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The Vedas & Vedic

Religion
Prof. Jessica Vantine Birkenholtz
RLST 110
3 September 2015

Today

Devi

The Vedas & Vedic religion

Key concepts/teachings

Dharma

Karma, samsara, moksha

Atman, Brahman

Devi

Mahadevi = Great Goddess

5th c CE

Two dominant categories:

Mild: Lakshmi, Parvati,


Saraswati, Sita, Radha

Wild: Durga, Kali

Shakti

Saraswati

Associated with speech,


learning, culture, and
wisdom

Consort: Brahma

Lakshmi

Associated with
prosperity, well being,
royal power, and
illustriousness

Consort: Vishnu

Parvati

Consort: Shiva

Two sons: Ganesh and Kumar

Parvati and Shiva

Tension between householder


and ascetic ideals

Parvatis role

Shiva-Shakti

Durga

Virgin warrior goddess

Fierce and destructive, but


working for the good of the
cosmos

Role reversals

Kali

Fierce virgin warrior goddess

Blood-thirsty demon-slayer

All-loving, compassionate Mother

Krishna & Radha

Lengthiest and most individualized biography

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Historical hero and god

The Divine as human

Love affair with Radha

Celebrations of the
Divine

Rituals

Fasting

Festivals

Pilgrimage

Procession
s

Sacrifice

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National,
regional,
village
level

Hinduism: Now and


Then

Brhadaranyaka
Upanishad, 3.9.13.9.9

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How many?

Chronology of
Hinduism

Indus valley civilization (c. 2500 to 1500


BCE)

Vedic period (c. 1500 to 500 BCE)

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Rise of Aryan culture

The Vedas and dharma, and ritual texts


composed

Epic and puranic period (c. 500 BCE to 500 CE)

Composition of Mahabharata and Ramayana

Composition of Puranas

Vaisnavism, Saivism, and Saktism begin to


develop

Chronology of
Hinduism

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Medieval period (c. 500 CE to 1500 CE)

Development of bhakti tradition

Continued development of Vaishnavism,


Shaivism, and Shaktism

Sanskrit and vernacular devotional literature


and poetry; tantric literature

Modern period (c. 1500 CE to the present)

Rise and fall of Mughal and British Empires

Origin of India as a nation state

For Hinduism, the meaning of


tradition is cumulative, not
unchanging.
(Hawley & Narayanan, Life of Hinduism, 4)

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The Vedic World

c. 1500 to 500 BCE

Aryans, the noble ones

Vedas

Vedic religion and society

The Vedas

Composed 1500 BCE to 500 BCE

Book of knowledge

Shruti, that which was heard

Oral tradition

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Rshis (seers, sages)

Brahmans

The Vedas

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Samhitas (collections)

Rg veda

Sama veda

Yajur veda

Atharva veda

Brahmanas (instructions for performance of


rituals)

Aranyakas (forest treatises)

Upanishads (secret treatises) -philosophical

Vedic Gods

The Rg veda

The Devas (gods)

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Many related to natural phenomena

Dyaus (sky)

Varuna (night)

Vayu (wind)

Agni (fire)

Soma (moon and soma plant)

Usha

Vayu

Main Devas

No supreme deity in the Rig Veda

Three prominent deities:

Agni

Soma

Indra

Agni

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Indra

King of the gods

Warrior deity

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Thunderbolt

Rig Veda 1.32

Triumph over Vritra

Releasing the waters

Rta

Comic order

Power of rta = highest power

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Not even the gods can go against it

Varunas domain

A unifying principle [that] kept the


individual, social, ritual, and the
cosmic orders in harmony

Vedic Religion

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Rites of sacrifice

Hymns, fire, soma

Power of hymns & flawless


performance of ritual

Propitiation of gods

Relationship b/w men and


gods

Maintaining cosmic order

Vedic Society

Purusha Sukta, Hymn to the


Supreme Person (Rig Veda 10.90)

Origins of the four classes (varnas)

Brahmin (priests, scholars)

Kshyatriya (warriors, kings,


royal/ruling families)

Vaishya (merchants, peasants,


agriculturalists, artisans)

Shudra (servants)

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Untouchables (dalits, harijans)

Vedic to Vedantic

Upanishads

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Vedanta, 600 to 300 BCE

Discuss several important philosophical


ideas that are central to later Hinduism

Karma

Samsara

Moksha

Atman

Brahman

Karma, Samsara, &


Moksha

Karma = action, especially ritual action

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Cause and effect

Samsara = a continuing cycle of death and


rebirth,
i.e., reincarnation

Moksha = spiritual liberation and personal


salvation

Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.1- 4.4.7

Atman & Brahman

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Atman = human soul

Brahman = Supreme Being, Ultimate


Reality

Pervades and transcends human thought and


the universe

Cannot describe it

Review

Aryans

Vedas

Rig Veda

Upanishads

Vedic religion

Ritual/sacrifice, fire, hymns

Agni, Soma, Indra

Dharma
Karma
Samsara
Moksha
Atman
Brahman

Vedic society

Four varnas

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Brahmins, kshyatriyas, vaishyas, shudras