Holy Persons

David Gordon White

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:
Holy Persons

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Given the fact that there is no term in Sanskrit or in the modern languages of South Asia that corresponds exactly to “holy man” or “holy person,” it may be argued that this is an Orientalist category invented by Europeans in the 19th century. Yet, there exist descriptions, dating from the most ancient Hindu scriptures and the earliest Western travelers’ accounts of India, of individuals whose lifestyles and powers are so exceptional as to qualify them as superhuman. Yogi, sadhu, brahmin, sannyasi, rishi, muni: these Indic terms are all entries in the Oxford English Dictionary defined as different sorts of “holy persons.” Some, such as sannyasi (renouncer), rishi (seer), and muni (hermit), denote specific types of practice, whereas others resist classification. Many other sorts of saints, monks, reformers, charismatics, and ascetics encountered in Hindu scripture and secular Indian literature as well as on the ground may also be categorized under this heading. Quite often in these traditions, the line becomes blurred between the human and the superhuman, and so one may speak of “god-men”: local or regional deities revered as exemplary holy persons. In his classical study of “the holy” in religion, Rudolf Otto underscored the term’s broad semantic field: the holy is simultaneously fascinating, attractive, awesome, and terrifying. Over the millennia, India’s holy persons have inspired the same reactions: they have been objects of love, reverence, wonder, fascination, and awe, but also of dread and terror.

Article.  13393 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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