human sacrifice and death penalty

Mikael Aktor aktor at COCO.IHI.KU.DK
Tue Apr 28 09:48:17 UTC 1998

Lars Martin wrote:

>ideas about punishment, crime etc. cannot simply be seen through the
>eyes of the historian of religion or the anthropologist, they also have to
>be analysed as tools for social and political control. That is why it does
>not make sense to read dharma-shastra without reading artha-shastra at the
>same time.

A sharp divide between religion (rituals) and pragmatics (politics, 
economics) is not very fruitful. It neither accords very well with 
dharmas´aastra nor with arthas´aastra. And it certainly does not accord 
with most of the recent anthropology and history of religions.

1) The political domain is pragmatic, yes. But it is at the same time 
governed by concerns for divine agency and the way human and divine 
agencies are intertwined. See AS´ 6.2.6-12 about the interrelation 
between these two. It is admitted by the text that both are there, and 
that both together "make the world go" (Kangle). The former, as part of a 
visible, human sphere "can be thought about" and is for that reason in 
the natural focus of a text dealing with artha, whereas the latter as 
part of an invisible, divine sphere is "incalculable", i.e. from the 
point of view of artha. The way the two are distinguished and distributed 
into different literary genres is a matter of expertice more than of an 
exclusive commitment to one of them. Divination, in particular, was a 
part of the royal domain, too. See Inden, "Kings and Omens", _Purity and 
Auspiciousness in Indian Society_, eds. Carman and Marglin, Brill 1985, 

2) The 'religious' domain is pragmatic too, both in terms of politics and 
economy. The development of dharmas´aastra is characterised, among other 
features, precisely by the way arthas´aastra material is increasingly 
integrated (as vyavahaara). Derrett's chronology of dharmas´aastra is 
primarily based on this principle. See his _Dharmas´aastra and Juridical 
Literature_, pp.26ff and pp.32-33, in A History of Indian Literature. Or 
take an institution like penance, an exclusive dharmas´aastra subject in 
terms of literary genres, and seemingly a purely soteriological 
institution. But no. The detailed discussions in the commentaries about 
penances for receiving wealth from  unworthy givers (asatpratigraha) aim 
at safeguarding economic transactions, more than at removing people's bad 
karma. See Derrett, _Religion, Law and the State in India_, London 1968, 

Of course there is a point in rejecting the stereotype that Indian 
culture is religious throughout, and AS´ may be a good argument in that 
effort, but isn't this pretty basic, after all? It is, I believe, more 
fruitful (and interesting) to investigate the interrelations between 
politics and religion than looking at each domain in isolation.

Mikael Aktor, University of Aarhus, Denmark.
aktor at

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