Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Asian Studies

First Advisor

Holly Gayley

Second Advisor

Lucas Carmichael

Third Advisor

Colleen Berry

Abstract

This paper aims to complicate and expand our understanding of relationality in female Hindu asceticism through the holistic retelling of Swāmī Āmritanandā Gīdī’s life story. Renunciation, a specific type of asceticism in which its initiates (m. sannyāsī; f. sannyāsīnī) renounce worldly pleasures in pursuit of spiritual liberation, is textually defined as ideally male and solitary. However, this ideal definition disregards the complexities of lived renunciation, especially of female sannyāsīs. The case study presented in this paper was gathered during a study abroad program through the University of Wisconsin at Madison during the fall of 2014 in Vārānasī, India. The findings from my experiential research with Swāmī Āmritanandā Gīdī establish a particularly female way of being a sannyāsī within a highly patriarchal Indian society. Such female characteristics include Swāmī Āmritanandā Gīdī’s relation to both her female guru as mother and the Hindu gods as children as well as her delayed asceticism due to her forced marriage. In this paper I argue that female sannyāsīs retain gendered characteristics from their former householder life which are expressed through the relationships they form during renunciation.

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