About the Book
In all religions of the world which maintain sacrificial rituals and in which the portion offered to Gods is given to fire, that portion is normally offered raw except in Vedic India, where its previous cooking is necessary. The reasons for such a treatment forms the subject matter of this book.
The author, through an exhaustive examination of Vedic, Brahmanic and Srauta Sutric texts, traces the beginning and development of the idea of cooking as transforming energy, from early Vedic hymns to the classical and fully complete sacrifices of the later Brahmanic times.
The work is divided into two major parts: The first, comprising four chapters, follows the emergence and development of the first intuition the rishis had of their use of fire as God of energy; the second part, consisting of the remaining four chapters takes into account four emblematic rituals where heat is especially prominent, discussing, how the presence of heat has worked in shaping those rituals and the spirituality that has arisen from them. An introduction has cast the problem in its human, temporal and geographical conditions, while a conclusion has brought the entire matter to its heavenly accomplishment.
About the Author:
Born in Roma (Italia), Uma Marina Vesci received her education in Roma itself, graduating in Ancient History and Archaeology with a thesis on: " the use of Musical Instruments in the religious Life of Ancient Greece". Further, she specialized in History of Religions with a thesis on: "God, Man and Salvation in the Spiritual change in the VI century B.C. from China to Greece". At the end of 1963 she won a scholarship to India where she continued her studies centered on Hinduism and especially on Vedic texts. Since then she has continuously lived in India to the present with support from various scholarships and fellowships in B.H.U. (Varanasi), Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Simla, at center of Advanced study in Philosophy, Visva Bharati(Shantiniketan), and in the Italian Embassy Cultural Centre in Delhi and Varanasi. In this last capacity she has taught comparative religions for a short while in Patiala at the Dept. of Religious Studies. Dr. Vesci has contributed many articles on Indological subjects to numerous international journals and has lectured widely.
Writing a foreword to an author's first book is, like the writing of the book itself, a kind of ritual. And this is all the more so if the work is the summing up of twenty years of study, and the one who introduces it has himself been deeply involved in the process. It forms part of the author's rite of passage into the realm of what the western medievals called by the solemn word 'auctores', because from then on they had 'auctoritas' i.e. the capacity to foster the intellectual and spiritual growth of the people. They were no longer interpreters of the past but shapers of the present and creators of the future. I gladly perform this ritual of presenting both the author and her work. And in fact, introductions are generally supposed to furnish that biographical background which is all too often as crucial to the deeper under- standing of a book as is the immediate context furnished by the writer. So, I propose to say, first, a few words about the author and, second, something about the work.
In 1963, shortly after completing her studies at the University of Rome, Dr. Vesci left for India to begin a life that few scho- lars have the courage to undertake: to get lost in the new culture, to incarnate oneself in the other tradition, to live and share the destiny of the newly made friends, and to do this hav- ing cut the bridges of return. In a competitive society, even if it goes by the name of academia, an absence of decades will severely jeopardize any opportunity of being accepted back and integrated into 'business as usual'. In a modern, job-oriented civilization, negotium is the only thing that counts.
In India, Marina Vescienjoyed the creative otium which per- mitted her to practice the most natural and perfect way of 'knowing' another culture : to learn as the children of any cul- ture do, to sit at the feet of the masters, to assimilate as we do a healthy food without concerning oneself over producing immediate results and writing informative papers with hastily collected data; in a word, to incarnateoneselfin the other culture. Everything she has published so far has been truly assimilated and is as much a part of her praxis as her 'theoria'. I know of her early sketches describing her first encounters with India and once even recommended that she not keep them to herself, but she considered these materials-and rightly so-as the soil out of which less anecdotal and more substantial studies would grow, as they have in course of time.
Uma, as she later became known, began to delve deeply into the culture of the South, Bengal and the North: three different worlds. She soon discovered the underlying fabric of the entire Indian tradition: Vedic culture. To be sure, it is not the only element that makes up the warp and woof of what we call the culture of the Indian subcontinent (we must also integrate the strands of pre-Aryan culture, the tribals, the later reforms and also the graftings, such as Islamic and Christian cultures and the secular world-view). But there is no doubt that the lion's share is had by that extraordinary vision which crystallizes in the Vedic culture.
It is well known that western indology and also, by repercussion Indian scholarship, was, until very recently, mainly interested in the speculative aspects of that culture. The rest was con- sidered 'primitive', if not outright superstition. Western scholars were by and large not interested in, and Indian pandits were almost ashamed of, the ritualistic literature. The Samhitas of the Vedas and especially the disquisitions of the Upanisads, so the discourse would go, are refined productions of the human mind, but most of the Brahmanas, and especially the rituals, were considered- 'galamatias' to say the least, when not just decadent casuistry and priestcraft. The Puranas, or ancient legends, have been over the last few years more and more investigated, but it is only very recently that students are beginning to take the rituals seriously.
When Marina Vesci first started for India I recommended to her the topic of tapas (ardor, and thus heat, zeal, concentration, spiritual power), that extraordinary symbol which cuts across the ages and schools of India. It has an existential as well as a doctrinal character, a cosmic as well as an anthropological meaning, and is certainly a divine category. Uma has been studying and practicing tapas since then. Most of her published articles refer directly or indirectly to this topic, and this book, as well as a forthcoming one, started, as it were, by dealing with the problem of tapas even if the nature itself of tapas com- pelled her to shift her main subject toward the effects of heat ill sacrifice as such. Actually tapas has, or better is, a ritual element, being intimately linked with Agni and thus with the sacrifice which constitutes the core of Vedic culture. For this reason she preferred to turn her attention to the subject of rituals, and precisely to those rituals connected with cooking and heating.
This has prompted the author, and this is one of the merits of this book, to unearth an entire world that only now is beginning to be rediscovered and appreciated by scholars in India and abroad. When she first began to express interest in the topic, she was often either misunderstood or discreetly advised to choose another subject of study. Moderns tend to forget that to 'study' (studium) means to turn one's whole being toward an aspect of reality, having sens