In this moving ethnographic portrait of Hindu renouncers-sadhus or ascetics-in northern India and Nepal, Sondra L. Hausner considers a paradox that shapes their lives: while ostensibly defined by their solitary spiritual practice, the stripping away of social commitments, and their break with family and community, renouncers in fact regularly interact with "householder" society. They form a distinctive, alternative community with its own internal structure, but one that is not located in any single place. Highly mobile and dispersed across the subcontinent, its members are regularly brought together through pilgrimage circuits on festival cycles. Drawing on many years of fieldwork, Hausner presents intimate portraits of individual sadhus as she examines the shared views of space, time, and the body that create the ground for everyday experience. Written with an extraordinary blend of empathy, compassion, and anthropological insight, this study will appeal to scholars, students, and general readers alike.
Sondra L. Hausner is University Lecturer in the Study of Religion at Oxford University. She grew up in Nepal, Bhutan, and Swaziland in a United Nations family. She lives in Oxford, United Kingdom.