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Making piety: an ascetic community of commensality in Haridwar, North India
The aim of this paper is to investigate how piety or devotional emotions are cultivated through sharing food, using case studies of Hindu ascetics in Haridwar, North India. Generally, piety is considered as the state of having or showing a belief in the transcendence, that is manifest as a pious action. However, as Mahmood (2012) argues in her study on a women’s piety movement in Egypt, belief does not always precede outward devotional practices but it can be nurtured through a set of disciplinary acts. Regarding Hindu asceticism, Van der Veer (1989) discusses how Ramanandi ascetics refine their emotions and cultivate the will to obey the guru through physical discipline. Following these perspectives, this paper explores how Hindu ascetics nurture devotional emotions, focusing on their everyday practice of sharing food. The author conducted fieldwork for about two and a half years in Haridwar, one of the most famous pilgrimage centres in Hindu India, situated on the western bank of the Ganges and the foothills to the Himalayas, working with religious women known as ‘lay ascetics’. Though these women live independently outside monastic premise, many of them gather at an ashram in the evening because it holds a feast for ascetics while distributing free food to beggars. This paper will argue how the ascetics who attend the feast daily cultivate devotion for the guru, which results in making a sort of community.