, and the practice of ritualized sex. The more mainstream and elite tantric traditions, however, tended to symbolize these aspects of the tradition, at least in public. The historical development of Tantra thus features a dynamic of alternately affirming and sanitizing a core of transgressive practices. In many tantric texts and even within traditions of practice themselves, the line between the literal and the symbolic transgressive practices is frequently — and often quite deliberately — blurry.

Erotic Mysticism

Many Indic Yoga traditions focus on the control and sublimation of the energies of the subtle body. A central current of tantric discourse borrows from, and overlaps with, these meditative and bodily practices of yoga. Within Tantra, however, the internal powers that the tantric practitioner works with within the microcosm of the body are at the same time thought to be intelligent (and often feminine) macrocosmic forces. With its extensive discourse on these feminine energies, Tantra shares important historical and genealogical overlaps with traditions of goddess worship, often succinctly summarized in its focus on the term Sakti ( [feminine] "power"; see below).

Thus, while popular understandings of Tantra frequently decouple tantric traditions from their historical context, they also preserve elements that have characterized Tantra from its origins. The present essay will focus on the historical origins and development of the concept in South Asia.

Given this focus, it is important to highlight a crucial element of Tantra often lost in popular assessments: namely, the ritual worship of a wide range of deities. Though the specifics of the practices and the deities worshipped vary considerably from tradition to tradition, tantric worship tends to focus on divinities with fierce and erotic characteristics, and it almost always involves the use of specialized mantras. This ritual context is the most crucial of the elements of Tantra in terms of its historical development, as it appears to have been the primary means by which tantric traditions distinguished themselves. At the same time, they integrated into mainstream practice, interpenetrating other religious forms. A closer investigation into the historical emergence of the texts, known as Tantras, is necessary to elucidate this dynamic.


The word sutra is used to designate two distinct categories of Sanskrit and Middle Indic literature. In one aspect, the word is used to designate collections of short aphoristic rules, each of which is called a sutra: a Sutra is in this way a collection of sutras. Such Sutras belong primarily, though not exclusively, to the various Sastras (disciplines, sciences) of the Brahmanical tradition. The other kind of Sutras are primarily, perhaps exclusively, found in the canonical literature of the Buddhists and the Jainas. These Sutras are not short and aphoristic, and they can as a matter of fact be long and elaborate.

The difference between these two kinds of Sutras is striking and has led some scholars to propose two different etymological explanations for the word. The first, mainly Brahmanical, Sara would be so called because the primary meaning of the Sanskrit word sutra is "thread," "string:' and a Sutra text is "any work or manual consisting of strings of short sentences or aphoristic rules hanging together like threads:' Alternatively, a Sutra is like a thread spun from different fibers, because the earliest Sutras (the Srautasutras; see below) consisted of individual statements systematically collected from different sources and joined together (Klaus, 2000; 2004). The Buddhist and Jaina Sutra, in contrast, would owe their name to the faulty Sanskritization of Middle Indic sutta. The correct Sanskritization of this word would be sukta, that is, su + ukta (well spoken).

Some (e.g. Renou) maintain — mainly on the basis of the Baudhayanasrautasutra, which is of a hybrid character — that the aphoristic Sutra arose historically as a condensation of more elaborate prose. The existence of the probably older Vadhulasrautasutra (see below), which displays a straightforward Sara style, casts doubt on the validity of this observation.

The second explanation of the word sutra — as a faulty Sanskritization of sutta — has not gone unchallenged, and it may not be correct (Hinüber, 1994, 132n28). No better explanation of the word as used by the Buddhists and the Jainas has, to my knowledge, been proposed. This means that the custom of using the same word to designate two different genres of literature remains, for the time being, unexplained. Some authors do not consider that there is a fundamental difference between the two (Caillat, 1994, 81).

In what follows I will concentrate on the Intl kind of Sutras, collections of short aphoristic sen tences. In their vast majority they are associated with the Brahmanical tradition. Among the except. tions we may have to count the Pratimoksasutra, a collection of rules for Buddhist monks and nuns,' which is commented upon in the Sutravibhariga (Nolot, 1994).

An important number of Sutras is part of Vedic ancillary literature. They belong to the Vedangas (limbs of the Veda; see also language and linguistics). Of these there are, traditionally, six: (1) the science of proper articulation and pronunciation (Biqa); (2) meter (chandas); (3) grammar (vyakarana); (4) etymological explanation; (5) astronomy and calendar (jyotisa); and (6) ceremonial (kalpa). There are Sara works associated with all of these, with the exception of nirukta and jyottsa. If we include the Pratisakhyas, "the authentic witnesses of Siksa (Renou, 1963, 167 [571]; 1960; Deshpande, 1997, 37f.), under the heading Siksa, the number of Sutra works that belong to this category increases considerably The one surviving text of nirukta is no Sara, but it has been suggested that ancient elements of Sutras could easily be found in it, or even that the text should be read as a mixture of Sutras with Bhasya (commentary; Renou, 1961, 189 [545]; 1963, 167 [571]).

A considerable number of Sutras belong to the I kalpa Vedanga. There are Sutras that deal with the solemn ritual (the Srautasutras), others that deal with domestic ritual (the Grhyasutras) such as ritual measurements (the Sulbasutras; see mathematics and geometry), and those that concern correct behavior in general (the Dharmasutras; Dharmasutras). Many Vedic schools had Sutras of several or all of these four types. The Vaisnava ritual tradition of the Vaikhanasa has its own Srautasutras, thereby emphazising their close association with the Vedic tradition (Colas, 1996; see also Vaisnava Samhitas).

Apart from the Vedangas, there are Sutras that belong to the main Brahmanical philosophical schools: the Vaisesikasutra gives expression to the central tenets of Vagesika, the Nyayasara to those of Nyaya, and the Mimamsasutra to the reflections of the school called Mimamsa, while the Brahmasutra is accepted as a foundational text by the various subschools of the philosophy

Stotras, Sanskrit Hymns

Stotras (hymns of praise) are some of the most popular and versatile compositions in Sanskrit. In general, these hymns praise and appeal to a divinity with direct, devotional, and poetic language. Stotra literature ranges from simple, formulaic prayers to sophisticated poetry, from strings of names and epithets to elaborate theological compositions. Some of the most famous authors of premodern South Asia - S. ankara, Vedanta Desika, Abhinavagupta, and so on - composed Stotras (or have had Stotras attributed to them), while countless other authors remain anonymous or obscure. The dates of their composition are also almost always unknown. Stotras remain to this day one of the most prominent ways through which Sanskrit enters the religious life of modern Hindus. They are often memorized and sung in both personal and public Hindu worship (e.g. in puja, temple rituals, and -o festivals). The great versatility of the Stotra form is one of the main reasons for its popularity within Hinduism. The synonyms stotra, stuti, and stava are all nouns derived from the Sanskrit root stu-: "to praiser "eulogize" and also more specifically "to celebrate in song;' "to hymn:' They have been translated variously as "hymns of praise "praise poems:' "devotional hymns," "prayers:' and "hymns of adoration:' Much scholarship on Hinduism discusses such compositions as if there were a well-defined genre of religious poetry to which they belong. Upon closer consideration, however, it is difficult to identify what exactly it is that defines a Stotra. J. Gonda (1977) gives one of the most detailed discussions of Stotras available, yet never offers a definition of a Stotra. G. Bühnemann suggests that "the majority of stotras which are included in popular collections and are recited today are hymns that praise a personal deity and promise material benefits to the reciter" (1983, 9). Y. Bronner offers another useful generalization:

We can say that stotras are relatively short works in verse, whose stanzas directly and repeatedly address a divinity in the vocative case. Furthermore, stotras are typically not divided into chapters or sections and tend to consist of a round or auspicious number of verses (e.g. 8, 16, 50, 100). (Bronner, 2007, 2)

This basic characterization does hold true for the majority of Stotras, yet there are still many exceptions. There is a small minority of Stotras in prose, for example (Bronner notes this as well, 2007, 2n7; see also Gonda, 1977, 250, 257; Bühnemann, 1983, 13). In addition, some Stotras do not use the vocative case at all, consisting solely of declarations of homage (namas) to a particular deity or benedictions (asis). At the core of all Stotras, however, is the act of praise itself, seen as efficacious for the one who recites it. As a simple working definition, therefore, we can say that Stotras are usually short poems, almost always in verse, that directly and indirectly praise and appeal to a deity (or some other religious addressee such as a pilgrimage site; -o tirtha and tirthayatra) and are considered efficacious in obtaining religious or material benefits when recited or sung. They are often devotional and personal (frequently using first- and second-person pronouns), but not necessarily so. It is worth emphasizing, however, that there is no strict delineation of what counts as a Stotra or not, either in traditional Sanskrit scholarship or in modern writings by Hindus and non-Hindus alike. There is also a great deal of overlap between Stotras and other genres of literature, such as Mahatmyas (usually "glorifications" of religious sites) and Gitas (lyrical or didactic "songs"; Gonda, 1977, 271ff.).

As for the importance of Stotra literature, the eminent Sanskrit scholar V. Raghavan called it "the most prolific and popular among the branches of Sanskrit literature" (Aithal, 1969, x; also Bronner, 2007, 2). Collections of Stotras continue to be published today with titles like the Brhatstotraratnakara (The Great Ocean of Stotras; e.g. Acarya, 1983). Even more Stotras are published in small booklets designed for ritual purposes (Aithal, 1998, ix). Nevertheless, these published Stotras are far outnumbered by those that survive in manuscript archives throughout South Asia. For instance, the multivolume catalogue of manuscripts in the library of the Sampurnanand Sanskrit University in Varanasi includes an entire volume in four parts, each an independent book of several hundred pages, devoted to Stotra manuscripts (A Descriptive Languages and Literatures of the Vernaculars North Indian

Many Bhaktis: Fluidity of Religious and Language Boundaries

This article will focus on sacred literature now perceived to be "Hindu," but it will become clear that current perceptions of religious demarcations do not hold good for the premodern period. There is a continuum of literary expression all over North India that transcends religious boundaries. At a popular level, "Hindu" religious movements are closely entwined with those in what are now perceived to be other religions, whether Jaina, Sikh, or Muslim. Whether the authors would now be classified under one of these religions, the performance contexts of their songs, poetry, and stories was often intercommunal. The ground reality was that of a mixed public, where formal adherence to a great religion was less important than what inspired and what worked. For instance, Sufis sang in their gatherings (same') songs in praise of -> Krsna (as attested in Mir Abdul Wahid Bilgrami's Haqayaq-i Hindi [1667-1688] ), Isma'ili preachers used imagery of the ten -> avataras of Visnu, Jaina authors composed hymns of praise for "Hindu" gods (see the 17th-cent. reformer Banarsidas below), Sikh scriptures include songs by "Hindu" poets (the "bhagats," such as -> Kabir, Raidas [4 Ravidas], discussed below), and vice versa. Moreover, many authors of what is now seen to be "Hindu" literature were born "Muslim" (Kabir again, but also -> Dada, Raskhan, and Rahim below). More examples will come up in the discussion of classics below. Current scholarly consensus does not always take into account that sometimes there have been deliberate attempts to obliterate such pasts and conscious efforts to re-Hinduize certain groups (see Khan, 1997). More work is needed, but it is clear that the lines between religious denominations were often blurred (see also -> Hinduism and Islam, -> Hinduism and Jainism, -> Hinduism and Sikhism).

This is also true for boundaries between North Indian vernaculars, the New Indo-Aryan languages now known as Marathi, Gujarati, Rajasthani, Sindhi, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Hindi-Urdu (and its medieval literary forms known as Sant Bhashe Braj, Avadhi, and Dakhani), Maithili, Assamese Bengali, and Oriya. Rather than regarding these as watertight categories, we could here too speak of North Indian continuum of literary expression Linguistic boundaries between these various idioms were often fluid. One could speak of a polyglot situation where choice of idiom of expression is not connected to regional provenance in an essential way. Similarly, there is a scripture pluralism that characterizes the recording of the literature in the premodern period. The post. independence association of languages with par. ticular scripts does not hold good for the premodern period when the language-script rela- tionship was not a one-to-one correspondence rather, caste and other community identities would determine the script used. Nor does the nowadays automatic assumption of equation between religions and language-script hold. Thus, manuscripts of Sikh texts may be preserved in Nagri, Kaithi, or Nasta'liq as well as Gurmukhi, and similarly for Hindu and Islamic texts. In short neither linguistic idiom, nor script should be unproblematically equated with one religious mode of expression, still by means of generalizetion, Marathi can be seen as the vehicle for the expression of Vaisnava devotion to Vithoba (see -> Maharashtra), Sant Bhasha for the expression of Naths (-> Nath Sampradaya), Saivas, and the -> Sants devoted to an abstract (nirguna) God, Brajbhasha and Bengali for Krsna devotion, and Avadhi for Rama devotion.

Histories of the literature of these North Indian languages can be characterized by a certain literary territoriality, a regional chauvinism in which sacred literature and its saintly authors are seen to embody local essences. This is an anachronistic view. Often it is ambiguous to which language a particular work belongs. The same literary works might take on different linguistic characteristics as transmitted in one region compared to another (prime examples are poetry attributed to -> Namdev and to -> Mira Bai). This may be due to the travel of the saint, or to the circulation of his or her poetry during or after his or her a.

lifetime. In short, one has to be careful not to read distinct flavor, and we should speak of many contemporary geographical boundaries into a bhaktis, there is certainly a family resemblance past where they may not have existed as such. that justifies speaking of a "movement." Other-A large bulk of the sacred literature in all wise put: it is clear that bhakti authors and texts regions has been characterized as devotional in circulated more or less widely across North India, tenor, and sometimes is conceptualized as "the that they partook in a pan-Indian idiom, yet each bhakti movement:' a wave of devotional fervour in their own way.

rolling over North India. This "movement" then is traced from South Indian Tamil poets ( Alvars and Nayanars), via Kannara Virasaiva ( Lingayat) Historical Context: Socio-Political preachers (followers of Basavanna [ Basava] ) to Circumstances Maharasthra and so to the North. Such an interpretation has possibly an indigenous precedent in the story from the Bhagavatamahatmya (sometimes included in the last chapter of Padmapurana), where a personified "Lady Bhakti" gives her own story as follows:

I was born in Dravida, grew mature in Karnataka, went here and there in Maharashtra, then in Gujarat became old and worn. There, under the spell of these awful times, my body was riven by schismatics. For long I went about in this weakened condition, accompanied in lethargy by my sons, but on reaching Vrindaban I was renewed, I became lovely once again, so that now I go about as I ought: a young woman of superb appearance. (Hawley, 2009; with extended reflection on the Mahatmya's origin and relevance)

This narrative should not be taken at face value. As a praise poem for the major scripture of Krsna devotion, it is colored by a sectarian perspective. Moreover, it is obviously a Hineininterpretation from a post 16th-century Vrindaban (Braj) vantage point. Yet, there may be a historically plausible narrative underlying this sectarian articulation. There is a possible connection between the Virasaivas and Marathi bhakti, and there is ample evidence for connections between the latter and North Indian Sants, with Namdev regarded to be the first of the early North Indian Sants. Then again, there is evidence of Braj bhakti's drawing inspiration from the Sants, as is explicitly stated in the work of Hariram Vyas and evidenced in the range of poetry attributed to -> Narasimha Mehta and Mira Bai. Finally, Rama bhakti drew inspiration from both Sant and Kona bhakti, for example Agradas of Galta being influenced by Nanddas (for all these examples, see below). Krsna Braj bhakti, Sant bhakti, and Rama bhakti traveled along an east-west axis throughout North India. While each region has its own


South Indian

Tamil Literature and Hindu Traditions

Early Literary Production: Paripatal and Tirumurukarruppatai

Toward the end of the Cankam period of Tamil literary history (lst-3rd cents. CE; Tamil texts), we witness a distinct shift in literary form and content. The Paripatal, a late 4th-century CE (?) anthology of poems, signals this move away from the largely secular Cankam literature that was primarily concerned with love, war, ethics, and law. Instead, the luminous, abstract, and fragmentary Paripatal contains poems of praise and devotion to the great river Vaikai, and to ancient Tamil gods like Murukan and Mal/Tirumal (the Tamil name for Visnu), although they are beginning to be imbued with a distinctly Sanskritic flavor. K. Zvelebil asserts that the Paripatal is "probably the earliest literary testimony of the bhakti movement in South India, if not in India as a whole" (Zvelebil, 1975, 101), although the attitude of devotion ( bhakti) represented in the Paripatal verses is speculative and often oblique, rather different from the compositions of the later Tamil bhakti poets. The Paripatal originally consisted of 70 poems, but only 22 are extant, many of which are fragmentary. Of these 22, six are dedicated to Tirumal, eight to Cevvel (Murukan), and eight to the Vaikai River.

Described by both A.K. Ramanujan and K. Zvelebil as the first intensely devotional poem, the Tirumurukarruppatai (The Guide to Murukan) is a unique poem. It is ascribed to the legendary Tamil poet Nakkirar and was possibly composed between the late 4th and 5th centuries, making it roughly contemporaneous to the Paripatal. The poem exploits the genre of the arruppatai (a guide poem) that wandering bards used to direct fellow poets to generous patrons. In Nakkirar's poem the patron sought is Murukan, and each of the poem's six chapters identifies a site where the great, mysterious god with his six faces can be found. Yet, the poem also ends each of these six chapters with the tantalizing phrase ata anru (not only there), suggesting that god cannot be confined to one place, that he extends and exists beyond all these places. In this regard, the Tirumurukarruppatai anticipates an important element of the later Tamil bhakti poetry, where the deity is immanent and knowable in the terrestrial realm embodied in special, sacred places, while also being inaccessible and unknowable, existing timelessly in the transcendent world. In the Tirumurukarruppatai, we also discern the melding of the Tamil and Sanskrit cultures. Murukan, the Tamil god of love and war, is seamlessly fused with the martial Sanskrit Kartikkeya/ Skanda (see Siva). The Tirumurukarruppatai, well aware of this dual legacy, celebrates equally Devasena, Indra's daughter, and the gypsy girl Valli, who represent these two literary and religious cultures.

The end of the Cankam period ushered in three centuries of fertile literary production by the Jams and Buddhists, who maintained a prominent presence in Tamil country. However, things began to change early 6th century with the rise of the ecstatic movements (bhakti), which placed Visnu or Siva at their center.


Hagiography is the recording of the lives of holy men and women. It has a very long history in the literatures of India. In those literatures hagiographical writing is found in three genres: Purana (legend), Carita (biography) and Katha (story). While all of these genres include hagiographies, none of them is exclusively hagiographic. Although some Indian hagiographies are outstanding works of literature, their main purpose is religious and hagiographies have a place in the spiritual life and practice of all four religions (i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism) that originated from, and had their formative development within, the Indian cultural matrix. Within Hinduism hagiography is particularly important in the devotional (- bhakti) movement.

Oral Traditions and Folklore

The vital importance of oral traditions and their expression in various genres — both classical and folk - within Hindu religious thought and practice cannot be emphasized enough. While undoubtedly there has been a proliferation of written texts in -› Sanskrit and other regional languages in South Asia, there has been an equally pervasive spread of oral narratives throughout diverse historical periods and not the least during the present day. At the very outset it is worthwhile noting that oral narratives occur in a variety of genres within Hindu cultural, social, and ritual contexts, ranging from folktales, ballads, legends, proverbs, women's songs, ritual chants, agricultural songs, oral epics, and storytelling in domestic and community settings. This being said, it needs to be mentioned that the classification of "regional folklore" into different folk categories, and the identification of them as belonging to different genres comparable to those of international folklore, is a highly problematic and challenging task... (Rai, 1993, 269).

Moreover, it also needs to be noted that oral traditions in the South Asian context are not restricted to folk traditions and folklore. While folklore and folk narratives are indeed recited, spoken, sung, and performed — orality itself is not confined to folk traditions. In fact in classical or Sanskritic traditions we find a prevalence of the oral word, in spoken and sung form, both in an epistemological sense — sound as vibration (nada) carries knowledge and metaphysical meaning as well as ritual efficacy (- mantra) — and in a performative sense. Many Sanskrit texts, for example, see Puranas and Mahatmyas, use narrative framing devices that involve a speaker and an audience in dialogue with one another. Even more so, several important Hindu religious texts, such as the Rgveda Vedas) and the two great epics, the see Mahabharata and see Ramayana, were not only orally recited and transmitted for millennia, but once written, as is the case with the latter two texts, continued to show signs of having originated out of a possibly oral "core" that coalesced into their current written forms. Conversely, several essentially oral texts exist with a deep knowledge of their written counterparts that themselves get mirrored and reflected back in different ways through ritual performances and social enactments of the stories. The Mahabharata and Ramayana, apart from having Sanskrit "tellings" that have assumed the position of dominant or "totalizing (and, one might add, 'colonizing') text [s]" (Hiltebeitel, 1999, 46) within Indic society and culture, live and unfold as performative texts in varied social and linguistic contexts each of which rework and refashion the overarching concerns and content of the two epic tales. Thus, for example, highly complex, richly performative traditions of "oral" or "folk" Mahabharata traditions are prevalent in Garhwal (see Himalaya Region), see Tamil Nadu and elsewhere in India. In Garhwal members of the local Rajput community are "possessed" by the main characters of the epic in a ritual dance called pandavalila (Sax, 2002; Zoller, 1993). In Tamil Nadu the ritual performances and narratives predominantly focus on the worship of -> Draupadi who has assumed the status of a goddess not only as an incarnation of —>Sri Laksmi (as she is in the Mahabharata), but primarily as a multiform of -> Durga or Kali. Interestingly her closest guardians (and devotees) from a mythological and ritual perspective are Pottu Raja, the "Buffalo King," and Muttal Ravuttan, the Muslim horseman or trooper (Hiltebeitel, 1989). It would be fallacious, however, to assume a notion of linear development between the written and the oral or classical and folk. It is more profitable to imagine a history of texts that is made up of written and oral forms contained within cycles of transmission that move up and down through time resulting in manifold possible recompositions within a "simultaneous order" of texts (Ramanujan, 1989; Blackburn & Ramanujan, 1989). Texts, classical and folk, written and oral, occupy a "dialogic" or shared space, so to speak, of mutual interaction and reverberation resulting in creative reconstitution rather than static purity, although a claim to the latter, whether in terms of sacred texts, locations or histories, becomes the fervent pursuit of nationalist visions of an "unadulterated" Hindu past and present. This article describes some important, though not in any way exhaustive, examples of oral traditions while discussing their social and performative contexts. At the same time it explores the kind of reflexive and creative reworkings mentioned above of motifs and themes that are also dealt with by classical texts.


The classical medical science of India is known as Ayuveda, which is a Sanskrit word that means 'knowledge (veda) for long life (ayus)." As a recognized Indian knowledge system, Ayurveda started to take shape in the early centuries before the Common Era. At this time medical theories and practices were systematized and recorded in the Sanskrit language as formally arranged collections of medical knowledge called Samhitas (also occasionally called Tantras, loosely translated as "scientific works"). In many ways the early medical Samhitas were like our modern day encyclopedia insofar as they exhaustively strung together material on diverse issues pertaining to human life. A number of the Sanskrit medical sources from the classical period (spanning roughly from the 2nd century BCE to the 7th century CE) have survived and are available today. Textual evidence suggests that several more medical works were produced in the classical era but have been lost. For example, the 15th century commentator on the Carakasamhita, Sivodasa, claimed to know numerous classical ayurvedic Samhitas that have not survived to the present day, including the Atrisamhita, Gautamatantra, Jatukarnatantra, Kapilatantra, Kharanadasamhita, Panasarasamhita, and Vilvamitrasamhita (Roy, 1986, 157-158). The Sanskrit medical sources available today are not verbatim reproductions of the earliest compositions. They are products of several revisions, some of which are only partially intact today, and none of them, save perhaps the present version of the Carakasamhita, were likely produced prior to the 4th century CE, around the time of the Gupta Empire. Though each of the classical sources are ascribed to authors, such as Caraka, Susruta, Bhela, Kasyapa, Vagbhata, and others, none of them were composed by individual authors at fixed dates in time; they were composed over centuries by many people. The types of knowledge held to be important and useful to Ayurveda - the data, methods, and values that characterize the general concern to ensure long life (ayus) - are quite diverse. To some extent, each ayurvedic treatise draws upon a reticulate set of earlier and coeval Indian intellectual traditions, such as -> Nyaya, Vaisesika, Dharmajyotisa (- astrology), see Samkhya, and Buddhism, to address subjects ranging from internal medicine to demonology, rhinoplasty to gynecology, among numerous other topics pertaining to the body, disease, and well-being. And while some of the basic principles that appear to under-gird most of the Sanskrit medical sources plainly have common origins, it is clear that the processes of development, the central foci, and even the medical traditions to which each work belongs were different. Be that as it may, there are a sufficient number of principles and practices that consistently interweave ayurvedic literature in the classical period, so that we may talk about Ayurveda as a distinct Indian tradition of medicine.

Astrology and Astronomy (Jyotisa)

Jyotisastra (or jyotisa, jyautisa) is the "science of celestial] lights:' Like its traditional European counterpart, it encompasses both astronomy and astrology - two terms which were largely interchangeable in Europe until the 17th century, and occasionally beyond that time. Of the two, astronomy is generally seen as subservient to the practical needs of calendar making and astrology, which will be the main focus of this article. Thematically, jyotisa is traditionally divided into three "branches" (skandha) and six "limbs" (an): (a) the branch of ganita (calculation), consisting of mathematics (ganita in a restricted sense) and astronomy (gola); (b) the branch of Nora (horoscopy or judicial astrology), consisting of genethlialogy or natal astrology (jataka), interrogations or horary astrology (prasna), and catarchic or electional astrology (muhurta), to which omens (nimitta) are occasionally added; and (c) the branch of samthita ("collections"), comprising mundane or natural astrology affecting whole countries or regions as well as weather prognostication and various natural lore and divinatory techniques not necessarily involving the heavenly bodies (see -) divination). The fact that other forms of divination are often subsumed under the heading of jyotisa indicates a primacy of astrology over other divinatory arts which is no doubt due at least in part to its more "scientific" — that is, complex, systematic and objective — character. HA and samhita are sometimes grouped together as phalitajyotisa ("having results" jyotisa, that is, applied jyotisa), contrasting with the theoretical ganitajyotisa.

Chronologically, the development of jyotisa may be divided into several periods characterized by influences from outside the Indian subcontinent. Speaking strictly of the astronomical side, D. Pingree (1981) makes use of the following chronology:

  • Vedic (c. 1000-400 BCE)
  • Babylonian (c. 400 BCE-200 CE)
  • Greco-Babylonian (c. 200-400)
  • Greek (c. 400-1600)
  • Islamic (c. 1600-1800)

The history of astrology in India differs somewhat from this scheme, as will be discussed below. For both aspects of jyotisa, a period of modern European influence (c. 1800—present) may further be added (see below).

Astronomy and Vedic Ritual: The Hindu tradition goes back to the prehistoric mergers of various linguistic and cultural communities in the South Asian region. Most of the languages of modern North India are members of the Indo-European language family, and Sanskrit, particularly Vedic Sanskrit, is the oldest known language of this family in South Asia. As the language of the -> Vedas, the scriptures of the Hindu tradition, Sanskrit plays a very important role. Related to Sanskrit are a whole range of ancient vernaculars, generically called Prakrit, which were used as languages of religious expression by the Jains and the Buddhists in ancient times, explicitly in opposition to the Sanskrit language used by the Brahmanical tradition. Other significant language families in India include the Dravidian language family, seen in the major languages of South India, namely Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, and Kannada. The interactions among these various linguistic and cultural traditions and their conflicts and compromises over linguistic issues are an important part of the religious history of South Asia. In later times, vernacular languages throughout South Asia emerged as vehicles of devotional approaches to god, again in opposition to the Sanskrit language used by the Brahman elites, and there were interesting conflicts and compromises between upholders of the prominence of various language varieties. These also form a significant part of the religious history of South Asia (see also -> Sanskrit texts and language; -> Tamil texts and language; -> languages and literatures in the Indian vernaculars).

Mathematics and Geometry

The title phrase "mathematics and geometry" requires some explanation. What is the purpose of juxtaposing these two topics as separate subjects when every schoolchild knows that geometry is defined as a subtopic of mathematics? This familiar classification was recognized in classical Sanskrit scholarship as well, in which the discipline of ganita ("enumerating, reckoning, calculation, mathematics") was routinely understood to include the subject of ksetraganita ("field-mathematics" or "figure-mathematics," geometry). The reason for separating the two lies in what we know of their origins in the pre-Hinduism ritual traditions of ancient India. Geometric constructions appear to have occupied a unique place in the performance of Vedic ritual (see yajna), and to have merged with other forms of quantification in the classical Sastras or disciplines only several centuries later.

The attempt to describe a specifically "Hindu" tradition of Indian mathematical and geometrical knowledge is equally problematic. The divergence of philosophical and theological thought in Jainism and Buddhism from its counterpart in early Brahmanism did not produce wholly divergent approaches to mathematics. Common themes about number, computation, and the relation of quantification to the cosmos and the calendar permeate texts in Sanskrit, Pali, and Prakrit alike, although with somewhat different emphases. Moreover, several prominent authors of medieval Sanskrit mathematical texts were Jains, and their Hindu colleagues sometimes referred to Jain technical terms or cosmological notions in their own work. In later centuries, some technical terms and cosmological concepts from Arabic/ Persian sources in Islamic mathematics likewise made their way into the Sanskrit texts of Hindu authors. Mathematics in Hinduism was "majority Hindu" (overwhelmingly so, in terms of the numbers of its practitioners) but not exactly "Hindu" per se.

The Vedic hymns and rituals contain the earliest surviving evidence for mathematical ideas and practices in Indo-Aryan cultures, if we discount as irrelevant or inconclusive the artefacts relating to computation in, for example, commerce and building that have been recovered from the archaeological remains of earlier Indic societies.

These earliest texts and the later exegetical works analyzing them emphasize the ritual importance of correct quantification: a wrong arrangement of quantities in a ceremony, like a mistake in the recitation of an incantation, can cause the ritual's power to fail. Quantification additionally signified divine power and abundance, as when a hymn names a large number of cows bestowed or enemies destroyed by a deity. Abstract ideas relating to quantity, such as void or infinity or successive increase of large numbers, also seem to have been invested with cosmic significance.

Spatial properties of figures were likewise crucial to the physical aspects of ritual practice. Certain altar shapes such as circles, squares, and triangles were identified with certain sacrificial purposes, and depended on mathematically accurate procedures for constructing their figures and transforming one shape into another while preserving its area.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of quantitative thought in ritual was its role in understanding the cycles of time on which the rituals were based. The ability to predict periodic phenomena like full moons and solstices, and to determine the ways that their cycles overlapped, was a fundamental prerequisite for performing most Vedic sacrifices at their prescribed times. Late Vedic texts on calendrics explicitly noted that knowing the patterns of the heavenly bodies (see navagrahas) was the key to maintaining the sacrifices.

Even in the earliest Vedic period, there must have been many more mundane roles for mathematics and geometry that were not directly reflected in the sacred texts. Evidence from diverse texts in subsequent centuries indicates that commercial and other forms of practical mathematics combined with the quantitative knowledge embodied in the see Vedas to become the science of ganita or computation in general, which overlapped intellectually and pedagogically with astronomy/astrology/calendrics (jyotisa, Jyotitsastra; see see astrology and astronomy). As early Brahmanism transformed into what we now consider Hinduism, the structure and style of the sacrifices changed, and new cross-cultural connections expanded the roles of jyotisa and ganita.


The term "Vastusastra" as used today refers to the knowledge and practice of the choosing an appropriate piece of land; planning towns, gardens, and parks, as well as constructing religious, domestic, healing, royal, defense, business, and recreational structures; the placement of various built units in towns and in the natural landscape; orientation of various units in the natural environment to face the most auspicious direction; designing the correct ratio and proportion among various units of the building or facility; and the placement of rooms, doors, windows, furniture - such that those who reside in or avail themselves of the facilities feel at harmony with one another and the cosmos and are led to higher levels of prosperity, well-being, and peace. Vastu refers to a site or a dwelling, usually a house; in popular culture, vastu is said to be derived from an unspecified Vedic source, vasanti prattinalj yatra, "a place where living beings abide" 

Ritual Traditions

Temple Rituals: North India

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact period in history during which temples and image worship developed in India. No religious edifice has yet been discovered in the many hitherto excavated Indus Valley cultural sites in northern and northwestern India, and the few, mostly mutilated, images unearthed so far do not seem to belong to any temple. Although the finds of a number of stone artifacts that are shaped like a see linga (phallic emblem of the god -> Siva) point toward prevalence of phallus worship, if it existed, it must have been carried out in smaller shrines situated under trees or in the open, as is the case even today with numerous Siva temples. A vague reference in the Rgveda 4.24.19 about the "selling of Indra" ("who would like to purchase my Indra for ten cows") has often been taken as referring to a statuette of Indra, but other explanations of the passage are also possible or even plausible.

However, quite a few texts of later Vedic age known as Ghyasutras and usually placed between 500 and 100 BCE make explicit references to temples and images (see Falk). The oldest of these is perhaps Baudhayanagrhyasutra (2.2.3), which recommends that the first outing (upaniskramana) of a newborn baby should be to a temple where she should be shown the citriyani of gods, a word that has been explained as devata (divine images) in the commentaries. The Laugaksigrhyasutra (18.3) refers to devatayatana (a dwelling of a deity) and Sankhayanagrhyasutra (4.2.55) to the words devatayatana and devakula (a temple with a cluster of gods), and the Gautamadharmasutra (9.66) enjoins circumambulation of "dwellings of the gods:' The Manavagrhyasutra (2.5.6) goes a step further and talks of "catching fire, falling, breaking, moving or even disappearing" of areas (worshippable images) and interprets them as evil signs for which expiation is needed. The Mahabharata also predicts evil times ahead when the divine images (devatapratima) start trembling or seem to be laughing or sweating, when their face is reddened, or when they fall on ground of their own (MBh. 6.2.26). All these references prove the existence of temples and divine images in the period starting approximately 500 BCE to the beginning of the current era.

In commenting upon Panini's Astadhydyi 5.3.99, Patanjali in the Mahabhanasya makes an interesting remark that the areas (worshippable divine images) were created by the Maurya rulers (c. 325 to 150 BCE) with a view to earn some additional revenue through their sale for their state (mauryair hiranydrthibhir arcah prakalpitah). The statement of Patanjali gets support from the fact that we have today quite a few nice examples of lapidary art from Mauryan times. Further, we have historical evidence in the form of an inscription dating back to 2nd century BCE of the dedication of a stone pillar with the image of Garlick on its top by a Greek envoy Heliodoros in front of a then existing Bhagavat-Vasudeva temple in the city of Vidisa (today Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh). The foundations of the temple excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India can be dated to the 5th century BCE (Härtel 1987; Lüders, 19381939). It is possible that the images before the Mauryan age were mostly terracottas or fashioned out of lime-stucco. A number of terracotta images (notably of various mother goddesses and goddess -w Durga as Mahisasuramardini, killing the buffalo demon, etc.) belonging to pre-Common Era period have been discovered, and since most of them were folk deities, it is difficult to identify them properly.

Besides the mention of the establishment of a Narayanavatika (sacred compound for the god Narayana) for the deities Samkarsana and Vasudeva in a mutilated inscription of the 1st century BCE near Chittor in Rajasthan (Sircar, 1965, 90f.), we hear of the erection of a temple in honor of the god see Krsna and other members of the deified heroes of the Vrsni clan at Mathura by the satrap Mahaksatrapa Sodasa in Mathura in the 1st century BCE (Lüders, 1938-1939, 208). This testifies to an unbroken tradition of establishing

Domestic Rituals

teal practices carried out within domestic space, by and on behalf of kinspersons, are important and enduring features of Hinduism, from the Vedic religions that form its roots through the diverse streams of practice and sectarian affiliation that currently exist among Hindus within and outside India. "Domestic ritual," however, cannot be said to constitute a discretely bounded category of ritual forms; it is better considered body of diverse ritual activities linked by formal, functional, and contextual similarities. For, while the series of life cycle and calendric rituals prescribed for Hindus in the Grhyasutras, Upanisads, Arthavaveda, Manusmrti, and the Puranas could be regarded as the definitive representatives of such a category, there exist a host of other ritual practices maintained through both textual and oral transmission, including popular and mass-mediated sources, that diverge in form and content from the domestic ritual prescribed in the classical corpus. Though noncanonical, these latter rituals are carried out by kinspersons and by Hindu - priests and other ritual adepts, within domestic space and on behalf of domestic wellbeing. These practices, which vary widely in form and content across regions, and among different sectarian and -> caste communities, are carried out by both men and women and, indeed, form an important component of Hindu women's religiosity. Moreover, in addition to rituals dedicated to the physiological and moral development and well-being of family members, there are a variety of practices associated with house construction and occupancy that should also be grouped within the category of domestic ritual.

Domestic ritual, therefore, can be defined as ritual activities of varied forms including life cycle ceremonies (samskaras), calendric observances of puja, and other festival or devotional observances that are carried out within and are constitutive of, domestic space. They are conducted to ensure familial well-being and on behalf of kinspersons, living and deceased. They may be performed by priests or by lay household members. Though specific ritual repertoires vary among households, the performance of domestic ritual is regarded by most Hindus as a constituent part of daily, domestic life.

Arts includes extensive essays of key indigenous expressions: Temple: Form and Function, Drama and Theatre, Iconography and Images: Ancient Concepts, Art, Methodology, Mandalas and Yantras, Music, Kirtan and Bhajan, Dance: Classical Tradition, Regional Tradition: Kerala, Martial Arts, Rasa Theory, Citrakatha, Paintings, and Popular Prints Hinduism and Film: Bollywood, Tamil Cinema, Hinduism and Modern Literature, 


include  extensive review essays on the key ideas in the religion Adhikara, Ahimsa, Artha, Aramas and Samnyasa, Atman, Auspiciousness and Inauspiciousness, Avatara, Avidya, Bhakti, Body, Brahman, Consciousness and Mind, Dharma, Divination, Gift and Gift Giving, Grace and Compassion, Guna, Isvara, Jivanmukta, Kama, Karman, Liberation, Lila, Madness (Unmada), Mahabhutas, Maya, Meditation, Nirguna and Saguna, Prakrti, Purusa, Sakti, Samsara, Satya, Seva, Tapas, Time and Destiny, Untouchability, Wisdom and Knowledge (Jnana/Vidya)

Volume III

Social Organization

Religious and Professional Roles

Religious Communities and Traditions

Philosophical Schools

Volume IV

Historical Periods

Philosophers, Poets, and Saints

Relation to Other Religions and Traditions Hinduism and Indian Politics

Hinduism and the Indian Constitution Hinduism and Contemporary Issues

Volume V

Religious Symbols

Special Contents

Volume I


Volume II>

Sacred Texts and Languages


Ritual Traditions



Volume III

Social Organization

Religious and Professional Roles

 Religious Communities and Traditions

 Philosophical Schools

Volume IV

Historical Periods

Philosophers, Poets, and Saints

Relation to Other Religions and Traditions

Hinduism and Indian Politics

Hinduism and the Indian Constitution

 Hinduism and Contemporary Issues

Volume V

Religious Symbols

Hinduism and Migration: Contemporary Communities outside South Asia

Some Modern Religious Groups and Teachers