The (un)dreadful goddess: Aghorī in early śākta tantras

Location: Somerville College
Speaker: Dr Judit Törzsök
Date: September 10, 2011
Time: 12:00pm to 1:00pm

This paper proposes to examine the figure and role of the goddess Aghorī (lit. ‘undreadful’) in early śākta tantras from about the seventh to ninth centuries CE, particularly in the Brahmayāmala and the Siddhayogeśvarīmata. In addition to being Bhairava’s consort (and identical with Bhairavī, the Frightening One), Aghorī appears in various sets of eight goddesses, who may represent the eight Mother goddesses (mātṛ). She is also said to be at the origin of all yoginīs. First, I shall try to explore the relation between Aghorī and her vedic counterpart, Aghora, and then to see how she attains the status of the supreme goddess in some contexts. The question of her presence or absence on different maṇḍalas will also be raised, and the consequences such details of the cult may entail will be analysed. Finally, I shall discuss her role in the creation of a specifically śākta pantheon.

Judit Törzsök studied English and Indian Studies at ELTE University, Budapest (MA, 1992), and completed her DPhil under Prof. Alexis Sanderson’s supervision at Merton College, Oxford (2000). After a Junior Research Fellowship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and a post-doctoral year at the University of Groningen, she was appointed Assistant Professor (maître de conférences), at the University of Lille III, where she still teaches Sanskrit and classical Indian religions and literature. In the past four years, she also lectured at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, where she obtained her habilitation in 2010, supervised by Lyne Bansat-Boudon. Her main research areas are pre-twelfth century śaiva tantrism (especially the early phase of goddess cults), classical Sanskrit literature (particularly drama), and purāṇic śaivism, with occasional incursions into classical Tamil devotional literature. She has published articles on various aspects of śaivism and tantrism, contributed to the Clay Sanskrit Library with two volumes, and participates in the Skandapurāṇa Project (Groningen) and the Tāntrikābhidhānakośa (Hindu Tantric Dictionary Project, Vienna).