human sacrifice and death penalty

Dominique.Thillaud thillaud at UNICE.FR
Tue Apr 28 07:10:53 UTC 1998

Dear Indologists,

        There are obviously strong rapports between "sacrifice" and "death
penalty". From a sociological point of view, it's not always easy to make a
clear difference between what is religious and what is seculary. And, if we
search to caracterize the sacrifice in such a manner it match with all the
actual sacrifices, we find few simple features, all matching with the death
        1) the S is a behaviour specific to a society (or a sub-society).
        2) the S is performed with the agreement of the "common decisions"
structure of the group.
        3) the S is supposed to be profitable to the whole group.
        4) the S has a constant form, repeated each time it occurs.
        5) the occurrence of the S is determined by an external fact (date,
social event) and the S must be performed each time this fact occurs.
        6) the S must be performed by authorized actors, well-defined for
each type of S.
        7) the S is supposed to have an exoteric sense, known by all. But
the mechanism linking the S with it's positive result is transcendental
(and we know well that the dissuasive effect of DP is illusory).
        8) the S is detroying something or a part of something, excluding
it of any further social use.
        9) diachronically or synchronically, some groups of the society are
able to change some features of the ritual (even using a symbolic

        Alas, a tenth argument destroy the link:
        In S the victim must be "de premier choix", innocent and ritually
pure: that's obviously not the case in DP!

        That's true that, firstly viewing, some mythical kills are
ambiguous. When bhIma kills duHzAsana, he says after:
(VIII,61,16, Poona)
adyaiva dAsyAmy aparaM dvitIyaM /
duryodhanaM yajnapazuM vizasya /
        the use of dA- and yajna- seems to refer clearly to a sacrifice,
but bhIma follows immediatly with:
ziro mRditvA ca padA durAtmanaH /
zAntiM lapsye kauravANAM samakSam //
        the middle form of labh- shows clearly that the own desire of
vengeance of bhIma is the only thing targeted: he use the words of the
sacrifice, not the content, nor even the form: drinking blood or breaking
thigh are not ritual but refer to the older comportment of the victims
against draupadI.


Dominique THILLAUD
Universite' de Nice Sophia-Antipolis, France

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