Focuses on the lives of female Hindu ascetics and the significance of gender to the tradition of renunciation.
Meena Khandelwal offers an engaging and intimate portrait of extraordinary Hindu women in India who wear "ochre robes," signifying their renunciation of marriage and family for lives of celibacy, asceticism, and spiritual discipline. While the largely male Hindu ascetic tradition of sannyasa renders its initiates ritually "dead" to their previous identities, the women portrayed here are very much alive. They struggle with, and joke about, the tensions and ironies of living in the world while trying not to be of it.
Khandelwal juxtaposes the common refrain that "in renunciation there is no male and female" with arguments that underscore the importance of gender. In exploring these apparent contradictions, she brings together worldly and otherworldly values within renunciation and argues that these create tensions that are at once emotional, social, and philosophical.
Meena Khandelwal is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Women's Studies at the University of Iowa.