THE ROLE AND CONTRIBUTION OF SAINTS AND SAGES
IN THE HISTORY OF INDIA

Concept

One of the very few traditions that has shaped the historical landscape of India is the tradition of saints and sages. At the same time, this tradition qualifies as one of the oldest surviving traditions of India, having sustained ebbs and flows for the past several millennia. The longevity buttressed by individuality and diversity of saint traditions necessitates an investigation to assess how and why an ancient tradition has endured into the modern period. Equally, it is important to understand the roles that saints have played in shaping the history of India. This conference aims to examine the relationship between the historical trajectory of India and the saints that helped mold and transform it.

If the sustenance of Indian culture and heritage could ever have had a resilient base, the role of character and endeavors of saints would be too important to miss. Due to the overwhelming contribution of saints in Indian history, this very subject requires further detailed study and research. The history of notable Indian saints together with that of underexplored saints demands and deserves a necessary and careful treatment of India’s past. However, despite being the mainstay of India’s cultural past, this very subject has figured largely as the handmaiden of political and social processes. Such historiography necessitates a reappraisal of India’s saint traditions which would find and trace its role in the broader historical continuum of the Indian cultural past. 

In line with that, this conference provides an opportunity to examine the histories of saints and sages since the times of the Upanishadic Era. It provides an opportunity to examine the contribution of this tradition of saints from a paradigm that transcends identity issues of religion. It also encourages analyzing narratives of female saint philosophers and poets like Gargi and Andal and their contribution to the religious and cultural awakening of India. The conference also aims to create an environment of constructive scholarship where long-standing traditions like bhakti, darśana, sevā, and other foundational religious principles are transformed into the subjects of inquiry. By analyzing these topics, the conference aims to add to the existing historiography of India’s religious and cultural history.

During the span of a thousand years – from 800 to 1800 CE, India’s religious and cultural traditions have been revitalized by illustrious and precocious saints like Shankaracharya. Within darśanic traditions, saints like Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Nimbarkacharya, Vallabhacharya, and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu have played a vital role in preserving and nourishing intellectual traditions of bhakti and spirituality. Their ideas have shaped the theological, philosophical, and religious traditions into what they are today. Similarly, Gyaneshwar, Namdev, Ramanand, Narasinha Mehta, Kabir Das, Guru Nanak, Tulsidas, Mirabai, Surdas, Eknath, Tukaram, and many other saints have contributed to the flourishing of bhakti and subsequent bhakti literature in India. This conference will examine the role of saints in the intersection of bhakti and the darśana traditions.

Although the British and colonially-influenced historiography portrayed the 18th century largely as a period of crisis, one can witness noteworthy contributions of saints during this period to the worlds of literature, bhakti, and spirituality. During the early-19th century, Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s striking contribution of initiating 3,000 saints and engaging them in the work of socio-spiritual welfare invigorated this age-old tradition. Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s successful initiatives to instill qualitative change in wide-ranging spheres like literature, culture, arts, and society were aided by his saints. Through their lives, works, and actions, Bhagwan Swaminarayan and his saints helped shape the socio-cultural, religious, economic, and political milieu of the contemporary western India. During the course of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, many intellectually proficient and spiritually enlightened saints like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekanand, Swami Rama Tirth, Sri Aurobindo, and several others contributed significantly in creating a largescale awareness of cultural pride and religious reawakening. 

His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, further contributed to this age-old tradition by initiating more than a thousand saints. These saints have acted as proactive agents in helping hundreds of thousands of people attain socio-spiritual transformation in their lives. The role and contribution of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj and his saints can be visibly experienced through 1200 temples created worldwide, through social welfare work rendered globally during disasters, through several hospitals, schools, and hostels built internationally. At the same time, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s saintliness animated and infused his social-humanitarian activities, de-addiction campaigns, cultural and religious festivals, institutional innovations, women and tribal welfare programs, and initiatives for family, communal, and global harmony.

In commemoration of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, a grand centennial celebration has been organized. On the occasion of his centennial celebration, an International Conference on ‘The Role and Contribution of Saints and Sages in the History of India’ has been organized. This conference seeks to analyze and understand the role of saints in India’s past through a historical and cultural framework. By creating a link between spirituality and history, the conference encourages a theoretically-grounded study of saints and their contributions on the bases of the archival studies, ethnographic studies, literary analysis, and theological perspectives. Perceiving saints as willing individuals aspiring for spirituality also presents the opportunity to re-examine the relationships between the self, agency, autonomy, and spirituality. Unraveling the history of this millennia-old tradition allows for the re-visitation of existent and dominant narratives on the normative and performative aspects of sainthood. By proposing to add a new dimension to the historiography of saints, their norms, and their practices through their discursive and hermeneutical understanding, the conference envisions an outlook of perceiving the past of India through the convergence of cultural and historical paradigms.

About ICHR, New Delhi

The Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) is an autonomous organisation under Ministry of Education, Government of India. With the primary objective to promote and give direction to historical research and to encourage and foster objective and scientific writing of history.

About BAPS Swaminarayan Research Institute, New Delhi

The BAPS Swaminarayan Research Institute at Swaminarayan Akshardham, New Delhi, was inaugurated by Pramukh Swami Maharaj on Sunday, 4 July 2010 in the presence of leading scholars of India.

Since its inauguration, the Institute has become a home of innovative research and collaborative study. Its considerable growth in membership, the expansion of its research facilities, and increased affiliation with other internationally acclaimed institutes pay testament to the commitment of its members and research faculty. The Institute’s outlook toward developing a multi-disciplinary approach to academic study and toward recognizing cultural beliefs and practices on their own terms has built an interface between modern academia and traditional modes of scholarship. In doing so, the Institute allows for the possibility to amalgamate contemporary, valuable systems of transmission along with an intellectually rigorous traditional scholarship.

BAPS Swaminarayan Research Institute strives to encourage interdisciplinary study of various cultures, religions, philosophies, languages, and texts to promote a better understanding through comprehensive educational, research-oriented, and publication programs.

Patrons

Professor Makrand Mehta, Former Head, Department of History, Gujarat University; Former President, Indian History Congress (Modern India); Former President, Gujarat Itihas Parishad
Professor Raghuvendra Tanwar, Padma Shri, Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi
Professor Umesh Ashok Kadam, Member Secretary, Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi
Professor Arvind Jamkhedkar, Chancellor, Deccan College, Pune
Professor Rajaneesh Kumar Shukla, Vice Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwa Vidyalaya, Wardha
Professor V K Srivastava, Vice Chancellor, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara
Professor Susmita Pande, Former Chairperson, National Monuments Authority
Dr. Balmukund Pandey, Organizing Secretary, Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana

Coordinators

Dr. Jyotindra Dave, Director, BAPS Swaminarayan Research Institute, New Delhi
Dr. Om Jee Upadhyay, Director, Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi
Dr. Anand Acharya, Associate Professor, Gujarat Arts and Commerce College, Ahmedabad
Dr. Jayesh Mandanka, Assistant Professor, Smt. L and C Mehta Arts College, Ahmedabad

Call for Papers and Guidelines for Paper Submission

The abstract of the conference paper should be less than 300 words. The full paper should not be more than 5000 words. The submission should be in Microsoft Word only. It should be written in A4 single format with 1.5 line spacing. It should be written in Unicode font, in font size 12. Kindly keep the layout of the text as simple as possible.

Please follow the below guidelines:

  1. The paper may be presented either in English, Hindi, or Gujarati.
  2. The paper should be original, unpublished, and plagiarism-free.
  3. The abstract should possess the author’s name, designation, affiliation, address, email-id, and mobile number.
  4. Reference style of the paper should be Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition.
  5. The abstract and the full paper should be submitted to [email protected]
  6. For queries, please contact at +91 9998999331, +91 9998999545 

Paper Submission email: [email protected]

Last date for Acceptance Form & Abstract Submission: 25 October 2022

Last date for Research Paper Submission: 10 December 2022

Paper Publication Details

A select number of papers presented at the conference will be published in the form of an edited volume. Selection of the papers will solely depend upon the critical evaluation by the peer editing, reviewing, and publishing committee.

Conference Testimonials

Gallery

Swamishri engrossed in puja

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