The Mughal Influence on Vaisnavism, Part 35


The Balanand Matha at Jaipur

Jul 16, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of the Mughal effect on Vaisnava society.

As we have described in the previous segments, we are interested to discover the threads of connection between Mughal emperor Akbar's influence and our Gaudiya Vaisnava line. The two intersect in relatively close quarters in Galta, where Akbar held court, and where Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana preached Gaudiya bhasya to the Ramanandis. While the Ramanandis arrived in Galta about 50 years before Akbar, author William Pinch suggests that the Ramanandis didn't become a dominant force until the 1713 conclave of the four Vaisnava Sampradayas. But in a further description of the militarization of the Ramanandis, the author gives us another point of connection back to Akbar: In Peasants and Monks in British India he writes:

    "According to a related and specifically Ramanandi tradition recorded by the anthropologist Peter van der Veer in Ayodhya in the 1980s, loosely organized bands of armed bairagis wandered about north India long before 1700 and were given formal military hierarchy by one Swami Balanand in the eighteenth century.[16] Today the Balanand math (temple-cum-monastery) in Jaipur continues to claim credit for the formalization of the armed Vaishnava akharas.

    Though elements of the Galta and Balanand traditions appear contradictory (the reasons for which become clearer in the following chapter), they both point to the importance of Ramanandis, and particularly Ramanandis in the Jaipur region, in the formation of soldiering orders among Vaishnavas. That a Vaishnava call to arms should have been associated with the increased influence of Ramanandis is not surprising, since the social liberalism that is associated with Ramanand would have facilitated the process of military recruitment by opening monastic ranks to the lowly. This point is underlined in Ayodhya itself, where a banner emblazoned with Swami Ramanand's famous admonition against inequality—"Ask not of caste and the like, if you love God you belong to God"—decorates the entrance to the Hanuman Garhi, the main headquarters of Vaishnava soldier monasticism in north India."

After Akbar's intervention in the battle of sadhus at Thaneswar, clashes between armed ascetics increased at Kumbha Melas, sacred tanks, and other religious gathers throughout the 16th century. This trend evolved to the mid-18th century, by which time some of the Vaisnava cults and Saivite naga akharas had become highly effective, and highly sought after military forces.

One example was the Balanand tradition, whose presence in the Jaipur area manifested in the early 18th century. By following the line of these militaristic sadhu camps backwards, from the Balanand's to the nagas of the Thaneswar battle, we will see how Akbar's personal presence in North India, and at Galta, overlaps with this trend of armed Vaisnavas defending their own members against other attacking clans. And in this milieu, we have a direct representation of Akbar's personal influence on the Vaisnavas.

To clarify the timeline of the various events we've been discussing, sometime before 1527 A.D., the Ramanandis were established at Galta. Akbar's reign was from 1556 to 1605. The Balanand line was formalized in the Jaipur area in the early 1700's, when their first matha was constructed on land donated by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II (1688-1743), but the cult had come into being much earlier. Shri Balanand Ji, the Swami who founded the Balanand Matha, himself belonged to the Balanandi Ramanandi Vaishno Sect, a community of sadhus that had become famous for their ascetic warriors. They were known for having led the Jaipur army into battle on their war elephants.

The Balanand math, built long after the sect had actually been founded, was erected prior to the official establishment of Jaipur. The west side of the matha became the city wall, and a small tunnel in that wall, known as the Balanand Ji ki Mori (tunnel), was at one point the only access late night travelers had to the city, after the main gates were closed.

So although Akbar didn't arrive in Galta until around the late 1500's, the Ramanandis and the Balanandis preceded him. Both were inclined towards a militaristic mood. How and why the Vaisnavas were inspired to arm themselves, and what connection that reality might have had to Akbar, we will explore further in the days ahead.


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