The Experience of Hinduism (Essays on Religion in Maharashtra)

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Item Code: IHL256
Publisher: Sri Satguru Publications
Author: Eleanor Zelliot& Maxine Berntsen
Language: English
Edition: 1992
ISBN: 8170303141
Pages: 410
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.9 Inch X 5.9 Inch
Weight 580 gm
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Book Description
From the Jacket

This book presents multi faceted images of religious experience in the Marathi speaking region of India. These essays are broadly divided into five sections. Section one entitled. The concept of the sacred which includes five essays namely “Boy-Friend?” : an essay by Irawati karve the vow a short story by Shankarrao Kharat one face of god by Maxine Berntsen; Gods, Ghosts and possession by John M. Stanley; and scattered voices : The Nature of god by R.N. Dandekar Anonymous and Narayan Surve section Two entitled : The Practice of Faith Includes A Town without a temple An essay by Irawati Karve : The Ganesh festival in Maharashtra some observations by Paul B. Court right; the god dattatreya and data temples of puny by Charles pain with Elanor Zelliot the Religion of the Dhanger Nomads by Gun ther-Dietz Sonetheimer: The Birth of god Ram Manma of the Nandiwalas by K.C. Malhotra on the Road A maharastrian pilgrimage by Irawati Karve The Gondhali singers for the Devi by Ramchandra Chintaman dhere my years in the R.S.S. by V.M. Sirsikar scattered voices. The experience of ritual by D.B. Mokashi and others. Section three entitled reform and rejection. This section includes all that is you by Irawati Karve. The last Kritan of gadag Baba by G.N. Dandekar orthodoxy and human rights. The story of a clash by Kumar saptarishi the orthodoxy of the Mahanubhavas by Anne Feldhaus the Birth of a rationalist by K.N. Kadam and Scattered voices refuge in the Buddha by Bebi Kamble and Ulpabai Chauhan section four entitled Coda Contains essays namely Bhakti in the modern mode. Poems and essays by Ashok R. Kelkar and Sadashiv S. Bhave section five contains appendices glossary gods, goddesses and religious festivals the Hindu calendar castes .


About the Author

Elenor Zelliot is Professor of History at Carleton College. She has published extensively in the area of social and cultural history of western India. Maxine Berntsen received her Ph. D in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania. She has been living in India since 1966 and in 1978 became an Indian citizen. She resides in phaltan Maharashtra where she has established two schools. She is also the co-author of a six-volume book on the Marathi Language.



We have titled this book the Experience of Hinduism essays on religion in Maharashtra. The title is intended to indicate that the book is not a technical treatise on Hinduism but an attempt to convey what is means in human terms to be a Hindu in one particular area today. The limitation of our subject to one area we feel essential. For while Hinduism in one area shares many features with Hinduism in other parts on India the experience of each one is shaped by its own ecological setting history and traditions.

To talk about people’s experience of religion is first of all to talk of their conception of the sacred. The concept of the sacred is the theme of the first section of this volume. Irawati Karve begins the theme in Boy Friend? A personal essay. In it she starts out lightly playing with the concept that Vithoba is her boyfriend but ends by confessing the great gulf which separates her from the divine. In my essay one face of god I touch on the vast range of objects of worship and deal in particular with the conception of god as a harsh power demanding ritual worship Shankarrao Kharat’s Story The Vow vividly portrays the anxiety people feel in meeting the demands of such a deity touchabiluty and the ethical relation between person and person are prominent themes here themes that may appear conspicuously absent from the earlier sections. Here Irawati karve’s essay all that is you finds in the Upanishadic doctrine of non duality a firm basis for a system of ethics:

While you still have the feeling of duality those who are outside you are others strangers but really it is atma that pervades all.

Bebi Kamble and Ulpabai Chauhan two Mahar women who have rejected Hinduism and become Buddhist put their finger on a similar argument which they take to be the essence of Buddhism.

Buddha wrote that we ourselves are god. There is no god in the world and nobody should put any hope in Him. Nobody should feel that if he fasts or does other such things he will see god. A person should honestly follow his own path. The atma is god.

The doctrine of non duality is also mentioned in saptarshi’s account of his confrontation with the Brahman priest who refused to let the Untouchables enter his temple. At one point Saptarshi asked the priest why the Hindu religion which saw Brahman in everything was not ready to regard the Untouchables as men. In Saptarshi’s account and frequently in contemporary Maharashtra the Upanishadic doctrine of non duality shades imperceptibly into modern notion of manuski a term that would best be translated as humanitarianism if the English word has not gotten watered down through time. The last kirtan of gadge Maharaj a contemporary saint in the varkari tradition contains a thundering attack on untouchablity again based on the fact that human beings are one that the only two castes are male and female.

Within the doctrines of Hinduism then there is a philosophical basis for ethical concern and the rejection of caste differences for a kind of humanism. There are many Maharashtrians however who base their humanism on more western concepts of science and rationalism K.N. Kadam’s autobiographical account tells how he developed from a devout Mahar to disciple of Bertrand Russell and a Militant atheist.

Of course reform movements in Maharashtra are not new. The Mahaanubhav sect rose in the thirteenth century as a protest against the cartelism ritualism shows how much of Mahaanubhav religious practice today is in fact not very different from orthodox Hindu practice. Moreover the sect has withdrawn into itself and has lost its potential for exercising a democratizing effect on Hindu society.

Our volume closes with a section we have called a coda Bhakti in the Modern Mode. This section presents a number of contemporary Marathi poems followed by a discussion by Ashok Kelkar and Sadashiv Bhave. Both the poems and the discussion bring together many of the themes that have emerged in this volume. In the poems we find again and again the same sense of distance from the divine that we saw in Irawati Karve’s Boy Friend Kelkar’s broad sketch of the strands of Hindu tradition gives a useful over all structure to which we can relate various ideas of the sacred and various religious institutions. Kelkar and Bhave differ in their assessment of the relationship of these poems of earlier traditions. According to Bhave the poems under discussions are Bhakti poems and moreover the Bhakti tradition is not opposed to Advaita Vedanta philosophy but is part and parcel of it. Kelkar on the other hand contends that one must by way of too facile and unhistorical identification of the attitudes of one time with those of another. The argument is unresolved but it is stimulating and provocative.

The essays in this book contain many themes not discussed here. Often the themes repeat themselves so that the essays illuminate each other. Whatever lacunae there may be or deficiencies in scholarship we feel that the material is rich enough for the specialist to find something of interest and for the general reader to get some sense of what Hinduism in Maharshtra is today.



This volume is a tribute to Irawati Karve (1905-1970) an acknowledgement that all of us anthropologist sociologist, political scientist, historian, historian of religion, writer and student alike are in her bebt. Her classic article on the Maharashtrian Varkari Pilgrimage on the road illustrates why. This essay offers a fresh approach to the complexities of Hinduism. Her viewpoint is that of a participant observer emotionally and intellectually part of that Pandharpur Pilgrimage but also emotionally and intellectually somewhat distanced. The result of that perspective sheds brilliant new light on the annual pilgrimage of the devotees of the god vithoba. It gives a sense of the actuality of the tall important uniquely Maharashtrian religious phenomenon it gives a new way of looking at the reality of religious belief and practice.

Irawati Karve was best known as an anthropologist. She received her Ph. D in Anthropology from the University of Berlin she taught in that field for may years at the Deccan college postgraduate and Research Institute in Pune in her scholarly writing Irawati Karve dealt with religion in an academic way as part of the phenomena of Hindu society, caste, group relations, etc. she did not consider her essays on religion part of her scholarly work. In fact on the road and her three other essays in this volume were written as lalit nibandha (artistic essays – in a sense belle’s letters) for a popular marathis speaking audience. Their initial purpose was to share her individualistic attitudes and personal reactions with others equally involved in Maharshtra life and letters. In this volume we have attempted to build on the insight of Karve’s essays rather than the academic findings of her scholarly work. The material collected here forms a multi colored image of contemporary religion in the Marathi speaking area. The degree of our success in shaping this image is largely due to Irawati Karve’s curiosity and energy to her honesty to her ability to probe new ways of thinking to her impatience with the trite or the obvious.

The beginnings of this volume were in a seminar held under the auspices of the American Institute of Indian Studies in 1971 the year after Irawati Karve’s death. An unconscionable amount of time has elapsed since that first planning session. I can only hope the volume’s concept and contents have matured during the time lapse. It should be noted of course that some of our contributors have also particularly the material here was written when they were beginning to probe the fields in which they have now published mature work.

Out approach to this volume was to invite scholars working in Maharashtrian religious matters to shape an article that would be based on observation or experience utterly realistic and down to earth. To that collection of essays we have added translations of some material already available in Marathi. Such an approach has limitations since the result is by no means an inclusive study of all of the most the gaps are heartbreakingly apparent there is no study of any of the important Devi temples nor an analysis of what the goddess in her many forms means in Maharshtra although she is often mentioned in these essay. There is no description of a traditional village pilgrimage fair a jatra nor of the major holiday’s rituals or the life cycle rituals of Hindus is too brief. Neither the ashrams of the world famous gurus situated in Maharshtra (although their and until recently is not Marathi) Muktananda, Meher Baba, and until recently Rajneesh nor those of the less famous more typical Marathi Speaking gurus are described. The non Hindu religions of Maharshtra Islam Christianity Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism the Lingayat sact the animism of the tribes are mentioned only in relation to Hinduism. There is also a Pune bias in this selection due in part to our connections with Pune in Part to the dominance of Pune in literary matters and in part to the fact that scholars have not roamed the Vidarbha Marathwada or Konkan Areas in the way that they have moved in the desh area around that great city.

But with all its limitations it seems to me that our approach offers at least two rather exciting insights. One can see not only the synthesis of Shaivism and Vaishnavism which is the hallmark of Maharashtrian Hinduism but the interrelationship between sect and sect between one school of thought and another. The data cult is urban and Brahman dominated the Varkari cult is rural and non Brahman in character. Yet these two cults come together in such things as the use of the Bhajan devotional singing and they share past history both are associated with the shadowy figures of the Naths from the North and both have great centers near the Karnataka Maharshtra border in the south. Possession healing and navas are not part of the cult of Vithoba but do appear in connection with Datta devi, Khandoba the Mahanubhavs and the Nandiwalas Hindu-Muslim interaction an area not directly touched upon is suggested in the history of the Varkari and Datta sects reappears in the autobiographical statement of K.N. Kadam and is totally rejected by the rashtriya Swayam-sevak Sangh.

Reading these essays as a whole brings to my mind a sense of the constant change in Maharashtrian religion which of course is combined with the phenomenon son theimer notes nothings is ever completely lost. One must question the meaning of modernity in religion as one reads. The Ganpati or Ganesh Festival in its current form and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are the products of the modern period indeed of the same militant Hindu political tradition but on the one hand the Ganpati festival has become a joyous even for entire communities where the benevolent traditions of the elephant headed god are combined with themes of international solidarity as frequently as those of national unity. On the other hand the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has if anything become more Hindu more militant and more political in the fifty years since its birth.




  Preface / Maxine Berntsen vii
  Acknowledgements xiii
  Introduction / Eleanor Zelliot xv
  Notes on the writing of Marathi words xxii
I. The Concept of the Sacred
1 “Boy Friend” : An Essay / Irawati Karve 3
2 “The Vow” : A Short Story / Shankarrao Kharat 7
3 One face of God / Maxine Berntsen 17
4 Gods, Ghosts and possession / john M. Stanley 26
5 Scattered voices : The nature of God /
R.N. Dandekar, Anonymous Narayan Surve
II. The Practice of Faith
6 A Town without a Temple : An Essay /
Irawati Karve
7 The Ganesh Festival in Maharshtra : Some observations/
Paul B. Courtright
8 The God Datthatreya and the Datta Temples of Pune/
Charles pain with Eleanor Zelliot
9 The Religion of the Dhanger Nomads / Cunther Dietz Son theimer 109
10 The Birth of a God : Ram Mama of the Nandiwalas /
K.C. Malhotra
11 On the Road : A Maharashtrian Pilgrimage /
Irawati Karve
12 The Gondhali : Singers for the Devi / Ramchandra Chintaman Dhere 174
13 My years in the R.S.S / V.M. Sirsikar 190
14 Scattered Voices : The experience of Ritual /
D.B. Mokashi, Vitthalrao Ghate, Anasuyabai Koratkar
Anonymous Anutai wagh
III. Reform and Rejection
15 All that is you : An essay / Irawati Karve 213
16 The last Kirtan of Gadge Baba / G.N. Dandekar 223
17 Orthodoxy and Human Rights : The Story of a clash/
Kumar Spatarshi
18 The Orthodoxy of the Mahanubhavs / Anne Feldhaus 264
19 The Birth of a rationalist / K.N. Kadam 280
20 Scattered voices : Refuge in the Buddha /
Bebi Kamble and Ulpabai Chauhan
IV. Coda
21 Bhakti in the modern Mode : Poems and Essays ?
Ashok R. Kelkar and Sadashiv S. Bhave
V. Appendices
A Glossary 323
B Gods, Goddesses, and Religious Festivals 334
C The Hindu Calendar 341
D Castes 342
  Contributors 345
  Selected Bibliography on Religion in Maharshtra 350
  Index 371

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