The Ascetic Practice of Eating Sweets: Transcribing Oral Narrative

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    Swamiji, the Hindu holy man whose storytelling was central to my dissertation and first book, sometimes spoke about the concept of tapasya� determinedly focused austerities. Tapasya implies great self-restraint, physical endurance, dedication and concentration; it is often undertaken with a goal in mind. Tapasya generates tapas, heat, transforming a practitioner and granting power. Hindu mythology and folklore are filled with examples of people� particularly religious ascetics, but others too�whose rigorous tapasya caught the attention of Gods and Goddesses who then granted boons. Western representations of Hindu holy people particularly fixated on the spectacular aspects of tapasya, producing a great abundance of imagery of Hindu ascetics with long matted locks in odd positions�standing on one leg, raising an arm in the air, sitting close to fires, lying on beds of nails, and so on (Narayan 1993). But also regular people might undertake forms of tapasya for short times to attain particular worldly goals like jobs or children or the well-being of families: for example, by fasting, doing recitations, sleeping on the ground, and being celibate (cf. Pearson 1996). (First paragraph of text)
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)597-606
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


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