Category Archives: E. Dharma and the Individual

The Kula Ritual

An important text that has been used to fully introduce the Kula ritual is Dupuche’s book entitled: Abhinavagupta: The Kula Ritual: As Elaborated in Chapter 29 of the Tantraloka (2003). The Kula ritual is cited within the Tantraloka and therefore falls within tantric Saivism, particularly the Trika Saivism sect (Dupuche 8). Research of Abhinavagupta and his contributions to Trika Saivism is an important part of fully grasping what the Kula ritual includes and the ideologies that are related to it. Abhinavagupta wrote the Tantraloka, which is still an extremely important treatise within the Tantric tradition (Rodrigues 283). It is essential to note that Abhinavagupta did not fully reject the Vedic tradition, however his work is not considered to belong to Hindu orthodox work (Dupuche 8). The orthodox Vedic traditions emphasize living a pure life and then has a host of items, actions, foods, etc. that would be considered impure. The Kula ritual does not have a preference for purity or impurity. Dupuche’s even states that it “uses forbidden foods and forbidden women” (Dupuche 9).

Overall, the general idea and structure of the Kula Ritual is the ‘secret ceremony.’ It is shrouded in mystery, but at the very root of the Kula ritual; it is the worship of Perfect Beings. Dupuche describes Perfect Beings as: beings that “occupy a place midway between gods and mankind” (Dupuche 80). He further explains that these beings enjoy siddhi and try to lead others to the same state (Dupuche 80). A paper written by Karel Werner tries to explain the complicated and confusing factor of the Kula Ritual. The writer continues to suggest the “aim of the Kula Ritual is to overcome every day common dualisms” (Werner 117). Tantric tradition seeks to go beyond dualisms, which equivocate to spiritual ignorance (Rodrigues 399).  Werner goes on to explain that another overarching theme of the Kula Ritual the idea of finding one’s true self (Werner 117). The ritual has various separating factors that include: qualified and unqualified persons, men and women, niracara and sacara, pure and impure, and initiated and not initiated persons.

The elaboration of those that are qualified to practice the Kula ritual and those who are unqualified simply fall under the categories of disciple and guru or simple layperson. The category seems rather arbitrary because it implies that anyone who wishes to practice the Kula ritual would simply need to search for a guru and become his disciple. Only those that have a specific “seed” that are related to the Kula tradition may be considered qualified. Since the “seed transmission” is implied to the transfer of semen, it implies that only men can be considered a qualified, initiated guru. Abhinavagupta lists “six qualified gurus” and “six unqualified gurus” (Dupuche 74). He further goes on to dichotomize the transmission of seed and the transmittance of vibrating power of Siva. The transmission of seed is the transfer of semen (Dupuche 74). Those who do not have potent seed are seen as not functioning and therefore do not have disciples and must remain celibate. Those that do have proper functioning seed are qualified to practice the Kula tradition. Even so, the Kula ritual allows for both male and female practitioners. To understand how women are seen within the Kula ritual, one needs to be aware of how niracara and sacara are related to religious philosophy. The term niracara speaks toward those who are not attached to any ritual and the term sacara defines those who are attached to or emphasize ritual practice. Many of the qualified women that are part of the Kula ritual are considered to be niracara and therefore should be seen and treated as goddesses (Dupuche 77). The ‘officiate’ of the ritual is the guru, typically male, and because of his role with the ritual he is seen as the sacara aspect of it.

Abhinavagupta composed Tantraloka 29 in eight different sub-topics. The Tantraloka is a text that is found within the Saivism sect. It outlines a series of rituals and practices. However, Tantraloka 29 discusses the topic of the Kula Ritual. It explains specific rituals that an individual who practices the Kula ritual abides by. These topics are grouped under rituals for those who are initiated and rituals for those who are not initiated. However, as a prelude to the sub-topics there are preliminary rituals. “The Essence [of the Kula ritual procedure]” (Dupuche 70) is an important subsection within the prelude. The section has been speculated to truly be the essence of the Kula ritual as it is the opening of the Tantraloka 29 and sets the tone for the entirety of the chapter. The structure is ultimately laid out in three categories: daily, occasional, and optional rituals (Dupuche 85). Daily rituals, as with many other religions, are set to happen every day at the same time. Occasional rituals are performed during certain and specific events. Optional rituals happen at times when the practitioner chooses. While there are clearly defined rituals for the initiated and not initiated, the sub-topics are not evenly distributed. However, before the start of the categorized sub-topics there is an Opening Ritual that is involved. There stands to be four sub-topics that are involved with the initiated rituals and three sub-topics that are involved with the not initiated.

The opening ritual is a separated ritual that also serves as an introduction to procedure of the chapter (Dupuche 93). The mechanics of a ritual is important- and Abhinavagupta goes through it quite comprehensively. Similarly to the Vedic traditions, purity is an important part of ritual. So, to mirror certain practices one must bathe prior to the start of the ritual. The practitioner is also required to cleanse instruments that are to be used in the ritual. He mentions that after cleansing procedures, two important stages take place (Dupuche 94). The first step that a practitioner must come to is an achieved state of bliss that is called a “state of Bhairava” (Dupuche 94) and “sprinkles himself… with droplets taken from the vessel” (Dupuche 94). The droplets may be related to alcohol (wine). A further continuation of the opening ritual starts to deviate from the Vedic traditions. Many rituals within the Vedic traditions are done in the public eye. In contrast, the Kula Opening Ritual is meant to be private- to never be seen in public, to avoid societal influences may contribute to. However, while the ritual is not meant to be in public, it is also not meant to in the private space that is considered the home (Dupuche 94).

There are three great mantras used within the Opening Ritual. As previously mentioned there is a strong tie between external manifestation and the state of Bhairava. The three mantras are used as a “form of bath the external sort of which is discounted in the Kula rituals” (Dupuche 100). A keystone of the opening ritual is the filling of the Vessel. The practitioner is responsible for filling the vessel with various forbidden items such as: wine, meat, and sexual fluid (Dupuche 101). The items lead to bliss, which is considered to be one of the highest realities (Dupuche 101). However, the bliss that is mentioned within the document is related to consciousness. Within the literature, there is great implication that sacrifice is an act that is a manifested within the individual’s consciousness. Dupuche supports this claim by stating “[t]hree inter-related internal acts may be considered here since they are the essential method of all the Kula sacrifices,” and that “[i]t brings into reality the object which exists only as a desire” (Dupuche 102). By participating in the Opening ritual, the practitioner realizes his state as Bhairava and is now able to engage in Sacrifices (Dupuche 104). Within his text, Dupuche highlights the sacrifices one, two, and three. Dupuche quickly brushes over each subject. Sacrifice one is considered to be the “external celebration of splendor of consciousness” (Dupuche 105).

Sub-topic three is part number two of the rituals for the initiated. It is entitled “the Ritual of Adoration.” Sub-topic three and Sacrifice two are closely related. Sacrifice two is related to the dualism of the term sakti. It relies on the idea and philosophy that sakti is the female principle and is the principle that is seen as responsible for all activity in the world. Due to the nature of the tantric tradition, one may assume that the term refers to an actual woman. However, within Dupuche’s text, he explicitly states, “it does not refer to an actual woman” but rather “is based on the “internal sakti.” The Ritual of Adoration is concerned with sacred sites (pitha) and four stages of Krama (Dupuche 113). The sacred sites that are being referred to correspond to the sites on the practitioner’s own body, and note external landmarks, rooms, etc. These pitha correspond to spaces on the “sexual dimensions on the body” and the pitha symbolize the “sacred union of ‘the faculty and its object’ (Dupuche 115). The four stages of Krama include: emanation, maintenance, reabsorption, and a section entitled “Nameless.” The first step (emanation) is considered the “installation of the sites” (Dupuche 116). It ensures that these sacred sites are defined. The male reabsorption starts from his hands and slowly moves down his body and ends in his toes. The nine women that are to be included within the ritual are to be considered ritually impure within the classical Vedic traditions (Dupuche 117).

Sub-topic four is entitled: The Ritual with the Sexual Partner. There are two defined sub-sections. The main sections within this particular sub-topic are participants and the ritual. Within the Vedic tradition, brahmacaya is the student phase that promotes celibacy. Within the Tantraloka 29, Abhinavagupta describes brahman as “the bliss between Siva and sakti” (Dupuche 125). There are elements of sub-topic four that have been focused upon within Tantraloka 28. One of the key elements of Tantraloka 28 is the circle sacrifice. The circle sacrifice within the context of the Tantraloka 29 refers to the “theatrical aspect of the gathering” (Dupuche 129). This circle ritual aspect also advocates for consent of all those involved, as well as searching for the true interpretation of sakti. The ritual has three emissions that include: emanation, reabsorption, and blending. The emanation of the ritual has three trajectories in which can be viewed as subsections of emanation. The first trajectory is “Emphasis on Action” in summations focuses on the erotic nature of the Kula ritual and tries to explain the bond between bliss, Siva, and sakti. The second trajectory is Emphasis on Knowledge. This section goes on to explain differentiated though “leads to absorption and the emission of the fluid” (Dupuche 138).  The final trajectory is entitled “Emphasis on the sakti.” This section starts with defining the important of sakti and the “immediacy of her impact” (Dupuche 139). It further goes on to state that sakti goes beyond the other two trajectories and is much more complex. As a closing statement to the third trajectory, Abhinavagupta state that “sexual fluid… results from consciousness” (Dupuche 140). After the three trajectories that are housed under the first emission are explained, the second and third emissions are briefly summarized. Reabsorption (the second emission) explains the “a human of flesh and blood” reach a state of bliss, rest, and then ultimately fall into a state of non-bliss. At this point of time the circle ritual that is described above is stopped. The final emission, the “Union” or “Blending.” There are various sexual connotations and it seems that the over-all reason for such emissions is to conceive a child that would be the counterpart of Rudra (Dupuche 147).

The last ritual for those that have been initiated is “The Ritual of the Secret Teaching” or sub-topic five. The fifth sub-topic focuses on sacrifices four, five, and six. Sacrifice four is based on the body, the fifth on the Subtle-breath (prana), and the sixth is based on the mind. In a way it does make sense that all three of these sacrifices are closely related to one another. Within sacrifice four, Abhinavagupta explains that human bodies are akin to the mandala (Dupuche 148). The fifth explains that the satiation that is found within the third sacrifice also satiates the fifth sacrifice (Dupuche 149). Lastly, the sixth sacrifice is simply stated that at the highest level it is consciousness that has been obtained (Dupuche 150).

The next three sub-topics are considered to be rituals for those that need to be initiated. The first of these three is sub-topic six. There are two types of initiation: Ordinary Initiation and Initiation as the Son. After the two types of initiation are explained, Abhinavagupta goes on to explain a section entitled “On the Son who Desires Enjoyment.” The reason for ordinary initiation does not focus on the “external events” but rather focuses on the reabsorption of energy (Dupuche 154). It also is the search for the balance between liberation and sexual pleasures. It is the first step toward being initiated as a Son. After one goes through ordinary initiation, one may be able to initiate as a son. This proves to be the next step toward becoming a master within the rituals. In order to be initiated as a son one must be able to be “brought to liberation and only then can he be properly receive the enjoyment which penetration procures” (Dupuche 158). However, as this is only initiation into the Kula ritual, the initiate focuses on himself rather than the sexual aspect of the ritual (Dupuche 162). Sub-topic seven simply discusses anointing the adept and the master (Dupuche 164). Finally Sub-topic eight focuses on the penetration. This form of penetration concerns breaking through various bondages that a person find himself naturally in.

The Kula ritual is a ritual and tradition that is shrouded within a lot of mystery and secrecy. It is split between two groups of people: Those who are already initiated and those who still have yet to initiate into the ritual. There are various sexual themes that are associated with the ritual.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Basu, Srishchandra (2004) The Esoteric Philosophy of The Tantras. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Dupuche, John R. (2003) Abhinavagupta: The Kula Ritual: As Elaborated in Chapter 29 of the Tantraloka. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Muller-Ortega, Paul E. (1997) The Triadic Heart of Siva. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications.

Rodrigues, Hillary. (2006) Introducing Hinduism. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Sastri, Gaurinath (2002) Rituals and Practice of Tantra Vol. I. India: Cosmo Publications.

Sastri, Gaurinath (2002) Rituals and Practice of Tantra Vol. II. India: Cosmo Publications.

Werner, Karel. (2005) “Review of Books.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 15#1 (April): 116-118.

 

Related topics for further investigation

Tantraloka

Tantraloka 29

Abhinavagupta

Savism

Siva

Tantra

Esoteric

Hairava

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaula

http://www.hinduhumanrights.info/back-to-the-basics-understanding-jati-varna-gotra-and-kula/

http://interfaithashram.com/2015/10/25/abhinavagupta-the-kula-ritual-as-elaborated-in-chapter-29-of-the-tantraloka-2003-551-pp/

 

Article written by: Jessica Mariano (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

Celibacy (Brahmacarya)

In classical Hinduism, the origins of ascetic practices such as celibacy are highly debated. Chastity is defined as the abstinence of all sexual intercourse and celibacy was used to describe the single relationship status of an individual, but now more recent descriptions are approaching the definition of chastity (Olivelle 151). In Hinduism, the Sanskrit word Brahmacarya is used interchangeably to describe celibacy and chastity even though it is not the direct application of the use of the word. The word Brahmacarya more precisely refers to the first of four “religiously sanctioned modes of life” (Olivelle 158) called Asramas. These Asramas are prescribed phases of life originating from laws written in the first century CE. These were treatises written on the moral duty, and the nature of righteousness, called Dharma Sastras. Dharma is the proper actions, rituals, social and personal behaviors that are supported by the cosmic order (Rta), the natural rightness of things. One example would be The Laws of Manu containing several rules of proper social and personal conduct which include the four phases of life (Asramas). The Laws of Manu was written in the first century CE therefor “reflect the social norms of the time” and were “seldom followed strictly”. While in the Asrama known as the student stage, or Brahmacarya, it is the “student’s Dharma not to work for a living and to remain celibate” and in the second stage “a householder’s Dharma to be employed and lead a conjugal life with his partner” (Narayana 50).

The Laws of Manu go into great detail of many restricting rules and systems such as the caste and class system that are supported by even older highly regarded Vedic texts such as the Rg Vedas. The laws state, that only certain classes are permitted to commence the once highly regarded religious journey of studying the Vedas through the four Asramas. Studying the Vedas is a privilege only granted to the religious classes belonging in the greater classification group named the Twice-Born. The story of creation entitled ‘Hymn of the supreme person’ from the Rg Vedas can accommodate the origin of various elements of the universe such as the class system. It is the Purusa Sukta, Purusa is believed to be the original being of the universe from which the ultimate sacrifice was made to create man. The dismemberment of Purusa is the origin of the class system. “From his mouth came the priestly class, from his arms, the rulers. The producers came from his legs; from his feet came the servant class” (Narayanan 27). The Brahmin (priestly) class, Ksatriya (ruler) class, and Vaisya (producer) class make up the twice born, but do not include the Sudras (servant) class. The Twice Born have the privilege of following the prescribed Asramas to pursue the ultimate goal of complete liberation (Moksa) following a spiritual re-birth.

A ceremony must be performed to mark the second birth of a Twice-Born male into the studies of the Vedas. The sacred threat ritual (Upanayana) is the first ritual marking the rite of passage into the first Asrama (Brahmacarya). The Upanayana and marriage are examples of Samskara; a ritual that marks the rite of passage into the next Asrama. A different stage marks the pursuit of different goals and the attainment of a different set of knowledge or values. This can be better understood with the apprehension of Dharma. The first goal is to abide by the dharmic principles of sexual asceticism while studying the Vedas, but in the second Asrama (Grhastha), the focus shifts to the pursuit of sensory pleasure (Kama) and self-empowerment (Artha). In the third Asrama (Vanaprastha) one begins to practice various methods of gaining transformative insight, and in the last Asrama (Samnyasin) the goal is to attain the highest level of complete liberation.

If an individual were to attain moksha, through devoting one’s life to following the Asramas or other practices, the individual is then liberated from Samsara. In most Hindu philosophies (Darasanas) it is believed that every action has Karmic consequences, and after death in this world the Karmic seeds will bear fruit, and be the ultimate deciding factor of the realm of rebirth. Samsara is the cycle of endless rebirth in another realm unless the cycle can be broken by attaining Moksa (Olivelle 156). Liberation from endless cycles of Karmic rebirth is attained by dispelling illusion, and gaining transformative insight on the self (Atman) or knowledge about ultimate reality (Brahman) (Narayanan 52). Those that practice sexual asceticism tend to have as a goal the pursuit of liberation (Moksa). Since detaching from the sensual world is the first step toward renunciation, “the sexual impulse was viewed as the greatest source of attachment and the greatest impediment to progress on the spiritual path” (Olivelle 160). The biggest obstacle to ascetic detachment is the natural attraction towards the opposite sex, and the sexual nature of the body which is seen as impure (Olivelle 160). One of the five preliminary restraints (Yama) that need to be practiced is abstinence as highlighted in Yoga Sutra for the pursuit of liberation. Time and time again we see that sexual asceticism is clearly favored as one of the key practices in the bigger goal of attaining liberation, nonetheless during the householder (Grhastha) Asrama stage the practice of celibacy and chastity is disregarded.

It is the dharma of a married householder to raise children, therefor there are no negative karmic consequences. Offspring and marriage are undesirable to a renounced individual seeking liberation because they cannot help nor hinder the present Karmic state of the individual. Choosing not to practice celibacy, or believing in the institution of marriage and the action of procreation,  is closely tied to the rejection of ritual activity, and is seen as harmful to spiritual progress. This can explain why the acceptance of householder ideals such as procreation bears no fruit in the search for Moksa but one can also argue that it is indeed necessary for some Hindu religious practices. The Vedas talk about a great spiritual and physical debt that is owed to the gods since birth. Two of them are “offering sacrifices and procreating sons” (Olivelle 154). Vedic religion used sons for death rituals and thus, the birth of a son is “viewed as ensuring immortality of the father” (Olivelle 153). Some Vedic theology promotes the married householder way of life as being the ideal, while other Vedic theology also supports ascetic and celibate ideologies. These contrasting principles warrant different outcomes, but are supported and followed equally.

An unbalanced ratio of renouncers who neglect the benefits of the householder stage would be devastating for the continuity of the population and would require adjustments to the Asrama system over time to promote healthy proliferation. The four Asramas were originally meant for an individual wanting to pursue a sacred ascetic life; free of unnecessary ties with the artificial world. In the old Asrama system, after graduating from Vedic studies, the individual was able to choose between four modes of life to pursue permanently for this persons entire lifetime. There was the option to continue the Asrama of a student through adulthood and devote one’s life to the study of the Vedas while remaining celibate (Olivelle 159). Another Asrama was the forest-hermit, where the individual could roam the forest, and most texts mention the ability to have a wife or family while other texts order celibacy. And the last Asrama from the old system was the world renouncer, marked by celibacy and no familial ties (Olivelle 159). Years after the Common Era, the reformed version of the four Asramas were known to be temporary stages of life. Nonetheless, celibacy and chastity played a major role in all four Asramas. In the second Asrama, the Householder (Grhastha) stage, the pursuit of sensory pleasure (Kama) and self-empowerment (Artha) is permitted. The aims of each Asrama can be pursued in moderation and in the order prescribed (Narayanan 50). If one chooses, Brahmacarya is also practiced during the householder stage, as the term is adapted to justify the Dharmic duty to create offspring. Throughout time, The Laws of Manu closely guarded by the Brhamin class needed to change in order to more accurately parallel other popular Vedic beliefs. To further promote the highly reputed concept of Brahmacarya in the context of sexual asceticism, Brahmanical adaptations were made to integrate sexual asceticism in all Asramas including Grhastha. The householder equivalent to sexual asceticism is sexual intercourse with one’s wife at night if the sole purpose is procreation (Olivelle 162).  Domesticating the practice of Asceticism during the householder stage would be justified with Dharma. The Third Asrama is the Forest-Dweller (Vanaprastha) and the last is the renouncer (Samnyasin) Asrama, where death rituals are performed to shed the bonds of family, marriage, kids or sexual activities to facilitate the detachment from the world in the pursuit of Moksa (Olivelle 159).

Mental and Physical powers such as the ability to fly, the ability to see into the future and read minds are said to be related to the retention of semen, while the opposite effect of physical and mental impotence is related to sexual relations (Olson 165). “The celibate body is extremely fit, and as such evokes a divine and heroic mystique of epic proportion” (Alter 46). The internal, unnatural heat (Tapas) found in a celibate renouncer can lead to the acquisition of powers. Comparing the celibate renouncer to the sexually active householder, who generates a different kind of natural heat with no control over the excessive indulgence of sexual behavior, reveals a theme. The heating of the renouncer and cooling of the householder is the tension visible throughout the history of devotional Hinduism (Olson 167).

Brahmacarya is used to describe the model example of celibacy in Hinduism, referring to the stage of ascetic study of the Vedas, but not directly meaning chastity or celibacy (Olivelle 152). Brahmacarya comes prior to the accepted but unstable sensual release in the householder Asrama. This is followed by the necessary condition of sexual continence for the pursuit of liberation while renouncing the world. Celibacy, chastity, marriage, and procreation are all supported by the Hindu tradition, but at specific times throughout life and also within moderation.

 

Bibliography

Alter, Joseph (1994) “Sexuality and the Transformation of Gender Into Nationalism in North India.” The Journal of Asian studies 53:45-66.Accessed 07/01/2009.

Buswell. R, Lopez. D (2014) The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Narayanan, Vasudha (2002) “Chapter One: The Hindu Tradition.” In World Religions, Eastern Religions, edited by Willard G. Oxtoby, 12-125. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Olivelle, Patrick (2008) “Celibacy in Classical Hinduism.” In Celibacy and Religious Traditions, edited by Carl Olson, 151-164. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Olson, Carl (2008) “Hindu Devotionalism, Tantra, and Celibacy.” In Celibacy and Religious Traditions, edited by Carl Olson, 165-180. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Article written by: Uriel Karerwa (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Dasanami Samnyasins

The development and the components of Hindu monasticism may appear complex. Sankara, the famous Indian philosopher, founded a Hindu monastic federation referred to as the Dasanami Order (Wade nd). Hindu monks, known as samnyasin, were divided into ten lineages which trace back to Sankara and compose the Dasanami Order. The ten different monk/renouncer groups were then divided up among the four monasteries founded by Sankara (Clark 2). The four monasteries (mathas) are located in the east, west, south, and north of India and they are respectively called Govardhan, Sarada, Srngeri, and Jyotir (Clark 115). This order is the most respected and influential in the Hindu tradition (Werner 148).

Historically, it has been viewed that the four monasteries are representative of Sankara’s travel and his spiritual authority. Sankara’s life is regarded as somewhat legendary. He lost his father at a young age and he was an admirer of the samnyasin life style. Sources claim that at the age of eight, Sankara was captured by a crocodile while he bathed in a river. Sankara told his mother that if he did not receive her blessing to become a samnyasin the crocodile would have taken his life (Pande 31). Historians believe that three factors contribute to why Sankara is held in the highest regard. It is said that Sankara was an incarnation of Siva (Pande 73). His strong connection to and the belief in his embodiment of Siva could be due to Sankara’s connections to miracles. Secondly, the implementation of authentic practices was to emphasize the social and spiritual claims of the reorganized monasteries. The final aspect which made Sankara legendary was the expansion of the Advaitic and non Advaitic schools (Pande 73). The rationales behind legends of his incarnation have been to fortify the Vedic faith and help spread the spiritual way of living across India (Pande 82).

Samnyasin (renouncing) is the final stage of one’s life. One may renounce after they have completed the householders’ stage grahastha (Miller 3). However, some Hindus enter renunciation earlier, once they have completed their education, though such young renouncers are less common. A renouncer is considered to be a wise holy man. He is expected to withdraw from society. From that point on, his life is dedicated to the attainment of moksa (Werner 147). A renouncer’s withdrawal from society is theoretical because, he may live in close proximity to society and interact with its members however, physical detachment is essential (Olivelle 272). One must leave their family and possessions in order to discover the meaning of life and gain inner peace (Burghart 635). Renouncers are placed outside of the caste system and are highly valued. A renouncer who receives offerings and praise from Hindus is not uncommon.

Once Hindu monks formally renounce, they are categorized in relation to the method of initiation and their way of life (Wade nd). Renouncers may fall into one of three distinct categories: the dandis, nagas, or paramahamsas. However, all Dasanami consider themselves as Siva (Clémentin 2). Many Dasanami renouncers decorate themselves with rudrāka beads and put three white horizontal stripes on their forehead to embody the symbolism of Siva and Visnu (Clémentin 3). Each type of renouncer group is affiliated with one of the four monasteries. To formally renounce, a monk must attain a new identity. He is given one of the ten surnames which made him a part of that particular spiritual lineage. The name one receives is linked to the monastery they are associated with and reflects their caste as well as their renouncing lifestyle. The monasteries from the south and west are mainly composed of dandi renouncers. The lineages commonly assigned to these monks, once they formally renounce include: Bharati (speech), Sarasvati (learning), Tirtha (sacred bathing), and Asrama (hermitage). Puri (town) and Giri (hill) are lineages linked to naga renouncers. Other names, sometimes received by all types of renouncers include: Vana (woods), Aranya (forest), Parrata (mountain), and Sagara (ocean) (Dazery na). Receiving a new name is significant because it symbolizes the relationship one has under a guru which acts as an investiture. An opportunity for the new renouncers to teach and ordain followers is given (Clémentin 16). Once a name is received, one is able to initiate another person into the samnyasin stage of life. All three branches of the Dasanami (dandi, nagas, and the paramahamsa) have networks of mathas (monasteries) spread across India.

The dandis traditionally come from a high caste background and hold knowledge of the Sanskrit language. They are the wanderers who usually carry a staff. The staff may be embellished with a saffron cloth with an axe head under it (Clark 28). Generally, dandi renouncers were previous householders, have short hair, and believe that they are the true samnyasin (Clark 41). Their initiation ceremony is completed by a guru and the name given depends on what matha one is affiliated to (Clark 41). One of the four brahmacari names is given at the ceremony either being Svarup, Prakasa, Ananda or Caitanya (Clark 42). The second ceremony a dandi partakes in is called the viraja home (Clark 89). A short sacred utterance that presumably encapsulates the essential wisdom of Vedanta from the monk’s monastic lineage is spoken (Wade nd).

Renouncers, who fall under the paramahasa grouping, discard all belongings including their staff, perform the most asceticism and obtain the highest amount of respect (Clark 102). They more frequently live in mathas and are affiliated to an akhara. However, paramahamsan monks are not deeply connected to the akharas life compared to the nagas (Clark 42).

Lower caste members form the naga renouncer group (Clark 39). Some scholars refer to them as “naked fighting monks” (Wade nd).  The naga have been known to travel nude and they cover their entire bodies (sometimes just their private areas) in ash, especially on festive holidays (Clark 35). The nagas are organized into seven akharas (Clark 48). To be initiated into the akhara as a naga, one must go through a third process referred to as the tang tode (Clark 98). This is a unique initiation among the three groups.

Typically, males are the ones who enter the stage of renunciation. However, women renouncers have recently been reported. About ten percent of female renouncers belong to the Dasanami (Clark 31). However, women may become brahmacarini, but they cannot enter the second stage of initiation in becoming “full” samnyasin (Clark 33). Women remove all jewelry as a symbol of their renunciation. The majority of women belong to the paramahamsa renouncer group. Two known monasteries exclusively admit women. The least number of women belong to the naga group (Clark 34).

A life apart from society cultivates detachment through a community which shares similar perspectives (Clémentin 2). Some renouncers may choose to join a monastic community (Tambiah 300). Monastic communities provide a shared living space between many samnyasin monks. It is where asceticism is ingrained through tradition (Clémentin 2). This concept of communal settlement was introduced by Sankara, and is referred to as the matha system (Miller 4). The purpose was to create a sense of solidarity through group support. The matha was a larger unit comprised of temples, a traditional Sanskrit school, a library, and a shelter for lay followers (Clémentin 4). The caste system was embedded into the institution. Individuals were born to specific gurus. Gurus raised money to support children’s education for their caste (Aya 58). Donations from patrons allow for monks to teach, provide medical care, and help feed the community (Miller 5). Service to the community was viewed as important and resembled Hindu cohesion. Monks may continue traveling, but if they remain in a community for an extended period of time they are less respected, except if it is the rainy season (Olivelle 271).  Clémentin addresses that, “the important point to stress is that they do not owe their allegiance to a monastery, but to a lineage of spiritual succession” (3). Sankara’s successor, a Sankaracarya (head of 1 of the 4 monasteries) essentially becomes “the teacher of the world” by representing the founder of his lineage (Clémentin 6). Sankaracaryas have substantial spiritual power and settle disputes within the matha by helping with court cases (Clark 79). For example, cases may include initiation and personal affairs, adultery, abuse, and caste pollution. Sankaracaryas help decide the punishment of a fine, a fine, forms of social exclusion, and sometimes even excommunication ceremonies (Clark 80).

The origins of the Dasanami Samnyasin illustrate the prominence of Sankara’s philosophical influence in creating the order. Spiritual lineages of the samnyasin monks are traced back to Sankara. The samnyasins aquire a new religious identity in which they abide by certain roles, codes, and practices (Clark 2). The different groupings of renouncers across the four cardinal directions are symbolic of Sankara’s spiritual journey and the prominence of Brahman (Wade nd). The caste system is significant to the Dasanami Order because it allows for different renouncer groups to exist. Subtle differences exist among the samnyasins such as, their appearance, initiation process, status, and their affiliation to a distinct lineage (Clark 39). The matha system was important for the development of education and philosophical ideas for the samnyasin and their lay followers (Clémentin 4). Life consisted of days of expressing bhakti in prayer, meditation, and lectures (Werner 147). Overall, evidence suggests that the Dasanami Order has been very influential and is a representation of Sankara’s philosophy. 

 

References and Further Recommended Readings

Burghart, R., (1983) “Renunciation in the Religious Traditions of South Asia”. Man18(4), 635–653. http://doi.org/10.2307/2801900

Clark, Matthew (2006) Dasanami Samnyasis. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers.

Clémentin-Ojha, C. (2006) “Replacing the Abbot: Rituals of monastic ordination and investiture in modern Hinduism”. Asiatische Studien, Etudes Asiatiques, Vol.60, 535- 573.

Ikegame, A (2012) “The Governing Guru”. The Guru in South Asia: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives, London & New York, NY: Routledge 5, 46.

Miller, D. M., & Wertz, D. C (1976) Hindu monastic life: The monks and monasteries of Bhubaneswar. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP.

 Olivelle, P. (2001)”The Renouncer Tradition”. In The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism,  G. Flood (Ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing  271-287.

 Pande, G. C (1994) Life and thought of Sankaracarya. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

 Tambiah, S. J. (1982) “The renouncer: his individuality and his community”. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 15(1), 299-320.

Wade, D. (2012) “Dasanamis.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, Vasudha Narayanan. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/brill-s-encyclopedia-of hinduism/dasanamis-BEHCOM_9000000043>

Werner, Karel (2013) Love Divine: Studies in bhakti and devotional mysticism, London & New York, NY: Routledge 147-152.

 

Topics for Further Investigation

The Ramanadi Order

Bhakti

Guru

The Four Monasteries

Akharas

Pitha

 

Noteworthy Websites

http://dashnami.blogspot.ca/2009/11/history-of-dashnami.html

http://www.amritapuri.org/14530/sampradaya.aum

http://www.dlshq.org/saints/sankara.htm

http://www.mahavidya.ca/hindu-asceticism/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dashanami_Sampradaya

 

Article written by: Miranda Deringer (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Female Ascetics in Hinduism

Women in Hindu society generally take on a role of and are identified as householders, thus providing for a husband and family. However, some women, though a clear minority, choose a different life path which is the life of the ascetic. An ascetic is regarded as someone who abstains from worldly pleasures often in search of spiritual goals through renunciation (Denton 2). Ascetics seek to free themselves from the cycle of rebirth entirely and thereby reach salvation. Although there are a variety of ascetic forms such as celibacy and tantrism, renunciation and the sannyasas or sannyasinis are the most recognizable.

The term sannyasa (male) or sannyasini (female) means ‘abandonment’ or ‘laying aside completely’. Entry into this lifestyle involves a dramatic ritual to symbolically discard the world in which they currently live. To take on the role of a sannyasini one must establish their ritual death. This is done by figuratively cremating oneself or performing their one’s own funeral rites and also by uttering the phrase “None belongs to me, to none do I belong” or a simpler yet no less powerful phrase “I leave absolutely everything behind” (Denton 94). Initiation ceremonies into ascetic life differ from one ascetic to the next, but ritual details such as offering balls of rice to ancestors and creating grass statues of themselves which they later burn to symbolically represent cremation, remain consistent elements to the initiation process (Leslie 219). This initiation ritual into asceticism marks the rejection or separation from householdership; a commitment to a particular path towards ideals such as liberation (moksa), acquiring knowledge of the Absolute (Brahman) or salvation (mukti) through union; and the admittance into a community of fellow ascetics. This initiation process completely relieves a woman of their original social identity and alters the former relationship they had with householder women. They thereby embrace a new set of values far different than those of the ideal woman, wife and householder in Hindu society (Leslie 214). As the practice of world renunciation is seen as a primarily masculine way of life usually for male twice-borns, females who take on the path of renunciation are seen as ones who have left the orthodox norm behind. However, they may often be found to say what is in the minds of many orthodox housewives in regards to their disagreement with family life, ties and what is expected of women at the householder stage (Clementin-Ojha 1988). Some ascetic women have declared nothing but relief over their choice to leave householdership. As one renouncer-ascetic (sannyasini) stated, “In the householder life, you know great pleasure and sorrow, but you cannot know peace. That life is in a state of constant change and so your mind cannot become still. In the ascetic life, you are single-minded and so you can achieve salvation” (Leslie 215). Each sannyasini is different in their pursuit of activities or religious path in that some focus on study, meditation and wandering, where others are found to focus on preaching and teaching ascetic values, hymns and sermons to householder disciples who visit (Denton 95).

An interesting fact about ascetic women and girls is their variation in appearance. One may choose to wear a white sari while others wear red; some tie ochre (gerua) cloth around their torso whereas others may choose to wear white or bright yellow (kesar). In regards to hair, some ascetics choose to have their heads shaven, others with loose and flowing hair; some will trim the hair at earlobe length and oil it and others form it into matted strands (jata) by rubbing ashes into the hair (Leslie 218). The vast majority of ascetic women fall in a cluster around the age of 60, but in the city of Varanasi there is a diversity in the age group of ascetics which correlate well with two types of asceticism, celibacy and renunciation (Denton 122). Since the majority of younger ascetics are unmarried and from high-caste families, it suggests that their families cannot afford dowries thereby leaving their daughters unwed and undesirable. This causes families to send their daughters to Varanasi where young girls will enter brahmacarya or celibacy, which guards their purity and guarantees them a ritual standing higher than that of an ordinary orthodox householder (Denton 123). While the younger ascetic females are free to leave Varanasi and ascetic life at any time, most choose to stay in the city or frequently travel to other city centres where ascetic festivals and feasts occur (Leslie 220). Cities such as Varanasi give proof that although ascetics may give up traditional values of the Hindu social world, they do not necessarily give up society and can actually be found to be comfortable with and accepted by others.

Ascetics tend to put forward a religious reason as to why they chose this life path of worldly renunciation to find their salvation (Clementin-Ojha 1988). However it is difficult to describe a religious practice of a female renouncer because in choosing the life of the ascetic one is no longer committed to a specific path (Leslie 22). A female renouncer-ascetic may follow a “path of knowledge” (Leslie 221) by engaging in the repetition of a mantra or “sacred utterance” (Rodrigues 70) and focusing on meditation. Some may also choose to devote the hours in the day to yoga or sitting in the lotus posture, while others may offer rituals of worship to a goddess such as Durga (Leslie 221). Since renunciation itself bestows such large amounts of freedom upon each individual that one can choose how they devote themselves to a religious path and how they explain their beliefs as well.

The life of a renouncer-ascetic may cause orthodox Hindus to put these women under criticism and scrutiny. Dharma is righteousness, duty, morality, law, social obligations or particular religious teachings (Rodrigues 546) that an individual is expected to follow in Hindu society. To not live according to one’s dharma is considered to be a main offense in Hindu tradition. Women who renounce the life of the householder and the orthodox traditions expected of them are considered to be adopting ‘adharmic’ behavior. They can be seen as rebels, as renunciation from the world is considered to be an effort at achieving their own individual freedom instead of following the life that the orthodoxy had prescribed for them (Clementin-Ojha 1988). Female renouncer-ascetics have strong beliefs, but do not use these beliefs as a way to criticise traditional aspects of Hindu society. By living amongst orthodox Hindus, ascetics show and encourage other members of society to respect their svadharma (one’s own dharma) as they respect the orthodox traditions and its stri-dharma (woman/wife’s code of righteous behavior (Rodrigues 564). Not only do these ascetic women respect the traditions of Hindu society, they often discourage other females to do what they themselves have done by leaving householdership. In research conducted by Catherine Clementin-Ojha, the late Svami Karapatri, a supporter of orthodoxy but also an ascetic, upheld that women could obtain a higher state of consciousness and could become ascetics and guides. However, he did not allow women into his ascetic order and denied that there have never been a “single real sannyasini in India” (Clementin-Ojha 1988).

Although not as common or influential, two other types of female asceticism exist: celibacy and tantrism, both different phenomena from renunciation. Celibate asceticism or a celibate student (brahmacarya) is often one of the first stages of life (asrama) prescribed for twice-born males. It can also occur in a number of other ways, such as a female choosing an institutionalized lifestyle of celibacy and regarding themselves as brahmacarinis, like the classical rite into studentship, or the first twelve years prior to initiation into sannyasa (Denton 96). Celibacy is the intention to remain pure for as long as possible and avoid pollution. Tantric asceticism on the other hand relies mainly on oral tradition. However, there is no ritual of initiation into tantric asceticism as there is for orthodox renunciation and celibacy. Those who define themselves as tantric undertake a “fierce discipline” (Leslie 225) and are said to have achieved powers (siddhi) by practicing difficult acts. It is believed that these acts include sex rituals (maithuna) and a disciplined relationship between themselves and their teacher (Leslie 225). Unlike renunciation, tantric asceticism acknowledges full liberation but also full divinization, putting emphasis on finding a state of bliss (ananda) or madness (pagalpan).

Evidently the life of a female ascetic in Hinduism is a complex, underappreciated and understudied phenomenon in Hindu society. With only little research conducted on the life of female ascetics, mostly over the past few decades, it is hard to determine what truly prompts a Hindu woman to leave the orthodox life of a householder, wife and mother, but it is exceptional to see that these women are willing to defy the norms of traditional Hindu female expectations and let themselves become equal with their male sannyasa counterparts and live out their svadharma and find liberation at their time of physical death.

 

References and Further Recommended Readings

Bose, Mandakranta (2010) Women in the Hindu Tradition: Rules, Roles and Expectations. New York: Routledge Hindu Studies Series.

Chowdhry, Prem (1996) “Marriage, Sexuality and the Female ‘ascetic’: Understanding a Hindu Sect.” Economic and Political Weekly 31.34 2307–2321.

Clementin-Ojha, Catherine (1988) “Outside the Norms: Women Ascetics in Hindu Society.” Economic and Political Weekly. 23(18): WS34-6

Leslie, Julia (1991) Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. Cranbury: Farleigh Dickinson University Press

Mitra, Kana (1983) ‘Women in Hinduism.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies. 20(4), 585

Rodrigues, Hillary (2007) Hinduism – the eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Teskey Denton, Lynn (2004) Female Ascetics in Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press.

 

Related Topics

Celibacy

Dharma

Moksa

Sannyasa

Women in Hinduism

Women’s Roles in Hindu Society

 

Related Websites

http://hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/essays/ascetics.asp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sannyasa

 

Article written by: Kenzie Campbell (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Kamasutra (Book Four: Wives)

The Kamasutra is an old Hindu book on love. Kama in Sanskrit means sensory pleasure, and sutra is a word for a text. Contrary to popular belief in western society however, the Kamasutra does not solely focus on sex positions and erotic love. The Kamasutra not only contains positions for sexual intercourse, but also features information on many other topics. These topics include, but are not limited to: finding a partner, virgins, courting, marriage, marriage to more than one woman, wives, the role of women, the role of the man, committing adultery, and living with courtesans.

The Kamasutra was written by Vatsyayana Mallanaga. Not a lot is known about Vatsyayana besides the fact that he was a Hindu from India. The Kamasutra was originally written in Sanskrit but since then has been translated numerous times by numerous people. This article will mainly focus on the translation done by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar in 2002. Both Doniger and Kakar are accomplished authors and scholars and both have studied religion at university.

Book Four in the Kamasutra is all about wives and that is the main focus of this article. Book Four consists of two chapters and within the two chapters are eight topics. These topics include: The Life of an Only Wife, Her Behaviour during his Absence, The Senior Wife, The Junior Wife, The Second-hand Woman, The Wife Unlucky in Love, Women of the Harem, and A Man’s Management of Many Women.

The first chapter and topic in Book Four of the Kamasutra is The Life of an Only Wife. An only wife is to treat her husband as if he were a God. Everything she does is to be done for him. She also takes on the responsibilities and actions of a housewife. This includes keeping the house clean and beautiful to look at at all times. This also includes making the proper offerings three times a day to keep the household in good standings with the gods, and to make sure the gods are getting the proper amount of worship. The only wife is to treat her husband’s relatives based on their merits (Doniger & Kakar 94).

The only wife also tends to a garden. She should plant herbs, vegetables, flowers, mustard seed, sugar-cane, lemon grass, and much more. The garden should always be weeded. It should also have a pond and should be a wonderful display to look at. Her relationships are limited and she may not have a close one with any of the following: a  beggar, a Buddhist nun, a fortune-teller, or a magician. When preparing meals the only wife puts her husband first. She cooks meals that depend on what he likes, what he does not like, what is good for him, and what is not (Doniger & Kakar 94).

When she is called by her husband she is always ready to serve. She is never seen in his eyes without makeup or jewellery on, she is always to be made up and to be a pleasant sight to look at. She is only allowed to go out to an event, such as a wedding, or even just out with her friends with her husband’s permission. He is very much in control. Her sleep schedule depends on his. She is to only get slightly offended at her husband’s infidelities, making sure he is not too humiliated. The only wife makes sure to keep herself clean. This includes having clean teeth, no body odour, and she tries not to sweat at all, as this would not be pleasing to her husband. When going to make love to her husband, she must be dressed up in her finest clothes, jewellery, and oils. When her husband fasts or vows the only wife also undergoes these things with him (Doniger & Kakar 95).

When she has the money, the only wife spends money on household items, perfumes, oils, seeds for the garden, and more. She never tells anyone about these assets however. She strives to be much better than any other women in her grouping in every way. The only wife has a number of duties. She is to keep track of the finances, make meals, and after meals make things such as butter with the leftovers, she makes clothing out of cotton and thread, she works in the fields, and she takes care of the livestock (Doniger & Kakar 95-96).

The only wife finds use for all her husband’s old and worn out clothes. She stocks, uses, buys, and sells wine and liquor properly. She honours her husband’s friends and serves his parents. She likes the people her husband likes and hates the people he hates. She is kind and considerate to servants. That is the life an only wife is to lead (Doniger & Kakar 96).

The second topic in Book Four of the Kamasutra is Her Behaviour During his Absence. When her husband is away, the only wife fasts, dedicates herself to the gods, and takes care of the household. She goes to older relatives to get the same guidance she would normally receive from her husband. She is not to act on her own accord. She takes on her normal daily tasks and also needs to finish anything her husband has started and left. She is only allowed to see her own relatives on special occasions and even at that time she has to be escorted and cannot stay as long as she would like. She tries to make as much money as possible while her husband is gone by spending less and selling more (Doniger & Kakar 97).

When her husband returns from his absence, she honours the gods and gives offerings unto them. An only wife who cares about her husband tends to his every need, no matter what type of woman she is. Successful wives make their husbands happy in every way without the need of a co-wife (Doniger & Kakar 97).

The third topic begins chapter two in Book Four of the Kamasutra. It is The Senior Wife. If the only wife fails in her duties, her husband is to find a co-wife to aid her. A woman tries to avoid this in every way by working hard to make sure her husband is satisfied. If she cannot have children, she herself is to ask for a co-wife. She however, puts herself in the higher position. She becomes the senior wife (Doniger and Kakar 98).

The senior wife looks at the new wife like a sister. She helps her in every way she can. She does not concern herself if the new wife gets hostile or even makes a mistake with their husband. She might give some advice to the wife but will reveal everything that has happened to her husband privately (Doniger and Kakar 98).

She does not give special treatment to her co-wife’s children. She treats her servants and her friends special but does not give any special attention to her own relatives. She does however give special attention to the other woman’s relatives. If there is more than one co-wife, the senior wife will only associate herself with the wife directly below her. She will pick fights with the favourite and cause problems with the one her husband likes most. She keeps this fight going until the husband favours her, then she lets it go. This is the life a senior wife is to lead (Doniger and Kakar 98-99).

The fourth topic in Book Four of the Kamasutra is The Junior Wife. The junior wife is to look up to her co-wife and see her as a mother. She reports everything to her. She gets permission from her to sleep with the husband. She never gossips. She cares for other women’s children more than her own. Secretly however, she serves the husband more than the other wife. She tries to win all his love.  (Doniger & Kakar 99).

If the senior wife cannot have children the junior wife tries to get the husband to pity her, unless there is a chance that the junior wife can get rid of her altogether. If she can do this then the junior wife will assume role of the only wife. This is the life a junior wife is to lead (Doniger & Kakar 99).

The fifth topic in Book Four of the Kamasutra is The Second-hand Woman. A second-hand woman is a widow who gets to find a husband for a second time. She, however, is already tormented and so tries to find a good one who will make her happy. She seeks to find physical pleasure and so searches for a husband who is well endowed (Doniger & Kakar 100).

She will get the husband to cover costs of her parties and entertainment. If she is to leave the man, she has to return everything except for love gifts he has given her. If he decides she has to leave, however, she gets to keep everything. She takes over the house. She has great skill and knowledge from her past experiences. She does favours for her co-wives by paying special attention to their children. They are to serve her in return. She is always in the mood for partying. This is the life a second-hand woman should lead (Doniger & Kakar 100-101).

The sixth topic in Book Four of the Kamasutra is The Wife Unlucky in Love. The wife unlucky in love seeks support from the favourite wife of the husband. She has no secrets. She does the job of nurse for all her husband’s children. She leads the house in religious offerings and fasts. She treats the servants well and actually sees herself no greater than they are. She mends fights with the women and the husband. This is the life a wife unlucky in love should lead (Doniger & Kakar 101).

The seventh topic in Book Four of the Kamasutra is Women of the Harem. The woman of the harem brings gifts from the queens to the king. The king gives these back to the queens as a gift. The women of the harem are all very well dressed. At the end of the day the king goes to see them all together. He treats the women according to how long they have been in the harem. That is what their worth is based on. After this he goes to see his second-hand women, his courtesans, and his dancing girls (Doniger and Kakar 102).

When the king wakes in the afternoon, the servants of the woman whose turn it is to sleep with him, the woman who has been passed over, and the woman who is fertile go to him bringing scented oils and the stamp of each woman. Whichever one the king takes is the woman he will sleep with that night (Doniger and Kakar 102).

At festivals and other events all of the women of the harem are honoured. These women however never go out, and only select few are allowed in so as the worlds do not mix. This is the life women of the harem should lead (Doniger and Kakar 102).

The eighth topic in Book Four of the Kamasutra is A Man’s Management of Many Women. A man must treat all of his acquired wives equally. He must not tell the wives about the others. A man should keep his wives happy by honouring her, giving her gifts, and confiding in her. He should spend time with each wife individually. A woman who behaves properly puts her husband in power  (Doniger & Kakar 103).

Another popular translation of the Kamasutra is the translation done by Richard Burton. Although similar, the translation done by Richard Burton varies from the translation done by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar. In Book Four of Burton’s translation of the Kamasutra, the chapter titles are much more detailed but the chapters themselves are more condensed. Book Four in Burton’s translation is called About A Wife and it only consists of two sections. These sections are: Chapter One: the Manner of Living of a Virtuous Woman, and of Her Behaviour During the Absence of Her Husband, and Chapter Two: On the Conduct of the Elder Wife Towards the Other Wives of Her Husband, and on That of a Younger Wife Towards the Elder Ones. Also on the Conduct of a Virgin Widow Remarried; of a Wife Disliked by Her Husband; of the Women in the King’s Harem; and Lastly on the Conduct of a Husband Towards Many Wives. Doniger and Kakar separate the topics into specific, easy to follow, subheadings. Burton, however, places everything within Book Four into two very broad chapters. Although the contents of Book Four in both translation are very similar the wording is very different and each and each translation focuses on different specific points.

 

References and Further Recommended Reading

Vatsyayana (2002) Kamasutra.Translated by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar. New York: Oxford University Press.

Vatsyayana (2006) Kamasutra. Translated by Richard Burton. New York: Dover Publications.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kamasutra

Kamasutra Book Four

Hindu Wives

Wendy Doniger

Sudhir Kakar

Richard Burton

The Senior Wife

The Junior Wife

The Only Wife

Women of the Harem

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.hindunet.org/marriagefamily

http://asiasociety.org/interview-sudhir-kakar

https://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/doniger/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kama_Sutra

 

Article written by: Nicole Atkinson (March 2016), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Karva Chauth Vrata

Of the various duties of a women (stridharma) the most important is a religious observance (vrata), which has fasting as a central element (Denton 24-31). Usually lasting from a day or two to a couple of weeks, vratas may involve group chanting, recitation of religious stories and or the creation of elaborate designs using colorful, powdered rice, but the most important element of the vrata is the fasting component (Denton 30-31). Dharma tends to elevate one feature of stridharma above all else and that is pativrata, the worshipful service of one’s husband (Denton 32). Vratas are mostly carried out by women for their husbands (suhag), the right to preserve their auspicious married state (saubhagya), or for their children (Pearson 78).

Although it may seem as if women are performing these vratas for the well-being of their family, that is not typically the case. According to the Manusmrti, being born a woman is considered the result of sins committed in one’s past life or lives. Being born sinful, a women is thought to be weak and impure, thus women should be “protected” at all stages of her life by male guidance who play an authoritative role in their lives. For example, when a girl is born, she is protected by her father and when she is married she is protected by her husband. Therefore, the Manusmrti declared that no sacrifice, vrata, and fast should be performed by a woman without her husband (Pearson 79-80). Nevertheless, women are considered ardhangani, or “half the body” of a male. The three goals of a householder dharma, artha, and kama are incomplete without the cooperation of one’s wife and therefore a women is essential to the welfare and dharmic duties of the male householder (Pearson 80). After marriage, women are considered to be responsible to perform all types of special vratas for the welfare of one’s husbands.

Taking place during the fall, Karva Chauth is an important observance followed by married Hindu women of Northern India. On this day, prayers are offered to Siva, Parvati, Ganesa and to Chandrama (God of the Moon) in return for the welfare, prosperity and longevity of their husbands. This vrata consists of a daylong fast obtained by the woman, where one is not allowed to consume water nor food (Melton 497). Over the years, this vrata is being recognized as a joyous occasion celebrated by all members of the family, as opposed to a duty forced upon women. Every year, on the fourth day of the waning moon in the Indian Hindu month of Kartika (October in the Western/Gregorian Calendar), the Karva Chauth festival is held. Women wake up early in the morning, before dawn, and enjoy a bite to eat with the other women of the household. Throughout the day, more preparations are made for the evening (Melton 497-498).

Henna is an important factor of this vrata. In some societies, henna is considered to be a very sensual, beautifying agent. Throughout this vrata, moments of one’s wedding day are reminisced. On wedding days, brides’ arms and feet are decorated with henna. Henna is said to bring good luck. In some societies henna is also seen as a cleanser to ritually “clean” the bride during the week of celebrations prior to the wedding. In the old days, henna was said to be emblematic of the blood stained sheets of the virgin bride after the consummation of her marriage (Monger 150). Amidst the preparations for the evening, applying henna to your arms is of significance to this vrata. It has been passed down for generations that the longer the henna stays on the girl’s hands, the longer her husband will love her (Monger 150).

Among these preparations, gift-giving among family members, especially the spouses, has become a common gesture. Mothers of wedded women will give gifts known as “Baya” (Melton 498). A husband giving a piece of jewellery or some kind of other gift to his wife is also common nowadays. The Karva Chauth vrata becomes a celebration by the evening. Women from neighboring homes and families related to the household come over and together the rest of the activities are carried out. Women adorn themselves in their finest jewellery and either dress up in their wedding dresses or in a new dress that is comparable to their wedding dress. After everybody is ready, before the moon comes out, women gather in a circle around the storyteller, who recites the story behind the vrata of Karva Chauth.

The Karva Chauth vrata is associated with many myths. The most popular myth is called The Kings Daughter (Beck and Claus 48-49). This myth consists of betrayal, repent, and sorrow. There was once a king with seven sons and the youngest of them all was a daughter who was very dear to everyone, especially her brothers. As would happen to any individual, the daughter grew up and got married. When the day came to keep a vrata for her husband, the daughter did as any other married women was to do, but the daughter was very delicate and weak and soon she became pale. This sight was unbearable to her brothers, so they hatched a plan to help their sister out of her misery. The brothers managed to create a fake moon, and the trick their sister into thinking it was the real moon so that she would break her fast and eat. The princess, unfortunately, believed her brothers and broke the fast by completing all the necessary rituals, but as fate has it, the next day her husband fell very ill. As days passed on his health got worse and no medication was effective. When she had no choice, the princess called the priests and asked what else could be done. The pandita (religious priests) informed the princess of how she had broken her fast before the moon had arose and therefore, her husband fell ill and has been waning since. Before leaving, the pundits advised the princess to wait until the next fourth day of the waning moon in the month of Kartika. They informed her to complete the vrata this time, fully. The princess did as she was told. She kept the fast until the moon was up and her husband’s health started getting better. The princess and her prince then lived happily ever after. [There are many interpretations of this myth depending on the region in India. One version, different from the one provided can be found in Melton (2011)].

In the evening the women of the house gather for the final rituals of the fast. Surrounding them will be a metal urn (karva) filled with water, a mud pot which is symbolic of the deity Ganesa, a statue of Parvati (Gaur Mata) and food items to offer the gods as well as the person selected to tell story (Melton 498). While waiting for the moon to arise, the women will listen to a version of the myth. The myth is told by a chosen older women with experience of the vrata. Upon seeing the moonlight, the women pass around the karva and offer water to Chandrama and ask for his blessings. These women then pray for their husband’s well-being and then worship their husband as if they were worshipping a deity (Melton 498). After worshipping their husbands, the husbands help break their fast, and they then enjoy a meal. During this time, and out of appreciation for their full day’s efforts, husbands tend to gift their wives jewellery or a new article of clothing (Melton 498).

The Karva Chauth vrata is undoubtedly one of the harder vratas due to the no consumption of food or water rule, which lasts from dawn until moonlight. Married Indian women are deemed to be responsible to complete vratas. Completing vratas is considered a way of cleansing one of their sins but according to the Manusmrti, for a women, there is no way to completely purify yourself. According to the Manusmrti the biggest sin is being a women.  (Pearson 79-80). Women were considered completely impure, and bad luck, which explains why in the older days baby girls were immediately disposed of after their birth. Nowadays women are more in power due to the growth of feminist point of views. With this, views on women have changed. Nowadays in bigger cities, women will be less interested in keeping vratas for their husbands. Women of this generation might worry about their body or may not believe in the concept of vrata. As time passes by, the role and rituals of women have changed. There are many women that still live in India that perform this and many other vratas for the well-being and safety of their husbands. Even people who live outside of India perform this vrata as it is not a difficult to perform. Karva Chauth is one of the more important vratas that is to be fulfilled or accomplished by women of an Indian household.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Beck, Brenda E. F (1987) Folktales of India. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Bose, Mandakranta (2010) Women in the Hindu Tradition: Rules, Roles, and Exceptions. Oxon: Routledge.

Channa, V.C (1984) Hinduism. New Delhi: National Publishing House.

Denton, Lynn Tesky (2004) Female Ascetics in Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press

Leslie, Julia (1991) Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. New Jersey: Associated University Presses.

Monger, George P (2004) Marriage Customs of the World: From Henna to Honeymoons. California: ABC-CLIO, Inc.

Pearson, Anne Mackenzie (1996) Because It Gives Me Peace of Mind: Ritual Fasts in the
Religious Lives of Hindu Women.
Albany: State University of New York Press.

Pintchman, Tracy (2007) Women’s Lives, Women’s Rituals in the Hindu Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rinehart, Robin (2004) Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice. California: ABC-CLIO, Inc.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Teej Festival
Siva
Parvati
Ganesa
Chandrama
Manusmrti
Hindu Calendar System
Saivite Community
Ahoi Ashtami
Concept of stridharma
Caturmas
Ekadashi

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic
http://www.karwachauth.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karva_Chauth

http://hinduism.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/p/karwachauth.htm

http://www.karwachauthgifts.com/karva-chauth-customs.html

Article written by: Nidhi Patel (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Tirthas (Pilgrimage Sites)

The Vedic word tirtha, stemming from ter and tarate, means “ford, steps to a river, place of pilgrimage” (Saraswati 2). In time, the meaning of tirtha has spread to refer to all holy sites and items considered holy. To be considered a tirtha, there will likely be a special natural characteristic of the geography, it will be associated with deities, or it will have been a place where holy sages, yogis and rsis spent time. Thus, a tirtha can refer to a body of water, speech, ritual, trees, time periods, places gods inhabit, and many more important things considered holy by Hindu devotees. Bodies of water are especially considered holy; they represent purity, a characteristic considered essential to Hindu puja and yajna. In the Puranas, tirtha-yatra (pilgrimage) to these holy mountains and bodies of water have become very important to Hindus. Tirtha-yatra is considered action toward absolution of wrongdoing and an attempt to create merit through karma (action) (Saraswati 3). Through these definitions, it is clear that a tirtha can represent many things considered important to a Hindu devotee.

It is important to note that tirthas are often considered to have different levels of importance and, thus, unequal merit amounts. Since the Hindu tradition does not have one main holy site, certain places of pilgrimage have been ordered in importance by multiple sources, such as the Mahabharata or the Puranas. These rankings are based on beliefs that more important tirthas will lead a Hindu to a higher level of purity (Jacobsen 122 and Saraswati 6). Some sites, like the Ganga River, are even considered to erase sin or bad karma accumulated over the entirety of a lifetime. This near-hierarchical labeling is seen as important because Hindu devotees wish to visit the sites with the greatest dharmic benefit. Because many tirthas claim to offer higher redemption or purity, it is argued that Hindus will take the tirtha-yatra most beneficial to their dharmic journey (Jacobsen 124). Rating the various tirthas does not necessarily mean to show actual hierarchy of the most important sites. They do, however, highlight the most popular tirthas, showing their sociological and cultural significance to the Hindu tradition. Misrikh, for example, is considered by some to be one of the most important tirthas. The Mahatmyas say that all waters of every tirtha is present at Misrikh, so it is likened to being purified by all tirthas at once (Jacobsen 56). However, others may believe the Ganga river is more powerful in its purifying abilities.

Going on pilgrimage can be seen as a stronger and alternative form of worship to Hindu deities. Pilgrimage to a tirtha is often based on a physical, geographical site. These tirthas are often physical locations where Hindus believe gods and other important persons have come from, and thus are manifest. Historical religious relevance is the main reason for this tradition and it often leads to strong devotion. Several authorities on Hindu tirtha-yatra have classified and analysed present-day tirthas, and have come up with a useful system to observe which sites are considered sociologically, religiously and most culturally relevant to devotees of the tradition. Of the 142 tirthas studied, just under 60% were water associated [see Bhardwaj 87: referring to river banks, river sources, confluences of rivers or coasts]. This emphasizes the importance of proximity to running water as an important characteristic of a holy place in connection to the significance of ritual purity of the soul and a strong connection with bathing (Bhardwaj 88).

Hindu devotees and pilgrims bathe in the sacred waters at Pura Tirta Empul on the island of Bali (Tampaksiring, Bali, Indonesia)
Hindu devotees and pilgrims bathe in the sacred waters at Pura Tirta Empul on the island of Bali (Tampaksiring, Bali, Indonesia)

Tirtha-yatra is considered to be more challenging than visiting a local tirtha or temple, even though travelling methods and transportation have improved with new technology. Hindus believe that participating in a tirtha-yatra with long distances and difficulty allows the pilgrim to reap all the benefits the holy place may offer. Exposure to hardship and austerity are believed to enable the earning of merit and the removal in impurity (Nordin 414). This also influences rankings of the tirthas. The Brahma Purana states that the Ganga River is thought to have come from Visnu, the Saravati River stems from Brahma, and the Narmada River comes from Siva. Bathing in any of these rivers is believed to create huge amounts of merit and relieve the Hindu devotee of all sin (Saraswati 5). Yet a Hindu who lives close to the Ganga River does not have to make great effort to visit this site. Thus, it may be seen as more desirable to travel to a different tirtha that is further away. Simply visiting the Ganga would be easy for this Hindu and thus he may not gain the extra dharmic auspiciousness that tirtha-yatra claims to offer (Jacobsen 21). Anthropologist Victor Turner discusses tirtha-yatra as a spiritually transitional rite of passage for Hindus. Turner’s suggests that devotees psychologically and spiritually prime themselves and change during a tirtha-yatra. By embarking on a pilgrimage, a devotee enters a phase that can be considered a “liminal state” different from daily life. Turner claims that this liminal state allows the “liberation of human capacities of cognition, affect, [and] volition.” (Weber 527) Thus, when a pilgrim enters this “liminal state,” he is considered to be in a phase of fluctuation. Turner argues that this “liminal state” allows a pilgrim to cross over from his ordinary life and experience deeper spirituality and achieve holiness or purity. After ending the pilgrimage and exiting the “liminal stage,” the pilgrim is considered to have experienced “cultural creativity” and become something new.

Other important tirthas include mountains and forests. The Himalayas have become one of the supreme mountain tirthas. Sanctuaries like Badarinath, Kedarnath and Amarnath on the Himalayas are sought out by many of these pilgrims (Eck 335). They also involve a difficult journey, which is often associated with more merit. Forests, too, have come to represent some of the most symbolic tirthas: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, two of the most important epics in Hinduism, have introduced the forests that heroes like Rama and the Pandavas were exiled to. Because these heroes are widely known in Hindu culture, forest tirtha-yatra is often pursued, especially by those in the vanaprastha and samnyasin stages of life when this activity is encouraged. Furthermore, certain religiously significant cities have become tirthas. Among them are Ayodhya, the capital of Rama; Varanasi, the city of Siva on the Ganga; and Dvaraka, the capital of Krshna within Western India (Eck 335). This sacred geography of India is extremely important to Hindu culture: through tirtha-yatra to these holy places, Hindus are able to physically engage in their religious history. [For more information on specific associations between Hindu gods and geography, see Eck 323-344].

While tirtha-yatra is often based on a geographically significant site, the intention is for a visitation to a tirtha to be considered a spiritual “crossing over” by the devotee: these holy places represent characteristics in the Mahabharata and the Puranas that are idealized in order to lead one to become a more dharmic being. It is suggested that Hindu devotees who bathe in earthly tirthas and spiritual tirthas receive “the supreme goal” of greater purity or even enlightenment (Eck 341). Thus, a Hindu devotee does not only physically engage in a tirtha: he aims to spiritually cross over samsara and illusion and draw himself closer to mukti through his pilgrimage.

The tirtha-yatra also functions to reconnect Hindu devotees to the greater tradition they are immersed in. The Mahabharata considers going on pilgrimage to be superior even to sacrifice (Bhardwaj 29). In the first and second dialogues in the Mahabharata over 330 places are mentioned as holy sites intended as tirtha-yatra. Furthermore, a clockwise tour of the India, starting at Pushkara and ending in Prayaga (modern Allahabad) is suggested in this text in order to fully experience the full religious journey (Bhardwaj 43). A long tirtha-yatra is also suggested to give a Hindu devotee a full idea of the vastness of India’s holy land and thus allow an essence of connection and uniformity between devotees. Attending Hindu festivals also allows a devotee to connect with his peers within the tradition. The Allahabad Kumbh Mela is one festival that occurs every twelve years and connects millions of devotees together, encouraging them to engage in tirtha-yatra. This festival stems from the sagar manthan (ocean-churning) story present in the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and several Puranas, and has become a part of orthodox Hindu tradition (MacLean 875).

Interaction between Hindu devotees and a tirtha is especially meaningful as it is one of the only forms of worship that allows the Hindu to interact with their religious traditions outside of gender and caste. Because pilgrimage can be less expensive than elaborate upper-varna rituals, tirthas are more accessible to lower varnas, untouchables, women, widows and those with illness. The village of Mehandipur near the capital of Rajasthan in India is a tirtha site known especially for attracting those with illness (Dwyer 5). Often these ill devotees have sought medical and traditional healing practices already. Thus, those at Mehandipur are often visiting as a last attempt to find healing, but also to erase bad karma. The hope is that the auspiciousness of the tirtha will lead to a supernatural cure (Dwyer 6). Generally, in India, mixing of caste is strictly taboo: it is believed to reduce purity of higher castes and thus interfere with important yajna rituals. For the lower varnas or the untouchable caste, social mobility is not possible (Bhardwaj 151). However, it is suggested that several sacred Hindu tirthas allow social and religious mobility: caste distinction fades away while on tirtha-yatra, especially in regards to necessities. For example, while on tirtha-yatra, food generally cannot be refused by anyone, even if it comes from a member of a lower caste. Food handling, an issue of purity that is usually regulated in the caste system, has its taboos erased and ends up providing a basis of equality for the lower castes, which, in the secular world is typically denied (Bhardwaj 151-152).

While visiting a tirtha, many Hindus participate in different puja or yajna practices in attempts to gain merit. Vows, prayers, holy baths, dana (gift giving), and other worship done at a household shrine is often acceptable (Saraswati 28). Furthermore, certain acts can be done by devotees at certain tirthas to gain that particular god’s attention. For example, worship to Siva can be done at the Ganga River, using the river’s water, milk, honey, or bhanga (Saraswati 29). Analysis on 142 tirthas shows that an estimated 36% of these holy sites focus on chief worship of Siva, while 29% focus on Visnu [see Bhardwaj 90: further breakdown and analysis]. Chief worship of deities is suggested to be a cause of attracting pilgrims to particular tirthas.

Because tirtha-yatra is not guaranteed to be a safe journey, ideas of “good death” are focused upon as further motivation for going on pilgrimage. Hindu pilgrims prepare themselves for possibly dangerous encounters. A pilgrimage may also be done to induce death, or commemorate a recent death (Nordin 403-404). The hardship and effort associated with tirtha-yatra, combined with the absolution of sin is believed to offer the assurance of a “good death” and thus a path to mukti (Nordin 408). The idea of a transfer of divine energy and removal of pollution or evil propagates the belief in supernatural deities capable of this (Nordin 414). “Good death” while on pilgrimage is believed to be a reward for a Hindu believer: 70% of pilgrims studied by Nordin believed death while on pilgrimage was auspicious and beneficial to the self (Nordin 418) and it is a common idea that this “good death” will put a devotee at the feet of Siva or Visnu (Nordin 420).

Some pilgrims desire these “good death” outcomes so greately that their deaths arguably verge on suicide. A portion of pilgrims put themselves in danger purposefully while at a tirtha and believe their fate will be decided by Siva (Nordin 425). Yet by placing themselves in physical illness or subjecting themselves to illness, their actions could be explained as actions toward suicide (atma hatya), which is believed to be a sin as explained through the Dharma Shastras and other Hindu dharma (Nordin 426). Furthermore, 61% of pilgrims studied by Nordin believed ritual suicide while on tirthayatra is a sin (Nordin 418). The difference between “good death” and the sin of suicide is thus very slight but simply perpetuated by hopes of the creation of good karma.

Works Referenced and Further Recommended Reading

Bhardwaj, Surinder Mohan (2003) Hindu Places of Pilgrimage in India. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. p 29-152.

Dwyer, Graham (1998) “The Phenomenology of Supernatural Malaise: Attribution, Vulnerability and the Patterns of Affliction at a Hindu Pilgrimage Centre in Rajasthan.” Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice, Vol. 42, No. 2, p 5-6. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Eck, Diana L. (1981) “India’s ‘Tirthas’: ‘Crossings’ in Sacred Geography.” History of Religions, Vol. 20, No. 4. p 323-344.

Ganguli, Kisari Mohan (trans.) (1896) The Mahabharata Book 13: Anusasana Parva. p. CIII. Calcutta: Bharata Press.

Jacobsen, Knut A. (2013) Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition: Salvific Space. New York: Routledge. p 21-124.

Lannoy, Richard (2000/2001) “Benares as Tirtha.” India International Centre Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 4. p 6-17. New Delhi: India International Centre.

MacLean, Kama (2003) “Making the Colonial State Work for You: The Modern Beginnings of the Ancient Kumbh Mela in Allahabad.” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 62, No. 3. p 875. Ann Arbor: Association for Asian Studies.

Messerschmidt, Donald A. (1981) “Hindu Pilgrimage in the Nepal Himalayas.” Current Anthropology. Vol. 22, No. 5. p 571-572. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Morinis, Alan E. (1984) Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition: A Case Study of West Bengal. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nordin, Andreas (2009) “Good-death Beliefs and Cognition in Himalayan Pilgrimage.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, Vol. 21, No. 4. p 403-426. Boston: BRILL.

Saraswati, Baidyanath (1985) Traditions of Tirthas in India: The anthropology of Hindu pilgrimage, Varanasi: NK Bose Memorial Foundation. p 2-29.

Weber, Donald (1995) “From Limen to Border: A Meditation on the Legacy of Victor Turner for American Cultural Studies.” American Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 3. p 525-528. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation:

Puja

Siva

Visnu

Good Death

Atma Hatya

Karma

Mukti/Mokti

Samsara

Dana

Household Shrines

Panentheism

Caste

Varna

Untouchables

Mahabharata

Dharma Shastras

Puranas

Atman

Rama

Varanasi

Vanaprastha

Samnyasin

Hardwar

Ganga River

Austerity

Auspiciousness

Mahatmyas

Merit

Rsi

Vedas

 

Related Websites

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/596892/tirtha

http://www.hinduism.co.za/tirtha.htm

http://www.tirthaguru.org/pilgrimage.htm

http://www.ometc.net/2010/02/what-is-the-meaning-of-tirtha.html

http://www.hindutirathyatra.com/

http://www.indianscriptures.com/vedic-lifestyle/beginners-guide/yatra-pilgrimage-in-hinduism

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/sacredscripts/hinduism/dharma/dharma_index.asp

http://larryavisbrown.homestead.com/files/xeno.mahabsynop.htm

 

Article written by: Kate Kovacs (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

 

Festivals and Vratas of the Hindu month of Kartik(a)

Kartik(a) is the eighth month of the Saka Calendar, the calendar employed in India, falling between the Western Calendar months of October and November (Melton 398). Kartik is seen by some Hindus as one of the three most popular and widely anticipated months of the Hindu calendar for its hospitable weather and religious importance (Pintchman 2004;23). The term vrata appears in various Hindu texts including the Vedas, first appearing in the Rgveda, the Puranas, and is even discussed in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata (see Pearson 1996;45-84). In the Rgveda, vrata is associated with maintaining the cosmic order (dharma), and may be different from one person to another, or from one god to another (see Pearson 45-46). Vrata are viewed as a way to express one’s faith and attain auspicious benefits (Pearson 62).  Auspiciousness is a very important attainment in Hinduism and is related to health and happiness and may be achieved through partaking in certain vrata (Pintchman 2003:330). Generally, vrata is defined as a religious vow or observance requiring abstinence, or restriction, from various activities, such as eating (Pintchman 2004:23). However, vrata may also require the performance of certain behaviors or activities, such as snana (bathing) (Pintchman 2004:23).

Vrata performed during the auspicious Hindu months of Kartik (Skt. Kartika), Vaisakh (Skt. Vaisakha) and Magh (Skt. Magha), are perceived to yield more benefits than vrata performed during other months (Pearson 91). As a result a great multitude of vrata, especially month-long vrata, are emphasized and practiced during these months (Pearson 91). The month long vrata include ritual bathing (snana), Hindu worship (puja), recitation of religious texts, or of texts that contain a narrative specific to the vrata or puja, charity, and abstinence from food (fasting) (Pearson 91). A great number of vrata and puja practiced during Kartik are specifically dedicated to the Hindu deity Krsna, a popular avatar of Visnu. However, there also exists puja dedicated to other Hindu deities, such as Laksmi (Hindu goddess) and Lord Brahma during Kartik.

A great number of vrata are largely conducted by women, which has to do with the connection between women and vrata. Though men and women are both equally allowed to partake in vrata, women tend to take over the carrying out of the vrata because of the connection between vrata and maintaining the health and well being of the family, which is largely the role of women in Hindu society (Pearson 126). Popular Kartik vrata include the Kartik puja and Kartik snana, which are done in observance of the Kartik vrata. These specific puja and snana are widely performed in the Indian city of Banares and are largely conducted by female votaries and dedicated to Krsna. During the month long Kartik vrata in Banares, women perform daily snana (bath) in the Ganges before sunrise, as this is dictated to increase meritorious benefits (Pintchman 2004:23). This portion of the vrata is viewed to be crucial to the Kartik vrata, even more important than the fasting portion of the vrata (Pintchman 2004:23). After the daily snana, a portion of female votaries partake in Kartik puja, which is also done in observance of the Kartik Vrata and includes the construction of murtis, singing, offerings and ends with the marriage of Krsna to Tulsi, the basil plant goddess (see Pintchman 2004:23-24). After the snana, female votaries build murtis (icons) of Hindu deities, including Krsna, while the other murtis constructed are also seen to partake in worshipping Krsna alongside the votaries (Pintchman 2004:24). For the first portion of the month long vrata Krsna is viewed as an infant, and the women see themselves as the gopis (female cowherdesses) who looked after Krsna during his childhood in Vrindavan (Pintchman 2004:24). The Kartik puja includes replicating the Krsna rasa-lila, a mythological dance circle in which Krsna multiplies himself and then has intercourse with each of the gopis, and singing and bathing the icons in the Ganges (Pintchman 2004:24). This replication of Hindu mythology is a part of many puja and vrata, and is referred to as vrat-kautha, the story of the vrata (Pintchman 2003:150). Halfway through the month of Kartik the women bring in a Brahmin priest, the first involvement of a male in the vrata, to perform the sacred thread ceremony on Krsna (Pintchman 2004:24). The sacred thread ceremony marks Krsna’s transition into manhood, and for the occasion the women make a new brass murtis of Krsna (Pintchman 2004;24). For the second half of the Kartik vrata Krsna is understood to be a man, no longer an infant, and the women spend the remainder of the month planning Krsna’s marriage to the Tulsi, the basil plant goddess, who is also viewed to be auspicious (Pintchman 2004:24). The wedding between the two Hindu deities takes place on Prabhodani Ekadashi, the day that Visnu awakens from a four month long slumber, which also contributes to the auspiciousness of Kartik as a month (Pintchman 2004:24). The month long Kartik vrata ends on the last day of Kartik, the night of the full moon (purnima) on which Krsna and Tusli depart for Krsna’s parents’ home (sasural) and consummate their marriage (Pintchman 2004:24).

Other ceremonies performed during Kartik in specific worship of Krsna is Gyana Panchami, also referred to as Knowledge Day, a day of Jain worship which occurs on the fifth day during Kartik (Melton 454). The worship includes visiting temples and reading Jain scripture (Melton 454). Another celebration during Kartik is Kartika Purnima, told in Matsya Purana and centers on the first avatar of Visnu, Matsya (Melton 493). A popular vrata observed on the fourth day of the waning moon in Kartik is Karwa Chauth, when married women pray for the health of their families, specifically their husbands, and includes fasting for the day (Melton 497-498).

Though Kartik is largely known as a Hindu month, there also exists a Hindu warrior deity Kartik, whom has specific puja dedicated to him. A group of women perform the puja, Usha Bhasani, during the month of Kartik in observance of this deity (Choudhury 341). The puja is performed in the Cachar district of Assam and takes place on the last day of the month of Kartik (Choudhury 341). Usha Bhasami includes a Brahmin priest, but primarily focuses on the growing of a miniature garden in which an effigy, a figurine made of dirt or cloth and, in this case, made to look like a crude bride, is hidden in the garden (Choudhury 341). The effigy is placed alongside a picture of Kartik (as the Hindu warrior deity) and then immersed in the closest body of water (Choudhry 341). Usha Bhasami includes vrat-kautha, a narrative of the mythology behind the puja. Single women are not allowed to partake in the puja.

Although a large portion of puja conducted during Kartik center on Krsna, there are puja dedicated to other Hindu deities, such as Laksmi (Hindu goddess) and Lord Brahma. Laksmi puja is performed in Benares during Kartik, again by women votaries, and includes cleaning and white washing the home (Pearson 87). The women will then take rice powder and trace footprints with the powder leading from the door of the household to the center of the house (Pearson 87). The footprints are seen as outlines of the goddess’ feet, and are drawn leading into the home to try and entice the goddess into bringing her auspiciousness and good fortune into the home until the next Laksmi puja is conducted in the following year (Pearson 87).

Another observance during Kartik is Bhaiyaduj, or “Brother’s Second”, in which sisters pay tribute to their brothers (Pearson 87). The Karva Cauth Vrat is usually observed during this time as well, and is conducted by women for the well being of their husbands (Pearson 87).

While Kartik is widely known for the many vrata and puja carried out during the month, a large number of festivals and celebrations are also carried out during the month. Kojagari is festival occurring on the first night of the Kartik full moon (purnima) and is done in honour of Laksmi (Pintchman 2003:330). The festival involves both men and women, with participants staying up well into the night to receive blessings from Laksmi, who travels the night asking “ko jagarti”, which translates to “Who is awake?” (Pintchman 2003:330). Divali is another popular festival conducted during Kartik which takes place between the dark and light fortnights in the middle of Kartik (Pintchman 2003:330). During the festival, Laksmi re-roams the earth and observers light lamps to guide the goddess, once again, into people’s homes (Pintchman 2003:330).

A large pilgrimage, the pilgrimage to Pushkar Lake for the Kartik Full-Moon Fair, also takes place during Kartik and includes snana, competitions, circuses, holy men and a large amount of sociabilizing (see Jacobson 8-14). The pilgrimage follows the creation story of Pushkar Lake, which was created by Lord Brahma (creator of the universe) when he cast a lotus blossom to earth creating the lake [Pushkar also means lotus] (Jacobson 8). Pushkar is considered a sacred place and in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, the ideal pilgrimage is dictated as beginning at Pushkar (Jacobson 8). The pilgrimage and festival brings together various groups of Hindus, and has a highly celebratory atmosphere, including the a performance of the Murwarj Khel, a dramatic musical based on traditional Hindu stories (see Jacobson 8-14). The festival culminates on Kartik Purnima [full moon], and during that day, before the full moon, participants take what is considered a very auspicious snana early in the morning (see Jacobson 8-14).

Kartik is an auspicious month in which a multitude of vrata, puja, festivals and even pilgrimages occur. These religious and festive events help to strengthen the Hindu community, uniting worshippers together through religious observances, specifically through the practice of vrata. These practices help to re-affirm valued Hindu institutions, such as marriage, and to celebrate the roles of women in Hindu society, such as the role of women as protector of their family’s health and well being (see Pintchman 2003:23-32).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMNEDED READING

Choudhury, Sujit (1997) “Kartik worship in the Cachar district of Assam.” Folklore 18 #11       (November): 341-347.

Fruzzetti, Lina (1982) The Gift of a Virgin: Women, Marriage, and Ritual in a Bengali society.    New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press.

Jacobson, Doranne (1979) “Pilgrimage to Pushkar.” Asia 2 #3 (September-October): 8-14

Melton, J. Gordon (2011) Religious Celebrations; An Encyclopedia of Holidays, Festivals,  Solemn Observances and Spiritual Commemorations. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Mishra, Nihar Ranjan (2004) Kamakhya; A Socio-Cultural Study. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

Pearson, Anne Mackenzie (1996) “Because It Gives Me Peace Of Mind,” Ritual Fasts in the             Religious Lives of Hindu Women. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Pintchman, Tracy (2004) “Courting Krishna on the banks of the Ganges: gender and power in a            Hindu women’s ritual tradition.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the  Middle East 24 #1: 23-32

____(2003) “The month of Kartik And Women’s Ritual Devotions to Krishna in Benares.” In The Blackwell Companion To Hinduism. Gavin Flood (ed.). Pintchman: Blackwell. pp. 327-342.

Pintchman, Tracy (2003) Guests At God’s Wedding: Celebrating Kartik Among The Women of           Benares. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Pintchman, Tracy (2011) Woman and goddess in Hinduism: reinterpretations and re-envisionings. New York: Palgrave Macmillon.

Pintchman, Tracy (c2007) Women’s Lives, Women’s Rituals in the Hindu Tradition. Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press.

Rhodes, Constantina Eleni (2010) Invoking Lakshmi; The Goddess of Wealth in Song and Ceremony. Albany: State University of New York.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Visnu

Krsna

Laksmi

Lord Brahma

Tulsi

The Mahabharata

Durga

Gopis

Sankalp

Aksaya Navami Puja

Krsna Lila

Auspiciousness

Vedas

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/deities/vishnu.shtml

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/history/krishna.asp

http://www.freeindia.org/biographies/gods/lakshmi/page2.htm

http://www.asia.si.edu/pujaonline/puja/background.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/worship/worship.shtml

http://www.bhaktivedantamanor.co.uk/home/?page_id=642

http://bhrigumantra.com/kartik-damodara-kartik-maas-the-holiest-month-in-the-hindu-lunar-calendar/

Article written by: Stephanie Blencowe (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

Hijra Religion

The Hijras are an institutionalized third gender in India. They live mainly in Northern India, with the major Hijra temple located in Gujarat, near Ahmedabad (Nanda 1990:xxii). Hijras are biological men who renounce sexuality and dress and act like women. Some Hijras are born hermaphrodites, or with ambiguous genitalia (Nanda 1990:5), but most Hijras are impotent or infertile men who undergo a sacrificial emasculation procedure called the nirvan operation, which involves the removal of male genitalia (Reddy 2005:56). This ritual emasculation is said to give them the power to bestow fertility to newlyweds and prosperity to newborn children (Reddy 2005:2). The traditional work of a Hijra is to perform at the birth of a child, at weddings, and at temple festivals; a group of Hijras will dance, sing, and bestow blessings in an exaggerated parody of female behavior, for which they receive payment (Nanda 1990:3, Reddy 2005:84).

Hijras practice a pluralistic form of religion: identity formation is related to Hinduism, but many Hijras also identify as Muslim (Reddy 2005:99). Hijras, being neither male nor female, are able to blur gender boundaries within Muslim traditions (Reddy 2005:102). They will sometimes embark on the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Karbala or Mecca or Medina, but unlike Muslim women, they do not need to be accompanied by a male relative (Reddy 2005:103). Muslim Hijras will wear a burqa when not performing (Reddy 2005:104), but are also permitted to wear male clothing upon returning from their pilgrimage (Reddy 2005:105). [see Reddy, 2005 for more information on Muslim Hijras]

Hindu Hijras trace their origins back to the time of the Ramayana (Reddy 2005:9). A common myth that Hijras tell regarding their history is that when Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, was exiled from Ayodhya, the entire city followed him to the edge of town to say goodbye. Everyone was in tears when they reached the banks of a river, and Rama asked all the men and women to stop crying for him and to go back to their homes. The Hijras, who are not men and not women, waited for fourteen years on the banks of the river. Upon his return, Rama was so moved by their extreme devotion that he gave them a blessing: he told them they would be kings in the kali yuga (Reddy 2003:189). [A yuga refers to a cosmic period in Hindu Cosmology (Reddy 2003:189)] . It is interesting to note that we are currently in the kali yuga, and that Hijras are entering the political sphere in India (Reddy 2003:164) as somewhat ideal candidates for leadership due to their celibacy and lack of kinship ties (Reddy 2003:182).

Within the Hindu pantheon, Hijras identify primarily with the god Siva (particularly in his ardhanarisvara state, when he is portrayed as half man, half woman), Arjuna, a hero from the Mahabharata epic and incarnation of Visnu, and the goddess Bahuchara Mata (Nanda 2003:195, Reddy 2005:81). In one Hindu creation myth, Siva was appointed to create the world but he took so long that the job was given to another god, Brahma (the Creator). When Siva was finally ready to begin creating the world, he saw that it was already done, and was so angry that he broke off his phallus and threw it into the earth (Nanda 2003:195). Hijras, like Siva, bury their severed penises in the ground, which they believe gives them the power of creation (Reddy 2005:97). By giving up individual fertility, they acquire universal creative power (Reddy 2005:97). Another clear identification for the Hijras is with Arjuna from the Mahabharata epic (Nanda 2003:195, Reddy 2005:81). During the epic Arjuna spends a year in the court of king Virata disguised as a eunuch named Brhannala, dressing like a woman and teaching dance to the women of the court (Nanda 2003:195, Reddy 2005:81). However, worship of Bahuchara Mata (a version of the mother goddess particularly associated with transgendierism and transvestism) is the most important for Hijras. Each Hijra household has a shrine to her and it is in her name that Hijras bestow their blessings of fertility and prosperity (Nanda 1990:24). [See Nanda, 1990, for myths attesting to Bahuchara’s special connection to Hijras]

Hijras engage in two kinds of occupations: badhai work, (singing and dancing at marriages and births) which is seen as a respectful occupation, and kandra work (sex work), a practice which is criticized by senior Hijras but is still the main source of income for roughly half the Hijra population (Reddy2005:15,80). Some Hijras will even take on regular clients as ‘husbands’ (Reddy 2003:165). Reddy suggests that due to their association with sex work and their ambiguous gender identification, Hijras are generally viewed as outside of the social order (Reddy 2003:166). They are seen as besarm (without shame), and people are often afraid to interact with them (Reddy 2003:166). Hijras have the power to bless but they also have the power to curse; if they are not adequately compensated for their services they will threaten to expose their mutilated genitals, a sight which is believed to cause impotence (Nanda 1990:7). For this reason Hijras are socially marginalized, but they are also feared (Nanda 1990:8). Badhai refers to the payments Hijras receive for their services, usually in the form of flour, cane sugar, sweets, cloth, saris or money (Nanda 1990:3). At the birth of male children Hijras will dance, entertain, and bless the child with fertility, prosperity, and long life. They will also examine the genitals of baby boys; if they are ambiguous they will sometimes try to claim the child as one of their own (Nanda 1990:2-5). Hijras will also perform at marriages; the social class of the bride and groom determines how elaborate the performance will be. They will bless the newlywed couple with fertility in the name of the mother goddess (Nanda 1990:5).

In the Hindu tradition chastity and renunciation of sexual activity gives one tapas (inner heat) which is associated with creation (Reddy 2005:96). For men in particular, abstinence or semen-retention is seen as a way to generate tapas (Reddy 2003:175). A Hijra is seen as a kind of sannyasin (renouncer) who has transformed their sexual impotence into procreative power (Nanda 2003: 195). Hijra men are said to receive a call from the Goddess Bahuchara Mata to serve her: those who deny her risk seven cycles of impotent rebirths (Nanda 2003:195). The nirvan operation is a form of rebirth in many ways; and the post-operation rituals mirror post-childbirth rituals (Nanda 2003:195). Only after the nirvan operation are Hijras truly believed to be able to channel the power of Bahuchara Mata (Nanda 2003:195). Although the operation is currently illegal in India, it is still practiced. The operation is a way of gaining respect within Hijra communities (Reddy 2005:93). Sex work is seen as contradictory to the ascetic ideal of sexual renunciation (Nanda 1990:12). The view among Hijras is that the ‘real’ Hijras are the ones who renounce sexuality completely and undergo the nirvan operation as proof of their legitimacy (Reddy 2003:175).

The gender neutrality of the Hijras has captured the imaginations of gender studies scholars worldwide (Reddy 2003:164). They are also beginning to enter the political sphere. They have become increasingly visible worldwide. Many Hijras see this as a fulfillment of Rama’s diving prophecy, and believe this to be the beginning of a new era. [I have included some links to current events articles regarding Hijras and politics, see below]

 

Bibliography

Nanda, Serena (1990) Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company

Nanda, Serena (1985) “The Hijras of India: Cultural and Individual Dimensions of an Institutionalized Third Gender Role” in Richard Parker and Peter Aggleton eds. Culture, Society, and Sexuality: A Reader, p 237-250. New York: Routledge

Nanda, Serena (2003) “Hijra and Sadhin: Neither Man nor Woman in India” in Constructing Sexualities: Readings in Sexuality, Gender and Culture. Suzanna LaFont (ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. pp. 192-201

Reddy, Gayatri (2005) With Respect to sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India. London: University of Chicago Press

Reddy Gayatri (2003)”Men Who Would Be Kings: Celibacy, Emasculation and the Re-Production of Hijras in Contemporary Indian Politics” in Social Research, vol 70 (1), p p163-200

Lal, Vinay (1999) “Not This, Not That: The Hijras of India and the Cultural Politics of Sexuality” in Social Text, No. 61, p119-140: Duke University Press.

 

Related Readings

Cohen, Lawrence (1995) “The Pleasures of Castration: The Postoperative Status of Hijras,
Jankhas, and Academics” in Paul R. Abrahamson and Steven D. Pinkerton eds. Sexual Nature/Sexual Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Reddy Gayatri (2006) “Bonds of Love: The Desire for Companionate Marriages Among Hijras of India” in Hirsch, J and H. Wardlow eds. Modern Love: Companionate Marriage and the Politics of Love, University of Michigan Press

 

 Related Research Topics

-Tapas

-Asceticism

-Siva

-Arjuna

-Bahuchara Mata

-Transgender

 

Suggested websites

General information

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hijra_(South_Asia)

http://www.everyculture.com/South-Asia/Hijra-Religion-and-Expressive-Culture.html

Current events

http://www.newstatesman.com/world-affairs/2008/05/hijras-indian-changing-rights\

http://www.ibtimes.com/third-sex-transgenders-eunuchs-run-political-office-pakistan-1104224

Photos of Hijras

http://www.pbase.com/maciekda/hijras

http://www.pbase.com/maciekda/hijra_bangladesh

 

 

Written by Molly Matheson (April 2013), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Upanayana Rite

One of the most imperative components of the Hindu religion are the rites that believers take part in. The upanayana rite is fulfilled in a young man’s life around the age of puberty (Pandey 112). The upanayana, otherwise known as the sacred thread ceremony, entails presenting the young man with a sacred thread initiating him into society, and symbolizing the transfer of spiritual knowledge. This rite of passage, or samskara, as it is known in Hinduism, is one of about forty rites that are to be completed by individual Hindus. Samskaras began around the Vedic period and there are various motives to fulfill them, including popularity or cultural motives (Pandey 25). In Hinduism, the total number of rites suggested to be completed is very high, so quite often only the most popular sixteen are accomplished in one’s lifetime (Pandey 23). The upanayana rite is acknowledged as one of the most important rites in Hinduism. The significance of this rite can be observed as mainly a social transformation into adult society (Smith 65). This rite marks a rebirth of those classified as a twice-born, or dvija, in Hindu society (Pandey 112). The ceremony of receiving the sacred thread is a distinguishing act, as it gives entrance to the study of the Vedas, under supervision of a teacher (guru) (Smith 65).

A considerable number of people in the Hindu population are capable of completing samskaras, but distinct portions are denied. The Brahmin, Ksatriya, and Vaisya classes are the three highest ranked classes in Hindu society, and therefore are allowed the privilege of completing the upanayana rite, along with numerous other rites (Smith 65). There is a belief in Hinduism that all people are born in the Sudra class, and remain there until they complete the samskaras that are appropriate based on a person’s gender, age, and other qualifications (Olson 153). The two classes excluded from the initiation are the Sudras and the Untouchables, as they are not considered worthy of such a ceremony by Hindu standards (Orenstein 11). For the upanayana rite, there are also certain ages at which the rite should be performed. For Brahmins, the suggested age is eight, for Ksatriyas the age is eleven, and it is twelve for the Vaisyas (Smith 68). Scholars have also noted that the initiation tends to be performed at various times of the year depending on the seasons. The upanayana rite tends to be performed more often in the spring for the Brahmins, the summer for the Ksatriyas and the autumn for the Vaisyas (Smith 69). Each season is a representation of the nature and professions of the various classes, which hints towards the power they hold to auspiciousness (Pandey 127). Hindus take auspiciousness very seriously, and like any major rite performed, the most auspicious time of the year for each class was taken into consideration before the rite could be fulfilled (Pandey 127). While the class distinctions are necessary for deciding whether or not a person is to be denied completing this samskara, there is also the issue of gender. The Upanayana rite is exclusively for males, and often, the equivalent ceremony for females is the marriage rite, or vivaha (Pandey 158).

Traditionally, the day before the initiation tended to be reserved for trying to appease certain auspicious deities and gods. The young men have their bodies smeared with yellow substance that may be representative or symbolic of the Sudra class that everyone initially is born into in Hindu society (Olson 153). That evening, the individual is also ordered to stay silent for the entire night. The morning of the ceremony, the young man and mother eat a final meal together (Pandey 128). Throughout this meal, the child is fed as he rests on his mother’s lap, and this represents the last meal to be had by the hand of his mother. This symbolizes the entry into the student stage of life, where the mother and son would be separated for a length of time (Pandey 129). The last meal had by the hand of his mother is said to be symbolic of the child’s original birth and embryonic state, as he is entering the world through a second birth (Olson 154). Following the meal, the young men was to have his head shaved, as well as take part in a ceremonious bath; bathing in Hinduism is a spiritually purifying act that is fundamental to samskaras (Pandey 129).

The next important detail for the upanayana rite was ensuring the young men had the proper clothes and accessories for the ceremony. They were offered an “upper garment (uttariya), a lower garment (vasa), a girdle (mekhald), [and] a staff (danda)…” (Smith 70). Based on early literature, it is known that deerskin (a type of ajina) was initially utilized as the piece for the upper garment. Since the textile revolution, it has been more common to use a cotton cloth in the ceremony. Both the upper garment and the girdle were made of different materials for the various classes. The Brahmins quite often wore girdles made of Munja grass, the Ksatriyas wore girdles made of bow string, and the Vaisya of wool. While these materials may be used for the ceremony, soon after it is usually exchanged for a cotton girdle (Pandey 130-131). The girdle is representative of the upper three classes being dvijas, and allowed to participate in the rite (158 upanayana). The girdle is also meant to be a symbol of protection, strength and could be distinguished as symbolic of the student who is “reborn” (Smith 71).

The final and arguably most essential piece to the upanayana ceremony was the sacred thread. This sacred thread (yajnapavita) is often made of different materials depending on which class the young man belonged to. Quite often the yajnapavita was to be cotton for the Brahmins, hemp for the Ksatriyas, and wool for the Vaisyas (Prasad 115). There could also be variation in the colour of the thread worn by each class. Sometimes it was seen that the Brahmins wore white, Ksatriyas wore red and the Vaisyas wore yellow (Pandey 132). The young man wears the sacred thread over his right shoulder when presented it during the ceremony (Prasad 115).

During the ceremony the guru recites the Savitri mantra, which is in Gayatri verse to the new student (Olson 154). Following the learning of the Gayatri mantra, the individual has his first kindling of the sacred fire. This worship of the sacred fire begins at the upanayana and continues throughout the individual’s lifetime (Pandey 138). The fire lit at the rite was not to be put out at the end of the ceremony, but maintained through the marriage ceremony and further becoming the householder fire for the remainder of the young man’s life (Smith 81). Finally, when the young man is ready to begin his life in the student stage, he dawns his new ascetic clothing, staff and accessories (Olson 159). In doing so, he is informing everyone that he is ready to live the full adult life, and ready to be taught from the wisdom of the Vedas. Initially, the key rationale for undertaking the upanayana rite was for educational purposes. Sources concur that many young men completed the rite when they wanted to approach a guru for higher education. In more recent times, the rite has evolved to become more of a religious achievement rather than an educational one (Pandey 116).

Not participating in this rite entails the probable excommunication from the group, as well as exclusion from the opportunities and advantages that are offered upon completion of the upanayana rite (Pandey 112). Without the fulfillment of the rite, one is also denied the privilege of marrying an Aryan girl after reaching that stage of life. Not only are those who do not complete the upanayana rite excluded from society, there are also other negative implications, such as being detested by fellow Aryans (Olson 157).

The upanayana rite marks the end of one era, and the beginning of another. Gone is the childhood of a boy and replacing it is the future of a man, as well as preparation for a time as a student. The union between the teacher (guru) and the student upon entrance into this stage of life is marked by prayer, as well as the touching of the heart. This emphasizes the sacred relationship between student and teacher, and also the harmony required for the relationship (Pandey 136). While the upanayana rite can be considered symbolic in many ways, in Hinduism, the belief is that the boy is truly awakened into a man upon completion of the ceremony (Olson 162). Symbolism is a major part of Hindu beliefs and there is no shortage in the upanayana rite. During the initiation, the girdle represents chastity and obedience, as the young man is about to embark on a journey of education (Olson 158).

As one of the sixteen most commonly performed samskaras, the upanayana is one of a sequence of initiations ensuring the student is eligible to receive Vedic education (Smith 77). The upanayana rite is an important ceremony for Hindu tradition as it initiates study of the Vedas, participation in adult society, as well as the daily fire kindling sacrifice. In the past, this sacrament has been highly influential and significant in Hindu religion, and remains so to this day.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Olson, Carl (1977) “The Existence, Social, and Cosmic Significance of the Upanayana Rite.” Numen, XXIV (August), 152-160. Brill Publishing.

Orenstein, Henry (1965) “The Structure of Hindu Caste Values: A Preliminary Study of Hierarchy and Ritual Defilement.” Numen, IV (January), 1-15. Brill Publishing.

Pandey, Rajbali (1969) Hindu Samskaras: Socio-religious study of the Hindu Sacraments. Delhi: Molital Banarsidass Publishers.

 Prasad, Ramacandra C. (1997) “Upanayana.” The Upanayana: The Hindu Ceremonies of the Sacred Thread. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Smith, Brian K. (1986) “Ritual, Knowledge, and Being: Initiation and Veda Study in Ancient India.” Numen, XXXIII (June), 65-89. Brill Publishing.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation:

Samskaras

Brahmin

Dvijas

Varnas

Diksa

Rite of Passage

Initiation

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic:

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/618595/upanayana

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upanayana

http://www.talktalk.co.uk/reference/encyclopaedia/hutchinson/m0099099.html

http://hinduonline.co/HinduCulture/Upanayana.html

http://www.sanskrit.org/www/Hindu%20Primer/samskaras.html

http://www.sanathanadharma.com/samskaras/edu1.htm

 

Article written by: Michelle Osborne (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.