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The Science of Ritual (A Rare Book)

The Science of Ritual (A Rare Book)
Item Code: NAC631
Author: Frits Stall
Publisher: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Insitute, Pune
Edition: 1982
ISBN: 9788194055921
Pages: 101
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 Inch X 5.5 Inch
weight of the book: 115 gms

On the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, which was celebrated iii June 1978, Acharya V. P. Limaye donated to the Institute a fairly substantial amount of money to enable it to found a Lectureship in memory of his revered teacher in the Fergusson College, Poona, Professor Dr. Pandurang Damodar Gune. Accordingly, the Institute has undertaken to organize, once every two years, a series of lectures on a subject relating to Vedic studies, to be called “ Professor P. D. Gune Memorial Lectures “.

Professor Gune was born at Rahuri, District Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, on May 3, 1884. After a brilliant academic career, in the course of which he bagged most of the scholarships and prizes assigned for Sanskrit, Gune passed his M. A. examination with distinction in 1906. Soon thereafter, he joined the Deccan Education Society as a Life-Member and began to teach Sanskrit in the Society’s Fergusson College. In 1910, lie proceeded to Germany for higher studies and worked for nearly three years at the Leipzig University under the guidance of Professor Brugmann, specializing in comparative philology. He was awarded Ph. D. of that University in 1913. The seven years from 1913 to 1920 may be characterized as the years of distinguished achievement in Gune’s life. In addition to his normal work in the Fergusson College, where he soon established a well-deserved reputation as a successful teacher, Gune took the initiative in founding the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in 1917 and became one of its first secretaries. He was also largely instrumental in bringing into being the All-India Oriental Conference, the first session of which was held at Poona in 1919. In 1917, Gune delivered at the Bombay University the prestigious Wilson Philological Lectures which were subsequently published in a book- form under the title, An Introduction to Comparative Philology. He was an active contributor to the Annals of the BORI the Indian Antiquary, and the Marathi Vividha-Jnana-Vistara, among other journals. He was also commissioned to edit two Prakrit works — one for the Gaekwad’s Oriental Series and the other for the Calcutta University. All this strenuous work began to tell on him and he was soon seized by tuberculosis. On November 25, 1922, he fell a victim to that vile disease, and a very promising career was thereby abruptly cut short.

Acharya Limaye was himself one of the brightest pupils of Professor Gune, and he deserves all encomium for having thought of commemorating his Guru in such a worthy manner.

The first series of the “Professor P. 11 Gune Memorial Lectures” was delivered by Professor Frits Staal of the University of California, Berkeley, on July 12—14, 1981, on the “Science of Ritual “, at the Centre of Advanced Study in Sanskrit, University of Poona, in conjunction with the International Seminar on Paini organized by the Centre. The best thanks of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute are due to Professor Staal for having accepted its invitation to deliver these lectures at a comparatively short notice. Professor Staal has made a special study of the rauta Ritual — both from the point of view of the texts and of the actual performance — as his forthcoming AGNI — The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar will amply testify. His expert knowledge of the subject will be seen to have been reflected also in these lectures.



Man is addicted to ritual activity, a fact that is true cc modern society as much as it is true of ancient societies, and that applies to so called primitive communities as much as it applies to the so-called civilized world. In this booklet I argue that we need a science of ritual if we wish to understand man in all his manifold activities. I also claim that such a science already existed in ancient India. The Indian science of ritual was a thoroughly rational discipline with a great respect for facts. Though the ritualists who developed this science believed in the efficacy of ritual, their belief did in no way affect or interfere with their scientific enterprise. I hope that the claim that it in exist may add substance to the argument that we need such a science. In passing 1 have criticized some existing approaches to the study of ritual which I regard as unscientific and unsatisfactory.

The only three disciplines that are nowadays interested in ritual are anthropology, psychology, and the study of religion. It might therefore be assumed that I am a practitioner of one of these three. However, I am not, as will readily be seen. I might be described as a philosopher who has long been exposed to India, and who in the course of this exposure has been caught in the webs of Sanskrit and Indology. The lectures upon which this booklet is based were addressed to Sanskritists, primarily Sanskrit grammarians. Such was an ideal audience, because Sanskrit grammarians are not only scholarly and knowledgeable, but critical and endowed with more independent judgment than most people think. Moreover, this audience was ideal in a more significant sense. The science that was closest to the ancient Indian science of ritual was grammar. The importance of Panini’s grammar has long been known to linguists, and it is no longer controversial to state (with a variation on Bloomfield) that Panini’s grammar is one of the greatest monuments of the scientific genius of man. There is no single work in the Indian science of ritual that can claim so exalted a position. However, I hope to show in this book that the rauta Sutras exhibit a similar scientific spirit and comparable qualities.

Among Sanskritists, specialists of Vedic ritual employ various, sometimes overlapping approaches: traditional, philological, historical, and anthropological, with admixtures from a variety of other disciplines. I hope that the approach displayed in the following chapters will appeal to them. I am confident that these chapters will be of some interest to Sanskrit grammarians and to Indologists generally. Moreover, I cannot help feeling that they should be useful to the three kinds of practitioner mentioned at the beginning of the previous paragraph. Ideally, I am addressing ritualists, but since I argue that we need but don’t have them, it is only logical to conclude that I have not yet succeeded, at least in this respect.

The book consists of three chapters. In the first I touch upon science in general, and spend some time with the sister sciences of ritual and grammar that originated in ancient India. I address myself to historical as well as conceptual issues, e. g., how can there be a science of ritual if science and ritual are antipodes. In the second chapter I explore an example of applied ritual science. The results are historical reconstructions, pertaining to Vedic and pre-Vedic events. The third chapter analyzes a feature of Indian ritual involving geometrical structures that may be prevedic, and that are approached in a spirit of ritual geometry. This chapter provides substance to the claim that the existing approaches to the study of ritual are inadequate.

The first chapter will be published separately in the Journal of Indian Philosophy. In the second and third chapters, data have been utilized from the 1975 performance of a large Vedic ritual, the Atiratra-Agnicayana, by Nambudiri brahmins of Kerala. This ritual performance is described and studied in greater detail In: AGNI — The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, Vols. I—II (Berkeley, 1982).

The text that is presented here is a revised version of the three “Professor P. D. Gune Memorial Lectures,” delivered at the University of Poona on July’ 12, 13, and 14, 1981, under the auspices of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. I am very grateful to Professor R. N. Dandekar for inviting me to deliver these lectures and to the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute for publishing them in this form. The written text has benefitted substantially from other lectures, discussions, comments and remarks during the International Seminar on Paini, when these lectures were delivered. I am indebted to the Smithsonian Institution for enabling me to participate in this Seminar. I am especially grateful for the comments made by Professor Paul Kiparsky at Poona, Professor Romila Thapar at New Delhi, Professor Yutaka Ojihara and Dr. Shingo Einoo at Kyoto.




  Foreword iii-iv
  Preface v-viii
  Lecture 1 – Ritual, Grammar, and the Origins of Science In India 1-38
  1. Introduction 1-3
  2. Ritual and Grammar in Ancient India 3-5
  3. Vedic Ritual: An Example 5-8
  4. Sanskrit Grammar: An Example 8-10
  5. Origins and Relative Chronology 10-19
  6. Abstraction and Generalization 19-28
  7. Options and Arguments 28-31
  8. Conclusions and Final Remarks 31-38
  Lecture II – Early Indian History and the Science of Ritual 39-53
  1. Introduction 39-42
  2. A Speculative Controversy 42-47
  3. Naturally Perforated Pebbles in Wider Perspective 47-52
  4. Conclusions 52-53
  Lecture III – Aviary Geometry of the Agnicayana 54-65
  1. Introduction 54-58
  2. The Six-Tipped Bird Altar 58-60
  3. The Five-Tipped Bird Altar 60-61
  4. The Square Bird Altar 61-62
  5. Conclusions 62-65
  Illustrations 66-96
  Bibliography 97-101

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