Home or Ashram?

The Vaishnavas of Bengal

Authors

  • Jeanne Openshaw University of Edinburgh

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/fiel2007v2i1.65

Keywords:

Caste Vaishavism, renouncers, gender and caste

Abstract

In theory, Indic religious traditions rigorously differentiate the realms of householder and renouncer, with movement only permitted from former to latter and only for certain individuals. The presence of castes with renouncer names (Yogis, Naths, Vaishnavas) suggests that realities on the ground may not conform to this stereotype. Using fieldwork material from West Bengal, India, this article considers connections between the Caste Vaishnavas and renunciation. Not only do Caste Vaishnavas often follow renouncer practices, male Caste Vaishnava status is conferred by renunciation rituals in which the loin-cloth is functionally equivalent to the Brahmin sacred thread. Contrary to most textual accounts, there is constant movement of renouncers as well as other householders, in groups as well as individuals, into this 'open caste' (Risley, 1891). The relation of joint renouncers (a male and female pair) to Caste Vaishnavas is examined, as is the status of women within the caste.

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Author Biography

Jeanne Openshaw, University of Edinburgh

Jeanne Openshaw is Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies, University of Edinburgh. Her PhD, based on fieldwork and textual research, was in Social Anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Her publications include Seeking Bāuls of Bengal (2002) and another monograph, Writing the Self: The Life and Philosophy of a Dissenting Bengali Bāul Guru, is forthcoming.

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Published

2007-09-20

How to Cite

Openshaw, J. (2007). Home or Ashram? The Vaishnavas of Bengal. Fieldwork in Religion, 2(1), 65–82. https://doi.org/10.1558/fiel2007v2i1.65

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