Hinduism, the term sati, although it is mainly used to refer to widow immolation, means "true woman''-a female hero. In Jainism satis appear as subjects of devotional hymns. This seems paradoxical, given that Jain spirituality teaches disengagement from worldly existence and Jain devotionalism is usually directed toward those souls who have reached perfect detachment. Being a good Jain woman involves negotiating between the mutually exclusive ideologies found in the South Asian discourse of devoted wifehood and in the Jain discourse of renunciation.
Drawing on fifteen years of field research in Pune, M. Whitney Kelting has assembled a diverse collection of narrative complexes-oral tellings, popular printed tracts, songs, and verse narratives, as well as associated rituals of fasting, religious dramas, and large-scale worship-which provide new perspectives on the inherent tension between these ideologies and the space that tension creates for laywomen's agency. Heroic Wives suggests that women creatively and selectively negotiate their identities as wives at different moments on the trajectory of wifehood. Women in established marriages use piety and ritual practices to protect their husband's health, to transform bad marriages into good ones, and to create and maintain ideal marriages.
Kelting details the daily lives of Jain women in the context of Jain precepts, practices, and social groupings as well as in the contexts of their Marwari and Gujarati families and communities. Jain narrative and ritual complexes are the site of laywomen's negotiations between multiple discourses that shape their thinking about wifehood, and Jain women position themselves as the agents of their futures, particularly as wives. In this illuminating study, Kelting provides new perspectives on the experience of wifehood, women's lives in South Asia, and Jain religious practices and narratives, and she further advances ongoing dialogues about interactions of ritual, narrative, and identity.
M. Whitney kelting is Assistant Professor of Religion at Northeastern University.
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