Imagination and Ritual in Vedic India
While the link of imagination and mythology is obvious, the other side of religion, ritual, seems to consist mainly in the application of a set of rules and therefore to be quite alien to the creative faculty of mind. However in Vedic India at least imagination (not fantasy!) does play a definite role in the performance of rites. The sanskrit word for „imagination”, in the Vedic terminology of sacrifice, is samkalpa, which is derived from a root meaning „to fashion mentally”. The first step in the ritual process is the expression by the performer of his intention to carry it on and at the same time the mental construction of the whole project. This construction includes the sequences of the specific gestures and formulas which are the stuff of the rite but also the vision of what the performer’s body and the materials he has to deal with become as a result of the performance. I will take some examples from the Vedic ritual known as „the building of the fire altar”. In a particular form of this ritual drops of water are defined and imagined as solid bricks and a pond of water is defined and imagined as a structure of discrete layers of discrete bricks.
Charles Malamoud, born 1929, is a specialist in the history and religions of India. A linguist by training, Malamoud started his career by studying the Sanskrit language before turning his attention to the Sanskrit classics and in particular to the patterns of thought underlying the oldest of these, the Veda. He served as a research director of Indian religions at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris.
His published works include: Le Svadhyaya, recitation personnelle du Veda, Talttiriya-Aranyaka II (1977), Lien de vie, noeud mortel, les representations de la dette en Chine, au Japon et dans le monde Indien (1988); Cuire le monde. Rite et pensée dans I’Inde ancienne (1989), Le jumeau solaire (2002), Feminité de la parole dans l’Inde ancienne (2005), La danse des pierres. Etudes sur la scène sacrificielle dans l’Inde ancienne (2005). Many of his books have been translated into several languages.