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Frits Staal - Meaninglessness of Rituals

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Poonam Kamath

on 7 February 2013

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Transcript of Frits Staal - Meaninglessness of Rituals

About the Author Agnicayana Key themes Srauta Rituals Mimansa Concept Ritual Theories Meaninglessness of Rituals Meaninglessness of Rituals A Presentation on Frits Staal's Ruprechts Karls Universität
SAI-Department of Anthropology
WS 2012
Seminar: Ritual Theories
Lecturer: Prof. Anand Mishra
Referent: Poonam Kamath
07.02.2013 -was Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and South & Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

- Staal specialized in the study of Vedic ritual and mantras, and the scientific exploration of ritual and mysticism.

- He was also a scholar of Greek and Indian logic and philosophy and Sanskrit grammar. - Focus on Agnicayana:a 3000 year old Vedic Ritual
- A performance was funded by Staal in 1975
-Performed by Namboodiri Brahmins of Kerala
-Means " Piling of Agni"-Altar shaped like a bird - Staal is more concerned with theoretical rather than empirical description of Vedic ritual
-His definition of Ritual is that it is primarily activity, governed by explicit rules.
-Grouping of Rituals into two kinds:
1. Grhya or Domestic Rites
2. Srauta or Traditional Rites Traditional rites
offer several definitions of rituals
one is that ritual consists of 3 things: Dravya,Devata and Tyaaga - Ritualistic philosophy of Mimamsa
-the concept of tyaaga is contradictory to the reason for performing a specific ritual
-Agnicayana is an optional rite: to be done by those who deserve heaven
-However, it is a prescribed duty yet an optional rite
-Mimamsa concludes that the fruit of ritual activity is temporarily unseen.
-It will become apparent later (after death) Staal outlines some ideas of modern scholars on ritual theories:
Rites re-enact myth

Rituals reflect social structure

Rituals are used in pre-literate societies to transmit cultural and social values to a younger generation

Ritual effects a transition from the realm of profane to that of sacred Focal Question: Why is it so difficult to define the meaning , goals and aims of ritual?

Staal's Hypothesis : Because Ritual has no meaning, goal or aim
- Ritual is pure activity
- Ritual exists for its own sake and hence, meaningless and without function
-In ritual activity , rules count but not the result Ritual Activity Vs. Ordinary Activity Staal's Formulation of Ritual Rules Modifications and Embeddings ..Modification and Embeddings (Contd.) 1. In rituals , Rules count not result
In Ordinary activity, it is the other way around

2.Ritual Activity has no risks,
Ordinary activity runs risks Srauta Rituals constitute a hierarchy.Four of them are listed as an example:
D: Full and new moon ceremonies (darshapoornamaasa)
A: Animal Sacrifice (Pashubandha)
A: Praise of Agni (Agnistoma)
C: Piling of Agni (Agnicayana)
Each later ritual presupposes the former
Each incorporates one or more occurrences of one or more of the former rituals -In general, each ritual phase undergoes modifications and embeddings
For eg., In P , performances of D are embedded when a cake of 8 potsherds is offered to Agni and a cake of 11 potsherds to Agni-Vishnu
In A, are embedded 2 performances of P (for Agni-Soma and for pressing Soma) and several performances of D(like consecration, final bath etc)
In C,embedded are: a performance of A,14 of P and numerous performances of D, some already embedded in A and P Rituals undergo modification when they are embedded and in different contexts.
For eg., Within Ritual D itself, one of the main oblations is for Agni-Soma at full moon but for Agni-Indra at new moon.
Yet , each particular ritual need not have a unique description

For eg., C may be analysed differently as Atiraatra with the only difference being -modification of A Staal's Structure of Rituals Syntax and Ritual Conclusion Rituals consist of smaller units-Rites
For eg., D 's rites will be 'd' and so on
These rules do not correspond to any actual rule
They are a feature of ritual- Modification Similarity between syntax and ritual
Single arrow rules- ritual embedding and phase structure
Double arrow rules- ritual modification and transformational rules
Very basic rules of Vedic Ritual
Syntax originates in ritual
Rituals replete with meaningless language
Absence of language (pre-linguistic state)
Eg., of Fights and Creation by Vedic Gods Idea of a Theory of Ritual
Eg., Complex rules involved in construction of New Altar in Agnicayana
theory of ritual- complex , myriad rules
Rituals , language and religion are meaningless and complex Thank You! References for images: 1.Sai logo:http://www.sai.uni-heidelberg.de/
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnicayana
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