The Śakti of the Caṇḍālī

Location: Somerville College
Speaker: Professor Mikael Aktor
Date: September 10, 2011
Time: 5:00pm to 6:00pm

The 11th century Tantric text, the Yonitantra, evokes a Yantra representing the Yoni in which the central divinity is presented as Caṇḍālī, a woman belonging to what Dumont has labelled “the old prototype of the Untouchable”. Other Tantric texts ascribe the same significance to the Caṇḍāla woman or to women belonging to other low castes, most prominently the Ḍombī, the washer woman. What are the reasons behind this antinomian tribute to the lowest of low-caste women in Tantric texts? An answer to this question can be approached by a study of the representations of these castes in other literary genres. This paper will present an analysis of these literary images and on that basis address their use in Tantric texts.

Mikael Aktor is Associate Professor of History of Religions at Institute of Philosophy, Education and the Study of Religions, University of Southern Denmark. He holds a PhD from University of Copenhagen, a part of which was carried out at School of Oriental and African Studies, London. His field of expertise has so far mostly been within the study of Dharmaśāstra, in particular with a focus on caste and Untouchability. Today he is engaged in a research of North Indian Śaiva temple ritual and temple sculpture as part of a general interest in ritual studies and religious aesthetics.