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On Hinduism$
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Wendy Doniger

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199360079

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199360079.001.0001

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Saguna and Nirguna Images of the Deity 1

Saguna and Nirguna Images of the Deity 1

(p.150) (p.151) Saguna and Nirguna Images of the Deity1
On Hinduism

Wendy Doniger

Oxford University Press

In his poem, the Tiruvaymoli, often called “The Tamil Veda,” Nammalvar (“Our Alvar”), the last of the great Tamil Vaishnava saints called Alvars, describes the “two states” in which god participates: the world of forms and existence with qualities (saguna) and the world of formlessness and non-existence without qualities (nirguna). This chapter talks about the nirguna image of the deity—the god without qualities—in Hinduism and argues that the nirguna line was taken up by grassroots Hindus with a strictly limited degree of success. It shows that merging with a nirguna deity called moksha would result in the disappearance of bhakti, and that the ultimate nirguna deity is brahman. It considers the paradox that is at the heart of this problem and described by Charlotte Vaudeville: the Sants—North Indian saints—not only wavered between nirguna and saguna images of the deity, but deliberately challenged the very distinction between these categories. In addition, the chapter looks at the discussion of the nirguna philosophy in the Puranas and examines the concept of the garbha-griha.

Keywords:   saguna, nirguna, deity, Hinduism, moksha, bhakti, brahman, Sants, Puranas, garbha-griha

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