Feeding the Dead outlines the early history of ancestor worship in South Asia, from the earliest sources available, the Vedas, up to the descriptions found in the Dharmshastra tradition. Most prior works on ancestor worship have done little to address the question of how shraddha, the paradigmatic ritual of ancestor worship up to the present day, came to be. Matthew R. Sayers argues that the development of shraddha is central to understanding the shift from Vedic to Classical Hindu modes of religious behavior. Central to this transition is the discursive construction of the role of the religious expert in mediating between the divine and the human actor. Both Hindu and Buddhist traditions draw upon popular religious practices to construct a new tradition. Sayers argues that the definition of a religious expert that informs religiosity in the Common Era is grounded in the redefinition of ancestral rites in the Grhyasutras. Beyond making more clear the much misunderstood history of ancestor worship in India, this book addressing the serious question about how and why religion in India changed so radically in the last half of the first millennium BCE.
The redefinition of the role of religious expert is hugely significant for understanding that change. This book ties together the oldest ritual texts with the customs of ancestor worship that underlie and inform medieval and contemporary practice.