An Introduction to Swaminarayan Hinduism by Raymond Brady Williams (Cambridge University Press) is a comprehensive study of a modern form of Hinduism that is growing in the place of its birth in the Indian state of Gujarat and among Indian immigrants in East Africa, Britain, and the United States. It is the most prominent form of transnational Hinduism because it creates networks that define and preserve ethnic and religious identity in the modern context of rapid mobility and communication. Founded by Sahajanand Swami or Swaminarayan (1781-1830), a religious reformer in a time of great social and political change in Gujarat, Swaminarayan Hinduism expounds a path of devotion to Swaminarayan as the final, perfect manifestation of god.
Raymond Brady Williams provides a detailed introduction to the history, theology, discipline, and ritual of this important form of Hinduism. Based on and extending, with considerable updating and revision, his A New Face of Hinduism: The Swaminarayan Religion (Cambridge), the book places Swaminarayan in the context of transnational Hinduism and analyzes its current status in India and abroad.
The aim of this work is to present a comprehensive account of the history, doctrines, organization, discipline, and rituals of Swaminarayan Hinduism and to place all the subgroups and their practices in appropriate contexts. The first edition on Swaminarayan Hinduism was published in 1984 by Cambridge University Press with the title A New Face of Hinduism: The Swaminarayan Religion. This revised edition brings the story of the sampradaya up to date through the enormous changes that took place in India and abroad during the last part of the twentieth century. Thus, each chapter is an attempt to describe an aspect of Swaminarayan Hinduism as it exists at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The history of the foundation and the theology which developed from Sahajanand Swami's work are fundamental (chapters 1 and 3). The religious specialists and the rituals and rules prescribed by Sahajanand for both ascetics and householders (chapters 4 and 5) are essential to the religion as it is practiced. The methods of the transmission of the tradition, especially in contemporary mega-festivals (chapter 6), and the transplanting of the religion to the different soil of East Africa, Britain, and the United States and the development of transnational mission and infrastructure (chapter 7) are significant for the future prospects of the religion. What might be called in other contexts "the more delicate parts" - the disputes, quarrels, and divisions - and the contemporary status of the various groups are also included (chapter 2), even though some may wish that they were kept from public view. Much of the history and theology remains the same, but the contexts in which they are displayed have changed enormously in the past twenty years. The best approach to Hinduism is through acquaintance with a particular sampradaya in its contemporary settings because study of a sampradaya best fits the contours of the religious experience of many Hindus who worship in temples and discipline their lives according to the prescriptions and virtues of specific traditions. The study of this modern, ethnically based, and transnational form of Hinduism provides one such approach to the study of Hinduism in general. William Blake's statement, "But General Forms have their vitality in Particulars" is particularly apt with respect to religions. Hinduism in general certainly has a vital component in the Swaminarayan sampradaya.
Swaminarayan Hinduism has become a transnational form of Hinduism while keeping its integrity and strength in the land of its birth. Adaptation and change have been hallmarks of Swaminarayan since its origin as a reform movement within Hinduism in Gujarat at a time of enormous social and political changes that accompanied the introduction of British rule throughout Gujarat in the nineteenth century. At the beginning of the twentieth century Gujaratis and Swaminarayan Hindus were prominent in the emigration to East Africa, where they established a strong and prosperous community. At mid-century the impetus for change came in India with Independence and in the West with emigration to Britain from both India and East Africa. Large numbers of Gujaratis and Swaminarayan Hindus have entered the United States and Canada since 1965 as part of the "new ethnics" and they have established temples and centers. Leaders do not seek to attract Western followers, but rather attempt to serve the Asian Indian community. The religion is, therefore, significant in the formation and preservation of ethnic identity and in the cultural negotiation of the Gujarati immigrants with the settled society. It promises to be that form of authentic Indian religion from which many non-Indians may get their first acquaintance with Hinduism.
One reason for its adaptability may be that it was born at the margin between the medieval and the modern in Gujarat. Sahajanand Swami, the founder, who attained the status of the manifestation of the divine as Swaminarayan, has been called the last of the medieval saints and the first of the modern sadhus of neo-Hinduism. Indeed, the Swaminarayan sect has become the most successful of the neo-Hindu reform groups. Hinduism is very old, and its Swaminarayan form preserves many of the ancient texts, beliefs, and practices. Sahajanand is called a reformer, and followers assert that he preserved the best of the beliefs and practices from the past and forged a new form of Hinduism well suited to the modern period. It is part of the Hindu devotional movement so popular in North and Central India, but here the devotion is directed to Swaminarayan, who is worshiped as the perfect manifestation of the eternal reality of god. Such devotion to Swaminarayan is the source of the commitment which is made by both ascetics and householders to. follow the rather strict obligations prescribed in the sacred texts and to support the institutions founded by Swaminarayan. Devotion is the heart of Swaminarayan Hinduism.
Hinduism has many forms, but this work is about one group, the history, beliefs, religious specialists, and way of life that constitute the Swaminarayan form of Hinduism. The Indian word is sampradaya, which is difficult to translate. It is not equivalent to a philosophical school, a monastic order, a denomination, a church, or a sect; it is definitely not a cult in the modern American sense. A sampradaya is a tradition which has been handed down from a founder through successive religious teachers and which shapes the followers into a distinct fellowship with institutional forms. Those who take initiation in this fellowship are called satsangis, companions of the truth, because they seek the truth in the company of others who share the same language, religious specialists, sacred scriptures, history, and rituals. To a large extent the individual's exposure to the elements that make up what is called Hinduism comes through participation in a particular sampradaya. Those aspects of belief and practice common to most persons who call themselves Hindus constitute what could be designated "Hinduism in general," but most individuals are first of all "Hindus in particular." Particularity is the essential feature of religious and group affiliation. Certainly it is the case with the satsangis of the Swaminarayan sampradaya.
The Hindu Temple: Deification of Eroticism by Alain Danielou (Inner Traditions) Danielou's masterpiece on the erotic nature of the sacred symbolism of the Hindu temple. * Includes stunning photographs from the major temple complexes of India. * By Alain Danielou, one of the greatest authorities on Hinduism.
Ancient Indian architectural treatises state that a temple lacking erotic imagery would be ineffective and maleficent. The erotic statues and representations that cover the outer and inner walls of the Hindu temple serve both a magical and an instructional purpose. Through the power of the yantras--the magical diagrams created by the placement of the erotic imagery--the architect made the temple a faithful reflection of the divine. At the same time this imagery educated the faithful about the fundamental aspects of the Hindu religion, wherein the union of opposites in the sexual act is the perfect image of the creative principle, and erotic enjoyment is a reflection of divine bliss.
Alain Danielou's masterpiece on the Hindu temple, now translated for the first time into English, provides a stunningly illustrated tour of the major temple complexes of India. The erotic sculptures that cover the walls of these temples are not merely symbolic portrayals of voluptuous acts but serve as profound reminders that man is closest to the divine during the instant of sexual transcendence.
Triggered by climatic changes that drove the peoples of central Asia ward India and Europe, the Aryan invasions that began at the outset of the second millennium B.C.E. profoundly changed the culture and religion of India, the Middle East, and Europe. Up to then, civilization had been largely uniform, stretching from India as far as Western Europe. This civilization is known to us only through archeological finds and the meager information surviving in myths, popular religion, and customs. The main religion of this culture, the source of all later civilizations, was Shaivism, which arose around 6000 B.C.E. with a tradition that has been uninterrupted only in India. The beliefs of this first great religion periodically reappear in popular tradition, since it is first and foremost a religion of the people.
Shaivism is characterized by worship of the principle of life, whose symbol is the phallus; by the cult and sacrifice of the bull, considered as the vehicle of Shiva, the male principle; by spring festivals to celebrate the world's rebirth; and by the techniques of Yoga, which aim to transform sexual potency into spiritual power.
Shaivite myths and rites form the substrate of all subsequent religions, as for example the Egyptian myths and cult of Osiris, the Dionysian and Bacchic legends and rites of Greece and Rome, the cult of the Minotaur in Crete, the Islamic Dhikr practices, or the carnivals and traditional bull races in Europe today. The fundamental aspects of this religion are worship of the phallus as the source of life, the reverence for the union of opposites in the sexual act as the image of the creative principle, and the divinization of erotic enjoyment as a reflection of divine bliss.
The Puranas, the ancient Hindu texts narrating the origins and principles of Shaivism, strongly emphasize the principle according to which whoever worships the phallus and honors the sexual life in all its forms will be favored by the gods. Whoever rejects or disdains them, on the other hand, will be struck down by divine wrath.
According to Shaivite prophecy, humanity's sole hope of survival resides in the current revolutionary struggle for sexual liberation. Only the worship of the principle of life and its symbol the phallus can draw down heaven's blessing on humankind, which is threatened by divine wrath at a civilization whose ethic, instead of happiness, joy, and pleasure, pursues war, sexual repression, hypocrisy, and the persecution of love. The Shaivite Puranas tell us that in the Kali Yuga (the era of conflicts in which we are now living), only the "fervent in love"-the adepts of the cult of Shiva-Dionysus who practice the bacchanalia-can save the world from destruction.
The seventh century C.E. saw the rebirth of Shaivism, which had survived the persecutions of Aryan Vedism (represented by the brabman caste) and of Buddhism (propounded by the military and princely caste of the ksbatriyas).
From the seventh century to the arrival of the Muslims in the thirteenth century, a vast movement of popular faith-which can only be likened to what, in the western Middle Ages, gave rise to the building of the cathe drals-led to the construction of a surprising number of marvelous temples. The Muslims destroyed those located in the towns, but some of those built outside the Islamized areas-or in abandoned towns and cities, surrounded by forests or deserts-managed to survive.
The most beautiful medieval temples are located on a strip of land, only a few hundreds of kilometers wide, that crosses central India, starting from Orissa on the east coast, south of Bengal, to the desert of Rajputana on the western borders with Pakistan. In the whole of this vast area, which boasted thousands of temples, the only ones to survive vandalism are those located on abandoned sites in central India, now isolated in the forested interior of the Deccan. Others are lost in the deserts of Rajasthan and can only be reached by camel.
Today there are still about a hundred such sites where we can admire temples that have been fairly well preserved. Some sites have only one temple, whereas others contain several. Some of the most important buildings have fallen down, whereas others-although in theory protected as historic monuments-have been disfigured by the antique dealers of Bombay and Delhi, who have removed parts of the statues.
The most important sites are Bhuvaneshvar and Konarak in Orissa, and Khajuraho in central India. At Bhuvaneshvar and Khajuraho, more than ten temple groups, covered with wonderfully preserved sculptures, can be admired.
The ancient architectural treatises formally state that a temple lacking erotic representations is ineffective, maleficent, and will inevitably be struck by lightning. This means that besides the significance of the sculptures in the symbolic whole represented by the temple layout, sculptures are deemed to possess a direct magical capacity. Even in certain dwellings, erotic frescoes are deemed to keep the evil eye and bad luck at bay.
Today, few houses are permanently decorated with such frescoes, but for important ceremonies, particularly initiations and weddings, specialized artists use vivid colors to depict what are sometimes very suggestive love
scenes on walls that have just been whitewashed and on the earthenware pots that decorate the house at festivals. To celebrate the spring, moreover, erotic clay statues are erected in the middle of each village. In India, as in every country in the world, protective power is attributed to erotic objects and to symbols and gestures with a phallic meaning. Some Shaivite sects, for example, require their devotees to wear a gold or silver lingam around their necks.
According to ancient Indian cosmology, in its ultimate reality, the universe is formed of interrelating forces in a substrate of pure energy. Whatever exists, from the atom to the most complex forms of life or thought, can be reduced to relations of numerical proportions. All that we term "aesthetic" is merely an intuitive perception of certain harmonies that in fact reveal the profound nature of things. Familiarity with the proportional factors we perceive in what we term "beauty" allows us to evoke and touch this essential nature, which is the very basis of creation.
The artist, the architect, becomes a magician. Through the power of magical diagrams or yantras, he reaches the source of being, the divine. The temple built according to the yantras thus allows us to evoke the invisible and communicate with those transcendent beings we call "gods."
The first part of this book, "Divine Eroticism," addresses the sometimes startling appearance of erotic symbolism in Hindu temples, linking it to the fundamental nature of existence and to the most ancient forms of philosophical and religious thought and practice. It also clarifies the role of erotic symbolism in evoking divine energy in temples and aiding mystical absorption in the cosmic substance of the universe.
The second part of the book, "Temples: Dwellings of the Gods," describes the process of temple siting and construction, the attributes of the temple architect, and the main elements of temple architecture, exploring in detail the symbolic meaning and power of each element that composes these divine dwelling places. Drawing on ancient architectural treatises, it reveals the magical-symbolic, mathematical-technical, and artistic aspects of Hindu temples.
The third part, "Revealing the Divine Mind," delves deeper
into the iconography of the temples-its symbolism and ritualistic veneration-and
its relationship to the human search for meaning and liberation.
The Hindu Diaspora: Comparative Patterns by Stephen Vertovec (Global Diaspora: Routledge) looks at why Hindu identities have developed in such different ways in different contexts and in so doing questions the assumption that subcontinent Hinduism represents the authentic articulation of Hindu identity. Hindus and Hinduism outside India represent a divergent diaspora. Among the estimated nine million Hindus scattered across the world, sets of beliefs, practices, identities and social formations have developed rather differently from each other as well as from those found in the subcontinent. Throughout the diaspora, Hindus and Hinduism have traveled along distinct historical trajectories significantly conditioned by a wide range of local factors.
In this theoretically innovative analysis, Steven Vertovec identifies key patterns and processes of change that have affected Hindu beliefs, practices and identities in diaspora. He examines the construction of the category `Hinduism' in both India and abroad, while developments in two contrasting contexts - Trinidad and Britain - are given detailed historical and ethnographic attention. The notion of `diaspora' itself is also critically discussed.
Providing a rich and fascinating view of the Hindu diaspora in the past, present and possible futures, this book will be of value not only to students of Hinduism and South Asian society but to those interested in the study of diasporas and transnationalism, religion, ethnicity and multicultural societies.
Steven Vertovec is Research Reader in Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford and Director of the Economic and Social Research Council's Research Programme on Transnational Communities.
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