The word, ‘tantra’ directly translates to ‘loom, weave, warp’ in Sanskrit. It involves the abstruse traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism in India. Tantra is a school of thought that believes that the universe is inherent in every individual and that every individual is of the universe. Additionally, it is also believed that the powers that rule over the cosmos on a macro level are also in control of the individual. This doctrine suggests that the path to fulfilment is through the exploration of the relationship between man and the universe, and this is the goal of tantric art as well, to educate mankind about this intrinsic connection through metaphors, allegory and symbolism.
Tantric art is broadly divided into three categories:
The symbolism of the human body as the universe
Yantras: The geometry of the spiritual essence
Derived from the word ‘yam’, Yantra means ‘to sustain’ or ‘to hold.’ In a spiritual context, it is imagined as a vessel of the highest spiritual essence.
Yantras include mystical, geometric diagrams that are used to denote psychological symbols that are connotative of the inner states of human consciousness. These symbols are commonly linked to Hindu Gods and Goddesses like Shiva, Shakti, or Kali. The central element of Yantras are said to be geometric mandalas. They have been known to depict many key tantric ideas and concepts, especially those that focus on meditation.
Yantras can be depicted in many different ways and in many different mediums, but they are all correlated in their main ideologies and concepts.
The symbolic connection between the human body and the universe
In Tantric ideology, the human body is represented as a microcosm of the universe. Our bodies with all its biological as well as psychological processes is a tool to discover the cosmic power that exists within. It is believed in Tantric ideologies that all that dwells in the universe is also present in an individual, therefore, allowing us to examine the universe through the human body. There are two important beliefs that are related to this symbolism - the chakras and Kundalini.
The Tantric philosophy identifies seven energy centres in the human body, namely - Muladhara Chakra located at the base of the spine, ruled by Brahma, Svadishthana Chakra located just above the genitals in the spine area, ruled by Lord Vishnu, Manipura Chakra located behind the navel, presided over by Rudra, the Anahata Chakra situated along the spine, at the level of the heart, presided over by the Goddess Isha, the Vishuddha Chakra, found in the throat, is ruled over by Ardhanarishvara, the Ajna Chakra situated between the eyebrows and presided over by the deity, Paramashiva and finally the Sahasra Padma Chakra located over the crown of the head, which is the meeting point of Kundalini Shakti and Shiva.
‘Kundalini’ translates to ‘coiled up’ in English. As its meaning suggests, the Kundalini energy exists in the female form, not just in every human being but in every atom of the universe as well. It is possible that the Kundalini energy may remain dormant for one’s entire existence. The Tantric practice of Kundalini-Yoga is used for this sole purpose, to activate this cosmic energy, in order to reunite it with Shiva, the pure consciousness who presides over the whole universe.
Iconography: Symbolism in art
Within Tantric art, any image formed has to coincide to its original canonical text. Any exclusion, mistake or fault is deemed to be imperfect absorption. When this occurs, the image in question is disposed of and the process is put off. This process of creating images is also considered a yoga discipline. It is also said that this process eventually guides one towards deliverance. In this form, the artist is meant to convey universal truths that remain constant for all.
Q1. What is considered a Tantric lifestyle?
In order to live a tantric lifestyle, one needs to be open to experiencing everything life has to offer. They have to view life as a pathway to freedom, not a life confined to bondage. Being birthed as a human, in the tantric tradition, is seen as a chance to connect with the absolute consciousness - the divinity present within us.
Q2. Who is the supreme Tantric Goddess?
The Hindu tradition of Tantrism revolves around the Goddess Devi, who is revered as the highest being and divine mother.
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