Religion and Beliefs
After the pioneering work of Martin Haug, who attended śrauta rituals in Poona in 1861-62, it was only a century later that Indian scholars working on the Śrautakośa found it necessary to study actual śrauta performances. Next, with Frits Staal’s outstanding Agnicayana Project (1975), a new era begins in the study of śrauta performances through photo, audio and video documentation.
The video-registration of śrauta rituals is of great importance for their analysis and study. One reason is that deviations from prescriptions of the texts, which took place since ancient times, have multiplied due to modern conditions. This process is reflected in several available films (Staal 1975, Houben 1996 etc.) — made decades ago, they have become historical documents. Another reason is that sometimes it is difficult to understand details of prescriptions in ancient texts. The substitution of animals in the prescribed offerings during the Atirātra Agnicayana is an example. Animal sacrifices are an inseparable part of the soma rituals, and those brahmins who do not accept it find themselves in a difficult situation — leaving out the sacrificial offerings of animals and consequently leaving out the recitations of accompanying mantras would destroy the structure of the ritual. Just before the performance of the Atirātra of 1975 there were heated debates about this, and, partly under public pressure, it was decided to have recourse to a substitution already in use for funeral ceremonies (śrāddha): the sacrificial goat was represented by a paste of rice flour (aṭa) folded in a banana leaf.