Hinduism Saints and Hagiography in Hinduism
by
Emilia Bachrach
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0227

Introduction

The terms “saint” (derived from Latin) and “hagiography” (derived from Greek) are used, respectively, to describe a wide spectrum of revered Hindu figures and accounts of their lives from ancient to contemporary periods. The sources gathered here, however, generally focus on Hindu saints and their hagiographies from the medieval and modern periods. This is in part to contain an already vast topic, and also because there is a scholarly emphasis on the topics of sainthood and hagiography after the so-called vernacular turn, beginning at the start of the second millennium. “Saint” may refer to any number of designations in Indian languages: guru or acharya (a spiritual “guide” or “preceptor”) or sant (a “virtuous” person), to name only a few. Likewise, “hagiography” may gloss a range of South Asian narrative genres (from charitra, recounted “deeds” or “conduct,” to purana, or “legend”), which need not focus exclusively on a recording of saintly lives per se. Beyond narrative genres, lives of saintly figures are also celebrated in multiple other modes of representation, such as painting and film. While Hindu “saints” and “hagiography” capture a diversity of revered figures and representations of their lives, there are several important similarities across historical periods, religious communities, regions, and languages. First, a significant number of Hindu hagiographies seem to be composed in honor of figures remembered for their own compositions, often sung poetry in devotion to particular deities—Krishna, Shiva, Devi, and their innumerable localized forms. These narratives invite the reader/listener to experience intimacy between saint and the Divine vicariously and to elevate the reader/listener’s emotional state. Second, Hindu hagiographical representations are often linked not only to representing the awesome, mysterious, miraculous, wondrous, or imitable lives of the saintly, but also to calculated modes of memorialization. For instance, Hindu hagiographies memorialize a saintly figure in order to articulate community identity or a particular ideology. Likewise, many tellings of saintly lives are as didactic as they are devotional, not only teaching their readers/listeners to be devout, but also to behave in certain ways. With such qualities, hagiographies can also be polemic, articulating contested views of the past, the present, and the desired future. They may be used, for example, to contest authority over specific places, to defend or challenge inherited religious or political authority, or to normalize changing forms of ritual practice. Third, hagiographies, at once devotional and polemic, are also historical texts. Reading hagiography, then, can often be a complicated task of interpreting multiple layers of theology, social commentary, and historiography. From medieval accounts of poet-saints like the 6th-century Shiva devotee Karaikkal Ammaiyar to English-language comic book hagiographies of modern figures like Swami Vivekananda, the study of sainthood and hagiography in Hindu traditions provides ever-expanding areas of research across fields of religious studies, anthropology, literature, and history.

General Overviews

Although often in the form of introductory articles in journal special issues or edited volumes, summary accounts of South Asian sainthood and hagiography do vary in length and scope. Snell 1994, Mallison 2001, and Accardi 2018 all include introductions to these collections of essays. In addition to introducing the corresponding essays, Snell 1994 also remarks on the spectrum of didactic and devotional qualities in Indian hagiographical writing. Mallison 2001 and Accardi 2018 also discuss hagiography as a genre and emphasize the significance of scholarship on the topic. It is noteworthy that in the time between the publications of Mallison 2001 and Accardi 2018 there has been a shift—Mallison 2001 laments a dearth of scholarship (particularly in languages other than English), while Accardi 2018 recognizes that saints and hagiography have become an increasingly popular area of research. Granhoff 1984 and Barz 2012 both provide useful discussions of indigenous categories of “hagiography” in South Asia, such as charitra and varta, while White 1988 does the same for the category of “saint” (e.g., rishi, guru, sant, etc.). Novetzke 2011 theorizes on the hagiographical genre, arguing that such narratives might be read for their historical “texture” as much as for their theological content, and Smith 2000—the only monograph in this section—is a detailed study of the topic of saints and hagiography in South Asia, with a focus on Hindu traditions.

  • Accardi, Dean. “Introduction to Special Issue: Making a Hindu Saint.” In Special Issue: Making a Hindu Saint. Edited by Dean Accardi. International Journal of Hindu Studies 22.3 (2018): 379–384.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-018-9237-1Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A brief and cogent introduction to themes in research on Hindu sainthood, including a commentary on more recent scholarly considerations of hagiographical accounts as “valuable in their own” right, even if divergent from a saint’s “true legacy” (p. 379). Offers summaries of the special issue’s five articles from well-established and emerging scholars of South Asian religions, all of whom attend to the “making of Hindu saints” and the “the politics shaping of their legacies” (p. 383).

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  • Barz, Richard. “Hagiography.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2012.

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    Introduces hagiography as a category broadly, and also specifically as it relates to Indian literary genres, including purana, charitra, varta, and katha. Provides examples of these genres, with a focus on Hindu hagiographies in English translation.

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  • Granhoff, Phyllis. “Holy Warriors: A Preliminary Study of Some Biographies of Saints and Kings in the Classical Indian Tradition.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 12.3 (1984): 291–303.

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    Considers shared themes (e.g., doctrine of avataras and mission to destroy enemy or demon) in “biographies” of saints and kings across a variety of Sanskrit and some vernacular literary genres, including kavya, epics, purana, digvijaya, and caritra. Argues that such genres should be approached as “religious” biographies and that the “distinction between ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ biography does not in fact hold for the classical Indian tradition” (p. 292).

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  • Mallison, Françoise. “Introduction.” In Constructions Hagiographiques dans le Monde Indien: Entre Mythe et Histoire. Edited by Françoise Mallison, vii–xxviii. Paris: Champion, 2001.

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    A concise introduction to Francophone scholarship on Indian hagiography, primarily in Hindu, but also in Jain and Muslim traditions. Recognizes the (then) dearth of scholarship on Indian hagiography, particularly in languages other than English, in relationship to the attention given to the genre in Christian studies (p. viii).

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  • Novetzke, Christian. “The Theographic and the Historiographic in an Indian Sacred Life Story.” In Time, History, and the Religious Imaginary in South Asia. Edited by Anne Murphy, 115–132. London: Routledge, 2011.

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    Uses examples from hagiography of 13th-century Maharashtrian saint Namdev to argue that the genre of hagiography should be read for its historical “texture” as much as for its theological content. Examples include descriptions of Namdev, and other saintly figures, in relationship to imperial figures and empire more generally.

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  • Smith, W. L. Patterns in North Indian Hagiography. Stockholm: Department of Indology, University of Stockholm, 2000.

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    While specific to North Indian traditions, this monograph functions as a miniature encyclopedia to the topic of Hindu saints and hagiography. It begins with an accessible introduction and chapters organized according to shared themes such as “meeting the emperor,” “the Brahman opposition,” and “temptation, sin and salvation.” There are also two useful though not comprehensive appendices—“Saints” and “Hagiographic Texts.”

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  • Snell, Rupert. “Introduction: Themes in Indian Hagiography.” In According to Tradition: Hagiographical Writing in India. Edited by Winand M. Callawaert and Rupert Snell, 1–13. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1994.

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    Discusses themes across Indian hagiographical traditions, including Hindu traditions, as well as trends in (Euro-American) scholarship on hagiography. Emphasizes hagiography’s referential and reverential qualities and offers examples to suggest that as a genre hagiography is both didactic and devotional, inviting the reader into the company of “the saints.”

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  • White, Charles S. J. “Indian Developments: Sainthood in Hinduism.” In Sainthood: Its Manifestations in World Religions. Edited by Richard Kieckhefer and George D. Bond, 98–139. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

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    Offers an account of various qualities of “saintliness” across Hindu traditions over time and according to different regional and theological traditions. Delineates certain Indic (namely Sanskritic) terms for saintly figures, including yogis, rishis, munis, acharyas, sants, and so on. Briefly discusses saintly virtues vis-à-vis gender as well as the changing perception of the “saint” during British colonial rule.

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Comparative Studies

Apart from Smith 2000 and Burchett 2009, the comparative studies of Hindu sainthood and hagiography selected here represent edited volumes, most of which consider Hindu traditions in relationship to, or alongside, other South Asian religious traditions. Smith 2000 is a monograph focusing on themes across Hindu hagiographies, but it also includes an introduction on comparative studies of sainthood in South Asia. Burchett 2009 considers the ideology of bhakti (devotion) as egalitarian practice in hagiographies of four different “untouchable” saints. Callewaert and Snell 1994 and Mallison 2001 are edited volumes focused exclusively on hagiographical writing in South Asia, primarily from the medieval and early modern periods. Murphy 2011 and Dalmia, et al. 2001 are both collections of essays that consider various representations of the past and the ways in which the “sacred” is actualized in the historical process, including via Hindu hagiography, from pre- to postcolonial periods. The essays in Pechilis 2004 focus solely on different Hindu female gurus in India and the United States.

  • Burchett, Patton. “Bhakti Rhetoric in the Hagiography of ‘Untouchable’ Saints: Discerning Bhakti’s Ambivalence on Caste and Brahminhood.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 13.2 (2009): 115–141.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-009-9072-5Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Analyzes four hagiographies of so-called untouchable poet-saints to raise questions about a bhakti ideology that has been read as “egalitarian bhakti practice” or “social reform” (p. 116). Concludes that “sincere devotional sentiment and genuine egalitarian motivation, along with tactful self-interest and greed for power, all played their part in the convoluted messages” of the hagiographies considered in the article (p. 132).

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  • Callewaert, Winand M., and Rupert Snell, eds. According to Tradition: Hagiographical Writing in India. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1994.

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    A critical collection—the first of its kind in English—that offers ten accessible articles by now established scholars in the study of Indian hagiographic literature. Each of the articles attends to distinct regional and language traditions, literary registers, and authorial intent. As Snell notes in the volume’s introduction, shared themes in the hagiographies surveyed include “miracle stories,” pilgrimages, “credence-stretching longevity,” and heroic “conquests in debate” with “established scholars” (p. 12).

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  • Dalmia, Vasudha, Angelika Malinar, and Martin Christof, eds. Charisma and Canon: Essays on the Religious History of the Indian Subcontinent. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    Drawing from a 1997 conference, the twenty-three essays in this volume consider the “structure of the sacred” and the “historical processes in which the sacred must be actualized” (p. 17), in such a way as to have an impact on a host of formations. The essays, which are organized according to shared themes (e.g., “Prophets of the Modern Age”) cover diverse Indian religious groups, with an emphasis on Hindu formations—classical to modern.

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  • Mallison, Françoise, ed. “Introduction.” In Constructions hagiographiques dans le monde indien: Entre mythe et histoire. vii–xxviii. Paris: Champion, 2001.

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    The articles in this French volume, all of which include English summaries, draw on diverse sources, time periods, and regions to include “folk” songs, film, and medieval texts. Many of the articles, which are organized thematically, consider saints and hagiographies specific to Krishna devotional movements, particularly in relation to other traditions, including Christianity and Islam.

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  • Murphy, Anne, ed. Time, History, and the Religious Imaginary in South Asia. London: Routledge, 2011.

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    While not dedicated solely to “saints” or hagiography, many of the twelve contributors consider relevant issues, namely changing representations of the past among South Asian (primarily northern and western Indian) religious communities during the precolonial and colonial periods. Though somewhat disjointed, the volume’s chapters are collectively a significant contribution to scholarship on indigenous historiographies.

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  • Pechilis, Karen, ed. The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    This volume offers ten essays on well- and lesser-known female gurus as well as an introduction by Karen Pechilis and afterword by Kathleen Erndl. Common themes across the essays include distinctions between types of Hindu gurus, “saints,” and gender identities vis-à-vis cultural context. Authors draw on diverse sources, including biography, hagiography, and ethnographic research.

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  • Smith, W. L. Patterns in North Indian Hagiography. Stockholm: Department of Indology, University of Stockholm, 2000.

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    Contains fifteen chapters on shared themes across North Indian hagiographic traditions, along with two appendices (“Saints” and “Hagiographic Texts”). While Hindu saints and their sacred biographies are emphasized throughout, Smith’s introduction offers a concise account of comparative studies in Indian hagiography (pp. 1–18).

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Medieval and Early Modern Poet-Saints and Their Stories

Perhaps a category in which many studies of hagiography and sainthood could be made to fit, the studies selected for this section reflect a distinct collection of monographs and one article that attend to the theme in question, with coverage of northern, southern, and western India. From southern India, Dehejia 1988 compares songs attributed to and narratives about medieval Shaiva and Vaishnava poet-saints, while Hardy 1992 focuses on hagiographies of just one Vaishnava figure, Thirumangai Alvar. Also focusing on the southern Indian tradition, Jackson 1998 is a study of three male Vaishnava poet-saints who wrote in Telugu or Kannada, and Pechilis 2012 examines the poetry attributed to and life-writing about one 6th-century female poet, Karaikkal Ammaiyar, a devotee of Shiva who wrote in Tamil. Representing northern figures, Hawley 2005 and Hawley and Juergensmeyer 1988 provide studies of several bhakti and sant figures who primarily wrote in regional forms of Hindi, attending to the poet-saints’ hagiographies, reception over time, and poetry. Lorenzen 1991 considers just one of the figures addressed in Hawley 2005 and Hawley and Juergensmeyer 1988—Kabir—with a focus on a popular hagiography of this 15th-century figure. Likewise, Mukta 1994 focuses on the female poet-saint Mirabai, studying her reception, primarily in modern periods. Pauwels 2002 looks at a lesser known figure, Hariram Vyas, who, like Kabir and Mirabai, composed in a regional form of medieval Hindi. From western India, Shukla-Bhatt 2014 is a study of the life and poems attributed to the 15th-century Gujarati poet-saint Narasinha Mehta.

  • Dehejia, Vidya. Slaves of the Lord: The Path of the Tamil Saints. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1988.

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    A study of Shaiva and Vaishnava (namely Alvars and Nayanars) poet-saints in Tamil-speaking southern India during the medieval period. Considers visual depictions of saints, their hagiographies, poetry, and the broader artistic traditions that surround them.

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  • Hardy, Friedhelm. “The Śrī Vaiṣṇava Hagiography of Parakāla.” In Indian Narrative: Perspectives and Patterns. Edited by Christopher Shackle and Rupert Snell, 81–116. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1992.

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    A study of hagiographies about the 8th-century Tamil poet-saint Thirumangai Alvar (Parakala) of the Shri Vaishnava tradition. Discusses Parakala’s hagiography more than the poetry attributed to him, and considers the relationship between the saint’s life stories, the broader Tamil literary corpus of the time, and a growing Shri Vaishnava temple tradition.

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  • Hawley, John Stratton. Three Bhakti Voices: Mirabai, Surdas, and Kabir in Their Time and Ours. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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    A collection of Hawley’s essays, divided into four sections. The first, “The Bhakti Poet-Saint,” contains three essays that attend to common themes in the histories and reception of poet-saints in North India. “Author and Authority,” for instance, argues that we approach poet-saints as authors only insofar as their names give authority to particular poems. The following three sections include essays on Mirabai, Surdas, and Kabir in history and memory.

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  • Hawley, John Stratton, and Mark Juergensmeyer, trans. Songs of the Saints of India. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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    Provides basic introductions to six North Indian poet-saints—Ravidas, Kabir, Nanak, Surdas, Mirabai, and Tulsidas, along with English translations of poems (and useful scholarly notes) attributed to each figure.

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  • Jackson, William J. Songs of Three Great South Indian Saints. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    Considers the historical context in which Vaishnava bhakti poet-saints Annamacharya (who wrote in Telugu), Purandaradasa (who wrote in Kannada), and Kanakadasa (who also wrote in Kannada) lived and wrote. Chapters are arranged around each of the poet-saints and include biographical information and Jackson’s original translations of their poem-songs. The accessible and theoretically light introduction considers bhakti comparatively and as approached in the lyrics of each of the poet-saints in question.

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  • Lorenzen, David N. Kabir Legends and Ananta-das’s Kabir Parachai, with a Translation of the Kabir Parachai. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

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    The first part of the book, “The Legends,” contains three chapters that consider the authorship of the Kabir Parachai and the sociohistorical context in which the hagiography was composed, as well as “other legends” about the 15th-century poet-saint Kabir’s life. The second half of the book has three chapters, one of which features an English translation of Ananta-Das’s Kabir Parachai by Jagdish Kumar, David N. Lorenzen, and Uma Thukral.

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  • Mukta, Parita. Upholding the Common Life: The Community of Mirabai. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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    Introduces the reception of poetry attributed to Mirabai through a feminist-Marxist lens. Begins with a chapter that reviews hagiographies of Mirabai and of contemporary research on the poet-saint. Subsequent chapters consider Mirabai’s memory in specific historical and contemporary contexts, including the colonial-era canonization of Mirabai by Rajput communities and contemporary devotional singing (bhajan) groups from Gujarati and Rajasthani villages.

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  • Pauwels, Heidi. In Praise of Holy Men: Hagiographic Poems by and about Hariram Vyas. Grongingen Oriental Studies 18. Groningen, The Netherlands: Egbert Forsten, 2002.

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    Comprehensive account of the 16th-century poet Hariram Vyas, including the Vyās Vāṇī, “the collected works of Vyas,” attributed to him. Considers the poet’s work, life, and influence in relation to themes of exemplary devotion and vis-à-vis other figures and sectarian communities of the period in the North Indian region of Braj. Reflects on how communities legitimize authority by aligning themselves with saints through the composition of hagiographies and devotional songs.

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  • Pechilis, Karen. Interpreting Devotion: The Poetry and Legacy of a Female Bhakti Saint of India. New York: Routledge, 2012.

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    Considers how bhakti is interpreted through an examination of poetry attributed to female 6th-century poet Karaikkal Ammaiyar, a Shiva devotee who wrote in classical Tamil, the writing of her male 12th-century biographer Cekkilar, and contemporary festival publics. Includes six chapters, a robust bibliography, index, and two appendices with English translations of Karaikkal Ammaiyar’s poetry and Cekkilar’s biography. A critical contribution to scholarship on Shaiva devotion in South India, gender studies, and reception history.

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  • Shukla-Bhatt, Neelima. Narasinha Mehta of Gujarat: A Legacy of Bhakti Songs and Stories. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199976416.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A comprehensive study of the 15th-century Gujarati poet and Krishna devotee Narasinha Mehta. Considers Mehta’s bhakti lyrics in terms of their devotional expression and the historical, social, and political contexts of their reception and performance. The first section of the book considers the Mehta tradition vis-à-vis aesthetics and bhakti, and the second section examines Mehta’s lyrics in various performative contexts. Chapter 3 pays special attention to Mehta in hagiographical traditions.

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Modern and Transnational Sainthood

The monographs and articles cited here show that hagiographical writing and sainthood are significant areas of study for those interested in religious formations with respect to modernity, nationalism, and transnationalism. Several studies focus specifically on female figures: Aymard 2014 on Ma Anandamayi devotion vis-à-vis religion and globalization, Lucia 2014 on the transnational community of Mata Amritanandamayi’s followers, and Martin 2010 on the legacy of poet-saint Mirabai as an exemplar of spiritual, political, social, and sexual liberation in the United States. Both Dobe 2015 and McLain 2016 look at memorialization of modern figures, including Sai Baba of Shirdi and Vivekananda, to study reifications of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity in India and globally. Rhinehart 1999 studies how memorializations of Swami Rama Tirtha (one of the figures also studied in Dobe 2015) reveal various hagiographers’ particular social positions and experiences of the saint, while Manring 2005 studies how late-19th-century tellings of the Gaudiya Vaishnava figure Advaita Acharya reveal an effort to reform and reconstruct Bengali Vaishnavism in the modern period. Dalmia 2017 shows how 19th-century concerns of a Vaishnava community are reflected in the hagiography of a Krishna deity’s peregrinations. Srinivas 2008 studies the figure Sathya Sai Baba in relationship to topics such as urbanization and transnationalism, while McLain 2009 looks at the Amar Chitra Katha comic book series as a cultural product reflecting issues of modernity and national and community identity formation. Finally, Hawley 2015 considers the formation of the “idea” of the “bhakti movement,” a concept critical to understanding premodern and modern formulations of Hinduism.

  • Aymard, Orianne. When a Goddess Dies: Worshipping Mā Ānandamayī after Her Death. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199368617.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Uses interviews and textual analysis (including biographies and hagiographies) to examine the veneration of the Bengali female saint Anandamayi Ma (b. 1896–d. 1982) after her death. Aymard’s chapters consider various themes in relation to the death of the saint, including the increasing interest in Hindu traditions, particularly guru movements in the West, and the relationship between religion and globalization more broadly.

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  • Dalmia, Vasudha. “The Sixth Gaddi of the Vallabha Sampradaya: Narrative Structure and Authority in a Varta of the Nineteenth Century.” In Hindu Pasts: Women, Religion, Histories. Edited by Vasudha Dalmia, 189–209. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2017.

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    A consideration of Banaras’s Gopal Mandir and its rise to power as a site of religious authority in Pushtimargi Vaishnavism via a study of the Mukundrāyjī kī Vārtā. The text outlines the emergence and movement of the Krishna deity Mukundrayji and shows “clear indications of patterns that were to become characteristic of Hinduism in the nineteenth century” (p. 191).

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  • Dobe, Timothy S. Hindu Christian Faqir: Modern Monks, Global Christianity, and Indian Sainthood. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199987696.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Using diverse primary sources in Indian vernacular languages and English, this book provides a rich study of the development of the category of Indian sainthood, and more broadly of religion itself, during the early 20th century. Dobe’s seven chapters consider several prominent figures, including Vivekananda, Rama Tirtha, and Sundar Singh, vis-à-vis their participation in the formation of modern Hindu and Christian identities on the global stage.

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  • Hawley, John Stratton. A Storm of Songs: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.

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    A study of the “idea” of the “bhakti movement”—a long-held, yet heretofore uncritically examined, formulation. The “bhakti movement” idea claims that during the medieval and early modern periods, poet-saints—singing of divine love, liberation, and social reform—established a democratizing and translocal way of being religious (“unity in diversity”). Complicating this narrative, Hawley examines key historical moments during which the “idea” was strategically crafted, becoming fully fledged in modern India.

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  • Lucia, Amanda J. Reflections of Amma: Devotees in Global Embrace. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.

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    A richly self-reflective ethnography that introduces Amma, or Mata Amritanandamayi, known widely as the “hugging saint” (b. 1953), and the transnational community that surrounds her. Major themes include the gendering of sainthood, the idea of “authenticity” in Hindu practice (especially with respect to comparing South Asian and Euro-American white devotees), Indian diaspora communities, and darshan as embodied practice. Includes a useful appendix on “Current Literature Engaging the Field of Contemporary Gurus.”

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  • Manring, Rebecca J. Reconstructing Tradition: Advaita Ācārya and Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism at the Cusp of the Twentieth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

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    A comprehensive consideration of the 16th-century Bengali preceptor Advaita Acharya, who was a significant figure in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. Uses hagiographic texts (including the Advaita Maṇgala) as primary sources, in concert with ethnography (namely in the final chapter) and a vast archive of other historical texts, to argue that late-19th-century tellings of Acharya’s life point to an effort to reform and reconstruct Bengali Vaishnavism in the modern period.

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  • Martin, Nancy. “Mirabai Comes to America: The Translation and Transformation of a Saint.” Journal of Hindu Studies 3.1 (2010): 12–35.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hiq009Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A consideration of Mirabai’s legacy, with a focus on how the female saint was appropriated in the late 20th century by Americans who have used her as figure of women’s “awakening”—a mystical exemplar of spiritual, political, social, and sexual liberation.

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  • McLain, Karline. India’s Immortal Comic Books: Gods, Kings, and Other Heroes. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

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    A study of the comic book series Amar Chitra Katha, started in 1967. The series, wildly popular among English-reading middle-class Indians and diaspora communities, recounts the lives of a wide range of “historical” and “mythic” figures, from Indian independence leaders to Hindu deities and kings. McLain addresses the series in terms of its currency as a cultural product reflecting issues of modernity and national and community identity formation.

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  • McLain, Karline. The Afterlife of Sai Baba: Competing Visions of a Global Saint. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016.

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    An account of how the life of Maharashtrian saint Shirdi Sai Baba (b. late 1830s–d. 1918) has been remembered through film (e.g., Amar Akbar Anthony), hagiography, and other media. Shows how those who remembered the saint did so according to their own social and political agendas. Pays special attention to Sai Baba’s ambiguity in relationship to globalization and changing conceptions of Hinduism and Islam, and of religion more broadly.

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  • Rhinehart, Robin. One Lifetime, Many Lives: the Experience of Modern Hindu Hagiography. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999.

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    Demonstrates how various memorializations of Swami Rama Tirtha (b. 1873–d. 1906) reflect hagiographers’ particular social positions and experiences of the saint. Shows how hagiographers’ methods for writing about the saint’s life included engagement with Tirtha’s own writings (in Hindi-Urdu and English, including an “autohagiography”), personal affective encounters with Tirtha, and even ideological narratives embedded in the Indian nationalism movement.

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  • Srinivas, Smriti. In the Presence of Sai Baba: Body, City, and Memory in a Global Religious Movement. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004165434.i-403Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Introduces the formation of a transnational Hindu religious movement around the saint Sathya Sai Baba (b. 1926–d. 2011). Begins by considering the self-conscious linkages made between Sathya Sai Baba and an earlier charismatic figure, Sai Baba of Shirdi, which helped Sathya Sai Baba to gain authority. The following eight chapters draw on hagiographies and ethnographic fieldwork to provide an account of “varied cartographies, somatic dispositions, and cultural memories implicated in urbanization and transnationalism” (p. 6).

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Saintly Qualities and Virtues

As the studies included here show, there is no set standard for Hindu saintly qualities and virtues, which vary according to gender, social location, and historical and regional contexts. Schreiner 2001, a study of Sahajanand Swami’s 20th-century hagiography, however, suggests that charisma is often a quality common to “saintly” figures whose lives are told by their followers. Several studies focus on singular figures and their qualities, often as recounted by saints’ devotees through hagiography. Dalmia 2017 considers the quality of charisma in a study of Vallabhacharya, the founder of Pushtimargi Vaishnavism, while Barz 2007 looks at a follower of the Pushtimarg poet-devotee Kumbhandas, whose hagiography emphasizes “simplicity” as virtuous. Hallstrom 1999 and Sarkar 1993 both consider female figures in the modern period: Hallstrom 1999 considers femaleness and Bengali sainthood in a study of Anandamayi Ma, and Sarkar 1993 studies how the 19th-century writer Rashsundari Debi used medieval hagiographic accounts as personal models for saintly virtue and Krishna devotion. Ramanujan 1992 considers how women’s virtues are addressed in “Hindu” bhakti expressed in vernacular languages. While not solely focused on female figures, McDaniel 1989 does attend to female ecstatic figures in a monograph about saintly madness in Bengal, and Hancock 1990 looks at one contemporary female figure in an essay on how telling a figure’s life story is key to establishing whether or not an individual has qualities worthy of sainthood. Kripal 1998 considers various qualities of “mysticism” in 19th- and 20th-century texts about Bengali saint Ramakrishna, while Olson 1988 considers alterity as a saintly quality in a study of Ramakrishna’s relationship to Vivekananda. Scott 2014 considers how the virtues of asceticism as well as “greatness” and “ordinariness” were emphasized in hagiographies of the 19th-century figure Swami Dayanand Saraswati.

  • Barz, Richard. “Kumbhandas: The Devotee as Salt of the Earth.” In Krishna: A Sourcebook. Edited by Edwin F. Bryant, 477–504. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    Introduces the ideal relationship between devotee and Krishna as envisioned by Vallabhacharya, founder of the Pushtimarg (Vallabha Sampradaya). This introduction sets the stage for a discussion of the sampradaya’s hagiographical literature, specifically with respect poet-saint Kumbhandas, whose story is told in a 17th-century Braj Bhasha text, the Caurāsī Vaṣṇavan kī Vārtā. Kumbhandas is depicted as a “straightforward, plain-speaking farmer and paragon of devotional virtue” (p. 483).

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  • Dalmia, Vasudha. “Forging Community: The Guru in a Seventeenth-Century Vaisnava Hagiography.” In Hindu Pasts: Women, Religion, Histories. Edited by Vasudha Dalmia, 141–172. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2017.

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    Considers the role of the guru as a charismatic figure in the process of community formation. Dalmia’s focus is on the figure of Vallabhacharya, recognized as the founder of the sampradaya (following) in his name. Uses the hagiographies of the sampradaya, known as vartas, as a primary source. Considers how premodern community formation can shed light on contemporary Hindu ideologies.

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  • Hallstrom, Lisa Lassell. Mother of Bliss: Ānandamayī Mā (1896–1982). New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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    Uses printed biographies of the saint along with ethnographic research, namely interviews (with Anandamayi Ma and her followers) conducted over decades of fieldwork. Chapters offer a biography of Anandamayi Ma and considerations of the saint in terms of her role as woman, guru, and avatara. The final chapter considers femininity and sainthood, as well as attitudes toward women’s idealized qualities in Hindu traditions more broadly.

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  • Hancock, Mary E. “Saintly Careers among South India’s Urban Middle Classes.” Man, n.s., 25.3 (1990): 505–520.

    DOI: 10.2307/2803716Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Follows the lives of two Smarta Brahmins (one man and one woman) in urban Tamil Nadu who are deemed by their contemporaries and fellow devotees to be modern-day saints. Considers the characteristics used to determine such sainthood, including charisma, caste, class, gender, and social networks. Asserts that the telling of a saint’s life story—orally or in written form—is key to the establishment of an individual as a “legitimate” saint.

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  • Kripal, Jeffrey J. Kālī’s Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

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    The second edition of Kripal’s monograph includes a fresh preface in which the author offers a response to the book’s critics. Kripal’s book uses psychoanalytic theories about mysticism to unpack the saint’s so-called mystical experiences as a “conflicted, unwilling, homoerotic Tāntrika” (p. 3) through close readings of 19th- and 20th-century Bengali texts, including Mahendranath Gupta’s Śrīśrīrāmakṛṣṇakathāmṛta.

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  • McDaniel, June. The Madness of the Saints: Ecstatic Religion in Bengal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.

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    Uses mixed methodologies, such as ethnography and textual analysis of hagiographical literature, to explore a variety of Bengali “saintly” figures, including those who hail from Gaudiya Vaishnava, Baul, and Shakta communities. Theorizes the category of divine “madness” and of “ecstasy.” Special attention is given to female ecstatic figures, including the widely known Anandamayi Ma.

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  • Olson, Carl. “Vivekānanda and Rāmakṛṣṇa Face to Face: An Essay on the Alterity of a Saint.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 2.1 (1988): 43–66.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-998-0008-2Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Explores the nature of the saintly figures’ “otherness,” using the development of Vivekananda and Ramakrishna’s relationship as a case study. Acknowledging the departure from neo-Vedanta, uses the phenomenological philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’s theories to analyze Ramakrishna’s alterity.

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  • Ramanujan, A. K. “Talking to God in the Mother Tongue.” India International Center Quarterly 19.4 (1992): 53–64.

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    A brief but significant consideration of vernacular devotional traditions in medieval and early modern South Asia. Addresses shared themes in poetry attributed to “Hindu” bhakti saints, including expressions of passionate intimacy with the divine. Ramanujan pays particular attention to how gender is addressed in certain types of bhakti poetry, suggesting that “women take on qualities that men traditionally have [. . .] women saints wander and travel along, give up husband, children, and family” (p. 56).

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  • Sarkar, Tanika. “A Book of Her Own. A Life of Her Own: Autobiography of a Nineteenth-Century Woman.” History Workshop 36 (1993): 35–65.

    DOI: 10.1093/hwj/36.1.35Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An account of how Rashsundari Debi used hagiographic accounts, including the Caitanya Bhāgavat (a Bengali biography of Bengali Vaishnava saint Caitanya), as literary models on which to author her own autobiography, Āmār Jīban, and her own understanding of saintly virtue and devotion to Krishna.

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  • Schreiner, Peter. “Institutionalization of Charisma: The Case of Sahajananda.” In Charisma and Canon: Essays on the Religious History of the Indian Subcontinent. Edited by Vasudha Dalmia, Angelika Malinar, and Martin Christof, 155–170. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    A study of the Sanskrit hagiography Satsaṅgijīvanam (composed in 1930) of Swami Sahajanand, the founder of Swami Narayanan Hinduism (d. 1830). A consideration of how the hagiographer’s author, Swami Shatananda, presents Swami Sahajanand as a charismatic leader. More broadly, Schreiner considers charisma as an essential quality to “saintly” figures whose lives are told by their followers.

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  • Scott, J. Barton. “Unsaintly Virtue: Swami Dayananda Saraswati and Modern Hindu Hagiography.” Journal of Hindu Studies 7.3 (2014): 371–391.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hiu029Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Introduces hagiographies of the 19th-century founder of the Arya Samaj, Dayananda Saraswati, who explicitly rejected the title of guru. Considers how colonial-era authors used the newly popularized medium of print to cultivate an emulation of Saraswati and, as they saw it, the saintly virtues of asceticism—and of “greatness” and “ordinariness”—that he modeled (p. 388).

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Saints in Places

Saintly figures are often intimately tied to specific regional cultures and pilgrimage sites. With respect to the movement of saints, Bouillier 2003 looks at how the travels associated with the saint Siddha Ratannath contribute to his localized worship in Nepal; Viswanathan Peterson 1983 studies the theme of saintly pilgrimage in Shaiva Tamil country as described in canonical nayanmar poem-songs; Haberman 1999 considers a text about Vallabhacharya’s pilgrimage and exegesis on the Bhāgavata Purāṇa; and Koppedprayer 2003 considers the relationship between hagiographic narratives and images of Shaiva saints and their journeys. With respect to the memory of saints and hagiographies that are tied to specific regions, Mallison 2003 surveys saints attached to specific regional identities in Saurashtra and Kutch, and Vaudeville 1980 looks at the relationship between a hagiographic episode of Krishna and place-specific rituals of Braj in northern India. Writing for the same special issue on Hindu saints and geography in the Journal of Hindu Studies, Ben-Herut 2015 studies medieval Kannada texts to unpack the nuances of “cross-regional” influences in the growth of Virashaiva bhakti, Monius 2015 examines the “geographical vision” of early Shaiva bhakti poets writing in Tamil, and Kuene 2015 considers why in medieval Marathi Varkari narratives (poetry and hagiography) there is a “conspicuous silence” about southern India and a clear orientation with the north. Finally, McLaughlin 2016 considers how the 13th-century Varkari saint Jnaneshvar’s hagiographies give scaffolding to perceptions of the saint at his burial place, and Elison 2014 studies images of Shirdi Sai Baba in Mumbai with a focus on said images as distinctly modern and in relationship to contestations over space.

  • Ben-Herut, Gil. “Figuring the South-Indian Śivabhakti Movement: The Broad Narrative Gaze of Early Kannada Hagiographic Literature.” Journal of Hindu Studies 8.3 (2015): 274–295.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hiv025Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The article focuses on “cross-regional” influences on the early stages of growth in the Virashaiva bhakti tradition associated with its 10th–12th century Kannada vachana poetry. Drawing on several South Indian language texts, Ben-Herut argues that Shaiva bhakti traditions across the southern part of the subcontinent were in active dialogue with each other—exchanging distinct literary and “cultural products across specific geographical regions and languages” (p. 275).

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  • Bouillier, Véronique. “Ratannāth’s Travels.” In Pilgrims, Patrons, and Place: Localizing Sanctity in Asian Religions. Edited by Phyllis Granhoff and Koichi Sinohara, 264–278. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2003.

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    A study of the significance of place in the biography and ritual practices specific to the saint Siddha Ratannath of the Dang Valley of western Nepalese Terai (on the border with India). Bouillier argues that the local figure of Ratannath is memorialized in various ways by different communities. For instance, he is glorified locally because of his recognition “abroad,” but also due to his relationship to Gorakthnath Yogis and with the authority of the Goddess (Patan Devi).

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  • Elison, William. “Sai Baba of Bombay: A Saint, His Icon, and the Urban Geography of Darshan.” History of Religions 54.2 (2014):151–187.

    DOI: 10.1086/677808Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study of images of Shirdi Sai Baba in Mumbai, with a focus on said images as distinctly modern, with a “history of contestation over how the city configures space” (p. 154). Primary sources used include 1970-era films that depict the saint, ethnographic fieldwork in Mumbai in 2003, and the Srī Sāī Bābā Satcaritra, a hagiographic text that describes a pilgrimage circuit associated with Sai Baba worship at his shrine in Shirdi.

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  • Haberman, David. “A Theology of Place: Pilgrimage in the Caurāsī Baiṭhak Caritra.” In Studies in Early Modern Indo-Aryan Languages, Literature and Culture. Edited by Alan. W. Entwistle and Carol Solomon, with Heidi Pauwels and Michael C. Shapiro, 155–166. New Delhi: Manohar, 1999.

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    A study of the Caurāsī Baiṭhak Caritra, a text of the Pushtimarg (Vallabha Sampradaya). Unpacks the text’s focus on the sampradaya’s founder Vallabhacharya and his proselytizing travels, during which he provided exegesis on the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, inspiring new devotees to join the fold. Argues that the text shows this process of “conversion” to occur through direct visions of Vallabhacharya in specific places.

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  • Kuene, Jon. “Emphatically ignoring the Neighbours: The Selective Geographic Orientation of Marathi Bhakti.” Journal of Hindu Studies 8.3 (2015): 296–314.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hiv028Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Kuene considers why in medieval Marathi Varkari narratives (poetry and hagiography) there is a “conspicuous silence” about southern India and a clear orientation with the north. Drawing on a number of Varkari texts in geopolitical context, Kuene provides several overlapping reasons for an emphasis on the north. For instance, since Varkari geographical orientation is Krishnaite, it makes sense that Varkari narratives aligned themselves with northern sites like Mathura lauded Krishna’s birth site.

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  • Koppedprayer, K. I. “The Interweave of Place, Space, and Biographical Discourse at a South Indian Religious Centre.” In Pilgrims, Patrons, and Place: Localizing Sanctity in Asian Religions. Edited by Phyllis Granhoff and Koichi Sinohara, 279–296. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2003.

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    A study of an annual summer solstice ritual celebrated at the Shaiva sectarian center called Dharmapuran Adhinam in Tamil Nadu to celebrate the Mount Kailash pilgrimage site, understood to be the abode of Lord Shiva. Koppedprayer analyzes the ritual in relation to hagiographic narratives and images that relate to Shaiva saints and their journeys to both the place of the ritual in Tamil Nadu and to the Himalayan pilgrimage site.

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  • Mallison, Françoise. “Saints and Sacred Places in Saurashtra and Kutch: The Cases of the Naklaṃki Cult of the Jakhs.” In Pilgrims, Patrons, and Place: Localizing Sanctity in Asian Religions. Edited by in Phyllis Granhoff and Koichi Sinohara, 332–349. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2003.

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    A brief survey of traditions following the saint Naklamki Ali and the Jakhs in the Gujarati regions of Saurashtra and Kutch. Argues that the “double capacity for preservation and assimilation” provides the saints of these regions distinct characteristics (from the rest of western India) (p. 343).

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  • McLaughlin, Mark J. “Turning Tomb to Temple: Hagiography, Sacred Space, and Ritual Activity in a Thirteenth-Century Hindu Shrine.” In Hagiography and Religious Truth: Case Studies in the Abrahamic and Dharmic Traditions. Edited by Rico G. Monge, Kerry P. C. San Chirico, and Rachel J. Smith, 70–88. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.

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    A consideration of how 13th-century Varkari saint Jnaneshvar’s hagiographies give scaffolding to a ritual tradition that marks the saint’s body (buried in Alandi village, near Pune) as a vessel for the teachings of “nondual reality.” This, argues McLaughlin, allows devotees to approach the place where the saint is enshrined as a home for the “form of the formless absolute” (p. 71).

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  • Monius, Anne E. “Linguistic Anxiety and Geographical Aspiration in the Tamiḻ Śaiva Literary World.” Journal of Hindu Studies 8.3 (2015): 265–273.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hiv036Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Considers the “geographical vision” of early Shaiva bhakti poets writing in Tamil. Drawing on various medieval texts, Monius suggests that “great figures of Tamiḻ-speaking Śaivism embrace devotion to Lord Śiva in quite cosmopolitan terms,” pointing to a vision for uniting the Tamil region with other Shaiva sites throughout the subcontinent. Suggests that this geographic vision is related to broader ways in which bhakti-specific idioms travel across South Asian vernacular traditions.

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  • Vaudeville, Charlotte. “The Govardhan Myth in Northern India.” Indo-Iranian Journal 22.1 (1980): 1–45.

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    A study of the hagiographic episode of Krishna lifting Mount Govardhan in relationship to place-specific rituals of Braj in northern India, where the episode is believed to have occurred in mythic time. Rituals include Annakut, or Govardhan Puja.

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  • Viswanathan Peterson, Indira. “Lives of the Wandering Singers: Pilgrimage and Poetry in Tamil Śaivite Hagiography.” History of Religions 22.4 (1983): 338–360.

    DOI: 10.1086/462929Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A consideration of the theme of pilgrimage in Shaiva Tamil country as described in canonical nayanmar poem-songs (Tēvāram hymns, namely by saints Appar, Campantar, and Cuntarar) from the 11th–14th centuries and in hagiographical narratives from Cekkilar’s Periya Purāṇam of the 12th century. Singing a saint’s pilgrimage song, argues Viswanathan Peterson, was emphasized in Cekkilar’s hagiographical writing as a key way for the devotee to experience Shiva.

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Oral and Performed Hagiographies

Focus on saintly lives as they are recorded in written texts has largely overwhelmed the study of hagiography, but as these studies show, hagiography is as much an oral and performed genre as it is a textualized one. Many themes of written hagiography, such as contestation over the memory of saints, resonate with oral traditions, as seen in Green 2004, a study of competing oral narratives of Sufi and other saints in the localization of tradition in the Deccan, and in Hess 2015, which includes a discussion of how Kabir’s legacy continues to be heavily contested in contemporary contexts. Two studies consider theatrical performance or dramatizations of hagiography: Leslie 1998 considers a 20th-century Kannada-language play that is an adaptation of the life story of Basavanna, and Pechilis 2009 discusses how the life of a 6th-century female Tamil Shaiva poet-saint is orally performed during a major festival. Several of these studies rely on ethnographic research, including Narayan 1989, which focuses on oral Hindu religious teaching and sadhu traditions, and Bachrach 2018, which looks at how hagiographies are read and interpreted by contemporary devotees in urban Gujarat. Finally, Lamb 2016 studies the reasoning behind relative fluidity and fixedness of two oral hagiographies of saintly figures from Chhattisgarh in central India.

  • Bachrach, Emilia. “Religious Reading and Everyday Lives.” In Text and Tradition in Early Modern North India. Edited by Tyler Williams, Anshu Malhotra, and John Stratton Hawley, 413–433. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199478866.003.0021Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An ethnographic study of how hagiographies are read and interpreted in terms of readers’ everyday lives in contemporary Gujarat. Special attention is given to gendered interpretations of hagiography, questions of imitability, and religious reading as a distinct performative practice.

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  • Green, Nile. “Oral Competition Narratives of Muslim and Hindu Saints in the Deccan.” Asian Folklore Studies 63.2 (2004): 221–242.

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    A study of oral narratives about the Sufi saint Shah Nur and his non-Muslim (Hindu) counterparts in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. Complicates “Hindu-Muslim rivalry” by considering how competing local institutions related to popular sites of pilgrimage in Aurangabad shape the oral narratives (hagiographies) in question. Argues that oral narratives of saints contribute to how religious traditions become localized.

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  • Hess, Linda. Bodies of Song: Kabir Oral Traditions and Performative Worlds in North India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199374168.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Combining ethnography and textual analysis, Hess explores the oral transmission of songs attributed to and inspired by the northern Indian poet-saint Kabir. Considers how performance traditions inform both the content and the interpretation of poem-songs and of Kabir’s life as a saintly figure. Chapter 7, “Fighting over Kabir’s Dead Body,” studies different views of Kabir’s legacy and following, and considers folk singer Prahlad Tipanya’s decision to join the Kabir Panth.

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  • Lamb, Ramdas. “Imagining Hagiographies in Chhattisgarh.” In Hagiography and Religious Truth: Case Studies in the Abrahamic and Dharmic Traditions. Edited by Rico G. Monge, Kerry P. C. San Chirico, and Rachel J. Smith, 53–69. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.

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    A study of two oral hagiographies, one of Guru Ghasidas and the other of Parasuram Swami, both founders of religious communities (Satnamis and Ramnamis, respectively) from Chhattisgarh in central India. Lamb considers the social and historical circumstances that have caused one of the two hagiographies to change over time while the other has remained relatively static.

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  • Leslie, Julia. “Understanding Basava: History, Hagiography and a Modern Kannada Drama.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 61.2 (1998): 228–261.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0041977X00013793Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study of 12th-century Virashaiva saint Basavanna through traditional hagiographies and a modern (1990) Kannada-language play (by Girish Karnard) and its subsequent English translation. Considers the significance of memory, history, and the contemporary in this 20th-century adaptation of a 12th-century “new” religious movement.

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  • Narayan, Kirin. Storytellers, Saints, and Scoundrels: Folk Narrative in Hindu Religious Teaching. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.

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    A self-reflective ethnographic study of oral Hindu religious teachings and sadhu traditions via a close account of the ascetic and teacher Swamiji. Considers the style and content of Swamiji’s teachings through storytelling and the ways in which his teachings are received by listeners.

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  • Pechilis, Karen. “Experiencing the Mango Festival as Ritual Dramatization of Hagiography.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 21.1 (2009): 50–65.

    DOI: 10.1163/157006809X416814Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An ethnographic account of a festival in celebration of Karaikkal Ammaiyar, a female Tamil Shaiva poet-saint of the 6th century. During the festival in Karaikkal, Tamil Nadu, the saint’s life story is orally recounted according to the narrative of her 12th-century hagiographer, but with distinct performative qualities (e.g., an emphasis on moments of darshan).

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Hagiography and Community Formation

Hagiographical writing often reveals the efforts of communities or representative authors to articulate distinct identities in specific social and historical contexts. Stewart 2010 focuses on this process by considering how a hagiography (attributed to Krishnadas Kaviraj) of the 16th-century Bengali saint Caitanya helped to establish an “authoritative grammar” of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Similarly, Saha 2006 studies how the 17th-century hagiographies specific to Pushtimargi Vaishnavism of northwest India sought to maintain a distinct community identity during the early modern period. Studying similar periods and regions, Horstman 2000 focuses on how depictions of food in three hagiographies tell us about the early formation of Dadupanthi tradition, and Pauwels 2010 considers how 16th-century poems attributed to Hariram Vyas provide a window into bhakti community formation. Three sources attend to the Shri Vaishnava community: Dutta 2015 considers how community formations are articulated differently through medieval and modern life narratives of the 12th-century Shri Vaishnava theologian Ramanuja; Venkatesan 2013 compares two hagiographies of the 9th-century female poet Antal to study developments in Shri Vaishnavism; and Raman 2007 studies a 14th-century Shri Vaishnava hagiography to consider what “conversion” might have indicated in medieval southern India. Also focusing on South India, Ben-Herut looks at the parameters for inclusion and exclusion in a 13th-century Kannada text about key figures in the formation of Virashaivism. Moving forward in time, Accardi 2018, Gold 2018, and Venkatesan 2014 all consider formations during the modern period. Venkatesan 2014 looks at regional identity formation through the canonization and remembrance of three 19th-century “poet/saint/musicians,” Accardi 2018 considers the British colonial era script written for the life of 14th-century Kashmiri poet-saint Lal Ded, and Gold 2018 reads a 20th-century Hindi hagiography to study changing identity in the Ramsnehi order.

  • Accardi, Dean. “Orientalism and the Invention of Kashmiri Religion(s).” In Special Issue: Making a Hindu Saint. Edited by Dean Accardi. International Journal of Hindu Studies 22.3 (2018): 411–430.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-018-9238-0Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Interrogates British colonial-era interpretations of the 14th-century Kashmiri saint Lal Ded. Argues that the Lallā-Vākyāni, a collection of poetry attributed to Lal Ded, shows how colonial actors aimed to cast the female poet as exclusively Hindu, divorcing her well-established connection to Muslim traditions. Argues that these efforts supported broader Orientalist projects as well as political agendas of local Kashmiri rulers, the Hindu Dogras.

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  • Ben-Herut, Gil. Śiva’s Saints: The Origins of Devotion in Kannada According to Harihara’s Ragaḷegaḷu. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190878849.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study of a 13th-century collection of hagiographies, the Śivaśvaraṇara Ragaḷegaḷu, of Kannada-speaking Virashaiva saints. While the text, attributed to a renowned poet, Harihara, has been largely ignored by Virashaiva tradition, Ben-Hirut shows that its significance lies in how the author used it to articulate models of devotional life. While the saints of the Śivaśvaraṇara Ragaḷegaḷu have “diverse backgrounds and multiple, syncretic ways of worshipping” the Divine, Harihara also proposes some clear distinctions about who should and should not enter the fold (p. 3).

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  • Dutta, Ranjeeta. From Hagiographies to Biographies: Ramanuja in Tradition and History. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015.

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    Dutta’s book focuses on how hagiographies (including the Divyāsuricaritam) of the 12th-century theologian Ramanuja are important sources for unpacking the early stages of Shri Vaishnava community formation during the 12th–14th centuries. Dutta then considers the differences in these early accounts when compared to modern biographies, which are clearly aimed at making more palatable and coherent Ramanuja’s life story for modern audiences. The book contains six chapters covering the premodern and modern periods.

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  • Gold, Daniel. “Spiritual Heroes, Miracle Tales, and Rāmsnehī Foundations: Constructing Hagiographies of a Rajasthani Sant.” In Special Issue: Making a Hindu Saint. Edited by Dean Accardi. International Journal of Hindu Studies 22.3 (2018): 497–515.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-018-9241-5Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Considers a 20th-century Hindi hagiography, Śrī Rāmcaraṇjī Mahārāj kā Jīvan Caritra, of sant Ramcharan (b. 1720–d. 1798) by Vintiram. Gold describes how Vintiram relies heavily on an earlier hagiography by Jagannath Soni, but adds to Soni’s “miracle stories” to offer a somewhat “realistic” telling of a sant leader and founder of the Ramsnehi order who hailed from a mercantile community of 18th-century Rajasthan.

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  • Horstman, Monika. “The Flow of Grace: Food and Feast in the Hagiography and History of the Dādūpanth.” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 150.2 (2000): 513–580.

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    An analysis of “food and feast” in hagiographies of the northern Indian Dadupanth tradition. Considers three texts—Jangopal’s Dādūjanmalīlā, Raghavads’s Bhaktamāl, and Jnandas’s Jayatprakāś—to study the relationships between food transfer and the early formation of Dadupanthi tradition.

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  • Pauwels, Heidi. “Hagiography and Community Formation: The Case of a Lost Community of Sixteenth-Century Vrindāvan.” Journal of Hindu Studies 3.1 (2010): 53–90.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hiq007Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A close reading of understudied vernacular (Braj Bhasha) sources (namely the Vyās Vyāṇī, or poems attributed to Hariram Vyas), which are used to consider how bhakti communities were understood as such in the 16th-century.

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  • Raman, Srilata. “Initiation and Conversion in Medieval South India: Pañcasaṃskāra as Historical Practice in the Śrīvaiṣṇava Hagiographical Literature.” In The Relationship between Viśiṣṭādvaita and Pāñcarātra. Edited by Gerhard Oberhammer and Marion Rastelli, 263–286. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences, 2007.

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    Considers the “five rights” initiation or “conversion” ritual as depicted in a 14th-century Shri Vaishnava hagiography, Ārāyirappaṭi Kuruparamaparāpirapāvam. The author is particularly interested in how the ritual, as described in the hagiography, enabled a devotee to cross over from Shaivism to Vaishnavism. More broadly, the article considers what “conversion” might have indicated in medieval South India.

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  • Saha, Shandip. “A Community of Grace: The Social and Theological World of the Puṣṭi Mārga vārtā Literature.” Bulletin of SOAS 69.2 (2006): 225–242.

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    Introduces the hagiographies of a Krishna-centered Vaishnava tradition, the Pushtimarg. Uses the hagiographies (vartas) to unpack the Pushtimarg’s early history, and in doing so outlines the foundational theological and ritual precepts of the tradition. Argues that a primary purpose of the vartas was to “preserve the unique nature of the community” (p. 242), and that the time of the texts’ composition was a significant period of community self-fashioning.

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  • Stewart, Tony. The Final Word: The Caitanya Caritamrta and the Grammar of Religious Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195392722.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A comprehensive study of Krishnadas Kaviraj’s Bengali Caitanya Caritāmṛta, a biography of Gaudiya Vaishnava’s founding figure, the 16th-century Caitanya. Stewart emphasizes the ways in which Krishnadas’s text strategically and deliberately displaced other hagiographical and theological texts, becoming a defining text for Bengali Vaishnavism—the “Final Word.” Caitanya Caritāmṛta is therefore an excellent case study of community formation as it self-consciously establishes an “authoritative grammar” of tradition.

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  • Venkatesan, Archana. “A Different Kind of Antal Story: The Divyasuricaritam of Garudavahana Pandita.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 6.3 (2013): 243–296.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hit029Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Recounts a brief and little-known hagiography of the 9th-century poet-saint Antal by Garidavahana Pandita of Srirangam. The hagiography appears in Garidavahana Pandita’s Sanskrit poem, the Divyasūcaritam. Venkatesan describes the how certain developments in Shri Vaishnavism can be detected when comparing Garidavahana Pandita’s hagiography to an earlier account of Antal’s life, which appears in the Shri Vaishnava Manipravala Guruparamapara Prabhāvam 6000.

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  • Venkatesan, Archana. “Making Saints, Making Communities: Nāyaki Svāmikaḷ and the Saurashtras of Madurai.” Journal of South Asian Studies 37.4 (2014): 568–585.

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    Considers how the South Indian Saurashtra community articulated a distinct narrative of Carnatic music and regional identity through the canonization and remembrance of three 19th-century “poet/saint/musicians”—Venkataramana Bhagavatar, Kavi Venkatasuri, and Nayaki Svamikal—as “saintly composers and exemplary Vaiṣṇavas” (p. 452).

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Vernacularization and the Rejection of Elite Tradition

While many saintly figures are remembered in relation to specific vernacular literary traditions, the focus of vernacularization as a specific kind of process, and the sometimes corresponding theme of rejecting elite tradition, is distinctly attended to in the works selected here. Three of the studies are specific to the Varkari tradition of Maharashtra: Kuene 2015 considers relationships between Brahmins and non-elite social actors in a study of Eknath; Novetkze considers the process of vernacularization in Varkari traditions of Maharashtra via a study of the 13th-century saint Jnandev’s hagiographies; and Novetzke 2010 sheds light on the relationship between caste, vernacular tradition, nationalism, and modernity in the multiple memorializations of Namdev. With a focus on Bengal, Bhatia 2011 aims to unearth a “subaltern and sacred past” in a late -19th- and early -20th-century Bengali prose hagiography about the medieval saint Caitanya, and Mukherjee 2018 discusses the hagiography of Harichand Thakur, the 19th-century founder of the anti-Brahminical Matua Sampradaya. Finally, Gold 1987 examines the legacy of North Indian sant figures, emphasizing a rejection of mediated relationships between devotee and Divine, such as those perceived to exist among Brahmins and other religious elites.

  • Bhatia, Varuna. “Images of Nabadwip: Place, Evidence, and Inspiration.” In Time, History, and the Religious Imaginary in South Asia. Edited by Anne Murphy, 167–185. London: Routledge, 2011.

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    Considers the Amiya Nimai Caritra (the “Ambrosial Life of Nimai”), a Bengali prose hagiography about 15th-century saint Caitanya, published in six volumes between 1885 and 1911. Analyzes the significance of the widely popular Bengali retelling of Caitanya’s life (alongside an abbreviated English version), authored by “stalwart national” leader and “anti-colonial voice” (p. 167) Sisirkumar Ghose. Discusses how Ghose borrowed “key elements and tropes” from colonial and nationalist historiography to reconstruct the Bengali past (p. 179).

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  • Gold, Daniel. The Lord as Guru: Hindi Sants in North Indian Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

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    A study of what Gold calls the sant lineages of North India. Focuses on the use of vernacular languages used by these sometimes ambiguously Hindu-Muslim poet-saints (sants), as well as the everyday idioms used to express their direct relationship to the Divine.

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  • Kuene, Jon. “Eknath in Context: The Literary, Social, and Political Milieus of an Early Modern Saint-Poet.” South Asian History and Culture 6 (2015): 70–86.

    DOI: 10.1080/19472498.2014.969011Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Considers poet-saint Eknath in the historical context of the Deccan sultanate to shed light on Marathi vernacular culture, relationships between Brahmins and non-elite social actors, and the growth of early modern devotional religions.

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  • Mukherjee, Sipra. “In Opposition and Allegiance to Hinduism: Exploring the Bengali Matua Hagiography of Harichand Thakur.” Journal of South Asian Studies 41.2 (2018): 435–451.

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    A study of a Bengali hagiography of Harichand Thakur, the 19th-century founder of the anti-Brahminical Matua Sampradaya. Mukherjee studies changes in the figure’s life story and suggests that the genre of hagiography works to validate marginalized communities’ self-fashioning in the modern period.

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  • Novetzke, Christian. Religion and Public Memory: A Cultural History of Saint Namdev in India. New York: Columbia University Press: 2010.

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    A comprehensive study of the “ephemeral archive of public memory” (p. 52) of the 13th-century Marathi-speaking poet-saint Namdev. Novetzke is concerned particularly with the “realm of memorialization” and draws on a vast range of sources, from medieval hagiographies to Marathi films. Organized in two sections (“Practices of Memory” and “Publics of Memory”), this book pays special attention to the relationship between caste, vernacular tradition, nationalism, and modernity in the multiple memorializations of Namdev.

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  • Novetzke, Christian. “Vernacularizing Jñāndev: Hagiography and the Process of Vernacularization.” In Special Issue: Making a Hindu Saint. Edited by Dean Accardi. International Journal of Hindu Studies 22.3 (2018): 385–409.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-018-9239-zSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study of hagiographies of the 13th-century Marathi-speaking saint Jnandev. Considers how these texts became “vernacularized,” changing the memorialization of Jnandev and the “social ethics” specific to the saint. Focuses on the relationship between caste and gender identities in the process of vernacularization in Varkari traditions of Maharashtra.

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Hagiographies and Saints of Contestation and Community Crossing

Many saintly figures in South Asia are remembered as ambiguous—neither singularly Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or Sikh—and likewise many hagiographies of saintly figures either advocate for or resist said ambiguity. This is discussed in Loar 2018, a study of Sai Baba of Shirdi’s memorialization as a syncretic figure; in Prill 2009, which studies Namdev as remembered by Sikhs and Hindus; in Filippi and Dahnhardt 2001, which looks at “crossings” between Sufi and yoga traditions during the 19th century; and in Sen 2017, which considers the contested figure Zafar Khan Ghazi. Mohammad 2013 is an ethnographic study of how forms of “local Islam” (p. 7) are articulated in conversation with Hindu communities and with more globalized forms of Islam in the context of Muharram celebrations in the pilgrimage town of Gugudu, Andhra Pradesh. Similarly, “otherness” is often key to how religious communities articulate a distinct identity and boundaries through hagiographical writing, topics discussed in the following: Dalmia 2014, a study of hagiographies of the Pushtimarg tradition; Hare 2011, a study of the Bhaktamāl and its commentaries; and Pauwels 2010, a study of the Shakta “other” across several hagiographical tradition of North India. Sundaresan 2000 looks at contrasting tellings of Shankaracharya’s life, while Pauwels and Bachrach 2018 look at how early modern vernacular tellings of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s relationship to Vaishnava communities contradict others, such as Persian accounts and contemporary Hindutva narratives. Exploring similar hagiographies that describe the “self” and the “other,” Burchett 2012 compares stories of confrontation and spiritual competition as they appear in medieval and early modern bhakti and Sufi hagiographies. Finally, Monius 2004 considers Cekkilar’s 12th-century Tamil Periyapurāṇam, which portrays Shiva in a way that avoided censure by other powerful religious communities of the time, including the Jains.

  • Burchett, Patton. “My Miracle Trumps Your Magic.” In Yoga Powers: Extraordinary Capacities Attained through Meditation and Concentration. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, 345–380. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.

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    Burchett compares stories of confrontation and spiritual competition—particularly regarding the categories of miracle and magic—as they appear in medieval and early modern bhakti and Sufi hagiographies. In so doing, argues Burchett, we gain a clearer picture of how Sufi traditions and literature (here, namely hagiography) influenced themes in bhakti traditions, and how other traditions, namely tantric yogi and ascetic traditions, are clearly othered.

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  • Dalmia, Vasudha. “Hagiography and the ‘Other’ in the Vallabha Sampradaya.” In Religious Interactions in Mughal India. Edited by Vasudha Dalmia and Munis Daniyal Faruqui, 264–289. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198081678.003.0009Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An account of how hagiographic literature (varta sahitya) specific to the Pushtimargi Vaishnava tradition (also known as the Vallabha Sampradaya), formulated “self” identity vis-à-vis “otherness,” often along the lines of theological difference. Otherness was also a focus of certain hagiographies because of early-modern competition between the Pushtimarg and other devotional traditions for political and financial support from local elites in northwestern India.

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  • Filippi, Gian Giuseppe, and Thomas Dahnhardt. “Ananda Yoga: A Contemporary Crossing between Sufism and Hinduism.” In Charisma and Canon: Essays on the Religious History of the Indian Subcontinent. Edited by Vasudha Dalmia, Angelika Malinar, and Martin Christof, 350–359. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    Looks at “crossings” between Sufi and yoga traditions during the 19th century by studying the formation and development of the Ananda Marg, which initially drew on charismatic figures of the Ramanandi (Hindu) and Naqshbandiya Sufi orders, but by the 1950s rejected Muslim affiliations.

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  • Hare, James. “Contested Communities and the Re-imagination of Nābhādās’ Bhaktamāl.” In Time, History, and the Religious Imaginary in South Asia. Edited by Anne Murphy, 150–166. London: Routledge, 2011.

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    Shows how debates about the boundaries of religious community are exemplified through a 17th-century hagiography, Nabhadas’s Bhaktamāl, and its “most influential commentary,” by Priyadas. Hare argues that the tensions explored in the early modern text and its commentary can be viewed as a debate over the boundaries of what would later be called “Hinduism.”

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  • Loar, Jonathan. “From Neither/Nor to Both/And: Reconfiguring the Life and Legacy of Shirdi Sai Baba in Hagiography.” In Special Issue: Making a Hindu Saint. Edited by Dean Accardi. International Journal of Hindu Studies 22.3 (2018): 411–430.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-018-9246-0Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study of how two 20th-century hagiographic texts (the Marathi Śrī Sāī Satcarita and English Life of Sai Baba) about Shirdi Saint Baba (d. 1918) show the discursive development of the Maharashtrian saint as a primarily Hindu but syncretic figure who embraced a “domesticated Muslim-ness” (p. 493).

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  • Mohammad, Afsar. The Festival of Pirs: Popular Islam and Shared Devotion in South India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199997589.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Mohammad’s ethnographic study considers how forms of “local Islam” (p. 7) are articulated in conversation with Hindu communities and with more globalized forms of Islam in the context of Muharram celebrations in the pilgrimage town of Gugudu, Andhra Pradesh. The book’s five chapters introduce the reader to the complexity of ritual and pilgrimage practices, the local saint Kullayappa, and the politics of debating “true” Islam and normative forms of Hinduism.

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  • Monius, Anne. “Siva as Heroic Father: Theology and Hagiography in Medieval South India.” Harvard Theological Review 97.2 (2004): 165–197.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0017816004000653Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A reading of Cekkilar’s 12th-century Tamil Periyapurāṇam—which recounts the lives of southern Indian Shaiva poet-saints—as a narrative work that also articulates a distinct Shaiva Siddhanta theology. Monius suggests that Cekkilar’s text is self-conscious in light of competing communities, such as the Jains, and in response portrays Shiva as “asexual, martially heroic, and paternal” (p. 197).

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  • Pauwels, Heidi. “Who Are the Enemies of the Bhaktas? Testimony about “Śāktas” and “Others” from Kabīr, the Rāmānandīs, Tulsīdās, and Harirām Vyās.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 130.4 (2010): 509–539.

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    Using poetry attributed to several poet-saints of North India, Pauwels considers issues of identity formation in the late medieval period. Pauwels focuses on how both Ram and Krishna-specific devotional traditions, as well as nirguna voices (e.g., Kabir), “othered” shakta (goddess) traditions in efforts to fashion their own theologies and communities. Pauwels also investigates how the “bhakta’s view of the śākta as ‘other’ relates to views of the ‘Muslim’ as other” (p. 510).

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  • Pauwels, Heidi, and Emilia Bachrach. “Aurangzeb as Iconoclast? Vaishnava Accounts of the Krishna Images’ Exodus from Braj.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 28.3 (2018): 485–508.

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    Surveys a number of Braj Bhasha hagiographic texts to examine how Krishna devotional communities (Gaudiya and Pushtimarg) viewed the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s position in relationship to the movement of Krishna images during the early modern period. Complicates contemporary Hindutva-driven readings of Aurangzeb as iconoclast by looking closely at vernacular accounts from manuscripts and early printed editions.

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  • Prill, Susan. “Representing Sainthood in India: Sikh and Hindu Visions of Namdev.” Material Religion 5.2 (2009): 156–179.

    DOI: 10.2752/174322009X12448040551602Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study of how poet-saint Namdev has been variously represented in poster and calendar art, with a focus on such representations specific to two Punjabi shrines. One shrine, at Ghaman, is frequented primarily by Sikhs, and the other, in Bassi Pathana, primarily attracts Hindu devotees. Prill suggests that these mediums of visual culture are a primary site of negotiating Sikh and Hindu community identities and sainthood more broadly.

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  • Sen, Sudipta. “Betwixt Hindus and Muslims: The Many Lives of Zafar Khan, Ghazi of Tribeni.” Asian Ethnology 76.2 (2017): 213–234.

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    A study of hagiographic accounts about the 13th-century figure Zafar Khan Ghazi, who has been remembered and memorialized in various and conflicting ways by his followers and detractors. Sen uses a study of Zafar Khan’s tomb, constructed on temple ruins, and depictions of Khan in contemporary Bengali poetry (mangalakabya) to explore the “syncretic” nature of the saint.

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  • Sundaresan, Vidyasankar. “Conflicting Hagiographies and History: The Place of Śaṅkaravijaya Texts in Advaita Tradition.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 4.2 (2000): 109–184.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-000-0004-7Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Considers competing accounts of the life of Shankaracharya (b. c. 788–d. 820 CE) in texts known as Śaṅkaravijayas, particularly in relationship to emergent accounts from the Dashanami sampradaya. Attempts to shed light on these lesser known contemporary variants of Shankara’s hagiographies.

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Translations

Translations of significant hagiographic texts are sometimes included in the appendices of monographs, perhaps reflecting a regrettable devaluing of translation projects as academically worthy on their own terms. This is the case for the expert translation of Cekkilar’s 12th-century Tamil hagiography of the 6th-century female poet-saint Karaikkal Ammaiyar in Pechilis 2012. Likewise, Barz 1992 includes only a small selection of original translations from the Braj Bhasha Caurāsī Vaiṣṇavan kī Vārtā, and Schreiner and Jani 2017 provides only a summary, rather than a full translation, of the Sanskrit Satsaṅgijīvanam, an account of the life of Sahajanand Swami (b. 1781–d. 1830). More robust translation projects include Dimock 1999, a translation of the Caitanya Caritāṃrta of Krishnadas Kaviraj; Stewart 2004, which includes translations of eight Bengali hagiographies of Satya Pir (or Satya Narayan); Lorenzen, et al. 1991, a translation of the 16th-century Kabīr Parachāī, a Hindi verse hagiography of the northern Indian poet-saint Kabir; Manring 2011, which features translations of three hagiographies of the Bengali Vaishnava figure Advaita Acharya (b. 1434–d. 1559); Shulman 1990, a translation of the Shaiva Nayanar saint Cuntarmurtti’s one hundred Tamil devotional poems to Shiva; McGlashan 2006, a translation of the 12th-century Tamil Periya Purāṇam, attributed to Cekkilar; and Somnatha, et al. 1990, a translation of the Basava Purāṇa, a 13th-century Telugu collection of hagiographies about primary Kannada-speaking poet-saints of the medieval Virashaiva tradition. Finally, Gold 1995 provides a welcome contribution of translations from oral accounts: three stories recorded by Gold in 1980 about the goddess Mother Ten (associated with Sitala, the goddess of smallpox) and her (mostly female) devotees. All translations discussed here are translations from Indian languages into English.

  • Barz, Richard. The Bhakti Sect of Vallabhācārya. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1992.

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    Includes an introduction to the Pushtimarg (Vallabha Sampradaya) established by Vaishnava theologian Vallabhacharya in the 16th century. The second part of the book includes an introduction to and translations of four accounts from the Caurāsī Vaiṣṇavan kī Vārtā, “A Chronicle of 84 Vaishnavas,” which offers hagiographies of those said to have been Vallabhacharya’s beloved disciples. The four figures whose hagiographies are translated are the poet-saints Surdas, Kumbhandas, Paramanandadas, and Krishnadas.

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  • Dimock, Edward C., Jr., trans. The Caitanya Caritāṃrta of Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja. Edited by Tony K. Stewart. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1999.

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    English translation and commentary of the most authoritative Bengali hagiography of Gaudiya Vaishnava saint Caitanya by Krishnadas Kaviraj. The translation includes in-depth notes along with a robust bibliography that includes a list of other hagiographies (in Sanskrit and Bengali) of Caitanya. A full introduction to Kaviraj’s text situates the translation in its literary, historical, and religious context.

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  • Gold, Ann Grodzins, trans. “Mother Ten’s Stories.” In Religions of India in Practice. Edited by Donald S. Lopez Jr., 434–448. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

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    A translation of three stories recorded by Gold in 1980 about the goddess Mother Ten (associated with Sitala, the goddess of smallpox) and her (mostly female) devotees. The stories were told during the Ganguar festival in Rajasthan. Gold introduces the translations, discussing the ways in which the stories and the context of their telling reflect the intermingling of hagiography, goddess worship, and gendered ritual practice. Accessible for undergraduate teaching.

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  • Lorenzen, David N., trans., with Jagdish Kumar, and Uma Thukral. Kabir Legends and Ananta-das’s Kabir Parachai, with a Translation of the Kabir Parachai. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

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    English translation of the 16th-century Kabīr Parachāī, a Hindi verse hagiography of the North Indian poet-saint Kabir. In addition to the translation itself, there are four chapters that introduce the reader to other accounts of Kabir’s life and the social and historical contexts of his hagiographers. There is also a summary of the manuscript history for the recension of the Parachāī used for the translation.

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  • Manring, Rebecca, trans. The Fading Light of Advaita Acarya: Three Hagiographies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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    Full English translations (the first of their kind) of three hagiographies (Advaita Maṅgala, Bālya-Līlā-Sūtra, and Advaita Prakāśa) of the Bengali Vaishnava figure Advaita Acharya (b. 1434–d. 1559). Manring introduces the translations with a useful chapter, “A Case Study in Hagiography,” which invites readers to engage with the following narratives according to the “genre,” as well as the social and historical contexts of their authorship.

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  • McGlashan, Alastair, trans. The History of the Holy Servants of the Lord Siva: A Translation of the Periya Purāṇam of Cēkkil̲ār. Victoria, BC: Trafford Publishing, 2006.

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    A complete English translation of the 12th-century Tamil Periya Purāṇam, attributed to Cekkilar. This key text for Shaivism and Tamil literature offers hagiographies of the sixty-three Nayanmar Shaiva poet-saints who lived between the 6th and 9th centuries. McGlashan’s introduction provides historical context as well as the translator’s own analysis of significant themes—sometimes comparative (e.g., with Christian traditions) and other times drawing heavily from the tradition’s own understanding of itself.

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  • Pechilis, Karen, trans. Interpreting Devotion: The Poetry and Legacy of a Female Bhakti Saint of India. New York: Routledge, 2012.

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    Includes two appendices, one with translations of 6th-century female poet-saint Karaikkal Ammaiyar’s poems translated from Tamil to English, and one of her 12th-century hagiography by male biographer Cekkilar (also Tamil to English).

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  • Schreiner, Peter and Jaydev A. Jani, trans. The Satsaṅgijīvanam by Śatānanda: The Life and Teachings of Swaminarayan. Heidelberg, Germany: CrossAsia E-Publishing, 2017.

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    An English summary of the contents of the Satsaṅgijīvanam, a Sanskrit account of the life Sahajanand Swami (b. 1781–d. 1830), founder of Swaminarayan Hinduism. Situates the text in its time and outlines its significance in the history of religion in Gujarat. Includes an index.

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  • Shulman, David Dean, trans. Songs of the Harsh Devotee: The Tēvāram of Cuntarmūrttināyaṉār. Philadelphia: Department of South Asia Regional Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 1990.

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    Offers an English translation of the Shaiva Nayanar saint Cuntarmurtti’s Tēvāram—one hundred Tamil devotional poems to Shiva. The book includes a robust introduction, which discusses the poetry of Cuntarmurtti (also known as Cuntarar) in relationship to other prominent Shaiva Tamil poets. Shulman also offers annotations that follow each poem. As the book’s title suggests, Shulman describes the poems as “bitterly personal” and “in a word, ‘harsh,’ as Śaiva tradition has always recognized” (p. xvi).

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  • Somnatha, Palakuriki, Velcheru Naryana Rao, and Gene H. Roghair, trans. Śiva’s Warriors: The Basava Purāṇa of Pālkuriki Somanātha. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

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    The translators offer the first English translation of the Basava Purāṇa, a 13th-century Telugu collection of hagiographies about primary Kannada-speaking poet-saints of the medieval Virashaiva tradition. In addition to their scholarly and graceful translation, the translators provide a helpful introduction that details the history and theology of Virashaivism, the Basava Purāṇa’s poetic genre, and the context from which its author, Palkuriki Somanatha, wrote.

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  • Stewart, Tony K., trans. Fabulous Females and Peerless Pirs: Tales of Mad Adventure in Old Bengal (Satya Pir). New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    English translations of eight Bengali hagiographies (from 20th-century print editions and 18th- and 19th-century manuscripts) of Satya Pir (or Satya Narayan), who crossed boundaries, drawing devotees from Vaishnava Hinduism and Islam. The translated narratives do not focus on particular religious affiliations, but rather on the adventurous, miraculous, and mischievous qualities of the saint. Though background on the narratives is provided, the bibliography points to other sources for richer contextualization.

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