Class, Modernity, and Female Religiosity in Pustimarg Vaisnavism (2024)

A Prestigious Path to Grace:

Class, Modernity, and Female Religiosity in Pustimarg Vaisnavism

sh*tal Sharnia

Faculty of Religious Studies
McGill Univeristy, Montreal
September, 2013

A thesis submitted to McGill University in partial fulfillment
of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

© sh*tal Sharma, 2013

Table of Contents

Acknolwedgements Hi

Abstract v

Resume vii

Note on Transliteration ix

Introduction 1-34

Chapter One: Baniyas on the Path to Grace: Pustimarg and 35-67

the Production of Prestige among the Mercantile Communities
of Gujarat, 1670-1860

Chapter Two: Colonial Contexts: Baniyas and the 68-98

Formation of Elite Identity in the Bombay Presidency

Chapter Three: Domesticating Pustimarg: Middle-Class 99-156

Modernities and Socio-Religious Reform

Chapter Four: Gender and Genres: Towards a Social History of 157-213

Women in Pustimarg

Chapter Five: From HavelTto Home: Women’s Domestic 214-263

Religious Practices and the Production of Prestige in
Contemporary Pustimarg

Conclusion 264-277

Bibliography

278-300

Acknowledgements

This project has received financial support from both the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council (the Canada Graduate Scholarship) and from the Shastri
Indo-Canadian Institute (the Doctoral Student Research Fellowship). The Faculty of
Religious Studies of McGill University has also provided two generous grants in the last
years of my program: the Dean’s Fellowship and the Dissertation Completion
Fellowship. I am grateful for this support.

I took my first class with Davesh Soneji, my supervisor and mentor, over a
decade ago. Needless to say, it changed the trajectory of my life. Davesh is a brilliant
scholar, an engaging teacher, and, more importantly, he is a kind, generous, and
incredibly supportive supervisor. I remain indebted to him for the countless hours he has
spent poring over my work and discussing my research with me. His passion about all
things related to South Asian studies is contagious and I thank him for continuing to
inspire me and teach me new things every day.

Over the course of my graduate career, I have interacted with a number of
scholars and fellow graduate students who have taken the time to provide feedback on
my conference presentations, share their work with me, and answer my persistent
questions. These include Francoise Mallison, Jack Hawley, Amrita Shodhan, Shandip
Saha, Neelima Shukla-Bhatt, Douglas Haynes, Rupi Naresh, Amy Allocco, Lisa Trivedi,
Meilu Ho, Pumima Shah, and Emilia Bachrach. Abigail McGowan, especially, has been
incredibly kind with her time, research, and feedback.

My research in India was facilitated through the generous help of the following
individuals: Dr. Savaliya of the BJ Institute of Learning and Research in Ahmedabad, R.
Nanavati and Sharmila Bhat of the Oriental Institute of MS University in Baroda, Jayesh
Shah from the Center of Culture and Development Research in Baroda, and the numerous
librarians I met at the Gujarat Vidyapith in Ahmedabad over the years. My work with the
Pustimarg community would not have been possible without the support of Shyam
Manohar GosvamI, Vagishkumar GosvamI, Tilak Bava GosvamI, Chandragopal
GosvamI, Raja betiji, Indira betiji, Nikunjlata betiji, Brajlata bahuji, and Krishnakumar
Nayak. I would also like to thank all the Pustimarg lay women I met over the years for
graciously opening up their religious, social, and personal lives to me.

Teachers and colleagues I have met over the last decade in Montreal include
Lara Braitstein, Victor Hori, Leslie Orr, Arvind Sharma, and Katherine Young. They
have always been kind and supportive of my work. I would also like to thank Judith
Sribnai for her help with translating my abstract into French.

Finally, my largest debt is owed to my family, especially my mother and
father, for their sustained support, endless patience, and bottomless love. I could not have
completed this dissertation without them. Chetan, you have always cheered me on and
cheered me up - especially in the times when I needed it most. Thank you for taking this
journey with me; may it always be filled with grace.

Abstract

This dissertation explores the relationship between class formation, women’s
religious practices, and domesticity among the Pustimarg Vaisnav mercantile
communities ( baniyas ) of Gujarat. It argues that in modem India, Pustimarg women’s
religious activities inform baniya class fonnation and respectability on the one hand, and
constitute the domestic patronage of Pustimarg on the other. Women’s social and
religious practices thus come to be centrally implicated in the question of what it means
to be a PustimargI Vaisnav in the modem world.

Using archival and textual sources, I begin by unpacking the social and
economic histories of baniya communities in both pre-colonial and colonial contexts, and
trace their emergence as Pustimarg’s most prestigious patrons. Throughout the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in emulation of Rajasthani nobility, baniyas
publically displayed wealth and prestige through donative activities centered around both
Pustimarg temple ritual (seva, “service”), and gifts offered to the Brahmin religious
leaders of the tradition, the Gosvamls. As “class” begins to emerge as a discrete marker
of status in colonial India, upper-caste Pustimarg women are positioned as vital actors in
the production of family prestige and respectability within the domestic sphere. In this
dissertation, I therefore focus on Pustimarg baniya negotiations with modernity and
identify baniya men’s concerns around sectarian identity as they come to be dramatized
in nineteenth and early twentieth-century social refonn movements centered upon women
in the Bombay Presidency (including the well-known “Maharaj Libel Case” of 1862).

v

This study also turns to traditional sources, such as Pustimarg hagiographic
literature ( vartas ) and devotional songs composed by women in the dhol and garbd
genres, in order to understand the religious practices of women in these communities and
their relationship to the production of prestige. My analysis of the vartas provides a sense
of women’s social roles and positions in the Pustimarg imagination, while women’s
perfonnance genres provide an important counterpoint to the much-celebrated “official”
liturgical music of Pustimarg temples (haveils). In the final chapter of the dissertation I
draw on my ethnographic work to demonstrate how, in the contemporary context, the
imbrication of material and religious cultures is seen through the performance of
increasingly commodified styles of domestic ritual and through the consumption and
display of religious commodities in the home. Recently, women from upper-class
Pustimarg families have also begun taking lessons in what they regard as the “classical”
style of temple or havelT music. All these processes, I argue, cast women as the
producers, performers, and pedagogues of elite Pustimarg sectarian identities. The
material expressions of their devotion in domestic contexts as well as women’s religious
practices - which includes performing sevci daily, organizing religious gatherings in the
home, and participating in temple music lessons - have reconstituted the home as a
modem site of Pustimarg patronage.

vi

Resume

Cette these analyse la relation entre constitution d'une classe, pratiques
religieuses des femmes et espace prive, au sein de la communaute marchande Visnouiste
Pustimarg du Gujarat. II s'agit de montrer, d’une part, que, dans l’lnde modeme, les
activites religieuses accomplies par les femmes Pustimarg participent a la formation de la
caste baniya, et a sa reconnaissance, et que, d’autre part, ces pratiques represented un
appui fondamental a la secte Pustimarg dans l'espace domestique. Les pratiques sociales
et religieuses des femmes constituent ainsi un element central pour comprendre ce que
signifie etre Visnouiste PustimargI dans le monde actuel.

A partir d’archives et de sources ecrites, je commence par mettre a jour

l’histoire sociale et economique des communautes baniya durant la periode pre-coloniale

et coloniale, de maniere a montrer comment ces communautes sont devenues les mecenes

les plus prestigieux du Pustimarg. Tout au long des XVII e et XVIII e siecles, imitant la

noblesse du Rajasthan, les baniya manifestent publiquement leur prosperity et leur

distinction en faisant des offrandes rituelles dans les temples Pustimarg (seva,

« service »), ou par le biais de dons remis aux maitres brahamanes de la tradition, les

Gosvamls. Alors que la « classe » s’impose comme marqueur d’appartenance sociale dans

l'Inde coloniale, les femmes de la haute societe Pustimarg tiennent une place essentielle

dans l’elaboration du prestige et de la reconnaissance de la famille au sein de l'espace

prive. Dans ce travail, je m’interesse a la maniere dont les baniya Pustimarg negocient

leur passage dans la modemite. J'examine les questions que posent l'identite sectaire

notamment aux homines baniya dans le contexte des mouvements de reformes sociales

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pour les femmes qui ont lieu dans la Province de Bombay au XIX e et debut XX e siecle
(par exemple dans le tres connu « Cas Maharaj Libel » en 1862).

Pour comprendre les pratiques religieuses des femmes ainsi que leur role dans
la reconnaissance de la communaute, je m’appuie egalement sur des sources
traditionnelles, telle que la litterature hagiographique Pustimarg ( vdrtds ) et les chants de
devotion dhol ou garbd composes par les femmes. L'analyse des vdrtds montre le role
social de ces femmes et leur place dans l’imaginaire Pustimarg. Elle revele egalement que
les genres reserves aux femmes constituent un pendant important aux chants liturgiques
officiels et plus celebres des temples Pustimarg. Dans le dernier chapitre de cette these,
une approche ethnographique pennet de montrer comment, dans le contexte
contemporain, le melange de culture materiel et spirituel est perceptible dans des rituels
prives de plus en plus tournes vers la consommation ainsi que l’acquisition et l’exposition
d’objets religieux dans la maison. Recemment, des femmes de la haute societe Pustimarg
ont commence a prendre des lemons sur ce qu'elles considerent cornme le style
« classique » des temples, la musique havelT. L’ensemble de ces phenomenes confere aux
femmes les roles de productrice, actrice et temoin de l’identite Pustimarg chez les elites.
Les fonnes materielles de la devotion dans l'espace domestique, de meme que les
pratiques religieuses des femmes (la pratique quotidienne du sevd, l’organisation de
reunion a la maison, les legons de musique au temple) font aujourd’hui de la maison le

lieu central du Pustimarg.

Note on Transliteration

Transliterations of Sanskrit and Hindi conform to the conventions outlined in the Oxford
Hindi-English Dictionary (McGregor 1996). I do not use diacritics for places, for the
names of associations or societies (such as Arya Samaj), newspapers, journals, and for
the names of persons who lived after the nineteenth century. I adopt diacritics for
honorary titles (such as Maharaj, GosvamI) and caste names (with the exception of
Brahmin). When secondary sources are quoted, the conventions deployed by the author
are reproduced in quotations. I use Sanskrit transliteration over Hindi when referring to
the titles of Sanskrit texts and for the names of Vallabhacarya, Vitthalanatha, and
Gokulanatha. For all other tenns, I use standard Hindi transliteration.

Introduction

Pustimarg, or “the Path of Grace,” is a Vaisnav devotional tradition centered
upon the worship of Srlnathjl, a localized fonn of Krsna enshrined in the sect’s main
pilgrimage center in the town of Nathdwara, Rajasthan. The tradition was established in
the sixteenth century by Vallabhacarya (ca. 1479-1531, also known as Vallabha), a
Telugu Brahmin, who discovered the svarup (“self-manifestation”) of Srlnathjl during his
travels in the Braj region of north India. 1 After erecting a small shrine for the image,
Vallabha developed a form of devotional worship that came to be known as sevd
(“service”). 2 Vallabha and, later, his second son and successor, Vitthalanatha (ca.1516-
1586), are said to have embarked on a series of pilgrimage tours across northern and
western India in an effort to consolidate support for the burgeoning tradition. In western
India, such as Gujarat and Rajasthan, Vallabha and Vitthalanatha drew followers from a
range of social and caste backgrounds - from the poorest agrarian communities to
members of the wealthy mercantile elite and political nobility.

1 Traditional accounts of the “four teaching traditions” ( catuh or car sampraday) model, which emerge in
the early eighteenth century, intend to demonstrate how the four Vaisnav sects of Ramanand, Kesav Bhatt
Kasmlrl, Caitanya, and Vallabhacarya are the North Indian expressions of the southern traditions
established by Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhva, and VisnusvamI, respectively (Hawley 2011, 160-161). In
its broader understanding, “Vaisnav” refers to an individual who worships Visnu or any one of his avatdra s
(“incarnation,” “descent-form”), the most popular of which are Krsna and Ram. Finally, although 1 use the
term “sect” as a translation for sampraday throughout this thesis, I want to distance myself from its
traditional meaning, which sometimes carries a negative connotation of dissention from a majority group. I
am using the term “sect” to describe a specifically South Asian religious phenomenon based on the
following definition of sampraday. “a vehicle for transmitting and perpetuating a sacred tradition via a
continuous succession of preceptors” (Bennett 1990, 187).

2 In the Pustimarg context, the term svarup (Skt. svariipa, “own form”) - and not miirti (“embodiment”) or
vigraha (“form, figure”), is used to refer to images of Krsna-Srinathjl. As a svarup , the image is considered
to be the imminent manifestation of god, requiring all the loving attention as a living child-Krsna.

Similarly, the term puja, which is understood as a practice bound by formality and selfish intentions, is not
used to denote Pustimarg worship. Instead, sevd (“service”) is used to describe the sincere and spontaneous
actions by which devotees take care of Srlnathjl and offer their devotion.

1

Under the leadership of Vitthalanatha, sevd evolved into a deeply aesthetisized
and opulent form of worship consisting of the temple-based offerings of poetry ( kirtan ),
music, food ( bhog ), and ornamentation ( srhgcir ). In Pustimarg temples, commonly
referred to as havelTs (“mansion”), the sophisticated and rich nature of sevd has required
generous support from the sect’s elite patrons. Today, for example, the Srlnathjl haveli in
Nathdwara is considered one of the wealthiest temple sites in India (Saha 2004, 2). One
significant theme threaded throughout this dissertation is the patronage of Pustimarg by
the mercantile communities of Gujarat, the baniyds. Baniyd patronage of Pustimarg
provides an occasion for wealthy merchant and business families to produce merit and
social prestige while simultaneously demonstrating their devotion. By hosting festivals at
the haveli, sponsoring feasts, funding haveli renovations, and offering gifts to the haveli
and their custodians (the Pustimarg GosvamI or Maharaj) baniyds transmute wealth into
moral worth and social respectability.

Most studies of Pustimarg have thus far focused on haveli- worship, including

the temple traditions of painting, music, and food-offerings (Barz 1976; Bennett 1990,

1993; Beck 1993; Gaston 1997; Taylor 1997; Ho 2006; Ambalal 1987; Lyons 2004;

Toomey 1986, 1990, 1992). By exclusively focusing on the haveli and their Brahmin

male leaders, these lines of academic inquiry have left significant gaps in the study of

Pustimarg. The practice of domestic sevd and women’s religious roles in the sect

represent significant areas of scholarly neglect. These issues, combined with my interest

in the production and display of baniyd family status and prestige through patterns of

religious patronage have given rise to the following queries which animate my work: (1)

how does Pustimarg domestic sevd become implicated in the production of baniyd status

2

and respectability? (2) how are the religious activities of Pustimarg lay women

implicated in this process? In seeking to answer these questions, this project constitutes
the first academic study to explore Pustimarg domestic sevd and modes of women’s
religious participation in the tradition.

During his travels across India, Vallabha is said to have discovered eight
additional svarups of Krsna. Collectively, all nine images including that of Srlnathjl are
known as the nav-nidhi, the revered “nine-treasures” of the sect. These svarups were
inherited by Vitthalanatha, and before passing away he ensured the continual worship of
the nav-nidhi by distributing them among his seven male heirs. The subsequent “Seven
Houses” of Pustimarg became established through the formal installation of the nine
svarups in Pustimarg ha veils located in different parts of the country, with the first house
retaining possession of the sect’s principal image, Srlnathjl. 3 With Vitthalanatha’s male
descendants, known as Gosvamls or Maharajs, the tradition expanded in a dynastic
lineage, and today the GosvamI of each major Pustimarg haveli can trace their lineage
back to Vallabha. Furthermore, since Vallabha himself is considered as an incarnation of
Krsna, Gosvamls are also traditionally revered by Pustimargls as living representatives of
Vallabha-Krsna. 4

3 In 1672, the Srlnathjl image moved to the town of Sinhad in Rajasthan from Braj when political instability in the
Braj region prompted many members of the Pustimarg leadership to migrate to parts of western India. With the
formal installation of the Srlnathjl svarup in Sinhad, the town was renamed Nathdwara, “gateway to Srlnathjl.”
The present locations of the nine svarups and the houses to which they belong are as follows: first house:
Nathdwara (Srlnathjl, Srinavnltpriyajl and Srimathuresjl); second house: Nathdwara (SrivitthalnathjI); third house:
Kankroli (Sri DvarakanathjI); fourth house: Gokul, Braj (Sri GokulnathjI); fifth house: Kamavan (Sri
GokulcandramajI); sixth house: Varanasi (Sri Mukundrayjlj/Surat (Sri BalkrsnajI); seventh house: Kamavan (Sri
MadanmohanjI) (Bennett 1993, 52).

4 In the seventeenth century hagiography, the SriNathjlke Prakatya ki Varta, Vallabha’s birth is described
as occurring simultaneously as the emergence of the Srlnathjl svarup , specifically with the mouth of the
svarup. For this reason, Vallabha is traditionally accepted as the mukhavatara (“incarnation of the mouth”)
of Krsna (Barz 1992, 24-30).

3

Despite the “officially” male public face of contemporary Pustimarg, women
are very much at the centre of the life of the sect. The place of women in the Pustimarg
tradition is complex, and in many ways, contentious. Although we can sense their
presence in the historical record (for example, in hagiographic texts and devotional
literature attributed to female figures), scholarly representations cast Pustimarg as an
almost exclusively male tradition and lineage. It is this paradox of the “absent-yet-
presenf ’ PustimargI woman that has given rise to many of the questions that fonn the
basis of this dissertation. Moreover, although most Pustimarg followers perform domestic
worship in their homes - a practice which I argue is central to maintaining their sectarian
identity - it is surprising that there has not been a single comprehensive study on this
topic, until now.

I suggest that one of the reaons why Pustimarg may be under-represented in
academic literature is because the sect and its elite adherents were at the center of an
historical controversy. This controversy, dramatized in the colonial courts of the Bombay
Presidency, represented the culmination of reform efforts led by the leading Gujarati
reformers of the mid-nineteenth century. The highly gendered reform discourses, which
infonned the public disparagement of Pustimarg and its baniya followers, are the subject
of chapter three of this dissertation. As I discuss in the chapter, the opulent lifestyles of
the wealthy Bombay baniya merchants, combined with their apathy towards English
education, made them the focus of reformist debates in the Bombay Presidency. Baniya
patronage of Pustimarg, especially their allegiance to and reverence of Gosvamls, drew
the critique of well-known Gujarati refonners such as Karsondas Mulji (1832-1871). The
Gosvamls, themselves, were publically criticized in vernacular and English newspapers

4

and through the circulation of handbills for several years in the late 1850s. The Gosvamls
were condemned for their own lavish lifestyles and the favouritism they displayed
towards their wealthy patrons. However, the most significant allegation put forth by
reformers concerned the Gosvamls’ alleged sexual promiscuity and their sexual
exploitation of female devotees. This public defamation culminated in the publication of
an article by Karsondas Mulji in his Gujarati reformist paper in the year 1860. In the
article, Mulji declared Pustimarg to be a heterodox sect - in relation to Vedic religion -
since it was only founded in the sixteenth century. He also accused the Gosvamls of
grossly manipulating the sect’s ideologies by dishonouring the wives and daughters of
their followers by having sexual relations with them. In his article, Mulji named one
GosvamI by name, Jadunathji Maharaj from Surat, who subsequently filed a libel suit
against Mulji.

The libel case, popularly referred to as the “Maharaj Libel Case,” began in the
early months of 1862. The case served as a forum for the British court and reformers such
as Mulji to interrogate the “authenticity” of the Pustimarg sect and the authority of
Gosvamls as religious figures. The case was seen as a victory for reformers on grounds of
morality and reason. The swift circulation in both English and Gujarati newspapers of the
court’s proceedings from the libel case helped to reify refonnist efforts to malign the
Pustimarg sect, its leaders, and its wealthy merchant followers. Thus, with the exception
of a few scholarly writings, almost every English-language source alluding to the
Pustimarg sect, to this day, filters their discussion of Pustimarg through the prism of the
events surrounding the Maharaj Libel Case.

5

In this introductory chapter I lay out the foundations of this dissertation by
presenting three important themes that inform my work: 1) domesticity and domestic
sevd in Pustimarg; 2) women’s devotional practices and “domestic rituals”; and, 3) the
relationship between religious patronage and the production of class status. I will then
present a literature review, my research methodology, and the chapter breakdown.

I. Domestic Seva and Domesticity in Pustimarg

The beginnings of domestic sevd in Pustimarg are somewhat ambiguous. This
project does not seek to clarify this ambiguity nor does it necessarily attempt to
historicize women’s roles as performers of domestic sevd in Pustimarg. The primary
concern of this thesis is to demonstrate how the practice of domestic sevd and women’s
religious activities help produce family status and prestige in the elite baniyd
communities of Gujarat. A focus on domestic sevd, as opposed to temple sevd, allows us
to chart women’s participation in Pustimarg as a whole, and though I map the presence of
women in the tradition’s historical contexts, I do this with a view to better understand
today’s Pustimarg.

Domestic and familial imagery permeate every aspect of Pustimarg ritual
culture. Both Pustimarg liturgy and theology approach the worship of god as child
(vdtsalya bhdv) and a Pustimarg temple in most parts of northern and western India is not
called mandir - the common Hindi term used for “temple” - but are known as an haveli,
literally “house” or “mansion” (specifically, “Nandalaya,” the home of Nanda and
Yasoda, Krsna’s foster-parents). Structurally and conceptually sevd is domestically
orientated; it consists of participating in or reproducing the quotidian activities or /lids

6

(“divine sports”) of Srlnathjl as he lived in Braj, such as when he is awakened ( manga !),
is dressed and adorned ( srngdr ), plays with his friends ( gvdl ), is fed his mid-day meal
(rdj-bhog), and is placed to sleep at night ( sayan ). 5 As householders who marry, have
children, and live in their home-havells, the havelT is traditionally accepted as the home
of both Krsna and the Gosvaml. 6

Gosvamls negotiate their dual status as house-holders and Brahmin religious
leaders in particular ways. On the one hand, although the hereditary leaders of the sect
are Brahmin men (as in other bhakti sectarian movements) Pustimarg’s own bhakti ethos
eschewed and subverted Brahminic orthodoxy and asceticism in favor of an emotionally
engaging and personal devotional practice. These themes are illustrated in Pustimarg
hagiographical literatures, such as the seventeenth-century Caurdsi Vaisnavan Vdrtcis and
the Do Sau Bdvan Vaisnavan Vdrtds, the didactic tales of the disciples initiated by
Vallabha and Vitthalanatha respectively. Such hagiographical literature, as well as
Sanskrit and vernacular works composed by Vallabha and other Pustimarg theologians,
like Hariray (traditional dates, 1591-1716), stress devotional practices that center upon

5 In havelT contexts, the seva of Srlnathjl is structured according to eight divisions of the day, known as jhankis
(“glimpses”). Each of these viewing-periods last approximately fifteen minutes and are accompanied by the
singing of devotional songs ( kTrtans ) and music, and backdrop paintings are hung - all of which serve to enhance
and invoke the specific iTla or mood of each jhanki. Although the timings may vary from one havelT to the next,
the liturgical cycle is as follows: 5am-7am: marigal (Krsna is awakened); 7am-8am: srngdr (the svarup is
adorned); 8am-9am: gvdl (Krsna is displayed as walking in the pasture with cows, and playing with his friends);
10am-l lam: rdjbhog (the most ornate of them, when Krsna is presented with his mid-day meal); 4-4:30pm:
utthdpan (after an afternoon nap, Krsna has wandered off in the pastures with his friends and is called to return);
5-5:30pm: sandhya (Krsna is offered a light meal); 6-6:30pm: sayan (Krsna has gone to bed for the night). The
sevd structure also varies according to seasons and festivals.

6 The status of the havelT as both the abode of Krsna and the home (or domestic property) of the Gosvaml
became a contentious issue in the late 1950s and 1960s when the Bombay Public Trust Act was passed in
1950. Under this act, and the previous Charitable and Religious Trust Act (1920), all religious institutions
and charitable trusts were deemed “public” and, thus, came under the administration of the state/Indian
government. For decades, Gosvamls and their family members, engaged in legal battles to revoke the status
of the havelT as public or state property. For exerpts from such court cases as well as a Pustimarg
perspective on these issues, see Shyam Manohar Gosvaml’s Adhunik Nydy-PrandlTaur PustimdrgTya
Sadhana-PranalTkd ApsT Takrdv (2006).

7

the family and are located within the household, in addition to - or in contrast to - temple
sevd. 1 The rhetoric of domesticity, with its emphasis on performing sevd in the home,
preparing elaborate food-offerings, and worshiping Srlnathjl as a child, was undoubtedly
an important vehicle for Pustimarg community formation.

On the other hand, Gosvamls ground themselves in Brahmanic authority by
composing Sanskrit treatises and prescribing orthodox prescriptions of ritual purity and
pollution for perfonning sevd (apras sevd > asparsa, “un-touched”). 8 Vallabha
composed all of his works in Sanskrit, including the TattvarthadTpanibandha, his major
theological work, the Sodasagranthdh, sixteen treatises delineating his philosophical
(Suddhadvaita) and devotional (Pustimarg) systems, and by writing commentaries on
important treatises such as the Brahmasutras (his Anubhdsya ) and on several cantos of
the Bhcigavata Purdma (his Subodhint). Vitthalanatha, also contributed to the Pustimarg
Sanskritic literary tradition by writing commentaries on Vallabha’s writings and through
composing his own major works. As religious leaders who marry, however, Gosvamls,
beginning with Vallabha, belong to the householder tradition ( grhastha-dsrama ). There

7 For example, in verses two and three of the Bhaktivardhini, one of Vallabha’s sixteen Sanskrit treatises

(Soclasagranthah ), Vallabha explains how the “seed of love” ( bhakti-bija ) matures: "the way to make this seed
take firm root is to remain a householder and follow one’s rule of life. The one who is not distracted should devote
himself to Krishna by means of ritual image-worship, and by "hearing” and so forth [nine steps of bhakti ]”
(Redington 125, 2000; Skt., “bijadardhyaprakarstu grhe sthitvd svadharmatah] avyavrtto bhajetkrsnam piijayd
sravanadibhih\\). The Bade Siksdpatra is a seventeenth-century manual of precepts that teaches the fundamentals
of Pustimarg sevd. It consists of Hariray’s Sanskrit writings and his brother, Gopesvar’s (b. 1593), Brajbhasa
commentaries. Several verses and their commentaries (such as verse four) allude to the practice of domestic sevd
(Arney 517, 2007).

8 An adherence to strict purity rules while performing sevd is known as apras sevd or “un-touched” sevd. It
requires a person to bathe before performing sevd and to not come in contact with any polluting substance
prior to commencing their practice. This includes not being touched by any person who is not in a state of
ritual purity. Apras sevd also involves wearing clothing that has been washed by the practitioner and which
has remained untouched throughout the drying process. Sometimes, practitioners dip their clothing in water
right before dressing to ensure the maintenance of ritual purity. The food prepared for sevd must also not be
seen or touched by anyone who is not a state of ritual purity before it is offered to Krsna. Sattvik or "pure”
food-items are offered, such as milk, certain fruits, grains, nuts, sweets made of milk, et cetera. Non¬
vegetarian food or rajsik (“passion-inducing”) foods, such as onion and garlic, are never offered.

has also been no prevalent tradition of asceticism in the history of Pustimarg as it exists

in other Vaisnav traditions, which do have lineages of ascetic-dcdryds (“teachers”), such
as in Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Varkari Vaisnavism, Srlvaisnavism, and the Svamlnarayan
sampraddy?

Gujarati baniyds - who, from the time of Pustimarg’s arrival in Gujarat held a
high social and ritual status - are drawn to Pustimarg precisely because it offers a ritual
culture which follows upper-caste orthodox purity/pollution prescriptions and yet is
informed by a “this-worldly” theology and domestic rhetoric. Instead of ascetic
withdrawal and renunciation, devotional practices are structured on, and are embedded
in, family/kinship ties. Indeed, the Pustimarg initiation mantra requires the relinquishing
of one’s man, tan, and dhan or mind, body, and wealth/worldly “possessions” to Krsna. 9 10

9 According to Vallabha, it is Pustimarg’s emphasis on Krsna’s grace for liberation that distinguishes it from
maryadamarg , "the path of limitations.” Maryadamarg is characterized by an adherence to Vedic prescriptions, as
well as a reliance on knowledge (jnana) and asceticism (sanyasa) as a means to attaining union with Brahman

(moksa ). Those on the maryadamarg do not perform seva, but rather perform puja, which according to Vallabha is
a "selfish” form of worship, done with expectations of rewards (Bennett 1993, 75). Vallabha maintains that those
devotees who worship selfishly and believe that the attainment of liberation is dependent upon their own efforts
are susceptible to being more egoistic and thus remain in a state of avidya (ignorance). It is perhaps for this reason
that in his treatise, Samnyasanirnayah, Vallabha explains how pride ( abhimana ) is a characteristic of a samnyasi
or an ascetic. Most often, ascetics believe that through performing renunciation and various austerities they will
achieve liberation. This characteristic or pride is in opposition to the humility and helplessness that characterize
Pustimarg devotees (Redington 2000, 167). One should not, however, be left with the impression that Vallabha
was completely against adopting samnydsa or tydga (“renunciation”). In another Sanskrit treatise, the
Samnyasanirnayah, Vallabha does maintain that one may renounce the world in the “advanced stages of devotion,
and it is ‘for the sake of experiencing separation’ ( virahanubhavartham )” (v.7-9a, Redington 168).

10 Initiation into Pustimarg occurs in the form of two rites, both of which occur in the presence of a
GosvamI, a direct descendent of Vallabha who is thus also considered an incarnation of Krsna himself. The
first rite, ndm nivedan, occurs at a fairly young age (six-seven years of age), in which an individual receives
and recites the eight-syllable mantra, Sn Krsna saranam mama (“Sri Krsna is my refuge”). The second rite,
which constitutes an individual’s formal initiation into the tradition, consists of receiving and reciting the
longer atmanivedan/Brahmsambandh mantra. At this point the initiate also receives their own personal
svariip of Krsna, which the GosvamI has consecrated by bathing it in pancamrta (the five “nectars” of
curds, milk, ghee, honey, and sugar) and offers the svariip prasad (consecrated food offering) from a
previously consecrated svariip. Through reciting the mantra one dedicates themselves and all that belongs
to them to Krsna: “Om. Krsna is my refuge [Sri Krsna saranam mama]. Tortured for thousands of years
now by the pain born of separation from Krishna so that joy has disappeared, I offer to the Blessed Lord
Krishna my body, senses, life-breath, and inner faculties, with all their attributes, and wife, home, children

9

Pustimargls are, thus, free to pursue wealth and prosperity so long as they dedicate all
their worldly belongings to Krsna first.

Although Pustimarg ritual praxis is immersed in domestic imagery, it is
surprising that the practice of domestic seva itself has never been a subject of academic
inquiry. In this thesis, I discuss the perfonnance of domestic seva and other religious
activities women engage in within the home, such as satsaiig (“religious discourse”),
bhdgavat hatha (discourses on the Bhdgavata Parana), bhajan-kirtan sessions (singing of
devotional songs), and haveli music lessons. I bring this discussion into conversation
with nineteenth-century gender and domestic refonn movements, as well as twentieth-
century nationalist and consumer ideologies, which have politicized the home by
reconstituting it as a site of cultural and social production. The home is a place where
caste, gender, and class politics are embedded in - and reproduced through - quotidian
actions and kinship relations. In this project, I see the urban upper-class Pustimarg baniyd
home as a modem site of religious patronage. The home, thus, simultaneously serves
three functions: 1) as the space of religious practice; 2) the arena in which women ensure
comfort and respectability through the supervision of household tasks and the
maintenance of social ties; 3) as the site of family status reproduction.

II. Domestic Rituals, Women, and the Practice of Bhakti

Since this thesis is partially concerned with exploring women’s domestic seva
practices, it is necessary to unpack the meaning of the phrase “domestic rituals.” I
understand women’s “domestic rituals” as those religious actions which take place in (but

and acquired wealth here and hereafter, along with my very self. I am your servant, Krishna, 1 am yours”
(Redington 2000, 67).

10

are not limited to) the spatial boundaries of a home, such as the performance of worship

of household deities or the celebration of calendric and religious festivals, such as Divall
and Navaratrl. Domestic rituals can also be religious practices that are tied to “domestic”
or familial concerns and which are informed by traditional views on gender roles and
marriage. Such rituals, which normally also take place in the home, include rites of
passage like pregnancy rituals (simanta), as well as vratas or nonpus (“votive
observances”) performed by women to ensure their husbands’ longevity and
marital/domestic well-being. For the most part, scholarship on Hindu women and their
religious practices has been filtered through this latter understanding of domestic rituals.
That is to say, the subject of Hindu women’s religious lives in academic literature has
remained limited to discussions of married women’s auspiciousness and the rituals and/or
votive observances which these women perfonn in order to maintain their auspicious
status as married women or sumarigalTs . 11 Furthermore, Hindu women’s actions -
whether they are religious practices or not - are normally read through the double-bind
modalities of “compliance” and “submission,” on the one hand, or “resistance” and
“subversion” on the other hand. 12 This becomes especially true when discussing women’s
roles in bhakti or devotional traditions.

Bhakti, itself, has been construed as a revolutionary “movement” which sought
to subvert Brahmanic orthodoxy by giving a voice and providing an alternate religious

See, for example, Hanco*ck (1995, 1999); Harlan (2007); Leslie (1992); McGee (1991, 1996); Nagarajan
(2007); Pearson (1996); Pintchman (2005); Wadley (1991, 2004).

12 See Hanco*ck (1995, 1999); McDaniel (2007); Pearson (1996); Raheja and Gold (1994); Ramanujan
(1982).

11

path to members of the lower castes and women. 13 Some scholars have noted that
bhaktf s egalitarian ethos has remained limited to the sphere of ideology without
effecting any real change in the social lives of low-caste and female practitioners. 14
However, the popular view of bhakti as a mode for transcending caste, class, and gender
restrictions may explain why a plethora of sources emphasize the “subversive” aspects of
bhakti, especially when it centers on the religious lives of women. For example, most
studies of women in the bhakti context tend to conflate the “female bhakta ” - a female
practitioner of bhakti - with the female “poet-saint,” and subsequently these studies focus
on extraordinary historical figures such as Mlrabal, Antal, Karaikkalammaiyar, Akka
MahadevI, Janabal, Muktabal, and Bahinabal who “defy social nonns and taboos,”
“overturn models of femininity,” or “overturn caste hierarchy” (Ramanujan 1982, 318-
319). 15 Interestingly, Bahinabal (1628-1700), of the Varkarl Vaisnav tradition in
Maharashtra, is usually singled out as an “exception” among this group of female bhaktas
for she married and practiced bhakti. As Anne Feldhaus has argued: “.. .Bahina Bal
presents herself as someone who has achieved what these others did not: she managed to
reconcile her duties to her husband with her devotion to God and his saints” (1982, 593).
Mary McGee also echoes this sentiment more than a decade later when she writes that

13 For more on early twentieth-century nationalist constructions of bhakti as a pan-Indian, egalitarian
“movement” or andolan see Hawley (2007). Similarily, for the ways in which bhakti came to represent
“Hindu religion” in, and through, the works of Hariscandra of Benaras (1850-85), see Dalmia (1997).

14 Regarding bhakti ’s inability to effect any transformation in the social realities of lower castes David
Lorenzen demonstrates how “The only significant rejection of caste among Hindu sects is found in
Virasaivism, in nirguni sects such as the Kabir and Ravidas Panths, and to a lesser extent in the Arya
Samaj” (2004, 10 qtd. in Burchett 2009). In Patton Burchett’s study on the hagiographies of four
“untouchable” bhakti -saints (Timppan Alvar, Nandanar, Chokhamela, and Raidas), he argues how “...a
closer reading shows that, in subtle ways, these stories also reinforce the social hierarchy and confirm
Brahmins as possessing a social identity of higher purity and value than any other” (116-117).

15 Authors who have focused on some of these female poet-saints include Craddock (2007); Feldhaus
(1982); Harlan (1995); Martin-Kershaw (1995); McGee (1995); Ramaswamy (1997); Ramanujan (1982);
Sellegren (1996); Venkatesan (2010); Zelliot (2000).

12

. .most women bhaktas were rather extraordinary, as they defied the model of the
traditional Hindu woman and housewife. Bahinabal is the exception to this female bhakta
paradigm.. .Bahinabal not only married, but remained with her husband even after
undergoing spiritual initiation, giving birth to two children” (McGee 1995, 116). In such
literature, the roles of a woman as religious practitioner and wife (or mother, daughter-in-
law) are cast as contradictory, as identities which exist on opposite ends of a spectrum
that somehow must be “reconciled.”

In this project I propose a shift in focus to the everyday female practitioner,
such as the lay PustimargI Vaisnav woman, who is part of a bhakti tradition, performs
daily sevd, and is married and has children. Moreover, if one wants to focus on female
bhaktas who composed poetry - and are yet not revered as “poets-saints” - the wives and
daughters of Gosvamls who remained married and had children provide examples of
historical women whose devotional compositions are popularly sung today. However,
throughout my thesis, I do not present such women as “exceptions.” Nor do I necessarily
read their devotional practices as mechanisms for either “subverting” or “complying
with” Brahmanic orthodoxy and patriarchal values.

Mary Hanco*ck is one of the few scholars who has written succinctly about the
domestic religious practices of “every-day” Hindu women (1995, 1999). Her brilliant
study has centered on women who belong to the urban Brahmin smarta community of
Chennai. Although I draw heavily from Hanco*ck’s work, I distance myself from her bi¬
focal reading of devotional activities as sites which constitute “compliance with” or
“resistance to” “notions of sexual and domestic order” (1995, 61). Following Saba
Mahmood (2005), I think it is important to realize how analyzing women’s actions “... in

13

terms of realized or frustrated attempts at social transformation is necessarily to reduce
the heterogeneity of life to the rather flat narrative of succumbing to or resisting relations
of domination” (174). Furthennore, resistance taken as a pseudonym for “agency” also
limits the different modalities agency takes and “the grammar of concepts in which its
particular affect, meaning, and fonn resides” (188). Read through the western feminist
henneneutic of “resistance” and “subversion,” bhakti is usually positioned as a vehicle
for women to temporarily circumvent or opt-out of their quotidian activities and identities
as wives, mothers, and daughter-in-laws. One of the primary problems I see with this
paradigm is that women’s roles as wife/mother/daughter-in-law are cast as monolithic
social-identities which are then taken as emblematic of the oppressive forces of
“Brahmanic orthodoxy and patriarchy.” Bhakti practices are presented as agentive
moments of rupture or resistance, which some-how exist in a vacuum and remain
unmarked and disassociated from the influences of caste, gender, and class politics. Or,
taken as (non-agentive) moments of reconciliation and compliance, devotional practices
are cast as mechanisms for suturing one’s role as a wife, mother, and daughter-in-law on
the one hand, and one’s role as a bhakti practitioner, on the other hand. In this project, I
see women’s experiences of devotion and their devotional practices, which punctuate
their quotidian activities (such as waking, bathing, eating, socializing), as part of the
every-day corporeal, emotional, and moral processes which are constitutive of identity
fonnation and female subjectivity.

Having said that, I acknowledge that devotional practices can sometimes
present opportunities for women to negotiate with orthodox value-systems. For example,
religious practices informed by Brahmanic notions of purity/pollution and women’s

14

auspiciousness/inauspiciousness, normally exclude those women who are in a state of
ritual pollution (such as during menstruation, post-partum) and have an inauspiciousness
status (such as widows) from performing and participating in rituals. In the Pustimarg
context, however, orthodox perspectives on ritual purity/pollution and auspiciousness/
inauspiciousness seem to function along a gradient rather than as polarities. That is to
say, women who follow strict rules of apras sevd do not perfonn sevd during times of
menses, while other women do. Widows - considered “inauspicious” by the standards of
Brahmanic orthodoxy - also perform sevd daily and participate in Pustimarg religious
festivals.

Pustimarg sevd practices perfonned by women are not circ*mscribed by
normative ideologies of auspiciousness, which includes maintaining one’s status as a
sumangalT or married woman. Should this be read as an example of Pustimarg sevd being
“subversive” of, or “resistant,” to Brahmanic ritual orthodoxy and patriarchy? Not
necessarily. Instead, I prefer to read Pustimarg lay women’s religious practices as
opportunities for understanding and approaching Hindu women’s religious lives that
moves beyond the well-rehearsed model of auspiciousness/inauspiciousness. Pustimarg
religious practices, like other quotidian actions which women perfonn, are infonned by
and are embedded in the reproduction of gender, caste, and class politics. Devotional
practices cannot (only) be understood through the opposing modalities of “compliance”/
“resistance.” They are constitutive of the everyday heterogeneity of women’s social
realities, and represent the fluidity - and not the contradictions - that exist between
women’s identities and roles as family-women and devotees.

15

III. Religious Patronage and the Production of Status

Understanding how patterns of religious patronage facilitate the production of
status and respectability among the wealthy baniya communities of Gujarat is another
central theme I explore in this project. My study of this theme anchors itself on the work
of scholars who highlight the relationship between class formation, consumerism, and
religious practices, including Joanne Waghome (2004), Mary Hanco*ck (1999), Partha
Chatterjee (1993), Sumanta Banerjee (1989a; 1989b) Douglas Haynes (1991), Christine
Dobbin (1972), and Vineeta Sinha (2011).

In chapter one I discuss how the entrepreneurial and proselytizing efforts of
Pustimarg Gosvamls through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries attracted the
support of royal patrons as well as the following of elite Gujarati baniya merchant
“princes” or seths. The wealthy baniya communities of Gujarat facilitated the circulation
of capital through trans-regional networks of loan and exchange services, which even
members of the ruling classes relied upon. As socio-political and economic ties were
established between the political nobility and influential merchants and bankers, their
mutual patronage of Pustimarg also served as a common cultural link between these two
elite groups. Just as the munificence of kings was displayed through their religious
patronage activities, merchant seths also demonstrated and produced their status through
patterns of religious giving.

In his study, Rhetoric and Ritual in Colonial India (1991), Haynes makes note

of the ways Gujarati merchant families and firms sought to establish and maintain their

dbru, which is understood as both a merchant’s “credit” and social reputability or moral

character (56). In an effort to generate and display their dbru or social status, baniya seths

16

hosted prestigious weddings and engaged in forms of philanthropy. They also made
financial contributions to Pustimarg havelTs and their Gosvamls, and helped organize
feasts to honor Gosvamls on special occasions, such as religious holidays or for a
Gosvaml’s marriage and sacred-thread ceremonies (65). Drawing on the work of Pierre
Bourdieu (1977, 1984), I see the patronage of an influential sect like Pustimarg as a key
mechanism for the reproduction of symbolic capital among members of the baniya
community for whom social prestige and community trust are of utmost importance -
especially for their financial prosperity. As Bourdieu explains, “the exhibition of the
material and symbolic strength represented by prestigious affines is likely to be in itself a
source of material profit in a good-faith economy in which good repute is the best, if not
the only, economic guarantee” (1977, 180).

In chapters two and three I explore how the Gujarati baniya community is
influenced by the processes of colonial modernity, such as English education, the
colonial economy, and social and religious reform. “Class” as a social category
signifying one’s status is an important development of modernity. The middle-classes,
especially, as the products and producers of modernity come to define what it means to
be “modern” in colonial contexts (Joshi 2012, 29). Among the many transfonnations of
this period, the legal and economic developments of the colonial regime required one to
train to become a functioning civil servant of the Raj. English education was introduced
as a vehicle for participating in the new economic context; however, it was also promoted
as a civilizing force and a bastion of technological and scientific progress. On the one
hand, members of the traditionally learned upper-castes were drawn to these new public
institutions and the civil job market of the Bombay Presidency quickly became saturated

17

with positions in accounting, teaching, journalism, and clerkship. On the other hand, as
the champions of modernity, Brahmin middle-class intellectuals also promoted a
movement towards social and religious reform.

Nineteenth century and early twentieth century reform efforts informed
changes in gender, religious, and political ideologies, many of which resonate to this day.
With the separation and gendering of public and domestic spheres through these
discourses, women became reconstituted as the bearers of family respectability and
status. The urban home, another marker of modernity, also became the site of cultural and
social production. As I demonstrate in chapter three, in addition to economic factors such
as income and occupation, or even one’s caste and family background, family class and
status was determined by the degree to which women from respectable households could
negotiate modernity - here, represented through education, changes in consumer
practices, home-management - and “tradition,” such as observing stn-dharma
(“women’s duties”), engaging in religious practices, and ensuring the harmony of the
joint-family. As Partha Chatterjee (1993) and Sanjay Joshi (2001, 2012) remind us,
although the middle-classes fashioned themselves as the bearers of modernity, “Their
belief in modernization coexisted with the reinforcing of older hierarchies, their
nationalism was complicit with what has been termed ‘communalism,’ and their belief in
progress coexisted with their advocacy of tradition” (Joshi 2012, 31). Thus, to understand
the ways in which the middle-classes engaged in their own identity and political self¬
construction, we need to move beyond traditional Weberian approaches to class, which
stress the rise of industrial capitalism and economic factors such as income and

18

occupation. 16

Unlike the educated middle-classes, the upper-classes - represented by
individuals like the wealthy Gujarati baniya seths - were initially able to adapt to the new
colonial economy. Until the rise of professional jobs in law or medicine, men from these
families did not need to enter western institutes of higher learning in order to better their
social standing. Instead, many baniya seths, including Pustimarg baniyas, participated in
the expansion of the cotton-mill industry by establishing their own mills throughout
Gujarat in the latter-half of the nineteenth century and in the beginning of the twentieth
century. By hosting lavish weddings, adopting new aesthetic tastes and consumption
practices, building English-styled bungalows and, indeed, continuing with opulent forms
of religious giving, the baniya seths played a role in defining what it meant to be “upper-
class” at the turn of the twentieth century.

In the twentieth century, however, especially in India’s post-liberalization
economic context (1980s-1990s), class culture and identity came to be increasingly
determined by consumer practices and through the acquisition of commodities. In the
upper-class Pustimarg baniya family, women’s growing roles as consumers has also

16 The intersections between urbanization, religion, and the rising middle class in Europe permeated many
of Weber’s social theories. In his Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (2006; first published as a
two-part article in 1904-05), Weber argues that the austere lifestyle promoted by the “this worldly
asceticism” and “spiritual” work ethic of Calvinist Protestantism created the necessary conditions for the
accumulation of capital which led to, or at least favored, the rise of modern capitalism in Europe. In his
Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism (1967), Weber applied his thesis of the “spirit
of capitalism” to the religious traditions of India. On the whole Weber concludes that despite the existence
of affluent merchant classes (in the Parsi, Jain, and Vaisnav communites), religious views have impeded
the rise of “rational” capitalism in India. He implicates the caste system in making “impossible the
development of large-scale enterprises” (1967, 111-133). With regard to Pustimarg in particular, although
Weber acknowledges how the sect includes one of the largest number of business people, he describes it as
a “holy path [that] is in no way ethically rational,” and is therefore inconsistent with Protestant ethics and
its “spirit of capitalism” (1967, 316). His study is limited and laden with Orientalist baggage: for example,
he describes the tradition as one “that seeks the holy, in opposition to the intellectual tradition, not in
asceticism or contemplation but in refined sublimated Krishna orgies” (315).

19

allowed for new and creative material expressions of status, aesthetic tastes, and religious
sensibilities. Building on the work of Bourdieu (1977, 1984) and Mary Hanco*ck (1999), I
understand that Pustimarg women’s domestic rituals, like other cultural practices, have
been “transformed by contestatory nationalisms, transnational processes,
commodification, and class formation” (Hanco*ck 25). Women’s sevd demonstrates the
extension of consumer cultures to ritual praxis. As sites of cultural consumption and
display, religious practices thus reinforce women’s identities as Pustimarg Vaisnavs and
also reify their class privilege. As I discuss in the final chapter of this thesis, increasing
commodified styles of domestic sevd, the display of expensive religious commodities in
the home, as well as the growing desire among elite women to leam how to sing
Pustimarg havelT liturgy music in a “classical” style, are all practices that help reproduce
differences and social hierarchies between members of the Pustimarg community.
Bringing together the three major themes of this dissertation - domesticity, women’s
religious practices, and status production - I demonstrate how all these processes have
recast the urban home as a modern site of Pustimarg patronage.

Literature Review

As noted above, I suggest that one of the primary reasons why academic work
on Pustimarg has remained somewhat limited is due to the refonn debates surrounding
the Maharaj Libel Case. The paucity of literature on Pustimarg is reflected even in
today’s scholarship. For example, in two edited volumes on “Krsna” published in the last
decade in which contributions were made by leading scholars of Vaisnav studies, with
the exception of one translation of Hariray’s Bade Siksapatra (a sevd guide), there is no

20

essay on Pustimarg theology, philosophy, and ritual culture. 17 Thus far, studies of
Pustimarg in the English language have focused on temple worship, dealing exclusively
with its traditions of music, painting, and ritual food-offerings. 18 Peter Bennett’s study on
Pustimarg havelT culture in the pilgrimage city of Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh (1993)
provides a comprehensive introduction to temple sevd practices and to the Vallabha-kw/
or GosvamI lineage. In this work, as well as in his excellent essay, In Nanda Baba’s
House (1990), Bennett portrays sevd as an alaukika (“other-worldly”) emotional
experience (1990, 198). He does this by interpreting all aspects of temple sevd - such as
the songs sung during liturgy, the backdrop paintings hung behind the svarup, and the
food-offerings presented to the deity - through Sanskrit aesthetic theories on bhdva
(“emotion”) and rasa (“relish,” “taste”). However, studies such as Bennett’s, which focus
on temple sevd and the GosvamI lineage, cast Pustimarg as an exclusively temple-
centered tradition. This has come at the expense of excluding an important dimension of
Pustimarg sectarian identity formation and maintenance, namely, the practice of domestic
sevd. The purpose of my project is to present a counter-point to claims made by scholars
like Bennett, who argue that “temple worship tends to be the principal means by which
these householder initiates demonstrate and participate in their faith” (1993, 12).

In addition to temple sevd, Pustimarg theology and philosophy has also been
an area of scholarly focus and there have been several attempts made to translate the

17 The two volumes 1 am referring to ar z Alternative Krishnas: Regional and Vernacular Variations on a
Hindu Deity (ed. Guy Beck, 2005) and Krishna: A Sourcebook (ed. Edwin F. Bryant, 2007).

18 Scholars whom have worked on Pustimarg traditions of music include: Beck (1993); Gaston (1997); Ho (2006);
Sanford (2008); Taylor (1997); for painting see: Ambalal (1987); Lyons (2004); and for work on PustimargI ritual
food-offerings refer to: Bennett (1983, 1990, 1993); Toomey (1986, 1990, 1992).

21

works of Vallabha into English. 19 In his well-known book, The Bhakti Sect of
Vallabhacarya (1976), Richard Barz also presents an introduction to Pustimarg theology
and philosophy. However, he provides an overview of Pustimarg hagiographic literature,
and offers a few translations of the Brajbhasa vdrtds which describe the lives of the poet-
saints initiated by Vallabha. In a later essay (1994), he discusses how the vdrtds function
as an important vehicle for disseminating key Pustimarg theological concepts.

With regards to Pustimarg hagiographical literature, Hariharinath Tandan’s
Hindi work, Vcirtci sdhitya: Ek Brhat Adhyayan (1960), remains the most comprehensive
study on the vdrtd literature. Other scholars who have touched upon the subject of
Pustimarg vdrtds include essays by Charlotte Vaudeville (1976; 1980), Vasudha Dalmia
(2001a; 2001b), and Saha (2006). In Forging Community (2001a), Dalmia presents some
of the processes involved in Pustimarg community formation as they are presented in the
vdrtd narratives, particularly in the CaurdsT Vaisnavan Vdrtd (CW). One of the
important concerns of the CVV is to demonstrate the charismatic and mediating role of
Vallabha as a guru. Other themes in the vdrtds which Dalima highlights include
Pustimarg’s devaluation of Brahmanic ritual orthodoxy and asceticism in favour of
devotional practices which center on the family and take place in the home. As Dalmia
argues, this form of domestic devotion and sevd at once intimate and transcendent,
unmediated by brahmanical ritual.. .was obviously the radical innovation of its time”

(2001a, 134).

19 Works on PustmargI theology and philosophy (Suddhadvaita) include: Marfatia (1967); Narain (2004); Parekh
(1969); Shah (1969); Telivala (1980); Timm (1992). In his Vallbhacarya on The Love Games ofKrsna (1990)
James D. Redington translated an excerpt of Vallabha’s Sanskrit commentaries on one of the most important
Vaisnava theological treatises, the Bhagavata Parana. He has recently also translated Vallabha’s sixteen
philosophical treatises known as the Sodasagranthah (The Grace of Lord Krishna: The Sixteen Verse-Treatises of
Vallabhacharya), 2000.

22

In her other essay on the vartas, “Women, Duty, and Sanctified Space in the
Vaisnava Hagiography of the Seventeenth Century” (2001b), Dalmia again demonstrates
how the CVV narratives reveal Pustimarg’s unique bhakti ethos, although this time in
relation to the status of women. By examining tales which revolve around female
initiates, including one about a woman (a “RajputanI”) who refuses to perform sati,
Dalmia explains how the bhakti movements of the “sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
established powerful alternate traditions regarding the status of women, socially and
within the family” (217). Both of Dalmia’s essays on the vartas represent important
milestones in Pustimarg scholarship. She is one of the few scholars who brings to light
hitherto unexplored aspects of Pustimarg devotionalism, such as the practice of domestic
sevd and women’s roles in Pustimarg. In fact, “Women, Duty, and Sanctified Space”
represents one of the few works in the English language that has attempted to explore the
ways in which women have participated in the sect. However, as the title itself indicates,
Dalmia’s study is limited to a textual study of PustimargI women’s devotional practices
as narrated in the tradition’s hagiographic literature and does not touch upon the subject
of contemporary women’s domestic practices.

From an emic perspective, the narratives from the vartas describe events that

took place in the lives of actual people. Although one should be cautious in using these

hagiographies as sources of “accurate” historical data, the vartas nevertheless help

produce a quasi-historical picture of seventeenth century north India and illuminate

ideological positions valued by Pustimargls. In tenns of Pustimarg’s history, Kanthmani

Sastrl’s large Hindi compilation, entitled KdmkrolTkd Itihds (1939), provides historical

infonnation concerning the lives and activities of Pustimarg hereditary leaders from the

23

important Dvarakadhlsjl haveli in Kankroli, Rajasthan, including accounts about their
relationship with the Mewar royal family. Two excellent English socio-historical studies
of the sect include Edwin Allen Richardson’s unpublished doctoral thesis entitled “The
Mughal and Rajput Patronage of the Bhakti Sect of the Maharajas, the Vallabha
Sampradaya, 1640-1760 AD” (1979) and Shandip Saha’s unpublished thesis, “Creating a
Community of Grace: A History of the Pustimarga in Northern and Western India”
(2004). I draw on both these studies in my first chapter to illustrate Pustimarg’s rise as a
courtly religion in western India and to map the important cultural and economic ties that
were being forged between Rajasthani royals, Pustimarg Gosvamls, and Gujarati baniyd
seths during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Saha, however, contextualizes this
discussion against the backdrop of the troubled Delhi Sultanate era, which he argues
promoted the fonnation of the Pustimarg sect. In the closing chapters of his dissertation,
Saha discusses the relationship between Pustimarg and its mercantile followers in the
colonial context of the nineteenth century Bombay Presidency, and concludes with an
overview of the Maharaj Libel Case.

In their attempts to construct a social history of Pustimarg, one of the
significant drawbacks of the works of both Richardson and Saha is the portrayal of
Pustimarg as a sect whose practices are wholly temple-centered. Furthennore, Saha does
highlight the role of reformers, like Karsondas Mulji, in the libel case and he also
discusses the potential institutional changes in Pustimarg in the aftermath of the case.
However, nowhere does Saha discuss the role or status of PustimargI women, even
though the case was ostensibly about their sexual exploitation. Nor does Saha
contextualize the debates surrounding the libel case within the larger middle-class

24

discourses on gender and domesticity circulating in the late nineteenth century.

Other authors who have focused on the Maharaj Libel Case include Mehta
(1971), Thakkar (1997), Haberman (1993), Shodhan (1995, 1997), Lift (1995), and Scott
(2009). These sources, with the exception of Thakkar and Shodhan, focus mostly on the
reformist rhetoric being used throughout the trial to undermine a bhakti sect like
Pustimarg in comparison to the “ancient” Vedic traditions. Although Scott does touch
upon issues of gender construction and sexuality, which are clearly informing the trial,
his discussion is brief and also points to the works of Shodhan and Thakkar. Both
Shodhan and Thakkar’s studies serve as excellent sources for unpacking the “women’s
question” in the libel case. Drawing on the work of Lata Mani, who examines colonial
debates on sati abolition (1998), Thakkar argues how PustimargI women are “neither
subjects nor objects but the ground chosen by the leaders of a sect and social reformers to
decide what is moral and what is religious practice” (46). Similarly, Shodhan (1997)
demonstrates how male reformers involved in the trial were more concerned with
regulating and monitoring women’s movements and reconstituting their place to the
home. However, none of these lines of inquiry explore the issue of domestic sevd and
how women’s domestic religious practices may have been affected by the gender,
domestic, and religious reform debates of the time.

Finally, Francoise Mallison’s English and French essays on Pustimarg
devotional songs (in the dhol genre) represent the only examples of western scholarship
that explore Pustimarg women’s domestic religious practices in the twentieth century
(1986; 1989). Although Mallison does not discuss the practice of domestic sevd per se,
she does demonstrate how devotional songs in the vernacular languages of Hindi and

25

Gujarati are popularly sung by PustimargI women while perfonning sevd at home or
during women’s satsang gatherings. She juxtaposes the singing of such songs by women
with the tradition of temple music, which has remained the preserve of Pustimarg male
hereditary musicians for centuries. I build on Mallison’s work on Pustimarg dhol songs in
my fourth chapter in an effort to highlight the historical literary activities of bahiijis and
betijis - the wives and daughters of Gosvamls, respectively - many of whom composed
these songs. My examination of contemporary women’s perfonnance cultures, however,
is grounded in my debate on class production among elite Pustimarg families in Gujarat.
For example, many Pustimarg women from these families have begun to take lessons in
temple or haveli liturgical music ( kirtan ), calling into question the gendered and spatial
exclusivity of the temple kirtan repertoires.

Research Methods

The spatial and social contexts of my study include the Pustimarg urban home
as well as the communal spaces and networks created by and between Pustimarg women
who perform daily domestic sevd. These include, for example, religious-social gatherings
(satsaiig) where women come together to discuss Pustimarg theological themes and ritual
adornment ideas and recipes, as well as bhajan mandalis (“singing groups”) and temple-
song ( kirtan ) classes. The regional and historical foci of my investigation range from
eighteenth century Gujarat and Rajasthan to the present. My focus on contemporary,
living Pustimarg is centered on the city of Ahmedabad.

Using an interdisciplinary methodology, the data for this study is drawn from

several broad areas. In the first chapter of this dissertation, I piece together a pre-colonial

26

history of Pustimarg patronage by the baniya communities of Gujarat through examining

seventeenth century European travel accounts, as well as an English translation of the
eighteenth century Persian text, the Mirat-i-Ahmadi. I draw on primary sources from the
colonial period for my discussions in chapters two and three on baniya upper-class
identity formation and the implication of nineteenth century refonn movements on the
religious activities of Pustimarg women. Finally, chapters four and five draw on Hindi,
Gujarati, and Brajbhasa textual and manuscript sources, as well as ethnography. 20 My
work with hereditary Pustimarg leaders like Vagishkumar GosvamI and Indira betijT 21 as
well as leaders who function as traditional scholars of the sect, such as Shyam Manohar
GosvamI, has proved invaluable to this project. Vagishkumar GosvamI, for example, is
the direct descendant in a line of Pustimarg hereditary leaders who have presided over the
Dvarakadhlsjl havelT in Kankroli, Rajasthan since the havelf s establishment in the late
seventeenth century. The havelT was patronized by Rajasthan royal families and became a
vibrant Pustimarg religious and cultural center; it serves as an important pilgrimage site
even today. With the permission of Vagishkumar GosvamI, I was able to access the
havelf s private library collections where I found devotional works composed by
Pustimarg women (lay followers and wives/daughters of hereditary leaders).

In addition to textual and archival work, a methodological approach that I use
in this project is ethnography, in the fonn of participant observation and through

20 Examples of manuscript materials include Kakko (B.J. Institute, ms. 1088), Krsna-Ras (B.J. Institute., ms.
6671), Gupta-Ras (B.J. Institute, ms.851 la), Seva-Vidhi-Utsav (B.J. Institute, ms. 2177), Pusti-Seva (B.J.
Institute, ms. 1089), Padsamgrah (Oriental Institute. 144.7357), Vaisnavna Vasant HolTDhol (Oriental Institute,
ms. 14359), Vaisnavna Seva Srhgar (Oriental Institute, ms. 14364).

21 BetT, which literally means “daughter,” is normally suffixed to the names of the daughters of hereditary
Pustimarg leaders. As 1 discuss in my conclusion, Indira betijT is at the centre of an ever-expanding global
community of PustimargI Vaisnavs and is a guru figure for hundreds of male and female disciples.

27

conducting “conversational interviews” with close to forty-five participants. I conducted
this field work in three-four month periods over the course of four years (2007-2010). As
noted above, I have worked with several hereditary leaders from within the tradition,
such as Shyam Manohar GosvamI in Mumbai, Vagish GosvamI and Indira betTji in
Baroda, and Raja betlji in Ahmedabad. Since my project focuses on the question of
women’s participation in the tradition, I have conducted extensive fieldwork with
Pustimarg female lay practitioners who perfonn elaborate devotional rituals in their
homes. I also accompanied several women while they attended Pustimarg-related social
activities, including discussion/reading groups, singing sessions at a devotee’s home, and
kirtan classes. With their permission, I was at times also able to document these activities
through audio and video recordings. Most of the women I worked with belong to the
wealthy, upper-class families of Ahmedabad. During my interview sessions, although I
loosely followed a standardized set of questions, I engaged my interlocutors in
conversation, which allowed us to move into spontaneous discussions about their
religious activities outside of the home, their social lives, personal lives, and family
relationships.

Drawing on the methods of reflexive ethnography, I recognize how my
approach, my identity as a woman/researcher/student of Indian origin, and the fact that I
am not a follower of the Pustimarg tradition, influenced the women I have worked with
and thus shaped this project in specific ways. As Frederick Steier argues, “By
recognizing our own role in research, our reciprocators are, seemingly paradoxically,
given greater voice,” whereby the research process becomes one in which the researcher
and the “reciprocator” engage in the co-constructing of a world (180). It is this “co-

28

constructed world” of women’s articulatory practices that guides my work. Moreover, as
the section on “Domestic Rituals, Women, and the Practice of Bhakti” above indicated,
this is a study that discusses the socio-religious, ritual, performance, and aesthetic
practices of Pustimarg women, including their everyday negotiations with caste, class,
and kinship affiliations and structures. This project is, therefore, also informed by South
Asian feminist approaches to ethnography. 22 In my examination of the social activities
and aesthetic choices related to Pustimarg women’s devotional practices and how they
are implicated in the process of family status production I build on Pierre Bourdieu’s
theories of social and symbolic capital. In addition to the authors noted above in sections
II (“Domestic Rituals”) and III (“Religious Patronage”), I also draw heavily on the
growing body of literature on class in South Asia. 23 By organizing Pustimarg related
social events, arranging for private kirtan lessons, and functioning as the primary
consumers and displayers of religious commodities in the home, elite PustimargI women
create - and in some respects, become - the cultural or symbolic capital needed to
maintain and reproduce family status and respectability (Hanco*ck 1999, 14).

22 My perspectives on women’s articulatory practices and women’s histories resonate with the large body of
theoretical work by feminist scholars of South Asia. These include: Chaudhuri (2005); Hanco*ck (2000); Loomba
and Lukose (2012); Majumdar (2009); Mohanty (2003); Mohanty, Russo, and Torres, eds. (1991); Powell and
Lambert-Hurley, eds. (2006); Rajan (1993); Rege (2006); Sangari and Vaid, eds. (1989); Sarkar (2001); Sinha
(2006); Sreenivas (2008); Visweswaran (1994).

23 Prominent examples of theoretical work on issues of class in South Asia include: Ahmad and Reifeld, eds.
(2001); Appadurai, ed. (1986); Assayag and Fuller, eds. (2005); Basil (2004); Birla (2009); Breckenridge, ed.
(1995); Brosius, (2010); Caplan (1985); Chatterjee (1993); Chakrabarty (2000); Fernandes (2006); Joshi (2010);
Ray and Qayam (2009); Van Wessel (2004).

29

Form and Structure

In chapter one, “ Baniyas on the Path to Grace” I trace Pustimarg’s rise as a
courtly religion in western India during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Using
European travel accounts from the seventeenth century I demonstrate how, by the time
Pustimarg consolidates itself in parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan, Gujarati baniyas already
appeared to have been exercising a high social and ritual status. The lavish patronage of a
courtly sect like Pustimarg, I suggest, served to further enhance baniya prestige and
social respectability. Drawing on a Persian source, Ali Muhammad Khan’s Mirat-i-
Ahmadi (1761), I chart the religious activities of Pustimarg baniyas in Mughal-period
Ahmedabad. Finally, the theme of Pustimarg baniya patronage is extended to the
nineteenth century context of the Bombay Presidency through the writings of the Scottish
East India Company officer, Alexander Kinloch Forbes (1821-1865) and his Rds Mala
([1878] 1973). Although in many of these sources we are not provided with explicit
references to domestic sevci practices, it is clear that affluent baniyas perpetuated their
elite status through patterns of religious giving.

Chapter two investigates the production of elite Pustimarg baniya identities
through the prism of colonial modernity. Class as a modem category for designating
social status and respectability is one of the important developments of the colonial
period. One of the aims of this chapter is to demonstrate how the wealthy baniya seths of
the Bombay Presidency were constitutive of the upper-classes and not the middle-classes
- those who were wholly dependent on the new colonial economy. Using their credit
networks and commercial services, baniyas facilitated the expansion of the British Raj in
western India. Seths also participated in the Anglo-Indian judicial system, and oversaw

30

and provided the capital for municipal affairs and urban development projects. However,
despite their economic and administrative collaboration with the British, upper-class
Gujarati baniyds did not show interest in one of the most important aspects of colonial
modernity, namely English education. As the chapter illustrates, the upper-classes and the
educated-classes constituted two entirely different social groups in the Bombay
Presidency.

Chapter three explores how, by the middle of the nineteenth century, members
of the English educated middle-classes participated in reformist campaigns against the
Gujarati baniyd community. Reforms criticized the affluent lifestyles of seths as well as
their apathy towards western education (and thus, social progress). However, as the
infamous Maharaj Libel Case of 1862 demonstrated, what disturbed social and religious
refonners most, was the baniyd community’s affiliation with Pustimarg. The libel case,
which ostensibly centered on the sexual exploitation of Pustimarg women, provided an
opportunity for refonners like Karsondas Mulji to undermine the legitimacy and
authenticity of Pustmarg as a sectarian tradition, as well as question the authority of
Gosvamls as religious leaders. More importantly, however, this chapter maps the larger
gender- and religion-based reform discourses of the nineteenth century that clearly
informed the ambitions and ideological agendas of reformers like Mulji and his
supporters. The social and religious activities of Pustimarg women became sites upon
which middle-class moralities were mapped and debated. The connections between
woman, home, and respectability being forged through these debates reconstituted
Pustimarg women’s religious practices to the home, thus casting them as the primary
producers and performers of elite PustimargI identities.

31

Historical texts and reformist movements (demonstrated by the libel case)
indicate Pustimarg women’s active involvement in Pustimarg. However, in order to
appreciate the modes of female participation in Pustimarg’s social history, chapter four
turns to traditional sources which help illustrate their historical presence and roles in the
sect. These sources include the hagiographical literature, specifically the CaurasT
Vaisnavan ki Varta and the Do Sau Bdvan Vaisnavan kT Varta, as well as devotional
songs composed by Pustimarg women. The vdrtcis provide us with a sense of how the
sect itself perceived of lay women’s social positions and religious roles in Pustimarg.
While the devotional songs composed by women in the popular Gujarati perfonnance
genres of dhol and garbci not only demonstrate a significant way in which women
perpetuated the living traditions of Pustimarg but they also serve as an important counter¬
point to the temple traditions of havelTklrtan music.

The final chapter in this thesis, “From HavelT to Home” focuses on the

intersections between modes of women’s participation in Pustimarg, domestic religious

practices, and class formation in contemporary Pustimarg. By bringing together the

themes covered in earlier chapters with a discussion on twentieth century nationalist

ideologies, consumption pratices, and class politics I demonstrate how the modem

Pustimarg home is recast as the cultural site for both class and sectarian identity

formation. The data for this chapter is drawn primarily from the field work I have

conducted with female lay practitioners in the city of Ahmedabad. My ethnography

consists of participant observation, audio and video recordings, and conversational

interviews I conducted with close to forty-five participants. The participants of my study

consisted of mostly middle-aged women belonging to wealthy business families, as well

32

as hereditary Pustimarg leaders and their bahujls and bell/is. A majority of the women I
worked with are connected to one another through overlapping social networks or by
marriage. Therefore, I begin my discussion of the relationship between Pustimarg
domestic seva and elite sectarian identity formation by first demonstrating how the
practice of seva was introduced to many women as a result of their marriage into
Pustimarg! families.

Many of the women I worked with have begun taking lessons in haveli kirtan
singing, popularly referred to as havelisahglt. As I demonstrate in this chapter, upper-
class women are continuing to perpetuate elite Pustimarg identities by making claims to a
more canonical and “classical” Pustimarg perfonnance genre. Furthermore, in many of
the homes of these women, class and status are signified by the characteristic markers of
privilege, such as large bungalows, the presence of domestic labour, and signs of an
available disposable income. However, material expressions of their sectarian identities -
which I interpret as cultural and symbolic capital - are also implicated in the processes of
class production. These include Pustimarg women’s increased commodified styles of
domestic worship, their consumption and display of expensive Pustimarg religious
commodities, and the time and space allotted to the perfonnace of domestic seva.

Conclusion

This project examines how the religious patronage of Pustimarg facilitates the
reproduction and display of family status. To date, most studies of Pustimarg, even those
that address the relationship between Pustimarg patronage and the production of prestige,
have focused exclusively on temple practice. This work constitutes the first English

33

language study to explore Pustimarg domestic ritual and women’s religious practices in
the home. It thus extends current scholarship on Pustimarg scholarship by highlighting
important and hitherto neglected aspects of the sect. Furthermore, since Pustimarg
women’s religious activities are examined outside the well-rehearsed models of
auspiciousness and sumangall status, this study marks an important contribution to the
study of gender and Hinduism more broadly.

There are three major themes that weave through this thesis: 1) the relationship
between class-inflected modernities and Pustimarg; 2) the perpetuation of elite Pustimarg
sectarian identities through material culture (such as ritual substances donated for use in
haveli sevd, the ritual accoutrements used in domestic sevd, the religious commodities
displayed in the home, and so on); and 3) women’s roles in both these processes. As I
discuss throughout this work, colonial modernity, gender and domestic refonn, and
nationalist ideologies have reconstituted the home and women’s domestic activities as
sites of cultural and status production. Pustimarg women’s religious activities, which are
increasingly being informed by changes in consumption styles and aesthetic tastes, have
cast the Pustimarg home as the modem site of religious patronage. As the first study to
explore women’s domestic religious practices and class production in Pustimarg, this
project raises more questions than it seeks to answer. Each theme explored in this
dissertation - religious reform and Pustimarg, the historical roles of women in the sect,
Pustimarg domestic rituals, and Pustimarg performance cultures - can undoubtedly be
subjects of further academic inquiry.

34

CHAPTER 1

Bartiyas on the Path to Grace:

Pustimarg and the Production of Prestige Amongst the Mercantile Communities of

Gujarat, 1670-1860

From the time Pustimarg arrived in Gujarat and Rajasthan in the mid¬
seventeenth century it enjoyed the support and patronage of political and royal nobilities.
As Pustimarg grew into a courtly religion, the sect’s religious leaders - the Gosvamls or
Maharajs - also became powerful and wealthy land-owners {jagidars ). At the same time,
the prosetylizing and entrepreunial efforts of Gosvamls attracted the wealthy mercantile
communities of western India, which included the Gujarati baniyds and bhdtiyds? 4 Both
members of the political nobility and Pustimarg leadership profited from their deepening
ties with these Gujarati merchant elites.

24 In my work, 1 use the categories of baniya and bhatiya to denote specific jatis, or sub-castes, within the
larger commercial caste or vaisya varna. There are numerous other commercial sub-castes in Gujarat, such
as the bhansdlis, kapols, and luhanas. Traditional as well as scholarly sources sometimes use “baniya”
interchangeably with “vaisya” to characterize all these commercial castes more generally. These terms
normally describe occupations, and their meanings change in different contexts. For example, the word
baniya stems from “vanik,” “vanija,” and “vani,” and in Maharashtra the term “vani” was used to describe
a person who was a trader-cum-userer, whereas European travelers would use the term “banyan” to refer to
any trader in general. Depending on the context or source, one finds the term baniya denoting merchants
and business men from the Hindu Brahmin caste, as well as from Jain, Muslim, and Parsi communities
(David Hardiman 1996, 62). I use the term “baniya” to refer to Hindu commercial castes more broadly, and
though they are separate sub-castes, I will only distinguish “baniya” from other sub-castes such as
“bhatiya” when necessary. Though I am using the category in its most generalized sense, it is important to
note that within these commercial communities distinctions are made between village grain dealers (also
called baniya), the local money dealer ( sarraf ), the traveling trader, and the great merchant or guild of the
city ( mahajan ) (Bayly 1983, 371). Furthermore, many of these sub-castes which sometimes become
subsumed under the general category of baniya do not necessarily identify themselves as such. Bhdtiyds,
for example, who hail from the regions of Sind, Kutch, and Saurashtra instead claim Rajput or ksatriya
ancestry (Markovits 2008, 194; Simpson, 2008). Another important point of difference between bhatyias
and baniyds is the caste taboo placed on foreign travel by the latter. Finally, since my project focuses on
Pustimarg families in Ahmedabad, I am using the term “baniya” in a localized sense to refer to the Hindu
commercial communities of central Gujarat. I am consciously distinguishing “baniya” from
“marvarls/marvadis,” the term used to refer to the commercial castes of Rajasthan. For more on the
activities of marvaris see Timberg (1978) and Birla (2009); for their pan-national activities and on the
politics of mdrvdri community formation in Calcutta, see Hardgrove (2004).

35

In this chapter, I trace the development of baniya patronage of Pustimarg in
western India. I demonstrate how the high caste and social status exercised by Gujarati
baniyds facilitated the community’s adoption of a Pustimarg sectarian identity.
Furthermore, for a community in which the display and maintenance of trust-worthiness
and honor ( abru ) is of social and economic value, the lavish patronage of an exalted sect
such as Pustimarg served to further enhance baniya prestige and respectability.

Courtly Contexts: The Royal Patronage of Pustimarg in western India

Beginning with Vallabha and his earliest descendents, the Pustimarg tradition
received considerable patronage from members of north and western India’s political and
royal nobility and wealthy mercantile communities. Pustimarg historian, Shandip Saha,
draws on the sect’s hagiographical ( vdrtci ) literature, traditional sources on Vallabha’s
pilgrimage tours (CaurasTBhathak Caritra), as well as Vallabha’s biography (Sri
MahdprabhujT ki Nijvarta), to demonstrate how Vallabha focused most of his
proselytizing efforts in the Malwa region of central India and in the Kathiawad peninsula
of Gujarat (Saha 2007, 304). In Gujarat, Vallabha drew followers from the agrarian
communities like the kunbis and patidars and he also began to attract members from the
prominent and wealthy Hindu mercantile communities such as the luhdnds, bhdtiyds, and
baniyas.

Vallabha’s second son and successor, Vitthalanatha, furthered Vallabha’s
prosetylising acivities. He is also credited with institutionalizing the sevd of Krsna in
Pustimarg havelTs, as well as guaranteeing the continued worship of the sect’s nine Krsna
images ( svarups ) by distributing them among his seven sons. Like Vallabha,

36

Vitthalanatha is said to have embarked on a series of “fund-raising” tours throughout

Gujarat between 1543 and 1582, in which he continued to initiate baniyas and members
from fanning and agricultural communities in cities like Surat, Cambay, Godhra, and
Ahmedabad (Saha 2004, 121). However, unlike Vallabha, Vitthalanatha actively sought
the support and patronage of the ruling political elite. Drawing once again from
Pustimarg vcirtd literature (Bhavsindhi klvdrtd), Saha indicates how in 1562
Vitthalanatha secured the patronage of the Hindu queen, Ran! Durgavatl, of the
Gondwana region in central India (122). Furthennore, and though it is not historically
verifiable whether or not or even how Vitthalanatha had direct connections with the
Mughal court, one can find a grant in Emperor Akbar’s name exempting Vitthalanatha
and his descendents from paying taxes on the land in and around the area of Gokul and
Govardhan. 25

Vitthalanatha’s descendents continued to live in the Braj region until the
political instability precipitated by the Jat Rebellion in the late seventeenth century
prompted many members of the Pustimarg leadership to migrate into parts of Rajasthan,
such as Jaipur, Bundi, Bikaner, and Mewar (Saha 2008, 304). The Mewar rulers, in
particular mahdrdna Raj Simh (r. 1653-80), offered the Pustimarg continued support and
military protection in Rajasthan. 26 The assurance of such security facilitated the move of

25 This specific grant is issued in the year 1593. For a detailed examination of all the land grants issued to
the Pustimarg Maharajs by the Mughals see Krishnalal M. Jhaveri, ImperialFarmans (1928). In the text,
Jhaveri provides English, Hindi, and Gujarati translations of the farmans.

26 According to Saha, who bases his conclusions on Kanthmani Sastri’s traditional historical treatise,
Kamkaroli kaltihas (1939), Rajput patronage of Pustimarg only began in the mid-seventeenth century
when Jagat Simh 1 (r. 1628-52) of Mewar was initiated by Giridhar Maharaj, the leader of the third house,
during a pilgrimage tour in Gokul. This, in part, explains why his son, Raj Simh, would later compete with
various Rajput kingdoms for the honor of securing Pustimarg’s base in Mewar, Rajasthan (2008, 309-311).

37

the image of Srinathjl in 1672 when it was installed in its new havelT in the town of
Sinhad, which was then renamed Nathdwara.

By 1676, the Mewar kingdom, the oldest and most prestigious among the
Rajput states, became the chief patrons of Pustimarg in Rajasthan when its rulers also
built a havelT for the third house in the town of Kankroli. Since members of the Mewar
royal family, beginning with Jagat Simh I (r. 1628-52), were already followers of the
third house, the Mewar maharana declared the Pustimarg sect as the personal religion of
the darbar. The Kankroli Gosvamls began to serve as the spiritual preceptors of the royal
family, and as Saha demonstrates, the Pustimarg Gosvamls eventually became a
“permanent fixture in the court life of the Mewar maharajas by presiding over major
events such as the coronation and sacred thread ceremonies of the Mewar princes” (2004,
180-181).

In his study on Mughal and Rajput patronage of Pustimarg, Edwin Richardson
demonstrates how the Mewar kingdom not only supported Pustimarg but also encouraged
the sect to become increasingly autonomous by allowing its Gosvamls to own and control
numerous villages and grazing lands (1979). 27 The rulers of Jaipur, Kota, Bikaner, and
Jodhpur also granted tax free land to the Gosvamls of Nathdwara and Kankroli and held
Pustimarg as the religion of the court. By 1809 and 1838, the Gosvamls of Nathdwara
and Kankroli, respectively became first-ranking jcigirdcirs or land-owners. They managed
the administrative and judicial issues related to their estates, accrued taxes from their
lands, collected duty-fees on goods produced in the temple bazaars, exacted fees from

27 By the nineteenth century, the GosvamI of Kankroli controlled twenty-one villages in and around the
area of Mewar, and the GosvamI of Nathdwara controlled close to thirty villages (Richardson 1979, 74-76).

38

pilgrims as they entered the city walls, and attended and presided over special occasions
in the royal darbars (Saha 2004, 185-187). The Pustimarg Gosvamls were not only the
religious leaders of the community, as a result of their entrepreneurial efforts, by the
nineteenth century they had also refashioned themselves as members of the Rajput
nobility.

The growing prestige of Pustimarg as a courtly religion was also reflected in
Rajasthani visual and artistic cultures. The painting traditions of Mewar, Nathdwara,
Kisangarh, and Kota illustrate how Srlnathjl himself - following a trajectory similar to
his primary caretakers - was also being re-imagined as a Rajput prince. Although both
Saha and Richardson indicate that Kisangarh patronage of Pustimarg began with
mahcirdna Savant Simh (r. 1748-1757), according to Brajraj Singh, the contemporary
descendent of the Kisangarh royal family, Pustimarg was embraced as the court’s religion
much earlier with the conversion of mahcirdna Rup Simh (r. 1643-1658). 28 Mahdrdna
Savant Simh is perhaps best known for his devotional poetry to Krsna under the pen-
name Nagirdas, and for his love of the Kisangarh courtesan Banithanl. Nagirdas’ love
poetry became an important source of inspiration for the unique Kisangarh style of
painting for which the town is known. In these paintings, commissioned by subsequent
Kisangarh mahdrdnas, Krsna (in his local manifestation as Kalyanray), is depicted as a
young prince enthroned in his palace, giving darsan to Kisangarh kings and being
surrounded by royal attendants. 29 As Edwin Richardson notes, in this new “artistic
renaissance,” Srlnathjl was depicted “not in the rustic company of Brajvasis but among

28 Saha (2004, 181); Richardson (1979, 98); personal communication with Brajraj Singh in Kisangarh,
Rajasthan, November 2 nd , 2008.

29 Richardson (1979, 98-110). For more on Rajasthani and Kishangarh painting styles see Chakraverty
(2005); Dehejia (2009) Lyons (2004); Topsfield (2000; 2001).

39

the nobility in the palaces” (90). In Kota, a similar theme was also developing. Maharana
Bhhn Simh I (r. 1720-23) took initiation into Pustimarg and established Krsna in his form
of BrajnathjI as Kota’s tutelary deity. Paintings from Kota depict BrajnathjI as a royal
ruler presiding over his court, and depict Bhhn Simh as a divan or minister attending to
the true king of Kota, Krsna. Bhhn Simh would eventually build a temple to BrajnathjI
within the palace complex itself, effectively conflating “spaces of BrajnathjI’s residence
with those of royal power” (Taylor, 60-61).

Patronage of Pustimarg in western India enabled the reproduction and
legitimization of Rajput kingship. As Nicholas Dirks argues, “one of the fundamental
requirements of Indian kingship was that the king be a munificent provider of fertile
lands for Brahmans..., [and] for temples which were the centers of puja worship and
festival occasions” (1979, 44). In Gujarat and Rajasthan, the Rajput king’s munificence
was displayed through land grants made to Pustimarg Brahmin Gosvamls, financing the
construction of havelTs, providing assurance of military protection to these religious
institutions, and by patronizing and sometimes even producing (as in the case of
maharana Savant Simh) devotional poetry. In return, Pustimarg Gosvamls presided over
ceremonial and religious events at the kings’ darbars. The presence of Pustimarg within
a particular kingdom also brought reputability and lent credence to that state since large
havelTs like the ones in Nathdwara and Kankroli required substantial financial subsistence
from its patrons to operate and to carry out its daily liturgical activities. That is to say,

40

Pustimarg Gosvamis were attracted to only those kingdoms which were politically stable,

could guarantee military protection, and which provided continual patronage. 30

A dialectical relationship existed between the Rajput kingdom and Pustimarg,
each reinforcing and legitimizing the other. For example, Bhlm Simh I, the first Kota
king to become initiated in Pustimarg, began his kingship in the same year that
Aurangzeb died (1707) and when Mughal reign was becoming increasingly destabilized.
Bhlm Simh wanted to take advantage of this moment of Mughal weakness to “transform
Kota from a petty principality of minor consequence to a regional power” by patronizing
Pustimarg (Norbert Peabody 1991, 734). In Mewar, Raj Simh encouraged Pustimarg
Maharajs to settle in the region when he too was in the process of economically and
culturally reconstructing the state after years of warfare with the Mughals (Saha 2007,
311). The kingdoms of Kota and Mewar vied for the honor of permanently housing
Pustimarg at moments of state building and expansion. Finally, another important reason
for the Rajput nobility to want to attract and secure the presence of Pustimarg in their
region at moments of cultural, political, and economical expansion is because they, like
Pustimarg Gosvamis, participated in profitable relationships with some of the wealthiest
followers of Pustimarg, namely the Gujarati Hindu baniyas or mercantile communities.

30 In his travel accounts through Rajasthan the British political agent. Colonel James Tod, writes of his
attendance at an important Pustimarg festival, which took place in Nathdwara in 1822. All the different
svarups associated with the seven houses had congregated in Nathdwara for the event. Tod explains how
the Rajput rulers asked his help to make sure the Pustimarg Gosvamis returned to the same capitals from
which they came, together with their svarups, for the Rajput rulers “dreaded lest bribery might entice the
priests to fix them elsewhere, which would have involved their [the kings’] loss of sanctity, dignity, and
prosperity’’ (Tod 436n2).

41

Mercantile Munificence: Baniya Patronage of Pustimarg in western India

With the establishment of Nathdwara as the sect’s cultic centre, the Srlnathjl
havelT and other subsidiary Pustimarg ha veils affiliated with the seven houses received
sustained patronage from both the Rajasthani aristrocracy and from the affluent merchant
communities of western India. Prior to Pustimarg’s move to Nathdwara, baniya
communities were already key patrons of Pustimarg in Braj. However, in western India
the success of Pustimarg can be significantly attributed to the ties forged between
members of the mercantile community, Pustimarg Gosvamls, and Rajput maharanas.

As noted above, during their proselytizing tours across north and western
India, both Vallabha and Vitthalanatha drew converts from a range of caste groups such
as bhumihdr Brahmins, Rajputs, as well as from low-caste farming communities like the
gujars, kurmis, kunbis and patidars (Saha 2007, 306). 31 However, second to Rajput
maharanas, the most influential patrons sought out by Vitthalanatha in western India were
members from the affluent commercial castes, the Gujarati Hindu baniyds. Unlike the
ruling political nobility who exercised authority through their control of land, baniya
communities controlled the flow of capital and the credit structure. Ashin Das Gupta, in
his study of Surat merchants during the eighteenth century, aptly describes baniyds ’
ubiquitous presence and involvement in the money market as follows: “In short wherever

31 As David Poco*ck illustrates in his work, Mind, Body, and Wealth: A Study of Belief and Practice in an
Indian Village (1973), under the Mughal government some kunbl families assumed the title patidar (“land-
owner”) because they were granted the right to dispense with "middle-men” when paying their land tax. As
this new caste title was becoming more popular for denoting the wealthy and prestigious members of the
kunbl community, more and more kunbls started to appropriate the name patidar. In 1931, the caste title
was officially changed to patidar (5-6). The change in name ostensibly marked an improved caste
designation and status. However, as Poco*ck argues, even after the change in caste name a distinction is still
retained between patidar and kunbl by members of these communities: “A man may be a Patidar in his own
eyes and in the eyes of his affines and still be considered a Kanbi by [an] other Patidar” (1972, 52).

42

there was an economic transaction in the city, you would very likely find a broker to
smooth your way and take his cut” (84-85 qtd in M.N. Pearson, 457).

As traders, brokers, bankers, and currency dealers and exchangers ( saroffs ),
many baniyas maintained an itinerant lifestyle and were therefore able to cultivate
expansive networks of social and political connections across large regions, including
those beyond India. 32 From the time when the rulers of Rajasthan and Gujarat were
forced to accept the suzereignty of Mughal emperors, well known baniyas provided large
loans to Rajput mahdrdnas, occupied important political positions, held some control
over state finances and revenue collection, and even served as ration suppliers and pay¬
masters of the states’ armies (Markovits 2008; Hardiman 22-25). Their ties with Rajputs
also facilitated many baniyas to fonn connections with Mughal officiants and rulers,
which perhaps explains why many Hindu merchants were able to continue to expand
their networks under the Mughal regime. In Rajasthan, many land-owners or jbgirdbrs
also appointed merchants and usurers to collect their land-tax revenue more efficiently by
using their own local connections (Hardiman 23-25). As jagidars themselves, Pustimarg
Gosvamls may have also relied on influential and trustworthy baniyas to facilitate their
tax-revenue collection. Whether or not such a “working” relationship existed between
Pustimarg leaders and baniyas, socio-political, economic, and cultural ties were indeed
being fostered between the political nobility, Pustimarg Gosvamls, and influential
merchants and bankers. On the one hand, as Saha argues, “Pustimarg’s deepening ties
with political elites offered merchants greater opportunities to increase their social

32 During the expansion of the Maritime Gujarat overseas trade in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and early
eighteenth centuries, many business communities like the bhatiyas expanded their trading networks to
regions outside of India, like Zanzibar, Muscat, China, and Japan - but they were forbidden to journey to
Europe and America due to caste restrictions (Shodhan 2001, 9).

43

prestige through their continued patronage of the maharajas ” (2007, 312). On the other
hand, direct connections with Rajputs and the granting of loans and gifts to these rulers
also endowed baniycis with considerable respectability and influence. Thus, both political
rulers and Pustimarg religious leaders were dependent on the support and patronage of
wealthy merchants, whose trustworthiness, honor, or prestige ( ijjat, dbru) were in turn
informed by patterns of religious and political gift giving. 33

There are also several instances where we see the influence of a wealthy

Pustimarg baniyd approach that of political nobility in the context of religious patronage.

In his study of Pustimarg patronage by the kings of Kota, Norbert Peabody illustrates

how in 1720 Bhhn Simh was defeated and killed by Nizam-ul-Mulk, a feudatory of the

Mughal emperor, who was based in Hyderbad. Bhhn Simh was known to have the svarup

of BrijnathjI accompany him and his troops on an elephant in every battle. When Bhhn

Simh was killed, the elephant carrying the palladium was also captured by Nizam-ul-

Mulk and brought back to Hyderbad. In an effort to preserve the “potency” of Kota’s

tutelary deity, a Hindu merchant in Hyderbad solicited the image from Nizam-ul-Mulk,

built a havelT, and spent hundreds of thousands of rupees to continue the lavish sevd of

the Pustimarg deity, until it was returned to Kota five years later (1991,737). Due to his

wealth and social influence the baniyd was essentially able to stand in for the Kota king

and continue the worship of BrijnathjI. Another example of mercantile munificence is

brought to us by Colonel James Tod’s accounts of Rajasthan. In his Annals and

Antiquities of Rajasthan, Tod describes his attendance at an important Pustimarg festival

33 Words like man, ijjat, and dbnl were used by members of the baniyd community to refer to social
distinctions like “honor,” “prestige,” or “reputation.” However, the most significant of these terms was
dbru, which referred to both a merchant’s or merchant firm’s economic credit and reputation (Haynes
1991,56).

44

(annakut) taking place in Nathdwara in 1822. He writes how, eighty years earlier, during
the same festival:

Rana Ursi presented to the god a tora, or massive golden anklet-chain set
with emeralds; Beejy Sing a diamond necklace worth twenty-five thousand
rupees; other princes according to their means. They were followed by an
old woman of Surat, with infirm step and shaking head, who ... placed at its
feet a bill of exchange for seventy thousand rupees. The mighty were
humbled ... Such gifts, and to a yet greater amount, are, or were, by no
means uncommon from the sons of commerce... (436)

This descrption by Tod of donation activities by kings and a wealthy baniya woman not
only illustrates how Rajput kings and affluent Hindu merchants were among the most
important patrons of Pustimarg, but that kings could be “humbled” by the status of these
merchants. Also it is noteworthy that a woman is making such a generous donation,
suggesting that Pustimarg lay women were also actively involved in forms of religious
giving. This is a theme we will return to later in our discussion on Pustimarg lay
women’s religious roles in Pustimarg.

As the Mughal empire was becoming decentralized and weak in the eighteenth
century, the political nobility of western India increasingly turned to the affluent
commercial castes for support. Their mutual ties to Pustimarg facilitated the formation of
a “king-merchant” alliance in which income from trade, as well as pilgrimage traffic
generated by Gujarati mercantile followers, provided continued financial sustenance to
kings (Peabody 1991, 751; Saha 2004, 177). In addition to these political elites,
Pustimarg Gosvamls were also dependent on the baniya community for financial support.
For example, Gosvamls derived a considerable amount of money from the duties they

45

would extract on goods produced in the market place - especially those goods produced
by their Gujarati devotees.

Before many of the merchants in Gujarat migrated to Bombay - the
commercial-industrial-administrative centre of the British Raj in western India - cities
like Surat and Ahmedabad were home to affluent baniya communities who played an
important role in both the indigenous commercial economy and international trade. Surat
linked several important trade routes between its port and the manufacturing centres of
Bharuch, Cambay, and Ahmedabad (Haynes 1991, 35-37). In such large towns and cities,
many baniya sub-castes would be organized around occupational guild-like regional
bodies known as mahdjans . 34 These mahdjans were responsible for standardizing the
rules for conducting business by the baniyds (such as establishing prices as well as wages
for artisans), they exercised religious functions such as building temples and rest-houses
(dharmsalas), enforced caste rules of marriage and customary practices, and would help
resolve any conflicts among members within the community. In short, as Douglas
Haynes argues, mahdjans were concerned most with managing any threats to the baniya
community’s social honor and economic credit, its cibrii. Mahdjans were “critical arenas
in which authority was generated and perpetuated ... [and] like other high-caste
institutions, [they] were enmeshed in the politics of reputation” (1991, 60-61). If
members of the community did not comply with the decisions made by their mahdjan,

34 Caste and occupational guilds such as these are known to have existed in Gujarat for at least the last eight
centuries (Haynes 1991, 60). Dwijendra Tripathi and Makrand Mehta also note how mahdjans did not
follow the same pattern of organization in all cities. For example, unlike Surat, Ahmedabad did not have
one city wide organization. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the city had approximately fifty-
three mahdjan -like institutions. Ahmedabad instead had a nagarseth, a position which developed in the
seventeenth century and was adopted by other urban centers much later. The nagarseth coordinated
between the heads of mahdjans and the state, and under the leadership of the nagarseth, the Ahmedabad
mahdjans sometimes worked together to protect their business interests (159-160).

46

they faced the threat of expulsion from the guild and therefore also faced the possibility
of being ex-communicated from their caste as well (63).

In his study of the merchant communities of Surat, Haynes notes how most
guilds like the large Samast Vanik Mahajan (the mahajan of all the Hindu baniyds in
Surat) would link themselves to a well known religious institution. The Samast Vanik
Mahajan , for example, was actively involved with all the devotional activities and with
the Gosvamls of Surat’s Balkrsnalaljl havelT, popularly known as “Mota mandir ,” 35
Mahdjans such as these would normally collect a cess or tax, called /ago, on the trade of
their baniyd members and then donate these funds to the various havelis. In Gujarat, this
fonn of patronage constituted a major source of income for the havelis and their
Gosvamls. This pattern of patronage also continued in colonial Bombay where, by the
mid-nineteenth century, five to six Maharajs had already established themselves. The
various Vaisnav baniyd and bhdtiyd communities that migrated to Bombay from Gujarat
during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries signed an agreement with the Bombay
Gosvamls in 1823 to donate all tax proceeds extracted from every item or commodity of
trade and sale (Shodhan 2001, 10). These ranged from quotidian items such as spices,
cotton, cloth, opium, and bills of exchange, to luxury goods like gold and silver, pearls
and jewels (Mulji 1865, 146).

In addition to such clear financial support of the Pustimarg havelis and their
Gosvamls, mahajan guilds also helped to organize feasts to honor Gosvamls on special
occasions, such as religious holidays or for a Gosvamfs marriage and sacred-thread

35 Though there have been disputes in the early twentieth century among the descendents of Vitthalanatha’s
sixth son over matters of succession, the Gosvamls of the BalkrsnajI havelT claim leadership of this Sixth
House in Surat.

47

ceremonies. On these occasions, many baniya families even competed for the honor to
host the mahajan’ s festivities. The mahajan made their decision based on the proposed
arrangements put forth by the applicant and - perhaps more importantly - they
considered the “moral character” or cibru of the potential sponsor (Haynes 1991, 65).
Cultivating a relationship of trust and respect with the local mahajan was therefore
essential for baniya families to maintain and produce their own family’s cibru. As Haynes
explains: “Only with this necessary collective base of reputation acquired through
participation in the mahajan’’ s affairs could the merchant family finn cultivate its own
individual prestige and credit in the community through such actions as temple donations
and prestigious marriages” (63).

The production and preservation of family prestige and honor or cibru through
patterns of religious patronage is an important aspect for understanding how merchant
communities are involved with Pustimarg. It relates to the formation of what Pierre
Bourdieu (1984) classifies as “cultural” or “social” capital, a theme I will return to
shortly. However, it might be helpful to now pause and discuss some additional reasons
as to why baniya families were attracted to Pustimarg and why they attracted the
attention of Pustimarg Gosvamls, who were actively seeking new patrons.

Baniyasi Becoming Pusti

By the time Vallabha travelled to western India and began attracting followers,

places like Rajasthan and Gujarat were already a stronghold for Saiva, Sakta, and

Vaisnav traditions. Francoise Mallison (1983), in her essay on the development of early

Krsnaism in Gujarat investigates the presence of Vaisnav traditions prior to the rise of a

48

sectarian tradition like Pustimarg. Mallison demonstrates how Vaisnavism in the fonn of
worship to Visnu-Trivikrama was quite popular in Gujarat in the seventh and eighth
centuries. 36 Krsna bhakti flourishes in the fifteenth century when we find Gujarati
translations of Sanskrit anthologies dedicated to Krsna, such as the Balagopalastuti, the
Gitagovinda, and the Bhdgavata Purdna being produced (245). This is also the period
during which Narasimha Mehta (ca. 1414-1480 CE), popularly considered the adikavi or
“first poet” of the Gujarati language, lived and composed his devotional lyrics to Krsna
and Siva. 37 Thus, by the time Vallabha and Vitthalanatha arrived, the Krsnaite culture of
Gujarat was already flourishing. As Mallison argues, “Vallabha and Vitthala did not
simply win Gujarat over to their faith; it would be more correct to say that the Krsna
bhakti of Gujarat absorbed and inspired it” (1994, 60). However, it was only with the
arrival of Vallabha and Vitthalanatha and the particular bhakti ethos they presented that
this Gujarati “cult of Krsna” became crystallized and eventually institutionalized into an
orthodox sectarian tradition or sampraday , 38

Other than areas where Pustimarg and Svamlnarayan temples are situated, the most important places of
Krsna worship in Gujarat are: Dwarka, Dakor, Shamlalji (near Bhiloda), and Tulshishyam (Janagadh
district). The main image in all four pilgrimage centers is the form of Visnu as Trivikrama. Here
“Trivikrama” represents one of the possible twenty four ways in which Visnu can be shown holding his
four insignia (lotus, mace, disc, and conch), and does not refer to Visnu’s avatar as Trivikrama-Vamana
(Mallison 1994, 54; 1983, 246).

37 Though a large majority of the poems written by Narasimha Mehta are oriented around Krsna and Siva in
their saguna (“with-form,” “immanent”) aspects, Narasimha Mehta also composed poetry in the nirguna
(“transcendent”) bhakti genre. Charlotte Vaudeville argues that this eclectic style is representative of the
“ecumenical bhaktr that prevailed in parts of north and western India by the fifteenth century (qtd. in
Neelima Shukla-Bhatt 2003, 13).

38 Another Vaisnav sectarian tradition that appears to have gained popularlity in Gujarat during the
eighteenth century is the south Indian Srlvaisnav sampraday founded by Ramanuja (1017-1137). Ramanuja
unified Vaisnav theology with non-dual (Advaita) doctrines, and established the philosophical school of
Visistadvaita Vedanta or “qualified non-dualism.” Srivaisnavism places importance on bhakti and sef-
surrender ( prapatti ) to Visnu-Narayan. Soon after Ramanuja’s death, a schism emerged over the centrality
of the Tamil hymns composed by the Alvars, the nature of the self ( atman ), and the role of Sri-LaksmI. The

49

I suggest that Gujarati baniyds may have embraced Pustimarg - a tradition
which places a heavy emphasis on ritual purity - because of their already high social and
ritual status. We can gain some insight into the religious lifestyles of Gujarati baniyds
during the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries in the writings of European travelers
who visited the bustling commercial centres of Ahmedabad, Surat, and Cambay in their
tours across south Asia. In his study of Gujarati merchants and their Indian Ocean
networks, Murari Kumar Jha notes how, by the seventeenth century, “the transoceanic
movement of people, goods, and ideas made Gujarati port society truly cosmopolitan”
(28). Other than the well-established Hindu, Jain, Muslim, and Parsi commercial groups
residing in Gujarat, the port cities of Ahmedabad and Surat attracted Arab, Turkish,
Persian, Egyptian, and Armenian merchant communities as well. It was therefore
inevitable for European travelers to also pass through these major cosmopolitan centres,
especially Ahmedabad, which was the capital of Gujarat. 39

tradition split into two communities - the “northern” Vatakalais and the “southern” Teiikalais.
Institutionally, each community consolidated around temples, a lineage of teachers/leaders (dearyas), and
centres of learning known as maths, with which dedryas were normally associated. Although the dates are
not known, according to Haripriya Rangarajan, Srivaisnavism found its way to Gujarat with the
establishment of the Totadari math and the Ramanujakot at Dwarka. The twenty-fifth leader of the Tenkalai
Vanamamalai math - Chinna Kaliyan Ramanujan Svami - was responsible for doing this (1996, 31-32).
Individual dedryas from Tamilnadu and Karnataka also began arriving in Gujarat towards the end of the
seventeenth century. With the influence of the Totadari math in Dwarka, numerous Srivaisnav temples
were constructed across Gujarat; by the beginning of the nineteenth century nearly thirty had been
established, which were dedicated to forms of Visnu, namely BalajI, Venkatesvara, and LaksmI-Narayan
(36-37). It is important to note that Sahajananda Svami (1781-1830) of the Svaminarayan sampraday,
another popular Vaisnav sect of Gujarat, claims to belong to the same lineage of Srivaisnav dedryas
starting with Ramanuja (Williams 2004, 63). By the middle of the nineteenth century, Pustimarg (110, 323
people), Srivaisnav (72, 092 people), and Svaminarayan (32, 481 people) constituted the three most popular
Vaisnav sampraddys of Ahmedabad ( Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency Vol. IV, Ahmedabad district,
1879,34).

39 After Gujarat was conquered by the Delhi Sultanate in the early fourteenth century, Sultan Ahmad Shah
established Ahmedabad as the capital of Gujarat (known then as Gurjardesh) in 1411. Gujarat was then
annexed to the Mughal Empire in 1573, and Ahmedabad became a provincial capital. For centuries
Ahmedabad remained the commercial capital of the Gujarat region, even after Bombay became the centre
of the colonial Presidency in western India. Gandhinagar would eventually replace Ahmedabad as capital
of Gujarat in the years after 1960, when Gujarat emerged as a separate state (Yagnik and Sheth 2011, 2-21).

50

SA Clarke, a pastor from a church in London who visited Ahmedabad in the
early 1650s, described the streets of Ahmedabad as being fdled with shops selling
“perfumes, spices, ... silks, cotton, calico, and choice of Indian and Chinese rarities,
owned, and sold by the fair spoken, but crafty Bannians” (31). In 1626, Sir Thomas
Herbert, an English traveler provided a more detailed description of baniyas, as
individuals who are excellent arithmeticians, good at navigation, who do not eat or drink
with a Christian, and who are second to the “Priests”: “the Priests and Merchants
(appropriating the first & second to themselves) are more superstitious then the casts of
Souldiers and Mechanicks, who assume a liberty of Meats and Wine in variety” (42-51).
In addition to characterizing Brahmins and baniyas as holding the “first” and “second”
place in the caste hierarchy, Herbert repeatedly emphasizes how members of the baniyd
community are strict vegetarians and do not consume alcohol. Regarding their religious
practices, he writes how baniyas bathe often, and in the mornings they “duck three times”
in the water, face the east, and while murmuring some phrases, “adore” the sun. 40 Herbert
also provides a drawing of a baniyd standing in front of an image (47) and writes how
“Above all, their Idolatry to Pagods (or Images of deformed demons) is observable” (51).
Though he does not tell us which deity is depicted, he does explain how “the pagod” is
built under a banyan tree, is adorned with silk of all colors, and individuals sing songs
and perform “many mysteries” in front of the image (51-52). The description of baniyas
as similar to Brahmins in the social and ritual hierarchy of Gujarat is also noted by the
French traveler, Francois Pyrard de Laval (1578-1623), who visited parts of western
India in the early seventeenth century. In his description of the merchants he encountered

40 This is a reference to sandhya rituals.

51

in Cambay, Pyrard de Laval notes how “The Banians ... observe the same manner of life
as the Bramenis, albeit they wear not the cord” (249).

The writings of the British traveller, John Ovington, further support the
descriptions of baniyds provided by his contemporaries. Ovington, a chaplain to the
Queen, traveled to Surat in 1689. He exclaims how “The Bannians are by much the most
numerous, and by far the wealthiest of all the Pagans of India” (278). He also writes that
baniyas abstain from eating the flesh of living creatures (283), and remain clean by
perfonning “constant Ablutions and daily Washings” (315). Ovington provides detailed
descriptions of the baniya lifestyle and how they spend their money on “their women,”
and on lavish weddings. The display of wealth by baniya families is a subject that I will
return to below, however, an interesting point that Ovington brings up is the manner by
which baniyas take oaths or make promises. He explains this as follows: “As we lay our
Hands in swearing upon the Holy Bible, so he [the baniya ] puts his hand upon the
venerable Cow, with this Imprecation, That he may eat of the Flesh of that Blest Animal,
if what he says be not true’' (231-232). According to Jha, in addition to taking an oath by
touching a cow, Hindu merchants would also make vows by placing their hands upon a
deity or by visiting a sacred shrine (37). It is perhaps not that surprising how, in order to
resolve ambiguities in trade and to establish trust, merchants would take oaths using
religious symbols/insignia. However, what I am interested in is how a merchant’s
religious affiliations and activities, such as patronizing a religious shrine and sponsoring
and hosting religious festivals, can further enhance the prestige and respectability {abru)
of a merchant family. That is to say, a community for whom social stability, honor and
prestige, and community trust are important - especially for their financial prosperity

52

(much like for political elites), strong li nk s with religious sites, persons, and activities
would only help facilitate the (re)production of such fonns of symbolic capital. To draw
on Pierre Bourdieu, “the exhibition of the material and symbolic strength represented by
prestigious affines is likely to be in itself a source of material profit in a good-faith
economy in which good repute is the best, if not the only, economic guarantee” (1977,
180). A merchant’s cibru, which could mean both “honor” and “credit,” was accumulated
over years of honest commercial dealings and by maintaining a good reputation in the
community. 41 In addition to conducting their business with integrity and through
establishing networks of trust, many baniyas established and maintained their good social
standing through patterns of religious patronage and by exercising moral leadership in the
community (Haynes 1991, 38).

So far, the seventeenth century writings of European travelers have presented a
picture of the baniya as an individual who belonged to one of the most prominent and
wealthy social groups of Gujarat; who maintained a vegetarian diet and abstained from
drinking alcohol; one who followed purity rules by constantly washing; and who
perfonned and participated in religious activities. It is important, however, to keep in
mind that many of these early European travelers did not differentiate between Jain and
Hindu baniyas and, even when discussing Hindu baniyas, they may have been describing

41 The system of the hundi (credit note or bill of exchange) exemplifies how important a merchant’s credit-
worthiness was to participate in commercial and financial dealings. As Lakshmi Subramanian explains,
hundls had a twofold function: “to enable one to get advances and or alternatively to remit funds from one
place to another” (1987, 477). Gujarati baniyas were masters of the hundi system, which became the
dominant financial instrument among the traders, bankers, and merchants of western India by the
eighteenth century. The reputation or credit of a merchant banker would determine whether his hundi
would be accepted. This system depended on the honor and credit-worthiness of merchant bankers so much
so that if "these hundis had lost their viability, then the merchants who carried them would have been
unable to make their purchases, and the whole trading network could have collapsed” (1991, 38).

53

the activities of Brahmin merchants. Having said that, I think it is safe to presume that by

the seventeenth century, and probably even earlier, Gujarati baniyds not only enjoyed a
high social and economic standing, but also maintained a relatively high ritual or caste
status. Pustimarg Gosvamls, like Vallabha, Vitthalanatha, and their earliest descendents
may have introduced strict purity rules into Pustimarg because they were Brahmins
themselves. However, the acceptance and continued observance of such purity rules by
the baniyd lay population may have been facilitated by the fact that baniyds, were already
following Brahmanic rules of purity and pollution. That is to say, the prospect of
“Sanskritization” or “upward mobility” may not have been the motivation behind, or the
outcome of, baniyds converting into Pustimarg, as it mostly likely was for kunbi and
pdtiddr agricultural communities. 42 Instead, Pustimarg may have been enthusiastically
adopted by the baniyd community of Gujarat because it introduced a religious ethos that
aligned well with the religious, ritual, aesthetic, and economic needs and practices of the
baniyd community: Pustimarg provided a new, fixed, and stable sectarian identity around
a deity who was already popular in Gujarat; it offered a life-affirming and householder-
based theology and liturgy, one in which practitioners were free to pursue wealth and

42 For example, Shandip Saha argues how as a result of “its emphasis on a householder life grounded in
strict vegetarianism, simplicity, restraint, and frugality, membership in the Pusti Marga conferred upon
members of the mercantile community the status of brahmins in Gujarati society” (2004, 114). Though I do
not want to completely dismiss this claim, based on the above descriptions of Gujarati baniyd communities
in seventeenth century European travelogues and in the work by Murari Kumar Jha (2009), it appears that
(Hindu?) baniyds may have already been practicing strict vegetarianism and were following purity rules by
the time Pustimarg became popular in Gujarat. This claim could be further corroborated (or perhaps even
discredited) with further historical sources from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. For now, 1 would like
to nuance Saha’s approach for understanding why Pustimarg gained popularity among the Gujarati baniyd
community. The prospect of upward caste mobility can more aptly describe the kunbi and pdtiddr
communities’ adoption of a Pustimarg sectarian identity. As Francoise Mallison argues, “The ascension of
the Kanabi-Patela is often due to their ‘vallabhization’, with the prestige of its vegetarianism and stricter
purity rules, which represents a certain form of brahmanization that offered an attractive pattern of life”
(1994, 52).

54

prosperity so long as they dedicate all their worldly belongings to Krsna first; finally, the
sect was led by a hereditary community of Brahmin householders, whose ritual purity
rules confonned with those of baniya householders.

Patterns of Pustimarg Patronage in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

We are able to see further examples of the baniya community’s high caste

status as well as their explicit ties to Pustimarg in later historical works from the

eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. An excellent source for understanding the political,

social, and religious conditions of Mughal-period Ahmedabad is Ali Muhammad Khan’s

Mirat-i-Ahmadi, which was completed in 1761. The Mirat-i-Ahmadi’s khdtimd or

supplement provides a more detailed description of the various caste groups,

communities, and religious shrines located in Ahmedabad. My discussion, therefore,

draws from the supplement, which was translated from Persian by Syed Nawab Ali and

Charles Seddon (1928). Ali Muhammad Khan was raised in Ahmedabad and was

eventually appointed as the imperial divan of the province by the Mughal administration.

His access to state papers and documents, on which the Mirat-i-Ahmadi is based, was

enabled by his role as divan. In the supplement, Ali Muhammad Khan begins with

describing the city, its inhabitants, and its bazaars:

“...it would be no exaggeration to say that so grand and magnificent a city is
to be found nowhere else. Bazars are spacious and well arranged; its
inhabitants, both men and women, are handsome... Cloth of fine texture,
which is exported by land and sea, yields a profitable trade... and suburbs
360 (some say 380) in number enlarge the city.” (1928, 7)

In his description of the Ahmedabadi baniya community, Ali Khan notes how
the community is comprised of “Meshri” baniyas and “Shravak” baniya s. He then goes

55

on to list the eighty-four sub-divisions of the baniya community in Ahmedabad (116-
118). Ali Khan uses “Shravak” to refer to those baniyas who follow the Jain religion. As
for the “Meshri” baniyas, Ali Khan describes them as individuals who “follow the
Brahmans and worship Mahadev, Bhavani, and Krishna...there are some who worship
Krishna, paying at the same time some respect to Mahadev; these are called Vaishnavas
and Bhagats whose religious preceptors are called Gosains, who are these Brahmans who
consider themselves adopted sons of Krishna” (118). What this passage clearly suggests
is that by this point in the mid-eighteenth century - approximately two hundred years
after Vitthalanatha is said to have visited western India, the Pustimarg sect had firmly
rooted itself into the religious landscape of Gujarat. It is also interesting that the
supplement describes Pustimargi baniya s as patronizing shrines to Siva as well. This
blurring or relaxed understanding of sectarian boundaries is also illustrated by Douglas
Haynes in his study of merchant communities in Surat. In Surat, Haynes notes, the
Chakawala family maintained a banking firm during the late eighteenth century. They
“apparently saw no contradiction in building a temple to Shiva in the village of Katargam
while donating thousands of rupees in seva to Vaishnava deities” (1991, 59). Though
limited, these historical examples of Pustimargi baniyds patronizing both Krsna and Siva
shrines are significant for two reasons: firstly, these early references attest to a sense of
sectarian identity that is markedly different from the strict sectarianism practiced by
Pustimargls today and, therefore, complicates our reading of sectarian identity fonnation
in the Pustimarg community. 43 Secondly, we do not know exactly what Ali Khan means

43 Today, for example, orthodox Pustimargls will not visit temples or sacred shrines dedicated to other
deities. Most Pustimargls also do not celebrate festivals like Navaratri in their homes nor would they have
images of other deities in their domestic shrines.

56

when he says that baniyas who worship Krsna also pay “at the same time some respect to
Mahadev.” It could be similar to what Haynes has described, namely, that the same
baniya family would donate money to both Vaisnav and Saiva shrines. As was briefly
discussed above, prominent baniya families were continuously engaged in furthering
their reputation or cibru within the merchant community - and religious giving was a
significant part of this process. So even if a baniya family was “strictly” Pustimarg and
not followers of Siva, patronizing a non-Vaisnav temple through gift-giving may have
been a means to generate status and prestige for the merchant family.

To continue with Ali Muhammad Khan’s work, unlike the early European
travelogues discussed above, the Mirat-i-Ahmadi lists all the prominent mosques, Hindu
shrines and pilgrimage sites, as well as Jain temples which were located within and in the
outskirts of Ahmedabad city. There are two Vaisnav shrines mentioned by Ali Khan
which are certainly of the Pustimarg sampraday: a shrine which apparently houses the
footprints of “Acharya Gosain, the founder of Vaishnavism in Asarwa,” namely,
Vallabhacarya (132); and, that of “Gokal Chandrama,” which most likely refers to the
svariip Gokulcandramajl. This sacred site is described as follows: “[“Gokul Chandrama.]
In Raja Mehta’s lane, from olden times kept in the house of one Raghunath Gosain. After
the death of his son Brijnath it was removed to Dosiwara, to the house of one Brij
Bhukan. Banias go there and worship it five times a day, providing also for its expenses”
(129). Other than the prominent havelTs, such as Nathdwara and Kankroli, which were
becoming popular pilgrimage sites, the fact that the homes of Gosvamls served as sacred
sites for Pustimargls may have rendered some of them inconspicuous to “outside”
observers in places like Ahmedabad. However, the Mirat-i-Ahmadi confirmed one

57

phenomenon that we have already addressed, that is, donations made by baniya followers

were responsible for sustaining the elaborate sevci performed in Pustimarg sacred shrines.

If we now turn to works from colonial Gujarat, the Reis Mala (“Garland of
Chronicles”) or Hindu Annals of Western India by Alexander Kinloch Forbes (1821-
1865) is a good source for providing us with a glimpse into the social and religious world
of PustimargI baniya s. Alexander Forbes was a Scottish officer of the East India
Company who served as Assistant Collector in Ahmedabad, and was also appointed as
Sessions Judge in Surat, Ahmedabad, and Bombay between 1846 and 1864. 44 In 1848,
Forbes solicited the help of Dalpatram Dhayabhai, a Brahmin Gujarati poet from
Kathiawar who converted into the Svamlnarayan sect and who served as his interlocutor
and language teacher. 45 As Aparna Kapadia demonstrates, in the same year, with the help
of local elites and the geologist George Fulljames, Forbes was instrumental in the
fonnation of the Gujarat Vernacular Society, a literary society founded for the promotion
of the Gujarati language and literature (52). He also encouraged the publication of
newspapers, and the development of schools and libraries in Ahmedabad, Surat, and
Bombay.

44 Though European powers, such as the Portuguese, had begun exerting their authority in parts of western
India starting in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, British imperial presence was marked by the
opening of the East India Company’s first factory in Surat in 1612. The Company Raj began consolidating
power throughout parts of Gujarat with the help of ruling elites, and by taking advantage of the unstable
political and economic environment precipitated by declining Mughal power and Maratha incursions into
western India. From their base in Bombay, the Company started annexing regions of Gujarat in the late
eighteenth century and, by 1820, they had appropriated the administrative and government activities of
Ahmedabad, Surat, and other districts of Gujarat. Gujarat and Maharashtra officially became consolidated
as part of the Bombay Presidency in the early years of the nineteenth century, however, many large areas of
the Gujarat region and surrounding areas were left under the control of Rajput rulers, local chieftans, and
the Maratha Gaikwad ofBaroda.

45 The Svaminarayan sampraday, today one of the most popular Vaisnav traditions of Gujarat, was
established in the early nineteenth century by an ascetic Brahmin named Sahajanand SvamI (1781-1830).

58

The Rds Mala, a monumental work divided into four books and spanning over
eight hundred pages was published in 1856. In the text, Forbes discusses Gujarat’s early-
medieval dynasties, Gujarat during the “Mohumeddan” period and during Maratha rule,
and he focuses on the Rajputs of Gujarat, whom he believed formed the political
backbone of Gujarat society (54). It is only in book four, in the conclusion, that Forbes
presents chapters on “Hindoo Castes,” “Town-Life,” and “Religious Services-Festivals.”
It is in this section that we are, once again, provided with a description of the high caste
status held by baniyds in Gujarat:

“The Kshutreeya caste is now no longer considered by other Hindoos to be
next in rank to the Brahmin; its place has been usurped by the Waneeas
[baniyds], a branch of the Vaishya caste, who will not even drink water with
Rajpoots, and ‘Brahmin-waneea’ is now a synonymous expression for
‘oojulee-wustee’ [w/7f vast f], or high-caste population. The Rajpoots use
animal foods and spirituous liquor, both unclean in the last degree to their
puritanic neighbors...” (Forbes, 536-537)

This resonates with earlier descriptions of baniyds by European travelers. However,
Alexander Forbes explicitly invokes a type of caste classification that we have not seen
before, that of the “Brahmin -baniyaR Both Brahmin and baniyds follow strict caste rules
regarding food restrictions (whom one can dine with and who can prepare meals, for
example), observe a vegetarian diet, do not drink alcohol, and purify themselves by
bathing often (540, 552). Harald Tambs-Lyche confirms the existence of such a caste
taxonomy, which is peculiar to Gujarat. However, he argues that this characterization
only “worked” in Gujarat’s central regions; “In Saurashtra, Kutch, and in the eastern
mountains, Rajputs and other martial, landowning castes remained politically and
culturally dominant” (2010, 108).

59

In his description of the daily routine of Brahmin-/wmya householders, Forbes

continues to explain how:

“They rise from their beds about four o’clock in the morning, repeating the
name of their tutelary divinity, as, O! Muha Dev!, O! Thakorjee (Vishnoo),

O! Umba Mother. The pundit, or Sanskrit scholar, mutters a verse ... The
Bhugut, or religious layman, chants the praises of his deity in the vernacular
stanzas of some poet... Brahmins and Bhuguts are frequently under the vow
to bathe before sunrise, in which case, as soon as they are risen, and have
said their prayers, they either bathe in warm water at home, or set off for
that purpose to the tank or the river. After bathing they assume a silk
gannent that has been washed the day before, and worship” (552).

There are several important points that Forbes alludes to in this depiction of the baniyd

householder’s daily activities. The first, which we have also already discussed, is how the

religious adepts of Gujarat are predominantly followers of Saiva, Sakta, and Vaisnav

traditions. The second, to be discussed in greater detail in chapter four, is how laypersons

or “bhuguts” sing songs to their tutelary deities in vernacular languages (of Gujarati or

Brajbhasa, I presume). And finally, the last practice which Forbes discusses is one that

orthodox Pustimargis still perform today, namely, apras (> Skt. asparsa, “untouched”)

sevd. As Forbes illustrates, prior to perfonning their daily worship, a person bathes and

then dresses in a garment that has been washed the day before. Though Forbes does not

use the phrase “apras sevd ” nor does he explain its significance, it is a practice that

ensures a person remains ritually pure from the moment they have bathed till they have

completed their worship - if they do not come in contact with any polluting substance or

46

person.

46

Forbes in fact lists a range of substances and activities that can render one impure on pages 554-555.

60

Although Forbes does present, in great detail, the various domestic ritual
practices of Brahmins (552-555), he unfortunately does not do the same for baniyds. 47
Instead he explains how “Waneeas, and trading people generally, set off early in the
morning to have a sight of the Dev in his temple ...Others worship the first thing in the
morning the ‘sacred basil,’... [and] when they return home to dinner, paying, perhaps, on
their way, a second visit to the temple. ” (555). Since this project is primarily concerned
with Pustimarg domestic sevd practices it is unfortunate that so far none of the historical
travelogues and texts have presented a description of devotional rituals occurring in the
home. This is perhaps due to the fact that most Europeans did not have ready access to
the domestic lives and spheres of Indians, and if they did, they most certainly would not
have been permitted to observe the sevd practices being perfonned within the home,
especially by the female members of baniyd families. Furthermore, in addition to the
general European and Orientalist preoccupation with understanding and depicting
Brahmanic and Sanskritic practices, Forbes’ interlocutor was also a Brahmin, albeit a
Svamlnarayan follower. This may be another reason why Forbes provided a detailed
presentation of Brahmin domestic practices and not those of Vaisnav baniyds, like
Pustimargls or even Svamlnarayanls.

One source from this period, which does provide an indication of domestic
sevd being perfonned, is the Asiatic Researches or Transactions of the Society, a
publication of the Royal Asiatic Society. In its sixteenth volume, published in 1828, the

47 He explains how each Brahmin household has a “Dev-mundeer,” where seven or eight images are placed,
including the salagram, an image of an infant Krsna (“Bal Mookoond”), Siva, Ganesa, Durga, Surya,
Hanuman, and others, to which the “sixteen services” are performed. In the morning, he describes how
Brahmins worship the sun while reciting the Gayatrl mantra on a rudraksa rosary; before eating they
perform “Turpun;”performs homa. the fire-sacrifice, and so on (552-555).

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British Orientalist Horace H. Wilson wrote a chapter entitled “A Sketch of the Religious

Sects of the Hindus” (1-136). Wilson devotes several pages to discussing the Pustimarg

sect (85-98) and, in passing, mentions the following important point about its followers:

“Besides their public demonstrations of respect, pictures and images of
Gopala are kept in the houses of the members of the sect, who, before they
sit down to any of their meals, take care to offer a portion to the idol. Those
of the disciples who have performed the triple Samarpana [initiation], eat
only from the hands of each other; and the wife or child that has not
exhibited the same mark of devotion to the Guru, can neither cook for such
a disciple, nor eat in his society.” (94)

This brief description by Wilson draws attention to the ways in which Pustimarg
sectarian identity was intersecting with, or permeated, domestic spaces and practices - at
least by the beginning of the nineteenth century if not much earlier. For example,
according to Wilson, PustimargI homes contain pictures and images of Krsna, and
although this is not explicitly mentioned by Wilson, these images were perhaps kept in
domestic shrines within the home. The excerpt goes on to indicate how Pustimargls first
offer food to Krsna before consuming it themselves and that the wife (or any female
member of the household) cannot prepare any meals unless she has obtained initiation
first. Thus the everyday practices of food preparation, consumption, and the organization
of domestic space - which already on their own are markers of identity and social
positioning (since caste rules also apply) - are further inflected by a family’s sectarian
identity as PustimargI. Considering that Alexander Forbes served as the vice-president of
the Bombay branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, he worked, lived, and wrote about his
experiences in India well after these volumes were published, and that his primary
interlocutor was a Gujarati Vaisnav, it is surprising that he does not go into detail about
the domestic religious practices of Gujarati PustimargI families.

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Forbes, however, does describe the opulence with which religious activities
take place at a “temple of Vishnoo,” where five daily services are said to occur (596).
Since most Vaisnav shrines in Gujarat, including Swaminarayan ones, were by this
period following the liturgical structure of Pustimarg temples, it is sometimes not very
clear which sectarian tradition a temple belongs to (Mallison 1983, 246; Saha 2008, 310).
However, based on the descriptions Forbes provides of the services taking place, it
appears to be a Pustimarg temple. While describing the morning service, Forbes alludes
to the costly nature of the sevci offerings: “at this time his breakfast is brought to him,
which consists of rice and milk, and such other articles of food as rich men use” (597).
H.H.Wilson, in his essay in the Asiatic Researches, also comments on the lavishness of
Pustimarg temple worship as follows: “Vallabha introduced ... that it was the duty of the
teachers and his disciples to worship their deity, not in nudity and hunger, but in costly
apparel and choice food, not in solitude and mortification, but in the pleasures of society,
and the enjoyment of the world” (90). Though Wilson and even contemporary scholars,
such as Francoise Mallison (1994), attribute the establishment of the opulent and highly
aestheticized form of Pustimarg temple liturgy to Vallabha, it is important to remember
that the sophisticated and costly sevci rituals currently performed in Pustimarg temples
were most likely institutionalized by Vallabha’s son Vitthalanatha and only became
crystallized in the years after him (Saha 2008, 308). 48 However what can be deduced
from this discussion is that from the very early days of Pustimarg’s presence in Gujarat,
mercantile communities continued to translate “through religious giving some of their

48 Saha explains how there are no accounts depicting the manner in which sevci must have been performed
in Vallabha’s time, or even by Vallabha himself. In the seventeenth century hagiography, SnnathjTkT
Prakatya Vartd, which does describe sevci being performed at Govardhan during Vallabha’s lifetime, the
sevci is depicted as “a relatively simple affair" (Hariray 1988: 11-12 qtd in Saha 2008, 308).

63

financial capital, to which a stigma might be attached if it were either allowed to
accumulate visibly or exchanged for personal possessions, into symbolic capital valued
throughout high-caste society, thus generating personal authority” (Haynes 1991, 59).

Thus far we have been presented with examples of how Pustimarg baniyds
engage in the patronage of havells. They may do this either through donating money and
supplies for a particular sevd, such as the extravagant mid-day meal of raj-bhog, through
sponsoring a feast for a religious festival or hosting a Gosvaml’s celebration, and also by
providing monetary sustenance to the Gosvamls directly. Wealthy baniyd families do this
primarily because they are followers of Pustimarg and regard religious giving as acts of
devotion. Indeed, the Pustimarg initiation mantra itself requires the relinquishing of one’s
man, tan, and dhan or mind, body, and wealth/worldly “possessions” to Krsna. 49 At the
same time, however, and without compromising or questioning the devotional sentiments
or intentions of practitioners, I argue that religious giving also provides wealthy baniyd
families an opportunity to (re-)produce family honor and prestige, or dbru. Like other
abrii- generating or c/h/A-exhibiting activities, I suggest that religious patronage can also
become a vehicle for displaying and producing one’s social status. In the same European
travelogues we have discussed above, the other ways in which baniyd families are shown
to display or transmute their wealth into socially acceptable or socially reputable forms,
includes rites of passage such as wedding ceremonies, the adornment of female members
of their family, and through philanthropy.

Returning to John Ovington’s seventeenth century travel writings in Surat, he
relates a story of a very wealthy baniyd from Ahmedabad who, during public festivals

49 See footnote 10 for a translation of the initation mantras.

64

would serve his guests in plates of gold, but he was then killed by a jealous rival.
Ovington remarks how:

“Sumptuousness and State suit not very well with the Life and Condition of
a Bannian; they must not both flourish long together. This keeps our
Brokers at Surat, who are Baumans, from all costly disbursem*nts, tho’ they
are reckon’d by some to be worth 15, by others 30 Lacks of Roupies ...
without any show of a luxurious Garniture, either on their Dishes, or in their
Houses. Their main Cost is expended upon their Women.” (319-320)

This portrayal of a baniya as a person who is simultaneously wealthy and yet lives

austerely, is not uncommon. Whether it is out of fear of another’s jealousy or evil-eye

( nazar, drsti ) or because, as Douglas Haynes argues, a social stigma might be attached to

a family’s wealth if it were “allowed to accumulate visibly or [be] exchanged for

personal possessions” (1991, 59), many baniya s displayed their wealth in less

conspicuous ways - such as by expending it upon their women, as Ovington writes. He

gives a detailed description of how many jewels and ornaments a baniya woman wears:

“... they are deckt from the Crown of the Head to the very feet., .[the jewels] are

composed of a variety of Diamonds, Rubies, Saphirs, and other Stones of Esteem” (320).

Another occasion on which wealthy baniya families are described as spending lavishly is

during wedding ceremonies. Both Thomas Herbert (53) and Ovington describe how the

bride and groom are richly attired and paraded publicly: “Flags, Flambeaus, Musick,

State-Coaches, and Led Horses, are all too little for this Day’s Solemnity” (328). Finally,

the seventeenth century French traveller Jean de Thevenot, a contemporary of Ovington,

presents us with an example of how a rich baniya, named “Gopy,” paid for the

construction of a well or “ Tanquie ” in Surat which supposedly provided all the drinking

water of the city. He concludes his description of the well by stating how “It is certainly a

65

Work worthy of a King” (1687, III.25). In addition to forms of religious giving, such
examples, though brief, indicate how wealthy Gujarati baniyds chose to exhibit their
wealth. It is also interesting, though not surprising, that expending wealth on the female
members of baniyd families was noteworthy enough for Ovington to include it in his
writings. Such descriptions of baniyd women are also found in the writings of Thomas
Herbert (46). Women’s bodies and their corporeal practices (such as having their hair tied
or left loose, their sari length and material, quantity and quality of adornment) have been,
and continue to be, signifiers of a woman’s caste and marital status, as well as sites for
displaying family prestige and honor.

Conclusion

I have attempted to map the ways in which Pustimarg was patronized by the
political and mercantile elites of western India from the seventeenth to the nineteenth
century. The baniyd community of Gujarat, as I have demonstrated, enjoyed a high social
and caste status at the time of the arrival of Pustimarg in the region. This may explain
why, in moments of expansion and consolidation, Pustimarg Gosvamls turned to the
baniyd communities for support, and why Pustmarg in turn was so enthusiastically
adopted by these commercial groups.

With the writings of Alexander Forbes and H.H. Wilson, I traced baniyd
patronage of Pustimarg through to the nineteenth century. In addition to being an act of
devotion, I argue that religious giving becomes a site for the production and display of
prestige, or dibru, for wealthy baniyd families. In order to proceed with this chronological
trajectory and arrive at our discussion of the contemporary urban domestic sevd practices

66

of PustimargI female practitioners, in the following two chapters I examine how baniya
families engaged with the processes of colonial modernity, including the new colonial
economy, the English education system, and socio-religious refonn movements. What
emerges in this context is class as a social category and signifier of status. Ultimately, I
demonstrate how Pustimarg sectarian identities and women’s domestic practices inform
and become implicated in the shifting class politics of the Bombay Presidency.

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CHAPTER 2

Colonial Contexts:

Baniyas and the Formation of Elite Identity in the Bombay Presidency

This Chapter describes the formation of Pustimarg upper-class identities in the
Bombay Presidency. Baniyas, in their traditional commercial roles as bankers, traders,
and money-lenders, facilitated the expansion and consolidation of the East India
Company and the British Raj in western India. Many great baniyd merchants, referred to
as seths, also became actively involved in administrative roles in British governance and
provided the capital for city improvement and urbanization projects. With the emergence
of large scale industries, such as the cotton mills, many merchant seths - who hailed from
different sub-caste and religious backgrounds - became leading industrialists and
capitalists. As this chapter demonstrates, in addition to wealthy Parsi and Jain families,
Hindu seths also began to represent the upper-classes of the Bombay Presidency.

Pustimarg upper-class status was marked by new forms of consumption and
philanthropic practices. Religious patronage also took on more modem forms, including
baniyd participation in haveli committees and Vaisnav societies, as well as their
engagement with print culture. Pustimarg seths, however, remained aloof from one of the
most important processes of colonial modernity, namely Western learning and English
education. In the Bombay Presidency, unlike in the Bengal Presidency, the upper-classes
and the educated-classes - those who came to represent the middle-classes - were two
entirely different social groups.

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The Formation of the Anglo-Baniya Alliance

British imperial presence was established in India with the opening of the first
English East India Company (hereafter, EIC) factory in Surat in 1612. The accumulation
of vast amounts of wealth through aggressive trade activities, as well as having a strong
military presence in India, facilitated the EIC’s control of Surat in 1759, and then over
Bharuch in 1772. 50 It was only after the British had finally defeated the Marathas in 1817
that the emerging colonial power officially appropriated the administrative and
government activities of Ahmedabad as well. By the beginning decades of the nineteenth
century, cities and towns across Gujarat and Maharashtra were absorbed as part of the
Bombay Presidency and were governed from the growing cosmopolitan center of
Bombay. 51 Large areas of western India, however, remained under the control of the
Maratha Gaikwad of Baroda, and various other Rajput kings, Muslim nawabs, and local
chieftans.

To a large degree British presence was seen as a welcoming change after the
turmoil and uncertainty Gujarat experienced as a result of the fall of the Mughals and the
ransacking of cities by Maratha armies. Political destabilization precipitated by the
weakening Mughal empire and repeated Maratha incursions into Gujarat caused trade
routes and lines of communication to become increasingly insecure and disrupted across
western and northern India (Yagnik and Seth 2010, 66-67; Dasgupta 139-144). The
subsequent isolation suffered by cities in western India, as well as the expansion of
private European trade in the area, led to a decline in baniya confidence and business

50 For more on the conquest of Surat by the British, see Torri (1998).

51 Bombay became the capital of the Bombay Presidency in 1818.

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activity in the first half of the eighteenth century. During Maratha rule of Ahmedabad, for

instance, many merchant families left the city and moved their businesses further south to

cities like Surat, which was emerging as a new rival to Ahmedabad and Cambay as a

center of trade (Gillion 29-32). All these factors may explain why the Gujarati business

communities - Hindu, Muslim, and Jain alike - welcomed and were supportive of the

East India Company during the early phases of British activity in western India. The

British, themselves, promised to restore a city like Ahmedabad back to its “original

glory.” For example, in 1817 after the British had finally annexed Ahmedabad from the

Marathas, the British Resident at Baroda made the following remarks:

“.. .Under the administration of British laws which protect property and
encourage every exertion of lucrative industry, the extensive merchandise
for which Ahmedabad was once distinguished would become renewed ... it
may not be hazarding too much to say, that the city of Ahmedabad placed in
the hands of the British Government promises to prove a source not only of
great Revenue, but a possession worthy of a splendid and enlightened
nation.” Gillion 34-35

An “Anglo-Bania” alliance, which Lakshmi Subramanian describes as “the
alignment of the indigenous credit system to Imperial strategy” (1987, 474) began to
emerge between the East India Company and mercantile communities even before the
EIC officially took over the administrative and governmental activities of cities in the
Bombay Presidency. This relationship appeared lucrative for both parties. Many baniyas
found that the EIC offered a sense of security and protection, and also presented
opportunities for business expansion. The EIC, on the other hand, saw its alliance with
the Indian mercantile groups as a way to guarantee the support of local elites and to
ensure the supply of indigenous capital towards their imperial and state-building
activities. Lakshmi Sumbramanian argues how this “Anglo-Bania” alliance facilitated the

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consolidation of the Bombay Presidency itself: “...[it] became in effect the dominating
factor in the history of the West Coast during the crucial half century of transition, and
constituted in a real sense the prelude to the triumph of Bombay” (474).

From the 1760s onwards, Company officials felt that they did not have enough
financial resources to support their civil and military ventures in Bombay. By the closing
decades of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century the EIC
became heavily dependent on the cooperation of the Gujarati baniya community and the
use of the financial system that they operated for accessing and circulating capital. For
example, the hundl credit system proved crucial during the first Anglo-Maratha war
(1775-1782) since it enabled the British army to purchase supplies (485-86). As
Subramanian asserts, “If the European merchants of Bombay city had provided the
ideological rationale behind expansion, it was Bania capital that fed the fighting annies,
clothed the men locked in battle and kept them in good humour” (510). 52

On the one hand, scholars like Lakshmi Subramanian acknowledge the
imperative role played by the Gujarati baniya merchants in facilitating the expansion and
consolidation of the Bombay Presidency. On the other hand, one finds a different
retelling of the historical relationship between the British and baniyds in the work of
Michelguglielmo Torri who adamantly argues against Subramanian. For example, he
dismisses any claims made by Subramanian on the role the Surat baniyds had in enabling
the victory of the British over the Surat castle in 1759 (1987, 1998), and instead attributes

52 By the early years of the nineteenth century, however, the British colonial government began to perceive
their dependency on the baniya merchant communities as a sign of political weakness. They slowly turned
to other sources of capital and credit, such as from their increasing trade with China, public loan flotations,
agency houses in Bombay and Calcutta, and from bankers in London (Hardiman 1996, 44; Subramanian
509-510).

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British ascendancy in Surat to the Mughal nobility. According to Torri, the baniya

communities are said to have resisted the establishment of British paramountcy in

Gujarat, and that . .the merchants as a body (both Hindu and non-Hindu) were totally

incapable of governing their own destinies” (1998, 259). To a certain extent Torri

represents baniya communities as mere “pawns” in the colonial order of things, whom

were approached and manipulated as collaborators in the colonial and imperial enterprise

at the whim of the British. When the European rulers decided to “change the rules” at the

end of the eighteenth century, Torri explains how

.. .both the Mughal nobles and the Bania bankers dropped through the
trapdoor of history. The Banias - as well as the Mughal nobles and the Parsi
merchant princes - far from being partners, even junior partners, were, quite
simply, expendable collaborators who were used as long as they were
judged useful, to be afterwards discarded as old rags by their masters. (1987,

710).

Both Subramanian and Torri make valid points - although, I believe, Torri’s
dismissal of the collaborative role the baniya s had with the British to be an extreme
position. In addition to this economic-based baniya alliance, I am interested in trying to
understand how the social-cultural and religious identities of Hindu Gujarati baniyds -
many of whom were PustimargI - were influenced by the colonial encounter. Thus far,
we know that from a very early period Gujarati baniyds were economically collaborating
with the British. However, did this relationship burgeon in other areas? For example,
since baniyds held a high social status (as “Brahmin-bawyds”) did they, like the Brahmin
and land-owning ( zaminddr ) communities in the Bengal and Madras Presidencies, attend
English schools in the early phases of English education? Did they take on civil servant
or professional positions in the new colonial economy of the Bombay Presidency? How

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did the emerging social and religious reform movements influence the Pustimarg
community? Collectively, these questions also prompt us to interrogate how the
Pustimarg baniyd family was affected or marked by the processes involved in the
production of class in nineteenth and twentieth century western India.

As noted above, the Gujarati baniyd community was influenced by the arrival
and consolidation of the EIC in significant ways. As Bombay was growing into the
commercial and administrative center of EIC rule in western India, baniyd and bhdtiyd
communities began migrating into the metropolis from areas in Gujarat during the
eighteenth and early decades of the nineteenth century. Increased security on trade routes
allowed baniyd communities to circulate more easily across western and northern India.
Furthermore, while continuing to provide money-lending and exchange services to both
indigenous and European customers, many merchants also began exporting opium to
China, an industry that was, until then, the sole monopoly of the EIC. In his study on the
merchant communities of western India in the colonial era, Claude Markovits
demonstrates how this “Malwa opium” trade played a vital role in the accumulation of
capital among Parsi, Ahmedabad, Marwari, and Kathiwar merchants in the first decades
of the nineteenth century (2008,198).

With regards to administrative roles in British governance, in Ahmedabad, for
example, the great merchants or seths were actively involved in city improvement and
urbanization projects. After the annexation of Ahmedabad in 1817, J.A. Dunlop, the
British revenue commissioner based in Ahmedabad, requested funds from the Bombay
government to repair the city’s walls and to establish a police force. When his appeals
went unanswered, he turned to the great baniyd-seths of the city for financial support.

73

The seths of Ahmedabad recommended a small increase in duties on export and import
goods to raise the necessary funds for public works. A Town Wall Fund Committee was
then formed, which consisted of the judge and collector of Ahmedabad, as well as the
qazi and nagarseth (the leading seth of Ahmedabad). The Town Wall Fund Committee
thus marked the beginning of the joint collaboration between British officials and
Ahmedabad mercantile elites in governing the city. The Committee, which would later
evolve into the Municipality of Ahmedabad, also began to manage city sanitation and
water supply (Yagnik and Sheth 2011, 103-107). 53 Although there were many
disagreements between the merchants and the British in subsequent years, their
cooperation with the British was made apparent during the 1857 Rebellion. This alliance
was motivated by the merchants’ own concerns regarding the security of trade routes and
subsequent loss of capital during this period of political unrest. As Yagnik and Sheth
note, during the Revolt, the merchants of Ahmedabad requested the Town Wall Fund
Committee to support the allocation of hundreds of additional security guards in the city,
and the nagarseth even offered the British the use of his private mail network to gather
intelligence for their military expeditions (113). However, despite cooperating so actively
with the British, the traditional positions of power and prestige that the ruling merchants
experienced and exercised were slowly being appropriated by the colonial power. For
example, a year after the Revolt, the nagarseth Prembhai Himabhai protested against the

53 During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries several seths who were prominent followers of
Pustimarg also became members of the Ahmedabad Municipality. For example, seth Sri Achratlal Parikh
(b. 1881) was a member ofthe committee from 1910-1915. He also served as a director of several textile
mills, including Vijay Mills (Ahmedabad), Gopal Mills (Bharoach), Vadodra Spinning and Weaving
Company (Vadodra), et cetera (Shah 1952, 106). Another wealthy seth who served as a member of the
Ahmedabad Municipality was Sri Mangaldas Girdhardas (b. 1882). Like Achratlal Parikh, Girdhardas was a
Pustimarg! and also accumulated his wealth by managing several textile mills in Ahmedabad, Bombay, and
Jabalpur (109).

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decision to terminate his traditional rights to a percentage of the city’s import levies.
Although the British government would eventually concede by agreeing to pay him a
small annual pension, according to the nagarseth , this move by the British compromised
his “dignity as an influential citizen” of the city (114-115). Transfonnations in, or even
the erasure of, traditional forms of authority - such as with the nagarseth, the mahdjans
or caste-guilds, and the influential role of the Pustimarg Gosvamls - occurred not only
through direct colonial intervention but also from pressure from the emerging English
educated middle classes of the Bombay presidency. Many social and religious refonners
drew from these classes, including the well-known critic of Pustimarg, Karsondas Mulji
(1832-1871).

English Education and Middle-Class Modernities

English education in the Bombay Presidency was promoted in the early to mid¬
nineteenth century by Sir Erskine Perry, the President of the Board of Education, and
most notably by Mounstuart Elphinstone, who served as the Governor of Bombay from
1819 to 1827. 54 The first English school of significance was founded in Bombay in 1827,
and the city was also the site of the first English institute of higher learning in the
Presidency, the Elphinstone Intitution, which was fonned in 1834. 55 On the one hand,
British officials perceived of and presented English education as a tool to create a class of
people to serve as civil servants in the administration of India. On the other hand, as
Erskine Perry articulated, by introducing the English language - and through it - Western

54 Even before the Bombay Government officially began institutionalizing English education in the
Bombay Presidency, Christian missionaries had already started establishing English schools as early as
1817 when the London Missionary Society started a school in Surat (Raval 47).

55 Elphinstone Institute became Elphinstone College in 1857 upon the founding of Bombay University.

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learning and science, the new education system was promoted as an instrument of
“change and regeneration” by creating a new class of persons who “would diffuse
knowledge widely among the people, and thus raise India to her rightful position beside
the nations of the West” (cited in Christine Dobbin 1972, 28). This type of learning, it
was hoped, would create a deep moral and cultural transformation and compel these new
class of “cultivated gentlemen” to transmit this new-found knowledge through print (text
books, novels, and newspapers), through the formation of intellectual societies, and
through public lectures — all the markers and producers of a newly emerging public
sphere.

Echoing themes from Thomas B. Macaulay’s “Minute on Education” (1835),
the Governor of Bombay, Sir Bartle Frere, during his speech at Bombay University in
1863 described the new graduates as “interpreters - the connecting links between the
rulers and the ruled” (31). But who were the graduates, this new class of “cultivated
gentlemen,” of institutions like Bombay University and Elphinstone College during this
period? British officials, such as Elphinstone and Perry, had hoped it would be members
from the leading commercial classes of Bombay, such as the Gujarati baniyds and
bhdtiyds, who were already economically and administratively collaborating with the
British and were the social elites of the city. Much to their disappointment, however, it
appeared that the leading seths of the city did not have an interest in the new institutions
of Western learning. Seth families also did not want their children mixing with poorer
children at government schools and did not want to expose their children to Christian
teachings in missionary schools. Most merchant seths instead arranged for private

76

tutoring lessons so that their children could acquire enough proficiency in English to
continue their commercial activities (51).

In her study on the prominent seths or “merchant princes” of Bombay city in
the mid-nineteenth century, Christine Dobbin demonstrates how no baniyas or bhatiyas
(or Muslims) graduated from the higher classes of Elphinstone College between 1827 and
1842 (31). Instead, those who were attending and graduating from the college came from
the Marathi-speaking population of Bombay, such as from the chitpavan Brahmin,
saraswat Brahmin, and the pathareprabhu castes. These communities, Dobbin notes,
already had a “tradition of learning and government service” such as with the Peshwas in
the eighteenth century, while the prabhu s had served the Portuguese and worked as
clerks under the EIC (1972, 31). It was, therefore, not surprising to find male members
from these high caste communities eager to enter the new government schools and
colleges (1972, 31; 1970, 80). A large number of graduates also came from less
prosperous Parsi families, and the remaining body of students drew from lower Hindu
castes, and a few belonged to Gujarati Brahmin castes. Males from these poor but
traditionally learned communities hoped an English education would serve as a
mobilizing force, and would eventually secure a role for them in the new colonial
economy as civil servants of the Raj. Education officials even attempted to raise the
tuition costs of schools to attract members from leading seth families but this tactic only
led to the marginalization of the poor and to the need of increased funding for student
scholarships which many seths in fact provided.

One of the primary reasons why British officials were expecting members from
the prosperous commercial castes to enter the English education system was because

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these communities, as we saw in the case of Ahmedabad, were already participating in
arenas of municipal administration and urban planning. For example, in 1836, European
business men fonned the Chamber of Commerce, an institutional platform from which
they could exert pressure on the government to further their commercial projects. The
Chamber also included leading seths from the merchant community, and together they
petitioned the Government of Calcutta to provide more funds for the infrastructure of
Bombay city, in the form of roads, bridges, and lines of communication (1972, 22). Seths
were also involved in the emergent Anglo-Indian judicial system. In 1834 thirteen
Indians were made Justices of the Peace, and by the 1850s many prominent seths of the
city had become Justices. 56

It was surprising for the British that baniyds, who were quite eager to attain

positions of leadership in the civic sphere, were uninterested in adopting and leading the

cause of Western learning and education. This may have been especially bewildering

since many seths were on the Board of Education, served as members of the managing

committee of the Elphinstone College, and were active patrons of education. For

example, Gujarati seths like Jagannath Shankarshet, Goculdas Tejpal, and Varjivandas

Madhavdas - the brother of Gopaldas Madhavdas, the head of the Kapol baniya mahajan

in Bombay and a prominent Pusthnargl - provided funds for establishing Anglo-

Vernacular schools (33). In the Gujarati Pustimarg historical text, Pustimargnam 500

Vars. Gauravpurn Itihds by Vitthaldas Shah (1952), there is a chapter which provides

short biographical sketches of prominent Pustimarg seths entitled “Vaisnav Agevan

56 For example, seth Keela Chand Devchand (b. 1855) and his son seth Chhotalal Keela Chand (b. 1878),
both Pustimarg Vaisnavs, were appointed as Justices of Peace in the late nineteenth century. Keela Chand
participated in several business ventures; he served as a broker, an agent for an insurance company, and
also exported cotton. His son, Chhotalal, went on to expand his father’s businesses (Shah 1952, 110-111).

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Vyaktiona JTvancaritro” (pg. 105-149). In this chapter, it describes how other Pustimarg
seths, like Mangaldas Girdhardas (b. 1882) from Ahmedabad, donated large sums to the
Public Education Society of Surat and to the Benares Hindu University. He also served as
the director of a school for the deaf and mute in Ahmedabad (109). Seth Keela Chand
Devchand (b. 1855), another Pustimarg Vaisnav, who was awarded the title of Justice of
Peace, is said to have also donated Rs. 40,000 to Benares Hindu University (109-110).
Finally, Chhotalal Heera Chand (b. 1871), a PustimargI and an Ahmedabadi owner of
several mills, established a public religious and charitable trust worth Rs. 5,00,000 from
which funds were donated to several educational institutes (118). Such acts of public
donations by Pustimarg seths can be interpreted through the same logic as their acts of
religious patronage - as status or dbru producing practices - albeit this time, for a new
European public. Sometimes these same seths, like Chhotalal Heera Chand or Keela
Chand Devchand, donated large amounts of money for temple building and renovations
as well as for government institutes like schools and hospitals (110-118). As Jesse S.
Palsetia notes, “By the nineteenth century, Indian charity in emulation of British
standards became an important means of gaining recognition in the public culture, as
Indian donors and philanthropists sought to become worthy of imperial recognition and
advancement” (87).

The fact remains, however, that many of these same seths were not interested
in attending the very institutions of learning they funded. The scene in Bombay was not
at all similar to colonial Calcutta, where the English educated intelligentsia drew largely
from the wealthy land-owning or zamindar and taluqddr families, as well as from
families of “independent income” (Dobbin 1972, 35). In Bombay, colonial officials had

79

to finally resign to the reality that neither the landed aristocracy nor the wealthy
commercial classes had a desire for a Western literary and scientific education. That is to
say, in the nineteenth century Bombay Presidency, the “upper classes” and the “educated
classes” were two entirely different entities (32).

I. “The Upper Classes”and the Production of Elite Baniya Identities

Before turning to a discussion of the Western educated classes and the rise of
refonn movements in western India, I want to briefly reflect on how members of the
wealthy mercantile communities produced and articulated an upper-class identity in the
late nineteenth century context of the Bombay Presidency. To begin with, the coming
together of merchants, from different religious and caste backgrounds, for a common
economic goal (like the Chamber of Commerce as we discussed above) are instances
whereby members of the mercantile communities are seen to function as a class, which is
an important marker of their modernity. Another event marking the collaboration among
baniyd and bhdtiyd seths was the acceptance of the joint-stock principle by merchants
and the subsequent expansion of the Bombay cotton mill industry (19). In August 1854,
for example, the wealthy Parsi merchant, Manakji Nasarvanji Petit, invited his close
business associates, such as the Jewish business man, Elias Sassoon, and the PustimargI
baniya, Varjivandas Madhavdas, along with two Europeans to start the Oriental Spinning
and Weaving Company (20). The cotton mill enterprise would eventually attract the
leading baniya and bhdtiyd seths of the city to invest in and promote what would
eventually become the leading industry of India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
century. Indeed many Pustimarg banlyds and bhdtiyds became wealthy seths by

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establishing mill factories across Gujarat. These included, for example, seth Balabhai
Damordas (b. 1857), the founder of Sarangpur Mills in Ahmedabad (Shah 1952, 105-
106); seth Achratlal Pari kb (b. 1881), the director of several mills including Vijay Mills
in Ahmedabad and Gopal Mills in Bharoach (106); seth Mangaldas Girdhardas (b. 1882),
who managed seven mills across Bombay, Ahmedabad, and Jabalpur (109); seth
Chhotalal Heerachand (b. 1869), who shifted his business from real estate to building
mills, including Chhotalal Mills in Kalol and Kadi, Gujarat, and so on (118). This marked
the transformation in the role of the baniya and bhatiya seth from trader/ banker/
merchant into becoming leading industrialists and capitalists. As Makrand Mehta and
Dwijendra Tripathi argue, such collaboration between merchants based on common
economic interests and occupational affiliations, and not merely caste identity, are
characteristic of a class - in this case, the upper-class (1984, 166).

While traveling through Ahmedabad in 1849, a British officer commented on

the new markers of elite status among the wealthy merchants of Gujarat:

In those times [during the Maratha Government] a wealthy man was not
known by his dress, carriage, or appearance... [now] the wealthy of the city
have many of them set up carriages, and several have built country houses,
and enjoy themselves in the ease and comfort which characterizes a peaceful
and civilized people. (Gillion 56)

In The Indian Mission of the Irish Presbyterian Church (1890), Revered Robert Jeffrey
corroborates this description decades later when he comments on the affluent lifestyles of
the baniyds and bhdtiyds in Gujarat: “These [of the trading class], in such cities as
Bombay, Surat, and Ahmedabad, live in great outward state. They build huge showy
mansions, one-fifth of the space in which they do not occupy; and drive about in splendid
carriages, drawn by magnificent horses, which often cost as much as £500 the pair”

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(103). Quoting from the Ahmedabadi historian, Maganlal Vakhatchand, Gillion also
describes how in 1851 the upper classes of Ahmedabad were building houses in the
English style and were beginning to adopt “changes in dress, including the wearing of
socks” (ibid).

As C.A. Bayly argues, shifts in material culture and elite tastes, marked by the
increased consumption of imported commodities, allowed for English fabrics and English
clothing styles to also gain a foothold in the Indian market (1986, 306). By 1849, the
importation of fine textured and low cost English cloth had completely displaced the
weaving of cotton cloth in the Ahmedabad district (48). Before the seth -owned Indian
mills in Bombay and Ahmedabad began mass producing their own textiles in the mid-
1800s, styles and quality of clothing in India - always already a marker of identity - was
further influenced by the importation and consumption of European machine-made
fabrics. Bayly notes, moreover, how merchants although bought English textiles, many
still retained their traditional garb (1986, 307). Thus, European styles of clothing may not
have necessarily been an indicator of elite status in the way that using European/a6n'c
was. 57 Perhaps the key point here, which Bayly alludes to, is how the new English-
educated class or middle class - the most “Westernized” Indians at this point - had to
“accommodate” Europe in the public sphere through, for example, their dressing
practices: wearing trousers, socks, the English frock-coat, et cetera. As was briefly
mentioned above and will be discussed in further detail below, in the early phases of

57 It is interesting to note that this very process, namely, the widespread importation of and preference for
European textiles and commodities became the focal point of later swadeshi and Gandhian nationalist
movements. Cloth, once again, became reconstituted as an important material symbol - and, this time, a
moral/spiritual symbol - of identity. For more on cloth and Gandhian nationalism see Lisa Trivedi’s
excellent monagrah. Clothing Gandhi’s Nation (2007).

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English education in Bombay, those individuals who attended English schools did so in
order to uplift their social and economic positions. “Accommodating” Europe, at least in
the public sphere, was not necessarily a choice for the middle classes; it was, in fact,
necessary. On the other hand, the wealthy merchant families in Bombay and Ahmedabad
chose to adjust their domestic spaces, as well as their aesthetic and corporeal practices
(dressing styles, choice of fabric, modes of transportation) according to European styles
of consumption and tastes. I suggest that the ability to choose whether or not one wanted
to accommodate Europe - “Europe” here being signified by an English education,

English clothing styles, government jobs, and English consumption practices - infonned
and was indicative of class status in nineteenth century colonial Bombay.

In his memoir, Shells from the Sands of Bombay (1920), the Parsi writer and
Elphinstone graduate, Dinshah E. Wacha, describes colonial Bombay in the years
between 1860 and 1875. Apart from their business ventures, Wacha offers us a glimpse
into the life-styles of the upper class elites, many of whom - including the Pustimarg
Vaisnav families of Varjivandas Madhovdas and Mangaldas Nathubhai - lived in close
proximity to each other in the Fort area of Bombay. According to Wacha, the homes of
the affluent were furnished with Brussels carpets, large mirrors, Bohemian and Venetian
chandeliers, musical clocks, glass globe-lamps (“the earliest foreign importation of
luxury”), European toys for their children, and “a better style of picture decorations”
(178-180). Though it is possible for us to gain access to the consumption and domestic
practices of upper-class Pustimargls today, it is difficult to extend Wacha’s description of
such nineteenth century practices to the homes of Pustimarg seths as well.

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While describing baniyd lifestyles several decades later, the 1901 Bombay
Presidency Gazetteer illustrates how “Except young men in cities and large towns who
are fond of tables, chairs, sofas, glassware and lamps, Vanias do not spend money on
flimsy or breakable articles. Their practice is to have little furniture .. .Their chief articles
of furniture are strong wooden boxes cots and a large store of copper and brass pots”

(75). The paucity of such historical evidence combined with the traditional view that
orthodox baniyds were generally adverse to displaying their wealth so conspicuously,
prevents us from drawing conclusions about the domestic environment of upper-class
Pustimarg families in the nineteenth century. On the one hand, we can assume that
towards the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century urban elite baniyds
began adopting more Western-inspired aesthetic and consumption practices. On the other
hand, at least one aspect of the domestic space arrangement must have remained the
same, namely, the space allocated for the performance of domestic ritual (the pujd or
sevd room/space). As we discussed in chapter one, we do have historical references
indicating the practice of domestic ritual in Pustimarg homes during the nineteenth
century. In his study, The Interiors of Empire, Robin Jones corroborates this point further
by demonstrating how visual representations of Indian middle-class homes from the
nineteenth century seem to only consist of images of the pujd room (145). Although most
Hindu homes likely had spaces for the perfonnance of worship, the nature of Pustimarg
sevd, in which Srinathjl is regarded as a member of the family may have required that
every Pustimarg home have a space dedicated to the perfonnance of daily worship. The
existence, nature, and size of this space, whether it was a small comer in a room, or an
entirely separate room within the home would depend on the economic background of a

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household. As we will discuss in chapter five, domestic spaces became further implicated
in the articulation and production of family status in the twentieth century through, for
example, the size of the house, styles of furnishing, the types and value of commodities
consumed and displayed in the home, et cetera. In a Pustimarg context, the spaces
dedicated to sevd, the articles used during sevd, and the amount of time dedicated to its
performance also figured into this process of class display and status production.

A description of a Hindu baniycC s home is related to us through the writings of
Lady Nora Scott, the wife of the Chief Justice of Bombay in the 1850s, when she visited
the home of the wealthy, reform-minded Mangaldas Nathubhai. Nathubhai, who would
later go on to support Karsondas Mulji in his attack against Pustimarg Gosvamls,
apparently lived “in a very grand, large house...enclosed in a high walled garden. The
house is furnished in a half English style and portraits of the Queen and the Royal family
hang on the walls” (qtd. in Jones, 134). This brings up another important point, namely,
that the consumption practices of upper-class Indian elites did not necessarily conform to
Anglo-Indian or Western elite practices. Class status in colonial India, by Indians, was
articulated and produced through different forms of material culture, aesthetic choices,
and cultural practices than Western modes of class production. This sometimes depended
on the degree to which wealthy seths engaged with Europeans, were less orthodox with
respect to their caste customs, or as we have seen with the example of Nathubhai, this
was also influenced by their background as social and religious reformers. Many Parsis,
moreover, would also only furnish part of their homes with Western decor so as to
facilitate their social interactions with Europeans who visited them (Jones, 133).

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In addition to domestic consumption practices, one of the ways through which

the baniya upper-classes of western India demonstrated and reproduced their elite status
was through public displays of class, such as hosting lavish wedding celebrations, 58 the
amount and quality of jewels they or their women would wear, 59 and also through
donative practices - both religious and non-religious. Many of the religious donative
practices by elite Pustimarg families remain similar to those from the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries (which have been discussed in chapter one). For example, wealthy
Gujarati Pustimargis seths continued to host Gosvamls’ wedding and sacred-thread
ceremonies, fund haveli construction or renovations, financially support the construction
of dharm-salas (pilgrimage “rest-houses”) and go-s'dlas (“cow sanctuaries”), organize
pilgrimage tours, and donate money to Pustimarg haveli s and their Gosvamls well into
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 60 Several Pustimarg seths, however, also engaged
with more modern forms of cibru production by donating funds to educational institutes

58 The 1901 Bombay Presidency Gazetteer describes Gujarati baniyas ’ spending-habits as follows: “...

They are curiously thrifty in everyday life, but on special occasions they indulge in most lavish
expenditure” (76-77).

59 The Bombay Gazetteer notes how both baniya men and women are fond of ornaments: “If fairly off a
man’s every-day ornaments are silver girdle and a gold armlet worn above the elbow; if he is rich he wears
besides these a pearl earring, a gold or pearl necklace, and finger rings; if he is very rich he adds wristlets
of solid gold. Costlier and more showy ornaments are worn at caste dinners and on other special occasions.
A Vania woman wears a gold-plated hair ornament called chak , gold or pearl earrings, a gold and pearl
nosering, gold necklaces, a gold armlet worn above the left elbow, glass or gold bangles or wooden or ivory
wristlets plated with gold chudds, silver anklets, and silver toe and finger rings. Indoors a Vania woman
wears earrings, a necklace, bangles or wristlets chudds, and anklets.” (1901, 76).

60 Seth Balabhai Damordas (b. 1857) is said to have donated Rs. 80,000 to build a dharma-sala in Mathura,
called “Damordar Bhavan,” as well as one in Kankroli (“Mahakor Bhavan”), and in Vraj (“Kunj Bhavan”).
He also served as the “chairperson” in the sacred thread ceremony of GosvamI Sri Nathgopalji (Shah 1952,
105); seth Achratlal Parikh (b. 1881) founded the “Vitthal Niwas” dharma-sala in Dakor, and donated
funds for building ago- sdla (106); seth Govindlal Maneklal (b.1886) built several dharma-salas
throughout his life, including one in the memory of his first wife in Kisangarh, and “Manek Bhavan” in
Kota (108); and seth Ishwarlal Chimanlal (b.1900) helped in renovating Ahmedabad’s Natvarlal Shyamlal
haveli, and provided funding for rebuilding the Mathureshji haveli in Kota (112).

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and hospitals. 61 Material expressions of their devotion and sectarian identities also took
on more modern forms. For example, seth Balabhai Damordas (b. 1858) was a member of
the Gujarat Vaishya Sabha, a society which was founded by Ahmedabad’s prominent
Vaisnav baniyds in 1903 (Shah 1952, 105-106). The Sabha provided a forum where seths
could debate social and religious issues, such as education policies and caste taboos on
foreign travel. 62 Seth Achratlal Parikh was elected as the president of the Gujarat Vaishya
Sabha several times during his life, and he is also said to have participated in the
Pustimarg Vaisnav Parishad (f. 1906) (106).

Print culture was another modem medium with which Pustimargls engaged.
Several seths either published their own Pustimarg-themed works or provided
translations of Pustimarg texts and literature. For example, seth Girdharlal Harilal
(b. 1855) published a book called Llld Prasahg about his pilgrimage tour to Nathdwara
(113). Seth Balabhai Damordas financially supported Dwarkadas Parikh in publishing his
well-known work on the Pustimarg vdrtds: CaurasT Vaisnavan ki Vdrtd in the late 1940s
(105-106). Lay baniyds such as Lallubhai Chaganlal Desai edited and published
Pustimarg performance literature, such as the Dhol-Klrtan Samgrah (1913) and Vars-
utsav kirtan samgrah (1936). Finally, several prominent seths were also active members
of havelT management committees. Seths Govindlal Maneklal (b. 1886) and Chamanlal
Girdharlal (b.1874) at one time even became presidents of the Srlnathjl Temple
Committee (108-110). The engagement of seths with forms of print culture, and their

61 In addition to the education institutes mentioned earlier in this chapter, which several seths helped fund,
seth Achratlal Parikh (b. 1881) established the “Saraswati ben” maternity facility in Ahmedabad, and seth
Keela Chand Devchand (b. 1855) invested Rs. 1,25,000 in helping to build a maternity centre in Patan
(Shah 1952, 106-110).

62 By 1905 a resolution was reached where traditional social sanctions on those who had crossed the seas
were withdrawn (Yagnik and Sheth, 2011).

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participation in caste and religious societies and haveli committees, all of which are

informed by and helped perpetuate their sectarian identities as Pustimargls, are also tied

to the processes of class formation. As Joanne Waghome argues, in the face of

modernity, the reproduction of class begins to occur

“in modern sites and through modem media closely associated with the new
economic realm. The contemporary home, volunteer service associations
and religious groups, lecture series in private homes or public halls, private
temples in or near homes, and small associations within public temples - all
of these sites emerged in the context of modern urban life...” (138)

If we return to Wacha’s description of the upper-class merchant families in
Bombay, we are provided with a glimpse of the activities of women from these families,
albeit mostly of Parsi women. Wacha remarks how, during the hot summer evenings, one
could find “the ‘burra beebies’ wives of officials and merchants, sipping their glasses of
ices” outside shops selling ice and cakes - other luxury items of the 1850s (120). Though
Wacha here only briefly describes the activities of women from the upper-classes,
elsewhere he does go into more detail. For example, he relates how only women from
poorer Hindu families would be seen wandering out into the markets of the city, while
the only upper-class women to be seen were from the Parsi community (92).

Interestingly, Wacha explains how it was during the 1858 Proclamation of Queen
Victoria, marking the end of the EIC rule in India and the beginning of the British Raj,
and which drew thousands of people out onto the streets of Bombay that upper-class
Parsi women were finally seen riding in open carriages for the first time, “attired in their
rich silk saris and bejewelled” (170, 693). However, it would be the Divall celebration of
1864 that Wacha attributes as having a real “social consequence” in Bombay. The social
consequence was, according him, represented by

. .the number of women of all classes, specially the Parsi, who turned out
in their hundreds in the streets, either on foot or in open carriages! That was
a phenomenon which was not allowed to pass unnoticed in the vernacular
Press, notably the Rast Goftar - which was the special organ of the social
refonners and founded by Mr. Dadabhoy Nowrojee and his friends ... Parsi
women of the better class used to go about in their carriages, mostly
shigrams with the Venetian windows closed. They used to peep, like their
purdah sisters, through the Venetians. But the Diwali of 1864 changed it all.

They went about driving in open carriages ...” (182-183).

While continuing to present Parsis as the most socially progressive community
during this time, Wacha also describes the community as the only members of the upper-
class who often socially intermingled with Europeans. Hindu and Muslim mercantile
communities, who although kept cordial business relations with Europeans, only ever
invited well-known Europeans to attend marriage ceremonies and “nautch parties” at
their homes (683-84). Parsis, Washa explains, free from “the trammels of caste and
custom,” mixed openly with English society (ibid). Perhaps due to their already close
business and social connections with Europeans, Parsis were also among the only
members of the upper-classes who from the beginning sent their sons to Elphinstone
College. Although they were a small community, their success was unparalleled in the
fields of commerce and trade. 63 They owned vast amounts of land across Bombay, and
were India’s leading ship owners. Many of the richest Parsi merchants, therefore, made
large fortunes trading in cotton and silks with Europe and opium with China. As John R.
Hinnells and Alan Williams demonstrate, during the nineteenth century, the Parsi
community were not only participating in Bombay’s public culture through their business
activities but they were also molding it through their pioneering work in education,

63

The 1872 Census showed that Parsis constituted only 6.8 percent of the population (Dobbin 1972, 38).

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philanthropy, medicine, journalism, and social reform (2). These were areas which the
Hindu educated middle-classes would also soon come to dominate.

II. “The Educated Classes” and Making of the Middle-Class Intelligentsia

Christine Dobbin characterizes the intelligentsia of Bombay city in the mid-late
nineteenth century as those individuals who received an English education at the
Elphinstone College, Bombay University, and those who also graduated from
professional institutions, such as the Grant Medical College and the Government Law
Classes (1972, 28). As discussed above, although many seths were patrons of education,
very few males from Hindu baniya and bhdtiyd communities attended these institutions.
This may be due to the following reasons: (1) orthodox Hindus did not want their
children exposed to Christian teachings at missionary schools; (2) they did not want their
children mixing with children from poor families; and, (3) perhaps the most obvious
reason is that wealthy merchants - at least in the early phases of colonial modernity - did
not need to obtain an English education because of their already high economic status.
Before the emergence of professional occupations, such as law and medicine, sons of
merchants would earn more money if they continued in the same line of business as their
families. On the other hand, students from poor Marathi and Gujarati Brahmin and lower
caste families needed to obtain an English education to earn a better living and to
eventually raise their economic status. Unlike the upper-classes such as the Gujarati
baniyds, who for the most part were able to adapt to the new colonial economy, the
emerging middle classes were wholly economically dependent on the colonial
government. As Dobbin demonstrates, between 1827-1842 sixty-one percent of graduates

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from the Elphinstone College entered government service positions as accountants,
writers, or translators, and the next largest group, eight percent of the graduates, became
teachers. Eventually, by the 1870s, teaching positions dominated the civil job market in
Bombay city (39).

In the classrooms of Elphinstone, students were not only taught western
sciences, such as mathematics, physics, and chemistry but they were also exposed to
European literature and history, political theories, and philosophies. 64 The ethical, moral,
and aesthetic education of Indians, along European and Christian lines, was disseminated
through the teaching of English literature, a discipline that was ushered in with the 1835
English Education Act of William Bentinck. The writings of European authors like
Shakespeare, John Locke, John Milton, Francis Bacon, and Samuel Johnson were
presented as secular texts in institutions of Western learning even though their writings
contained explicit Christian themes and references (Viswanathan 1989, 85-86). On the
one hand, such a moral education was expected to generate an impulse for reform in
students, which it perhaps helped catalyze in future reformers like Dadabhai Naoroji,
Narmadshankar Lalshankar, Mahipatram Rupram, and Karsondas Mulji. On the other
hand, the moral and ethical virtues supposedly imbibed by the English educated would
also make graduates “useful” subjects for bureaucratic roles. As Gauri Viswanathan
demonstrates, in 1844 Lord Hardinge, the Governor-General, passed a resolution assuring
that those who acquired an education in English literature would be given preferential
consideration for public office appointments (89). Eventually, the study and practice of

64 Books on history included Thomas Macaulay’s History’ of England and James Mill’s History of British
India', political economy and utilitarian thought included works by John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham’s
Principles of Morals and Legislation (Scott 132-133).

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law was pushed as a suitable profession for educated Indians who wanted to see their
moral education put to more practical use. The combination of an English literary
education and law would ultimately render these individuals “good servants of the State
and useful members of society.” (91).

It is difficult to provide distinct characteristics of the new middle class in the
rapidly changing economic and socio-political context of nineteenth century Bombay.
Unlike the propertied upper-classes whom were merchants and/or mill owners, that is,
those who owned the means of production, the middle-class English educated public
worked in government positions as teachers, clerks, translators, and eventually as lawyers
and doctors - the new professional class. They can also be differentiated from the
property-less lower classes, who worked as physical laborers (as mill workers or
servants, for example). The middle-classes would also become the most politicized group
in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. As a group of individuals who worked
in the colonial government service, the middle classes frequently faced racial
discrimination and thus were normally held back from attaining higher positions in legal
and bureaucratic services. As a consequence, Rajat K. Ray argues, “their behavior was
ambivalent, switching easily between collaboration and resistance: loyal servants of
colonialism and leaders of the freedom struggle often came from the same families”
( 510 ).

Those members of the Western educated middle class who went on to pursue a
degree in law or medicine eventually bridged the gap between the English-educated
middle-class and the upper-class mercantile community. Lawyers, especially Indian
judges in civil courts, received respect from both the European governing class and from

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the Indian elite. During the 1870s-1880s, those students who graduated from Medical and
Law colleges in Bombay began to amass considerable wealth, as well as receive social
distinction. Although most students who continued in these fields of higher education
again came from Brahmin and Parsi families, the links with the colonial government that
lawyers appeared to experience, their social status, and the growing affluence of lawyers
and doctors began to attract the attention of seths as well. As a result, a few seths soon
began sending their children to England to study law in the 1860s (Dobbin 1972, 46).

This new professional class came to represent the upper ranks of the intelligentsia. Their
wealth demonstrated how it was possible for individuals with no connections to
mercantile resources to attain an elevated status in society. As Dobbin explains, “by 1885
the gap between the city’s commercial magnates and the higher stratum of the
intelligentsia was beginning to close, particularly in areas connected with status and
importance to society” (172).

Thus, the middle-classes of the Bombay Presidency in the mid-late nineteenth
century, much like today, were not a hom*ogenous group. The class included English
educated government workers and professional elites, the vernacular literati, as well as
the intellectual classes - politicians, activists, reformers, revivalists, and so on. Many
reformers of the time certainly were English educated (such as Karsondas Mulji,
Mahipatram Rupram, and Narmadashankar Lalshankar), or had some connection to
English officials (such as Dalpatram Dhayabhai did with Alexandar Forbes). However,
several reform-minded individuals did not attend any English institutes of higher learning
(such as Durgaram Mehtaji, Dayananda Saraswati, and Bholanath Sarabhai). Christine
Dobbin uses the term “intelligentsia” interchangeably with the Western educated middle

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class, though I find Michelguglielmo Torri’s use of “the intellectual class” to be a more
suitable designation, especially for describing the group of reformers and revivalists who
drew from various class, caste, and educational backgrounds. Drawing on the works of
Antonio Gramsci, Torri demonstrates how the concept of “the intellectual” is a “sharper
and more useful methodological tool” since it includes those individuals who are
politically aware and active as theorists, strategists, and organizers and who hailed from
both the Western educated classes and the vernacular literati (1990, 6)

Many of the leading intellectuals or refonners in nineteenth century Bombay,
such as Dadabhai Naorji, Narmadashankar Lalshankar, Mahipatram Rupram, and
Karsondas Mulji were educated at the Elphinstone College. Based on the 1850-51 Annual
Report of the Elphinstone Institute, Christine Dobbin illustrates how students were
required to compose English essays critiquing Indian “social problems,” such as caste,
early marriage, the status of widows, infanticide, and so on (53). The purpose of such an
education was to inculcate students in the advantages of British rule, Western learning,
and Western science and technology. As Viswanathan argues, however, the skill and
success of English-leaming institutions lay not only in the degree to which they
compelled students to value Britain’s civilizing presence in India but also how English
education was redeployed as an

“.. .instrument of authenticity... Far from alienating the reader [student]
from his own culture, background, and traditions, English literature, taught
less as a branch of rhetoric than of history, sought to return him to an
essential unity with himself and reinsert him into the course of development
of civilized man.” (1989, 141)

This point by Viswanathan perhaps helps to explain how social and religious
refonn movements, beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing into the twentieth

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century began reconstituting notions of improvement and progress along more
“Indian’VBrahmanic lines. That is to say, even before social and religious reform
movements collapsed with or fuelled twentieth century nationalist movements, social
progress came to be defined in terms of a return to “authentic Indian” selves. This can be
seen in Karsondas Mulji’s work as a social and religious reformer. As we discuss in the
following chapter, Mulji, as Pustimarg’s most vitriolic critic, often debated the
authenticity of devotional traditions like Pustimarg. He considered the sect obscene, not
only by modern Western/Christian moral standards but also, ironically, because of its
“modem” nature, as a tradition that did not originate in the Vedic age but only four
hundred years ago. As B.N. Motiwala, the biographer of Karsondas Mulji, writes
“Karsondas desired that his countrymen should aspire to have back the pristine glory of
Hindu religion ... As properly understood and as originally propounded, Hinduism is not
at all hostile to progress among its followers nor does it retard their national evolution”
(1935). Although couched in the language of “authenticity,” refonn efforts were
structured along the lines of Western moralities and sensibilities.

Refonn minded Elphinstonians, like Dadabhai Naoroji, Naoroji Furdunji, S.S.
Bengali, and Bhau Daji helped establish the Students’ Literary and Scientific Society at
the Elphinstone Institution in 1848 (Dobbin 1972, 55). At Society meetings members
would share and listen to each other’s essays on topics ranging from the role of education
and newspapers in society to the subject of metallurgy (56). Eventually the Society split
along communal and linguistic lines, to fonn the Parsi centered Gujarati Gyan Prasarak
Mandali, the Marathi Dnyan Prasarak Sabha, and, from 1851, the Gujarati Hindu Buddhi
Vardhak Sabha. Each Society published its own journals, essays, and pamphlets on

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social, scientific, and religious themes in their respective languages. The leading
Elphinstone graduates, many of whom were Parsi, Marathi and Gujarati Brahmins (with
the exception of one Hindu Gujarati baniyd, Karsondas Mulji) were active members of
these Societies. At the same time, many of these men also realized that in addition to
forming Societies and organizing meetings and lecture series, the most effective means of
communicating their ideas to the general public was through the medium of the press.

From the 1830s to the 1860s, English-language newspapers were influenced by
the Parsi seths who financially supported the enterprise. Parsis were also instrumental in
establishing the Gujarati press in Bombay (Dobbin 1972, 54). Soon, however, graduates
from English institutions began to work for presses as journalists with some even starting
their own newspapers. One such newspaper was the Rast Goftar, the most popular and
best-selling newspaper in late nineteenth century Bombay. The Rast Goftar, a Gujarati
refonnist paper, was founded in 1851 by the Parsi social reformer and Elphinstonian,
Dadabhai Naoroji. 65 Although various presses of the city continued to draw on the
financial support of wealthy seths, print culture in the form of journals, pamphlets,
memoirs, and newspapers became the primary medium for the middle class intellectual
community to publically voice their political concerns and reform ideologies. As we
discuss in the next chapter, by the middle of the nineteenth century, many of these refonn
ideologies would come to center on the opulent lifestyles of baniyd and bhdtiyd seths, and
their sectarian affiliations with Pustimarg.

65 The paper was fmically supported by the wealthy Parsi merchant, Kharshedji Nasarvanji Kama, and
operated with the help of another leading Parsi reformer and fellow Elphinstonian, S.S. Bengali. Another
Parsi, Naorji Khaikhosru Kabraji, was the editor of the paper for several decades (Dobbin, 1972 60).

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Conclusion

This Chapter demonstrated how elite Pustimarg baniya communities were
constitutive of the the upper-classes in the Bombay Presidency. By the end of the
nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, Pustimarg seths displayed
their elite status by engaging in new forms of consumption practices and philanthropy,
spending lavishly on wedding ceremonies, and constructing large bungalows in European
styles. Material expressions of their devotion took the form of financing haveli
renovations, building pilgrimage rest-houses, making public donations to Gosvamls and
havelTs, sponsoring food-offerings, and so on.

Their opulent lifestyles and spending habits, however, would draw the
criticism of the newly developing English educated middle-classes. What especially
disturbed members of the reform-minded middle-classes is that while still wielding
positions of power in civic administration, Hindu seth families remained apathetic
towards English learning and social reform. Reformers would eventually turn to print
culture, especially newspapers, as a public forum for launching their ideological attacks
on the wealthy seth communities of the Bombay Presidency. In the minds of reformers,
like Karsondas Mulji and Narmadashankar Lalshankar, the baniya and bhatiya
communities’ adherence to a sectarian tradition such as Pustimarg as well as their
relationship with the sect’s leaders, the Gosvamls, marked the Pustimarg seths as
“backward” and illfit to hold positions of authority.

However, as the next chapter demonstrates, the refonnist campaign against
wealthy seths and Pustimarg Goswamls focused on the behavior of Pustimarg lay
women. The social and religious activities of Pustimarg women became the sites upon

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which middle-class moralities were mapped and debated by male reformers during the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By monitoring, sanitizing, and, eventually
reconstiting Pustimarg religious practices to the domestic sphere, the religious and gender
reform movements of the period effectively cast Pustimarg women as the producers of
family status and respectability.

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CHAPTER 3

Domesticating Pustimarg:

Middle-Class Modernities and Socio-Religious Reform

In the mid-nineteenth century, middle-class reformers launched an aggressive
campaign against Pustimarg Gosvamls and their wealthy mercantile followers.
Refonners, such as Karsondas Mulji, saw baniya patronage of Pustimarg and the
community’s worship of Gosvamls as living incarnations of Krsna to be the result of
baniya ignorance and lack of Western education. However, the most important and
scandalous allegation put forth by reformers concerned the alleged sexual relations that
existed between Gosvamls and their female disciples. These refonnist campaigns
culminated in the infamous Maharaj Libel Case of 1862, in which the colonial court and
Indian intellectuals debated the authenticity of a devotional sect like Pustimarg as well
the authority of its religious leaders, the Gosvamls, on grounds of morality, rationality,
and Vedic authority.

In this chapter I demonstrate how the discourses surrounding the libel case

indexed larger ideological concerns of nineteenth-century socio-religious movements,

including the regulation of female sexuality, the promotion of female education, and the

bifurcation and gendering of domestic and public spheres. Emerging middle-class

moralities and sensibilities informed and were marked by the close connections being

drawn between women’s “proper” behavior, domesticity, and family respectability. I

argue that refonnist anxieties around Pustimarg women’s activities in havelT contexts,

including their relationships with Gosvamls, promoted the Pustimarg home as the

principal site of women’s religious practices. These debates, moreover, effectively

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projected Pustimarg women as the producers and performers of family status and of an
elite Pustimarg sectarian identity.

Nineneenth Century Social Reform and Pustimarg’s Fall from Grace

In the nineteenth century, print culture - in the form of journals, handbills, and
newspapers - served as an important medium for disseminating reformist ideologies. The
Rast Goftar, a Gujarati refonnist newspaper that was founded in 1851, was primarily
concerned with issues of social refonn in the Bombay Presidency. Many of these social
issues essentially revolved around the cultural and sexual lives of women, such as early
marriage, the lack of female education, and the stigma against widow remarriage. The
Rast Goftar along with other reformist papers like Jagat Premi and Gnan Vardhak also
focused on the social and religious behavior of women, which included criticizing their
excessive wearing of jewelry, their participation in public festivals like Holl, their
“superstitious” practices, the singing of “obscene songs” at marriages, and the practice of
chest-beating during mourning rituals (Sodhan 1997, 123). The editors and writers of the
Rast Goftar felt that some of these “social evils” continued to persist in society because
they had been adopted and practiced by the leading seth families. Moreover, the
conservative, uneducated seth community was considered ill-fit to continue holding
positions of authority and wielding so much power in the public sphere. According to the
papers’ writers, it was time for the newly educated intelligentsia, the ideal citizens of the
Presidency, to appropriate leadership positions from the seths and guide the population
towards moral and political regeneration. From 1859-1865, the Rast Goftar began
publishing an English column, which was edited by S.S. Bengali. The column dealt with

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public questions and concerns, and also demonstrated the frustration of the English
educated middle classes with regards to their status: “One party which, we believe,
represents the greater part of the capital of this place, does not appear to be, as yet, wide
awake to what is going on in the world; while the other (whose ranks we hope are
increasing) is probably not yet in a material position to lead” (Dobbin 1972, 86).

According to refonnist papers, the Pustimarg baniyd and bhdtiyd communities
epitomized the spectrum of social issues they were addressing. For example, many
leading seths, like Gopaldas Madhavdas, the head of the entire baniyd mahdjan in
Bombay city, his brother, Varjivandas Madhavdas, and the bhdtiyd seth, Damodhar
Madhavji, were affluent upper-class merchants who did not show much interest in the
new English education system and were members of an orthodox sectarian tradition,
Pustimarg. What disturbed refonners, especially, was the seths' loyalty and “blind-faith”
towards the leaders of the sect, the Gosvamls. The dynamic relationship that existed
between the Pustimarg Gosvamls, caste-guilds or mahdjans, and the larger baniyd and
bhdtiyd community, appeared to be at the root of the community’s conservative and,
therefore, “backward” status in the minds of reformers. Since most members of the
baniyd and bhdtiyd community in the Bombay Presidency belonged to the Pustimarg
sampraddy, seths like the Madhavdas brothers had to demonstrate their explicit support
of Gosvamls or else risk compromising their positions of leadership within the
community. On the other hand, if members of the community appeared to breach caste or
social customs, like travel overseas, marry a widow, or publically challenge Gosvamls -
as Mulji and his associates did - the leading seths of the city’s mahdjans had the power to

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excommunicate members from the castes, at least until colonial legal interventions began
to displace these traditional sites of authority.

In the late 1850s the leading refonners of western India focused on scrutinizing
religious behavior they considered “superstitious and blind.” Their criticism eventually
focused on the Pustimarg sampraday and its leaders, the Gosvamls or Maharajs. By the
1860s there were about four to five Maharajs already residing in Bombay city. 66 As
Amrita Shodhan demonstrates, Pustimarg Gosvamls were criticized for “licentious,
tyrannical, and immoral behavior” and were accused of abusing their religious authority
by “giving arbitrary decisions regarding disputes within the families of devotees and for
favoring rich devotees” (127). However, the most prominent and scandalous allegation
put forth by refonners against the Gosvamls concerned their sexual promiscuity and their
sexual exploitation of female devotees. The Gosvamls were publically criticized in
vernacular and English newspapers and through the circulation of handbills for several
years in the late 1850s. This public defamation culminated in the publication of an article
by Karsondas Mulji in his Gujarati reformist paper, Satya Prakas, on October 21 st 1860.
In the article, entitled “The Primitive Religion of the Hindus and the Present Heterodox
Opinions,” Mulji denounces Pustimarg as heretical in light of Vedic authority. More
importantly, Mulji accuses the Maharajs of grossly manipulating the sect’s ideologies -
especially the rite of initiation - by reportedly engaging in sexual relations with their
female followers.

Karsondas Mulji, the Bombay Presidency’s leading Gujarati reformer in the
1850s, attended the Elphinstone Institute for six years, during which time he befriended

66 The first Pustimarg havelT in Bombay was opened in 1811 by Gokulnathji Maharaj (Shodhan 2001, 120).

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two Gujarati nagar Brahmins, Narmadashankar Lalshankar (1833-86), the Gujarati poet,
and Mahipatram Rupram (1830-1891), an important educationist and reformer (37).

Mulji was an active member of the Gujarati Hindu Buddhi Vardhak Sabha and wrote for
the Rast Goftar before starting his own newspaper, the Satyci Prakas, in 1855. More
importantly, as a kcipol baniyd, Mulji also came from a Pustimarg family. With the
support of Narmadashankar, who knew Sanskrit and thus helped Mulji in reading the
works of Pustimarg Gosvamls, Mulji wrote articles, circulated pamphlets, and printed
handbills targeting the Pustimarg sect and its religious leaders. Narmadashanker also held
meetings in his home to “expose the immorality of Vallabhacharyan doctrines, [and] to
encourage devotees to ‘shun the society of such nasty persons as the Maharajas’” ( Times
of India, 22 Feb, qtd. in Dobbin 1972, 66).

In his article, Mulji mentioned one particular Maharaja by name, Jadunathji
Brijratanji Maharaja from Surat. In a remarkable turn of events, Jadunathji turned to the
British Courts for support to uphold the sect’s reputation and his own authority as its
leader. He filed a suit for libel in the Bombay Supreme Court against Mulji and his
printer (Dobbin 1972, 68). Fearing that he might be humiliated by his own disciples in
court, Jadunathji sought the assistance of his most prominent devotees, the leading seth of
the Bombay baniyd mahdjan, Gopaldas Madhavdas, and that of the bhdtiyd community,
Damodar Madhavji. On September 6 1861, Damodar convened a meeting of two
thousand bhdtiyds urging them to sign a bill assuring that they would not testify against
the Maharajs, and if they did, they would be excommunicated from the caste. Upon
hearing about this document, Mulji charged the leading seths with conspiring to obstruct
justice, a case he went on to win.

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Soon after the “bhatiya conspiracy case” was completed, the libel case

(popularly called the Maharaj Libel Case) commenced in the early months of 1862. As
Amrita Shodhan demonstrates, the case became the ‘“crowning glory’ of the Bombay
reformists’ battle against traditional religious practices” (128). The British court and
Mulji, along with his supporters, seths Gokaldas Tejpal, Mangaldas Nathubhai, and
Lakhmidas Khimji focused on interrogating the authenticity of the Pustimarg sect and the
authority of Maharajs as religious figures. The Judge and defense lawyers called upon
witnesses, who were adherents of Pustimarg, to comment on “questionable” moral
teachings in the Brajbhasa vdrtds (Maharaj Libel Case [MLC] 1911, 142-143), to testify
whether or not they were well-versed in Sanskrit, and if they considered Gosvamls, their
gurus, as representatives or incarnations of Krsna (MLC 127-135). Throughout the trial
the Gosvamls were repeatedly declared as not being authentic “preceptors of the ancient
Hindu religion” (191).

The case was considered a victory for refonners and for the colonial courts on
moral grounds. The verdict of Sir Joseph Arnould was published in vernacular and
English newspapers for months after the trial concluded. In his final verdict he
characterized Pustimargls as a “weak and blinded people,” Maharaj leadership as a
“rapacious and libidinous priesthood,” and Krsna as “a God whose most popular
attributes are his feats of sexual prowess” (MLC 478-50). In addition to such Orientalist
depictions, the discourses surrounding the Maharaj Libel Case echoed themes from
earlier nineteenth century female refonn movements, such as sati abolition. As Lata Mani
has demonstrated in her study on sati (1998), what was ostensibly about women’s
exploitation, the case instead became a site for debating “authentic” tradition,

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“superstitious” beliefs, an emerging middle-class morality, and upper-caste patriarchal
values. Throughout the trial, women are portrayed as passive objects whom were
“defiled” or “enjoyed” by Pustimarg Gosvamls. The voices of real women are never
heard and if Pustimarg women are commented upon they are portrayed, on the one hand,
as succumbing to their “natural” immoral and passionate proclivities or, on the other
hand, as infantilized “tender maidens.” Needless to say, the question of whether they
wanted to engage in sexual relations with the Maharajs was never discussed, and neither
was female devotees’ willing participation in religious practices acknowledged outside
the language of “immorality” or “blind faith.” 67 The reformers seemed to be disturbed by
any ritual activities performed by women, at least outside the home, such as when women
would swing the GosvamI during festivals ( hindold ), visit their gurus in the havelT,
participate in public Holl celebrations at the havelT, and sing songs (garhas) of gopibhdva
(“erotic love”) about or to the Maharajs (Shodhan 1992, 130-132). At one point, Mulji
even published the names of several baniya ladies who continued “in their shameless
practices of singing indecent songs” (Motiwala, 180).

Before the libel case took place, on November 18, 1861 authors of the Rast

Goftar tatha Satya Prakas (the two papers merged in 1860), including Mulji, called upon

the men of the Pustimarg community to uphold their family’s honor by controlling and

regulating the actions of their wives and daughters:

“Hindus, we exhort you to educate your females, that you may have a
virtuous progeny from a pure and uncontaminated source; for, under the
circ*mstances ... a man cannot be sure that his child is his own.. .Divest

67 In his final verdit. Sir Josepeh Arnould notes how “It was profligacy, it was vice ... The wives and
daughters of these secretaries, (with their connivance in many cases if not with their approval), went
willingly - went with offerings in their hands, eager to pay a high price for the privilege of being made one
with Brahma by carnal copulation with the Maharaj, the living personification of Krishna’’ (430-431).

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your females of the notion that intercourse with the Mahrajas is an honour,
and that amorous connection with them is bliss. Make them renounce this
vile superstition. Claim them as your own only, and bind them to yourselves
and your families by the strong and hallowed ties of conjugal, parental, and
filial affection. Let not the homes have the scent of the impurities of the
temple, whose odour should be disgusting to your nostrils.” (Motiwala 141-
142)

As Shodhan reflects, refonners were more concerned and disturbed by the promiscuity of
Maharajs and Pustimarg men’s wives and daughters than the sexual assault or rape of
women; “The problem then, according to the reformers, was not sexual exploitation and
harassment by the Maharajas but their corruption of ‘respectable’ women” (1997, 131-
132).

From at least 1855 till the commencement of the Libel Case, reform-minded
men from the bhatiyd and baniyd communities were vocalizing their concerns over
interactions between Maharajs and female devotees. Over the years, they made several
recommendations to limit contact between female practitioners and Gosvamls, including
how women should stop going to the havelis for darsan in the early mornings and late
evenings, and how female Gosvamls should be introduced into the sect to better
supervise and manage the activities of lay women in the havelT (Sampat 1938, 408-416
qtd in Simpson 2008, 100). Before the Libel Case began, in 1861, the author of an article
in the Rast Goftar tatha Satya Prakas also made suggestions to regulate the movement of
lay women in the havelis : “they should have darshan only from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., they
should enter the zenana only to meet the Maharaj’s wife and daughters..., they should
not be allowed to visit in the afternoon, and they should not be allowed to visit the
Maharaj to offer him fruit in private” (Shodhan 1997, 133). According to Mulji, it was in
the afternoons that female devotees would come visit the havelT in large numbers. Here,

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female and male Pustimargls “intermixed” during the darsan periods: “The crowd is so
dense that, on extraordinary occasions, females are totally denuded of their slight and
loose clothing in the crush. The practice, therefore, of permitting men and women to
associate promiscuously in the room where the idol is worshipped is highly
objectionable” (Mulji 1865, 104).

Most of the recommendations by refonners, including those by Mulji, called
for the regulation, control, or complete prohibition of PustimargI women’s religious
activities in the havelT. The home and domestic spaces remained - or were now especially
promoted - as the primary locus of Pustimarg ritual practice. This reconstitution of the
site of Pustimarg women’s religious activities from the havelT to the home is infonned by
and follows the ideological trajectory of domestic, gender, and religious refonn
movements in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The discourses surrounding the
Maharaj Libel Case index the various issues raised in these movements, including the
regulation of women’s sexual practices, the bifurcation and gendering of domestic and
secular spheres, domestic morality, and the metonymic connections between home,
woman, nation, and “authentic” tradition. These discourses, in turn, cannot be separated
from the processes of class fonnation and status production. On the one hand, many of
the “respectable” Pustimarg women who were the subjects of such gender and religious
refonn likely came from the upper-class baniyd and bhdtiyd mercantile families, while
many of the reformers themselves came from the English educated and vernacular middle
classes. As Sanjay Joshi argues, the Western educated middle-classes were consciously
self-fashioning and articulating a unique identity in the late nineteenth century: “Using
new institutions of the public sphere, these men were able to recast ideas of respectability

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to distinguish themselves from upper and lower classes in society, and to posit a moral
superiority over both” (xx, 2010).

In order to better contextualize Mulji’s critique of the relationship between
Pustlmarg Gosvamls and their female devotees, I now turn to a discussion of nineteenth
century reform discourses surrounding women and domesticity in the Bombay
Presidency. This enables us to understand some of the implications of the Maharaj Libel
Case on Pustimarg religiosity and on women’s domestic religious practices more broadly.

Domesticating Women: Nineteenth-Century Gender and Domestic Reform
Movements

The Bombay Presidency constructed and deployed its strategies of reform
along gendered lines. Upper-caste and middle class women’s actions - whether religious,
domestic, public, or sexual - became sites for debating social progress, authentic
Indian/Hindu identity, family prestige and status, and nationhood. In a volume entitled
The Status of Woman in India: A Hand-Book for Hindu Social Reformers (1889),
Dayaram Gidumal provides excerpts from symposiums and meetings held by each
Presidency on reform issues such as infant marriage and “enforced widowhood.” 68 These
constitute many of the reform debates leading up to the Age of Consent Act of 1891.

In the opening piece, A Symposium of Hindu Domestic Reformers and Anti-
Reformers, Mr. P Desai criticizes early marriage because of what becomes of young
mothers namely, inanely busy, superstitious housewives. He explains how, in Gujarat,
Hindu families marry their daughters at the age of six or seven, and by twelve they have

68 Dayaram Gidumal (1857-1927) served as an assistant judge in Ahmedabad, and was instrumental in
founding the Gujarat Hindu Sansarik Sudhara Samaj (“The Gujarat Hindu Reform Society”) in 1888.

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become mothers; “their life is then necessarily spent in looking after household affairs,

and often in performing, in the higher classes, trivial religious duties” (xxii). Kumar P.

Bhushan Deva describes his objections to infant marriage as follows: “Premature

marriage is not only a pernicious custom because it ages wives at thirty, or gives us virgin

or unhappy widows - but because it leads to the deterioration of the race. This was

admitted even by the ancient medical science of the Hindus, the Ayur Vedas” (xxi).

Other reformers share their concerns about the early onset of menstruation and how

consummation of marriage should take place soon after puberty (xxiv-xxv). What

appeared to be more of a concern for reformers was not so much the young age at which

girls married but premature consummation by women and early pregnancy. Such debates

reveal reformers’ anxieties around female sexuality and early pregnancy and its

connection to child welfare, racial purity, and national health. For example, in the section

on the Bombay Presidency deliberations on infant marriage, M.G. Ranade 69 proclaims

how “.. .early marriage leads to early consummation, and thence to the physical

deterioration of the race, and it sits as a heavy weight on our rising generation.. .[it] cools

their love of study, checks enterprise, and generally dwarfs their growth” (14). Rao

Bahadur Bholanath Sarabhai, the founder of the Ahmedabad Prathana Samaj, shares

similar sentiments: “It is admitted by all enlightened Hindus that early marriages and

unequal matches are mischievous. They believe that early union leads to the production

of unhealthy families, and ultimately to the moral and intellectual deterioration of the

whole race” (15). Early marriage, it was feared, could compromise the health of the

offspring and, by extension, the larger community and nation. A secondary concern was

69 Mahadev Govind Ranade (1842-1901) is the Marathi Brahmin political and social reformer who helped
found the Indian National Congress and Indian National Social Conference.

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that it also increased the probability of there being more child widows, many of whom
were kept in a state of “enforced widowhood,” and were considered a material and social
burden.

Throughout the late nineteenth century and leading into the twentieth century,
refonnist concerns with eugenics as well as national moral and physical health motivated
the proper regulation and reform of middle class women’s bodies and activities in the
“private” domain. This was attempted through managing the age of marriage and
consummation, as we have seen, as well as by the introduction of proper hygiene
practices and the scientific education of housewives (in the form of Domestic Science).
The threat of miscegenation can be read into Mulji’s protest against the nature of
PustimargI women’s relationship with Gosvamls since, according to him, this would
inevitably lead to sexual relations between the two. As cited above, Mulji exhorts men
from the Pustimarg community to uphold their families’ honor by ensuring “virtuous
progeny from a pure and uncontaminated source,” that is, not by Gosvamls, and to
prevent the contamination of the home with the impurities of the Pustimarg havelT-
embodied by the person of the GosvamI (Motiwala 141-142). This call for the
reconstitution of women’s place in the home by refonners like Mulji marked the new
links being forged between home, “authentic tradition,” and nation. The degree by which
women could crystalize or rupture these connections, moreover, detennined family
prestige and status. As Karsondas Mulji reflects: “If you do not respect your own home,
then how is it possible for you to increase your honour in the world? Woman constitutes
your home and therefore, you ought to treat her with respect. Without such honour, our
country’s status will never be high” (Motiwala, 237).

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Early marriage also became tied to debates around women’s education.
According to Behramji M. Malabari (1853-1912), the Parsi Gujarati reformer and
journalist who helped mobilize the movement for increasing the age of consent, the

marriage of young girls prevented many of them with the opportunity to acquire a proper
education. Govardhanram Tripathi (1855-1907), the influential Gujarati refonner and
intellect of the late nineteenth century, also shared this view and criticized child marriage
because he felt the practice fostered female illiteracy (Shukla 1987, 69). 70 According to
many such refonners, who most likely drew on Enlightenment themes of order, reason,
and science, unmarried young girls and housewives also needed to be educated so that
they could more efficiently, economically, and hygienically conduct their household
affairs. Educated housewives, moreover, were not only considered more useful in the
management of domesticity but they were also fashioned as intellectual and emotional
companions who could support and share in their husbands’ public and work aspirations.
R.P. Karkaria, in his biography of Behramji Malabari, describes how rare it is for a man
to find such a companion-wife:

“In the matter of marriage the life of the educated Indian of to-day has many
and serious drawbacks. If he finds in his wife a loving partner of his worldly
fortunes, a good manager of his domestic affairs and trainer of his children,
he should consider himself happy... But if he seeks for an intelligent
companion, on anything like terms of equality, with intellectual sympathy
for his hopes and aspirations, a helpmate in his affairs beyond those of the
household, he is in most cases doomed to disappointment. His life is in this
way seriously handicapped, as compared with that of the European..

(1896,60-61)

70 Govardhanram Tripathi engages with the theme of an educated Gujarati male in his writings, such as in
the novel Saraswatichandra. Govardhanram insists that this modern male graduate needs an educated wife;
“a wife who will manage his house skilfully, be his companion, stand by him in adversity, and always
remain witty and cheerful. She will be his inspiration” (Shukla 1987, 63). According to Tridip Suhrud,
Govardhanram, more than anyone else before Gandhi, shaped the “consciousness of the Gujarati educated
middle class” (4).

Ill

The caricature of “wife-as-handicap” is echoed by B.N. Motiwala in his biography of
Karsondas Mulji. Mulji’s wife is described as “a drag on all his public activities” since,
on account of being “ignorant and illiterate,” she did not appreciate the public reform
efforts of her husband. Instead, she often “cried, taunted, remained grief-stricken” when
the family was excommunicated from the kcipol caste and the baniya mahajan after
Mulji’s journey to England in 1863 (1935, 200-205; 371).

In addition to constructing women as companion-housewives, reformers
especially encouraged domestic reform and female education because of the supposed
close and prolonged contact mothers had with their (male) children. In his Essay on the
Promotion of Domestic Reform (1881), Elphinstone graduate, Ganpat Lakshman, argues
for the education and “enlightenment” of women because of their central role in domestic
management and in child rearing: “She has a greater authority over them than anyone
else in the family.. .But it is often the case that she is uneducated. She has received no
share of the mental enlightenment which is adequate enough to enable her really to
appreciate the blessings of knowledge, and efficiently to discharge the important duties of
her station” (54). At the same time the bifurcation of domestic and public spaces along
gender lines was beginning to take place - and perhaps because of it - domesticity
became a central theme in public discourses since domestic order was considered to be a
blueprint for and precursor of social and national order. This relationship hinged on
women’s roles as companionate wives, as efficient and competent home-makers, and
especially in their roles as mothers. They were responsible for both producing and
imparting moral knowledge to their (male) children - the nation’s future citizens. The

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construction of an intimate mother- (or father and mother-) child relationship, moreover,
is fairly novel since most middle-class families during this period lived in joint-families,
where the up-bringing of children was a task shared by grandparents, in-laws, siblings,
and even servants (Bannerji 11). 71 This new, bourgeois patriarchy effectively
reconstituted women as a mother and moral educator. 72 The education of women unlike
for men was indeed mobilized for different reasons: “whereas education for males was
directly related to the pursuit of employment, female education had no economic
function” (Borthwick, 61). Although deployed using the logic and language of reform
and “emancipation,” the education of women aimed to instill “feminine” values in
women, which would not make them into Western, more masculinized women as was
feared, but into more authentic Hindu mothers and housewives. 73 It is clear from Ganpat
Lakshman’s text on domestic reform, for example, that a young girl’s education was
intended for her to become a more useful companion and a more competent housewife

71 In his text, An Essay on the Promotion of Domestic Reform (1881), Ganpat Lakshman discusses the
condition of children in lower-class laborer families and describes their home-life as though there are no
other family care-takers present. He notes how both the parents are absent during the day due to work: “The
children are left to themselves without that control or superintendence which must needs be exercised over
them, - they run about in the streets with all the wantonness of freedom. They are there exposed to the
hurtful changes of the weather, their morals are there exposed to contamination; they there listen to the
language of profaneness; they are confirmed in all the wildness of insubordination and disobedience, - and
their whole character is tainted by practices which they ought never to know, and from which they ought
ever carefully to be far removed’’ (76).

72 Throughout his text, Ganpat Lakshman, who is clearly drawing on Pietist/Lutheran and Enlightenment
ideas of “rational’’ religion and morality, contends how, without an education, a mother cannot impart any
relevant knowledge onto her children: “She is incapable from her own ignorance to pour into their minds
wholesome lessons of piety and morality, and can therefore have no right conception of the manner in
which their understanding might be improved, or the several powers of their mind be properly regulated
and disciplined’’ (54).

73 After describing Mulji as the “great emancipator of the Gujarati women,” Motiwala quotes Mulji’s
description of an “ideal woman”: “Look at the picture of a woman who delights the heart of a man and who
overpowers him by her pure love. Observe her traits. She walks gently, she speaks only sweet, melodious
words. She is both mild and guileless. She neither sits idly nor wanders here and there. She puts on neat and
clean clothes... By her good and amiable position her smiling face is suffused with love. From her lips only
kind and affectionate words come out .. .In all her work she uses her God-given intelligence and tries to
remain honest and virtuous in all her deeds” (366).

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and daughter-in-law: “Neither does she prove, such as she is, an easy and useful
companion to her husband. She has received no education which could enable her to
discharge with judgment and skill the most important duties of her husband’s family, or
to assist him in any difficult part of his undertakings” (116-117).

In the Bombay Presidency, female education was initially launched by
Christian missionaries in 1824 in Bombay city (Basu 67). From the 1840s several Parsi
families, including those of Manockjee Cursetjee and Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, began
educating their daughters in English at home. Cursetjee’s efforts would eventually
culminate decades later in the opening of the first English school for “girls and ladies of
the most respectable families,” the Alexandra Native Girls’ English Institution, in
Bombay in 1863 (Chandra 2012, 35). Meanwhile, Parsi refonners and Elphinstone
graduates like Dadabhai Naoroji and Kharshedji Nasarvanji Kama mobilized support to
establish the Presidency’s first vernacular Parsi girls’ schools in 1849. By 1852, four
schools had already been opened, where girls up to the age of twelve were learning to
read and write Gujarati, as well as study themes in geography and natural history (Dobbin
1972, 57). Simultaneously, girls’ schools were also being established in cities like Surat
and Ahmedabad. In Ahmedabad, the Gujarat Vernacular Society, with the financial help
of Harkunvar Shethani (the widow of the millionaire Jain businessman Hutteesing
Kesreesing), started the city’s first girls’ school in 1849. 74 In the same year, Maganlal

74 Harkunvar also established an institution called the Harkunvarba and Jyotiba Kanyashala in Ahmedabad
in 1855, where subjects such as history, geography, mathematics, Sanskrit, and Gujarati were taught. She
also founded a teachers’ training college for women (Yagnik and Sheth 2011, 126).

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Karamchand also financed the construction of two more schools (Yagnik and Sheth 2011,
124). 75

In all areas of the Presidency, the enrolment of girls from Hindu families was
initially limited due to conservative ideas about women leaving the home, traditional
taboos against female literacy, and the lack of female teachers. Despite this, it was
families of upper-castes, like nagar and saraswat Brahmins and Prabhus, whom were
among the first to send their daughters to schools. Women from the Brahmin
communities were also some of the first to train as teachers in the Mahalakshmi Female
Training College in Ahmedabad (f. 1874) and the Barton Female Training College of
Rajkot (f. 1885) (Mukta 1999, 32.) In accordance with their general attitude towards
modem education, members of the wealthy Gujarati baniya communities were apathetic
towards the movement for female education. However, refonners like Naoroji knew that
in order to build more schools, the financial support of the wealthy Gujarati seths was
necessary. It was only after the government placed pressure and solicited the help of
Gujarati baniyas that a few seths, such as the reform minded Mangaldas Nathubhai, came
forward to support female education in Bombay city (Dobbin 1972, 58).

Female education in the Bombay Presidency always faced some form of

resistance from the more conservative members of the population. However, it drew

vociferous criticism in the early years of the 1850s when members of the Students’

Literary and Scientific Society (formed by students of Elphinstone College) endorsed

Erskine Perry’s proposal for involving European ladies in the education of young girls.

This was viewed by many as a method for introducing the teaching of English to Indian

75 In Gujarat specifically, by the end of 1859, nine schools for girls were established: three in Ahmedabad,
two in Surat, and one each in Bhavnagar, Rajkot, Limadi, and Gondal (Raval 51).

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girls. Shefali Chandra, in her examination of the gendered transmission of English in
school curricula, notes how Gujarati newspapers in Bombay voiced their objection to the
introduction of English because of the perceived threat it posed to conjugal or domestic
ties: “The outburst of the Chabuk shows the already entrenched fear that educated women
would have the power to invoke legal procedures to shun their husbands’ authority and
initiate separation; educated women would repudiate the marital bond” (2012, 43). Years
after the Alexandra Institution was opened, the Anglo-Marathi weekly paper, Native
Opinion, opposed the introduction of English in girls’ schools as well. It had already
claimed that English in boys’ schools made these institutions “anglicized, classicalized,
and thus denationalized,” and by introducing the language to girls, it could “only lead to
the transplanting in India of the manners and customs of another society” (Dobbin 1972,
77). English, as a language that could potentially be spoken by women (mothers) at home
- as a new “mother tongue” - only appeared threatening because of the metonymic
connections being forged between woman, home, tradition, and nation in the nineteenth
century. Women were reimagined as the custodians of authentic Hindu/Indian culture.

The resistance to teaching English to young girls and women is symptomatic of this
gendered bifurcation of public and domestic spheres. The home, which was increasingly
being constructed and politicized as the site of social, cultural, and national reproduction,
needed to be protected by western influences and forms of cultural miscegenation - here
embodied by Indian women speaking English.

For reformers, the English education of Indian girls appeared encouraging
because it was institutionalized through a specific pedagogical logic, one based on ideal
(Victorian) femininity. In schools like the Alexandra Institute, where girls learned

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arithmetic, geography, English, and vernacular languages, they also learned needlework,

music, and singing (Chandra 2005, 67). The education of girls was not expected to

compromise their femininity; instead, it ensured domestic bliss by molding women into

more companionate spouses and useful housewives. However, reformers also had

reservations about female education due to the lack of female teachers and, when in

1883, a proposal was made to increase the maximum age until which girls may attend

schools (Chandra 2012, 48). The threat of a young woman or housewife becoming too

“independent-minded” always loomed in reformers’ debates on the age of marriage and

consent and female education. In the Bombay Presidency deliberations, included in

GidumaTs Status of Woman in India (1889), Bhaskarrao Balkrishnaji Pitale and Nana

Moroba expressed their concerns about how early marriage - but not necessarily child

marriage - preserved the hannony of a joint-family:

A woman introduced into the family at the age of about twenty, will not
easily yield to the orders, wishes, whims and caprices of the old ladies of the
family. She will have no sympathy for them, nor will they have any for her,
while a young girl at the age of 12 or so, introduced into the family will
soon be attached to it. Sympathy for each other will reciprocally be
generated in both. On the other hand, in the case of a woman, the chances of
a rupture are imminent. This will entail dismemberment of the family and of
the family estate. (10)

Women, in their roles as housewives and daughter-in-laws, were considered to
be the preservers of traditional practices like the joint-family. 76 For both reformers and
conservatives, increasing the age at which women could marry or enter school presented
a possibility for young girls and housewives to disrupt domestic hannony by becoming

76 Much like the caste system, European sociologists and anthropologists as well as urban high-caste Indian
reformers and nationalists, saw the “joint-family” as a vestige of India’s ancient patriarchal societies
(Uberoi 1994, 31-32). The joint-family system was constructed as a marker of India’s “traditional” values
in contrast to the individualism which characterized the values of Western societies.

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“too independent” or “too educated.” Domestic harmony is here explicitly characterized
with the degree to which family elders, in-laws, and husbands are able to wield authority
over their new wife/daughter-in-law. Manilal Nathubhai Dwivedi (1858-1898), a nagar
Brahmin from Nadiad - who was a Sanskrit scholar, Vedantist and an Elphinstone fellow

- was concered with the impact of Western education in India precisely because it
appeared to threaten India’s primary social unit: the family. In a series of articles on “The
East and the West,” he lamented on how this new education, which seemed to transfix
refonners, encouraged “ego-centric individualism...materialism...and licentiousness”
(Rawal 200). Modernity, Manilal argued, should not be pursued at the cost of losing
tradition; “The Indian tradition gave more importance to the collective social life as
represented by a joint family system; while the Western tradition encouraged
individualism at the cost of family life” (ibid). According to Manilal, “modernity” and
“tradition” could be made compatible, if modernity was the result of tradition. Taking the
education of Indian women as an example, he felt that if a woman was “rightly educated”

- with an emphasis on morality - she would be instilled with such noble virtues that she
would not want to marry again in the event that she became a widow (200).
Govardhanram Tripathi was also concerned with the rapid modernization and
westernization he saw occurring around him. Like Manilal Nathubhai, Govardhanram
valued the joint-family system, which he believed was disintegrating into nuclear family
units under the refonnist and nationalist rhetoric of “rationalism and individual freedom”
(217). In this context, the tipping-point for when one became “too modem” was
detennined by a woman’s ability to negotiate modernity - here marked by an English
education - and “traditional values,” represented by the joint-family system. Nineteenth

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century reform debates thus ushered in a new patriarchy: “‘new’ because it challenged
indigenous patriarchal traditions by allowing women’s literacy and education, and by
encouraging them to travel outside the home; but ‘patriarchy’ because it maintained
women in a dependent and subordinate status within Indian society” (Chatterjee 1993;
Walsh 2004, 3-4).

In addition to educational institutes, for women who learned to read, printed
works in various genres and forms including manuals, journals, magazines, and advice
columns became the primary medium through which women were exposed to nineteenth
century ideas of domesticity. 77 In Bengal, for example, between 1860-1910 close to
eighty manuals, magazines, and journals were published for women on themes such as
women’s family relations, home management, proper hygiene practices, cooking, and
account keeping (Walsh 22). Similar works were published throughout the subcontinent
in Hindi (Orsini 1999; Dalmia 1997), Urdu, Telugu (Ramakrishna, 1991), and Gujarati
(Shukla 1991), et cetera. In fact, it was in the Bombay Presidency that the first journal for
women, Stribodh (“Women’s Enlightenment” or “Advice to Women”), was launched in
1857 and continued until 1950 (Shukla 1991, 63).

Stribodh was established and supported by Bombay city’s leading Parsi and
Hindu social refonners of the time, including Sorabji S. Bengali, Khaikhosru Naoroji
Kabraji, and Karsondas Mulji. Mulji was one of the journal’s earliest editors; he edited
Stribodh from April 1859 to May 1861 and wrote in twenty-two editions during which
time the journal had only about one thousand subscribers (Motiwala 304). After Mulji,

77 School enrolment statistics from the late nineteenth century can help illustrate what may have been
female literacy rates in the Bombay Presidency during this period. Though, of course, women could have
learned to read outside educational institutes. From 1881-82, there appeared to have been 16,766 girls in
schools throughout the Presidency, and this number rose to 187, 265 by 1921-22 (Basil 71).

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Kabraji became the journal’s chief editor for many decades, and after he passed away in
the early 1900s, his daughter and daughter-in-law edited Stribodh (Shukla 1991, 66). The
journal included articles on geography, scientific inventions, history, fictional stories, as
well as garbd songs by the celebrated Gujarati poet and refonner, Dalpatram Dhayabhai.
By the 1880s more than half of the journal was dedicated to serialized novels, adapted
from European classics, in favor of the more informative pieces (64). As Sonal Shukla
explains, these didactic narratives “always carried morals against greed, disloyalty,
vanity, pride, laziness, and superstition” (63). Although the journal was founded,
promoted, and patronized by social reformers, many of whom championed the cause of
widow remarriage, for example, disseminating ideas of proper domesticity and ideal
womanhood was the central preoccupation of the journal’s writers. This, according to
Shukla, is made evident by the lack of articles addressing some of the contemporaneous
social reform and political activities of the late nineteenth century, such as Behramji
Malbari’s efforts to raise the age of consent, the remarriage of the first higher caste
Gujarati Hindu widow (Dhankorbai with Madhavdas Raghunathdas), and the Maharaj
Libel Case (64-65).

Stribodh was initially directed towards an upper-middle class, urban, Parsi
female audience. However, because it was published in Gujarati, literate Hindu and
Muslim females from more modernizing families in western India also read it (64). The
journal’s chief aim was to disseminate advice to women on how to become more
productive, economical, and docile housewives and mothers in emulation of Victorian-

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styled domesticity. 78 Instructional material on sewing, knitting, ‘chikkan’ embroidery,
and drawing was included so that women from rich families “can spend their leisure
hours pleasantly and creatively and poor women can add to their families’ incomes in a
decent and respectable way” (63). Women were encouraged to wear shoes and socks
while traveling outdoors, to not shy away from accompanying their husband to social
gatherings, and to cease wasting time idly gossiping with other women and performing
lengthy and complicated rituals. The journal also ran a series called “Governor of The
House,” in which women were advised on how to purchase and arrange furniture for their
homes, hire servants, and utilize western-styled utensils (65).

Although the domestic education of Indian women followed Victorian models,
their over-westernization was at the same time also a concern for Gujarati refonners and
cultural revivalists like Govardhanram Tripathi, Karsondas Mulji, and Nathubhai
Dwivedi. These anxieties would eventually culminate in the nationalist resolution of the
“woman’s question,” which constructed middle-class Indian women as different from,
and morally superior to, both Indian men and western women (Chatterjee 1989). Mulji,
who was a champion of colonial interventions in India, resisted the total adoption of
western practices by Indian women. For example, on the one hand, Mulji insisted that
women should not put heavy ornaments on their legs and wrists and should begin
wearing stockings, slippers, or shoes. On the other hand, he very much liked the “custom

78 Sonal Shukla, in her examination of the Stribodh journal, summarizes the journal’s advice on how one
can become a good housewife: “(i) Arrange the house neatly and aesthetically, (ii) Keep the children neat
and disciplined, (iii) Do not shout at children or beat them, (iv) Dress in nice clothes, especially to receive
him when he returns home in the evening, (v) Manage the servants well but do not mix with them, (vi)
Never sit idle, (vii) Do not sit with other women to gossip and make idle talk, (viii) Do not complain to
your husband about problems in household management, (ix) Sing or play a musical instrument to help
your husband relax when he returns home, (x) Speak to him in a soft and pleasant manner, (xi) Do not ever
nag him” (1991, 65).

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of our women putting on silk sarees” (Motiwala 238). He also called upon women from
the higher classes to imitate the philanthropic activities of English ladies, and to perform
all housekeeping activities. Yet, he denounced the aesthetic practices of wearing tight
bodices, artificial hair, and applying face powder like English women: “Women should
show only the natural beauty they possess” (239). It was important for reformers and
cultural revivalists/nationalists to demonstrate the inherent, natural beauty, virtue, and
morality of Indian women over and above western women. This “new Indian woman,”
moreover, was not to be a product of Victorian ventriloquism but she was modeled after
an imagined upper-caste female archetype in India’s ancient past when women were
supposedly educated (in Sanskrit) and were more spiritually grounded. Interestingly, at
the same time, and very often by the same reformers and revivalists, the authenticity of
Indian culture and religious traditions was also being located in a golden, Vedic age.
Thus, both the golden age of Indian womanhood and that of upper-caste Hinduism were
located in the same imagined past. It comes as no surprise then that late nineteenth and
early twentieth century cultural revivalists and nationalists began to couch their
constructions of ideal womanhood in the sdstric language of pativratd (“devoted wife”)
and strl-dharma (“women’s duty”), cementing the connections between ideal middleclass
womanhood and “authentic” upper-caste patriarchal Indian tradition.

The Domestication of Pustimarg Women’s Religious Practices

Returning to Mulji’s critique of Pustimarg, it is his construction of woman as
custodian of tradition and imparter of morality, as well as the heuristic reading of religion

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through the language of morality that fueled Mulji’s attack on the sect. 79 Pustimarg,
according to Mulji, was a tradition that was incompatible with the civilized,
Enlightenment virtues of morality and reason: “It must astonish every one that such
debasing practices should proceed from the religious code of intelligent, if not educated,
persons; and those who are accustomed to think and to test everything by reason and
common sense, can scarcely believe that such fanaticism can exist in an enlightened age”
(1865, 123). For Mulji, the most corrupt and superstitious aspect of the tradition was that
Gosvamls identified themselves as incarnations of Krsna and that female devotees
legitimized this by worshiping Gosvamls as deities and - allegedly - engaging in sexual
relations with them. Mulji describes women as already inherently virtuous and blames
Gosvamls for “ruining the morals” of Pustimarg women whom, because of their lack of
education, were blindly following their gurus: “although woman, normally, has perhaps a
keener perception of right and wrong than man, her intelligence is enfeebled by the want
of education and enlightened society” (128). Gosvamls, on the other hand, were
repeatedly described as over-sexed promiscuous men, who were “addicted to the society
of loose and light life” (MLC 55-56), as hosting “nautch” dances in the havelTs (128) and
indulging in all sorts of “blasphemous adultery and sacrilegious pleasures” (159).

Mulji disapproved of female devotees visiting their gurus in private,
participating in public Holl festivals at the havelT, and singing “lascivious poetry” to
Gosvamls (109). During a testimony in the libel case, a supporter of Mulji, Mathooradas
Lowjee, described what he thought were the motivations behind women singing these

79 Most likely drawing on Enlightenment and Protestant themes Mulji insists on the importance of both
religion and morality: “A man as much needs to worship God as he needs to be moral; and just as you need
to be moral, so also equally you need to worship God. A man does not get salvation unless he has both
religion and morality” (Motiwala 327).

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devotional songs ( garbas ): “Licentious songs are sung by females on occasions of
marriage; but when they are addressed to the Maharajas, the females singing them wish
for carnal intercourse with them [the Maharajas]” (MLC 277-283). Lowjee exclaimed
that “If the Bhattias of Bombay were educated at all, such adulteries would not prevail
amongst them” (Motiwala 283). Thus, according to Mulji and his fellow refonners, the
lack of education among members of the mercantile community - and especially among
their women - was responsible for the irrational beliefs held by Pustimargls with regards
to their gurus (157). Mulji insisted that Pustimarg women needed to reevaluate their
relationship with Gosvamls, to no longer view them as embodiments of divinity and to
cease having immoral relations with them. In January 25, 1857 Mulji even placed a call
in the Satya Prakas for someone to write an essay on “what out to be the ideal moral
relation between spiritual guides and their votaries, specially female ones?” (100). 80

On the one hand, it is clear on many accounts that Mulji objected to the overall
legitimacy of the Pustimarg tradition. On the other hand, while Mulji reproached the
ways in which female practitioners approached their gurus and conducted themselves in
public spaces, he did not explicitly call for the complete abandonment of sectarian ties
with Pustimarg, nor did he break from the tradition himself. Much like his discourses
surrounding gender reform, Mulji’s personal religious views and relationship to
Pustimarg were contradictory at times, and ambiguous at best. For example, Mulji is
remembered as a great advocate of widow remarriage in the Bombay Presidency;
however, he married three times but never to a widow. Even when the wife of his close
friend seth Madhavdas Rughnathdas, passed away, Mulji advised him to marry “a virgin”

80 His friend, and fellow Elphinstone graduate, Narmadashankar is said to have written the best piece
(Motiwala 100).

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(207). 81 Similarly, although he was Pustimarg’s most vitriolic critic, he still initiated his
daughter into the sect and accepted his own guru as a spiritual guide. As Mulji states,
“Jeevanji is still my Guru, but I have stopped visiting him. I look upon the Maharajas as
spiritual guides, not as Gods... I have a daughter round whose neck I put a “Kanthee”
myself, according to the ceremonial forms of my sect” (258).

Mulji’s views on the reformation of Pustimarg are intimately linked to his
ideologies on gender and domestic refonn as well as his positivist view of colonial
modernity. His campaign can be further circ*mscribed within the larger gender reform
discourses of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, which we have discussed
above. At the same time that the home was being reconstituted as the site of authentic
tradition, women’s bodies and corporeal practices (sexual, religious) became closely
aligned with domestic spaces and the production and articulation of proper domesticity.
Any threat on women’s propriety or honor ( cibru ) could jeopardize domestic and familial
dignity and status. Efforts to reform the relationship between Pustimarg women and
Gosvamls, which involved positioning the home as the principal site of female Pustimarg
religiosity, casts women as the primary performers, producers, and pedagogues of
Pustimarg sectarian identity.

Instances where Pustimarg women do not remain silent observers or passive
recipients of refonnist activities further demonstrate the vital role of female practitioners
in the maintenance and articulation of Pustimarg religious identity and culture. For
example, in 1858, a few years before the libel case, the Maharajs in Bombay allegedly

sl It was in fact Madhavdas who insisted that he wanted to marry a widow, which he did in 1871. Her name
was Dhankore bcil, and she was the niece of seth Varjiwandas Madhavdas. This was the first upper-caste or
baniya, widow marriage in the community and they were subsequently ex-communicated by the baniya
mahajan (Motiwala 207-217).

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compelled the editor of the newspaper Chabuk to publish articles discrediting the
refonners, Gokaldas Tejpal and Lakhmidas Khimji. The Chabuk then printed these pieces
on three separate occasions during September and October of 1858. Lakhmidas Khimji
fded a suit for defamation against the editor of the paper, who was then requested to
subpoena one of the Maharajs, Jivanlalji, as a witness. In an effort to avoid appearing in
court, Jivanlalji closed the doors to his haveli, preventing Pustimargls from perfonning
darsan for one week. Many of his followers, who felt that they could not consume their
food without offering it to the svarups in the havelTs, voiced their disapproval (Motiwala
101). In protest, women from the Pustimarg community allegedly took to the streets, and
“showered volleys of abuses on the reformers” (ibid). Amrita Shodhan notes how these
women also symbolically mourned the social deaths of reformers as part of their public
demonstrations (1997, 131). The Maharajs declined to reopen their havelTs until all
Vaisnavs signed a document pledging to never summon a GosvamI to court or write
defamatory articles about them. Motiwala explains how the women from these
communities were ultimately responsible for convincing the men from their families,
which included rich s'eths, Justices of the Peace, and members of the Grand Jury, to sign
the document (186). Ironically, for Mulji and his supporters, the very women who were
the subjects of their reform resisted attempts made to disrupt their religious practices.

Sanskritization and the Defense of Tradition

In addition to questioning the relationship between Gosvamls and female

practitioners, refonners targeting the Pustimarg community attempted, more generally, to

subvert the authority of Gosvamls as leaders of the sect. Mulji in his book, History of the

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Sect of Vallabhacharyas (1865), demonstrates how Gujarati writers before him illustrated
the “profligacy of the Maharajs” in their works. He refers to a Sanskrit drama, Pakhanda
Dharma Khandan (“The Smashing of Heretical Religion”) from the year 1639 in which
the writer, Damodar SvamI, ridicules the founder of Pustimarg, Vallabhacarya (1865,
133-134). He cites excerpts from eighteenth and nineteenth century Gujarati poets, such
as Syamal Bhatta, Akha Bhagat, and Krsnaram, who criticize the lavish lifestyles and
licentious behavior of Gosvamls (134-137). He also provides English language material
from the “Transactions of the Literacy Society of Bombay,” which describes one of the
chief Maharajs of the time as “a man worn to a skeleton and shaking like a leaf, from
debauchery of every kind” (138). Finally, Mulji offers the full testimony from the
Maharaj Libel Case of one of the Bombay Asiatic Society presidents, Dr. John Wilson, a
missionary who is treated as an authority on the sect by the British court. In great
Orientalist fashion, Wilson denounces the Pustimarg tradition as the “way of enjoyment,
in a natural and carnal sense” (141).

During the Maharaj Libel Case, several witnesses were asked whether or not
they considered Gosvamls incarnations of Krsna. In the opening days of the trial, the
head of the baniyd mahdjan, Gopaldas Madhavdas appeared perplexed by this line of
questioning. On the one hand, he denies ever hearing any baniyds regarding their gurus
as “almighty God incarnate in the flesh” (MLC 127). On the other hand, he does go on to
admit how “some people do say that they are gods, while some deny that they are” and
how Gosvamls “deserve to be worshipped with the mind, property and body of their
followers” (127-128). Another witness, Jumnadass Sevaklal, was threatened with a fine
and jail time if he did not answer the question to the satisfaction of the judge. The

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following line of questioning between Mulji’s lawyer, the judge, and the witness

dramatizes the discourse of “priestly imposture,” which infonned both British and

refonnist opinions of Pustimarg (Scott 126):

Mr. Anstey. Do some Banias believe the Maharaj to be a God ?

Witness: We consider him to be our gooroo.

[Judge] Sir M. Sausse: Tell witness if he does not answer the question, he
will be sent to jail.

Witness: Some consider the Maharaja god in the shape of gooroo.

Mr. Anstey: Is Gooroo a God?

Witness: Gooroo is gooroo.

Sir M. Sausse: Tell him if he does not answer the question, most indubitably
will he go to jail.

[Judge] Sir Joseph Arnould: Tell him he is asked what others believe, not as
to his own belief.

Witness: I don’t know if others believe him as God; I consider him as simply
a gooroo. I don’t know under what name others worship him. (MLC 134-
135)

Similarly, even when GosvamI Jadunathji Maharaj himself was cross-examined during
the trial (February 25 th , 1862), he denied the claim that Pustimarg Gosvamls, other than
Vallabhacarya, are worshipped as deities: “I have not heard any one say that we are
worshipped as gods... The devotees regard us as Gurus, as guides to God” (344).

The British court not only interrogated the alleged divine status of Gosvamls
but also questioned their authority as religious leaders. Since Mulji himself argued for the
heterodox nature of Pustimarg, in light of its “modern” formation, his lawyers insisted
that Pustimarg Maharajs are not authentic leaders: “...the persons called Maharajas, most
improperly so called, are not the preceptors of religion.. .The sect of the Vallabhacharyas
is a contemptible sect of 500 years old, and not an ancient ruling sect, as the plaintiff has
averred” (MLC 147). If the tradition itself is not considered authentic, only because it is
not “ancient,” its leadership is also delegitimized on similar grounds. It is not surprising

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that the only form of Hinduism that both the British court and Indian reformers accepted
as being authoritative was Sanskritic/Brahmanic Hinduism, which emphasized Vedic
authority and the values of chastity and asceticism. Jadunathji Maharaj and his supporters
defended their sectarian position against this Orientalist and refonnist attack, even in the
years leading up to the trial, by promoting Sanskrit literature and learning in favor of
Pustimarg vernacular textual sources (such as the Brajbhasa hagiographies or
commentaries by Pustimarg theologians), and also by deemphasizing the explicit, erotic
gopi bhdv that permeates Pustimarg religiosity.

Jadunathji, although he later became the fulcrum of the libel trial, was
respected by Mulji and his fellow reformers. This is because he appeared sympathetic to
the cause of social reform, which he demonstrated by opening a girl’s school in Surat. He
was even invited to preside over the prize distribution at seth Mangaldas Nathubhai’s
school for girls in Bombay in 1860 (Motiwala 30). His father, Brajratanji Maharaj,
frequently discussed the need to eradicate superstitious or “magic” practices in Gujarat
with reformers like Durgaram Mehtaji, the founder of the Manav Dharma Sab ha in Surat
(Shodhan 2001, 121). However, soon the relationship between Jadunathji and the
reformer community grew tense when newspapers like the Satya Prakas and Rast Goftar
zealously began maligning the Pustimarg sect in their articles. Jadunathji responded by
starting his own publications: a journal called Vaisnav Punch (“Arbitrators for
Vaisnavism”) and Swadharma Vardhak ane Sans hay a Chhedak (“Propagator of our
Religion and Destroyer of Doubt”), in which, according to Mulji’s biographer,

“reformers were styled as fools, rogues, atheists, etc.” (31). Jadunathji also established a

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“Society for the Propagation of Vaisnav Dhanna” ( Vaisnava Dharma Prasaraka Sabha)
and released handbills on themes related to Pustimarg (Shodhan 1995, 158).

Joshua Barton Scott (2009), in his study on the representation of Maharajs in
the libel case, demonstrates how in the early issues of the Swadharma Vardhak (in the
early 1860s), Jadunathji attempts to disassociate Pustimarg bhakti from any erotic
themes. In Pustimarg, Jadunathji insists, bhakti is characterized by scikhya bhdv
(“friendship”) and vdtsalya bhdv (“parental love”). He rejects those who claim that the
erotic love of the gopTs for Krsna ( madhuryajar bhdv) is paramount in Pustimarg; “To
love God adulterously is, he assures his reader, a sin” (155). GopTs, Jadunathji explains,
are merely avatars of Parvati or Sita, who have come to be reunited with their husbands,
Siva or Ram, respectively. Thus, in his publications, the love of the gopTs is likened to or
reduced to marital love. A few years later, during the libel case, Jadunathji appears
ambivalent about the place of mddhurya bhdv in Pustimarg bhakti. On the one hand he
appears to vehemently dismiss any claims made to the erotic or “adulterine” love of the
gopTs; 82 elsewhere he acknowledges how the love expressed by the gopTs is exemplary of
the highest devotion: “Adulterine passion is intense love, and the same intensity of love
should be shown towards God. Such love towards God is very good.. .Such an illustration
is given in the Bhagwat” (MLC 361).

Jadunath Maharaj had to repeatedly legitimize his theological claims by
making reference to textual sources, like the Bhdgavata Parana. And although this

82 When Jadunathji is cross-examined by Mr. Anstey on February 27 th , 1862 he replies to a question on the
portrayal of gopTs in Vaisnav texts by stating: “I cannot say whether it is the belief of my sect or not that,
the gopees loved God as their paramour and that God loved them and made them happy” (MLC 349). He
reiterates this point later: “1 have not observed in any book if it is the doctrine of my sect, that true
Vaishnavas, after death, become gopees and have amorous and improper intercourse with God. 1 do not
believe in this doctrine, nor am I aware if any of my followers does or do believe in it” (352).

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Purana is a Sanskrit text, for the most part only select texts, such as the Vedas, the
Manusmrti, and the Gita, were considered authoritative of “authentic” Hindu tradition by
both the refonner community and the British court. Throughout the trial both “modem”
or vernacular texts, like the Brajbhasa vdrtds and commentaries of Pustimarg theologians
were not accepted as representative of “true” Hinduism. John Wilson, in his testimony in
the libel case, explains how “It is an historical fact, that the more modem religions are
less moral and less pure” (254). Thus, throughout the trial, the more “ancient” a (textual)
tradition was detennined to be, the more moral and rational it was considered. In many
ways, Jadunathji Maharaj could only defend Pustimarg as an authentic, moral Hindu
tradition by turning to and invoking Vedic Sanskritic authority, which he does by
insisting how “our faith is not opposed to the doctrines of the Veds and the
Shastras... Krishna occurs in the portion of the Veds” (MLC 344-348). This apologetic
stance is put to test when Jadunathji is asked to comment on the vernacular literature of
the tradition. Although the Maharaj does claim that the Brajbhasa commentaries of
GokulnathjI are considered authoratative in the sect (344), elsewhere he explains how he
has never read any “theological or philosophical work in the Brij Bhasha on the
Vallabhacharya religion” (349). He later states how the CaurdsT and the Do Sau
Vaisnavan ki Vdrtds (hagiographies of Vallabha and Vitthalanatha’s disciples) hold no
authority in the sect whatsoever (354).

Earlier in the trial, the Brajbhasa vdrtds are invoked in an effort to demonstrate
the immoral character of Pustimarg. Runchor Munjee, a Pustimarg baniyd, is called to
testify on a particular vdrtd in which a devotee, Krsnadas, is described as assisting his

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wife in carrying out an adulterous affair. 83 Mulji’s lawyers are interested in knowing
whether the texts condemn or condone such conduct. Runchor Munjee admits that all
characters in the vartci are indeed praised, and after being asked to further comment on
other vartci narratives of questionable morality, he qualifies his statements by saying:
“Not being acquainted with the Shastras, I cannot say whether or not these stories are
repugnant to religion or morality in one sense” (143). In the same testimony, Runchor
Munjee is later questioned about “ras mandalls” - the rumored orgiastic gatherings of
PustimargI Vaisnavs - and the line of questioning again returns to Krsnadas’ vartci.
Throughout the duration of the libel case, as well as in refonnist critiques of Pustimarg in
the years prior to and after the trial, attempts such as these were constantly being made.
Mulji and others collapsed or drew connections between any implicit or explicit
references to “adulterine” or erotic love in the Vaisnav Puranas (such as the Bhagavata,
Visnu, and Brahmavaivarta Puranas) and especially in the Brajbhasa vartcis and
vernacular songs being sung in gopT bhdv, with actual acts of sexual impropriety, such as
the organization of so-called ras mandalls and the alleged sexual relations between

83 The vartci they are referring to appears to be vartci 75 from the Cauras! Vaisnavan ki Varta, which is
about the Brahmin Krsnadas and his wife. The narrative may be summarized as follows: When, one day,
several Vaisnavs visited Krsnadas’ home while he was away, his wife realized there was no food in the
house to offer them. She went to the home of a wealthy trader in the town who had once promised to give
her anything she wanted if she spent the night with him. She asked him for grains and groceries and told
him she would come to his home later that night in exchange for the items. She cooked the food, offered it
to SrlnathjT, and fed the prasad (consecrated food-offerings) to the Vaisnavs. When Krsnadas came home
and realized what his wife had done, he prostrated before her and praised her for preserving their dharma
and moral obligations of feeding fellow Vaisnavs. He told her they needed to fulfill her promise to the
wealthy trader and even carried his wife to the trader’s home so as to make sure her feet to do not become
wet and dirty since it was raining outside. In the end, of course, the wealthy trader realized how spiritually
dedicated the couple are, and prostrated before them. The wife’s chastity remained preserved, and the
couple are praised in the vartci (Dalmia 2001b).

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Gosvamls and their female disciples. 84 Pustimarg was portrayed as a sect that both
institutionally and doctrinally sanctions adultery. Thus, the sect and its leaders could be
delegitimized on grounds of immorality by the British court and not necessarily on
theological claims of “heresy” or “heterodoxy” as Mulji alleged in his article.

In response, Jadunathji repeatedly attempts to draw clear ties between
Pustimarg and Sanskrit culture and learning. He testifies how he opened a Sanskrit school
in Surat, in addition to a Gujarati school, so children may learn the Sanskrit language
(MLC 341). He also insists on locating Pustimarg textually authority only in its
Sanskritic sources and not in the vernacular literature, such as the Brajbhasa vdrtcis . 85
This claim to Sanskritic authority by Jadunathji, by later Gosvamls, and even by lay
followers indexes the ways in which “Hinduism” in general was being constructed by
European Orientalists and by Hindu reformers and revivalists along more upper-caste,
patriarchal, and Sanskritized lines. In order to contextualize Jadunathji’s own persistence
and anxieties over legitimizing Pustimarg vis-a-vis Sanskritic/Vedic authority, it is
helpful to take a look at some of the religious reform movements of nineteenth century
Gujarat.

84 In his History of the Sect of Maharajas in Western India (1865), Mulj i describes these “Ras Mandalls” as
“carnal love meetings,” which are held at the homes of wealthy Vaisnavs. At these meetings, Mulji claims,
"licentious narratives” are read from the CaurasT and Da Sau Bavan Vaisnav ki Vdrtds: “The reading of
these books excites and stimulates the passions, and we may be prepared to expect what must follow”

(. 129 ).

85 In this testimony on March 1 st , 1862 Jadunathji Maharaj explains how “All the sacred books of my sect
are in Sanskrit; they are regarded as authorities even in Brij Bhasa, if they correspond with the Sanskrit
originals” (mlc 360). Amrita Shodhan demonstrates how, after the trial, Jadunathji denounces all the
vernacular literature of Pustimarg in his journal, Swadharma Vardhak ane Sanshaya Chhedak, after
determining that the vernacular commentaries do not match the Sanskrit works (1995, 240fn95).

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Religious Reform and the Quest for Authority

R.L. Raval, in his work Socio-Religious Reform Movements in Gujarat during
the Nineteenth Century (1987), argues that the process of Brahmanization/Sanskritization
in the religious traditions of Gujarat had already begun in the early decades of the
nineteenth century with the efforts of Sahajananda SvamI and his Svaminarayan
sampraday. Sahajananda (1781-1830), a sarvaria Brahmin bom in the outskirts of
Ayodhya, became an asecetic early in his life and arrived in Gujarat in 1800. He
eventually gathered a large following among the Rajput, kathi, kunhl/patidar and artisan
castes of Gujarat and was revered as an incarnation of Visnu-Narayan by his followers.
Although he never explicitly made references to Pustimarg Gosvamls, Sahajananda
earnestly critiqued the debauchery of priests and sadhus of his time, and demanded a
“thorough moral cleansing of the society of Gujarat” (Hardiman 1988, 1907; Williams
27-28). He advocated for “blood-less” fire sacrifices, and even performed several large-
scale yaghas during his lifetime (Raval 15-16). Unlike the hereditary leaders of the
Pustimarg sampraday he is said to have practiced strict celibacy, which included refusing
to make any physical or even ocular contact with females. This practice was endorsed by
later leaders and ascetics ( sadhus ) in the sect and it materialized institutionally with the
gendered separation of space in Svaminarayan temples, the creation of separate temples
just for females, and the exclusive initiation and teaching of female disciples by female
ascetics ( scidhvTs ) of the tradition. 86 Sahajananda demanded that his disciples adhere to a
strict vegetarian diet, relinquish the consumption of alcohol and drugs like opium, cease

86 Among the two-hundred and twelve precepts or regulations Sahajananda included in his Siksapatri
(1826) twenty-six vows correspond to the relationship between women and sadhus: “Even seeing a woman
or her portrait or pronouncing her name was prohibited” (Raval 12).

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“superstitious” practices such as excorcisms, and stop believing in evil spirts or ghosts,
and village gods and goddesses. Instead he encouraged the worship of Narayan-Visnu-
Krsna and the “high-gods” of smarta Brahmins: Siva, Ganesa, Parvatl, and Surya. He
also vehemently attacked the practice of women singing “bawdy and lewd” songs during
Holl festivals and weddings. In fact, Sahajananda is said to have requested a few of the
sects ’sadhus, such as SvamI Muktananda and Premananda, to compose more appropriate
songs for these occasions (Williams 24-27; Hardiman 1988, 1907; Raval 18-19; Parekh
174). Needless to say, many of these injunctions correlate with both contemporaneous
and later refonnist appeals for change in the religious cultures of Gujarat. It is therefore
not surprising that, unlike the Pustimarg sampraday, the Svamlnarayan sect met with
general approval by British officials of the time (Williams 21, 29). 87

Later Gujarati religious refonn societies, like Durgaram Mehtaji’s Manav
Dharma Sabha (founded in Surat in 1844), would go on to criticize both Pustimarg and
Svamlnarayan because of the claim made by PustimargI Gosvamls and Sahajananda to be
living incarnations of Krsna-Visnu. The sabha also denounced superstitious or “magical”
practices, as well as image worship (“idolatry”) and the performance of pilgrimage.
Instead, the society promoted Sanskrit learning, Upanisadic philosophy, and a belief in
one God (Raval 68-72). Due to Durgaram Mehtaji’s own commitment to Sanskrit
literature as well as his monotheistic readings of religion, he and Karsondas Mulji’s
friend and supporter, Narmadshankar Lalshankar, eventually invited Dayananda
Sarasvati on a lecture tour in Surat in 1874 (102). By this time, Dayananda Sarasvati had

87 In the religious literature of the Svamlnarayan sect, the relationship between Sahajananda and Sir John
Malcolm, the Governor of Bombay at the time, is very much celebrated, to the degree that it is alleged
Governor Malcolm even converted into the sect (Williams 5; Hardiman 1988, 1908).

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already arrived in Bombay due to the persistent efforts of Mulji’s close followers, such as
Dharmsi (the brother of Lakhmidas Khimji, who was an important witness in the libel
case) and Jaikishendas Jivanram. 88 Upon arriving in Bombay, Dayananda was also close
to completing the first edition of his famous Satyarth Prakas and he began to launch an
aggressive and successful reform campaign against sectarian traditions like Pustimarg
and Svaminarayan. For Sarasvati, the sects’ ritual practices, theologies, and emphasis on
Puranic literature were the antithesis of Vedic culture, which for him constituted
“authentic” Hinduism. However, his unilateral advocacy of the Vedas and ritual fire
sacrifice, and his admonishment of any fonn of image worship, prevented his Arya Samaj
from gaining a strong hold in parts of Gujarat. For example, in Ahmedbad only about
thirty people joined the Samaj in 1875 - including Gopal Hari Deshmukh and
Mahipatram Rupram - who were already members of the more popular Ahmedabad-
based Prathana Samaj (Raval 140-141).

Mahipatram Rupram (1829-1891), an important educuationalist and
Elphinstone graduate, was associated with institutions like the Gujarat Vernacular
Society, the Vidhava Vivahottejak Mandali (widow remarriage association), Bal Lagna
Nisedhak Mandali (anti-child marriage association), and the Hindu Sansar Sudhar Samaj

88 In Varanasi on November 1869, Dharmsi and Jaikishendas witnessed Dayanada’s public disputation with
orthodox pundits on the issue of whether image-worship was sanctioned by the Vedas (Jordens 140).
Dharmsi and Jaikishendas were impressed with Dayananda’s polemical skills and Sanskrit learning and
urged him to come to Bombay, the head-quarters of Mulji’s crusade against Pustimarg. Although, by this
time, Mulji had passed away (in 1871) he did publish a short book called “Ved Dharma and Sacred Books
after Vedas,” in which he discredits Puranic literature in favour of the Vedas. In this text Mulji also refers
to Hinduism as “Arya Dharma” (Motiwala 73, 318). Furthermore, as we know, Mulji named his newspaper
Satya Prakas. Mulji’s reform activities and writings must have influenced Dayananda Saraswati’s own
campaigns and ideologies. In addition to sharing their general aversion towards Puranic literature, image
worship, and the Pustimarg sect, Dayananda titled his most important work Satyartha Prakas and named
his society “Arya Samaj.” The Arya Samaj was established in Bombay in 1875, within a year after
Dayananda’s arrival in western India, and Mulji’s supporters and friends became the founding members of
the society (Jordens 141-142).

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(Hindu reform society). As an educationalist, he was a member of the Hope Text-Book
Committee and translated many English texts into Gujarati. He wrote several books
himself, including one on his travels to England (.England ni Musdfarf), a satirical novel
on the relationship between mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws (Sdsu Vahuni Laden), as
well as biographies on Durgaram Mehtaji and Karsondas Mulji. In 1871, he eventually
helped Bholanath Sarabhai establish the Ahmedabad Prathana Samaj, and when Sarabhai
passed away in 1886, Mahipatram Rupram became the society’s president (133-134). The
Ahmedabad Prathana Samaj, which was modeled after the Bombay-based Prathana
Samaj founded Dr. Atmaram Pandurang, shared a similar ideological platfonn as
Durgaram Mehtaji’s Manav Dharm Sabha. 89 That is, like Mehataji, Bholanath Sarabhai
advocated for the worship of one “omnipresent God,” a God who should be worshipped
“not by external ceremonies, but only by heart” (136). Sarabhai was critical of “idol
worship,” did not believe in the perfonnance of rituals like sraddha (ancestor rituals),
acts of pilgrimage, and, not surprisingly, detested the leaders of the Pustimarg sampraddy
(136).

It is clear that the religious refonn movements of nineteenth century Gujarat
share a general aversion towards Pustimarg. The Svamlnarayan samprday, by contrast,
escaped some of their criticism. For example, Narmadashankar Lalshankar, who was one
of Karsondas Mulji’s greatest supporters and reform-minded Gujaratis of his time, did
have some reservations about the Svamlnarayan sect but nevertheless felt that

89 The Prathana Samaj was established in Bombay by Dr. Atmaram Pandurang in 1867. However, as
Christine Dobbin illustrates, the Society also owed its formation to the encouragement offered by the
Brahmo Samajis of Bengal, including K.C. Sen, the President of the Bengal Brahmo Samaj, who visited
Bombay in 1864 and 1867. It was apparently under the influence of Sen, as well as the English social
reformer, Mary Carpenter, who was visiting Bombay at the time that the Prathana Samaj was finally
established (Dobbin 1972, 249-250).

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Sahajananda introduced “many changes for the bettennent of the social life in Gujarat”
(Raval 101). Narmadashankar was also critical of Dayananda Sarasvati’s promotion of
Vedic literature and ritual. It would seem that for someone like Narmadshankar - and for
many other Gujaratis who perhaps became disenchanted with Pustimarg due to the
controversies surrounding the sect - the Svamlnarayan sampraday provided a “middle-
ground,” a reconciliation between the extreme views held by Dayananda against image
worship, bhakti practices, and Puranic literature, on the one hand, and the impropriety
apparently condoned and embodied by Pustimarg Gosvamls, on the other hand.
Svamlnarayan provided a familiar Visnu-Krsnaite ritual culture, which was modeled on
Pustimarg after all, but also institutionalized gender exclusion and patriarchal values by
separating female disciples from both the sect’s male leaders and male followers.

Finally, although the late-nineteenth century activities of the Vaisnav
traditionalist, Harischandra (1850-1885), were centered in Banaras and not Gujarat per
se, his concerns, in many ways, were common to the reform and revival movements of
the period. Like his contemporaries, Harischandra’s prolific engagement with print
culture and his involvement with the Dharma Sabha and Tadiya Samaj were motivated by
a concern of what it means to be “a Hindu” in a modernizing world. More importantly,
however, a focus on Harischandra is valuable because, like Mulji, Harischandra was
interested in addressing these issues as a Pustimargl. 90 Vasudha Dalmia (1997), in her
comprehensive and detailed study on the life and literary activities of Harischandra, notes
how Harischandra (like Mulji) was critical of the opulent lifstyles and sexual exploits of

90 Like Mulji, who was an editor for the Stribodh, Harischandra was also an editor for the first women’s
journal in Hindi, th e Balabodhini (Dalmia 1997, 129).

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Pustimarg Gosvamls. Harischandra also insisted that Gosvamls could not demand or
exercise religious authority by virtue of their status and positions as members of the
Vallabha-kw/; they had to “prove their credentials” (365). However, similarities with
Mulji end here. That is to say, although Harischandra called for a “cleansing” of Hindu
religion, he extended it to Vedic religion as well, such as the practice of Vedic animal
sacrifices (359). On the one hand, his ideologies were couched in the language of
Sanskritic traditions (such as his invocation of hindu dharma or veda purana vihit drya
dharma) and, like Durgaram Mehtaji and Bholanath Sarabhai, he presented a strictly
monotheistic view of Hindu traditions. On the other hand, unlike his contemporaries,
Harischandra never distanced himself from his Pustimarg or theistic affiliations; instead,
he constructed his vision of a pan-Indian Hindu ( sanatana ) dharma through the prism of
a Pustimarg-Vaisnav ethos. Harischandra defended image worship and saw bhakti as
constitutive of “modem Hinduism” (340-390).

Sanskritization and Middle-Class Moralities

The nineteenth century reform movements of Gujarat index the ways in which
the rising middle-classes promoted new ideas of status, respectability, and comportment,
which, as we have discussed above, were mapped onto the bodies of family women. The
middle-classes also wanted to position themselves as morally superior to both the upper-
classes and lower-classes. Reformers like Karsondas Mulji criticize the upper class seth
community for their political and social apathy as well as their opulent spending habits
on caste dinners and on rites-of-passage like weddings, pregnancies, and death rituals
(Motiwala 352). Even in debates on early marriage and consummation, “high and

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luxurious living” is blamed for early puberty (Gidumal 1889, xxvi). Both the upper and
lower classes are berated for their lack of (westem/English) education, and reformers see
this as the cause of seths’ irrational acceptance of the divinity of Gosvamls and in their
belief in the ritual efficacy of religious ceremonies and acts of pilgrimage. Members of
the lower classes and castes are criticized for their superstitious beliefs in “magic,”
exorcism, animal sacrifices, the evil-eye, possession, and their worship of village gods
and goddesses. 91

Refonnist societies like the Prathana Samaj, Manav Dharma Sab ha, or the
Arya Samaj sought to establish their moral superiority over sects like Pustimarg and
Svaminarayan on rational grounds: the sects are critiqued for their ritual orthodoxy,
“polytheistic” beliefs, and their followers’ deification of Pustimarg Gosvamls and
Sahajananda Svaml. However, reform-minded Gujaratis like Narmadashankar, who were
sympathetic towards a sect like Svaminarayan, project the moral superiority of the sect
over one like Pustimarg based on the patriarchal and Brahmanical values prescribed by
Sahajanand. Finally, as noted above, Pustimarg Gosvamls, such as Brajratanji Maharaj,
the father of Jadunathji, engaged in discussions with the likes of Durgaram Mehtaji about
the need to eradicate superstitious or magic practices in Gujarat. Here, a Pustimarg
GosvamI is seeking to establish the moral superiority of Pustimarg by distancing the sect
from what are considered “popular,” rural, and lower-caste religious practices of the “un¬
educated.” Similarily, Hariachandra critiqued Tantric-based ritual practices - along with

91 For example, in 1849 the well-known Gujarati poet, reformer, and Svaminarayan follower, Dalpatram
Dhayabhai, submitted a prize-winning essay to the Gujarat Vernacular Society on the various
“superstitious” practices of Gujarat, such as possession, the belief in ghosts, and the evil-eye. The book is
titled Bhut Nibandh, and his friend and colleague, Alexander Forbes, later translated it into English, with
the title “Demonology and Popular Superstitions of Gujarat” (1849).

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Vedic religion (such as animal sacrifices) - saw (Vaisnav) bhakti as a unifying force
under which all the “sectarianisms” existing in India could be subsumed. Thus, by
invoking practices and values such as western education, Sanskritic traditions, or
“superstitious” and Tantric practices, intellectual elites from various backgrounds -
members of the English educated middle-classes, Sanskritists such as Dayananda, as well
as religious leaders like Pustimarg Gosvamls and Harischandra - were all engaged in
various degrees of moral positioning with one another.

It is also important to note that the vast majority of founders and participants of
these social and religious reform societies in the Bombay Presidency drew from the
Brahmin castes, with the exception of a few baniyas and bhatiyas like Karsondas Mulji,
Mangaldas Nathubhai, and Lakhmidas Khimji. Ironically, although the practice of
excommunication from caste was critiqued by refonners, individuals like Durgaram
Mehtaji, Mulji, and Bholanath Sarabhai all respected caste rules of purity and pollution.
For example, when the Rast Goftar tatha Satya Prakas urged the formation of reformist
“clubs” or societies, it was made clear that meals would not be provided on site to
mitigate anxieties around inter-caste dining (Shodhan 2001, 124).

What we can conclude from this discussion is that throughout the late
nineteenth and early twentieth century, middle-class moralities and status is being
articulated by either one or all of the following markers: urbanization, an English
education, an adherence to upper-caste values of purity and pollution or Sanskritization,
the critique of “superstitious” practices, and the promotion of the patriarchal nuclear
family. Women become implicated in this process of status production by the degree to
which they embodied or breached any of these “moraf’criteria.

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Reform and Revival: Pustimarg Post-Libel

The swift circulation, in both English and Gujarati newspapers, of the court’s
proceedings from the libel case certainly helped to reify reformist efforts to malign the
Pustimarg sect and its leaders. It is perhaps not too much of an exaggeration to say that
after this point - with the exception of a few scholarly writings - almost every English
source alluding to the Pustimarg sect (as well as Indian religious sources with a reformist
angle) used the events surrounding the libel case as a henneneutic lens through which
they filtered their discussion of Pustimarg. 92 The sect embodied all that was “Other” in
Orientalist discourses of India: the over-sexed Indian male, orgiastic religious rituals,
women as victims of Brahmin male corruption and vulgarity, and an effete God.
Ultimately, the sect epitomized the moral degradation and irrationality of modern
Hinduism. Within the mercantile community, the refonn activities surrounding the libel
case are said to have elicited a series of schisms within the bhdtiyd caste, which may have
led to the caste group’s eventual disintegration (Shodhan 2001, 180; Simpson 2008, 101).
According to Karsondas Mulji’s biographer, B.N. Motiwala, most members of the
Pustimarg community sympathised with Jadunathji Maharaj throughout the case. He
explains how “Even in the Kapole caste to which Karsondas belonged, ninety nine per
cent of that caste was dead against Karsondas” (137). Mulji himself admitted that not
more than fifty seths in all of Bombay were responsive to reform efforts, and only two

92 There are, of course several exceptions to such representations of Pustimarg. Two notable works include
F.S. Growse’s Mathura, A District Memoir (1882) and George Grierson’s Modern Hinduism and its Debt
to the Nestorians (1907), both of which Vasudha Dalmia underscores in her work on Hariscandra (1850-
1885) and his efforts to systemize and consolidate Vaisnav identities in the nineteenth century. Growse
attempts to argue for doctrinal and ritual similarities between Christianity and Pustimarg, whereas Grierson
viewed bhakti religion (including Krsna bhakti as propounded by Vallabha) as characterizing “mainstream”
Hindu religion in India. Although he does make note of the Libel Case, he explains how such degenerancy
is no longer present in his age (Dalmia 1995, 196-199).

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prominent seths from the baniya and bhatiya communities (Mangaldas Nathubhai and
Lakhmidas Khimji, respectively) explicitely supported Mulji in his campaign. According
to the Rast Goftar, only four or five large families in the city had attempted to stop the
women of their homes from visiting havelTs in the months leading up to the libel case,
and even such efforts did not prove successful (Shodhan 1995, 224). In the months
following the closure of the case, the paper continued propagating messages of guilt by
stating that men who sent their wives to the havelTs of Gosvamls, and risked their
family’s honor and reputation should be ashamed of themselves.

The libel case was perhaps indicative of the larger concern the baniya and

bhatiya communities had in monitoring the public movement and activities of women

from their families. For example, during his testimony in the case, the bhatiya seth

Bhimjee Purushottam, described how during a caste meeting in 1855 a resolution was

reached, which stipulated among other things that

Bhattia women should not go about in their Garries without ‘purdas’ or
screens. It was also resolved that the women should not sit in the roads on
the occasion of any death in the caste; also that they should attend early at
the general caste dinner, etc. It was also proposed to prevent women from
going astray on the pretense of visiting the Maharaja’s temples; but that
proposition was not acted upon. (MLC 333)

During his cross-examination by Mr. Anstey, Varjivandas Madhavdas voices a similar

concern made by the bhatiya s: “There was talk, I believe, among the Bhattias that their

females should go at proper hours to the temples of the Maharajas. The women were to

go only in the morning and evening. This was about ten months ago” (MLC 140). As

Amrita Shodhan indicates, discussions such as these centered on questioning “the

morality of the temple and its effect on women, family and the home” (1995, 224). At the

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same time that the home was being reconstituted as the primary site of cultural
production, refonnist debates promoted a repertoire of actions that characterized “proper”
public conduct for women, such as parda, observing proper mourning behavior, cease
singing “obscene” songs, and demarcating when, how, and if women can go to the havelT.
This “new patriarchy” ushered in by the social and religious reform movements of the
nineteenth century were not necessarily advocating for the total removal of women from
public spaces, rather they were concerned with regulating and monitoring their
movements. For example, as we discussed above, what disconcerted Mulji and perhaps
many families about the presence of women in havelTs was not only the potential threat of
“liscentious” activitiy between guru and lay woman, but also the close interaction of
female and male lay practitioners that occured in the havelT during darsan periods, in
public festivals like Holl, et cetera. This is why several recommendations were made as
to the appropriate times women should go for darsan at the havelT (such as from 7 a.m. to
9 a.m., and to not visit in the afternoons) and what they can do there (they should enter
the zenana only to meet the Maharaj’s wife and daughter, and they should not be allowed
to visit the Maharaj to offer him fruit in private). The complete exclusion of women’s
participation in temple-based activities was not necessarily advocated. Though, when this
almost did occur in 1858, when Jivanlalji Maharaj in an effort to resist appearing in court
closed the doors to the havelT, women from the community vehemently challenged this
attempt to totally prevent them from visiting the temple. Ultimately, Jivanlalji re-opened
the havelT doors when many women convinced their husbands to sign a document, which
stipulated that no member of the community could solicit the Maharaj to appear in court.

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For the most part, reformers, like Mulji, were not even recommending a
complete break from the sect but were encouraging shifts in the ways female lay
practitioners approached the tradition and its leaders. Indeed Mulji himself did not totally
abandon his connections to Pustimarg. He, along with other refonners, wanted lay
practitioners to regard Gosvamls as spiritual leaders and not as living-incarnations of
Krsna. The successful expansion of the Svamlnarayan sect in Gujarat demonstrates that
regulating the movement of women in temple contexts worked: it was not that women
could no longer visit a temple but their visit had to be marked by certain actions, such as
adhering to the gendered separation of space in the temple and by the gendered
relationship between the female sadhvi and lay woman. Finally, although I have not come
across examples where Pustimarg Gosvamls requested that the content of garbds and
dhols be changed, Sahajananda of the Svamlnarayan tradition did explicitely attempt to
do this. Again, women were not necessarily encouraged to abandon the singing of
devotional or wedding songs in public altogether. Instead the songs had to be cleansed
and sanitized by removing any “vulgar” or erotic connotations so as to make them more
palatable to emerging middle-class moralities and tastes.

As for institutional changes, drawing on D.D. Sampat’s writings in the bhdtiyd
caste journal (Bhdtiyd Yuvak), Edward Simpson explains how refonners within the
bhdtiyd community called for both an organizational and doctrinal shift in the Pustimarg
community during this period. Doctrinally, they urged that the “original” writings of
Vallabha and texts like the Gita should be taught at havelTs in place of Brajbhasa
Pustimarg texts. It was proposed that a committee should be established to overview
religious literature in havelTs, and classes should be offered to practitioners on the

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improved texts. Institutionally, refonners wanted women to cease going to the havelTs for
early morning and late night darsans and that eventually female Gosvamls be introduced
so as to better supervise the movement of female Pustimargls in the havelTs. Finally,
refonners called upon Gosvamls to relinquish their sole monopoly of Pustimarg temples
by denouncing their status as divinities or incarnations of Krsna and to finally open the
havelTs to public “ownership”: “Private ownership of the havelTs and their profits was to
be abolished in favor of a general management by the Vaishnava society” (Sampat 1938
qtd in Simpson, 100).

Both Amirta Shodhan (2001) and Shandip Saha (2004) corroborate Sampat’s
description of the potential ramifications of these late nineteenth century refonn efforts
on the Pustimarg sect. Shodhan notes how leading theogians from the sect, particularly
Pandit Gattulalji and Devakinandacarya, actively sought to re-fashion elements of
Pustimarg throughout the 1870s in Bombay city. For example, they engaged in a series of
public lectures on “the principles of Vaishnava dharma” and guru -sisya (guru-devotee)
relationships, published handbills, and drew on the sect’s Sanskrit literary sources, such
as the SubodhinT, Vallabhacarya’s commentary on the Bhdgavata Parana (Shodhan 180).
Devakinandacarya is said to have preached weekly on themes related to “Vaisnav
dharma and sanatan dharma ,” and demanded that lay practitioners not touch the feet of
Gosvamls. Furthermore, in response to critiques launched by Madhavtirtha Sankaracarya
of Dwarka/Dakore Devakinandacarya published a work titled Pustimarg Vedic he
(Vaidya 251). Saha explains how the then tilkdyat (chief GosvamI) of Nathdwara,
Govardhanlal, also proposed a return to Pustimarg Sanskrit treatises and provided

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accessible commentaries for practitioners to read. In addition, the tilkayat advocated for
the opening of schools to teach the “younger generation” about Pustimarg (310).

Briefly, if we take a look at contemporary Pustimarg, many of these changes
appear to have materialized in some form or another. This is not to suggest that there is a
direct causal relationship between the two, however, it is important to take note of these
late nineteenth century transformations and their on-going effects. For example, the
recommendation that schools be opened for the purpose of teaching individuals about
Pustimarg appears to have found its culmination when the Dwarkadls havelT in Kankroli
established a centre known as “Vidya Vibhag.” This institution appears to have formed
over several decades during the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth
century. According to the havel ?s contemporary website (www.vallabhkankroli.org) , the
Vidya Vibhag was most active during the 1930s-1940s but seems to be less operational
today. The site describes the Vidya Vibhag as “not only [now] the centre of collection of
literature and the centre of Academic activities but also the centre of Arts like painting,
poetry etc.” In addition to funding an extensive library, other insitutitions established
under the auspices of the Vidya Vibhag include the Dwarkesh Sanskrit Paatshala, with
branches in Mathura and Halol, the Balkrishna Pushtimargiya Pustakalaya, the Swayam
Sevak Mandal Vibhag, a Dwarkesh Kavi Mandal, Dwarkesh Chitrashala, and the
Dwarkesh Suddhadvaita Brahmcharyashram. In the brief biographical sketches of lay
Pustimargls included in the Gujarati historical work, Pustimargna 500 Vars Gauravpurn
Itihas (Shah 1952), a Pustimarg woman by the name of Yashodaben Ramanlal Shastri (b.
1913) is described as having passed examinations offered by such institions as the

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Pustimargiya Vaisnav Mahasabha, the Balkrsna Suddhadvaita Mahasabha, as well as the
Kankroli Vidhya Vibhag itself (155).

Although it is not certain when such “classes” or “examinations” in Pustimarg
theology for lay practitioners began to occur, today many Pustimargls, including both
adults and children, participate in such pedagogical activities either by attending
Pustimarg sivTrs (“retreats”), classes at their local havells, or by taking long-distance
classes and examinations. More recently, GosvamI Vrajeshkumar of the Kankroli havell
established the “Shri Vakpati Foundation” in 1995-96, with its headquarters located at the
Sri Bethak mandir in Baroda. According to the same Kankroli havell website the Vakpati
Foundation is described as a charitable trust, established “with a view to undertake
multifarius activities for the social, religious, spiritual and overall upliftment of mankind,
leading to highest sublimation of their life, by propagating Indian Vedic Philosophy
especially propounded by Jagad Guru Shri Vallabhacharyaji.” Vrajeshkumar Gosvaml’s
eldest son, Vagishkumarji GosvamI, is the Foundation’s president and managing trustee
today. Since 1996, the Foundation has established a Pustimargiya Open University (the
SriVallabha Vidya Pith), which offers long-distance courses in Pustimarg theology and
philosophy, and even grants a PhD if a student completes all ten years of the degree.
Another open university, the Vitthalesh Vidyapith, was established in 2006 and offers
seven years’ worth of courses. Other projects of the Foundation include compiling a
Pustimarg Encyclopedia, with a focus on Suddhadvaita philosophy, charitable work for
“the sick and hungry,” publishing a bi-monthly magazine (Charnamrt Raspcin), releasing
audio-video media and literary publications, as well as organising a “shri Vallabh Young
parivar for inculcating Pustimargiya Sanskar in [the] younger generaton.”

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The libel case also successfully demonstrated the undoing of the exclusive
social and religious authority wielded by PustimargI Gosvamls as well as by caste leaders
of baniya and bhdtiyci mahdjans. Through their engagement with the colonial judicial
system, Gosvamls, seths, and ordinary baniyd-bhdtiya caste members were treated as
citizens, all equal and subject to the same universal law. In some instances, even the
religious authority of Gosvamls over Pustimarg temples was starting to be undennined
when several Vaisnavs began building ha veils through the 1870s and 80s. Although these
new temples followed the daily liturgy of Pustimarg havelTs, they no longer required a
GosvamI presiding as the sole custodian. Instead such havelTs were to be named after the
patrons who financed their construction and were controlled by a board of trustees.
Shodhan describes how, in Bombay, during the 1870s and 1880s some seths like
Gokuldas Tejpal (a bhdtiyci leader and reformer), Mulji Jetha (a bhdtiyd leader) and
Varjivandas Madhavdas, the kdpol baniya leader and supporter of Gosvamls during the
libel case, were involved in building new temples (2001, 181). There are also many
examples of “trust havelTs ” being established later during the twentieth century, such as
the Murlidhar temple built by the Thackerseys in Santa Cruz in 1960, the Vallabhasadan
temple in Ahmedabad (f. 1954), the GovardhannathjI manclTr (f. 1995), and numerous
others since. 93

Finally, print culture was another arena through which lay Pustimargls began
to, in some ways, circumvent the religious authority of the GosvamI in the late nineteenth

93 It is important to note that with the Charitable and Religious Trust Act of 1920 and the Bombay Public
Trust Act of 1950, all religious and charitable public trusts came under the administration of the Indian
government. This included Pustimarg havelTs operated by Gosvamls as well. Meanwhile in “trust havelTs,’’'’
built and administered by Pustimarg lay persons and where no GosvamI presides, all ritual activities are
performed by Brahmin ritual specialists known as mukhiyas. There are numerous such trust havelTs being
constructed across Gujarat every year.

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and early twentieth centuries. As discussed in chapter two, lay Pustimargls engaged in the
publication of Pustimarg performance literature, vcirtci materials, and translations and
commentaries on Pustimarg theology and philosophy. An individual like Lallubhai
Pranvallabhdas Parekh (1850-1911), who published a series of books in Gujarati and
English on Pustimarg themes, serves as a good example of an invidual who was molded
by the social and religious reform movements of the late nineteenth century. Parekh came
from a Pustimarg family in Nadiad and moved to Ahmedabad to acquire an English
education. After working as a teacher in the high schools of Ahmedabad, Rajkot, and
Kheda, he furthered his education and eventually become a judge. Perhaps through his
friendship with Manilal Nathubhai Dwivedi (1858-1898), the Guajrati educationalist,
Vendantist, and Elphinstone graduate, Parekh joined the Prathana Samaj - only to later
abandon it. He also became a member of the Theosophical Society, which, with the help
of Nathubhai Dwivedi had begun to establish several branches in Gujarat and Kathiawad.
Parekh would eventually go on to become the Chair Person of the Theosophical Society’s
Nadiad branch for the remainder of his life. However, in the meantime, and as a staunch
Pustimarg!, Parekh was also closely acquainted with Pustimarg Gosvamls, like GosvamI
Jaydevlalji Maharaj, whom he met in 1890-91, and GosvamI Narsinhlalji Maharaj.

During this time, he published books on Vallabhacarya’s life and on themes related to
Pustimarg theology and philosophies, such as Sri Vallabha carita, Sri Krsna Lilamrit, Sri
Malciprasarigsar, Srimad VallabhacaryajT Nu Vrtant, Srimad Vallabhacdryajikrt
Tattvadip, et cetera.

In April 1909, Parekh appears to have presented a work in English at the
Convention of Religion in Calcutta. In the essay, entitled Srimad Vallabhdcarya: His

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Life, Philosophy, and Teachings, Parekh depicts Pustimarg theology as wholly in line
with Vedic knowledge and the Gita. He of course makes no mention of the Brajbhasa
vdrtds or of the practice of sevd. When he does discuss sevd, he argues that “mental
sevd”(mdnasi sevd) is the most superior. Parekh’s reading of Pustimarg in this light is not
unfounded since he is clearly drawing from Vallabha, Vitthalanatha, and later Pustimarg
theologians’ discourses on Pustimarg philosophy. What is noteworthy, however, is that
he is not a PustimargI GoswamI or traditional scholar, but a lay practitioner, who was
very active in his role as a defender of Pustimarg identity in the face of reformist
critiques. He acknowledges how “the nineteenth century did unfavorable injustice to
Srhnad Vallabhacarya.” His active role in perpetuating a Vaisnav identity through print
culture and through institutions like “societies” is illustrated by his efforts in establishing
a PustimargI library in Nadiad, and by being among the key founders of both the Gujarat
Vaisya Sabha in 1903, and the Vaisnav Parisad in 1906 (Kesav Seth, 47-65).

Shodhan also notes how towards the end of the nineteenth century, the printing
and publishing of Vaisnav texts increased rapidly. Pustimarg journals like the Vaisnav
Dhannpatak solicited help from lay Pustimargls Vaisnavs for the acquisition and
publication of texts, and to raise funds for building libraries that would house Pustimarg
literature (2001, 181). The engagement of figures like Lallubhai Parekh with print culture
should be understood as part of a larger process of “democratizing” Sanskrit learning,
which was perhaps most notably initiated by reformers like Rammohun Roy and his
Brahmo Samaj in Bengal. Though not all of the texts that lay Pustimargis helped circulate
through publication were Sanskrit treatises, their engagement with print culture

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nevertheless demonstrates another mode by which the authority of Gosvamls was being
challenged and reconstituted.

By way of concluding, I turn to the question of women’s participation in
Pustimarg during this period of reform. Thus far, it is clear that Pustimarg women were
involved in the sect’s living religious culture as patrons, practioners, pilgrims, and as
perfonners of devotional singing. The high degree of anxiety around Pustimarg women’s
activities during the libel case is itself an indication of women’s active positions in the
sect. However, this is also illustrative of the gendered mode by which reformers have
always used women as discursive sites to debate tradition, morality, patriarchal values,
and caste/class politics. Furthennore, as discussed above, women were also not the silent
objects of reform; they protested their disapproval at Jivanlalji Maharaj’s attempts to
close the havelT doors for darsan by lobbying volleys at the reformers, and pressuring
their husbands to rectify the situation by signing the documents Jivanlalji requested.

Women’s roles as patrons can also be deduced from Jadunathji Maharaj’s
testimony in the libel case when he denies having told Lakhmidas Khimjee that
improving the behavior of other Maharajs with their female devotees cannot be
accomplished, or must be done gradually, because “our income is chiefly derived from
females” (testimony from February 27 th 1862, MLC 346). Jadunathji Maharaj also states
several times how many women visit the havelT daily and enter the zenana to visit his
wife and children (testimony from Tuesday February 25 th and Thursday the 27 th , MLC
343, 347). Historical examples of female patrons include James Tod’s description of the
large donation made by a widow at Nathdwara, which was discussed in the first chapter
(see page 45). Furthennore, a court case in the Supreme Court of India from 1969

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between Mahalakshmi bahujT (wife of the GosvamI) and Ranchhoddas Kalidas over
whether a haveli is considered a public space or a private property reveals the historical
donative activities of several female patrons. The case notes that in 1861 Jasu bdT gifted
“two fields and a house” to the Maharaj of the GokulnathjI haveli in Nadiad. In 1881, one
Harkore belt made certain bequests in her will for providing the food-offerings ( sdmagrt)
for the GokulnathjI svariip, and finally, in 1888 and 1897, two bequests were executed
from the will of a Vasant belt for the GokulnathjI haveli as well as for the bahujT.

In the Pustimargna 500 Vars Gauravpurn Itihds (1952), Shah provides several
short biographies of female Pustimargls who lived towards the late nineteenth and early
twentieth century in Gujarat and Bombay. The chapter is entitled “Vaisnav Sannarlona
Jlvancaritro.” Rukshmani Damordas (b. 1864, the wife of seth Balabhai Damordas, see
page 81), was born into a Vaisnav family, and is described as a very devoted follower of
the sect. After accompanying Balkrishnalalji Maharaj of Kankroli on a pilgrimage tour to
Braj (Braj parikrama ) with her family, she began performing sevel to her personal svariip
at home. She would invite other Pustimargls and Gosvamls to her home for satsahg
(“religious gathering”), and attend Bhdgavata Parana kathds on a weekly basis. She is
said to have annually made piligrimage tours to Braj and Nathdwara, where she offered
charitable donations of clothes and food to individuals, as well as made donations to the
local temples. Rukshmani is also said to have financially supported the publication of
Pustimarg texts, and urged her husband to build a dharmasbla (“rest-house”) and help
with the renovations of havelis (150-151).

Lalitagauri Popatlal Shah (1890-1947), whose husband was an accountant

general and the director of civil supply in Bombay - a couple who moved in high society

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- would never dine with her husband and family outside the home. Instead she would
only eat after offering food to her Thakurjl svarup. She is described as spending her time
reading Pustimarg texts, singing kTrtans, and perfonning sevd at home. She also went on
pilgrimage to places like Nathadwar and Braj, where she would make donations (152-
153). Another woman, named “Golok vasl” Mani Ba, was born into a Vaisnav family in
1880. Her inlaws, who apparently followed another sectarian tradition, would pose
problems for Mani Ba because of her affiliation with Pustimarg. It was only after the
death of her mother-in-law that her house was visited by Gosvamls and other
“experienced” Pustimargls. She would perfonn sevd to her SrinathjI svarup with the help
of her three daughters and son daily, and her daughters are described as being very good
in singing kTrtans. She, along with other women, organized satsahgs at their homes and
Mani Ba also went on pilgrimage to places like Braj, Nathdwara, and Kankroli over a
dozen times (153). Finally, Chandaben Bhaidas (b. 1844) from Bombay, who was
married to Bhaidas Maganlal, is described as perfonning sevd daily for one hour. She
also spent large amounts of money organizing Bhdgavata saptdhs (seven day discourses
on the Bhdgavata Parana ) in her home, and would invite other Pustimargls at her home
for satsahg. In addition to making donations to Pustimarg insitutions (like the “Lad-seva
Samaj”), she is also described as being a great supporter of female education; she
apparently donated 10,000 Rupees to a girl’s school in Surat. She donated money to the
Gujarati Hindu Ladies’ organization and was even president of a ladies’ group in her
caste community (152).

These examples describe the religious and social activities of women who
lived through the reformist activities of the late nineteenth century. From these

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descriptions, lay women can be understood as key participants in the maintenance and
embodiment of a Pustimarg sectarian identity. Examples of their religious activities
include making donations to havelTs, going on pilgrimage, singing Pustimarg devotional
songs, organizing kathds and satsahgs in their homes, and perfonning domestic sevci
daily. Taking into consideration the potential costs of undertaking annual pilgrimage,
offering gifts to havelTs and to their Maharajs and bahujis, as well as organizing
Bhagavata kathds and patronizing and participating in women’s organizations, it is clear
that many of these women came from wealthy, upper-class Pustimarg families.

Conclusion

In the nineteenth and early-twentieth century socio-religious reform
movements of Gujarat, women and their religious activities became the sites upon which
family status and respectability were debated. In the final chapter of this thesis, we trace
these discourses to the present, and discuss how contemporary women’s domestic ritual
activities become implicated in the production and display of an elite Pustimarg sectarian
identity and family prestige. Before we can do this, it is important to gain further insight
into the religious lives and activities of Pustimarg women in the sect’s history. Thus far,
chapters one, two, and three have highlighted several elements of Pustimarg women’s
religious activities through the prism of historical texts, refonnist writings, and socio¬
religious movements. However, in order to appreciate the vital role Pustimarg women
have played - and continue to play - in maintaining and perpetuating the sect’s living
traditions, in the following chapter we turn to traditional sources of Pustimarg social
history: the Brajbhasa hagiographies ( vdrtds ) and the popular poetic compositions

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produced by Pustimarg women in Gujarati and Hindi. On the one hand, as texts that

straddle the boundaries between hagiography and history, the vcirtcis provide us with a
sense of how the tradition itself perceived of lay women’s social positions and religious
roles in Pustimarg. On the other hand, the devotional writings of PustimargI women
demonstrate one of the significant ways in which women have participated in the sect,
namely as authors and performers of Pustimarg devotional songs.

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CHAPTER 4

Gender and Genres:

Towards a Social History of Women in Pustimarg

Throughout the social history of the Pustimarg tradition, women have been the
key actors in the performance of domestic ritual. They also remain the primary organizers
of Pustimarg-related social activities, such as satsang gatherings, bhajan mandalls
(“devotional singing groups”), and Bhdgavata Parana kathdis (commentarial discourse on
the Bhdgavata Pur ana). In an effort to historically contextualize my discussion of
contemporary Pustimarg women’s religious participation in the following chapter, the
present chapter outlines a social history of women’s roles in Pustimarg more broadly. I
do this by turning to traditional sources of Pustimarg history, (1) the hagiographies which
narrate the lives of both Vallabha’s and Vitthalanatha’s exemplary disciples, and (2) the
devotional compositions written and sung by Pustimarg women.

My discussion of Pustimarg women is divided between female lay practitioners
and those women who hail from the GosvamI household, namely the wives ( bahujis ) and
daughters (betijTs) of Maharajs. In addition to the brief historical references provided in
the previous chapters, the sect’s hagiographical literature known as vdirtbs (“accounts”)
are a rich source for understanding Pustimarg women’s religious practices. Through
portraying the exemplary devotion of female lay practitioners, the vdirtds provide us with
an indication of the kinds of religious activities Pustimarg women typically engage in.
These include the performance daily sevd in the home, the offering of donations to

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havelTs, the organization of feasts or satsahgs for fellow Vaisnavs and, finally, the vartas
also provide examples of female poet-composers.

As for bahujis and betijis, traditional historical sources highlight how bahujis
assumed leadership positions as “MajT Maharaj” (mother Maharaj) after their husbands -
the Maharaj - passed away. Using nineteenth century manuscript sources, early print
material, and other historical texts from within the tradition I also demonstrate how the
wives and daughters of Maharaj s were actively engaged in the production of devotional
songs in the popular genres of dhol-pad and garba. 94

Although the ritual and caste status of bahujis and betijis differ from those of
female lay practitioners, their modes of religious participation overlap in one significant
way: both women from the GosvamI household and female lay practitioners produced
dhol-pads and garbcis in the vernacular languages of Gujarati, Hindi, and Brajbhasa.
Pustimarg lay women, moreover, continue to preserve, perform, and transmit these
compositions through women-centered oral traditions. In an effort to contextualize our
examination of the vmtd-hagiographies as well as our discussion of the performance
genres in which Pustimarg bahujis and betijis composed, I begin by providing a brief
outline of Pustimarg literature more broadly.

94 Examples of manuscript materials include Kakko (B.J. Institute, ms. 1088), Krsna-Ras (B.J. Institute., ms.
6671), G upta-Ras (B.J. Institute, ms.851 la), Seva-Vidhi-Utsav (B.J. Institute, ms. 2177), Pusti-Sevd (B.J.
Institute, ms. 1089), Padsamgrah (Oriental Institute. 144.7357), Vaisnavna Vasaiit Holt Dhol (Oriental Institute,
ms. 14359), Vaisnavna Seva Sriigdr (Oriental Institute, ms. 14364).

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Brajbhasa and the Vernacular in Pustimarg

Vallabha, the founder of the sect, grounded himself in Brahminic authority and
the dccuya philosophical lineage by composing all of his works in Sanskrit, including the
Tattvarthadipanibandha, his major theological work, the Sodasagranthah, sixteen
treatises delineating his philosophical (Suddhadvaita) and devotional (Pustimarg)
systems, and by writing commentaries on important treatises such as the Brahmasutras
(his Anubhdsya) and on several cantos of the Bhbgavata Parana (his Subodhint). His
second son, Vitthalanatha, also contributed to the Pustimarg Sanskritic literary tradition
by writing further commentaries on Vallabha’s writings and through composing his own
major works, such as the Bhaktihetunirnaya, the Bhaktihamsa, and the
Vidvanmandanam. It was only in the third generation of the Vallabha-kw/ or hereditary
lineage, with the figure of Gokulanatha (1552-1641) - the fourth of Vitthalanatha’s seven
sons - that compositions began to appear in a language other than Sanskrit. 95 Although
Gokulanatha continued to write commentaries in Sanskrit, he composed numerous texts
in Brajbhasa, literally “the language of Braj.”

The Braj region or mandal (“circle”), which includes Mathura, believed to be
Krsna’s birthplace and Vrndavan, the home of Krsna, refers to both the heavenly realm
where Krsna is said to be performing his eternal Bids (“sports”), and to its earthly
manifestation, the region located in north India just south of Delhi. The Braj mandal
played an important role in the development of Vaisnav-Krsna sects in the sixteenth and

95 Subsequent descendants of Vitthalanatha, the most prolific being Purusottama, son of Pitambara (1668-
1725), still continued producing commentaries and primary works in Sanskrit.

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seventeenth centuries. 96 During this period followers of Caitanya, the founder of the
Gaudlya Vaisnav tradition in Bengal, made pilgrimages to the Braj region and mapped
out different areas mythopoetically associated with the life of Krsna.

By the turn of the seventeenth century Brajbhasa had become North India’s
most important literary and courtly vernacular language, that is, the language of classical
Hindi literature (riti). Celebrated Vaisnav poets, such as Surdas and Tulsidas, had already
composed devotional works in the language of Braj, believed to have been Krsna’s own
native tongue. As Allison Busch illustrates, the imbricating processes of developing
Vaisnav religious cultures, the consolidation of Mughal rule during Akbar’s reign (r.
1556-1605) - with its capital located close to the area of Braj - as well as Rajput
sponsorship of temple constructions in the region facilitated both religious and courtly
interest in the language. Meant for devotional singing, the Brajbhasa kirtans or pads of
Vaisnav poets were less fonnal in style and technique compared to the courtly context in
which Brajbhasa flourished and rose to literary prominence: “.. .Brajbhasha was from the
beginning a highly versatile poetic idiom that appealed to many people: used by
Vaishnavas as a vehicle for devotion, it was transformed - and, the historical record
suggests, suddenly and with great eclat - into a major court language from Akbar’s day”

(7).

As Busch indicates, in a time when theological and fonnal literary texts were
still being composed in Sanskrit, several prominent figures in the Braj region, like Hit
Harlvams (1502-1552?), remembered as the founder of the Radhavallabha sampraday,

96 Presently, the most popular sects in the Braj region are the Pustimargls, the Gaudlyas, and the
Radhavallabhs.

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and his contemporaries Svami Haridas and Hariram Vyas, began to write vernacular

devotional songs in the genre known as pad (“foot” or verse) (27). They, along with poets
like Surdas, wrote of Krsna’s childhood Bids as well as the intense love and longing
( viraha ) gopTs experienced for Krsna. Through the medium of vernacular languages, the
most cherished narratives from the ninth century Vaisnav magnum opus, the Bhdgavata
Purana, were beginning to seep through the elitist grip of Sanskrit pandits to the every¬
day Vaisnav public. Within the tenth canto of the Bhdgavata Purcina, which is dedicated
to the life of Krsna, the five chapters describing Krsna’s dance (rasa-Ilia) or “love-
games” with the go pis of Braj, collectively called the Rdsa-Pancddhyayl, have played a
significant role in the theological and aesthetic development of Vaisnav traditions. 97 It is,
therefore, not surprising that the Rdsa-Pahcddhyayi was singled out and rendered in
Brajbhasa by the middle of the sixteenth century by Hariram Vyas, who was the first
bhakti writer to have done so. He is followed by the Pustimarg poet, Nanddas (fl. 1570),
and later by Bhupati (fl. 1687) (28). 98

97 For Vallabha, Vitthalanatha and other Pustimarg thinkers, like Gokulanatha, the Bhdgavata Purana is
counted amongst the most revered scriptures (after the Vedas, the Bhagavat Gita, and the Vedanta sutras).
The largest section of Vallabha’s philosophical treatise, the TattvadTpanibandha, is dedicated to his
exegesis on the Purana. In his commentary on one of Vallabha’s verse-treatises, “An Exhortation to My
Heart,” Gokulanatha even proclaims the Bhdgavata Purana to be a descent-form or verbal avatar of Krsna
(Redington 2013, 77-78). Furthermore, Pustimarg theologians raise the rdsa-lTld chapters high above other
Krsna narratives. The Subodhim, Vallabha’s commentary on several chapters of the Bhdgavata Purana
(cantos 1-3, 10, and part of 11), is structured in such a way that the rdsa-lTld section is part of the sub¬
treatise on the “Rewards” of Pustimarg bhakti (Redington 1990, 21). The very structure and style of the
Rasa PancadhyayT reveals how the five chapters hold a special place within the Bhdgavata Purana. As
Schweig demonstrates, its poetic language is distinctive and its structure resembles that of a Sanskrit
drama. Throughout the chapters, moreover, as many as eighteen other lilds from within the Bhdgavata
Purana are recalled (2005, 15). The rdsa-lTld is anticipated as early as the third canto (BP 3.2.24), and is
also the only narrative after which a benedictory verse appears declaring that if one hears and recites this
story, one achieves supreme devotion to Krsna (BP X.33.36-39).

98 A Gujarati rendition of the Rasa-PancadhyayT by Nanddas in the dhol genre can be found in the second
volume of Vividh Dhol tatha Pad Sangrah (Lallubhai Changlal Desai, 1913), pp.173-206.

161

If we return to Gokulanatha, who appears to have been active towards the late

sixteenth and early seventeenth century, it is now understandable why he would have
chosen to write in the Brajbhasa language - a move that significantly departed from
traditional Pustimarg literary practices. By this time Brajbhasa was flourishing as the
lingua franca of north Indian bhakti poets, and it was serving as the medium of classical
courtly literary genres (rlti). Given the popularity of Brajbhasa as simultaneously a
courtly and devotional language, Brajbhasa would have helped facilitate Gokulanatha’s
project of vernacularizing Pustimarg literature most successfully."

According to traditional accounts, Gokulanatha’s greatest contribution in
Brajbhasa is the production of a “practical guide” to Vallabha’s and Vitthalanatha’s
teachings. This guide, according to Richard Barz (1994), took the form of a
hagiographical collection of stories, vacandmrt, “nectar in speech,” which were then
collected, ordered, and supplemented by commentaries into written accounts or vcirtds
(44). Among the vdrtci hagiographical literature, the stories of the lives of the eighty-four
disciples initiated by Vallabha, the CaurdsT Vaisnavan ki Vdirtd (CVV), is the oldest and
is held in high esteem within the sampraddy. The CVV is also one of the earliest
extended narrative prose compositions in any form of Hindi (45). In addition to the CVV,
the tales of the two hundred and fifty-two (84x3) disciples initiated by Vitthalanatha, the
Do Sau Bdivan Vaisnavan ki Vdrtci (DSBVV), are also attributed to Gokulanatha and
traditionally hold canonical status within the tradition.

99 In his Histoiy of the Sect of Maharajas (1865), Karsondas Mulji provides an extensive list of Brajbhasa
texts, which are considered “as authorities by the sect” (97-98). The list consists of seventy-four Brajbhasa
texts in total, thirty-nine of which are translations of Sanskrit works.

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Although Gokulanatha is credited with the oral composition of the vartas,
which in all likelihood were transmitted to Pustimarg laity in congregational settings, it
remains uncertain when and by whom these narratives were put into writing. One popular
opinion holds that Gokulanatha supervised his grand-nephew, the prolific Hariray
GosvamI (1590-1715!), in collecting and editing his oral narratives (46-47). In his
commentary on the two collections of vartas, known as the Bhciv prakds, Hariray
describes the present life of each disciple in the context of three “births” or “lives”: their
life before their initiation by either Vallabha or Vitthalanatha, their life after initiation,
and the life of each disciple as a participant in Krsna’s eternal lila in Golok, the
PustimargI heavenly abode (49). 100 Due to their rendition in a vernacular language such
as Brajbhasa, these didactic tales of Pustimarg devotees, which illustrate their exceptional
devotion and spiritual transformation upon initiation, were more accessible as Pustimarg
teachings than any of the Sanskrit works of the sampraday, such as the Subodhini, the
Anubhasya, the Sodasagranthah and so on. For our discussion, especially, the vdrtcis also
serve as an important source for understanding how the Pustimarg tradition perceived of
women’s devotional practices and roles in the sect, a subject which we now turn to.

The World of Women in the Pustimarg Vartas

The Brajbhasa vcirtd literature can serve as an important heuristic lens through
which we can map “women’s worlds” in Pustimarg’s history. As didactic tales that

100 As Vasudha Dalmia argues, Hariray’s Bhav prakds or commentaries secured the rise of the vartas to
canonical status in the tradition. The siddhbnta or axiom, which he drew from each narrative and each
devotee’s life, articulated Vallabha’s and Vitthalanatha’s teachings and authority. The Bhav prakds even
introduces the vartas as a bhagavadvarta (“godly discourse”), "in stature and splendor higher than the
Bhdgavatapurdna itself, or AcaryajI’s commentary thereof, the Subodhini ’ (2001a, 132).

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narrate the paradigmatic devotion of Vallabha’s and Vitthalanatha’s followers, the
Caurasi Vaisnavan ki Varta (CVV) and the Do Sail Bdvan Vaisnavan ki Varta (DSBVV)
describe religious activities that Pustimarg women have typically engaged in, such as the
perfonnance of domestic sevd, offering gifts to Pustimarg havelTs, and organizing events
with fellow Vaisnavs. The vdrtdis also provide examples of female poet-composers,
whose poetry is continued to be perfonned to this today.

As texts that stand at the intersections of social history and hagiography, the
vcirtds must be read through the dual perspectives of history and polemics. In keeping
with the egalitarian rhetoric of “the bhakti movement,” the vcirtds describe how Vallabha
and Vitthalanatha initiated men and women from lower castes and poor families. 101
However it is important to keep in mind that the Pustimarg vcirtds were compiled and
orally transmitted during a time when the tradition was not only continuing to attract new
followers and expand its influence to parts of western India, but when the tradition was
also in the process of consolidating and demarcating itself as a radically distinct bhakti
sect. Therefore, like the hagiographical literature of other sectarian traditions, the vcirtds
constituted what Rupert Snell calls the “mechanics of propagation” (Snell 1). Although
the hereditary leaders of the sect are Brahmin men, Pustimarg’s own “mechanics of
propagation” eschewed and subverted Brahmanic orthodoxy and asceticism in favor of an
emotionally engaging and personal devotional practice. Moreover, Pustimarg stressed
devotional practices that shifted away from the temple and instead centered upon the
family and were located within the household. The rhetoric of domesticity - with its

101 From the narratives in the Caurasi Vaisnavan ki Varta we can deduce that thirty-nine of Vallabha’s
disciples were Brahmin, thirty-six belonged to the warrior caste, five drew from the mercantile community,
while six were sudras (Saha 2004, 114).

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emphasis on performing sevd in the home, preparing elaborate food-offerings, and
worshiping Srlnathjl as a child - was undoubtedly an important vehicle for Pustimarg
community formation. “The family setting,” Vasudha Dalmia argues, “was important for
the community. However, the family in its turn had to be amenable to integration within
the greater social unit which was the community” (2001a, 135).

Examples of female initiates are interspersed throughout the vdrtas. l02 An
important female figure in the religious imagination of Pustimarg is the child-widow
Ajab KQvarl, whose life is briefly narrated in vdrtd 98 of the Do Sau Bdvan Vaisnav ki
Vdrtd. As a child she is said to have lived with Mlrabal in the town of Sinhad (present
day Nathdwara), but soon left to become a disciple of Vitthalanatha. Because of her
earnest devotion, the vdrtd tells us, Srlnathjl would come from his home in Braj to play a
game of dice with her in Sinhad daily. Oral tradition attributes the reason for the
pennanent move of Srlnathjl to the town of Nathdwara out of his love for Ajab KOvarl
(Anne-Marie Gaston 1997, 51).

An important theme, which threads through many vdrtds, is the subversion of
Brahmanic authority and values, such as rules of ritual purity and pollution, caste status,
and asceticism. Vallabha unequivocally questions and defies “ved aur lok, the nonns laid
down by the dharmasastras and by custom” (Dalmia 2001a, 147) and marydddmarg
(“path of limitations”) - those practices characterized by smarta ritual and Vedic
prescriptions. 103 This theme, on many occasions, is also connected to representations of

102 All the narratives are drawn from Dvarkadas Parikh’s editions of the CdurdsT Vaisnavan ki Vdrtd (2005,
5 th edition) and the Do Sau Bdvan Vaisnavan kT Vdrtd (2004, 9 th edition).

103 Several vdrtds from the CVV highlight Vallabha’s disapproval of renunciation. For example, vdrtd 33
describes how Ramdas Samcora, who apparently was inclined towards ascetic practices from a very young
age, was forced to marry when he was nine years old. After meeting with Vallabha, he abandoned his wife

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women’s exemplary devotion in the vartas. For example, in the CaurasT Vaisnaanv ki
Vcirtci, RukminI, described as the daughter of a wealthy merchant (seth ) and follower of
Vallabha, questions the ritual efficacy of bathing in the Ganges. In the varta (6.1),
RukminI argues that one only bathes in the sacred river to fulfill “worldly desires”

(kdmnd ), while she is already “bathed in the seva of Krsna” (mat toydhT [seva] bhcinti
nhat ho). As a demonstration of the superiority of Pustimarg devotion over Brahmanic
religiosity, the vcirtci ends with Vitthalanatha stating how the the sacred river-goddess
Ganga in fact “came to RukminI” (gahgdjt ne rukimini pat) when RukminI passed away.

Another note-worthy vcirtci in the same compilation (61) also illustrates a
similar polemic vis-a-vis ritual purity. Vlrbal, a woman who has just given birth, is in a
state of ritual pollution. She does not perfonn sevci to Srlnathjl because of this but also
laments the fact that no one else in the household is perfonning sevci. Srlnathjl appears
before Vlrbal and tells her that the rules of purity and pollution can be compromised in
order to ensure the continuance of domestic sevci. Similarity, vcirtci 9 narrates the tale of
Madhodas who keeps a prostitute, who he eventually abandons after speaking to
Vallabha. Later, it is described how the prostitute waits for Vitthalanatha to come to her
town and initiate her into Pustimarg. When he refuses, she decides to fast to death until
he bestows her with her own svarup for sevci. Vitthalanatha concedes after seeing her
steadfast devotion. However, soon other Vaisnavs become upset when they realize she
continues to perform sevci while menstruating. When Vitthalanatha questions her about

to become a renunciant. When he returned home one day and again tried to leave his wife, RanchorjT (the
svarup in Dwarka) told Ramdas that since he is now a disciple of Vallabha he cannot be selfish and and
must accept his wife. Varta 41 narrates the tale of two young men who, like Ramdas, also tended towards
renunciation when they were young. However, Vallabha explained to them how devotion to Srlnathjl and
his seva should take place “within the world and within the framework of family life” (Dalmia 2001a, 140).

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this, she proclaims how she has had many masters before, but now, because of his grace,
she has one true master, Srlnathjl. How can she abandon his worship? Vitthalanatha saw
how pleased Srlnathjl was with her sevd and allowed her to continue even in her state of
impurity. However, he did note how her case was a special one; she was the exception to
the rule of perfonning sevci in pure ( apras ) states. Another vcirtci (5), where Brahmanic
ritual orthodoxy is undermined in favor of bhakti to Srlnathjl, is one about a female
practitioner by the name of Rajo. She is requested by Vallabha to bring ghee (clarified
butter) for use in a sraddha (ancestor ritual) ceremony for his father. Rajo repeatedly
declines to provide the ghee to the Vaisnav messenger who was sent by Vallabha. When
she later brings food-offerings to Vallabha, he asks her how she could have cooked them
without using ghee. It becomes clear that all along Rajo did have ghee but only enough to
make offerings for Vallabha, her guru - which clearly took precedence over a “worldly”
or Vedic custom like sraddha (even if it was for Vallabha’s own father!).

In some vdrtds it is made clear how traditional Brahmanic understandings of
widowhood as inauspicious is also overlooked. These vdrtds narrate the tales of women
who are widows and perform sevci daily. One vcirtci in particular (31) illustrates how it
was only until a woman became a widow that Vallabha would grant her initiation. This
was because her husband was not a religious man (“ bhagavat dharma ko dvesi hato ”).
Vallaba predicted when her husband would pass away - after she had two sons - and
asked her to wait till then to come to him for initiation. Vdrtds 42 and 60 also tell the
tales of two widows, a Brahmin and a Ksatriya respectively, who are also described as
too poor to present adequate offerings to Srlnathjl during sevd. When other Vaisnavs
began to criticize the way the Brahmin widow from Adel performed sevd and how she

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did not have the financial means to do so, (“.. .yah kachu dear samujat nahi, kachu dravy
ndhi..." ), Vallabha silences them by commending her on the sincerity of her loving
sentiments iprit), rather than on the quality of her offerings: “...dear, kriyd, dravyson,
Srithdkurji prasan ndihT, Srithdkurji me priti cdhiye .” The vdirtd narrating the devotional
life of the Ksatriya widow from Sinhad also makes a similar point. When the widow did
not have enough money to buy proper materials for making food-offerings, she only
made a few rods for Srlnathjl. She felt distressed for doing this and the next day decided
to borrow money to ensure the adequate preparation of sdmagn. Srlnathjl himself
reproached her for borrowing money to make his food. He comforted her to not worry; he
is content with her offering rotTs if that is all she can afford to do.

Like all hagiographies, the vcirtds blur the boundaries between history and the
miraculous. That is to say, on the one hand, the vcirtds may serve as a useful
henneneutical framework for understanding the social history of Pustimarg, its ritual
traditions, and modes of female participation in the sect. On the other hand, the vcirtds, as
embellished didactic tales of Vallabha’s and Vitthalanatha’s chosen disciples, also tell us
something about what the tradition sought to idealize: the transformative power of
initiation and (the fruits of) practicing sincere bhakti to Srlnathjl, Vallabha, and
Vitthalanatha. Vdrtci 144 from the Do Sau Bdvan Vaisnavan ki Vcirtci demonstrates the
supernatural abilities of a female bhakta who had become a disciple of Vitthalanatha
when she was a child-widow. When she grew very old she had the ability - with the
grace of her guru - to see death approaching. On eight occasions, which coincided with
different Pustimarg festivals, she requested death to wait for a more suitable time to take
her away from her body, for she needed it to continue her sevd of Srlnathjl. This vdrtci not

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only demonstrates the extraordinary abilities one is granted by becoming PustimargI and
performing sevd, but also how important it is to continue the performance of sevd, so
much so that even death should - and can - be postponed.

In addition to vdrtas which relate the miraculous, there are many vdrtas, which
I believe, reflect or can help shed light on women’s religious lives in Pustimarg’s history.
For example, in the CVV, vdrtd 78 describes a wealthy Pustimarg couple from Ujjain:
Mavaji Patel and his wife, Birajo. Birajo is portrayed as a generous female patron, one
who sponsors grand celebrations and feasts for Vaisnavs, donates large amounts of grains
to cows, and makes donations of jewels and clothes for ritual offerings at Pustimarg
temples in Gokul. This may be an indication of women’s donative activities in Pustimarg.
Elsewhere, women are described as receiving initiation at the time of marriage if they are
marrying into a Pustimarg family (DSBVV 36), reading devotional literature (CW 4,
DSBVV 223) and performing sevd several times a day in their home. Sevd includes
adorning Srlnathjl’s shrine and image and offering all the meals cooked in the house first
to Srlnathjl and then to the family. Srlnathjl is ultimately adored as a son and treated as a
member of the household (see vdrtas 4, 12, 15, 43, 44 from the CVV, and vdrtas 27, 83,
195,223 in the DSBVV).

In the DSBVV, there are also several vdrtas that illustrate familial tensions that
can arise when no one but the wife/daughter-in-law is PustimargI. For example, vdrtd 102
describes how a woman who was a long-time Pustimarg follower married a devotee of
the god, Ram. Even after marrying him, she continued to perform sevd to Srlnathjl. The
vdrtd describes how she also adorned the image of Ram as Krsna by placing peaco*ck
feathers and a yellow shawl on him. Eventually they had a disagreement about the

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superiority of Krsna and Ram. Before the argument intensified, however, Srlnathjl
interceded and blessed them both so that they no longer quarreled over such matters and
could continue performing sevd to their deity of choice peacefully.

In the DSBVV, vdrtd 27 provides a lengthy description of a family who
eventually converted to Pustimarg when they witnessed the earnest devotion of their
daughter-in-law. When it initially dawned upon the daughter-in-law that her in-laws’
home is devoid of any devotional activity, she vowed to not drink the water in the house
and die. However, after praying to Vitthalanatha and asking him to give her the courage
to voice her desires (“. ..ab to turn men sahdi karoge to mero kahyo ycike man me
dvego”), she asked her mother-in-law if she could have new utensils to prepare offerings
and also requested that no one interfere with her sevd. Her mother-in-law agreed. The
daughter-in-law then cooked every day, offering her food to Srlnathjl, and feeding the
prascid (consecrated food-offerings) to her husband and in-laws. Everyone, including the
mother-in-law was so moved by her devotion that they eventually received initiation
from Vitthalanatha. In this vdrtd, by way of being an exemplary devotee, the daughter-in-
law is ultimately presented as a woman who teaches her family about Pustimarg devotion
and ritual (“.. .sabprandlikd tumhari bahu tumhdre age kahegi. Tab ve sagare ghar ke jo
kachu kam karte so sab vd bahu so puchte. Tab jo bahu kahatT soT ve sab karte.’j.

Finally, if we turn to examples of female poets in the vdirths, in the CaurasT
Vaisnavan ki Vcirtd we find the figure of KrsnadasI who, although was initiated by
Vallabha, became the maidservant of Vitthalanatha’s wife, RukminI, and lived in their
house ( vdrtd 45). KrsnadasI is described as being constantly absorbed in the mood of
Krsna ( bhagavad rasme magan rahati), and in this state she would compose songs about

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her experiences of Krsna’s lilbis. Another example of a female composer comes to us
from the Do Sau Bdvan Vaisnav ki Vdrtd in which Gangabal KsatranI is born after her
mother, RupvantI, dreamt that she made love to Vitthalanatha. Gangabal KsatranI is
described as having written many kirtans under the male pen-name of
Srlvitthalgiridharan ( vdrtd 65). Even today we find examples of Gangabal’s Brajbhasa
poems in several kirtan compilations, such as the Kirtansamgrah. Varsutsav ke kirtan
{kirtan compilation for annual festivals) published in 1936, and in the large four-volume
kirtan collection used in haveli liturgy. In these anthologies, examples of pads written by
Gangabal as Srlvitthalagiridharan are found for Janamastmi badhcii (felicitations for
Krsna’s birth), and are composed in the sdrang rag (“classical melody”).

Brajbhasa compositions by figures like Gangabal, in specific rags, demonstrate
how women produced poetry in PustimargI canonical or classical genres, namely, that of
havelikirtan or temple music. However, in the Gujarat context Pustimarg women appear
to have produced many more devotional compositions in the popular performance genres
of dhol-pads and garbds. The authors of such songs have traditionally been the wives
{bahujis) and daughters {betijis) of Pustimarg Gosvamls, while Pustimarg lay women
continue to remain the primary keepers and performers of such genres. Like the vdrtbs,
dhols and garbds composed and sung by Pustimarg women help illustrate the ways in
which women have both participated in and contributed to living Pustimarg religious
cultures. I now turn to my discussion on the production and perfonnance of Pustimarg
dhol-pads and garbds by first introducing the traditional roles and literary activities of
bahujis and betijis in historical contexts.

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The Religious Roles and Literary Activities of Bahuji s and Betijis

For the most part, scholarly investigations of Pustimarg have focused on the
sect’s Brahmin, male hereditary leaders, the Gosvamis or Maharajs. As descendants of
Vallabhacarya, the founder of Pustimarg, Gosvamis are granted both the authority to
initiate individuals into the tradition and to perform Pustimarg sevd in temple ( haveli)
contexts. Moreover, they locate themselves in Brahminic authority by producing
commentaries on the Sanskrit treatises written by Vallabha, Vitthalanatha, and later
PustimargI theologians. As householders, Gosvamis are expected to secure the hereditary
expansion of the Pustimarg lineage by marrying women from outside the Vallabha vamsa
or kul (“lineage”). If they are not already followers of Pustimarg, newly married bahuji s
must obtain initiation (i diksa ). The grooms of betljlis must also obtain diksci before the
wedding and, until recently, the husbands of betljls would live with them in the GosvamI
household.

As Brahmin women, bahuji s and betljls have traditionally observed parda,
remaining in the zencmd of havells or their homes most of the time. Their private,
secluded lifestyles have made it difficult to document their social histories and their ritual
and literary activities. The extent of bahiijls ’ and betljls ’ participation in the performance
of temple sevd, therefore, is unclear. According to the current chief mukhiyd (primary
temple officiant) of the Nathdwara haveli, both caste and gender rules prevented women
from entering the main sanctum, thus excluding them from the perfonnance of abhisek
(“ablution”), dirtl (“waving of lamps”), and srhgar (“adorning the svarup”). 104 However,
in the event that the GosvamI passes away and has no male heir, biological or adopted, to

104 Personal communication, December 29, 2007.

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take on the leadership position, or if the son has not reached an appropriate age, bahujis

are known to have acceded to the authoritative position of the Maharaj. For example,
Padmavatl bahujT (ca. 1835-1882) took over both the administrative and ritual activities
of the prominent Kankroli havelT in Rajasthan after her husband GosvamI Sri
Purusottamjl Maharaj passed away. She commanded leadership of the havelT as
Padmavatl “MajI Maharaj” for approximately thirty-six years during which she (and her
betijis ) performed the daily sevci of Dvarakadhlsjl’s svariip, maintained gracious and
profitable ties with Rajasthan’s reigning families and patrons, and initiated individuals
into the sect. 105

A contemporary example, enabled by the modem justice system, reifies the
traditional practice of bahujis taking on leadership roles within the sampraday. A court
case from 1969 (which we came across in the last chapter) between Mahalaksmi bahiiji
and Rannchoddas Kalidas in which the status of the GokulnathjI havelT in Nadiad was
debated, demonstrates how a bahujT has appropriated all the ritual and legal rights of a
havelT after the death of her husband. 106 During the case, it is also mentioned how a lay

105 Padmavatl MajI Maharaj is said to have initiated members from royal families including Baisahiba
Rupkavari of Alvar in 1872, and Rajasthan’s raja Mokhamsingh Raval in 1875. Additional historical
information concerning the lives and activities of Maharajs from the Kankroli havelT , including accounts
about their relationship with the Mewar royal family, can be found in Kanthmani Sastff’s large compilation
entitled KdmkrolTkd Itihds, published in 1932. Using information from private manuscript collections in
the Kankroli havelT library, Mewari land grants, and unpublished Sanskrit texts, Sastrl’s KdmkrolT kd Itihds
serves as an important source for the history of Pustimarg in Rajasthan.

106 There are several additional legal examples of a bahujT representing the interests of the Vallabh -kid and
that of her havelT. One is a Gujarat High Court case between Daniraiji Vrajlalji vs. Vahuji Maharaj
Chandraprabha on 16 April, 1970. BahujT Chandraprabha, the widow of Purusotamlalji Raghunathji
GosvamI of the Junagadh havelT, was attempting to revoke the adoption of Vrajlalji that was made after the
death of her husband. Another case, which took place in the Bombay High Court on June 17, 1937, was
between Kamala Vahuji Maharaj vs The Collector of Bombay. Kamala bahujT fded a suit against the
Collector’s Office, contesting the legality of an assessment made by the office on land belonging to her in
Bombay. The land was granted to Gosvamls of the Kutch havelT in 1788, and was thus inherited by later
descendants leading lip to Kamala bahujT.

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devotee, Vasant bai had her will executed in 1897 in which she made two bequests, one
to the GokulnathjI havelT and another in the name of “Maharani” bahujT (“Queen
mother”), the female leader of the GokulnathjI havelT at the time.

If we turn to another popular North-Indian Vaisnav sampraday, the Gaudiya
Vaisnavs of Bengal, we find an analogous practice in place. Hagiographical sources of
the sect illustrate how SitadevI, the principal wife of the conservative Brahmin thinker,
Advaita Acarya, became the defacto leader of Advaita Acarya’s followers after his death.
Advaita Acarya, who was bom decades before Caitanya (b. 1486) is traditionally
remembered as one of Caitanya’s prominent disciples and as a figure who helped
facilitate the rise of Caitanya as the leader of the Gaudiya movement (Manring 1998;
2011). Although several of Advaita Acarya’s followers accepted SitadevI as their new
leader, many orthodox practitioners were concerned over the possibility of SitadevI
initiating male disciples. According to Rebecca Manring, SitadevI, herself, assured
would-be disciples that she would only be able to provide spiritual instruction to her
female followers (2005, 196). Jahnava Isvarl, the second wife of Nityananda - Caitanya’s
other well-known and more liberal-minded disciple - also took on a leadership role when
he passed away. However, unlike SitadevI, Jahnava initiated male disciples, starting with
Vlrabhadra, the son of Nityananda’s first wife (who also was Jahnava’s sister). By
becoming Vlrabhadra’s guru, Jahnava inaugurated and secured the lineage of
Nityananda’s followers, and is remembered as a woman who solidified ties between the
Vaisnavs of Bengal and the leaders in the Braj area (Brzezinski, 67-68; Wulff 1997, 68).

One could argue that examples of Pustimarg bahujis - or Gaudiya theologians’

wives - taking on the ritual and administrative leadership of religious lineages after their

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husbands pass away is not exceptional, since their accession can be understood through
the logic of inheritance practices. And though it is important to point out such historical
incidences, we should be careful not to romanticize these as evidence of women’s “equal
status” in religious traditions. In this context, women’s leadership roles are contingent
upon their husbands’ inability to rule; they are appropriating authority, which ultimately
rests in the figure of male Gosvamls.

What can perhaps be considered remarkable, however, is an instance when the
daughter of a Maharaj takes on the leadership position. 107 The figure of Yamuna betiji
(ca. 1669-1730), better known as Yamunesprabhujl among her contemporary followers in
parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, is perhaps the only betiji who took on the leadership role
of “Maharaj” in the history of the Pustimarg tradition. 108 Her early dates make it difficult
to extract historically verifiable data from later hagiographic materials such as her jivan
carits or “life stories.” 109 Nevertheless, according to these jivan carits, in 1684 at the
behest of a well-known PustimargI disciple by the name of Krsna Bhatt, the un-married
Yamuna betiji is said to have ascended to the gaddi (“seat”) of her late father, GosvamI
GopendraprabhujI, in Dungarpur, Rajasthan. Raja Jaswantsimgh Raval of Dungarpur is

107 Again, in the Gaudiya Vaisnav context, a similar occurrence takes place when Hemalata ThakuranI, the
daughter of Sffnivas Acarya - one of the principle leaders of the “second generation" of Gaudiya Vaisnavs
and a contemporary of Janhava - began to initiate disciples (Brzezinski 72-73).

108 Today, in Gujarat and Rajasthan, the followers of Yamuna A/f/r be long to a sub-sect of the Pustimarg
sampraday , known popularly as the Gopalpanth. Since Yamunesprabhujl, the only betiji who has assumed
an authoritative position such as that of a Maharaj is the contemporary figure of Indira betiji GosvamI (b.
1939). Indira betiji GosvamI, a prominent betiji who never married, maintains her own havell- the
Vrajdham havell in Baroda, and to the disapproval of male Gosvamls she also initiates individuals into the
sect. Indira betiji draws parallels to the figure of Yamunesprabhujl herself, and is a gum figure for hundreds
of female disciples. Today, she is the centre of an ever-expanding global community of PustimargI
Vaisnavs.

109 Yamunesprabhujl’s hagiography are found in several contemporary Gujarati reprints including Sri
Jamunes Svarupdmrt (1992), Sri Jamunes Jasano Sdyo Arth (1994), Sri Jamunes Caritdmrt (2000), and Sri
Jamunes Mahaprabhujina Jivan Caritdmrt (2002). For the purposes of this section, the Sri Jamunes
Mahaprabhujina Jivan Caritdmrt serves as my primary source.

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said to have consecrated the event by placing a tilak on her forehead, bestowing upon her
the title of Tilkayat (“leader”) (Figure 1). The carits go on to describe how she undertook
pilgrimages all around Rajasthan and Gujarat, giving talks on Pustimarg theology,
perfonning various miracles, and even initiating individuals into the tradition. In
emphasizing how Yamuna betTjT was perhaps the first female of the GosvamI household
to step outside the zenana and assume such an authoritative role, her hagiographic
accounts also describe how she dressed in the manner of a male GosvamI and “even rode
horses”. 110 Although such an event, of a betTijT assuming leadership status, is
unprecedented in the history of Pustimarg, it can perhaps be legitimized by the fact that
she is the daughter of a GosvamI and therefore a rightful descendent of Vallabhacarya.
Furthermore, since she did not marry she preserved her position as a part of the Vallabh-
kul or family. This is a strategy that is used by Indira betTjT, a contemporary figure whose
actions resonate with the historical Yamuna betTjT. By never marrying, yet remaining and
living in her own horn dhavelT surrounded by her entourage of female devotees, Indira
betTjT hovers between an ascetic-householder lifestyle. This certainly helps her mitigate
her authoritative and controversial status as an influential GosvamI figure in the
Pustimarg community.

110 Sri Jamunes Mahaprabhujina Jivan Cantamrt, 14.

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Figure 1. Contemporary lithograph portraying the consecration of Yamuna betiji as
Tilkayat by Raja Jaswantsimh Raval.

Turning to the literary activities of historical women from the Vallabh -kill,
although they are part of an orthodox Brahmin household, women from these families are
described as being able to know how to read, at the very minimum, by the mid-nineteenth
century. In his testimony during the libel case (February 27 th 1862), Jadunathji Maharaj
states how “The wives and daughters of the Maharajas read books in the Brij Bhasha”
(MLC 344). As we discussed in chapter three, in the Bombay presidency, women’s
public education - both in English and in vernacular languages - only began in earnest in
the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Certainly, no daughter or wife of Pustimarg
Gosvamls attended these schools. In fact, males from these families also perhaps did not
begin attending public education institutions until the twentieth century. The bahujis and
betijTs of Gosvamls were, therefore, most likely exposed to Pustimarg literature and
learned how to read and write in their household, and via their male counterparts.

One is tempted to ask if Brahmin women in Gujarat or in the Bombay
Presidency during the nineteenth century (or perhaps even earlier) were more likely to be
literate if they were part of a devotional community such as Pustimarg. Again, if we turn

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to the Gaudiya Vaisnav tradition, Donna Marie Wulff argues precisely this - that it is in
the Vaisnav context that literacy among women has been very high, at least in the Bengal
region. “The Caitanya movement,” Wulff explains, “with its great outpouring of Sanskrit
and vernacular literature, appears to have served as a powerful stimulus to literacy”

(1985, 222). She claims that the Vaisnav community can be distinguished from other
religious communities of Bengal due to the high rate of literacy among its female
mendicants, which was even noted by British officials in the early nineteenth century
(1997, 69-70). Extant Sanskrit works and vernacular poetry composed by women starting
from the sixteenth century demonstrates that non-mendicant women from the leading
Gaudiya Vaisnav families were also participating in the production of literature.

In the social histories of these two north Indian Vaisnav communities, what
parellels can be drawn in terms of women’s presence and modes of participation? We
already discussed how the widows of leaders in both sampraddys assumed authoritative
roles. Women from both communities, whether they were the wives and daughters of
Gosvamls or were lay practitioners, also composed literature in the form of devotional
poetry. It would, however, be difficult to mirror Wulff s argument and claim that it was
in the Vaisnav context of the Pustimarg community that the women of Gujarat became
literate. A significant difference between the two sampraddys is the presence of learned
female mendicants in the Gaudiya sect. Since Pustimarg does not ascribe to an ascetic
worldview there has been no prevailing tradition of renunciation practised by members of
the Vallabh-G// or by the lay community, as we observe in the Jain and Svamlnarayan
sects of Gujarat.

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Furthermore, in the Gaudiya context, in addition to SltadevI and Jahnava, who
took on leadership roles in the sect, the tradition’s hagiographical material also illustrates
how certain females, such as SacI and Visnupriya (the mother and wife of Caitanya,
respectively) were admired by the early community and are continued to be revered by
Gaudiyas today. Although there are many women who are mentioned in the Pustimarg
hagiographical ( varta ) literature as the devotees of Vallabha and Vitthalanatha, I do not
believe there are analogous to the figures of SacI and Visnupriya. None of the figures in
the vartas are held in especially high esteem nor do they have shrines dedicated to them.
Similarly, historical bahujTs and betljls are also not revered in the same way as some of
the wives and daughters of Gaudiya leaders are (with the exception of Yamuna betiji and
Indira betljt).

With repect to female composers of devotional poetry and songs, although both
sampradays certainly appear to have active female poets and writers, there are no
Pustimarg or Gaudiya equivalents of Janabal, Muktabal, and Bahinabal of the Varkarl
tradition, Akka MahadevI of Vlrasaivism, Antal of Srlvaisnavism, Karaikkalammaiyar of
the Tamil Nayanars, or a Mlrabal. A distinction, therefore, has to be made between
female bhakti poets who have risen to the status of sainthood, on the one hand, and
female poets more generally. Foregrounding the lives and literary practices of
extraordinary female poet-saints is certainly important, however, scholarly emphasis on
such figures has come at the expense of silencing the voices of numerous “ordinary”
female poet-bhaktas - those who do not “defy social nonns and taboos,” “overturn
models of femininity,” or “overturn caste hierarchy” (Ramanujan 1982, 318-319). It is
these every-day female disciples, who are married, have children, and yet continue to

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demonstrate their devotion to Srmathji through producing and singing devotional
compositions that constitutes the subject of the following section.

Locating Dhol and Garba in the Historiographies of Gujarat and Gujarati
Literature

In Gujarat, dhol-pads and garbds constitute the most popular perfonnance
genres in which betijis and bahujis have composed their devotional songs. Francoise
Mallison (1986, 1989, 1996) provides a history of the dhol-pad, describing it as an “old
folkloric” (1996) fonn belonging to the pad-bhajan genre, and also discusses the
perfonnance of dhols by PustimargI women in Gujarat. According to Mallison, dhol
comes from the Sanskrit dhavala, meaning “white” ( dhavala > dhaula > dhola ), and
represents a kind of panegyric found in Prakrit and Apabramsha literature, and is also
present in later post-Apabhramsha, Old Gujarati and Medieval Gujarati, as well as
Rajasthani literature. 111 Neelima Shukla-Bhatt corroborates this by explaining how the
origins of dhol or dhavalgit can be found in the rdso poetry in Gurjar Apabhramsha, the
language of Gujarat before the development of the Gujarati language. Rdso, she explains,
was a long poem divided into short sections of varying length, and was meant to be

111 The Gujarati literary historian, H.C, Bhayani, describes dhavala in Gujarati and Rajasthani literature as
“a song, a panegyric, in praise of a person for whom some ceremonial occasion is being celebrated.
Wedding songs constitute a special class of Dhavalas, and the Dhols sung in the Vallabhaite Vaisnava sect
make up another class” (1988, 99; 1993, 91). He also acknowledges how in contemporary times, the scope
of the application of the term “dhol,” compared to the earlier use of “dhavala,” has been extended to
include Puranic and social themes, “and the lines of distinction between Pad, Bhajan, Garbi and Dhol have
become blurred” (1988, 100; 1993, 92).

112 Shukla-Bhatt has noted that some of the earliest dhavalgits appear in a twelfth century poem,
Bharatesvar Bahubali Rdso, composed by a Jain monk. Personal communication, October 13 th , 2009.

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Different communities and castes, Mallison argues, “have their own dhol and
their own specific way of singing them” (1989, 88). Dhol s also do not have a fixed form
nor do they necessarily have known authors, and even though they can have difficult
rhythm patterns, they do not always follow set tunes and styles of singing. Combined
with the fact that they have circulated in primary oral forms, dhols constitute fluid genres
that have remained difficult to define.

Like dhol, garbci (pi. of garbo) is also a popular perfonnance genre in Gujarat.
The word garbo traditionally denotes a perforated round clay pot with a lamp inside
symbolizing (the womb of) the Goddess, Devi. The term also refers to the popular ritual
dance perfonned by mostly women in open spaces around the garbo, or around any other
image representing Devi (Shukla-Bhatt forthcoming; Mallison 1989, 91n.l6; Thompson
1987, 170). 113 The dance is perfonned especially during Navaratrl, the nine-night
goddess festival in the Hindu calendar month of Asvin, and during other auspicious
occasions such as weddings, pregnancy rituals, the birth of a child, and so on. Finally, the
songs which women sing while perfonning the ritual dance are also called garba. With
the spread of Vaisnavism in Gujarat, garbds have moved beyond their traditional Sakta
context and have come to include songs about Krsna, describing his Idas and the love
between him and Radha and the go pis.

113 A more “vigorous” form of the dance is performed by men and is known as garbl. The songs on which
men perform this dance are also called garbl (Thompson 172, 177). Mansukhlal Jhaveri, in his History of
Gujarati Literature (1978), explains that the terms garbci and garbl are used interchangeably, however, he
does note some differences between the two: “Garbo is longer than garbi. The metrical tune of the garbo is
different from that of the garbi. Garbi dilneates a single emotion or feeling; while garbo describes a person,
an event or an object...Most of the garbas of the mediaeval period are related to the devotion of Mata;
while most of the garbis of the period are related to the love between Krishna and Radha or Gopis” (248-
249). Krishnalal Mohanlal Jhaveri, on the other hand, describes garbl as we understand garba: “A garbi
means a song or poem generally recited by ladies” (1914, 35). For this reason, I do not distinguish between
garbci and garbl, unless the author 1 am referencing does so. 1 use the term “garba,” more broadly, to
denote this genre of popular Gujarati song and dance.

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Historical texts, such as Behramji Malabari’s Gujarat and the Gujaratis (2 nd

edition, 1884) and Alexander Forbes’ Rdsmdld ([1878] 1973), provide nineteenth century

descriptions of women singing popular genres such as garbds during religious festivals

Gujarat. Here Malabari - who, we should note is a Parsi reformer - offers a general

overview of the “native singing” practices of Gujarat as follows:

“At home it is incumbent on every Hindu - man or woman - to sing a few
snatches of devotional music at stated hours.. .Hindu women also sing what
we call season songs, at times sitting, at times in a circular dance, with
rhythmic hand-clapping. There is music to celebrate birth, marriage, etc.

Much of it is good and wholesome, tinged with religious ideas, with
superstitious, and at times demoralising associations” (307-308).

Although it is clear from these descriptions that he is discussing the performance of

garbd, elsewhere, Malabari does specifically refer to garbd :

“The nine nights [Navaratrl] are sacred to garbds, popular songs sung in the
street of Gujarat... a bevy of from twenty to sixty women of all ages circle
round and round, taking up a refrain, and often repeating in chorus a verse
sung by one and, at times, two women, keeping time to the clap of hands.

These garbds are evanescent scintillations of the genius of Dayaram, the
Byron of Gujarat. The hero of the songs is mostly Krishna” (338-339).

Finally, in typical refonnist fashion, Malabari ultimately ties the erotic themes of such

perfonnance genres to the debauchery of Pustimarg Gosvamls:

“This harmless legend [of Krsna] is worked by Dayaram into various orgies
of songs whose luscious sweetness and witchery of style have done more
than any other social vagaries to perpetuate the horrors of those dens of
iniquities, the Vaishnava Maharajas' Mandirs. In this respect Dayaram's
poetry works in Gujarat as ‘procuress of the lords of Hell’” (339-340).

Another historical source, which provides examples of women’s singing

practices in late nineteenth-century Gujarat is Alexander Kinloch Forbes’ Rdsmdld

([1878] 1973). Again, during the festival of Navaratrl, Forbes describes how “people,

walk or dance, clapping their hands and singing songs” around an earthen vessel, pierced

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with numerous holes and containing a light (613). Forbes also provides examples of
women singing during weddings: “Their songs are usually poetical compositions in
honour of Seeta or Rookmunee, the wives of Ram and Krishn, or else ludicrous and not
unfrequently obscene stanzas” (623), as well as a description of women’s “labor songs,”
sung by the wives of cultivators as they, too, toil the land. Forbes provides a full
translation of a song called “The Koonbee’s Griefs,” which is dedicated to Krsna, and
which describes the hardships and struggles of farmers (543-544).

Scholarly texts on Gujarati literature, such as Krishnalal Mohanlal Jhaveri’s
Milestones in Gujarati Literature (1914) and his Further Milestones in Gujarati
Literature (1924), as well as Mansukhlal Jhaveri’s History of Gujarati Literature (1974),
offer very brief histories and descriptions of perfonnance genres like the garbci. There is
in fact little to no reference found on the dhol genre in such texts. 114 Krishnalal Mohanlal
Jhaveri (1914) notes how the celebrated fifteenth and sixteenth century poets of western
India, Mirabal (1499-1547) and Narsimha Mehta (1414-1480), are among the earliest
bhakti writers to have composed devotional poetry on Vaisnav themes in the Gujarati
language. He provides a terse description of the performance of popular genres such as
the garbd when he describes how Mirabal’s songs, which “on the surface seem to be
mere erotic verse,” are sung by mothers and daughters “in the Garbas” (35).

Elsewhere Jhaveri illustrates how the poet Vallabh Mevada Bhatt (fl. 1700),
who hailed from Ahmedabad, wrote many garbas in praise of the goddess BahucharajI
and also composed several on Krsna-related themes (1914, 149-151). It is here that

114 In his discussion on the various types of genres in which poets and writers composed, Manusukhlal
Jhaveri simply lists “dhol” as one amongst these genres, without offering further information. Composers
of dhol include Pritamdas (17207-1798) and Dhiro (17537-1825) (50-52).

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Jhaveri provides another short indication of women singing and dancing garba, which

according to him is an activity “most indulged in” during Navaratrl in cities like Surat,
Baroda, Ahmedabad, and Bombay. 115 Mansukhlal Jhaveri also indicates how, before
Vallabh Mevada Bhatt, no garba s of earlier writers seem to be available; Vallabh Bhatt
is, therefore, considered the earliest and most distinguished writer of garba s in this early
period (48). A later poet, RanchhodjI Diwan (1785-1841), who served as the diwan of
Junagadh, is also remembered for his garbas. Both RanchhodjI and Vallabh Bhatt,
Mansukhlal Jhaveri argues, “are the two poets whose garbas had captured the minds and
hearts of Gujarati women” (55). Finally, Dayaram (1776-1852), who was a follower of
Pustimarg, is listed as the last of the major poets of “medieval” Gujarati literature and, in
tenns of his literary output he is held on par with his well-known predecessors, such as
Premananda (1636-1734) and Samal Bhatt (1690-1769). 116 Dayaram composed works of
prose, pads, caritra kdvyas (biographies, such as Miran Charitra, a poem narrating
Mira’s life), “dialogues,” poems elaborating the tenets of Pustimarg, and garbas and
garbis} 11 Despite having such a prolific output, Mansukhlal Jhaveri insists that Dayaram

115 Jhaveri (1914) notes the names of other authors who composed garbas/garbis dedicated to Krsna and/or
the goddess. These include Pritamdas (1730), Ranchhod Bhakta (1804), RancchodjI Divan (1768-1841),
Raghunathdas (19 th century), Shantidas, Devanand, and Dayaram (1767-1852) (159; 192-197; 206-207;
239-249). In his later book, Further Milestones in Gujarati Literature (1924) he describes the writer and
friend of Alexandar Kinloch Forbes, Dalpatram Dhayabhai, as a composer of many garbis (“verses
intended for girls and women”) as well as wedding songs (26).

116 Rachel Dwyer acknowledges that 1852, the date marking the death of Dayaram, is late to be termed
“medieval.” The designation of medieval in this context, she argues, should be understood in the widest
possible sense to mean “pre-British period” (2001, 5).

117 Krishnalal Mohanlal Jhaveri enumerates Dayaram’s publications as follows: forty-eight works in
Gujarati, forty-one in Brajbhasa, seven thousand “miscellaneous” pads in Gujarati, twelve thousand in
Brajbhasa, two hundred in Marathi, forty in Punjabi, fifteen in Sanskrit, and seventy-five in Urdu (1914,
239). As a well-known Pustimargl poet, Dayaram helped with the process of disseminating Pustimarg
theological and philosophical themes in a vernacular language such as Gujarati. Some of the most
important Pustimargl philosophical works written by Dayaram in Gujarati include the RasikvaUabha (“The
Beloved of Connoisseurs,” 1838) and the Pustipatharahasya. In the RasikvaUabha, which is structured as a
dialogue between a teacher and pupil, Dayaram introduces important Pustimarg doctrines such as the nature

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is best known for his garbTs, which celebrate the love between Krsna and Radha and the
gopTs. And although writers before Dayaram have composed gar bis, . .it was Dayaram
who brought the form to perfection and created many masterpieces distinguished for their
superb lyricism” (64).

With regards to the presence of female poets, Krishnalal Mohanlal Jhaveri, in
his Milestones in Gujarati Literature, does offer short descriptions of female authors.
However, he prefaces his discussion by stating how no female poet can be “named in the
same breath with the Rajput Queen of Mewad,” that is Mlrabal, yet they did manage to
“tum[ed] out verses of a very mediocre, if not of quite an inferior quality” (209). Jhaveri
mentions a Brahmin widow, Divali bdT, who became a pupil of a religious teacher by the
name of “Dada Guru Bhagavan.” Divali belt wrote approximately five-hundred poems on
themes and narratives drawn from the Ramayana epic (211). Another Brahmin female
poet, Radha bdT (1834-1857), was the disciple of a guru named Avadhutnath. Jhaveri
notes how Radha bdT wrote in a language “which is neither unadultered Gujarati,

Marathi, nor Hindi. It is a curious mixture of the three, and unless one knows all the three
languages, it is difficult to follow her” (212). Based on his description, she appears to
have been a Varkari follower, for in addition to composing garbds on Vaisnav themes
she also wrote biographies of saints like Jnanesvar and Tukaram. Krsna bdT, another
Brahmin poet, composed several poems including Krsnahalradi (“Lullabies for Krsna”)
and STtdjTnTKdncalT (“The Bodice of Slta”), which according to Jhaveri are well-known

of Brahman, the /Fva, and mdya, as well as the importance of bhakti (Dwyer 2001, 31). The
Pustipatharahasya advocates for the worship of Vallabha and his descendents. Dayaram also composed a
Gujarati dhol describing the lives of Pustimarg bhaktas from the vartds, titled Vaisnavnum dhol. His
akhyans (“narrative poems”) and padamalas (“string of poems”) draw on popular stories from the
Bhagavata Purdna , including RukminI vivah, Satyabhama vivdh , bdla lila , and rupa lild (32).

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to women across Gujarat (213). Finally, Jhaveri mentions two more female poets: Puri
bdl, who is known for her poem on the marriage of Slta (Situ Mangal), and Gavri ben
(b. 1759), another Brahmin widow, who led an ascetic lifestyle and wrote philosophical
verses. Jhaveri describes her as the “only Vedanti poetess in Gujarat” (214). 118

Very little infonnation is provided about dhoh and garbds in English-language
historical texts on Gujarati literature. However, it is clear from such sources that although
garbds and dhols were composed by the celebrated male poets of Gujarat, these genres
were most often sung, remembered, and passed on by women. Women have traditionally
been the experts and authorities of these popular genres, singing dhols and garbds during
social gatherings together with other women (such as during satsahg groups), or while
perfonning domestic chores, during pilgrimage or congregational settings, and at
auspicious occasions such as Navaratrl, weddings, pregnancy rituals, or births (where
they are called dhol-mahgal).

Locating Dhol and Garb a in Pustimarg

In Gujarat, there are dhols and garbds found in the Jain, Sakta, and Vaisnav
traditions. In the Vaisnav context, much like the Brajbhasa pads discussed above, dhol-
pads and garbds have enabled the transmission of epic and purdmic narratives - most
often drawn from the Rdmdyana and the Bhdgavata Parana - through their rendition in a
more simple language that can be understood by all, including women and children. In
the Vaisnav setting, Mallison defines dhol as a kind of bhakti song, “sung in the Gujarati

118 Sonal Shukla, in her essay on women sant poets of Gujarat (1989), discusses the life and oral poetic
compositions of three additional female poets, Garigasatl, Toral, and Loyal. According to Shukla, all three
sang of nirguna bhakti, “with a touch of Sufism” (65).

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language and to a ties! tune, with the function of praising God in order to earn punya
‘merit’” (1989, 90). In Gujarat one finds dhols in the vernacular languages of Hindi,
Gujarati, and Brajbhasa; even if they are in Braj, however, it is not the courtly bhdsd of
rlti literature.

In the Pustimarg context, more specifically, one way of characterizing dhols
and garbds under the larger rubric of Pustimarg performance genres is by distinguishing
them from their elitist counterparts: the Brajbhasa kirtans of havell liturgy. The kirtan
repertoires, which are performed as ritual service in havelTs, constitute another category
of Brajbhasa religious literature of significance in the Pustimarg sampraday in addition to
the vdrtcis. Among the thirty to forty poets whose compositions are found in the
Pustimarg temple kirtan repertoires, the most celebrated and revered composers are the
astachdp (“eight-seal”) poet-saints believed to have been initiated into the sect by
Vallabha and Vitthalanatha. 119 Since the time of Vitthalanatha and his earliest
descendants, the kirtans of the astachdp along with the compositions of other poets,
which are in the form of short pads or poetic verses, have been set to elaborate rags
(“classical melodies”) and have become integrated as part of daily havell sevd. The pads
vary thematically but are performed with the specific aim of capturing the rasa (mood) of
each of the eight daily darsans or jhdhkis (“viewing period”), festival, and/or season in

119 The first four poet-saints initiated by Vallabha are Kumbhandas, Surdas, Krsnadas, and Paramananddas;
Vitthalanatha is said to have initiated the last four: Nanddas, Govindasvami, Cittasvami, and
Caturbhujadas. According to Milieu Ho (2006) the astachap became prominent in the tradition with the
composition of the seventeenth century Srinathji klprakatya varta (“The Manifestation of Srlnathjf’),
which describes the eight poet-saints as descending on earth with Srinathji in order to sing his praises
(199). The hagiographies of the astachap along with other composers are found in the CVV and DSBVV.
In his extensive study of the poet-saint Surdas, Hawley (1984) interrogates Pustimarg’s claim that Surdas
was a disciple of Vallabha and argues, how over time, the sampraday appropriated the literature of Surdas
to augment the sect’s influence and reputation. Whitney Sanford (2008) has conducted an extensive study
on the works of the astachap Paramananddas.

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havelTs. 120 By virtue of their integral role in temple liturgy, as well as their “classical”
style of performance, the Brajbhasa kirtan repertoires have acquired canonical and an
elite status within the tradition. Their preservation and performance over the centuries by
a hereditary lineage of male singers and musicians ( kirtankdrs ), moreover, accords the
kirtans with liturgical legitimacy and authority over the other category of Pustimarg
vernacular performance genres. As we have seen, in the Gujarat context, the most
popular of these perfonnance genres include Gujarati dhol-pads and gar has, perfonned
mostly but not exclusively by females in the sect.

Mid to late nineteenth century sources indicate that several bahujis and betijis
were engaged in producing devotional writings in the vernacular languages of Hindi,
Gujarati, as well as Brajbhasa. 121 Sundarvanta bahujT, the wife of the prominent
Pustimarg theologian, Hariray (b. 1590), is perhaps the earliest figure whose writings are
found today. 122 She composed devotional songs in the languages of Gujarati and
Brajbhasa using the pen-name “SundardasI” or “Daslsundar” (Caturvedi 57). However,
the majority of writings come from figures who lived towards the mid to late nineteenth

120 From the time of Vitthalanatha and his descendents, the seva of Srinathjl in havelT contexts has been
structured according to eight divisions of the day, known as jhdhkis (“glimpses”). Each jhanki represents a
moment in Krsna’s Ida, from his waking lip (mahgala), eating his mid-day feast (rdj-bhog), to wandering
in the pasture with cows and his friends ( gvdl ). In larger havelTs, during each jhanki, ritual musicians
perform the kirtanas of the poets, backdrop paintings (picchavdis) are hung, and food offerings ( bhoga) are
placed before the svarfip to invoke the mood of each respective lila. Ho explains how the kirtans in the
standard, four-volume compendium in use today in all havelTs (PustimdrgTya Kirtan Samgrah, 1867) can be
divided into the following categories: nitya (daily), utsav (festivals), baddhaT (felicitations for birthday),
malhar (rainy season), and dharndr (spring season). The songs are in turn organized according to the
chronological order in which they are to be sung in the day and year, their theme or liturgical function
(during a particular jhanki, for example), and the rag in which they are sung (2006, 205).

121 Kakko (B.J. Institute, ms. 1088); Padsamgrah (Oriental Institute, ms. 144.7357).

122 A well known dhol composed by Sundarvanta bahujT is called “ Cintannu Dhol.” It can be found in
printed form on its own ( Cintannu Dhol, 1977) or included as part of larger dhol compilations such as Pusti
Ras (2004), and in volume two of the popular collection, Vividh Dhol tatha Pad Samgrah (Desai 278-288).
In his published doctoral thesis, Gosvami Harirayjl aur unka Brajbhasa Sahitya (1976), Vishnu Caturvedi
briefly discusses the literary activities of Sundarvanta bahujT and provides a few examples of her dhol-
pads.

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century, including Sobha bahujT from the Sri GopinathjI havelT in Porbandar,

Ratnaprabha bahujT and her daughter Rasikpriya betijT, also from Porbandar, and Yasoda
betijT from Motamandir in Surat. 123 Their literary compositions - which were likely
passed down orally and only written down later - are found in the popular oral poetic
genres of dhol-pads and garbds.

Today, a significant source of Pustimarg dhols and garbds written by
Ratnaprabha bahujT and Rasikpriya betijT is the large collection entitled “ Rasik KaumudT ’
(1968). Examples of songs written by Sobha bahujT and Yasoda betijT can be found in
several compilations including Pahdar Garbd (2004), SrT SobhdmdjTKrt Nav Garbd (nd),
and PrdcTn Dhol-Pad Samgrah (1963, 6 th edition). In the latter collection, the PrdcTn
Dhol-Pad Samgrah, edited by Champaklal Chabildas Nayak, one finds several dhols
composed by Yasoda betijT using the pen-name “Nijjan.” Examples of dhols include “Sri
Yamuna Darsan,” which describes the beauty of the river-goddess Yamuna (28);
“SrimathuresjT nu dhol,” a dhol describing the adornment of the Mathuresjl svarup (63);
“Srimadvallabh Gher Pragatya,” a song celebrating the birth of Vitthalanatha (158); and,
“Sri Sath Balako Na Dhol,” a dhol which narrates the birth and life of Vitthalanatha’s
seven sons (165-168). Finally, another important text in which one can find dhols and
garbds composed by Pustimarg bahujls is Vrajsudhd (2009, 2 nd edition). This collection
contains songs written by Vrajpriya bahujT and Kamalpriya bahujT, the grand-mothers of
the contemporary figure, Raja betijT. Raja betijT is the aunt of Tilak bdvd or Madhusudhan
GosvamI from the Natvarlal Shyamlal havelT (first house) in Ahmedabad. Much like

123 Both SobhamajI and Yasodabetiji, according to Mallison, lived in the nineteenth century and belonged
to the family of the GosvamI of the sixth gaddT (house) of Surat (1989, 93fn. 23).

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other compendiums, Vrajsudha contains dhols and garbcis which describe the qualities of

the river-goddess Yamuna, praise the virtues of Vallabha, Vitthalanatha, and members of
the Vallabha-A:;//, and has songs for festivals such as Krsna’s birth {janamastmi ), Holl,
and hinclola. There are also numerous dhols extolling the beauty of the Natvarlaljl
sva nip's adornment ( srhgdr ), as well as dhols meant for singing while performing the
sevd of Natvarlaljl, such as dhol mahgalnu, dhol srhgdr, dhol bdllld, and dhol rajbhog
(33-39). 124

Pustimarg dhol-pads and garbds differ in mode and style from havelT klrtans -
with klrtans being set to specific rags - and they can also be distinguished by way of
their performance and transmission through gender- and space-specific milieus - for
example, klrtans are taught and sung by male klrtankars in havell contexts while dhol-
pads and garbds circulate predominantly among women in domestic spaces.
Thematically, however, dhols and garbds have much in common with the Brajbhasa
klrtan repertoires. Both genres include songs which praise Srlnathjl and the river-goddess
Yamuna, describe the beauty of srhgdr decorations of different svarups, narrate the lllds
of Krsna and the gopls, and extol the qualities of Vallabha, Vitthalanatha, and their
descendants. 125

124 Kamalpriya’s poems are also found in other collections such as the Prdcin Dhol-Pad Samgrah (1963, 6 th
edition) and Dhol Pad Sagar (1972, 4 th edition).

125 For example, in volume one of the large collection, Vividh Dhol tatha Pad Samgrah (Desai 1913),
chapter three contains dhol s in praise of the river-goddess Yamuna; dhols in chapter four describe the
adornment ( srhgdr ) and qualities of Srlnathjl and other svarups; chapter five contains Gujarati dhols and
Brajbhasa pads celebrating the birth of Krsna ( janamastamt ); chapters six to nine contain dhols extolling
the virtues of Vallabha, Vitthalanatha, and later descendents of the Vallabha -kul.

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An example of a dhol, “Dhol Svarupvarnan,” describing the svarup of
Srlnatvarlaljl is provided below. It is composed by Kamalpriya bahujT (translations are
my own):

Snnatvarlcilne re ke nirkhu nayanbhan
gun gdu tamara ke nitprati nem dhan | 11
cho sundar sand re, ke balkisor valT
nand ahgan tcidci re, ke pag nupur dhan |2|
gale gunj biraje re, ke sahaj sihgar kari
sir pag gulabi re, ke candrika ek dhan |3|

SrijamunbjTne tire re, ke bhaktnT bind ghani
gvalni sang khelo re, ke kar genduk dhan |4|
nikunjna nayak re, ke anand khel kan,

Kamalpriya gun gay re, ke cit came dhan |5|

(i Vrajsudhb , 50)

I fill my eyes with the vision of Srlnatvarlal
I sing this song in your praise, always 111
Oh Natvarlal, you are so beautiful

Standing in Nanda’s garden, your feet adorned with ankle bells |2|

A garland around your neck, your natural beauty
Wearing a pink head-dress, adorned with the moon |3|

Near the banks of the Yamuna river, you are surrounded by your devotees
Playing a game of ball with your young friends |4|

Prince of Braj, your Ilia delights all

Kamalpriya sings your praises, in whose heart your lotus feet dwell |5|

Another example of a song, which is meant for singing during the Holl festival
is called “Rang rang re.” It is composed by Ratnaprabha bahujT (under the pen-name
“KumudinI”):

Range rame re, range rame re, syama Srinathji su range rame

range bhare re, range bhare re, syama Srinathji ne range bhare \ 1

samsami nen ban ch/iute pichkdno,

kiiisuk guldib rase bharT dhan jariyo,

pec pane b/iciv b/iaiyd manadun hare re - syama |2|

abil gulcil tani bharT valTjariyo,

dspds dodthT ahTratam choriyd

chalbalsu chel tane punte phare re - syama |3|

KumudinT kisor tame hdryd, hu jithi,

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hodahodparasparpragat thhathTpriti,
e chhabTnihalTkdj sahund save re... syama |4|

(Rasik Kaumudi, 190)

They are playing with colors, they are playing with colors Srlnathjl and Syama, what are
they playing with colors

Fills him with colors, fills him with colors, Syama fills Srlnathjl with colors |1|

They exchange glances sharp as arrows, and color burst out of the pichkdri (water gun)
Water pots are filled to the brim with the sap of the kinsuk and rose trees,

Five types of feeling fill, agitate, and enchant the mind - Syama |2|

Large pots are filled with the perfumed red colors of Holl,

Girls of the ahir caste run close together,

Why all this deceit and these tricks - Syama |3|

KumudinI says, Krsna you’ve lost and I’ve won,

In this game, love manifests itself in fairness

You’ve shown this fonn for the sake of everyone .. .Syama |4|

Although they are not composed by female authors specifically, there are also
other dhols that summarize the tenets of Pustimarg and which narrate the lives of the
devotee-saints from the Brajbhasa vartas. 126 By rendering important Pustimarg themes
into a language for all to understand in Gujarat, dhol-pads and, similarly, garbds form
“the nucleus” of PustimargI literature in the Gujarati language (Mallison 1989, 93).

One of the primary reasons it is difficult to locate authors of garbds - and
especially dhols - is because these genres have circulated and persisted through oral
traditions, especially by way of their continual performance by women. Due to their
simple form and language, and their embededness in women’s cultures, such popular
perfonnance genres have generally been over-looked by scholars like the Jhaveris in their
historical readings of Gujarati literature. Within the Pustimarg context, moreover, both

126 In volume one of the Vividh Dhol tatha Pad Saiiigrah, there is a dhol rendition of one of Vallabha’s
well-known Sanskrit treatises, the Siddhantarahysa (part of the Sodasagrantha), called
Siddhantarahasyanu Dhol (Desai 1913, 105). Dhols listing and narrating the lives of the eighty-four and
two-hundred and fifty-two disicples of Vallabha and Vitthalanatha, respectively, are also found in the same
collection: SrT Caurasl Vaisnavnu Dhol and Sri Do San Bavan Vaisnavnu Dhol (Desai 1913, 359-378).

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traditional scholars and western academics have not paid much attention to dhol-pads and

garbds because they are not sung in havelis and are not found in the canonical and elitist
language of the tradition, Brajbhasa.

The prevalence of these genres in a sectarian tradition like Pustimarg has
enabled the preservation - and, indeed, the standardization - of these popular oral genres
to a large extent, especially with the advent of print technology by the mid-nineteenth
century in Gujarat when many of these songs began to appear in printed form. 127 By the
twentieth century, dhol-pads and garbds, along with popular Brajbhasa kirtans, appeared
in small booklets or large compendiums, which have been circulating in Pustimargls’
private collections. In addition to the collections mentioned above, a very popular
compilation which I was continuously advised to turn to is the two-volume Vividh Dhol
tathd Pad Samgrah, edited by Lallubhai Chaganlal Desai. It was first published in 1913
in Ahmedabad and the collection has been reprinted several times since then. 128
Additional collections include the Dholpad Sugar (1972, 4 th edition), and the Prachin
Dhol-pad Sangrah (1962, 6 th edition). In many of these texts, Brajbhasa kirtans are
interspersed among Gujarati dhols and garbds. Although the rag for each kirtan is
provided, lay practitioners, with no training in classical music have continued to sing
these kirtans in their own spontaneous mode of devotional singing, choosing a style and

127 Krishnalal Mohanlal Jhaveri indicates how Durgaram Mehtaji’s purchase of a lithograph press from
Bombay in 1842 was perhaps the first of its kind in all of Gujarat. However, he also makes reference to the
Mission Press of Surat, which was founded in 1817, pushing the introduction of print technology in Gujarat
to an even earlier date (1924, 12). In Ahmedabad, the first two lithographic printing presses, Bajibhai
Amichand’s press and the Pustak-vriddhi-kaniar-mandaWs press, were established in 1845. By the 1860’s,
twenty-one presses had been set up in Ahmedabad, producing publications in Gujarati, Hindi, Sanskrit,
English, and Marathi. As Achyut Yagnik and Suchitra Seth note, the publications of this period mostly
consisted of books on religious and mythological themes, folktales, medieval poetry, books on “ancient
civilizations,” and so on (2011, 129-130).

128 See footnote 125 for a chapter breakdown of Desai’s Vividh Dhol tathd Pad Samgrah. Another hymnal
edited by Desai is the Vaisnavona Nitya Niyamna Path (1986).

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tune they may have learnt from other females, such as elder women in their families or
from women during satsahg gatherings.

Although both the kirtan repertoires and dhol-pads and gar has can be
characterized as Pustimarg “performance genres,” that is, part of Pustimarg oral
traditions, and they certainly share similar themes, they differ in several important ways:
(1) language - klrtans are only in Brajbhasa; (2) style of singing - kTrtans are sung in
specific rags; (3) gendered modes of production and preservation - ha veil klrtans have
been composed and performed by men, and transmitted through a hereditary lineage of
male artists; and, finally, (4) the spatial and temporal contexts in which they flourish -
klrtans, for the most part, are sung in ha veils and during darsan periods. The
standardization and preservation of the Brajbhasa klrtans by way of a written repertoire
(the four-volume kirtan samgrah in use in all ha veils today), classical style of singing,
and transmission through a hereditary male lineage together mark the Brajbhasa havell
klrtans as part of Pustimarg’s/zxer/ oral tradition (Doniger 1991). Unlike the elitist,
canonical genre of havell klrtans, dhols and garbds represent the popular fluid oral
tradition of Pustimarg Vaisnavism in Gujarat. Less static, these genres have persisted by
way of their continual performance by women in the home during .sera, in satsahg groups
with other women, during auspicious festivals and occasions, and in between darsan
periods on havell grounds. The songs, which can be in Gujarati, Hindi, or Brajbhasa, and
which do not necessarily have to adhere to a fixed style and mode of singing, have been
shared among PustimargI women and passed down from mother/-in-law to daughter/-in-
law in families, and were either memorized or transcribed by literate women. As
Mallison argues, dhols - and by extension, garbds, as perfonnance genres can be

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characterized by their function, rather than the author’s name or their fonn: “The
considerations which justify their existence and provide for their classification are when,
where, by whom or for which occasion they are sung” (1989, 89fn7).

Dhoh and Garbas as Women’s Song Genres

On the one hand, it is clear that dhoh and garbds serve a similar “function” as
the havelT klrtans in that they are first and foremost devotional songs - sung as offerings
to, and in praise of, Srlnathjl. On the other hand, as fluid genres that have been sung,
remembered, transmitted, preserved, and indeed have even been written by women, I
suggest that dhoh and garbcis can also be included as part of the larger repertoire of
“women’s song” genres, which are popularly characterized as “folk songs” or I ok git.
These songs are sung primarily by women during marriage ceremonies, the birth of
children, during mourning ceremonies, while perfonning domestic or land labor, and
during seasonal and festive occasions such as Holl (Raheja 1994, 1995; Raheja and Gold
1994; Mukta 1999; Jassal 2012; Narayan 1997; Trawick 1988; Flueckiger 1991; Banerjee
1989b). Although I am using “women’s songs” in its broadest connotation, I am
conscious of the caste, class, and communal differences that index the performance of
such genres. For example, “songs of labor” such as the kajlT genre are sung by low caste
female agricultural laborers in the Jaunpur district of eastern Uttar Pradesh (Jassal 72).
Similarly, Margaret Trawick discusses songs such as ettappdttu, sung by lower caste and
untouchable Paraiyar laborers, and kummipdttu (“hand-clapping” songs) also sung by
women from these communities in Tamil Nadu (198). On the other hand, genres such as
pakharu are sung by mostly upper-caste women - Brahmin, Rajput, mahdjans, or suds -

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in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh in north western India (Narayan 1997, 26). 129
As we will discuss in the next chapter, in my own field work among Pustimarg women
from the baniya or bhdtiyd communities, in addition to caste affiliations, class status also
informs participants’ claim to specific genres. This is demonstrated by upper-class
women’s rising interest in taking havelTkirtan lessons and the desire to sing them in their
“proper rag.”

Much like other women’s song genres, there are Pustimarg dhoh and garbcis
for weddings, religious festivals, and for seasonal occasions - but which, of course,
articulate a Vaisnav ethos. 130 Although, at times, specific authors can be found for
PustimargI dhoh and garbds, their characterization resonates with Margaret Trawick’s
definition of “folk song”: “...a ‘folk song’ is distinguished from other kinds of songs
principally by the recognition (on the part of both singers and folklorists) that such a song
is not the property of a single author, but is itself as divisible and recombinable - as
collectively owned, or as unowned, we might say - as the persons who gave their voices
to it” (1988, 212). Their folkloric nature, as well as their transmission among groups of
women, mark dhoh and garbds as public genres, in contrast to the more “confined”
kirtans of Pustimarg havelTs. However, as Kirin Narayan argues, since it is individuals

129 As Kirin Narayan explains, pakharu are about “married life from a woman’s point of view...They
describe an in-marrying bride’s longing for her family of birth; a bride’s mistreatment by in-laws in a joint
family; and most centrally, a bride’s relationship with a husband who, more often than not, is absent”
(Narayan 1997, 26).

130 So for example, during weddings in north India when the groom’s side (the barat ) are about to depart
with the bride, the family of the bride, the “wife-givers,” sing songs of insult, galiyan, addressed to the
family of the groom, the “wife-takers.” In another large compendium of dhoh and pads edited by Lallubhai
Desai, the Gokulesjina dhol tatha padsamgrah (1916), there is a chapter entitled Vivah utsav or “Wedding
Festival” (chapter nine). It is not clear if the songs in this chapter are meant to be sung during weddings.
Flowever, the names mentioned in these songs are of members from the Vallabh kul and unlike popular
wedding galiyan songs, these songs are devotional in tone.

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who preserve and transform such oral traditions, they can also be viewed as private: “an
artifact of an individual’s memory and aesthetic pleasure” (1997, 27).

In addition to the fact that dhoh and garbds are sung by women, a reason why
I propose to include these genres amongst the larger category of “women’s songs” is
because of the subtle social commentary one finds in these devotional pieces with regards
to kinship ties, domestic tension, and gender roles. In collections like the Rasik Kaumudi
(1968) and Vrajsudha (2009) one finds a plethora of dhols and garbds where the heroine
(,ndyikd ) exclaims to Srlnathjl how she cannot stay with him much longer because her
mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and/or husband will scold her if she remains away from the
house. Other themes involve the heroine inviting Krsna at a time when her female elders
and husband are not present, asking Krsna to wait for her until she is able to sneak out of
the house (where she is under the constant surveillance of her elders), or proclaiming that
she will be able to withstand the criticism of her female elders and husband if she can
have a glimpse of Krsna. I present a few examples of such dhoh and garbds from these
collections below (all translations are my own):

“MadhuvannI Vat”

Madhuvan vdte, yamuna ghdte, roki vrajm nar, natvar! jdvd de
Hu albeli, chelchabili, naval gujar ncini nar chit,

Have karonci dtlTvar- natvar! jdvd de\\\

Kamalnayan adso nci mujne, ndjuk man bhdy che,

Piyu! Dekhe gopkumdr - natvar! jdvd de |2|

Kumudim dasi, thay udasT, durijan kero trds che
sdsucli dese gdl — natvar! jdvd de |3|

(i Vrajsudha 117; Rasik Kaumudi 158)

At the forest’s edge, on the banks of the Yamuna, you accost the women of Vraj!
let me go,

I’m a beautiful, carefree young woman of the Gujar clan,

Now don’t take so long, Natvar! Let me go |1|

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Lotus-eyed one, don’t touch me! My arms are delicate
My love! The cowherd men are watching, Natvar! Let me go \2\

KumudinI dcisl is distressed, such is the plight of the poet
My mother-in-law will hurl insults at me, Natvar! Let me go |3|

“Mara Chel GumanI Syam”

Mdrd chel gumanl syam repydrapdilav mukone,

sdsu amdrl khljse vhdld, nandal dese gal,

vdtene ghdte rokl rahya cho, mciro paranyo chadave dl re 111

khatu che goras djanu vhdld, mlthu hii lavls kal,

sahgnT sahelT sarve gal, pydra hu chu naneru bdl re \2\

prit prakat nd karlye vhdld, prakat kiye ras jay,

Nijjannd e nath vina, mune blje na dve vhdl re |3|

(Vrajsudhb 112)

My proud and beautiful Syam, let go of the edge of my sari, my dear
My dear, my mother-in-law will become angry, and my sister-in-law will insult me
You’re blocking my path at the river bank, my husband will be full of rage! 111
Today’s buttennilk is sour, my love, but tomorrow will bring sweetness
My friends have all gone, my love. I’m only a young girl \2\

Keep our love hidden, my love, once reavealed the relish disappears
Nijjan can’t find love with anyone other than that lord of all creatures |3|

“Mara Chel Chabila Pyara”

Mdrci chel chabila pydra! mare mandir dvone!

Mdrd madanmohan latkdld! mare mandir dvone!
mcird ghar pacchvade dvare, sajanl ek ub/il rdkhsu,
jlno sad karl boldivo, mare mandir dvone! \ 11
sasu-nanandal to nav jane, piyujlthlpan clidnu rdkhsu,
mdrd tanna tap samavo, mare mandir dvone! \2\
rajnl ramsun thalam sahge, manmd mod ghanerd lavsu,
mlthl morlaldlsambhldvo, mare mandir dvone! |3|
civo KumudinI nd pydra! phuldiydnl sej bhicchdvsu,
komal kar mujne parsdvo, mare mandir dvone! |4|

(RasikKaumadi, 57-58)

My beautiful love! Come to my temple!

Naughty Krsna, beautiful as the god of desire! Come to my temple!

I’ll keep a friend on guard at the backdoor to my house,

Call to me softly, come to my temple! 111

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law don’t have a clue, and it will be hidden from my
husband as well,

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Immerse yourself in the firey desire of my body, come to my temple! \2\

In the night I will play with my love, we will bring much happiness to our hearts
Let me hear the sweet sound of your flute, come to my temple! |3|

Come, beloved of Kumudini! We will lay out a bed of flowers,

Draw your soft hands towards me, come to my temple! |4|

“Sri Yamunajine Kanthade”

Sri Yamunajine kdthade mare ramvd javu rds,

pycirci pritamjine pds,

bansari bajavi man puri manni as,

pyara pritamjine pds,

sdsu roke, nanadl roke, roke sahu sansdri,

mohanvarne malva chcili, vydkul that vrajndri - pycirci | 1

avald tho dbhusan pheiyd, avaldi ambar odyd,

nbmakdb balakne melya pdraniydmd podya - pyara |2|

chanda ken chandnl ne saradpunamm rathe,

Rasikprithamsu range ramiyd saheline sdthe - pyara |3|
(Rasik Kaumadi, 61-62)

Near the banks of the Yamuna river, I wish to play rds
with my dear beloved,

The sweet sounds of his flute fulfill my desires,
with my dear beloved,

My mother-in-lows stops me, my sister-in-law stops me, the whole world stops me,
I still go to see my beloved, this woman of Vraj is anxious - beloved |1|

I’ve adorned and draped myself

I’ve placed my child to sleep in a basket-swing - beloved |2|

On the night of the full moon, the moon’s rays fill the sky
Together with her friends, Rasik played with her beloved |3|

Such songs are meant to invoke the paradigmatic devotion of the gopTs or
Radha for Krsna, as well as serve as a metaphor for all disciples’ relationship with the
divine. However, garbds and dhols such as these, I suggest, like other folk songs, can
also shed light on themes such as marriage, sexuality, patriarchy, and the possibilities of
female agency. Although many of these dhol-pads and garbds are composed by the

bahujis and betijis of the Gosvami household, references to gender roles and expectations

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echo and resonate with the domestic realities of female lay practitioners, who are the
primary keepers and performers of such songs. The theme of a heroine fearing she may
be reprimanded for seeing Krsna can be read into the lives of Pustimarg lay practioners.
As we will discuss in the next chapter, the practice of sevd by contemporary females in
urban settings, as well as their participation in Pustimargl-related social activities, can
indeed cause tensions to arise in the relationship between mother-in-laws and daughter-
in-laws and husbands and wives. This is due either because the newly married daughter-
in-law feels obliged to be initiated into Pustimarg and to perform sevd, or as the poems
illustrate, women are perceived as investing too much time in their ritual activities at the
expense of abandoning their domestic responsibilities, such as attending to their
husbands, in-laws, and children. Having said that, looking for “cultural truths” in these
songs is not my aim here. As Kirin Narayan reminds us, scholars are always in “the
danger of reducing texts to ethnographic artifacts, overlooking the subjectivity and
agency of performers. Women’s ‘voice’ refers not just to the spoken word, but also to
perspectives on social relations that frequently go against the grain of representations
stemming from dominant (male) groups” (Gal 1991, 178 qtd. in Narayan 1997, 46).

In some satsang gatherings I attended where women come together to sing
dhoh and garbds songs such as the ones provided above, which invoke family tensions
between the heroine and other female kin, solicited boisterous laughter from all the
women singing and even prompted some to stand up and re-enact the behavior of a
dutiful daughter-in-law/wife by drawing the drape of their saris over their faces (Figure
2). Devotional songs are not just about the relationship between devotees and the divine;
they can also become moments and mediums for articulating women’s shared realities

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and emotions, whether it is desire, feelings of loneliness, the stifling pressures of
domestic responsibilities, and familial tensions between themselves and their husbands
and joint families. Attending Pustimarg satsang is, of course, a mode of religious
participation for all PustimargI women. However, satsang gatherings are also occasions
where women can experience momentary reprieve from male surveillance - as well as
from female surveillance in the fonn of their mother-in-laws and sister-in-laws.

Ridiculing an over-bearing mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and husband are topics that are
normally taboo in most social contexts. However, through singing songs/lyrics in which
women’s points of view are given privilege, women are able to voice personal
experiences - to “speak bitterness” (Jasall 36) - without having to articulate any private
grievances. A.K. Ramanujan, as always, expresses this notion succinctly: “these
[songs]...present an alternative way of looking at things. Genders are genres. The world
of women is not the world of men” (1991, 53). Indeed, participating in satsang gatherings
and singing such garbds and dhoh does hold religious value. However, such activities
can also carry cathartic significance and can help engender and sustain communal bonds
between PustimargI lay women.

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Figure 2. While singing dhoh and garbas some women begin to dance and pull the drape
of their sans over their faces.

In this Chapter I have attempted to outline a social history of women’s
participation in Pustimarg by turning to the sect’s traditional sources: the hagiographies
which narrate the religious lives of female lay disciples, and the devotional poetry
composed and sung by bahujis, betijis, and lay practitioners. Although, as we will
explore in the following chapter, the contemporary practices of PustimargI female laity
have resonances with the past, I am not suggesting historical continuity or arguing for “an
unbroken tradition” of female participation within the sect. Colonial modernity, reform
movements, the expansion of global capitalist economies, and the emergence of the urban
middle-class/bourgeoisie reconstitute our understandings of the domestic space, women’s
roles in the home, and the production of sectarian identity. It is, therefore, useful to think
about Pustimarg women’s domestic ritual practices in light of these processes. In fact, the
topics covered in this Chapter - the Brajbhasa vartas and Pustimarg women’s devotional

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singing - were the subject of vitriolic critique by Bombay Presidency reformers like
Karsondas Mulji and Behramji Malabari in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. In an

effort to connect our discussion on the vartas and PustimargI women’s song genres with
our larger conversation on gender, class production, and the perpetuation of elite
Pustimarg sectarian identities today, I provide a brief overview of how the vartas and
women’s perfonnance cultures became implicated in nineteenth century socio-religious
refonn movements.

Vartas, Women’s Songs, and Obscenity in Colonial Bombay

Throughout the Maharaj Libel Case, the Brajbhasa vartas, which we have seen
are traditionally held on par with the Sanskrit works of Vallabha and hold canonical
status in the sect, were used to delegitimize Pustimarg as an “authentic” Hindu tradition
on both historical and literary grounds (since they are not “ancient” like the Vedas and
the dharma-sastras and sutras, and are not in the Sanskrit language). Some of the
narratives from the vartas were also purposefully invoked during the trial in order to reify
the reformist reading of Pustimarg as an immoral and vulgar sect. 131 Furthermore,
Karsondas Mulji, in his History of the Sect of Maharajas (1865), exclaims how during
so-called rds mandalls (“carnal love meetings”), individuals gather at the home of some
“orthodox and rich Vaisnavas” and read the stories from the vartas (129). “The reading
of these books,” Mulji argues, “excites and stimulates the passions, and we may be
prepared to expect what must follow” (129). In response, as we saw in the last chapter,
Jadunathji Maharaj did zealously attempt to locate Pustimarg textual authority in the

131 See page 131-132.

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sect’s Sanskrit sources, such as the Bhagavata Purana and the Vedas. In his testimonies
during the libel case, Jadunathji frequently osscilated between acknowledging the sacred
status of the vdrtas and dismissing their value altogether.

It is difficult to ascertain how such refonnist activities influenced the ways in
which lay practitioners approached the vartds. Refonners from the community, as well as
leaders of Pustimarg, did call for a return to the “original” writings of Pustimarg, such as
Vallabha’s Sanskrit commentaries on the Bhagavata Purana , his Sodasagranthah, or
even texts like the Gita (Sampat 1938 qtd in Simpson, 100). Gosvamls and Pustimarg
theologians also engaged in a series of lecture tours and drew on Vallabha’s Sanskrit
works (Shodhan 2004, 180). Classes and workshops were mobilized to teach Pustimargls,
especially the young, what constituted “real” Pustimarg theology, and readable
commentaries on Sanskrit works were attempted to be made more accessible to the lay
community (Saha 2004, 310). However, does this mean that Pustimargls, who most likely
grew up in a household where elders read the Brajbhasa vartds and where women
gathered for satsahg in which the narratives were discussed and sung, abandoned their
engagement with the texts? I do not think this is the case. Institutionally, in the haveli
context, during kathds or in other congregational contexts, the vartds may have receded
to the background in favor of an exegesis on Pustimarg Sanskrit works - and even on
texts like the Gita - but it does not seem likely that the same occurred in the every-day
context of lay followers’ lives. 132

132 To this end, Emilia Bachrach’s forthcoming dissertation entitled “The Living Tradition of Hagiography
in the Vallabh Sect of Contemporary Gujarat’’ will be of significant value for understanding PustimargI lay
practitioners’ engagement with the vartd texts.

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More so than the vartas, Pustimarg women’s singing practices during festivals
like Holl, hindola, and in front of Gosvamls at the havelT or in the lay practitioner’s
home, became the object of vociferous criticism throughout the nineteenth century. In
their tirade against Pustimarg, reformers such as Karsondas Mulji cited “indecent
singing” by family women in their list of debasing activities performed by members of
the baniyd and bhatiya communities, which also included the practice of consulting
astrologers, inviting “prostitutes” for perfonnance of music and dance, wasting money on
Vaisnav temples, and so on (Motiwala 179). The erotic gopi bhdv themes of PustimargI
dhols and garbds - in which Krsna is portrayed as a lover of married women, is asked to
sneak into their homes while the heroines’ family is away, or is chastised for not
fulfilling their desires - flared the Victorian, upper-caste patriarchal sentiments of male
refonners. In the Pustimarg context especially, where the GosvamI metonymically
“stands-in” for Krsna and to whom many of these songs can, therefore, be addressed
further reified reformist claims to the immoral nature of both women’s singing practices
and the sect as a whole. In his History of the Sect of Maharajs (1865), Mulji provides
examples of garbd songs, which he argues excite “the gross passions of these priests, for
whose pleasure, and to stimulate whose lusts, they [lay women], upon these visits and
also on festive occasions, sing” (109). Furthennore, in the libel case, the testimony by
one of Mulji’s supporters, Mathooradas Lowjee, illustrates the general outlook refonners
had of women singing during weddings and festivals as well as the singing of devotional
songs to Gosvamls: “Licentious songs are sung by females on occasions of marriage; but
when they are addressed to the Maharajas, the females singing them wish for carnal

intercourse with them” (MLC 277-283). Lowjee, in line with the reformist agenda, sees

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this as a sign of the general ignorance of women from the community: “If the Bhattias of

Bombay were educated at all, such adulteries would not prevail amongst them”

(Motiwala 283). Finally, even in his final verdict on the libel case, Judge Joseph Arnould

commented on the “adulterous” nature of women singing:

“The hymns sung by the women of the Vallabhacharya sect in honour of
the Maharajas and in their presence ... are passionate with all the passion
of the East.. .So these hymns sung.. .by the wives and daughters of the
Vallabhacharyans to their Maharajas express the most unbridled desire, the
most impatient longing for the enjoyments of adulterine love” (MLC 441)

Attempts to sanitize women’s singing practices was a strategy deployed by
most refonn movements of the nineteenth century in both the Bombay and Bengal
presidencies. Sumanta Banerjee, in his work on women’s popular culture in Bengal
(1989a; 1989b) discusses how women folk-performers were gradually being
marginalized in late nineteenth-century Calcutta as a result of reformist campaigns and a
growing bhadralok elitism. 133 With regards to Krsna-themed songs specifically, Banerjee
focuses on itinerant female performers (known as boshtami or neri) who went from house
to house in villages and in Calcutta singing kirtans. These same women, many of whom
came from low-caste and low class families, also sang kirtans and narrated Vaisnav
stories or kathcis before household women in the antarmahal (“inner-home”) or zenana
of bhadralok homes (1989b, 150-151). Much like the Bombay presidency refonners,
bhadralok Bengali men also found the erotic gopi-bhdv themes of Vaisnav songs as
having the potential for morally corrupting family women. As one bhadralok writer
exclaimed, “It is not possible for an uneducated young woman to remain unexcited when

133 The Bengali term “bhadralok” translates as “respectable people,” and as Judith Walsh explains it
generally describes “families with a tradition of family literacy, wealthy enough to do no manual labour
and possibly able to employ a servant” (2005, 7fn.9).

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listening to episodes like Raas [Krishna’s dance with the milkmaids]” (151). He suggests
that if women were prevented from listening to such kathds and instead had the
opportunity to “listen to good instructions, discussions on good books and to train
themselves in artistic occupations, their religious sense will improve and their souls will
become pure and they will be suitable for domestic work” (151-152).

Charu Gupta (2002) explores similar attempts at denouncing women’s
participation in wedding ceremonies and HolT celebrations in Uttar Pradesh (UP) during
the colonial period. Respectable women from upper-caste and middle-class families were
urged to abandon the singing of obscene songs such as galls in public during weddings.
The Khatri Hitkar Sabha of Agra even published a pamphlet advising “civilized” women
to stop singing simple and “ordinary” songs altogether (93). HolT festivals equally drew
the criticism of missionary writers, Hindi newspapers, and Hindu reformers. Once again,
the singing of vulgar songs, the free mixing of men and women, and “public displays of
unseemly behavior” during HolT celebrations disturbed the new moral sensibilities of
upper-caste male refonners. Much like claims made to specific song genres, participation
in a festival like HolT became a way for reformers to mark the cultured, “civilized”
population from the uncultured, and uncivilized (read here as low caste and poor) (98-
99).

Back in the Bombay Presidency, both Karsondas Mulji and Behramji Malabari
describe how Pustimarg GosvamTs took advantage of the HolT festival to further engage
in debaucherous activities (Mulji 1865, 107). Malabari offers the following description of
HolT in havelT contexts:

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You can in Bombay see Holi in full swing in two places, the Maharaja's
Mandir and the Marwari Bazar. In the fonner could be witnessed, for days
together, a promiscuous assemblage of worshippers, without distinction of
age, sex, or social position, revelling in orgies such as the western reader
could hardly realise. Modest young women are submitted to showers of
coloured water and clouds of red paint. They are handled to a degree of
indecent familiarity incredible to the outside public. At one exhibition like
this hundreds of young women are liable to go astray from the inborn
modesty of their nature. It is a wonder how, with such social customs as
these, the Vaishnavas lead such happy, contented, and respectable lives.

(1884,381)

Finally, refonnist critiques of women’s mourning practices indicate another
mode by which women’s participation in public ceremonies came under surveillance and
scrutiny in the nineteenth century. In western India, Karsondas Mulji’s greatest supporter,
Narmadashankar Lalshankar wrote one of the most extensive critiques of women’s public
mourning practices in the form of a prize-winning piece entitled “The Madness of Crying
and Beating Breasts” in 1857 (Mukta 1999, 29). Both Nannadashankar and another
important social reformer of Ahmedabad, Hargovinddas Kantavada, disapproved of the
money spent on funeral arrangements and, especially, the boisterous and disorderly
behavoir of family women during funeral ceremonies (30). What also disturbed reformers
such as Nannadashankar and Kantavada was how lament practices provided a pubic
arena for many women to lobby insults at family members and to voice their own
personal grievances. As Parita Mukta explains, “The women lamenters did not simply
target the women in the family but male members, caste members or the state, any
individual or corporate body held responsible for the death” (35). 134 Much like their

134 Krishnalal Mohanlal Jhaveri, in his Milestones in Gujarati Literature (1914), comments on the dirges,
which he calls rajio that are sung by women in Gujarat and Kathiawad during funerals. As he explains,
“Women, very shrewdly take this opportunity, under the garb of supplying materials for lament, of trotting
out their own grievances. For instance, the mother or sister of the widow of the deceased - supposing he

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concerns about respectable family women singing Krsna-themed songs and participating

in HolT festivals, male reformers were concerned about regulating and civilizing women’s
mourning behaviour in public settings. The loud and unruly nature of lament practices
proved embarrassing for upper-caste reformers such as Mulji and Nannada: . .The
Parsee says [on witnessing this] ‘how junglee these women are?’ and the English people
say ‘what stupid gypsies are they’... A household’s prestige is dependent on the woman.
The people of Europe take pride in their women” (Narmadashankar 1912[ 1867] 87, qtd
in Mukta 37). 135 For reformers like Narmadashankar, such public behavior by household
women threatened family honor because it did not confonn to middle-class, patriarchal
expectations of how women should conduct themselves (in public). It was, therefore,
recommended that women replace customary lament behavior, which included hurling
insults, beating one’s chest, and wailing with more sober, religiously-informed practices
such as singing and reading religious songs and literature during funerals. Krishnalal
Mohanlal Jhaveri, in his descrptions of Gujarati poets and writers, explains how Bapu
Saheb Gaikwar (1779-1843) from Baroda, who upon witnessing the dirges (rajid) sung
by female mourners was “struck by the emptiness of the subject-matter of the song, and
also with the ignorance of the reciters” (1914, 180). He composed a new dirge called
Ram Rajio, which enumerated the “six great enemies of humanity” such as passion,
anger, pride, envy, and so on. According to Jhaveri, in many regions this more religious

has left one - would enumerate all the inconveniences she had been put to during his lifetime by his mother
or sister” (179).

135 Elsewhere, Narmadashankar compares female mourners with professional female performers - who
were labeled as prostitutes by both colonial officals and Indian reformers throughout the nineteenth
century: “A prostitute dances, sings but that too on some special occasion within the house, and with
decorum and respect; but our women should be seen to be more shameless than the prostitute” ([1857]

1912, 78-79 qtd in Mukta 1999, 38).

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dirge soon began replacing the lament songs of female mourners. Ultimately, as Mukta
argues, the regulation and taming of public mourning by women was driven by a desire
to interiorize and make private the experience of grief within the boundaries of the home.
Similarily, as we have seen, attempts were also made to relocate Pustimarg women’s
religious practices to the home by discouraging lay women from visiting their gurus at
the havell, cease performing lewd songs in public and in front of the GosvamI, and
prohibiting their participation in Holl celebrations at the havelTs.

The literary outputs of Gujarati poets like Dalpatram Dhayabhai (1820-1898) -
the assistant and interpreter for Alexander Forbes (1821-1865) - can help reveal some of
the direct implications of nineteenth century reform campaigns which focused on popular
literary genres. Forbes, who served as a sessions judge in Surat and Ahmedabad, was
instrumental in establishing the Gujarat Vernacular Society (GVS) in 1848 in
Ahmedabad, an association he hoped would help promote education as well as an interest
in the Gujarati language and its literature. Through his relationship with Forbes,
Dalpatram became involved with the GVS, and in 1855 he became its secretary and the
editor of the society’s journal, the Buddhiprakash (“Illuminating Intelligence”). Leading
refonners and intellectuals of Gujarat, including Mahipatram Rupram, Bholanath
Sarabhai, and Narmadshankar Lalshankar contributed to the Buddhiprakash, which
circulated articles on economics, education, science, and social reform. 136 However, it
was through the poems and essays written by Dalpatram over the next twenty-five years
that the Buddhiprakash acquired its position as one of the most important journals among
the intellectual and mercantile elite of Gujarat. According to Svati Joshi, it is through the

136 It was in the Buddhiprakash that Narmadshankar Lalashankar published his essay on women’s
mourning practices, for which he received the prize of 135 rupees in 1857 (Mukta 1999, 29).

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essays and poems he wrote for the journal that Dalpatram “developed precise definitions
of ‘reform,’ ‘knowledge,’ ‘education,’ and ‘literature’ as these tenns acquired a specific
meaning for the dominant mercantile elite of the city” (2004, 332). He also wrote
“special” garbds for the Stribodh, a journal which was created for and catered to an upper
and middle-class female audience (Shukla 1991, 64). It is doubtful Dalpatram wrote
garbds or poems about the adulterine love between Krsna and the go pis for reformist
publications like the Buddhiprakash and the Stribodh. 137 Dalpatram condemned the
singing of “obscene” songs during weddings and festivals which, like most refonners of
his time, he interpreted as symptomatic of a lack of education among women. Dalpatram
was a supporter of women’s education, an education that would serve to enhance
“proper” feminine virtues so that young girls could one day become good, householding
women: “The daughter who has studied at school will have good manners of behaving
and talking; and she won’t stop in a crowd of wicked women who sing obscene songs...
[She] won’t quarrel in the family” (Dalpatram Dhayabhai, Buddhiprakash March 1857
qtd in Joshi, 337).

Journals like the Stribodh and Buddhiprakash, which were only accessible to
an elite, educated few, presented an alternative - or at least a new - subject-matter for
poems and songs like garbds. PustimargI garbds, which were the target of reform
campaigns, were reconstituted as a genre suited for illiterate, low-class or “uncultured”
women. This may partly explain why, as we discuss in the follow chapter, elite Pustimarg
women today have begun taking lessons in havelikirtan. By making claims to a more

137 Vasudha Dalmia, in her discussion on Hariscandra’s contribution to the first women’s journal in Hindi,
the Balabodhini (f. 1874), notes how Brajbhasa verses were censured in the journal since they were
considered “too erotic” for a female audience (1997, 247).

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“classical” Pustimarg genre, rather than the popular genres of dhols and garbcis, upper-
class women are constrcting boundaries between themselves and those Pustlmargl
women who do conform to such bourgeois aesthetic tastes.

Conclusion

In this chapter I presented a social history of female religiosity in Pustimarg
through an examination of women in the vcirtds and women’s engagement with
Pustimarg performance genres. The vcirtds reveal what is most valued by the tradition
and its practitioners, namely the grace of Srlnathjl and their gurus. The texts are also still
used by Pustimargls; they are heard in congregational settings, sung in the form of dhols,
and read at home or in groups during satsahg. Unlike women’s dhol-pads and garbcis,
moreover, the vcirtds have acquired canonical status within the tradition. This is because
they narrate the transformative experience of being initiated by Vallabha and
Vitthalanatha, they have been composed by male Gosvamls, and are written in Brajbhasa.

The vdrtci literature also indexes a quasi-historical image of Pustimargi
women’s day-to-day ritual activities. What conies across from many vdrtd narratives is
that women were - as they continue to remain today - vital practitioners in the
maintenance of domestic sevd. The tales also reveal that sevd takes time, needs space in
the home, and its proper perfonnance requires one to have enough financial means to
adequately prepare offerings. In the following chapter, we explore theses aspects of
women’s ritual lives by returning to our debate on class, domesticity, and the production
of an elite Pustimarg identity. I demonstrate how socio-religious reform movements,

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nationalist discourses, and twentieth-century consumer practices have reconstituted the
home as the modem site of Pustimarg patronage.

From our discussion of Pustimarg performance genres, we learned that bahiijTs
and betijTs as well as female lay practitioners wrote and sang devotional songs. The
compositions serve as an historical lens for focusing on the ways women have
contributed to Pustimarg’s oral traditions. The performance of such songs, many of
which have the erotic love between Krsna and the gopTs as their prominent theme, also
became the subject of vitriolic critique by refonners across western India, UP, and
Bengal. However, this does not mean that women stopped singing. In contemporary
Gujarat, women continue to sing dhols and garbas in satsang gatherings, while at home
perfonning seva, and in public settings at havelTs during festivals and also while waiting
for the doors to open before darsan. For this reason I agree with Parita Mukta, who
argues that the success of a reform campaign should not be measured “by the efficacy
and efficiency with which it was immediately able to obliterate the cultural practices it
contested” (1999, 33). Instead, we should turn our attention to how upper-caste, middle-
class ideologies of the reform era “...provided emerging notions of bourgeois
comportment which has had a lasting impact on the self-image of this class” (ibid). These
ideologies were in turn mapped onto the bodies and practices of household women, upon
whom family abru and respectability hinged. As we discuss in the following chapter,
such lasting implications of “bourgeois comportment” can be demonstrated today by the
increased commodified styles of domestic seva performed by women, as well as by
upper-class Pustimarg women’s growing interest in taking klrtan lessons in havellsanglt
or Pustimarg temple music. There is a desire among elite family women - whom can

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spare the time, have the monetary means to pay for such lessons, and who are clearly
literate - to leam how to sing the kirtans of haveli liturgy in their “proper” classical style.

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CHAPTER 5

From Havel 1 to Home:

Women’s Domestic Religious Practices and the Production of Prestige in
Contemporary Pustimarg

From the tradition’s beginnings, the home as well as the haveli have been
important sites of worship for Pustimargls. Chapters one and two provided several
historical indications of the practice of domestic sevd, at least from the late eighteenth
and early nineteenth centuries. Our discussion of the vdrtdis in chapter four also illustrates
the importance of domestic sevd in Pustimarg. Furthennore, starting with Vallabha
himself, the sect’s disavowal of asceticism and the foregrounding of the grhastha
(“householder”) dsrama or tradition demonstrates how the home and family are
important aspects of Pustimarg sectarian identity and community fonnation. Finally,
Pustimarg ritual praxis is imbued with domestic and familial imagery and emotions
(.bhdiv ): The haveli is understood as Nandalaya (“the home of Nanda,” Krsna’s foster-
father) and Srlnathjl is devotionally approached and treated as a young child in need of
parental care ( vdtsalya bhciv). PustimargI sectarian identities penneate quotidian domestic
activities such as waking, bathing, cooking, and eating, and the home is a place where
foods, and material objects, consumed are first dedicated to Srlnathjl, who is regarded as
a member of the family.

In contemporary Gujarat, the Pustimarg home continues to be an integral site
for performing sevd, hosting satsahgs with fellow practitioners, singing dhols and
garbas, inviting Gosvamls for religious talks ( bhcigavata kathd), and for celebrating
religious festivals. The home, however, is also the primary site in which other cultural

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processes take place. One of the major concerns of the present chapter is to tie together
our discussions from chapters three and four - on nineteenth century socio-religious
reform movements and domestic reform - with twentieth century nationalist ideologies,
consumption practices, and class politics. I suggest that these on-going processes
reconstitute the Pustimarg home as a cultural site for both class and sectarian identity
formation and production. Changing notions of domesticity and ideal womanhood,
moreover, reimagine upper-class household women (wives, daughter-in-laws, mothers)
as the primary practitioners, pedagogues, and producers of an elite Pustimarg identity.

On January 2, 2008 I was invited by Rukmini Shukla, a PustimargI Vaisnav
woman, to attend an event that her friend Bhavna Patel was hosting in her home in one of
the more upscale neighborhoods of Ahmedabad, Gujarat. 138 After we pulled up in
Rukmini’s Mercedes-Benz, we entered one of Bhavna’s three living rooms, where twelve
women had already gathered for the occasion. As was evident from their expensive silk
saris and accessories, as well as their luxury cars with drivers attentively stationed
outside, all of the women came from wealthy, upper class families. It soon became
apparent that some women in the group were friends, while others were related through
marriage. Rukmini began the session by handing out a small booklet on sevd, which the
women discussed for a short while. They then moved onto deliberations about different
srhgdr (“adornment”) designs for their household svarups (“image”), and ended with a
tentative plan for their upcoming pilgrimage tour to Mathura. While snacks and
refreshments were being served by Bhavna’s three housemaids, I asked how often this

138 All of my conversations with women in the Pustimarg community occurred in Hindi or Gujarati, and the
translations are my own. All the names of the women 1 worked with that appear in this chapter are
pseudonyms, with the exception of Dini Shodhan.

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afternoon gathering occurred and what, exactly, it was. “Once a month,” Rnkmini
answered, “it’s a Vaisnav kitty party .” 139

Events like Bhavna’s “Vaisnav kitty party” are regular occurrences among
Ahmedabad’s elite PustimargI Vaisnav women. They index the ways in which women’s
participation in the sect involves the reification of class privilege and status production. A
major preoccupation of PustimargI women today is the perfonnance of domestic sevd. In
this chapter I focus on the contemporary devotional practices of upper-class women in
the urban domestic context, primarily in the city of Ahmedabad. I examine how women’s
practice of domestic sevd becomes a site of familial negotiation and mediation among
females in the Pustimarg household. At the same time, the social networks and social
spaces created as a result of their practice of, and interest in, domestic sevd not only
reinforce their identities as Pustimarg Vaisnavs but also serve to reify their class
privilege. In the modem Pustimarg urban home, class and status come to be signified by
the characteristic markers of privilege, such as large bungalows, the presence of domestic
labor, and signs of available disposable income. However, family status is also
demonstrated by the material expressions of their devotional practices, such as increased
commodified styles of domestic worship, the consumption and display of expensive
religious commodities, the time and space allotted to the practice of domestic sevd, and
the ability and preference to pay for havelTklrtan lessons.

139 A “kitty party’’ is a kind of tea party or social gathering hosted by urban elite Indian women. Waldrop
(2011) draws on the work of Sethi (1995) and notes how, perhaps, the contemporary urban kitty-party
phenomenon may have developed from a type of rotating saving association common among women in
rural areas of South Asia. The contemporary, urban kitty-party differs from these associations in two
significant ways: “First, rather than emphasizing the saving aspect, the kitty-party emphasizes socializing
and entertainment, and second, rather than being popular among low-income groups, the kitty-party is
patronized by the middle and upper classes” (Sethi qtd. in Waldrop 2011, 164).

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Domesticity, Women, and the Nation

In chapter three we discussed how the Maharaj Libel Case in 1862 represented
the culmination of reformist critiques, which targeted the wealthy Pustimarg baniya and
bhatiya communities and their religious leaders, the Gosvamls. The most prominent
allegation put forth by reformers, like Karsondas Mulji, against Pustimarg Gosvamls was
regarding their sexual promiscuity and sexual exploitation of female devotees. The Libel
Case was indeed informed by Orientalist and Hindu revivalist preoccupations with
constructing “authentic” Hinduism along Sanskritic, upper-caste, and patriarchal lines.
However, the Libel Case was also implicated in and indexed larger, over-arching
nineteenth century discourses on women’s social, sexual, and religious behavior. More
generally, these included debates on widow remarriage, age of consent, and female
education. In terms of women’s religious and social practices, reforms focused on
women’s “superstitious” beliefs, their behavior during mourning ceremonies, and the
singing of “obscene songs” by women during weddings. Finally, Pustimarg women were
criticized for their relationship with Gosvamls, their movements to and from havelTs, and
the singing of erotic-themed garbcis and dhoh in festivals like HolT and in front of
Gosvamls. Middle-class women’s bodies and activities needed to be regulated because of
the metonymic ties being forged between home, women, and family status ( abru ) and
respectability. Karsondas Mulji expresses this view, while tying them to nationalist
concerns, in his anxious appeal to the men from the Pustimarg baniya community: “If
you do not respect your own home, then how is it possible for you to increase your
honour in the world? Woman constitutes your home and therefore, you ought to treat her

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with respect. Without such honour, our country’s status will never be high” (Motiwala,
237).

The proliferation of domestic manuals in the nineteenth century, the

introduction of Domestic Science in educational institutions, and the rise in women’s

journals (like the Stribodh ) illustrate the increased importance placed on husband-wife

relationships, child-rearing, and managing domestic chores and affairs “hygienically” and

efficiently. More importantly, such discourses centered on the wife’s central role in the

production of proper domesticity (Walsh 2004, 8). Texts like Essay on the Promotion of

Domestic Reform (1881), written by Elphinstone graduate Ganpat Lakshman, indicate

common concerns middle-class male refonners had regarding women’s activities in the

home. In one section, Ganpat Lakshman contrasts the condition and activities of young

women who come from upper class homes with those from lower class households in

Bombay. 140 He criticizes young ladies from upper-class families - who lack proper

education - for spending their days “engaged in unnecessary ceremonies, in useless

rivalries... in idle talking”, and in discussing the marriages of their friends and the

ornaments and articles of furniture exchanged during these events (83). On a positive

note, Lakshman notes that if they can read a few girls from these families might be seen

reading some religious books (84). However, Ganpat Lakshman suggests that the “most

honorable” activity for women from upper class families is needle-work. He even quotes

from what appears to be Samuel Johnson’s Rambler (1751): “whenever chance brings

within my observation a knot of young ladies busy at their needles, I consider myself as

in the school of virtue.. .because I regard them as providing a security against the most

140 It is important to note that reformers during this time period, including Ganpat Lakshman, used the
English terms “upper-class,” “middle-class,” and "lower-class.”

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dangerous snares of the soul by enabling themselves to exclude idleness from their
solitary moments” (82).

In describing the condition of young women from lower-class families, Ganpat

Lakshman notes how they do not have fine cloths to sew, do not participate in

ceremonies “for they have no money to discharge the expenses attending them,” and do

not practice singing, “for they are so removed from the polish and refinement of the

higher classes, as never to have been able to acquire a taste for that art” (90). He is also

critical of women from the lower classes who have to find employment outside their

home because of the lack of attention their children will receive (75-76). The lower-class

female labourer, who appears to spend no time at home with her children, disturbs the

patriarchal nuclear family model being promoted by domestic and social reformers in the

nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The wife-mother is expected to be both the

“governess of the home” and the moral educator of children, roles which she cannot

possibly fulfill if she spends her time outside of the house. Decades later, in the early

twentieth century, Mahatma Gandhi echoes similar views on women in the home, using,

once again, the example of the lower-class female labourer:

“.. .women also must be gradually weaned from mill labour. If man and
woman are partners in life and complementary each of the other, they
become good householders only by dividing their labour, and a wise mother
finds her time fully occupied in looking after her household and children.

But where both husband and wife have to labour for mere maintenance, the
nation must become degraded. It is like a bankrupt living on his capital”.

(“Advice to Satyagrahis in an Industrial Strike ,” in the Selected Works of
Mahatma Gandhi, 116)

The rise of cultural nationalism towards the end of the nineteenth century, as
well as the influence of Gandhian nationalism in the early decades of the twentieth

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century, saw discourses surrounding women and domesticity put into the service of
national regeneration. As Mary Hanco*ck points out, the nationalist period saw a
sharpening of the social meanings of and distinctions between “private” and “public”
spaces and forms of action. “In elite nationalisms,” Hanco*ck attests, “the privatization of
domesticity accompanied efforts to frame homes both as (feminine) ‘backstages’ of new
(masculine) public realms, and as sites for producing new nationalized and classed
subjects” (2001, 876). Furthermore, if during the period of reform women’s roles as
companionate wives were emphasized, nationalism heralded childrearing and
motherhood as the moral and civic duty of all women. 141

With regards to Gandhian nationalism, more generally, Madhu Kishwar (1985)
acknowledges that the movement succeeded in mobilizing a large number of women to
participate in anti-colonial campaigns. In some respects Gandhi’s views on women mark
an important shift from earlier nineteenth century refonn constructions of womanhood.
The most crucial difference, Kishwar argues, is that Gandhi “does not see women as
objects of reform, as helpless creatures deserving charitable concern. Instead, he sees
them as active, self- conscious agents of social change” (1757). However, as Sujata Patel
(1988) points out, such a simplistic and rather romantic reading of “women’s

141 Ideologies and practices that tied women’s domesticity to national welfare and racial purity were not
confined to the colony alone. As Ann Stoler explains, childrearing was hailed as a “national, imperial, and
racial duty’’ in late-nineteenth century Britain, France, Holland, the United States, and Germany (1991, 82).
Nationalist discourses across the modern world were also couched in domestic and familial imagery, where
the country is imagined as a homeland, its language(s) recast as mother-tongue(s), its citizens constituting a
brotherhood and fraternity, and the nation itself is “incarnated as parent - sometimes a father figure but
most often than not mother” (Ramaswamy 2010, 74). In India, the image of motherhood as well as the
positioning of women as “mothers of the nation” found its culmination or apotheosis in the figure of the
goddess, Bharat Mata (“Mother India”). As Sumathi Ramaswamy argues, “Like her human surrogate,
Bharat Mata is a ‘new woman’... She is the inviolable essence of the nation in the making, and as such she
is imagined as the cherished and venerable mother who presides over her home that is deemed the last
bastion of autonomy and authenticity in a world that has been made over by the work of empire and
colonialism” (74-75).

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involvement” in Gandhian politics obfuscates any differences in class, caste, and religion
which informed Gandhi’s articulation of ideal womanhood and which characterized the
kind of women who did participate in the nationalist movement. Indeed, Gandhi viewed
practices like child marriage, sati, and dowry as oppressive and cruel to women. 142 He
also supported women’s right to vote and encouraged women’s “political” roles. These
roles, however, were embedded and shaped by specific urban middle-class and upper-
caste understandings of women’s inherent virtues and values, ideas that resonate with
social reform movements of the past. For example, in addition to spinning khadi (“raw
cotton”) during the civil disobedience movement or rallying against the purchase of
foreign goods, one of the most important “political” roles a woman could have was as a
mother: she instilled national consciousness in her children, she spinned khcidi at home,
and was responsible for clothing her family in Indian-made fabric (378, 380).
Furthermore, if a woman were able to reject her sexuality and family life, and instead
channeled her energies towards national welfare, she could “achieve a higher moral and
spiritual role” (378). A woman’s inherent feminine virtues - those of patience, courage,
purity, and the ability to endure suffering - were projected as superior to masculine ones
in Gandhian national rhetoric.

In many ways, earlier nineteenth century debates surrounding domesticity and

women’s sexual and social practices dovetailed with such nationalist articulations of ideal

womanhood. Women’s roles as companionate wives, as producers of domestic order, and

142 Although Gandhi does criticize the practice of sati he nevertheless places the state of widowhood on a
spiritual pedestal, which does not help ameliorate the social, emotional, and economic conditions of
widowhood per se. According to Gandhi, widowhood presented an opportunity for women to practice
spiritual cultivation and to live a life of austerity. For example, in 1924, Gandhi claimed “the Hindu
widow’s self control has been carried by Hinduism to its greatest heights.. .A widow does not even look at
suffering as suffering. Renunciation has become a second nature to them, and to renounce it would be
painful to them. They find happiness in their self denial” (CWMG, Vol 22, 1924, p 523 qtd in Patel 385).

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especially their motherly responsibility as moral educators of (male) children/citizens,
were viewed as the backbone of national order and progress. The growing concern with
producing a domestic environment where the nation’s future citizens could cultivate their
cultural and national identities precluded domestic and gender reform movements from
progressing along wholly western lines. This process hinged on middle-class women’s
abilities to negotiate modernity. On the one hand, they had to be cautious of not
becoming “too western” or “too educated” (that is, “too reformed”). On the other hand,
they had to distance themselves from the behavior of “uncultured” women, those who
followed superstitious beliefs, wailed and beat their chests in mourning rituals, or in the
Pustimarg context, those who continued to regard Gosvamls as divine figures, sang lewd
gopT-bhdv songs, or “mixed promiscuously” with men at havelTs. At the same time,
moreover, it was important, indeed essential, that Pustimarg women continued to uphold
their religious practices, especially in the home. It was a critical mechanism by which the
modernizing middle-classes could assert their cultural superiority over the West
(Chatterjee 1990; 1993). However, women’s ritual practices needed to be regulated so
that their actions helped reify rather than undennine emerging notions of family status
and female respectability.

By the twentieth century, the ideal urban, middle-class Hindu woman was cast
as a repository of inherent spiritual and moral virtues, understood through the upper-
caste, patriarchal sdstric language of strl-dharma (“women’s duty”) and the idealized
figure of the pativratd (“devoted wife”). 143 The degree to which women could engage in

143 As Dipesh Chakrabarty argues, “Converting women into grihalakshmis (Lakshmi of the household)
through the novel means of formal education was the self-appointed task of a civilising nationalism” (1993,

9).

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religious practices - without allowing them to disrupt their roles as a mothers and wives -
helped produce and maintain family status or cibru. This process was symptomatic of the
larger project of modernity namely, the gendering of home as an inherently spiritual,
feminine space and the outside world as inherently rational and masculine (Chatterjee
1989; 1993). The home was imagined as a site of cultural production that hinged on
constructing women as practitioners and producers of status, comfort, and respectability,
and, more importantly, women were cast as the custodians and embodiments of an
“authentic” Hindu identity.

Such reformist negotiations with nationalist modernity and the implications of
women’s domestic practices in this process can be illustrated in the pages of later
domestic manuals, like Hargovindas Dvarkadas Kantavala’s Gujarati publication, Grh
Vidyci athvd Ghar Vyavastha (“Home Science” or “Home Management,” 1927). 144 Here,
advice to women is indeed disseminated along more “Indian lines.” Kantavala felt the
types of clothing, like scarfs, socks, and gloves that young girls were learning to knit in
schools seemed more beneficial for a European society. Instead, he wanted young Indian
girls to learn Indian styles of embroidery (1-2). He criticized Gujarati women, most likely
from upper-class families, who did not know how to cook because they had domestic
help in the kitchen. For this reason, Kantalava attempted to initiate cooking classes in
places like Baroda; he insisted that pak-sastra (“Science of Cooking”) was just as
relevant to leam in girls’ schools as the geography of Africa or the river-system of Brazil
(6). After providing information on hygienic practices (18-27), Kantavala advises women
to become more economically aware and to begin keeping accounts of the materials and

144 1 am indebted to Abigail McGowan for sharing her vast collection of Gujarati domestic manuals with
me, many of which were published around the turn of the twentieth century.

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food-items being purchased for the home (35-36). In his advice for married couples,
moreover, Kantavala explains how a woman who does not consider her husband to be her
svami (“lord”), and instead demeans him (“ thuchkare ”), cannot expect to be loved by her
husband (131). And although he acknowledges that only the highest caliber woman (a
sadhvt) can follow all the prescriptions of stri-dharma, Kantavala urges that every
woman should uphold her dharma as best as possible in the modem age (132). Finally,
in addition to sending children to school, Kantavala called upon parents to impart a moral
(“mtf ’) or dharmic education to their children. If they cannot, they should at the very
least urge their children to engage in practices that can help instill moral virtues, such as
perfonning worship after bathing, reciting devotional songs (“ bhajan , kirtan ”) and
listening to dharmic and moral teachings in the fonn of kathds and vdrtds (135-136).
Kantavala’s advice envisions parents, and especially mothers, as pedagogues of morality
and of dharmic or religious teachings and practices, and the home is effectively
reimagined as the primary site of cultural production.

Gender, Consumption, and the Production of Class

From our discussion thus far, we can identify some key factors involved in the
articulation and production of urban middle-class identities by the early decades of the
twentieth century Bombay Presidency. Members of the middle-classes were intimately
involved in the projects of modernity, such as acquiring a Western education, entering
government service, and engaging with print culture. Using these tools, many propelled
themselves into the political sphere by challenging both the aristocratic and mercantile
elite and colonial leadership. The rise in urban professional jobs, such as in law and

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medicine, allowed many members of the middle-classes to bridge the gap between
themselves and the wealthy elite. Economic status, as detennined by one’s occupation
and income, was - and still is - an important aspect of class identity. 145 However, the
middle-classes were also the primary mobilizers of social and religious reform, which
reconstituted women and domesticity as moral indicators of family status and
respectability. Sanjay Joshi, in his study on the middle-classes of colonial Lucknow
(2001), attributes all of these factors, and not just economic progress, to the ascendency
of the middle-class in postcolonial India: “... [it] was a product of a relatively long
historical process, and was predicated on the creation of new forms of politics, the
restructuring of nonns of social conduct, and the construction of new values guiding
domestic as well as public life” (1).

The middle-classes were never a hom*ogenous social group. Even today, in a
post-liberalization economic context, India’s middle-classes are far from being
constitutive of a clearly demarcated economic or social category. As Henrike Donner and
Geert De Neve point out, in contemporary India, a growing number of individuals self-
identify as “middle-class.” 146 This poses difficulties for researchers who want to define
middle-class status because “even the most cursory glance” at the communities and
individuals who self-ascribe as being middle class differ widely, “not only in tenns of
economic position and consumption practices but also in terms of status and values”

145 Traditional, Weberian approaches to class highlight economic factors such as education, occupation and
social networks, and a community’s relationship with the market (Donner and De Neve, 6).

146 “Middle-class” has become a ubiquitous term in today’s India, and it is used by the government, the
media, and by citizens to describe a large and inconsistent portion of India’s population. According to
recent studies conducted by the Indian National Council of Applied Economic Research (INCAER), which
identifies the middle-class as those earning between $4,000 and $21,000 per year, the Indian middle class
constitute 60 million people. While other studies, such as those conducted by CNN-IBN and the Hindustan
Times in which middle-class status is based on the ownership of at least one commodity (telephone,
washing machine, color television), the figure is estimated as high as 200 million (Ram-Prasad, 2007).

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(2011, 3). From its very emergence then, to be middle-class was a project of self-
fashioning, constantly in the making, rather than a “flat sociological fact” (Joshi, 2001 2).

In addition to the old, colonial qualifiers of class status - one’s education,
occupation, and family background - an important factor in the “self-fashioning” of
status, especially in India’s post-liberalization era (1980s-90s and on), is the consumption
and acquisition of commodities. Global capitalist economies, new modes of consumption,
as well as decreased anxieties over the conspicuous display of wealth, has created a “new
consumerist” middle-class in contemporary India (Donner and De Neve, 5). Women’s
growing roles as consumers and their ability to dictate what can be purchased for the
home has allowed for new and creative material expressions of status, aesthetic tastes,
and religious sensibilities in the urban Pustimarg household.

To this end, the work of Pierre Bourdieu (1984) has greatly enriched our
understandings of class production and display. In addition to economic capital, Bourdieu
explains how both cultural and social forms of capital are implicated in the production of
status in a given group or community. Cultural capital involves those cultural skills and
practices, such as “table manners or the art of conversation, musical culture or the sense
of propriety” (70), which “symbolize possession of the material and cultural means of
maintaining a bourgeois life-style” (122). Social capital refers to “a capital of social
connections, honourability and respectability that is often essential in winning and
keeping the confidence of high society” (122). Building on Bourdieu’s theories, I suggest
that the maintenance and production of an elite Pustimarg sectarian identity are cultural
practices which establish and promote both family respectability and a network of social

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connections among the Pustimarg mercantile elite of Gujarat. 147 My discussion of
Pustimarg laywomen’s sevd rituals also draw heavily from Mary Hanco*ck’s brilliant
study on south Indian smarta women’s religious practices. Hanco*ck argues that the
everyday actions in which women’s rituals are embedded - such as washing, cooking,
and eating - reproduce caste, gender, and class identities (1999, 21). These domestic
rituals, like other cultural practices, have been “transformed by contestatory nationalisms,
transnational processes, commodification, and class formation” (25). Drawing upon both
Hanco*ck and Bourdieu I demonstrate that, in the Pustimarg context, women’s ritual
activities can be understood as sites of cultural consumption and display, where the
practice of domestic sevd not only reinforces their identities as Pustimarg Vaisnavs but
also serve to reify their class privilege. Increased commodified styles of domestic sevd,
the display of expensive religious commodities, as well as the growing desire among elite
women to leam how to sing havelikirtans are all practices that help reproduce class
differences and social hierarchies between members of the Pustimarg community.

In his study on consumption practices and domestic economies in late colonial
Bombay, Prashant Kidambi notes how, after the first world war, the rise in available
goods, services, and mass entertainments offered urban consumers a plethora of
choices. 148 As Kidambi argues, “those who claimed to belong to the middle class were

147 Josephine Reynell (1987), in her study on laywomen’s religious practices amongst the Svetambar Jain
community in Jaipur, also draws similar conclusions vis-a-vis religious identities and class status. Reynell
demonstrates how men’s public donative practices as well as women’s domestic ritual practices, which
include the maintenance of daily worship and the performance of weekly, monthly and/or annual fasts, are
modes by which family prestige is demonstrated. Since many of the Jain families she worked with are
members of the wealthy elite, Reynell argues that “The maintenance of this prestige is an important
economic strategy with implications for the future standing of each family within the community” (318).

148 An 1893 article published in the Gujarati reformist journal, the Buddhiprakash, lists a number of foreign
goods that can be found in the homes of Gujarati families: French satin sari s, pocket-watches, spoons,
matchsticks, china tea cups and saucers, children’s toys, et cetera (McGowan 2006, 35; 2010, 157).

228

conscious of the fact that consumption had become an essential measure of status in a
modernizing urban context where the traditional markers of the caste hierarchy were no
longer adequate guarantors of social standing” (2010, 118). However, economic
uncertainty through the 1920s and 1930s combined with a growing Gandhian nationalist
rhetoric which discouraged conspicuous consumption practices, placed middle-class
families in a position of consistently having to “weigh up their quotidian spending
choices” (118). Although the years leading up to the second world war can hardly be
characterized by a “culture of mass consumption” and “consumerism,” the turn of the
century nevertheless marked an important shift in women’s roles as consumers. Urban,
elite housewives were not only using new goods, but as Abigail McGowan points out,
“they were claiming authority over goods in new ways” (2006, 35). Changing domestic
ideologies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century challenged traditional
models of the domestic economy in which elders of the home managed finances and
purchases for the joint family and only senior women monitored and controlled
expenditures on foodstuffs and servants (35). Publications catered to urban elite
housewives, like Pandita Ramabai’s Stri Dharma Niti (“Morals for Women”), vernacular
translations of Flora Annie Steel’s The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook, journals
like Stribodh, and domestic manuals in general, emphasized and indexed the important
roles of women as managers of domestic order, comfort - - and now, consumption (36-
37).

This is to not say that housewives, all of a sudden, became consuming agents
in charge of the family’s financial resources. Other than the valuables and money women
would bring with them at the time of marriage, upper-class women in late colonial India

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most likely did not work outside of the home; they have been, and many continue to
remain, wholly dependent on their husbands and the men of the family for access to
money. For the most part, moreover, women from elite families during the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries did not travel to bazaars to purchase goods. Instead they
sent servants or kinsmen from their families and relied on their consumer choices. As
Douglas Haynes and Abigail McGowan acknowledge, “Consumption behaviours played
a central role in the shaping of power relations. They were essential in the creation and
maintenance of patterns of economic dominance, social status, and patriarchy” (2010, 4).

Having said that, economic capital is not the only means by which class and
family status is maintained and reproduced. Although the men of a household may make
the final decision on important family expenditures, in the Pustimarg context, women’s
aesthetic choices and their active engagement in religious activities, from the daily
maintenance of domestic sevd (which includes the use of various ritual accoutrements
and food offerings), going on pilgrimage, organizing satsahg gatherings, purchasing - or
even influencing the decision to purchase - expensive religious commodities to display in
the home, allow women to “transmute wealth into moral worth” (Hanco*ck 1999, 86). Just
as patterns of religious giving have, historically, allowed wealthy baniyd men to “safely”
demonstrate and produce family prestige, Pustimarg women’s religious activities mitigate
anxieties over the frivolous spending habits of urban housewives. Their maintenance and
perpetuation of an elite Pustimarg identity, moreover, provides the cultural and social
capital needed to reproduce family class status and respectability, and signals the
extension of consumer culture to ritual praxis.

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Bonds of Grace: Kinship Ties, Social Networks, and the Practice of Domestic Seva

I begin our discussion of contemporary Pustimarg domestic sevd by
demonstrating how the practice was introduced to many women as a result of their
marriage into PustimargI families. At times, the rite of initiation and the practice of
domestic sevci becomes a source of tension between kinswomen and husbands and wives.
Moreover, marriage, and the various social ties between women that emerge as a result of
it, signals an association between the practice of sevd, class privilege, and family status
production.

The prominent bhakti-bhdv (devotional sentiment) evoked in Pustimarg is
vdtsalya-bhdv (“parental-love”), performing the sevd of Srlnathjl with all the care,
attentiveness, and love that a mother has for her child. 149 Most of the women I
interviewed in Ahmedabad spend an average of one and a half to two hours a day
perfonning sevd, which includes preparing ritual food offerings ( bhog ), adorning the
image of Krsna ( srngdr ), offering the mid-day meal ( rdjbhog ), and finally ending in the
evening with placing Krsna to sleep until the next morning ( sayan ), when he is awakened

149 It is perhaps in the bhakti context, particularly in the Vaisnav bhakti context, that we can truly appreciate
the congruence of religious and aesthetic experience. In Vaisnav bhakti , emotional sentiments or bhdv
becomes the primary mode of approaching and experiencing the divine. Medieval Vaisnav theologians and
rhetoricians, such as the Gaudlya Vaisnavs, Rupa GosvamI and JIva GosvamI, substantiated the role of
emotion in bhakti by invoking and reinterpreting Sanskrit aesthetic theory and reducing the eight ( sthdyi -)
bhdv s to five: ddsya-bhdv (servitude); sdkhya-bhdv (friendship); vdtsalya-bhdv (parental love); madhura-
bhdv (erotic love); and, sdnta-bhdv (peace and reverence) (Haberman 1988; McDaniel 1989; Wulff 1984).
Each bhdv (except, perhaps the fifth) is modeled after human relationships and, therefore, each devotional
relationship or bhakti-bhdv becomes a particular mode by which devotees approach and experience their
love for Krsna. The earliest reference to this taxonomy of bhakti-bhdv s can be found in the tenth century
text, the Ndradabhaktisutra (v.82). Narada also explains how a devotee should completely surrender
themselves to Krsna, where the dynamic experience of the pain of separation ( viraha ) and joy in union
(samyog ) with Krsna becomes the highest emotional state.

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for the morning art! (waving of the camphor flame or mangal drti). 150 Since Pustimarg
follows orthodox purity-pollution prescriptions, most women observe menstrual
restrictions and delegate the the perfonnance of sevd to their family members during
times of menses. Furthermore, many, if not all, the women I worked with learned how to
perfonn sevd from their own mothers, grand-mothers or grand-fathers, aunts, mother-in-
laws, and female friends - and not from printed sevd manuals. 151 Printed sevd guides are
kept on hand for festivals and for remembering which klrtam or clhoh to sing during each
darsan. Several women also have re-written their grandparents or in-laws 'sevd guides or
have had them dictated from memory by their elders, thus committing them to writing for
the first time. Although many women have begun to attend sevd sivirs or “retreats” and
are turning to published sevd manuals or paddhatis - which leads to a more standardized
practice of sevd - descriptions of sevd practices have thus varied throughout my study.

Bhavna Patel, whom we were introduced to in the opening narrative (see page
216) and Ganga Patel are sister-in-laws (married to two brothers) in an affluent business
class family in Ahmedabad. 152 Their mother-in-law (sds), Kajol Patel (b.1909), was an
ardent Pustimarg devotee who followed strict purity rules in her preparations and

150 In havelT contexts the sevd of Srinathjl is structured according to the following liturgical cycle: Mangal
(Krsna is awakened); srhgar (the svarup is adorned); gvcll (Krsna is displayed as walking in the pasture
with cows, and playing with his friends); rdjabhog (the most ornate of them, when Krsna is presented with
his mid-day meal); utthapan (after an afternoon nap, Krsna has wandered off in the pastures with his
friends and is called to return); sandhya. (Krsna is offered a light meal); sayan (Krsna has gone to bed for
the night). Although many lay practitioners attempt to follow this routine, for the most part, they conflate
mangal and srngar, and sometimes rdjbhog as well, or the mid-day is meal offered several hours later.
Some perform utthapan, and again conflate sandhya and sayan in the evening if they have time. However,
many women simply stop after offering rdjbhog and do not perform the evening sevd. The primary reason
given for this is that, by the evening, their husbands and children come home from work or school (if the
children are young).

151 As Bhavna expressed to me, “meri sds hi meri guru hai,” “my mother-in-law is my teacher.”

152 With Bhavna and Ganga, the Patel family has now been PustimargI for at least three generations.
Financially, Bhavna states how her in-laws were not always a very wealthy family, with their construction
business only prospering in the last few decades.

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performance of sevd (apras sevd ). One of the primary domestic duties of daughter-in-
laws ( bahu ) is the preparation of meals, and since all the food cooked in the house was
first ritually offered to Krsna, Bhavna and Ganga were expected to obtain initiation
before marrying into the family. Without being initiated, Bhavna and Ganga would not be
able to perform one of their primary household obligations, namely enter the kitchen and
cook all meals for the entire family.

The two women were also expected to assist their mother-in-law in her daily
performance of sevd. Bhavna recalled an incident that occurred in the first few years of
marriage when her mother-in-law asked her to place the tray of food-offerings in the sevd
room before guests arrived. 153 Sensing her irritability, Bhavna’s mother-in-law felt that
the food-offerings had been “tainted” and so she did not offer the food to Srlnathjl, and
she and her husband fasted for the rest of the day. As Bhavna remembers, “It was very
difficult in the beginning. I was not attached at all, there were too many rules, and they
all felt so unnecessary.” When I met them many years after this incident, Bhavna and
Ganga perform daily sevd in their respective homes and both acknowledge how sevd has
become an integral and even fulfilling part of their lives; without it their day would not
feel complete. When I asked Bhavna about her daughter-in-law - who happens to come
from a Jain family - Bhavna noted with enthusiasm that she has also received Pustimarg
diksa and occasionally helps her in performing daily sevd . 154

153 In addition to the maintenance of ritual purity, most PustimargI followers do not allow food-offerings to
be touched or seen by non-Pustimargl individuals in order to protect the food-offerings from the “evil-eye”
or drsti.

154 In my own work, I came across several households in which the wife’s/daughter-in-law’s natal family
were Jain, and who were nevertheless expected to obtain diksa at the time of marriage. There were also
examples of young women from Pustimarg families marrying into Jain families. This does not resonate
with Josephine Reynell’s study of Jain women, in which she argues “...marriages with other Jain castes or

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Similar experiences of being obliged to obtain diksa before marriage are
common to many of the women I worked with who married into PustimargI families. In
addition to being a method for perpetuating Pustimarg sectarian identities, the rite of
initiation and the daily practice of sevci became one of the many means by which the
authority of a groom’s family, especially that of the mother-in-law, is deployed,
maintained, and even resisted. Gita Lakhani, who is in her early seventies and is at the
social center of a large Pustimarg community in Ahmedabad, comments on how a
mother-in-law’s daily sevd practice - particularly her strict enforcement of purity rules -
can have far lasting and detrimental effects on relationships between kinswomen. When a
mother-in-law is too strict, Gita explains, and she keeps saying to her daughter-in-law
“don’t come into the kitchen!,” “wash yourself!,” “don’t touch me!,” it is bound to create
tensions. “And now, when the sds is old,” Lakhani quips, “her bahu does not want to take
care of her.”

On several occasions the conversation became uncomfortable when I asked
some older women if their daughter-in-laws assist them in doing sevd. Sudha Shah, who
also received initiation at the time of her wedding forty-six years ago, shares her
disappointment at the lack of interest her bahus express when perfonning sevd. With
time, she says, her daughter-in-laws have stopped participating in and assisting her with
daily sevd altogether, unless there is a large festival approaching. This is a concern for
Sudha as she is not sure whether the practice of sevd, which has been maintained by her

with non Jain castes are strictly censured” (1987, 332). Douglas Haynes, on the other hand, does
acknowledge how sectarian affdiations at times failed to preserve rigid endogamous and communal
boundaries between Yixahmm-bamya merchants: “Intermarriage was possible [between Jains and
Vaishnavas] in some cases, especially since some jnatis [sub-castes] included both Jain and Hindu
families” (Govindbhai Desai, Hindu Families in Gujarat, qtd in Haynes 1991, 55). It would seem that
among the banTyd communities, caste and class status at times trumped sectarian or religious differences.

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husband’s family for at least the last two generations, will continue with her
grandchildren. These anxieties signal the important roles and pressures women, as
mothers, face to preserve and perpetuate a family’s sectarian identity by ensuring that
they and their children continue the practice of domestic sevd.

There are, however, exceptional cases in which a daughter-in-law who is not a
follower of Pustimarg maintains the family’s domestic sevd. This is the case with Dini
Shodhan, the great-grand-daughter-in-law of Pustimarg seth, Balabhai Damordas, who
founded the well-known Sarangpur Mills in Ahmedabad (see page 81). I visited Dini
Shodhan in the family’s large estate where there is a small temple built on the grounds
next to her home, the “Villa Shodhan,” designed by the French architect, Le Corbusier.
Dini, who comes from a Jain family, continued to have a Jain shrine in her home after her
marriage. She notes how her husband’s family, especially her mother-in-law, were
staunch (‘ pakkd ’) Pustimargls; her sds would not even come to her home to eat meals.
When her in-laws passed away, their svariip became the inheritance of their son, Dini’s
husband. The svariip, which is close to one hundred years old, was placed in the temple
built on the Villa’s grounds. Pustimarg ritual specialists ( mukhiyas ) have been hired to
maintain the daily domestic sevd practices which used to take place at her in-laws home.
The women who would come for satsang and observed darsan at her mother-in-law’s
residence have followed the svariip and congregate at Dini’s house fairly often. Dini,
who has a PhD in Chemistry, fondly acknowledges how her mother-in-law was a
“different kind of person, above this world.” Not only has Dini preserved the century-
long worship of her in-law’s svariip , she explains how there is a trust in place, which will
guarantee the continued maintenance of sevd after they pass away.

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Lay practitioners, like Sapna Amin, say they will never impose the rite of
initiation on their new daughter-in-laws. They are also not expecting their own children
or bahus to continue performing sevci after they have passed away. Sapna, who comes
from a Svaminarayan Vaisnav family, was asked to receive diksci by her PustimargI
mother-in-law who made it clear that no one would eat any food cooked by Sapna unless
she received initiation before the wedding. Like Bhavana and Ganga, Sapna initially did
not feel emotionally involved in her daily performance of sevci. Although she now admits
that sevci has become an important aspect of her day, Sapna says she will not “force” her
new daughter-in-laws to do the same. She understands how demanding the daily practice
of sevci - with its purity and dietary rules - can be for a daughter-in-law who was not
raised in a PustimargI family, especially if she does not have support from her husband.

Sapna’s experience also demonstrates how the practice of sevci can become a
site of tension between women and their husbands. As our conversation progressed Sapna
explained how her husband, a wealthy business man, is out of the house for most of the
day but requires her unequivocal attention when he is at home. At times, she says, her
husband becomes upset if she spends too much time doing seva at the expense of
fulfilling her responsibilities as a mother and wife. Therefore, Sapna performs sevci for a
relative short amount of time every day (about forty-five minutes) and only performs
sevci once her husband has left for work. However, this is not to suggest that only the men
in a Pustimarg family are drawing the boundaries between women’s religious activities
and household duties or dictating the degree to which their wives can be involved in the
perfonnance of domestic sevci. Several women expressed that taking care of their family
is indeed the primary responsibility of a mother and wife, a responsibility that cannot be

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abandoned or neglected at the expense of their sevd practices. After all, Pustimarg is a
householder tradition that does not place a high value on renunciation or ascetic
withdrawal from family life. As one woman told me, “where does it say that we should
stop taking care of our family to do sevci ?”

Although the custom of married women adopting the religious practices of
their in-laws is expected and usually accepted by incoming bahus, I have encountered
several examples of women who decided to obtain Pustimarg diksci later in life, or who
have continued to perform sevd in their new homes, even if their in-laws are not
Pustimargl. Neelima Patel, who married when she was twenty years old, decided to
receive initiation a dozen years after her marriage. Her mother-in-law was an orthodox
Svamlnarayan follower, and so Neelima kept both her initiation and her sevd practices a
secret for many years. She also still continued visiting Svamlnarayan temples as well as
Pustimarg have/Ts. Now, many years later, her son and daughter both received dlksd and
her daughter-in-law is also Pustimargl. Neelima admits that if there was ever any point of
contention between her and her sds it was because she was Pustimargl and her mother-in-
law was Svamlnarayan.

Payal Patel presents an example of how some women have continued with
their Pustimarg practices in their in-laws homes. Payal received dlksd when she was eight
years old and leamt all aspects of Pustimarg sevd from her grandmother. Sometime after
she married into a wealthy non-Pustimargl Gujarati family, her mother passed away
leaving Payal with her personal svarup. 155 Payal decided to continue performing sevd to

155 Normally after a practitioner passes away, their personal svarup needs to undergo a re-consecration
ceremony in order to be worshiped again. During the consecration ceremony the svarup is touched by a

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the svarup in her in-laws’ home and eventually even Payal’s husband, Chetanbhai,

obtained diksci and has since been participating by performing the morning mangal cirti
with her. Her children and daughter-in-law have also received diksci and assist her
occasionally in performing daily sevd. For a brief period of time even Payal’s mother-in-
law performed daily sevd with them, and recently her sister-in-law (Chetanbhai’s sister),
Rukmini Shukla, has also obtained initiation.

Rukmini Shukla, who comes from a wealthy upper-class family, is the woman
who first invited me to the Vaisnav “kitty-party” at Bhavna’s home (see page 216).
Rukmini became exposed to sevd practices and Pustimarg religious culture in general
through her kinship ties with Payal (her brother’s wife). Like most women I worked with
in Ahmedabad, Rukmini did not learn all aspects of sevd from a u sevd manual” or
paddhati. Instead she learned how to perform sevd from Payal, her Pustimarg friends, and
she says she also draws inspiration for srngar (adornment) ideas from her occasional
visits to the haveli during festivals. It was only after visiting the pilgrimage town of
Nathdwara in 2000 that Rukmini says she was inspired to finally obtain diksci and
purchase a Srlnathjl svariip. Rukmini received diksci without telling her husband, and
while laughing softly, she recalls the moment she called him and said “I’m Vaisnav!”.

Her husband asked if she will start doing sevd at home; he was concerned that she would
become too involved and invest too much time in it.

Rukmini’s husband’s family is Sakta, and worship to Devi still continues in the
home. Her sds did not mind when Rukmini obtained initiation in Pustimarg, and she has

Gosvami. He bathes the image with five sacred substances ( pancamrt: milk, curd, honey, clarified butter,
and sugar), and offers it prasad from a previously established svarup.

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accepted the change in Rukmini’s daily mode of living as a result of her new religious
affiliations, such as only eating meals after they are offered to her ThakurjI. Rukmini has
Brahmin cooks, and her maids have also received initiation, so she is not worried about
breaching any purity rules if they assist her in making preparations for her performance
of daily sevd and during festivals. I asked her about her children; her two sons have
undergone the first stage of initiation. Rukmini also insists that she will not force
initiation upon any future daughter-in-laws: “If they do my sevci [in the sense of ‘taking
care’ of her],” Rukmini explains, “so that I can continue doing my sevd [to Srlnathjl],
then it is as though they are doing sevd indirectly.” She uses this same logic to explain
how, even though her husband performs minimal sevd, he nevertheless “does the most
sevd since, after all, he gives me the money to do it!” This notion was echoed by several
women, that is, without their husband’s support, in the fonn of their general acceptance
as well as their explicit financial support, many women would not be able to continue
perfonning sevd.

It is in the context of these ever-expanding and overlapping circles of women
who are connected through marriage and other social-networks that I became interested
in exploring the points of intersection between domestic sevd, women’s participation, and
the production of class among Pustimarg families. This chapter began with a short
description of my visit to Bhavna Patel’s home, where she was hosting the afternoon kitty
party. In her bungalow twelve women - some of whom we have already encountered,
such Ganga, Payal, Sapna, and Neelima - were gathered for the occasion, which they
variously referred to as a “Vaisnav Kitty Party”, “GopI Mandal” (circle of gopTs), or
satsarig. Some women in this group are friends, while others are related through

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marriage, such as Bhavna and Ganga, and Payal and Rukmini. The afternoon Vaisnav
satsang, which has been going on for at least seven years, is hosted by one member of the
group once a month. They said that the gathering not only provided an opportunity for
socializing, but also served as a venue for discussing various topics related to Pustimarg
theology and ritual praxis. Here they discuss topics from a Pustimarg text (such as a
vcirtd, or a text on sevd ), plan pilgrimage tours, and also exchange recipes for food-
offering preparations and designs for srrigcir decorations to be used in daily sevd.

In speaking to the women I discovered that Ganga’s in-law, Nina Patel, was
also present at the gathering. Both of Ganga’s daughters married Nina’s sons. Nina
acknowledges how her interest in perfonning sevd was definitely promoted, if not
entirely prompted by, her social and family connections with Ganga. Not only did both of
Nina’s daughter-in-laws come from a PustimargI family, but Nina would also be invited
by their mother, Ganga, to the monthly kitty party or satsang gatherings where she had
the opportunity to meet other women from the Pustimarg community. When I met with
Nina individually, I learnt that she decided to undergo initiation five years ago and has
since practiced sevd everyday. When I asked how her husband felt about her new
religious interests and practices she explained that he was entirely indifferent, providing
neither protest nor overt support. Pointing to the ten-foot high Srlnathjl statue in her
lobby, Nina acknowledges how it was in fact her husband’s idea to purchase and install
the large image ten years ago. Curiously enough, this image was purchased well before
her initiation into the tradition. Both Nina’s desire to become an active member of the
Pustimarg community (which includes many women from her own social network) and
her husband’s purchase of a Srlnathjl image - only to be displayed as a religious

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commodity in their foyer - demonstrate how sectarian affiliations and styles of domestic
rituals are informed by class and community associations. It was clear that even before
Nina decided to receive initiation, her social network consisted of many members from
the Pustimarg community, so much so that both their sons married young women from a
Pustimarg family. Nina and her husband also felt it was natural to purchase and display a
Pustimarg image in their home. Large, opulent Pustimarg images can, therefore, serve
dual functions: as religious commodities they can mark one’s elite status as PustimargI,
however, as mere commodities (often displayed in the homes of non-Pustimargls) they
can symbolize the necessary cultural and symbolic capital needed to reproduce class
status and maintain social respectability.

All the women who come together for their monthly Vaisnav satsang are
college or university educated and come from wealthy Gujarati families. They also
married into families of similar economic class and social status, and were either already
performing domestic sevd beforehand (like Payal, for example) or became interested in
doing so through their associations with each other after they were married (as with
Rukmini, Nina, and Neelima). Indeed, the practice of domestic sevd is one of the ways
through which these women manage their social ties with each other. Moreover, the
specific social spaces or settings created as result of their practice of, and interest in,
domestic sevd are both informed by and help reproduce and perpetuate sectarian
identities and class hierarchies.

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Class, Kirtans , and Classical Genres: Singing Songs of the Haveli in the Home

In addition to their monthly satsarig gatherings, another occasion on which
many of the women come together is during their weekly kirtan lessons. For the last three
years, Nina Patel has been organizing two and half hour kirtan tutorials, twice a week in
her home. The women made sure to point out that their instructor, Krishnakumar Nayak,
is the son of a kirtankdr trained in the “classical style of haveli sahgit ,” or Pustimarg
temple music. 156 By paying a nominal fee to a trained Pustimarg singer-musician, the
women are learning how to sing the songs of the famous Pustimarg poets in the manner
that they have been sung in havelis for centuries. The question of when and how these
Brajbhasa poetic compositions began to circulate outside the temple context and in the
homes of lay practitioners is difficult to ascertain. Hand-written compilations of haveli
kirtans have been passed down from the seventeenth and eighteenth century. While
published versions, such as the standard four-volume kirtan collection, the Pustimarg
Kirtan Samgrah, which is in use in all havelis today, was published towards the end of
the nineteenth century (Ho 2013, 214). Zealous lay practitioners can find and purchase
this four-volume collection, containing over ten-thousand kirtans, at large havelis in

156 Krishnakumar Nayak, who is also known as Krishnakumar, received his musical training from GosvamI
Natvargopalji beginning in 1994 at the Natvarlal Shyamlal haveli (belonging to the first house), Dosiwada
ni pole, Ahmedabad. Krishnakumar explains how his great grandfather, Chabildas Nayak, grandfather,
Campaklal Nayak, and father, Ghanshyamdas Nayak, all sang in Pustimarg havelis, as well as on television
and radio shows. Krishnakumar also performs in havelis when invited, especially during special occasions
and festivals. He accompanies Gosvamls who tour internationally to places like the UK, Singapore,
Australia, and east Africa. He has also been giving lessons to women like Nina and her friends for more
than a decade, and sees it as a legitimate mode for continuing the tradition of temple singing: “during seva
what is sung is pure haveli sahgit Krishnakumar explains how only a limited number of havelis have full¬
time kirtankdrs. “We have to do our own marketing now,” he admits. He also acknowledges how important
the financial contribution of wealthy Vaisnavs is to maintaining haveli liturgical traditions. He sees
laypeople’s interest in taking haveli kirtan lessons as a form of devotional commitment, on the one hand,
and a continuation of Vaisnav patronage practices, on the other hand (Personal communication, February
2010 ).

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Nathdwara and Kankroli. Furthermore, as we saw in chapter four, printed collections of
Pustimarg songs, such as Lallubhai Chaganlal Desai’s Vividh dhol tathci padsamgrah
(1913) and Kirtansamgrah (1936), which include Brajbhasa kirtans as well as Gujarati
dhol s and garbds, can be found in the private collections of many Pustimarg households.
Most of the women I visited use these collections or have memorized many well-known
kirtans and sing them while perfonning sevd. They do so by simply reciting the lyrics
without a formal melody or sing them in a tune of their own choosing. However, as many
of the women who had gathered for this kirtan lesson expressed to me, these lessons
presented an opportunity for them to leam how to sing the compositions of the famous
Pustimarg poets “properly,” in their temple style.

I accompanied Krishnakumar one day to another kirtan session, hosted at the
home of Lataben Shah, and which was overseen by Vrajlata (Raja) betiji (Figure 3). 157
There were about fifteen middle-aged women seated on the floor in Lataben’s large
living room, in which several images of Srlnathjl were displayed. Some of the women
gathered there, such as Neelima and Ganga, were already known to me. After singing a
few dhols composed by Raja betiji’ s grandmothers, Vrajpriya and Kamalpriya, Raja betiji
asked some of the women to sing a few kirtans, which they were apparently supposed to
have practiced at home. After Krishnakumar sang the first refrain while playing the
hannonium, some women nervously repeated after him. Soon, though, Raja betiji clucked
her tongue and shook her head disapprovingly. She then demonstrated how the songs
should be sung - with the help of Krishnakumar - of course. Clearly, the women had not

157 Raja betTjT is the aunt of Tilak bava or Madhusudhan GosvamI from the Natvarlal Shyamlal havelT (first
house) in Ahmedabad. Raja betTjT is married and has children. She hosts weekly satsarig gatherings in her
home and also supervises kTrtan lessons at the home of Pustimarg female patrons.

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practiced enough. This continued for another forty-five minutes to an hour. At the end of
the session, Krishnakumar asked the women to try and practice more at home for there
might be “surprise exams” given at any moment. Before the group dispersed, Lataben’s
housemaids served everyone snacks and chdi and the women had an opportunity to
socialize.

Figure 3. Krishnakumar Nayak giving a kirtan lesson to Pustimarg women in the home of
Lataben Shah.

Another woman, Pujaben Shah, who is not socially connected to any of the
upper-class Pustimarg women discussed above, graciously invited me to her home one
evening. I happened to come to her house when she was nearing the end of her daily
seva. In a spontaneous gesture, she asked if I wanted to watch her perfonn the last few
moments of her practice, which included sayan, when she closes the doors to her
household shrine and places Srlnathjl to sleep. 158 As she was about to sing a few tartans

158 Generally, Pustimargrs do not allow non-initiated individuals to touch any of their seva offerings,
especially before they have performed seva, or observe their seva practices.

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from her copy of the havelT Klrtan Samgrah collection, she paused and in a somewhat
apologetic tone said that she cannot sing these kirtans in the manner of women who have
taken klrtan classes. When we spoke later she explained how she knows some women
who go for klrtan lessons, in the evenings, between 8pm-9pm once a week. When I asked
if she has attended classes such as these or would like to do so, she responded by saying
“How can I? I would like to leam how to sing these kirtans properly but I can’t go. My
husband comes home at that time. I also don’t have a scooter or a car in which I can
travel at that late hour.” What stood out from this conversation and other similar
conversations with women who did not have the time or means needed for attending
klrtan lessons was that they, too, were referring to a “proper” or “correct” way of singing
kirtans, that is, in their traditional rag or melody

At this time, it is important to point out that the same rag performed in
Pustimarg contexts sounds different from its Hindustani classical rendition (Ho 2013,
225). Hindustani classical vocal music is characterized by three prominent styles and
genres: dhrupad, khydl, and thumrl. The elitist re-making of these traditions as
simultaneously “classical” and national in the early twentieth century was embedded in
larger cultural nationalist projects, which sought to construct an authentic, pure Hindu
culture and tradition. 159 Meilu Ho has painstakingly attempted to demonstrate the
historical influence of the Pustimarg klrtan repertoires on the development of Hindustani
vocal traditions (2006; 2013). Although some contemporary performers of classical
Hindustani music do acknowledge these connections, havell sahglt is not generally

159 With regards to Hindustani classical vocal music, Dard Neuman traces the general trajectory of this
process in his doctoral work, A House of Music (2004), while Janaki Bhakle focuses this discussion on two
men, Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande and Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, and their roles as the “key orchestrators
of music’s modernization" (2005, 5).

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counted among north Indian “classical” musical genres. 160 So what does it mean when
havelT sanglt practitioners - such as Pustimarg hereditary musicians and their students -
say they are singing in a “classical” style? For Pustimargls, havell sanglt is elevated as a
classical genre due to its centuries long preservation in a “closed system,” that of the
havell and via a lineage of hereditary klrtankdrs. The performance of temple klrtans also
relies on rags, traditional melodies associated with courtly music in north India.

Although this system of rags is the same as that used by classical musicians, it is not
considered constitutive of Hindu classical music art as it was reinvented in the twentieth
century. Finally, the composition of the klrtan repertoires in the canonical language of
Brajbhasa further reifies the genre’s elite status over and above other performance genres
such as Gujarati garbds and dhols.

Learning to sing the songs of the Pustimarg havells in their “authentic” style is
not the only mode by which the havell klrtans have begun to circulate out of their
traditional milieu and into the homes of lay practitioners. It marks yet another shift in
perfonnance contexts that the Pustimarg temple repertoires have endured over the past
decades. As noted above, published klrtan compilations have been available since the
turn of the century. In terms of their perfonnance, Meilu Ho demonstrates how Pustimarg
singers have recorded and perfonned their music at public venues such as the government
owned All India Radio and at national institutions like the Indian National Theatre for the
last thirty to forty years (2006, 196). In fact, All India Radio played a key role in

160 Classical Hindustani vocal artists such Aminuddin Dagar of the Dagar family, Pandit Jasraj, and Naina
Devi have commented on the associations between havell sanglt and north Indian classical music traditions
(Ho 2013, 225).

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popularizing the term “haveli sangit” when it began using the phrase in the 1970s (2013,
232fnl0).

Pustimarg temples and wealthy patrons have also helped sponsor recordings of
songs by both hereditary kirtankars and non-hereditary performers since the 1970s and
80s. Since this time, moreover, Hindustani classical vocalists have been recording albums
of Pustimarg liturgical songs that both lay practitioners and the general public can
purchase and listen to in their homes. This has indeed shaped the representation of haveli
sangit as “classical music” in the popular imagination and has reified this understanding
for Pustimargls. CDs and mp3s, such as Manga/ Swara, Krishna Seva Haveli Sangeet, or
Soor Padavali by singers like Subha Mudgal, Sajan Mishra, and Ravindra Sathe
effectively reproduce a liturgical day of haveli kirtans (228). Our very own
Krishnakumar has several CDs out as well, such as Giriraj ki sharan, Shrinathji Pyara,
and Aao Kirtan Sikhe - the last title literally means, “Come, Let’s Leam Kirtan.” Finally,
the temple repertoires have also been performed on the modem concert stage by
Pustimarg kirtankars and by well-known Hindustani classical vocal artists such as Pundit
Jasraj and Shruti Sadolikar Katkar.

The decline in traditional fonns of temple patronage, colonial modernity, and
nationalist reinventions of classical music have all enabled the democratization of
hereditary musical forms. Hereditary musicians, adapting to this milieu, are forced to
reconsider their pedagogical styles to meet new types of demands. As Janaki Bakhle
argues, by the twentieth century, music became a “classical” or “traditional” art fonn that
“occupied pride of place in the national imagination. While its upper-level pedagogy

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remained dominated by hereditary musicians, it became possible even for respectable
middle-class Hindu housewives to imagine themselves as performers” (4).

Late nineteenth and early twentieth century domestic ideologies also promoted
the notion that, in addition to cleaning and arranging the home, keeping accounts, and
taking care of their children, another way housewives could transform the home into a
blissful sanctuary for their working husbands was to sing “pleasant songs” or play a
musical instrument. Journals like the Stribodh suggested to their female readers to “Sing
or play a musical instrument to help your husband relax when he returns home” (Shukla
1991, 65). Indeed, as Amada Weidman argues - with reference to south Indian Karnatak
music - “for many Brahmin elites, the sign of the successful classicization of music and
dance from the 1920s to 1940s was the transfonnation of these forms into ‘arts’ fit for
upper-caste, middle-class ‘family women’” (2006, 115). Much like needle-work,
classical music - through either listening to it or playing it - ensured the production of
proper domesticity by occupying the leisure time of upper-class housewives, who did not
have to work outside the home and whose time was made free with the help of
housemaids and cooks. 161

The domestication and “spiritualization” of classical music, through its

embodiment by upper-caste respectable housewives went hand in hand with its rise as a

national art form. This process also involved the marginalization of professional female

perfonners, such as tawaifs and devcidcisTs, who sang and danced in public from the late

161 Amanda Weidman describes an advertisem*nt for the South India Music Emporium from the 1930s,
which appeared in the concert program of the Madras Music Academy. The ad “counselled male
concertgoers on how to connect the bourgeois public sphere of the classical concert hall with its domestic
equivalent" (2006, 138). The ad read as follows: “A modern wife has tons of unemployed leisure and a
wise husband must provide hobbies for her leisure being usefully employed. What better and more soul-
satisfying hobby can there be than violin playing. Give your wife a violin today and ensure eternal
happiness at home” (138).

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eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. 162 For example, thumri, a genre that was
traditionally associated with the tawaif courtesan-performer has survived to this day and
even became reconstituted as a fonn of Hindustani classical music art because it was
cleansed of erotic lyrics and dissociated from its early dance associations namely, with
the bodies of tawaifs (Du Perron 54-56; see footnote 162). Classical singing and dancing
became suitable art forms for middle-class housewives to engage with only when
professional female perfonners like tawaifs and devcidcisTs were replaced by upper-caste,
respectable married women. 163

I understand that havell sangit was not part of this nationalization project,
which also then excluded it from being “reinvented” as a form of Hindustani vocal music
art. Moreover, havell sangit is still the preserve of hereditary Pustimarg male kirtankdrs.

162 Tawaif singer-dancers (also known as baijt), represented a north Indian courtesan performance tradition,
which was an important social, economic, and artistic fixture in both navabT courtly life and in salon
contexts from the early 1800s. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, eugenics, British occupations with
national physical and moral health, and the growing concern over the rise in venereal disease rates among
British soldiers in colonial cantonments, led to the legislation of the Cantonment Act (1864) and the
Contagious Diseases Act (1868) in India (Levine 2003).These acts specifically targeted women whose
sexuality and sexual practices seemed ambivalent and, thus, threatening - namely, those women who did
not conform to emerging Victorian and Indian upper-caste, middle class notions of respectable
womanhood. The most explicit example of such a woman was the Indian prostitute, however, other women
were rapidly subsumed under this identity, such as courtesans and professional female performers. In south
India, these reforms took the form of the “anti-nautch” movement, launched by the upper-caste reformer,
Kandukuri Viresalingam (1848-1919) in the 1890s (Soneji 2012). The anti-nautch movement (nautch >
nac, “to dance”) focused on the lifestyles of a community of hereditary female courtesan performers known
as devadasTs. This movement culminated into significant legal interventions, catalyzed by the efforts of Dr.
S. Muthulakshmi Reddy (1866-1968). The Madras (Prevention of Dedication) Act of 1947, which was
eventually passed by the government of independent India, successfully outlawed the artistic and social
practices of devadasT women. According to Amelia Maciszewski (2006), the discourses surrounding the
anti-nautch movement as well as subsequent legal interventions promoted by upper-caste reformers, made
their way up to north India, leading to the social and artistic displacement of tawaifs as well. Just like the
male members of the devadasT community, who escaped the social and aesthetic stigmatization brought on
by reform efforts, the hereditary male singer-musician of north Indian classical traditions, the ustad,
remained safe from such displacement. Indeed, the ustad continues to hold a prominent position on the
concert stage, if he is not entirely revered as a national celebrity (Neuman 33). On the other hand, the
tawaif s relationship “to Indian music became marginalized from history as she became severed from a
practice that was ultimately to be performed, respectably, by middle-class women” (33).

163 As Janaki Bakhle notes, “A whole generation of courtesans ( baijis ) has been replaced by upper-caste
women performers”(5). See also Morcom (2013).

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as it has been for centuries, and did not have to be “sanitized” the way the performance
cultures of ta waifs and devadasis were. However, its construction as an unadultured
“source” of classical Hindustani music traditions by both scholars like Meilu Ho (2006,
2013) and by contemporary Hindustani classical musicians - who have been performing
havelT safiglt on the modern concert stage for decades - has changed the pedagogy and
perfonnance styles of havelT sahgTt. The contemporary phenomenon of elite Pustimarg
women taking kirtan lessons can be understood through these larger discourses of
middle-class modernities, which successfully forged connections between the performing
arts, Hindu religion or “spirituality,” and ideal womanhood.

HavelT kTrtans as well as the “erotic-themed” garbds and dhoh of Pustimarg
were religious songs to begin with. They did not need to be further imbued with
devotional connotations to be made more acceptable. However, the process of sanitizing
PustimargI women’s religious performance practices involved the labeling and
replacement of “uncultured” perfonnance genres with more respectable and elitist ones.
Participating in havelTsahgTt classes is not only considered an appropriate leisurely and
devotional activity for upper-class Pustimarg women to engage in today but it is
constitutive of the many novel ways lay practitioners are continuing to reproduce and
perpetuate an elite Pustimarg identity. By making claims to a “classical” genre, as
opposed to the popular genres of garbds and dhols, upper-class Pustimarg women are
distinguishing themselves from Pustimarg women who do not confonn to the bourgeois
aesthetics of havelT sahgTt namely, those women who do not and cannot pay for kTrtan
lessons.

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As we discussed in chapter four, from at least the early nineteenth century
female laity (though not to the exclusion of men) have been singing garbd and dhol
compositions in both domestic and public settings such as during sevd, in Pustimarg
women’s bhajan mandalls (“singing circle”) and satsang groups, as well as in ha veils
during festivals and in between darsans. Nineteenth century reform movements targeted
the singing of erotic-themed dhols garbcis before Gosvamls and on havell grounds. This,
combined with the “in-between” status of Pustimarg dhols and garbds, where they are
not part of temple liturgy, has excluded them from nationalist processes of classicization
and kept them outside the purview of Pustimarg scholarship.

Raja betlji, with whom Krishnakumar conducted the kirtan lesson at Lataben’s
home, also hosts satsang sessions at her household, where twenty to thirty women gather
every week. Satsang gatherings normally involve Raja betlji leading a discussion around
a vcirtd narrative, a Pustimarg theological concept, or answering any religious or personal
questions women may have. However, before commencing and at the concluding of such
satsang sessions, the women who gather sing from a texts like Vrajsudha, which contains
Gujarati dhols and garbds composed by Raja betlji’ s grandmothers, Vrajpriya bahujl and
Kamalpriya bahujl (see page 189). The atmosphere at Raja betlji’ s house during one such
satsang gathering was strikingly different from Lataben’s home, where I had attended the
kirtan classes. Here, as time passed, the singing and clapping became louder, more
energetic, and some women even begin to dance. Raja betijl explained how many more
women attend these types of satsang sessions than kirtan classes since the kirtan lessons
sometimes take up more time (two hours, twice a week) and there is also a nominal fee
attached. Upper and upper-middle class women, like Neelima, Ganga, and Nina, who

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have hired help at home and personal drivers with cars, can afford to expend the time for
such lessons. Their elite status is further demonstrated by both their claims to a
“classical” genre and their ability to pay for haveli sangit classes.

Consuming Krsna: Women, Class, and the Ritual Economies of Domestic Seva

In addition to taking lessons in haveli sangit, another mode through which
women participate in the production of elite Pustimarg sectarian identities is through
fonns of material culture. In many of the upper-class PustimargI homes I visited, opulent
religious commodities, such as statues and embossed paintings of Srlnathjl, were
inevitably displayed in living rooms and foyers. Such paintings can range anywhere from
7,000 to 30,000 rupees ($150-$750). Moreover, the construction of sevci rooms, separate
“temples” on an estate, separate kitchen areas for preparing ritual offerings, and a vast
array of purchased ritual accessories attest to an elevated economic status and indicate the
existence of disposable income. For instance, in her large bungalow, Rukmini Shukla has
a separate room for performing sevd made entirely out of white marble, and the shrine in
which she places her svariip is crafted in silver. During specific festivals, such as hindola
(“swing festival”) Rukmini decorates the room with ritual accoutrements, flowers, and
even props to represent scenes from Krsna’s lilds. She explained how these decorations
can sometimes take many days to prepare, but noted that the result is always worth it. In
fact, Rukmini mentioned that it was after seeing one of her festival decorations that her
devrcmi (her husband’s younger brother’s wife) became interested in performing sevd and
underwent initiation. When I asked if she makes any of the srngar clothes herself,
Rukmini said that she does so occasionally and although “women with little money

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perhaps have to stitch them from their own clothes, others can make Srlnathjf s clothes
with the latest fabric designs available in the market.” Another woman I met at the kitty
party, Parul Patel, has most of the jewelry and clothes required for sevd custom-made by
her family jeweler and tailor. When I asked Rukmini whether she prefers performing
sevd at home or going to the havelT for darsan, she said that she only goes to the haveli
on occasion, to visit the Maharaj, her guru. As she explains, “only those individuals who
perhaps don’t have an active social life, or can’t do sevd at home, go to the havelT to leam
and be inspired.” The performance of sevd in domestic contexts are actions by which
women, like Rukmini and Parul, negotiate and assert their privileged socio-economic
status. Separate rooms constructed for domestic shrines and food preparation, and the
sheer array of purchased ritual accessories undoubtedly assert class privilege.

Most of the women I worked with who belong to upper-class Pustimarg

families only visit havelTs a few times a month or during festivals and special occasions.

Many also purchase the ritual accoutrements for use in sevd from stalls and bazaars

located on haveli grounds or through custom-made orders. They certainly do not go to the

haveli for darsan daily, as other women do, nor do they volunteer for the daily

preparation of flower garlands (used for adornment during sevd) at havelis. Rukmini’s

explanation as to why women go to the haveli often - because “they can’t do sevd at

home” - demonstrates how the practice of domestic sevd becomes implicated in the

production of an elite Pustimarg identity, at least for and among women like Rukmini. As

chapter one and two illustrated, wealthy Pustimarg families have publically patronized

the sect for several centuries now. Families have hosted ritual celebrations such as

manoraths (“votive observance”) at the haveli, sponsored food-offerings like rdj-bhog,

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subsidized the construction of havelTs or their renovations, built rest-houses
(

activities have been key sites for the production and articulation of an elite Pustimarg
sectarian identity and mercantile prestige (Haynes 1991, 38). Even today, Pustimarg
families continue to participate in such havelT- centered acts of patronage. 164

However, as I demonstrate in this project, domestic sevd has also been an
integral part of PustimargI lay practitioners’ lives. Narratives from the vdrtas, historical
references, as well as a plethora of sevd guides indicate that a variety of food items and
ritual accoutrements are required for the performance of sevd. It is not entirely possible to
date how early ritual items, meant for use in domestic ritual, became available to
purchase in market contexts. In the Maharaja Libel Case, for example, Jadunathji
GosvamI describes that religious images “.. .are sold in the bazaar for purposes of
worship by the Vaishnavas” (348). Drawing from an historical reference such as this, one
can hypothesize that bazaars in and around Pustimarg havelTs have been selling ritual
items for lay practitioners to purchase since the early-mid nineteenth century, if not
earlier. As Kajri Jain argues, by the nineteenth century, bazaars came to characterize “the
imbrication of commerce and religion” (2012, 188). Indeed, pilgrimage traffic to large
havelTs in towns like Nathdwara, where lay Pustimargls made donations to the havelT as
well as purchased religious paraphernalia and sevd items in the temple bazaars,

164 Today one can easily find the cost of sponsoring religious activities at the Nathdwara haveli on the
havelTs website: www.nathdwaratemple.org . The cost of sponsoring a full-day manorath is Rs. 17, 300
($290 USD); full rdj-bhog is Rs. 10, 350 ($173 USD); half raj-bhog is Rs. 6, 700 ($112 USD); donating
pistachios to the havelT kitchen costs Rs. 11,000 ($184), and so on. I also attended several manoraths at
havelTs , including one where the family was celebrating the graduation of their son, who had just returned
from the US after having completed a degree in Engineering. In addition to being an act of devotion,
hosting such celebratins provide occasions for elite Pustimargls to display and reproduce family status.

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contributed to the overall revenue of havelTs and their custodians. 165 Furthermore, in a
place like Nathdwara, Pustimarg’s cultic centre, hereditary communities of artists have
for centuries been responsible for producing miniature paintings, picchvdTs (backdrop
paintings for the temple image), manuscript illustrations, and portraits commissioned by
the havell and its Gosvamls (Ambalal 1987; Lyons 2004; Jain 2012, 195). These same
artists also produced “souvenir” paintings as well as images for Pustimarg lay
practitioners to purchase.

Over time, global capitalist economies have encouraged the large-scale
production and circulation of ritual and religious items in market cultures (Sinha 2010).
Increased commodified styles of domestic sevd by upper-class Pustimarg women are now
marked by the purchase of expensive ritual accoutrements, the construction of custom-
made domestic shrines, and the use of “the latest fabric designs” for the svariip’s
clothing. Material expressions of one’s sectarian identity and devotion are continuing to
evolve as consumer cultures extend their influence to areas of domestic ritual praxis.
Furthermore, the imbrication of domesticity, ideal womanhood, and class in early
refonnist and nationalist rhetoric have enabled domestic ritual contexts to become arenas
for cultural consumption and display. Together, all of these processes cast the home as a
modem site for Pustimarg patronage.

The display of Pustimarg religious commodities in living rooms, entrance

ways, or foyers also represents another mode by which the home becomes a locus of elite

sectarian identity production. In this discussion, it is useful to understand commodities as

objects that “at a certain phase in their careers and in a particular context, meet the

165 As Norbert Peabody reminds us, “the dynamics of a healthy pilgrimage economy bound the mutual
interests of king, temple, and merchants” (1991, 751).

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requirements of commodity candidacy” (Appadurai 1986, 16). That is to say, the
placement of a Pustimarg religious item, whether it is displayed in the “commodity
context” of a living room and entrance way, or in the domestic shrine, can alter its
significance and meaning. Furthennore, one of the primary differences between a ritual
item (such as a Krsna svarup or picture) bought for worship versus one consumed for
display is that the fonner needs to be “made push” - be imbued with “grace” and
“nourishment.” 166 This ritual is performed by a GosvamI who bathes the image in
pancamrta (the five “nectars” of curds, milk, ghee, honey, and sugar) and offers the
svarup prascid (consecrated food offering) from a previously consecrated svarup. This
transformation from commodity to an enlivened Krsna svarup marks the occasion when
one can begin performing sevd to the image. Religious commodities bought for display,
however, are not made pusti for that would necessitate their constant care and
perfonnance of sevd by family members.

While the practice of domestic sevd by Pustimarg women is not novel, we
should appreciate the novel ways in which women’s religious activities have become
implicated in the production of elite Pustimarg sectarian identities. This occurs through
increased commodified styles of domestic sevd, the construction of separate spaces for
the performance of sevd, as well as the aesthetic choices made in the purchase of both
ritual accoutrements used in worship and religious commodities consumed for display.
Although the men of such households have traditionally controlled the follow of
economic capital, women’s nuanced and imbricating roles as practitioners and consumers

166 Normally, outside the Pustimarg context, images meant for worship are “brought to life”

( pranapratistha ) through the recitation of certain Sanskrit mantras.

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transform this into the cultural and symbolic capital needed to maintain Pustimarg family

status and respectability.

Women’s roles as consumers - and even suppliers - in this evolving “ritual
economy” are informed by, and contribute to the reproduction of, class hierarchies. For
example, Jinal Shah, a woman who comes from a low income family, does not have a
separate ritual space or kitchen for preparing her food offerings, and she makes all the
accouterments at home, including the image of Srlnathjl she has displayed in her small
living room. In fact, she makes a substantial contribution to the family’s income by
making and selling srngar accessories to women from upper-class Pustimarg families;
among her customers are the women who get together for the monthly kitty party. 167 1
met other women like Jinal who make and sell srngar accoutrements through Deepaben
Seth, who founded a Pustimarg rnahild mandal (“women’s group”) approximately
fourteen years ago in Ahmedabad. Deepaben comes from a lower middle-class
PustimargI family and makes all her srngar accessories herself. She said that she does
sevd with whatever means are available to her: “If I don’t have money to buy almonds to
make sdmagri [food-offerings], then I don’t - it doesn’t matter, you offer whatever you
can.” Deepaben said that she originally started the rnahild mandal as a way to gather
women together from her neighborhood. Together they sing PustimargI songs at homes
of people whom were either hosting a PustimargI festival or celebrating an auspicious
event such as like the birth of a child, a wedding, or even the purchase of a new home.

167 1 was put in touch with Jinal through the help of Rukmini Shukla. Rukmini told me that she, and other
women from her social network, purchase custom-made accoutrements from Jinal fairly often.

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One Saturday afternoon I was invited to such an event at the flat of Meena
Shah. Approximately twenty women were gathered there and many of them were from
Deepaben’s mandal group. For about an hour several women sang Gujarati dhols from
printed and even hand-written texts, while other women joined in during the refrain. They
even danced to garbds to which they all sang to together as a group (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Pustimarg women dancing and singing garba.

At the end of the session food was served and the women soon began talking
about personal matters, their family lives, or upcoming weekend plans. At the
commencement or conclusion of these sessions the hosting family usually offers a
donation that Deepaben collects and uses for other activities and services, such as
pilgrimage tours, buying supplies, and providing money to any member of the mandal
who may need financial assistance. With these donations Deepaben was also able to open
a small workshop near her home, where some of the women from the rnahild mandal
come to make and package srngdr accessories. These accessories are then sold through
orders received by word of mouth or sometimes at stalls that Deepaben and other women
from the mandal set up at local havelTs. Deepaben acknowledges the economic benefits

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that such an organization offers to women coming from low-income families, but she
also insists that the activities they organize allow them to get together and socialize.
Ultimately, she emphasizes the community-based bonds she and the other women share:
“These women will take care of me. They will be there when something is wrong.” She
also adds jokingly, “and of course our daughters-in-law are probably happy that their
mothers-in-law are out of the house for a few hours!” These occurrences provide us with
a counterpoint to the kinds of elite cultural practices, such as attending havelT sangit
classes and organizing Vaisnav kitty parties that we have already observed among upper-
class PustimargI women. Such shifts in perfonnance contexts and practices inform and
are informed by evolving Pustimarg class politics, which women, through their religious
practices and aesthetic choices, continue to mold and reproduce.

Returning to Deepaben Seth’s rnahild mandal, I once accompanied the ladies
from the group to the Vallabhsadan havelT. 168 At the havelT, Deepaben had a stall selling
all the ritual accoutrements made by the women from her mandal. Next to them, another
woman, Kiran Jhaveri, also had seva items on display, such as svariip clothes, jewelry,
and she was even selling small porcelain statues of Vallabha and Yamuna. When I began
talking to her, and especially after she handed me her business card - which described
her as a “ srngar specialist” - I soon realized that Kiran ran a “one-woman business”
ordering, making, and selling seva accessories. I later came to visit her at her home in
Baroda, which she has set up as a makeshift workshop. There, her brother and nephew
were working on making artificial and gold plated jewelry pieces for svarups. The family

168 The Vallabhsadan havelT is a trust havelT that opened in Ahmedabad in 1976.

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also operates a jewelry business, known as “Lalan Jewelers.” However, Kiran, who never
married, is responsible for managing all requests and sales associated with sevd
accessories and religious commodities, such as gold embossed images of Srlnathjl (which
cost around Rs. 5,000 or $85 USD). As Kiran explains, “these more expensive images are
very popular among Maharajs and even NRIs [Non-Resident Indians].”

Kiran makes smgar clothes and jewelry for the PustimargI laity and also for
use in havelTs. For over a decade now, she has also been organizing sevd s'ivTrs
(“retreats”) two to three times a month during which she teaches women how to make
their own srngdir accessories and explains how to use them. Anywhere between thirty to
eighty women (and occasionally a few retired men) attend these sessions, for which they
have to pay an entrance fee. This entrance fee provides them with the supplies they need
to make smgar jewelry and clothes. When I asked Kiran if she thinks lay practitioners’
tastes have changed over time, she said yes. She nuanced this point by adding how, “in
the past,” individuals were more concerned about things like the “quality of fabric” or
“simplicity”; now, however, “it’s about being fancy and different. Originality has
decreased and dikhava [“showiness”] has increased.”

In addition to local havelTs, one of the important sites where PustimargI women
can purchase srngdir accoutrements include large pilgrimage towns, like Nathdwara. In
Nathdwara one finds hundreds of stalls selling both ritual items for use in domestic sevd
and also images of Srlnathjl bought for displaying in one’s home (Figure 5a and b).

260

Figures 5a and b. Stalls in Nathdwara where Pustimargis can purchase ritual
accoutrements for domestic sevd.

For several centuries, Nathdwara has been the site of the production of
traditional backdrop paintings (picchvais ) and miniature paintings that have been used in
Pustimarg ritual. 169 Most hereditary artists I interviewed, including Bansi Lai Sharma,
who is now 76 years old, nostalgically admits that Nathdwara is no longer the place
where one can find picchvais or miniature paintings. As another artist, Sanjay Sharma,
explains, “Gujarati women, my main clientele, don’t want paintings like that. They want
flashy colors, two-dimensional embossed images, contrast colors, gold, diamonds!”
(Figure 6). For those who can keep up with such consumer demands, the profession can
be profitable. Rajesh Purohit is a self-proclaimed businessman, and not a hereditary artist.
His family owns theatres, restaurants, perfume, and jewelry stores in Gujarat and
Mumbai. However, he recently decided to open up shop in Nathdwara as well, where he
sells pieces made by hired workers that are priced anywhere from 10,000 - 60,000 rupees

169 Elsewhere, scholars have examined the hereditary communities of artists in Nathdwara that produce
these items (Ambalal 1987; Lyons, 2004). In an earlier essay, Lyons also discusses the tradition of
hereditary female painters from Nathdwara (1997).

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($170-$ 1,000 USD). Women from upper middle-class Pustimarg families are the primary
consumers of these kinds of religious commodities, and Rajesh says his business is doing
extremely well (Figure 7).

Figure 6. An example of a two-dimensional Figure 7. Hired workers making

embossed image of Srlnathjl pieces in the shop of Rajesh Purohit.

Although my conversations with Nathdwara hereditary artists were by no
means exhaustive, it is clear that upper-class PustimargI women’s increasing purchasing
power and aesthetic tastes are both dictating modes of artistic production in Nathdwara
and elsewhere, and are effecting the standardization of decoration styles and techniques
used in domestic seva. Such exercise of aesthetic tastes or stances, Bourdieu argues, “are
opportunities to experience or assert one’s position in social space, as a rank to be upheld
or a distance to be kept.. .for the working classes, perhaps their sole function in the
system of aesthetic positions is to serve as a foil, a negative reference point, in relation to
which all aesthetics define themselves, by successive negations” (1984, 57).

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Conclusion

Contemporary Pustimarg domestic sevd, as we have seen, dramatizes gender
roles, intra-and extra-family dynamics, and class fonnation. By organizing events such as
monthly Vaisnav kitty parties, practicing increased commodified styles of domestic sevd,
functioning as the primary consumers and displayers of religious commodities in the
home, and arranging for private kirtan lessons, elite PustimargI women are engaged in
innovative, class-based mechanisms of sectarian identity fonnation. Together, such
religious activities by elite Pustimarg women have cast the home as a modem site of
Pustimarg patronage.

In addition to demarcating an elite sectarian identity, upper-class Pustimarg

women who have the desire and means to leam how to sing a “classical” genre like

havelT sangit are legitimizing the canonicity of the temple kirtan repertoire. More

importantly, they are making specific moral claims by asserting that the perfonnance of

kirtans in the haveli style is a more “authentic” or “proper” mode of singing devotional

songs while perfonning sevd. There are numerous ways Pustimarg lay followers can

position their domestic practices as “morally superior” to others, such as by strictly

following apras (ritual purity) rules, perfonning all eight darsans, offering adequate food

items (such as almonds, cashews, pistachios, which can prove expensive), and never

abandoning sevd, which can involve some women taking their svarups with them if they

leave the house for a prolonged period of time. However, in our discussion, we see how

aesthetic and elitist claims made to the haveli sangit genre are allowing upper-class

Pustimarg women to position their domestic practices - and, by extension, their sectarian

identities - as more authentic than others. Moreover, as the primary consumers of both

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ritual accoutrements for use in sevci and religious commodities for displaying in the
home, the aesthetics of Pustimarg domestic practices - couched in the language of
“authenticity” - are being cultivated, perpetuated, and standardized by upper-class
Pustimarg women.

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Conclusion

One of the questions that animated this project is why Pustimarg attracted (and
continues to attract) patronage from the wealthy mercantile and business elites of western
India. In chapter one I engaged with the historical dimension of this query and argued
that the adoption of a Pustimarg sectarian identity became a key mechanism for
mercantile families to continue demonstrating their prestigious status and moral worth.
Pustimarg provided a fixed and stable sectarian identity around a deity, Krsna, who was
already popular in Gujarat. Furthermore, as a popular Vaisnav sectarian tradition,
Pustimarg is unique for not placing importance on renunciation and ascetic practices.
Unlike other Vaisnav sampradays, such as the Gaudlya, Varkarl, Srlvaisnava, and
Svamlnarayan traditions, religious leaders and well-known theologians of Pustimarg
never became sarnnydsTs (“renouncers”) or spiritual heads of ascetic lineages. Instead the
tradition has proved attractive for baniyd and bhdtiyd communities because it grounds
itself in a “this-worldly” theology and ritual culture, a ritual culture that models itself on
familial relationships (vatsalya bhdv or “parental love”) and domestic activities (waking
Krsna in the morning, feeding him lunch, placing him to sleep). This emphasis on the
family setting and domesticity in Pustimarg, moreover, moves beyond the realm of
rhetoric and allegory. As this thesis has demonstrated, in addition to temple sevd (in
which the temple is itself envisioned as a home or haveli), the practice of domestic sevd
is integral to the maintenance of a Pustimarg sectarian identity and its performance
permeates the quotidian activities of its practitioners.

265

In this project, I have presented domestic sevd as a heuristic lens through
which we come to understand and map women’s roles in Pustimarg’s past and its
contemporary manifestations. In our discussion of women’s sevd rituals within the home
- practices that are not circ*mscribed by nonnative pativratd (“pious wife”) ideologies of
auspiciousness, for example - we are confronted with an alternative perspective on
women’s devotional practices and religious lives. However, it is important not to overly
romanticize Pustimarg’s bhakti ethos as a mode for subverting or “resisting” Brahmanic
orthodoxy and patriarchy. Both domestic and haveli Pustimarg liturgies are informed by
ritual purity and pollution prescriptions, while caste and gender rules have prevented
women from the GosvamI household from entering the main sanctum of havelTs and
perfonning sevd to the primary svarup.

In the domestic context, as we have seen, the practice of sevd by women is
informed by - and helps reproduce - caste hierarchies, gender expectations, and class
formation. The rite of initiation and the perfonnance of sevd are mechanisms by which a
husband’s family, especially the mother-in-law, exert their authority on incoming
daughter-in-laws. While investing too much time on sevd practices has also presented
instances where the relationship between husbands and wives become strained.
Furthennore, as I illustrated in chapter three, the gender and class discourses of the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries reconstituted the home and women’s domestic
activities as sites for status production and family respectability. Today, with the
proliferation of consumer cultures, increased commodified styles of ritual praxis as well
as shifts in aesthetic tastes have also come to inform domestic sevd practices and the

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ways in which one perpetuates an elite Pustimarg identity. All these processes, together,
cast the modern home as a site of Pustimarg patronage. To some degree, however, they
also enable the practice of domestic sevd to become embedded in the morally laden
language of “authenticity.” Claims to authenticity, we have seen, are being made by elite
Pustimarg women who have the preference and means for taking havelT kirtan lessons, so
that they may sing kTrtans in the home in their “proper” temple styles. Indeed, the claim
that domestic sevd is the “original” and, thus, “authentic” fonn of Pustimarg sevd is
among the many contentious issues in contemporary Pustimarg. Many women from
upper-class families, who only visit the havelT on occasion see other women’s daily
attendance at havelTs as an indication of such women’s inability to perform sevd in their
homes or of not having any social and family responsibilities.

Read through the prism of late nineteenth century and early twentieth century
reform, especially the discourses surrounding the libel case and women’s roles in
Pustimarg, today’s Pustimarg, as it is practiced by the more “respectable” families of
Gujarat, can help demonstrate some of the residual effects of these reform campaigns.

For example, several recommendations were made by Mulji and other reformers to
regulate the activities of women in havelT contexts as well as their movement to and from
the havelT. 170 According to Mulji, it was in the afternoons that female devotees would
come visit the havelT in large numbers and female and male Pustimargls “intermixed
promiscuously” during the darsan periods (1865, 104). Ultimately, such suggestions

170 Before the Libel Case began, in 1861, the author of an article in the Rdst Goftar tatha Satya Prakds
made the following suggestions concerning the movement of lay women in the havelTs: “they should have
darshan only from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., they should enter the zenana only to meet the Maharaj’s wife and
daughters..., they should not be allowed to visit in the afternoon, and they should not be allowed to visit
the Maharaj to offer him fruit in private” (Shodhan 1997, 133).

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were made to limit contact between female practitioners and Gosvamls, as well as
between female lay practitioners and male practitioners. Among the many solutions
proposed included the allotment of specific hours when females could visit the havelT,
demarcating the spaces where women could move freely while in the havelT, and finally
introducing female Gosvamls to better supervise and manage the activities of lay women
in the havelT (Sampat 1938, 408-416 qtd in Simpson 2008, 100). One cannot be sure if
the limited number of visits made to the havelT by many elite PustimargI women today
represents the culmination of such reform efforts, which intended to regulate the religious
activities of women from “respectable” families. The last call to refonn (to introduce
female Gosvamls), moreover, appears to have materialized in the contemporary figure of
Indira betljl GosvamI (b. 1939), the second daughter of Madhusudhan GosvamI
belonging to the sixth house in Surat. Today, Indira betljl presides over her own havell
and is a guru figure to thousands of male and female practitioners. By way of drawing
this thesis to an end, I briefly discuss the life and religious activities of Indira betljl- the
only living female religious leader of Pustimarg.

Indira betjjl is an extraordinary figure and her life and status as a GosvamI
marks a significant shift in the traditional roles ascribed to women in the GosvamI
household. As we discussed in chapter four, historically, as Brahmin women bahujls and
betljls observed parda remaining in the women’s quarters ( zenana ) of their homes and
havells most of the time. In Indira betljT s family, both male and female students were
home schooled and no female from the GosvamI household attended a public educational
institute until Indira betljl decided to do so in 1962 when she attended the Women’s
College of Baroda (Gandhi 11-12). After living with her older brother, Sri Mathureshji

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Maharaj, in Baroda for most of her life Indira betiji opened her Vrajdham haveli on her

sixtieth birthday in 1999. Today, she manages all the bureaucratic affairs associated with
the temple, which includes operating a rest-house or dharmsala of thirty rooms for
Pustimargls who come to visit Vrajdham, offering vocational classes for women twice a
year on haveli grounds, and organizing rnahild mandats (“women’s groups”). 171 Through
the establishment of the Vallabha Memorial Trust in Ahmedabad, she oversees the
publication of Pustimarg texts and provides funding for building rest-houses in
pilgrimage centers. Through the Ananda Mangal Trust, also in Ahmedabad, her
administration engages in charitable activities such as building and subsidizing hospitals
and eye clinics and providing aid during droughts and natural disasters. Finally, in
Baroda, her Anugraha Trust redistributes all the funds received through donations to
constructing libraries, building more rest-houses, and organizing sivirs or religious
retreats (Gandhi 14-17).

With regards to her ritual and religious activities, Indira betijfs actions
resonate with the historical Yamuna betiji ( 1669-1730, see pages 175-176), with whom
Indira betiji herself draws parallels. At her Vrajdham haveli Indira betTji perfonns arti at
each of the eight darsans during the day and on occasion she also perfonns the srhgdr or
the adornment of the Balkrsnalaljl svarup. She has both male and female mukhiyds
(“temple officiants”) who assist her during the performance of sevd, and they also replace
her when she is not in town or is feeling ill. Although her female assistants observe
menstrual restrictions while perfonning haveli sevd, since Indira betiji is clearly at a post¬
menopausal age this is a non-issue for her. With the pennission of her grandfather, in

171 Personal communication, December 1 st 2008.

269

1971 she also began conducting kathcis or public discourses and lectures on the
Bhagavata Purdna, and is the first and only woman in the Pustimarg tradition to have
ever done so (11). To the disapproval of many male Gosvamls and even some female
members of the sampraday, Indira betTjT is also perhaps the only contemporary and
publically recognized betTjT to grant diksa or initiation to Pustimargls. Finally, starting in
July 1980, Indira betTjT made her first trips to London and to the United States, and is
currently the co-chair of trust havelTs in the UK, and across the US, such as in New York,
Houston, Chicago, and San Francisco. 172 Indira betijih as thus successfully contributed to
the globalization of Pustimarg in the twentieth century in a significant way. 173

In every respect Indira betTjT is a charismatic, powerful figure of authority in
contemporary Pustimarg. Although a majority of male Gosvamls state that before
marriage, as a member of the Vallabha kul, betTjTs can participate in temple worship and
even under certain circ*mstances give dTksa, what appears to be the most controversial
aspect of Indira betTjT s actions is her practice of initiating individuals and, therefore, her
role as a guru is considered problematic for many Pustimarg leaders. The following
description of Indira betTjT offered by one of her closest disciples can provide some
indication as to why male Gosvamls, and even their bahujTs, become uncomfortable
when questioned about Indira betTjT. Maya Desai, a woman who moved from the United
States to permanently live with Indira betTjT in Baroda, says: “Yes, there are many female
figures within the Maharaj household, but Indira betTjT goes out, gives lectures, travels to
other countries, she does what she wants. She acts like a man; she functions and behaves

172 Personal communication, December 1 st 2008.

173 Indira betTjTs travels outside of India can be understood as part of what Karen Pechilis characterizes as
the "third-wave” movement of gums - particularly by prominent female Hindu gums - to the United States
through the 1970s and 80s (113, 2012 ;10, 2004)

270

like a Maharaj.” 174 Indira betiji is not a female who acts under the purview of a male
Maharaj. Instead, she is a GosvamI who presides over her own haveli and she is a guru
who initiates. After questioning a male GosvamI (who did not want his identity to be
disclosed) several times about the apparent contradictions surrounding the role of other
betijis vis-a-vis the figure of Indira betiji, he said: “Look, Goswamls don’t want their
women, be it their bahujis or their betijis, to go out of the haveli, get educated, have
followers, and have power - because then they will be out of our grasp, out of our
control.” 175 However, he did go on to acknowledge that since more women than men visit
havelis for darsan, more women participate in bhajan mandalis, and they are the primary
performers of domestic sevd, it is a “good and important thing that a woman such as
Indira beti has a leadership role within the community. She is opening doors for future
generations, and women from the Pustimarg sampraday need to follow her.” Indeed,
there are women from GosvamI households following her lead who, not surprisingly,
come from Indira betiji 1 s own extended family.

Brajlata bahiiji is Indira betijis sister-in-law, married to Indira betijis younger
brother, Chandra gopalji Maharaj, who also lives in Baroda but maintains no haveli of his
own. Brajlata bahiiji remembers some of the difficulties she had in adjusting to the
GoswamI lifestyle after she married Chandragopal Maharaj, including her
disappointment at having to abandon her interest in the Sciences. She did her BSc in
Zoology, but after marrying Chandragopal GosvamI she felt that she needed to shift the
focus of her academic interests to a subject that would help her participate in PustimargI

174 Personal communication, December 1 st 2008.

175 Personal communication, February 2 nd , 2009.

271

religious culture. In her own words she said that she was inspired by Indira betTjT and
decided to obtain an MA in Sanskrit. 176 A few years later, she even started her PhD in
Philosophy focusing on Upanisadic texts. However, after falling ill for an extended
period of time she discontinued her PhD and has never gone back to academic study.
Regarding the roles of bahujTs within the tradition, Brajlata bahujT idealizes the past and
claims that bahiijTs used to organize satsahg groups for women, read and taught the
Bhagavata Parana, and also discussed Vallabha’s Sanskrit works.

Now, Brajlata bahujT admits, no female from the GosvamI household seems to
have the capacity to teach others about Pustimarg theology and philosophy. “Whether a
guru is a woman or man is irrelevant,” Brajlata asserts, “only that person who has the
“yogyita” - who is qualified, or worthy of- becoming a guru should initiate individuals.”
Indira betTjT, Brajlata says, is an exemplary individual and, therefore, it is fitting for her to
be a guru. Not only did Indira betTjT influence her decision to pursue a Masters and PhD,
Brajlata admits that it is also because of Indira betTjT s progressive and at times even
rebellious attitude towards male Maharaj authority that made it possible for Brajlata to
“step-outside” the Maharaj household and offer public lectures on various texts ranging
from the Bhagavata Purana, the vartas, and Vallabha’s philosophical treatises (Figure
8). 177

176 Personal communication, February 2 nd 2009.

177 Brajlata bahiijThas also written several short books on the life and teachings of Vallabhacarya, including
Tasmai Sri Guruve Namah (2007), Jagadguru SrTmadvallabhacartyajT SrimahaprabhujT Caritra, Updessar
cine Grantho (2000), and SrTmad Jagadguru SrTmadvallabhacartyajiki Drstime Dasamskandha Vicar
(2005).

272

Figure. 8. Brajlata bahuji giving a lecture in the Vrajdham haveli, Baroda.

It is clear that the wives and daughters of Gosvamls have found multiple ways
to negotiate and even appropriate religious roles and authority for themselves. As noted
in chapter four, from at least the nineteenth century, bahujis and betijis have participated
in the tradition by producing literary works that form a prominent aspect of lived
PustimargI culture. In the contemporary context, bahujis and betijis are continuing to
compose devotional poetry; Indira betiji, for example, has composed hundreds of pads
using the pen-name “Sravanl.” However, what is innovative is the ways in which
contemporary bahiijTs and betijis are breaching the boundaries of the GosvamI household
and participating in Pustimarg religious culture in a very public way. Brajlata bahuji
appropriates male Brahmanic authority by engaging in public discourses on Pustimarg
philosophy and by discussing Vallabha’s Sanskrit treaties. While Indira betiji has carved
out a new role for women from the Maharaj household: that of a religious leader and of a
guru who initiates.

273

In the time I spent with Indira betijT, it became clear to me that her gender as a
woman has radically altered the nature of guru-disciple relationship in Pustimarg. Both
female devotees who have received initiation from Indira betijT as well as those who have
not appreciate having a guru/Gosvaml with whom they can share both emotional and
physical proximity. As one female follower said: “I could not imagine being this close to
a male GosvamI; with Indira betijT we can stay up till two in the morning, singing,
laughing, joking together.” 178 Women who visit Indira betijT not only come for darsan
but many stay and speak to her about their personal problems, such as any issues they
may be having with their families as well as difficulties in finding a suitable husband,
finding a good job, and so on. In Indira betijT's own words: “my female devotees do
everything with me, they sleep near me, they eat with me.. .A man can never have this
relationship with me.” 179

The figure of Indira betijT also complicates our understanding of how popular
female gurus are approached by their followers and how they demonstrate and legitimize
their charismatic status as religious leaders. Unlike other well-known female gurus, such
as the late Anandamayi Ma (1896-1982) or the living Mata Amritanandamayi (b. 1953),
for example, Indira betijT is part of an orthodox sectarian tradition or sampraday. She can
also be differentiated from figures like the historical Sita Devi (fl. sixteenth century) - the
Gaudlya Vaisnav figure who assumed a leadership position after her husband, Advaita
Acarya, passed away - and SvamI Chidvilasananda, popularly known as Gurumayi
(b. 1955), of the Siddha Yoga movement by not being understood as an embodiment of a

178 Personal communication, December 3 rd 2008.

179 Personal communication, February 10 th , 2009.

274

goddess or as a channel for sakti (“divine feminine energy”). She serves as a counterpoint
to the claims made by Karen Pechilis regarding female gurus: “the more relevant concept
for understanding female gurus is Shakti...Female Hindu gurus are [thus] distinguished
from female Hindu saints through the distinction between Shakti and bhakti” (8-9, 2004).
Indira betiji is part of a bhakti tradition, is not perceived as a goddess nor as a medium for
bestowing/invoking sakti, and yet initiates disciples and serves as a guru figure to
thousands of practitioners. Furthermore, Indira betTji does not see herself as a samnydsim
or an ascetic - even though she never married. 180 By never marrying Indira betiji
maintains her position as a member of the Vallabha kul or lineage and she lives in her
own havell! home, surrounded by an entourage of assistants and followers. This allows
her to occupy a position of liminality as a “householder-ascetic,” which is in keeping
with Vallabha’s stance against renunciation, while her sexuality is deflected by the
honorific title of Betiji or “respected daughter” (instead of “Ma” or “mother” as other
female gurus are often referred to).

When Indira betTji was questioned by the author of her biography as to how, as
a woman, she is able to bestow initiation and give kathds on the Bhagavata Purana, she
responded by saying that she does not see her identity as fixed by her female gender
(Gandhi 37-38). Meanwhile she acknowledges how Vallabha himself regarded the gopls
as his own gurus, therefore, Indira betiji asks: why cannot women be gurus today? As a
descendent of Vallabha and as a GosvamI figure, Indira betTji admits that her followers
perceive of her as a form, or living representative, of Vallabha. She, however, does not

180 Indira betTji is normally seen wearing a white or off-white sari, a color traditionally associated with
asceticism /widowhood. When I asked her about this, she responded by saying she wears white because she
likes the color, and as she pointed out "look, it’s not all white! My sari today has a green border” (Personal
communication, February 10 th 2009).

275

see herself in that image (38). In her Vrajdham havelT, life-sized statues of Vallabha and
Vitthalanatha are placed in the same room where she greets her followers, and whenever
she delivers a kathd on the Bhdgavata Pur ana Indira belt/7 places the image of Vallabha
by her side (Figure 9). Indira betijT simultaneously deflects her authority to Vallabha and
Vitthalanatha and draws legitimacy for her status and charismatic role as the only living
female GosvamI of Pustimarg by appealing to this inherited authority.

Figure 8. Indira betiji giving a Bhagavata katha in Gandhinagar. In this image, Indira
betijT is on the right and the larger-than-life sized statue of Vallaba is on the left.

As the first project to examine the intersections between class formation,
women’s religious activities, and domestic seva in Pustimarg, my work offers a counter¬
point to current academic literature on Pustimarg, which have portrayed the tradition as
wholly temple-based. By grounding women’s domestic religious practices in a discussion

on elite PustimargI sectarian identity production and colonial modernity, this dissertation

276

also complements and nuances the work of scholars who have discussed the roles and
activities of women in Pustimarg. In contemporary Gujarat, by organizing events such as
monthly Vaisnav kitty parties, arranging for private kirtan lessons, and functioning as the
primary consumers and displayers of religious commodities in the home, elite PustimargI
women are engaged in innovative, class-based mechanisms of sectarian identity
formation. Their religious activities are also continuing to perpetuate Pustimarg as a lived
tradition. Finally, the contemporary figures of Indira betiji and Brajlata bahiijl briefly
discussed above indicate the radical transformations taking place in the GosvamI
household vis-a-vis the traditional roles of women from these families.

Indira betiji is today at the center of a global community of PustimargI
followers. In my work with her at her Vrajdham haveli in Baroda, I met many “NRI”
(Non Resident Indian) Pustimarg Vaisnavs who accept Indira betiji as their guru. These
individuals, who live in the UK, the United States, and Canada frequently visit the
Vrajdham haveli and sometimes stay there for weeks and months at a time. Indira beliji
has established a large network of haveli s in many cities around the world, and the
number of diasporic haveli s and their surrounding Pustimarg communities continue to
grow. Her status and activities as a GosvamI open up possibilities for future research on
Pustimarg in transnational contexts and address the complex issues that arise in diasporic
contexts around the maintenance of sectarian ( sampradayic ) identity. A focus on Indira
betiji would also complement this dissertation; given our discussion on reform and
women’s roles in Pustimarg it is remarkable that today Indira betTji, a woman from the
GosvamI household, is, in many ways, the face Pustimarg’s globalized community.

277

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