Sacred texts and rituals of the Old Indic Vrātyas in Indo-Iranian comparison
I. This is a philological, linguistic and social-historical study of (para-)social groups in the Vedic, Epic and Early Classical Sanskrit periods in comparison with the data of the most ancient texts of Iranian (Avestan, Old Persian) and Indo-European traditions. Since the fundamental studies of Leiden Indologist Jan C. Heesterman (1962, 1967, 1989) and after a follow-up series in monographs by H. Falk (1986) and A. Parpola (1988, 2015), in the last four decades, a series of authors engaged in serious scholarly research in the Indic society in comparative and historical perspective ‒ both intrinsically/diachronically, within Vedic and Epic Old Indic and an in-depth comparison between Ancient Indic and Iranian traditions, as well as, on a broader basis, with ancient Indo-European evidence from Greek, Celtic, Germanic and Italic sources.
II. This broadening of the perspective, even if carried on per disiecta membra and by authors who often operated without communication and sometimes even without awareness of the achievements of others, decisively enlarged our knowledge of the social structures of Vedic and Epic India in the interaction between establishment ‒ royal institutions and warrior elites and their ritual poetry and practices connected with “sacred kingship” ‒ and para-establishment groups, the most important of which is, without doubt, the one of the male age group of the Indic Vrātyas, traditionally apostrophized as Old Indic and Indo-Iranian “Männerbund”. This was a social institution with crucial significance:
(1) in social perspective (ephebic initiation and rites de passage)
(2) for the history of the early Indo-Europeanization of Central Asia (Bactria-Margiana region [BMAC]), South Asia and esp. the Indian Peninsula (military expeditions for enlargement of the territories of the “Aryan” community),
(3) but also with a deep influence on the social system (from practicing mixed marriages with non-“Aryans” up to changing paradigms of sacred kingship and royal rituals) and even
(4) on traditions of sacred art and literature ([military] dance, music, hymnal poetry of Vrātyas).
III. After more than ten years of systematic research in various aspects of the Vrātya phenomenon in its comparison, with case studies presented on the World Sanskrit conferences in Kyoto and Delhi, the Societas Iranologica Europaea in Ravenna, Cracow and Berlin, and taught in the framework of the Leiden Summer School in Languages and Linguistics, after publishing a number of results in articles (2009, 2012ab, 2018ab, 2020ab) and functioning as consultant, examiner or advisor of dissertations concerning the Vrātya (Lelli 2015, Selva 2019, Massetti 2017), the present author thinks that now is the time to unite the individual aspects of his work in a monograph dedicated to the sacred texts and ritual traditions with regard to the Indo-Iranian Männerbund and sacred kingship. That is the primary reason for my grant application in the framework of the J. Gonda Fund.
From the viewpoint of the time scope and primary texts concerned, the investigation will include a series of texts from the Vedic (ca. 1200‒400BC), the Epic (ca. 500BC‒350AD) and Classical Sanskrit (mid-2nd c. BC‒2nd c. AD) periods that function as sources for Old Indic social structures from most ancient times to early classical times.
IV. The project results (conference papers, monograph, articles) will have relevance for disciplines like comparative and historical philology, social anthropology, cultural studies, as well as South Asian Area Studies. The historical context and the linguistic form of the text will be discussed both in intrinsic Indic perspective and from a comparative viewpoint, so that the results will be useful for studies in other Ancient Indo-European languages and cultures like Greek, Italic, Celtic and Germanic traditions.