Philosophical Tales and Theological Poems in the Tripurārahasya

Silvia Schwarz Linder

Project summary
This research project focuses on the Tripurārahasya (TR) (“The Secret [Doctrine] of [the Goddess] Tripurā”), a Sanskrit work of South Indian origin, probably composed between the XII and the XV-XVI century CE, if not later, and associated with the Tantric, śākta religious tradition of the Śrīvidyā. No scholarly study has hitherto been devoted to this well-known, yet marginal text of the Śrīvidyā tradition.

Research questions
a) A study of the TR raises major questions about the relationships between Sākta and Śaiva traditions; in fact the philosophical and theological doctrines expounded in the jñānakhaṇḍa (“Section of knowledge”) of the TR prove to be influenced by the teachings and the terminology of the non-dualist Kashmirian Śaivism, particularly of the Pratyabhijñā school.

b) The content of the māhātmyakhaṇḍa (“Section of the Majesty [of the Goddess]”) of the TR – a mythical narrative of purāṇic style, which is devoted to Tripurā and to the goddesses who are regarded as her own particular manifestation, and which provides interesting and original variants of some well known myths regarding the Goddess/goddesses – raises questions about the relationships between Tantric and Purāṇic goddesses.

c) A further critical issue concerns the stylistic devices adopted by the author(s) of this work, who chose to deal with doctrinal and ritual elements of the Śrīvidyā through the medium of a literary and poetic language, namely through dramatically voiced dialogues, philosophical tales and stotra-s of remarkable poetic value. This stylistic peculiarity distinguishes the TR from many other Tantric texts, characterized by a more “technical” language.

Besides the TR itself, the sources to be examined are the Tantric and Purāṇic works on which or by which the text of the TR is found to be based or influenced. The individuation and scrutiny of these sources will be an essential part of this research.

Research methods
The research method consists of a historico-philological analysis of the text, which will take into account parallel passages or similar ideas traceable in the related literature. The assessment of the sources of the TR, along with that of the possible textual correspondences, comparable formulation and similar teachings, will aid in establishing the period of composition of the TR, its authorship and its place within the Śrīvidyā tradition.

Research goal
In the perspective of a reflection on the philosophical and theological teachings contained in the TR, the aim of the research is to produce a monographic study on the TR which will be chiefly devoted to the doctrinal features of the work. Attention will hence be focused on specific topics and problems relevant to this.

Research context
The context of this study is scholarly investigation in the field of the Śrīvidyā, i.e. the tradition of the cult of the goddess Tripurasundarī which, according to Sanderson, “became the most widely established of India’s Śākta cults” (The Śaiva Age, 2009, p. 47).

Implications for the broader development of research in the field
A study of the TR, on account of the peculiar features of this text, its originality in addressing philosophical and theological issues and its high literary quality, is certainly worthwhile, insofar as it will contribute to a better understanding of neglected aspects of the Śrīvidyā, and will shed new light on the Śākta traditions in the context of South Indian intellectual history in the late middle ages. Furthermore, the recognition and appreciation of the creative and ingenuous ways in which the author(s) of the TR recast the philosophical categories of the non-dualist Kashmirian Śaivism, will be of interest to scholars working on both the Śākta and Śaiva philosophic-religious traditions