Lecture tag: Asceticism

Hindu Samnyasins in the Temple Context

Session 13 of the 2007 Shivdasani Conference.

The Hindu temple is a religious site and signifies some ritual activity. The general perception of a samnyasin, on the other hand, is one not associated with ritual activity as that is seen as perpetuating worldly existence or samsara. However since this polarization is not evidenced in real life this is indeed a contested issue and this paper examines how far this relationship of a renouncer with the temples as seen in the world can be justified based on the prescriptions given in ascetic (samnyasa) manuals like the Samnyasa Upanishads, the Yatidharmasamuccaya and Jivanmuktiviveka.


The monastic/ascetic tradition of India and its ramification towards the west (MT 16)

The lecture would shed light on the Indian phenomenon of monasticism (shrama, shramana) and asceticism (tapas, tapasvin). Buddhist monks are referred to as shramanas, the toilers. The concept of shrama (labour) has a spiritual connotation in the Vedic literature. Monastic way of life, according to me, was not a protest or revolution against the established religious order. Its tradition seems to be as old that of Vedic ritual, although it was formalised and given a well structured form by Mahavira and especially by Buddha. However they were not the inventors of this tradition. Many Rishis and Aranyakas (Vaikhanasas!) lead a life very akin to that of a monk. Tapas etymologically means ‘heat’ and tapasya is ‘accumulation of heat’ where the expression ‘heat’ is understood in the sense of spiritual energy. Performance of austerities is believed to endow a person with extra-ordinary capabilities which could be of many use, besides , of course, spiritual enlightenment. Tapas is usually associated with the concept of a Rsi who can see beyond time and space. We shall deal with these concepts and trace the history of the spread of monasticism in the west from India in short.

Prof. Gaya Charan Tripathi was born at Agra (India). He went to school and pursued higher studies at Agra, Pune, and Benares. He has a Masters in Sanskrit (1959) from the University of Agra with a Gold Medal and first position in the University. He received his Ph.D. from the same University in 1962 on Vedic Deities and their subsequent development in the Epics and the Puranas supported by a Fellowship of the Ministry of Education. He is a Fellow of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for Higher Studies in Germany. He has a Dr.Phil. from the University of Freiburg/Br (1966) in History of Religions, Comparative Indo-European Philology, and Latin (besides Indology) as elective subjects in the grade Summa cum Laude. D.Litt. in Ancient Indian History and Culture from the University of Allahabad on ‘A critical Study of the daily Puja Ceremony of the Jagannatha Temple in Puri’ (published under the title Communication with God). He has taught at the Universities of Aligarh, Udaipur, Freiburg (twice), Tuebingen (twice), Heidelberg, Berlin, Leipzig, Philipps-Universität Marburg, and British Columbia (Vancouver). He is Chief Indologist and Field Director of the Orissa Research Project (1970–5) of the German Research Council (DFG), and has been Principal of the Ganganatha Jha Research Institute, Allahabad, for over twenty years. He was Professor and Head of the Research and Publication wing of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Delhi, and is presently Director of the Bhogilal Leherchand Institute of Indology in New Delhi. He has published 22 books on subjects mostly pertaining to religions and literature of India. His specialisations are: Indian Religions and Philosophy, Vishnuism (especially Pancharatra school), Vedic studies, Sanskrit Literature, Grammar, and Philology, Cult practices of Orissa, and Gaudiya Vishnuism.

The Mammoth, Multi-faith Kumbh Mela: A Place of Practical Plurality amid Colossal Chaos

This lecture is based on the 2013 Maha-Kumbh Mela held in Allahabad, in which Kalpesh Bhatt conducted field research as a part of the Harvard Kumbh Workshop. Recognized as the largest religious gathering in the world, the Kumbh Mela is a mammoth, multi-faith event that hosts around 100 million pilgrims from diverse and at times antithetical Hindu traditions ranging from polytheistic to monotheistic to atheistic. Even a few Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, and other South Asian traditions also participate in the Kumbh, making it an intricately convoluted convergence of manifold beliefs, practices, and rituals. The enthusiasm of and differences among the millions of laypersons and ascetics who flock to the Kumbh occasionally culminate into a fierce commotion arising from mundane issues such as space allocation, crowd control, unchecked competition, and crass commercialization.

Despite embodying such a colossal chaos, the Kumbh Mela provides an example of practical pluralism by effecting a mostly harmonious confluence of diverse belief systems and practices. Drawing from textual sources as well as his ethnographic fieldwork in the 2013 Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India, Bhatt examines how does the spirit of sacrifice embedded in the spatial and spiritual vastness of the Kumbh engender the active seeking of understanding across lines of differences without leaving one’s identities and commitments behind? Although grounded in disparate theological, philosophical, and sociocultural foundations, millions of lay people, religious leaders, wandering sadhus, and solitary ascetics coexist and coalesce, albeit temporarily, in this month-long event. How we can extrapolate this ecumenical model of the Kumbh Mela to embrace pluralism pragmatically in a larger context.

Kalpesh Bhatt joined the collaborative doctoral program at Department for the Study of Religion, Centre for South Asian Studies, and Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto, after completing Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. Prior to that, fusing his interests in science, religion, and art, Kalpesh led a number of creative projects, including the production of an IMAX film, Mystic India, and a high-tech water spectacular, Sat-Chit-Anand, based on the Upaniṣadic story of Naciketā. Kalpesh’s doctoral project is to do modern Hindu theology from pre-modern Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gītā and study its role in Indian diaspora’s grappling with everyday personal and socioeconomic struggles.

Asceticism for All: the Yoga of the Householder

The earliest systematic treatments of yoga in Sanskrit texts are written by ascetics for ascetics. Over the course of the first millennium CE, however, textual prescriptions for yoga that may be practised by non-ascetics appear and proliferate. This lecture will explore how yoga practices that were developed in ascetic milieux were translated for non-ascetic audiences, a process that continues to this day.

Dr James Mallinson is Lecturer in Sanskrit and Classical and Indian Studies at SOAS, University of London. He took his BA in Sanskrit and Old Iranian at the University of Oxford, followed by an MA in Area Studies (South Asia), with Ethnography as his main subject, at SOAS. His doctoral thesis, submitted to the University of Oxford, was a critical edition and annotated translation of the Khecarīvidyā, an early text of haṭhayoga. Dr Mallinson has published eight books, all of which are editions and translations of Sanskrit yoga texts, epic tales and poetry. His recent work has used philological study of Sanskrit texts, ethnography and art history to explore the history of yoga and yogis. He is currently working on a monograph entitled Yoga and Yogis: the Texts, Techniques and Practitioners of Early Haṭhayoga.

The Tantrāloka of Abhinavagupta: Introduction and Readings: Session four (HT20)

In these lectures Professor Sanderson will introduce the Tantrāloka of Abhinavagupta (fl. c. 975–1025), that author’s monumental exposition of the Śaiva Tantras from the standpoint of the Śākta Śaiva tradition known as the Trika and the philosophical non-dualism of the Pratyabhijñā texts, contextualizing his undertaking within the religious developments of the early medieval period. He will then translate and explain Abhinavagupta’s own introduction to his work (1.22–106), in which he sets out the fundamentals of his system.

Prof. Alexis Sanderson began his Indological career as a student of Sanskrit at Oxford in 1969, studied the Kashmirian Śaiva literature in Kashmir with the Śaiva Guru Swami Lakshman Joo from 1971 to 1977. He was Associate Professor (University Lecturer) of Sanskrit at Oxford and a Fellow of Wolfson College from 1977 to 1992 and then the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College from 1992 to 2015. From 2015 to the present he has been the Academic Director of the Institute for Śaiva and Tantric Studies in Portland, Oregon, where he is preparing a critical edition of the Tantrāloka with a translation and commentary. His field is early medieval religion in India and Southeast Asia, focusing on the history of Śaivism, its relations with the state, and its influence on Buddhism and Vaishnavism.