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Lectures by Dr Prabhavati Reddy

The Vaisnava Appropriation of Vedic Fires in the Vaikhanasa Tradition: A New Ritual System for Image Worship

Shivdasani Lecture
26 May 2016

The Vaikhanasas are a small South Indian community of Vaisnava Brahmins who have traditionally engaged in conducting temple worship by following their distinctive ritual system. The name Vaikhanasa derives from Sage Vikhanas, who is attributed with the authorship of the Vaikhanasa Sutras and with the founding of the Vaikhanasa School. The Vaikhanasa regards itself as part of the Vaisnava tradition orthodoxy because of its close adherence to Vedic religion and its presence within the Taittiriya School of the Black Yajurveda. The Vaikhanasa ritual literature on domestic and temple worship both in text and practice reflect this tradition’s strong influences from the Srauta sacrificial cult and its fire rituals. This lecture will explore the ways in which the concept of Vedic fires is appropriated in the typical Vaisnava way by formulating a new ritual system for image worship (samurtarcana) in a temple setting within the Vaikhanasa School. We will examine the concepts of Triple Fires (tretagni) and Five Fires (pancagni) within the context of triple images (bimbatrayi) and fivefold images (pancabera). Also considered are the ways in which the Vedic ideas of fire sacrifice are rearticulated with new meanings and interpretations for the theistic, temple-based religion of Visnu as Venkatesvara. Dr Prabhavati C. Reddy is an Adjunct Faculty member of Religious Studies at George Mason University in Virginia, USA. She is an interdisciplinary scholar with a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University, an M.A. in Asian Art History from the University of Texas-Austin, and an M.A and M.Phil. in Ancient History and Archaeology from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. She has previously taught at George Washington University and was a two-year Andrew Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at Northwestern University where she taught in the Department of Religious Studies. She specializes in Hindu traditions and is interested in the historical development of sectarian traditions with reference to constructive theological frameworks and syncretism, religious authority and identity, and conflict and resolution in response to sociological and political processes. She is the author of Hindu Pilgrimage: Shifting Patterns of Worldview of Srisailam in South India (Routledge, 2014) and has published several articles on Indian art and Indian diaspora/Hindu temples in North America. She is currently working on two books entitled, The Tantra and Siddha Traditions at Srisailam: Kundalini and Hatha Yoga Practices in Medieval India and Vaisnava Rituals and Sacred Images. She has lectured at universities in both the U.S and India as well as has presented papers at professional conferences. 

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The Ritual Culture and Materiality of Sacred Images in the Vaisnava Temple Tradition

Shivdasani Lecture
28 Apr 2016

From temple building to image making, from temple rituals to domestic vratas, from village festivals to pilgrimage journeys, the Hindu temple religion demonstrates an integrated process of creating material forms and objects that express religious and cultural ideas. The material connections of Hindu temple religion are evident in the daily worship to images (murtis) in sanctums and in public festival performances that honor utsava icons. My lecture focuses neither on the image making nor the performance of rituals in Hindu temples. Instead, it explores the material dimensions of sacred images as reflected in the ritual lives of deities and material objects used in festival exhibitions at the famous Venkateswara Temple (Tirumala-Tirupati) in Andhra Pradesh, South India. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), the temple institution that oversees the management of the religious calendar of events and the ritual performances of Sri Venkatesvara temple (SV), plays a significant role both in the production of religious objects and in the process of legitimizing for approval and usage of created objects for the temple programs. Two theoretical dimensions concerning the material culture of sacred images are considered. First, the ways the material objects are used on the bodies of sacred images and the ways the relationships are created between the images and objects symbolizing religious/cultural values. The material objects and materials used for sacred images in the Tirumala Temple constitute of two kinds: 1) sets of attire, body armor, jewelry, and ornaments worn by deities, and 2) materials applied to the aesthetic beautification (alankara) of images and objects used in rituals. The second perspective looks at TTD’s involvement in the production and creation of relationships between images and material objects as well as strategies used by the institution in the promotion of mass devotional culture and economic prosperity of the temple. The images and religious objects promoted by TTD become the focus for the transmission of Vaisnava bhakti ideals, image incarnation (archavatara), master-servant relationship, the path of knowledge, and the aim of reaching higher realms of Visnu-Venkatesvara.Dr Prabhavati C. Reddy is an Adjunct Faculty member of Religious Studies at George Mason University in Virginia, USA. She is an interdisciplinary scholar with a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University, an M.A. in Asian Art History from the University of Texas-Austin, and an M.A and M.Phil. in Ancient History and Archaeology from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. She has previously taught at George Washington University and was a two-year Andrew Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at Northwestern University where she taught in the Department of Religious Studies. She specializes in Hindu traditions and is interested in the historical development of sectarian traditions with reference to constructive theological frameworks and syncretism, religious authority and identity, and conflict and resolution in response to sociological and political processes. She is the author of Hindu Pilgrimage: Shifting Patterns of Worldview of Srisailam in South India (Routledge, 2014) and has published several articles on Indian art and Indian diaspora/Hindu temples in North America. She is currently working on two books entitled, The Tantra and Siddha Traditions at Srisailam: Kundalini and Hatha Yoga Practices in Medieval India and Vaisnava Rituals and Sacred Images. She has lectured at universities in both the U.S and India as well as has presented papers at professional conferences. 

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The Tantric Mandala of Srisailam Temple and the Religious World of Saivas and Saktas

Shivadasani Seminar
12 May 2016

This seminar focuses on various aspects of the Tantric mandala of Srisailam and the religious culture of Saiva and Sakta communities as is demonstrated in textual sources as well as hundreds of images depicted on the Prakara enclosure of the temple complex. The iconological patterns and symbolism of the images suggest that a Tantric mandala of Siva/Bhairava and Goddess Durga was created to represent a particular body of religious systems, cosmology, mysticism, visualization of deities and esoteric practices of Saivas and Sakta groups between the seventh and the fifteenth centuries. The mandala helps us to understand the ways Tantrikas conceptualized Srisailam as the macrocosmic universe of Siva and Sakti, and their religious worldview based on the soteriological goals to gain both worldly and supernatural enjoyments (bhukti) and powers (siddhis) as well as liberation in this life (jivanmukti). This seminar explores four facets of Tantric religious culture in order to 1) establish the Saiva-Sakta cultic connections and religious practices of Bhairava and Durga and the cult of Virabhadra and Bhadrakali 2) explore the goddess-oriented Sakta traditions such as the tribal connections of Durga prior to her transformation as the Great Goddess of Sanskrit tradition, the worship of seven mothers (saptamatrikas), the village goddess Camunda and Bhairavi, the goddess of Tantras 3) establish the development of esoteric practices of “mystical physiology” through the subtle body of energy system (cakras) to obtain either supernatural powers and to achieve god consciousness, the kundalini practice for the union of Siva and Sakti energies, and the Tantric visualization and meditation practices of Sadasiva and 4) the use of yantras, mandalas, lingas and images in meditation and worship. Dr Prabhavati C. Reddy is an Adjunct Faculty member of Religious Studies at George Mason University in Virginia, USA. She is an interdisciplinary scholar with a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University, an M.A. in Asian Art History from the University of Texas-Austin, and an M.A and M.Phil. in Ancient History and Archaeology from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. She has previously taught at George Washington University and was a two-year Andrew Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at Northwestern University where she taught in the Department of Religious Studies. She specializes in Hindu traditions and is interested in the historical development of sectarian traditions with reference to constructive theological frameworks and syncretism, religious authority and identity, and conflict and resolution in response to sociological and political processes. She is the author of Hindu Pilgrimage: Shifting Patterns of Worldview of Srisailam in South India (Routledge, 2014) and has published several articles on Indian art and Indian diaspora/Hindu temples in North America. She is currently working on two books entitled, The Tantra and Siddha Traditions at Srisailam: Kundalini and Hatha Yoga Practices in Medieval India and Vaisnava Rituals and Sacred Images. She has lectured at universities in both the U.S and India as well as has presented papers at professional conferences. 

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Nath Siddhas and Hatha Yoga Practices in South India

Shivadasani Seminar
9 Jun 2016

By the fifteenth century, the Nath lineage of Siddhas had emerged as influential teachers and wonder-working yogis in the Telugu-speaking region of Srisailam in South India. Both textual and archaeological evidence suggest that Nath gurus have gained popularity among royal families and common people as well as the establishment of regional Nath parampara traditions, combined with Saiva, Tantra and Hatha Yoga practices in the environs of Srisailam. In this seminar, we will discuss the mid-fifteenth century Telugu work, the Navanathacaritra of Gaurana, which is a primary source dedicated entirely to the history of nine Nath teachers, in particular the fifteenth century Prakara’s art narratives depicting the Naths and a variety of Siddha portraits in hatha yoga postures. The Navanāthacaritra is the first work to give a list of nine Naths corresponding to those found in later Nath works and it also contains important information on the localization of Nath yogis, the Saiva-Nath affiliation, and Tantric and hatha yoga techniques. This seminar explores the five facets of Nath religious culture, including: 1) the historical account of nine Nath Siddhas based on the Navanatha Caritra and the art narratives of Minanatha (Matsyendra), Gopala (Goraksa) and Sarangadhara (Caurangi); 2) the kundalini-based yoga techniques and hatha yoga practices by Nath gurus; 3) the Yogini-Kaula cult of Matsyendranath; 4) a variety of Siddha portraiture and hatha yoga asanas; and 5) the placement of Srisailam’s Nath religious culture within the broader context of the Nath tradition. Dr Prabhavati C. Reddy is an Adjunct Faculty member of Religious Studies at George Mason University in Virginia, USA. She is an interdisciplinary scholar with a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University, an M.A. in Asian Art History from the University of Texas-Austin, and an M.A and M.Phil. in Ancient History and Archaeology from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. She has previously taught at George Washington University and was a two-year Andrew Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at Northwestern University where she taught in the Department of Religious Studies. She specializes in Hindu traditions and is interested in the historical development of sectarian traditions with reference to constructive theological frameworks and syncretism, religious authority and identity, and conflict and resolution in response to sociological and political processes. She is the author of Hindu Pilgrimage: Shifting Patterns of Worldview of Srisailam in South India (Routledge, 2014) and has published several articles on Indian art and Indian diaspora/Hindu temples in North America. She is currently working on two books entitled, The Tantra and Siddha Traditions at Srisailam: Kundalini and Hatha Yoga Practices in Medieval India and Vaisnava Rituals and Sacred Images. She has lectured at universities in both the U.S and India as well as has presented papers at professional conferences. 

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