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Members of a North Indian ascetic sampradāya which claims Rāmānanda as its founder. Historically, the movement, which worships (i.e. serves) either Rāma alone, or Rāma and Sītā as a married couple, has multiplied into a number of diverse forms. Initially, at least, it recruited from all castes and both sexes, but recent studies have shown that it is now essentially a celibate, male organization, supported by an initiated lay following. Among the ascetics there is considerable diversity of practice: those known as tyāgīs (‘renouncers’), who may or may not be itinerants, and the even stricter mahātyāgīs (‘great renouncers’), smear themselves in ashes, taking on the outward appearance of Śaiva ascetics; a subgroup regard themselves as Nāgas. The other major group (or collection of sects), characterized as rasiks (lit. ‘connoisseurs’; H.: ‘passionate devotionalists’), live in temples or monasteries under the direction of a senior brahmin ascetic (mahant), who is himself the object of devotion. In what is probably a borrowing from Kṛṣṇa devotionalism, temple ritual is directed towards assisting the newly married Rāma and Sītā in their love-play, and may involve male devotees dressing as women, in imitation of a feminized Hanumān. Taken as a whole, the Rāmānandīs are probably the largest and wealthiest ascetic organization in Hindi-speaking northern India. Since the 18th century, they have dominated religious life in Ayodhyā and Janakpūr (which they effectively founded as a modern city). A number of prominent North Indian bhaktas are said to have been Rāmānadīs, most notably Tulsīdāsa, whose Rāmcaritmānas provides the theological and ritual framework for the sampradāya.

Subjects: Hinduism.

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