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Female Ascetics in Hinduism

Lynn Teskey Denton

Publication Year: 2004

Female Ascetics in Hinduism provides a vivid account of the lives of women renouncers—women who renounce the world to live ascetic spiritual lives—in India. The author approaches the study of female asceticism by focusing on features of two dharmas, two religiously defined ways of life: that of woman-as-householder and that of the ascetic, who, for various reasons, falls outside the realm of householdership. The result of fieldwork conducted in Vaµran|aµsi (Benares), the book explores renouncers’ social and personal backgrounds, their institutions, and their ways of life. Offering a first-hand look at and an insightful analysis of this little-known world, this highly readable book will be indispensable to those interested in female asceticism in the Hindu tradition and women’s spiritual lives around the world.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. v

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pp. vii-ix

Lynn Shirley Teskey Denton was born on January 7 1949 in Vernon, British Columbia, and grew up in Ontario on a farm in Prince Edward County, the eldest of seven children. She completed a BA in Religious Studies (1972) and an MA in Anthropology (1973) at McMaster University. At the Institute of Social Anthropology ...

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pp. 1-22

In Hinduism asceticism is believed to be both morally and ritually efficacious; it is a value that permeates the ideology, affecting the spiritual status and daily religious activities of all members of society. Practices such as fasting and celibacy are required elements of a wide range of religious rituals, from the ancient ...

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1. The Religious Life of Woman-as-householder

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pp. 23-40

Traditional textual sources that specifically forbid asceticism to women are few.1 They occur in the religious lawbooks and focus on only one type, orthodox Brahmanical fourth-stage-of-life renunciation (sannyāsa). Often where the textual tradition does not directly prohibit, it nonetheless discourages, and conventional sentiment ...

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2. The Woman Who Is Not a Householder: Widowhood, Unmarriageability, and Female Asceticism

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pp. 41-56

Having considered the religious life of the ideal woman as properly married householder, I turn to those women who, through no choice of their own, are not householders, those who are involuntarily women-without-husbands. This category consists of three types: widows, girls and women who for various reasons are unmarriageable, ...

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3. Unity and Diversity I: Basic Terminology

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pp. 57-76

The first two chapters looked at how textual and popular ideas of women’s appropriate duties and inherent nature serve either to discourage or to facilitate asceticism for them. This chapter and the next focus directly on the ideological and social universe of asceticism itself. What one notices first about this alternate world is its variety. ...

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4. Unity and Diversity II: Sectarian Affiliation, Spiritual Path, and Ascetic Mode

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pp. 77-102

Asceticism presents us with a profusion of beliefs and practices, many kinds of visual discrimination—bodily markings, ritual paraphernalia, sartorial styles, and the like—and great disparities in the socioeconomic and ritual status of its practitioners. This diversity might not be immediately apparent to the scholar who conducts ...

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5. Socioreligious Aspects of Female Asceticism in Varanasi

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pp. 103-138

Varanasi is the eternal city of Lord Shiva, who as Yogeshwar is the greatest ascetic of all. Writing in the seventh century CE the Buddhist pilgrim, Hiuen-Tsiang, described Varanasi, with its ten thousand Śaiva ascetics, as the ascetic center of India (Beal 1969 II, 44–45), and recent studies attest to its current primacy.1 ...

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6. Sainthood, Society, and Transcendence: Legends and Poetry of Women Saints

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pp. 139-166

The Hindu tradition abounds in spiritual heroines. Popular characters such as Sītā, Savitrī, and Santoṣi Mā, who serve as models for appropriate behavior in the world, have received the attention of scholars. But those whose lives are lived in struggle with the world of normal social relations and, quite often, with themselves, ...


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pp. 167-188

Glossary of Hinduand Sanskrit Terms

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pp. 189-190


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pp. 191-202

Supplemental Bibliography

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pp. 203-208


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pp. 209-218

E-ISBN-13: 9780791484623
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791461792
Print-ISBN-10: 0791461793

Page Count: 228
Illustrations: 7 tables
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 62386303
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Female Ascetics in Hinduism

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Hindu women -- Religious life -- India -- Vārānasi (Uttar Pradesh).
  • Asceticism -- Hinduism.
  • Ascetics -- India -- Vārānasi (Uttar Pradesh).
  • Hindu monastic and religious life -- India -- Vārānasi (Uttar Pradesh).
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