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Vaitaraṇī: On early Hindu eschatology and ritual
2016 (English)In: Zeitschrift für Indologie und Südasienstudien, Vol. 33, p. 257-297Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Classical Hindu eschatology envisages the deceased person’s (preta-) way to the world of Yama, the ruler of the dead, as a difficult journey beset by various obstacles. One of these is the river Vaitaraṇī, full of blood or acid, which the dead must cross. The crossing is made possible by the ceremonial gift of a cow, also called vaitaraṇī, to a Brahmin, some time before death; the crossing is sometimes said to take the form of a fording, during which the preta holds on to the cow’s tail. Neither the hell-river, nor the rite for crossing it, appears in Vedic sources; though a precursor of the cow has been seen in the anustaraṇī cow slaughtered and laid on the dead person’s funeral pyre. The present article demonstrates that a mortuary rite by which the mourners hold on to the tail of an ox is referred to in several Vedic texts, beginning with the Atharvaveda; in connection with this we sometimes find mention of a symbolic passage over water, an element also present in one version of the Vaitaraṇī rite. Lastly, Vedic references to otherworldly rivers – either celestial or subterranean – are discussed, some of which may foreshadow the later mythologem.

 

Keywords Eschatology, Hinduism, Vedic religion, ritual, afterlife beliefs

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Bremen: Ute Hempen Verlag, 2016. Vol. 33, p. 257-297
National Category
Philosophy, Ethics and Religion
Research subject
History of Religions; Indology with Classical Sanscrit
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-335276OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-335276DiVA, id: diva2:1162087
Available from: 2017-12-02 Created: 2017-12-02 Last updated: 2018-11-11

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Norelius, Per-Johan
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