Category Archives: a. Significant Figures in Hinduism

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.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

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

Siva

Kalamukha

Basava Purana

Basavaraja Devara Ragale

Palkuriki Somanatha

Harihara

Bijjala

Dodda Basavanna Gudi

Calukya Dynasty

Basava Jayanthi

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://lingayatreligion.com/Philosophy_of_Guru_Basava.htm

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

https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lingayats

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Basava

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.

Bibliography

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. http://ezproxy.uleth.ca/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/prdb/muller_friedrich_max_1823_1900/0?institutionId=2649

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, //www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Max_M%C3%BCller&oldid=1014378 (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

Dhammapada

Buddhist Mahayana Texts

Hitopadesha

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_M%C3%BCller

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Max-Muller

https://www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/world/general/ge-bas2.htm

http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/makingbritain/content/max-muller

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

WENDY DONIGER (o’FLAHERTY)

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

Books

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.

Journals

Doniger, Wendy (2015) “A Life of Learning” ACLS Occasional Paper. 72: 1-24. Accessed January 28, 2020. http://www.acls.org/uploadedFiles/Publications/OP/Haskins/72_2015_WendyDoniger.pdf

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. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0034412500013032.

News Sources

Arora, Kim (2014) “Penguin to destroy copies of Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus’” The Times of India. Accessed January 28, 2020. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Penguin-to-destroy-copies-of-Wendy-Donigers-book-The-Hindus/articleshow/30225387.cms

Buncombe, Andrew (2014) “Arundhati Roy criticises Penguin for pulping The Hindus: An Alternative History” Independant. Accessed January 28, 2020. https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/arundhati-roy-criticises-penguin-for-pulping-the-hindus-an-alternative-history-9126247.html

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. https://news.uchicago.edu/story/qa-wendy-doniger-mircea-eliade-distinguished-service-professor-and-author-hindus

Joshua, Anita (2014) “Penguin withdraws book on Hinduism” The Hindu. Accessed January 28, 2020. https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/Penguin-withdraws-book-on-Hinduism/article11535057.ece

Rothstein, Edward (2005) “The Scholar Who Irked the Hindu Puritans.” The New York Times. Accessed January 29, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/31/books/the-scholar-who-irked-the-hindu-puritans.html.

Smith, Dinitia (2002) “A New Kama Sutra Without Victorian Veils.” The New York Times, Accessed January 29, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/04/books/a-new-kama-sutra-without-victorian-veils.html.

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.

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.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

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.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Nae Ionescue

Romania

  1. Papini
  2. Macchioro

Max Muller

Frazer

Iconography

Eastern Orthodox Church

Sanskrit

Samkhya Yoga

Tantrism

Haskell lectures

Asram

Sorbonne

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://www-jstor.org

https:// www.westminster.edu

https:// www.britannica.com.

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

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

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.

 

Related topics for further reading

Japa

Ram mantra

DaduBani

Bani

Grantha Sadha Mahima

Sant parampara

Kabir

Satguru Kabir Panth

Namdev

Nanak

Radias

Sikh Tradition

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://medium.com/sant-mat-meditation-and-spirituality/sant-dadu-dayal-the-poet-mystic-of-rajasthan-in-the-tradition-of-kabir-ba4b63a4ecbc#.q3tjm8ewd

http://ignca.nic.in/nl003204.htm

https://astrodevam.com/festivals-of-india-dadu-dayal-jayanti.html

http://www.britannica.com/biography/Dadu-Hindu-saint

 

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

Yogananda Paramahansa and the Self-Realization Fellowship

Yogananda’s Life

Born January 5, 1893 in Gorakhpur, India, Yogananda grew up with the name Mukunda Lal Ghosh (Yogananda 1971:4). He would later take upon the name of Yogananda as a result of his pledge to his spiritual teacher, Sri Yukteswar, to become a swami (teacher) in the philosophies of kriya yoga. Raised by his father, Bhagabati Charan Ghosh, who was a mathematician who worked for the Bengal – Nagpur Railway, and mother, Yogananda grew up in a ksatriya family (Yogananda 1971:4). As the son of disciples of a renounced religious figure, Lahiri Mahasaya, Mukunda was introduced to the traditionally demanding practice of kriya yoga at a young age as a student of Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51; Segady 189). According to his devotees and himself, Yogananda was able to recall many transcendent events that led him towards the pursuit of liberation or moksa at a young age. Below are summaries of these events found in his autobiography.

When he was a small child, Yogananda was overcome by Asiatic cholera. As reported in his autobiography, his mother being a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya told Mukunda to pray to the Cosmic beloved and Lahiri Mahasaya for bettered health. He recounts remembering the physical weakness he felt during this time in which he could not “lift a trembling arm”. Instead he was tasked with bowing mentally to pray for a cure. With repetitive mental prayer Mukunda was cured from a usually terminal sickness (Yogananda 1971:10).

As a baby fresh from his mother’s womb, Yogananda was able to recall the troubles of being an infant he was quoted in his autobiography as saying: “I was resentfully conscious of being unable to walk and to express myself freely. Prayerful surges arose within me as I realized my bodily impotence. My strong emotional life was mentally expressed in words of many languages. Amid the inward confusion of tongues, I gradually became accustomed to hearing the Bengali syllables of my people. The beguiling scope of an infant’s mind! adultly considered to be limited to toys and toes” (Yogananda 1971:1).

Yogananda was educated in the traditional Indian school system while studying the philosophies of Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51). While studying under his guru (teacher), Sri Yukteswar, he pursued an A.B. degree at Serampore College, a branch of the University of Calcutta (Yogananda 1971:219). Yogananda was not as studious or dedicated in his pursuit of academic knowledge as he was in his pursuit for spiritual realization. According to his autobiography, throughout his education, Mukunda was a seen as the “Mad Monk” and was generally an outsider in the academic world (Yogananda 1971:223). He would apply religious ideas he learned from Sri Yukteswar to academic fields such as philosophy. In doing so Yogananda was not perceived as a “good” student by his professors and colleagues. According to Autobiography of a Yogi, during his final year of study he was set to fail his final examinations but for another transcendental event (Yogananda 1971:220). As exams approached, Mukunda was aware of his failing grades and he knew if they persisted he would not obtain his degree, to the disapproval of his father. Through the guidance of his guru, Mukunda approached his friend for help. Mukunda was able to pass all of his exams as every question he studied was on the exams he wrote (Yogananda 1971:221-226).

After obtaining his A.B. degree at Serampore College, Yogananda decided to set up his own organization with the purpose of educating students in a comprehensive format, both spiritually and intellectually (Yogananda 1971:254). Described in his autobiography, Yogananda was “averse” to the concept of traditional organizations as they distracted people from serving the “true organization” the Cosmic Beloved (Yogananda 1971:254). Originally set up in Ranchi, India in 1918, the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidyalaya has grown increasingly with the objective of providing students with an education in agriculture, business, industry and academics along with spiritual practices (Yogananda 1971:254). Run alongside his western organisation known as the Self-Realization Fellowship, or SRF, Yogananda prescribes that the school’s environment resembles an orthodox ashrama. According to orthodox Hindu philosophy, during the student stage of life, also known as brahmacarya [also defined as a stage of celibacy], children are tasked with the pursuit of proper dharma or knowledge. Yogananda developed a traditional ashram set in nature to allow students to properly pursue this life goal. It was at this campus that where Yogananda began to develop his yogoda techniques of meditation with the purpose to “recharge life’s battery” (Yogananda 1971:255). The guru took the originally rigorous demands of kriya yoga, taught by his predecessor Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51), and transformed them into a practice designed to move one from “self to Self” (Farge 55). Yogananda used postures or asanas to create a science for the attainment of moksa (liberation). Currently, the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidylaya supports four ashrams in Ranchi, Noida, Dwarahat and Dakshineswar. Today many of these sites are held in sacred regard for his devotees as Paramahansa Yogananda experienced the Divine there.

Once the setup of the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidylaya, or now known as the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, was complete, Yogananda decided to travel to the United States of America as the delegate for Brahmacarya Ashram of Ranchi at the Congress of Religious Liberals (Segady 188; Farge 51). In August of 1920, he set off for America on the “City of Sparta.” Yogananda, having been raised and taught speaking Bengali, had troubles with lecturing in English to an English speaking audience. Recounted in his biography, his devotees believe Yogananda went through a transcendental experience at the beginning of his lecture on the ship where God granted him the ability to speak fluent English (Yogananda 1971:357).  His presentation of the “Science of Religion” to the Congress of Religious Leaders in Boston was met with great success and led to Yogananda staying in Boston and Philadelphia for several more years (Farge 51; Segady 188). In 1924, the Yogananda embarked on a transcontinental tour to promote the Yogoda philosophies. His presentations were attended by thousands, and by the end of 1925, he had set up the international headquarters for the Self-Realization Fellowship on Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California (Segady 189).

On August 22, 1935, Yogananda returned to India to check on the progression and affairs of the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India as well as confer with his guru, Sri Yukteswar. Upon his arrival he was met with great fanfare and applause (Yogananda 1971:377). When he did make it to Ranchi, he found his school in dire need of financial support as Sir Manindra Chandra Nundy, who had donated large amounts of money to the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, had passed away. Once Yogananda had publicized his need for financial support, money came flowing in from his disciples in the West saving the original school (Yogananda 1971:381). Yogananda toured around the country visiting many temples and notable people. Before his guru, Sri Yukteswar, passed away, he bestowed on Yogananda the sacred title of Paramahansa (Yogananda 1971:401). In Sanskrit, the word Paramahansa can be broken down into the roots parama, meaning “highest” and hansa meaning “swan” (Yogananda 1971:401). It is the white swan that is said to be the mount of the Creator, Brahma (Yogananda 1971:401). By 1936, Paramahansa Yogananda had returned to the West to continue his mission of spreading the word of kriya yoga. On March 7, 1952 the freed Yogananda Paramahansa passed away after a presentation to his disciples in California. In Hinduism, it is said that a realized or freed being can voluntarily “exit” their body once their mission has been completed. Yogananda’s disciples believe that he had attained that state of liberation. It was on March 7, 1952 when Yogananda Paramahansa entered his mahasamadhi or last conscious exit (Yogananda 1971:498). Twenty days after Yogananda “exited” his body, the mortuary reported no signs of biological decay. This report was published throughout the popular world, and Yogananda’s devotees believe this affirms his connection with the divine (Yogananda 1971:498).

 

The Self-Realization Fellowship

After the first center for the Self-Realization Fellowship was set up in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1922, Yogananda began a transcontinental tour to further disseminate his teachings of kriya yoga. By 1925, he had finished his tour and set up an international headquarters for the Self-Realization Fellowship on Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California (Segady 190). At its creation and until the present the Self-Realization Fellowship has followed a specific set of ideals and aims, which according to their website, include: “To disseminate among the nations a knowledge of definite scientific techniques for attaining direct personal experience of God. To unite science and religion through realization of the unity of their underlying principles.”

Following these ideals, the SRF experienced substantial growth throughout the 1920s. By the mid-1930s, the Self-Realization Fellowship had grown into a nationwide organization built around Yogananda’s aims and practices (Segady 190). As a result of the popularity, the organization decided to publish their own magazine, East-West, in the West promoting Eastern philosophy. This publication further increased SRF’s popularity as it applied Eastern religious practices and to Western society (Segady 190). In 1935, the SRF had become an active member of the Parliament of World Religions and an official non-profit religious organization, the first eastern religious organization to do so, in the state California (Segady 190). By 2008, the SRF had grown to recognize 500 SRF or Yogoda Satsanga temples, centres or groups in 50 countries. Its members spanned over 178 countries staking its claim as a permanent global spiritual organization (Segady 190).

The SRF and Yogoda Satsanga Society both follow kriya yoga philosophies set up by Yogananda and his preceding gurus. The Sanskrit term kriya can be roughly translated to mean “action”. As described by Yogananda, the yoga-meditation techniques used by the SRF are a developed science used to reach Self-Realization (Farge 63). In Yogananda’s form of kriya yoga the goal is to combine bhakti (devotion), jnana (knowledge) and karma (action) within the meditations to help devotees realize samadhi or realization [for further reading see Yogananda (1986)] (Segady 191). Yogananda believed that once a person had perfected this art, then it was at this time the said person achieved moksa.

Yogananda further explain his teachings and the attainment of realization using the force called kundalini (Farge 62). According to Yogananda, kundalini can be described as a snake at the base of the spine (Farge 62). When a person is “clouded” in his or her realization the snake would be “asleep”, feeding on the person’s senses and pleasures. The snake’s venom would then dictate the feelings of lust the person would feel (Farge 62). Through asanas or posture and the practice of yoga, a person can awaken the snake and allow it to travel up the spine to the brain, where they would experience true realization. This awakening is known as vasuki (Farge 62).

As is a common occurrence in the works of Yogananda, he uses both science and religion to explain his philosophies. The ascent of consciousness can be described in turn with the spinal centers (Farge 62). Based on a person’s enlightenment, the force or kundalini will reside in one of the centers. The centers can be categorized by the level of self-realization. In an ordinary person, the kundalini will remain in the lumbar, coccygeal or sacral center (Farge 62). Whereas in an enlightened being, the kundalini has travelled up towards the cerebral center and exited through the ajna or the “single eyed passage” (Farge 62). In-between the top and bottom, the believers of the divine reside in the heart center, the calm yogi’s kundalini sits in the cervical center, where a yogi who understands the Cosmic Vibration is centered in the medullary center or Christ center (Farge 63). As stated previously, it is when the kundalini has travelled the entirety of the spine that one will achieve realization [for further reading on kundalini and the ascent of consciuousness see Yogananda (1995)].

Through the explanation of kundalini and the practice of kriya yoga, Yogananda developed his philosophy on the attainment of moksa, but he also used seven of Patanjali’s traditional steps to realization (Farge 64). As Patanjali noted in his Yoga Sutras, Yogananda also prescribes the steps to realization as: yama, the actions which not to take; niyama, the actions in which to take; asana, body stillness; pranayama, control of breath and body; pratyahara, the disunion of the mind and the senses; dhyana, concentration on the cosmic consciousness and samadhi, attainment of realization  (Farge 64).

Yogananda invoked the language of science in his techniques (Segady 194) and tolerance of all religions (Segady 191) to promote the Self-Realization Fellowship’s ideals and aims. One of SRF’s more unconventional features was comparison of orthodox Hinduism philosophies to Christian philosophies. In promoting the SRF, Yogananda claimed it to be a “Church for All Religions” (Segady 190). He enforced this by not forcing people to dismiss their original belief when joining the SRF. He believed the goal of all religions was the same and that was to realize and become one with God or the Creator (Segady 191). In one of his original works, The Second Coming of Christ, Yogananda Paramahansa compares the Hindu idea of the Cosmic Vibration to the Christ or the “Son” and the Cosmic Consciousness to the “father” or God [for further readings on Yogananda and Christianity see Yogananda (1982)] (Farge 58). It was these comparisons with popular culture in the West and the acceptance of all religions that aided Yogananda in the expansion of the SRF’s ideals (Segady 191).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Farge, Emile J. (2009). “Going East with Merton: Forty years later-and Coming West with Paramahansa Yogananda Today.” Cross Currents 59:49-68. Accessed on February 6, 2016. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-3881.2009.00049.x.

Segady, Thomas W. (2009) “Globalization, Syncretism, and Identity: The Growth and Success of Self-Realization-Fellowship.” Implicit Religion 12:187-199. Accessed on February 5, 2016. doi: 10.1558/imre.v12i2.187.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1995) God Talks with Arjuna – The Bhagavad Gita. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1986) The Divine Romance. Dakshineswar: Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1982) Second Coming of Christ. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1971) Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kriya Yoga

Kundalini

Lahiri Mahasaya

Patanjali

Sri Yukteswar

Mahasamadhi

Moksa

Notable Websites Related to the Topic

Self-Realization Fellowship website: https://www.yogananda-srf.org/

Yogoda Satsanga Society of India website: http://www.yssofindia.org/

 

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

Swami Muktananda

Swami Muktananda was a renowned religious leader in Hinduism; he is reputed to have achieved complete self-awareness, the highest level of awareness possible. He started out as a highly respected swami in India, and eventually gained followers/devotees across the world for his views on meditation, self-reflection, self-realization, and his teaching of Siddha Yoga.

Swami Muktananda was born in the early 20th century, there is some dispute as to his exact year of birth. May 16th, 1908 is a generally accepted date (Brooks et Al 26).  According to biographies written by his devotees, from whom a majority of this information is derived, Muktananda was born to a wealthy family near the town of Mangalore. Originally, his parents had longed for a son but had not been blessed with one. Then, one day they went to the temple of Manjunath Mahadev, where they visited a holy man. This holy man decided to give Muktananda’s parents a mantra to chant that would aid them in the birth of a son (Brooks et al 25).  When he was born his parents named him Krsna. Only after his initiation into the Sarasvati Order was he given the name Muktananda (Brooks et al 29); this will be discussed later in the paper. From a young age Muktananda felt that being a sage was his calling. When he was very young he had an encounter with a holy man named Nityananda that forever changed his life. Muktananda wanted to be more like Nityananda, so he  left home in his pursuit of God (Brooks et al 26). It is interesting that Nityananda was the Guru who influenced Muktananda at such a young age, seeing as Nityananda later became his Guru (Brooks et al 32-33).

After leaving home Muktananda’s first stop was the Ashram of Siddharudha Swami, he then studied under Muppinarya Swami after Siddharudha passed. During the years Muktananda spent under these Gurus he learned many things about himself and the way of the life of a disciple(Brooks et al 27-30). One of the most important things that happened to him in these years however, was his initiation into the Sarasvati Order as he officially became a monk. It is a part of this initiation for the participant to be given a name that reflects who they are.  After his initiation his name was changed from Krsna to Muktananda, meaning “bliss of spiritual liberation” (Brooks et. al 28-29).  After his initiation, Muktananda wandered India visiting saints and pilgrimage sites. The journey was not an easy one, he put himself through many trying situations. At points he would have to face extreme circumstances such as sleeping in uncovered places and drinking filtered mud water for sustenance(Brooks et. al 31).  But regardless of his trials Muktananda was still in search of God, in fact it was the only thing he was worried about. Later, Muktananda would say that he hardly noticed his hardships and what he was experiencing, because all he could focus on was his quest for God (Brooks et. al 31). During his travels he met many great teachers, but never the Guru he sought after, the Guru who would show him God. But, finally, he met Siddha Zippruanna, who sent him to Nityananda, for Nityananda was to be the Guru that showed him God (Brooks et. al 32).

Muktananda was lead to Nityananda and studied under him in his search for self-realization. Throughout his studies, other devotees claimed that Nityananda was very hard on him, and Muktananda reported that it made him respect Nityananda even more (Brooks et. al 34). Muktananda appeared to have adored his Guru, Nityananda, as they say all disciples should. His love was so great for his Guru that Muktananda claimed he constantly appeared in his meditations. Muktananda stated that even when he did not think of his Guru, he was still constantly in his mind (Muktananda 1978: 46). This shows how committed to his Guru Muktananda was, and how strong their bond was. In 1947, Muktananda was given Shaktipat initiation under Nityananda, which is the transmission of spiritual powers from Guru to disciple (Muktananda 1978: 284).  Sometime after this occurs, Nityananda claimed that Muktananda had achieved what he said was perfect brahma (Brooks et. al 41) because he had completely given up his human body. Even after Nityananda claimed he had reached perfect brahma, Muktananda still followed Nityananda, even though it was not necessary for him to do so. This shows how dharmic Muktananda was.  Because of his good actions, devotion, and perfect brahma; Nityananda passed the power of the siddha lineage to Muktananda when he took mahasamadhi (passed away). Muktananda stated it was a life changing event for him. He claimed that, “You experience perfection when you are already perfect, and you lose yourself in that perfection. It fills you completely. You experience your all-pervasiveness, and your individuality is destroyed” (Brooks et. al 47).

Muktananda then began his own mission. He appointed his own trustees to the Shri Gurudev ashram, later known as the Siddha Peeth. He devoted this ashram to Nityananda. What made this ashram so remarkable was the fact that it was open to all people, it belonged to everyone (Brooks et al 48-51), even westerners. This ashram was one of the few that believed everyone should be able to find God, no matter who they were, and regardless of religion. Muktananda believed that his duty was, “not to teach Hinduism, but the self; not to live in a cave wearing orange robes, but to see God in oneself as one is, and to see Him where one is, as a Christian, Jew, or Moslem, as a business man, a parent of a worker” (Muktananda 1987: vii). People from all over the world came to meet with Muktananda, and all reported that they had never experienced such radiance or love (Brooks et al 54-56). During this time  Muktananda developed and named his style of yoga as Siddha yoga. This was not a yoga that could be described by a type of movement, but rather a type of spiritual yoga that is taught by an accomplished yogi, and is passed down through these yogis as a lineage (Brooks et al xxv).

Muktananda talked about what it is like to truly meditate and what it is like to gain Shakti. From Muktananda’s point of view when you meditate consistently and love to meditate, eventually Shakti will awaken inside of you with the help of your Guru (Muktananda 1991:33). Muktananda states that Shakti created the outer universe, when it awakens within you it creates an inner universe of bliss and happiness (Muktananda 1991:33). When an individual’s meditation begins to deepen, they will eventually see what Muktananda calls a blue pearl. This blue pearl is where he claims God lives, where the form of the self is within us, and it contains the entire universe (Muktananda 1991: 35). This pearl allows us to feel love for ourselves and others. Eventually our individuality is no longer there. There is no longer any difference between things, and Muktananda believes that we come to this realization once we realize the whole universe dwells inside of us (Muktananda 1991: 36).  To him this a good thing, we are on our way to realizing that we and everything we see, are in fact God (Muktananda 1991: 37).

Despite the growing popularity of Siddha yoga and of Swami Muktananda, there were still a few critics of the Guru. Muktananda disliked materialism, as we can see from his works. He emphasized being free from attachments, which are the source of misery.  Muktananda wanted people to live free of desire and attachment, which you are not born into this world with (Muktananda 1980: 21).  He emphasized this over and over again, telling his disciples to wash away jealousy which causes filth, and to eat and live moderately (Muktananda 1980:29).  Through remaining free from attachment and enjoying things in moderation, only then he claims a person can begin to find happiness and self-realization. Muktananda’s continued stress on these things may be one reason that some westerners were not very fond of his teachings. Western culture puts emphasis on things such as material items and dedication to work, so you can afford even more material items. However, Muktananda believed that God and only God is what is truly important; he believed in continuous worship to God, and that we should immerse our minds in Him [God], because without God our mind would fail to function and think. Because of this, we should make God our one true focus (Muktananda 1980:33).  Some westerners may not like the thought of having to completely commit themselves and their minds to God, especially to such extremes as Muktananda does.

In 1970, when Muktananda was 62, he made his first trip to the west due to the many invitations from his devotees there (Brooks et al 74).  Many were uncertain how this trip would go, due to the fact that he could not speak English and only knew a couple dozen people in the west (Brooks et al 74).  However, even though he could not speak English, that did not stop him from connecting with people. The people he interacted with claimed that he connected with people through the heart (Brooks et al 75). Throughout this trip people learned a lot of new things about Muktananda. For instance people saw that Muktananda did not see himself as anything but an instrument for God and his own Guru, he never asked for help, and although he adapted to new environments easily he never changed his teachings (Brooks et al 74).  The first world tour of the Swami went extremely well and he went on his second tour in 1974. At this time Siddha yoga was becoming much more popular worldwide (Brooks et al 80). Muktananda stated his purpose of this tour was to start a revolution. The revolution he referred to was a meditation revolution. He sought for people to regain their prestige which he claimed had been tainted with evil. This thought of a meditation revolution became the foundation of the Siddha Yoga expansion (Brooks et al 82).  Throughout his second world tour there were over 150 new meditation centres and three ashrams founded around the world (Brooks et al 83).  In 1978 he took his third world tour, which lasted three years and is said to be the peak of his career. Around another twenty ashrams were formed and he had eight books published. It was also on this tour that dislike and the suspicion of cults arose (Brooks et al 109).

Some people believed that Muktananda was the leader of a cult, and that cult was Siddha yoga. Muktananda apparently called for conformity within his ashram, to some people this seemed like something a cult would do (White 315). People felt strongly compelled to be with and please Swami Muktananda. Not only that but many people longed to be exactly like Muktananda (White 316-317).  Unusually, many people have had similar experiences in Siddha yoga, both emotionally and physically. These people do things such as shriek, cry, writhe, and make strange movements. Not only this but they would hardly be able to remain conscious or carry our conversation without going into a trance,  being conscious was actually considered a hindrance to gaining self-realization (White 319).  To many people who were not familiar with the practices and aim of Siddha yoga, this seemed unnatural and made them feel very uncomfortable with the above mentioned happenings.  Muktananda addressed the talk of cults on his third tour when he landed in California. Challenging the people, he encouraged the government to visit every ashram and see what they could find, and he encouraged people to test their spiritual leaders and to watch for false Gurus who were appearing claiming to be like him (Brooks et al 110).

Swami Muktananda was a widely recognized leader, not only in India but all over the world. His followers emphasized his kindness, love, and warmth. While it appears that most people he came in contact with loved him, there were those few who doubted his teachings and were quite critical of him and his followers. Muktananda took mahasamadhi in 1982 (Brooks et al 124) leaving behind his legacy with his two successors, Swami Chidvilasananda and Swami Nityananda (Brooks et al 124).

 

REFERENCES AND OTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Brooks, Douglas and S.P. Durgananda, et al. (2000) Meditation Revolution: A History and Theology of the Siddha Yoga Lineage. India: Muktabodha Indological Research Institute,

Muktananda (1991) Meditate. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Muktananda (1978) Play of Consciousness. New York: SYDYA Foundation South Fallsburg.

Muktananda (1980) Reflections of the Self. New York: SYDYA Foundation South Fallsburg.

White, Charles (1974) “Swāmi Muktānanda and the Enlightenment Through Śakti-pāt” History of Religions (1974) Vol. 13, No. 4,  p. 306-322. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1062089

 

Other Related Topics For Investigation

Shakti

Meditation

Influential Swamis

Spread of Hinduism

Renouncers

Sarasvati Order

Self-realization

Swami Nityananda

Swami Chidvilasananda

Brahma

 

Article written by: Sonja Simmelink ( March 7, 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Annie Besant

Annie Besant was an English woman who would come to be an advocate for the Hindu religion and women’s educational rights in India. Born in 1847, Besant grew up in a home where her father valued science over religion and her mother was a devout Anglican. Her parents’ differing views on religion would come to impact Besant’s beliefs and work as she grew up. She came to associate England and India by gendered terms. England being male and paternal in its rationality and materialism, and India as female due to its spirituality and mysticism. Besant’s father died when she was only five years old, thus, she grew up mainly influenced by her mother’s Christian beliefs. She received a good education from a wealthy woman who agreed to privately tutor her because her mother could not afford public education. Besant married a clergyman, however, her marriage quickly became tumultuous as she began to denounce her Christian faith. Besant would refuse to take communion and unsurprisingly this angered her clergyman husband. This led to a fractious marriage and an eventual separation (Anderson 2002:28).

More and more Besant began to question the Christian faith. The illness of her young daughter Mabel was one such event which drew Besant towards an atheist mindset. She eventually joined the National Secular Society which was lead by Charles Bradlaugh. Besant and Bradlaugh formed a strong friendship and he helped foster her free-thinking ideas.  Besant also became acquainted with George Bernard Shaw at this time (Oppenheim 13). With her new secularist mindset, Besant did not deny the presence of God but rather attributed consequences to human action. Before, her Christian faith had led her to believe that the universe revolved around God as the one true deity. In contrast, secularism allowed humans to be accountable for evil and for the consequences, whether it be rewards or punishment (Oppenheim 14).

In the year 1874, Annie Besant went to London and there she became known as ‘Red Annie.’ She supported such issues as women’s suffrage, use of birth control, secularism and socialism. Besant made it very clear that she was against the imperialism of England. She became a rebel figure because she went against the Victorian ideals that existed at the time in England. A series of articles written by Besant in the 1870’s demonstrated her discontent over England’s control of India. At this time, Besant identified herself as an atheist socialist but in 1889 she turned to the religion of Theosophy (Anderson 1994: 565). This particular religion was new at the time Besant converted to it and was based on discovering the hidden meanings or mysteries behind divinity. It sought to explain the relationships or bonds between the universe, humans, and the divine. Her conversion to Theosophy was met with consternation from her fellow secularists and from Indian theosophists. She had been a woman who did not believe in God and wanted the separation of religion and the state, and now she was affiliating herself with a religion where “all major creeds are paths to God” (Anderson 2002:28). Oppenheim (1989) suggests that her conversion to Theosophy was not as surprising as many thought. She had been questioning the secularist and atheist thoughts for some time, and had found that they did not allow for brotherhoods to be formed, but rather pitted different groups against each other (15). Besant remained a follower of Theosophy for the rest of her life and based much of her work on its ideologies.

1907 was an important year for Besant as she became the president of the Theosophical Society.  By this time Besant had already become quite assimilated into Indian culture. The base for the Theosophical Society was in India and Besant tried to participate in Indian life as fully as possible. She moved to India permanently and wore a white sari, as widows do, because it demonstrated mourning over the wrongdoings Britain had committed in India (Anderson 2002:29). She explained her affinity for India by claiming that she felt she had been Indian in another lifetime [Ingalls (1965) mentions how Besant discovered that many of her incarnations took place in India]. Whilst in the Theosophical Society, Besant focussed much of her work on supporting the domesticity of Indian women. Besant believed that it was important that Indian customs be upheld and this included women carrying out their traditional roles in the home. She received some criticism for this viewpoint because she had been so against the Victorian idea of a private sphere for women in her native land of England. Indeed many ambiguities arose with Besant’s ideas. One such ambiguity or criticism Besant faced was her lack of political conviction. In the year 1885 the Indian National Congress, composed of British members, was attempting to include more Indians in the governance of India. Besant had long been known to be against the Imperial supremacy of Britain yet she did not seem to have any qualms with British involvement in India’s government. She was quoted once as saying that “an Indian does not resent being governed; for he thinks the duty of a ruler is to rule, but he does resent the insolence often shown by the very juvenile civilians” that Britain was sending to India (Anderson 2002:30). Rather, Besant chose to focus mainly on the spiritual nature of India as she believed that this was the most vital part of its essence. She was concerned that western ideologies were crippling to India’s traditional Hindu beliefs and practices.

Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)
Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)

In order to preserve India’s Hindu background, Besant turned her efforts towards education. She felt that it was important to educate the young males on the religion, and history of India in order that they may be proud citizens of India in the future. In this way, Besant was trying to ensure that the western ideals of the British did not permeate into India and eradicate its important history and spirituality. Besant tried to distance herself from social reforms, wanting to focus mainly on the preservation of India’s Hindu culture. However, in the early 1900s she did become involved in advocating against child marriages and the seclusion of women. It is important to note that her support of these issues in no way negated her belief that women should still be domestic. When she began a school for young girls, the goal was that their education would help them to be better wives, not to help them achieve independence (Anderson 2002: 31). Tradition held that the men dealt in public affairs outside of the home and that women were mothers and wives who concerned themselves with domestic affairs. It is clear that Besant did not believe Indian women to be suppressed because of this (Anderson 1994: 567). To her, they seemed quite content in their societal roles and thus no change needed to be made. In the Central Hindu School (Besant’s school for boys) and her school for girls, Besant ensured that Sanskrit was taught as vigorously as the English language. Just as in the schools run by the British, her schools also taught important morals. However, Besant had more success than the British run universities in India because she tailored her curriculums to Indian culture. Figures such as St. Paul would be replaced in a lesson with Sri Rama; King Alfred was replaced by Sivaji. Besant’s devotion to Hindu tradition and custom in the education of India’s youth won her over with her pupils and their parents (Ingalls 86).

The year 1913 was significant for Besant because it was then that she turned to political pursuits. Having been distant from involving herself in issues of a political nature, Besant was thrown into the realm of politics when she was taken to court by a man whose sons were under her guardianship.  Accusations about one of her colleagues were made and this cast a shadow on the Theosophical Society. As a result, Besant felt an increasing need, in her own words: “to enter more than I have hitherto done into the social life of Madras” (Stafford 62-63).  After her negative experience in court, she formed ‘The Brothers of India.’  This was a group committed to looking out for India’s best interests with a focus on Hinduism as the mode towards their means. The men in this group were from the Theosophical Society and they had seven guidelines, which they were to follow in order to serve India’s best interests. The first six guidelines reflected many of Besant’s early beliefs. For example, these men were to only have their daughters marry when they were seventeen years of age to promote the education of the masses and to not ostracize widows for remarrying. The seventh guideline was most significant which “committed all members to a combined programme of spiritual, educational, social and political reform, and the placing of the programme under the guidance and direction of the Indian National Congress” (Stafford 64). Before, there had been reforms for each of these areas individually, but Besant wanted to unite all of these areas and to place equal importance on all reforms together. The Indian National Congress was asked to take the programme under its direction but they felt that it was not their place to interfere in these reforms because they were focussed solely on political ventures. However, Annie Besant was not deterred. She sought to bring the different groups and movements into one strong voice.

Home Rule for India was brought forth by Besant. She believed that both India and Britain would be better off if India was permitted to be self-governing. Stafford (1983) suggests that Besant’s Irish background influenced her decision to have a Home Rule for India. Besant wrote many articles which stressed how India would be a much more valuable ally as a nation free from colonialism as opposed to being a colonial state. She discussed the many grievances that India had suffered under British rule. According to Besant, Britain continuously benefitted more from India than India did from itself. Britain prevented India’s capital from remaining within the nation. As well, in terms of education, missionaries wanted Indians to convert, and the British geared education towards their own means; the cultivation of more clerks and junior officials was often the British goal (Stafford 66-67).  With the approaching war (World War I), Besant asserted that it was important for India to recognize her own nationhood. In 1916 Besant was finally successful in achieving a Home Rule for India. A meeting between the Congress and the Moslem League occurred.  As Ingalls (1965) suggests, this was very significant because an agreement called the Lucknow Agreement determined that in the event of Indian self-government, “two-thirds majority of either religious community would hold a veto power” (87).  Unfortunately, the Congress did not honor this agreement. Being the strong-willed woman that she was, Besant continued to give speeches to gain support. She was then placed under house arrest by a governor of Madras [see Anderson (2002: 39) for more information on the Governor’s actions against Besant]. Much to the dismay of the Congress, Besant had many devout followers, and her house arrest only served to make her a martyr for her cause. Gandhi was amongst her supporters, as well as other male Indian nationalists. People were dismayed to hear of the treatment of Besant. She was called Mother Besant by many and had won over the hearts of the people with her passionate belief in Indian nationalism. Significantly, Besant’s internment brought forth many Indian women activists for women’s rights. Others who normally would not have supported an English woman as a nationalist leader also protested her internment. When she was released after three months, she became the President of the Indian National Congress in December of 1917 (Ingalls 87-88).

Now as president, Besant was able to induce change for women’s rights in India. As she had done in the past, Besant did not denounce the important role in the home of the women, but rather suggested that women had an ancient importance and that their emancipation was needed so that they could fulfill their ancient position. In this way, Besant appealed to the traditionalism of Indian women and men, while still implying that some changes needed to be made. In late 1917 Besant formed and presided over the first feminist organization in India. It was called the Women’s Indian Association (Anderson 2002:47). Many women looked up to Besant as someone who had defied the odds and demonstrated that women could have a voice and the power to affect change in a male-dominated world. After 1917, her influence began to decrease. Gandhi was at the forefront of India’s nationalism and many saw him as a more appropriate leader for the Indian cause because he was a swadeshi or home made nationalist. Besant disagreed with many of Gandhi’s ideas and she lost favor with many because of this. To many, it seemed that she had become pro-government despite her original Home Rule intentions for India, however, she had simply altered her views because the political climate of India had changed. Besant had once been deemed an incarnate goddess, but at this time she was being referred to as a demoness and some called her Putana [this is a demoness from the epic Ramayana. She is known to have put poison on her breasts and suckled the child Lord Krsna, thus killing him (Anderson 2002:50)]. Interestingly, Gandhi, though he had many qualms with Besant’s views, stood up for her against the harsh words she was receiving from those who once supported her.

The last years of Besant’s career were difficult times for her. She resigned from the Home Rule League she had founded and Gandhi took her place as president. Moreover, she also resigned from the Indian National Congress. Besant was embittered by the way in which she was disregarded, but she continued to persevere. She formed a new National Home Rule League and eventually rejoined the Indian National Congress, though not in a leading position. Besant died in the year 1933 at the age of eighty-six. Towards the end of her career she was marginalized, however, many still fondly remembered her as Mother Annie Besant. She was the English woman with the Indian soul who fought for a more free India (Anderson 2002:49-51).

 

 

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

 

Anderson, Nancy Fix (2002) “Mother Besant and Indian National Politics.” The Journal of        Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 30, No. 3: p.27-54. London: Frank Cass

 

Anderson, Nancy Fix (1994) “Bridging Cross-cultural Feminisms: Annie Besant and women’s   rights in England and India, 1874-1933.” Women’s History Review, Vol. 3, No. 4: p.       563-580. New Orleans: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.

 

Ingalls, Daniel H.H. (1965) “The Heritage of a Fallible Saint: Annie Besant’s Gifts to India.”         Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 109, No. 2: p. 85-88.     Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

 

Mortimer, Joanne Stafford (1983) “Annie Besant and India 1913-1917.” Journal of      

            Contemporary History, Vol. 18, No. 1: p. 61-78. London: Sage Publications, Ltd.

 

Oppenheim, Janet (1989) “The Odyssey of Annie Besant.” History Today, Vol. 39, No. 9: p.        12-18. Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company.

 

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Atheism

Central Hindu School

Charles Bradlaugh

Commonweal (newspaper)

Home Rule League

Indian National Congress

Madame Blavatsky

Madras

nationalist movement (India)

National Reformer (newspaper)

New India (newspaper)

‘Red Annie’

Secularism

‘The Brothers of India’

Theosophical Society

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/besant_annie.shtml

 

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

 

http://www.ts-adyar.org/content/annie-besant-1847-1933

http://spartacus-educational.com/Wbesant.htm

 

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

 

http://www.ts-adyar.org/

 

https://theosophical.org/the-society/history-of-the-society

 

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/285841/Indian-National-Congress

 

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

Krishnamacharya and the Hatha Yoga Movement

Yoga has been practiced for centuries, with alternative meanings and health benefits as it has moved into modern day. The Vedas are the primary source of ancient Indian traditions and practices of worship that allow people to live life in a dharmic manner. These texts refer to the attainment of moksha (liberation) and yoga is one of the modes to attain this goal. Traditional Vedic yoga is connected with ideas that revolve around ritual sacrifices for the purpose of connecting the material world with the spiritual world (Feuerstein 5).  The successful yoga practices create focus for a long period of time as a way of transcending the limitations of the mind in order to reach spiritual reality (Feuerstein 5). The preclassical period of yoga was approximately 2,000 years until the second century C.E when it closely followed the sacrificial culture discussed in The Brahmanas and Aranyakas, which re genres of Sanskrit texts. It is the Upanishads, which teach the unity of all things, that ultimately expanded the practice of yoga (Feuerstein 6). Post classical yoga first demonstrates the shift of focus from contemplation with the result of developing a spiritual conscious, to practices that rejuvenate the body and influence a prolonged life. (Feuerstein 6).  Hatha yoga or “yoga of force” is a practice that utilizes posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama) as a way of transforming the body’s energy to influence spiritual transformation (Starbacker 105). The physical nature of hatha yoga is what influenced its appeal in the 19th century as calisthenics became popular in India and around the world.

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya is widely considered the father of modern yoga as he developed movement-orientated postural systems that have been presented internationally by his disciples (Starbacker 103). Krishnamacharya documents the purpose of yogabhyasa (the practice of yoga or abstract devotion) and why it is an important practice that influences the welling being of the mind and body in his book Yoga Makaranda, which is one of many of his publications. He explains that it is the philosophy of yoga to draw the minds focus inwards to reach deep concentration to develop a form of mental strength. The benefit of this process is comparable to how sleep rejuvenates the mind, in which sleep is of a tamasic nature. The mental strength that is developed through yogabhyasa is called yoga nidra, and it by far exceeds the amount of strength and concentration that sleep or meditation may offer (Krishnamacharya 7). The benefits of yogabhyasa are separated into eight parts: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and Samadhi (Krishnamacharya 8). There are benefits at every stage of practice; it is not that there is a final stage that reveals all the benefits at the same time. Yama develops compassion towards other living beings, while niyama is a state of peace and tranquility with the environment and internally. Asana practice causes correct blood circulation and internal functions; pranayama develops strength in the bones and bone marrow, heart, brain, muscles and tendons. Pratyahara is to bring ones own indriyas (five senses) under control in order to have a focused mind. Dharana is to stop the mind and hold it in one place, while dhyana is to focus the mind in one direction and to attain whatever form is though about. Samadhi is to have stopped all external movements of the mind and have reached a state of happiness about the physical and spiritual world (Krishnamacharya 8-16).

Krishnamacharya was most influential during his residency at Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore from 1930-1950, when he developed a very physical and acrobatic system of asanas that are most similar to yoga today (Heerman 20). It remains unclear if Krishnamacharya stayed true to his teaching from his guru Rama Mohan Bramachari with the transition of his yoga teachings in India, and the conflicting western views that have greatly influenced the way yoga is received from his students (Heerman 20). Once Krishnamacharya completed his teachings, he set out to teach this spiritual system of yoga throughout India. The traditional system of yoga practices was becoming outdated and was not received well by most people. Because of his unsuccessful pursuit to make a living as a yoga teacher, Krishnamacharya traveled around India giving lectures and demonstrating siddhis (supernormal abilities of the yogic body) (Heerman 21). In order to gain attention and interest in yoga, he demonstrated suspending his pulse, lifting heavy objects with his teeth and performed difficult asanas (Heerman 21). Krishnamacharya was then recruited by the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnarajendra Wodeyar to teach at the Jaganmohan Palace for young male royals (Heerman 21). The Maharaja was very committed to promoting cultural, political and technological innovations for Mysore, as well as encouraging physical education, which was known as the “Indian physical culture movement”, that was designed to created the strength necessary to reclaim India after so many years of colonial rule (Heerman 22). Krishnamacharya’s yoga teachings were greatly influenced to be aerobic and physical due to the Maharaja and the popularity of exercise. As a result, hatha yoga gained wide popularity compared to the traditional yoga practices, which ultimately led to the vast arrangement of yoga forms that are present in India and North America today.

Hatha yoga is mainly the methods of doing asanas (yoga postures). The circulation and strength of the body is only one of eight parts that contribute to the whole of yogabhyasa, while the mindfulness and focus of yoga has not maintained its aesthetic appeal. Krishnamacharya explains his distaste for the way practitioners of yogabhyasa ignore vinyasa krama and worries that the Vedas from which yoga practice has originated will be ruined (Krishnamacharya 26). The form, metre, syllables, and verses that form the entirety of the Vedas are comparable to the way in which yoga should be practiced. The combination of the eight elements of yogabhyasa is what provides the beneficial integrity of yoga practices. From the perspective of Krishnamacharya in Yoga Makaranda, yoga has a deep spiritual meaning and benefit that has deteriorated with the Westernization of hatha yoga. To Krishnamacharya, yoga is a form of Vedic ritual that develops more than toned muscles and flexibility. Although the Yoga Makaranda provides much information on the traditional Hindu practice of yoga with regards to the Vedas, Krishnamacharya is recognized as a figure who influenced the separation of religiosity of yoga from the growth of modern yoga. Other organizations, such as Christian yoga, argue that spiritual expression can still be reached without the Hindu dimensions of yogabhyasa. The interest in yoga in North America encouraged the streamlined approach of simplifying yogic concepts in a way that was acceptable to Western and Christian spiritual views (Heerman 13).

Bas-relief on a temple pillar depicting a yogic posture, utilized in ascetic practice (Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, India).
Bas-relief on a temple pillar depicting a yogic posture, utilized in ascetic practice (Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, India).

Christian opponents of yoga hold that Hindu traditions are in conflict with Christian doctrine (Jain 4). The contemporary Western view of modern yoga is as a mode physical fitness, separated from its historical origins. Similarly, Hindu opponents of this disconnect of yoga from its historical spiritual origins, believe that yoga has been corrupted by the profit driven popularization of contemporary yogis (Jain 4). Prior to Krishnamacharya, there where other yoga masters involved with the popularization of Hatha Yoga. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) is widely known to have used a combination of existing yoga with modern ideas and practices (Jain 5). As postural yoga remains without a Hindu signature in modern western society, alternative spiritual connotations have been attached to it. For example, Christian Yoga emphasizes postures and breath control as a way of focusing on Christ (Jain 6). The differing opinions and techniques associated with yoga is what allows it to be appealing to many different groups, but also contribute to the opposition that both Christians and Hindus have towards modern postural yoga.

Krishnamacharya demonstrated exceptional strength and flexibility that encourages the appeal of yoga for its physical benefits, but his teachings in Yoga Makaranda, suggest that he taught with the intention of encouraging anyone to practice yoga. He has extensive teachings on the spiritual origins and the responsibility of the guru to teach a student in such a way that all aspects that contribute to yoga are recognized in order to receive the benefits of yoga. Yet, it can also be seen that Krishnamacharya did not maintain a traditional yoga system that is true to the teachings of his own guru as his career was greatly influenced by Maharaja of Mysore and popularity of physical exercise. The tendency that Krishnamacharya had for tailoring his instructions so that each of his students could maximize the physical benefits, also demonstrates the stray away from the traditional yoga system (Heerman 30).

Besides the conflicting viewpoint of modern yoga and Hindu traditions, Krishnamacharya designed a form of exercise that is unique and modifiable to anyone who wishes to participate. Hatha yoga can build strength, and cause an overall benefit to health as well as encouraging concentration and focus that can be interpreted as spiritual, self reflective, or religious depending on how the participant want to approach a yoga practice. Krishnamacharya may have influenced the separation of Hindu tradition from modern forms of yoga but made yoga accessible to everyone who wishes to participate.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Burley, Mikel (2014) ‘A Purification of Ones Own Humanity’ Nonattachment and Ethics in Yoga Traditions. The Journal of Religion. Vol. 94, No. 2, P. 204-228. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Feuerstein, Georg (2006) “A Short History of Yoga”. The Yoga Tradition. P. 1-10. Hohm Press.

Heerman, Grace (2014) “Yoga in the Modern World: The Search for the ‘Authentic’ Practice.” Sociology and Anthropology Theses. Paper 5, P. 1-45, Tacoma Washington: University of Puget Sound.

Jain, Antrea R. (2012) “The Malleability of Yoga: A Response to Christian and Hindu Opponents of the Popularization of Yoga”. Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies: Vol. 25, Article 4. P. 1-8, Indianapolis, Indiana: Butler University.

Krishnamacharya, Sir T. (1934) Yoga Makaranda: The Essence of Yoga (Part One). Kannada Edition, Madurai C.M.V. Press. P. 1-159.

Starbacker, Stuart R. (2014) “Reclaiming the Spirit through the Body: The Nascent Spirituality of Modern Postural Yoga”. Entangled Religions; Oregon: Oregon State University, Article 3, P. 95-114.

Singleton, Mark (2007) “Yoga, Eugenics, and Spiritual Darwinism in the Early Twentieth Century”. International Journal of Hindu Studies; Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 125-146. Springer.

RELATED TOPICS

Dharmic

Moksha

Bramanas

Aranyakas

Asana

Pranayama

Sattva guna

Tamasic

Yogabhyasa

Nidre

Yama

Niyama

Pratyahara

Dharana

Dhyana

Indriyas

Jaganmohan

Swami Vivekananda

Vinyasa krama

Krishnarajendra Wodeyar

Maharaja

 siddhis

Samadhi

NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES

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

http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ananda_Bhavanani/publication/241276617_UNDERSTANDING_THE_YOGA_DARSHAN/links/0046351fcf7cb2a45b000000.pdf

http://www.academia.edu/638083/The_Development_of_Modern_Yoga_A_Survey_of_the_Field

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

 

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

List of Scholars of Hinduism

Below is a list of scholars who study Hinduism. The list is far from exhaustive, it provides the names of scholars who either have a website or a profile on Academia.edu with additional resources. Simply click on the name of the scholar to be redirected to their respective pages.

Dr. Adheesh Sathaye

Dr. Patricia Dold

Dr. Adela Sandness

Dr. Srilata Raman

Dr. Shaman Hatley

Dr. Leslie Orr

Dr. Arvind Sharma

Dr. Davesh Soneji

Dr. Gordan Djurdjevic

Dr. James Mchugh

Dr. Hamsa Stainton 

Dr. Leela Prasad

Dr. Pankaj Jain
          Dr. Pankaj Jain’s Academia.edu page

Dr. Timothy Lubin

Dr. Sthaneshwar Timalsina

Dr. John Nemec