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Journal Article

Taming the Ascetic: Devotionalism in a Hindu Monastic Order

Peter van der Veer
Man
New Series, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Dec., 1987), pp. 680-695
DOI: 10.2307/2803358
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2803358
Page Count: 16

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Topics: Bhakti, Hindus, Religious practices, Religious rituals, Theology, Asceticism, Renunciation, Gurus, Temples, Ashes
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Taming the Ascetic: Devotionalism in a Hindu Monastic Order
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Abstract

Anthropologists and historians working on Hinduism often assume that devotionalism implies a religious rejection of social inequality as found in the caste system. This assumption arises from an essentialist interpretation of the 'real' theological and sociological meaning of bhakti. This article tries to show that bhaki as a religious experience can only be understood in the context of practices. which are conditioned by religious organisation. In the case of the Ramanandis of north India there is a clear difference between ascetic and devotional styles which are related to different types of organisation. The devotional worship of images requires an emphasis on caste distinctions, while the peripatetic style of asceticism tends to minimise these distinctions. Historically, there has been an expansion of devotionalism, while 'wild' asceticism has been on the decline. Both processes have led to a greater importance of caste within the Ramanandi order.

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