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  1. Book review: Tantra Illuminated

    I’m often asked by correspondents if there’s “one book” that will cover all aspects of tantra for a general reader. Of course there are many books which make the bold claim of being “the only book” a reader will ever need, but if there’s one book that I would unhesistatingly recommend to anyone – indeed that deserves a place on any bookshelf – it would be Christopher Wallis’ Tantra Illuminated (Mattamayūra Press, 2013, 506pp, p/bk). Continue reading »

  2. Book review: Shikhandi: And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You

    Devdutt Pattanaik’s 2002 book, The Man Who Was a Woman and Other Queer Tales from Hindu Lore (Harrington Park Press) was one of the first non-academic works to provide an in-depth exploration of potential queer themes in Hindu mythology, so I was interested to see what his latest offering – Shikhandi: And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You (Zubaan and Penguin Books India, 2014) – would be like. Shikhandi is retellings of tales from a variety of sources, ranging from the Mahabharata, the Yoga Vasishtha, various Puranas, Tamil literature and oral traditions, to the Navanatha Charita and oral traditions of the Hijras. Continue reading »

  3. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – XVIII

    The one who repeats the fifteen-syllable mantra of Tripurā attains all desires, all enjoyments, conquers all the worlds, causes all words to emerge; achieving identity with Rudra, one breaks through the veil of Viṣṇu and obtains the supreme Brahman.
    Tripurātāpinī Upaniṣad

    So to verses 32-33 of Anandalahari. These stanzas are held by all commentators to express the secret fifteen/sixteen-syllable mantra of Tripurā-Sundarī. Continue reading »

  4. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – XVII

    I seek refuge with Tripurasundarī,
    The Spouse of the Three-eyed One,
    Who dwells in the Kadamba forest,
    And who is ever wandering;
    The Large-eyed One who holds a golden vīnā,
    Wearing a necklace of priceless gems,
    Whose face is glowing with wine,
    And who of Her mercy grants prosperity to Her devotees.
    Tripurasundarīstotra, Hymns to the Goddess, Arthur Avalon

    Now for some brief comments on verses 30-31 of Anandalahari. Continue reading »

  5. A Phallic Knight – I

    Back in 2011 I gave a lecture at Treadwells Bookshop for LGBT History month on Richard Payne Knight’s A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus under the title “A Phallic (K)night”. Due to one thing and another, I never got around to writing up the lecture for publication, so I’m going to serialise it here. This first post provides a general introduction and outlines some biographical information on Payne Knight and some of his colleagues. In future posts I’ll examine Discourse itself – and the circumstances in which it came to be written, and then go on to look at the role it played in the nineteenth-century enthusiasm for theories of “phallic worship”. Continue reading »

  6. Group Book Review: Modern Yoga Studies – II

    But yoga is known to be of two kinds.
    The first is considered the yoga
    of non-being. The other is the great yoga, the very best of all yogas.

    The yoga in which one’s own essence
    is known to be empty, free from all
    false appearances, is named the yoga
    of non-being. Through it, one sees the self.

    The yoga in which one discerns the self
    as eternally blissful, free from blemish,
    and united with me is called
    the great yoga of the supreme lord”.
    Īśvara Gītā 11, 5-7. (transl. Andrew J. Nicholson)

    David Gordon White’s The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography (Princeton University Press 2014) – part of Princeton’s “Lives of Great Religious Books” series – may seem a little out of place here. However, given that many contemporary Yoga movements (and commentators) see the Yoga Sūtra as the ur-text from which all yoga springs – and often claim a direct chain of transmission to it – I thought it was worth including. Continue reading »

  7. Group Book Review: Modern Yoga Studies – I

    “Whether a Brahmin, an ascetic, a Buddhist, a Jain, a Skull-Bearer or a materialist, the wise man who is endowed with faith and constantly devoted to the practice of yoga will attain complete success.”
    Dattātreyayogaśāstra (transl. James Mallinson)

    Modern Yoga has been going through some “interesting times” of late. There has been a wave of sex scandals – most recently in Australia and there are growing calls for a Decolonisation of Yoga Practice, including some strident claims that Yoga was banned under the Raj. I thought it’d be timely, then, to review some of the scholarly works on Modern Yoga. Continue reading »

  8. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – XVI

    Just as Devī,
    Your most beloved, endless pool of bliss,
    Is inseperable from you,
    So may your devotion alone
    Be inseperable from me.
    Utpaladeva, Shivastotravali 1.9

    Now for some brief notes on verses 28-29 of Anandalahari. Continue reading »

  9. Book review: from Yoga to Kabbalah

    A common refrain in contemporary western culture is that “traditional” religions and roles are in decline and, supplanting them, is a turn to the “spiritual” in which individuals discover and shape their own sources of meaning through a playful and eclectic “pick and mix” approach to religious traditions and practices. This is sometimes referred to as the “subjectivist turn” in social studies, and frequently hailed as a “spiritual revolution” (and occasionally, lamented). But how does this eclecticism – often characterised by the French term bricolage – operate? Why is it that some religious traditions and practices are appropriated, and others not? Why are people attracted to “foreign” religious resources and what role do these practices play in people’s lives?

    Véronique Altglas addresses these issues in From Yoga to Kabbalah: Religious Exoticism and the Logics of Bricolage Oxford University Press 2014). Drawing on her transnational research on two neo-Hindu movements – Siddha Yoga and Sivananda Centres in France and Britain; and the Kabbalah Centre in France, Britain, Brazil and Israel – Altglas uncovers the hidden “logics” of bricolage, and in doing so, presents some intriguing and – possibly – uncomfortable conclusions. Continue reading »

  10. Heart Practice: approaching the tantric body-in-practice – II

    “Enveloping, embracing, and caressing me both inside and out, moving in ripples along my skin, flowing between my fingers, swirling around my arms and thighs, rolling in endless eddies along the roof of my mouth, slipping ceaselessly through throat and trachea to fill the lungs, to feed my blood, my heart, my self. I cannot act, cannot speak, cannot think a single thought without the participation of this fluid element. I am immersed in its depths as surely as fish are immersed in the sea.”
    David Abrams, on air, The Spell of the Sensuous

    “The tantric practitioner lives within the maṇḍala, lives within the yantra, lives within the vision of divinity such that the symbolic world of the text becomes the lived world of the body. Representation in text, icon and rite coalesce in the experience of the lived body.”
    Gavin Flood The Tantric Body

    To continue from the previous post in this series I now want to focus on approaching particular tantric body-practices. Continue reading »