The Oxford History of Hinduism

The Oxford History of Hinduism: Hindu Practice

Traditions of asceticism, yoga, and devotion (bhakti), including dance and music, developed in Hinduism over long periods of time. Some of these practices, notably those denoted by the term yoga, are orientated towards salvation from the cycle of reincarnation and go back several thousand years. These practices, borne witness to in ancient texts called Upaniṣads, as well as in other traditions, notably early Buddhism and Jainism, are the subject of this volume in the Oxford History of Hinduism. Practices of meditation are also linked to asceticism (tapas) and its institutional articulation in renunciation (saṃnyăsa). There is a range of practices or disciplines from ascetic fasting to taking a vow (vrata) for a deity in return for a favour. There are also devotional practices that might involve ritual, making an offering to a deity and receiving a blessing, dancing, or visualization of the master (guru).

The overall theme–the history of religious practices–might even be seen as being within a broader intellectual trajectory of cultural history. In the substantial introduction by the editor this broad history is sketched, paying particular attention to what we might call the medieval period (post-Gupta) through to modernity when traditions had significantly developed in relation to each other. The chapters in the book chart the history of Hindu practice, paying particular attention to indigenous terms and recognizing indigenous distinctions such as between the ritual life of the householder and the renouncer seeking liberation, between ‘inner’ practices of and ‘external’ practices of ritual, and between those desirous of liberation (mumukṣu) and those desirous of pleasure and worldly success (bubhukṣu). This whole range of meditative and devotional practices that have developed in the history of Hinduism are represented in this book.