The lives of Sarada Devi: gender, renunciation, and Hindu politics in colonial India
Goulet, Trishia Nicole
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Sarada Devi (1852-1920) was the Hindu child bride of the famous nineteenth-century renouncer Ramakrishna (1836 -1886). While Ramakrishna was alive, he worshiped Sarada as a goddess, a woman to be revered but never touched, and ultimately making of her a figure of popular adoration. This thesis addresses the ways in which Sarada has been constructed in devotional and academic texts, in order to not only determine the ways in which different types of followers viewed her and her religious practices, but also to analyze scholarly assumptions about Sarada. It argues that despite Sarada’s renunciatory practices, both scholars and devotees of Ramakrishna, continued to write about Sarada primarily as a helpmate to Ramakrishna rather than as a guru in her own right. Such constructions fail to adequately take account of the advanced Hindu practices adhered to by Sarada herself. This failure is the result of an over-reliance on traditional (i.e. patriarchal) understandings of what it meant to renounce in colonial India and speaks to the neglect of the study of female renouncers in general. In the case of Sarada, a rereading of key texts through postcolonial and feminist lenses enables us to see more clearly the manner in which her idealization as the Mother of India by the Bengali bhadralok, masks the complexities and contradictions of her life as a renouncer and guru.