On Goddesses and the Category Śakti in Early Tantric Śaivism: the case of the Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā

Location: Somerville College
Speaker: Dr Shaman Hatley
Date: October 10, 2011
Time: 2011-09-10 11:00 to 12:00

This presentation explores the nature and historical development of goddesses and the category of Śiva’s “power(s)” (śakti) in the archaic Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā. It is observed that while female deities have limited cultic importance, their significance increases in the later strata of the text, especially the Guhyasūtra. A shift from apotheoses of feminine-gendered cosmological categories to embodied goddesses appears evident, as are early developments in characteristic Śaiva doctrines concerning the roles of śakti in cosmogony and grace. The presentation also highlights some of the ways in which ritual forms and concerns of the Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā presage those of early śākta-oriented tantric systems.

Shaman Hatley (Concordia University, Montréal), researches the literature, ritual, and social history of Tantric Śaivism in medieval India, and religion in premodern Bengal. Hatley’s dissertation, “The Brahmayāmalatantra and Early Saiva Cult of Yoginīs,” analyses the history of the Śaiva cult of yoginīs and provides a partial critical edition of one of its earliest scriptural sources, the Brahmayāmala. Hatley is a contributor to the Tāntrikābhidhānakośa (‘A Dictionary of Technical Terms from Hindu Tantric Literature’), and has authored several articles and book chapters concerning tantric practices and goddess cults. His current research focuses on the ritual roles and divinization of women in early Tantric Śaivism and Buddhism. He completed his Ph.D. in Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 2007, under the direction of Harunaga Isaacson.