Sravani Kanamarlapudi

Avadhūta: Examining the Emergence and Institutionalisation of an Antinomian Ascetic

  • Religious studies

Abstract In numerous historical and contemporary cases, and in various textual and lived traditions, several Hindu ascetics have been called avadhūtas. Yet, there is little scholarly research on this ascetic designation. Based on an ‘iterative’ textual search of early and medieval Hindu texts, this article examines the literary emergence and early reception of the avadhūta ascetic. I argue that the avadhūta label emerged in the late first-millennium CE and was institutionalised within the āśrama system in the early second-millennium CE. I further posit that the avadhūta’s emergence is probably connected to the systematisation of the jīvanmukti or liberation-while-living doctrine, and that the institutionalisation of the antinomian avadhūta ascetic as a legitimate saṃnyāsin or renouncer correlates with two interrelated factors: medieval advaitins defending the avadhūta from anti-jīvanmukti critics and the increasing theological importance of the āśrama system.

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