Netra Tantra Seminar – Tuesday 28th February

Week 7, Tuesday 28th February, 10.00-15.30
Venue: Campion Hall (10.00-12.45) and Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (14.00-15.30)
Convenor: Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen

Timetable and Abstracts

10.00-10.15  

Welcome

Professor Gavin Flood, FBA
Campion Hall

10.15-11.00  

The Netratantra: Its Vision and Themes

Professor Gavin Flood, FBA
Campion Hall

The Netratantra, the ‘Tantra of the Eye’, is an important tantric text in Kashmir and Nepal, dating from around the early ninth century, and widely disseminated during the eleventh and probably tenth centuries. The text takes its name from Śiva as Netranātha or ‘Lord of the Eye’. However, the text is a ‘universal’ (sarvasāmānya-) tantra, which overrides the distinctions between various tantric traditions. The central deity of the Netratantra is Amṛteśvara, whose consort is Lakṣmī/Śrī called Amṛtalakṣmī in ritual manuals based on the text. After an initial chapter in which Amṛteśvara, referred to as Bhairava, responds to the questions of the Goddess by extolling the virtues and powers of Śiva’s eye, the text presents a number of visualisations of a number of deities, catholic in its range, not only from the systems of the Mantramārga but from Vaiṣṇava traditions as well. Furthermore, a strong Śākta influence is evident in the text with its many references to female deities and practices characteristic of the Kulamārga, e.g. chapter 7 on the subtle visualising meditation and chapter 20 on yoginīs.

Professor Gavin Flood FBA (Oxford), Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen (Oxford) and Dr Rajan Khatiwoda (Heidelberg) are currently working on a fully annotated translation of the Netratantra with an introduction in two volumes in the Routledge Studies in Tantric Traditions series. The project to study the text will especially focus on the theme of models of the person or self that the text entails. Based on close philological reading, we hope to account for different understandings of the person implicit in the text.

Gavin Flood is a Professor of Hindu Studies and Comparative Religion in the Theology and Religion Faculty and academic director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. Gavin read Religious Studies and Social Anthropology at Lancaster University and taught at the universities of Wales (Lampeter) and Stirling before coming to Oxford. He was elected to membership of the British Academy in 2014. His research interests are in medieval Hindu texts (especially from the traditions of Śiva), comparative religion, and phenomenology. He is general series editor of the Oxford History of Hinduism and currently developing closer textual work on the Netratantra.

11.00-11.15  

Tea and Coffee

11.15-12.00

Tradition of Manuscript Production: Nepalese Recension of the Netratantra in the National Archives of Nepal

Dr Rajan Khatiwoda
Campion Hall

Not only has the Kathmandu Valley preserved an ancient compendium of Suśruta (Suśrutasaṃhitā) copied in 878 CE, but also the earliest surviving Śaiva text, Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā copied sometime in 9th century. Similarly, the National Archives of Nepal houses a well-preserved recension of the Netratantra ‘Tantra of the Eye’, an important text in Kashmir dating from around the early ninth century. Of the four Nepalese Netra-manuscripts, the oldest ‘Mṛtyujidamṛtīśavidhāna’ was copied in 1200 CE. The second oldest ‘Amṛteśvarapūjana’ was commissioned by Abhaya Malla in 1216 CE, most likely to protect his father, King Ari Malla, who was said to be dying. The lecture will attempt to shed light on the manuscript sources (as well as their scribal and palaeographical features) for the study of the Netatrantra.

Rajan Khatiwoda currently holds the position of Chief Scientific Documentation Coordinator in the Nepal Heritage Documentation Project (NHDP) at the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (HAdW). He is also the Honorary Leader of the Kathmandu Office of the Śākta Traditions Project run under the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS) and a Research Fellow at OCHS affiliated with the Śākta Traditions research programme. Khatiwoda studied Classical Indology at Heidelberg University, from where he received his PhD in 2017. His dissertation deals with the formation and enforcement of the Mulukī Ain, Nepal’s first legal code promulgated in 1854. From 2013 to 2016, he was part of the Cluster´s Project A14 “Transcultural Legal Flows in 18th- and 19th-Century South Asia.” Since 2014, Khatiwoda is research associate at the South Asian Institute, Heidelberg University, and the Research Unit “Documents on the History of Religion and Law of Pre-modern Nepal,” Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Previously, he worked as a research assistant and cataloguer for the Nepalese-German Manuscript Cataloguing Project (NGMCP) and the Nepal Research Centre (NRC) in Kathmandu for nine years (2004–2013).

12.05-12.45

Readings in the Netratantra: Chapter 7 on Subtle Visualising Meditation (sūkṣmadhyāna)

Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
Campion Hall

The lecture will present a reading and discussion of significant passages from the Netratantra’s chapter 7 on subtle visualising meditation. The chapter is significant in that it presents two different anthropologies and systems of visualization, which the Trika commentator Kṣemarāja refers to as the tantric system (tantraprakriyā) and the Kula system (kulaprakriyā). As opposed to the more body-rejecting practices of classical yoga, the Kula system or what may be termed a ‘Śākta anthropology’ of tantric yoga aims at the affirmation and divinization of the body. This Śākta model of the human is first mentioned in the Netratantra’s chapter 7 on subtle visualising meditation (sūkṣmadhyāna). The Netratantra is also the first to mention the Kulamārga and to teach a system of six bodily centers called cakras, which the meditating yogi is supposed to pierce with his inherent power or śakti. This Śākta anthropology is introduced in the first few verses of chapter seven and then elaborated. The text presents an early Śākta appropriation of older yogic models of ‘knots’ (granthis), ‘supports’ (ādhāras) etc. foregrounding the central channel (suṣumnā) and the notion of how the yogi causes the ascent of his inner power as an early form of kuṇḍalinīyoga. Furthermore, the yogi’s inner power (śakti) was also conceived of in terms of sound or inner vibration (nādasūcī, ‘the needle of sound’).

Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen is Research Lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and a member of the Theology and Religion Faculty where he teaches Sanskrit, Pali and Indian religions. He is the research director and manager for the Śākta Traditions research programme. His book publications include an introduction to Hinduism (2015), translations of the Bhagavadgītā (2009) and the Haṭhapradīpikā (2022) as well as a Danish Sanskrit Grammar and Reader in two volumes (2014). He is the editor of Goddess Traditions in Tantric Hinduism (2016) and has written a number of articles on Śāktism, yoga and meditation in Danish, German and English. He is currently working on several book projects, including an English translation and annotated edition of the Netratantra (based on the oldest available Nepalese manuscript, NAK MS 1-285, NGMPP Reel No. B 25/5 from 1200 CE) in two volumes for the Routledge Tantric Studies series together with Dr Rajan Khatiwoda and Professor Gavin Flood.

12.45-14.00 

Lunch (on your own)

14.00-14.45  

Digital Humanities and Hindu Studies: Building a Śākta Manuscript Database

Dr Ulrik Lyngs, Michael Elison
OCHS Library

New tools from the digital humanities hold considerable promise to augment traditional scholarly analysis in Hindu Studies. Compared to traditional workflows in which scholars manually collate, compare and critically edit manuscripts into edited volumes, computational methods allow many time-consuming tasks to be automated, and new understandings and insights based on the analysis of large volumes of text can be obtained that would previously have been impossible.

In this talk, I present our work-in-progress on an OCHS Manuscript Database using the Netra Tantra as an example. This database will make thousands of manuscripts available, drawn from the OCHS Kathmandu digitisation project, the National Archives of Nepal, the ASA archives, and more. Compared to existing major manuscript databases such as the Cambridge Digital Library, our database will offer a more advanced interface which, for example, allow users to see transliterated and translated texts side-by-side with images of the original manuscripts. Over time, the database will include computational tools that allow easy textual analysis and concordance, and automatic generating of formatted PDFs or Word files with customised content of specific manuscripts.

Ulrik Lyngs is a Carlsberg Foundation Oxford Visiting at the University of Oxford’s Human Centred Computing group, and a Junior Research Fellow of Linacre College. He has a highly interdisciplinary background, with a PhD in Computer Science (University of Oxford), an MA in the study of religion and cognitive psychology (Aarhus University), and an MSc in evolutionary anthropology (University of Oxford). His PhD research on attention and self-regulation in human-computer interactions received the Doctoral Prize from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. He has previously been a producer at HowTheLightGetsIn, the world’s largest philosophy and music festival.

Book presentation and reception:

14.45-15.15

Goddess Traditions in India: Theological Poems and Philosophical Tales in the Tripurārahasya (Routledge Hindu Studies Series)


Dr Silvia Schwarz Linder
OCHS Library

This new book on the Tripurārahasya, a South Indian Sanskrit work which occupies a unique place in the Śākta literature, is a study of the Śrīvidyā and Śākta traditions in the context of South Indian intellectual history in the late middle ages. Associated with the religious tradition known as Śrīvidyā and devoted to the cult of the Goddess Tripurā, the text was probably composed between the 13th and the 16th century CE. The analysis of its narrative parts addresses questions about the relationships between Tantric and Purāṇic goddesses. The discussion of its philosophical and theological teachings tackles problems related to the relationships between Sākta and Śaiva traditions. The stylistic devices adopted by the author(s) of the work deal uniquely with doctrinal and ritual elements of the Śrīvidyā through the medium of a literary and poetic language. This stylistic peculiarity distinguishes the Tripurārahasya from many other Tantric texts, characterized by a more technical language.

Silvia Schwarz Linder has a PhD in South Asian Studies (University of Vienna). She has lectured in the past at the Leopold-Franzens-Universität in Innsbruck and at the University Ca’ Foscari in Venice. She was Research Associate at the Institut für Indologie und Zentralasienwissenschaften of the University of Leipzig, and is currently Research Fellow at the OCHS. Her interests focus on the Tantric religious traditions of the Śrīvidyā and of the Pāñcarātra, specifically on the philosophical and theological doctrines expressed in the relevant South Indian Sanskrit textual traditions. She has also translated into Italian texts from the Sanskrit narrative and devotional literature, for editions aimed at a general readership.

15.15 

Reception

Goddess Traditions in India – New book by Dr Silvia Schwarz Linder

Sakta Traditions Fellow Silvia Schwarz Linder has published a book on the Tripurārahasya, a South Indian Sanskrit work which occupies a unique place in the Śākta literature, is a study of the Śrīvidyā and Śākta traditions in the context of South Indian intellectual history in the late middle ages.

Associated with the religious tradition known as Śrīvidyā and devoted to the cult of the Goddess Tripurā, the text was probably composed between the 13th and the 16th century CE. The analysis of its narrative parts addresses questions about the relationships between Tantric and Purāṇic goddesses. The discussion of its philosophical and theological teachings tackles problems related to the relationships between Sākta and Śaiva traditions. The stylistic devices adopted by the author(s) of the work deal uniquely with doctrinal and ritual elements of the Śrīvidyā through the medium of a literary and poetic language. This stylistic peculiarity distinguishes the Tripurārahasya from many other Tantric texts, characterized by a more technical language.

The book is intended for researchers in the field of Asian Studies, Indology, Philosophical, Theological or Religious Studies, Hindu Studies, Tantric Studies and South Asian Religion and Philosophy, in particular those interested in Śākta and Śaiva philosophic-religious traditions.

Link to publisher.

Tantrāloka readings by Prof Alexis Sanderson

We have been fortunate to have Professor Alexis Sanderson as our J.P. And Beena Khaitan Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies for two term in 2022. Professor Sanderson has been giving eight lectures on the Tantrāloka. 

In these lectures Professor Sanderson introduce the opening verses of the Tantrāloka of Abhinavagupta (fl. c. 975–1025), that author’s monumental exposition of the Śaiva Tantras from the standpoint of the Śākta Śaiva tradition known as the Trika and the philosophical non-dualism of the Pratyabhijñā texts.

Alexis Sanderson began his Indological career as a student of Sanskrit at Oxford in 1969, studying the Kashmirian Śaiva literature in Kashmir with the Śaiva Guru Swami Lakshman Joo from 1971 to 1977. He was Associate Professor (University Lecturer) of Sanskrit at Oxford and a Fellow of Wolfson College from 1977 to 1992 and then the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College from 1992 to 2015. Since then, he has been preparing a critical edition of the Tantrāloka with a translation and commentary. His field is early medieval religion in India and Southeast Asia, focusing on the history of Śaivism, its relations with the state, and its influence on Buddhism and Vaishnavism.

Watch the talks here

Śākta Traditions Online Lecture Series MT20

All lectures will be available on the OCHS YouTube Channel.
The lectures can be watched here.
Billedet indeholder sandsynligvis: tekst, der siger
 
 
ABSTRACTS

Śākta Traditions Lecture Series: Śāktism among the Śaivas of Kashmir

Prof. Alexis Sanderson
21 & 28 October 2020, 2.00-3.00
 
These lectures will give an account of the history and role of Śāktism, notably of the Trika and Krama, among the Śaivas of Kashmir from the ninth to thirteenth centuries, presenting these developments in the broader context of the history of Śaivism in the early medieval period.
 
Link to handout for lecture one and two (revised version published 01.11.2020): Śāktism among the Śaivas of Kashmir Lecture Outline 2020
 
Link to handout for lecture three (published 11.11.2020): OCHS 3 Early Śākta Traditions in Regions Other than Kashmir
 

Śākta Traditions Lecture Series: Theology and Social Change in Śākta Tradition

 
Prof. Gavin Flood
4 November 2020, 2.00-3.00
 
Conversion to new tantric forms of Hinduism took place over a relatively short period within the history of Indic religions, the period from the eighth to early eleventh century. This period of about two hundred years is about eight generations. While it might not be appropriate to call this ‘sudden’ conversion, it nevertheless falls into the paradigm of conversion if by that we mean a process of realignment over time rather than a sudden event (Rambo 1993). In this lecture I wish to use the period of the development of the Tantras, with particular reference to the Netra, as a case study of relatively rapid change and religious innovation in which beliefs of many people altered and how this change impacted upon politics and society as a whole. Although the socio-economic paradigm has explanatory force, it is not the whole story and in specifying the constraints that led to the outcome of Śākta religion, we also need to take into account internal, theological concerns.
 

Śākta Traditions Lecture Series: Śāktism in Europe

Prof. Knut A. Jacobsen
18 November 2020, 2.00-3.00
 
In this presentation I make some observations about the presence of Śākta traditions in contemporary Europe. The majority of Hindu traditions in Europe are Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava, but Śāktas and Śākta traditions are not absent. In the presentation I suggest some ways to identify them and the analysis focuses on the role of Śākta temples, the use of the text Devīmāhātmya, the presence of other forms of Hindu goddess worship, and finally female Hindu gurus in Europe being identified with the great goddess. The lecture argues that there is much creativity and freedom of expression involved in the Śākta worship in Europe. The foundation of Śākta temples are often based on the presence and revelations of the goddess at particular places in Europe with the goddess expressing the wish for being present in temples at these places. The goddess has also a living presence in Europe in the female gurus who are believed by the devotees to be the goddess or her avatāra. The recitation of the text Devīmāhātmya makes the goddess present, and she is celebrated all over Europe in festivals associated with the narratives of this text.
 
 

Śākta Traditions Lecture Series: Hinduism and the Goddess – Śāktism and Śākta traditions

Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
2 December 2020, 2.00-3.00
 
Hinduism cannot be understood without the Goddess and the goddess-oriented Śākta traditions. Worship of the Goddess pervades Hinduism at all levels, from village deities to high-caste pan-Hindu goddesses to esoteric, tantric goddesses. Nevertheless, these highly influential forms of South Asian religion have only recently begun to draw a more broad scholarly attention. The Goddess and her network of Śākta traditions is often subsumed under the broad category of ‘Śāktism’, which is by many considered one of the major branches of Hinduism next to Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism. Śāktism is, however, less clearly defined than the other major branches and sometimes surprisingly difficult to discern from Śaivism in its tantric forms. These sometimes very complex and challenging forms of Śākta religion therefore provide a test case for our understanding of Hinduism and raise important theoretical questions with regard to the study of religious traditions in South Asia.
In this lecture I wish to go up from the particular and provide a brief overview of the state of research. I will address some of the problems and challenges we face in the study of Śākta traditions and propose a model for how we may meaningfully speak of Śāktism as a major Hindu tradition, relating textual details with broader theoretical questions and the longue durée of the history of Śākta traditions.
 
 
 
 
 

Netratantra VII: Subtle Visualisation

The Netra Tantra Chapter VII is now available for download.
The Lord of Immortality: An Introduction, Critical Edition, and Translation of the Netra Tantra, chapter 7. Critically edited, translated and introduced by Gavin Flood, Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen, Rajan Khatiwoda (Oxford: OCHS 2019).

For more information on the Netratantra project please see: saktatraditions.org/netratantra/

Nepal 2019

Our Kathmandu office is developing and many interesting projects are going on this year. We have expanded the working space with an additional office room on the second floor and our reference library continues to receive generous donations. The office has become a vibrant place for facilitating ground research into Śākta traditions in Nepal and a number of activities such as manuscript preservation and study, fieldwork, tutorial courses for exchange students and audio visual documentary research. Our Manager Gitte Poulsen is overseeing the day to day operations of the office in Kathmandu and continuing to develop relations and collaborations in Nepal together with the Kathmandu Office Honorary Leader Dr Rajan Khatiwoda (Heidelberg) and Research Programme Director and Manager Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen (Oxford).

In January 2019 OCHS Director Shaunaka Rishi Das, Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen, Dr Rajan Khatiwoda, Gitte Poulsen, MA, and Professor Kashinat Neupane and Dr Premraj Neupane from Nepal Sanskrit University had a fruitful discussion on educational activities and cultural preservation with Mr Giri Rajmani Pokharel Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Nepal.

In June 2019 the OCHS had the privilege of hosting Her Excellency, The High Commissioner of India to the UK, Mrs Ruchi Ghanashyam, at Oxford. On this occasion Professor Gavin Flood and Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen presented the Śākta Traditions research programme and the Kathmandu Office and had a very fruitful discussion with Her Excellency on the work being done in Nepal and internationally.

Digitalisation and transliteration of Śākta manuscripts
This summer we launched our digitalisation project at our Kathmandu office. The aim is to digitise Śākta-related manuscripts from Nepal with a focus on quality rather than quantity. It is part of our cultural preservation initiative building up a database that will eventually go online with open access. We digitise Śākta-related material with professional photographic equipment from a number of private collections in Nepal thus making an important contribution in establishing the empirical foundations for a new field.

An essential part of the manuscript work is to visit both private and public collections around Nepal and evaluate and collect Śākta-related manuscripts. This work is mainly undertaken by our manuscript specialist Dr Rajan Khatiwoda, who amongst other things has 9 years of working experience as a cataloguer and research assistant at the Nepalese-German Manuscript Cataloguing Project (NGMCP).

 

The digitalisation is currently being done by Gitte Poulsen, MA, and PhD candidate Guy St Amant and is supervised by Dr Rajan Khatiwoda and Dr Manik Bajracharya.

 

Research documentary trip to Gosāiṅkuṇḍa and Assam
Our documentarist and photographer Prema Goet, MA, led a research documentary trip to the shaman festival Janai Pūrṇima in Gosāiṅkuṇḍa in the Himalayas this summer. Footages from Gosāiṅkuṇḍa (link) and from the Ambuvācī  Melā in Guwahati (Assam) (link) will result in a research documentary about a group of Śākta Aghories from Tamil Nadu and their pilgrimages to Śākta hotspots in South Asia. The research expedition to Assam was led by Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen accompanied by Prema Goet, MA, and Gitte Poulsen, MA.

Visiting students and research interns
This summer we continued our successful student programme with a focus on quality rather than quantity allowing only a few students a time to visit. We collaborate with Nepal Sanskrit University in providing individual tutorial courses in Sanskrit, Hinduism and Buddhism in Kathmandu. This entails studying with traditionally educated Nepali scholars as well as tutors from Europe and America. The programme also includes the possibility of conducting supervised field work. Our students are mainly from Oxford University and Aarhus University. Sometimes we have talented student interns working as a librarian at the office or assisting in fieldwork and digitalisation.

Field trips
Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen conducted a number of field trips and interviews with yogis in the Kathmandu Valley together with colleagues and students. He visited old acquaintances and made new contacts. The photos below are from a conversation with Iśa Nāth Aghorī Bābā at Paśupatināth.

 

Haṭhapradīpikā translation seminar
A Haṭhapradīpikā translation seminar was held at the Kathmandu office and in Bhaktapur followed by a photo session of the āsanas with Yogi Ramesh in Paśupatināth. In september 2019 the translation group led by Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen and Dr Silje Lyngar Einarsen finalised the first full translation of the Haṭhapradīpikā into Danish at a seminar at the Royal Danish Library in Aarhus. The book will be published in 2020 at Forlaget Univers, Aaarhus. For more information please see here.

Netra Tantra Workshop at Yale-NUS College, Singapore

A busy summer for our Śākta Traditions Project saw a fruitful workshop held in Singapore.

The Netra Tantra Workshop was held at Yale-NUS College, Singapore, from September 10th to September 16th 2019. The purpose of the workshop was to develop a critical edition and translation of the Netratantra:

The Lord of Immortality: An Introduction, Critical Edition, and Translation of the Netra Tantra, vol. 1, chapters 1-8.
Critically edited, translated and introduced by Gavin Flood, Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen, Rajan Khatiwoda, Tantric Studies Series (London: Routledge, forthcoming).

  

Śākta Traditions Symposium III

Monday, 17 June 2019 – 10:00am to 6:00pm

Venue: OCHS Library and Campion Hall, Oxford.

Hinduism cannot be understood without the Goddess (Devī/Śakti) and the goddess-oriented Śākta traditions. The Goddess pervades Hinduism at all levels, from aniconic village deities to high-caste pan-Hindu goddesses to esoteric, tantric goddesses. Nevertheless, these highly influential forms of South Asian religion have only recently begun to draw a more broad scholarly attention. Taken together, they form ‘Śāktism’, which is by many considered one of the major branches of Hinduism next to Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism. Śāktism is, however, less clearly defined than the other major branches and sometimes surprisingly difficult to discern from Śaivism in its tantric forms. These sometimes very complex and challenging forms of Śākta religion provide a test case for our understanding of Hinduism and raise important theoretical and methodological questions with regard to the study of religious traditions in South Asia as well as to the more general and comparative study of religion.

This Śākta symposium is a contribution by a number of scholars to the Śākta Traditions project and its endeavor in tracing developments in the history of goddess worship among the orthoprax brahmans, among the tantric traditions and at village level in South Asia. Thus, the symposium acts as a historical exploration of distinctive Indian ways of imagining God as Goddess (and goddesses), a survey of important origins and developments within Śākta history, practice and doctrine in its diversity, as well as an insight into the fascinating Śākta religious imaginaire and ritual practice that may be considered distinctive and thus sets ‘Śāktism’ apart from other forms of South Asian religion.

Speakers, titles and abstracts will be announced primo June.