Category Archives: S. Significant Figures and Organizations in Hinduism

academic resources for teaching and learning about hinduism

Understanding Our Religious World (Series)

HINDUISM: Understanding Our Religious World

There is an assortment of reasonably-priced, richly illustrated, engaging digital texts for the academic study of the major religious traditions on this site. These include: Hinduism, Buddhism, East Asian Religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The site contains many free resources (for students and instructors), as well as PowerPoint slides and useful materials for instructors. These are best suited for teaching more than one religion in a given semester. In a World Religions course, one might assign the Western and Eastern Religions texts, or utilize various combinations of individual books to best suit the course needs. These books have a robust appeal for their pedagogic effectiveness.

Hinduism – the eBook

This is a very reasonably priced digital version of the widely-used Introducing Hinduism, 2e (Routledge), described below. It contains weblinks, color images, pronunciation guides, research resources. It is especially effective for courses that are taught and received through remote, digital instruction, but has been widely used in live classroom settings as well. The reviews for Introducing Hinduism listed below also pertain to this volume. The many other books listed on this site include: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Tibetan Buddhism, Japanese Religion, Daoism, Islam, Christianity, and World Religions. These books are best suited for semester-long courses dedicated to a single religious tradition.

Introducing Hinduism, 2e

It is an ideal sourcebook for those seeking a comprehensive overview of the Hindu tradition. This second edition includes substantial treatments of Tantra, South India, and women, as well as expanded discussions of yoga, Vedanta and contemporary configurations of Hinduism in the West. Its lively presentation features: case studies, photographs, and scenarios that invite the reader into the lived world of Hinduism; introductory summaries, key points, discussion questions, and recommended reading lists at the end of each chapter; narrative summaries of the great epics and other renowned Hindu myths and lucid explanations of complex Indian philosophical teachings, including Sankhya and Kashmir Saivism; and a glossary, timeline, and pronunciation guide for an enhanced learning experience. This volume is an invaluable resource for students in need of an introduction to the key tenets and diverse practice of Hinduism, past and present.

The digital version listed above is also effective and easy to access for instructors and students.


“In this new edition Rodrigues extends his comprehensive approach to Hinduism’s long history and complex network of sacred stories, ritual practices, and philosophical thought that he constructed in the first edition. This new edition weaves case studies of communities, leaders, and perspectives that take the reader closer into the lived realities of Hindu life. For students and readers who want to know where to begin in their understanding of Hinduism, this is the book.” Paul B. Courtright, Emory University, USA

“This edition will provide a comprehensive and useful introduction, starting point, and reference to the Hindu tradition… . It is extremely well suited for the classroom.” Sushil Mittal, Professor of Hindu Studies, James Madison University, USA

“Introducing Hinduism is, quite simply, the best book of its kind. An instructor can, by being selective, use it quite effectively as an introductory text, but it has enough depth that it can be a springboard for more advanced examination of primary texts or anthropological case studies. It is comprehensive, thorough and engaging enough for the general reader to get an excellent grounding in the dauntingly complex web of Hindu traditions.” David McMahan, Franklin and Marshall College, USA

An Introduction to Hinduism

This book provides a much-needed thematic and historical introduction to Hinduism, the religion of the majority of people in India. Dr. Flood traces the development of Hindu traditions from ancient origins and the major deities to the modern world. Hinduism as both a global religion and a form of nationalism are discussed. Emphasis is given to the tantric traditions, which have been so influential; to Hindu ritual, more fundamental than belief or doctrine; and to Dravidian influences. It introduces some debates within contemporary scholarship.

Academically solid and once widely used, this book is in need of a new edition.

Studying Hinduism in Practice

Drawing on personal experiences of Hinduism on the ground, this book provides a reflective context within which religious practices can be understood and appreciated. It conveys the rich realities of the Hindu tradition and the academic approaches through which they are studied. The chapters cover a wide range of topics, including dance, music, performance, festival traditions, temples, myth, philosophy, women’s practices, and divine possession. The engaging narratives are accompanied by contextual discussions and advice on such topics as conducting fieldwork, colonialism, Hindu seasonal celebrations, understanding deities, and aesthetics in Hinduism. All the entries are accompanied by photographs and suggestions for further reading.

This is an excellent complement to any of the aforementioned textbooks on Hinduism, and best utilized in a semester-long course.

The Life of Hinduism

The Life of Hinduism brings together a series of essays—many recognized as classics in the field—that present Hinduism as a vibrant, truly “lived” religion. Celebrating the diversity for which Hinduism is known, this volume begins its journey in the “new India” of Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley, where global connections and local traditions rub shoulders daily. Readers are then offered a glimpse into the multifaceted world of Hindu worship, life-cycle rites, festivals, performances, gurus, and castes. The book’s final sections deal with the Hinduism that is emerging in diasporic North America and with issues of identity that face Hindus in India and around the world: militancy versus tolerance and the struggle between owning one’s own religion and sharing it with others.

This is an excellent complement to any of the aforementioned textbooks on Hinduism, and best utilized in a semester-long course.

The Camphor Flame: Popular Hinduism and Society in India

Popular Hinduism is shaped, above all, by worship of a multitude of powerful divine beings — a superabundance indicated by the proverbial total of 330 million gods and goddesses. The fluid relationship between these beings and humans is a central theme of this rich and accessible study of popular Hinduism in the context of the society of contemporary India. Lucidly organized and skillfully written, The Camphor Flame brings clarity to an immensely complicated subject. C. J. Fuller combines ethnographic case studies with comparative anthropological analysis and draws on textual and historical scholarship as well. The book’s new afterword brings the study up-to-date by examining the relationship between popular Hinduism and contemporary Hindu nationalism.

Especially effective for anthropologically oriented approaches to the teaching of Hinduism.

Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction

Hinduism is practised by nearly eighty per cent of India’s population, and by some seventy million people outside India. In this Very Short Introduction, Kim Knott offers a succinct and authoritative overview of this major religion, and analyses the challenges facing it in the twenty-first century. She discusses key preoccupations of Hinduism such as the centrality of the Veda as religious texts, the role of Brahmins, gurus, and storytellers in the transmission of divine truths, and the cultural and moral importance of epics such as the Ramayana.

As part of the Very Short Introductions series, these is a slim volume (160 pages), best suited if used in tandem with other materials for semester-long courses.

The Lingayat/Virasaiva tradition

The Lingayat tradition, also known as Virasaiva, is a Hindu sect with a vast following in Karnataka, a southern state of India. They are known as Virasaivas because of their relentless and deeply passionate devotion to Siva, a deity who is worshipped by both upper and lower caste Hindus, as well as other marginal groups in Hindu society (Basu 475). The origin of the sect is traced to the eleventh and twelfth century as a small-scale socio religious movement and founded by Basavanna, a government minister. In order to maintain their purpose within the broad framework of the Lingayat tradition, Basavanna adapted and reconstructed the principles of the influential Saivite (Siva-worshiping) religious traditions superior during his time in Kashmir, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu (Basu 475). The Lingayat tradition highlights the shared dependence between Siva and individual human beings. TheParama Sakti (ultimate spiritual force) is believed to have been established by Siva; that is, Siva and the cosmic force are considered to be equal or alike (Basu 475). The Lingayat tradition believes that before the cosmos was created, Siva was the “The Supreme Self” in terms of purity, beyond space and place, beyond design, nameless, shapeless, and deedless (Basu 475). Basavanna preached that work, in all its forms, was to be worshipped. Therefore, Lingayats are washermen, barbers, weavers, carpenters, teachers, farmers, and members of practically every occupational group (Ishwaran 148). Work was to be worshipped as a continuation of the design of the Creator, the deity Siva.

            Lingayat tradition was a reaction to specific features of Hinduism and can barely be assumed or understood aside from orthodox Hinduism. Its practices and beliefs are either taken over from Hinduism, or they illustrate a deliberate contradiction of Hindu principles or rites. Lingayatism preaches that all men and women, whatever their birth or position in society, are all equal. In noticeable opposition to Hinduism, there is no ritual interpretation of female inferiority. For the Lingayats, there is no heaven, no hell, no life after death. They believe that reward for virtue and punishment come in this life and one makes this world a heaven or a hell (Ishwaran 148).  In Sanskrit, Linga signifies a mark or a symbol; hence, the Siva Lingam is a symbol of the supreme being, Siva. The practice requires that followers, both men and women, carry the Siva Linga/Lingam around their necks or across their chests. Basavanna and other Lingayat preachers tried to fight the polytheistic notions of Brahmanic Hinduism through the Lingayat tradition (Basu 475). Basavanna’s monotheism not only ousted the Vedic deities (cherished by Vedic Hindu followers), but to Lingayats, also disclosed the dishonesty of the Brahmanic interpretations of the Hindu scriptures. Therefore, the Lingayat tradition preferred a social order free of the caste system and social slavery and as a result, it originally accepted men and women from all Hindu castes, as well as the lowest (Basu 475).

             There are three sacred areas in every Lingayat home. Their homes are very meaningful for them,  because the home is not only a place for living, but is the means of close connections between family and members. The first sacred area of every Lingayat home is a raised platform (gaddige) which serves as the family altar. On this altar are the images of the personal gods of each family member. At this altar, daily worship by the family as a whole, represented by a male member, forms the regular feature of domestic festivals. The kitchen is also a sacred place. On festive days, the first element of all food prepared is given to the priest, and a second part sacrificed to the gods. Food is treated with the utmost respect, as is the stove where it is prepared. The native stove (vali) itself is worshipped, and all food is eaten, after which the plate is washed clean by the priest, and the water used in ablution is itself drunk, that none of the holy food be dishonoured. The doorway is also sacred in the home of all Lingayats. It is very crucial that a bride steps across the doorway with her right foot at marriage. Each bullock is stopped at the door of each Lingayat house and made to step across the doorway with his right foot during the procession of bullocks. On a daily basis, the doorway is washed and worshipped by the women of the household, and special rites of worship are done on festival days.

          Sororate marriages are accepted among the Lingayats, but more commonly practiced is the marriage of a girl to her mother’s brother (Ishwaran 153). Cross-cousin marriages are ordinary and chosen. It also frequently happens that two families may perform an exchange marriage. Usually, marriages ensue right after puberty and they are comprehensively organized. The marriage of a girl is commonly arranged at, or considerably before, the beginning of puberty. A marriage which is formed by love is considered to have a poor possibility of success. Love is considered to come in the normal course of events after marriage; should it exist before, the marriage is likely to be damaged by struggle both between the partners and between each of the partners and the in-laws (Ishwaran 154). If an arranged marriage leads to separation, the elders accountable for the marriage are susceptible to harsh criticism and sometimes to open animosity. By all means the bride must be younger than the bridegroom. Men must marry women who are younger in age so that wives stay submissive to their husbands, and care for them in their old age. Culture commands that girls are born to be given away and they must be married as soon as they reach puberty (Ishwaran 155). The current system of arranged marriage has allowed them to endure. Partners in one’s own kindred circle are regarded as committed, admired, and trustworthy on whom spouses can rely throughout life (Ishwaran 155).

        In the early nineteenth century, a scholar named Jean Antoine Abbe Dubois who had spent thirty years collecting materials and articles connected to Hindu behaviour, customs and ceremonies, distinguished what he heard, read, and studied about the Lingayat tradition (Chekki 108). He observed that the sect of Siva is dominant in several states. They refrain from eating animal products, and rather than burning the dead, like most Hindus, they choose to bury them. They also do not acknowledge the laws pertaining to degradation, which in most cases are recognized by other castes. Dubois mentions a proverb that says “There is no river for a  Lingayat”, which means that the followers of this sect do not value ablutions (Chekki 108). In addition, he specifies that the Lingayat tradition rejects many principles of the Hindu religion, particularly the cycle of birth and rebirth. The Lingayats, therefore, have no anniversary festivals to celebrate or honor the dead (Chekki 108).

         Prominently, there are at least three extensive stages or aspects of the Lingayat research traditions which discloses the preceding analysis. The first phase commenced in the early nineteenth century and progressed until the first decade of the twentieth century, which consists of  a large majority of Western scholars (Chekki 125). These observers from the West, based on very narrow or no knowledge of the earliest sources, seized only an incomplete view of the Lingayat tradition and culture. These scholars, with a few special cases, presented inadequate, definitive, distorted, and deceptive accounts of the Lingayat tradition and society. The second phase of the Lingayat studies, which surfaced in the 1920s, incorporates two streams of domestic scholars. Based upon an extensive exploration and analysis of Virasaiva classics in Kannada and Sanskrit, they contributed a great deal to the understanding of Lingayatism as a significant religious sect (Chekki 125). Their knowledge of the initial sources, modern outlook, and experience as members of the community aided them to produce trustworthy analyses of the Lingayat tradition and philosophy (Chekki 125). Nevertheless, some of these studies needed impartial scientific examination. The third phase of the Lingayat research, set in motion since the 1960s, has taken place broadly in institutional settings such as universities and research institutes (Chekki 125).

       The present day Lingayat/Virasaiva tradition research has become more multidisciplinary by nature and today, diversified disciplines in the humanities and social sciences examine Lingayat/Virasaiva history, literature, religion, philosophy, society and culture (Chekki 126). An abundant portion of the publications in the Lingayat/Virasaiva tradition, especially in the Kannada language, still seem to be laudatory and repetitious (Chekki 126). They are for the most part explanatory and based on inner experience rather than fact, lacking critical analysis. An extensive number of studies are on Basavanna and his reform movement. A majority of the authors are men. Women authors, and writings on women saints and their contributions, are minimal (Chekki 126). The question, “are Lingayats a caste or a religion?”, has both sociological interpretation and realistic significance. The Government of India categorizes the Lingayats as Hindus. Lingayat leaders, nevertheless, urge their followers, when asked their religion, not to answer Hindu, but Lingayat (Ishwaran 149). Whether the rank and file Lingayat considers himself as a Hindu caste or a separate religion is a matter of practical concern. Moreover, the demand to train a new generation of researchers cannot be disregarded on purpose. Numerous aspects and features of the Lingayat/Virasaiva tradition are still in need of examination by researchers.


Basu, Rajshekhar (2002) “Lingayat.” In Karen Christensen and David Levinson, eds. Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, p. 475. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Boratti, Vijayakumar (2017) “War, Words, and Communities: Lingayats and World War I.” Economic and Political Weekly. Accessed February 3, 2020. doi:10.1017/9781108594646.008.

Copeman, Jacob, and Ikegame Aya (2012) The Guru in South Asia: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives. London: Routledge.

Chekki, Danesh A. (1997) Religion and Social System of the Vīraśaiva Community. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Chekki, Danesh A. (2012). “The Spiritual Path of Devotion: The Vīraśaiva Perspective.” Anthropos 107(2):555-560. Accessed January 30, 2020. doi:10.5771/0257-9774-2012-2-555.

Desai, Prakash (2019). “Quest for Egalitarian Socio-Spiritual Order: Lingayats and Their Practices.” Journal of Human Values 25(2):87-100. Accessed January 30, 2020. doi:10.1177/0971685819826729.

Gutridge, Bryan (2006) The Religion of Revolution: A Historical Study of the Virasaiva Movement. Bloomington: Indiana University.

Ishwaran, Karigondar (1966). “Lingayat Kinship.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 1(2):147-160. Accessed February 1, 2020. doi:10.1177/002190966600100206.

Related Topics for Further Investigation








Tamil Nadu



Parama Sakti


Siva Lingam





Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Jonalyn Saballa (February 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.

Basava and the Lingayat tradition

Basava, also referred to as Basavanna, was a south Indian philosopher who is widely regarded as the founder of the Lingayattradition of Hinduism (Das 161). He is viewed as an early advocate for socio-religious reform, promulgating his teachings in what is now the Indian state of Karnataka (Ishwaran 2).

Although little is known about Basava’s early life, there are a few texts that provide details about his childhood. In addition to scarce historical records, the Basava Purana, written by Palkuriki Somanatha, provides a hagiographical account of his life. In addition, the Basavaraja Devara Ragale, a poem written in the 13th-century by Harihara, also provides important information about his life (Leslie 239). His poems, typically referred to as vacanas, have also provided extensive descriptions about his life and his beliefs (see Schouten 50-61).

Basava was born in a small village called Bagevadi to a Brahmin family (Ishwaran 1). His father was appointed by a local king to be the chief of his village. Though Basava was not born in a particularly wealthy family, he nonetheless enjoyed social privileges by virtue of his class and his father’s role in the village as the chief (Leslie 239). Over the course of his childhood, Basava engaged in activities that were traditionally prescribed for Brahmin males. Therefore, he was exposed to various religious rituals and also received formal religious education (Leslie 240).

However, despite the formalities that he had undergone, Basava grew increasingly disillusioned with the Brahmanical tradition in which he was raised (Schouten 2). In Harihara’s Basavaraja Devara Ragale, Basava was forced to participate in his sacred- thread ceremony – a crucially important initiation ceremony for twice-born males – at the age of eight. In contrast, according to the Basava Purana, he did not participate in his sacred-thread ceremony (Leslie 240). His father construed Basava’s reluctance to participate as egregiously disrespectful to tradition, creating friction in the relationship between Basava and his father (Rao and Roghair 58). Both accounts of his life relay a similar motif, namely his criticisms of the Brahmanical tradition at a very young age.

At the age of sixteen, Basava left his home village of Bagevadi and went to Kudalasangama, a popular pilgrimage site for Siva worshippers. The impetus for his decision to leave was marked by “a desire to escape… the religious ritualism and social prejudice of his environment” (Leslie 240). It was also at this time that Basava had become particularly fond of the Hindu god, Siva. Although several Saivite sects were prominent during this time, it is likely that Basava was exposed to the Lakulisa- Pasupata sect of Saivism in Kudalasangama (Das 162). He subsequently spent the next twelve years of his life in Kudalasangama where he extensively engaged in the service and worship of Siva. In addition, Basava continued to expand his education and also composed works of poetry (Das 162).

The socio-religious context in Karnataka during the 12th– century played an instrumental role in shaping Basava’s conceptions about the Brahmanical system of which he was particularly critical. A central facet of the Brahmanical system – the varna system – was construed by Basava to be an inherently oppressive system (Sahasrabudhe 225). In the Rg Veda, the Purusa – Sukta hymn situates the Brahmin class to be at the top of the social hierarchy, followed by the ksatriya, vaisya, and sudra classes. The class system was highly influential in Karnataka during this time, and the stratification of society closely followed the hierarchy implicit in the Purusa Sukta (Ishwaran 8). Devotion to god – bhakti – was a very popular mode of religious practice in Karnataka. This led to the creation of many temples that were primarily run by Brahmin priests. Due to the emphasis placed by the Brahmins on the importance of devotional practice, sudras felt that they were religiously obligated to donate their time and money to the priests (Ishwaran 7). Consequently, this led to the emergence of significant socio-economic and socio-religious disparities that were particularly conspicuous in Karnataka during this time. Basava was profoundly impacted by the segregation of worship that was commonplace in Siva temples. Devout sudras were unable to engage in the worship and service of Siva “in the company of the higher castes” (Ishwaran 7).  Basava viewed this unfair treatment by the Brahmins as prejudice masked under the pretext of notions about ritual pollution (Das 163). In his vacanas, Basava extensively articulates his concerns about the oppressive and exploitative Brahmanical system in place; moreover, he assigned culpability to the Brahmin priestly class for reinforcing this system (Schouten 55). Ultimately, the socio-religious context of the time served as the major impetus behind shaping many of the reformist attitudes that Basava later came to hold.

The next significant transition in Basava’s life is marked by his move away from Kudalasangama to a small town named Mangalavada (Leslie 242). Legendary accounts suggest that the Hindu god Siva had appeared in one of his dreams and instructed Basava to move to Mangalavada (Leslie 241). However, Basava was frightened by the notion of having to leave Kudalasangama given the profound impact the village had on his religious and spiritual development. Siva reappeared in a subsequent dream where he presented Basava with his own personal Siva linga, a symbol that represents Siva in Saivite tradition (Das 162). This reassured Basava that regardless of where he was, Siva would always be there for him, manifest in the form of a linga. Therefore, it is said that these dreams spurred his transition to Mangalavada because Basava viewed it as incumbent upon himself to “articulate his emotional commitment to [Siva]” (Leslie 242). In a place like Mangalavada, his message could reach a larger audience which would allow him to fulfill his goal.

            Mangalavada was a small town that was under the control of the Calukya empire in the 12th– century and was primarily inhabited by low class sudras (Leslie 242). Basava viewed this as an opportunity to promulgate some of his notions regarding religion and the importance of social reform. Over the course of the next several years, Basava regularly engaged with the people in his community through conversation and dialogue (Das 163). In addition, Basava regularly wrote works of poetry – vacanas – to disseminate his teachings to a broader audience (Leslie 242). In contrast to the Brahmanical system which valorized the use of Sanskrit as the principal way to communicate religious and spiritual topics, Basava instead decided to write in Kannada (Sahasrabudhe 223). He was a strong proponent of communicating religious and spiritual matters in the vernacular language in order to ensure that those teachings could be accessible to the greatest number of people. Sanskrit, however, was a language that was only accessible to relatively few people in society (i.e. primarily Brahmins), and therefore its use alienated the majority of people who had no knowledge of the language (Schouten 11). Thus, the preservation of the Kannada language and culture is heavily attributed to Basava due to his resistance to Sanskritic influences (Ishwaran 1).

In many vacanas, Basava presents arguments that undermine the intrinsically hierarchical nature of the class system (Schouten 51-52). Prejudicial attitudes towards lower class members of society (e.g. sudras) by the upper classes were commonplace (Ishwaran 8), and Basava argued that citing ritual pollution as a justification for such attitudes by the Brahmins was flawed. Central to Basava’s argument was his belief in the polluting origin of life (Schouten 59). The womb was traditionally regarded as a source of pollution, and because humans are born of the womb, one’s existence is plagued with pollution the moment they are born. Therefore, Basava concluded that “any pretension to high birth is meaningless” (Schouten 60) because regardless of one’s class, no one could escape the impurities associated with birth. In other words, the hierarchical nature of the class system, according to Basava, made no sense because of the common impure origin of human beings.

For many people, Basava’s ideals of social reform and equality were particularly impactful because he did not exclude anyone from his teachings on the basis of class or caste (Schouten 39). In addition, he espoused progressive views towards women, namely his recognition of women as individuals with rights (Sahasrabudhe 224). At the time, his acceptance for all people was construed as a radical departure from the traditional Brahmanical system because the egalitarian principles that Basava championed were, in many ways, contradictory to the views of the Brahmanical system (Das 163). This, in turn, was particularly attractive to lower class Hindus who had been traditionally alienated by the Brahmanical system.

In addition to his teachings about equality and social reform, Basava disseminated teachings about the nature of God and offered prescriptive approaches for the realization of God (Leslie 242). Because Basava was a devotee of Siva, many other Siva devotees, particularly from lower classes, found refuge in his teachings. Therefore, Basava was able to cultivate a large following which primarily consisted of Siva devotees – saranas – that distanced themselves from the Brahmin orthodoxy and instead embraced the inclusive model of Hinduism that Basava championed (Schouten 10). These saranas, according to Basava, no longer retained their class identity. This, too, was viewed unfavorably by the Brahmin orthodoxy, which, in contrast, stressed the immutability of one’s class (Das 163).

Due to a lack of royal patronage, Basava initially found it difficult to disseminate his teachings to a greater audience. The city of Kalyana – capital of the Calukya empire – had not yet divorced itself from the rigid Brahmanical orthodoxy; moreover, the Calukya leadership was generally apprehensive about Basava’s radical ideas because his ideas were met with strong contempt by the orthodoxy (Das 163). However, Bijjala, a powerful feudatory of the Calukya empire and a Saivite, was especially fond of Basava’s teachings (Leslie 242). The sustained decline of the Calukya empire coupled with poor leadership under Taila III led Bijjala to overthrow Taila III in 1162. Thus, he installed himself as the new emperor of the Calukya empire, paving the way for Basava to spread his teachings in Kalyana (Leslie 242). In addition to his religious endeavors, however, Basava was also a prominent political figure in the empire. He was appointed by Bijjala to serve as the chief minister of the empire, a position he held for thirty-six years (Ishwaran 6).

Basava continued to rally support from the people of Kalyana, with a particular focus on uniting Siva devotees and sudras. He later established the anubhava mandala, an institution that was central to accomplishing this goal. It served as a platform that enabled people from all walks of life to freely discuss spiritual, religious, and philosophical topics (Schouten 4). As time went on, a profound distrust of the Brahmanical system coupled with a growing sense of fraternity among Basava’s followers led Basava to formally establish the Saivite Lingayat sect (Ishwaran 2).

The monopolization of temples by the Brahmins was particularly disconcerting for Basava because it prevented many low-class Hindus from engaging in the worship of Siva (Ishwaran 7). Consequently, Basava reconceptualized the way people approached the worship and service of God – bhakti – to accommodate for the alienated peoples of society and to undermine the already waning influence of the priesthood. Basava explicitly declared that it was not necessary to visit a temple in order to worship God (Leslie 242). According to Basava, the linga is a manifestation of Siva; thus, it could serve as an object of worship. For many people, God was no longer a distant entity confined to the inner depths of temples. One could now freely worship Siva without concerning themselves about the mandates of orthodox tradition. In recognition of the all-encompassing presence of God, Basava believed that one could transform any object into a linga that could be worshipped if their devotion was strong enough (Rao and Roghair 33). The significance of the linga for practitioners of the Lingayat tradition continues to persist in contemporary practice, as well. Children will often undergo an initiation ritual (diksa) where a guru will present the child with a linga; moreover, one is expected to wear the linga around the neck for the rest of their life and worship it five times a day (Rao and Roghair 8).

There are two cornerstone principles of Lingayatism – kayaka and dasoha – that Basava argued were valid forms of worship and service to God. From God’s perspective, one’s profession did not dictate his or her worth in the eyes of God. Manual labor – kayaka –  was looked down upon by the orthodoxy, but Basava emphasized that the precise nature of one’s work did not matter, insofar as one did his or her work with effort and honesty (Leslie 243). The principle of kayaka was wildly popular because it gave people the reassurance that doing their work dutifully was a viable path toward God (Das 164). Dasoha refers to a concern for the wellbeing of others in one’s community (Ishwaran 10). A portion of one’s earnings, according to Basava, should be used to improve the lives of other people, regardless of their class affiliation. The principle of dasoha was therefore adopted by many people in Kalyana who no longer donated their earnings to the priesthood (Leslie 243).

Basava’s rising influence in Kalyana was inevitably met with protest by the orthodoxy who accused Basava of exploiting his political power and his position as chief minister of the Calukya empire (Das 163). In order to dismantle Basava’s influence in Kalyana, the orthodoxy believed that altering Bijjala’s perception of Basava could create a significant rift between both individuals. Consequently, Basava was accused of inappropriately using empire funds to support saranas who needed financial support. In addition, he was also accused of “polluting the royal court” (Leslie 244) through his interactions with sudras and untouchables. Accusations against Basava continued to climb, further exacerbating social tensions between the Brahmins and the saranas. Though these social tensions were not initially manifest in the form of violence, this dramatically changed after a sarana man was said to have married a Brahmin woman. The orthodoxy was fiercely critical of this wedding because the man was an untouchable (Schouten 49). Thus, the wedding was construed as an affront to the established orthodoxy, and the married couple was subsequently put to death by the Brahmins (Das 164). The saranas felt betrayed by Bijjala because he ordered the death of the couple, and violence soon flooded Kalyana (Schouten 50). Meanwhile, Basava was accused of organizing an insurgency against Bijjala’s empire, further heightening tensions (Leslie 244).

As conflict continued to escalate in Kalyana, Bijjala’s army intervened and killed many of Basava’s followers. Distraught by these events, Basava decided that he could no longer witness the terror that had unfolded in Kalyana (Ishwaran 85). He moved back to Kudalasangama where he died a few years later in 1167 (Das 164). Meanwhile, the growing resentment the saranas had towards Bijjala ultimately led to Bijjala’s assassination (Rao and Roghair 13).

The future of the Lingayat sect was uncertain following Basava’s death. His leadership was crucially important in maintaining cohesion within the sect and a sense of fraternity. However, his absence left the Lingayat tradition susceptible to Brahmanical influences (Schouten 15). The so-called Brahmanization of the Lingayat sect was manifest in a number of ways. For instance, temples dedicated to Siva had been built and the Brahmanical practice of donating money to priests had also surfaced in the tradition (Ishwaran 4-5). Over the next few centuries following his death, steps were taken by influential adherents of the Lingayat tradition to ensure that the distinctive identity of the sect was not eroded upon by Brahmanical influences. Many of Basava’s vacanas and other writings had been consolidated; moreover, these texts were given canonical status in Lingayatism (Ishwaran 4). Another significant development in the tradition was the establishment of the Virakta monastic system (Schouten 15). Moreover, this system was  important in preserving a sense of community in the sect by facilitating religious discussion amongst its followers in addition to providing Lingayat education (Ishwaran 4). Collectively, these developments were able to resist Brahmanical influences and thus enabled the tradition to retain its unique identity.


Das, Sisir K. (2005) A History of Indian Literature, 500-1399: From Courtly to the Popular. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi.

Ishwaran, K (2019) Speaking of Basava: Lingayat Religion and Culture in South Asia. London: Routledge.

Leslie, Julia (1998) “Understanding Basava: History, Hagiography and a Modern Kannada Drama.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 61:228-61. Accessed February 3, 2020. doi:10.1017/S0041977X00013793.

Michael, Blake R. (1983) “Foundation Myths of the Two Denominations of Virasaivism: Viraktas and Gurusthalins.” The Journal of Asian Studies 42:309-22. Accessed February 24, 2020. doi:10.2307/2055116.

Rao, Velcheru N., and Gene Roghair (2014) Siva’s Warriors: The Basava Purana of Palkuriki Somanatha. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Sahasrabudhe, M (1979) “Mahatma Basavesvara – A Social Reformer.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 40:221-26. Accessed February 3, 2020.

Schouten, Jan P. (1995) Revolution of The Mystics: On the Social Aspects of Virasaivism. Delhi:  Motilal Banarsidass

Srinivas, Mysore N. (1976) The Remembered Village. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation



Basava Purana

Basavaraja Devara Ragale

Palkuriki Somanatha



Dodda Basavanna Gudi

Calukya Dynasty

Basava Jayanthi

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Bhadra Pandya (Spring 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.

Max Muller

German grammarian, Orientalist, mythographer, Friedrich Max Muller, better known simply as Max Muller was born on December 6th, 1823 to Wilhelm Muller and Adelheide Muller. Muller’s parents, who were already well known and respected themselves, gave birth to and raised him and his older sister, Augusta, in a small town called Dessau, in the capital of Duchy of Anhalt-Dessau, located today in Germany. Muller’s father was an esteemed poet, with one of his poems even being set to the very well known songs Die Schone Mullerin and Die Winterreise, also known as The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter and The Winter Journey, composed by Franz Schubert (New world Encyclopedia)  Muller’s mother, Adelheid, was the oldest daughter to one of the chief ministers of Anhalt-Dessau, Adolf von Basedow. Sadly, Adelheide would become a widow before Max and Augusta were old enough to comprehend their father’s passing. Even though their parents’ marriage only lasted six short years, the Muller children would have to learn to live with the grief of their father’s sudden passing as well as their emotionally unstable mother. As a result, they lived in the shadow of their father’s death, and their whole life became dominated by their mother’s sorrow (Bosch 11).

As a young child, Muller shared his father’s passion for poetry and music. However, in his later years, when Muller decided to expand his knowledge and attend Leipzig University, he chose a different pattern of thought and completed his PhD. in philosophy. Even though Muller achieved his doctorate of philosophy, he still expressed a love for language. After having a brief introduction to Greek and Latin, Muller changed his direction to more oriental focused languages, stating in his unfinished autobiography, “It seemed to me more and more to narrow a sphere” (Bosch 22). For this reason, Muller changed his path and started learning more about Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and the language he is most well known for, Sanskrit. Looking back on Muller’s career, it can be assumed that he became disinterested with the common languages of Greek and Latin because anyone could study those languages, so he changed his direction to more complex and mysterious foreign languages. Muller was even said to believe that the study of ancient Sanskrit would lead him back to the common origin of the Indo-European people (Bosch 8). Throughout Muller’s time at Leipzig University, he took many different philosophy and language classes. He met many prestigious instructors and professors, but the one who seems to influence many of Muller’s early studies is Hermann Brockhaus. Brockhaus started his career as a professor at Leipzig University the same year that Muller began his studies, and he became the first professor of Sanskrit to teach at the university (Bosch 22)

In 1844, only one year after completing his PhD., Muller followed German philosopher Friedrich Schelling to Berlin, where he began to translate the latter part of the Vedas known as the Upanisads. While rendering these divine texts, Muller continued to expand his knowledge by continuing his study of Sanskrit, this time under the direction of another well-known scholar Franz Bopp (Bosch 27). Being a real scholar, Muller, during his time in Berlin, also completed and published his first of many translations, translating a collection of Indian moral tales called The Hitopadesa to German, which he dedicated to one of his many influences, Hermann Brockhaus. Muller was known as a very intellectual man within the professional community, which meant he had to improve his knowledge continuously. As a result, in 1845, Muller packed up and moved to Paris, France, following a very well known Vedic intellectual, Eugene Burnouf (Bosch 29). Burnouf, whose main topic of the study was the very well known Vedas, would later go on to encourage Muller to translate the Rig Veda ultimately.

            After he settled down in Paris, Muller began to notice his expenses were becoming far too costly, and the money that his mother had collected up for him was running out fast. Living in a flat graciously provided to him by a friend named Baron von Hagedorn, Muller began to live as inexpensively as feasible, avoiding auditoriums and cafes since they were costly, especially since he was a foreigner. Muller, even at one point, wrote to his mother saying, “With 12000 francs a year one could live here nicely; I am afraid I shall hardly work my income up to that. I am, on the whole, well, though I must live most economically and avoid every expense that is not actually necessary” (Bosch 30). Although broke, and working long, exhausting hours at the Bibliotheque Nationale, Muller still found time to attend the courses of Eugene Burnouf, accompanied by two other Sanskrit students, Theodore Goldstucker and Rudolph Roth. Together, the three of them studied the hymns from the first book of the Rig Veda in small classes led by Professor Burnouf. (Bosch 30) Combined with Muller’s initiative as well as his knowledge, Burnouf encouraged Muller to translate the complete Rig Veda. Burnouf reminding him, “Don’t publish extracts from the commentary; if you do that, you will publish what is easy to read and leave out what is difficult” (Bosch 31). Even still, Muller faced the problem of finances after becoming discouraged with the uncooperative and unfavourable responses from the publishers themselves.

Still trying to find a publisher, Muller wrote to many different people in London, Germany, and Russia trying to find a noteworthy person to give him the funds needed to publish his book. Finally, after months of searching, Otto Boehtlingk, who happened to also study Sanskrit, became very interested in helping Muller out financially. After Muller had found out that the contract between the two scholars would benefit Boehtlingk more than himself, Muller made the conscious and hard choice to keep looking for a publisher. Taking a precarious chance, Muller decided to use up the last of his funds to travel to London, where he met with Horace Hayman Wilson, Boden Professor of Sanskrit studies and Librarian of the East India House (Bosch 34). Muller would later go on to dedicate his book entitled A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature to Wilson, who he called “his pupil and friend” (see Muller’s dedication page). Wilson, who Muller had been corresponding with for quite some time, consented to help Muller out as much as he could, and their initial three-week project turned into a project of a lifetime, with Muller permanently moving to London.

Finally, after a long and unpleasant wait, Muller got his “Grand edition of the Rig Veda” published in 1849. Muller would go on to marry his dedicated wife, Georgina Muller-Grenfell, whose father deliberately banned the two from getting married years before (Bosch 14). In the years to come, Max would experience many more successes, including the birth of his son Wilhelm Max Muller, becoming a professor of comparative philology at Oxford University, and translating many more well known Sanskrit texts. Looking at a few of his later writings, one can genuinely see that Muller continued to expand his knowledge until the day he died. Muller dedicated a large portion of his life to translating a portion of five books out of a fifty-volume book series entitled Sacred Books of The East (New World Encyclopedia). Being the editor-in-chief, this series alone made Muller one of the most respected people in India, and to this day, Muller is still regarded as a friend of India (Stone 4).

 Throughout Muller’s life, he had many significant accomplishments, whether in his personal or professional life.  The trials and tribulations that he received in his early life compared to his accomplishments later in life can be seen as inspirational to many. Muller indeed had an intense devotion to his education and career, one could say that all of us strive to have something similar. Max Muller, sadly would never get to see the impact he left on religion and language, but the effects can unquestionably be seen throughout the religious studies community.


Bosch, L. van den. (2002). Friedrich Max Müller: a life devoted to the Humanities. Leiden: Brill.

“Müller, Friedrich Max. (1823–1900).” In The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, edited by Robert E. Jr. Buswell, and Donald S. Jr. Lopez. Princeton University Press, 2013.

Müller, Friedrich Max 1860 A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature So Far as it Illustrates the Primitive Religion of the Brahmans by Max Muller, London: Williams and Norgate.

Müller, Friedrich Max, and Hermann Oldenberg (1891) Vedic Hymns: Hymns to the Maruts, Rudra, Vâyu, and Vâta, translated by F. Max Müller. Vol. 32. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

New World Encyclopedia contributors, “Max Müller,” New World Encyclopedia, // (accessed February 3, 2020).

Stone, Jon, ed, The Essential Max Müller: On language, mythology, and religion. Springer, 2016.

Related topics for further investigation

The Rig Veda

The Sacred Books of The East

A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature

Vedic Hymns: Hymns to the Maruts, Rudra, Vâyu, and Vâta


Buddhist Mahayana Texts


Wilhelm Muller

Eugene Burnouf

Hermann Brockhaus

Otto Boehtlingk

Horace Hayman Wilson

Oxford University

Leipzig University

Comparative Philology

The Sanskrit Language

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

This article was written by Azlyn Olson (February 2020), who is solely responsible for its content.


Wendy Doniger is a prolific scholar specializing in the study of Sanskrit and Hinduism. Doniger has published 21 interpretive works, 9 translations, 16 edited volumes, contributed to 4 different encyclopedia articles, and written 374 articles on a range of topics primarily focusing on the Hindu tradition. Her interpretive works discuss topics ranging from sexuality to mythology, and approach each topic with a unique modern perspective. Doniger’s writing style appeals to a wide audience as she is responsible for writing three of the most popular Penguin classics which discuss Hinduism (Gigerenzer). Doniger continues to take revolutionary strides today not only in her interpretive works but also in her translations. She has been credited with transforming the way the Kama Sutra is understood with her latest translation (Smith). At a young age Doniger participated in some fieldwork in India as well as Russia but otherwise has remained a dedicated teacher at a series of different universities including Harvard University. Doniger remains one of the most important Indologists today due to her many contributions to the field.

            Wendy Doniger was born in New York City on November 20th 1940. She has an older brother, her senior by 10 years, named Jerry, and a younger brother, born 10 years after her, named Tony (Doniger 2019: 98). Her father was Eleazar Doniger, who later changed his name to Lester Lawrence Doniger upon his arrival at Ellis Island. Lester was born in Raczki, a small town which was sometimes in Russia, but was also on occasion part of Poland or Germany. Lester was born in the year 1909, however when exactly is unknown as the birth dates of Jewish children went unrecorded (Doniger 2019: 7). Lester was Jewish, but he was a Jewish man with little faith. He would make a point of obeying the Talmudic law, but this was done to preserve a sense of identity and a connection to his family (Doniger 2019: 27). Lester worked as a publisher, using an English degree he received at NYU night school (Doniger 2015: 7). This had a large impact on Doniger, Lester would read all of her early works and help Doniger improve them (Doniger 2015: 16).

Her mother Rita Roth, was born in New York City June 9, 1911. However, shortly after her birth Rita’s parents moved to Vienna where Rita spent most of her early years (Doniger 2019: 13). Rita was a staunch atheist, although her family in Vienna was Jewish (Doniger 2015: 7). It is Rita’s influence, however, which led Doniger to the study of Hinduism. It was Pete Seeger, a friend of Rita’s, who taught Doniger her first Sanskrit words (Doniger 2019: 48). Rita also supplied Doniger with many books, all seeming to relate to India or Hinduism in some way. At the young age of 6 Doniger was given copies of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, the latter speculated to be heavily influenced by Indian philosophy. At the age of 12 Doniger was gifted A Passage to India, the book which Doniger recounts as inspiring her to travel to India and to study India. Lastly, at the age of 13, Rita gave Doniger a copy of Aubry Menen’s satirical retelling of the Ramayana (Doniger 2015:2-3).

Wendy Doniger went to Great Neck Highschool. One of her classmates was Barbra Stoler Miller. Miller, like Doniger, went on to earn a PhD in Sanskrit (Doniger 2019: 68-69). Through much of highschool, Doniger followed her mother’s footsteps and acted as a political activist, advocating for the benefits of communism as a political system (Doniger 2015: 6-7). In highschool Doniger aspired to become a ballet dancer, and for a time studied with George Balanchine and Martha Graham. Doniger credits two high school teachers with helping her grow and become who she is today. First, Anita Lilenfeld, who directed Doniger towards the study of Sanskrit after she expressed interest in ancient languages. Second, Jack Fields, a teacher who helped foster Doniger’s writing as well as supported the subject matter which she chose to write about (Doniger 2015: 4-6).

After highschool Doniger attended Radcliffe College, the female counterpart to the all male Harvard College. Here at Radcliffe, Doniger began the study of Sanskrit at 17 years old. She studied under Daniel Henry Holmes Ingalls, who taught her Sanskrit and Indian culture, including Indian history, literature, and religion. Doniger went on to write her PhD dissertation on the Puranas and the myths of Siva found in them. This dissertation later became her first book titled Siva: The Erotic Ascetic. Doniger graduated from Radcliffe summa cum laude and received the Jonathan Fay Prize(Doniger 2015:11-12).

After graduating from Radcliffe, Doniger left to live in India for a year. She was sent by Ingalls, her supervisor,  to work alongside Rajendra Chandra Hazra, the world’s leading expert on the Puranas at the time. Hazra quickly informed Doniger that he would not teach women, and this was the end of Doniger’s official studies of Sanskrit in India. Instead, Doniger took the six thousand dollars awarded to her from the American Institute of Indian Studies and used the money to travel throughout India for a year (Doniger 2015: 12-13).

Upon Donigers return to North America from India she married an old highschool sweetheart named O’Flaherty. Due to this, a bulk of her work is published under the title Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty (Doniger 2019: 118). Doniger then moved to Oxford with her then husband and stayed there from 1965 to 1975. She wrote her DPhil dissertation with Robin Zaehner and wrote her topic on the concept of heresy in Hinduism. Her dissertation later became the second book she published titled The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology (Doniger 2015:14-15). Much of this book was written in 1971 when Lester, Doniger’s father, passed away and Michael, Doniger’s son, was born only months later. Due to these events Doniger experienced the combined effects of depression at her father’s passing and postpartum depression following the birth of Michael. As a result of this Doniger was admitted to Waneford Hospital where she was given access to a typewriter and used her work on Hindu concepts of evil to work through her own depression (Doniger 2019: 120).

From 1968 until 1975 Doniger would lecture at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. In 1975, Doniger left her tenured lectureship and followed her husband to Berkeley. Doniger cites this instance as the point in which both her marriage and career began to fall apart, it was in the year 1978 that Doniger quit teaching in Berkeley and moved to Chicago, taking her son with her and leaving her husband (Doniger 2019:120). She has remained in Chicago from 1978 up to the present, teaching a variety of classes in the history of religions department and acting as chair for the same department. Doniger had a close relationship with Mircea Eliade, he was the only official reader for her dissertation. Eliade went on to publish two essays from it in History of Religions, a journal which he had founded in 1961. It is notable that Doniger is now the senior editor of the History of Religions. She also had an appointment in the Committee on Social Thought, a group of scholars all specialists in their field within the humanities (Doniger 2015: 19).

            Doniger’s impact on Indology is not limited to her many lectureship positions at prestigious schools. The many books and articles which Doniger has published have each had resounding effects on the field. One of Doniger’s most recent books titled The Hindus: An Alternative History received extensive media attention due to its negative reception in India. The book was published in 2010 and highlighted the aspects of Hinduism which were less popular. Some of the topics discussed in the book include more humorous tales of gods, less pious versions of folk tales, and protests against different civil issues such as the mistreatment of women. Shortly after the book’s publication a right wing Hindu group demanded that the book cease publication and that the remaining copies be destroyed (Doniger 2015:22-23). Four years later Penguin India agreed to cease publication of The Hindus: An Alternative History. There is an Indian law which allows any book deemed offensive to Hindus to be taken as a criminal offence (Joshua). It was using this specific Indian law that Doniger’s book was eventually forced to withdraw from the Indian market. The decision to pulp The Hindus: An Alternative History was still met with some resistance. Different prominent Indian figures such as Arundhati Roy spoke out against this, criticizing Penguin India for backing down so easily (Buncombe).

            Outside of the books previously mentioned, Doniger has published and translated some works that have had resounding impacts on the field of Indology. Some of her most popular interpretive works include The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth, a book which engages with a variety of religions while simultaneously analyzing patterns and themes throughout, Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts, which focuses on the interaction between myth and everyday Hindu lifeand Other Peoples’ Myths: The Cave of Echoes, which aims to demonstrate the universal art of storytelling.Among her most popular translations there are the Kama Sutra and the Laws of Manu. Each of these works garnered significant respect in the ways in which they brought new light to old Sanskrit texts.

Bibliography and Recommended Reading


Doniger, Wendy (2019) The Donigers of Great Neck: a Mythologized Memoir. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press.

Doniger, Wendy (2010) The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth. New York: Columbia University Press.

Doniger, Wendy (2009) The Hindus: An Alternative History. New York: Penguin.

Doniger, Wendy, and Brian Smith (1991) The Laws of Manu. London: Penguin UK.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1995) Other Peoples’ Myths: The Cave of Echoes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1982) Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1981) Siva: The Erotic Ascetic. London: Oxford University Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1976) The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Doniger, Wendy (2015) “A Life of Learning” ACLS Occasional Paper. 72: 1-24. Accessed January 28, 2020.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1980) “Inside and outside the mouth of God: the boundary between myth and reality.” Daedalus: 93-125.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1971) “The origin of heresy in Hindu mythology.” History of Religions 10, no. 4: 271-333.

Shinn, Larry D. (1981) “Precision or Reductionism: Whence Myth Studies?” Religious Studies 17, no. 3 : 369–76.

News Sources

Arora, Kim (2014) “Penguin to destroy copies of Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus’” The Times of India. Accessed January 28, 2020.

Buncombe, Andrew (2014) “Arundhati Roy criticises Penguin for pulping The Hindus: An Alternative History” Independant. Accessed January 28, 2020.

Gigerernzer, Thalia (2009) :Q&A with Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor and author of The Hindus” UChicago News. Accessed January 28, 2020.

Joshua, Anita (2014) “Penguin withdraws book on Hinduism” The Hindu. Accessed January 28, 2020.

Rothstein, Edward (2005) “The Scholar Who Irked the Hindu Puritans.” The New York Times. Accessed January 29, 2020.

Smith, Dinitia (2002) “A New Kama Sutra Without Victorian Veils.” The New York Times, Accessed January 29, 2020.

Related Topics

  • Mircea Eliade
  • Kama Sutra
  • Laws of Manu
  • Siva
  • Sanskrit
  • Puranas
  • Robin Zaehner
  • Ramayana

Related Websites

This article was written by Stella Y. MacMahon (Spring 2020), who is entirely responsible for its content.

The Pustimarg in the Bhakti Movement

The Bhakti Movement is a Hindu movement of devotional worship that took place between the 9th and 17th centuries. Bhaktiwas initially elaborated upon in the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu text, prior to the first century (Novetzke 257). During this time, the doctrine’s attitude towards ritual worship deviated from that which was upheld in Hindu orthodoxy and worked to undermine the religious authority of the priestly Brahmin class. It was not until India had undergone a period of great sociopolitical and economic reformation that the philosophy of bhakti grew in popularity and spread throughout the Indian subcontinent. The Bhakti Movement is a movement tied not only to religion, but to Indian culture as a whole. Today, the movement is largely discussed in terms of the literature produced during this time, known as bhakti poetry. The general message of loving devotion that is expressed in this poetry reflects the experiences of common people in their culture and society (Pandey 129). While the poetry is an integral component in the history of the Bhakti Movement, the social world that foreshadowed the revival of bhakti must not be ignored.

The wide acceptance of bhakti is complex involving a web of interconnections between the religious, economic, and political spheres of India’s culture, and the social stratification that occurred during the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526 CE). Changes in each realm of society contributed to the escalation of discomfort with Indian life, ultimately leading to the proliferation of bhakti. The Delhi Sultanate was an Islamic Empire, characterized by Muslim conquest of India that unified the subcontinent under a single sovereign state. This political reformation triggered civil conflict among feudal lords and intensified marginalization of Indian workers and common people. The increasing discontentment with Indian life eventually worked to undermine the authority of the Sultanate, and by the declining years of the Empire, many small feudal states asserted independence from Delhi (Pande 215). The economic sphere of India was arguably where the most change occurred, producing an economy that was infinitely superior to the previous. Changes such as improvement in technology, expansion in towns, and advancements of craft production and commerce called for a surplus of merchant and artisan workers. The high demand for workers belonging to the Vaisya class allowed these people to benefit  in terms of wealth and power; however, the social rigidity of the Hindu caste system remained unchanged. Therefore, the Sultanate created a social stratification in which the most wealthy and economically powerful members of society were excluded from the uppermost religious echelons (Pande 216). The social sphere was characterized by oppression of lower caste individuals, known as Candalas, or ‘untouchables’ (Pande 216). Attitudes embedded in orthodox Brahminism, which held supreme religious authority at the time, allowed this social oppression to flourish. Prior to the reign of the Sultanate, orthodoxy held that the Brahminclass were the only people to receive education of the Vedas, as well as lessons in reading and writing Sanskrit. Because Hindu ritual worship required recitation of the Vedas, the Brahmins were able to monopolize the religious sphere in India and thus maintain their status quo (Pande 216). The Candalas were completely excluded from their culture’s religion, as orthodox Brahminism regarded them as ritually impure and deemed them incapable of achieving spiritual liberation. The synthesis of civilizations resulted in the accumulation of social unease across the castes, and bhakti provided these marginalized members of society with a liberative platform to let their voices be heard.

The Bhakti Movement gave rise to a number of bhakti sects. To provide a more comprehensive illustration of bhakti ideology and the movement’s ties to a transitional society, this article will focus on one community in particular, the Pustimarg. The Pustimarg, or “Path of Grace”, is a Krsnaite devotional community that sustains a philosophical system of Pure Non-Dualism, suddhadvaita (Saha 302). This school centralizes devotion to Krsna, the Hindu deity of love and compassion, as the means to salvation (Saha 307). Vallabhacarya, also known as Vallabha, is identified as the founder of the Pustimarg, establishing the school in the 16th century (Saha 299). Vallabha lived through the chaos of the Sultanate’s disintegration and rise of the Mughal Empire (Saha 302). According to Vallabha, he received a message from Krsna to administer the brahmasambandha-mantra (Saha 303). This mantra became key to the Pustimarg as its administration acted as an initiation to one’s pursuit of a devotional life on the path of grace. Evidence of the Pustimarg institutionalization as a response to the pandemonium in India can be found in the Srikrsnasryah, a written account by Vallabha. His work also provides possible evidence for how the fall of the Delhi Sultanate and rise of Mughal Empire influenced the trajectory of his travels (Saha 305).

Vallabha travelled around India and spread his philosophy in various cities. There are many reasons to account for the great success and acceptance of the Pustimarg. One reason may be the fact that his philosophy was not of a radical nature for its time. Certain similarities have been identified between Vallabha’s philosophy and the Bhagavad Gita, pointing to the Pustimarg’s possible inspiration (Saha 304). Another factor may be due to the target areas where Vallabha travelled. It seems as if he travelled to target areas where patronage of Hindu institutions was weakest and social instability was greatest (Saha 306). The Pustimarg also outlined a means of salvation that transcended the class system and was accessible to everyone, contrary to traditional Hinduism, which requires a Brahmin priest to perform any religious worship to the deities. It also emphasized the compatibility between pursuit of worldly duties, such as pursuit of wealth, so long as one channels it towards the cultivation of a “single-minded devotion to Krsna” (Saha 307). For this reason, the Pustimarg carried a message that resonated most deeply with the dominant Baniyacommunity (Saha 312). The Baniyas were a Gujarati mercantile community who, due to the Sultanate Empire, served as the economic backbone of society (Saha 307). This period was particularly unsettling for the merchants of society as their livelihoods were dependent upon social, political, and economic stability, making any form of social conflict detrimental to their survival (Saha 308).  Vallabha’s ability to appeal to the dominant wealthy class is fundamental to the Pustimarg success as it provided financial support to guarantee material and physical well-being of this particular Bhakti community (Saha 310). Vallabha also appealed to the marginalized members of lower classes, offering these oppressed people of society a sense of community and freedom to worship. While the Path of Grace transcended the caste restrictions in a religious sense, it still upheld the varnasramadharma system in a social sense.

As mentioned previously in this paper, the Bhakti Movement is largely interpreted as a literary movement in which poet-saints of lower ranking castes transcended the limitations preserved by the orthodox Hindu notion of ‘Brahminhood’ and were able to speak on the sociopolitical oppression engrained in Indian culture. In turn, the poetry and songs of bhakti devotion worked to spread the idea that a reform of social democracy was in order. It was the preaching of these devotional songs that unified the marginalized members of society and gave shape to the idea of an egalitarian society (Pande 218). In the past, education was limited to Hindus belonging to the Brahmin class. This class alone understood Sanskrit and thus held religious authority to perform Vedic rituals and rites. The steady increase of cultural awareness brought about by the Bhakti Movement triggered a linguistic reform in which several vernacular languages were developed, reducing the power held by the hierarchy. For the first time, the gap was bridged between Sanskrit and common everyday language. Although expression varies, the general theme of bhakti poetry is distinguished by its expression of rebellion against the feudal-system and priests and themes of love and devotion (Pandey 206). A contributing factor to the success of this poetry is that their stories are “born out of the idealized tradition of Sanskrit poets and are popular takes on public life” (Pandey 135).

It is clear that the Bhakti Movement marks a period of great transition in nearly all realms of society. However, it would be incorrect to assert that bhakti is a socially progressive philosophy. As discussed in the sections above, the accumulating discontent across the Ksatriya, Vaisya, Sudra, and Candala castes called for an egalitarian reform, and the Bhakti Movementwas the answer. Despite the movement’s considerable success in democratizing the caste-bound religious limitations, the austerity of the varnasramadharma system in India is still prevalent today. Why did such a widely accepted and powerful movement fail to effect social change? The answer to this question may be tied to the ambiguity of the word ‘Brahmin’ as it appears in bhakti poetry (Burchett 130). In subtle ways, the poems and songs of bhakti saints actually reinforce the social hierarchy and preserve the notion that Brahmins possess “a social identity of higher purity and value than any other” (Burchette 116-117).  In a social context, ‘Brahmin’ refers the identity of the class that one is born into. In a spiritual context, the members of this class, ‘the Brahmins’ are identified as the spiritual ideal. The poet-saints work to break down the notion that ‘Brahminhood’, pure spiritual conduct, is not a function of caste but rather a mindset of devotion; however, ‘the Brahmin’ is still regarded to as the spiritual ideal in these texts (Burchette 130). In this light, bhakti can be seen to emphasize the inherit inferiority and superiority of the classes. The Bhakti Movement’s impact on society is not so much radical changes but rather modest modifications. These small adjustments helped to reduce ridged caste attitudes and make norms more flexible, but at the same time they made those norms and attitudes more durable (Burchette 126).

The Bhakti Movement was influenced by several interconnected elements of India’s sociopolitical and economic climate throughout the 20th century. By tracing the history of Vallabha’s Pustimarg community, it is clear to see the reasons behind this philosophy’s appeal and the significant ties to the period when it flourished. Devotional worship to Krsna granted civilians a sense of security and control during a period of great social unease and strife. The works left behind from the poet-saints provide evidence for the Bhakti Movement as a call for an egalitarian and democratic reformation in the social world. However, because the Hindu class system and religious system are inextricably linked through the notion of Brahminhood, the movement only resulted in relief from caste distinctions in the religious sphere. Nonetheless, by democratizing worship and offering a path to liberation that was fit for the householder’s life, bhakti revolutionized Hinduism as it is known and practiced today.


Burchett, Patton. (2009) “Rhetoric in the Hagiography of ‘Untouchable’ Saints: Discerning Bhakti’s Ambivalence on Caste and Brahminhood.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 13: 115-141. Accessed February 2, 2020.

Latif, Shaikh A. (1993) “The Indian Elements in the Bureaucracy of the Delhi Sultanate.” Proceeding of the Indian History Congress 54: 158-162. Accessed February 2, 2020.

Pande, Rekha. (1987) “The Bhakti Movement -An Interpretation.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 48: 214-221. Accessed January 29, 2020.

Pandey, Manager, and Tyagi, Alka. (2001) “Bhakti Poetry: Its Relevance and Significance.” Indian Literature 45: 129-138. Accessed February 1, 2020.

Saha, Shandip. (2006) “A Community of Grace: The Social and Theological World of the Pusti Marga vrata Literature.” Bulletin of School of Oriental and African Studies 69: 225-242. Accessed February 2, 2020.

—. (2007) “The Movement of Bhakti along a North-West Axis: Tracing the History of the Pustimarg between the Sixteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 11: 299-318. Accessed January 29, 2020.

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Article written by: Josi Koerber (February 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Radhasoami Movement

The Radhasoami movement was started in Agra in 1860 by Swami Shiv Dayal Singh during the period of British occupation in India (Juergensmeyer 3).  Shiv Dayal sought a new spiritual identity that was not like the Christianity that was being offered to him by missionaries, but rather something else that linked him to his Hindu culture (Juergensmeyer 18). In order to accomplish this, he drew from many sources, some of them from Sikh culture (Juergensmeyer 19). Shiv Dayal gained a following and began introducing his devotees to a new yogic practice that did not involve breathing exercises (Juergensmeyer 17). Shiv Dayal is regarded as an “exemplar of the Radhasoami vision” by every subgroup of the Radhasoami movement – the only agreed upon matter by some of the subgroups (Juergensmeyer 31).

Shiv Dayal named Rai Saligram his successor while noting their difference in views (Juergensmeyer 35). During his life, Rai Saligram edited Shiv Dayal’s work, Sar Bachan, which is a two-volume work of poetry and sermons (Juergensmeyer 24-25). The prose volume is authoritative throughout the Radhasoami subgroups (Juergensmeyer 25). The subgroups still debate whether Rai Saligram is an incarnation of Swami Shiv Dayal or a loyal disciple (Juergensmeyer 38). Regardless of the true nature of the role he occupied, Rai Saligram managed to continue the Radhasoami movement.

After the death of Saligram, the Radhasoami movement splintered under their disagreements (Juergensmeyer 44). As a result of this, Misra, a Brahman of a merchant-caste community, decided to form the Central Administrative Council in 1902 (Juergensmeyer 45). This council was made up of ten-members, the notable ones being the President, Pratap Singh, the next in command, Misra, and Saligram’s son (Juergensmeyer 45). These three people held the power to induct members and later disperse that authority to leaders of Radhasoami fellowships in regions that were further away (Juergensmeyer 45). Jaimal Singh lead the Beas subgroup, which rejected the formation of the council and continued to separate their group from the rest (Juergensmeyer 45-46). As more and more leaders arose, more and more divisions were formed within the Radhasoami movement; however, all of them still trace their origins back to Swami Shiv Dayal (Juergensmeyer 46-47).

The Radhasoami movement has made its way across the globe through different subgroups (Babb 293). This could be due in part to DuPertuis’s idea that the sect is appealing to Westerners because of the use of English publications and Western ideologies (114). Westerners had found their way to Rai Saligram while he was developing the sect and adapted to his teachings (Juergensmeyer 52). Daualbagh and Beas colonies have records of Westerners settling among them in the 1930s, but the major addition of Westerners in the sect occurred during the 1960s and 1970s when Sawan Singh was leading the Beas subgroup and began touring abroad (Juergensmeyer 52). When Sawan Singh’s grandson, Charan Singh, took over leadership, he pointed out that Radhasoami is universal, as the sacred sound could be found in many religions (Juergensmeyer 52).

The Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj, and the Singh Sabha are all movements in Hinduism that occurred around the same time as the Radhasoami movement (Dimitrova 89). As a result, there are similarities between the Arya Samaj and the Radhasoami (Dimitrova 89). Some would say that the Radhasoami are an offshoot of Sikhism; however, this is incorrect despite the similarities between the two religions (Juergensmeyer 7). Another comparison that has been made is that Radhasoami members could be considered Hindu if one was referring to the religious culture, but Radhasoami spiritual teachers reject some rather essential parts of Hinduism, such as image worship (Juergensmeyer 7).

Like Hinduism, the Radhasoamis are trying to discover their true self, or surat, which means “subtle self” (Babb 297-298). They believe that surat used to be a part of the supreme being Radhasoami but, was separated from Radhasoami long ago and has since been wandering around, lost in the “darkness,” suffering through life after life (Babb 298). The surat is believed to be inside humans and therefore one must foster their awareness of their true predicament and find the way to their “true home” through the guidance of a guru (Babb 298). Once surat has been realized and the highest realm of consciousness has been achieved then one is in the realm of Radhasoami (Dimitrova 92).

Radhasoami comes from the word radha which theologically means “the energy centre” and svami which means “master of”” (Dimitrova 92). Energy is important to the Radhasoamis because they see it as the essence of God, who is pure energy (Dimitrova 92). They also believe that this energy is within the guru (Dimitrova 92). The Radhasoamis hold the guru in a high regard since they believe gurus to be the embodiment of God (Dimitrova 92).

The spiritual journey that Radhasoamis must embark on to achieve surat is to be guided by a guru; therefore, the guru is essential to Radhasoami teachings (Dimitrova 93). The guru is believed to have healing powers that source from darsana, or “sacred sight.” As such, sacred sight is longed for by Radhasoami devotees (Dimitrova 93). Due to the importance that the guru holds for Radhasoami followers, there is an encouragement for “loving devotion” to be directed to the guru, making guru bhakti  a main concept of Radhasoami (Babb 303; Dimitrova 93).



Babb, Lawrence A. (1983) “The Physiology of Redemption.” History of Religions 22: 293-312.

Dimitrova, Diana (2007) “The Development of Sanātana Dharma in the Twentieth Century: A Rādhāsoamī Guru’s Perspective.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 11: 89-98.

DuPertuis, Lucy (1986) “How People Recognize Charisma: The Case of Darshan in Radhasoami and Divine Light Mission.” Sociological Analysis 47: 111-124.

Juergensmeyer, Mark (1991) Radhasoami Reality: The Logic of a Modern Faith. Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press.

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This article was written by: Desiree Kmiecik (Fall 2018), who is entirely responsible for its content.

Mircea Eliade

Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) was a widely respected intellectual whose prolific writings embraced a multitude of genres, from creative novels and short stories written in his native Romanian, to the scholarly works for which he is most renowned as an eminent historian of religions, orientalist, and interpreter of myths and symbols (Allen and Doeing vii). His writing style appealed to a wide audience beyond the halls of academia to embrace readers interested in the arts, literary criticism, journalism, travel or simply a good story line (Beane and Doty xvii). Indeed, Eliade enjoyed two productive careers throughout his seventy-nine years. In Romania prior to World War II, he was lauded as a major literary figure while his scholarly work went relatively unnoticed. In the West after World War II, he was hailed as an important historian and phenomenologist of religions while his Romanian literary works remained unknown, untranslated from Romanian and unpublished (Allen 545).

Mircea Eliade was born in Bucharest on March 9, 1907. His father, Captain Gheorghe Eliade, was a career army officer and was often away from home. Mircea’s mother, Joana Stoenescu, was left at home to raise three children, Mircea being the middle child. He was not an easy child to control, preferring to roam the streets rather than attend school which he found boring. However, with the help of a few of his respected teachers who took an interest in their wayward student, he managed to get through his secondary school studies and to enrol in the University of Bucharest in 1925 in the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy (Ricketts 10). His favorite professor, Nae Ionescu, guided Eliade’s progress through university to a master’s degree in Philosophy in 1928 with a dissertation on Italian Philosophy.

Given his past, one might assume that Mircea Eliade had been an unproductive student as well as an undisciplined one. This was far from being the case: during his formative years in Bucharest, Eliade had been honing skills and interests which would serve him well in his professional life. By far the most important skills he attained were those of reading and writing. Blessed with educated parents who wanted the best for their children, Eliade had learned to read at an early age (Ricketts 12). He read widely but primarily materials that stimulated his imagination and interests. His mother willingly supplied her son with reading material, having discovered that a book kept her wayward son at home, off the streets and out of mischief (Ricketts 20). He did not confine himself to reading only Romanian works. While still a teenager, Eliade learned Italian in order to read the works of G. Papini and V. Macchioro and English to read Max Muller and Frazer. He also studied Persian and Hebrew (Allen and Doeing xiii). Eliade was curious about everything and took pains to satisfy that curiosity through the printed word.

Not only was he a voracious reader in his youth, he was also a prolific writer. At age fourteen, he began a diary, Jurnalul, which he maintained throughout his life and from which much of his creative writing flowed (Allen and Doeing xiii).  He was the main character in many of his stories, which described events that had actually happened to him with perhaps a few added fictional details. While still a youth, he wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, articles which demonstrate his early interests in entomology, orientalism, folklore, alchemy and travel (Allen and Doeing xiii). His first autobiographical novel, Romanul adolescentului miop, was written in 1925, followed by a sequel, Gaudeamus, in 1928. Neither of these novels were published and are now almost completely lost (Allen and Doeing xiv).

Another trait that was to serve Eliade well was a genuine interest in meeting people and learning from them. He had no qualms about deliberately getting in touch with people he admired. On his first trip to Italy in 1927, for example, he visited G. Papini in Florence and V. Macchioro in Naples (Allen and Doeing xiv). He possessed a certain brashness and genuine friendliness that opened doors for him. It seemed that he was destined to do something great with his life and he himself was convinced of it from an early age.

In 1928, Eliade, already steeped in the folklore of Romania and the iconography of the Eastern Orthodox Church, decided that he might profit from experiencing life in India. Some scholars suggest that the multi-media atmosphere of the Eastern Church prepared Eliade for his experiences with India (Rennie 2640). Eliade himself, however, admits that his real introduction to the “other” began with India (Beane and Doty xviii). He had been reading Surendranath Dasgupta’s A History of Indian Philosophy when he decided to write to the professor to inquire if he might study Sanskrit and Indian philosophy under him at the University of Calcutta. At the same time, he wrote to the Maharajah of Kassimbazar to acquire funds for his proposed stay in India. Both men agreed to sponsor him and he set out on the journey on November 20, 1928. The journey, via Egypt and present-day Sri Lanka, took him to Madras where he met Dr. Dasgupta and on December 26, he arrived in Calcutta, taking up residence in a boarding house for foreign students (Ricketts 346).

Eliade’s studies at the University of Calcutta began successfully but old habits die hard and his studies seemed increasingly interrupted by the pleasures of student life and by the many new sights and sensations that India had to offer. In January 1930, Dr. Dasgupta took his Romanian student into his own home where Mircea at last made every effort to live like an Indian (Ricketts 347).   Studying Sanskrit and Indian philosophy by day, Eliade nevertheless continued to write novels in his native Romanian by night. Most of Eliade’s fiction featuring Indian themes was written and published while he was in the country or shortly after returning to Romania (Calinescu 559). This ideal arrangement, however, was to end abruptly when Dr. Dasgupta discovered that his daughter Maitreyi was romantically involved with Mircea. Immediately he was banished from the professor’s home and from the university (Ricketts 347).

Eliade had already decided that his doctoral dissertation would be a comparative history of the techniques of Yoga. With this in mind, he set out to learn all he could from Swami Sivananda at the asrama at Rishikesh, Himalaya (Allen and Doeing xv). Many of the results of his six-month crash course in Yoga techniques and philosophy can be inferred from Eliade’s mystical short story “The Secret of Dr. Honigberger.” It is a riveting story, a mixture of fact and fiction, through which Eliade is able to relate his personal experiences with yogic practices on an emotional level. He admits freely that he could not find scientific words to describe the same experience (Ricketts 1186).

Eliade was called back to Romania for compulsory military service in January of 1932, but the lessons he learned in India, along with the subject matter of his doctoral dissertation, set his subsequent career path through academia as an expert of the Orient and oriental philosophy (Azim 1035). He believed that he had discovered great truths while in India. He had discovered a spiritual dimension in Indian life in Samkhya Yoga and Tantrism that he had never encountered before. He had discovered insights into symbolism and what he called “cosmic religion” among peasants that applied worldwide (Ricketts 363).

In 1933, he successfully defended his Ph.D. with a dissertation in Yoga and was appointed Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Letters at the University of Bucharest where he taught courses on India and Hindu philosophy (Allen and Doeing xvi). His theories on the significance of symbols, rites and myths became part of the growing discipline of the history of religions. In 1933, his novel Maitreyi, based on his ill-fated love affair, was a huge success in Romania (Ricketts 537). Indeed, many of Eliade’s writings are autobiographical and are based on the extensive journals that he kept throughout his life.

Eliade could well have stayed at the University of Bucharest for his entire academic career, had peace prevailed. However, he was sent to London as part of the Romanian diplomatic corps, at the outbreak of World War II. He was transferred to Portugal in 1941 and remained there as a cultural attaché until 1945. With a communist government now in control of Romania, Eliade found himself in exile and looking for a university teaching position. In 1945 through his friendship with Georges Dumezil, a scholar of comparative mythology, Eliade secured a position as a professor at the Sorbonne in Paris where he taught courses in comparative religion until 1956 (Rennie 266).

The years between 1945 and 1956 proved to be a very productive time for Eliade. In addition to his teaching, he became a member of the Asiatic Society and was a regular attendee and presenter at the International Congresses of Orientalists and the International Congresses of the History of Religions during those years (Allen and Doeing xviii). It was in Paris that Eliade wrote many of his best known works; English translation would follow. The Myth of the Eternal Return (1949) was Eliade’s first major work in his new position at the Sorbonne. In it he discusses “fundamental characteristics of archaic societies” and “nostalgia for a periodical return to the mythical time of the beginning of things” (Allen and Doeing 16). Images and Symbols followed in 1952. It is a collection of case studies analyzing the structures of different symbols. It was highly controversial containing some of Eliade’s boldest statements about the history of religions (Allen and Doeing 22). The Sacred and the Profane (1956), which expresses Eliade’s view of the sacred and the profane as two planes of being in the world, became very popular with the general public, just as Eliade had intended from the outset. It was to become his best known work, encompassing a wide range of sacred phenomena, space, time, myth, symbolism, cosmic religion, etc. (Allen and Doeing 24).

In the autumn of 1956, Eliade was invited by Joachin Wach (1898-1955), the chair of the History of Religions department at the University of Chicago, to deliver the prestigious Haskell Lectures. After Wach’s sudden death the following year, Eliade accepted a position as a regular professor and Chairman of the History of Religions department at the University of Chicago, a position which he held, publishing and continuing to write his Romanian fiction, until his own death in 1986 (Rennie 266).

At the time of his death, Mircea Eliade was one of the most renowned and revered men in his discipline. He received many accolades from his peers including the compendium Myths and Symbols: Studies in Honor of Mircea Eliade in honor of his sixtieth birthday (Popescu 87). He was awarded many honorary titles at universities throughout the world (Allen and Doeing xx). However, change is inevitable if progress is to be made, and a new generation of young scholars was waiting to question the findings of the old. Mircea Eliade was to come under severe scrutiny and criticism for his position on a variety of religious topics. Young anthropologists, in particular, who had spent many months in the field living with their subject tribe, noting every nuance of daily life, rite and ceremony, complained that Eliade was not quite so thorough (Saliba 3). These new disciplines laid more emphasis on fieldwork and objective reporting, whereas Eliade was comfortable with generalizations and subjectivity and he freely admitted that to be the case.

John Saliba was one such anthropologist who viewed the religious man in a totally different light from Eliade’s (Saliba 2). Saliba felt that Eliade’s view of the religious man appealed more to the theologian or the literature student than to the anthropologist who had never actually encountered such a man in the field (Saliba 141). In Saliba’s opinion, Eliade had given up on the search for the true origins of religion, the holy grail of the discipline (Saliba 103) and  most of Eliade’s conclusions he found to be  “highly questionable” and “sweeping generalizations” or “overstating his case” (Saliba 140).

Saliba was not alone in his criticism. Thomas Altizer also held that Eliade’s methods were  “mystical” and “romantic” when they should have been “rational” and “scientific” (Allen 548). He too saw Eliade’s methodology as “uncritical, arbitrary and subjective” (Allen 545). It is not surprising that Eliade’s prolific writings became the focus for a whole new generation of Religious Studies’ scholars bent on reassessing the theories of past generations and adding to the discipline’s position in academia.

Eliade died in 1986, leaving generations of students with a wealth of materials, often difficult to understand and internalize, requiring thoughtful interpretation. He has left the world much food for scholarly critical discussion as well as a wealth of literature written in his native Romanian that warrants translation and appreciation by the Western World (Ricketts 1216). His legacy lives on in his writings, in the accolades of his peers, and in the thought-provoking ideas that flowed from a lifetime of study.


Allen, Douglas (1988) “Eliade and History.” The Journal of Religion 68:545-65.

Allen, Douglas, and Dennis Doeing (1980)  Mircea Eliade: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing Inc.

Azim, Firdaus (1996) “Review of Bengal Nights: A Novel by Mircea Eliade.” The Journal of Asian Studies 55:1035-37.

Barth, Christine (2013) “In illo tempore, at the Center of the World: Mircea Eliade and Religious Studies’ Concepts of Time and Space.” Historical Social Research 38:59-75.

Beane, Wendell C., and William G. Doty (1975) Myths, Rites and Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader. New York: Harper and Row.

Calinescu, Matei (1978) “The Disguises of Miracle: Notes on Mircea Eliade’s Fiction.” World Literature Today 52:558-64.

Eliade, Mircea (1992) Mystic Stories: The Sacred and the Profane, edited by Kurt W Treptow. New York: Columbia University Press.

Popescu, Mircea (1971) “Eliade and Folklore.” In Myths and Symbols: Studies in Honor of Mircea Eliade, edited by Joseph M. Kitagawa and Charles H. Long, 81-90. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Rennie, Bryan (2013) “Mircea Eliade’s Understanding of Religion and Eastern Christian Thought.” Russian History 40:264-80.

Ricketts, Mac Linscott (1988) Mircea Eliade: The Romanian Roots, 1907-1945. New York: Columbia University Press.

Saliba, John A. (1976) ‘Homo Religiosus’ in Mircea Eliade: An Anthropological Evaluation. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Sarbacker, Stuart Ray (2002) “Enstasis and Ecstasis: A Critical Appraisal of Eliade on Yoga and Shamanism.” Journal for the Study of Religion 15:21-37.

Wasserstrom, Steven M. (1990) Religion after Religion: Gersham Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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Nae Ionescue


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This article was written by Mary E. Anderson (Fall 2018), who is entirely responsible for its content.

Hindu Monasteries (Matha)

Hindu monasteries or mathas are any residential monastic establishments or educational centre for renouncers or sannyasis; even though, the ideal monk is classified as a wanderer. A matha can also refer to a single hut with only one ascetic or a large community of ascetics and their disciplines and students. They were founded by Sankara, a great teacher, in the 8th century. The original four mathas were strategically placed in India to be used as bulwarks for the missionaries and centres for Sankara’s ten religious groups: on the east coast, in Puri, the Govardhana matha for the Aranyakas and the Vana orders; in the Himalayas, near Badrinath, the Jyotih matha for the Giri, Parvaya, and Sagara orders; on the west coast, in Dvaraka, the Sarada matha for the Tirtha and Asrama orders; and lastly, in south India the Srngeri matha for the Bharati, Puri, and Sarasvati orders (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Later a fifth matha arose in Kancipuram, near Madras, called the Saradaptha matha (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

Each matha that was founded by Sankara is led by either a teacher or a spiritual leader also known as a Sankaracarya or a Jagadguru. Individual mathas and their history are directly associated with the succession of its spiritual leader; therefore each matha operates completely independent to any other matha. Typically, the current Sankaracarya appoints one of his followers to become the new spiritual leader in the event of his passing; however, issues can arise if no successor was named and the Sankaracarya passes away unexpectedly. Eventually gurus were even given the responsibility of providing social and economic services to the community. Each Sankaracarya has their own set of followers and their goal is to meet their own religious needs such as “focus on ritual activity and devotional worship rather than renunciation or meditative realization of non-dual brahman” (Fort 613).

There are several important initiations rites to the ascetic life. According Miller and Wertz the first being that after one has determined they want to enter the ascetic life they need to acquire a guru who is willing to take them as his discipline (84). The guru can either be an ascetic from one’s village, a religious teacher or in some cases an uncle (Miller and Wertz 84). Then the discipline must cut all his family ties by performing death ceremonies with his parents (Miller and Wertz 85). After the death ceremony the discipline will no longer be allowed to perform any household services (Miller and Wertz 85). The head ascetic of a monastery will then administer a ritual called diksa (Miller and Wertz 84). The head ascetic must be a man who has already performed his last vows of renunciation (Miller and Wertz 84). The two forms of diksa are when the guru administers the ritual to a lay disciple and the other is only given to ascetic disciples (Miller and Wertz 84). This recognizes the “would be” ascetic and that he is permanently separating himself from his former life (Miller and Wertz 84). Finally, the discipline must acquire a religious name that ends with his sub-order’s name (Miller and Wertz 84). After performing these basic initiation rites a man can enter the ascetic life.

According to Guru Saccinananda the main function of a matha is to give ethical advice and moral teachings to the disciples in hopes of creating “honest, peace-loving, independent, moral, and well behaved” people (Miller and Wertz 25). However, according to Saccinananda several other functions are “to provide education in Sanskrit, to feed guests, to give money to the poor, shelter to the helpless, and the burial to the dead who have no family’ (Miller and Wertz 25). He also claimed that there are ten daily practices that are basic steps to liberation. The first is that the discipline must get up before sunrise each morning (Miller and Wertz 26). The second is that they must pay respect every morning and evening to the sun God Savitri (Miller and Wertz 26). The third is each day while bathing the discipline must recite sacred mantras or verses to a deity of their choice (Miller and Wertz 26). The fourth is that they must perform daily sacrificial fire offerings and yoga postures (Miller and Wertz 26). The fifth is that they must service all their guests (Miller and Wertz 26). The sixth is that the funeral offerings to one’s ancestors must be performed at noon (Miller and Wertz 26). The seventh is that they must take sacred food in the  afternoon and before each evening (Miller and Wertz 26). The eighth is that each evening the disciples’ deity of choice must be worshipped (Miller and Wertz 26). The ninth is that each evening before they go to bed they must perform meditation for the welfare of humanity (Miller and Wertz 26). Lastly, they are only allowed to sleep from the hours of 11pm to 4pm (Miller and Wertz 26).

According to Jagadananda, in a Hindu matha, there a ten precepts of ethical behaviour that one must follow. The first is that you must act kind towards a harsh and unpleasant man and by doing so you have the ability to change him (Miller and Wertz 34). The second is that even if others do not like you that does not mean you have to dislike them back. Eventually these people will lose their power and someday feel bad for their negative actions (Miller and Wertz 34). The third is that you need to ensure you are using the appropriate dialogue when conversing with others as this is a main factor when determining if they will be an enemy or a friend (Miller and Wertz 35). The fourth is that you must respect others when it is their turn to talk as everyone was created equally and by God (Miller and Wertz 35). The fifth is that you should not be disrespectful to people in lower classes as you might be born into that class or position on your next rebirth (Miller and Wertz 35). The sixth is that only ignorant men are prejudiced to one’s caste and skin colour (Miller and Wertz 35). The seventh is that you must consider your “superiors as well wishers and your inferiors as blessed” (Miller and Wertz 35). The eighth is that you need to be independent but also care for your parents needs at the same time as they were the ones who made you into the man you are by giving up their money, time and resources (Miller and Wertz 35). The ninth, is that when you pray to a deity you should be praying for the greatness and happiness of humanity  and not for yourself; the deity will only listen and respond to a man who is concerned about the welfare of others (Miller and Wertz 35). Lastly, “do not grasp onto things” or be materialistic; Brahman, the Vedic creator god, is always around and is everywhere in the universe (Miller and Wertz 35).

Even though numerous mathas have been established over the years as either additions to other institutions or by an individual guru, the original four mathas created by Sankara are still the main ones. Srngeri, Dvaraka, Badrinath and Puri are special and are also known as the amnaya mathas as they are connected with the four Vedas, the matching Upanisad Mahavakyas and Sankara’s four main followers (Sundaresan 110). The most famous and influential matha is Srngeri, in Karnataka State, in South Asia. It is also known as the centre of the Sankaran Vedanta tradition and was originally used as a place to stay and study for samnyasins. In the Srngeri matha the samnyasins who reside there highly regard the Vivekacudamani (Sawai 22).  However, since the fourteenth century it became a place for pilgrimage, worship and philosophical study (Fort 613). The main goddess that is now worshipped at Srngeri is Sri Sarada (Fort 613). The lay adherents of the Vedic tradition or smartas also now visit Srngeri for advice and boons from the Sankaracaryas (Fort 613).



Fort, Andrew (1994) The Faith of Ascetics and Lay Smartas: A Study of the Sankaran Tradition of Srngeri. Journal of Asian Studies 53.2: 613. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Isaeva, Natalia (1993) Shankara and Indian Philosophy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Web. 5 Feb 2016.

Matha (2016) Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web. 07 Feb. <>.

Miller, David M., and Dorothy C. Wertz (1976) Hindu monastic life: The monks and monasteries of Bhubaneswar. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP. Web. 5 Feb 2016.

Prasad, Leela (2006) Text, Tradition, and Imagination: Evoking the Normative in Everyday Hindu Life. Numen 53.1: 1–47. Web. 5 Feb 2016.

Sawai, Yoshitsugu (1987) The Nature of Faith in the Sankaran Vedanta Tradition. Numen 34.1: 18–44. Web. 5 Feb 2016.

Sears, Tamara (2008) Constructing the Guru: Ritual Authority and Architectural Space in Medieval India. The Art Bulletin 90.1: 7–31. Web.7 Feb 2016.

Shankara (2016) Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web. 07 Feb. 2016 <>.

Sundaresan, Vidyasankar (2000) Conflicting Hagiographies and History: The Place of Sankaravijaya Texts in Advaita Tradition. International Journal of Hindu Studies 4.2: 109–184. Web. 7 Feb 2016.


Related Topics for Further Investigation




Smarta tradition


Advaita Tradition

Srngeri matha

Amnaya mathas




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Article written by: Hailey McLean (March 2016) who is solely responsible for the content




Dadu Dayal

Dadu Dayal is known as the saint of compassion. Dayal, meaning compassionate or merciful, is in part from where Dadu’s title as the saint of compassion stems (Gold 184). His compassionate actions and religious teachings earned him the title after death (Gold 184). The other reason for his title is from his divine birth and mysterious origins leading to the creation of his religious panth (Shomer and MeLeod 183). There are mysterious circumstances surrounding his birth and his unordinary beginning to life is very similar to other northern Indian saints such as Kabir and Nanak (Gold 221). Dadu Dayal was born in 1544 CE in Ahmedabad and lived in Narayana in the state of Rajasthan till his death in 1603 CE (Heehs 371). Dadu’s major religious teachings surrounded self-realization and japa along with the goal of unification of the divergent faiths (Sen 100). Dadu along with Kabir, Namdev, Nanak and Radias are considered the back bone of the Northern Indian Saint tradition (Zelliot 254). Dadu is the founder of the Dadu-Panth and is renowned for both his ability to compose hymns and his religious teachings. The main area in which his panth is presently established is Narayana in Rajasthan and is run by a disciple in the lineage of Dadu (Shomer and MeLeod 184). The Dadu-Panth has changed in contemporary times by adapting to the changing societal patterns and norms allowing it to maintain influence in its major centre (Shomer and MeLeod 184).

Rajasthan, a state in northern India, is where Dadu was born, lived and established his religious panth (Sen 100). Born in Ahmedabad in 1544 CE Dadu has several stories surrounding his mysterious birth (Shomer and MeLeod 182). The Dadu-Panth mostly recognizes the story in which Dadu was found in and taken from Sabarmati River near Ahmedabad (Gold 93). He was then raised by a brahmin family and received initiation from an old sadhu and that in his early adult life he worked as a cotton carder before beginning his religious journey (Heehs 371).The second most accepted within the panth is the story that he was born to a dhuni-woman which means a women of the river and was abandoned and was raised in a merchant family and pursued a career as a cotton carder until later becoming interested in religious life (Shomer and MeLeod 183). A cotton carder cleans and processes the raw cotton into lose strands to then later be further processed (Shomer and MeLeod 183). Most scholars, however, think that Dadu came from a Muslim family. This fact was concealed or changed to him being raised by a brahmin family or that he was adopted after being found in the river by a brahmin family (Sen 100). Although these origins are similar in nature, key differences are the source of much debate between scholars and followers (Shomer and MeLeod 189). One story describes Dadu’s divine birth to a woman and another his divine appearance upon the bank of a river. Many scholars theorize that the reason there are two conflicting accounts of his origins stems from the fourteenth verse of the Grantha Sadha Mahima (Shomer and MeLeod 185). The fourteenth verse can be translated in one of two ways, the first being “Dadu was born in the womb of a dhuni-woman” the second being “Dadu was found in a river” (Shomer and MeLeod 185). All tell the tale that his religious interest stemmed from a feeling of exclusion from the strict caste system and Vedic teachings (Shomer and MeLeod 6). In all accounts he was a cotton carder by trade and his renunciation and rise to religious power was not widely accepted by the Hindu caste system (Olson 182). His low caste birth but higher class upbringing made him an ideal teacher in the sant parampara tradition (Shomer and MeLeod 6). Like Kabir, one of his greatest influences was that he was born into a low class but with great religious knowledge which allowed him to form  his own opinions and beliefs outside of the strict Hindu tradition (Sen 101). Dadu died in 1603 at the age of fifty nine in Narayana city in Rajasthan. It is rarely speculated how Dadu died but some texts say he ascended to heaven from his shrine in Narayana when his work was done (Oman 133). In the same fashion as Kabir many sources speculate that his body miraculously disappeared after his death (Olson 182). Although his origins are mysterious he is only referred to under one incarnation unlike Kabir who in his panth is theorized to have appeared before (Gold 95).

Dadu’s religious teachings stemmed from his inability to find roots in the Vedas (Gold 49). Even though he was a man of great knowledge and devotion he struggled with some of the ideas and concepts within the Vedic teachings (Gold 49). In Dadu’s religious panth he rejected the concept that the Vedas held ultimate knowledge (Gold 49). In turn he believed in the power of self-realization and inner experience for achieving moksa (Heehs 371). Dadu believed that to fulfill this realization followers must surrender their lives entirely to god and subsequently reject their egotism (Kumar and Ram 99). He also rejected the class system and its social and religious conventions (Kumar and Ram 98). Dadu identifies himself as a house holder and believed that this stage was ideal for achieving self and spiritual realization (Kumar and Ram 100). Dadu encouraged his disciples to write in Hindi and to translate Sanskrit texts into Hindi to further the accessibility of these texts to everyone (Kumar and Ram 100). This he hoped would further his ideal of uniting the divided faiths.

The Dadu-Panth which was founded by Dadu himself, is a part of the Northern Indian sant parampara tradition (Gold 14). Its epicenter is located at its main temple in Narayana in Rajasthan (Hawley and Juergensmeyer 179). The Dadu-Panth is closely linked to Kabir’s Satguru Kabir panth and the Sikh tradition (Ralham 60).  In the Dadu-Panth Kabir is held in a revered position and his influence is noted in the Dadu-Panth text (Ralham 60).  In panth traditions the founder is often revered as the real guru, where as in the Dadu-Panth it is Dadu’s book of teachings and hymns, the Dadubani, and the Ram Mantra which receives the most attention (Gold 105). The repeated recitation of the Ram Mantra in considered a form of japa in the Dadu-Panth (Sen 100). Dadu did not initially seek to begin a panth but to expand his own concept of religious life (Gold 93). Dadu prohibited the eating of meat and all violence, but did not prohibit his disciples from marrying or still holding businesses in the world (Shomer and MeLeod 188). His disciples were allowed to pursue their religious life along with their social life within society to create a balance (Shomer and MeLeod 188). Dadu’s poetic aphorisms and devotional hymns were collected by his disciples and arranged in to a 5,000 verse bani (classical Indian music genre) titled the Dadubani (Gold 94). The book is revered as a sacramental object and a hand written copy is the most divine object within the panth (Gold 95).

The main center of the Dadu-Panth is still located in Narayana in Rajasthan where majority of followers in this panth live (Hawley and Juergensmeyer 179). Though the influence has dwindled through time the panth still is quite powerful within the area. The panth still holds some socioreligous roles in Narayana and surrounding area (Shomer and MeLeod 184). The panth has allowed makanvale (house-dwelling monks) to have wives and children unofficially (Hawley and Juergensmeyer 204). This breaks away from the tradition of monastic celibacy, previously seen as favorable within the panth, although it was never strictly upheld (Hawley and Juergensmeyer 204). The temple in Narayana is where Dadu was laid to rest in 1603 CE (Gold 94). Over time this site has been up kept by the lineage of Dadu’s disciples (Gold 95). In the present day an annual festival is held in Narayana on the anniversary of Dadu’s birth which is said to fall on the eighth day of the bright half of Phalgun (Shomer and MeLeod 186). The eighth day of Phalgun, which is the twelfth month in the Hindu calendar, falls in the end of February or beginning of March in the Gregorian calendar (Shomer and MeLeod 187). Though Dadu is not considered to have an important role in the Sikh tradition he is still respected as a great poet in his own right (Duggal 212). There is a story about Guru Gobind Singh in the Sikh tradition commenting on Dadu’s poetry and the Guru bowed his bow in front of a great shrine to Dadu out of respect (Duggal 213).



Duggal, K. S. (1980) the Sikh Gurus: Their Lives and Teachings. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd.

Gold, Daniel (1987) The Lord as Guru: Hindi Sants in the North Indian Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hawley, J. S. and M. Juergensmeyer (trans) (2004) Songs of the Saints of India. New York: Oxford University Press.

Heehs, Peter (Eds) (2006) Indian Religions: the Spiritual Traditions of South Asia- An Anthology. New Delhi: Pauls Press.

Kumar, R. and S. Ram (2008) Hindu Saints and Mysticism. New Delhi: Crescent Publishing Corporation.

Olson, Carl (2015) Indian Asceticism: power, Violence and Play. New York: Oxford University Press.

Oman, John Campbell (1984) the Mystics, Ascetics and Saints of India: a study of Sadhuism, with an accounts of the Yogis, Sanyasis, Bairagis, and other Strange Hindu Sectarians. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Ralham, O. P. (2004) Great Saints of India Vol. 2: Kabir the Apostle of Hindu-Muslim Unity. New Delhi: Anmol Publication Pvt. Ltd.

Sen, K. M. (1961) Hinduism. London: Cox and Wyman Ltd.

Shomer, K. and W. H. MeLeod (Eds) (1987) The Sants: Studies in a devotional Tradition of India. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Zelliot, E. and R. Mokashi-Punekar (Eds) (2005) Untouchable Saints: an Indian Phenomenon. New Delhi: Lordson Publishers Pvt. Ltd.


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Ram mantra



Grantha Sadha Mahima

Sant parampara


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Sikh Tradition


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