Hinduism Śākta Tantra
by
Maciej Karasiñski
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0251

Introduction

The term Śākta Tantra (Śāktism) refers to a constellation of Tantric traditions of Asian goddess worship. Śākta Tantra is considered as a branch of Hindu Tantrism, together with Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism. This article is meant as a general introduction to Śākta Tantra, a web of esoteric religious traditions that have developed in the Indian subcontinent and have focused on the worship of goddesses, the embodied “powers” (Śaktis). Studies based both on Tantric texts and ethnographic insights often indicate the secretive nature of Śākta rituals that are followed by initiated adepts within the hermetic circles called “families” (kula). The mystical streams of Śākta Tantra do not always propagate transgressive acts but are strongly influenced by regional traditions of Mother goddesses and female spirits. One can distinguish the Śākta traditions (like Śrīvidyā) that impacted the ritualism of various Brahminic communities and others that were themselves influenced by folk cults and regional customs. There are Sanskritic traditions of Krama and Trika that belonged to so-called “Kashmirian Śaivism” but developed elaborate theology where goddesses played major roles, and various local cults like Kerala Śākta Tantra, where local demon-slaying goddesses are worshipped in secret ceremonies. The goddesses are praised as powerful deities that can fulfill human wishes (i.e., are invoked during so-called kāmya rites) and lead a Tantric adept to salvation. In this article, an attempt is made to indicate the main branches of Śākta Tantra, selected Śākta-related concepts, and suggest textual sources that describe the traditions from both academic and sectarian perspectives.

Śākta Tantra—An Overview

Historically, Śāktism and Tantra (Tantrism) are closely aligned to an extent that early indological narrative used both terms interchangeably. Śākta Tantra is traced by Samuel 2008 to the autochthonous worship of Mother goddesses across South Asia. Brooks 1990 focuses on Śrīvidyā and defines Śākta Tantras as mystical traditions oriented toward the worship of Śakti, the universal and all-encompassing power which reveals itself in believers’ visions as a female divinity. Urban 2003 defines the concept of Śakti and Tantra in Assam and observes that the Śākta traditions were renowned for their secrecy and elements of private worship that could involve violations of customary laws of purity and ritual sanctity through violence and transgressive or sexual rites. Śākta ritualism is often seen as an interplay of taboos and conventions; it aims at unification of sacred and profane realities. Nirmala 2018 and Hatley 2015 discuss the relationship between Tantra and śakti, divine power, manifesting itself in various traditions of goddess worship. Goudriaan and Gupta 1981 is a useful survey on literary traditions of Śāktism in Sanskrit and Indian vernaculars. Brooks 1992 analyzes the ritualism and philosophy of Śākta Tantric traditions and indicates the impact of Śāktism on the culture of South Indian Brahmins. Also, Shin 2010 links Tantra with various concepts of power, both divine and mundane, and suggests that Tantra in general focuses on empowerment. Urban 2001 indicates the impact of Śākta theology on modes of worship of deities in Bengal and in various streams of Hinduism and Buddhism. Borkataky-Varma 2019 studies the famous Śākta center, the Kāmākhya temple, and observes that not all Śākta traditions are necessarily Tantric, and that the iconography, attributes, and rituals of Śākta Tantric goddesses differ depending on their geographic and religious-historical origins.

  • Borkataky-Varma, Sravana. “Taming Hindu Śākta Tantra on the Internet, Online Pūjās for the Goddess Tripurasundarī.” In Digital Hinduism. Edited by Xenia Zeiler, 186–206. Oxford: Routledge, 2019.

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    This chapter explores the relation between terms “Śākta” and “Tantra” in the context of Tantric rituals of the goddess Tripurasundarī. The study indicates also the online religiousity of Śākta Tantra in the modern age (e.g., online rituals and Tantra in social media), with special reference to the Kāmākhya temple.

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  • Brooks, Douglas Renfrew. The Secret of the Three Cities: An Introduction to Hindu Śākta Tantrism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.

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    The book introduces the philosophy and ritualism of Hindu Śākta Tantra, with a special reference to Śrīvidyā Tantra. The author defines the central concepts of South Indian Śrīvidyā and offers a translation of Tripurā Upaniṣad in the light of Bhāskararāya’s commentary.

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  • Brooks, Douglas Renfrew. “Encountering the Hindu ‘Other’: Tantrism and the Brahmans of South India.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 60.3 (1992): 405–436.

    DOI: 10.1093/jaarel/LX.3.405Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The article considers the power paradigms in Tantra and investigates the relationship of Tantra with orthodox Hinduism. The research focuses on Śrīvidyā Tantra and its influence on the culture of South Indian Brahmins.

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  • Goudriaan, Teun, and Sanjukta Gupta. Hindu Tantric and Śākta Literature: A History of Indian Literature. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1981.

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    A classic study on Tantric and Śākta literary traditions. The book is divided into two parts, the first surveying Tantric literary works in Sanskrit, and the second about selected Tantric texts written in modern Indian langugaes (Hindi and Bengali). This Indological work may serve as an introduction for students of Tantra and Śākta cults.

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  • Hatley, Shaman. “Śakti in Early Tantric Śaivism Historical Observations on Goddesses, Cosmology and Ritual in the Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā.” In Goddess Traditions in Tantric Hinduism: History, Practice and Doctrine. Edited by Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen, 16–32. Oxford: Routledge, 2015.

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    This study elaborates on the idea of Śakti and the roles of goddesses in the early form of Tantric Śaivism. The author not only discusses the various aspects of goddess worship in Tantric rituals but presents a historical context of those traditions. Readers may learn about cosmology and theology of early Śākta Tantra, the cult of Mother goddesses, and the principles of the ritualism.

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  • Nirmala, V. The Principle of Śakti in Kashmir Śaivism: Function and Evolution. Ernakulam, India: Sankaracharya University Press, 2018.

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    This detailed study, based on the author’s PhD thesis, analyzes the rise and evolution of Śakti in the sub-streams of Kashmir Śaivism. The author discusses the notion of power and traces the idea of Śakti to the earliest stream of Kula tradition.

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  • Samuel, J. The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511818820Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The book traces the history of yogic and Tantric cults through the ages and investigates spiritual routines in several religious traditions of South Asia, including Buddhism and Jainism.

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  • Shin, Jae-eun. “Transformation of the Goddess Tārā with Special Reference to Iconographical Features.” Indo-Koko-Kenkyu: Studies in South Asian Art and Archaeology 31 (2010):17–31.

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    A study on the goddess Tārā and the development of her cult in early Indian tradition, Hinduism and Buddhism.

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  • Urban, Hugh B. “The Path of Power: Impurity, Kingship and Sacrifice in Assamese Tantra.” American Academy of Religion 69.4 (2001): 777–816.

    DOI: 10.1093/jaarel/69.4.777Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The paper explores the relations between Tantra, power, and ritualism in the context of Assamese history. The author focuses on the meaning of Śakti and its multiple connotations: spiritual, social, and political.

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  • Urban, Hugh B. “The Power of the Impure: Transgression, Violence and Secrecy in Bengali Śākta Tantra and Modern Western Magic.” Numen 50.3 (2003): 269–308.

    DOI: 10.1163/156852703322192419Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The article discusses the role of “impure” or transgressive rites in Śākta Tantra of Bengal and deliberates on similar practices in Western Magic. Adapting Foucauldian discourse analysis and Bataille’s theories of transgression, the author indicates social and political implications of sexual rites in Bengali Śāktism. Urban’s study investigates also how Tantra became associated with “spiritual sex” in popular Western discourses.

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Śākta-Śaiva Traditions

Fürlinger 2009 indicates that the history of Śākta Tantric streams is in many ways connected with the history of Śaivism. The distinction between Śākta and Śaiva tradition is often debatable, and certain Tantric texts of Śaiva current may in fact focus on goddess worship, and vice versa. See Singh 1979 on how the philosphers of Kashmirian Śaivism used the word Śakti as a technical term expressing the power of Śiva. Śākta goddesses are often represented as powerful heroines who are either solitary or who dominate their male partners. In nondualistic Śaiva traditions of Kashmir, goddesses are the prominent deities, but Śiva remains the supreme aspect of the Godhead. Padoux 1999 calls those traditions a Śākta-Śaiva current and provides an accessible introduction to their many concepts. Nirmala 2018 discusses both theological and philosophical aspects of Śākta-Śaiva currents, with special reference to Trika and Krama. See Sanderson 2012–2014 and MacCracken 2017 on texts and philosophers of Kashmir Śaivism and their views on the importance of the concept of Śakti and spiritual practices related to it. Pintchman 2001 divides Tantric Śaiva traditions into those where the goddess is considered as Śiva’s consort and his power (śakti) and those where goddesses are independent and supreme deities. The goddess of latter traditions is both the all-creating force and the ultimate source of the whole manifestated universe.

  • Fürlinger, Erntst. The Touch of Śakti: A Study in Non-dualistic Trika Śaivism of Kashmir. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2009.

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    This is an insightful introduction to the Trika system of Kashmirian Śaivism with a detailed overview of the historical development of the nonduliastic Trika tradition. The study focuses on the meaning of Śakti and its touch (sparśa), understood, inter alia, as illumination and initiation.

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  • MacCracken, Sean. “Recognizing Recognition: Utpaladeva’s Defense of Śakti in His ‘Proof of Relation’ (Sambandhasiddhi).” Religions 8.243 (2017): 1–12.

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    The article indicates how Utpaladeva’s (c. 900–950 CE) work, “The Proof of Relation” (Sambandhasiddhi) can be interpreted as as an exposition of Śiva’s Śaktis. The paper elaborates also on the centrality of the concept of Śakti in the Utpaladeva’s work.

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  • Nirmala, V. The Principle of Śakti in Kashmir Śaivism: Function and Evolution. Ernakulam, India: Sankaracharya University Press, 2018.

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    The monograph investigates the later understanding of Śakti in Hindu tradition, where it started to function as divine potency, goddess, and a philosophical principle.

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  • Padoux, André. Vāc: The Concept of the Word in Selected Hindu Tantras. New Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1999.

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    The monograph is a systematic study on the concept of the Sacred Word (Vāc) of Śaiva tantras of Kashmir and in related texts of Śākta-Śaiva currents. The book introduces the authoritative texts and broad context of Śaiva and Śākta doctrine and rituals.

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  • Pintchman, Tracy. “The Goddess as Fount of the Universe: Shared Visions and Negotiated Allegiances in Purāṇic Accounts of Cosmogenesis.” In Seeking Mahadevī: Constructing the Identities of the Hindu Great Goddess. Edited by Tracy Pintchman, 77–101. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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    The author elaborates on Hindu goddesses envisioned as the creators of the universe. The study is based on Purāṇic sources and indicates various accounts of cosmogonic myths where Śakti plays an important role.

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  • Sanderson, Alexis. “The Śaiva Literature.” Journal of Indological Studies 24 & 25 (2012–2014): 1–113.

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    This study analyzes surviving religious literature of Śaivas and Śāktas of India. It provides a review of the main divisions of this literature mostly written in Sanskrit that includes ritual manuals, eulogies, philosophical texts, and other works of Śaiva and Śākta authors. In this detailed survey, the author indicates available sources—the published works and recently discovered manuscripts.

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  • Singh, Jaideva. Vijñāna-bhairava or Divine Consciousness: A Treasury of 112 Types of Yoga. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1979.

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    The volume provides the Sanskrit text of Vijñāna-bhairava, an important and widely commented text of Tantric Śaivism, along with commentaries and explanations of central concepts of Śaiva theology.

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Śākta-Śaiva Traditions—The Early Sources

Törzsök 2012 discusses the earliest surviving scriptural sources that teach the Hindu Tantric worship of goddesses and female spirits—Siddhayogeśvarīmata and Brahmayāmala. Both were composed around the 7th century CE. Harper 2002 traces the roots of Śākta Tantrism to the cult of the Seven Mothers (Saptamātṛkās) and concedes that those Tantric deities were a part of the Hindu pantheon before the 5th century CE. See Sanderson 2009 on Śākta Tantric traditions and their profound impact on other Hindu traditions, Tantric Buddhism, and Jaininsm. The study Bisschop 2020 shows how the worship of the goddess was gradually recognized within Śaivism as an esoteric form of their cult. The process was observable especially in later Mantramārga traditions, the cults of Bhairava. Within Mantramārga, textual sources are generally grouped into two collections known as Pīṭhas: Bhairava-centered Mantrapīṭha and goddess-centered Vidyāpīṭha traditions (see, for instance, Samuel 2008). The Vidyāpīṭha is traditionally subdivided into three collections, the Vāmatantras, Yāmalatantras, and Śaktitantras. According to Jayadrathayāmala, the authoritatitive texts of the Yāmalatantras are Rudrayāmala, Brahmayāmala, Viṣṇuyāmala, Skandayāmala, and Umāyāmala. In those texts, Śakti becomes the central concept, and female deities, often called Mothers, are presented as dominating over Bhairava. Hence, the texts of this current are also known as Mātṛ tantras and are discussed by Hatley 2007 as the earliest scriptures on Kaula ritualism that provide visualizations of female deities. See Sanderson 1988 on Śakti tantras and their relation to Trika, the tradition of the Triad goddesses (Parā, Parāparā, and Aparā), and the esoteric Kālī cults. Similarly, Harper 2002 discusses Śākta tantras, including the earliest treatises, and indicates their connection with the Kula (Kaula) tradition, which probably emerged between 5th and 9th centuries CE. Kula tradition is in intricate ways connected with the South Asian cult of Mother goddesses and possibly the Kāpālika school. More on this topic is provided in Hatley 2012. On the relation of Kāpālika and Kaula, see Lorenzen 1972. The Kaula tradition reformed the ritualism of Vidyāpīṭha and developed more sophisticated systems of yoga and meditation. The new system focused on spiritual exercises aimed at the divinization of an adept. Kaula Tantra is frequently divided into two schools: Śrīkula (cult of Tripurasundarī) and Kālīkula (tradition of Kālī).

  • Bisschop, Peter. “From Mantramārga Back to Atimārga: Atimārga as a Self-Referential Term.” In Śaivism and the Tantric Traditions: Essays in Honour of Alexis G.J.S. Sanderson. Edited by Dominic Goodall, Shaman Hatley, Harunaga Isaacson, and Srilata Raman, 15–32. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2020.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004432802_003Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The essay provides a detailed study on textual sources of Mantramārga and Atimārga and redefines the terms, adding historical context. Bisschop discusses the etymology of the term Atimārga. The author notes that the term was never used by the “Atimārgins” themselves but was ascribed to them by the followers of Mantramārga and, later, by scholars of Tantrism.

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  • Harper, Katherine Ann. “The Warring Śaktis: A Paradigm for Gupta Conquests.” In The Roots of Tantra. SUNY Series in Tantric Studies. Edited by Katherine Anne Harper and Robert Brown, 115–132. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

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    The author hypothesizes that the Tantric notion of female power (Śakti) was first used in relation to a group of Tantric goddesses, the Seven Mothers. The book discusses the cult of the Mothers since the period of Gupta Dynasty and argues that the association of Śakti with the Mothers happened under the influence of Vaidika Tantrics who established ritual system to empower the king and reform older religious symbols.

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  • Hatley, Shaman. “The Brahmayāmalatantra and Early Śaiva Cult of Yoginīs.” PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 2007.

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    A study on Brahmayāmalatantra, an authoritative scripture of medieval Tantric Śaivism, and its cult of yoginīs. Particular problems addressed in the study include the relationship between the yoginī cult and the worship of Mother goddesses (mātr), the characteristics of temples of yoginīs, Śaiva literary canons, and the Buddhist Yoginītantras. Dissertation available from ProQuest (AAI3292099).

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  • Hatley, Shaman. “From Mātṛ to Yogini: Continuity and Transformation in the South Asian Cults of the Mother Goddesses.” In Transformations and Transfer of Tantra in Asia and Beyond. Edited by István. Keul, 99–130. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2012.

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    A useful study that shows the links between various cults of Mother goddesses and the tradition of the yoginīs.

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  • Lorenzen, David N. The Kāpālikas and Kālāmukhas: Two Lost Śaivite Sects. New Delhi: Thomson Press, 1972.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520324947Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study on the origin and practices of the Kāpālikas and Kālāmukhas based on Tantric literature and epigraphic sources. The author discusses the doctrines and practices of the sects and adds information on Lakulīśa and Pāśupata traditions. Chapter IV (pp. 97–140) specifically focuses on the subsect of the Kālāmukhas, a goddess-oriented Śakti-Pariṣad.

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  • Samuel, J. The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511818820Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This monograph on the origin of yoga and Tantra includes a section on the evolution of goddess traditions (pp. 229–271).

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  • Sanderson, Alexis. “Śaivism and the Tantric Traditions.” In The World’s Religions. Edited by Stewart Sutherland, Leslie Houlden, Peter Clarke, and Friedhelm Hardy, 660–704. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988.

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    A study on the origin and development of Kashmirian Śaivism that introduces the Tantric traditions in general and indicates the role of Śakti and Śaktitantras in the evolution of those cults.

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  • Sanderson, Alexis. “The Śaiva Age: The Rise and Dominance of Śaivism during the Early Medieval Period.” In Genesis and Development of Tantrism. Edited by Shingo Einoo, 41–350. Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, 2009.

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    The article presents the evolution of Śaivism, its schools, and doctrines in the early medieval period. It indicates the ritualistic peculiarities of Śaivism and relation with Śākta streams.

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  • Sanderson, Alexis. “The Impact of Inscriptions on the Interpretation of Early Śaiva Literature.” Indo-Iranian Journal 56.3 (2013): 211–244.

    DOI: 10.1163/15728536-13560308Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The article presents and discusess religious epigraphical data on early forms of Śaivism. Sanderson reconstructs the Śaiva history and presents the major sects of Mantramārga and Atimārga. This classic study indicates the importance of inscriptions in Indological research and addresses a number of questions related to methodology of Tantric studies.

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  • Törzsök, Judit. “The Rewriting of a Tantric Tradition: From the Siddhayogeśvarīmata to the Timirodghāṭana and Beyond.” 2012. hal-01447960.

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    The author focuses upon borrowings, changes, and transformations that occur between an early text of the yoginī cult, the Siddhayogeśvarīmata, and an early Kaula text, the Timirodghāṭana.

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Śākta Goddesses and the Āmnāya System of Transmission

Another method of classification of Śākta Tantras, introduced by Sanderson 2007, divides their currents according to so-called āmnāya (transmission) system. Each tradition is ascribed to a specific “direction” of scriptural transmission—pūrvāmnāya, paścimāmnāya, dakṣināmnāya, and uttarāmnāya. Each āmnāya is in fact a cult of a different Tantric goddess. Pūrvāmnāya (Eastern Transmission) is a cult of three goddesses, Parā, Aparā, and Parāparā, who were worshipped collectively as a triad (trika). See Vasudeva 2004 on yoga and the authoritative scriptures of this tradition, especially Mālinīvijayottaratantra. See Rastogi 2011 on Uttarāmnāya (Northern Transmission), a path that consists of three systems: Mata, Krama (Mahārtha), and the path of Guhya Kālī. See Dyczkowski 1989 on Paścimāmnāya (Western Transmission), the cult of the goddess Kubjikā, and a discussion on the authoritative texts of the tradition: Manthānabhairavatantra and Kubjikāmata. A comprehensive study on Dakṣiṇāmnāya (Southern Transmission), the cult of Tripurasundarī, is provided in Brooks 1990.

  • Brooks, Douglas Renfrew. The Secret of the Three Cities: An Introduction to Hindu Śākta Tantrism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

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    The author sheds light on Śrīvidyā Tantra and its textual soruces, but the introductory chapters also summarize the general history of Śāktism and the development of its currents.

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  • Dyczkowski, Mark. The Canon of the Śaivāgama and the Kubjikā Tantras of the Western Kaula Tradition. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989.

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    This book serves as an introductory study of Tantric Śaivism and the tradition of the Kubjikā goddess. It traces the features and content of the canon of the Tantras, making use of many unpublished manuscripts from Kashmirian Śaiva and Śākta sources.

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  • Rastogi, Navjeevan. Kashmir Ki Shaiva Sanskriti mein Kul Aur Kram-Mat. Hindi edition. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2011.

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    Rastogi discusses the philosophical tenets of the Krama and Kaula paths of Kashmirian Śaivism, based on textual sources.

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  • Sanderson, Alexis. “The Śaiva Exegesis of Kashmir.” In Mélanges tantriques à la mémoire d’Hélène Brunner/Tantric Studies in Memory of Hélène Brunner. Edited by Dominic Goodall and André Padoux, 551–582. Pondicherry, India: IFI/EFEO, 2007.

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    The article elaborates on the Śaiva canon and lines of transmission of Śaiva- Śākta currents.

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  • Vasudeva, Somadeva. “The Yoga of the Mālinīvijayottaratantra. Critical ed. Translation and notes by Somadeva Vasudeva. Collection Indologie 97. Pondicherry, India: Institut français de Pondichéry, 2004.

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    A detailed study of a yogic system presented in Mālinīvijayottaratantra, an important scripture of Trika Tantra. The work provides insights also into the complex relations between the traditions of so-called Kashmirian Śaivism, the goddess worship, and yoga. See chapters 1–4, 7, 11–17.

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Śakti and Trika

Trika originated circa 800 CE as a ritualistic cult of three goddesses, Parā, Parāparā, and Āparā. The triad (trika) was worshipped along with male Bhairavas. Törzsök 1999 sheds light on the scriptural corpus of the tradition and the rituals of the earliest authoritative texts like Siddha-yogeśvarīmata, Mālinīvijayottarayantra, and Tantrasadbhāva. The texts give elaborate descriptions of emanations of the triad of goddesses and minor yoginīs who by the ritualistic practices are invoked into the body of the worshipper. Dupuche 2000 charts the development of Trika literature and indicates that the goddesses of Trika were also praised as manifestations of Kālī. See Wallis 2020 on how, in the second phase of Trika development, the cult of Kālī was incorporated into the system. See Bansat-Boudon and Tripathi 2011 for a critical edition and translation of Paramārthasāra, an important treatise of Trika written by Abhinavagupta (11th century CE).

  • Bansat-Boudon, Lyne, and Kamalesha Datta Tripathi. An Introduction to Tantric Philosophy: the Paramārthasāra of Abhinavagupta with the Commentary of Yogarāja. London and New York: Routledge, 2011.

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    A translation and an in-depth study of Paramārthasāra of Abhinavagupta with a commentary of Yogarāja. The authors explain doctrines of Trika and provide a critical edition of the Sanskrit text.

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  • Dupuche, John R. Abhinavagupta: The Kula Ritual, as Elaborated in Chapter 29 of the Tantrāloka. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000.

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    An academic study on Kaula ritualism in the context of Abhinavagupta’s philosophy that also provides an overview of Tantric ritualism and scriptural sources of Śākta Tantra.

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  • Törzsök, Judit. “Tantric Goddesses and Their Supernatural Powers in the Trika of Kashmir (Bhedatraya in the Siddhayogeśvarīmata).” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 73 (1999): 131–147.

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    The article may serve as an introduction to the complex tradition of worship of Trika goddesses and the concept of threefold division (bhedatraya) that characterizes this tradition. A study based on Siddhayogeśvarīmata.

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  • Wallis, Christopher. “Alchemical Metaphors for Spiritual Transformation in Abhinavagupta’s Īśvarapratyabhijñāvimarśinī and Īśvarapratyabhijñāvivṛtivimarśinī.” In Śaivism and the Tantric Traditions: Essays in Honour of Alexis G.J.S. Sanderson. Edited by Dominic Goodall, Shaman Hatley, Harunaga Isaacson, and Srilata Raman, 144–169. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2020.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004432802_008Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The study includes observations on the metaphorical language of Abhinavagupta’s texts and the function of those terms in spiritual practices. It elaborates on the terminology of Tantric texts and possible translations of various Sanskrit terms and therefore is of interest to philologists and scholars working on editions or translations of Tantric literature.

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Śākta Visions of Kālī

Kālī is one of the Mahāvidyās, a group of ten Tantric goddesses invoked together as representations of the divine feminine. McDermott 2008 indicates that in many Tantric traditions, Kālī is praised as a powerful divinity of ambivalent nature—a destroyer of demons and a protective mother. Joshi 2002 provides information on the iconographic representations of Kālī and their development between the Kushan and Gupta periods in the early centuries CE. The popular iconographic representations often show her wearing a garland of skulls, standing on the lifeless body of Śiva with her tongue shown outstretched. One may find more on the icononography of Kālī cults in Tull 2015. Tantric texts of Kālī tradition introduce her as an embodiment of the primodial Śakti and the Great goddess. Kālī is famously invoked in Tantric and magical rituals that take place in solitary places of worship like cremation grounds. See Dold 2003 on those and various other representations of the goddess, who is worshipped also as the destroyer of bondage, capable of liberating her devotees from all obstacles and misfortunes. Kinsley 2003 provides an in-depth study on Kālī and shows how Tantric rites of Kālī currently range from wish-fulfilling acts to meditations leading to spiritual transformation. Dyczkowski 2000 investigates the relations between Śākta cults and provides information on popular Kālī forms: Bhadra Kālī, Dakṣiṇa Kālī, Kālī Kālasaṁkarṣiṇī, and Guhya Kālī.

  • Dold, Patricia. “Kālī the Terrific and Her Tests: The Śākta Devotionalism of the Mahābhāgavatapurāṇa.” In Encountering Kālī: In the Margins, at the Center, in the West. Edited by Rachel Fell McDermott and Jeffrey J. Kripal, 39–59. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520232396.003.0003Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The article presents Mahābhāgavatapurāṇa as a Śākta text and discusses the nature of goddesses mentioned therein and the worship of Kālī.

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  • Dyczkowski, Mark. Kubjikā, Kālī, Tripurā. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2000.

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    This monograph discusses the goddess Kubjikā and indicates the similarity between her cult and the traditions of Kālī and Tripurā as described in Śākta Kaula Tantras. The study is based on the Sanskrit sources and anthropological fieldwork among Nepalese Newars.

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  • Joshi, M. C. “Historical and Iconographic Aspects of ́Śākta Tantrism.” In The Roots of Tantra. Edited by Katherine Anne Harper and Robert L. Brown, 39–56. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

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    The chapter traces the roots of Śāktism by analyzing goddess worship in India, and presents historical and textual sources of early Tantric and Śākta worship.

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  • Kinsley, David. “Kālī.” In Encountering Kālī: In the Margins, at the Center, in the West. Edited by Rachell Fell McDermott and Jeffrey J. Kripal, 23–38. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520232396.003.0002Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A concise introduction to Tantric visions of Kālī and her worship in Śākta traditions.

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  • McDermott, Rachel Fell. “Evil, Motherhood, and the Hindu Goddess Kālī.” In Deliver Us from Evil. Edited by M. David Eckel and Bradley L. Herling, 44–56. New York: Continuum, 2008.

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    The study focuses on goddess Kālī and her ambivalent nature in folk traditions and Sanskrit texts of Tantrism. The author presents the multiple faces of the goddess and discusses her as the mistress of life and death that embodies the apparent contradictions of the world. The chapter concerns itself also with the problem of evil in Indian thought and Kālī-centered cults of Bengal.

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  • Tull, H. “Kālī’s Tongue: Shame, Disgust, and the Rejection of Blood and Violence in Vedic and Hindu Thought.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 19 (2015): 301–332.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-015-9181-2Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The article discusses the Tantric and popular visions of Kālī and interprets the concepts of violence, disgust, and shame as presented in the cult and in Hindu culture. The author traces Kālī’s iconography to Tantric myths and argues that Kali’s outstretched tongue may be interpreted as an expression of unrestricted power. At the same time, Tull observes, it is also a symbol of rejection of conventional norms.

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The Krama Tradition

The school of Krama (known also as Mahārtha, Kramaśāsana, Kramadarśana, or Kramanaya) is called by Rastogi 1996 a “Kashmiri Śākta Tradition,” and his study discusses the scriptural corpus of the tradition and the central philosophical doctrines that are said to be revealed to a sage Jñānanetra by Kālī (in her form of Maṅgalā) in the famous cremation ground of Uḍḍiyāna, a legendary sacred land that some scholars identify with the modern-day Swat valley of Pakistan. On Krama and Kālī traditions that praised the goddess as the revealer of the sacred doctrine, see also Silburn 1975. Also, Törzsök 2014 suggests that Krama was much more goddess-oriented than other Kashmirian systems and discusses the evolution of its nondual philosophy. Krama tenets were further expounded in treatises of Trika and texts of Abhinavagupta and his disciples. On the early literature of this tradition and its connection with Kaula Tantrism, see Rastogi 2011. On the later textual sources of the Krama system, see Cox 2016. In the 14th-century CE, Krama concepts were introduced into the theology of South Indian Śaivism and can be seen in the Mahārthamañjarī of Maheśvarānanda that is discussed, for instance, by Cox 2012. Walli 1998 also discusses the connection between the Krama school of Tantra and Śrīvidyā and refers to Mahānayaprakāśa of Śitikanṭha. See Wenta 2012 and Wenta 2010 on the early sources of Krama, for instance Kramasadbhāva, and the sequencial worship (krama) of twelve or thirteen Kālīs in this tradition.

  • Cox, Whitney. “A South Indian Śākta Anthropogonỵ: An Annotated Translation of Selections from Maheśvarānanda’s Mahārthamañjarīparimala, Gāthās 19 and 20.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 40 (2012): 199–218.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10781-011-9149-5Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An annotated translation of the Mahārthamañjarīparimala of Maheśvarānanda, a Śaiva-Śākta author from the 14th century CE. Cox argues that Maheśvarānanda’s work was an attempt to integrate Śākta practices of Krama system with doctrines of Śaiva theists. The study also reviews previous editions and translations of Mahārthamañjarīparimala.

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  • Cox, Whitney. Modes of Philology in Medieval South India. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016.

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    Cox investigates the literary traditions of scholars and poets writing in Sanskrit, Tamil, and Prakrit in southern India between the 11th and the 14th centuries CE. The author discusses a Krama text, Maheśvarānanda’s Mahārthamañjarī, dedicated to the worship of the Krama goddesses.

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  • Rastogi, Navjeevan. The Krama Tantricism of Kashmir: Historical and General Sources. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1996.

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    A comprehensive study of the Krama tradition of Kashmirian Śaivism. The author has reconstructed the history, literature, and philosophy of the system.

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  • Rastogi, Navjeevan. Kashmir Ki Shaiva Sanskriti mein Kul Aur Kram-Mat. Hindi ed. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2011.

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    A monograph, in Hindi, on the two traditions of Kashmirian Śaivism and their literary heritage.

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  • Silburn, Lilian. Hymnes aux Kālī, la roue des énergies divines: Études sur le śivaïsme du Cachemire, école Krama. Paris: Publications de l’Institut de civilisation indienne, 1975.

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    A French translation of chosen Kālī hymns and an outline of the Krama school. One of the first Western studies on Krama tradition.

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  • Törzsök, Judit. “Nondualism in Early Śākta Tantras: Transgressive Rites and Their Ontological Justification in a Historical Perspective.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 42.1 (2014): 195–223.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10781-013-9216-1Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study on the meaning of the term nondual (advaita) in early Śākta Tantras (6th–9th century CE).

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  • Walli, Koshalya. A Peep into the Tantrāloka and Our Cultural Heritage. New Delhi: Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, 1998.

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    The book investigates the Tantric traditions in India with a special reference to Tantrāloka. The author points also to the interrelations between two Tantric schools—Krama and Śrīvidyā.

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  • Wenta, Aleksandra. “The Twelve Kālīs and Utpaladeva’s Appraisal of the Sensory Experience.” In Utpaladeva: A Philosopher of Recognition. Edited by Raffaele Torella and Bettina Bäumer, 350–369. Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study & Delhi, D.K. Printworld, 2010.

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    The study on the worship of the Twelve Kālīs in the Krama system; it also remarks on Utpaladeva’s intepretation of the worship of those deities.

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  • Wenta, Aleksandra. “Imagery of Withdrawal, Violence and Destruction in the Kālīkrama.” Journal of Kashmir Studies 6.1 (2012): 49–64.

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    The article introduces the basic tenets of Krama system, based on early sources of the tradition. The author also discusses the visualizations of the Krama deities and images of violence and destruction that appear in the texts.

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Śaktipāta—Initiation and the Transfer of Power in Śākta Tantra

Śaktipāta is understood as the experience of the awakening of Śakti within practitioners’ bodies. Śakti is believed to be either directly transmitted from a guru (śaktipāta) or awakened through the practice of kuṇḍalinī yoga and the grace (anugraha) of a goddess or god. Ruff 2019 discusses the meanings of śaktipāta and the transmission of power in Tantric practices. In many traditions of Śākta Tantra, adepts were empowered with goddesses’ mantras and a process of initiation (dīkṣā) involved both śaktipāta and a willing possession (āveśa) by the goddess. See Smith 2006 on the concept of āveśa (or samāveśa) in the context of initiation. Caldwell 2001 discusses śaktipāta as the “descent of power” from a guru during Tantric rites of initiation. Similarly, White 1974 describes the awakening experience (śaktipāta) in Tantric traditions and connects the phenomenon with the activation of the kuṇḍalinī-śakti, what White calls the innate intelligence of embodied consciousness. Wallis 2008 elaborates on the topic of śaktipāta in the context of Śaiva Tantra.

  • Caldwell, Sarah. “The Heart of the Secret: A Personal and Scholarly Encounter with Shakta Tantrism in Siddha Yoga.” Nova Religio 5.1 (2001): 9–51.

    DOI: 10.1525/nr.2001.5.1.9Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The author narrates and rethinks her experience of Siddha yoga. The study uses both emic and etic approaches to interpret techniques and practices of Siddha yoga, including initiations, activation of the kuṇḍalinī-śakti, and śaktipāta.

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  • Ruff, Jeffrey C. “Modern Transformations of Sādhanā as Art, Study, and Awareness: Religious Experience and Hindu Tantric Practice.” Religions 10.4 (2019): 259.

    DOI: 10.3390/rel10040259Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The article elaborates on the aspects of transmission of power in Tantric rituals, initiation, and awakening of inner energy through spiritual practices in traditional and modern schools of Tantra.

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  • Smith, Frederick M. The Self Possessed: Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asian Literature and Civilization. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.7312/smit13748Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The monograph is based on textual studies and anthropological research in India. Smith analyzes various forms of possession in South Asian literary and religious traditions. The chapter “Śakti, the Localization of Divinity, and the Possessed” (pp. 68–74) discusses possession as a gendered phenomenon and refers to various definitions of śakti. Therein Smith considers also various roles of women in Tantric rituals of possession and empowerment.

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  • Wallis, Christopher. “The Descent of Power: Possession, Mysticism, and Initiation in the Śaiva Theology of Abhinavagupta.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 36.2 (2008): 247–295.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10781-007-9021-9Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Wallis defines the terms śaktipāta and samāveśa and comments on their use in the primary sources of Tantric Śaivism. The focus of the study is on the rituals of possession and initiation.

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  • White, Charles S. J. “Swami Muktananda and the Enlightenment through Śakti-pat.” History of Religions 13.4 (1974): 306.

    DOI: 10.1086/462708Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The article focuses on initiatory practices of a school of Tantra-yoga developed by a modern guru, Swami Muktananda. The author points to similar practices in traditional yoga and Tantra cults.

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Śākta Tantra and Yoga

Saraogi 2013 reconstructs the yoginī cult of Jayadrathayāmala and suggests that the early Śaiva-Śākta tantras are a link between Pātañjala yoga and traditional Haṭhayoga. See Mallinson 2016 on the Haṭhayoga as a reformed Tantric yogic tradition introduced by Gorakṣa (12th century CE) and other gurus of the Nāth lineage. Bouillier 2018 elaborates on Nāth tradition and describes Gorakṣa and Matsyendra as followers of a Śākta cult of the Paścimāmnāya. Also, Mallinson 2007 presents a translation and interpretation of Śiva Saṃhitā, a Haṭhayoga treatise, that teaches the worship of Śrīvidyā Śākta Tantric goddess Tripurā. Hatley 2020 explains the Brahmayāmala’s teachings that include techniques of meditation and yoga based on the internalization of visionary encounters with the yoginīs (yoginīmelaka). These yogas focus on accomplishing the adept’s aims and acquisition of mystical powers. Also, Kiss 2011 indicates historical connections between the cult of the goddess Kubjikā and early Haṭhayoga. Furthermore, Urban 2010 hypothesizes that various schools of contemporary kuṇḍalinī yoga and Western New Age yogic practices have been inspired by ritualism of Śākta Tantra or its doctrines.

  • Bouillier, Veronique. Monastic Wanderers: Nāth Yogī Ascetics in Modern South Asia: London: Routledge, 2018.

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    The monograph introduces the tradition of Nāth Yogīs, their monastic orders, lineages, and history. The study deliberates on the modern heritage of the Nāth Yogī and their founder, Gorakhnāth.

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  • Hatley, Shaman. “The Lotus Garland (Padmamālā) and Cord of Power (Śaktitantu): The Brahmayāmala’s Integration of Inner and Outer Ritual.” In Śaivism and the Tantric Traditions: Essays in Honour of Alexis G.J.S. Sanderson. Edited by Dominic Goodall, Shaman Hatley, Harunaga Isaacson, and Srilata Raman, 387–408. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2020.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004432802_018Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Brahmayāmala is one of the important texts of Śaivism, and this study explores the significance of a concept of Śakti-sūtra (“a cord of power”) in relation to the meditative and yogic practices prescribed in the text.

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  • Kiss, Csaba. “The Matsyendrasaṃhitā: A Yoginī-Centered 13th-Century Yoga Text of the South Indian Śāmbhava Cult.” In Yogi Heroes and Poets: Histories and Legends of the Nāths. Edited by David Lorenzen and Adrián Muñoz, 143–165. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011.

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    The article elaborates on the Matsyendrasaṃhitā, an important Sanskrit Tantric and yogic text. The study also presents evidence of the close connection between the cult of Kubjikā and the early Haṭhayoga teachings of the Nāthas.

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  • Mallinson, James. The Shiva Samhita: A Critical Edition and an English Translation. Woodstock, NY: YogaVidya, 2007.

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    A critical study of Śiva Saṃhitā, with an introduction to the text and the practices and Sanskrit text. The introduction presents a religious context of the text and compares its practices with the rites known from Śākta sources.

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  • Mallinson, James. “Śāktism and Haṭhayoga.” In Goddess Traditions in Tantric Hinduism: History, Practice and Doctrine. Edited by Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen, 109–140. London: Routledge, 2016.

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    The author discusses the identities of early Haṭhayoga practitioners and their relations with Śāktism. Mallinson presents the early and classic texts of Haṭhayoga and mentions other forms of yoga (e.g., Tantric mantra-yoga). The author remarks also on yogic techniques that were appropriated by the Nāths and Śākta ascetics.

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  • Saraogi, Olga Serbaeva. “Can Encounters with Yoginıs in the Jayadrathayāmala Be Described as Possession?” In “Yoginī” in South Asia: Interdisciplinary Approaches. Edited by István Keul, 198–212. London: Routledge, 2013.

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    The author investigates Tantric rituals, described in Jayadrathayāmala, and so-called spiritual encounters between adepts and the yoginīs (yoginīmelaka). The study proposes an interpretation of those acts and sketches the early history of the yoginīs’ cults.

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  • Urban, Hugh. The Power of Tantra: Religion, Sexuality and the Politics of South Asian Studies. London: I.B. Tauris, 2010.

    DOI: 10.5040/9780755625185Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An in-depth study on popular cultural representations of Tantra. The monograph shows how Śākta Tantra impacted goddess worship cults in the West and influenced the modern kuṇḍalinī yoga practices.

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Śākta Tantra and Yoginīs

In the Śakti tantras of the Vidyāpīṭha, the yoginīs received a prominent role, and many ritual practices were centered on their worship. They were imagined as forming a radiant network (jāla) of power that animates and governs the universe. In earliest texts of Vidyāpīṭha current, yoginīs, visualized as powerful and terrifying female spirits, were worshipped mainly to gain supernatural powers (siddhi). Young 2018 elaborates on Śākta and Śaiva Tantric texts that explain various methods of invoking of the yoginīs—they were often pleased with blood offerings and enticed by devoted ascetics who proved their worth by undertaking strict vows. In Śākta traditions, yoginīs appear in many forms: often terrifying, monstrous, and half-human. However, they sometimes resemble the Mother goddesses. On their representations and rites see Hatley 2013. The yoginī traditions preserved aspects of Kāpālika cult—they were often presented seated in cremation grounds, wearing garlands of skulls, or holding skull-staves. See Kaimal 2012 to learn more on the spiritual significance of the yoginīs’ iconography, images, and statues and their place in the history of religion. In Kaula scriptures, the yoginīs were often grouped into clans and in systems like Krama or Mata, and they were praised as personifications of scriptural revelation. In Bhairava tantras, which belong to the Śākta yoginī ̄cult, the yoginīs were pleased with impure offerings, including human flesh. Later, between the 10th and 12th centuries, their cult moved to so-called yoginīs’ temples where they were worshipped collectively in groups of 64 or 42. See Dehejia 1986 on the history and characteristics of the yoginīs’ temples. The rituals for yoginīs were in major part transactional rites during which adepts would invoke the female spirits to present their offerings and receive blessings. Saraogi 2016 analyzes those encounters and divides them in into haṭha- (fierce) and priya- (pleasant). The haṭhamelaka required blood sacrifices or even the consumption of human blood and flesh. Hence, only advanced practitioners, so-called heroes (vīras), are said to be able to participate in haṭhamelaka. One may find more on the melaka and the rituals of possession in Törzsök 2010. The word yoginī, however, takes on several meanings in Śākta Tantras. A yoginī can also be a female practitioner. Some of the human yoginīs were said to possess supernatural powers and could grant them if propitiated. These various meanings of the term yoginī are discussed in Törzsök 2014. Similarly, Aktor 2016 discusses untouchable women’s role in Śākta ritualism and indicates that the word yoginī in the ritual context could also refer to a ritual partner of a male Tantric practitioner. Hatley 2016 studies rites and cults of yoginīs and ḍākinīs but sheds light on the tradition of tantric Buddhist scriptures known as Yoginītantras (“Tantras of the Yoginīs”) or Yoganiruttaratantras (“Highest Yoga Tantras”) that center on female deities and spirits, including consorts of the Buddhas.

  • Aktor, Mikael. “The Cāṇḍālī as Śakti: Untouchable Women in Some Tantric Texts.” In Goddess Traditions in Tantric Hinduism: History, Practice and Doctrine. Edited by Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen, 96–108. London: Routledge, 2016.

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    The paper discusses a role of untouchable women in goddess worship and Śākta ritualism. The author also reflects on the problem of untouchability in relation to Śākta tradition, sexual rituals, and empowerment.

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  • Dehejia, Vidya. Yogini Cult and Temples: A Tantric Tradition. New Delhi: National Museum, 1986.

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    A study on temples of yoginīs and their connection with Tantric ritualism and iconography. The author indicates the Tantric character of rituals in yoginīs’ temples and refers to previously unedited manuscripts to reconstruct the yoginīs’ cults. The book also discusses goddesses worshipped in temples of Odisha and Central India.

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  • Hatley, Shaman. “The Brahmayāmalatantra and Early Śaiva Cult of Yoginīs.” PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 2007.

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    An anthropological study that provides insights into the cult of yoginīs and their temples in central India. Readers might also find useful information from the author’s field work and a reflection of architectural features of the temples. Dissertation available from ProQuest (AAI3292099).

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  • Hatley, Shaman. “What Is a Yoginī? Towards a Polythetic Definition.” In “Yogini” in South Asia: Interdisciplinary Approaches. Edited by István Keul, 21–31. London: Routledge, 2013.

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    A detailed and comprehensive study of yoginīs in the context of Tantric practices and Śākta texts. The author describes various aspects of Tantric rituals—offerings, acts of possession, invocations, and visualizations.

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  • Hatley, Shaman. “Converting the Ḍākinī: Goddess Cults and Tantras of the Yoginīs between Buddhism and Śaivism.” In Tantric Traditions in Transmission and Translation. Edited by David Gray and Ryan Richard Overbey, 37–86. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199763689.003.0003Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This study investigates the enigmatic figure of the yoginī and ḍākinī in Indian Tantric Buddhism and Tantric Śaivism. The author finds parallels between the yoginī cults of the Śaiva Vidyāpīṭha and Buddhist Yoginītantras.

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  • Kaimal, Padma. Scattered Goddesses: Travels with the Yoginīs. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Asian Studies, 2012.

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    The book rethinks the religious significance of sculptures of yoginīs and traces their “journeys” from archaeological sites to museums and private collections.

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  • Saraogi, Olga Serbaeva. “Varieties of Melaka in the Jayadrathayāmala: Some Reflections on the Terms Haṭha and Priya.” In Goddess Traditions in Tantric Hinduism: History, Practice and Doctrine. Edited by Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen, 51–73. New York: Routledge, 2016.

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    The paper interprets the interactive patterns that occur between yoginīs and their worshippers and discusses the transactional rituals described in early Tantric texts.

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  • Törzsök, Judit. “Yoginī and Goddess Possession in Early Śaiva Tantras.” In “Yogini” in South Asia: Interdisciplinary Approaches. Edited by István Keul, 179—197. London: Routledge, 2010.

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    This paper examines the phenomenon of possession said to be caused by female spirits called yoginīs in early Śaiva Tantras. The author suggests that possession as a ritual act could have been borrowed from the earlier tradition of the Kāpālikas.

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  • Törzsök, Judit. “Women in Early Śākta Tantras: Dūtī, Yoginī and Sādhakī.” Cracow Indological Studies 16 (2014): 339–367.

    DOI: 10.12797/CIS.16.2014.16.13Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The paper examines the ritual role of women in the earliest (7th to 9th centuries CE) scriptural sources that teach the cult of goddesses and other divine females.

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  • Young, Serinity. Women Who Fly: Goddesses, Witches, Mystics, and Other Airborne Females. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

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    Young examines the motif of the flying woman in legends, myths, and rituals. The author includes a study on ḍākinīs and śākinīs but discusses also aerial goddesses in ancient cultures of East and West. The book is divided into two parts. In the first part, the author introduces the motif of bird-goddesses and their magical abilities and reflects on the motif of flight in relation to ascension. The second part is devoted to human women and explores how witches and women with magical abilities were described throughout the centuries.

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Śākta Tantra and Other Female Spirits

In Śākta traditions, one may also find rites to invoke female spirits like yakṣiṇīs, śākinīs, or ḍākinīs. Their nature is often ambivalent—they may give a boon to a dedicated adept but also appear in dark forests or cremation grounds to harass travelers. Törzsök 2006 discusses yoginīs and other divine and semi-divine female spirits that abound in Śākta Tantras, where they are propitiated for magical purposes. On Vajrayoginī and other female divinities of Tantric Buddhism, see Young 2004. On various incarnations of yoginīs, see White 2003. Shin 2011 and Hatley 2020 study Mother goddess worship in South Asia and observe that yoginīs are closely related to the Mothers (mātṛs). On ferocious representation of the ḍākinīs and śākinīs, described in Brahmayāmala, and other belligerent female entities, often malevolent and dangerous, see Herrmann-Pfandt 1996.

  • Hatley, Shaman. “The Seven Mothers): Origin Tales from Two Early-Medieval Purāṇas.” In A Garland of Forgotten Goddesses: Hindu Tales of the Divine Feminine from India and Beyond. Edited by Michael Slouber, 83–114. Berkeley: Unversity of California Press, 2020.

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    The study elaborates on the myths and legendary origins of the Seven Mothers. The analysis is supported with Sanskrit Purāṇic sources, Skandapurāṇa and Devīpurāṇa.

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  • Herrmann-Pfandt, Adelheid. “The Good Woman’s Shadow: Some Aspects of the Dark Nature of Ḍākinīs and Śākinīs in Hinduism.” In Wild Goddesses in India and Nepal: Proceedings of an International Symposium, Berne and Zurich, November 1994. Edited by Axel Michaels, Cornelia Vogelsanger, and Annette Wilke, 39–70. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 1996.

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    The study investigates the nature of ḍākinīs and śākinīs in relation with Tantric and Śākta traditions and their magical practices. The author provides an etymology of the term ḍākinī and suggests that she represented the dark opposite of patriarchal ideal of the obedient wife, a woman that remains solitary, frightening, and powerful. The essay also observes that in Hindu Tantric traditions, dākinīs and śākinīs are presented as magical female spirits often associated with or included in other groups of divine being, such as Mother goddesses.

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  • Shin, Jae-Eun. “From Mātṛgaṇa to Sapta Mātṛkās: Brahmanical Transformation of Autochthonous Goddesses.” Memoirs of the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia 116 (2011): 566–592.

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    The article considers the evolution of the cult of Mother goddesses and their various manifestations in South Asian traditions. It indicates how certain autochthonous goddesses were reclaimed by Brahmanical traditions and how their nature and representation changed afterward.

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  • Törzsök, Judit. “Helping the King, Ministers and Businessmen?—Apropos of a Chapter of the Tantra of Magic Female Spirits (Siddhayogeśvarīmata).” Cracow Indological Studies 8 (2006): 15–39.

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    The article discusses the magical acts connected with the cult of yoginīs and Mothers. The article reflects on a chapter of Siddhayogeśvarīmata, one of the oldest texts of the tradition. Törzsök suggests that members of various communities (e.g., kings, ministers, and merchants) could have performed rites for female spirits to attain specific siddhis (magical powers or accomplishments). The author gives examples of rites for yoginīs and refers to inscriptions and early texts of the yoginī cults. Törzsök provides a critical edition of a chapter of Siddhayogeśvarīmata.

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  • White, David. Kiss of the Yogini: “Tantric Sex” in Its South Asian Context. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226027838.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    White discusses the many visions of yoginīs who, depending on a tradition, were conceived as spiritual beings, powerful goddesses, and human or divine participants in transactional rituals.

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  • Young, Serinity. Courtesans and Tantric Consorts: Sexualities in Buddhist Narrative, Iconography, and Ritual. New York and London: Routledge, 2004.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203494127Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study of the Tantric consorts in the art and rituals of Tibetan Buddhism. Author also discusses the concepts of purity and impurity in relation to female Tantric practitioners. Young analyzes male-female relationships in various Buddhist narratives. The book also discusses women’s participation in or exclusion from Buddhist rituals.

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Śākta-upāya of Kashmirian Śaivism

The Kashmirian Śaiva traditions discuss three upāyas, the so-called Means to Salvation, that lead an adept to samāveśa, or immersion into the divine. Śākta-upāya is a method that focuses on cultivating and working with the energy (Śakti), visualizations, and meditations. See Lawrence 2013 on the role of Śakti in the philosophy of the tradition. The study also provides a concise introduction to the upāyas. The Śākta-upāya is said to be centered on the liberative knowledge (jñāna Śakti), and the adepts who choose this path have to rely on and take the help of jñāna Śakti on their spiritual journey to salvation. See SenSharma 1990 on spiritual practices of Trika and the means of salvation in the system. Śākta-upāya is often defined as a constant contemplation of oneself being the divine, all-encompassing consciousness—more on this topic is provided in Lawrence 1996, which introduces the Pratyabhijñā system of Kashmirian Śaivism.

  • Lawrence, David. “Tantric Argument: The Transfiguration of Philosophical Discourse in the Pratyabhijñā System of Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta.” Philosophy East and West 46.2 (1996): 165–204.

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    The author introduces the tenets of the Pratyabhijñā system of Kashmirian Śaivism and refers to texts of Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta to present the upāyas, the spiritual practices of the tradition.

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  • Lawrence, David Peter. “The Disclosure of ́Śakti in Aesthetics: Remarks on the Relation of Abhinagupta’s Poetics and Nondual Kashmiri ́Śaivism.” Southeast Review of Asian Studies 35 (2013): 90–102.

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    The author discusses the aesthetics of the Trika system of Abhinavagupta and the role of Śakti in the philosophy of the tradition. The essay specifically addresses Trika tradition that advocates a spiritual practice of approaching Śiva through Śakti.The article refers to authoritative Tantric texts (e.g., Spanda-kārikā) and indicates how various traditions of Kashmirian Śaivism (Krama, Trika, and Spanda) define relations between an adept, Śiva, and Śakti.

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  • Lidke, Jeffrey. “Interpreting across Mystical Boundaries: An Analysis of Samādhi in the Trika-Kaula Tradition.” In Theory and Practice of Yoga: Essays in Honour of Gerald James Larson. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, 143–179. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789047416333_008Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The author provides an analysis of Abhinavagupta’s upāyas and discusses samādhi in Trika-Kaula tradition. Lidke also comments on Western and non-Western discourses on mystical states of consciousness.

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  • SenSharma, Deba Brata. The Philosophy of Sādhanā, with Special Reference to the Trika Philosophy of Kashmir. Foreword by Paul Muller-Ortega. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.

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    The author focuses on the Trika tradition, and discusses the ritualism, dīkṣā (initiation), and the various spiritual paths of the system.

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Śākta Tantra of Śrīvidyā—Introduction

Śrīvidyā is a śākta Tantric cult of the goddess Tripurasundarī (“The Beautiful One of the Three Cities”), also called Tripurā, Lalitā, Śrī, Ṣoḍaśī, or Rājarājeśvarī. “Śrīvidyā” can be translated as “Auspicious Knowledge,” but the name also denotes the main mantra (vidyā) of the goddess. One of the most striking features of Śrīvidyā is the threefold form of its main goddess. She is praised as Tripurā-bālā, the young and playful maiden of sixteen years; Tripura-sundarī, the beautiful queen of the universe; and Tripura-bhairavī, the fierce and terrifying deity. The tradition not only associates her triple form with three śaktis (jñāna, kriyā, and icchā) but also insists that she encompasses the three worlds of Hindu cosmology. She is also worshipped in three forms. The first one is her coarse (sthūla) form; that is, her iconographic representation. Tripurā’s second, subtle (sūkṣma) form is that of the śrīcakra, a ritualistic tool, a yantra where her powers are to be accessed. The nine interlocking triangles of the yantra depict the sequences of the emanation and resorption of reality from and into the central point (bindu). Śrīcakra is therefore perceived as a map of reality and a labyrinth of the universe. The third and most subtle (atisūkṣma) form of this goddess is her mantra, which in her most secret version has sixteen syllables and therefore is called Ṣoḍaśī. The mantra is traditionally divided into three parts (kūṭa) that are in turn correlated with goddess powers and her divine representations.

Śrīvidyā—Studies

Śrīvidyā is one of the most widespread living śākta traditions in the world. Dempsey 2006 is a study of a Śrīvidyā temple, Sri Rajarajeswari Peetam, in upstate New York. Lidke 2017 is a monograph on Śrīvidyā worship in Nepal, and Rao 2019 and Bowden 2017 are devoted to modern South Indian Śrīvidyā gurus. Linder 1990 interprets various names of the Śrīvidyā goddess and underscores their significance in the ritual practice. Brooks 1992 and Brooks 1990 are arguably the most comprehensive introductions to Śrīvidyā practices and its primary texts. Golovkova 2020 investigates the worship of Tripurasundarī in the early sources of Śrīvidyā and indicates the role of Nityā deities in the cult. Padoux and Jeanty 2013 translates and interprets Śrīvidyā ritual of śrīcakra as explained in Yoginī-hṛdaya. For interpretations of Śrīvidyā mantras that include practitioners’ perspectives and Peircean semiotics, see Yelle 2003.

  • Bowden, Michael M. The Goddess and the Guru: A Spiritual Biography of Sri Amritananda Natha Saraswati. Charlotte, ME: 45th Parallel Press, 2017.

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    A biography of a modern guru of Śrīvidyā, Amritananda Natha Saraswati, the founder of Devipuram Śrīvidyā center in Andhra Pradesh. Written by one of Amritananda’s disciples, the account provides an emic perspective on Śrīvidyā tradition and situates the modern guru’s teaching within the Tantric scriptural traditions.

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  • Brooks, Douglas Renfrew. The Secret of the Three Cities: An Introduction to Hindu Śākta Tantrism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

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    A study on Śrīvidyā Tantra with an introduction to various aspects of Tantric ritualism and interpretation of Tripurārahasya, one of the authoritative texts of the tradition.

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  • Brooks, Douglas Renfrew. Auspicious Wisdom: The Texts and Traditions of Śrīvidyā Śākta Tantrism in South India. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.

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    This is a comprehensive study of the texts and traditions of Śrīvidyā. The book is based on authoritative Sanskrit scriptures, historical commentaires, and the interpretive insights of living practitioners.

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  • Dempsey, Corinne. The Goddess Lives in Upstate New York: Breaking Convention and Making Home at a North American Hindu Temple. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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    The study sheds light on the religious peculiarities of a North American Hindu Temple in New York. The book includes studies on Śrīvidyā rites and observances, devotional testimonials, temple routines, and an overview of diasporic Hinduism.

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  • Golovkova, Anna. “The Forgotten Consort: The Goddess and Kāmadeva in the Early Worship of Tripurasundarī.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 24.1 (2020): 1–20.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-020-09272-6Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This article examines the connection between Śrīvidyā and the cult of Nityā goddesses.

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  • Lidke, Jeffrey S. The Goddess within and beyond the Three Cities: Śākta Tantra and the Paradox of Power in Nepāla-Maṇḍala. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2017.

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    Lidke provides an insightful reflection on Tantric beliefs and practices, supported with anthropological data as well as offering a translation and analysis of the the Nityāṣoḍaśikārṇavatantra.

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  • Linder, Sylvia. “The 108 Names of the Goddess Tripurā in the Māhātmyakhaṇḍa of the Tripurārahasya.” In The Sanskrit Tradition on Tantrism: Panels of the VII World Sanskrit Conference 1. Edited by T. Goudriaan, 85–95. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1990.

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    The study analyzes the Māhātmyakhaṇḍa of the Tripurārahasya and interprets the various names and epithets of Tripurā mentioned in the text.

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  • Padoux, André, with Roger-Orphe Jeanty. The Heart of the Yogini: The Yoginihrdaya, a Sanskrit Tantric Treatise; Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199982325.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An academic study on one of the authoritative Sanskrit treatises of Śrīvidyā that deals with the worship of śrīcakra and the theological aspects of the Tripurasundarī cult.

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  • Rao, Mani. Living Mantra: Mantra, Deity and Visionary Experience Today. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-96391-4Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An anthropological study of mantra-experience among Hindu-Tantric practitioners in modern India. A major part of the study is devoted to contemporary Śrīvidyā gurus and the teaching of the Devipuram Tantric center near Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh.

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  • Yelle, Robert. Explaining Mantras: Ritual, Rhetoric, and the Dream of a Natural Language in Hindu Tantra. Religion in History, Society and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2003.

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    The author discusses Tantric mantras, their ritualistic use, and linguistic features. The author includes an interpretation of Śrīvidyā mantra based on Peircean semiotics.

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Śrīvidyā—Historical Development

Wallis 2014, a general introduction to Tantra, especially Kashmir Śaivism, shows that Śrīvidyā was a cult that developed in Kashmir through incorporating elements of Trika and Kubjikā ritualism and later gained popularity mainly in South Indian states. This study indicates the Trika roots of the Śrīvidyā tradition that can still be seen, for example, in the 13th-century Yoginī-hṛdaya, which in many instances paraphrases Kṣemarāja’s Pratyabhijñāhṛdayam. Wilke 2005 investigates how the tradition integrated its Trika and Kubjikā ritualism with Vedāntic teachings and developed into several streams and schools. White 1998 interprets Śrīvidyā practices and indicates that Śrīvidyā was most probably codified in Kashmir in the 12th and 13th centuries and subsequently “exported” to South India, where it has remained the mainstream form of Śākta Tantra up till the present time. In 13th and 14th centuries, Śrīvidyā already occupied an important place among religious sects of Śākta denomination in many states of India, including Tamil Nadu and Bengal. Also, see Fisher 2012 on how Śrīvidyā transformed the cultural norms and integrated South Indian communities of Smārta Brahmins. Contemporary Śrīvidyā, a complex, transregional system of Śāktism, may be seen as a Tantric current integrating antagonistic paths of purity. See Wilke 2012 on how transgressive Kaula elements of the early Śrīvidyā ritualism were censored out or transformed in later traditional discourses.

  • Fisher, Elaine. “Just like Kālidāsa: The Śākta Intellectuals of Seventeenth-Century South India.” Journal of Hindu Studies 5.2 (2012): 172–192.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/his021Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study on the influence of Śrīvidyā on the South Indian communities of Brahmins. Fisher gives an example of Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita, who followed the esoteric Śrīvidyā path of Śākta Tantrism.

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  • Wallis, Christopher. Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition. Petaluma, CA: Mattamayura Press, 2014.

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    The study explains in non-academic terms the teachings, foundational lineages, and transformative practices of Śaiva and Śākta Tantra (including Krama).

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  • White, David. “Transformations in the Art of Love: Kāmakalā Practices in Hindu Tantric and Kaula Traditions.” History of Religions 38.2 (1998): 172–198.

    DOI: 10.1086/463532Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The article focuses on the Kāmakalā ritual of Śrīvidyā and finds its roots in earlier Kaula tradition. It is also a study on sources of Śrīvidyā ritualism in general.

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  • Wilke, Annettte. “A New Theology of Bliss: ‘Vedāntization’ of Tantra and ‘Tāntricization’ of Advaita Vedānta in the Lalitātriśatibhāṣya.” In Sāmarasya: Studies in Indian Arts, Philosophy, and Interreligious Dialogue. Edited by Sadananda Das and Ernst Fürlinger, 139–155. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2005.

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    This study indicates the intricate exchanges between Tantric and Vedic (Vedāntic) traditions and gives an example of Śrīvidyā practice being adopted by South Indian Brahmins and “Vedāntized” in the process. The article also analyzes Lalitātriśatibhāṣya, a commentary on Lalitātriśati and its Vedāntic and Tantric aspects.

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  • Wilke, Annettte. “Re-coding the Natural and Animating the Imaginary: Kaula Body Practices in the Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra, Ritual Transfers and the Politics of Representation.” In Transformations and Transfer of Tantra in Asia and Beyond. Edited by István Keul, 19–76. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2012.

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    An academic study on one of the most popular and authoritative Śrīvidyā ritual texts—Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra (c.16 century CE). The author sheds light on Śrīvidyā and late Kaula-Tantra and argues against popular views on Tantra that equate Tantric practices with sexual rituals. The study points to the complexity of Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra, a treatise that integrates Kaula and Samaya paths of Śrīvidyā and interprets various concepts from Tantric and Vedic sources.

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Śrīvidyā—Kaula and Samaya Paths

Lakṣmīdhara, philosopher and author of several commentaries on Tantric scriptures (including commentary on Saudaryalaharī), distinguished between the Samaya and Kaula ācāra (paths) of Śrīvidyā. In general, one can say that Kaula Śrīvidyā advocated the use of a variety of ritual offerings, and Samayācāra focused on antar-yāga, so-called inner ritualism and meditation. Śrīvidyā is currently a well-known transregional cult with many Kaula and Samayācāra lineages. See Golovkova 2012 for a concise definition of Śrīvidyā and its ritual practices. See Wilke 2012 on Kaula practices of Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra, a Śrīvidyā ritual manual. See Fisher 2012 on South Indian Brahmins and their perspectives on Śrīvidyā ritualism in the light of Advaita Vedānta. Golovkova 2019 discusses the early scriptures of Śrīvidyā and the evolution of Tantric rituals described therein. Hirmer 2020 discusses the ritualistic practices of Śrīvidyā and focuses on problems of continuity and discontinuity within the tradition.

  • Fisher, Elaine. “‘A Śākta in the Heart’: Śrīvidyā and Advaita Vedānta in the Theology of Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita.” Journal of Hindu Studies 5.2 (2012): 172–192.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/his021Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The article focuses on Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita and his contributions to Śākta theology. The study indicates the elements of both Śrīvidyā and Advaita Vedānta in his texts.

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  • Golovkova, Anna. “Śrīvidyā.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, and Angelika Malinar, 815–822. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.

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    A concise overview of Śrīvidyā that indicates the main tenets of the ritual practice and the historical development of the cult.

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  • Golovkova, Anna. “From Worldly Powers to Jīvanmukti: Ritual and Soteriology in the Early Tantras of the Cult of Tripurasundarī.” Journal of Hindu Studies 12.1 (2019): 103–126.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hiz004Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The study focuses on the rites of Vāmakeśvarīmata and the later Yoginīhṛdaya, two authoritative texts of Śrīvidyā. The article shows how the ritualistic system evolved in time to accommodate internal rites and focus on techniques performed to achieve liberation during one’s lifetime (jīvanmukti).

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  • Hirmer, Monika. “‘Devī Needs Those Rituals!’ Ontological Considerations on Ritual Transformations in a Contemporary South Indian Śrīvidyā Tradition.” Religions of South Asia 14.1 (2020): 117–149.

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    The article focuses on ritual transformations in Śrīvidyā and their various interpretations. The author discusses continuity and change within the tradition and elaborates on kalāvāhana, one of the important Śrīvidyā rituals.

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  • Wilke, Annettte. “Re-coding the Natural and Animating the Imaginary: Kaula Body Practices in the Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra, Ritual Transfers and the Politics of Representation.” In Transformations and Transfer of Tantra in Asia and Beyond. Edited by István Keul, 19–76. Berlinand New York: De Gruyter, 2012.

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    The author discusses the Kaula elements in the ritual practice of Śrīvidyā as described in Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra, Tantric visualizations, and meditations.

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Śrīcakra

The goddess of Śrīvidyā manifests herself in śrīcakra, a complex yantra used in rituals of the tradition. On interpretation and ritual use of śrīcakra see Khanna 2016. Zeiler 2014 elaborates on the symbolism of śrīcakra, the yantra that today is a pan-Asian symbol of auspiciousness and an amulet popularly believed to bring good luck. The yantra represents the spheres of micro and macro cosmos that are to be meditated on, realized, and interiorized by an adept. According to a belief, the goddess Tripurasundarī embodies spheres of the universe that are represented in Śrī Yantra (śrīcakra). For more on this topic, see Timalsina 2021. See Padoux 2003 on the descriptions of śrīcakra found in Yoginīhṛdaya. The cakra can be divided into nine enclosures (navāvaraṇa) that are abodes of powers and retinues of the main goddesses (āvaraṇa devatās), invoked during the ritual. The most outer part is a three-lined square (bhūgṛha), then the sixteen-petaled lotus (ṣoḍaśadalapadma), the eight-petaled lotus (aṣṭadalapadma), the fourteen triangles (caturdaśāra), the ten outer enclosures (bahirdaśāra), the ten inner triangles (antardaśāra), the eight triangles (aṣṭakoṇa), the innermost triangle (trikoṇa) and the central dot (bindu). Rao 2005 and Ravi 2013 explain the ritual meaning of each of those sections and provides practical advice for practitioners. On the history of ritualistic practices of Śrīvidyā, see also Venkataraman 1956. Through the ritualistic processes of creation (sriṣṭi) or dissolution (samhāra) that take place during the śrīcakra ceremony, the adept aims at identification with the divine energies represented in the cakra. The components of śrīcakra are said to have originated from the syllables of Śrīvidyā mantra. See Rao 1983 on śrīcakra and Śrīvidyā meditations based on Bhāvanopadiṣad. Lidke 2011 interprets the ritual of śrīcakra and its visualizations in the author’s study based on Nityāṣoḍaśikārṇava. Giri 2006 discusses various yantras found in the sacred sites of Benares and remarks on temples where śrīcakra is installed.

  • Giri, Pramod. ”Devī-yantra in Kāśī.” In Śākta Contribution to Varanasi. Edited by R. C. Sharma and Pranati Ghosal, 45–50. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2006.

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    The essay traces various yantras found in temples and holy sites of Varanasi. Giri also discusses the importance of Śrīcakra for Tantric practitioners of Varanasi and mentions sacred places of goddess worship in the nearby areas.

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  • Khanna, Madhu. “Yantra and Cakra in Tantric Meditation.” In Asian Traditions of Meditation. Edited by Halvor Eifring, 71–92 Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016.

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    The author discusses the use of yantras and cakras in Tantric meditation and focuses on śrīcakra as a ritualistic tool used by Śrīvidyā adepts. The text may serve also as an introduction to Śrīvidyā and Śākta practices as it elaborates on Śākta philosophy and provides as brief historical note on philosophers and gurus of the tradition.

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  • Lidke, Jeffrey. “The Resounding Field of Visualised Self-Awareness: The Generation of Synesthetic Consciousness in the Śrī Yantra Rituals of Nityāṣoḍaśikārṇava.” Journal of Hindu Studies 4 (2011): 248–257.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hir035Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this article, the author investigates the complex cognitive and artistic processes by which Śrī Vidyā practitioners visualize and worship Śrī Yantra.

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  • Padoux, André. “The Śrīcakra according to the First Chapter of the Yoginīhṛdaya.” In Mandalas and Yantras in Hindu Tradition. Edited by Gudrun Buhnemann, 239–240. Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004492370_011Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study on a chapter of Yoginīhṛdaya that deals with the construction and worship of śrīcakra. This detailed article indicates the various elements of the yantra, deities, and modes of worship.

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  • Rao, S. K. Ramachandra. The Tantra of Śrīcakra. Bangalore: Sharada Prakashana, 1983.

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    An interpretive study of śrīcakra. The author attempts to trace the worship of śrīcakra to early sources and interprets the meaning of śrīcakra ritualism and meditations according to Bhāvanopadiṣad.

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  • Rao, S. K. Ramachandra. Sri-Chakra: Its Yantra, Mantra and Tantra. New Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 2005.

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    The book gives a detailed description of śrīcakra, its ritualistic uses, and design.

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  • Ravi, V. Understanding and Worshiping Sri Chakra. Chennai, India: Manblunder, 2013.

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    A non-academic book that explains in detail the rituals of śrīcakra. Written by a practitioner for the use of other adepts, it is a source for information about the general structure of the ritual, visualizations, and ritual paraphernalia.

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  • Timalsina, Sthaneshwar. “Can Representation be Transformative? Resemblance, Suggestion, and Metaphor in Tantric Meditation.” Philosophy East and West 71.1 (2021): 193–216.

    DOI: 10.1353/pew.2021.0010Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The study discusses various forms of representations in Tantric practices, the function of ritual gestures, and the language of esoteric experience used by the Tantric authors. It provides examples from Śrīvidyā and Kashmirian Śaiva sources.

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  • Venkataraman, K. R. “Śakti Cult in South India.” In Cultural History of India, vol IV. Edited by Haridas Bhattacharya, 252–259. Calcutta: Ramakrishna Mission, 1956.

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    The article provides a brief outline of various traditions of goddess worship in South India. It also discusses the cult of Śrīvidyā and introduces the elements of śrīcakra ritualism.

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  • Zeiler, Xenia. “Yantras as Objects of Worship in Hindu and Tantric Traditions: Materiality, Aesthetics and Practice.” In Objects of Worship in South Asian Religions: Forms, Practices and Meanings. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Mikael Aktor, and Kristina Myrvold, 67–84. New York: Routledge, 2014.

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    The article discusses various yantras in Hindu and Tantric traditions and elaborates on śrīcakra and its use as both a Tantric ritual tool and common symbol of auspiciousness.

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Śrīvidyā Primary Sources—an Overview

Historically, the tradition belongs to one of the Lines of Transmission (āmnāya) of the nondual Kashmir Śaivism. A number of sources in Sanskrit, such as Yoginīhṛdaya, Nityāṣoḍaśikārṇava, Vāmakeṣvarīmata, or Paraśurāma Kalpasūtra, are considered as the authoritative treatises of the tradition. The Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra is accepted as one of the authoritative ritual manuals of Śrīvidyā. The text belongs to the Kaula path. Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra prescribes visualizations, mantric incantations, Tantric yoga, and internalized rituals. This complex ritual manual represents the tradition as it was followed in the 16th century. Conversely, Vāmakeṣvarīmata is one of the oldest and most revered texts of Śrīvidyā tradition. However, the title is often used to refer to two Tantric works: Nityāṣodaśikārṇava and Yoginīhṛdaya. Nityāṣodaśikārṇava is one of the oldest canonical texts: it was commented upon by Kashmirian philosopher Jayaratha (c.1200 CE) and a Śrīvidyā scholar from Kerala—Śivānanda (13th century). As the title suggests, the text deals with Nityā goddesses of śrīcakra and various mantras of the tradition. There is a significant emphasis on the method of achievement of siddhis (magical powers). Yoginīhṛdaya deals with the esoteric meaning of śrīcakra, its various dimensions, and rites. It teaches the procedure of assignment (nyāsa) of śrīcakra on the body of the adept. The text explains how the nine cakras of the diagram ought to be identified with cakras of the human body.

Editions and Studies

Goudriaan and Gupta 1981 introduces the primary sources of Śāktism and devotes a chapter on authoritative texts of Śrīvidyā. Padoux and Jeanty 2013 translates and analyzes Yoginīhṛdaya. Weber 2010 is the first translation into German (with a study based on commentaries) of the whole text of Paraśurāma Kalpasūtra. Weber 2008 surveys available manuscripts of Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra and its commentaries. Wilke 2011 indicates the Vedic and Tantric aspects of ritualism of Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra and shows how the manual was interpreted by various commentators and Tantric authors. See Bhāskararāya 2000 for a translation of Varivasyārahasya of Bhāskararāya (17th–18th century), a Śrīvidyā treatise that explains the meanings of mantras and śrīcakra. See Mishra 2017 for an edition and Hindi translation of Nityotsava, a Śrīvidyā text regarded as a supplement of Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra. See Dvivedi 1985 for an edition of Nityāṣoḍaśikārṇava with commentaries of Śivānanda and Vidyānanda.

  • Bhāskararāya, Makhin. Varivasyārahasya, and Its Commentary Prakāśa. Edited by S. Subrahmanya Sastri. Chennai: The Adyar Library and Research Centre, 2000.

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    Varivasyārahasya is a classic treatise of internal worship in Śrīvidyā Tantra. The text contains 167 stanzas divided into two sections (aṁśas). Varivasyārahasya was written by Bhāskararāya (17th–18th century), who also added to his text auto-commentary that elucidates various concepts of Śākta theology. Bhāskararāya referred to various Vedic texts and explained Śrīvidyā in the light of the Vedas (e.g., the Tantric mantras of Śrīvidyā are explained as secret versions of Vedic mantras).

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  • Dvivedi, Vrajavallabha. Nityāṣoḍaśikārṇava with the Commentaries of Śivānanda (Ṛjuvimarśinī) and Vidyānanda (Artharatnāvalī). Varanasi, India: Sampurnananda Sanskrit Vishvavidyalaya, 1985.

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    An edition of Nityāṣoḍaśikārṇava, an early Śākta-Śaiva text, with two commentaries.

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  • Goudriaan, Teun, and Sanjukta Gupta. Hindu Tantric and Śākta Literature: A History of Indian Literature. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1981.

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    A classic study on Tantric and Śākta literary traditions. Chapter 3 (pp. 58–74) is devoted to Śrīkula.

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  • Mishra, Paramahamsa. Nityotsava: Śrīvidyā Vimarśak Sadgranth. Varanasi, India: Chaukhamba Surbharati Prakashan, 2017.

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    An edition of Sanskrit text of Nityotsava along with Hindi translation.

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  • Padoux, André, with Roger-Orphé Jeanty. The Heart of the Yogini: The Yoginihrdaya, a Sanskrit Tantric Treatise; Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199982325.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An in-depth study of Yoginīhṛdaya with a commentary on Śrīvidyā ritualism and philosophy.

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  • Weber, Claudia. “Manuskripte des Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra und seiner Kommentartradition.” Münchener Indologische Zeitschrift 1 (2008): 186–207.

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    The article (written in German) is a preliminary study on the tradition of Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra, its manuscripts, and its importance for Śrīvidyā practitioners. The author traces the history of this tradition through the commentaries, including the first known one of Bhāskararāya.

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  • Weber, Claudia. Das Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra: Sanskrit-Edition mit deutscher Erstübersetzung, Kommentaren und weiteren Studien. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2010.

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    This edition of Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra includes a translation of the whole text into German. The codified mantras and secret rites alluded in the text were decoded with a help of commentaries of Umānanda, Rāmeśvara, Lakṣmaṇa Rānaḍe, Cidānandanātha, and Svāmī Kar’pātrī.

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  • Wilke, Annette. “Negotiating Tantra and Veda in the Paraśurāma-Kalpa Tradition.” In Negotiating Rites. Edited by Ute Husken and Frank Neubert, 133–159. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199812295.003.0007Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This study analyzes the rites of Śrīvidyā in a ritual manual entitled Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra and its later commentaries and supplements (e.g., Nityotsava). The author pinpoints the Vedic and Tantric elements in Paraśurāma-Kalpasūtra and discusses commentators’ attempts to reinterpret the transgressive rites prescribed there.

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Śakti (Śākta) Pīṭhas—an Overview

The Śakti Pīṭhas are famous goddess power centers and pilgrimage destinations of the followers of Śākta Tantra. Tradition acknowledges fifty-one Śakti Pīṭhas, of which eighteen are known as Maha, major or the most important. The origin of the Śakti Pīṭhas is explained in a Purānic legend of the sacrifice of the goddess Satī, whose body was divided into fifty-one body parts. According to the legend, her body parts fell on Earth and became sacred sites (Śakti Pīṭhas).

Śakti (Śākta) Pīṭhas—Studies

Sircar 1998 outlines legends associated with the creation of Śakti Pīṭhas, their legends, and locations. Padmaja 1984 focuses on the peculiarities of the Śakti Pīṭha of Gujarat. Rosati 2019, Rosati 2017, and Lussana 2015 discuss a famous Śakti Pīṭha of Kamakhya, where the ritual praxis combines tribal and Śākta Tantra practices. Mukhopadhyay 2018 focuses on a popular vision of the goddess as corpse in Śākta texts and her various cults as preserved in the legends of the Śakti Pīṭhas. Gupta 2003 and Bagchi 1980 study the rites, myths, and beliefs that prevail in Kālīghāṭ and discuss also the purity and power relations in the cults of the Śakti Pīṭhas. See Dyczkowski 2004 on the sacred geography of the Śakti Pīṭhas, as reflected in Tantric texts. The study connects the act of pilgrimage to Śakti Pīṭhas with meditation and sacrality of the yogic body.

The Mahāvidyās—An Overview

The Mahāvidyās (Great Wisdoms) is a group of ten Hindu goddesses. The group consists of Kālī, Tārā, Tripurasundarī, Bhuvaneśvarī, Tripurā Bhairavī, Chinnamastā, Dhūmāvatī, Bagalāmukhī, Mātaṅgī, and Kamalā. In Śrīvidyā tradition, the goddesses are worshipped as an entourage or various manifestations of Tripurā; similarly, in Kālī tradition, they are various aspects of Kālī. Many Tantric Śākta traditions uphold a notion that all divinities, along with their powers, are manifested in mantras composed out of powerful monosyllabic fomulas. Those formulas ascribed to goddesses are called vidyās, hence the term Mahāvidyā refers also to the mantras of the goddesses.

The Mahāvidyās—Studies

Kinsley 1997 introduces the Mahāvidyās and presents the cults and beliefs of their devotees. Shin 2018 and Foulston and Abbott 2009 analyze the ten Mahāvidyās (Daśamahāvidyās) through interpretation of the textual sources (Purāṇas and Tantras) and anthropological research in the sacred sites traditionally ascribed to them. McDaniel 2004 studies folk and Tantric Śākta traditions of Bengal and interprets the various guises of the cult of the Mahāvidyās, which McDaniel calls the Great Wisdom goddesses. Benard 1999 is a useful study of the ritual practices and cult of one of the Mahāvidyās, Chinnamastā. Shin 2018 surveys the worship of the Mahāvidyās in East Indian Śāktism between the 9th and 15th centuries CE. Brown 2001 investigates the visions of goddess in Tantras and Purāṇas and introduces the Mahāvidyās while discussing goddess Bhuvaneśvarī.

  • Benard, Elisabeth. Chinnamasta: The Aweful Buddhist and Hindu Tantric Goddess. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999.

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    A study of Chinnamastā, a Hindu Tantric goddess, and her tradition. The author presents a structure of Tantric rituals for the deity and her iconographic representations.

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  • Brown, C. Mackenzie. “The Tantric and Vedāntic Identity of the Great Goddess in the Devīgītā of the Devī Bhāgavatapurāṇa.” In Seeking Mahādevī: Constructing the Identities of the Hindu Great Goddess. Edited by Tracy Pintchman, 19–36. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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    The chapter reconstructs the Vedāntic and Tantric identity of the Great goddess by analyzing textual sources and historical contexts. The author provides a concise introduction to the Mahāvidyās on pp. 25–26.

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  • Foulston, Lynn, and Stuart Abbott. Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. East Sussex, UK: Sussex Academic Press, 2009.

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    The book presents cults of various Hindu goddesses and their rituals. The monograph is divided into two sections: Beliefs and Practices.

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  • Kinsley, David. Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahāvidyās. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520917729Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The book investigates worship of Mahāvidyās in Tantric Hinduism. The study also remarks on local female deities and Tantric Śākta cults. The study is based on the author’s field research and textual studies.

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  • McDaniel, June. Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195167900.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The author gives an overview of Bengali goddess worship, its “folk stream” and Tantric cults. McDaniel specifically addresses Mahāvidyās in a section titled “The Great Wisdom Goddesses: The Ten Mahāvidyās” (pp. 254–263).

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  • Shin, Jae-Eun. Change, Continuity and Complexity: The Mahāvidyās in East Indian Śākta Traditions. New Delhi: Manohar, 2018.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780429449550Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This volume explores the historical development of the Mahāvidyā cult and presents the various origins of the goddesses, with special reference to sociopolitical changes between the 9th and 15th centuries CE.

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Regional Traditions of Śākta Tantra

McDaniel 1988 is an academic study on goddess traditions and regional Śākta cults in Northeast India. McDermott 2000 investigates how folk and Tantric traditions intermingled in the cults of Tārā and Kālī of West Bengal. The local Śākta traditions flourished also in other parts of the Indian subcontinent. On Śākta Tantra in Orissa, see Donaldson 2002 and Brighenti 2001. Menon 2015 discusses Śākta traditions and cults of Kālī in Kerala. On Śākta Tantra in Assam, see Rosati 2018. The origins of a local goddess cult can be ancient or recent, with a local divinity often being praised as superior among deities of the Hindu pantheon. The goddess-oriented cults of local communities often retain their ritualism, which may include acts of possession and spiritual healing, even when integrated into Hindu traditions. An example of such tendiencies in the traditions of Cāmuṇdeśvarī of Karnataka is investigated by Simmons 2014. Those popular Śākta cults often offer both a path of devotion (bhakti) and rigorous spiritual exercises. Mahalakshmi 2011 indicates the processes of integration, marginalization, and syncretism in the worship of the Tamil goddess Karravai. Hüsken 2018 studies regional Śākta cults and their celebrations of the Navarātri festival. In South India, the main theme of the festival is the victory of the goddess over demons, and consequently the triumph of Good over Evil. The various Śākta observances of regional type may include, for instance, worship of women who are believed to be representations of the goddess or her incarnation. See, for instance, Lidke 2010 on worship of Kumārī, the living goddess in Nepal.

  • Brighenti, Francesco. Śakti Cult in Orissa. Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2001.

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    The book explores the Śakti cults in Odisha and indicates how those traditions influenced the socioreligious life of the Odishan people.

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  • Donaldson, Thomas Eugene. Tantra and Śākta Art in Orissa. 3 vols. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2002.

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    Donaldson provides a novel perspective on the Śākta art of Orissa and highlights the characteristics of the Śākta iconography. He focuses on different forms and depictions of the Hindu goddesses in Orissa and analyzes the features of architecture of several temples of that region.

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  • Hüsken, Ute. “Ritual Complementarity and Difference: Navarātri and Vijayadaśamī in Kāñcipuram.” In Nine Nights of the Goddess: The Navarātri Festival in South Asia. Edited by Caleb Simmons, Moumita Sen, and Hillary Rodrigues, 179–194. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2018.

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    The essay investigates Navarātri and its local tradition in Kāñcipuram. It also discusses the celebration and significance of Vijayadaśamī. The author presents the festival’s mythology and local specificity.

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  • Lidke, Jeffrey S. “Kumārī: Nepal’s Eternally Living Goddess.” In Goddesses in World Culture. Vol. 1, Asian and Africa. Edited by Patricia Monaghan, 85–98. Oxford: Praeger Press, 2010.

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    The author also discusses the tradition according to which the spirit of the Talejū goddess is believed to live embodied in chosen Nepali girls. The study also provides a perspective of Nepali Tantrics who consider the Kumārīs wish-fulfilling goddesses and a source of blessing power.

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  • Mahalakshmi, R. The Making of the Goddess: Karravai Durga in the Tamil Traditions. New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2011.

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    A study on the metamorphosis of the indigenous martial deity Korravai.The book offers valuable insights into the understanding of processes of absorption, contestation, marginalization, and syncretism in the evolution of goddess traditions.

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  • McDaniel, June. “Possesion States among the Śāktas of West Bengal.” Journal of Ritual Studies 2.1 (1988): 87–99.

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    The paper analyzes forms of possession in the goddess cult of Śāktas of West Bengal. The possession is discussed in the context of ritual healing, divination, and Tantric rites. The author indicates the forms of worship of goddess Tarā, Kālī, and the Mahāvidyās.

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  • McDermott, Rachel. “Raising Snakes in Bengal: The Use of Tantric Imagery in Śākta Poetry Contexts.” In Tantra in Practice. Edited by David G. White, 167–183. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1515/9780691190457-015Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This chapter investigates the meaning of Tantra in the tradition of Bengali Śāktism. The author also analyzes the “Syama Sangit”—eulogic songs composed for the goddess Kālī by the Śākta devotees.

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  • Menon, Chelanattu Achutha. Keraḷattile Kāḷīseva. Kottayam, India: Sahitya Pravarthaka Co-operative Society Ltd, 2015.

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    A study (in Malayalam) on the religious traditions and worship of the goddess Kālī in Kerala. The author discusses folk traditions, rites, and the customs and taboos related to the goddess worship.

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  • Rosati, Paolo E. “The Death of Satī and the Worship of Her Yoni: The Rise of the Yoginī Kaula School in Early Medieval Assam.” In Dal Medio all’Estremo Oriente: Studi del Dottorato di ricerca in Civiltà dell’Asia e dell’Africa. Edited by Marina E. Miranda, 171–186. Rome: Carocci Editore, 2018.

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    The paper investigates the Yoginī Kaula tradition in Assam and focuses on the Kāmākhyā temple and the intricate mixture of local beliefs and Tantric practices that prevail there.

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  • Simmons, Caleb. “The Goddess on the Hill: The (Re)Invention of a Local Hill Goddess as Chamundeshwari.” In Inventing and Reinventing the Goddess Contemporary Iterations of Hindu Deities on the Move. Edited by Sree Padma, 217–244. Washington, DC: Lexington Books, 2014.

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    The author reveals the process through which rural Indian female spirits have, over a period of time, become associated with the Hindu goddesses. This process of “reinventing” goddesses and negotiation of folk and Tantric elements in their cults is shown in the case of the goddess Cāmuṇdeśvarī in southern Karnataka.

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Śākta Tantra in Kerala—An Overview

The Śākta Tantra of Kerala (locally known as Śākteya) is an esoteric tradition preserved among the priests of Malabar, the so-called Śākteya Brahmins. The word Śākteya, however, is also often used in Kerala to designate local Kaula family traditions of Brahmin and non-Brahmin clans. These traditions are centered on the worship of Tantric demon-slaying goddesses. Śākteya Brahmins belong to clans known as Mūssads, Piḍārars, and Aḍikals. Many Keralan followers of the Śākteya tradition reinterpreted the theological and ritualistic concepts of Śrīvidyā and Krama, combining them with rites for local Keralan goddesses, the solitary demon slayers Rurujit and Darukajit. Many legends and myths see those warrior deities as forms of Bhadrakālī. Śākteya Brahmins represent a rare case of a living Tantric tradition that has retained many aspects of early Krama and Kaula ritualism. In certain family traditions, the Krama ritualism is visibly combined with Śrīvidyā rites and magical rituals for local wish-bringing spirits. Some Śākteya Brahmins, for instance the Mūssads, also call their tradition Raudra (the wrathful), and the name refers to the worship of powerful anger-stricken female deities who require offerings of flesh and liquor. According to this tradition, only Śākteya Brahmins can control such deities. Mahārtha pūjā (a śākta rite with meat and alcoholic offerings for Kāḷī) is performed at Śākteya temples by the Śākteya Brahmins, but other rites of the temples are often done by the Nambudiri Brahmins.

Śākta Tantra in Kerala—Studies

See Ajithan 2018 for an in-depth study of Tantric rituals of Keralan temples and an overview of Tantric and Śākta literary traditions in Kerala. Freeman 2016 provides a detailed and comprehensive introduction to Keralan Śāktism and divides the temples of Kerala into Tantric of the Nambudiris and Śākta of the Śākteya Brahmins. On Śākteya tradition, the ritualism of Mūssads, and their connection with Krama and Kaula rites, see Karasinski 2020. Ramachandran 2003 is a short but useful study that indicates the complexity of initiatory rites of the Piḍārars. Van Brussel 2021 investigates the myths of demon-slaying goddesses that are worshipped during Śākta ceremonies in Kerala. See Caldwell 2003 on myths and forms of the worship of the goddess Kālī in Kerala. Pasty-Abdul Wahid 2020 is an ethnographic study on Bhadrakālī based on interviews with devotees, practitioners of Tantric arts, and interpretations of Keralan legends.

  • Ajithan, P. I. Tantric Rituals of Kerala Temples: Texts and Traditions. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2018.

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    A detailed study, based on the author’s PhD thesis, on various streams of Kerala Tantra and temple worship. The author gives an overview of ritualistic traditions of Kerala temples and regional varieties and supports his arguments with data from Tantric manuscripts, interviews with Tantric practitioners, and anthropological study of the living tradition. A list of Kālī temples of the Śākteya Brahmins is given on p. 100.

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  • Caldwell, Sarah. “Margins at the Center: Tracing Kālī through Time, Space, and Culture.” In Encountering Kālī: In the Margins, at the Center, in the West. Edited by Rachel McDermott and Jeffrey Kripal, 249–273. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520232396.003.0012Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study on the worship of goddess Kālī and Kerala folk and Tantric traditions. The author focuses on the problem of religious cults that remain in the periphery of greater Hindu traditions. Caldwell includes a study of performing arts and devotional songs.

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  • Freeman, Rich. “Śāktism, Polity and Society in Medieval Malabar.” In Goddess Traditions in Tantric Hinduism: History, Practice and Doctrine. Edited by Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen, 141–173. New York: Routledge, 2016.

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    Freeman approaches the complex problem of Śāktism in Kerala from historical and anthropological perspectives. The author’s special focus is on the tradition of the Śākta Brahmins from northern Kerala.

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  • Karasinski, Maciej. “Śākta Tantric Traditions of Kerala in the Process of Change: Some Notes on Raudra-Mahārtha Sampradāya.” Religions of South Asia 14.1 (2020): 150–175.

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    This paper discusses the so-called Śākta Tantra of Kerala (also known locally as Raudra or Mahārtha). It argues that this Hindu Tantric tradition weds ritualistic practices of Kashmirian Śaivism (Krama-Trika) with the folk beliefs of Kerala. The author presents his intepretation of the ritual texts of the Śākta Brahmins.

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  • Pasty-Abdul Wahid, Marianne. “Bloodthirsty, or Not, That Is the Question: An Ethnography-Based Discussion of Bhadrakāli’s Use of Violence in Popular Worship, Ritual Performing Arts and Narratives in Central Kerala (South India).“ Religions 11.4 (2020): 170.

    DOI: 10.3390/rel11040170Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An ethnographic study on goddess worship in Kerala that includes data from the author’s fieldwork on ritualistic arts related to the cult of Bhadrakālī. The article discusses the ambivalent nature of the goddess who is worshipped both as a caring mother and bloodthirsty warrior.

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  • Ramachandran, Bindu. “Onyam—An Anthropological Perspective on Male Initiation Ceremony among the Pitaran.” The Anthropologist 5.1 (2003): 41–44.

    DOI: 10.1080/09720073.2003.11890775Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A brief overview of initiations among the Pitaran (Piḍārars) community of northern Kerala who are the hereditary priests of the Śākta temple of the region.

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  • Van Brussel, Noor. “Bhadrakālī Slaying the Demon in the Backwaters.” In Garland of Forgotten Goddesses: Tales of Feminine Divine from India and Beyond. Edited by Michael Slouber, 19–40. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2021.

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    The author interprets the popular Keralan myths of a Bhadrakālī. The study includes an analysis of The Glorification of Bhadrakālī (Bhadrakālī Māhātmya), a Sanskrit text that mixes local narratives with popular Hindu myths.

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Śākta Temples of Kerala—an Overview

Traditionally, thirteen temples are accepted as the Śākta centers of Kerala: Māṭātyikkāvu (Kannur), Mannampurattukāvu (Kannur), Piṣārikkāvu (Koyilandi), Vaḷayanātu (Kozhikode), Koḍikkunnu (Malappuram), Māmānikkunnu (Irikkoor), Śrī Kurumba Bhagavati (Koduṇgallūr), Panayanārkkāvu (Mannar, Thiruvalla), Muttūṛṛukāvu (Thiruvalla), Tirumāndhāṅkunnu (Malappuram), Kaḷiyāṃvaḷḷi (Kozhikode), Tiruvañcerikkāvu (Kannur), and Kaḷarivātukkal (Kannur). The numerous goddesses worshipped in Śākta centers are represented as warrior deities—holding various weapons, especially the trident and the spear. The idols in the sanctum sanctorum often represent the goddess in her angry mood (ugra-bhāva) in a fight with the demon Dāruka and surrounded by idols representing the Seven Mothers. There are several clans and families that have a hereditary right to officiate in those temples. The Aṭikals are revered as Tantrics and hereditary priests of Kurumba kāvu in Kodungallur (koṭuṅṅallūr), a historical town of southern Kerala. The legends about the temple talk about a secret chamber where Śākta rites were said to be conducted. Moreover, Kodungallur tradition is strongly connected with the cult of Kaṉṉaki, who is supposedly buried in the secret chamber of the Aṭikals’ temple.

Śākta Temples of Kerala—Studies

On Māṭāyikkāvu, an important temple of Kerala Śāktism and its communities, see Nair 2000. Vijayaraghavan 2007 discusses another important temple of the Śākta Brahmins, Pīṣārīkāvu in Kozhikode district. Elayath 2003 discusses a Kodunagllur temple of Aṭikals, a Śākta center of southern Kerala. Also, Induchudan 1969 discusses the same temple and the Aṭikals, their traditions, and their link with the Śrīvidyā cult and Jainism. Gentes 1992 also focuses on the Aṭikals’ tradition and Kodunagllur temple. The author indicates the role of the temple oracles (veḷiccappāṭu), Śākta priests (Aṭikals), and rites of desecration conducted during the annual festival. Karasinski 2020 discusses Śrīvidyā and its influence on other Tantric traditions of Kerala. Choondal 1978 is a useful work on folk traditions of Kerala that indicates various forms of worship of Mother goddesses and local customs related to Tantric cults.

  • Choondal, Chummar. Studies in Folklore of Kerala. Trivandrum, India: College Book House, 1978.

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    A collection of essays on various customs and folk beliefs of Kerala. The articles include studies on religious taboos in villages of Kerala, worship of Mother goddesses, and ritualistic peculiarites of selected temples and holy groves.

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  • Elayath, Kunjikuttan. Koṭuṅṅallūr Kṣetretihāsaṃ: Kālīkṣetraṃ oru caritra paṭhanaṃ. Kodungallur, India: Devi Book Stall, 2003.

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    A study, written in Malayalam, on the history of the Kodunagllur (Koṭuṅṅallūr) goddess temple and its priesthood. It is a source for researchers of the ritualism and customs (e.g., festivals) of that sacred place.

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  • Gentes, M. J. “Scandalizing the Goddess at Kodungallur.” Asian Folklore Studies 51.2 (1992): 295–322.

    DOI: 10.2307/1178336Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The author presents an anthropological study of the Kodungallur temple, an important Śākta center of southern Kerala, and its famous festival, Minam Bharani.

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  • Induchudan, V. T. The Secret Chamber: A Historical, Anthropological and Philosophical Study of the Kodungallur Temple. Thrissur, India: Cochin Devaswom Board, 1969.

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    An account of the author’s anthropological study of the Kodungallur Temple, its history, and priesthood. The titular secret chamber is an enclosure of the temple where, according to legends, secret Śākta rituals and initiations took place. The study sheds some light on the origins and subsequent transformations of the Śākta tradition of Aṭikals.

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  • Karasinski, Maciej. “A Goddess Who Unites and Empowers: Śrīvidyā as a Link between Tantric Traditions of Modern Kerala—Some Considerations.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 48 (2020): 541–563.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10781-020-09430-5Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The study focuses on so-called Śākta traditions of Kerala that integrate Śrīvidyā ritualism with worship of local goddesses and meditations from Krama traditions. The author indicates that Śrīvidyā is a tradition that not only gained popularity in Kerala but also influenced various Tantric cults of that region.

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  • Nair, M. S. Māṭāyikkāvu oru paṭhanam. Calicut, India: Calicut University Press, 2000.

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    An anthropological study (in Malayalam) on one of the prominent Śākta temples of northern Kerala, Māṭāyikkāvu. The author discusses the temple history, ritualism, and community of priests who officiate in Māṭāyikkāvu. The study indicates the Śākta elements of worship and discusses the relations of Māṭāyikkāvu with other so-called Śākta temples and communities of Kerala.

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  • Vijayaraghavan, K. Kollam Śrī Pīṣārīkāvu Kṣetram. Calicut, India: Calicut University Press, 2007.

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    A study (in Malayalam) on the important Śākta center in Kerala, Pīṣārīkāvu. The book, apart from being a useful anthropological study on the temple communities, reconstructs the historical significance of the temple and discusses the Pīṣārīkāvu’s priesthood.

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Śākta Tantra and Philosophy

Torella 2011, a general introduction to Indian philosophy, provides an outline of Śaiva-Śākta philosophical currents of Kashmir and their primary sources. Kapoor 2002 provides a brief introduction to Śākta systems and their philosophical tenets. On Śrīvidyā philosophy, see Brooks 1990. On the philosophy of the Kubjikā goddess tradition and its sources, see Dyczkowski 1989. On Krama Śaiva-Śākta texts and philosophical concepts, one may see Rastogi 1996. Wallis 2013 gives a general introduction to Tantric philosophy and praxis and elaborates on the principles of Trika and Krama systems. On the evolution of the concept of Śakti and Śākta philosophy, see Nirmala 2018. On the relation between Śiva and Śakti in Abhinavagupta’s Panentheism, see Biernacki 2013. Gupta 2000 provides a translation and interpretation of Lakṣmī Tantra, a Vaiṣṇava Pāñcarātra text that glorifies the goddess Lakṣmī. The text is an elaborate exposition of Śākta philosophy in the Vaiṣṇava tradition.

  • Biernacki, Loriliai. “Panentheism and Hindu Tantra: Abhinavagupta’s Grammatical Cosmology.” In Panentheism across the World’s Religious Traditions. Edited by Loriliai Biernacki and Philip Clayton, 161–176. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199989898.003.0009Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study on Panentheism as found in Hindu Tantric philosophy and cosmology. The study also reflects on the notion of nonduality in Abhinavagupta’s tradition. The author discusses Abhinavagupta’s understanding of time, divine immanence, and transcendence. The study introduces Abhinavagupta in the light of available historical records and discusses the key ideas of Śaiva-Śākta philosophy. Therefore, the essay may serve also as a concise introduction to Hindu Tantric philosophy.

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  • Brooks, Douglas Renfrew. The Secret of the Three Cities: An Introduction to Hindu Śākta Tantrism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

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    An introduction to both Śākta philosophy and praxis with special reference to Śrīvidyā.

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  • Dyczkowski, Mark. The Canon of the Śaivāgama and the Kubjikā Tantras of the Western Kaula Tradition. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989.

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    An in-depth study of Tantric system of Kubjikā goddess tradition, with analysis of its primary sources.

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  • Gupta, Sanjukta. Lakṣmī Tantra: A Pāñcarātra Text. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000.

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    A study of Lakṣmī Tantra, a Pāñcarātra treatise on Lakṣmī worship. The text is unique in its sole focus on Śākta philosophy and ritualism. Gupta suggests that Lakṣmī Tantra is in fact an eclectic treatise and its author borrowed various concepts from other Śākta traditions.

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  • Kapoor, Subodh. A Short Introduction to Śākta Philosophy. New Delhi: Indigo Books, 2002.

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    A general introduction to Śākta philosophy that elaborates on the basic tenets of Śākta Tantra systems.

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  • Nirmala, V. The Principle of Śakti in Kashmir Śaivism: Function and Evolution. Ernakulam, India: Sankaracharya University Press, 2018.

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    A useful study on Śakti in Trika philosophy that may also serve as an introduction to Śākta philosophical systems.

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  • Rastogi, Navjeevan. The Krama Tantricism of Kashmir: Historical and General Sources. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1996.

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    An introduction to the Krama tradition of Kashmir, with a reconstruction of its historical sources and philosophy.

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  • Torella, Rafaelle. The Philosophical Traditions of India: An Appraisal. Varanasi, India: Indica Books, 2011.

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    A short introduction to various schools of Indian philosophy. On the principles of Tantric systems of Kashmir and the Pratyabhijñā school of thought, see pp. 117–120.

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  • Wallis, Christopher. Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition. Petaluma, CA: Mattamayura Press, 2013.

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    An introduction to Tantric philosophy and practice, with useful references to Sanskrit sources. The book focuses on Trika and Krama systems.

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Śākta Tantra and Feminism

Feminist scholars and activists have searched for empowering female representation and symbols within Śākta Tantric traditions and other goddess-centered cults. See Pintchman 2000 for a discussion on Hindu goddesses, the various dimensions of their cult, and feminist appropriations of Hindu goddesses. Erndl 2000 discusses Śākta Tantric traditions and the link between the power and independence of solitary Tantric goddesses and the social empowerment of women. The article also provides examples of contemporary Indian feminists who were in various ways inspired by Śākta Tantrism. Borkataky-Varma 2018 discusses menstruation in Hindu society and Śākta religious context as a symbol of both pollution and empowerment. Sugirtharajah 2002 postulates a critical feminist reflection on Hindu religious literature and observes that many Tantric texts present liberating images of women. Biernacki 2011 analyzes Śākta Tantric texts of Kālī tradition to answer a question as to whether women and men are equal actors in Tantric ceremonies. Clooney 2011 is a study on Saundarya Laharī that highlights how this Śākta hymn may be interpreted in light of constructive feminist theology.

  • Biernacki L. “The Kālī Practice: Revisiting Women’s Roles in Tantra.” In Woman and Goddess in Hinduism. Edited by T. Pintchman, and R. D. Sherma, 121–148. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230119925_7Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The study is based on Kālī tradition and refers to the Tantras of Kālī, for instance Yoni Tantra. The author considers various roles that women play in Tantric rituals of a Kālī cult from Northeast India. Biernacki observes that the Tantras of the aforementioned tradition recognized spiritual qualities of female practitioners. The author suggests also that Tantras can be a resource for scholars of gender studies.

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  • Borkataky-Varma, Sravana. “Menstruation: Pollutant to Potent.” In Encyclopedia of Indian Religions: Hinduism and Tribal Religions. Edited by Arvind Sharma. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-024-1036-5_481-1Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The author indicates how Hindu society is defined by various purity and pollution codes and shows that while menstruation is generally linked with pollution and impurity, in Tantric ritual it can also be linked with power.

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  • Clooney, Francis Xavier. “Female Beauty, Female Power: Seeing Devī in the Saundarya Lahari.” In Woman and Goddess in Hinduism: Reinterpretations and Re-envisionings. Edited by Pintchman Tracy and R. Sherma, 33–60. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230119925_3Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The study focuses on visions of goddess in Saundarya Laharī, a Sanskrit hymn enrooted in South Indian Śrīvidyā tradition. Clooney indicates how the hymn can be interpreted in the light of feminist critique. The essay refers to several commentaries that explain multiple meanings of the goddess epithets mentioned in the hymn. The author stresses the fact that the goddess is not only an object of adoration but a powerful agent identified with kuṇḍalinī.

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  • Erndl, Kathleen M. “Is Shakti Empowering for Women? Reflections on Feminism and the Hindu Goddess.” In Is the Goddess a Feminist? The Politics of South Asian Goddesses. Edited by Alf Hiltebeitel and Kathleen M. Erndl, 91–103. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

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    Erndl studies the concept of Śakti in relation to feminism and Indian women’s movements. The study tries to show how the concept of Śakti has been used in various forms for the sake of empowerment of women. The author indicates the diversity of women movements and asks about the impact of Śakti-related philosophies on the Indian feminism. The study shows examples of women who became Tantric spiritual teachers and saints and remarks on their status in male-dominated Hindu society.

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  • Pintchman, Tracy. “Is the Hindu Goddess a Good Resource for Western Feminism?” In Is the Goddess a Feminist? The Politics of South Asian Goddesses. Edited by Alf Hiltebeitel and Kathleen M. Erndl, 187–202. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

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    The study discusses the problem of appropriation of Hindu goddesses by Western feminists. Pintchman asks if Hindu goddesses are empowering feminist symbols and indicates the multiple meanings of Śakti. The essay considers also the role of independent, solitary goddesses of the Hindu pantheon in male-dominated cultures.

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  • Sugirtharajah, Sharada. “Hinduism and Feminism: Some Concerns.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 18.2 (Fall 2002): 97–104.

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    The author defines feminism in the Hindu context and discusses women’s perspective on religious practices. The study elaborates on the concept of Śakti and its implication for women’s empowerment. The article also indicates a need to develop a conceptual framework to explore textual and nontextual domains of Hinduism.

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Śākta Tantra and Religious Experience

Rao 2019 is a study on the Śrīvidyā tradition of Devipuram and the mystical experiences of its followers. Ruff 2019 focuses on Tantric religious practices that lead to aesthetic and mystical experiences. The article also discusses the methods of awakening of the kuṇḍalinī energy. Beck 2019 indicates the close bond between music and mystical or religious experience and elaborates on the role of sacred music in the practices of Hindu spiritual aspirants. Skora 2018 discusses religious-aesthetic experience in the practices of Trika Tantra of Kashmir. Skora 2009 and Fürlinger 2009 deliberate on mystical experience in Tantric traditions and discuss the experience of Śakti in spiritual practices. Readers may also consult Skora 2007 on erotic aspects of mystical experience in Abhinavagupta’s thought. Brooks 1990 indicates the importance of practice-based experience (anubhava) in Śākta traditions. Muktananda 1817 is a classic account of Swami Muktananda’s spiritual experience interpreted by the author in the light of Trika philosophy. Borkataky-Varma 2017 discusses rituals of possession in Śākta traditions of Assam. The study presents the mystical experiences of the author’s interviewees and her own interpretations of the rituals she witnessed in Assam.

  • Beck, Guy L. “Sacred Music and Hindu Religious Experience: From Ancient Roots to the Modern Classical Tradition.” Religions 10.2 (2019): 85.

    DOI: 10.3390/rel10020085Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study of sacred music in Hindu tradition and the role of music in spiritual practices. It discusses aesthetic and emotional experience in Tantra and regional Indian traditions. The article refers to medieval songs of the Bhakti tradition and modern Hindustani classics to show how music enables mystical experience. The author elaborates also on the sacred sounds in medieval Tantra and remarks on the aesthetics of Rasa.

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  • Borkataky-Varma, Sravana. “The Dead Speak: A Case Study from the Tiwa Tribe Highlighting the Hybrid World of Śākta Tantra in Assam.” Religions 8.10 (2017): 221.

    DOI: 10.3390/rel8100221Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The article focuses on rituals of possession among the Tiwas of Assam. The author defines various forms of possession in South Asian religious traditions and interprets the rites of the Tiwas. Borkataky-Varma shows the complexity of what she calls “a hybrid world of ́ Śākta Tantra” of Assam that integrated orthodox Hindu practices with indigenous beliefs and customs.

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  • Brooks, Douglas Renfrew. The Secret of the Three Cities: An Introduction to Hindu Śākta Tantrism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.

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    A study on Śākta ritualism and philosophy that indicates the role of practice-based experience in ŚrīVidyā.

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  • Fürlinger, Erntst. The Touch of Śakti: A Study in Non-dualistic Trika Śaivism of Kashmir. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2009.

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    A study on the mystical experience of Śakti and its multiple interpretations in Tantric literature. The book investigates the mystical power, the Śakti, according to the authoritative scriptures of Trika—Tantrāloka of Abhinavagupta and Śivastotrāvalī of Utpaladeva.

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  • Muktananda, Swami. Play of Consciousness (Chitshakti Vilas). San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1817.

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    Swami Muktānanda’s description of his spiritual journey and discussion of his mystical experience. Swami Muktānanda prescribes meditations and methods of self-realization but also discusses the traditions of Siddhas and the roots of kuṇḍalinī yoga.

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  • Rao, Mani. Living Mantra: Mantra, Deity and Visionary Experience Today. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-96391-4Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An anthropological study of Śrīvidyā practices. The study focuses on the Tantric adepts in Devipuram (Andhra Pradesh), their mantra practices and mystical experiences. Rao investigates visionary experiences of the followers of Devipuram’s guru Amritananda Natha Saraswati (Dr. N. Prahalada Sastry) and discusses function and meaning of mantras in Tantric context. The study reflects also on the relation between mantras, spiritual practice, and devotion.

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  • Ruff, Jeffrey C. “Modern Transformations of Sādhanā as Art, Study, and Awareness: Religious Experience and Hindu Tantric Practice.” Religions 10.4 (2019): 259.

    DOI: 10.3390/rel10040259Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study on the spiritual practices and religious experience in Hindu Tantric and Śākta traditions. The author argues that in Tantric traditions, art is necessarily connected with spiritual practice, but, at the same time, the spiritual practice can be understood as a form of art. The paper is based on the author’s fieldwork in India and includes interviews with Tantric practitioners, and yogis (adepts of kuṇḍalinī yoga).

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  • Skora, Kerry M. “Abhinavagupta’s Erotic Mysticism: The Reconciliation of Spirit and Flesh.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 11.1 (2007): 63–88.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-007-9037-5Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The essay focuses on consciousness, sexuality, and the mystical worldview of Abhinavagupta and Kashmirian Tantra. The author argues that “consciousness” and “sexuality” are two polarities connected in Tantric practice. Skora points also to the Kaulas’ erotico-mystical imaginary that is present in Abhinavagupta’s doctrines and his visions of reality.

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  • Skora, Kerry M. “The Hermeneutics of Touch: Uncovering Abhinavagupta’s Tactile Terrain.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 21 (2009): 87–106.

    DOI: 10.1163/157006809X416850Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study on the place of tactile experience in Abhinavagupta’s philosophy. The author investigates Abhinavagupta’s notions of transformation and liberation in terms of touch. The author approaches the concept of the spiritual touch from a perspective of the anthropology of the senses. The article is divided into three parts. The first part discusses the function and meaning of touch in Hinduism. The second part focuses on Abhinavagupta’s interpretation of touch and the notion of transformation in Tantric traditions. The last part continues the discussion on spiritual transformation but elaborates on the ritual function of touch and the idea of embodied consciousness in Tantra.

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  • Skora, Kerry M. “A Day in the Life of an Aesthetic Tāntrika: From Synaesthetic Garden to Lucid Dreaming and Spaciousness.” Religions 9.3 (2018): 81.

    DOI: 10.3390/rel9030081Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The study focuses on the place of aesthetics in Tantric practice and its relationship with mystical experience and lucid dreaming. The article is based on author’s interpretation of Hindu hymns, ritual manuals, and Abhinavagupta’s philosophical treatises. The author refers to theory of performance of Richard Schechner and works of a neurologist James Austin to interpret the metaphors used by Abhinavagupta in his descriptions of the relationship between consciousness and reality.

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