Fieldwork in Religion, Vol 2, No 1 (2006)

Home or Ashram? The Vaishnavas of Bengal

Jeanne Openshaw
Issued Date: 20 Sep 2007


In theory, Indic religious traditions rigorously differentiate the realms of householder and renouncer, with movement only permitted from former to latter and only for certain individuals. The presence of castes with renouncer names (Yogis, Naths, Vaishnavas) suggests that realities on the ground may not conform to this stereotype. Using fieldwork material from West Bengal, India, this article considers connections between the Caste Vaishnavas and renunciation. Not only do Caste Vaishnavas often follow renouncer practices, male Caste Vaishnava status is conferred by renunciation
rituals in which the loin-cloth is functionally equivalent to the Brahmin sacred thread. Contrary to most textual accounts, there is constant movement of renouncers as well as other householders, in groups as well as individuals, into this 'open caste' (Risley, 1891). The relation of joint renouncers
(a male and female pair) to Caste Vaishnavas is examined, as is the status of women within the caste.

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DOI: 10.1558/fiel2007v2i1.65

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