Divine Enterprise – Lisa McKean     page 44


During fieldwork I visited and studied dozens of gurus and their ashrams while residing in the small ashram of Bharati Ma, a woman guru. Analysis of materials on these many different ashrams - visits and conversations with gurus and devotees, observation of daily routines, rituals and special celebrations, and devotional literature - informs my understanding of aspects of the more intimate dynamics of involvement with gurus and their organizations. Because this book primarily concerns macro-relationships among Hindu organizations, Hindu nationalism, and political and economic processes, I focus on two powerful international organizations which are headed by ascetic leaders: the Samanvaya Parivar (Family of Harmony) with its Bharat Mata temple in Hardwar and the Divine Life Society with its headquarters at the Sivananda ashram in Rishikesh.

There are also numerous Hindu organizations in Hardwar, some of them with branches throughout India and overseas, which were founded and are led by gurus who are not renouncers but are married men with families. Of these organizations headed by non-ascetics, the Gayatri Parivar (Gayatri Family) and the Manav Utthan Seva Samiti (Humanity Uplift Service Society) are particularly prominent in Hardwar. Although either of these organizations could be the topic of an entire book, both are briefly sketched in this section to illustrate gurus and organizations which contrast with those that are examined in depth in later chapters. Ethnographic and textual materials describing the environs of Hardwar and Rishikesh further develop themes from the previous chapter that concern the constellation of spirituality, commerce, and politics. The third part of the chapter outlines the history of Hardwar as a center of pilgrimage, trade, and Hindu activism.

Depending on the social status of the leader and the cultural preferences of its following, a religious organization variously emphasizes ascetic, brahmanic, and/or royal imagery of authority. These cultural models of authority and dominance occur in different combinations and are not mutually exclusive. They are a means of distinguishing religious organizations and defining their relative status. Deference to the superior status of religious organizations headed by ascetics enables gurus and devotees to distinguish their own organizations as being oriented to spiritual goals and hence superior to other types of organizations, e.g., political, caste, business, professional. As the preceding discussion of institutional big men suggests, in practice the distinction between spiritual and other organizations is blurred. For example, an ascetic may be the organizational focus for a particular caste group. Ascetics may establish or participate in explicitly political organizations and be elected to public office. However, the distinctions relating to ascatic, brahmanic, and regal styles of authority, between spiritual power and worldly power, provide means to differentiate religious organizations from other corporate groups headed by big men. The existence of a large market for spiritual goods and services further encourages gurus and their organizations to maintain an identity that keeps them distinct from other groups.