close logo

The Life-Affirming Concepts Of Tantra

The Life-Affirming Concepts Of Tantra

Listening to Dr Nagaraj Paturi, Director IKS Indica, talk about Tantra, one realizes how far the term has moved from its original roots. It is usually known, he says, as a tradition of spiritual practice, generally seen as Shaaktism but invariably connected with Shaivism too. “Taantrics are viewed as persons of  magical, mystic practices. That is the reason why the IKS significance of this tradition gets overshadowed by its view as a tradition of  practices, beyond reasoning and reasoned analysis.”

Recently, Indica hosted a conference on Tantra and Tantric Traditions, complemented by a Tirtha Yatra to Tantra-related kshetras in and around Bhubaneswar. The event was held at Jagadguru Kripalu University in Dammapada, Cuttack. Dr Paturi spoke about the significance of Tantra to IKS and he goes on to outline several IKS implications of Tantra which may not have been covered by the papers in the conference, but which he hightlights for the future scope of the studies.

While Tantra is understood differently by people, “But at the same time, scholars know that greatest figures of Tantra like Abhinavagupta also contributed works like Abhinava Bharati commentary of Natya Shastra, Lochana commentary of Dhvanyaloka etc., which contributed to many innovative ideas in the shaastras like Alankara Shastra, Rasa Shastra, Sangeeta Shaastra, Rupaka Shastra, Nritya Shastra etc., which have a great potential for helping today’s IKS movement immensely. What is significant is that all these contributions of Abhinavagupta are not multiple disparate contributions apart from his contribution to Tantra. On the contrary, all the contributions of Abhinavagupta form part of his single paradigm centered in Tantra. So, Tantra is in fact, a well reasoned, elaborate, intricate and robust doctrinal paradigm, though, through its practices, appears to be a magical mystic practice,” says Dr Paturi.

Dr Paturi points out that people have identified that Ananda Vardhanacharya’s Dhvani theory in his Dhvanyaloka is rooted in the Sphota theory exposited by Bhartrihari in  his Vakyapadiyam. “I discovered and brought out in my MPhil dissertation that Vakyapadiyam provides the universal theoretical foundations behind the Sanskrit grammar Ashtadhyayi of Panini. The beauty of Vakyapadiyam is to bring out Linguistics as an inward practice presenting a Linguistic holistic view of the universe/cosmos/reality. Sadly Tantra’s roots in the theory in Vakyapadiyam did not receive its due attention. It is these roots, in the Veda mantras around Vaak as Devi that point to Tantra’s roots to Vedas. Potential of Ashtadhyayi to contribute to contemporary fields like computational studies is already well discussed. But the potential of Vakyapadiyam’s theory behind Ashtadhyayi, its applications in the Tantra paradigm covering various fields of arts, communication and language related studies to the global studies of cognitive studies psychology etc., and Linguistics as inward practice have not been explored yet. The implications of the theory of Yantra for the studies of symbolist graphic and plastic arts , the theory of mantra to the studies of phonetic and word level sounds and their receptive effects and the theory of Tantra connecting these two to the various fields covered by Abhinavagupta’s paradigmatic contributions are yet to be explored from an IKS point of view.”

Dr Paturi says his father made it his life mission to prove that Sri Vidya, Shaaktism and Tantra is nothing but Language based holistic view of the microcosm and microcosm, andaanda, pindaanda and brahmaanda and Linguistics as a spiritual practice is based on this holism.

The conference saw Distinguished speakers Prof. Harmohan Mishra and Prof. Brajkishore Swain, present the Inaugural and Valedictory addresses, respectively. The conference featured papers on a range of Tantra traditions such as Vaishnava, Bauddha, and Shaiva, including the renowned Tantra Shaakteya. Topics also encompass Tantra in Art and Literature, Tantric Temples, Temple Concepts, and the history of Tantric elements. Additionally, presentations spanned a broad spectrum of Tantric strands, from Assamese (Kamarupa) and Bengali to Sri Vidya and Kerala Tantra, addressing rituals, symbols, practices, and doctrinal nuances.

Shri Rohit Choudhury discusses the importance and authenticity of Agamas in Saiva traditions, particularly focusing on the Trika Saiva agamic cult. He highlights Agamas as essential scriptures alongside Vedas in Sanatana Dharma. The text emphasizes the revelation of Agama knowledge from Parasiva, categorizing it into three divisions. It also mentions the lineage of gurus and texts within Saiva Siddhanta tradition and the emergence of the Trika lineage from Parabhairava. The report provides insights into the dissemination of Agama knowledge and the revival of Trika lineage before Kaliyuga (Interview).

Shri Aritra pap Ghosh’s er explores the Shaiva Siddhanta Agamas, which are integral to the Shaiva Siddhanta philosophy within Shaivism. It covers their origin, types, dissemination, and impact on the tradition. Utilizing a multidisciplinary approach, the paper analyzes primary sources such as Tirumurai and Meyakanda Texts. It traces the lineage of Shaiva Siddhanta from Kashmir to Dravidian regions and highlights traditions in South India. Key philosophical concepts and ritualistic practices are examined, including the nature of Shiva, the soul, and temple worship. Additionally, the paper discusses the Agamas’ influence on Shaiva Siddhanta communities and their cultural expressions. Overall, it offers valuable insights for scholars interested in Tantric Shaivism, Hinduism, and South Indian religious traditions.

Abhijith Sreekumar’s paper explores the archetype of Tārā, a revered deity in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. It traces her origins from early Hindu texts like the Mahabharata, where she is invoked as Tārini, suggesting a connection to her later depiction as Tārā. Tārā holds a significant position among the Dasamahavidyas, depicted in various meditative forms symbolizing empowerment and protection. These forms reflect different qualities and energies, emphasizing her universal significance transcending religious boundaries. Overall, the paper highlights Tārā’s role as a universal archetype embodying themes of transformation and spiritual guidance across cultures and traditions.

Dr Vivek Sharma’s paper discusses the significance of Tantra and Tantric traditions in Buddhism, particularly within Vajrayana Buddhism. It traces the roots of Tantra from Hinduism and its subsequent influence on Buddhist practices, emphasizing expedient methods for enlightenment. Key points include the development and spread of Tantra, the earliest texts like the Mahāvairocana Tantra, and the influence of nature spirits like Yaksas. The popularity and acceptance of Tantra within Indian Buddhism from the 7th century onwards are also highlighted, along with its profound impact on spiritual practices and philosophical perspectives. Overall, the paper underscores Tantra’s importance in shaping Buddhist traditions and philosophies.

Dhurjjati Sharma’s paper examines the Sitala cult in Assam, particularly through the lens of Jayaram Das’s Sitala Panchali Kavya, a poetic text likely composed in the eighteenth century. It explores the text’s foundation in references from the Skanda Purana, specifically the chapter on “Sitala-Gauri.” The paper discusses the nature and prevalence of the Sitala cult in Assam, analyzes the composition and thematic elements of Jayaram Das’s work, and investigates the integration of classical and folk narratives within the text. Overall, the paper offers a critical exploration of the cultural and religious significance of the Sitala cult in Assam.

Arvind Iyer’s paper explores the treatment of Prāṇa in the sūtra literature authored by Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni, a prominent figure known for his expertise in śāstra and kāvya. Gaṇapati Muni’s sūtra corpus covers various subjects, including Tāntrika literature, which encompasses teachings from Tantra-śāstra and Yoga disciplines. The study focuses on Prāṇa, the vital life force, which holds fundamental importance in Tantra, Yoga, and Vedānta traditions. By analyzing Gaṇapati Muni’s treatment of Prāṇa, the paper aims to provide insights into its significance and role in spiritual practice within the context of his sūtra literature.

Abhik Ganguly’s paper explores the influence of Shakta Tantric tradition on the Bhakti poetry of Ramprasad Sen, an eighteenth-century Bengali poet devoted to the goddess Kali. Sen’s poems blend Baul music and kirtan aesthetics under the influence of Tantric scholar Krishnananda Agamavagisha. Through his works like Vidyasundar and Kali-kirtana, Sen portrays the Goddess in various roles, reflecting the Shakta tradition’s emphasis on realizing truth without projecting cosmic figures. Sen’s poetry embodies Tantric philosophy’s unity of self, where nonduality is achieved by embracing individualistic actuality. The paper traces how Sen’s Bhakti poetry reflects Tantric principles, emphasizing the interplay of energy and awareness for enlightenment and transcending spiritual egotism.

Smt Shefali Vaidya’s paper explores the legend of the seven sister goddesses, known as Saptamatrikas, in various regions of India, focusing on their local variations, connection with the Saptamatrikas, and religious significance. It discusses their origin, dating back to ancient Indian civilization, as evidenced by archaeological findings and references in texts like the Rigveda and Mahabharata. The legend of the Saptamatrikas, originally the Krittikas, is presented, highlighting their adoption by Kartikeya and their association with the Pleiades star cluster. Additionally, the paper examines the Tantric influence on the Saptamatrikas and explores perspectives linking them to festivals like Deepavali and celestial phenomena. Overall, the paper offers insights into the diverse origins and significance of the seven sister goddesses in Indian religious and cultural contexts.

The presentation by Swastik Banerjee delves into the authentic essence of Kālī, the Primordial Goddess revered in the Vāmācāra and Kaulācāra traditions of Bengal, while addressing prevalent misinterpretations. Contrary to popular portrayals of Kālī as a symbol of death or evil, the presentation highlights her multifaceted worship, representing both bhakti devotion and fierce energy. Kālī is also depicted as a symbol of resistance against colonialism, empowering women and symbolizing national identity, while also embodying the nurturing aspects of rural life. Through exploring Kālī’s influence on spiritual practices and societal dynamics, the presentation aims to dispel misconceptions and foster a deeper understanding of her true significance in Tāntric culture.

Sri K Giridhara Sarma spoke on the topic of ‘Śrīvidyā as a Darśana.. An Electronics engineer by profession, Sri Giridhar Sarma was taught the basics of Tarka and Mimamsa by the great scholar Sri Goda Venkateswara Sastrigal and he has also specialised in Mimamsa and Vedanta including the study of Prashtānatraya Bhāshya and other important texts.  He was initiated into Śrīvidyā upāsana by his guru and was given upadeśa as well as training in Shāktā and Shiva āgamas.

Shri Megh Kalyanasundaram, Director Special Projects, spoke about the Sri Chakra in Brill’s Encyclopedia: A critical Analysis vis-à-vis its origins.

Dr. S. Ramaratnam’s paper delves into the interchange of masculinity and femininity within Tantra texts, acknowledging their composition within a historically male-dominated society. Referencing scholars like Judith Torzosk and T.S. Shyamkumar, the paper highlights gender equality in Tantra, with women depicted as powerful ritual practitioners participating in various rites alongside men. Additionally, it explores the fluidity of gender roles, citing examples of deities traditionally associated with masculinity depicted in feminine forms and vice versa. Scriptural references and sociological perspectives are provided to contextualize traditional notions of masculinity and femininity, while spiritual significance is attributed to the interchange, emphasizing unity and enlightenment. Overall, the paper offers a nuanced examination of gender dynamics in Tantra, challenging conventional norms and promoting a broader understanding of gender equality.

Dr. Malabika Bhattacharyya’s paper explores the antiquity of the Āmati festival at Kamakhya Temple in Assam, which celebrates the menstruation of the goddess Mother Earth. It delves into the concept of mother goddesses in various cultures, tracing their association with fertility and motherhood. The paper discusses the belief in Earth as a female entity across ancient civilizations such as Mycenaean Greek, Roman, Basque, and Indian cultures. Furthermore, it examines the significance of menstruation in understanding creation and fertility, drawing upon the Metaformic Theory. Overall, the paper sheds light on the historical and cultural importance of the Āmati festival and its connection to the reverence for Mother Earth across different societies.

Indic Academy through this conference has shown us how these discourses loop or weave (the original meaning of Tantra) new approaches to the study of an extremely esoteric practice and philosophy, that has nothing outside its scope.

Please watch the talks at