Sacred Topology of Early Ireland and Ancient India: Religious Paradigm Shift

Maxim Fomin (Editor), Séamus Mac Mathúna (Editor), Victoria Vertogradova (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportAnthologypeer-review


This volume of essays presents the results of an interdisciplinary research project entitled ‘Religious Paradigm Shift in Traditional Societies: Sacred Topology in Early Ireland and Ancient India’. The project grew out of collaboration between the Research Institute for Irish and Celtic Studies of the University of Ulster, and the Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow, and was funded by the British Academy and the Russian Academy of Sciences. Emphasis and focus are placed primarily, but not exclusively, on sacred topology in the context of religious paradigm shift. The data surveyed contains early mythological, historical, hagiographical, and religious matter, together with folk narratives and epigraphic material in Sanskrit and Pāli, Early and Middle Irish, and other languages. The volume opens with a contribution by Séamus Mac Mathúna entitled ‘Sacred Landscape and Water Mythology in Early Ireland and Ancient India’ which investigates the manner in which sacred landscapes in early Ireland and ancient India were employed to reflect the foundation of kingdoms and the acceptance of new beliefs. The legends and myths examined primarily deal with the subjugation of chthonic forces, involving goddesses of fertility, and confirm the existence of archaic beliefs in both traditions in a watery underworld peopled by supernatural beings (nāgas and yaksas in India, and áes síde or Túatha Dé Danann in Ireland) endowed with generative and fertile powers and functioning as guardians of sacred kingship. The contribution by Victoria Vertogradova ‘Man-Made Sacer Locus throughout the Religious Paradigm Shift: On the Track of the Snake Cult in Ancient Mathurā’ investigates several kinds of cult objects used in the Vedic rituals of ancient India (e.g. Skt. pañña ‘shawl’, and the related notions of śila-pañña ‘a stone plate’ and pãñha ‘seat’, as well as barhis ‘square bedding woven from straw’). It also deals with the snake topography and related cults (popular, Jainist, and Buddhist) of the ancient Indian city of Mathurā. The topic of the nāgas is continued from a different perspective in Natalia Alexandrova’s contribution entitled ‘Legends of Chthonic Deities and Buddhist Historical Narrative of Ancient India’. Dealing with the Buddhist pilgrims Fa Hsian’s Record of Buddhist Kingdoms, and Hsuan Tsang’s Great Tang’s Record of the Western World dated between the fifth and seventh centuries AD, she explores aspects of the Buddhist literary tradition of the “subjugating of a demonic deity”. Taken more generally, the topic of space domestication is treated in more detail in relation to the conquest of five directions by the successors to kingship in early Irish and early Indian literary traditions in Grigory Bondarenko’s contribution ‘Significance of Pentads in Early Irish and Indian Sources: Case of Five Directions’. The contribution by Yevgenyi Vyrschikov ‘Social Classifications and Sacred Space in the Pāli Canon’ explores such issues as the orthodox and alternative system(s) of social stratification while the article by Dar Zhutayev ‘Sacred Topology of the Buddhist Universe: The Buddhakshetra Concept in the Mahāsānghika-Lokottaravādin Tradition’ discusses the three-dimensional model of the Buddhist universe. The contribution by Maxim Fomin entitled ‘And His Cloak Covered the Whole Island: Stories of Religious Conversion in Pāli and Medieval Irish Narrative Traditions’ concludes the volume.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherJournal of Indo-European Studies Monograph Series
Number of pages234
ISBN (Print)978-0-941694-xx-x
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 28 Feb 2010


  • sacred topology and topography
  • sacred landscape
  • religious conversion
  • cultural paradigm shift
  • cults of underworld beings
  • social stratification
  • Buddhism and Christianity


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