nakedness of female ascetics

diwakar acharya acharyadiwakar at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 9 04:43:07 UTC 2009

One more anecdote. 


I remember two incidents from my childhood days in the 80s. I
do not remember the exact years but both happened before I entered Sanskrit
hostel in 1986. 


One year, there was a special attraction: a young completely
naked na.mgini was sitting among many naagaas inside the courtyard of the Pashupati
temple in Kathmandu. She had smeared ashes all
over the body, was rather brave and paying no attention to opposing Nagas. Then
it was customary for the king to pay a visit to the temple and offer some gifts
to the naked Sadhus. As she was in the front row, along his path to temple, she
was asked to move to the back row. That she agreed. Such incident might have
happened before and after that year but I have not witnessed. 


I also remember my visit to a rather old and frail na.mgini
in Vankali, in the same area. This must be even before the first incident. 
Generally, we, children in the area, were very much
afraid of her. She looked terrible and used to shout at children, when they
teased or troubled her. One day my grandmother asked me to accompany her to
visit the Na.mgini. My grandma, who was born in Sindhupalchok, was asked by one
of her relatives there to tell the the na.mgini that one of her relatives in
the village has died. She used to live in a Yaj~na”saalaa with an agniku.n.da
in the middle. Local people say that this was built by King Mahendra for her (Now
this yaj~na”saalaa is modified, annexed to a new structure and turned into the chamber
of Treasurer of Pashupati Area Development Trust). She was calm inside, I was
surprised. She had smeared ashes, put a rag around her waist to cover the
private parts, but breasts were not covered. She showed indifference, obviously
was not affected by the news.     

Diwakar Acharya 

Graduate School of Letters

Kyoto University

> Date: Thu, 8 Jan 2009 19:01:02 -0800
> From: baums at U.WASHINGTON.EDU
> Subject: Re: nakedness of female ascetics
> I apologize for the diacritics mess. Once again in Kyoto-Harvard:
> ----------
> Dear Ulrich,
> the orthodox Digambara Jain attitude appears to be that women could not conceivably go naked, and that therefore they cannot attain liberation (for which nakedness is a precondition in Digambara doctrine). In his edition of the MallI-JJAtA (p. 45;, Gustav Roth traces this opinion back to the the ca. third-century author KundakundAcArya, who writes:
>     lingaM itthINa havadi bhuJjai piNDaM sueyakAlammi |
>     ajjiya vi ekavatthA vatthAvaraNeNa bhuNjei ||
>     Na vi sijjhai vatthadharo jiNasAsaNe jai vi hoi titthayaro |
>     Naggo vimokkhamaggo sesA unmaggayA savve ||
>     The sign of women is that she eats her meal one time (a day),
>     and a female noble one who has one dress eats under cover of a dress.
>     And no wearer of a dress attains perfection in the teaching of the Jinas
>        even if he is a tIrthaGkara;
>     the way to liberation is naked; all other ones are wrong ways.
> On pp. 46-48 of the same work, Roth discusses a damaged statue of a naked woman seated with her hands in dhyAnamudrA who may or may not be a female Jain ascetic (or even MallI herself), and which thus might be evidence for a more positive attitude among others.
> Another case is the twelfth‐century South Indian female VIrazaiva ascetic and KannaDa poet Akka MahAdevI, as discussed by Jan Peter Schouten in his contribution to Kloppenborg & Hanegraaff, Female stereotypes in religious traditions ( An interesting aspect here is that when the Ziva devotee MahAdevI initially went forth naked, this was at least partly to reject the marital bond with her Jain husband (whose religion required nudity for liberation but did not allow it in women).
> Finally, on a more anecdotal level, none other than Monier Williams contributed a short note on "Asceticism and Nudity" to the 11 January 1880 New York Times ( which concludes:
>     In a secluded part of the City of Patna I came suddenly on an old female ascetic, who usually sits quite naked in a large barrel, which constitutes her only abode. When I passed her, in company of the collector and magistrate of the district, she rapidly drew a dirty sheet round her body.
> On the face of it, this would seem to illustrate the same tension between some women's desire to participate fully in ascetic practice and society's disapproval of the nudity aspect thereof.
> Hope that helps and all best wishes,
> Stefan
> -- 
> Stefan Baums
> Asian Languages and Literature
> University of Washington

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