Yājñavalkya’s Cult of Personality and the Change It Provoked in Vedic Society

Yājñavalkya is one of the most memorable characters in Vedic literature, known not only for his wit, insolence and intimidation – he nearly purloined one thousand cows from a group of renowned brahmins just before shattering the head of one of them –, but also for the profundity and newness of his thought. In two Vedic texts, the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (ŚB) and the Bŗhadāraņyaka Upaniṣad (BU), Yājñavalkya innovated thinking in a society dominated by complex ritual action as his character introduced new, esoteric ideas like karma and atman. This article will consider where these ideas may have come from, before examining the ways in which Yājñavalkya formulated and legitimized change, contesting established tradition of the time. In doing so, Yājñavalkya – or, if he was not an actual historical figure1The Hindu tradition has generally assumed Yājñavalkya’s historical authenticity, though Western scholars generally believe there is a “hi

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