Re AgnidaNDa

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Mon Oct 29 12:39:43 EST 2001

A belated  answer to  an older discussion:

Leaving the agnidanda apart for the moment, I think all available
information on the Patan Agnimath (agiMmaTha) indicates that it has
traditionally been run by the Newari speaking Rajopadhyaya Brahmins,
indeed for many centuries (probably from 1140 CE, and certainly from 1430
CE onwards).

For details see:

MW, Agnihotra-Rituale in Nepal. In: Formen kulturellen Wandels und andere
Beitrage zur Erforschung des Himalaya, ed. B. Kolver u. S. Lienhard, St.
Augustin: VGH  Wissenschaftsverlag 1986, 157-187

MW,  Meaningful ritual. Structure, development and interpretation of the
Tantric Agnihotra ritual of Nepal. Ritual, State and History in South Asia.
Essays in honour of J.C. Heesterman, ed. A.W. van den Hoek, D.H.A. Kolff,
M.S.Oort, Leiden 1992, 774-827

Cf. also the  booklet by Aishvarya Dhar Sharma, in Newari, of the mid-Eighties.

Mary Slusser's brief description of the Agnimath in her "Nepalamandala" is
based on  slightly incorrect  information: these Brahmins are not Saiva but
vegetarian Vaishnava, and  the aahavaniiya, the most important fire altar
in the 'temple', is dedidated to Visnu, not Shiva/Rudra.

>While I am aware of the your information regarding the priests at the
>Agnimath,  our information on the Brahmin and the Joshi caste came
>from the priest and his wife directly I will have to suggest that it
>is the de facto situation at the time of our visit.(September-October

That may be true NOW. Already when one of the last Agnihotrins died in c.
1980, the Rajopadhyayas had trouble to find a successor. One of them told
me that the local (Buddh.) farmers (Jyapus) had threatened to take over the
running of the fire temple, upon which the Rajopadhyayas finally convinced
a former Kathmandu school teacher, a Raj., to take over. His wife, however,
complained to me about this (kasto dukh cha...)

It may be that a change has taken place upon the passing of the then
officiating Rajopadhyaya (who theoretically always must be the oldest male
of the Raj. group).

>>I would like to stress that the officiating priests in the agnimaTha in
>>Patan in Nepal are not Joshi but Raajopaadhyaaya. In common parlance they
>>are called DyaH Bhajuu. Joshi, you must know, in caste hierarchy of the
>>Newars are not regarded as Brahmins, and their status is lower than that of
>>the Raajopaadhyaaya.

We have to countercheck, thus, on the Joshi claim. It may be a
misunderstanding that has arisen from the fact that the Agnihotrin always
has to offer a lot of grain homas for his local 'parishioners' when they
ask for it. These requests are based on the predictions of a local Joshi,
made on their birthday, of pending dangers for the coming year.

I would doubt that an actual Joshi has taken over by now. But who knows?

>>In order to make the picture much more clear, let me allow presenting a
>>translation of the core part of the document:

>>We hereby grant the agnidaNDa, which has been enjoyed by Dharmaa”ngada
>>PaNDita to                you as long as you live. Take one-seventh of the
>>income from the praayashcitta in. the form of produce, and enjoy it. Keep on
>>giving your blessings to us.
Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit & Indian Studies, Harvard University
2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138, USA

ph. 1- 617-496 2990 (also messages)
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