Exploring the Rukmini-Krsna Bhakti Tradition in Maharashtra

Acharaya Kailashachandra Shastri (2008). Exploring the Rukmini-Krsna Bhakti Tradition in Maharashtra PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics, The University of Queensland.

       
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Author Acharaya Kailashachandra Shastri
Thesis Title Exploring the Rukmini-Krsna Bhakti Tradition in Maharashtra
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2008-10
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Chris Kang
Total pages 237
Total colour pages none
Total black and white pages 237
Subjects 440000 Philosophy and Religion
Abstract/Summary ABSTRACT The local bhakti tradition prevalent and popular in the state of Mahārāṣṭra in India worships Rukmiṇī-Kṛṣṇa (Ru-K) as the divine couple. The divine couple Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa as the object of devotion of the greater Vaiṣṇava bhakti tradition has been the focus of several academic studies. Almost all scholarly publications and literature relating to the religious tradition of Kṛṣṇa tend to focus on Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa as the divine couple. In contrast, very little is published on Rukmiṇī-Kṛṣṇa as a divine couple. My doctoral research examines the almost 700-year old Rukmiṇī-Kṛṣṇa bhakti tradition that is still very much alive today and that continues to thrive in the state of Mahārāṣṭra in India. The research has focused on centrality of Goddess Rukmiṇī in the tradition and its doctrine as revealed from the Marāṭhī devotional literature written by its poet-sants. I also study the devotional practices and profile of contemporary Ru-K tradition followers to establish how their understanding of the doctrine influences and shapes their personal practices. In particular, I explore the hypothesis that the Rukmiṇī-Kṛṣṇa bhakti tradition is a distinctive, syncretistic, and living devotional tradition that integrates Vaiṣṇava and Śaiva elements in its Marathi poet-sant literature as well as in its religious practice amongst its followers. Thus, in both theory and practice, the tradition caters to the needs and dispositions of followers from various social classes. My research methodology mainly comprised textual analysis Marāṭhī devotional literature written by the four major poet-sants of the Ru-K bhakti tradition. The research also involved a small component of field trip to study the contemporary followers and practices of the tradition. Research revealed that the followers of Rukmiṇi-Kṛṣṇa bhakti tradition look upon Rukmiṇī as pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa. The analysis of the hagiographies and local legends reveal Rukmiṇī’s role as a mediator and facilitator of meetings of Kṛṣṇa with those who love him and are devoted to him. Acting as a mediator between Kṛṣṇa and his common devotees, she brought him out of his royal pastimes of Dvārakā to Paṇḍharapura, albeit on the pretext of getting upset with him. Following Kṛṣṇa’s appearance in Paṇḍharapura, it has become the centre and springboard of Rukmiṇī-Kṛṣṇa bhakti tradition. The Paṇḍharapura pastimes of Kṛṣṇa primarily involve personal loving exchanges between Kṛṣṇa (as Viṭṭhala) and his devotees from all walks of life. In these pastimes, Rukmiṇī plays the compassionate mediator between Kṛṣṇa and his devotees, facilitating their meetings and exchanges. Therefore, Rukmiṇī is also looked upon by devotees as a kind and considerate mother. Analysis of the sant literature of the tradition revealed the dichotomous doctrinal stance of Advaitic (non dualistic) nirguṇa bhakti towards an impersonal Supreme taken by Jñāneśvara and Ekanātha, and that of Vaiṣṇava (dualistic) saguṇa bhakti towards a personalised form of Supreme, taken by Nāmadeva and Tukārāma, co-existing under the umbrella of Rukmiṇī-Kṛṣṇa bhakti tradition. The reason for such a harmonious co-existence of mutually incompatible doctrines and flourishing of the tradition despite the incongruity is owing to the two common practices, singing the glories of Kṛṣṇa and worshipping of personal form of Kṛṣṇa, both of which are considered to be of significance by both doctrines, albeit for different reasons and to achieve dissimilar objectives. Both practices have been instrumental in bringing together the followers and devotees with contrasting and incompatible doctrinal leanings. The case study of the contemporary devotees revealed a dichotomy, in the form of two different classes of devotees found within the tradition, one consisting of the non-elite rank and file devotees from rural and semi-urban regions displaying saguṇa bhakti practices and understanding, and the other consisting of devotees from the elite class taking an Advaitic nirguṇa stance. These classes continue to be maintained because the preachers, although Advaitic in their personal stance, tend to preach saguṇa bhakti to the masses, considering them to be insufficiently qualified for the advanced stage of Advaita. Consequently, the dichotomy perpetuates itself and is apparently harmonized through this bivalence on the part of preachers and common devotees. The unique aspect involving the fusion of Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism that one finds in the form of Hari-hara-aikya-bhava, sets the Rukmiṇī-Kṛṣṇa bhakti tradition distinctly apart from the greater Vaiṣṇava tradition, where such a fusion is not just absent, but rather clearly and consciously avoided.
Keyword rukmini-krishna, vitthala, rukmini, marathi vaishnavism, varakari, panduranga, saguna bhakti, nirguna bhakti, marathi poet-sant, pandharpur.
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