Tanja L. Jakobsen
It is widely recognised that Śāktism has a massive presence in India and Nepal, and that Hinduism cannot be understood without the Goddess (Devī/Śakti) and the goddess-oriented Śākta traditions. The Goddess pervades Hinduism at all levels, from aniconic village deities to high-caste pan-Hindu goddesses to esoteric, tantric goddesses.
The Śākta Traditions Online Lecture Series Project aims to carve out space for Śāktism as an area of research in its own right. The project is a compilation of the most prominent research already done in the field of Śākta Traditions, which can serve as educational material as well as a point of departure for further research on the subject.
The Śākta Traditions Online Lecture Series comprises three related online lecture series presented during the academic year of 2020/2021. The first is titled ‘Śākta Traditions Lecture Series: Work in progress’ and is presented in Michaelmas Term 2020. The second and third series are titled ‘Śākta Traditions Lecture Series: Contributions to a growing field of Śākta Studies’ and will be presented during Hilary Term 2021 and Trinity Term 2021.
The main goal of the project is to open up the academic field of Śākta Studies to a wider audience. In light of the covid-19 lockdown and the changes to the ways in which people now have to work and live the project consists of recorded lectures that are made widely available through the OCHS webpage, the Śākta webpage, and Youtube. Due to the online format of the lecture series, these contributions will be preserved and archived for the future and serve as an important resource for a budding field.
Abstract: In the first of these three lectures Professor Sanderson covers the history of Śaivism, setting out his view of its principal divisions, their historical development, and their interaction, and locating on this map the entry point of an influx of Śākta Śaiva forms of ecstatic religion into what had previously been a cluster of austere, highly ascetic traditions. In the second he narrows his focus to examine the history of Śaivism in Kashmir, concentrating on the nature of its Śākta Śaiva elements, notably the traditions of the Trika and Krama, but stressing the importance of seeing how these were embedded within, and interacted with, more exoteric forms of the religion. In the third lecture, he presents evidence that these Śākta Śaiva traditions developed and flourished outside Kashmir in most regions of the subcontinent and that, though much of their later highbrow literature was modelled on the learned exegesis of Abhinavagupta and Ksemarāja there are reasons to conclude that they had pre-Kashmirian histories.
The second and third lectures demonstrate incidentally the inappositeness of the widely used term ‘Kashmir Śaivism’ to refer to the Trika and related Śākta Śaiva systems, the second by showing that these systems co-existed in Kashmir with non-Śākta, Saiddhāntika Śaivism, and the third by refuting or casting doubt on the notion that the Śākta Śaiva systems that received such learned attention in Kashmir in the tenth century were Kashmirian in origin
Prof. Alexis Sanderson: after a training in Classics, began his Indological career as a student of Sanskrit at Balliol College, Oxford in 1969. After graduation he spent six years studying the Kashmirian Śaiva literature in Kashmir with the Śaiva scholar and guru Swami Lakshman Joo from 1971 to 1977 while holding research positions at Merton and Brasenose Colleges. From 1977 to 1992 he was Associate Professor (University Lecturer) of Sanskrit in the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Wolfson College. In 1992 he was elected to the Spalding Professorship of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford and thereby became a Fellow of All Souls College. He retired from that post in 2015. Since then he has been preparing a critical edition, with a translation and commentary, of the Tantrāloka, Abhinavagupta’s monumental exposition of the Śākta Śaivism of the Trika.
Prof. David G. White
27 January 2021, 2.00-3.00
Abstract: Before there was “tantric sex” there was “tantric violence,” which saw tantric yogis venturing alone into cremation grounds and other fearsome landscapes in the dead of night to offer their bodies up to Yoginīs and Ḍākinīs, noisy nocturnal hordes of flesh-eating female creatures that preyed on the living and the dead. The early tantric scriptural record, which relates the conditions under which males voluntarily offered themselves up for possession and consumption by these ferocious shape-shifters, offers a window onto the unique tantric appropriation of a pre-existing South Asian (if not pan-Eurasian) demonological substratum. In this lecture, I juxtapose scriptural and art historical data to demonstrate the persistence of this demonological paradigm across South, Inner and East Asian tantric traditions.
Prof. David G. White is the J. F. Rowny Professor of Comparative Religions at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he has been teaching since 1996. Prior to coming to Santa Barbara, he taught at the University of Virginia between 1986 and 1996. There, he founded the University of Virginia Study Abroad Program in Jodhpur, India in 1994. White is the sole foreign scholar to have ever been admitted to the Centre d’Études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud in Paris, France, where he has been an active Research Fellow since 1992. His current research interest concerns contacts and exchanges in matters of demonology. Prof. White’s book publications include The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali (Princeton University Press, 2014), Yoga in Practice (Princeton University Press, 2012), Sinister Yogis (University Press of Chicago, 2009), Kiss of the Yogini: “Tantric Sex” in its South Asian Context (University Press of Chicago, 2003), The Alchemy Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India (University Press of Chicago, 1996).
Dr James Mallinson
10 February 2021, 2.00-3.00
Abstract: This lecture will build upon, and in many ways revise, ideas first presented in a lecture entitled Śāktism and Haṭhayoga which I gave at the OCHS Śākta Traditions conference held in Oxford in 2011. I shall present a more detailed analysis of the Śākta contributions to haṭhayoga as formalised in Sanskrit texts from the eleventh century onwards, focusing specifically on Buddhist, Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava tantric traditions. I shall argue that the distinctive techniques of haṭhayoga were innovations in Indian religious practice and show how the different Śākta traditions introduced different methods of physical yoga practice.
Dr James Mallinson: is Reader in Indology and Yoga Studies at SOAS University of London. He is Chair of SOAS’s Centre for Yoga Studies and the Principal Investigator of the ERC-funded Hatha Yoga Project, for which he is preparing five critical editions of Sanskrit texts on physical yoga and a monograph on its early history. Dr Mallinson is the author of several books and articles on yoga, and the co-author, with Dr. Mark Singleton, of Roots of Yoga (Penguin Classics 2017).
Dr Bihani Sarkar
24 February 2021, 2.00-3.00
Abstract: In studies of religious history in early India, inscriptions have sometimes been overlooked as conveying ‘mundane’ information about secular aspects of religion considered unimportant. Religious texts, philosophical and liturgical, and practices, on the other hand, have received comparatively greater interest as vehicles of doctrine, mythology and tradition. In recent years, scholarship on Indian religions has begun to show the importance of inscriptional material for a more precise historical and conceptual understanding of Indian religious traditions from the ‘early medieval’ period, Śaivism, Vaiṣṇavism, Tantric Buddhism and Śāktism. Not only do these pieces of material history offer basic information needed for the construction of any historical argument, such as dates, names, and places, but they can reveal wider conceptual and political narratives. How were deities conceived and described? How did temples grow powerful? How did local deities grow powerful? Why were donors making grants? Who were the donors? What kinds of donations did they make? What rituals were performed for the recipient deities? Which were the important devotee-lineages? And much more.
Dr Silvia Schwarz Linder
10 March 2021, 2.00-3.00
Abstract: The Tripurārahasya (TR) is a Sanskrit work of South Indian origin, probably composed around the 15th-16th century CE, and associated with the Śākta tradition of Tripurā, later known as Śrīvidyā. This lecture focuses on some Tantric ritual elements embedded in the Purāṇic-like mythical narrative of the Māhātmyakhaṇḍa (mk), the first of the two extant sections of the work, which celebrates the deeds of Tripurā and of the goddesses who are regarded as her manifestations or shares. The topics discussed include: the initiation ceremony (dīkṣa), the mantra of Tripurā (Śrīvidyā) and the method of her worship (pūjā). A crucial component of this worship is the Śrīcakra, the yantra that is both the diagrammatic yet dynamic form of the Goddess, and the essential support for her meditation and ritual worship. In the mk of the TR the Śrīcakra is transposed into a narrative element, and becomes the centre of the abode of Tripurā in the Island of Jewels (maṇidvīpa), as well as the pattern according to which the stronghold of Lalitā is constructed. It will be shown how the maṇidvīpa and the Śrīcakra retain their Tantric character and meaning in the TR, even as they are incorporated into a mythical narrative.
Dr Silvia Schwarz Linder is Research Associate at the Institut für Indologie und Zentralasienwissenschaften of the University of Leipzig and Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, affiliated with the Śākta Traditions Programme. Her interests focus on the Tantric religious traditions of the Śrīvidyā and of the Pāñcarātra, specifically on the philosophical and theological doctrines expressed in the relevant South Indian Sanskrit textual traditions. Her publications include: The Philosophical and Theological Teachings of the Pādmasaṃhitā, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien 2014 and Goddess Traditions in India: Theological Poems and Philosophical Tales in the Tripurārahasya, Routledge Hindu Studies Series, forthcoming.