Hinduism Nirañjanī Sampradāy
by
Tyler Williams
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 March 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0238

Introduction

Believed to have been founded by the saint-poet Svāmī Haridās (d. 1601?) in the late 16th or early 17th century, the Nirañjanī Sampradāy is one of the bhakti communities associated with the so-called nirguṇ sant movement that began in northern India sometime in the 15th century. The Sampradāy, which consists of both monastic initiates and lay followers, flourished during the 17th and 18th centuries in what is now Rajasthan, during which time it also established monastic outposts at locations as distant as Aurangabad and the Narmada River valley. Nirañjanī hagiographical traditions acknowledge the community’s early connections with the Nāth Sampradāya and with the Dādū Panth, another nirguṇ sant tradition that arose at roughly the same time as the Nirañjanī Sampradāy. These close connections are also reflected in the literature, theology, and practices of the sect, which combine Vaishnava bhakti with aspects of yoga as well as elements adapted from Sufi traditions. After the passing of Haridās, the monastic order expanded quickly in a decentralized fashion, with several of Haridās’s direct disciples founding monastic centers and lineages in different parts of Rajasthan (and eventually in Hyderabad as well). Among the later monastic disciples were several prominent saint-poets, including Santadās, Turasīdās, Manoharadās, Bhagavānadās, Dhyānadās, and Harirāmadās. Importantly, the Nirañjanīs also give prominence to Pannājī, an 18th-century female saint, and recognize several other female saints as being part of the tradition. Although the Nirañjanīs themselves were prolific writers, very little material by or about the Nirañjanīs is available in published form. This article lists the few original works of scholarship that have been produced on the Sampradāy in Hindi and in English along with any relevant primary sources that have been published.

Overviews

Nirañjanī tradition asserts that the community was founded by the robber-turned-saint Haridās sometime around the turn of the 17th century, but some modern scholars have argued for possibly earlier sectarian origins in medieval Orissa and Bengal. Haridās and subsequent Nirañjanī poets preach devotion to the formless, nirguṇ (“without qualities”), and ineffable Nirañjan (or Rām), prescribing both yogic practice and the cultivation of love (prem). The primary forms of ritual practice in the Sampradāy have historically been the singing of hymns, teaching through the use of epigrammatic poetry, yogic meditation, and the study of written texts. Although the first mention of the Sampradāy in a scholarly work appeared in 1930 (see Barthwal 1978, cited under Nirañjanī Tradition and the Bhakti Movement), the first attempt to give an overview of the tradition as a whole appeared in Caturvedī 1965 (originally 1951). The most detailed study of the Sampradāy is found in the introduction to Maṅgaladās 1962. Maṅgaladās, himself a monk of the Sampradāy, worked with the manuscript archives of both his own community and those of the closely related Dādū Panth to produce an impressive volume that is both an anthology of Nirañjanī writings and a spiritual genealogy of the Sampradāy’s many saints and monks. This volume remains the primary source for information about the Nirañjanī Sampradāy to this day. The lack of research on the tradition as a whole is striking given the importance accorded to it in surveys of late medieval and early modern Hinduism in North India (see Nirañjanī Tradition and the Bhakti Movement) and the publication of several monographs on individual Nirañjanī authors (see Poets and Literature and Published Editions). The only two studies of the Sampradāy published in the past half century are Miśra 1998 and Kasānā 2006.

  • Caturvedī, Puraśurām. Uttarī Bhārat Kī Sant-Paramparā. 2d ed. Allahabad, India: Bhāratī Bhaṇḍār, 1965.

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    Originally published in 1951 and drawing heavily on hagiographical sources—particularly Rāghavadās 1965 (cited under History and Hagiography)— Caturvedī suggests that the Nirañjanī Sampradāy’s roots lie in the Nāth Sampradāy, spreading all the way to Orissa, and that the community became organized into a proper “sampradāy” only in the early 17th century. He also gives a synoptic overview of the tradition’s most prominent saints and addresses the disputed relationship between Haridās and the Dādū Panth.

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  • Kasānā, Bhaṃvar. Nirañjanī Panth. Didvana, India: College Book House, 2006.

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    Based on oral histories collected from members of the Sampradāy and on the author’s observation of contemporary practices, this brief monograph in Marwari—the language spoken in most areas where the Nirañjanīs are present—provides an introduction to the Sampradāy’s history and beliefs.

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  • Maṅgaladās, Svāmī. Śrī Mahārāj Haridāsajī Kī Vāṇī. Jaipur, India: Nikhil Bhāratīya Nirañjanī Mahāsabhā, 1962.

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    This large anthology includes the poetry of not only Haridās but of dozens of other Nirañjanī saints as well. It contains the entire text of Raghunāthadās’s hagiography of Haridās (see History and Hagiography) and excerpts from other hagiographical works. The introduction provides a detailed history of the community and genealogy of its various guru-disciple lineages.

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  • Miśra, Ratanalāl. Nirañjanī Sampradāy: Sādhanā Evaṃ Sāhitya. Rajasthan, India: Mahāmāyā Mandir, 1998.

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    In addition to synthesizing information on, and theories about, the early history of the Sampradāy as put forward by earlier scholars, Miśra offers interesting new information about the Nirañjanīs in Rajasthan collected from oral sources and inscriptions.

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The Nirañjanī Tradition and the Bhakti Movement

The relationship between the Nirañjanī Sampradāy and the so-called bhakti movement (see the Oxford Bibliographies article “‘Bhakti Movement’ Narratives” for more on that particular formulation) is a complicated one: while there is much that connects the Nirañjanīs theologically, aesthetically, and ritually with their more Vaishnava brethren, they are just as closely linked with the Nāths and the more yogically inclined monastic orders of the northern region. As mentioned above, there is also evidence of a Sufi influence on the thought and lexicon of the Nirañjanīs. The few modern scholars who have written about the Nirañjanī Sampradāy consequently tend to characterize it as a type of “middle path” or suture between the religion of the heart; that is, the prem-mārg or bhakti, and the religion of the mind (i.e., the jñān-mārg or yoga). The first mentions of the Nirañjanī tradition in modern scholarship appear in early-20th-century works on “medieval mysticism” and the bhakti movement, and reflect this understanding of the Nirañjanīs as representing a liminal tradition. Sen 1929 (later translated into English as Sen 1974) locates the origins of the tradition in northeastern India and its modern remnants in Rajasthan, suggesting that the Sampradāy was both an inspiration for the 15th-century nirguṇ saint Kabīr as well as an outgrowth of the religious ideas of Kabīr and the Vaishnava saint Rāmānanda. Barthwal 1978 (a 1930 PhD dissertation subsequently published in monograph form) characterizes the Nirañjanīs as a distinct philosophical and theological “school” in parallel to the schools of the nirguṇ saint poets and the Sufis; Barthwal places the thought of the Nirañjanīs somewhere between that of the Shaivite Nāth tradition and that of later Advaita Vedānta.

  • Barthwal, Pitambardatt. Traditions of Indian Mysticism Based upon Nirguna School of Hindi Poetry. New Delhi, India: Heritage Publishers, 1978.

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    Originally published as The Nirguna School of Hindi Poetry: An Exposition of Medieval Indian Santa Mysticism (Banaras: Indian Bookshop, 1936). In the introductory section of this survey of nirguṇ saints, the Nirañjanīs are treated more as a tradition of thought than as a formal sampradāy. Although he gives few details about individual Nirañjanī saints or works, Barthwal provides a subtle evaluation of how the Nirañjanīs’ theology and philosophy fit into the broader picture of precolonial North Indian religion.

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  • Sen, Kshitimohan. Bhāratīya Madhyayuge Sādhanār Dhārā. Calcutta, India: Lekhak Samavāy Samiti, 1929.

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    Like Barthwal, Sen’s primary concern with the Nirañjanīs is where they fit within an intellectual history of mystical thought; nevertheless, he provides interesting insights into affinities between the Nirañjanīs of Rajasthan and their peers in eastern India.

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  • Sen, Kshitimohan. Medieval Mysticism of India. Translated by Manomohan Ghosh. New Delhi, India: Oriental Books Reprint Corp., 1974.

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    Originally published in London by Luzac, 1936. In this translated and revised version of Sen 1929, Sen posits an origin for the Nirañjanī Sampradāy in Orissa and Bengal, suggesting that the order later moved west to Rajasthan and Punjab.

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History and Hagiography

The primary material for reconstructing the history of the Nirañjanī Sampradāy—other than the poetry of its saints—is the body of hagiographical works produced by and about the Sampradāy’s members. The earliest such source, the Bhaktamāl of Rāghavadās (1660), comes not from the Nirañjanī tradition itself, but from its close cousin, the Dādū Panth. In addition to describing several Nirañjanī saints, Rāghavadās also characterizes the Nirañjanī Sampradāy as part of a fourfold nirguṇ catuḥ-sampradāy that parallels the famous catuḥ-sampradāy, or “four great sampradāyas,” of Vaishnavism. Two hagiographical works by Nirañjanī authors deal exclusively with the life of Haridās: the Dayālajī Kī Pañc Paricay (early 1700s) of Harirāmadās, which is excerpted in Maṅgaladās 1962, and the Paracay (c. 1800) of Raghunāthadās, reproduced in its entirety in the same volume. The only other known hagiographical works by Nirañjanī authors are the Santadās Kī Paricay (1775–1776) of Rupadās and Bhaktamāl (1826–1827) of Pyārerām, both of which are excerpted and discussed in Maṅgaladās 1962. The geographical and social expansion of the Sampradāy in the 17th and 18th century came about through cooperation between merchant communities of the region and the Sampradāy’s monastic leadership; an outline of this history is given in Williams 2019b. Additional details regarding the early history of the Sampradāy and the relationship between its monastic order and merchant communities may be found in Williams 2019a.

  • Maṅgaladās, Svāmī. Śrī Mahārāj Haridāsajī Kī Vāṇī. Jaipur, India: Nikhil Bhāratīya Nirañjanī Mahāsabhā, 1962.

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    This anthology includes brief introductions to, and excerpts from, hagiographies of Nirañjanī saints composed by Raghunāthadās, Rupadās, and Pyārerām, in addition to a substantial discussion of the early history of the Sampradāy.

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  • Rāghavadās. Bhaktamāl. Edited by Agaracand Nahāṭā. Jodhpur, India: Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute (Rajasthān Prācyavidyā Pratiṣṭhān), 1965.

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    Nirañjanī poets are included among the hundreds of saints extolled in this work from 1660, which follows the model of the Rāmānandī poet Nābhādās’s Bhaktamāl (c. 1600). The Nirañjanī Sampradāy is given special mention as one of four great nirguṇ sampradāys but somewhat mysteriously Rāghavadās lists “twelve mahants” belonging to the Sampradāy, none of whom find mention in any other text. Agaracand Nahāṭā’s introduction to the work also discusses Nirañjanī hagiographical compositions.

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  • Williams, Tyler. “Notes of Exchange: Scribal Practices and Vernacular Religious Scholarship in Early Modern North India.” Manuscript Studies 3.2 (2019a): 265–301.

    DOI: 10.1353/mns.2018.0016Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Discusses how monks of the Nirañjanī Sampradāy (and their colleagues and competitors in other sectarian orders during the 17th and 18th centuries) forged intellectual and social relationships through the production and circulation of copies of scholarly works.

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  • Williams, Tyler. “The Ties That Bind: Individual, Family and Community in Northwestern Bhakti.” In Bhakti and Power: Social Location and Public Affect in India’s Religion of the Heart. Edited by John S. Hawley, Christian L. Novetzke, and Swapna Sharma, 192–202. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2019b.

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    Nirguṇ bhakti traditions like that of the Nirañjanī Sampradāy are typically characterized as appealing to subaltern social groups, but this close study of hagiographical and poetic works suggests that the Nirañjanīs’ emphasis on the spiritual agency of the individual, even when exercised within the material limits of the joint family economic unit, had a particular appeal for merchants.

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Poets and Literature

The Nirañjanī Sampradāy produced several prolific poets and scholars whose compositions appear to have enjoyed wide popularity among different social groups of the region, including peasants, merchants, and members of royal courts. Despite the popularity and richness of this body of literature—which includes hymns, hagiographies, works on yoga and Advaita Vedānta, literary treatises, and Hindi commentaries on a range of Sanskrit works—Nirañjanī authors have remained largely neglected in modern scholarship and only a few printed editions of Nirañjanī works have been produced (see Published Editions). The first modern publication to mention Nirañjanī poets is the encyclopedic anthology of Hindi poets Miśra, et al. 1972 (originally published in 1913), which contains brief entries for Harirāmadās, Manoharadās, Bhagavānadās, and Rūpadās, as well as an entry for a poet named Tulasīdās (distinct from the author of the Rāmacaritamānas), who may be Turasīdās Nirañjanī. Barthwal 1978 (originally 1940) is the first source to give details of Nirañjanī poets and their works. The latter half of the 20th century saw the publication of a handful of monographs on Nirañjanī poets, including Miśra 1963, More 1977, and Śāstrī 1974, and one survey of Nirañjanī poets, Śukla 1974. A recent surge in interest regarding the Nirañjanīs has produced new work, like Williams 2018 and Nehā Baid’s informative introductions to Harirāmadās’s poetry (see Harirāmadās 2015, cited under Published Editions).

  • Barthwal, Pitambardatt (Pītambaradatt Baṛathvāl). “Kuch Nirañjanī Santoṃ Kī Bāṇiyāṃ.” In Pītambaradatt Baṛathvāl Ke Śreṣṭh Nibandh. Edited by Govind Catak, 49–62. New Delhi, India: Takṣila Prakaśan, 1978.

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    Originally given as the keynote lecture of the Oriental Conference at Tirupati in 1940, this survey of Nirañjanī authors is based on the author’s pathbreaking philological work in the 1920s and 1930s. It mentions several Nirañjanī works that have yet to receive any subsequent scholarly attention.

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  • Miśra, Bhagīrath. Nirañjanī Sampradāy Aur Sant Turasīdās Nirañjanī. Lucknow, India: Lakhanaū Viśvavidyālaya, 1963.

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    Turasīdās Nirañjanī (fl. late 17th century) composed poetry that was not only popular among lay audiences, but also fused the yogic and Vaishnava beliefs of the Sampradāy with elements of Advaita Vedānta. Miśra, a student of Barthwal, grounds his analysis of Turasīdās’s theological innovations in a rigorous study of the available manuscript material.

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  • Miśra, Gaṇeśavihārī, Śyāmabihārī Miśra, and Śukadevabihārī Miśra. Miśrabandhu Vinod. Hyderabad, India: Gaṅgā-Granthāgār, 1972.

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    Originally published in 1913. In accordance with the work’s style as a taẓkīrah-like anthology of Hindi poets, short biographical entries are given for several Nirañjanī authors, including Harirāmadās, Manoharadās, Bhagavānadās, and Rūpadās. Unfortunately, errors in the sources consulted by the authors appears to have led to the occasional misidentification of these Nirañjanī authors with other poets having the same name.

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  • More, S. H. Sevādās Nirañjanī: Vyaktitva Evaṃ Kr̥titva: Ek Anuśīlan. Mathura, India: Javahar Pustakalaya, 1977.

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    A study of the popular 18th-century saint Sevādās, whose poems are found in manuscript form all over Rajasthan and parts of modern-day Uttar Pradesh. Attention is given to the theological and aesthetic distinctiveness of Sevadās’s poetry, which helped to establish the popularity of the Nirañjanī Sampradāy in the region.

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  • Śāstrī, Satyanarāyaṇ. Santakavi Turasīdās Nirañjanī: Sāhitya Aur Siddhānt. Kanpur, India: Sāhitya Niketan, 1974.

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    Śāstrī provides another analysis of the influential Nirañjanī saint Turasīdās’s works, giving attention to his synthesis of yogic and Vedantic thought with bhakti.

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  • Śukla, Sāvitrī. Nirañjanī Sampradāy Ke Hindī Kavi. Bhopal, India: Madhyapradeś Śāsan Sāhitya Pariṣad, 1974.

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    This encyclopedia of Nirañjanī poets collates information about Nirañjanī authors and works from numerous scholarly and hagiographical sources. Although little new information is offered, the book constitutes a helpful reference work for scholars approaching the Nirañjanīs’ sizable literary archive.

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  • Williams, Tyler. “Commentary as Translation: The Vairāgya Vr̥nd of Bhagvandas Niranjani.” In Text and Tradition in Early Modern North India. Edited by Tyler Williams, Anshu Malhotra, and John S. Hawley, 99–125. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199478866.003.0005Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The 17th-century Nirañjanī monk Bhagavānadās was a capable poet in Hindi as well as a scholar of Sanskrit; among his many works scholarly works is the Vairāgya Vr̥nd, a commentary on the Vairāgya Śataka of Bhartr̥hari. The essay demonstrates how Bhagavānadās’s commentary transforms Bhartr̥hari’s literary anthology into a work of theology for monastic and householder audiences.

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Published Editions

The vast majority of Nirañjanī works—including hymns, epigrams, theological and philosophical tracts, and a large body of Hindi commentaries on and translations of Sanskrit religious and literary works—remains unpublished, waiting in the manuscript libraries of North India for scholarly attention. Nevertheless, a few Nirañjanī works are currently available in printed form thanks to the philological work of Nehā Baid (see Harirāmadās 2011 and Harirāmadās 2015) and scholarly interest in Anantadas’s hagiography of Kabīr (Lorenzen 1991). As mentioned above, the Śrī Mahārāj Haridāsajī Kī Vāṇī (Maṅgaladās 1962, cited under Overviews) contains dozens of Nirañjanī works in both full and excerpted form; happily, a new edition of this collection has been published by Sāṃvaradās Śāstrī, a monk of the Sampradāy (see Maṅgaladās 2014).

  • Harirāmadās. Santakavi Harirāmadās Nirañjanī Kr̥t Chandaratnāvalī: Samīkṣā Evaṃ Sampādan. Edited by Nehā Baid. Jodhpur, India: Rājasthānī Granthāgār, 2011.

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    The Chandaratnāvalī (1738) is a unique work of literary theory that presents the science of prosody in the context of nirguṇ bhakti. Baid’s introduction provides important details about the Sampradāy and Harirāmadās’s ourvre. Includes a critical edition of the text.

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  • Harirāmadās. Santakavi Harirāmadās Nirañjanī Praṇit Nāmaprakāś. Edited by Nehā Baid. Jodhpur, India: Royal Publications, 2015.

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    The Nāmaprakāś (c. 1720) is a Hindi adaptation of the Sanskrit Viṣṇusahasranāma with notable innovations. Includes a critical edition of the text.

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  • Lorenzen, David N., ed. and trans. Kabir Legends and Ananta-Das’s Kabir Parachai. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

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    Although composed by the non-Nirañjanī author Anantadas, this hagiography of the 15th-century saint Kabīr has become associated with the Nirañjanīs due to the particularities of the recension preserved in the Sampradāy. Lorenzen provides a critical edition and translation of the text.

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  • Maṅgaladās, Svāmī. Śrī Mahārāj Haridāsajī Kī Vāṇī. Nawalgarh, India: Mahāmāyā Mandir, 2014.

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    A new edition of Maṅgaladās’s anthology of Nirañjanī works, re-edited by Sāṃvaradās Śāstrī of the Nirañjanī Sampradāy. There are some differences in content between this edition and Maṅgaladās’s original, and this edition is presented in the form of two volumes rather than one.

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  • Nṛsiṃhadās, Svāmī. Nirañjan Nitya-Niyam Pāṭh. Rajasthan, India: Nicharāval Pustak Prakāśan, 1971.

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    This small hymnal is one of the few available printed materials containing hymns and epigrams performed in the Nirañjanī Sampradāy during the modern period. The hymnal continues to be used during communal worship and is therefore essential to any study of the contemporary Sampradāy.

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