Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2017

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Asian Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Loriliai Biernacki

Second Advisor

Dr. Colleen Berry

Third Advisor

Dr. Daniel Jones

Abstract

I became interested in the topic of religious renunciation in Hindu India while taking Dr. Biernacki’s class about Hinduism. The pictures she showed our class of sadhus (Hindu renouncers) and her descriptions of their incredible feats of devotion, such as holding an arm up until the muscles atrophy, intrigued me. Doing research for a class project, I came across Lynn Tesky Denton’s book, Female Ascetics in Hinduism, about female sadhus in India. Prior to reading it, I assumed that the reason people chose to take sannyasa (renunciation) in Hindu India was that they were deeply religious and wanted to devote their lives to religious practice. Denton’s book, however, explains that many female sadhus take sannyasa for social reasons such as being physically or mentally handicapped, being a widow, or being unable to marry for a variety of reasons and that many of these women were not particularly religious before choosing to renounce.

While Denton examined the reasons women who are unable to marry or women who are widowed choose to take sannyasa, I decided to focus on a different population of women in an effort to expand the research that has been done regarding female sadhus in general and the social reasons women choose to take sannyasa in particular. The purpose of this thesis is to explore the reasons Hindu Indian women would not want to marry or stay married and the way that renunciation can allow women agency and power over their own lives that they would not otherwise have as householders. I argue that most of the women who choose to take sannyasa are poor, rural, low-caste women and that this demographic of women is usually held to traditional Hindu Indian gender roles that make marriage undesirable or completely unacceptable for some women. I then go on to argue that although women choose sannyasa in order to escape marriage, once they have renounced, they find that there are many advantages to renunciation, besides the fact that it is not a marriage.

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Hindu Studies Commons

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