Agriculture and religion in ancient India




Jones, Michael Brattus

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This project examines the religious conception of agriculture of the Vedic tribes as they transitioned from semi-nomadic pastoralism to an agriculturally-based sedentism in the Gangetic Basin. The basic thesis is that the Vedic peoples had a theology of agriculture that was sufficiently complex to both retain continuity through, as well as adapt itself to, the sedentary transition. This two-sided dynamic, which emerged directly from the close reading of the source texts, breaks down quite neatly into plowing material that demonstrates continuity and harvest material that demonstrates adaptation through discontinuity and innovation. This study examines those changes and continuities through the careful philological reading of select textual sources pertinent to the issue, beginning with the earliest Sanskrit text, the Ṛgveda, which precedes the sedentary transition and reflects the milieu of semi-nomadic tribes in the northwest of the subcontinent in the Bronze Age. Examining the Vedic texts closely, the ancient conception of agriculture is shown to be predicated upon an analogy involving a reproductive complementarity between gods, humans, and animals, who cooperate to inseminate the earth and thereby produce food that sustains them all and therefore perpetuates the cosmos. The integrality of agriculture to the cosmic order enables a formalized association between Prosperity and Plow, allowing the plow to turn up an all-encompassing prosperity for those who ritually demonstrate this knowledge. This positive conception was carried through as the Vedic tribes transitioned to sedentism in the Gangetic basin during the early Iron Age.



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