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The following are ADF rituals and articles inspired by the ancient Vedic culture:AgnihotrGood Night, Sweet ChildWhy Vedism?
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The agnihotr was a very important ritual performed in Vedic times. Due to thousands of years of corruption, we can only hope to scratch the surface of this historically confusing ritual. We do know that it was very important because of its personal nature: it could be performed by anyone and was not tied to being performed by a Brahmin. The following information was taken from various sources (see the bibliography) and hopes to spread some light on the deceptively simplistic agnihotr ritual. Story of the Agnihotr There was a time when there was no earth. There was no sky above it and no heaven beyond that. There was no light or separation of light from the darkness. There was no day. There was no night. Man did not exist in this void. Neither did the Devas (Gods). There was only chaos, darkness and (Gods). There was only chaos, darkness and Prajapati. Prajapati became filled with desire. He sought to create, to fill the void with forms. He took to performing austerely, filling the void with himself. After some time he produced the Devourer, Agni, from his mouth. After this all of the other Gods, too, were created and they fled to the corners of the world. Only Agni remained. "The Devourer shall wish to eat," thought Prajapati. "As nothing else is here, will he eat me?" The Devourer looked to Prajapati with his mouth wide. Prajapati stood in fear. His greatness left him. His speech left him. "Offer an oblation," said his inner voice. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and saying "Svaha" he offered it to the Devourer. He offered his own eye, truth, and said "In Agni is the light, the light is in Agni." This offering to Agni was the first oblation to the fire. Its name is agnihotr. Religious Texts of the Agnihotr The agnihotr appears in the Kathakasamhita (Black Yajurveda), Maitrayaisamhita (Black Yajurveda), Taittiryabrahmana (Black Yajurveda), Aitareyabrahmana (Rgveda), Sankhaayanabrahmana (Rgveda), Satapathabrahmana (White Yajurveda), Jaiminiyabrahmana (Samaveda), Sadvimsabrahmana (Samaveda), Gopathavrahmana (Atharvaveda), Vadhulasutraand traces of it can be and traces of it can be found within the Grhya Sutras. The agnihotr can also be found in sources which mention the pranagnihotra, an agnihotr substitute. As we touched upon the history of the various Vedic texts in a previous issue of Oak Leaves (see the article "Why Vedism" in Oak Leaves issue 25) I shall briefly run through the source material. The holy texts are split into two categories: sruti-tradition and smrti-tradition. The sruti sources are ones that have been "heard." These texts were revealed by the Gods to specific Rsis (priests). The smrti sources are those that have been "memorized," and as such have been created by man without divine assistance. The Vedic texts fall mostly within the category of sruti and are known as Vedas and portions of the Upanisads. Veda translates literally into "knowledge." The word veda is derived from the verb vid- which means "to know, to be aware of." Upanisad is broken up with "sad" meaning "sit" and most likely refers to the extreme secrecy that was to be enforced with the sharing of the Upanisads by having the student sitting beside the teacher. The thinking is the word upanisad refers to "secret text." There are a total of four Vedas. Three of the Vedas, the Rgveda, the Yajurveda, and the Samaveda, can be dated to between 1500-1200BCE. A fourth Veda—the Atharvaveda was established slightly later, between 1200-1000BCE. Each Veda consists of its the main text, or Samhita, as well as dedicated commentary and instruction on that text, which is known as the Brahmana. The Samhitas are the actual text, or hymns, of each of the Vedas while the Brahmanas are the commentary upon the Vedas. The manas are the commentary upon the Vedas. The Brahmanas set out to explain, in detail, the going-ons of the Vedas. The Upanisads generally date from about 800-600BCE and while they show more information on the Vedas, they also show a breaking away from traditional Vedic thought into the basic tenets of what would grow to become Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism). The Upanisads are predominantly thought processes and commentary. They can be seen as a mix of smrti and sruti for the most part. Past these texts you find yourself within the man made texts of the smrti-tradition. While this in no way demeans their value, it simply must be stated that to a Vedic these texts are man made texts that have been quite removed from their original Vedic thought process. These texts often incorrectly portray the Vedic texts for their own agendas. Two smrti-tradition texts which are still of great use: the smrti Grhya Sutras and the Crauta Sutras. The Sutras were roughly set down between 400 and 200BCE, although this is just scholastic guess work. The Grhya Sutras deal specifically with household ritual to be performed by the householder. The Crauta Sutras depict elaborate rituals which included one or more clergy. Mythology of the Agnihotr The agnihotr starts with the creation myths of Prajapati, a God who was being formed at the end of the Rgvedic period and is much spoken of in the Atharvaveda and Vajasaneyisamhita. Nowhere in the Rgveda is Prajapati given his creation myth. Rather within the Rgveda his name occurs twice as an alias for Savitar and Soma, respectively, and in addition his name occurs four more times as a God unto himself. Within the additional Samhitas and Brahmanas there are several versions and additions to the Prajapati creation myth. These myths can be broken down to Prajapati creating Agni and then making an offering to him. Versions occur where there is a difference over whether Prajapati gave an offering freely or because he feared Agni; whether Agni erupted from Pajapati's mouth or from his forehead; and whether Prajapati's offering to Agni was his own blood, his own eye, the sun, or his own sweat (ghee). The overwhelming consensus of these particular texts is that Prajapati created the Gods, with Agni being the first creation. From there he made the first offering to the fire (Agni) and thus began the first agnihotr. These particular agnihotr myths are thought to deal with the evening agnihotr as they as they focus in around Agni and Prajapati. Additional myths surround Agni, Surya and Vayu to explain the morning agnihotr but do not cover how the agnihotr came into being. Due to Prajapti being formed in conjunction with the agnihotr at the end of the Rgvedic period it may be safe to assume that the agnihotr held a different meaning before that time. I can find no explanation for a change at this point in time in my research, but by reading through the various texts and watching as the agnihotr becomes more difficult and more restrictive I can say clergy corruption most likely played a part. Agnihotr Explained "He (Prajapati) offered truth, he offered yonder sun. For that is the symbolic meaning of the agnihotroblation. He by whom the agnihotrs thus offered becomes more illustrious day by day. Before that time night and day did not exist. They were both created together with that oblation. In that he (the priest or householder) offers in the evening, he thereby makes the sun shine away from here for his adversary. In that he offers at daybreak, he makes it shine to the west for his own benefit. The agnihotr is offered for the sake of preserving Agni. By offering in the evening he keeps Agni for the night, by offering at daybreak he keeps Agni for the day." Kathakasamhita 6,1† There are many explanations for the agnihotr, however many however many agnihotr are later additions. The ancient Vedics became attached to the agnihotr due to the agnihotr being performed over time rather than being instituted from the beginning. We shall focus in on the very basic idea of the agnihotr being the transferring of the Sun into Agni. This is the core idea behind the agnihotr, as supported by the original telling of the first agnihotr. The agnihotr is done twice daily with the evening is done twice daily with the evening agnihotr being the more important of the two. It is thought that by the end of the day the Sun (Surya) has grown tired and is slipping into the dangerous night. The evening agnihotr requires the Sun (Surya) to be heated and poured into Agni. "Surya (the Sun) and Agni were in the same yoni ‡. Thereupon Surya rose upwards. He lost his seed. Agni received it with an iron receptacle. He made it stick to the iron pan. While it was burning he transferred it to the cow. It became milk. Therefore fresh milk which is still warm, sticks to the untinned iron vessel. When one performs the agnihotr with milk, then one offers yonder sun. For this is the agnihotr." Kathakasamhita 6,3:51.9-14 † The morning devotional adds to the Sun's strength by offering more milk. As you move through the texts you find mentions of symbolic agnihotrs. However these do conflict with the strong message that the agnihotr is to be performed twice daily. One such example can be found within the Sankhaayanabrahmana (2,8): "This fire offers itself in the rising sun. Yonder sun when it sets, offers itself in the fire at night. The night offers itself in the day, the day in the night. The exhalation offers itself in the inhalation, the inhalation in the exhalation." † The above passage continues with an explanation that the very act of breathing within the symbolism can be used as a substitute of the agnihotr. This does not appear to be agnihotr a common practice and seems to be more of a thought process. In the earliest mentions it is stated that the agnihotr is performed in the early morning just before sunrise and in the evening. If one does not complete the agnihotr in the evening, his morning agnihotr does not matter. It is not until later that a deep discussion on exactly when the agnihotrs are to be performed occurs. As with most things surrounding the agnihotr there is no clear cut answer, thus we put the agnihotr at just before sunrise and just after sunset. As we have now covered the texts of the agnihotr, its myths, the timing and why we perform it we are left with two questions: what do you use to complete an agnihotr and how do you do it? The agnihotr, in its most basic form, is a pouring of milk into the fire. This involves just one fire, or three depending on your class, along with a sthali, a havani and an agnihotri (the cow). A sthali is an earthen pot containing milk which is an earthen pot containing milk which has been made by an Aryan (Vedic), but not a Sudra (non Vedic), and that has not been made with a potter's wheel. By not being made on a wheel it is said the sthali becomes sacred to only the Gods. The havani is a spoon (or ladle) made of vikankata wood and has a handle which is one arm's length. There is also the kindling-stick, or samidh. This stick is made of palasa wood and is said to be equal to Soma. Only one stick is used and it represents Prajapati in certain myths within the Brahamanas. The other wood used to create the fire is for the fire only. The kindling stick is used as the means to transport the offering to heaven. Performing the Agnihotr The agnihotr is performed in the following order: Milk the cow Tend the fire Warm the milk Pour (or do not pour) the water Remove the milk from the fire Offering milk to the Householder Fire Offering of milk to the Offertorial Fire An important issue to discuss is the fasting that is often done with Vedic rituals. There is no fast performed for the agnihotr, unlike in other Vedic rituals. Instead it is said that because the agnihotr is a never ending ritual there is no fast; however, there is mention that to remain pure when one has sex they should be like the animals: quiet with no talking. It is thought when you have sex in silence you become more pure. The first step of the agnihotr is to milk the cow. As with all the steps in the agnihotr you will find many variations and you will find many variations and extreme detail as to how every action must be completed. The cow, known as the agnihotri, is milked by a helper of is milked by a helper of agnihotri the priest. This helper is to let the calf go towards the cow from the southern side so he may win the favour of the Fathers. He makes the cow turn eastward to win the favour of the Gods. Then he turns the cow to the north to begin milking. He milks the two front teats if the man he is milking for is the eldest son or prosperous, the back two teats are milked if the man he is milking for is the youngest son or wishes to be prosperous. Another source claims you should milk all four teats as they represent four sacrifices. The milk is to be milked into the sthali. Extreme care is to be taken so that no milk is spilled in this process. The next step surrounds the kindling of the fires. A moment must be spent to explain the Vedic fire system before we continue. The generic ancient Vedic ritual layout consists of the Householder's Fire (gaarhapatya), a seat for the Yajamana's wife (the Yajamana being the person for who the ritual was being the person for who the ritual was being done), the Southern Fire (daksi-naagni), a seat for the Hotr Yajamana, the position of the Brahmin, the vedi, the Offertorial Fire ( the Offertorial Fire (vedi aahavaniiya), and the position of the Udgatr. The Householder's Fire is to the west. It is a reflection of the fire that is kept burning in the home at all times. It is often lit with the flames from the Domestic Fire of the Yajamana. Failing that it would be lit from the Brahmin's own Domestic Fire, the Assembly Fire or from scratch as practicality dictates. The Southern Fire is to the south and it is the fire of Yama, King of the Dead, and the Fathers. The Offertorial Fire is to the east and is the fire of the Gods. It is to this fire that offerings are made to go directly to the Gods. This specific fire is layer upon layer of bricks with specific meanings and is formed into the shape of a bird or on a structure in the shape of a bird. The vedi is between the Offertorial Fire and the Householder's Fire. This is shaped as the body of a woman and is the area where all of the ritual tools and offerings are placed. The fires of importance in an agnihotr are the gaarhapatya, the Householder's Fire, and the aahavaniiya, the Offertorial Fire. Fire is taken from the Householder's Fire and placed to the Offertorial Fire. This is to be done at the end of the day. Thus he takes out the negativity of the day and secures the good actions of the day. The individual is to approach the Offertorial Fire from the east and then he goes around it by passing between the space of it and the Householder's Fire. Then he sits to the south of the Offertorial Fire. There is also one mention of water being poured in the evening. Water is poured around all three fires, three times. While doing so the sacrificer says "I pour truth round thee, order." † In the morning he does the same but says: "I pour order round thee, truth." † The milk is then put on the Householder's Fire to be cooked. The milk which is to be offered is to be cooked perfectly; not over boiling or being lukewarm. It is cooked over coals taken from the garhapatya fire. The actual milking of the cow is a maze in and of itself. The cow should be milked by a Brahmin or a Sudra or a man who milks cows. They are to approach the cow from the southern side to win favor of the Fathers. Then the cow is forced eastward to gain the favour of the Gods. The cow is then turned north. The teats should never touch during the milking. The front teats should be milked for the man who is an eldest son or prosperous. The back teats should be milked if the man is the youngest son or wishes to become prosperous. If there is no milk available there were optional offerings which could be used. These included ghee (clarified butter) (clarified butter) or rice-gruel (rice is said to be the seed of the bull and the bull is the Sun, thus the rice is the Sun in the manner milk is the Sun). If the fire cannot be made on time the ear of a female goat is offered (the goat is sacred to Agni); if a goat cannot be found the offering is made to the right hand of a Brahmin; if a Brahmin cannot be found the oblation should be made on kusa grass; if kusa grass cannot be found it should be offered into water. The pot with the milk is not to be put in the middle of the Householder's Fire as this would condemn the sacrificer's wife to death. He is to push coals to the north of the fire and put the pot on them to protect his wife (the fire is seen as Rudra and the pot the wife). One source, the Jaiminiyabrahmana (Samaveda), states that when the coals are pushed out the sacrificer is to say: "Ye are the prosperity bringers. Danger coming from abroad has been pushed away." † The milk is put on the coals and it is said: "Thou art put on Vaisvanara's fire. May Agni not burn thy lustre. For truth, thee." † Ghee is to be sprinkled on the milk. This is followed by is to be sprinkled on the milk. This is followed by kusa grass being burned, held over the milk and used to warm the milk. The same source above states that while the milk is being passed over by the kusa the following is to be said: "Light the following is to be said: "Light together with light." † Then the grass, on fire, is to be carried around the pot three times as this rids the offering of the Rakshsa. This is done while saying: "Excluded is the race of the demons, excluded are the powers of adversity." † The next step involves the pouring of water onto the milk. Once again we find ourselves with conflicting sources. On one hand water is never to be poured into the milk, else the glow of the milk is extinguished. To remove this obstacle, when the milking was performed some milk is to be left in the pail and water mixed with it. Then this mixture is poured onto the heated milk. However, as the milking pail is the pot this opens a puzzle of whether there two of the sthali (agnihotr pot)? The other option is to pour water or no water at all. One pours water if they desire cattle. One does not pour on water if they desire splendour. The next step is to remove the pot from the fire and ladle out the milk while standing. The milk pot should be removed from the fire very carefully. If it is taken off eastward the husband dies first, if to the west the wife dies first. Thus the pot should be removed to the north, ensuring old age together. Another version is that if the pot is removed to the east the sacrificer will be met with grief. If the pot is taken off at the south the offering goes to the Fathers which is not favourable to the Gods. If it goes to the west grief befalls the sacrificer's wife. Thus the pot should be removed to the north. The milk pot is to be set down near the fire as a means of worshipping the fire. The pot should not be laid to the south or behind the fire. It should be put at the west or north of the Householder's Fire while saying "Give me cattle." † The pot should not be placed by a fire which it is not intended to be offered to. The way the milk is poured out into the Householder Fire is also complicated. One pours with a full ladle until each offering becomes smaller and smaller so his sons, according to their age, become prosperous. There is also the choice of offering a small amount first and then having the offering increase in size until a full ladle is the last offering. This leads to more food and the youngest son being the most prosperous. There is the possibility of ladling out equal offerings so all the sons are treated equally. There is also a passage from the Maitrayaisamhita (Black Yajurveda) which states a man who goes from ladling a larger offering to a smaller offering becomes inferior. Thus the man is to do smaller offerings that grow in size until the last offering is a full ladle. Another version states that two ladles are used. These are purified by being heated and one ladle contains the milk and the other ghee. The ghee is poured out under the milk is poured out under the milk oblation. This is ladled out four times to obtain cattle (cattle having four legs). There is also mention of an agnihtrasthali which holds four ladles that is separate from the milk pot. There is a version which states the first ladle represents the Full and New Moon sacrifices. The second ladle represents the four monthly sacrifices. The third ladle represents istis and pasubandhas. The fourth represents the tryambaka, the vajapeya and the asvamedha sacrifices. An additional version says one should remove the milk pot to the north and place it down three times. The coals are then poked on the south side while saying: "Homage to the Gods." † The coals are carefully pushed back and then he ladles out four times and then/or an optional five times. Yet another version, from the Jaiminiyabrahmana (Samaveda 1,39) says: "Then he takes off the milk and puts it down while saying: 'Established heaven, establish the world between heaven and earth, establish the earth, establish offspring and cattle for me, the sacrificer.' He pushes back the coals and says: 'You bring welfare, danger coming from foreign people has pushed you back.' Then he takes the dipping spoon and the offering spoon and purifies them by heating them over the fire while saying: 'Burnt is the race of the Rakshasa, burnt are the powers of adversity.' Then he rubs the offering spoon in the evening while saying: 'Together with the Gods coming in the evening' and in the morning he says: 'Together with the Gods in the morning.' 'Thee, the golden one, made of gold, 'I rub', 'Thou art the channel which conveys the oblations.' It becomes the channel for conveying oblations. Then he says: 'I shall ladle out.' He should speak: 'Yes, I shall send myself to heaven.'" † It is stated that the ladle being warm upsets Agni. As such the sacrificer should place the spoon in his hand or on his arm to cool it and make Agni happy. The milk pot is then moved to be on the east of the Offertorial Fire. This is accompanied by saying either "Give me life; give me glory; give me offspring," † or "Give me life," † or "Give me glory." † The kindling-stick is also laid down here and accompanied by: "The kindling-stick is indeed a man. He is kindled by food. Make me go to heaven by the energy of the food/oblation. Make my agnihotr go there where is the favourite domain of the Gods and the seers." † The Satapathabrahmana (White Yajurveda) points out that the milk and kindling-stick should not be placed down until after the first offering. Now we come to the offering within the Offertorial Fire, which ends the ritual. The fire to which the offering is to be made must be of a particular design, meaning its appearance is to be exact. The fire is broken into several stages in the Taittiryabrahmana (Black Yajurveda). The first stage represents Vasus and is the very beginning, when the flames first smoke the fire is Rudra; when the flame seizes fuel for the first time it is the Adityas; when the fire flames on all sides it is all of the Gods, and when the flame is low and red it is Indra. A gold coloured flame is sacred to Brhaspati, red is sacred to Varuna, neither gold or red is sacred to Mitra, and when the flame is engulfed in smoke it is sacred to all of the Gods. It is when the fire flickers that it is the mouth of Agni and the offering is to be made. The morning offering should be made with the right foot in front. The evening offering is made with the right foot behind. The offering must be made on the kindling-stick. To do otherwise is to offer directly to Death. The offering itself is tricky because the second offering should not be poured directly onto the first. To do so triggers a flaw in the ritual and thus Death. To avoid this it is said that the first oblation is poured onto one section of the kindling-stick and that the second is poured by "jumping over" the first offering. There is also mention of both offerings being in a single line, although the practicality of this would require more than one officiant or a special offering ladle. "Earth, air, heaven" † should be said before offering. The actions of the agnihotr differ depending on the source and the time of day. First let us look at the morning agnihotr and then the evening. In the morning the offering is made while saying: "Surya is the light, the light is Surya." † In the evening the offering is made while saying: "In Agni be light, light in Agni." † Or one can say: "Agni is the light, the light is Agni." † There are further variations for the morning and evening, but these are the most repeated. At the completion of these offerings, additional actions may be performed that honour additional Gods. These offerings are made to Surya, Rudra, Indra, the Angirases, and even the Rakshasa to name a few. As we are dealing with just the agnihotr and not any acceptable additions we shall spend no further time here. Questions in Regard to the Agnihotr The Vedas also deal with questions that arose from the performing of the agnihotr. Once again there are not definite answers and some answers contain more detail than others. If there is no lit fire from which to take fire from, the fire can be created from scratch as the need dictates. It is stated that every man is to perform the agnihotr. Yet Yet agnihotr Brahmins can be found having other can be found having other Brahmins perform it for them. This is a difficulty because the agnihotr has only has only one officiant, as the one symbolizes Prajapati in the originalagnihotr. A wonderful passage which points to others performing the agnihotr for you can be found in the Sadvimsabrahmana (4,1,13-14): "One oblation performed by a pupil is better than a hundred oblations performed by others. One oblation performed by a son is better than a hundred oblations performed by pupils. One oblation performed by oneself is better than a hundred oblations performed by a son. For he should offer himself, he should milk himself, he should attend on the agnihotr himself." † In addition we have the problem that a man is to perform the Householder rituals when he is wed and a householder. So if he is not wed should he also not complete the agnihotr? The Vedas state that a man should perform the agnihotr regardless, otherwise he is a barbarian (a barbarian being a man who does not offer to men, the Fathers or the Gods). The agnihotr is never to be performed for the is never to be performed for the Ksatriya (king & warrior class). It is thought that the practices of the Ksatriya make them impure. Instead to perform the agnihotr the Ksatriya family is to invite in a Brahmin and feed him, thus symbolically performing the agnihotr. Another version states the Ksatriya may perform an may perform an agnihotr on New and Full moons and that the missing agnihotrs may be replaced by the Ksatriya reciting mantras every day or his family feeding a Brahmin. The Brahmin eats the food and thus a symbolic agnihotr is performed. This is because the Brahmin is the only person who can eat left over oblations and he is acting as the fire when he is fed. A contradiction in actions, the Kathakasamhita (Black Yajurveda) and Maitrayaisamhita (Black Yajurveda) both state that the agnihotr is to be performed in silence while the milk is ladled out. While earlier certain phrases are found to be said during the ladling out of the milk. Modern Agnihotr Having covered the ancient agnihotr as much as we dare for these materials, we now step into the modern agnihotr. In order to create a modern agnihotr we have to dissect the ancient agnihotr and compare it with our modern world. I would like to take a moment to talk briefly about the Hindu agnihotr, which has absolutely nothing to do with the Vedic agnihotr other than sharing the same name and involving a fire. The Hindu agnihotr fits within the Hindu cosmology and belief system. The Vedic agnihotr fits within the fits within the Vedic cosmology and belief system. If you are completing a Hindu agnihotr you are not doing the original ritual and, contrary to propaganda, you are not doing a ritual that is the oldest ritual (the Hindu version, since Hinduism started about 200 BCE, is about 2200 years old). The Vedic agnihotr is about honouring the gods and asking for blessings. The Hindu agnihotr, depending on your sources, is about purifying/healing the air and the earth or healing the self (and contrary to some sources, the agnihotr is not a yajna ritual). The tools used and the words said are entirely ritual). The tools used and the words said are entirely different and reflect the two belief systems respectively. The Vedic agnihotr is about the Gods. The Hindu is about the Gods. The Hindu agnihotr is about is about the inner self. The differences are not a matter of doing things correctly or incorrectly (although completing rituals in an exact manner was very important to the Vedics). It is about honouring the Gods in a manner which pleases them. And as the Hindu religion has spent a millennia attempting to wipe out the Vedic Gods and the Hindu version is a tad too egocentric for my tastes, I prefer to complete the Vedic agnihotr. The ancient agnihotr had two fires which it dealt with: the Offertorial Fire and the Householder's Fire. It can be safely assumed that outside of a temple a modern person is not going to have a constantly burning Offertorial Fire. A constant Householder's Fire can be arranged, but would take extreme caution. With today's family, pets and work load it is often not safe to have a constant fire burning. So what is one to do in regards to the fire? To be honest, this would vary from family to family. In our own family we have a candle that was lit during our Vedic wedding ceremony (in ancient times the Householder's Fire was one lit during the wedding ceremony and then kept lit at the home). We are also blessed with a gas stove. In our situation we light our Householder Fire (the candle) and transfer the fire to the gas stove, thus making it a functioning Householder's Fire. In addition there is a small bowl with coals for the fire to be moved to for the offerings. The Offertorial Fire is a second small bowl which contains coals that is lit as needed. The ancient agnihotr had several tools which were peculiar had several tools which were peculiar to it. You had the cow, the ladle (or spoon) and the pot. Obviously not many people will have access to a cow so bottled milk will have to do. In addition not everyone has access to a ladle which has a handle an arm's length, nor do they have the skills or access to a clay pot made by hand (not on a potter's wheel) that can be used on a fire. The ladle can be improvised and be a wooden spoon. However, the pottery simply cannot be made on a potters wheel. To do so makes it no longer sacred for the Gods. We used a clay pot made by my own hands that was fired in a kiln. You also have the kindling-stick, possible ghee, water and rice gruel. For kindling-sticks we use sandalwood, ghee we we get at the local Indian market or make ourselves, for water we purchase bottled Ganges water although we do not use it in the agnihotr and we never bother with the rice. One of the most important items to have is a compass, so you know which direction is which! We also use a small refrigerator which holds all ritual related food products to avoid any contamination. The next steps are to complete offerings into the Householder's Fire, move the offerings to the Offertorial Fire and then make the oblations to the Offertorial Fire. These things can easily be used as is for modern practitioners. The key is to choose which actions and phrases speak to you and aid in your connection with the Gods. Agnihotr Ritual The agnihotr is a ritual which I complete each day. If I am unable to perform it as I do not have access to certain items (due to travel) I do a modified version. This particular ritual was created for use by one individual and one that was required to be done indoors. This ritual assumes that you are standing and have the available tools and fires raised. It can easily be adapted for a seated ritual. This ritual is done using a configuration of two small round tables with all items needed upon them. On one table the Offertorial Fire goes in the north and the Householder's Fire goes to the east. On the second table the milk, sthali, sthali ghee, water, water ladle, milk ladle and kusa grass are laid out. You will also need oven mitts, a manner to light the Householder Fire, a small rake to push the coals, means for fires to exist and the containers to safely hold them (I line small bowls with dirt and place just a few coals in them). Most importantly, you will need a fire extinguisher. Do not ever do a ritual which uses fire without one. You will notice that I have stripped away the asking for blessings from the Gods. The removal of asking for blessings was a personal choice because this ritual is done every day and I use it to honour the Gods and not ask for things. You will also notice that Vedic rituals contain more actions than words. This ritual style may take some adjusting to if you are used to chanting mantras, or having a great deal of speech in your rituals. One walks toward the fire containers from the south and stops just shy of them and states: "Agni is the light, the light is Agni" if it is in the evening or "Surya is the light, the light is Surya." if it is in the morning. The Householder Fire is then lit and from this fire the Offertorial Fire is lit. With a steady hand, the milk is transferred into the sthali. The sthali is then raised and held just slightly above the head is then raised and held just slightly above the head while facing the north. A short bowing of the head is made to recognize the Fathers. Turning to the east the process of raising the sthali and bowing the head is repeated, but this and bowing the head is repeated, but this time it is done to recognize the Gods. The sthali is then carefully held in one hand as you ladle is then carefully held in one hand as you ladle water out and pour it around the Householder's Fire three times while reciting "I pour truth around you, Rta" if it is in the evening or "I pour Rta around you, truth." if it is in the morning. You then pour water around ther Offertorial Fire three times while reciting "I pour truth around you, Rta" if it is in the evening or "I pour Rta around you, truth" if it is in the morning. You then place the ladle down. Then you push the coals of the Householder's Fire to the north of the fire while saying: "You are the bringers of prosperity. Danger coming from abroad has now been pushed away." The sthali is then put onto the Householder's Fire so that is then put onto the Householder's Fire so that the milk may be cooked while saying: "You are now put on Vaisvanara's fire. May Agni not burn your luster." (You must keep a constant eye on the milk for it is to be cooked perfectly; it should not be luke warm and it should not boil). Ghee is then sprinkled on the milk. This is followed by gathering some kusa grass and letting it be burned just enough so that a soft red glow is still upon it. Then you pass the kusa grass over the milk while saying: "Light together with grass over the milk while saying: "Light together with light." The grass is then passed around the outside of the sthali three times while saying: "Excluded are the race of adversaries. Excluded are the powers of adversity." The sthali is then removed from the fire (please be careful to is then removed from the fire (please be careful to not be burned) and it must be removed to the north. The sthali is then placed to the west of the Householder's Fire. is then placed to the west of the Householder's Fire. A second ladle (different from that which you poured water from) is now used to pour four full ladlefuls of milk into the Householder's Fire. Offerings are then ladled into the Offertorial Fire while saying: "Earth, Air, Heaven" before each offering. Additional offerings may be made to other Gods if one desires. Offerings are made until the sthali is empty. When there are no more offerings one says: "Agni is the light, the light is Agni" if it is in the evening or "Surya is the light, the light is Surya." if it is in the morning. The fires are then put out with great care and then the rituals tools are cleaned and put away. †Translations from Daily Evening and Morning Offering agnihotr According to the Brahmanas by H. W. Bodewitz. Publisher: Brill Academic Pub. Published Date: 08/01/1997. ISBN: 9004045325 ‡Yoni did not mean womb. It meant "lair" or "abode". Resources Used Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads by A.B. Keith Religion of the Veda by Hermann Oldenberg Upanisads translated by Patrick Olivelle Vedic Ritual The Non-Solemn Rites by J. Gonda The Religion of the Rigveda by H.D. Griswold A Dictionary of the Vedic Rituals Based on the Srauta and Grhya Sutras by Chitrabhanu Sen Rig Veda translated by Ralph T. Griffith The Veda of the Black Yajus School Entitled Taittiriya Sanhita. 2 Volumes. Translated by A.B. Keith Rigveda Brahmanas Translated by A.B. Keith Yajurveda Samhita Translated by Ralph T. Griffith Samaveda Translated by Ralph T. Griffith Atharvaveda Translated by Ralph T. Griffith Rice and Barley Offerings in the Veda by J. Gonda Atharvavedatranslated by W. D. Whitney Aum Hindutvam Daily Religious Rites of the Hindus by Swami Vedananda Cooking the World by Charles Malamoud Taittiriya Upanisad Translated by S. M. Prasad Heat and Sacrifice in the Vedas by Uma Vesci Daily Evening and Morning Offering agnihotr According to the Brahmanas by H. W. Bodewitz Vedic Sacrifices by Swami Harshananda The Jaiminigrhyasutra Belonging To The Samaveda Translated by W. Caland The Grihya-sutras - Rules of Vedic Domestic Ceremonies Translated by Hermann Oldenberg and Max Muller.
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Foto de NarabaliAgnayi
(Originally published in Oak Leaves 27) Toward the end of a trip to Austria (to start the reconstruction of the home we would be moving into) I found myself with quite the familiar feeling of sickness. In the first few moments I aligned it with some train sickness, but when it did not abate I knew it to be exactly what it was. In our poor German we found a small shop selling assorted beauty supplies and we stopped in for a pregnancy test. Within the next hour we found that we were indeed expecting a sibling for our two year old son. This news met us with a great deal of excitement. The previous year we had suffered a natural miscarriage at home when I was four months along. April 25th: it is a date forever impressed on my mind and one that lingers with each blessed moment I spend with my son. There were no reasons given for the loss, and truth be told the medical professionals are as clueless as can be in regard to such things; although still quite kind in their absence of knowledge. Yet, even after being told repeatedly that they did not know why such a thing happened but nothing appeared to be wrong, I was greatly hesitant at trying for another child. I simply could not fathom how I would survive such a loss again. This new child was a great joy for us. And yet, I was nervous. Then the bleeding started. There were a great many doctors appointments and there were declarations of pregnant and miscarrying tossed around carelessly. We found that one day we were having a child, the next we were not and the day after we were. Every night was met with tears and the realization that this was not meant to be. I do not think one can describe the pain and fear that came from watching the tiny heat beat on the ultrasound screen as a pool of blood seeped up around the small child that we had yet to name. I was at a loss to help, there was nothing I could do. We waited it out until I miscarried at home on December 19th, 2004 upon returning from my Grandfather-in-Law's funeral. At the end of it all I performed a ritual for this child of mine. I created an image of them in sculpture, I gave a name to them and I placed the image upon a shrine; just as I had done for the child before. And when I complete the 88 temple pilgrimage on the island of Shikoku in Japan I will be making a stop to pray at every shrine of O-Jizo-san1 that we pass. Our Ritual for the Baby As I began I made sure my shrine has a spot open to accept the sculpture I have made. I gathered my Vedic Householder's Fire; ghee (clarified butter); a ladle to pour ghee from, offerings of pure gold; kumkum2; a rake for the coals; a Brahmin's thread made by my own hand; a rake for the coals; a goat hand carved from wood3; a bowl of fresh water from the Danube river4 river that has been mixed with fresh chopped mint leaves5; the photograph of the ultrasound picture in a frame to place beside the fire6; kusa grass 6; and a small white cloth7. Due to the personal and emotional nature of this ritual I opted to use music created by another to tie everything together. My selected pieces were taken from the Gladiator movie soundtrack due to the wonderful composition of Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt and the hauntingly beautiful voice of Lisa Gerrard. The songs were: "Progeny", "The Wheat", "Sorrow", "Elysium", and "Now We Are Free". Before the shrine on the ground, the fire was placed in the south with the remaining items laid out upon a vedi8 to the upper east of the fire. A small bed of kusa grass is placed to the right of the fire. Our small family was gathered with no processional and we began. Brahmin:9: (Adhvaryu9 makes offering of ghee to the fire) "We give honour to Yama, Vivasvan's son, with our oblations. Yama who travelled on to seek out a home for us beyond this life." Brahmin: (Adhvaryu makes an offering of ghee to the fire) "We call forth Yama, Agni and Vivasvan to sit beside us on this bed of sacred grass. Graciously look upon us with love and kindness." Brahmin: (Adhvaryu makes an offering of ghee to the fire) "May those who have attained the life of the spirits aid us and join us. Sit beside us, countless ancient Fathers, on this bed of sacred grass." Brahmin: (Adhvaryu places the Brahmin's thread around the sculpture and washes the sculpture with the cloth and water and then places a small dab of kumkum upon the forehead of the sculpture) "We ask that Agni, who devourers all things, heal the wound with which this child was inflicted." Brahmin: (Adhvaryu coats the sculpture in the fat) "We encompass you with fat to shield you from the hunger of Agni." Brahmin: (Adhvaryu pushes away the coals of the fire with the rake to make a spot for the sculpture to lay within the fire but not touched by it and then places the sculpture within it) "Agni let not your flames consume: do not burn the child up, do not let his body or skin be scattered. Brahmin: (Adhvaryu places the wood goat within the flames) "Your offering is the goat, Agni. Allow your glowing splendor to take your offering with your fierce flames." Brahmin: (Adhvaryu pour an offering of ghee on the sculpture) "Surya receives your eye, the wind receives your spirit. Go forth into the waters, await us in the celestial sea. Make your home in the one which awaits us. Seek care in the Fathers while they care for you until we are reunited." Brahmin: (Adhvaryu makes an offering of gold to the fire) "When the child is ready, Yama, take them to the Heavens. Guide this child gentle past Sarama's10 offspring upon the path into the next life. Let Agni announce the oblations paid to the spirit followers of Rta and to the Devas. Let Vivasvan speak highly of them with their place in Heaven." Brahmin: (Adhvaryu slowly pours water over the flames) "Cool, Agni, and let the spot where you have scorched and burnt be refreshed." After cooling down the sculpture is placed upon the shrine. 11 The resources I used to create this ritual were the Rgveda Samhita translation by Griffith, the Rigveda Brahmanas translation by Keith, the Black Yajurveda translation by Keith, the Vedic Index of Names and Subjects by Macdonell and Keith. Notes O-Jizo-san is a Buddhist deity who looks after children who has passed on. Kumkum is the red powder that makes up the circle worn on the forehead known as the is the red powder that makes up the circle worn on the forehead known as the bindi. There are two takes on the inclusion of a goat within the funeral process. One is that the goat acts as a sacrifice so that Agni does not see the body as an offering. The second is that the goat is to led the deceased to the land of the ancestors. I have carved a goat from wood because we do not have a real goat to sacrifice. We are moving to Austria in a location that is quite near the Danube. We have collected water from the Danube and found it personally fitting to use it in the bathing portion. I have added the mint leaves for no religious reason. To be ever mindful (keeping in mind I am not likely to forget such a loss) I have chosen to attach a different scent to each child. Thus whenever I smell mint I would be given a pleasant memory of the love I have for this child. We do not have the actual miscarriage tissue as it was sent for testing. Thus the ultrasound picture gives us something to focus upon. Kusa grass is a sacred grass in the grass is a sacred grass in the Vedas and is relatively easy to obtain. I do not know if it is what was used in funerals of old, but I chose to use it here. The vedi is the place where all the is the place where all the ritual tools, and sometimes the offerings, are kept. In our small family my husband takes on the role of the Brahmin and I the Adhvaryu. I complete all ritual action. My husband acts as the Brahmin to keep an eye on the ritual and he also takes the part of the Hotr by reciting (as we have no one to act within this capacity). This refers to the parent of the dogs of Yama which guard the path to Heaven. I have not decided yet what to do with the statues beyond this. Burial was not uncommon to the ancient Vedics but until I have secured our own funeral arrangements I shall continue to ponder. h
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Foto de Ratrija
When I first opened the Rgveda I knew only that Vedism was part of the eastern branch of the Indo-Europeans. I did not yet know of the complex deities overflowing with contradictory tales. I did not know that my beliefs were to be mirrored in those of karman, dharman, and Rta. And yet, it was only a short time before I found myself connecting to this ancient religion. I was understanding ritual concepts that the scholars were puzzled by. I felt the connection to the gods and goddesses that embodied the very elements themselves. I saw my own life of beauty and violence, chaosand order, devotion and selfishness. It was all reflected back to me within the world of the Vedas. Many years have passed since that moment. I now understand more than I did, and I laugh fondly at the things I thought I knew. The Vedas have become a truth to me. They are my sruti, my Rta, my dharman. They guide me on my way and assist me when I ask. As I begin to reach out and talk about this subject, this world of Vedism, I find myself meeting many interesting characters. There are three questions which I find myself being asked by many people. They are deceptively simple questions that have me walk a tight rope between what the individual wishes to hear and what is the historical truth. And yet, no matter how many times I hear these questions I am always caught off guard. Each time one of the questions is asked it is as if I am hearing it for the first time: Is Vedism a form of Hinduism? Are Kali, Siva, Krsna, Laxmi, Ganesha, Rama, Sita, Hanuman or Durga Vedic? Why Vedism? To answer one question is to answer them all. It is to dig into the past of Vedism and tell all of what we know. The Indo-Aryans The Indo-Europeans are often split between two physical regions. The western branch includes those cultures who colonized north and west into Europe. The best known of these cultures are the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Slavs, and Norse. To the east the Indo-European cultures migrated into Asia, primarily India, Afghanistan, Iran, and other parts of what is now known as the Middle East. It is this eastern branch with which we are interested. Dated at around 1700-1500 BCE, we begin finding archaeological remains of the Indo-European peoples in the Indus River valley. Much of this evidence is found in excavations of the ancient cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, both now in Pakistan. In both these sites, one finds the remains of an ancient society, then a break where that society suddenly disappears followed by evidence of a new society with an entirely different culture colonizing the same city. This new society represents the first incursions of those peoples known as the Indic division of the Indo-European culture into the Indian Peninsula. Later, this culture would spread across the land, eventually taking the name of 'Arya' for itself; which which translates to noble'. It is from this root word that we derive the term for the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European's. These people we now also know as the Vedics. The Vedic Texts After having established themselves across the north of India, the Vedics eventually had the majority of their religious practices codified into four main works: the four Vedas. There were also several ancillary texts written as commentary, which make up a collection of works known as the Upanisads. The holy texts are split into two categories: sruti-tradition and smrti-tradition. The sruti sources are ones that have been "heard." These texts were revealed by the Gods to specific Rsis (priests). The smrti sources are those that have been "memorized", and as such have been created by man without divine assistance but based on sruti texts. The Vedic texts fall mostly within the category of sruti and are known as the Vedas and portions of the Upanisads Veda translates literally into "knowledge." The word veda is derived from the verb vid- which means "to know, to be aware of." Upanisad is broken up with "sad" meaning "sit" and most likely refers to the extreme secrecy that was to be enforced with the sharing of the Upanisads by having the student sitdng beside the teacher. This leaves the word Upanisad referring to "secret text." There are a total of four Vedas. Three of the Vedas, the Rgveda, the Yajurveda, and the Samaveda, can be dated to between 1500-1200BCE. A fourth Veda—the Atharvaveda—was established slightly later, between 1200-1000 BCE. Each Veda consists of its the main text, or Samhita, as well as dedicated commentary and instruction on that text, which is known as the Brahmana. The Rgveda consists of more than one thousand hymns that are arranged into ten books. These hymns were meant to be spoken to the gods during ritual and contain the myths of the Vedics. The Yajurveda is a collection of hymns from the Rgveda in the way they were meant to be used during ritual. The Yajurveda is split into two versions: the White Yajurveda and the Black Yajurveda. The basic differences are that the White Yajurveda keeps separate the Samhitas and Brahmanas while the Black Yajurveda mixes the two. There are additional differences in translations as well. The Samaveda is a collection of songs to be sung during ritual. Some of the material is a reworking of the Rgveda, while the rest of the material is original. The Atharvaveda is a volume which deals specifically with magic and the use of rituals as cures, protection and curses. The Samhitas are the actual text, or hymns, of each of the Vedas while the Brahmanas are the commentary upon the Vedas. The Brahmanas set out to explain, in detail, the going-ons of the Vedas. The Upanisads generally date from about 800-600BCE and are made up of twelve Upanisads: the Brhadaranyaka, the Chandogya, the Taittiriya, the Aitareya, the Kausitaki, the Kena, the Katha, the Isa, the Svetasvatara, the Mundaka, the Prasna and the Mandukya. These texts are several ancillary texts written as commentary on Vedism in general. While the Upanisads show more information on the Vedas, they also show a breaking away from traditional Vedic thought into the basic tenets of what would grow to become Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism). The Upanisads are predominantly thought processes and commentary. The can be seen as a mix of smrti and sruti for the most part. Past these texts you find yourself within the man made texts of the smrti-tradition. While this in no way demeans their value, it simply must be stated that to a Vedic these texts are made up or commentaries that have been quite removed from their original Vedic thought process. Two smrti-tradition texts which are still of great use: the Grhya Sutras and the Crauta Sutras. The Sutras were roughly set down between 400 and 200 BCE, although this is just scholastic guess work. The Grhya Sutras deal specifically with household ritual to be performed by the householder. The Crauta Sutras depict elaborate rituals which included one or more clergy. There are also the Aranyakas, or 'forest texts,' which give us greater insight into the breaking down of the Vedic religion. The Aranyakas, which some sdiolars link as sruti, were philosophical musings and speculation written by hermit-priests who had secluded themselves from society in order to concentrate on the study of the Vedas. These later texts also include works on yoga, avastu, and jyotish. They also include the Kama Sutra, the Dharma Sutras and the Laws of Manu. In addition, such epics as the Mahabharata, the Gita and the Ramayana are man made creations said to be from the fourth century BCE. Also worthy of a peripheral note are the holy texts of the Indo-Iranians. This culture was to go on to become the Zoroastrians, and the oldest portions of their holiest text, the Avesta, is dated to around 1000 BCE. Since the Indo-Iranians began as an offshoot from the Vedics, one finds similar god-names (the Vedic Mitra versus the Zoroastrian Mithra, for instance) as well as differing versions of some of the same myths. Occasionally, the Avestan version of a Vedic myth will reverse the point-of-view of the story, thus casting the Vedic Gods instead as demons. There is thus a good amount of evidence that the Vedic-Iranian split was not an amiable one, so the Avesta offers an interesting contrast for comparison. The Vedic Religion To the Vedics, the world consisted of three spheres. The first was the earth, the second was firmament (also called the sky), and the last was the intermediate region, or the space between the earth and firmament. Each of the three spheres was divided in additional sections. The ground and heaven were supported by beams, yet the sky was without support. This caused a great deal of discussion by the Vedic on why it did not fall. The ancient Vedics believed in polytheism, believing all of their Gods to be separate individuals. The vast majority of the gods were the elements such as the wind (Vayu) with some gods being concepts such as speech (Vac). Towards the end of the Vedic period the belief of kathenotheism came forward. Kathenotheism was the belief and practice that during a ritual, or worship, that the participants called for one God who would then embody all of the attributes of the other Gods within the pantheon. This change in beliefs was one of the markers of the end of Vedism. From this step it went in monism. Monism is the belief in one God, or higher power, and that all other "gods" are manifestations, or avatars/incarnations, of the higher power. To the Vedics, upon death, going to heaven was their goal. A great many rituals were performed to ask for the favor of the Gods and wash away shortcomings in an attempt to reach heaven. Heaven was seen as a place of light that was without the negative aspects of life. In heaven there was no disease, no want, no death, no darkness and no fear. Heaven is shown as an ending to life on earth and a beginning of a life in Heaven with the Gods. There was no reincarnation in the Vedas. The Vedics began as a migratory culture. Due to matters of survival (such as food supply or grazing space), it was necessary for the early Indo-Aryans to maintain a mobile existence. Their existence was often contingent upon the ability to pack one's home and move to an entirely different location. They developed a ritual format where an open space was found and consecrated, then ritual was performed in the open with no permanent structures necessary. Later, the Vedics were able to establish cities and consecrated permanent public spaces in which to hold ritual. It was merely the scale that changed. As the Vedics grew more successful, the rites grew larger and more elaborate. The format of the proceedings, however, still remained faithful to their roots. Later, after Vedism's fall, Hinduism began to favor private personal worship (called puja and often referring to the worship of idols as an aid in worshiping a god), and established elaborate buildings in which to gather and pray. It is this difference between open Yajna and private worship which in one aspect defines the difference between Vedism and Hinduism. A few of the basic Vedic practices and beliefs are Rta, dharman, karman and Yajna. Rta translates quite literally to 'order'. It is the order by which the universe, were it a perfect place, should run. One may conceive an illustration of Rta as literally 'a place for everything, and everything in its place'. Dharman is personalized Rta. If the world were a play, then Rta would be its script, and dharman would be each individual's particular part. Why does Surya (the Sun) pass across the sky each day? Because it is Surya's dharman - his part in maintaining Rta - that he do so. And, being the steadfast upholder of Rta that he is, Surya fulfills his dharman by faithfully rising each dawn to traverse the sky until dusk. Karman, then, translates to 'action'. Karman is the embodiment of the actions one takes and the deeds they do. Here there is no judgment of good or evil over these deeds, but one must understand that actions beget consequences. Once again, as in a play one may decide go 'off book' - throwing away their lines and bursting into an impromptu monologue, for instance. In just this same manner, one may choose to ignore their part, their dharman, and do solely as they wish. They must understand, however, that this action naturally leads to consequence. The consequence may be bad, it may be good or it may be neutral. Yajna is the term for Vedic ritual. It differs from many religious rituals in that it is public and elaborate, yet does not necessarily take place in an established enclosed space such as a temple or church. This is to be performed by the clergy and follows very strict rules. The Vedics had their clergy split up into different types. Each of these types was responsible for a specific part in the ritual and attached to a specific Veda. Each member of the clergy went through years of training and was considered an expert in their field. The four major priests are Hotr, Udgatr, Adhvaryu and Brahmin. It must be noted that all Vedic priests were Brahmins, and there is a specific role performed by a priest who is called Brahmin. This Brahmin is the chief priest of the ritual. The Hotr is the priest who works with the Rgveda and is responsible for reciting. The Udgatris the priest of the Samaveda and is responsible for the singing done in ritual. The Adhvaryu is the priest of the Yajurveda and is responsible for all of the points dealing with the ritual. This includes setting up the ritual space, laying out the ritual items, preparing the ritual fire, gathering the ritual offerings, killing the sacrificial animals, cooking the sacrificial animals, and offering all of the sacrifices to the fire. The Brahmin is often matched up with the Atharvaveda, but they must know all of the Vedas. It is their job to stand silently by the sacrificial fire and to act as a satellite of the ritual and to correct any mistakes that may happen during the ritual. Because of this, they must know all of the Vedic the Vedas and be familiar with all of the workings of the ritual. There are several assistants to the four main priests and these assistants had their own titles and specific duties. Some of the additional priests were the Agnidhra (an assistant to the Adhvaryu), the Prastotr (an assistant to the Udgatr) and the Pratihartr (also an assistant to the Udgatr). There was also the Purohita, a Brahmin who performed domestic rituals and often was the primary Brahmin for the king. The Vedic Society Within the ancient society of the Vedics there was a class system which was reflected in the gods. This class system was split up into the Brahmins, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya and the Sudra. The Brahmins were the priest class, the Kshatriya were the ruler class, the Vaisya were the common people and craftsman, and the Sudra were the non-Vedic immigrants (often times serfs or prisoners of wars). At the time of the Vedics, one was not classified to be within the Sudra class for their lifetime. It works much in the way that modern immigration works today with the individuals being accepted and free to seek out their profession once they had placed themselves within the society. The Sudra could remain Sudra for many generations. They remained such until they found themselves integrated into the society. The class system was used more as descriptive terms than as a "birth right". Where you laid in the class system was based upon your skills, with the exception of royalty and the above mentioned immigrants. The Vedics were omnivorous. They did eat meat. They ate cows and just about any other animal they could get hold of. They were not vegetarians or vegans. The Vedics were defined as patriarchal and patrilineal. Despite the obvious male dominance, the Vedic period gave a certain power to women in its ritual dependant culture. The Vedics viewed rituals as a means of keeping the social and cosmic order of the world and women were vital within keeping these goals. The coupling of a husband and wife was very important to the Vedics and to their ritual. It was required that any man who was to have a ritual performed had to be wed. It can be easily suggested that almost every wife had some sort of Vedic training due to the timing of rituals. Every day Householder rituals were to be performed and often the male of the house would be away for periods at a time. There is proof that there were women who recited the Vedas, sung the hymns and were Rsis. In short, there were female Brahtnins, some of which are credited with certain parts of the Vedas. It was also dependant on the wife to tend to the sacred fire so that it would never go out. It was not until later times that women began to take on the roles as being impure and it was not until post-Vedic texts that wife burning became popular. The Vedic Offshoots The Vedic culture and religion eventually came to dominate, and define, India. Towards the end of the Vedicperiod the many scholars within Vedism began to start a process of thinking differently about how they were connected to the Gods, to Heaven and to Yajna. It was this questioning mixed with the ramped corruption of the Brahrnins that helped lead the way to Vedism's fall. The people who had once practiced Vedism were now on their way to adopting new philosophies and ways of communing with the divine(s). The religions that splintered off from Vedism took ideas, thoughts and beliefs from Vedism and brought them into new ways of thinking that were meant to rebel against the Vedic religion, thus negating them as a different sect of Vedism. Vedism was not allowed to evolve further as a religion, but instead it lay stagnant while other religions splintered off from it. These religions took specific beliefs within Vedisin and followed them to their own ends, thus ending the Vedic period and the religion of Vedism. Some of the the off shoot religions of Vedism are Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism), Buddhism and Jainism. Buddhism is the religion founded by the Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha, in the 6th Century BCE. Like many other offshoots from philosophies spawning from Upanasadlic speculation (Gautama himself was a Ksatriya, or noble, and well-versed in Vedic philosophy), it is a religion begun as a reaction to Vedism and the orthodoxy of that time. Buddhism sees the 'self' as a aggregate of many elements called 'skandhas' which include one's physical form senses, perceptions, deeds, and conceptions. It attempts to free its adherents from the cycle of birth, death, and re-birth by the doctrine of Enlightenment, and contends that salvation is only possible after the elimination of suffering, caused chiefly by attachment, striving, and seduction by the senses. Jainism is the religion which gradually splintered from Vedism around the time of the Upanisads, and was systemized as a doctrine by Vardhadama (Mahavira) around 550 BCE. It believes in the body and soul as separate, with the soul enmeshed in karmic matter that it must work off in order to reach Nirvana. It's five highest principles, or Vrathas, are: Ahimsa (non-violence), Asathya Tyaga (relinquishing of anger, wrath, and deceit), Astheya (abstention from coveting or thievery), Aparigraha (relinquishing of anger, wrath, and deceit), Astheya (abstention from coveting or thievery), Aparigraha (relinquishment of excess, particularly in regard to property), and Brahmacharya (moderation in earthly pleasures). Sanatana Dharma, or Hinduism, is not a religion. Rather it is a group of religions found within India that share common beliefs while still remaining very different. Many may even argue that it is not a religion but more a way of life. The term "Hinduism" was not developed by the practitioners, but by groups outside of the religions as a means for labeling the entire Indian people. Often referred to as the successor religion to Vedism, the Hindu religions are no more the same religion as Vedism than Islam is the religion of the Christians. After the populace began to lose faith in the Brahmins (due primarily to elitism and corruption), they began to turn increasingly to the speculations within the Upanisads. In particular, the Aranyakas (which were originally penned by sunvassins, or hermit-priests living in the wild) provided a road map by which solitary practitioners could re-enact Vedic ritual without the actual physical activity of Yajna. Also, other philosophical speculation during the late Vedic period, coming most often in the form of derivative texts called Sutras, fed the reform movement. These steps toward short cutting ritual eventually led to a much greater emphasis on private meditation, and an overall philosophy which embraced concepts such as reincarnation, Karma, Dharma, the caste system, and the personification of all gods into a single god-power known as Brahman. With the last step, Hinduism ceased as a polytheistic religion into fell the embrace of monism (monism being the belief in one supreme being and that all other beings are incarnations of the One). There are many groups within Hinduism that claim a sort of "going back to the Vedas". While these groups are attempting to create a bond with the Vedas, they will never be followers of Vedism while they still hold their core ideals. These core beliefs are at odds with those of the Vedas. Many followers of Hinduism do translate the Vedas to fit into Hindu thought by changing the translation to reflect the beliefs of monism, reincarnation, the caste system and absence of animal and human sacrifice. However, this poor translators. A well known movement to go "back to the Vedas" is the Arva Samaj movement. This movement was started in 1875 by Dayananda Sarasvati. It was a movement within Hinduism that was meant to turn back to the Vedas. It was their belief that the Vedas alone were sacred and the only revelation of God. They also believed that all of the sciences of the modern world could be found within the Vedas. As has been already stated, the Arya Samaj are followers of Hinduism. While they are attempting to go back to the Vedas they are not Vedic. While they do not except the texts past the Vedas, they are still monists, and uphold other Hindu views. In their reformations they rejected Brahaminic control and they are open to all castes and women. This movement was the second movement of this sort, the first being Brahmo Samaj, both of which had political power. The movement of Arya Samaj helped to contribute to the Indian Nationalist movement and works to convert those Hindus who have turned to Christianity, Islam and other non-Hindu faiths. There are additional Indian tribes which claim to perform Vedic rituals. However, when you take a ritual and strip it of it's meaning to replace it with new thoughts and beliefs it ceases to be what it was. As is the case in some Hindu tribes in India who make claims to performing Vedic ritual. They may be going through the motions but the two beliefs systems are vastly different. Notably, when speaking about Hinduism we are talking about the Hindu religions within India. While sharing similar beliefs arid gods, the practices and tenants of Hinduism within Bali, Cambodia and Nepal is vastly different from that of Indian Hinduism. At this point in time, there is no proof that there are any people who practiced Vedism in an unbroken line from the time of the Vedics. Nor is there any proof that there are any practitioners of Vedism within India in the sense of organized religion. It is quite possible that practitioners of traditional Vedism do exist, but we have yet to hear of it. Why Vedism? Now we have come full circle, ending with the questions we began with: Is Vedism a form of Hinduism? Are Kali, Siva, Krsna, Laxmi, Ganesha, Rama, Sita, Hanuman or Durga Vedic? Why Vedism? Hopefully you have come to the conclusion that Vedism is not a form of Hinduism, not only because Vedism came before the Hindu practices but also because the differences between the two faiths. Vedism believes in polytheism, heaven, no reincarnation, no hell, Rta, dharman, karman, sruti and a class system. Hinduism believes in monism, reincarnation, judgement, Karma, Dharma, a caste system, smrti and Brahma. By the same token one should know that the gods of Hinduism are not Vedic gods, owing in part to the differences between sruti and smrti. Yet, is Hinduism Indo-European? If not, when did it cease to be such? It is my opinion that when the people rebelled against Vedism and began the offshoot religions that they ceased to be practicing an Indo-European religion. These individuals turned away from their old religion and embraced a new one, leaving the old behind. Some terms and gods remain but their meanings and status are now quite different. The people rejected the old ways in favour of religions and philosophies that show a great disdain for the Vedic practices. Logic then has us ask aren't these new religions just natural progressions of Vedism? I would argue that they are not. I would suggest that these new religions were guided by men to separate themselves from the human corruption within Vedism. This was not a natural evolution but a rebellion. It is true that eventually the Vedic religion may have taken similar turns as the new religions. This is evident in the Brahmanas and Upanisads. However, had Vedism been allowed to eveolve and had it become monistic, or monothesitic, I feel it would still retain the names of the gods of the Vedas and not the new creations of the post-Vedic texts. So why Vedism? Why not Hinduism? Why not Jainism? Why not Buddhism? When I came to Vedism it was a silent religion. It was facing the fierce battle of the old gods and the new gods, and losing. I felt I belonged more in Vedism than anywhere else: it shares my beliefs, I can converse with the gods, I connect with the rituals. Why do I not practice one of the offshoot religions? There are three reasons. The first is that because Vedism was built around a nomadic people it was geared more towards community. Community is very important to me, as is the aiding of others. This is not to say there is nothing individualized within Vedism, rather it is very community based. The offshoot religions are more egocentric, focusing on the individual and their path. The second is the fundamental belief systems. I do not believe in reincarnation. I believe in heaven. I do not believe in karma. I believe in karman. I do not believe in Dharma, Brahma, enlightenment, Gurus or the validity of the smrti texts. I believe in dharman, Rta, free-will and the sruti. The third reason is one I have put a great deal of thought into. We all know that in many of the Indo-European cultures there are wars between the new gods and the old gods. Imagine, if you will, that you worshiped the old gods. What would your feelings be towards the worship of the new gods? How would you react to the new gods turning the ways of the old gods on their head until they no longer reflected the old beliefs? What would you think to know your gods were to now live in the realm of scholastic research only? How would you feel knowing your gods were now shadows of their former selves, pushed to back burners and given little to no respect and ridiculed? What would you do in knowing that your gods are being forgotten? In the Indo-European myth of the old gods and the new gods, the Vedic gods would be the old gods. The new gods are those of the offshoot religions. Rather than fight the old gods, the new gods have created new myths which ignore many of the old gods. This results in the vast majority of the old gods being forgotten with the remaining being demoted to lesser beings. The vast majority of Vedic gods are no longer worshipped. The exception to this is Vsnu. Vsnu is a Vedic god and he did make it over to Hinduism favourably. Unfortunately, the Vsnu of Hindu lore is not the Vsnu of Vedic lore. The same is said of Surya, Usas and Sarsvati. Surya now has a very minor role, the brilliance of his consort Usas is all but forgotten in favour of Kali, Laxmi and Durga. Sarsvati, who was a minor river goddess deity in the Vedas, is seen as a major goddess of learning in Hinduism having swallowed up the Vedic goddess Vac. I worship the old gods. I give no respect to the new gods whether they are post-Vedic, pre-Vedic or man made smrti creations. This is why Vedism. It is because Vedism is about bettering myself to help my community. It is because Vedism is not about tying yourself to the score cards of Dharma and Karma. Vedism is about taking responsibility for your actions and your choices. Vedism is about being responsible for your own life. Vedism is about having only one chance to get it right. Vedism is about honouring the old gods. References The Origins and Development of Classical Hinduism by A. L. Basham Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion by William L. Reese Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads (2 Volumes) by A.B. Keith Religion of the Veda by Hermann Oldenberg The Vedic Index by Arthur Anthony Macdonell & A. B. Keith Women in World Religions by Avind Sharma (Editor) Upanisads translated by Patrick Olivelle The Religion of the Rigveda by H.D. Griswold Vedic Ritual: The Non-Solemn Rites by J. Gonda
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Ritual and Practice