Sahajiya texts of Nadia
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Sahajiya texts of Nadia book
This chapter discusses several kinds of very rare Sahajiya texts which comprise a rich source of oral tradition—stories, proverbs, poems, couplets etc.—collected during fieldwork in Nabadwip, the famous Vaishnava pilgrimage town in the Nadia district of West Bengal. Sahajiya are quasi-tantric religious groups of the lowest castes and classes, who primarily subscribe to the theology of Bengal-Vaishnavism, but interpret its discursive vocabulary in a way which legitimises their religious practices, including ingestion of bodily excreta and sexual-yogic rituals. The texts have double-meanings: to an ordinary listener these strike as simple religious expositions addressed towards Vaishnava deities; but each text also has a secret other esoteric meaning, which only initiated Sahajiyas understand and discuss. These meanings pertain to their religious practices. This essential aspect of layering in Sahajiya texts have made way for diverse readings of their texts, and have helped them survive and grow since the colonial period. The exoteric meanings of the texts have facilitated their public utterances, while their esoteric meanings have preserved their identity differences from all others. This chapter further argues that these texts have helped Sahajiyas assertively endure despite elite efforts at reform and revival since the colonial period and have constituted their immense identitarian pride.