Rites of the God-King

Rites of the God-King: Santi and Ritual Change in Early Hinduism, by Marko Geslani.

godkingScholars of Vedic religion have long recognized the centrality of ritual categories to Indian thought. There have been few successful attempts, however, to bring the same systematic rigor of Vedic Scholarship to bear on later “Hindu” ritual. Excavating the deep history of a prominent ritual category in “classical” Hindu texts, Geslani traces the emergence of a class of rituals known as santi, or appeasement. This ritual, intended to counteract ominous omens, developed from the intersection of the fourth Veda – the oft-neglected Atharvaveda – and the emergent tradition of astral science (Jyotisastra) sometime in the early first millennium, CE. Its development would come to have far-reaching consequences on the ideal ritual life of the king in early-medieval Brahmanical society. The mantric transformations involved in the history of santi led to the emergence of a politicized ritual culture that could encompass both traditional Vedic and newer Hindu performers and practices.

From astrological appeasement to gift-giving, coronation, and image worship, Rites of the God-King chronicles the multiple lives and afterlives of a single ritual mode, unveiling the always-inventive work of the priesthood to imagine and enrich royal power. Along the way, Geslani reveals the surprising role of astrologers in Hindu history, elaborates conceptions of sin and misfortune, and forges new connections between medieval texts and modern practices. In a work that details ritual forms that were dispersed widely across Asia, he concludes with a reflection on the nature of orthopraxy, ritual change, and the problem of presence in the Hindu tradition.

Advanced Praise

“It is an understatement to say that Atharvavedic texts are difficult to understand; few scholars are equipped to guide us as Geslani is.”–Timothy Lubin, Professor of Religion, Washington and Lee University

“Marko Geslani takes on one of the great persisting puzzles in the history of Hinduism: the complicated transition between Vedic sacrifice and later Hindu image-worship. Through meticulous reading of long-overlooked rituals of santi, or appeasement, Geslani demonstrates how these pull together Indian astrology, kingship, royal consecration, and the rise of temple Hinduism. An exemplary work of scholarly reconstruction, this will be of great interest to all students of Indian religion.”–Richard Davis, Professor of Religion, Bard College

“Geslani’s close examination of the rites of appeasement in the ritual manuals of the Atharvaveda and the early Astral literature of Varahamihira’s Brhatsamhita has demonstrated a clear link between the domestic priest (purohita) and the astrologer (samvatsara) in ancient India, resulting in a new way to understand the role of the royal priesthood in kingship rituals.”–Kenneth Zysk, Professor of Indology and Indian Science, University of Copenhagen

About the Author

Marko Geslani is Assistant Professor of Sanskrit and Premodern South Asian Religions at Emory Univeristy.


Published: 09 July 2018
336 Pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
ISBN: 9780190862886