The Artful Universe

An Introduction to the Vedic Religious Imagination

By William K. Mahony

Subjects: Hindu Studies
Series: SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Paperback : 9780791435809, 338 pages, November 1997
Hardcover : 9780791435793, 338 pages, November 1997

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Table of contents


Pronunciation of Sanskrit Words


1. The Gods as Artists: The Formative Power of the Divine Imagination

2. Reality Veiled and Revealed: On the Artistic Order of the Universe

3. The Poet as Visionary: The Artistry of the Verbal Imagination

4. The Priest as Artist: Universal Drama and the Liturgical Imagination

5. The Inward Seer: The Liberating Power of the Contemplative Imagination

6. Religious Functions of the Imagination



Index and Glossary

Provides an accessible introduction to the Vedic religious world by focusing on the role of divine and human imagination in sacred texts.


The Artful Universe introduces the Vedic religion, a rich and densely textured tradition that has influenced the religious sensibilities of India for 3500 years or more. Engagingly written and based on traditional as well as modern Vedic scholarship, the book introduces Vedic ideas regarding the nature of divinity, the structure of the sacred universe, the process of revelation, the function of ritual as hallowed activity, and the realizations lying behind the practice of meditation. As a way to link these diverse aspects of Vedic religion, Mahony identifies and highlights the important role of the divine and human imagination in the formation, revelation, and reformation of a meaningful world.

William K. Mahony is Professor of Religion at Davidson College. He is an editor and contributor to the sixteen-volume The Encyclopedia of Religion.


"The Artful Universe provides a gentle tour through formative passages from the Rgveda and Upanisads that explicate the creative ritual/philosophical process. I particularly enjoyed the passages selected by the author, and his competent translation of them. He has captured and summarized the philosophical intent of the Vedic hymns, and thematized key concepts. " -- Christopher Key Chapple, Loyola Marymount University

"This is a very important contribution to our understanding of early Indian religious imagination and to the field of religious studies broadly construed. Basically, the book develops an angle of interpretation that tracks on what the Vedic poets were constructing in the way of a universe in which imagination, language, and nature intersected one another. Using philological and literary-critical approaches to Vedic texts, Mahony sorts through a great many of the one thousand and eight hymns of the R}gveda in an effort to reconstruct and present the unfolding of a world view which sees the cosmos as an elaborate, interconnected, and paradoxical artistic reality. " -- Paul B. Courtright, Emory University

"I found Mahony's translations of the Vedas to be stunning. He has treated the text carefully, even reverentially. After reading these texts anew, some of which I had read many times before in mechanical translations, I was able to viscerally understand how and why the Vedas are revelatory, shining, holy. " -- Joanne Punzo Waghorne, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill