The History of Janakpurdham
Edited by Martin Gaenszle
2016, pp. xxx + 528 (hardbound)
ISBN: 978 9937 597 28 9
The History of Janakpurdham: A Study of Asceticism and the Hindu Polity is a major contribution to the understanding of three important social persona in Hindu societies of South Asia: the ascetic, the Brahman and the king. Deviating from earlier discussions that focused on the binary opposition between the Brahman and the king, Burghart introduces a model of a trinity that included the ascetic. Besides being a rich ethnography of the Ramanandi order of ascetics, the book also provides a very detailed ethnohistory of Janakpurdham in the Nepal Tarai and its religious significance in what was then the Hindu kingdom of Nepal. Based on a rich and largely unpublished corpus of historical documents, it reconstructs the complex dealings and inter-relationships between the royal centre and the Ramanandi ascetics at the periphery. At the same time, the book is also a study of the coming of modernity to Nepal and the rich and detailed analysis of the political and historical context in which the Ramanandis operated helps question the prevalent image of Hindu ascetics as figures epitomising disembodied spirituality.
Born in the United States in 1944, Richard Burghart studied political science for his BA at Williams College, Massachusetts. He joined the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, from where he received his MPhil in social anthropology on the anthropology of religion in 1969. Following a stint as a journalist in South Asia for Le Soir, Burghart undertook 26 months’ fieldwork in Janakpur in 1973-76 for his PhD, which he received in 1978 from SOAS. He taught for a year at the London School of Economics before joining SOAS. In 1988, he moved to the University of Heidelberg as professor of anthropology and head of the Department of Ethnology, where he stayed until his death in 1994 of brain tumour.
Burghart was a founding member of the British Medical Anthropology Society (BMAS) and Honorary Reviews Editor of Man and he also founded the European Bulletin of Himalayan Research. He published a number of articles in various journals, of which most of the influential ones were published in a posthumous collection titled The Conditions of Listening: Essays on Religion, History and Politics in South Asia (1996). This book is his only full-length monograph.
Martin Gaenszle is Professor in Cultural and Intellectual History of Modern South Asia at the University of Vienna, Austria. He has a PhD in Cultural Anthropology, University of Heidelberg, where he also studied Indology and Philosophy. From 1987 to 1993 he was Resident Representative of the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg in Kathmandu. Since 1984, he has been carrying out field research in Eastern Nepal and North India (Banaras). A major research focus is the study of Kiranti religion and its transformations in the contemporary world. His scholarly interests include religious pluralism, ethnicity, local history and oral traditions in South Asia, in particular the Himalayan region.
Since its founding in 1991 by Richard Burghart, Gaenszle has been involved in the publication of the European Bulletin of Himalayan Research as Editor and Contributing Editor. He is the author of Origins and Migrations: Kinship, Mythology and Ethnic Identity Among the Mewahang Rai (Mandala Book Point, 2000) and Ancestral Voices: Oral Ritual Texts and their Social Contexts among the Mewahang Rai of East Nepal (LIT Verlag, 2002), and has co-authored Rai Mythology: Kiranti Oral Texts (with Karen Ebert, Harvard Oriental Series, 2008).