Impurity and Purification: āśauca, śauca

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Ritual purity was the self-proclaimed foundation of the authority of the Brahmin authors of dharmaśāstra (Hindu Law Literature) and the priestly class in general. Observance of purity rules was at the same time a social display of Brahmin exclusivity, a guarantee of meritorious priestly services for the clients, and an internal social control mechanism. The chapter discusses the historical origins of this theme in the dharmaśāstra literature and gives an overview and examples of the fine-tuned vocabulary and systematic typology of these rules. To observe them demanded all-round control of the mental, verbal, bodily, domestic and social life of a Brahmin but would also serve as a boundary marker protecting the social status and values of the priestly class. Finally, the chapter discusses some of the rich scholarly literature that emerged from the cross-disciplinary interest in this material during the structuralist turn in the Humanities from the 1960s and onwards.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHindu Law : A New History of Dharmaśāstra
EditorsPatrick Olivelle, Donald R. Davis, Jr.
Number of pages16
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication date2018
Pages220-235
Chapter17
ISBN (Print)978-0-19-870260-3
StatePublished - 2018
SeriesThe Oxford History of Hinduism
Volume1

    Research areas

  • Hinduism, Ritual, Impurity, Purification, Body, Death, Birth, Menstruation, Untouchables, Social anthropology