This two-volume study of a great Vedic sacrifice, the Agnicayana, or “piling of the fire altar,” accomplishes two ends. First, the work is detailed ethnographic coverage of the twelve-day Agnicayana performed by the Nambudiri Brahmin community in Panjal, Kerala, South India, in April 1975. Parts 2, 4, and 5 include episodic mantraby-mantra outlines of the ritual with translations of key texts, color photographs, line drawings, and maps; a glossary and bibliography are appended. Second, parts 1 and 3 together provide a mini-encyclopedia of current information about the context of Vedic ritual in general. Twenty-two articles take up essential aspects of South Asian prehistory, ancient history, architecture, art, symbolism, and music, as well as hermeneutical studies of Vedic tradition and the Agnicayana in particular. The volumes are aesthetically stunning, and they provide a benchmark for the interdisciplinary, multifaceted study of an historic religious phenomenon.

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