human sacrifice and death penalty

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Sun Apr 26 18:54:18 UTC 1998

Lars Martin Fosse <lmfosse at ONLINE.NO> wrote:


>Spheres of concepts: Sacrifice deals with the relationship between
>and the divine powers. It is based on certain ideas about how the
cosmos works.
>Death penalty: Is related to social control. Society defines certain
acts as
>unacceptable and wants to put an end to them. The methods chosen are
>upon certain ideas about how humans function as individuals and social
>beings, how their behaviour is regulated etc. Deterrence and revenge
>prominent motives for using the death penalty.

This clear division between human-divine and human-society is a quite
modern thing, not only in India but also elsewhere in the world. As an
aside, it should be clear that the failure to bring about this
distinction between "church" and state in modern Indian democracy is a
key factor behind the contemporary Indian political ferment. In any
case, the relationship between humans and divine powers is a very
important consideration in traditional Indian constructions of society.


>Indology is not a place to discuss matters of criminal law and penalty,
>for the record, let me add that I regard both the views expressed by
>who support the death penalty and the views of Medhatithi as

Leaving aside modern arguments for and against the death penalty,
medhAtithi operates in a world where the king and his court combine the
legislative, executive and judiciary functions of government. Moreover,
the king is the earthly representative of a divine power. Add to this
the mImAmsA notion of apUrva, and how it brings about the fruit of
ritual acts, and medhAtithi's views on the punishment of criminals don't
seem simplistic after all.


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