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'Drops of nectar falling from the white full moon' : Transmission of Ecstasy in Vaiṣṇava bhakti

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Title: 'Drops of nectar falling from the white full moon' : Transmission of Ecstasy in Vaiṣṇava bhakti
Author(s): Heinonen, Tero
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Theology, Department of Comparative Religion
Discipline: Study of Religions
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2015
The subject of this study is the transmission of religious ecstasy as a cultural model in the devotional Vaiṣṇava religion of South India. Representations of religious ecstasy are found underlying the practices, doctrine and rituals of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava religion. The religious tradition is extant present day. The primary object of this study is to delineate the method of transmission by which ecstasy has been transmitted from one religious tradition to another in South Indian Vaiṣṇavism. The secondary object of this study is to define ecstasy in the theoretical framework of the psychology of religion and to examine its application in the modern Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava religion as devotional music. The modern object of this thesis is ISKCON or International Society for Krishna Consciousness which belongs to the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava religious tradition. I will concentrate on the musical induction of religious ecstasy in ISKCON. A method of content analysis has been applied for the thesis in order to find out how ecstasy is manifested in a body of literature of each examined tradition. The literature consists of devotional texts, most originating from 16th century. Some of the sources originate from the end of the first millenium, and at least one has been created before the turn of the first millenium. Many modern devotional songs were studied in order to find out whether consistent elements could be found. Results were examined against the background of earlier studies, which have concentrated on psychological research. Results show that the religious tradition of the worship of Viṣṇu in South India has had an active element of religious ecstasy since seventh century CE. The religious ecstasy remained a cultural model during the medieval age and is still prevalent in the tradition present day. Results show that devotional music plays a role in inducing ecstatic states as the primary method of cultural transmission. The doctrinal foundation reveals application of the medieval aesthetic theory to devotional religion. Modern application involves musically induced religious ecstasy that can be studied with methods of psychology and physiology. My thesis statement is that ecstasy is transmitted with devotional music, which functions as a form of conducted communial ecstasy. The ecstasy is a cultural model supported by beliefs and ritual practices. It can be understood in terms of the attachment theory of religion as proximity behaviour in relation to God as the primary attachment figure. Thus, musically induced ecstasy functions as the primary vehicle in the transmission of Vaiṣṇava bhakti devotional religion.
Keyword(s): Ecstasy ISKCON Krsna Visnu Caitanya Bhagavata Bhakti Alvar Tamil Gaudiya Devotion

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