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  • Thumbnail for The last sacrifice : the ritual theory of funerary rites in Vārānasī, India
    The last sacrifice : the ritual theory of funerary rites in Vārānasī, India by Killion, Isabella Maria

    This paper looks at the ritual theory behind the “last sacrifice” funerary rites in Vārānasī, India. The purpose of this investigation is to understand what motivates people to perform the cremation ceremonies and what the implications are for society. There are a number of different elements of the ritual that I stress, including the perspectives on dharma (duty) and mokșa (liberation), the holiness of the Ganga River and Vārānasī, the significance of sacrifice in Hindu tradition, and the intentional steps of ritual that create order in the worldly “chaos.” I examine the attempt to reconcile the gap between what is known and unknown in the world and what can be controlled and what cannot be physically controlled– in this case death. I look at a number of different ritual theorists in an attempt to apply each theory and method to the funerary rites in Vārānasī and in the end offer my own ritual theory that best explains the “last sacrifice.” Through ritual, I argue that those who perform the “last sacrifice” can claim a form of control and self-empowerment. Specifically, I contend that the driving force of the ritual sacrifice is the moment of control, which stems from the attention to detail in ritual, over the looming gap between the living world and what is believed to occur through mokșa.