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Negotiating Rites$
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Ute Husken and Frank Neubert

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199812295

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199812295.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
Negotiating Rites

Ute Hüsken

Frank Neubert

Oxford University Press

During the early phases of the classical Indian law literature (dharmaśāstra) all elements in the life of the brāhmin householder had been gradually ritualized. Now, the institution of penance (prāyaścitta) – rituals that had the power to negotiate the invisible karmic effects of wrong acts or undone duties – became increasingly important. This was a break with the normative doctrines of karma formulated in the early Upanishads. According to these doctrines karma and rebirth were the negative elements of a life in the world that the groups behind the Upanishads themselves rejected. But as this ascetic ideal was gradually modified and included in a more worldly householder ideology, attitudes to karma and rebirth changed. The stress was laid on a good birth rather than on liberation, and techniques to control the bad karma, which was now seen as an unavoidable part of life, were therefore developed. Behind these developments was a struggle for religious dominance, in particularly in relation to economic support. At the same time penance, which made hidden transgressions visible, was a strong means of social control. The article highlights penance as rituals that negotiate power at these different levels. In doing so, penance is compared to other karma-negotiating rites described in the law books, such as votive rites (vrata) and propitiatory rites (śānti).

Keywords:   penance, prāyaścitta, karma doctrine, classical Indian law literature

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