In India, religion continues to be an absolutely vital source for social as well as personal identity. All manner of groups--political, occupational, and social--remain grounded in specific religious communities. This book analyzes the development of the modern Hindu and Sikh communities in North India starting from about the fifteenth century, when the dominant bhakti tradition of Hinduism became divided into two currents: the sagun and the nirgun.
The sagun current, led mostly by Brahmins, has remained dominant in most of North India and has served as the ideological base of the development of modern Hindu nationalism. Several chapters explore the rise of this religious and political movement, paying particular attention to the role played by devotion to Ram. Alternative trends do exist in sagun tradition, however, and are represented here by chapters on the low-caste saint Chokhamel and the tantric sect founded by Kina Ram.
The nirgun current, led mostly by persons of Ksand artisan castes, formed the base of both the Sikh community, founded by Guru Nanak, and of various non-Brahmin sectarian movements derived from such saints as Kabir, Raidas, Dadu, and Shiv Dayal Singh. Two chapters discuss the formation of a distinctive Sikh theology and a Sikh community identity separate from that of the Hindus. Other chapters discuss the validity of the sagun-nirgun distinction within Hindu tradition and the interplay of social and religious ideas in nirgun hagiographic texts and in sectarian movements such as the Adi Dharma Mission and the Radhasoami Satsang.
David N. Lorenzen is the author of Kabir Legends and Ananta-Das's Kabir Parachai, also published by SUNY Press.