Adhiyajña: Towards a Performance Grammar of the Vedas 

Smith, C.C. 2019. "Adhiyajña: Towards a Performance Grammar of the Vedas." Religions 2019:10:394.  

Recent scholarship has challenged the anachronistic projection of the modern category of the
poem onto premodern texts. This article attempts to theorize how one might construct an alternative
to modern conceptualizations of “the poem” that more closely appropriates the conceptualization
of textuality in the Rigveda, an anthology of 1028 sūktas “well-spoken (texts)” that represents the
oldest religious literature in South Asia. In order to understand what these texts are and what
they were expected to do, this article examines the techniques by which the Rigveda refers to itself,
to its performer, to its audience, and to the occasion of its performance. In so doing, this article
theorizes a “performance grammar” comprising three axes of textual self-reference (spatial, temporal,
and personal); these axes of reference constitute a scene of performance populated by rhetorically
constructed speakers and listeners. This performance narrative, called here the adhiyajña level, frames
the mythological narratives of the text. By examining the relationship between mythological narrative
and performance narrative, we can better understand the purpose of performing a text and thus what
kind of an entity Rigvedic “texts” really are. While this article proposes a rubric specifically for the
Rigvedic context, its principles can be adapted to other premodern texts in order to better understand
the performance context they presuppose.

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