Real Sadhus Sing to God: Gender, Asceticism, and Vernacular Religion in Rajasthan

Paperback | May 15, 2014

byAntoinette Elizabeth DeNapoli

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In this groundbreaking book, based on in-depth ethnographic research spanning ten years, Antoinette Elizabeth DeNapoli brings to light the little known, and often marginalized, lives of female Hindu ascetics (sadhus) in the North Indian state of Rajasthan. Her book offers a new perspective onthe practice of asceticism in India today, exploring a phenomenon she terms vernacular asceticism. Examining the everyday religious worlds and practices of primarily "unlettered" female sadhus who come from a variety of castes, Real Sadhus Sing to God illustrates that the female sadhus whom DeNapoliknew experience asceticism in relational and celebratory ways and construct their lives as paths of singing to God. While the sadhus have combined ritual initiation with institutionalized and orthodox orders of asceticism, they also draw on the non-orthodox traditions of the medieval devotional poet-saints of North India to create a form of asceticism that synthesizes multiple and competing world views. DeNapolisuggests that in the vernacular asceticism of the sadhus, singing to God serves as the female way of being an ascetic. As women who have escaped the dominant societal expectations of marriage and housework, female sadhus are unusual because they devote themselves to a way of life traditionallyreserved for men in Indian society. Female sadhus are simultaneously respected and distrusted for transgressing normative gender roles in order to dedicate themselves to a life of singing to the divine. Real Sadhus Sing to God is the first book-length study to explore the ways in which female sadhus perform and, thus, create gendered views of asceticism through their singing, storytelling, and sacred text practices, which DeNapoli characterizes as the sadhus' "rhetoric of renunciation." The bookalso examines the relationship between asceticism (sannyas) and devotion (bhakti) in contemporary contexts. It brings together two disparate fields of study in religious scholarship - yoga/asceticism and bhakti - through use of the orienting metaphor of singing bhajans (devotional songs) tounderstand vernacular asceticism in contemporary India.

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In this groundbreaking book, based on in-depth ethnographic research spanning ten years, Antoinette Elizabeth DeNapoli brings to light the little known, and often marginalized, lives of female Hindu ascetics (sadhus) in the North Indian state of Rajasthan. Her book offers a new perspective onthe practice of asceticism in India today, e...

Antoinette Elizabeth DeNapoli is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Wyoming.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 9.25 × 6.12 × 0.68 inPublished:May 15, 2014Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199940037

ISBN - 13:9780199940035

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgementsA Note on Transliteration and TranslationIntroduction: Orienting Metaphors: Singing Bhajans as Devotional Asceticism1. Performing Asceticism and Redefining Definitional Boundaries2. "By the Sweetness of the Tongue": Performing Female Agency in Personal Narrative3. "Forget Happiness! Give me Suffering Instead.": Negotiating Gender and Asceticism in Religious Narrative4. "On the Battlefield of Bhakti": Gender and Caste in Vernacular Asceticism5. "I myself am Shabari!": A Tribal Sadhu's Journey of Singing Bhajans6. "Even the Black Cuckoo Sings Beautifully": Challenge and Reconfiguration in the Practices of a Khatik Sadhu7. "Write the Text in Your Heart": Non-literacy, Authority, and Female Sadhus' Performances of Asceticism through Sacred Texts8. "Real Sadhus Sing to God": Performing Sant Asceticism in Vernacular SingingConclusion: "Meeting and Parting in the Melf of Life": Vernacular Asceticism in RajasthanNotesBibliographyIndex