The Vaisnava-sahajiya cult that arose in Bengal in the sixteenth century was an in-tensely emotional attempt to reconcile the sensual and the ascetic. Exploring the history and doctrine of this cult, Edward C. Dimock Jr., examines the works of numerous poets who are the source of knowledge about this sect. Dimock examines the life of the Saint Caitanya, the mad Baul singers, the doctrines of Tantrism, the origins of the figure of Radha, and the worship of Krishna. His study will appeal to students of the history of religion as well as of Indian culture. This edition includes a new Foreword by Wendy Doniger.
EDWARD C. DIMOCK JR. is Distinguish& Service Professor in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations al the University of Chicago.
This book, first published in 1966, inspired a whole generation of Indologists-my generation-who aspired to emulate it in a number of ways but never, I think, matched it. Certainly I would never have been able to write my first book about Siva until The Place of the Hidden Moon had created a space for that book within the whole new world of possibilities that it introduced for the study of Indian religions. It seems to me, too, that a number of important books written in the last two decades owe their conception, their style of approach, and sometimes even their central idea to The Place of the Hidden Moon. The most obvious works of this sort are books about Krishna John Stratton Hawley's book on Krishna the butter thief, David Kinsley's The Sword and the Flute and The Divine Player, the translations and interpretations of Surdas by Kenneth Bryant and by John Stratton Hawley) and books about Krishna and Radha (the book of essays about Radha as the divine consort by John Stratton Hawley and Donna Wulff, David Kinsley's book on Hindu goddesses, Barbara Stoler Miller's translation of the Gita Govinda, and Lee Siegel's book on sacred and profane dimensions of love in the Gita Govinda).
But there are many other books on subjects more broadly related to The Place of the Hidden Moon that are, I think, less obviously, but no less profoundly, indebted to Dimock. This list would include not only all the books that have been written since 1966 about the Indological topics of religion in Bengal, literature in Bengal, and Tantrism in general, but books on subjects that extend far beyond the borders of India: books about erotic mysticism, about love, about sex, and about the relationship between love and sex, not just in India but in the world at large.
For this is one of the few books in the field of Indology that combines the kind of meticulous scholarship that great Indology requires-the painstaking translation and analysis of hundreds of obscure, difficult texts-with the kind of elegance and humor that has generally been the privilege of a few gifted scholars of Western literature: scholars like A. E. Housman, Gilbert Murray, and T. S. Eliot. The scholarship is certainly here; this is the most reliable and indeed altogether the best book I know on all of the many Indological subjects with which it deals, some of them major topics in Indian religion: the life of the saint Caitanya, the tradition of the mad Baul singers, the aesthetic theory of rasa, the bhakti tradition of the love of God, the doctrines of Tantrism, the origins of the figure of Radha, and the worship of Krishna. But the elegance and humor are there too, and these are the qualities that make this book the best book I know on spiritual and carnal love (or sacred and profane love) in general, on love in union and love in separation, on the difference between poetic and doctrinal attitudes to love, between married love and adulterous love, and between European and Indian attitudes to sexual love, spiritual love, and the love of God. It is rare indeed to find that a work that was once a doctoral dissertation, and that still bears the doctoral scars in the form of some fairly technical discussions of abstruse textual problems, can still be not only as readable but as generally humane, as broadly meaningful, as this book is.
Dimock's treatment of Tantrism, unlike the many other books on Tantra that are all seriously flawed in one way or another, steers triumphantly between the Scylla of obscenity and the Charybdis of pedantry. For Tantrism, and the sexual aspect of Hinduism more generally, was until very recently a great embarrassment to Indology, stirring conflicting passions and getting caught on the hooks of various political agendas. The reputed obscenity of Tantric texts (and, indeed of certain Vedic texts and certain Hindu temple carvings) simultaneously attracted and repelled early European Indologists. To the extent that they were attracted, they might titillate themselves either positively, in the "noble savage" genre of Victorian envy ("How free and happy these Hindus are with their sexuality" and "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din"), or, the shadow side of the same coin, censoriously ("Listen to the terribly, terribly dirty things that these wretched barbarians write about and do, as I relate them to you in luscious details).
MUCH OF THE MATERIAL in this book was first presented as a part of my doctoral dissertation to the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University in 1959, and some parts of it have subsequently appeared in various articles and papers; my brief chapter on the Bails, for ex-ample, reuses some part of the material which was first published in an article entitled "Rabindranath Tagore-The Greatest of the Bauls of Bengal,' " in the Journal of Asian Studies in November, 1959. I am grateful to the editors of that journal for their permission for this reuse. Some portions of the third chapter were used in an article entitled "Doctrine and Practice among the Vaisnavas of Bengal," which appeared first in History of Religions (Summer, 1963) and later in Krishna: Myths, Rites, and Attitudes (Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1965) edited by Mil-ton Singer; I thank the editors and publishers of these publications for their kind permission to reprint those sections here. I am also grateful to the Macmillan Company of New York for permission to quote "Solomon and the Witch," from The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1952) .
Since 1959 I have spent little time working on the Saba-jiyas, but an occasional bit of data such as the manuscript Sahaja nayika-tika, insofar as I have been able to decipher it, is the result of sporadic work since that time. I have been working, however, on the Caitanya-caritamrta of Krsnadasa Kaviraja, a text that is a product of more orthodox Vaisnavism but one that the Sahajiyas consider important to their own particular doctrine. As a result, certain of my interpretations and conclusions have changed somewhat from those presented in the dissertation, as has the order of their presentation.
I do not feel that this is a finished study. The Sahajiya writings themselves are obscure, unsystematic, and to make matters worse, written in a language that is deliberately con-fusing-for their doctrine is esoteric and thus to be hidden as much as possible from outsiders. I have attempted certain conclusions and left others for the reader to draw on the basis of the data presented; I think, for example, that the data indicate certain interesting and general things about syncretistic processes in Indian religion, but I have not at-tempted to make this an overt theme of the book. I have merely tried, as far as it has been possible for me to do, to provide information about a religious system which I find intrinsically interesting. The information does not always fall neatly into as systematic a pattern as one might wish.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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