Wandering with Sadhus
Ascetics in the Hindu Himalayas
Publication Year: 2007
In this moving ethnographic portrait of Hindu renouncers -- sadhus or ascetics -- in northern India and Nepal, Sondra L. Hausner considers a paradox that shapes their lives: while ostensibly defined by their solitary spiritual practice, the stripping away of social commitments, and their break with family and community, renouncers in fact regularly interact with "householder" society. They form a distinctive, alternative community with its own internal structure, but one that is not located in any single place. Highly mobile and dispersed across the subcontinent, its members are regularly brought together through pilgrimage circuits on festival cycles. Drawing on many years of fieldwork, Hausner presents intimate portraits of individual sadhus as she examines the shared views of space, time, and the body that create the ground for everyday experience. Written with an extraordinary blend of empathy, compassion, and anthropological insight, this study will appeal to scholars, students, and general readers alike.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Contemporary Indian Studies
Ten years have passed since I began the research for this book, and my debts have mightily accumulated. First, my thanks to my three primary informants, Pāgal Bābā, Rādhā Giri, and Mukta Giri, who has since passed away. Their support for and patience with this project in both India and Nepal made it possible....
Note on Transliteration
Words transcribed from Hindi, Nepali, and Sanskrit are transliterated using standard diacritical convention, although I have used English suffixes (sādhus, tantric). Words that have become standard in English (yoga, ashram) have been neither italicized nor diacriticized, except when part of a larger name or when their use in the original language may differ slightly from their use in English (yogī). Words...
Introduction: Wandering with Renouncers
For close to three thousand years, ascetics have wandered the Indian subcontinent. On their way to sacred places in the mountains or at the confluences of rivers, they have traveled through cities and through forests, sleeping under trees or by riverbanks as they sojourn. They might...
1. The Body and Sādhu Society
The Hinduism that underscores renouncers’ lives broadly overlaps with the Hinduism that householders live, practice, and reproduce. But the point of renunciation is to separate from normative Hindu society. A community that self-consciously splits apart from dominant social structures will inevitably modify and reconstruct core elements...
2. The Social Structures of Sādhu Life
Despite setting themselves apart from normative householder life, Hindu sādhus live in a socialized world. In practice if not in theory, sādhus society is communal, constituted through a set of shared meanings that structure the living, dynamic organizations of social life. The symbolic...
3. Hardwar: The Ground of Space
The city of Hardwar, in the Garhwal region of northern India, is the traditional starting point for pilgrimages to the Char Dham, the four holy abodes located in the new Himalayan state of Uttaranchal.1< /sup>Soon after Uttaranchal’s independence was granted on November 9, 2000, Hardwar lost its bid to be the site of the new state’s High Court, but the city’s fame as a pilgrimage center was untainted. Hardwar...
4. Allahabad: The Community in Time
Every Kumbh Melā in India’s history has probably been an enormous religious gathering,1 but the 2001 Melā in Allahabad was the first Kumbh to receive massive international press coverage. The BBC ran nightly specials about the festival every day for a month, and the number of foreign and local reporters trailing around microphones, wires, cameras, and...
5. Kathmandu: The Body in Place
Renouncers physically depart from the spaces of householder social worlds by leaving. Festival occasions provide an opportunity for collective transcendence, temporarily. But in everyday life, breaking away from the material world is more complicated because...
Conclusion: The Culture of Hindu Renunciation
Renouncers’ religious thought articulates a coherent system for interpreting the world, and posits a thorough and complicated model through which to grasp human reality. Sādhus described renunciation to me as both a social and a physical process: in discussing their distance from householder social life, they referred both to the social world of attachment and to the linked physical and mental worlds of the body and emotion. The connection...
Appendix: Literatures on Renunciation & Embodiment
Over the past few decades, the Indological literature has only indirectly addressed the question of whether Hindu sādhus see the material world in the same way as Hindu householders. The social relationship between the renouncer community and the householder community was a prominent question in South Asian...