Snakebite Goddesses in the Śākta Traditions: Roots and Incorporations of Tvaritā, Kurukullā, and Bheruṇḍā

Location: Somerville College
Speaker: Michael Slouber
Date: September 11, 2011
Time: 2:30pm to 3:30pm

Goddesses associated with snakes and healing snakebite are well known to anthropologists of modern Śākta traditions; Manasā in the Northeast and Nāgāttammaṉ in the South come immediately to mind. In Jainism we have Padmāvatī, and in Buddhism various goddesses like Jāṅgulī, Kurukullā, and Mahāmāyūrī specialize in curing snakebite. The origins of many of these goddesses remain obscure, but my research into the largely unedited Śaiva Gāruḍa Tantras suggests that some of them were popularized by this early corpus. In this paper I focus on those snakebite goddesses of the Gāruḍa Tantras who were incorporated into the wider and increasingly influential Śākta traditions of the ninth–twelfth centuries: Bheruṇḍā, Tvaritā, and Kurukullā. What do we know about their early identities and how did incorporation as nityās transform them? The latter two were also incorporated in Jain and Buddhist Tantra respectively, and are still worshipped today. My paper also presents evidence that Purāṇic chapters on these goddesses are directly borrowed from Tantric sources.

Michael Slouber is a Ph.D. candidate in South and Southeast Asian Studies at UC Berkeley. His research interests include Śaivism, Śākta Traditions, and History of Medicine.