ABOUT THE BOOK:
Based on field research conducted in North India from 1969-73, socio-cultural anthropologist Robert Lewis Gross provides a richly detailed ethnographic account of India's colorful and charismatic holymen, or sadhus as they are referred to in South Asia. Through an examination of their cosmology, sacred symbolism, ritual practices, and varied interrelationships with the Hindu latty, Dr. Gross attempts to understand the persistence of ancient traditions of asceticism and world renunciation in modern Indian social and religious life. It appears that renunciation and the formation of ascetic sects have been direct socio-religious responses to conditions of endemic stress existing in the society through time. The continued presence of ascetic sectarian organizations and a significant itinerant population of renunciant monks and sadhus suggests that inherent cultural contradictions and social inequities in the caste structure continue to underlie that stress. ironically, India's ascetics who structurally lie “outside” the conventional world of caste and kinship relationships tend to maintain the hierarchical status quo by preserving ancient paths of wisdom and transcendence. Multiple levels of social interaction tie the sadhus to the Hindu householders in complex ways benefiting both groups. In addition, asceticism provides one of the few means for individual mobility as the life histories presented indicate. As living symbols of traditional modes of transcendence, India's sadhus preserve key cultural elements and sacred knowledge, all too often lost from the human record in a rapidly changing world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Robert Lewis Gross received his Ph.D. degree in Anthropology from the University of California-Berkley in 1979 and is currently an Associate Environmental Planner for the State of California working in San Francisco, California, USA.