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Naked Ascetics in Southern Digambar Jainism

Michael Carrithers
Man
New Series, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Jun., 1989), pp. 219-235
DOI: 10.2307/2803303
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2803303
Page Count: 17
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Naked Ascetics in Southern Digambar Jainism
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Abstract

The practices and attitudes of the Digambar Jain ascetics, the munis, of south and southwestern India enshrine an extraordinary emphasis on individualism. In religious imagery this individualism is expressed as the untouched singularity of the liberated soul and the complete self-reliance of the living ascetic. In personal practice this individualism is expressed as an emphasis on virtuosity in self-restraint and self-mortification that touches the bounds of the humanly possible. And in relation to the laity, individualism is expressed partly through the royal idiom-the power of the muni (sage) to command-and partly by an understanding of the muni's mendicancy that paradoxically renders the laity dependent on him. Nevertheless munis do enter into relations with the laity, and in the present century that relationship has consisted largely in what might be called routinely charismatic leadership. In a larger historical perspective this leadership is contingent, as are other traits of the munis, while the individualistic virtuosity and the charisma are enduring traits.

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