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In this book, the author presents in historical outline, the genesis, development and structural analysis of the Tantric tradition in India and its place in the Indian religious and philosophical systems. It studies the different aspects of Tantrism, its vastness and intricacies, its heterogeneous and contradictory elements and gives a historical perspective to the conglomeration of ideas and practices through space and time.
After an introduction to the meaning of Tantra, the work outlines the various texts, which comprise Tantric literature. The development of Tantrism is traced from pre-vedic times through the Vedic, post-Vedic, early Buddhist an Jain periods down to the evolution of the concept of Sakti in Indian religious thinking. The sequence is carried forward by a study of the development of Tantric Buddhism in India and Tantric Ideas and practices in medieval religious systems. The 'Lokayata' tradition and its connection with Tantrism and finally the emergence of sophisticated Tantras with Sakta orientation completes this historical study of Tantrism through the ages.
This important work also incorporates a review on Tantric art and a glossary of Tantric technical terms with reference to text, and intermeniaries.
As an Indologist, N.N. Bhattacharyya requires no introduction. He retired as professor of History from Calcutta University and passed away in 2001. He wrote a large number of books most of which have gone into several printings.
The present work, as its name implies, proposes to present, in an historical outline, the genesis, development and structural analysis of what is known as the Tantric tradition of India. Its main purpose is to determine the exact place of Tantrism in Indian religious and philosophical systems and to find out the social and functional significance of certain Tantric ideas and their derivatives which have not as yet been absolutely obscured in the efflux of time.
Tantrism with its vast literature containing intricate ritualistic and theoretical details occupies a significant place in the religious and social life of India. But the subject is still an enigma to us, not with standing numerous works in this field, scholarly as well as amateurish. This has been due to the fact that there has hitherto been no attempt to interpret the essentials of Tantrism by detecting and analyzing, in a historical sequence, the origins and development of the components by which it is constituted.
Earlier scholars relegated Tantra to a class of black magic, unworthy of study by a man of good taste, while the advocates of Tantra like John Woodroffe, Sibchandra Vidyarnava, Panchanan Tarkaratna, Gopinath Kaviraj and others equated it with the totality of Hinduism and declared it to be the essence of the Vedas. (They were, however, inclined to think that for the purpose of interpreting Tantrism it was sufficient to remain confined to those thoughts and ideas, which were in fact superimposed on its original contents). Most of the modern writers on this subject insist solely on its sexual elements, minimal though they are, compared to the vastness of the subject, and purport to popularize certain modern ideas pertaining to sex problems in the name of Tanra.
Thus the historical study of Tantrism has been handicapped, complicated and conditioned by the preoccupations of the writers in this field. It is perhaps inevitable, because the vision of the historian is always circumscribed by the dominant outlook of his own age. As Mircea Eliade had rightly observed:
When one approaches an exotic principality, one understands principally what one is predestined to understand by one's own vocation, by one's own cultural orientation and that of the historical moment to which one belongs. This truism is of general application.
As a result, in the field of Tantric studies, we find the emergence of various theoretical approaches, each claiming to have explained all the intricacies of the subject in its own way. Among these, the traditional Indian approach finds no difficulty in equating the essentials of Tantrism with the Vedantic interpretation of the contents of the major Saiva-Sakta schools. So far as the modern approaches are concerned, the principal one seeks to find certain norms in Tantrism with a pragmatic anticipation of the peculiar and manifold mental, emotional and spiritual problems of our times, as if these are intended to explore the obscure zones of the unconscious to which are attributed the problems of man's physiological, social, cultural and religious conditioning.
Scholasticism belonging to the former category, despite its inherent contradictions caused by the conscious and surreptitious, but often unsuccessful, attempts of the medieval commentators and their modern counterparts to convert Tantra into a kind of Vedanta, is however, intelligible. Followers of this line have a locus standi. Because of their complete dependence on the texts, saturated and overburdened though they are by superimposed elements, they have some sort of objectivity in their approach. And they are apparently justified when they equate Tantrism with the totality of Hinduism because Tantric ideas are so inextricably blended with different aspects of the Hindu way of life and with the doctrines of various religious sects and communities that it becomes a matter of proverbial difficulty to separate the Tantric elements from the huge conglomeration of materials accrued in space and time.
The psychological approach, outlined above, seeking to explore the obscure zone of the unconscious with the Tantric key, has eventually resulted in the study of the so called sexual elements found in the Tantras which have been interpreted by the traditionalists as 'purely symbolical' and by the others as 'appliedly symbolical'. According to H.V. Guenther, the sexual aspects of the Tantras are nothing but the corrective against the one-sided intellectualism and rationalism, which is unable to cope with the problems of every day life. The symbolic yuganaddha points to the unique harmony and interpenetration of masculinity and femineity. Bi-sexuality is inherent in all beings and this aspect has to be exercised in order to understand the truth of one's own nature. Sexual partnership is therefore the best expression for the most intimate relation between the two opposites. For the man, woman is the material object of concentration, a goddess for meditation and a symbolic truth for comprehension.
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