Storytellers, Saints, and Scoundrels: Folk Narrative in Hindu Religious Teaching

By Kirin Narayan | Go to book overview

1. There's Always a Reason

"Come Mataji, come in," Swamiji called through the screen window. It was a morning in September 1985. I had just arrived at the second-floor flat where he stays, and was slipping off my sandals outside the door. The fine netted screen allows Swamiji to see out but blocks the view within. His voice -- low, rumbling, rich with the warmth of a grin -- had greeted me before I could see him.

When I entered I found Swamiji sitting alone at the end of the narrow room, and he was indeed smiling. After the clamor on the street outside, this room bore an ordered serenity. Instead of sharp sunshine, the rush of vehicles, the calls of vendors, here there was cool and quiet. The walls, linoleum, and curtains were all pale greens, though the altar dominating one wall was ablaze with the colors of various deities. Swamiji sat to the left of the altar. He rested in the aluminum deck chair, legs crossed at the knee.

"You're all alone Swamiji?" I asked, moving toward the altar to lay down my offering of one dozen ripe green bananas. I was surprised, for most mornings when I arrived from across town there were already several people present.

"I'm sitting here with my Mother," said Swamiji, relaxed from his chair. "The Mother of the Universe [ Jagajanani ] is everywhere. She's with me now, keeping me company."

"Yes, Swamiji." This statement, both playful and earnest, set me smiling too. I took a seat by the wall and began to unpack the bag in which I kept my perpetual companions: a pen, a slim notebook, a camera, and a tape recorder. As usual, Swamiji watched my conscientious bustling with amused interest. When I caught that glint of amusement I sometimes wondered if he still saw in me the child with two plaits who, the first time we met, had only briefly interrupted doll-playing to pay him respects.

Swamiji is a Hindu sādhu, a holy man. He is a sannyāsī, a "renouncer" who has performed his own death ceremonies and taken on a new identity

-16-

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Storytellers, Saints, and Scoundrels: Folk Narrative in Hindu Religious Teaching
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • A Note on Transliteration xi
  • Introduction 2
  • I - Orientations 13
  • 1. There's Always a Reason 16
  • 2. Lives and Stories 37
  • 3. Sādhus 63
  • 4 - The Listeners 88
  • II - Storytelling Occasions 111
  • 5. Loincloths and Celibacy 113
  • 6. False Gurus and Gullible Disciples 132
  • 7. Death and Laughter 160
  • 8. Heaven and Hell 189
  • 9. The Divine Storyteller 208
  • III - Conclusions 229
  • 10. The World of the Stories 231
  • 11. Storytelling as Religious Teaching 242
  • Epilogue 248
  • Appendix I: Glossary of Commonly Used Hindi Terms 251
  • Appendix II: Map of India 253
  • Notes 255
  • Index 283
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