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Theses Doctoral

Eknath Remembered and Reformed: Bhakti, Brahmans, and Untouchables in Marathi Historiography

Keune, Jon Milton

This dissertation investigates how stories about the Marathi sant-poet Eknath of Paithan (1533-1599) interacting with untouchables changed over the course of three centuries of textual repetition and dramatic representation. In tracing memories of Eknath over such time and through various Marathi public spheres, the dissertation sheds light on why Eknath has come to be viewed in complicated and conflicted ways in the present. This examination of stories, particularly as they pertain to inter-caste relations and the expression of a bhakti social outlook, offers a chance to view how understandings of devotional religion and caste changed in Maharashtrian society between 1700 and the present. At the heart of these stories is a narrative tension between Eknath's boundary-transgressing actions that are presented in spiritually egalitarian terms, and societal expectations about ritual purity and brahman-ness. I show that although the details of the stories change through various repetitions and renditions, this tension endures and produces an ambiguity in the narrative that (perhaps intentionally) makes Eknath's social allegiance impossible to determine. My sources for this study include hagiographical texts (ca. 1650-1800), biographical books and essays (1880-1925), and six major dramas and films (1903-2005) -- all of which richly portray aspects of Eknath's life, and nearly all of which are in Marathi. In the course of preparing this historiographical analysis, I introduce many Marathi sources to the English scholarly world for the first time and call attention to several historical texts and plays that have been forgotten or overlooked by Marathi scholars as well.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Religion
Thesis Advisors
Hawley, John Stratton
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 10, 2011
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