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Bringing the Gods to Mind

Mantra and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice

Laurie L. Patton

Publication Year: 2005

This elegantly written book introduces a new perspective on Indic religious history by rethinking the role of mantra in Vedic ritual. In Bringing the Gods to Mind, Laurie Patton takes a new look at mantra as "performed poetry" and in five case studies draws a portrait of early Indian sacrifice that moves beyond the well-worn categories of "magic" and "magico-religious" thought in Vedic sacrifice. Treating Vedic mantra as a sophisticated form of artistic composition, she develops the idea of metonymy, or associational thought, as a major motivator for the use of mantra in sacrificial performance. Filling a long-standing gap in our understanding, her book provides a history of the Indian interpretive imagination and a study of the mental creativity and hermeneutic sophistication of Vedic religion.

Published by: University of California Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book has its beginnings in the long sunny hours I spent reading Ṛg Vidhāna and Āśvalāyana Śrauta Sūtra with H. G. Ranade at Deccan College in 1992, and Śabara with Venugopalam on his porch on the hill. That year, while I read many other texts not included in this book, I was afforded the opportunity to begin to think systematically ...


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pp. xiii-xvi

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pp. 1-12

It is early morning in a small village in western Maharashtra, India. The pravargya rite is being performed—an introductory Vedic ritual with an obscure and intriguing history. During the ceremony the doors of the sacrificial arena are closed. Everyone knows that the sacrificer’s wife is present, but she is hidden from view. ...

Part One: The Theories

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1. Poetry, Ritual, and Associational Thought in Early India: The Sources

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pp. 15-37

Every Tuesday night, a businessman in Varanasi, India, chants a chapter from the Gītā as part of his regular bhajan, or chanting group, at a Kṛṣṇa temple near the south side of the city. He says it puts him in a calmer mood. A middle-aged woman is taking care of her mother, who is dying of cancer. ...

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2. Poetry, Ritual, and Associational Thought in Early India: The Theories

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pp. 38-58

If we were to ask the Catholic housewife and the Hindu businessman what their reasons were for their modern mantras, they would answer with some description of inner thought and outer action: in Varanasi one evening, the businessman said to me: “Whenever I think of Kṛṣṇa, or sing about Kṛṣṇa, my mind is settled.” ...

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3. Viniyoga: The Recovery of a Hermeneutic Principle

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pp. 59-88

A discussion of Vedic ritual metonymy leads to a special form of associative thought—a particular form of mantric interpretation called viniyoga. Viniyoga is a kind of application of Vedic mantra through the creations of new sets of associations in new ritual situations and is a special form of a hermeneutic principle that involves metonymy. ...

Part Two: The Case Studies

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4. Fire, Light, and Ingesting over Time

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pp. 91-116

In the Vedic world, Indra is asked to consume food and beverages, hungry for more; Soma is the consumable drink par excellence, which is drunk not only by the gods but also by the poets. The food imagery of the Rg Veda becomes used in the Upaniṣads as representative of the emerging idea of a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth; ...

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5. The Vedic “Other”: Spoilers of Success

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pp. 117-141

Imagine for a moment a Vedic householder who has just built a new chariot. He has carefully blessed each part of the vehicle with mantras, circumambulated the local sacred pond, and drives it to the assembly hall. There, before entering the hall, he utters imprecations against his enemies, wishing that they be trampled underfoot “like frogs underwater.” ...

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6. A History of the Quest for Mental Power

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pp. 142-151

One Vedic mantra (8.100.11) describes the creative power of speech, which gives powers of utterances even to the animals—animals of all different kinds. It longs for that goddess, the joy-bringing cow who yields meat and drink, to come to the arena, satisfied with her praise. ...

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7. The Poetics of Paths: Mantras of Journeys

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pp. 152-167

What does it mean to lose one’s way? How can we think about the question of “pathhood” and traveling through space in early India? The image most frequently brought to mind is the one of the aśvamedha, where the horse’s wandering for a year is in fact the horse’s sponsor’s domination of the land. ...

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8. A Short History of Heaven: From Making to Gaining the Highest Abode

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pp. 168-181

The idea of loka, or world, is as old as the Veda itself. Poets describe, in equally colorful terms, these imagined places, for humans, for ancestors, and for sacrificed animals alike. The Vedic hymns do not make a systematic doctrine of sacred geography, although they do speak of Yama’s realm frequently, ...

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Conclusions: Laughter and the Creeper Mantra

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pp. 182-196

At one point in the sattra of 1999, the year-long somayajña in Gangakhed, Maharashtra, it was an appropriate moment to perform the creeper or serpent mantra, the verses to the serpent queen, Sarparājñī (RV 10.189). As they chanted the mantra, the priests tied their dhotis one to another in a long line and move around the sacrificial arena like a creeping vine or snake.1 ...


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pp. 197-236


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pp. 237-248


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pp. 249-274

Index Locorum

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pp. 275-280

Index Nominum

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pp. 281-282

General Index

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pp. 283-289

E-ISBN-13: 9780520930889
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520240872

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2005