The Mahanubhavs
104 Pages
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The Mahanubhavs


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104 Pages


Offers an overview of the origins and main religious and doctrinal characteristics of the Mahanubhavs, the ascetic, devotional sect that arose in 13th century Maharashtra.

The ascetic, devotional sect known as the Mahanubhavs – ‘Those of the Great Experience’ – arose in 13th century Maharashtra. The Mahanubhavs initially experienced a fairly rapid expansion, particularly across the northern and eastern regions of Maharashtra. However, by the end of the 14th century their movement went underground as they sought a defensive isolation from the larger Hindu context, and they withdrew to remote areas and villages. Although the prominent leaders of the early Mahanubhavs were Brahmans (often converts from the prevailing advaita vaisnavism), their followers were and are mostly non-Brahmans, i.e. low caste people and even untouchables. Thus the Mahanubhavs were met with prejudice and distrust outside their own closed circles, and this isolation continued until the beginning of the 20th century. This volume offers an overview of the origins and main religious and doctrinal characteristics of the Mahanubhavs, with a particular focus on the aspects that reveal their difference and nonconformity.

1. Introduction; 2. The Early Historical Background and the Mahanubhavs’ Foundational Texts; 3. The Five Manifestations of the Supreme God Paramesvar; 4. Elements of Mahanubhav Doctrine; 5. Mahanubhavs’ Practice: Devotion and Asceticism; 6. Mahanubhavs and Other Religions; Bibliography



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Published 15 December 2011
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EAN13 9781843317586
Language English

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Cultural, Historical and Textual Studies of Religions
The volumes featured in the AnthemCultural, Historical and Textual Studies of Religionsseries are the expression of an international community of scholars committed to the reshaping of the field of textual and historical studies of religions. Titles in this series examine practice, ritual, and other textual religious products, crossing different area studies and time frames. Featuring a vast range of interpretive perspectives, this innovative series aims to enhance the way we look at religious traditions.
Series Editor
Federico Squarcini, University of Firenze, Italy
Editorial Board
Piero Capelli, University of Venezia, Italy Vincent Eltschinger, ICIHA, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria Christoph Emmrich, University of Toronto, Canada James Fitzgerald, Brown University, USA Jonardon Ganeri, University of Sussex, UK Barbara A. Holdrege, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA Sheldon Pollock, Columbia University, USA Karin Preisendanz, University of Vienna, Austria Alessandro Saggioro, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy Cristina Scherrer-Schaub, University of Lausanne and EPHE, France Romila Thapar, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India Ananya Vajpeyi, University of Massachusetts Boston, USA Marco Ventura, University of Siena, Italy Vincenzo Vergiani, University of Cambridge, UK
Antonio Rigopoulos
Anthem Press An imprint of Wimbledon Publishing Company
This edition first published in UK and USA 2011 by ANTHEM PRESS 75-76 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8HA, UK or PO Box 9779, London SW19 7ZG, UK and 244 Madison Ave. #116, New York, NY 10016, USA
Copyright © Antonio Rigopoulos 2011
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
Graphics and layout © Alessandro Cecchi
Cover photography © Clelia Pellicano
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ISBN-13: 978 0 85728 401 3 (Hbk) ISBN-10: 0 85728 401 0 (Hbk)
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2.The Early Historical Background and the Mahånubhåvs’ Foundational Texts
3.The Five Manifestations of the Supreme God Parame†var
4.Elements of Mahånubhåv Doctrine
5.Mahånubhåvs’ Practice: Devotion and Asceticism
6.Mahånubhåvs and Other Religions
dattåtreya hare k®ßña unmattånanda-dåyakaÙ digambara mune båla pi†åca j∞åna-sågaraÙÙ
Oh Dattåtreya [who are] Hari, K®ßña, the crazy bliss-bestower! Oh you [who are] clad in space, the silent one, the child, the demon, the ocean of knowledge! (Dattåtreya UpanißadI,7)
1 Introduction
The ascetic, devotional sect of the Mahånubhåvs –‘Those of the great experience’– arose, like the much more popularbhaktimovement of the Vårkarœs centered in Pañ∂harpur, in thirteenth century Mahåråß™ra. These two movements, which were seminal in the origin and develop-ment of Marå™hœ literature, remained separate and inde-pendent, never coming into any significant contact with one 1 another. The Mahånubhåvs believe in five manifestations (avatårs) of the One God whom they call Parame†var (‘Supreme Lord’), the sole source of isolation (kaivalya) or liberation (mokßa) to whom is directed exclusive devotion.
1 The Marå™hœ scholar V. B. Kolte suggested that the founder of the Vårkarœ movement, the great J∞åndev (d. 1296), might have written his J∞åne†varœas a direct counter-response to Mahånubhåv doctrine (see Kolte 1950). This hypothesis, however, seems far-fetched. Even R.D. Ranade argued that the Mahånubhåvs made current certain Yoga prac-tices which might have influenced some of J∞åndev’s writings. Nonetheless, he observed that J∞åndev owed almost nothing or very little to this tradition (Ranade 1982: 27-29). Though according to the MahånubhåvSm®ti-stha¬(chap. 244) it would have been a Mahånubhåv to turn the thoughts of the Vårkarœ saint-poet Nåmdev (1270-1350) to K®ßña, inspiring his song of repentanceMy days have passed to no purpose, this is most probably a hagiographic invention.
These are the so-called ‘five K®ßñas’ (pa∞ca-k®ßñas), compris-ing two deities –K®ßña himself and Dattåtreya– and three sect figures: Cakradhar (d. 1274), the founder of the sect, his predecessor Guñ∂am Rå¬ (d. 1287-1288), Cakradhar’s guru, and Cåõgdev Rå¬, Guñ∂am Rå¬’sguru. The early period of the sect is dominated by the figures of Cakradhar, Guñ∂am Rå¬, and Cakradhar’s successor Någdev, also known as Bha™obås (d. 1312-1313). The Mahånubhåvs non-conformity with respect to mainstream Hindüism appears evident at a first glance: the sect rejects the caste system and the entirevarñå†rama-dharmaideology as well as theVedas and all bråhmañical authority; in order to safeguard their identity and avoid bråhmañical persecution Mahånubhåvs had to go underground and develop a secret script to pre-serve their scriptures; they accept on equal terms both untouchables and women and created an order of female renouncers alongside one of men; they compound asceti-cism and devotion in a rigorous and at the same time origi-nal way, which reinforces their sectarian, elitist character; they are strict monotheists and devalue the entire Hindü pantheon (except K®ßña and Dattåtreya) repudiating the bråhmañical ritual apparatus and the worship of gods (devatå-püjå); philosophically, they appear to be the sole bhaktigroup to embrace dualism (dvaita), opposite to the non-dualist devotionalism (advaita-bhakti) dominant among the Vårkarœs and in the whole of the Marå™hœ cultur-al area; their temples are famous as healing centers, to which people flock in hopes of being exhorcized and freed from malevolent spirits and demons (bhüts); finally, for some par-ticular aspect of their doctrine and practice, the influence upon them of other religions such as Jainism and even Islåm has been postulated. Here, I will offer an overview concern-ing the origins and main religious and doctrinal characteris-tics of the Mahånubhåvs, discussing those aspects which appear especially revealing of their difference.
If, in the beginning, the Mahånubhåvs knew a fairly rapid expansion, especially in the northern and eastern regions of Mahåråß™ra –the old districts of Khånde† and