The Rejection of Vedic Sacrificial Ritual in Indian Culture

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The Rejection of Vedic Sacrificial Ritual in Indian Culture My intention in this piece is to explore the development of the concepts of brahman and atman in ancient Indian culture. I intend to examine the role of the Upanisads in Vedic society and to investigate their abandonment of Vedic sacrificial ritual. I contend that the writers of the Upanisads turned towards a mystical path away from society in order to explore a viable alternate way of living that did not involve sacrificial ritual. Although the only record we have of this shift in thought is a set of philosophical discourses, I suggest that this was not solely an intellectual move. Rather, there were emotional reasons as well as logical reasons that these groups of people moved away from Vedic society in pursuit of brahman. This was a slow process that evolved over many years and although it did not banish sacrifice from Indian culture, it laid the foundation for later non-violent religious movements in India. In attempting to apply Rene Girard and Gil Bailie’s theory of acknowledgement of the victim to an ancient Indian phenomenon, I intend to show that the Upanisadic rejection of Vedic sacrificial ritual was a significant move away from the sacrificial system upon which humanity relies so heavily. Vedic Sacrifice: Maintenance of the Universe The sacrificial system of ancient India was founded on a worldview that placed humanity in an allegorical relationship with the divine realm. The physical world of humans was seen as a smaller, mirror image of the greater world of the gods. The fundamental role of religion was to assign and perform the appropriate rites to maintain proper order in the universe. The gods required regular offerings and appeasement. Thus, a relationship with the gods required maintenance that was provided by the sacrificial ritual. Fire ceremonies and the ritual giving of offerings to the gods were common practices for the Aryan tribes that invaded the Indian sub-continent in approximately 1500 BCE. [1] Their simpler, private offering ceremonies eventually evolved into the more codified, communal, elaborate sacrificial rituals of classical Vedic culture as this new society began to grow and change. Fire itself was of central importance to this civilization and all of these rituals focused around the offertory fire. It is logical, then, that the Aryans eventually personified the fire itself and deemed it divine.

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