Homa Variations


Homa Variations: The Study of Ritual Change across the Longue Durée, edited by Richard K. Payne and Michael Witzel.

Found in many different religious cultures, the practice of making votive offerings into fire dates back to the earliest periods of human history. Throughout the tantric world, this kind of ritual offering practice is known as the homa. With roots in Vedic and Zoroastrian rituals, the tantric homa was formed in early medieval India. Since that time tantric Buddhist practitioners transmitted it to East and Central Asia, and more recently to Europe and the Americas. Today, Hindu forms of the homa are being practiced outside of India as well.

Despite this historical and cultural range, the homa retains an identifiable unity of symbolism and ritual form. Homa Variations is the first volume to provide a series of detailed studies of a variety of homa forms. This collection of essays provides an understanding of the history of the homa from its inception up to its use in the present. The book also covers homa practice throughout a wide range of religious cultures, from India and Nepal to Tibet, China, and Japan. The theoretical focus of the collection is the study of ritual change over long periods of time, and across the boundaries of religious cultures. The identifiable unity of the homa allows for an almost unique opportunity to examine ritual change with such a broad perspective.


“Some thirty years ago, the publication of the late Frits Staal’s Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar marked a significant milestone in the study of Indian religions and, in the second volume of that monumental work, Staal’s collaborators began to explore the diffusion of the fire ritual throughout Asia. With Homa Variations, Professors Payne and Witzel, together with a group of outstanding contributors, extend that project, bringing to bear the resources of the best current field work, textual scholarship and ritual theory on the diversity of the fire ritual in Hindu and Buddhist milieux.” –Matthew T. Kapstein, École Pratique des Hautes Études (Paris) and The University of Chicago


Richard K. Payne is Yehan Numata Professor of Japanese Buddhist Studies at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Berkeley.

Michael Witzel is Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University.


Naresh Man Bajracharya is the founding Chair of the Central Department of Buddhist Studies at Tribhuvan University, and was the first Nepali appointed as Professor of Buddhist Studies. In addition to completing his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies at Delhi University in 1998, Bajracharya is also a tantric lineage holder and one of the leading priests in the Newar Buddhist sangha of Kathmandu. Author of many articles and books on Newar Buddhism, he was a Fulbright Scholar in Residence at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2009-10. Professor Bajracharya over the last decade has played a pioneering role in introducing the discipline of Buddhist Studies to Nepal and in revitalizing the spiritual traditions of Newar Buddhism across the Kathmandu Valley. He is currently engaged in organizing the construction of a Vajrayana Monastery in Lumbini. In late 2014, he was appointed Vice Chancellor of Lumbini Buddhist University in Lumbini.

Nawaraj Chaulagain is Assistant Professor in religious studies at Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, IL where he teaches courses such as Religions of the World, Hindu Religious Traditions, Asian Religious Practice, Islam from Mecca to Malcolm X, and Peace & War in the Modern World. His research interests include Hindu Kingship Rituals, yoga and meditation, and comparative religions and literature in South Asia. He is particularly interested in the questions of how religions and politics intersect and interact, and how they influence the ways people construct their religious worldviews.

David B. Gray is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University. His research explores the development of tantric Buddhist traditions in South Asia, and their dissemination in Tibet and East Asia, with a focus on the Yogin?tantras, a genre of Buddhist tantric literature that focused on female deities and yogic practices involving the subtle body. He is the author of both The Cakrasamvara Tantra: A Study and Annotated Translation (2007), and The Cakrasamvara Tantra: Editions of the Sanskrit and Tibetan Texts (2012).

Holly Grether currently serves as an Assistant Teaching Professor at Montana State University. Her teaching interests include Buddhism, Gender and Religion, and Theories of Sacrifice. She received a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from University of California, Santa Barbara with specializations in South Asia and History of Religions. Under the tutelage of David Gordon White, her dissertation traced historical origins of various elements of homa sacrifices in South and Central Asia. Other research interests include religions of the Silk Road, Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, Religion and Law, and Ritual Studies.

Georgios T. Halkias obtained a DPhil in Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford and is currently an Assistant Professor at the Centre of Buddhist Studies, the University of Hong Kong. He specializes in Tibetan and trans-Himalayan Buddhism and history and has held research posts and fellowships in the UK (Warburg, SOAS and Oxford) Germany (Ruhr University) and Japan (Otani-ha Foundation). His publications include Luminous Bliss: a Religious History of Pure Land Literature in Tibet. With an Annotated Translation and Critical Analysis of the Orgyen-ling golden short Sukhavativyuha-sutra (University of Hawai’i Press) and several articles on Tibetan and Central Asian Buddhism, Himalayan history and interdisciplinary studies of religion.

Todd Lewis is the Murray Distinguished Professor of Arts and Humanities in the Religious Studies Department at the College of the Holy Cross. His primary research since 1979 has been on Newar Buddhism in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. He is the author of many articles on this tradition, co-author of World Religions Today (fifth edition, 2014), and editor of the new course book, Buddhists: Understanding Buddhism Through the Lives of Practitioners (2014). His most recent translation, Sugata Saurabha: A Poem on the Life of the Buddha by Chittadhar Hridaya of Nepal, received awards from the Khyentse Foundation and the Numata Foundation as the best book in Buddhist Studies published in 2011.

Timothy Lubin is Professor of Religion at Washington and Lee University. He has degrees from Columbia and Harvard, and earlier taught at Harvard and at the University of Virginia. He publishes on a wide range of topics in Sanskrit religious and legal literatures and epigraphy, teaching courses on Asian traditions, the comparative study of religion, and the Sanskrit language. His research deals with Indic legal traditions and Brahmanical Hindu ritual codes, the connections between them, and their reception in modern India. He co-edited Hinduism and Law: An Introduction (2010), and is at work on a study of Brahmanical authority in the history of South and Southeast Asia.

Charles D. Orzech is Reader in Religion, Conflict and Transition in the School of Critical Studies at the University of Glasgow and Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. He teaches a variety of courses, from introductory Buddhism and Chinese religion to seminars on theories of myth and on semiotics and religious images. He currently convenes the MLitt core course on Contemporary Perspectives on Religion and Theology at the University of Glasgow. His research has focused on the translation and transformation of late Mahayana Buddhism in eighth-through thirteenth-century China. He is the author of Politics and Transcendent Wisdom: The Scripture for Humane Kings in the Creation of Chinese Buddhism (1998) and more recently was the general editor of Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in East Asia (2011). He is currently writing a monograph on vision and liturgy in Chinese Esoteric Buddhism.

Richard K. Payne is Yehan Numata Professor of Japanese Buddhist Studies at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, where his teaching focuses on methodology in the study of Buddhism, Buddhist psychology, and tantric Buddhism. As a member of the GTU’s Core Doctoral Faculty he directs dissertations in Buddhist studies and related topics. He edited Tantric Buddhism in East Asia (2005), and the Japan section of Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in East Asia (2011). Currently he also is the Editor in Chief of the Buddhism section of the Oxford Bibliographies, and Co-Editor in Chief of the Buddhism component of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Religion. He initiated and is Chair of the Editorial Committee for the Pure Land Buddhist Studies series, University of Hawai’i Press, and is Chair of the Editorial Committee for Pacific World: Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies. His research on the homa continues, as does his work on a survey of tantric Buddhism.

Tadeusz Skorupski is Emeritus Reader in Buddhist Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Academic interests and research include: Buddhist philosophy and doctrine; literature; iconography; rituals; history. His publications include the comprehensive study of the Sarvardurgatisparisodhana Tantra (1983), a key yoga tantra. He was editor of The Buddhist Forum, and his recent publications include The Six Perfections (2002) and Kriyasamgraha: Compendium of Buddhist Rituals, an Abridged Version (2002).

Tsunehiko Sugiki is Professor in the Department of Global and Regional Studies, Faculty of Liberal Arts, Kaichi International University (since April 2015). He holds a PhD in Religious Studies from the University of Tokyo (October 2000). He was formerly Specially Appointed Researcher in Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology in the University of Tokyo (January 2003 – February 2007), Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and so on in Waseda Institute for Advanced Study in Waseda University (March 2007 – March 2011), and Lecturer and Professor in Nihonbashi Gakkan University (April 2011 – March 2015). His specialization is Philology of Indian Buddhism (Buddhist Tantrism in particular) and Religious Studies.

Musashi Tachikawa is Professor Emeritus of the National Museum of Ethnology (1992-2004), and taught at Aichi Gakuin University (2004 -2011). He earned his PhD in Sanskrit and Indian studies from Harvard (1975), and a DLitt from Nagoya (1985). He has authored many studies of homa, ritual, esoteric iconography, and Buddhist thought. These include Puja and Samskara (with Shoun Hino and Lalita Deodhar, 2006), Indian Fire Ritual (with Shrikant Bahulkar and Mdhavai Kolhatkar, 2001), Essays in Buddhist Theology (2012), Buddhist Fire Ritual in Japan (with Madhavi Bhasker Kolhatkar, 2013), and several other works.

Vesna A. Wallace is a Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California in Santa Barbara. Her two areas of specialization are Indian Buddhism, particularly Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, and Mongolian Buddhism. She has authored and translated four books related to Indian Buddhism, three of which pertain to the Kalacakra tantric tradition in India and edited a book on Mongolian Buddhism. She published numerous articles on Indian and Mongolian Buddhism.

Michael Witzel is the Wales Professor of Sanskrit, Harvard University. He studied at the University of Tübingen, Erlangen-Nürnberg, (Germany), and Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, receiving his PhD in 1972 at Erlangen. He has taught at Tübingen 1972, Leiden 1978-1986, and Harvard since 1986. He was the director of the Nepal-German Manuscript Preservation Project and the Nepal Research Center at Kathmandu (1972-1978). He has held six visiting positions at Paris, Kyoto and Tokyo. He is the editor of the Harvard Oriental Series, 1993-, HOS Opera Minora 1995-, and the Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, 1995-. He specializes in Vedic, Old Iranian, and Nepalese studies, Indian/Iranian prehistory and substrate studies, old and medieval Indian and Nepalese history and manuscriptology, as well as in ritual studies and comparative mythology. His most recent publications include: Das Alte Indien (2003, 2nd ed. 2010), The Origins of the World’s Mythologies (2012), and two volumes of Der Rig-Veda: I-II, and III-V (2007, 2013).


Paperback; Published: 20 November 2015; 448 Pages | 14 illus.; 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

ISBN: 9780199351589

Hardback also available