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Bringing the Gods to Mind

Bringing the Gods to Mind: Mantra and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice

Laurie L. Patton
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Bringing the Gods to Mind
    Book Description:

    This elegantly written book introduces a new perspective on Indic religious history by rethinking the role of mantra in Vedic ritual. InBringing 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93088-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    It is early morning in a small village in western Maharashtra, India. Thepravargyarite 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. The chanting of Ṛg Vedic hymns makes this rite all the more mysterious. But it is not the sound alone that makes the atmosphere so intriguing. The hymn being chanted isṚg Veda10.177—themāyābhedahymn—which helps to discern illusion. Does the placement of this...


    • CHAPTER 1 Poetry, Ritual, and Associational Thought in Early India: The Sources
      (pp. 15-37)

      Every Tuesday night, a businessman in Varanasi, India, chants a chapter from theGītāas part of his regularbhajan,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. She chants the same verses from theGītāas a form of comfort in the more uncomfortable moments her mother has to endure. A woman in Chicago, Illinois, says the Hail Mary at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on her way to work every day;...

    • CHAPTER 2 Poetry, Ritual, and Associational Thought in Early India: The Theories
      (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.” What if the Hindu businessman elevated this statement to a principle, so that the insertion of his mantra into a ritual situation, or even an everyday situation in his life, had the clear and intended effect? And what if he then wrote a manual about it?...

    • CHAPTER 3 Viniyoga: The Recovery of a Hermeneutic Principle
      (pp. 59-88)

      A discussion of Vedic ritual metonymy leads to a special form of associative thought—a particular form of mantric interpretation calledviniyoga. Viniyogais 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. It also involves two assumptions: (1) that mantras have some semantic content, even if it is only in terms of a single word association; and (2) that some imaginative world is built in juxtaposing, or metonymically linking, ritual poetic word and ritual action. To put...


    • CHAPTER 4 Fire, Light, and Ingesting over Time
      (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 theṚg Vedabecomes used in the Upaniṣads as representative of the emerging idea of a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth; by the very nature of the images in theṚg Veda,the poems hint at this cyclicality. In the Śrauta world, food and its ingestion become topics of intense focus, as the sacrificial structure is built around it. And,...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Vedic “Other”: Spoilers of Success
      (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.”

      How would a scholar describe this scene? This rite (ᾹGS 2.6), among many others, has been included, for better or worse, in “nonsolemn” rites. Those involve, among other things, the recitation of Ṛg Vedic hymns celebrating the destruction of one’s enemies, using graphic...

    • CHAPTER 6 A History of the Quest for Mental Power
      (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. A lovely image, it is used in dramatically different circumstances. In one ritual, this mantra refers to an actual cow, whose omentum is being removed after being sacrificed. In another, this mantra refers to the ominous speech of birds, who may counteract the effects of Vedic learning in the newly trained mind of a...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Poetics of Paths: Mantras of Journeys
      (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 theaśvamedha,where the horse’s wandering for a year is in fact the horse’s sponsor’s domination of the land. Wherever the horse wanders is, de facto, owned by the king who set the horse free. And how much stock are scholars to put in theŚatapatha Brāhmaṇa’s image of the purifying fire, rolling across the Gangetic plain?

      The debate about traveling through space has tended...

    • CHAPTER 8 A Short History of Heaven: From Making to Gaining the Highest Abode
      (pp. 168-181)

      The idea ofloka,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, and in the later books there is mention oftriloka,or the three worlds, which encompass the created universe.¹Lokacan also be a physical ritual space in the Veda. InṚg Veda5.1.6, Agni is said to have taken his place as a goodhotṛin the womb...

  8. Conclusions: Laughter and the Creeper Mantra
    (pp. 182-196)

    At one point in thesattraof 1999, the year-longsomayajñain Gangakhed, Maharashtra, it was an appropriate moment to perform the creeper or serpent mantra, the verses to the serpent queen, Sarparājñī (RV10.189). As they chanted the mantra, the priests tied theirdhotisone to another in a long line and move around the sacrificial arena like a creeping vine or snake.¹ As theAitareya Brāhmaṇa5.23, as well as theŚāṅkhāyana10.13.26 andĀśvalāyana Śrauta Sūtra8.13.3 – 6, states, all the different priests creep together, chanting the verses to the serpent queen: “This moving many-colored one has...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 197-236)
  10. Glossary
    (pp. 237-248)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 249-274)
  12. Index Locorum
    (pp. 275-280)
  13. Index Nominum
    (pp. 281-282)
  14. General Index
    (pp. 283-289)