Matthew Clark. The Dasanami-Samnyasis: The Integration of Ascetic Lineages into an Order. Leiden: Brill, 2006. Hardcover, 352 pp.
This excellent monograph, which is based on the author’s doctoral dissertation, is an account of the history and practices of the Dasanami-Samnyasis, without c. 100,000 members the largest orthodox group (or order) of renouncers (sadhu) in India. The founder of the order’s ten (dasha) branches is traditionally said to have been no other than the illustrious Shankara himself, who is dated between the seventh and eighth centuries A.D. This traditional claim, however, is questionable, and Clark argues for the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century as a more probable date for the formation of the Dasanami (“Ten Names”) order.
Basing himself on textual, ethnographic, and epigraphic sources, the author has succeeded in producing a detailed account of the Dasanamis, who belong to the overarching tradition of Shaivism. For the student of religion and Hinduism in particular, this is a ground-breaking work that is full of clarifying and fascinating details about the various types of renouncers (who include married sadhus), their monasteries and hermitages, their leaders, attire (or the lack thereof as with the nude nagas), and rituals, as well as rules of conduct. He also talks about the political influence of Shankara’s monastic descendants, as well as the interaction between the Dasanamis and other renunciate groups, notably the nagas and Sufis.
Contrary to traditional portrayals, renouncers, firstly, are greatly influenced by caste and, secondly, include numerous women ascetics. The lone renouncer, who avoids publicity, is by definition elusive and probably very rare.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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