Theses Doctoral

Bhakti Religion and Tantric Magic in Mughal India: Kacchvahas, Ramanandis, and Naths, circa 1500-1700

Burchett, Patton

This dissertation sheds new light on the nature and development of Hindu devotional religiosity (bhakti) by drawing attention to bhakti's understudied historical relationships with Tantra, Yoga, and Sufism. Specifically, this thesis explains the phenomenal rise of bhakti in early modern north India as a process of identity and community formation fundamentally connected to Sufi-inflected critiques of tantric and yogic religiosity. With the advent of the Mughal Empire in the sixteenth century, new alliances--most notably Akbar's with the Kacchvaha royal clan of Amer--led to the development of a joint Mughal-Rajput court culture and religio-political idiom in which Vaishnava bhakti institutional forms became key symbols of power and deportment, and thus bhakti communities became beneficiaries of extensive patronage. Through a study of the life and works of the important but little-known bhakti poet-saint Agradas, this thesis offers insight into how these bhakti communities competed for patronage and followers. If the rise of bhakti was inseparable from Mughal socio-political developments, it was also contingent upon the successful formation of a new bhakti identity. This thesis centers on the Ramanandi community at Galta, comparing them with the Nath yogis to show the development of this bhakti identity, one defined especially in opposition to the "other" of the tantric yogi and shakta. It also contributes a broad study of early modern bhakti poetry and hagiography demonstrating the rise of new, Sufi-inflected, exclusivist bhakti attitudes that stigmatized key aspects of tantric and yogic religiosity, and that therein prefigured orientalist-colonialist depictions of bhakti as "religion" and Tantra as "magic."

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
McDermott, Rachel Fell
Hawley, John Stratton
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 11, 2012