Praises to a Formless God: Nirguni Texts from North India

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Nirgun bhakti--devotion to a formless God--has been called a logical absurdity, yet the songs, verses, and narratives of the nirgun poets of North India have played a vital role in both Hinduism and Sikhism since the late fifteenth century. The compositions of famous nirgun poets such as Kabir, Raidas, Guru Nanak, and Dadu Dayal also form an essential part of the vernacular literatures of North India.

Other nirgun poets have made major religious and literary contributions to Indian culture but have been little studied by modern scholars. This book discusses, translates, and edits various important compositions by these poets. The texts include songs and narratives about the pious demon Prahlad, hagiographic songs about historical saints, the popular bhajans attributed to Kabir, and the songs sung during the rites of the Kabir Panth. Two longer texts presented here are Jan Gopal's narrative poem, the Prahilad charitra, and Sain's religious debate, the Kabir-Raidas ka samvad.
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About the author

David N. Lorenzen is a Professor at El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City. He is the author of Kabir Legends and Ananta-Das's Kabir Parachai: With a Translation of the Kabir Parachai Prepared in Collaboration with Jagdish Kumar and Uma Thukral and with an Edition of the Niranjani Panthi Recension of this Work and the editor of Bhakti Religion in North India: Community Identity and Political Action, both published by SUNY Press.

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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Pages
303
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ISBN
9781438411286
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Language
English
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Genres
Religion / General
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This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In India, religion continues to be an absolutely vital source for social as well as personal identity. All manner of groups--political, occupational, and social--remain grounded in specific religious communities. This book analyzes the development of the modern Hindu and Sikh communities in North India starting from about the fifteenth century, when the dominant bhakti tradition of Hinduism became divided into two currents: the sagun and the nirgun.

The sagun current, led mostly by Brahmins, has remained dominant in most of North India and has served as the ideological base of the development of modern Hindu nationalism. Several chapters explore the rise of this religious and political movement, paying particular attention to the role played by devotion to Ram. Alternative trends do exist in sagun tradition, however, and are represented here by chapters on the low-caste saint Chokhamel and the tantric sect founded by Kina Ram.

The nirgun current, led mostly by persons of Ksand artisan castes, formed the base of both the Sikh community, founded by Guru Nanak, and of various non-Brahmin sectarian movements derived from such saints as Kabir, Raidas, Dadu, and Shiv Dayal Singh. Two chapters discuss the formation of a distinctive Sikh theology and a Sikh community identity separate from that of the Hindus. Other chapters discuss the validity of the sagun-nirgun distinction within Hindu tradition and the interplay of social and religious ideas in nirgun hagiographic texts and in sectarian movements such as the Adi Dharma Mission and the Radhasoami Satsang.
An exploration of the history, religion, and folklore of the N?ths, a Hindu lineage known for Hatha yoga practice.

This book provides a remarkable range of information on the history, religion, and folklore of the N?th Yogis. A Hindu lineage prominent in North India since the eleventh century, N?ths are well-known as adepts of Hatha yoga and alchemical practices said to increase longevity. Long a heterogeneous group, some N?ths are ascetics and some are householders; some are dedicated to personified forms of Shiva, others to a formless god, still others to Vishnu.

The essays in the first part of the book deal with the history and historiography of the N?ths, their literature, and their relationships with other religious movements in India. Essays in the second part discuss the legends and folklore of the N?ths and provide an exploration of their religious ideas. Contributors to the volume depict a variety of local areas where this lineage is prominent and highlight how the N?ths have been a link between religious, metaphysical, and even medical traditions in India.

“This book has three merits: it fosters the interest in N?ths, it provides a summative evaluation of previous studies and it presents on-going research … The many approaches … used in this book may give the impression of an intimidating and somehow discordant pluralism of interpretations. This reviewer, however, found such richness fitting the multifaceted essence of N?thism itself.” — Fabrizio M. Ferrari, Religions of South Asia

“Several of the contributions cast new and important light on specific aspects of the N?ths and will be of great interest to scholars and students of a variety of Indian religious traditions.” — Religious Studies Review

“There is no book on the market now that can compete directly with this volume. It brings out new data for a fresh understanding of the religious landscape of medieval India.” — Pashaura Singh, author of Life and Work of Guru Arjan

“Yogi Heroes and Poets expands our knowledge of historical, textual, and ethnographic issues related to the N?th Yogis. These essays provide a strong sense of the context that helped them emerge, as well as their later evolution.” — Gurinder Singh Mann, author of The Making of Sikh Scripture
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