In the Absence of God: The Early Years of an Indian Sect

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9780824813352: In the Absence of God: The Early Years of an Indian Sect
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The fourteenth-century Marathi text entitled Smrtisthal is an account of the development of the Mahanubhav sect of western India in the first generation after the death of its founder, the divine incarnation Cakradhar. It records events in the period of leadership of Nagdev, Cakradhar's appointed successor. Written by members of the group, for members of the group, shortly after Nagdev's death, Smrtisthal provides an exceptionally detailed and delightfully unembarrassed portrait of a religious movement seeking to perpetuate the inspiration of its founder.
Cakradhar taught an exclusive devotion to a single god and rejected, devalued, or ignored many of the social and religious forms of orthodox Hinduism. He included among his followers people of all castes and of both sexes; he used the regional language, Marathi, instead of Sanskrit; and he opposed polytheism, image worship, and pilgrimage to Hindu holy places. Instead, he prescribed for his disciples a life of constant, solitary wandering.
The teachings of the divine incarnation would have been difficult enough to follow during his lifetime, but they were all the more difficult after his death. Smrtisthal shows Cakradhar's disciples attempting to apply his teachings in his absence. It shows the beginnings of a cult of relics and a tradition of pilgrimage to places where Cakradhar had been; it tells of the composition of early scriptures; and it depicts the attempt to create the forms - the rituals and rules - by which to perpetuate a teaching that had originally opposed such forms.
In this volume, two of the foremost scholars of Maharashtrian religion not only provide readers with the first complete translation of Smrtisthal but also offer an extensive introduction and three indexes, illuminating a series of features important both to the history of this particular sect and to the general history of religions. Anne Feldhaus and Shankar Gopal Tulpule show that in its detailed depiction of the formation of the Mahanubhav sect, Smrtisthal contributes in an especially significant way to understanding the manner in which various branches of thc Hindu bhakti movement became established. In doing so, they also speak to more universal questions concerning how religious traditions begin and become established, particularly those that trace their origins to a movement away from the accepted canons and conventions of the day.

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Text: English (translation)

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