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Alexis G. J. S. Sanderson is Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics, All Souls College, University of Oxford. He is a renowned expert on the history of Saivism and on tantric traditions. After taking undergraduate degrees in Classics and Sanskrit at Balliol College, Oxford, he spent six years in Kashmir studying with the celebrated scholar and Saiva guru Swami Lakshman Joo. From 1977 to 1992 he was Lecturer in Sanskrit in the University of Oxford, and Fellow of Wolfson College.
This presentation explores the nature and historical development of goddesses and the category of Śiva’s “power(s)” (śakti) in the archaic Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā. It is observed that while female deities have limited cultic importance, their significance increases in the later strata of the text, especially the Guhyasūtra. A shift from apotheoses of feminine-gendered cosmological categories to embodied goddesses appears evident, as are early developments in characteristic Śaiva doctrines concerning the roles of śakti in cosmogony and grace.
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.
Text-critical study of the earliest texts to teach haṭhayoga (c.11th-13th centuries) shows that in its first formulations it was closely associated with traditional ascetic practice and that the aim of its techniques, which were physical, was to boost the beneficial effects of celibacy (or, at least, continence). Śākta traditions dating to a similar period had developed a system of yoga in which the yogin visualised the rising of Kuṇḍalinī from the base of the spine up through a series of cakras.
The encounters with yoginīs, called melaka or melāpa, constitute the core of the post-initiation tantric practice in the Vidyāpīṭha texts, and priya- and haṭha- varieties were well known to the pre-Abhinavagupta śaiva tantric literature. This presentation will explore the nature of the haṭhamelaka as it is described in the Jayadrathayāmala, including its relation to the practice of provoked possession (āveśa), as well as of some other rare varieties of melaka that can be found in this text only.
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?
Harunaga Isaacson was born in Kuma, Japan, in 1965. He studied philosophy and Indology at the University of Groningen (MA 1990), and was awarded a PhD in Sanskrit by the University of Leiden (1995). From Fall 1995 to Summer 2000 he was a post-doctoral research fellow at the Oriental Institute, Oxford University.
The paper will discuss types of liṅgas featuring four goddesses facing outward. These include a complex Tantric sculpture from Nepal (17th century) and its possible prototypes, the so-called śakti- or devīlingas found in Bengal, dating from the 9th to 13th centuries. A major problem is the identity of the four goddesses and the significance of these sculptures. The paper will also address the more general phenomenon of feminine liṅgas, namely liṅgas serving as a focus of goddess cult worship.
Gudrun Bühnemann is Professor and Chair of the Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia, The
In the history of religion especially in the comparative study of religion goddess worship is a very underestimated and under prioritized exploratory field. General books on the history of religion either mentions goddesses in the periphery as the spouse of a god or as seen in a evolutionary scheme, where goddess worship is either placed as part of the archaic state of religion, as a part of a primitive fertility cult or maybe mentioned in relation to small isolated non patriarchal societies.
Goddesses associated with snakes and healing snakebite are well known to anthropologists of modern Śākta traditions; Manasā in the Northeast and Nāgāttammaṉ in the South come immediately to mind. In Jainism we have Padmāvatī, and in Buddhism various goddesses like Jāṅgulī, Kurukullā, and Mahāmāyūrī specialize in curing snakebite. The origins of many of these goddesses remain obscure, but my research into the largely unedited Śaiva Gāruḍa Tantras suggests that some of them were popularized by this early corpus.