<i>Saguna</i> and <i>Nirguna</i> Images of the Deity<sup>1</sup>

Wendy Doniger

in On Hinduism

Published in print March 2014 | ISBN: 9780199360079
Published online April 2014 | e-ISBN: 9780199377923 | DOI:
Saguna and Nirguna Images of the Deity1

Show Summary Details


In his poem, the Tiruvaymoli, often called “The Tamil Veda,” Nammalvar (“Our Alvar”), the last of the great Tamil Vaishnava saints called Alvars, describes the “two states” in which god participates: the world of forms and existence with qualities (saguna) and the world of formlessness and non-existence without qualities (nirguna). This chapter talks about the nirguna image of the deity—the god without qualities—in Hinduism and argues that the nirguna line was taken up by grassroots Hindus with a strictly limited degree of success. It shows that merging with a nirguna deity called moksha would result in the disappearance of bhakti, and that the ultimate nirguna deity is brahman. It considers the paradox that is at the heart of this problem and described by Charlotte Vaudeville: the Sants—North Indian saints—not only wavered between nirguna and saguna images of the deity, but deliberately challenged the very distinction between these categories. In addition, the chapter looks at the discussion of the nirguna philosophy in the Puranas and examines the concept of the garbha-griha.

Keywords: saguna; nirguna; deity; Hinduism; moksha; bhakti; brahman; Sants; Puranas; garbha-griha

Chapter.  2264 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.