Examines the legendary life and poetic works of Ramprasad, the eighteenth-century Bengali devotee of the Goddess, whose songs were influential in his own time and remain popular today.
The eighteenth-century Bengali poet and religious adept Ramprasad was an important figure in the revival of the worship of the Goddess in Bengal at a time when the previously dominant Vaisnavism was beginning to sustain a decline in popularity. In this book, Malcolm McLean examines the evidence for the life of Ramprasad, and finding little in the historical record, deconstructs the important early biographics, which contain material that is largely legendary in nature. A founder figure emerges whose "life," modeled on that of the earlier saint, Caitanya, became a rallying point for his followers.
An analysis of the approximately 350 songs of this "Ramprasad" are analyzed and show how he skillfully combined three important elements of the Hindu tradition into a consistent whole: the classical Puranic Goddess tradition, especially as it is found in the Devi Mahatmya; the indigenous tradition of Bengali fold Goddesses, still enormously popular; and the previously underground esoteric Tantric tradition. This was a powerful and popular mix which allowed a very Tantric Goddess tradition to flourish for the next two hundred years. The book makes a strong case for seeing Ramprasad as basically a Tantrika, and argues that the kind of devotion advocated in the songs is a Tantric devotion of a kind quite different form the current Vaisnavite devotion.
The book also looks at how these poems/songs, many of which are translated here, might be read today. The author argues that many have a contemporary relevance which might appeal to many Western readers as they do to Bengalis even today.
Malcolm McLean is Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.
"The author presents a brief, original interpretation of one of the most important, but least studied (in English) devotees of the Goddess. The book includes copious new translations (the best and most extensive in English, so far as I know). It is well informed, based on impressive familiarity with primary and secondary sources in Bengali and with postmodern discourse, but it wears its scholarship lightly. It consistently brings that scholarship to bear on the interpretive problem at hand, without unnecessary jargon or tangents. " — Thomas B. Coburn, St. Lawrence University
"I like the way the author has traced three strands in Ramprasad's concept of the Goddess: puranic/sanskritic; Bengali folk; and tantric, and argued that this melding of traditions was significant in the history of Kali worship in Bengal. The book is clearly and concisely written and treats an important figure in Hindu religious thought on the basis of Bengali materials that have not been translated or exploited by scholars. " — David Kinsley, McMaster University, Ontario