pollution/purity
   Pollution and purity have been important social and religious concepts in Hinduism from ancient times. Pollution often entails substances related to birth, death, blood, bodily processes, and leftover food.
   The concepts of purity and pollution are cen-tral to the notion of caste in India. People whose traditional occupations put them in contact with leather, dead animals, toilets and sewers, and sweeping (leftover substances) are usually con-sidered outcastes or UNTOUCHABLES (Dalit). At the other social extreme are BRAHMINS, who never have contact with such substances and, ide-ally, deal only with learning, books, or temple rituals. They are considered pure. Middle castes, which sometimes have contact with polluting substances in their traditional work, have an intermediate purity status. For example, barbers, who have contact with bodily substances as they cut people’s hair, are seen as lower caste, though not untouchable.
   For Brahmins, purity is maintained by tradi-tion and occupation and reinforced by vegetari-anism. In Vedic times Brahmins were avid meat eaters and even ate beef. As the traditional spe-cialists in ritual sacrifice, they were entitled to the leftover meat from each animal offering.
   As new ideas of purity began to develop, Brahmins became the strictest vegetarians, even eschewing eggs in most regions of India. When they became the measure of purity, those who did eat meat were given lower status. Because of their purity, Brahmins may offer cooked food to anyone; thus, they are often hired as cooks in restaurants. Conversely, Brahmins can accept food from and eat together with only a very limited group of people, their own subcaste of Brahmins. Commensality—eating food together—is a sign of an equal level of purity. People who by tradition have different levels of purity traditionally would not eat in the same place or from the same source. Furthermore, any food that has been eaten by anyone else is highly polluting, unless that person is one’s infant child or husband; beef is always considered the most impure and reviled of foods. In villages, different castes still draw water from different wells.
   In social contexts feet are considered the most polluting body part and must never touch some-one else. However, people do touch the feet of a mother, father, elder brother, GURU, or god out of honor, respect, or worship. Any association with blood or death is considered polluting.
   Further reading: G. Morris Carstairs, The Twice-Born (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967); Brian K. Smith, Classifying the Universe: The Ancient Indian Varna System and the Origins of Caste (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • purity — I (New American Roget s College Thesaurus) I n. refinement (see purity); sincerity, honesty; abstraction; simplicity. See probity, simpleness, innocence, virtue, cleanness.Ant., dishonesty. II Freedom from pollution Nouns …   English dictionary for students

  • pollution — noun a) The act of polluting or the state of being polluted, especially the contamination of the environment by harmful substances. Nobody visits the river any more because of all the pollution. b) Something that pollutes; a pollutant …   Wiktionary

  • purity — n. 1 pureness, cleanness. 2 freedom from physical or moral pollution. Etymology: ME f. OF pureteacute, with assim. to LL puritas tatis f. L purus pure …   Useful english dictionary

  • purification rite — ▪ anthropology Introduction       any of the ceremonial acts or customs employed in an attempt to reestablish lost purity or to create a higher degree of purity in relation to the sacred (the transcendental realm) or the social and cultural realm …   Universalium

  • dietary law — Judaism. law dealing with foods permitted to be eaten, food preparation and combinations, and the utensils and dishes coming into contact with food. Cf. kashruth. [1925 30] * * * ▪ religion Introduction       any of the prescriptions as to what… …   Universalium

  • Hinduism — /hin dooh iz euhm/, n. the common religion of India, based upon the religion of the original Aryan settlers as expounded and evolved in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, etc., having an extremely diversified character with many… …   Universalium

  • United States — a republic in the N Western Hemisphere comprising 48 conterminous states, the District of Columbia, and Alaska in North America, and Hawaii in the N Pacific. 267,954,767; conterminous United States, 3,022,387 sq. mi. (7,827,982 sq. km); with… …   Universalium

  • Early Islamic philosophy — or classical Islamic philosophy is a period of intense philosophical development beginning in the 2nd century AH of the Islamic calendar (early 9th century CE) and lasting until the 6th century AH (late 12th century CE). The period is known as… …   Wikipedia

  • Gold — This article is about the metal. For the color, see Gold (color). For other uses, see Gold (disambiguation). platinum ← gold → mercury …   Wikipedia

  • Muslim Agricultural Revolution — The Islamic Golden Age from the 8th century to the 13th century witnessed a fundamental transformation in agriculture known as the Arab Agricultural Revolution, Medieval Green Revolution, [A. M. Watson (1981), A Medieval Green Revolution: New… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”