Altar of Fire (1976)

Genres - Culture & Society, Spirituality & Philosophy  |   Sub-Genres - Religions & Belief Systems, Social Issues  |   Run Time - 45 min.  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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This film captures what is, in many ways, the last vestige of an ancient culture. The Agnicayana, the world's oldest "surviving" ritual and one of the centerpieces of Vedic religion, is a sacrifice to Agni, god of fire; Vedic sacrificial rites in India have been replaced by modern Hindu practice such as puja. The ceremony requires the memorization of hundreds of lines of text passed down orally through the generations; it is also exclusively male. The ceremony was performed (or resurrected, some say) in 1975 at the instigation of an American scholar and a wealthy American donor; the end result is this documentary, which briefly explains the origins of the ritual and then records a group of Nambudiri brahmins enacting their sacrifice for Robert Gardner's cameras. The circumstances under which the film was produced raise as many questions as the ritual itself, making it ideal for scholarly or classroom use.

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Hinduism, religion, ritual, sacrifice, tradition