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The power of divine beauty: A study of the Saundaryalahari

Wahlstrom Lecture
Dr Nilima Chitgopekar
Thursday, 31 May 2007 - 4:15pm

Among the varied ways of worshipping a goddess, the chanting of her eulogy is favoured by many a devotee and the existence of a wide range of such litanies are part of India’s religious tradition.

The Saundaryalahari, of the 9th–10th century, probably falsely attributed to Shankaracharya, is one such grand prayer. Can the explicit delineation of beauty, rampant in this text, be a path to mukti? In this case what are the ramifications for the worshipper? The Saundaryalahari deals with esoteric cults such as Srividya and its technicalities. However despite the Tantric nature of this text, it has been ‘appropriated’ by large numbers of city dwelling self-confessedly, ‘non-tantric’ women, who chant it regularly.
Besides embarking on an exegetical study, this talk will share some of the explorations the speaker has been able to make through interviews held in major cities in India. The lecture will examine the way beauty has been delineated in this text and how it has been entwined with bhakti, both from the view of the goddess herself as well as the worshipper.
Nilima Chitgopekar is Associate Professor of History in the Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University. She has written books dealing with the Shaiva pantheon which include, Encountering Sivaism: The Deity, the Milieu, the Entourage (Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers), and The Book of Durga (Penguin), and edited Invoking Godesses: Gender Politics in Indian Religion (Shakti Books). Her forthcoming title, Rudra:The Idea of Shiva (Penguin), a fictionalised biography of Shiva, will be released in June of this year.