Altar of Fire

By J. Frits Staal
45 min., 1976

This film records a 12-day ritual performed by Nambudiri Brahmins in Kerala, southwest India, in April 1975. This event was possibly the last performance of the Agnicayana, a Vedic ritual of sacrifice dating back 3,000 years and probably the oldest surviving ritual of mankind. Long considered extinct and never witnessed by outsiders, the ceremonies require the participation of seventeen priests, involve libations of Soma juice and oblations of other substances, and are preceded by several months of preparation and rehearsals. They include the construction from a thousand bricks of a fire altar in the shape of a bird.