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

ISBN : 9780199940035

Antoinette Elizabeth DeNapoli
384 Pages
166 x 236 mm
Pub date
May 2014
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Drawing on ethnographic research spanning ten years, Antoinette Elizabeth DeNapoli offers a new perspective on the practice of asceticism in India today. Her work brings to light the little known and often marginalized lives of female Hindu ascetics (sadhus) in the North Indian state of Rajasthan. Examining the everyday religious worlds and practices of the mostly unlettered female sadhus, who come from a number of castes, Real Sadhus Sing to God illustrates that these women experience asceticism in relational and celebratory ways. They construct their lives as paths of singing to God, which, the author suggests, serves as the female way of being an ascetic. Examining the relationship between asceticism (sannyas) and devotion (bhakti) in contemporary contexts, the book brings together two disparate fields of studyyoga/asceticism and bhaktiusing the singing of bhajans (devotional songs) as an orienting metaphor. This 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 their "rhetoric of renunciation".


A Note on Transliteration and Translation
Introduction: Orienting Metaphors: Singing Bhajans as Devotional Asceticism
Chapter 1: Performing Asceticism and Redefining Definitional Boundaries
Chapter 2: "By the Sweetness of the Tongue": Performing Female Agency in Personal Narrative
Chapter 3: "Forget Happiness! Give me Suffering Instead.": Negotiating Gender and Asceticism in Religious Narrative
Chapter 4: "On the Battlefield of Bhakti": Gender and Caste in Vernacular Asceticism
Chapter 5: "I myself am Shabari!": A Tribal Sadhu's Journey of Singing Bhajans
Chapter 6: "Even the Black Cuckoo Sings Beautifully": Challenge and Reconfiguration in the Practices of a Khatik Sadhu
Chapter 7: "Write the Text in Your Heart": Non-literacy, Authority, and Female Sadhus' Performances of Asceticism through Sacred Texts
Chapter 8: "Real Sadhus Sing to God": Performing Sant Asceticism in Vernacular Singing
Conclusion: "Meeting and Parting in the Mela of Life": Vernacular Asceticism in Rajasthan

About the author: 

Antoinette Elizabeth DeNapoli is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Wyoming.

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