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Between Text and Sect: Early Nineteenth Century Shifts in the Theology of Ram


This dissertation "Between Text and Sect: Early Nineteenth Century Shifts in the Theology of Ram", focuses on the two primary facets of Ram devotion in North India. The cult of Ram, which is not only central to the practice of modern Hinduism but is also the lynchpin of Hindu nationalist politics, emerged as a major devotional tradition in sixteenth century North India. The Ram tradition was propelled by two primary forces - the famous devotional composition of Tulsidas, the "Ramcharitmanas" and the rapidly expanding monastic community, the Ramanandi sect. Modern scholarship on Ram devotion has either tended to treat each facet separately or has simply assumed that the text forms the theological core of the sect. My research shows that although text and sect emerged almost simultaneously in the sixteenth century, they represented distinct theologies until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when they were united under the patronage of a rising Hindu polity. My dissertation focuses on the earliest literary-theological link between the "Ramcharitmanas" and the Ramanandi sect. Through a study of early sectarian commentaries, I show how the Ramanandis shaped the contours of the Ram tradition by incorporating their distinct theology into the "Ramcharitmanas". The sectarian adoption of the devotional text, and the spurt in the production of exegetical literature among other genres, highlights the centrality of literary cultures to the formation of the Ram devotional community in early modern North India. This project thus not only makes an intervention into the history of Ram devotion, but also has wider implications for the study of the formation of modern Hindu religious traditions.

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