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Who are the enemies of the bhaktas? Testimony about "saktas" and "Others" from Kabir, the Ramanandis, Tulsidas, and Hariram Vyas.


It is becoming clear that religious identities that have hardened in modern times cannot be projected back unproblematically onto the past. Current perceptions of religious demarcations, especially the dichotomy between Hinduism and Islam, do not hold good for the premodern or even early modern period (Alam 1989; Gilmartin and Lawrence 2000; Mittal 2003; Khan 2004). Rather than postulating a binary, newer scholarly approaches conceive of a continuum of religious expression with porous religious boundaries. At a popular level it seems that formal adherence to a great religion was less important than what inspired and what worked.

That is not to say that there is no evidence of religious enmity, some of which can be investigated by asking how the "self" was demarcated from "the other"? In this paper I seek to contribute to the rethinking of the monolithic category of "Hinduism," by investigating one of the fault-lines within that category and comparing that with the fault-line between Hinduism and Islam. Instead of asking which Hindus and Muslims have coexisted peacefully and which ones have been inimical (see, e.g., Khan 2004: 4), I will examine which of the multiple groups now regarded as Hindu regarded each other with hostility. I am thus following Jacqueline Hirst, who has investigated premodern and modern views of "the other," revealing how these shift over time (Hirst 2008).

I will focus on issues of identity formation for the now arguably mainstream devotional trend in Hinduism, bhakti. Here Vasudha Dalmia has been a trailblazer by looking at perspectives on conversion in the seventeenth-century hagiographies of the Krishna devotional Vallabha Sampradaya (Dalmia 2006). I will study slightly earlier bhakti authors of different sectarian adherence, of the fifteenth and sixteenth century, to see whom they considered to be "the other." Which practitioners did they consider inimical to their own beliefs? Did Islam figure prominently? Using terms from Hirst (2008): who was the "opponent other," with whom one could have disagreement while working within a basic joint frame of reference, as opposed to the "wholly other," who remains outside the field of discourse? My investigation aims in particular to bring to scholarly attention an often-neglected category that nevertheless figured prominently in bhakti rhetorics, namely the sakta. (1)

Diatribes against saktas are widespread throughout North Indian bhakti texts, in nirguna as well as in Rama and Krishna bhakti. I will investigate each category in turn, using the examples of Kablr, Tulsidas, and Hariram Vyas respectively, examining their poetry as well as early hagiographical material about these bhaktas. (2) Moreover, I will examine denunciations of groups not explicitly identified as sakta but assigned characteristics attributed to saktas elsewhere. These characteristics are, first, a religious preference, namely the worship of goddesses (sakti), which often entails blood-sacrifice; hence the second, related, characteristic, a dietary distinction, the consumption of meat. Further, the term sakta often implies sexual ritual praxis, interpreted by outsiders as sexually loose mores. (3) All of these elements have an unorthodox, non-Brahminical ring and are often associated with low-caste practice.4 However, it is not merely that the sakta is considered unorthodox, as the bhakta does not hesitate to make fun of orthodox ritualists either. Thus, this paper seeks to lay out how saktas and practices associated with them were regarded in North Indian bhakti communities during the fifteenth and sixteenth century. In addition, I will also investigate how the bhakta's view of the sakta as "other" relates to that of the "Muslim" as other.

Throughout my investigation of the boundaries of the bhakti community, I will pay attention to what constitutes the discursive field for bhakti. Some of the questions raised: What terms were used for "others" and what linguistic registers chosen? What genres were selected: narrative, proverbial pithy saying, or hymn? What musical or metrical compositions were the vehicles of such expressions? This will give us some hints about the performance context. Who would have understood the texts? Were they intended for a public or private context: in the bazaar, at the ghats in a place of pilgrimage, in a temple, private house, or court? Who were the audiences addressed, potential prominent sponsors or the rank and file? Finally, why were these groups targeted? In excluding others, what communities were affirmed or created, with appeal to what identities of the audience? Was the goal to establish a new community, a new allegiance of the audience, or to keep believers within the fold? In other words, I seek to lay bare the techniques and discursive stratagems at play in the game of defining the religious other and thereby one's own identity.


Say "Kablr" and people think immediately of poems in which he equates Hindu and Turk and sees both communities as equally misguided. Such poems seem to confirm the Hinduism/Islam binary, yet also to transcend it. Since the most famous poems attributed to him reject both forms of orthodox religion and preach a religion of the heart, many consider Kablr an "apostle of peace" between the two communities. If his sermons get sarcastic and his tone is not exactly conciliatory, he can be forgiven, because, after all, he is attacking the establishment. We can even celebrate him as a subaltern voice opposing the status quo.

It may then come as an unpleasant surprise that at times Kablr with equal vehemence opposed non-orthodox groups within the Hindu sphere that he considered the bhakta's enemies. Yet quite a few poems attributed to Kablr contain vitriolic diatribes against saktas. Such poems are attested early on and are often shared by the different branches that have transmitted his work. Several of the verses quoted below are found in at least two of the three major corpora of Kabir's work: most are found in the northern recension of the Sikhs, abbreviated as GG, or Guru Granth Sahib, and the western recension of the Dadu Panthis and Niranjani Panth, exemplified by KG, or Kabir Granthavall (see Tivari 1961). Some in addition appear also in the eastern recension of the Kabir Panth, known as the Bijak, abbreviated as B.5 References to the Guru Granth Sahib are uniform for any edition (now also online at ); references to B and KG are to the edition that brings the eastern and western recensions together (Callewaert and Op de Beeck 1991) unless otherwise indicated.

Denunciation of saktas is a popular theme in Kabir's pithy distychs, called sakhi or doha, a genre of verse that is a vehicle for sarcasm par excellence. I will start with some quite biting dohas.

From Samca Camnaka kau Amga:
  bai snaum kl kukari bhali, sakata kl burl mai
  vaha baithi harijasa sunaim, vaha papa bisahanajai (KG 21.10 = GG
  saloka 52, p. 1367) (6)
  Better a Vaisnava's she-dog than a s'akta's bad mother:
  The first will hear Hari's praise just sitting around; the other
  runs to invite sin!
  sakata te sukara bhala, rakhai sued gamum
  sakata bapura. mari gaya, koi na leihai namum (KG 21.12 = GG
  143, p. 1372)
  A pig is better than a sdkta: (at least) it keeps the village clean.
  When the wretched sdkta dies, no one remembers his name.

These strong words fit the familiar Kabirian reputation for sarcasm. The sakta's loose dietary habits and sexual morals are implicit in the comparisons of the sakta to a pig, indiscriminately eating everything, and his mother to a bitch, sleeping around.

From Jlvata Mrta kau Amga:
  samta muem kya roie, jo apanaim ghari jai
  rovahu sakata bapuraiju, hatai hati bikai (KG 19.3= GG
  16, p. 1365)
  If a holy man dies, why cry? He returned home.
  Cry for the wretc hed sakta: sold in the market once again.

Here the sakta is contrasted with the truly liberated Sant or sadhw. the sakta will be reborn in sansara, whereas the really holy man will go to God for good.

From Samgati kau amga:
  marl marum kusamga ki, kera kathaim beri
  va hdlai va clriai, sakata samga niberi (KG 24.2 = GG saloka 88, p.
  1369 = B 242)
  I'm dying of bad company, like the plantain cut by the jujube;
  When one moves, the other is cut: [thus] sever contact with saktas.
  sadhu ki samgati rahau, jau ki bhusi khau
  khira khamda bhojana milai, sakata samga najau (KG 24.6 = GG 99, p.
  Keep the company of holy men, even if it means subsisting on chaff!
  Even for feasting on kheer and sugar, do not go near a sakta!

From Sadha Mahima kau Amga
  sakata bamhmana matimilai, baisanaum milai camdala
  amkamala dai bhetie, mdmnaum mile gopala (KG 4.39)
  Don't consort with a sakta Brahmin, prefer a Vaisnava (be he a)
  Embrace him tightly: it's like meeting God.

These dohas are exhortations to shun saktas, who are characterized as inherently harmful. The injunction to avoid saktas resembles instructions in orthodox Hinduism to shun low castes. However, the last verse indicates that low-caste Vaisnavas are to be embraced and, in contrast, that even Brahmins can be sakta, so the term is not a straightforward caste qualifier. Rather, saktas are reviled for polluting the soul, not the body.

This is a well-represented sentiment, as the first doha is found in all three recensions, and the second in two. The western Kabir recension seems to have been especially fond of this type of doha. Besides the poem quoted above (KG 4.39), it has three extra dohas not attested in either of the other recensions:
  bhagata hajari kapara, tamaim mala na samdi
  sdkata kali kdmari, bhdvai tahdrn bichai (KG 4.34)
  The devotee is a precious cloth: dirt cannot touch it;
  The sakta is a black cloak: spread wherever one likes.

  camdana ki kutaki bhall, nam babura lakharamva
  sadhuna ki chapari bhall nam sdkata kau bara gamva (KG 4.37)
  Better a snippet of sandalwood than a dense garden of Babuls;
  Better humble huts of a holy men than a sakta's rich village!

  kabira sdsata ki sahhd, turn mati baithaijai
  eka guvddai kyum banaim, rojha gadahard gdi (KG 25.9)
  Kabir (says): you should not sit down in an assembly of sdktas.
  How would a wild antelope, a donkey, and a cow make up one cow
  pen? (7)

Accepting donations or other kinds of sponsorship from a sakta, or even participating in an assembly with them, is taboo for Kabir. Wandering holy men should avoid a village where saktas reside; in the city one should avoid gatherings where they predominate.

The northern recenson also loves dohas indicting saktas; indeed, Guru Granth Sahib also has some references to saktas not attested elsewhere. Again the main point is to urge the devout not to associate with them:
  kabira sakata aisa hai, jaisi lasana kl khana
  kone baitha khdiai, paragata hoi niddni (GG saloka 17, p. 1365)
  Kablr (says): The sakta is like a clove of garlic:
  You may eat it (secretly) in your corner, but in the end it will be

  kabira sakata samgu na kijlai, durahijaiye bhagi
  basanu karo parslai, tail kachu lagai dagu (GG saloka 131,
  p. 1371) (8)
  Kablr (says): Don't keep the company of a saktat rather flee far
  If you touch a black vessel, one way or another, you will get

  kablra samgati karlai sadha ki, amti karai nirabahu
  sakata samgu na kijiai, j& te hoi binahu (GG saloka 93, p. 1369)
  Kabir (says): Associate with holy men: they'll help you through the
  Do not get together with saktas: that will ruin you.

  kablra samgati sadhu kl, dina dina duna hetu
  sakata kari kambari, dhoe hoi na setu (GG saloka 100, p. 1369)
  Kabir (says): Associate with holy men and profit will double every
  (Whereas) the sakta is like a black blanket: it won't get white, even
  washed. (See also below GG saloka 131.)

The down-to-earth quality of such warnings in doha suggests that they were addressed to a rank-and-file audience, likely a mercantile one in the last verse.

It is not only in his distychs, but also in song that Kabir voices his disapproval of saktas. The tenor changes, and the message is less sarcastic, more serious:
  hamma na maraim marihai samsdrd, hammakaum mild jiavanahari
  sakata marahim samta jana jivahim, bhari bhari rdmma rasdmina plvahim
  hari marihai tau hammahum marihaim, hari na marai hamma kahe kau
  kahai kablra mana manahim milava, amara bhae sukhasagara pavd (KG pada
  106; GG gaiirl 12.2/13.4, pp. 325-26)
  I won't die! Let the whole world die! I've found the one who can give
  Saktas die, but holy men live, Rama has them drink their full of
  If God dies, then I'll die, but God does not die, so why would I?
  Kabir says: He has merged my heart with His, I've become immortal,
  I've reached the ocean of bliss.

Here Kabir claims immortality for the devotee of God. He contrasts this certainty with the fate of saktas. He may be obliquely referring to the claim of some Tantric sects that they can guide their adepts to immortality by way of Hatha Yoga, producing the nectar of immortality. Kabir proposes a simpler solution: only the nectar of the name is needed. (9)
  ramma ramma ramma rami rahie, sakata setl bhuli na kahie
  ka sunaham Icaum sumrita sunaem, ka sakata pahim hari guna gaem
  kativa kaha kapura caraem, ka bisahara kaum dudha piaem
  ammrita lai lai nlmba simcal, kahai kabira vaki bamni najal (KG pada
  168; GG asa 20, p. 481)(10)
  In "Rama, Rama, Rama" immerse yourself; don't speak with a sakta even
  by mistake.
  Would you recite scripture to a dog? Would you sing Hari's praise in
  front of a saktal
  Why worship a crow with camphor? Why give milk to drink to a poisonous
  Watering a bitter Nim tree with nectar, says Kabir, does not change
  its nature!

Through his lively comparisons Kablr makes it clear that the sakta is irredeemable and association with him is a fatal mistake. Trying to convert him is fruitless. All well-intended sermons will fall on deaf ears, he says. Once a sakta always a sakta.

The following song, containing an extended metaphor of the world as woman, has one line (1.7) that links the sakta with engagement in Tantric sexual practices;
  eka suhagini jagata piydrty sagale jia jatnta ki nari
  khasama marai tau nari na rovaim, usa rakhavara aura hovai
  rakhavare ka hoi binasa, agaim naraka ihatn bhoga bilasa
  suhagini gali sohai hara, samta kau bikha bigasai samsara
  kari simgara bahai pakhiarl, samta kl thithaki phirai bicari
  samta bhagai va pachaim paraim, gura kai sabadani marahu darai
  sakata kai yahu pimda paratnini, hamarl drsti parai trisi damini
  aba hamma isaka paya bheu, hue kripala mile guru deva
  kahai kahira aba bahari tari, samsari kai amcali pari (KG pada 162 =
  GG Gaund 7, p. 871)
  The world is a young bride, beloved by all, wife to all living
  If her husband dies, the wife won't cry: another will be her
  If her protector is destroyed, hell is next, for the pleasure of the
  flesh enjoyed here.
  A young bride, pretty with necklace around her neck, may be a joy to
  the world, but poison to the holy man.
  She dresses up, then becomes quarrelsome; cursed by the holy she roams
  The holy man flees but she's on his tail, fearing the Guru's word
  might strike.
  For the sakta, her body is another's wife; in our opinion she's a
  lascivious witch.
  Now I have understood her secret, the Guru-God has graciously joined
  Kablr says: now she has withdrawn outside, the illusionary world's
  veil has fallen off.

The song has some obscure lines, but its main intent is to demask the world of the senses as ephemeral, as non-essential in comparison to God. The holy man stays aloof from the world, but the sakta is involved with the world: he sees her in the woman with whom he practises sexual yoga, as the paramini, a woman who is not his own. Kabir uses rhyme to suggest that this so-called paramini is nothing but a witch, or damini, in his eyes.

A song also portraying the world as a woman appears in the Bijak:
  tu maya raghundtha kl, khelana carhi ahedaim
  catura cikare cuni cuni mare, kol na chodya nedaim
  muniyara ptra digambara mare, jatana karamta jogl
  jamgala mahi kejamgama mare, turn re phirai balivamtlm
  veda parhamta bdmhana mard, seva karamta svami
  aratha karamta misara pacharyd, turn re phire maimamtlm
  sdkhita [sdkata] kai turn harata karata, had bhagatana kai cerl
  dasa kablra ramma kai saranai, jyom lagi tyom pherl (tori) (KG pada
  161 (187) = B12)
  You Sorceress of Raghunath, you have gone off to play the game of
  Wily, you choose the deer and kill; you don't miss any nearby.
  Silent sage, Muslim, and naked ascetic? You've killed them all. And
  the Yogi, try as he may!
  Vlrasaiva ascetic in the jungle? You've killed him. You roam
  The Brahmin is killed as he reads his Veda, the priest as he
  Mr. Mis'ra commenting on scripture is struck down. You roam around
  You carry off saktas, but you are a maidservant of the devotees.
  Kablrdas (says): as soon as they're in Rama's shelter, she has to turn

This poem with its extended metaphor of maya going on the hunt provides a full list ot hypocrites or misguided ascetics. Kabir sees them all as fallen victim to maya. First, ascetics of all denominations, including Hindu (muni), Muslim (pir), possibly Jaina (digambara), and Vlras'aiva (jangama). Further, orthodox Brahmins and image worshipers, including the "Mr. Misra" who comments on scripture, and, also on the list, the saktas, who fail to see that it is Rama with whom one should take shelter, not the goddess, who is only maya.

What can we conclude from these examples? Who is the enemy Kabir warns us against? Unfortunately specifics are hard to come by, for he is mainly interested in warning of the ill effects of consorting with or accepting patronage from saktas and spends very little time describing their actual attributes or what about them is so objectionable. Nonetheless, we can glean that "sakta" is a designation for those with unclean dietary habits and suspected of Tantric sexual practices. This "other" is placed in opposition to "us." For the latter, Kabir uses the terms sadhu, santa, bhakta, vaisnava, sajana--basically 'the good', 'the righteous', equated with those devoted to Visnu, synonymous in turn with bhakta or devotee.

In at least one poem it is implied that saktas search for immortality--perhaps a reference to Hatha Yoga. One wonders whether Kabir is denouncing Tantrically inclined "Natha" groups.11 Kabir's attitude towards the "Nathas" has been discussed by several scholars (e.g., Vaudeville 1993: 95-107, Offredi 2002). It seems that, while he was influenced by Natha-like ideas of meditational praxis, he also distanced himself from their over-reliance on asceticism and claims of "magical feats." Some of his poems can be interpreted diS "answers" to poems attributed to Gorakhnath (Offredi 2002: 131-36). (12) A complicating factor is that Kabir Panthis turned hostile to Natha yogis at some later point in history (Offredi 2002: 127, quoting Barthwal). Thus, while several Bijak songs explicitly demask Natha pretensions to holiness (e.g., Bijak 104, as translated in Hess and Singh 1983: 76), (13) such songs may date to the period when this hostility had developed, so these sentiments cannot be unproblematicaliy attributed to Kabir. (14) However, some songs of Kabir that seem to reject "Natha" ideas of Tantric meditation are found also in the western and northern traditions. (15) Still, the situation is confusing, and little can be said with certainty. (16)

It may be misguided to look for a specific sampradaya as the target of Kabir's anger. His enmity may be less towards a particular sectarian group than towards people who perform sakta practices. Animal sacrifice was particularly abhorrent to Kabir. One song found in the Bljak links animal slaughter with Devi worship, which is by definition sakta:
  samto pdmde nipuna kasai
  bakard man bhaimsa para ghave, dila mem darda na di
  kari asnana tilaka dai baithe, vidhi se devl pujai
  atama mari palaka mem binase, rudhira ki nadl bahai
  ati punita urnce kula kahiye, sahhd mamhi adhikai
  inhate diksa saba kol mamgai, hamsi aval mohim bhal
  papa katana ko katha sunavai, karma kardvai nica
  budata dou paraspara desa, yama laye haim simca
  gaya badhe tehi turka kahiye, inhate vai kya chote
  kahai kablra suno ho samto, kali mem bahmana sote (B 11).
  O saints, pandits are expert butchers!
  Killing a goat, wounding a buffalo, no pain touches their heart!
  They bathe, put on a forehead-mark, and sit down to worship the
  goddess dutifully.
  Killing a soul they'll perish in an instant, causing blood-red rivers
  to flow.
  You may say they're very holy, high-caste, foremost in the gathering.
  Everyone may beg them for initiation, but, brother, I have to grin.
  Your sin was (apparently) cut down with recitation, but despicable
  action they make you display.
  Both (parties) drown, looking at each other; Yama has come to drag
  them away.
  You may call a slaughterer of cows "Turk," but are they any less so?
  Kablr says, listen, true believers: in this Kali era. Brahmins are a

Similar strong wording expressing disgust with animal sacrifice occurs throughout Kabir's poems, (17) most notably in one common in all three recensions:
  ramahim gavai aurahi samujhavai, harijanai binu vikala phirai
  jehi musa beda gayatri ucarai, take bacana samsara tarai
  jake pamvajagata uthi lage, so bramanajiva badha karai
  apane umca nica ghara bhojana, dhina karma kari udara bharai
  grahana amavasa dhuki dhuki mamgai, kara dipaka liye kupa parai (Bijak
  17 = GG Ramkall = KG 2:196)
  He may sing "Rama," instruct others, but without knowing God, he just
  roams all around.
  His mouth utters Vedic Gayatri; his words cross the world of the
  At his feet everyone rushes to fall, but this Brahmin kills living
  Thinks highly of himself, but eats in a low house, filling his belly
  by doing low work.
  At eclipse and dark moon he begs, lurking everywhere: lamp in hand, he
  falls in the well (of hell).

Though not as explicit as the Bijak poem in linking sdktas or Devi worshipers with animal slaughter, this poem gives early evidence for Kablr's disgust with the practice. Though Kablr's enmity to sdktas might have been directed at "Natha" yogis following left-handed Tantric practices, it is certainly connected with disgust for animal sacrifice in goddess worship, whether performed by low or high castes.

It is time now to address the issue of the discursive field of these poems. While it is not surprising that the genre of the short, pithy dohd works well as the vehicle for sarcastic diatribe, Kabir expresses his disgust also in songs. The two genres evoke different performance contexts. The latter conforms to (retrospective) portrayals of Kabir in art, where he is depicted in front of his hut, singing for his disciples and visitors (as in the famous seventeenth-century Mughal miniature, purportedly of Kabir, in the Oriental Antiquities Department of the British Museum; see the front cover of Dass 1991). The dohd, on the other hand, best fits the context of the public space, the bazaar or ghats, a context in which Kabir is firmly placed by his hagiographers (e.g., Priyadas kavitta 270.3, Bhagvanprasad, p. 483: thdrhe mamdi mdmjha "standing in the market"). Kabir is reputed to have preached in Benares, in public places, proclaiming his strong opinions, perhaps pointing fingers at the religious group being denounced, possibly present on the spot. After all the dohds are also called sakhl, or eyewitness reports. One can imagine the poems being created ex tempore after an encounter with a sdkta for the benefit of his disciples or other onlookers. Consider, for example, the poem in which he complains that talking to sdktas is a waste of one's breath. Though to some extent the genre of the dohd is formulaic, as many proverbs are remembered in that form (see Vaudeville 1993: 225), Kablr's songs and distychs do not "feel" formulaic, but heart-felt, and possibily inspired by real-life incidents.

We should also reflect on the continued performance of these songs and distychs. The very fact that they were picked up by Dadu Panthis, who collected them in their anthologies, and by the Sikhs in the Guru Granth Sahib suggests that these songs expressed a common sensibility in sixteenth-century devotional milieus. (18) Encounters with rival sdkta groups were common, and Kabir was certainly not alone in feeling that sdktas were to be shunned.

For champions of Kablr's broad-mindedness there is some consolation. In some poems, Kabir seems willing to rehabilitate even sdktas. These poems are mostly only attested in the KabGranthdvali sub-recension:

From Upadesal citdvani kau amga:
  samsari sakata bhala, kumvara kai bhai
  duracari baisnaum bura, harijana taham najai (KG 15.73)
  A married sakta can be good, if his nature is chaste.
  A Vaisnava who misbehaves should be avoided by God's people.

Here Kabir, true to form, refuses to stick by easy labels. Do not judge too rashly, he seems to say: purported devotees who do not show their belief in their actions are worse than saktas. In the end, of course, when one has attained the highest stages of realization, all dualities should disappear, including the one between bhakta and sakta, as expressed in the following sakhi from Saragrahl kau amga:
  kablra sakata koi nahlm, sahai haisnaum jamni
  jihi mukhi ramma na ucarai, tahi tana kl hamni (KG 27.4)
  Kabir says: no one is a sakta, think of everyone as a Vaisnava,
  If their mouth does not utter "Rama," they harm their own body.

The same idea is also expressed in a song, attested in both the western and northern recensions:
  aba hamma sakala kusala kari mamnam, sdmti bhaijaba gobimda jdtnnam
  tana mahim hoti koti upadhi, ulati bhal sukha sahaja samadhi
  jama taim ulati bhayd ramma, dukha binase sukha kiyd bisaramma
  bairl ulati bhae haim mlta, sakata ulati sajana bhae clta
  apajamni ulati lai dpa, tan nahim bydpai tinyum tdpa
  aba mana ulati sanatana huvd, taba jamndm jaba jivata muvd
  kahai kablra sukha sahaja samdvaum, dpa na daraum na aura pardvaum (KG
  107 = GG Gaiirl17, p. 326)
  Now take it that I've found all bliss, I found peace when I got to
  know God.
  The many tricks the body has have reverted and become the realization
  of instant joy.
  Fear of death has turned to fear of God; sorrow is gone, I rest in
  All hatred has turned into friendship, saktas have become good people
  to my mind.
  Knowing the Self has turned the self around; the three types of sorrow
  don't apply (anymore).
  Now my mind has turned and become eternal, when I realized that, I
  became dead while alive.
  Kabir says: merge with spontaneous bliss. If you don't fear the self,
  no need to flee anything else.

Here, too, Kabir indicates that in the final judgment the distinction between sakta and sajjana does not matter any more.

In conclusion, while Kabir denounces saktas in the mundane sphere, as ne neips ms listeners navigate the world, and he strictly opposes associating with them or taking their patronage, he ultimately indicates that for the accomplished devotee this is a non-issue, since all duality should be resolved in the one preoccupation with God.

2. kabIr's hagiographers: ramanandis in rural rajasthan

What do Kabir's hagiographers have to say about Kabir's enemies? Do they notice his enmity towards saktas? Though hagiographers have their own agendas, creating a Kabir according to their own preoccupations, it is worth examining the earliest hagiographic sources for their construction of Kabir's "other." The earliest hagiographies are Ramanandi and therefore provide information not only about the perceived enemies of Kabir, but also those of the Rama devotees. We will look at the famous Bhakt-mal (BhM) "Garland of Devotees" by Nabhadas (ca. 1600), using the standard edition by Bhagvanprasad (see also the text-critical study of Jha 1978) and the roughly contemporary late-sixteenth-century Parcals or "Introductions," attributed to Anantdas, edited and translated by Callewaert and Sharma (2000), Kabir's Parcai also by Lorenzen (1991). Nabhadas devotes one full chappai to praising Kabir, and immediately situates him polemically:
  kabira kani rakhl nahim varnasrama satadarsanl
  bhakti vimukha jo dharma so adharma kari gayo
  joga jagya brata dana bhajana binu tuccha dikhdyo
  hindu turaka pramana ramainl sabadi sakhl
  paksapata nahim vacana sabahl ke hita ki bhakhl
  drurha dasa hvaijagata para mukha dekhl ndhina bhani
  kabira kani rakhi nahim varnasrama satadarsani (BhM chappdi 60,
  Bhagvanprasad, pp. 479-80)
  Kabir did not stick to conventions, (like) the four stages of life or
  the six philosophies.
  If religion was opposed to devotion, he proclaimed it irreligious.
  Yoga, sacrifice, fasting, charity mean nothing without devotion, (so)
  he showed.
  His state was "beyond the world," when he spoke, he did not
  (anxiously) watch for the other's
  facial (reaction).
  Hindu (or) Turk? The proof (is found in his) ramainls, iabads, and
  His words were not partisan, he spoke in the interest of all. (19)
  Kabir did not stick to conventions, (like) the four stages of life and
  the six philosophies.

According to Nabha, Kabir called any dharma that opposed bhakti "adharma," a claim in accord with the poems we have read. Nabha gives particulars in the next line, where he enumerates practices that Kabir considered shallow without devotion; all of them are what we would call now "Hindu," starting with yoga and Vedic sacrifice. Only then does he speak about "Hindus" and "Turks," and this line may well be interpreted as a confirmation that Kabir saw no opposition between the two. Nabha does not mention Kabir's denunciation of saktas.

The other famous Ramanandl hagiographer, Anantdas, wrote Parcals for several of the Sants, including Kabir (also Namdev, Raidas, Pipa, Dhana, Tilocan, Arigad).20 He composed his Parcals around 1588 (the date of the Namdev Parcai, see Callewaert and Sharma 2000: 31-32). Anantdas's main purpose seems to have been to claim these charismatic bhaktas as members of his own sect, the Ramananda Sampradaya (Callewaert and Sharma 2000: 1), in which he was following Nabhadas's example. (21) Thus it would not be surprising if the "enemies" he assigns to Kabir differ somewhat from Kabir's "own others."

In the Kabir Parcal the word sakta occurs only once, but right at the beginning, in the very first lines of the first chapter: (22)
  kasi basaijulaha eka, hari bhagatana ki pakarl teka
  bahuta dina sakata maim galya, aba hari ka guna le nirabahiya
  (Lorenzen 1991: 129)
  In Benares lived a weaver, (23) who found support in Hari's devotees.
  For a long time, he sang among saktas, but now he supports himself by
  singing Hari's glory. (25)

Thus, at the outset of the story, Kabir's humble birth as ajulaha, being raised among saktas, is contrasted with his inclination towards bhakti and his associating with bhaktas, singing praise of the Lord. We found this same sakta-bhakta contrast in Kabir's own works, but here there is the additional link with low-caste birth.

Having set up a sakta-bhakta contrast, Anantdas drops it immediately. As he continues the story of Kabir's "conversion," his Muslim identity is foregrounded instead. The conversion story helps us to understand how the RamanandTs viewed religious demarcation. First, God himself tells Kabir to become a Vaisnava; otherwise He cannot give Kabir darsana. Key characteristics of the Vaisnava as identified here are tilaka (forehead mark) and mala (rosary). Kabir protests, proclaiming himself unfit for receiving such distinction on grounds of caste (jati). Interestingly, he identifies himself as a musalamdna in the third verse:
  musalamamna hamarijatl mala paum kaisi bhatl (1.3a Lorenzen 1991: 129)
  My caste is Musalman, how can I get prayer beads?

Significantly, what we would call his "religion" is here perceived in terms of social caste. However, the message of the Ramanandl text is that caste is no bar; Kablr's inner voice, again God himself, instructs him how to overcome this perceived obstacle; to seek initiation from Ramananda (ramananda pai dachyd leha 1.3b; Callewaert and Sharma 2000: 55) -- almost an advertisement for Ramananda: this saint gives initiation even to outcastes. Still, when the reaction of Kablr's family to his new "Vaisnava-hood" is described, it is his loss of orthodox Islamic identity that is emphasized by reference to key markers of Islamic faith (maka madind hamara sqja, kalamam roja aura nivajd "Mecca and Medina, our outfit, the profession of faith, and the daily prayer," 1.7b, Lorenzen 1991: 131; Callewaert and Sharma 2000: 56).

Should we conclude that the early hagiographers stress the contrast between Hinduism and Islam more than the Vaisnava-Sakta divide? The textual history complicates the answer to this question. First, the chapter as a whole is spurious, as it is not found in all recensions and its earliest attestation is fairly late (ca. 1700). (27) Yet one is tempted to speculate that, while the bulk of this first chapter is later, the first caupai line with the reference to sakta might be earlier, for the very reason that it sits uneasily in the rest of the chapter. (28) Could this be the only remnant of Kablr's sakta environment, which is later passed over in the focus on his Muslim identity? The hypothesis that the sakta reference might be earlier than the rest of the chapter is strengthened by the existence of parallel passages in other Parcals where the association of sakta with low caste recurs. At the beginning of his story of the leather-worker Raidas, Anantdas says:
  jati cammara pita ara mai, sasita kai ghari janamyo at
  purahajanama viprahu hota, mamsa na charyo nisa dirnna srota
  tihim aparadhi nica kuli dlya, pahlajanma cinhim tinim liya (1.2;
  Callewaert and Sharma 2000: 336)
  His parents belonged to the caste of Camar; he was born in a house of
  In a previous birth he had been nothing less than a Brahmin, but he
  had not given up meat,
  (though) day and night he listened to recitations (of sacred
  For that insult he was given a low birth, but he managed to remember
  his previous birth.

In this Parcal the story continues the focus on the contrast between people of low caste and bhaktas. The baby Raidas refused to drink his mother's milk until his guru Ramananda interfered and initiated the whole family, so that the infant could survive. The term sakta here seems to specifically identify low-caste people not initiated by Ramananda, and practicing meat-eating. The Camars' meat-eating is the whole reason the infant Raidas cannot have commensality with his own family. (29)

Let us now turn to the rest of the Kabir Parcal, to investigate whom the Ramanandis identified as Kabir's enemies. This text is often cited as early evidence that KabJr was persecuted by the Muslim sultan, Sikander Lodi. However, a careful reading shows that it is not a straightforward case of Muslim persecution of Hindus. Anantdas specifies that when Sikander came to town, the ruler turned against Kabir on hearsay from both Brahmins and Qazis. Ironically, these two groups had joined forces to have Kabir put to death: the Qazis on the grounds of his apostasy from Islam, the Brahmins on those of his unauthorized wearing of the symbols of their religion (8.1-2). In the actual allegations it is the Brahminical complaints about Kabir that are most elaborated upon (7.2-5). Kabir was accused of insulting all Brahminical practices (repetition of the verb nindai 'he insults' at the beginning of lines 2b through 5b, sometimes even at the beginning of half-lines). Obviously, the hagiographer's intent was not to highlight "Muslim" oppression of the bhakta.

Further, in his subsequent confrontation with Sikander, what is stressed is Kabir's refusal to follow court etiquette and submit to the worldly ruler (7.12). This focus conforms to the hagiographical topos of the meeting of king and saint, where the king puts the saint to the test, only to find that the saint's spiritual power is greater than his own worldly one. The same topos is seen in Anantdas's account of Kabir's encounters with the (Hindu) Baghel king, with a similar, though milder, conflict between worldly and spiritual authority. Both the Muslim badsah and the Hindu raja end up falling at Kabir's feet and begging him for forgiveness. Thus the Ramanandl hagiographer does not oppose Hinduism and Islam; he stresses Kabir's transcending of religious boundaries and of the worldly conventions of deference to kings.

Kabir's words, as reported by the hagiographer, do not so much oppose Hinduism or Islam, but rather the practice of animal slaughter in both groups. In response to his accusers, Kabir accuses these (Muslim and Hindu) would-be defenders of orthodoxy of being disbelievers themselves. He attacks both religions on the grounds of the violence to animals that they support:
  kaumna kateba jahi gaii katal, bakari muragi kini phuramai
  jeta dlsaim atma ghatl, itana kljama torai chati (8.3; Callewaert and
  Sharma 2000: 77)
  What Holy Book orders cows to be killed? Which called for (killing)
  goats and chickens?
  May Yama tear the chest of all those who are seen to kill living
  beings (atma).

The first half of the caupai has been identified as a quote from a Kabir ramainl from the Bijak 49. (30) Kabir's disgust at killing animals is thus foregrounded in his own words, at least as preserved in the eastern recension. Remarkably, this poem has no equivalent in the Rajasthani traditions, but the quote in the Parcai seems to presume widespread knowledge of kin Rajasthan. (31)

Another story in Anantdas' Parcal is revealing for what the hagiographers constructed as the opposite of the bhakta. Kabir is said to have grown tired of people's admiration, and, in order to get rid of these admiring masses, to have taken up with a prostitute and acted as if he were drunk (4.9-13; Lorenzen 1991: 102, 150-51; Callewaert and Sharma 2000: 67-68)--an apparently effective way to put people off. The hagiographer reports the sarcastic commentary of the Brahmins and Baniyas when they see Kabir going around in this state. Justified in their earlier doubts about Kabir's sincerity, they sneer
  bhagati kiya cdhai saba kol, nicajati taim kaisaim hoi
  dina dasa bhagati kabirai klnhim, aba desau ganika samgi linhlm (4.13;
  Lorenzen 151; 4,14 Callewaert and Sharma 2000: 68)
  The whole world wants to do bhakti, but how can low castes manage?
  Kablr too managed for ten days, but look, now he has taken up with a

Bhakti is presented as incompatible with low-caste status, since promiscuity and drunkenness are its "natural" concomittants. The verse expresses a high-caste prejudice: Kabir is disqualified from "vegetarian" Vaisnava bhakti not so much because he is a Muslim but because he is low caste.

This story has an obverse, where Kabir is tested by an enchanting heavenly dancer, an apsara, sent by God Himself (11; Lorenzen 1991: 191-97; tr. 118-21; Cailewaert and Sharma 2000: 85-89). The apsara does all she can to tempt him, and in the process, by way of self-advertisement, boasts that people strive to make her their own through pilgrimage and religious penance (11.5-7). (32) Kabir responds that he cannot please everyone, and he is already exclusively devoted to Hari.33 He resists her, and, defeated, the apsara returns to heaven to report that Kabir excels even Gorakhnath in sense control (joga jugati gorakha bisese, 12.3). It is only after her testimony that Hari gives darsana to Kabir. He also offers Kabir the eight siddhis (magic powers) and nine nidhis (treasures), with the goddess Kamala serving his feet (12.11)--in short, every aspiring yogi's dream. But Kabir is not interested. God rewards him nevertheless by granting him immortality. What is the message? Kabir shows himself immune not just to sexual seduction but to what could be called sdkta ways. By showing indifference to siddhis and the like, he bests the Yoga masters such as Gorakh. Read together with the obverse story, of Kabir's pretending to take up with a prostitute, this narrative bespeaks a desire to counter the stigma of sdkta that apparently was automatically attached to low-caste people in the eyes of high castes. The hagiographer is at pains to establish that, contrary to appearances, Kabir remains ever the pure Vaisnava, untainted by these practices, as proven by test.

What is going on in these stories? What can we surmise about the broader context? We find an overwhelming concern to allow bhakti for low castes. Since lower-caste identity was reflexively associated with the term sdkta and involved, according to the prejudice, meat-eating and the suspicion of (Tantric) sex, a major effort was mounted to assert that even sdkta low castes can become Vaisnava bhaktas. This conclusion makes sense if we consider the genre and its performance context. Anantdas wrote in the verse of linked caupdi-doha, a narrative genre, rather than isolated sakhi or pada. As Ramanandi mendicants roaming the countryside, the tellers of the Parcais would support themselves with story-telling and bhajana-singing in the villages visited. The stories about the king-turned-Ramanandi ascetic, Pipa, give a good glimpse into that world (Callewaert and Sharma 2000: 141-301). Plpa, originally a Rajasthani king and a goddess worshiper, was converted to the higher-order Vaisnavism with the consent of the goddess herself, who admitted that she was only a lower-order deity. (34) After his conversion, he forsook his kingdom and roamed from village to village, on his way to and from places of pilgrimage, singing to enlighten the villagers and to turn their hearts towards the true God, that is, Rama. This context of grassroots preaching seems to fit well the stories themselves.

Obviously the narrators of the Parcais had competition for the villagers' and local landlords' attention. First, sakta cults with goddess worship were particularly strong among landholders and Rajputs in Rajasthan. Another group was the Nathas. (35) Remarkably, the Kabir Parcai has no explicit descriptions of encounters with Natha yogis, though such stories become later an important part of the Kabir Panthi hagiographies, and, of course, in reverse, stories of Gorakh's victory over Kabir were told by the Natha yogis (Lorenzen 1996: 169, 278; Gold 2002: 14-18 resp.). Recall, however, the depiction of Kabir's upstaging of Gorakhnath in the report of the apsara who failed to seduce him. We have to interpret the Ramanandi stories as propaganda in a highly competitive religious market.

This performance context invites the portrayal of low-caste people as inherently sakta, but able to be saved through initiation by Ramananda. Recent scholarship (in particular Pinch 1996a, 1996b, and 1999) has argued that the Ramanandis sought to appropriate successful low-caste gurus for their own sect. Ramananda, so the Ramanandi claim went, could help transcend the prevalent caste prejudices. He truly opened up bhakti for low castes, and thereby a path of socially upward mobility. The narratives then may have less to do with Kablr, his caste and message, than with late-sixteenth-century Ramanandis and the audience they were targeting. (36) Still we can say that both Kabir and the Ramanandis sought to disassociate bhaktas from saktas who carried all kinds of stigmas.


The foregoing provides some idea of what devotees of Rama say about the enemies of the bhakta, at least when they talk about Kabir. However, to study how Rama devotees think about the "other," we should turn to the most influential authority on Rama bhakti, Tulsidas, who composed his magnum opus, Ram Carit Manas, at the end of the sixteenth century (he gives a date of 1574 for partial completion of the work; McGregor 1984: 109).

As it turns out, for Tulsidas people like Kabir seem actually to be enemies of the community he wishes to construct. Ihisi's bhakti is more orthodox than that of the communities discussed up to now; yet he, too, is opposed to Tantric groups. Let us first explore what he thinks of vernacular low-caste preachers like Kabir.

Tulsidas is commonly understood to have been a Ramanandi, or to have been raised among Ramanandl sadhus; however it is not clear whether he indeed was (McGregor loc. cit.; see also Vaudeville 1955: viii-ix). If so, we see that not all Ramanandis were alike. Tulsidas did not share the impulse of Ramanandi hagiographer Anantdas to appropriate low-caste saints. While he does not mention Kabir by name, TuIslas seems to betray a disgust for "low-caste gurus," at least in an oft-quoted passage from his Dohavali:
  brahma jnana binu nari nam, kahahim na dusri bata
  kauri lagi te mohabasa, (37) karahim bipra guru ghata
  badahim sudra dvijana sana, hama tuma tern kachu ghatl
  janahim brahma so bipravara, amkhi dikhavahim damtl (D 552-53; also
  RCM 7.99) (38)
  Apart from knowledge of Brahma, men nor women shouldn't say anything
  Deluded, because of a trifle, they harm Brahmin and guru.
  Low-castes will say to twice-born: "am I less than you?"
  "Who knows Brahma, that is the best of Brahmins," thus they scold and

It is not certain that these verses can be confidently attributed to Tulsidas (McGregor 1984: 117; Grierson 1893: 122-29). Textual research on Tulsl's works is only in its infancy. These lines come from the Dohavali, for which the manuscript attestation is late (earliest dated ms. 1740, see Gupta 1965: 231-32). However, the Dohavali is a compilation from other works by Tulsi, made either by the author himself or a disciple, (39) and these lines are well attested, as they have been borrowed from Tulsi's Ram Carit Manas.

Moreover, though it is tempting to see in these verses a reference to the contemporary scene in Benares, in the Ram Carit Manas they are part of the crow Bhusundi's first life story, his birth as a sudra in Ayodhya in Kaliyuga (RCM 7.97). To contextualize his story, the crow happily launches into a description of the evils of Kaliyuga (RCM 7.97doha-102). This is a typical literary trope, highlighting the corruption of the varnasrama system and the evils of varnasarikara or caste-miscegenation. So much for seeing it as Tulsidas' own assessment of his times. But perhaps it is more than a literary convention? Certainly, some of Bhusundi's descriptions sound remarkably realistic, and may well apply to a Benares of all times, not just Bhusundi's (or Tulsi's). (40) This speculation finds support in the very fact that such dohas were culled from the Ram Carit Manas and put into an anthology that made reference to the contemporary scene. There is a tradition that the Dohavali was compiled by Tulsidas himself at the request of Akbar's courtier, Todar Mai (Grierson 1893: 128). One can imagine the courtier having a chuckle at the contemporary relevance of these lines.

Another work of Tulsldas, Kavitavall, may give some clues as to how Kablr affected Tulsldas. This work, written in Braj, is attested in manuscript evidence from at least 1740 onwards (Gupta 1965: 232-33). We are again on somewhat shaky textual ground, as there are apparently some shorter versions that lack quite a few of the non-narrative poems (Allchin 1964: 66; see also Bangha 2004, Balogh 2007, and Bangha and Negyesi 2007). Still, the following lines are suggestive:
  dhuta kahau avadhuta kahau rajaputa kahujolaha kahau koii
  kahu ki betl so beta na bydhaba, kahu kljdti bigdra na sou
  tulasi saranama gulama hai rdma ko, jdko rucai so kahai kachu ou
  mdmgi kai khaibo masita ko soibo, laibe ko eka na daibe ko dou (K
  7.106) (41)
  Let them call [me] rogue or detached, prince or weaver.
  I don't seek to marry a son to anyone's daughter, so I will not ruin
  anyone's caste.
  Tulsi is notorious as Rama's slave, let them all babble as they
  I'll eat by begging, sleep in a mosque, no one to take from, nor two
  to give to.

The first half-line of this savaiya may contain an implicit reference to Ramananda, who is often characterized as avadhuta. (42) The julaha in the second half of the line immediately brings Kabir to mind. Why does Tulsi equate himself with these characters? Was the appropriation of low-caste bhaktas like Kabir rubbing off negatively on high-caste Ramanandis, such as Tulsi presumably was? Is this why Tulsidas felt unhappy with such low-caste bhaktas?

What Tulsidas seems particularly to object to is Kabir's followers' sardonic way of preaching and attacking Vedas and Puranas in popular couplets or dohas. Yet he does so in his Dohavali, writing in dohas himself: (43)
  sakhl sabadl dohard, kahi kihanl upakhana
  bhagati nirupahi bhagata kali, nimdahim beda purana
  sruti sammata hari bhaktipatha, samjuta birati bibeka
  tehi pariharahim bimoha basa, (44) kalpahim pamtha aneka
  sakala dharama biparita kali, kalpita koti kupamtha
  punya parayapahara bana, durepurana subha gramtha (D 554-56; D 555 =
  RCM 7,100 doha b)
  sakhis, sabads, doha they recite, and tell stories and tales.
  In Kaliyuga bhaktas determine bhakti, by slandering Veda and Purana.
  The path of devotion for God agrees with Sruti, combined with
  asceticism and reasoning.
  They leave it in the ban of delusion, and dream up many paths.
  In Kaliyuga all dharma is perverted, zillions of heresies are dreamed
  Virtue flees to mountain and wood, Puranas and auspicious books are

These verses present similar textual problems to those noted above. The middle doha is borrowed from Barmen's descripton of the evils of Kaliyuga in the Ram Carit Manas. It has been contextualized by two new ones--that is, two dohas not borrowed from other works by Tulsidas. In this context it is tempting to interpret the "many new paths" being dreamed up as the Sant Panths popular in Benares in the year 1600. In any case, it is clear that the hiding of Hindu sacred books was not to save them from Islamic persecution, despite the views of some Sanatanists who see Tulsidas as having "singlehandedly rescued the ancient religiosocial order of varnasram dharm from being swallowed up in an abyss of foreign innovations" (Lutgendorf 1994: 79). After all, Tulsi declared himself content to sleep in the mosque (K 7.106, quoted above). Rather, scriptures are under attack from "low-caste religion," as propagated in vernacular stanzas. Tulsidas abhors what he sees as the attacks on orthodoxy in popular verse. He denounces the proliferation of gurus who oppose Vedic and Puranic Hinduism as heresies (kupantha). And he feels compelled to float his own propaganda in the same medium to counter them. That is his mission: to highlight the true message of these much-maligned works by translating them into the vernacular and in bhakti terms. Tulsi's goal is to turn people away from the cynical denunciations of scripture by gurus like Kablr, to lead them to rediscover the value of these stories, especially of course the Rama story, in vernacular translations.

If Tulsidas was indeed a Ramanandl, was there a split within the Ramanandis between the orthodox and non-orthodox? Does Tulsidas represent a faction that had different views from Anantdas and was less inclined towards inclusion of the low-caste sants? Should we interpret this as a move by orthodox Brahmins within the Ramanandi community to reassert their caste credentials? There certainly seems to be an ideological component, seeking to reaffirm the value of Puranic Hinduism but in a vernacular bhakti light. Does this characterize bhakti as a whole at the end of the sixteenth century? Unfortunately, we have no answers for these questions.

It does seem that Tulsidas was not sympathetic to preaching in the Kabirian style. How then would Tulsi's kind of bhaktas relate to sakta; what was his view on saktasl The word sakta does not occur in his work, but there some interesting references to groups elsewhere associated with the term.

Consider first his Ram Carit Manas. Significantly, this work is written in Avadhi, continuing the story-telling tradition pioneered by Sufi romances. It is also in caupai-doha, the same narrative metrical pattern as Anantdas's Parcais. Its text is fairly stable (McGregor 1984: 110 n. 312; for a description of Manas textual scholarship over the centuries see Lutgendorf 1994: 75-77). There are two passages where left-handed Tantrism is cast in a bad light. The first in Ayodhya Kanda 167-68, where Rama's brother, Bharata, shocked at finding out what his mother has concocted on his behalf while he was away, vehemently declares his innocence and distances himself from Kaikeyi's plot to exile Rama. He lists all the sins that he will take on his head if he had been part of a conspiracy with his mother, including
  laji srutipamthu bama patha calahim, bamcaka biraci besa jagu
  tinha kai gati mohi samkara deu, jananijaum yahujanaum bheu (RCM
  Those who have given up the path of the scriptures, who walk on the
  left-hand path, like a crook in disguise, who fool the world--
  May Saiikara give me their punishment, if I had known of the plan
  schemed by the woman who gave birth to me.

All of the people mentioned are viewed negatively. The left-handed practitioners are put in the same line, conceivably even equated with, criminals who fool people by disguise. Did Tulsi's Bharata have false ascetics in mind? (45)

The second passage is in Lanka Kanda, after Rama and his army have built the bridge and crossed into Lanka Rama sends as his messenger the monkey Aiigad, son of Bali, to negotiate with Ravana. Having been insulted by the demon-king, the monkey repays him in kind. He nevertheless declares that he will not kill Ravana, as it would not be virtuous to do so:
  jaurn asa karaurn tadapi na badal, muehi badhem nahim kachu manusal
  kaula kama basa krpina bimiirha, ati daridra ajasl ati hurha
  sada rogabasa samtata krodhi, bisnu bimukha sruti samta birodhl
  tanuposaka nimdaka agha khani, jivata sava soma caudaha prani (RCM,
  If I were to do such (i.e., kill you), it would never meet with
  praise; killing a corpse is not a feat at all.
  A Kaula overpowered by desire, a miser, a fool a very poor man,
  someone without glory, one extremely old,
  One with a chronic disease, or a choleric person, one opposed to
  Visnu, one opposing scripture, and one (opposing) saints,
  A body-worshiper, a slanderer, a sinner--these fourteen categories are
  like corpses while alive."

Another list, this time of worthless fellows, includes the left-handed practitioner, the Kaula. The line could be read with the second and third word in apposition to the Kaula, who would then be characterized as one "overcome by desire." (46) In both these cases, the references to left-handed Tantra are not foregrounded, but occur in lists, as part of obviously bad behavior. They sound proverbial. Most likely Tulsidas is simply employing rhetoric inimical to Tantrikas that was prevalent in his milieu.

Recently William Pinch has drawn attention to Tulsldas's disgust with false ascetics by analyzing the introductory story about Pratap Bhanu (2006: 212-19), pointing out that this story is an innovation compared to the Valmlki Ramayana. Pinch sees it as signifying the historical Tulsi's concern to warn rulers against the influence of false ascetics. He situates this in its historical context, suggesting a link with the contemporary influence of wonder-worker yogis at the Mughal court (2006: 216-18). While one could object that precedents for the narrative can be found elsewhere and that the story follows typical folk tropes (Vaudeville 1955: 75-78), other evidence is suggestive of Tulsi's opposition to Tantrika competitors for sponsorship. At the beginning of the Ram Carit Manas Tulsldas complains about the meaninglessness of Siva and ParvatI's mantras, invoking their grace to imbue his own verses with meaning (RCM 1.15). Bakker (2009: 71) has interpreted this as a reference to the growing abstruseness of technical Tantrism.

Tulsidas is more outspoken in his Kavitavali. (47) In its last section (Uttara Kanda) he describes how in evil Kaliyuga only Rama can save. In one particular kavitta he is explicitly negative about Gorakh Panthis:
  gorakha jagayo yoga bhagati bhagayo loga
  nigama niyoga te so keli hi chaw so hai (K 7.84)
  Gorakh awakened yoga and drove bhakti from people;
  He simply played with the injunctions of the scriptures, such a cheat!

The very next verse, a savaiyya, deplores the spread of multiple false paths opposing the scriptures:
  veda purdna hihai supantha, kumdraga koti kucala call hai (K 7.85)
  Leaving the right path of the Vedas and Puranas, bad conduct has
  advanced on myriad bad paths.

The Dohavali verses quoted above (D 554-56) suggested that Tulsidas despised several types of low-caste religions. In the verse just cited the Gorakh Panthis appear to be on a par with Kabir and other such nirguna bhakti Panths. In fact, just before the savaiya mentioning julaha and avadhuta quoted above (K 7.106), Tulsidas shows his disgust with self-styled "Siddhas" who do not know their scriptures:
  agama beda purana bakhanata, maraga kotinajahi na jane
  je muni te puni apuhi apa ko, isa kahavata siddha sayane (K 7.105)
  In scriptures, Vedas and Puranas, many paths are expounded, but they
  do not know them.
  Yet the same "holy ones" call themselves "Lord," "Siddha," "Wise."

These verses present the usual text-historical problems, and also give us little to go on. Tulsldas, while distancing himself from the likes of Kabir and low-caste Ramanandls, seems not to care for saktas either. Kaula and Varna Marga followers appear in lists of the despised, and Tblsidas specifically denounces Gorakh Panthis. All this evidence should be evaluated in the context of the fiercely competitive climate of the pilgrimage center of Benares, where sponsorship, both popular and elite, was fiercely fought for (sometimes literally; cf. Pinch 2006: 28-58 for other pilgrimage sites), and religious groups competed for patronage side by side. (49)


The realm of Krishna bhakti also offers strong invectives against saktas. I will study in depth the example of Hariram Vyas, in the context of the more famous sixteenth-century groups. Antagonism to saktas is found in the hagiographies of the Caitanya Sampradaya, one of the two most influential institutional formations. These hagiographies portray groups, called saktas, who complain regularly to the local Qazi about Caitanya's kirtana sessions. They are characterized not just as goddess worshipers, but also as meat-eaters and alcohol-drinkers. (50) The second prominent Krishna-bhakti group, the Vallabha Sampradaya, on the other hand, focuses primarily on reviling maya-vadins, or followers of sankara. But saktas are not regarded as allies either. Consider the infamous dispute with the Bengali pujaris who were ousted from the worship of the Vallabhan image Sri Nath jl, partly on the grounds of their being goddess worshipers. (51) A few stray references depict saktas as outcastes--for instance when a woman was shunned for having accepted the gift of a sakta (Saha 2006: 225). However, there are many other "others" opposing the faithful (Dalmia 2006).

A poet with a special penchant for anti-sakta rhetoric is the sixteenth-century Hariram Vyas (14927-1606?; see Pauwels 1996: 4-6), who hailed from Orchha, but settled in Braj probably in the 1530s or 1540s. He was very close to Svami Haridas and Hit Harivams (regarded as founders of the Haridasi and Radhavallabha Sampradayas respectively): the three are sometimes called the Haritrayl or "the three Haris or devotees of God." Vyas was very prolific; 758 songs or padas and 148 distychs or salchis are ascribed to him.

The standard edition of Vyas's works by Vasudev Gosvami (VG) is quite good, but has a sectarian axe to grind, and its manuscript evidence dates only from the nineteenth century. The texts given here are based on my own manuscript research. For the complete Vyas Vani the oldest dated manuscript I was able to locate is dated 1737, a full century before any used for the existing editions. This manuscript is preserved in a temple collection in JhansI by descendants of Vyas; I refer to it with the siglum J. In addition, several of Vyas's songs are attested even earlier in manuscript, not only from Krishna milieus in the Braj area and Vyas's native Bundelkhand, but also from collections preserved in different milieus, from Rajasthan and Gujarat in the west to Allahabad and Benares in the east (for details on the manuscripts and the editions, see Pauwels 1996: 22-28 and 2002: 24-33). Nonetheless, a comparison of the older manuscript evidence with the printed editions of the poems shows the text to be relatively stable, orthographic issues aside. Given that the poems were preserved in very different milieus all over northwest India, we can be fairly confident that the voice represented is close to that of the the historical Vyas, even when the earliest manuscript evidence is from the eighteenth century. (52) While many of Vyas's poems are devoted to describing the divine love play of Radha and Krishna (srfigara rasa), he also wrote poetry with more mundane instruction for bhaktas (upadesa or siddhanta). In the latter category are several well-attested poems complaining about the hypocrisy of Vyas's contemporaries (Pauwels 1994).

Nowhere does Vyas engage with the Muslim other. He only mentions the word turaka once (VG 105 last line; not in the oldest manuscript J), (53) likewise only once the word Qazl, and then as the rhyme word in a list of other deluded seekers:
  jau pai hari ki bhakti na saji
  jivata hu tern mrtaka bhayau, aparadhi janani lajl...
  pidita ghara ghara bhatakata dolata, pamdita mumdita kdjl (VG 147 = J
  Those who are not adorned with bhakti,
  Live as corpses, their mothers ashamed as of sinners...
  In pain they roam and go from house to house, whether Pandit, shaven
  ascetic, or Qazl.

By contrast, two poems are fully devoted to denouncing saktas, in terms reminiscent of Kabir's poems:
  kari mana sdkata kau mumha karau
  sakata mohim na desyau bhavai, kaha burhau kaha varau
  sakatu desaim dam lagatu hai, nahara hu tern bharau
  hhakta heta mama prana hatata hai, naiku na darai matyarau
  athaim caudasi kumdau pujai, abhage kau gyanu amdhyarau
  vyasadasa yah samgati tajiye, bhajiye syamu savarau (VG 291 = J 197)
  Paint black the face of a sakta, o Heart.
  I cannot stand seeing a iakta, whether old or for profit.
  When I see a sakta, I'm afraid, even more than of a lion.
  The devotee deserves my love, (but) he kills living beings, (54) not
  afraid to reduce to dust. (55)
  Worshiping garbage-pots on the eighth and fourteenth day, the poor guy
  is dim of wits. (56)
  Vyasdas (says): leave such company, instead (turn) right away to
  worshiping &yam.

Two elements are prominent here. First, the killing of living beings; compare Kabir's denunciation of saktas as "butchers." (57) Second, a possible link with goddess worship in the cryptic reference to the worship of pots: pots are often worshiped as manifestations of the goddess, (58) and the eighth and fourteenth (as well as the ninth) are lunar days considered particularly auspicious for goddess worship. (59) Vyas thus seems to have the same set of practices in mind as Kabir had.

Like Kabir, Vyas is most upset about Brahmins who are saktas. In an amusing poem he denounces them as "dumb camels":
  sakatu vahmanu gumgo uta
  bhara leta samsara ahara, vikata kamte kau suta
  call hali sahi nakuva chedi, carhyau utaherau tuta
  nakanakai marata harata hum, deta najala kau ghuta
  lae kudana kdratau sai, barhai nilajajaga suta
  vyasa vacana manai vinu varyau, daruna dusa kau vuta (VG 215 = J 200)
  A sakta Brahmin is a dumb camel.
  He takes the load for the world-food. Hardships and thorns he suffers
  in silence.
  Mount him and be in for a rough ride. His nose is pierced, but the
  yoke breaks when he gets up.
  Beat him, defeat him, he'll gnarl and snarl, but not a drop of water
  (you)'11 get.
  He gets hold of bad grain, rips it out and gobbles it up: shamelessly
  encroaching on a world in despair. (60)
  Vyas (says): heed (his) words, or suffer the fire and brimstone of
  foliage. (61)

Many elements in the poem are obscure, but it is clear that Vyas ridicules the sakta Brahmin's pretensions to religious authority, denouncing his greed as he lives off others. In the last line, he uses humor to deflate the deep-rooted fear of disrespecting Brahmins. They may threaten fire and brimstone, but Vyas suggests that, rather than bringing "terrible sorrow," this may prove to be a boon. In the metaphor of the desert, once the sakta Brahmin's parasitical encroachments are restrained, there is room for the blossoming of useful greenery. In any case, enmity with the sakta Brahmin is clear.

In his oeuvre Vyas praises Kabir, and he was obviously inspired by Kablr's poetry. Remarkably, Vyas, a Brahmin, admits this inspiration from the low-caste devotee, and does not spare his caste-fellows in his critique. Did Vyas simply take over Kablr's anti-s'akta rhetoric? Is he just using formulaic invective against generic enemies of the bhaktal The poems seem too direct and blunt for that. In many of Vyas's poems condemning saktas, the vehemence suggests that for Vyas this was a real-life experience, that he was pointing fingers at specific people in his environs.

Some of his poems may have autobiographical elements,62 and some specific hagiographic evidence, combined with traditional family interpretations, help contextualize his diatribes against saktas. Reportedly, some of his sons chose a path that he did not approve of and that he characterized as sakta. Hagiographers tell us he had run-ins with his sons, apparently about their in-laws. One of Vyas's sons married a woman from a family not to Vyas's liking: he regarded her as a sakta. Vasudev Gosvami, a descendent of Vyas, quotes the following short excerpts from Vyas's own songs, practically disowning his son and expressing his disgust with his daughter-in-law:
  bhakta na bhayau bhakta kaum puta ...
  hoi bhakta kem sakata janivotn, anya [kahu] kau muta (VG 284 = J 157)
  The son of a bhakta has not turned out a bhakta ...
  Saktas born from bhaktas must be considered someone else's piss.
  jo trlya hoi na hari ki dasi
  kljai kaha rupa guna sumdari, nahina syama upasi ...
  sakata nariju ghara mem rasai, nahi cai[na] narka nivasi (VG 283 = J
  A woman who is not devoted to God!
  What's the use of her looks, skills, beauty, if she does not worship
  Syam? ...
  Keep a sakta woman in the house: no rest, and you'll end up in hell.

Both poems can stand as general statements about saktas. Yet the tradition views them as referrring specifically to Vyas's own son and daughter-in-law. Anthologies include them under the rubric kutumba upadesa, or "instruction for the family." If the tradition is correct, we get a glimpse of Vyas's very personal engagement with saktas in his own family.

There is more, at least in some hagiographic narratives--especially a vividly told story about the wedding of Vyas's daughter. Vyas is about to marry off his daughter, and to accrue the virtue of performing the highly valued ceremony of kanyadana. A delicious meal has been prepared for this auspicious occasion. But even before the in-laws arrive, Vyas feeds the banquet to sadhus and holy men. This story is found in several sources, the most famous being the tika on Bhakt-Mal (370: 1-3) by Priyadas:
  suta kau vivdha bhayau badau utsdha kiyau nana pakavdna saba nlke bani
  dye haim
  bhaktani kl sudhi kari kharl arabarl mati bhdvand karata bhoga sukhada
  lagdye haim
  aya gaye sadhu so bulaya kahi pavaim jaya potani bamdhaya cdya kumjani
  pathaye haim (Bhagvanprasad 1977: 606)
  It was the wedding of (his) daughter. Joy abounded. Several dishes,
  all delicious, were prepared.
  Vyas informed the devotees. In a mood of great excitement, (63) he
  offered the delightful meal (to the murti).
  When the sadhus he had invited arrived, he said, "Please have (eat)
  this." He had the heaps (of food) (64) packed and sent to the bowers.

In relating that Vyas sent his daughter's wedding feast to holy men, the hagiographer deploys a typical topos expressing the conflict between the saint's worldly role (garhastha) and his devotion to God and holy men. (65) However, we need not dismiss the story as a hagiographical set piece. This incident can serve to contextualize two of Vyas's poems, one attested early, one late. They give a different perspective on the matter, and they introduce the saktas: (66)
  marem vejina mere ghara ganesa pujdyau
  je paddrtha samtana ke kdjem, te sdre sakatana nem khdyau
  vyasadasa kanya petahim kyom na marl, ananya dharma mem daga lagdyau
  (VG 289)
  May they die, who had Ganesa worshiped in my house!
  The food that was reserved for holy men was all eaten by sdktas.
  Vyasdas says: "Why didn't my daughter die in the womb? She put a blot
  on my exclusive devotion."

This is a curse poem, in which Vyas minces no words about his displeasure with saktas. Interpreted in the context of the hagiographical story, Vyas is complaining that what was prepared for holy men was eaten by saktas, presumably guests invited for the wedding. He is also disturbed that a Ganesa puja was performed (again presumably for the wedding rites), considering it an insult to his exclusive devotion for Krishna. It is not entirely clear whom he is blaming, but it appears to be his own family. Had a match been arranged with a family that Vyas regarded as sakta?

The issues are less ambiguous in a poem attested in the oldest manuscript (the previous one is only in the editions). There Vyas voices his frustration with his offspring, accusing them of serving rice (as in a wedding meal) to pimps:
  jau horn satya sukula kau jayau
  tau merau panu samcau kari hari, tuma daruna dusa payau
  mo anamnya ke mamdira memjini, thapi ganesam pujdyau
  tini kau vamsa vegi hari torahu, gai guhu jini sayau
  jinijivata horn hatyau lobha lagi, tihi vetani kau garau katayau
  tihi merau apamana kiyaujihi, kala hukdri vulayau
  jini kau soju na rahau kahom hari, jihi hari parasa chudayau
  rasa vilasa jaham hate taham, mallyagorila gayau
  gura govimdahi man gari dai, so papi ghara nayau
  yahai papa vegi hi phulihai, hatha juga vratham kahamyau
  vegi savari hari apu kau rati bharuvani kau bhatu savayau
  tihi samgati upaji yaha mamita, vamhanu vadhi vahayau
  jo mem kahyau soi hari kijyo, yaha paracaujaga payau
  vyasaju vavaim lunemgo dusa susa, yaha mata veda vatayau (VG 290 = J
  Since I was born of a family noble and true, a son of Sukul, (67)
  Make my pledge (of unalloyed devotion) come true, Oh God, (for) you
  were terribly wronged.
  My temple was for no other (but you) (ananya), but they set up Ganes'a
  to worship. (68)
  Stop their offspring quickly, God, for they're (like) a cow that has
  eaten her own shit. (69)
  While I'm still alive, they'd see me dead for greed; such sons should
  have their necks cut. (70)
  They insulted me, they challenged death to come.
  Let no trace be left of them anywhere, (71) God. They've spurned being
  in touch with God. (72)
  Where once the joy of the round dance (rasa) resounded, now
  Maliyagorila they sing. (73)
  Guru and Govinda abused and mistreated: those sinners destroyed (my)
  "May that sin quickly find retribution," (I)'ve prayed with joined
  hands, but in vain.
  Quickly, God, protect what is yours; (74) rice is being served to
  pimps. (75)
  This selfishness arises in their company, Brahminhood is totally done
  in. (76)
  Oh God, do just as I say--proof to the world. (77)
  Vyas, you'll harvest the joy and sorrow you've sowed. That's expounded
  in the Veda.

This pada reinforces the impression given by the previous one, especially with its reference to Ganesa puja in the exclusively Krsna temple, adding the apparently insulting Maliyagorila (see n. (73)). Vyas strongly disapproved both of the way the rites were arranged and carried out by his relatives and of some of the wedding guests (perhaps the new son-in-law's family, or the relatives of his daughter(s)-in-law). In his eyes these people were saktas, and he wants no commensality with them. His protest does not remain purely verbal. While the hagiographers suggest that Vyas chose to feed the wedding banquet to holy men rather than the wedding guests, in the verse just cited Vyas curses his sons for going against their father's wishes.

Vasudev GosvamI, a prominent scholar and a descendant of Vyas, speculates that his daughter's wedding may have been arranged by Vyas's sons while Vyas was away on an extended pilgrimage. He also thinks that this may have happened before Vyas left Orchha to settle in Vrindaban. Bharticand was the Orchha king at the time. Significantly, he was considered a sakta, as he carried out the worship of the clan goddess (kul-devi) Vindhyavasinl. Vasudev GosvamI interprets the poem as a curse laid upon Bharticand by Vyas, adding that the curse was effective and the king indeed died without issue (GosvamI 1952: 82-84).

Whether one accepts this traditional understanding, (78) it raises the issue of the possible political relevance of the sakta-bhakta conflict. Bharticand was succeeded by his brother Madhukar Shah, who patronized Vyas--a connection clear from both textual and hagio-graphic evidence. (79) Was Vyas involved in succession politics in Orchha? Was he part of a conspiracy against Bharticand, while his sons supported the king? At the very least, it seems that Vyas's "dissenting" hhakti was at some point interpreted as providing religious legitimacy for Madhukar's power grab. Thus, by raising the issue of the sibling rivalry between Bharatlcand and Vyas's sponsor Madhukar Shah, Vasudev GosvamI alerts us to a possible reality behind the strong sentiments against saktas. The dynamics behind the efforts of bhaktas to distance themselves from saktas may arise from a political struggle for royal sponsorship. We may speak of a political appropriation of bhakti if Madhukar Shah supported this type of religious expression, rather than that associated with his brother, at least partly to legitimize his somewhat irregular succession (for more, see Pauwels 2009).


This investigation confirms that for the early modern period it is misleading to think in binary terms of Hindu and Muslim as the two most prominent mutually antagonistic identities. In the fifteenth and sixteenth century at least, neither bhakti poetry nor narrative presents itself as opposed to Islam per se. Literature in these genres denounces ritualistic, orthodox representatives of both groups, "Hindu" and "Turak" or "Musalman." Bhakti sees itself as neither, but as an alternative way. Hindu and Muslim orthodoxies were only two out of a number of "enemies" of the bhakta. I have drawn attention to one often-overlooked group, the sakta. Various bhakti communities show widespread antipathy to saktas and advise their adherents to shun them, though it is not always clear what is meant by the term sakta--a specific community or a more generic set of "non-believers." But it is clear that the saktas, as enemies of bhaktas, are in Hirst's (2008) terminology, the "opponent other," perhaps to be interpreted here as competitors for the same pool of patrons.

Among the early Sants, Kablr exemplifies a low-caste bhakta in the urban setting of Benares addressing an audience of onlookers on the ghats and in the market, pointing fingers at those who slaughter animals, whatever their religious affiliation. He calls them saktas and exposes and opposes these groups in song and in biting, sarcastic distychs. For his everyday audience he stresses the threat posed by association with these animal-killers and hypocrites. But when addressing more advanced spiritual seekers, he points out that the truly liberated should transcend even this duality of Vaisnava versus salcta.

Another bhakti group is represented by Kabir's hagiographers, the Rajasthani Ramanandis, preaching in rural areas, vying with other religious groups for the sponsorship of local landowners. Here we see a move to appropriate the apparently very popular low-caste Sants, like Kablr, with their prestige, for the Ramanandl Sampradaya. In the story about Kabir's trial by the sultan Sikander, it is not Muslim-Hindu confrontation that matters. Rather, Anantdas highlights Kabir's condemnation of animal slaughter. Anantdas's stories make a strong effort to counter an apparently prevalent suspicion that Kablr was really a sakta himself, as a low-caste man, even though converted to bhakti. Such suspicions were voiced in the sarcastic gossip from Kabir's opponents as reported by the hagiographer and in the story of the "test" of Kablr by an apsara. Perhaps Kablr so vehemently opposed saktas because he himself was under constant suspicion of being one because of his low-caste background? (80) In Anantdas's accounts, the abhorrence of saktas because of their meat eating becomes mixed up with their low-caste status. According to the hagiographer, however, the problem of commensality with members of low castes can be solved by their conversion to bhakti. That seems to be the major message of the followers of Ramananda, who recommend their guru as the one who can integrate low-caste groups into the Vaisnava mainstream. The attention of Rajasthani Ramanandis is on converting the low-caste rural groups, while avoiding antagonizing sakta Brahmins, probably a powerful reality to reckon with in the service of Rajput patrons.

The Rama-devotee Tulsldas represents Brahminical bhakti, and possibly a different faction of the same Ramanandl Sampradaya. He is preaching in a similar setting as Kablr, the urban pilgrimage center of Benares, though perhaps less on the ghats than in the temple, from an authoritative position as expounder of scripture. While using the same medium as Kablr (dohas and songs), TUlsIdas opposes the use this popular vehicle is being put to during his time, for the expression of anti-orthodox sentiment. He denounces the disrespect of tradition and orthodoxy so prominent in Kabir's critiques. Tulsldas does not refer to saktas as such, but does express distaste for followers of the Tantric Kaula path or vamamarga and, once, for Gorakh Panthls. He does not address the issue of animal sacrifice by Brahmins--not surprising given the powerful Brahmin elite in his city. His agenda is to popularize traditional Brahminical Hinduism and adapt it to bhakti purposes. Coopting local elites rather than antagonizing them is part of his project.

We find opposition to saktas also in the Krishna devotional milieu, as exemplified by the Brahmin Hariram Vyas. Inspired by Kablr, he, too, makes some choice diatribes against saktas, including his own caste-fellows, sakta Brahmins. Though he cherishes a special devotion for the goddess Radha, he distances that from saktas, especially in his sermon-songs (siddhant pad). Most of these songs seem intended for a pilgrim audience in the newly discovered pilgrimage center of Vrindaban, where Vyas had settled. Some may date from the period when he was still in Orchha, where he became embroiled in the rivalry of the two Bundela brothers for the throne. The political rivalry of these Bundelas may have been entwined with their religious preferences for worship of the clan goddess (kul-devl). VindhyavasinI, and Vaisnava bhakti respectively. Some of Vyas's sons seem to have been involved in rituals of the former type, while Vyas felt his worship of Hari should be exclusive and did not allow for goddess or Ganesa worship on the side. Vyas's denunciation of saktas thus has both a personal and a political aspect.

The case study of Hariram Vyas, for whom more biographical material is available, helps us understand the many factors that inspired individual saints in their enmity towards saktas. There were real-life stakes--which rites Brahmins were willing to perform for their patrons and which patrons and political factions they were willing to be identified with. On a personal level, the saked / Vaisnava divide crucially impacted negotiations about commensality and marriage arrangements.

In conclusion, in the fifteenth-sixteenth century North Indian bhakti milieu,81 more breath was expanded on warning audiences away from saktas than from Muslims--in established as well as developing pilgrimage centers (Benares versus Braj), and also for rural audiences (Rajasthan). This emotion was shared across the spectrum of nirguna, Rama, and Krishna devotees.

(1.) I here look only at definitions of the term by outsiders. Self-representation of saktas would be another study.

(2.) Of course, the authorship of Hindi poetry of that period is problematic. Few poems can confidently be claimed to be "authentically" by the poet they are attributed to (see Hawley 1988). I will take care to alert the reader to the manuscript sources of each poem quoted.

(3.) The term iakta is sometimes used loosely, to refer to sinners in general, and in such cases is roughly synonymous with other similar terms such as vimukha 'turned away (from God)' andpakhanda 'schismatic, heretic'.

(4.) Though not using the term, Jaina hagiographical sources from at least the ninth century onwards include diatribes against goddess worshipers, who are endowed with similar characteristics in the eyes of disapproving Jainas (Anne Monius, pers. comm., April 14, 2009).

(5.) For an excellent summary of these recensions, see Dharwadker 2003: 25-58; in addition, see also Hawley 2005. I should point out that none occur in the Fatehpur manuscript, whose Kabir can be characterized as "vulgate Vaisnava" (Hawley 2005: 304), but that is only a very small group of poems, not really on its own constituting a "recension" like the others.

(6.) The text as quoted here and below is based on the Kabir Granthavall recension, as edited in Callewaert and Op de Beeck 1991; correspondences are given on the basis of Vaudeville 1993.1 provide my own working translations, much indebted to those by Vaudeville and Hess and Singh 1983.

(7.) The meaning is that wild and domestic animals are inherently different. I take guvadai as a locative of a masculine variant of govari 'cow-enclosure' (OHED). A rojh is a dark-coated antelope better known as nllgay (OHED) see also Vaudeville 1993: 205 n. 132).

(8.) I am grateful to Harpreet Singh, Ph.D. student at Harvard University, for drawing my attention to this poem (pers. comm., May 9, 2009).

(9.) We could also read in that light one of the dohas quoted above (KG 19.3 = GG 16). Similarly in a poem by Kablr attested only in the Guru Granth: sakata marahi samta sabhi jlvahi, rdma rasainu rasana plvahi (GG Gauri 13, p. 226).

(10.) The song in GG has a few more verses. Interestingly, some very similar songs are attributed to Namdev: ramma namma khetl ramma namma bari, hamarai dhana baba banavarl; ya dhana ki dekhau adhikai, tasa kara harai na lagai leal; daha disi ramma rahyau bharapuri, samtani nerai sakata duri; nammadeva kahai merai karasa-na soi, kumta masaiti karai na koi (Namdev Padavali 2 = GG asa). "The Lord's name is my farm. The Lord's name is my orchard. Lord Banvari is my treasure. Look at the greatness of my treasure. No thief can steal it, never will it rot. Rama fills the whole world, but he is close to the Sants and far from the wicked (sakta). He is the field I plough, no one can measure its extent, says Namdev" (Callewaert and Lath 1989: 143).

(11.) I speak of "Nathas," as in KabJr's time if is unclear whether there existed a sect of that name. According to Mallinson 2009, it was not till the fifteenth or sixteenth century that the Nathas were starting to become identified as an organized sampraddya of followers of Gorakhnath. Mallinson thinks that the "Nathas" may have been sakta, practising Tantric sex, but that certain elements underwent reform. The reform was attributed to Gorakhnath, who, after all, also rescued his guru Macchendra from his licentious ways (James Mallinson, pers. comm., July 15, 2010).

(12.) The issue is made murky by the problem of contemporary sources for Natha beliefs. Although Gorakhnath undoubtedly predated Kablr, records of Gorakh-bani in Hindi are later than for Kabir and may well already have incorporated bhakti elements. Thus it is tricky to determine who reacts to whom. See also Offredi 2002: 136 n. 19.

(13.) Also denounced are their engagement in the military labor market and their traveling with female companions, as in the often-quoted, yet late, song in the RamainI genre attributed to Kablr (see Lorenzen 1978: 61):
  aisdjoga na dekhci bhal, bhula phirai liye gaphildi
  mahddeva ko pamtha caldvai, also baro mahamta kahdvai
  hata bdjdrai labai tdri, kaccd siddhahi mayd pydrl
  kaba dattai mdndsl tori, kaba sukadeva topacijori
  ndrada kaba bamduka caldyd, vydsa deva kaba batnba bajdyd
  karahim lardi mati kam mamdd, ye atita ki tarakasa bamda
  bhaye birakta lobha mana thana, sand pahira lajdbai band
  ghord ghord kinha batord, gdmva pdya jasa calai karord
  tiya sumdari na sohai sanakddika ke sdtha, kabahumka ddga
  lagavai kdri hdmdi hatha (B rdmainl 69)
  Never have I seen such yoga, brother! He wanders mindless and
  Promoting the way of Mahadeva, he has himself called "great
  To markets and bazaars he peddles meditation, false siddha,
  lover of mayd.
  When did Datta(treya) break a fort, when did 3uka gather gunmen?
  When did Narada fire a gun, when did Vyasa Deva beat the battle drum?
  They fight dim-witted. Are they ascetics or arrow-bearers?
  Initiated ascetics, greed firmly in mind, wear gold! Shame
  (the ascetic's) dress!
  They collect stallions and mares, acquire villages and go
  about as millionaires.
  Pretty women did not grace the company of Sanaka and his brothers!
  At some point, when you put a hand on a black pot, a stain will stick.

This poem occurs only in the Bijak, and the reference to gun-powder betrays it as a later composition, postdating the 1526 battle of Panipat, where fire arms were first used (Lorenzen 1978: 61 n. 1). Other poems with a similar theme are not unique to the Bijak, but also attested in the KG tradition (e.g., KG pada 170 corresponding to the Bijak Kahara 7; the penultimate verse of KG pada 128, corresponding to GG Bhairau 11; see Vaudeville 1993: 231 and 240 resp.).

(14.) One poem that seems to hold Nathas in high esteem is translated by Lorenzen (1996: 161). It is attested in all recensions, but the version of this poem in the northern recension does not contain the positive reference to the Nathas, instead praising Jaydev and Namdev.

(15.) For example, the poem with the refrain samtau dhaga tuta gagana binasi gaya sabadaju kaham samal ehi samsa mohim nisa dina byapai koi na kahai samajhai "Sants, the string is broken, the sky is destroyed, where has the word evaporated to? This doubt keeps its power over me day and night, no one can explain it." The poem goes on to question all the basic elements of Natha meditation, and recommends only surrender at God's feet (KG pada 113, which corresponds to GG Gauri 52, though with significant variants in the last line).

(16.) Kabir and his followers may have been closely involved with fokta-oriented "Natha" groups in ways similar to what has been described of contemporary Kabir Pantos' missionary work with Rajasthani householder Natha groups (see Gold 2002). Ironically, some in these southeastern Rajasthani middle peasant householder Natha communities even interpret Kabir's verse as crypto-references to esoteric sexual rites.

(17.) See, e.g., KG pada 191, which corresponds to GG Maru 1; Bljak 4 and 10; for opposition to animal slaughter by Muslims, see KG sakhi 21.5, KG pada 183, which corresponds to GG Bibhas 4; also Bljak 49.

(18.) Indeed, the Sikh gurus themselves warned against saktas; see, e.g., a line from a poem by Guru Nanak: sabadi na bhljai sdkata, duramati dvanujdnu (GG Sirirag sabada 19, p. 21), and sdkata sacu na bhdvai, kudi kudt pami (GG Sirirag sabada 21, p. 22). The meaning of sdkta seems to have broadened--certainly by the time of the fourth guru, who defines the word thusly: "Those who do not love the Lord are saktas, stupid and half-baked men": jina kau priti nahl hari setl te sdkata muda nara kdce (GG Gauri-Purbl 55, p. 169). Compare also the longish poem with recurring reference to saktas by the fifth guru (GG Gauri 7, p. 239). Rather than denoting a specific group, it has become a general term of abuse for non-believers.

(19.) Nabha appears to mean that Kablr's poetry provides proof that Hindu and Tbrk are not contrary. He did not claim superiority of one over the other. I am grateful to Jack Hawley for sharing his understanding of this verse.

(20.) For more on the Sants, see Schomer and McLeod 1987; also Pauwels 2002: 93-106, 158-66, and 186-93.

(21.) Nabhadas famously enumerated the disciples of Ramananda in his "programmatic" chappdl 36 (Bhagvanprasad, p. 282), even though he did not mention the sectarian initiation in the chappals devoted to the disciples themselves. Anantdas was his "nephew-in-spiritual-terms": he lived in Raivasa with his guru Vinodldas, who in turn was a disciple of Agradas, who was also Nabhadas's guru.

(22.) In fact, that chapter is itself attested in only a few manuscripts and the line in question does not even occur in all of those few; see the next notes.

(23.) Most manuscripts actually have kabira instead of julaha (Callewaert and Sharma 2000: 55).

(24.) One manuscript has hari bhagatana kaupahlrya bhesa "He wore the garb of Hari's devotees," as the second half of the line (Callewaert and Sharma 2000: 55).

(25.) Most manuscripts do not include this line, and one of the two that do has vrata for guna (Callewaert and Sharma 2000: 55).

(26.) This reading is more or less the same in most manuscripts that include this chapter (Callewaert and Sharma (2000:) 55).

(27.) It is only found in what Lorenzen regards as the NiranjanI tradition, whereas what he calls the Dadu Panthi tradition, which is attested earlier, does not include it. Lorenzen translates the chapter as if it were unproblematically part of the Parcal, though he points out in a footnote to the text that the chapter is spurious (1991: 129), and of course the title of his book makes it clear that it treats only the NiranjanI recension. Callewaert disagrees with Lorenzen's characterization of the recension (Callewaert and Sharma 2000: 44-47), and in his edition and translation he points out that only a few manuscripts include the first chapter, the oldest one dated 1697 (47-48).

(28.) Although it has to be said that this line occurs only in a few manuscripts.

(29.) Compare also a poem attributed to Pipa (with early attestation) in which Kablr's and Raidas's devotion is contrasted with their animal-slaughtering and carcass-handling families (translated in Lorenzen 1996: 166).

(30.) See Lorenzen 1991: 76; the whole line is bakarl muragi kinha phuramaya, kisake kahe tuma churl caldya.

(31.) Unless we assume it was the other way around, and the Bljak verse was based on the Rajasthani hagiography--farfetched, but not impossible.

(32.) The apsara here talks very much as if she were the goddess, propitiated by many devotees. This may be an oblique reference to iakta worship.

(33.) He calls her "mother" (terai hatha na lamum marni, sahiba mera ramma risai 11.11 "I should not take your hand. Mother; my Lord, Rama, would get angry"). This address strengthens the impression that the seductive lady is really the goddess and that there may be a reference to saktas here. On the other hand, the line is not in all manuscripts, though he calls her mat also in 11.2a, 11.8b, etc. One should point out, however, that he may have used this address to mark her as a woman with whom he cannot have sexual relations, as is clear in some manuscripts in 1. 11.4.a (see Callewaert and Sharma 2000: 86).

(34.) The story of Pipa also contains references to sdktas. In the Pipa Parcai the word sakta occurs several times. First with regard to Suraj Sen, who was initiated by Pipa and whose kinmen were s'akm (17.1). A second time as a reference to a sakta village, the inhabitants of which were harsh and unkind to Pipa (32.14)--perhaps illustrating the words of Kablr about shunning sakta villages. There are also some Kablr-like dohas about s'aktas: sdgata priti kahau kihi kdmam, jadi tadi birac karai samgama; sadha samgai sabahi mili thapi, jdtaim nrimal hota hai pdpi "What's the point in associating with a sakta? Whenever he's displeased, he seeks a fight. The company of a sddhu is positive for all, as it cleanses even a sinner" (34.14).

(35.) Competition with the Nathas is clear from the stories about the origin of the Ramanandi institutionalization, which seems to have taken place under Anantdas's guru-grandfather, Krishnadas Payhari, early in the sixteenth century. This local saint settled the important site of Galta near Jaipur after ousting a group of Natha yogis (led by a certain Taranath, according to later sources; Horstmann 2002). Why was Galta so desirable? As with all real estate, the answer lies in location, in this case proximity to the local center of Amer. Indeed, Krishnadas managed to secure the sponsorship of the local king, Prithviraj of Amer. according to the hagiographies. The late Kablr ramaini denouncing warrior-sddhu-siddhas quoted in n. 13 may reflect such situations.

(36.) Anantdas stories were taken up and retold in the eighteenth century in Maharashtra by Mahipati (1715-90) in his famous Bhaktavijaya (composed in 1762). Mahipati had his own agenda, as a De^astha Brahmin, working as a scribe in Tharabad (Ahmedpur District). His grandfather, the saint Bhanudas, figured importantly in the circle of Varkarl devotees of Vithoba in Pandharpur. Mahipati's main political aim seems to have been to retrospectively link the famous Maratha king Sivajl with the Varkarl bhaktas and turn him into a champion against Muslim enemies (Laine 2003: 52-62). However, even as he was reinventing Sivajl as a "champion of Hinduism," he did not depict Hindus as a monolithic block. Mahipati was busy delinking Sivajl from the cult of BhavanI, and thereby opposing the sakta and Tantric agents that had been figuring so prominently in the seventeenth century, both at Sivajl's court (Ni[pounds sterling]cal Purl) and at SambhajI's (Kavi Kailas) (see Bendrey 1960; I am grateful to Rosalind O'Hanlon for this information: pers. comm., 23 October, 2008). We see how Mahlpati picks up on Kabir's ami-sakta rhetoric, though he never mentions the word itself in retelling the stories about Kabir in chapters 5 through 7 of his Bhaktavijaya (Abbott and Godbole 1933: 78-122).

(37.) The text in RCM reads lobha basa.

(38.) Text is from the vulgate edition in Sukla et al. 1974.

(39.) A full overview of where in Tulsf s works the dohas have been drawn from indicates that there are few "original" compositions (Grierson 1893: 124-27, based on research by Babu Ram Din Singh).

(40.) Compare jakem nakha aru jata bisoo, soi tapas prasiddha kalikala (RCM 7.98.4) "Grow long nails and hair, you'll be a famous ascetic in Kaliyuga," or bahu dama savarahim dhamajati, bisaya hari linhi rahi birati (RCM 7.101.1) "At much expense 'ascetics' decorate their dwellings; aestheticism has totally wiped out their asceticism."

(41.) This poem's textual transmission has been studied by Bangha (2004: 41-42): it is absent in two of the manuscripts he examined. However he speculates in general: "It is difficult to imagine how these poems found their way into a popular collection if they were not there originally, and in most of the cases we can presume omission rather than insertion" (Bangha 2004: 40). In the case of this particular poem he speculates that it may have been incomplete, and later copyists, unable to come to terms with a less than perfect output of the poet, may have left out the whole poem (p. 41).

(42.) The term frequently occurs also in Kabir's work, apparently referring to Natha yogis (see Offredi 2002: 131), though the specifics of the term are unclear.

(43.) This does not mean that he is opposed to writing in the vernacular and privileges Sanskrit. In the same work, he says as much:
  ka bhasa ka samsakrta, prema cahie samca
  kamaju aval kamari, ka lai karai kumaca (D 572)
  Vernacular or Sanskrit, what is needed is true love!
  When a simple blanket does the job, why look for a silken shawl?

(44.) RCM gives the variant tehi na calahim nara moha basa.

(45.) In the Ramayana context the reference to crooks in disguise may be also foreshadowing of Ravana's abduction of Slta by posing as an ascetic.

(46.) Or kama basa can refer to a different category of men. A total of fourteen types of people should be enumerated, but there is some latitude about how to count.

(47.) For reservations about its textual pedigree, see above. Basically, the manuscripts are late. However, all the poems quoted in the text (K 7.84-85 and 7.105) are apparently found in all recensions of the text (Bangha 2004; 42).

(48.) The two first lines of this kavitta are barana dhararna gayo asrama nivasa tajyo trasana cakita so paravano paro so hai, karama upasana kubasana binasyo jnana bacana biraga besa jagata haro so hai "Caste dharma has left, stages of life gone, fled startled with fear. Good deeds, discipline, and wisdom are destroyed by evil desires, deprived of the word is the world, asceticism a sham." And the last line: kaya mana bacana subhaya tulasi hai jahi riimanama ko bharoso tahi ko bharoso hai "who in body, mind, word, and nature trusts in the name of Rama, [says] TWsJ, that one is to be trusted."

(49.) I do not here discuss hagiographies of Tulsldas. The earliest is Nabhadas's Bhaktmal, which does not pronounce on Tulsa's presumed Ramanandi status (chappdi 129; Bhagvanprasad, p. 756). Nor does Priyadas's commentary contain anything relevant (ibid.: 759-74). Other hagiographies of Tulsi's life (Gautam Candrika and Mul Gosdl Caritra) are considerably later, and do not contribute anything of relevance either (see Lutgendorf 1994 for a general overview).

(50.) I am grateful to Tony Stewart for sharing his knowledge of the hagiographies about Caitanya (pers. comm., August 4-5, 2008).

(51.) As related in several Vallabhan sources. Translation from Caurdsi Vaisnavan ki Valid is found in Barz 1976: 217; translation of Sri Nathji Prakatya Varta by Vaudeville 1980: 40-41; see also nn. 18-19 on p. 44.

(52.) In quoting Vyas's poems, I give the text of the oldest attested versions, but with reference also to the sigla of the other manuscripts where the poem occurs.

(53.) The line is vyasaju hari taji anahim manata hvaihai turaka durogi "Vyas says: who turns away from Hari and respects someone else will be a Turk daroga."

(54.) This line is ambiguous. I have parsed it as bhakta hew mama "the bhakta (deserves) my love," with contrastive prana hatata hai "but he (the sakta) kills living beings."

(55.) matiyarau can be interpreted as from the verb matiya- 'to reduce to dust', as suggested by Shrivatsa Gosvami. Matiyarau could also be taken as matiyalau, 'earth-colored' (OHED), in which case one could translate as "not afraid of getting (his hands) dirty."

(56.) This line contains a pun, as kumdau has for its first meaning kutu/a 'large earthenware bowl', used for goddess worship (see description in text). However, it is used here as homophonous with kudau 'rubbish'. I am grateful to Shrivatsa Gosvami for help with explaining this line and the pun.

(57.) It should be said that the reference here is not as clear as in Kabir's work.

(58.) It may also specifically refer to the little flat earthen bowls, rilled with earth, in which barley is sown at the beginning of the Navardtrt puja.

(59.) As proclaimed in Durgasaptasatl 12.4: astamyamca caturdasyam navamyam caikacetasah, srosyanti caiva ye bhaktya mama mahatmyam uttamam. I am grateful to Shrivatsa Gosvami for suggesting this and providing me this reference (pers. comm., April 23, 2009).

(60.) Literally, "a vexed world."

(61.) Literally, "terrible sorrow of chickpea-greenery has grown." A translation utilizing this literal sense would be even less clear than the above.

(62.) It is of course always tricky to read poems autobiographically, especially in the absence of other documents. However, it remains relevant that there is this tradition of interpretating the poems such as within Vyas's family circles.

(63.) Kharl can be synonymous with bilkul or bahut adhik (BBSK 1:326).

(64.) caya can be synonymous with caya 'mound' (CDIAL 4681; H$S 1510), and can also be translated 'with enthusiasm' (caha).

(65.) Later commentators add a happy ending wherein the food is miraculously multiplied, so that both the wedding guests and the holy men get to eat their fill. Such a device is typical of such stories; examples abound, most famously perhaps in the tales about Kabir's liberality to holy men and the way God always helps him out (Lorenzen 1991:27-29).

(66.) It is difficult to determine whether the story of the wedding feast was inspired by Vyas's poems, or the other way around. The first poem I quote is not attested in the earliest manuscript,. The early hagiographer matches the tone in Vyas's poems better the later hagiographers.

(67.) A reference to Vyas 's father, also said to have been his guru, also possibly a pun on the literal meaning of the name Sulkla if analyzed as Sukul 'good family'.

(68.) Perhaps a reference to the invocation of Ganesa and Gaurl in marriage rituals and the drawing of their symbols on the wall (Shrivatsa Gosvami, pers. comm., May 14, 2009).

(69.) Clearly Vyas is using strong language in this poeam, though the verb kha- is used idiomatically with guhu for 'to do something vile'(OHEO). Instead of intepreting this expression as a simile as I have done on the advice of my native-speaker consultants, one might also have translated "for they have shamefully eaten beef."

(70.) This seems the most straightforward interpretation, despite some grammatical ambiguity.

(71.) I have interpreted kahau as synonymous with kahum.

(72.) Probably a reference to the sons' failure to care for the image of Krsna (referred to as Yugal Kisor in later literature, but here apparently called "Hari") that Vyas had set up for worship. Perhaps also, though not literally, of the sons not wishing to touch untouchable devoteea of Hari. An alternative translation, given the causative, would be "They pressed (me) to give up touching (the image of) Hari."

(73.) Perhaps songs in praise of Parvatl, also called Maliyagaurl, or to the goddess in general, often worshiped in the form of a vessel (maliya is a regional word for a vessel holding oil, see OHED). maliyagorila may also be a raga for a kind of wedding song (as suggested by native-speaker consultant Buddhi Prakash). Or as a corrupt form of Lamgurlya, a type of folk song linked with fertility and often containing sexual imagery.

(74.) Vasudev Gosvami gives a variant that can be translated as "The gentlemen are lusting for begums and kitchenmaids."

(75.) bhata can refer to the ritual gifts to the bride from her maternal uncle, but here a different reference may be intended, namely, the rice dish fed the father of the groom by the bride's party (BBSK). "Feeding rice to pimps" may imply that guests of dubious character were invited, or it may be an accusation that the bride is being "sold."

(76.) This is one way of making sense of this enigmatic line, literally, "From their company this attachment is bron; they have tied up Brahminhood and set it afloat,"

(77.) A variant in Vasudev Gosvaml's edition reads: "Hari did as I asked; the word has found proof."

(78.) There are serious questions about the plausibility of Gosvami's interpretation. A careful reading of the poem shows that Vyas is actually not cursing the king, but his own sons for their impertinence (line 5). Also, according to some accounts, Bharticand did have offspring; see Lai Kavi's Chatra Prakas (ca. 1710; Pogson 1828: 11).

(79.) Three poems in Vyas's oeuvre are directed to Madhukar Shah. Hagiographers describe Madhukar's visit to Vyas in Vrindaban, an attempt to convince him to come back to Orchha, but to no avail (see Pauwels 2002: 235-36).

(80.) I am grateful to Anne Monius for raising this possibility during the question session of my presentation at Harvard University on April 14, 2009.

(81.) For other areas this phenomenon remains to be studied, but some parallels for Maharashtra were given in n. 16 above), and William Pinch's work has shown a strong enmity between Saiva and Vaisnava monastic orders in the north (1996b). On the other hand, bhaktas and saktas seem to have coexisted in more harmony, though still with tension, in Bengal, as McDermott (2001) shows in her study of goddess devotion at a slightly later period.




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Author's Note: This paper originated as a talk at the Hunood wa Musalman symposium, October 3-5, 2008 at the University of California, Berkeley. I thank Vasudha Dalmia and Yunus Faruqui for the invitation and am grateful for the comments received from them and the audience, as well as for the questions and comments when the talk was presented at Harvard University on April 14, 2009. I am grateful for the help from native speakers Shrivatsa Goswami and Buddhi Prakash of Vrindaban. Finally, my thanks to Stephanie Jamison and the anonymous reviewers of this paper for JAOS for their suggestions for improvement.

Heidi Pauwels University of Washington
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Author:Pauwels, Heidi
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Oct 1, 2010
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