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Members of a politically and socially influential Rāma bhakti movement (the Rāmnāmi Samāj), composed of Harijans (untouchables), living in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh (before 2000 ce a region of Madhya Pradesh). The Samāj was founded in the 1890s by an illiterate untouchable leather-worker (camār) called Parasurām, who was devoted to the Rāmcaritmānas, and especially to the practice of rāmnām, the constant repetition of Rāma's name. This, and the recitation of other verses from the Rāmcaritmānas, takes place in the Rāmnāmīs' group bhajans, and at their annual melā. They inscribe the mantra on their clothes, the walls of their homes, and tattoo it on their bodies (a practice viewed as sacrilegious by higher caste devotees of Rāma). A distinctive peacock-feather headdress may also be worn during recitations. Over time, the Rāmnāmīs have developed their own telling of the ‘story of Rāma’, edited from the Rāmcaritmānas to remove the Brahmanical elements from the narrative. Their existence as a unique group now appears to be under threat from diminishing recruitment.

Subjects: Hinduism.

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