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Bhakti in Context

Session Chair: N.N. | Friday, August 28, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

Sayamtara Jash

Sankaradeva and the Concept of Neo-Vaishnavism in Assam.

The paper is a holistic approach to unfold the history and rudimentary feature of Sankaradeva’s concept of Neo-Vaishnavism in Assam in the c.16th-17th centuries A.D. While analyzing the compositions of this spiritual and religious leader it is observed that Sankaradeva had a mission to elevate the socio-religious ambience of this place and neighboring regions. Moreover, in order to translate his ideas into reality in the society, irrespective of any caste, creed, colour distinction, he took help of art, music, culture, dance, drama and sometime even folk performances. The importance of the paper is further enhanced by the fact that it incorporates a brief but critical exposition of the Mahapurusiya –dharma with adequate emphasis on ‘Eka-sarana’ dharma, i.e. the religion of Supreme surrender to One, and that One is Vishnu-Narayana. His purpose was not to propound a philosophy based religion supported by discursive reasoning and abstract thinking, but to propagate a simple system of faith based on devotion.

Ülo Valk

Secrecy and Creativity in Vernacular Hinduism: on Magical Practices in Rural Assam

Contemporary Assam is dominated by the neovaishnava bhakti movement, initiated by Shankaradeva (1449-1568), who established Assamese literature, challenged the caste system and confronted the Tantric goddess worship. Radical followers of this mainstream faith do not visit temples, they do not participate in pūjā rituals and they condemn magic. Based on fieldwork, the paper explores the magical practices (bejāli, tantra-mantra) in the region of Mayong in the Marigaon district of Assam, which has been known as a centre of magic all over North Eastern India. More than one hundred semi-professional healers and magicians (bej) in Mayong carry on their art as an alternative tradition to the public forms of neovaishnava religion. How are the two belief systems related? What kind of strategies the magicians use in order to establish their authority in the seemingly unfavourable social setting where the public worship of deities who are evoked in magic, is banned?

Mohan DevRaj Thontya

Barmati Panth- Prototype of Meghwar Panths and beliefs in Pakistan and India

Barmati Panth is about nine hundred years old religious tradition continues till today. Shrouded into mist for the centuries it has been introduced to the academic world as recent as two decade ago and the western scholars took interest into the subject. The Panth is amongst the several other syncretistic sects of Hinduism stood to reject all odds of caste system. The founding gurus of Barmati Panth previously revered as the semi-mythical personalities are figured out as the historical personalities among their ‘immediate’ and ‘distant’ followers mostly drawn from lowcaste untouchables substratum of the Indian Subcontinent. Meghwar Gurus’ shrines in Pakistan and India are centers of spiritual activities. The ritualistic traditions of Barmati Panth are unique in its kind with the reference to the medieaval history of Bhakti and Sufism. Its stunning canonical literature authored by Shree Mamai Dev profoundly imparts intriguing way of life and include prophecies.

Kayla Kellerman

Mirabai's Asceticism: the use of the body as sacred space within Hindu bhakti narratives

I discuss how the rise of bhakti, or devotion, as a Hindu religious tradition impacted the movement from community ritual to individual and personal religious practice; or in other words, the movement from public to private space. I outline how the body is a place for sacred and religious experience within the Bhakti tradition. First, I look at how various scholars like John S. Hawley have described bhakti as a religious practice. Devotion evolves into a tradition in which a devotee interacts with the divine and obtains salvation through a loving relationship. The body then becomes the vehicle with which we understand how the sacredness of oneself supersedes a vibrant communal culture. I look at the work of the popular bhakti poet, Mirabai and outline how she uses her body to emphasize the act of surrendering, and thus, how she uses her body as a sacred place to practice devotion.


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