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Religious Practices

Texts considered to date to the Vedic period are mainly the four Vedas, but the Brahmanas, and some of the older Upanishads are also considered Vedic. The Vedas record the liturgy connected with the rituals and sacrifices performed by the purohitas.

The rishis, the composers of the hymns of the Rigveda, were considered divinely inspired seers.

Most of the Vedic gods are taken from nature: the sun, the moon, fire, sky, storm, air, water, dawn, rain, and so on. Indra, the god of rain and thunder, seems to have enjoyed a greater importance than others.

Yajna was the chief method of sacrifice. The performance centered around a sacrificial fire and offerings were thrown into it. On the very rare occasion, offerings were thrown into water. The offerings consisted of materials of which the owner was fond and very often included things like butter, milk, meat, grains cooked in milk, intoxicating drinks, and other such items.

There are some differences of opinion on the purpose of the yajnas. First, yajnas can be looked upon as the methods of pleasing gods by giving them parts of one's wealth. Secondly, yajnas can stand for token offerings made to gods to indicate obedience and allegiance.

Finally, quite irrespective of the gods, the sacrifices can be looked upon as methods of practising renunciation. There can be little doubt that the yajnas began as methods of pleasing gods, and that their significance changed with time until integration with renunciation and other ideas of later Hindu philosophy was eventually achieved.

Gradually the idea of monotheism began to grow around Prajapati and Varuna. The Vedas declare: "He is one, (though) wise men call Him by many names"(Rigveda, 21, 164, 46). The Mahabharata declares all Vedas to be one and the same. The Truth is one; it is our ignorance that divides it. The Supreme is not merely an architect but a creator, and He creates out of himself.

The universe is born of His delight. This idea of an infinite being projecting Himself in many names and forms is first mentioned in the Samhitas and later elaborated in the Upanishads. The Supreme is not bound by His creation, for His nature is freedom. The world is an expression of his play (lila), His delight. We are parts of That. This identification of the Atman (self) with the Brahman (the Supreme) is expressed in the Upanishads as a message to all [people], "Tat tvam asi," "Thou are That." The object of human life, according to this view, becomes unity with the Source. While this idea is developed fully in the Upanishads, it is in the Vedic Samhitas that one meets it first. If we look down the centuries the Vedas stand out as the origin of much that is noteworthy in Hinduism.

Nine Unknown Men

Nine Unknown Men are a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka.