Religion and Beliefs
In this paper I analyze the unique position of Bengali Fakirs (male) and Fakirānis (female) with regard to yogic sādhana and tantra. Often conflated with Bāuls and other varieties of tantric “obscure religious cults” on account of their surface similarities, this paper seeks to demonstrate some clear distinguishing aspects of the Fakiri path that only ethnography could reveal. To demonstrate the importance of the ethnographic perspective, the central part of this paper is the examination of an interview in Bengali that I made with a Fakiri couple who clarified their positions on several key terms (e.g. “tantra,” “yoga sādhana,” “siddhi”) in the context of their practice of the unique sādhana formulated by Lālan Fakir (d. 1890) and also informed by other fakirs, dervishes, and Sāis. This interview comes on the heels of a seven-year long relationship gradually forged with this couple while conducting sporadic field work and learning songs in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India that has enabled trust to be built and the collecting of information to be non-intrusive. As a result, in this paper I share the personal context of our relationship and along the way provide notes for ethnographers of this and other vernacular South Asian traditions of non-Brahmācarya tantric sādhana. Throughout the paper I show the ways in which the academic perspectives of Religious Studies scholars trained in the historical analysis of texts and other forms of literary output can help build valuable bridges that link their work with anthropologists and ethnographers in other fields.