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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 2005.
Prof. Mandakranta Bose (Emeritus Professor, Centre for India and South Asia Research, University of British Columbia, Canada)
The idea of Devi, the goddess on whom all creation depends for both protection and nurture, is fundamental to the Hindu way of life. This profound philosophical idea found powerful expression in Hindu myths from early times, influencing both religion and culture in South Asia.
While Vedanta Desika (fourteenth century, South India), as a Srivaisnava Hindu, was a member of a tradition with the greatest respect for the Goddess Sri, in his era there was still lively debate about her precise status in relationship to the supreme deity, Narayana.
In his Srimad Rahasyatrayasara, Desika pushes for a complete acceptance of Sri as the eternal consort of Narayana, an indispensable equal participant in the divine work of enabling human salvation.
Though in many ways a theological conservative and defender of traditional orthodoxy, Desika here shows himself to be radical
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.
Dr Robinson did his D.Phil. research on the Worship of Clay Images in West Bengal. An important part of this was the study of Hindu iconography and the festivals of West Bengal, including Durga puja. Recently he has become a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society and is working on an article on an ivory figure of Durga in the V&A which was part of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Photographs taken during fieldwork in Bengal and amongst the Bengali community in the UK are now in the British Museum Asia collection and in the archives of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.
This seminar will explore traditions focused on the Goddess and examine the boundaries of Shakta traditions. The seminar will examine different kinds of Shakta tradition, those within the boundary of Brahmanical orthodoxy and those outside of that boundary. The seminar will raise critical questions about tradition, about etic and emic accounts, and about the relation of Indology to Anthropology.