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Journalof the American Academy Religion.LX/3 of
Tantrism and the Brahmans of South India
Douglas Renfrew Brooks
RECENT SCHOLARSHIP done much to reclaimthe largelyunexhas field of Hindu esotericismknown as Tantraor Tantrism. Unlike plored in the nineteenthcentury,when the Hindu Tantriccanon was dismissed as "meremanualsof mysticism,magic, and superstitionof the worst and most silly kind" (Monier-Williams:129), contemporary indologists admit with more sympathy "the presence of Tantric elements nearly everywhere in Hinduism from the Middle Ages to our own day" (Padoux 1981:350). The acknowledgementof pervasiveTantricinfluence in Indian religion has made defining Tantrism and classifying different Hinduisms Hindus, especially south Indionly more difficult. Many contemporary ans who are urban, middle-class, and exposed to western culture, undoubtedlywould prefer less ambivalence. They do not wish to be called "Tantric" to associatewith things "Tantric."In contemporary or south Indianvernaculars,"Tantra" relatedterms suggestshady conand nections with illicit sex, forbiddenintoxicants,or effectiveblack magic.1 However, there is as much fear of the Tantric's perceived powers as there is distrust or disdain for his putative licentious and scurrilous excesses. Tantrism'sdubious reputationmay be often exaggerated it is not but unfounded,at least as far as certainnon-initiates are concerned. wholly One importantTantricstrategyfor breakingthroughbarriersthat conDouglas RenfrewBrooksis AssistantProfessorof Religionin the Departmentof Religionand Classics, Universityof Rochester,Rochester,NY 14627. 11am limitingthe discussion of Tantrismspecificallyto its Hindu forms and don't mean to suggest that these generalizations interested pertainto Buddhistor Jain Tantrictraditions. I am particularly in recordingthe views and impressions of south Indians from brahmancommunities. The reader sensitive to the variety of Hindu Tantrisms is asked to indulge certain over-generalizations that might not apply to all cases.
Journalof the American Academyof Religion
sign lesser persons to sufferingand rebirthhas been to defy social conventions and ethicalnorms in ritual. Tantricsfrequentlyreverseor reject high-castestandardsin ritual,sometimesby including ordinarilyimpure substances, such as wine or meat, or by engaging in taboo behaviors, such as sexual intercourseoutside of marriage. The Tantrics'intention is not merely to offend and rarelyis it to draw attentionfrom outsiders. Rather,Tantricsengage the forbiddento transcendmundane restrictions and to experience directlythe inherentlyblissful (ananda) natureof the ultimatein the form of certainworldly (and often forbidden)pleasures meth(kama). More interested in how these convention-transcending ods bring about these experiences than in how others might react,Tantrics are unapologetic,preferringsecrecy to explanation. The historical record indicates that calling someone a "Tantric"or has calling oneself a "Tantrika" alwayshad political repercussions(Sanderson 1985). Few contemporary Hindus are awareof the pervasiveness of Tantricelements in ideologies and practicesthat are commonplacein Hindu temple rituals, personal devotions, and yoga. They would not (Padoux 1981:350). Many antiordinarilycall these things "Tantrika" TantricHindus would say commonplaceTantricpracticeshave no relationship to anything "Tantric." Believingtheir methods to be dangerousfor the uninitiatedand preoccupied as they are with their own notions of religiousvirtuosity,Tantrics prevent those who are uninvited or merely curious from gaining entry into their traditionsby the use of highly technical and sometimes deliberatelyimpenetrable idioms. In addition, direct transmission of teachingsfrom a guruis considereda sine qua non for any practice. As a consequence, the few things that non-initiate Hindus usually know about Tantrics,and that Tantricsmight discuss with outsiders,are often superficial,piecemeal, or taken out of context. What almost everyone does seem to know is that Tantricsdo things that self-respectingHindus do not. A few important exceptions notwithstanding(Parry;Gupta), academic effortsto studyTantrismhave concentratedon textualand historical issues, accompanied by the usual disclaimers about the of indispensablerole oral and living traditionsplay in the interpretation esotericideology and secretritual. StudyingTantrismpurelyas a canonical religion can resolve definitionalproblems: Tantrictraditioncan be reducedto books writtenin Sanskritand practicedas prescribed. However, text-only studies can only mention oral interpretivecomponents and the roles individualgurusplay in shaping the religiouslives of practitioners. To engage the guru traditionand considerthe enormousrange
Brooks: Tantrism South India in 407 of ritualinterpretations with individuals groups fieldwork and requires who maynot welcomethe uninitiated may be swornto secrecyby or oathsto lineagetraditions.Thesefactsnotwithstandis as ing. Borninto a Jain of affiliations familyandexplicitin his rejection anytraditional religious withhis teachings. Rajneesh remembered my informants the quintessential by Tantric:interested sex. a that Rajneesh taught brandof "guruism" drewon a number Indianand non-Indian of elements. the fulfillment any and all desires. this unambiguous Tantric rootedin canonandsteepedin oral tradition. in southIndianHinducircles lore. Rajneesh mighthimselfhave agreed. 3I have in mind the important attributionof certain Tantric works of the Srividyatradition to Safikara and the likelihood that these were composed at about this time by persons associatedwith the Safikaracenters (matha)of Kficipuram and Srigeri.my or by informants' mixture outrage envywas directed a caricature of and at of whose behavior was deemedinsultingto all thatis good degeneration andnoblein Hinduism. Shri Oftenrecalling standing him beforea row of Rolls-Royces surrounded dotingwesternfemaledisciples." is he is "notHinduat all.and in of 2This article is based on extensive fieldwork conducted in Tamilnadubetween 1983 and 1989 under the auspices of a FulbrightFellowship and several researchgrants from the Universityof Rochester.the figDuring uremostfrequently as an example the "typical" cited of Tantric the was lateBhagawan Rajneesh. because"Rajneesh a Tantric. These explainTantrism issuesdemand studyof livingTantrics." Curiously. temporary WHO IS A HINDU TANTRIC? several fieldwork stintsin southIndiain the 1980s.While recentefforts havebegunto breakthrough the barriers Tantric of textsto map beliefsand practices.2 This studyfocuseson a livingTantric tradition within a practiced socialandreligious in whichbeingcalleda "Tanparticular community tric"is anything a compliment. the limitations notwithstanding. .As one putit. interpretive has flourished high-caste since at leastthe ninthcentury continues be an important and to force Thissituation raisesimportant aboutreligious today.3 questions identity andidentification well as aboutthe invention the "other" conas of in Hinduism. but and Despitedisavowals disclaimers. textualstudy alonecannotaddress certain of or important aspects ritual interpretation within the broader matrixof Hindusociety.Fieldwork studiesare therefore limitednot but only to the expertiseof the researcher by the conditionsset forth withinthe tradition.
" The dichotomy of We/Not-Tantric and They/Tantric-leaving aside the possibility of its being an imaginary distinction-created for them a situation of proximate otherness. interests would not have been threatenedand emotions would have been less visceral. was their univocal agreementthat because Rajneeshwas "Tantric"he was "not Hindu. were to be condemneden masse. They were sometimes inclined to assign blame to Hinduism for permitting such teachings. Tantrism was not viewed as an alternativereligion in the sense that one might be a Christianor a Muslim. as religious and social inferiors.medical. Assertingtheir curativepowers over impotence or marital disharmony. from our standpoint.my informantswould have probablyinvented someone like him: their moral posturingdemanded an "immoral other. The others' differencebecomes too close for comfort." who sometimes refer to themselves as Tantrics. in the long course of Hindu religious history. In this case. Hindu or otherwise. Were there no perceived threatof Tantricsat all within Hinduism the Tantrics'remote otherness would have lowered the stakes. They/Tantricsmust not be confusedwith We/Not-TantricHindus. Since the majorityof my informantswere from a brahman caste. SOUTH INDIAN BRAHMANS AND OTHERNESS WITHIN For my deeply religiousHindu informants. they were predisposed to regardall others. Recentlybillboardsin majorIndian cities and in national magazines have advertisedthe services of "sex doctors. there were probablynot too many "good"Tantrics.Rajneeshand his Tantric ilk were a personal affrontthat provided them an opportunityto assert difference.in particular. Only Hindus took Rajneeshand other "Tantrics"as personally insultingand thoughtit importantto distancethemselvesreligiously. morally. But there are further ambiguities regarding Tantricism that these urban-dwelling. Were there no Rajneesh.to be a "Tantric" was to be irreligious. In such situationsdifferencebecomes problematicbecause "they"are both "too-much-like-us" and "not-enough-like-us" (Smith). Tantrics.408 Journalof the American Academyof Religion ultimatelyin power. Indian Muslimsor Christians with whom I spoke likewise mentioned Rajneesh as a "typical Tantric"and saw his excesses as reflectingpoorly on India. these shirt-and-tie Tantrics address social problemsby linking themselvesto popularreligious. and socially. and perhaps the possibility of reflecting on an otherness within (Green:50). high-caste south Indians feel compelled to explain. The most importantpoint." implying a condemnation of all Tantrics. they assured me. and occult .
something in which one has a stake. discussing the "other" in rabbinic Judaism. Rather. An "otheress within" the community of south Indian. Tantrism South India Brooks: in 409 beliefs. This sort of Tantrism is neither an exotic otherness too remote to be of interestnor is it. more complex Tantrism living within the high-caste community in south India. Importantwithin brahmancommunitiesfrom at least the ninth century (Goudriaan. correlate somepiece of to of themselves theybelieveprominently that who theyare.or self-consciouslyignored.such differenceis negotiated. this often-denied Tantrism represents the other-livingamong-us or the other-who-is-in-part-us. He writes.one in which there is not necessarilydoctrinal confession but a shared devotion to an authoritative set of texts (Green:53). another. a proximateotherness. a strategyfor interpreting is invoked." one in which two or more conflicting interests are located in the same individualor group. mustreach .. In all the situations so far described my informantstreated "Tantrics" as distinct others whose views and practicesrequiredexplanation precisely because "they" were not "us.none of them would have welcomed unsolicited house calls. describes the stakes involved when examining the "othernesswithin" a given society: To evokethe significant of is the disparity whichotherness composed. most often.manipulated. it is.. In this context traditional brahmanism refersto a specific social groupbound togetherby caste and to a distinctive textual community.perhapsfear or disgust. . Tamilspeaking brahmans that "correlatesto some piece of themselves" pits their clannish traditionsof brahmanismagainst Srividya. South Indian Srividya can be circumscribed similarly. to senseof its symbolmustcorrespond powerfully the naming society's own distinctiveness To be revealing meaningful. This situation suggests a notion of "otherness within.Brooks 1992).4 William Scott Green. "Difference is rarely something simply to be noted.Brooks.but also perhapsenvy or (50) respect. While my informants "had heard of people. Smith has noted that when such situationsarise." There is. and it insidethe culture the peoplewho employit. it is a political matter"(4)." including "some relatives. albeit somewhere on the safe periphery. In this situationa "Tantric" appellationsuggestsan ambivalent place within Hindu society." who had visited these self-proclaimed "Tantric sex doctors" under very extraordinary circumstances.a type of goddess-centeredor SaktaTantrism. Above all.and displays induce response. however. properlyspeaking. Srividyain contemporarysouth India has difference 4JonathanZ.
"8 Smartabrahmansdefine themselvescanonicallyas those who follow smrtis ratherthan Tantras.morerecently. ThroughoutIndia. interest in how the ideological our lies positionsset forthin the smrtis a that this provide basisfor socialidentity distinguishes groupof Hindusfromothers. these brahmans refer to themselves as smartas or "followers of the smrts. sageof Tiruvanamalai.5 There is little scholarly dispute about whether Srividyais a canonical Tantric goddess tradition or about its domination by brahmansfrom its earliest appearancesin south India.As we shallsee.C. It is the smrtitextsnot Vedic revelation (sruti)-that these brahmans use to explain the complexities of caste relations and the prescriptionsof "orthodox"law (dharma). the "Vedic tradition" of these particular brahmansis not derivedexplicitlyfrom Vedic revelation(sruti) but from later ritual and legal texts known as smrtis which. 6Fora discussion the relations of of for betweenbrahman castessee Singer. I havein mindthe relationparticular to to of Kiaicipuram Srigeriand.but neither shouldwe mistakenly textual alone traditions community and are Canonical prescriptions maynot practices isomorphic. smarta tradicanonical tions can be identifiednot only by their advocacyof particular and ritualtraditionsbut also as identifiableendogamouscastes and subcastes (Singer). Rather. outlining Heesterman (1987). will detail. and in terms of their obligation to fulfill specific ritual and social duties (dharma).They are arbitersof the meaning also among those who claim to be authoritative of the Vedas. of "recollect"or bring "remembrance" the Veda. 8Whether modelsandcodesset forth thesmrtis instantiated empirically the observable in and are is not at issue. and . This contrastswith the view of the Tantraswhich they interpretas a quest for power (gakti)and liberation from rebirth (mukti) (Hopkins). Rather." relationship smartas Fuller. Foran excellent to are summary J.custom.including Tantrics. the sameis trueof Tantric traditions practices. and morality.6 In fact.9 In contemporary urban Tamilnadua significantnumber within the 5These associations be takenup laterin more.7Acknowledgingtheir reliance on this canon. The majorityof south Indian brahmanswho enlist in Srividyacall themselvesby their Tamil caste name "aiyar" (Sanskrita8rya). 9Whenidentifying "smarta not tradition" shouldbe careful to divorce we principles ideological of believethat and traditions ritual behavior fromsocialfacts. a discussion the of see with templepriests(so-called and adidaivas) other"priestly castes. thelate and Srividya theSaiikaracaryas shiplinking Ramanamaharishi.one provesufficient uponwhichto identify studies interpretaof and of studies custom ritewithanthropological and couplehistorical textual tion andpractice.410 Journalof the American Academyof Religion quasi-public visibility. it has assimilated local goddess traditions and legitimizeditself by associationwith importantreligiousleaderspast and present. to put it literally.culture. 7Sources brahman see traditions toonumerous list. must or criteria smarta traditions communities.
or even a manipulatingof ..' gain critical selfdistance. As Madeleine Biardeauhas said. . and accessible to human beings through specific mental and physical activities. .. and Srividya in practitioners the role of "Tantrics. Brahman suspicions of things "Tantric"are not new but rather a part of an on-going historical encounter of Hindu otherness within.espe1?Thefact that a handfulof Hindus and Episcopalianswould call themselves "Tantrika" "charor ismatic" and that this causes others who call themselves "Hindus"or "Episcopalians" become to uncomfortableis precisely the point. formulatecomplex (rather than simply reactionary)perspectives on others. perfectly commonsensical from within. "the quest for liberation is fundamentally nothing but a tapping.which they consider the godhead's most importantfeature.but to reintegrate it in one way or another within the perspective of salvation" (Padoux 1981:351). The "otherness within" the smarta brahman Tantric provides yet another example of "how cultures. The majority of these Srividyapractitionersare no more likely to relish being called "Tantrics" than most Episcopalianswould identifythemselves as charismatics who have spoken in tongues in witness of the Holy Ghost.confront (even admire) what they themselves are not" (Boon:232). nevertheless flirt with their own 'alterities.the sex doctors. and the adept's practical goal. not to sacrificethis world to deliverance. THEORETICAL PARADIGMS OF POWER AND TANTRIC AND NON-TANTRIC HINDUISMS The brahmans' description of the Tantric as obsessed with power (gakti)is one way we might cast Rajneesh.Brooks: Tantrism South India in 411 smartacommunityare deeply involved in TrantricSrividya. the underlyingessence of the created universe. or gakti. female in form. embrace negativities. To proceed with the inquirywe will need to createboth a theoreticalparadigmfor understandingthis intermingling of religious "others"and a descriptionof how incommensurate ideologies and conflicting ethical values are negotiatedwithin this distinctivesocial and religious group. in the service of deliverance. a using. . power" conceived to be divine in origin.10 Only a few virtuosi of both smartaand Tantriccanons might grudginglyagree that Srividyais part of the goddess-centeredTantric tradition."Neither Tantrictexts nor practitioners would dispute their interest is power. in Hindu Tantrism power is acquired through the effort"to place kama-desire-in everysense of the term. Consequently.
powerful people can fulfill their desires. in some sense.particularly images and sound formulae (mantra). The guru. To put it concretely. Obtaining knowledge. Ritualis the forum in which these ideological commitmentsare expressed. to have possession of ritualsthat confer divinityor createaccess to the godhead. are then rituallyidentified with one's body. All Hindu Tantrics. the Sakti throughwhich one makes power personal.this knowledge makes possible a new experience in our relations with the sacred and the universe" (Faivre:39). In principleand practice. The universe. acts afterhaving looked up [the matter]in a writtenbook without having obtained it from the guru'smouth. Since knowledge for Tantrics is a species of power.and the cosmos in toto.all of which must be transmitted througha guru and appropriated through precise ritual actions and yogic practices. it is considered dangerous in the wrong hands. to become divine.Hindu Tantrismdoes not separateideological positions about power (gakti) from the practical means by which one acquiresit. in part. The Tantraspromise the ability to control and manipulate society. as the dispenser of initiate knowledge. overpowered by greed. he also will certainly be destroyed"(Goudriaan:12). which is creation's material and efficient cause and its imminent and transcendentform. As one Tantrasays: "The fool who. In SrividyaTantrismthe adept assumes the form of the divine by in identifyingwith the godhead'smanifestations. including those theologicallycentered on masculine deities. speech.412 Journal of the American Academy of Religion cially ritual(Padoux 1981:351). and intellect. Power manifests as knowledge i(jnna). desire (iccha). One will. notice that knowledge (vidya). however. and action (kriya)are feminine by definition. nature. one need not be female to obtain it or even focus one's theologyon the goddess.necessarilyrequireaccess to the divine feminine principles. or acting powerfully is." Hindu Tantric traditions agree that obtaining power requires means that must be kept from all but the few qualifiedfor extraordinary initiation (dzksa).and that power (gakti)is likewise preeminentlymanifest in goddess images. .accordingto Hindu Tantrism. Tantrism is a classic esotericism in which the purpose of initiation "is to regenerateconsciousness through the reappropriationof primal knowledge that was lost . Access to power is restricted by encoding teachings in esoteric langauge and by binding empowerment to guru initiation. working one's will. is likewise identified as a divine embodiment and an incontrovertibleauthoritywho both interprets and stands for tradition. . In this regard. [O]nce attained. grammatically and ideologically. is nothing but power (sakti). and activity(kriya). 1Though power (gakti)is female in essence and divine in form. To be powerfulis. desire (iccha). and cosmic diagrams(yantra) which icons. .
Goudriaan.""Tantrism" an imaginarycategory of the analytic imagination is described and defined in fairly consistent terms. is enough that they call themselves or are called "Tantric. classified as "Tantrism" the associations that cause Tantricsdisrepute or render them morally suspect (e.Brooks:1990)." Tantricsmay not actuallysay or do anythingdeemed objectionable. adjective. See Goudriaan. A closer look at the texts.. conventionalTantricsoften define power in terms of controlledviolations of brahman-defined ity and view these acts as means of transcendingmundane rules that apply only to the spiritually will bear out only some of inferior."is an or.13 Tantrictexts.Tantric traditions. promotes caste mixing. Yet some choose to seek power without ideas.Laksmidharastates that "even outcastes (.sidra)"are fit for clearly in his commentaryto v.take a differentapproachand preferto remove competitionbetween disciplines. or transformoneself or others-and things taboo proves especially problematicto traditional brahmans.which sees itself as incommensuratewith Tantrism. Conservatives . In Indian languages"Tantra" used to referto sarilyused pejoratively as texts and sometimesthe phenomenon thatwestern scholarshave called "Tantrism. "Tantrika" as it appears here in the westernized spelling "Tantric. however. ideologies. however. Thus in contrast to smarta brahmanism. sustain. does not mitigate the importanceof the it perceptionof being "other.Gupta).in Brooks:Tantrism South India 413 primafacie criteria upon which to disqualify a potential initiate. For the arch-conservatives.g.12 CertainlyTantricsare not the only Hindus for whom eroticism and taboo (or exaggerated) behaviors are important for obtainingor projectingpower. of classification. such as alcohol and non-vegetarianfoods.such as Srividya.Bharati. Padoux:1981 and 1987. seeing each practicewithin its own sphere. and Brooksfor general scholarlydefinitions and methods Padoux. This fact." 13This position should be contrasted with the view of the fifteenth-century conservative Laksmidharawho is considered by these practitionerstheir standardbearer. or places women in roles of ritual virtuosity. 11 of Saundaryalahari does not mean state that Laksmidhara who would rejectthat interpretation Srividya. often adopt the more inclusive position of a dual norm in which one might be involved in both a Tantricdiscipline and other forms of religious practice. A minority the use of controversial images or convention-defying have championedso-called "righthistoricalcommentators of Srividya's that handed"practices(daksinacara) deemphasizethe erotic and antinomian elements of Tantrismwithout disavowing Tantricroots and reliance on the Tantric canon. The link between power-defined broadly as the godlike capacityto influence. Some contemporarybrahman Srividya go practitioners so far as to disavow all breachesof religiousconvention. Srividya should be dissociated from anything that questions caste hierarchies. One reason many rejectthe Tantric'squest for power is its connection with sexual imagery or relations with taboo substances. including the universal Tantric dogma that caste and gender are not is or 12AmongBengalisand certainother north Indians the term "Tantra" "Tantrika" not necesis (Padoux 1981:350.
This theological justification serves an importantfuncto tion.which promises empowermentin both material and spiritualrealms. Why did some membersof this communityembracea religiousdiscipline that in some measuresubvertsor defies their own long-establishedprerogatives in this sphere of Hindu life? We have provided at least a part of the answer already: Tantrism. The language they use to describethemselvesand their practicesis not a trivialmatter. Particularly noteworthyis Srividya'srelationshipwith the legacy of the non-dualistor advaitaVedantatheologianSafikara 750. and its traditionalposition of augmentingratherthan supplanting non-competing practices offers brahman practitionersyet another means by which to assert their religious claims of superiority from withinthe caste community. . neither are they about to flaunt their defiance of high-caste conventions.can be worth the risks it might entail.and endorsingbehaviorsthat are possible but not acceptablethreatenand deterthose who wish to retainmainstreamcaste of are identity. Brown).14 Smarta brahmans in Tamilnadu not only align to include these low-born persons (or women) within Srividyalineages comprised of twice-bor (dvija)brahmanmales.414 Journal of the American Academy of Religion While the majorityof contemporary brahmanSrividyapractitioners in south India do not accept such rigid interpretations. Tantric Srividya'simportantrole within the smartabrahman community. Khanna. Classical Hinduismhas always admittedthat human beings can achieve rareand wondrouspowers.). Even for liberal brahmans. since it permitsSrividya practitioners asserttheir differencefrom (and implicit superiorityover) other brahmanswhile affirmingthe view that nothing they do is deliberatelyanti-brahman. attributedauthorshipof several importantSrividyatexts (Brooks 1987. requires explanation. and by seeking to establish Srividyaas the secret (rahasya)meaning of the Veda (Venkataraman). despite canonical objections. C. Brahman practitioners Srividya quick to assertthat everyto thing they do is "sanctionedby Vedas" and thereforeunobjectionable the orthodox. espousing esotericism. SMARTA BRAHMANS AND SRIVIDYA TANTRICS IN SOUTH INDIA South Indian Srividyatakes on a distinctive flavor by identifying itself with Vedic teachings and mantras.E. who is (c. the term "Tantric"is more an accusation than a description. The repercussionsof rejectingsocial conventions. those texts most scholars argue to be authenticworks of the eighth-centurySafikara 14Curiously.
as one put it. and within the larger smartacommunity.such as the SaivaPasupatasand skull-bearingKapalikas(Hacker 1968-69. and maintain a full calendar of religious and social events that preoccupythem in differentroles as individuals. the interestsof these distinctiveideological and practicalnon-Tantricand Tantrictraditionsdo not alwayscoincide. which finds its primarylocus in the home at the family shrine. however.Ganesa. they enforce caste rules rigorously.15 Most of the Srividyapractitionerswith whom I had contact were from smarta families located in Madurai. Hindus. pursue either professional religious (vaidikas)or worldly (laukikas)professions. Texts believed to be authenticworks of Saiikara suggest that he was hostile to Saktasand to groups usually associatedwith Tantrism. Kamaksialso includes beforeher permanentimage inside the temple a sricakra. 15Smartas distributetheir daily worship among the five gods (pancayatana devata.i. and Srividya may not be traceable to the eighth-century Safikara.orthopraxbrahmanism. which remains under Srividya's special ritual purview.and to align itself with the communal interests of sm3rtabrahmanism(Goudriaan). In fact.Madras. Some scholars have argued forcefully that Safikarawas a Visnu worshiper (Hacker:1947). Tamil smartabrahmans.a task they delegate to others and which they consider inferior because of potential contact with impurities (Fuller). They thoughtof themselvesas traditionaland. The alliance has also furtheredthe notion that non-dualistVedanta.who holds the title "Safikaracarya. equally rigorous teetotalling. the Sanikara s Srividyahas led smarta to claim the goddess cult as their own. The Sankara matha in Kaficipurammaintains control of the goddess temple dedicated to in Kamaksi.especiallywith regardto commensality. Nonetheless. Visnu. especially in mattersof purity and pollution. hold a particularallegiance to the Sanikara traditionslocatedin the matha or holy seats in Kaicipuramand Srfigeri(Singer. For most religious and social events they chose to remain strictlywithin caste boundaries.and exhibit no interest in goddess worship or Tantra. would wish to defy publicly. Of particularimportanceto them was their strict vegetariandiet..in Brooks:Tantrism South India 415 themselves with the Sanikaratradition and imagine themselves the defenders of the Vedic traditions. the Safikaratradition from at least the tenth century seems committed to an amalgam of Sivacentered worship and Sakta Tantric Srividya. They are generallynot responsiblefor conductingtemple rituals. unlike the staunchly sectarianVaisnavabrahmans known as aiyangars. principle diagrammaticrepresentation(yantra)of the supreme Sakti.or nearby cities in Tamilnadu. While Safikara likely had importantties to Yogatraditions. We will need. marriage.and smartaTantric Srividyaare essentiallypartof a single tradition. They retain complicatedrules of kinship between sub-castes.he was certainlyno Tantrika(Hacker 1968-69). . The unambiguous identificationof the goddess Kamaksi with Srividya's grcakra reifies the theological relationshipbetween the traditionsof the Sfikara matha and the form of goddess worship. Though the connections between Safikaratraditions.familymembers. and consideredSanskritthe languagefor ritual and devotion. they pride themselveson their willingness to accept nearlythe entire pantheon of divinities. and Devi the goddess) though. Surya.and other comparableactivities. Ingalls 1954). they were literate in Tamil but only occa"forward-looking" sionally in English.to distinguishbetween theoreticaland ideological conflicts and those which become part of the community's self-consciousness. Siva. they have formeda powerfultriad of historicaland ideological connections. The head s few of each matha.a figurewho resembles the Srividyacult's goddess LalitaTripurasundari nearly every the respect. Furthis particular Tantriccult responsiblefor creatingand interpreting tradition'ssanction of ritualelements that superficiallybear the marksof Tantric ther. Though temple-goingis not requiredthere is no dearthof piety. at least in recent times.Fuller).e.smarta brahmans.
such as Kamaksi of Kaficipuramor Akhilandesvariof Trichy (Brooks 1990:99). Almost all marriages were arranged. While smartas are thought of as primarilySiva worshippers.at the transcendentor supreme (para) level.416 416 Journal the American Academy Religion of Journalof theAmencan of Academyof Religion condemnationof sexual relationsbefore or outside of marriage.and above the mantra. they thought. the consequences of which can be socially ostracizing.formed by the . would consign their sons to lives of certain poverty. They acknowledgedno other castes to be superior. These devotees tend to be focused either on local deities. Traditional views about women were also still largely endorsed even when they were not followed. Sanskrit text which smartas a often know by heart and recite before the images of their favorite goddess. They did not frequentlymix with "other"brahmansbut were willing to attend social occasions with persons of other castes providedthey were of comparableeconomic stature. Widows were not to remarry.hoping to land them seats in "preferredcourses. a similar series of identifications occurs in Kashmir (Sanderson 1987). At the level above the anthropomorphicimage in Srividya'spantheon is the supreme goddess's subtle (ssuksma) form as the mantra called the gsvidya.though few would nowadays be requiredto follow the old traditionof donning a saffronsari and shaving their hair as a penance for their husbands having predeceased them. though they were willing to concede that aiyangarand madhva Vaisnavas are also considered brahmans in Tamil country. few would wish to send a child to a traditionalschool for religious training. provided the rules of caste and sub-caste (gotra) were upheld. Local goddesses favored by brahmans might at some level be considered identical to Lalita Tripurasundari. or on Srividya'sall-embracinggoddess in triadic form. They were insistent on sending their children to secular schools and universities. the diagrammaticgrcakra. beginning with the physical (sthula) form of the benign and beneficent mother known as In either LalitaTripurasundari Rajarajesvari. though occasionally college-educatedchildren were able to impose their own choices on parents. even when they do not resembleher physicallyin (any or) everyrespect. The sricakra.many concentratetheir devotions on the goddess. This identification is reinforced by the popular recitation of Lalita's Thousand Names (Lalitasahasranama). Marryingout-of-caste is still rare." such as medicine or engineering. south India the Divine or Mother is identified with comparably benign (saumya) goddesses of temple fame. Only the poorest families or those with strong ties to particularreligious schools. such as Minaksi of Madurai.
likely the most famous visual image in all Hindu Tantrism(Goudriaan). the who is fame. 17Thedominantbranch of historicalSrividyalocates itself squarelywithin the largermovementit terms "KaulaTantrism. this dichotomous principle. how can selfrespectingorthopraxbrahmansassociatethemselveswith Tantricideol- 16Asnoted. which must Vedic and Tantrictheologies and rituals in order to compartmentalize secure co-existence." defined. In certain situations. For example.which rejected anything objectionable to traditional brahmansensibilities.one would only eschew gods to whom non-vegetarian offeringsor blood sacrificesmight be regularlymade.16 Few make a point of displaying devotion to Srividya. the vast majorityof Srividyatexts and historicalcommentatorsshamelessly advocatethe ritualsand ideologies that cause modem brahmansto despise Tantrics. Otherswere focused on regionalgods such as Murugan. shows signs of stress. rigid and haughty. For smartas there is no conflict of interest suggestedby preferring one divinityover another. Put simply. While it is true that south India also producedthe arch-conservative "right-current"(daksinacara)or Samayacara. This particulartriad of goddess manifestations. avataraof Visnu of Ramayana of particular importancein Tamilnadubut whom smartaspreferto call by Sanskritnames such as or Subrahmanya Shanmugam. however. distinguishing themselves from Visnucentered brahmans. . Most contemporaryritual handbooks (paddhati)-nearly all of which were compiled by smartabrahmans-mention the use of the five m's and other anti-brahmanical elements as a matterof course ("Anna"). In fact. by their perceptionof other Tamil brahmans. preoccupy Srividyatexts and define the more limited scope of the cult's ritual interests. severalsmartafamilies with whom I was well-acquaintedwere ardent devotees of Rama. Milton Singer in his extensive and important study of urban Madrassmartas. and especially the srfcakra image. which convention-defying mended for literalritualpractice."which it identifies not as a particularcanon of texts but in more general behaviorsare recomin terms as the so-called "left-current" (vamacara). most smarta preferto adorn their foreheadswith holy ash (vibhuti)sigpractitioners nifying their devotion to Siva. Tamil smartaspride themselves on their religious "liberality. With only a few exceptions. For example.most contemporary practitionersseek ways to distributeauthorsuch that the two traditions are seen as part of a seamless whole. never mentions the Safikaratradition's relationship with goddess worship or Srividya'striadic conception of divinityand its place in the ritualtradition(Singer).these texts and commentatorsare not the most importantor influential among contemporarysmarta Srividyaadepts. as Goudriaanhas said. One would not necessarily know from simple observation that Srividyais a significantpart of the ritual and theological lives of Tamil smartas. as it were.17When prescriptive conflicts between brahmanical and Tantric obligations or teachings appear.particularly as aiyangars. ity This applicationof the dual norm is hardlyinnovative(Goudriaan).in Brooks: Tantrism South India 417 intersectionof nine trianglessurroundedby lotus petals and lines is.
A more compelling case is offeredby contemporary in south India whose words and deeds can be compared. For example. including several importanttranslationsand commentaries. Rather. embracing norm characterized its otherness within. Cidananda'seffortshave served a particularly importantpurpose: . With Cidananda'spassing in the early 1970s. Cidananda'senduring influence stems from the large number of publicationshis group sponsored during his lifetime. including the Sanskritoriginals.often substipractitionersas authoritative for the primaryworks on which they are based. While publication of secret (rahasya)texts is itself a curious occupationfor a Tantriclineage. whose given name was Subrahmanya Aiyar. He was a Tamil aiyar smarta brahman who enjoyed an unblemished reputationin the communityof the orthopaxas a learnedauthorityon Vedic and Srividya rites.there is a single. by Historicaltexts and reportsare inconclusiveinasmuch as it is impossible to know if textual prescriptionsand endorsementswere actually practicedand what impact these might have had on the brahmancombrahmans munity. This is not surprisingconsideringthat most practitionersuse Sanskritonly for ritualpurposes and have limited comprehension of complex commentarial traditions of discourse. Cidananda himself saw it as an act of devotion performedin honor of his own learned teacher. CIDANANDA MANDALI'S ANNUAL PUJA IN MADRAS The Cidananda Mandalior "Circleof Cidananda"is a Srividyalinecenteredin Madrasthat claims descent from a well-known Srividya age guru whose initiate name (dzksanama)was Cidanandanatha. Cidananda.lived and worked in Madrasduring the first half of the twentieth century. Contemporary practitionersacknowledge that their limited abilities in Sanskrithave deprivedthem of furtheraccess to canonicallearning. Cidananda's works are continually referred to by contemporary sources of Srividyatradition.418 Journalof the American Academyof Religion ogies and ritual practices that would cause them to violate their most cherishedcommunalprinciples of ethical behaviorand religiouspropriety? As I will show. his followerstook up his mission and now constituteone of the most active and importantforces in south Indian Srividya. tuting Cidananda'spartial translationand commentaryin Tamil of the thirteenth centuryKamakalavilasa Punyanandaand the influentialSecret of of Worship(Varivasyarahasya) the eighteenth-centuryBhaskararaya by have become so popular that one hardly sees other editions. there is no dual norm in practice that asserts the viability of two distinct traditions. For them.
also known as K.fish (matsya). however. especially the worship of the srfcakra ence" (mantrasastra). Cidananda endorsed the Tantric notion that women and 18Thefamous controversybetween the nineteenth-century commentatorRamesvaraSfri and his predecessor Umanandanathaover the right to represent the interpretationsof the authoritative offers an importanthistoricalexample. especially those near large Siva/goddess temples in Tamilnadu.his disciples have not been so unified. See Brooks 1987 and 1992 for details of the Bhaskararaya dispute. Cidananda's mark on twentieth-century Srividya in Tamilnadu seems secure.Srividyapractitioners knew his work and praisedhis effortseven when they did not descend throughhis lineage or necessarilyagree with his interpretations. He strenuouslyupheld three principlesto which most smarta would object. and between literal and symbolic forms of ritual action. fermented grain (mudra). 19Padmananda.Brooks: Tantrism in South India 419 difficult and often-mentionedinterpretiveworks are now accessible in vernaculartranslations. remaincrucialvariablesin the potentiallyvolatile mix of Tantric Srividyaand smartabrahmanism. A number of individuals and groups claim to representhis interests. the difference between saying and doing.19 In his writings Cidanandamakes clear his preferencefor the most convention-defying practicesof TantricSrividya.Cidananda'sis noteworthyfor its ubiquityin common book stalls. Second.18The majorityof this particulargroup. Such competing claims are hardly new in the history of south Indian Srividya.While other lineages and gurus have undertaken similar projects. such as milk mixed with honey in place of wine and a symbolic form of sexual intercourse. "five m's"-meat (ma. Ramamurti. . His disciples have s been left to explain these seemingly anti-brahmanical endorsements.whereverI travelled. wine (madya). Cidanandaopenly espoused the literalpracticeof the so-called First. each assertingthat they received the guru's empowering blessing (saktipada).In more recent times. and sexual intercourse(maithuna)-as part of Srividya rituals. Cidanandamade availablea series of ritual handbooks (paddhati)offeringpracticalinstructionin Srividya and "relatedmantrasciworship.an elderly smartafrom Madraswho was a direct disciple.msa). however. seem to agree that Cidananda's legacy has fallen into the hands of one Padmananda. died in 1988. In addition. As we shall see in the evidence of Cidananda'scontemporarydisciples. Rumors abound over whether he literally employed the "five m's" or adopted the more amicable solution of using "harmless"ritual substitutes(pratinidhi).
In the practicalmeeting of these traditionsthe Tantricritual does not become a force for religious across caste and gender lines.Cidananda arguedthat externalritualacts provide examples of commitment that influence others and remain crucial to the maintenance of one's own discipline. ritual cannot be reduced to purely contemplative acts performedwith imaginaryelements.but neithercan it sublatethe powerfulsocial forces that bind the textualand social communityof Tamil brahmans. as Krsna says in the Bhagavadgrta. continue to act as the act so that we do not create a poor example. physical elements and actions should remain present even as they become more significantsymbolicallyand "internally. This position providedcover for those who endorse texts prescribingthe use of convention-defyingelements or who wish to remain 20Theritualdistinctionis known technicallyas external(bahir)and internal (antaryaga). Unlike conservative"right-handed" to the segment of Srividyathat maintainsthat ritualmust retainexternal components. and have close contact at religious as well as social events. but rathera unity or social egalitarianism force for furtherarticulationof caste bias and a means of mobilizing smartasocial and political identity. In other words. Tantricideology is not ignored. Rather. Once again. the eighteenth-centuryintellectual Bhaskararaya. "In Srividyait is relativelyeasy to obtain powers (siddhi)."Likehis importantintellectual predecessor. The potential exposure to impurityseems dangerousto most smdrtas. but it is easy to fall without diligent practice.who would especially eschew the sharing of cooked foods with non-brahmansor the risk of coming into contact with women who do not observe the rules involving states of temporary impurity. such as menstruation.21 ignorant Cidanandaalso held the not uncommon view that ritual practices should remainsecret (rahasya)and thereforemust be conductedin total privacy. While this might not seem particularly problematic.The socalled Samayatraditionadvocatesthe complete abdicationof externalrites in favorof mental contemplation.such initiationswould requirebrahmans and non-brahmansto conduct rituals together. Cidananda'sthird Tantric principle takes us directly to our case Tantrics.including outcastes and "barbarian" .share in food offerings. non-Indians non-brahmans.420 Journalof Academyof Religion Journalof the American Academyof Religion (mleccha) could qualify for Srividyainitiation provided they met the stringentspiritual requirementsof the tradition. We should.20As one adept put it. Tantric and smarta communityvalues require negotiation on the part of those who would affirmboth.Cidanandabelongs study. See Brooks 1992 and Khannafor details. 21 This position is endorsed by no less a canonical authoritythan Bhaskararaya.
as a merely symbolize transgressionof conventionality. as Jack Goody has shown in his studies of Africanand other societies. preferstangibleand this-worldlyevidence to validate experience.it agrees with the general tendency among Tantrics to take a dim view of the use of ritual substitutes(pratinidhi) that Tantricritual. However. With the advent of print technology and the introductionof formal manuTantrismhas been radscriptlibraries.Brooks: Tantrism South India in 421 anonymous. While it seems clearthat traditionalists understood that their written works would reach beyond the circle of initiates.24 Such public activities are usually explained within lineages as an extension of the mandate to provide an example for others and as a means by which to extend the grace of the goddess to which Srividya adepts claim privilegedaccess." The notion of performingrituals for the sake of others and inviting 22Cf. Cidananda's publishing activities and his disciples' initiative to organize semi-public ritual events have taken the notion of obligatory externalrites in a new direction.22 means of obtainingTantricpower. These projects have into public effectivelyturnedindividualsand groupsinvolvedin Srividya institutions. Srividyahas taken on an increasinglypublic image with a numberof individualsand groups sponsoringpublic rituals.Bhaskararaya's remarksin his commentaryon Tnpuropanisad. Cidananda'sdisciples. Padmananda made a point of sayingthat such public effortswere partof Srividya's self-conferred privilege as the goddess' chosen elite to empowerothers "to the limit of their abilities.are awarethat Tantrictexts never suggest or endorse teaching those beyond initiated ranks. and undertakinglarger educational projectsincluding lineage events and government-registered societies. Bookswrittenby other lineage adeptswho make explicit their effortsto evangelizethe traditionnow complement the shelves of south India book shops that carry Cidananda'sworks. Further. especially under the recent leadershipof Padmananda. 24Among Tamil smartas such projects usually come with the explicit blessing of one of the Safikara pithas. It is for the sake of the world that we were given this great and powerfuldiscipline (sadhana ). such materialswere still kept largely in privatehands. 23Thissituationis not unique either to SrividyaTantrismor to India.the complexion of contemporary ically changed.publishing "souvenir"pamphletspaid for by commercialadvertisersand well-wishers. .23 Since Cidananda's efforts began in the early 1930s. "Do you think I do this for my own benefit? No." He went on to say.
To celebratethe life and work of Cidananda. he responded by saying that most persons. was the true meaning of actingfor the world's welfare.or leave certaincontroversial In practice this meant that Padmanandadid not go out of his way to describe everythingthat might be performedin a public forum. Padmananda said."he said." After months of preparation. including the ritualists themselves.Padmananda wanted to assure me that no one in the Mandali was "as yet qualified"to employ the convention-defyingelements of a full-fledged Tantricritual.suvasini). as all the scripturesenjoined. Padmanandaraised none of these ritual or ideological issues. using rituallanguage. In his public comments to the gatheredassembly of initiates and non-initiates.where it is the brahman'sduty (dharma)to performimportant ritualsfor others. First.422 Journalof the American Academyof Religion others to have some type of participationhas clear precedentsin smarta tradition. This method. When I asked Padmananda about the fact that his ritualtexts made clear mention of offerings and acts that many would find offensive. make them inaccessible to those without initiate knowledge by mattersunexplained. In fact. "appropriate ritual substitutes" are regularly employed. in January 1985. The strategyof omission played a crucial role for Padmanandain his dealings with the non-initiatesmartacommunity. key what they termed"the annualworship (pujaj) the guru and auspicious of women (sumangali. thus offendingno one by the overt practiceof behaviorsdisapproved by the larger brahman community. which included canvassingthe smartacommunityin Madrasfor donations. . Padmanandaaffirmed the importance of keeping "the great work of Cidanandafresh in our hearts and minds. were not fluent enough in Sanskritto know such things were included.thoughlearnedmemberswere quite awareof Cidananda's unambiguous endorsement of these "Tantric practices. "Only if we were to do these things would there be a problem. When confrontedwith the seeming incompatibilityof injunctionsthat demand both action for the sake of the world (lokasamgraha) and the maintenanceof secrecy. The lineage's public rituals would keep "secret"elements concealed.the membersof the lineage and their partnersgatheredin a rentedhall with some 1200-1300 guests in attendance. both injunctionscould be fulfilled simultaneously. others did not see the mere mention such things within the strictconfines of ritualas of problematic." Privately. he insisted. Padmanandastated that he saw no such conflict." Instead.Padmananda and other members of the Cidananda Mandali organized. in the lattercase carefullytailoring his comments to his smartabrahman-onlyaudience. Before the event Padmananda spoke both privatelyto me and publicly.
The ritual'sexpense and the energies requiredto bring the community togetherwere part of the Mandali'sfutureequity. Seen in this light. did not always please everyone involved. This policy. Rather. not an irrational expression of faith by a desperateand failing community. was not a means of breakingthroughor breakingdown caste boundaries. By publishing inexpensive devotionalpamphlets in Tamil and Sanskritand by sponsoring events such as the Guru Puja. Smartas in Tamilnaduare quick to point out that governmentpolicies of "reservation"-the Indian equivalentof "affirmative action"-are designed to privilegemembersof other castes in both s public and privatesectors. particularly however. provided one took care to distinguish what is said from what is prescribed as an obligatory ritual action (nityakarma). the community's Mandali directed its public efforts towards identifying this elaborate series of Srividyarituals as a smarta community event in which the 25I am indebted to William S.25Thus. and blessings." These social and materialinvestmentsare made to secure futuredividendsthroughhighly chargedpolitical acts. Sax for crystallizingthis idea. Padmananda simply said that the times demanded "these accommodations. the ritual and liturgicalworld of Tantricmantraswas not meant to threatentheirbrahman social world. as Padmanandasaw it.if the ritualsare to be done at all. Urbanmiddle-classsmarta seem well aware that the privilege and power they once wielded in the extended Hindu communityhas dwindled.which had a deep interestin religious works and events. Srividya'sTantric ritual. When I pressed him about the absence of non-brahmansand the failure to fulfill his own guru's ritual injunctions (vidhi)." Padmananda's second stated objective was that Cidananda Mandali'sactivitiesshould benefit the smartacommunity. the Mandali'swork createdwhat PierreBourdieu(1977) has called "symboliccapital. a point Singernoted nearly twenty years ago (Singer). the drama of ritual becomes a particularly effectivemeans by which to define the internal dynamics and its power structures. Padmanandasaw himself in the role of caste communityservant. .Brooks: Tantrism South India in 423 To Padmanandaand his fellow Mandali members. including Padmananda. What is the greatergood? That is how we decide. Padmananda wanted nothing to do with "scandalousbehavior"and was awareof the need not to offend his benefactors. was a traditionaroundwhich the communitycould reaffirmits Srividya position of religiousleadershipand gain access to divine power (sakti).
When asked if my own presence at the event would cause a problem. and had been introducedto me by an acquaintanceas "a great Srividyaauthority. This endorsement not only broughtlegitimacyto the event for brahmanswho had not heard of the group.They would know quite well. of course. Padmananda was never worried about the possibility that nonbrahmansmight wish to attend.so long as one demanded no special privilege nor sought too much intimacy. he said.424 Journalof the American Academyof Religion Mandalicould assume a preeminentleadershiprole. or have it made known to them.26 I "was not like other foreigners. the ritual did indeed create symbolic capital: Mandalimembersgained prestigeand power by their religiousvirtuosity. The Safikara centers are well-known for their public advocacy of non-caste-based religion but privately for their brahman biases.but he had also seen me only in traditionalTamil dress. To keep the focus on smartacommunityinterests. money. it encoded the message that non-brahmans need not take an interest. Padmanandaalso made it clear that he did not personally wish to exclude non-brahmans from attending the event but that its success would depend on remainingsensitive to the smartacommunity'scaste feelings. speaking in Tamil. For those left in the dark about Srividya'sTantricheritage." ." The advertisementsalso mentioned the of a blessings of the Sanikaracarya Kaficipuram." Apparentlyamong certaincaste-conscioussmarta some wess. and "well-wishers. Without smarta financial support there would be no Guru Puja. this prospect was unthinkable since it would be a dishonor to had 26Padmananda been told about my researchand intentionsto publish my findings. terers were beyond the immediatepale of caste considerations.Padmananda made a point of requesting that I not mention any association between Srividyaand the Tantrics when interviewingany of the Guru Puija's attendees. Financing for the Guru Puja came largely from small contributions received from families who planned to attend. he responded by saying that Srividyadoes not disqualifypersons from participationon the basis of caste or gender-a curious position given his sense that "castefeelings" among sponsors had determinedin advance that non-brahmanswould not be welcome. and non-brahmanswould not respond to the advertisements. that this was strictlya smartaaffair." When I asked what this meant aside from my being an initiate. Advertisementswere placed in both English and Tamil newspapers soliciting attendance. he said being a foreigner was "not the same as being Indian. religious leader held in considerable esteem by Tamil smartas. Therewould be no non-brahmanswith the exception of me.
at the same time. Padmananda's third reason for organizingthe annual Mandalievent was that it provided a "grand day for ladies.all in the ritual demonstratedhow "Srividya ing are equal. Tantric principles of non-gender discrimination." (Viewed in the context of a conversationabout "caste feelway of assertinghis own liberalings." he said. "but we are not inviting them. In contrast. Informants who knew Padmananda brahmans) were well said that he was not known to socialize with non-brahmansand that they knew of no non-brahmaninitiatesin the lineage of Cidananda. never said it was wrong for brahmaninitiates alone to worship together. While Padmananda's place observationwas undoubtedlytrue.in Brooks: Tantrism South India 425 memory of the lineage's teacher. that is. Further.Most husbands did not attend. though there were apparentlyno explicit gender restrictions. it is fair to say that the day's events were hardly a celebration of Hindu women's religious rights or their individual or group autonomy. who were themselves auspicious reflectionsof the goddess LalitaTripurasundari. and only smarta (and other in attendance. especially married women whose husbands were living.the women were waited upon obsequiouslyby unmarriedand mostly prepubescent girls (usually daughters and friends' daughters) who functioned as the living goddess' attendants." since the worship of would be largely performed by and Srividya'sLalita Tripurasundari directed towards the women in attendance.he reminded me. Men in attendancehad very limited roles to play since they were neither active ritual participantsnor the objects of ritual worship. he Srividya's to respondeddefensivelythat Hindu ritualsdid not have to be "Tantric" women in roles ordinarilyreservedfor men. The costs of inviting nonbrahmans. female Mandalimembers. He was at pains to state his own private position that welcomed non-brahmans into Srividyawhile. or s were planning to make donations. the day's rituals were meant .as he saw it. Rather. On the day of the Mandali'sGuruPuja. were simply too high. Padmananda made a point of saying that the role women were playdoes not discriminate.Srividya.only those who had made." this seemed to be Padmananda's role When I asked him if this extraordinary for women was due to ity). he remained politically savvy in his dealings with his natural constituency. The GuruPujawas understoodprimarilyas a community event for women (organized by men). During the event Padmananda acted as a masterof ceremoniesbut did not interferein the course which were entirelyunder the directionof senior of ritualperformances. "We are not excluding them." My questions about Srividya'sTantricideals and the social realities of smarta society clearly made Padmanandauncomfortable.
a well-known and respectedwoman whose daughtersand grand-daughters were in attendance.] the ThousandNames of Lalita(Lalitasahasranama).gold. fluent in Srividya's mantras and worship and considered beyond reproach in her ability to perform the rituals correctly.preferringto sit at a distance from the altar in groups gossiping. They provided money and theirconsent. The scene resembled an Indian wedding. Our husbandssupportus. the center of attentionbeing a picture of the goddess Lalita Tripurasundari "Queen of Kings" (Rajarajesvari) before as and her a three-dimensional. Noneof us wouldcomewithout helpedorganize to These[rituals activities] not thingswe arenot permitted do.the overwhelmingmajorityof attendees were not the slightestbit interestedin "the religious"rituals. Laksmiwas consideredespecially auspiciousfor having had severalsons. NeitherPadmananda the women conductingthe rituals nor were fazed by this behavior. [that in childbearing or mothers withlivinghusbands] pure[that and is. When I asked her why men were not involved in performingthe ritualand why few men had come to witness the day's events. and otherthingsare the grace(prasada) the of goddessand the guru.the guruwas more a host than an object of worship. Lalita whose presence was noted in severalways and in differTripurasundari. She was also an accomplishedritualist dren. (arcaka). the giftsof saris. His chief guest was the goddess herself. Presidingover the ritual worship of these objects was Laksmi. ent degrees of embodiment. . grandchilhusband. and a surviving. she said: womenhereknowthe ritualandothersknow[devotional chants Many and/or songs such as. She described the day's events this way: We worship goddess thegurutodayandworship thewomen the and all here (suvasina) as formsof the goddess.the ideal of the obedient wife and dutiful mother who embodies conservative social values. On a platformof the rented hall. years All not temporarily suchas theymightbe whenmenstruating]. all this. and Not surprisingly. and enjoying themselves. in which only priests and the immediatefamily of the unfortunate bride . Though the event was a Guru Puja and included rituals directed towardsthe framedpictureof Cidananda. laughing. impure.426 Journalof the American Academyof Religion of largelyas an affirmation the traditionalrole of the sumatgalz.All hereareauspicious is. couldnot be thatwithoutourhusbands children. an alter of icons and images had been established.metal sricakra. and are Thisis a celebration ourbeingauspicious We of women(sumangali'). .
"the ritualmeal. Food had been prepared and supervisedby brahmancatererswell-known in Madrasfor their work at smartabrahman weddings. however. This was a day to wear one's finest sari. and concluded formally at nearly 4 p. culminated in a meal. in effect. "edible grace. The goddess shares her blessings. Served as prasada or. in fact. These women. claimed to be initiates into the most coveted of Srividyamantras and secrets." Padmanandaexplained in a written pamphlet that the goddess was presentboth in her images and in 788 specially designatedwomen who were her embodiments. One senior Mandali member put it this way: "We do not try to make others think or do as we do.. That is no matter.m. all women being worshipedwere marriedmotherswith living husbands who lived righteous in the law (dharma). as William Sax has called it. Mandalimembers resisted imposing their own religious sentimentswhich they said were the compelling reasons to go to such expense and to make such efforts. was a matterto which all paid great attention. Few understandthe ritualsor what we say. Sixteen women were singled out as the primaryattendantdeities of the supreme goddess who presided over the srzcakra. The female children of the women would be conferredthe status of the great goddess's minor attendants. and to enjoy the auspiciouspresence of the divine. the place of worship was now the very form of the goddess. though not all were members of CidanandaMandali. Severalwere not adept in Srividyarituals but ratherhad limited mantra-only initiations. unlike most of the other events of the day. to meet with friendsand make new ones. transformedby the goddess and through her ritual worship into a snrcakra. The goddess was. we were told. had itself been srncakra.These sixteen were seated at the edge of a chalk-drawntrianglesymbolic of the triangleat the center of the multi-triangular The hall. Activities.Brooks: Tantrism South India in 427 and groom are compelled to attend to the rigors of the ritual. Everyonehere is treatedlike a guest. While some effort was made to explain the symbolism of the Srividyarituals and the ostensible meaning of the gatheringin short speeches from the platform. Like the fecund goddess. worshiping herself.m. In other words. the women worshiping and being worshiped were none other than the deities presidingwithin the greatgoddess's transcendent form (pararuipa). came from families patronizingthe day's events. Padmanandastated that the sixteen women singled out for special treatmentwere chosen because they were Srividyainitiates. The hall was . most participantswith whom I spoke were not particularly interestedin these matters. All were close family friends or relativesof Padmanandaand other key Mandalimembers and all.which began at about 9 a.
People began taking their leave afterhaving individuallyfinished eating. Put differently. In the process of creatingits others. though this invariablyrequiresa "distortion" both brahof man and Tantrictraditionsand a renaming the "Tantric" "Vedic. Tantric Srividya notwithstanding."by which these smarta mean their own version of brahmanism. in whole or in part. No one would have consideredit appropriate leave before the meal or without their ritualmementos." they imagine no possible situationin which that tradition(or the. AmongsmartaSrividyaadepts in contemporary there are few doubts about communal loyalties and priorities.everythingthat might be called "Tantric" about this particular goddess worship has instead been treated as if it were brahmanic. and a piece of itself with itself. it is necessary for these practitionersto fulfill the requirements of a "double distortion.could not possibly gain s from association with anything "Tantric.canon) could be sublated or rejected. Thus." of as That which is "Tantric" affirmedas Not-Us throughthe practiceof a is Tantricritual ratherthan by explicit statementsof rejectionor even by mention of the term. a society typicallyconfuses some part of its neighborwith its neighbor. I will limit remarksto the ways in which the situations and ideologies can offer insight into a particular kind of Hindu otherness. children. As a social group partiallyconceived in terms of "Vedic textual authority. each with a stack of mementos. TANTRIC AND VEDIC NORMS: INTERPRETING HINDU OTHERNESS Much more could be said about CidanandaMandali'swork and the events of the Guru Puja in 1985. an otherness that works within a community that had adoptedtwo distinctiveand sometimes conflictingsets of viewpoints."Tantric" would be used to referonly to a tradition that is thought to be anti-brahman.all were served a sumptuous.and a few men.they never fail to act from withintheirsmartabrahman world view.428 Journalof the American Academyof Religion lined with rows of women." Tantric Srividya must be reinterpretedas the quintessential expression of the Vedas-a point ." The "Vedic tradition.strictlyvegetariansouth Indian meal on fresh banana-leaf plates in the manner of a typical wedding to party. it construeseach in terms of the others (Green:50). and textual authorities. In orderto maintainany semblanceof a dual norm by which Tantric and brahmantraditionsare kept apartand therebypermitteda peaceful coexistence. a theoryof the other "involves a double metonymy and a double distortion" south India (Green:50). customs.
it appears they succeeded in differentiating themselves in ways sufficient to advance their personal (and group) standing within the brahman community. in fact. It is one thing to declare as "other" someone who is outside the textual community to begin with. In other words. In short. if any.in Brooks: Tantrism South India 429 made ad nauseamby its commentarialapologists. While Tantrismhad been expunged. Potential threats or conflicts between Tantric and brahman traditions are addressednot necessarilyby talking about them in public (or even in private).none of these criticswere anxious to assume tht title "Tantric. Padmanandaand others within his group knew what to do. ?" is placed within a larger "experimentof intellect and emotion that explores a most dangerous. . how to do it.Srividya had fulfilled one of its primaryclaims: it had become a vehicle for obtainingworldly power and social prestige. Fieldworkevidence suggests that the "dual norm" in which Vedic and Tantricauthoritiesare supposed to operatein separatespheres is. In fact.reduces its stature. the experimentwith the "otherwithin us" rendersthat which is truly"other"eithergenuinelyexotic.invested. Though some Srividyaadepts beyond the confines of this group stated privatelythat the CidanandaMandalihad missed an opportunity to affirmTantricideals because of their preoccupationwith caste considerations." In the example of Cidananda'sGuru Puja.worshiping the goddess as Power-had worked its magic. destructive circumstance and renders it nugatory" (Green:69). and therefore uninteresting. they had performedthe necessary experiments and acted out those parts that would secure their stature from within the community'sboundaries. and destroys it as the community'scenter (Green:68). To do so makes the text a victim of subjectivity. the Tantriccanon will play in defining tradition. There are still Tantricsout there.become Vedic by partiallydisowning and parthe tially reappropriating languageof the Tantras.but ratherby acting. Tantric canonical injunctions to defy Vedic standardsare not simply dismissed. and were preparedto reap profitsfrom their symbolic capital.it was a consequencethat few would have preferredto be without.or no longer a threat. Viewed from within the context of their local religioussituation. Saktism. a single sphere in which brahmancommunityprecedentsestablish what role.dissociatingSrividya's . but they are Not-Us. They had created. .the issue of "what would happen if . and why it had to be done one way rather than another. Rather.having always been brahmanproperty. The Tantrasof Srividya. It is quite something else to declare that one who has had the text from the beginning can be on the outside. While this may not have been a stated objective.
they did not necessarilyassume. Put differently. let us not forget that most men chose not to attend and gave permission for their wives to participate."Of particular significanceis the primaryrole women played as the ritualprotagonistsand as those who were expected to benefit most from the event. In the Guru Piija of the CidanandaMandalimost of the potentially dangerousand objectionableTantricelements of Srividyawere comfortably manipulated or left unmentioned. that ritualswere Vedic or Tantric.e. Lest we make too much of this apparentliberation of women in brahmanrituallife.it had successfullyrepressedthe dangersof flirtingwith the community's religious and social alteritieswhile appropriatingits primary objective: an associationwith divine power (akti ). for these men.430 Journalof the American Academyof Religion goddess worship from things called "Tantric"created anothermens by which smarta could assert and reclaim diminished religious and social s from within their own ranks.27 With the increasing role urban middle-class. Persons of both genders were self-consciously aware that women would not play such roles in Vedic rituals. gious perceptionthat ties these images to displaysof power-whether or not the images are canonically rooted in Tantrism.the event prescriptions reaffirmedcommunity social and political relations in the absenceof a consensus aboutits religious (Lukes). were far greaterthan allowing them to assume these ritual roles. the Tantricprovision permittingwomen roles denied them in Vedic texts seemed also to express a recent social and culturalpossibility. When I mentioned to some privatelyafter the event that it was not a Vedic but a Tantric provision that made this role for women possible. Were the ritualssmartaratherthan Tantric.it articulated ritual actions an importantbut subtle shift in roles high-caste women have begun to play in religion and the work place. The consequences of denying their womenfolk this opportunity to gather. as proxy sacrificers(yajamana). This event set no radical in precedentfor ritualsor roles beyond itself.. such as the allows it to appropriatea common south Indian Hindu relisrfcakra. politely rejected)or I was corrected: it was a provision made possible by the goddess or by Srividya. an innocent social event that happened to be religious. Nonetheless. Rather. Rather. especially under these religious auspices.the ritual's principles with little referenceto its troublesomeTantric work was accomplished canon. Srividya'sspecial association privilege with goddess worship and its use of popular ritual icons. high-caste Indian women play in the work place and their growing sense of entitlementto the fruits of their labors.that is. It was. the smartacommunity. the remarkwas either ignored (i. Theological issues and ritual were not mattersof discussion or debate. the provision for women to assume such roles with the tacit approvalof the larger other facets of Srividya'sTantricheritagecontributedto the event's success within 27Importantly. . however.though none would have wished to have these called "Tantric.women would not have functionedeither as priests or primarybenefactors.
Why would a person who holds a standingin the brahmancommunity comparable to Cidananda's risk the opprobrium of the very people whose favor is sought and in whose service he or she claims to be? The answeris not a simple compartmentalization Vedic and Tanof tric norms. at least as far as Cidananda himself was concerned. however. Cidanandaand his disciples provide the case in point. condones wine drinkingin ritual but condemns it outside. they did render intelligible the roles being played by different members of smarta society and legitimized new roles for others. would condemn all such behavior. Canonical Tantric ritual. in ritual or non-ritual contexts. The ritual itself provided a positive cognitiverole for the communityby renderingpossible a newly articulatedsociety in which roles were changing and traditions were being both preservedand modernized. While smdrtas are apparently willing to extend themselves into non-smdrtasources to authorizea socially condoned activity. The problem of the smarta Srividyatext or adept insisting on the performancesof the most anti-brahmanicalTantric ritual injunctions still remains. That certainbehaviorsare prescribedor admittedas possible is not the same as performingwhat is plausible. it manifested itself as a distinction between private thoughts and behaviors and public statementsand actions. In other words. Smartas. If the dual norm setting off brahmanicaland Tantricdisciplines was present in this event. for example. Though these Tantricrites did not reorder religious hierarchies.they remain collectivelyaware of precisely which values and behaviors are acceptable.Brooks: Tantrism South India in 431 smSrta community suggests a willingness to reach beyond the Vedic canon for authorizationof behaviors that none within the Vedic community find objectionable. Nor is it simply that most Tantricinitiates and non-initiates are too unfamiliarwith Sanskritto know that such taboo behaviors are textually enjoined. Such prescriptions kept within the strictconfines of ritualare theoreticallypermissible. The individual consciences of Srividya adepts in attendanceat the CidanandaGuruPujagave way to the larger social expectationsof the communitywhose approvalthey sought.makes no provisionfor the suspension of injunctionsfor the performanceof public ritual acts that are ordinarily carriedout in private. This would suggest consistent principledaction that refuses compromiseand feels no compulsion to concede to social pressuresand communal politics.this is precisely the Tantricposition which. The encounterwith the "other"demandsprincipledchoices and the creationof an implicit set of criteriathat determinewhat is and is not to be done. the ritual .
must be kept entirelyprivate. Neither Cidanandanor his disciples would defend or evangelizeTantric values in speech or acts that non-initiates might understand. CanonicalTantricwriters. Were a brahman practitionerof Srividya'sTantric ritualsfound out to be "corrupting" women. community condemnationwould certainly ing follow. The possibilityof defying conventional religious and social codes. . and feaston non-vegetarianfood.like the ritualperformedby the Mandali. This is someexperience times accomplished by ritual performancesor. nowadays. There must be some expression that places the canon in the domain of non-initiates. requiresthat one keep open the possibility of socially prohibitedbehaviorswhich.using canonicalwritingwas a safe and legitimatemedium through which to express and acquire power which. Power does not on displays of knowledge which others do not have. so powerful in fact that he (or she) can defy in words the normativevalues of the caste community. Tantric power begins with the perception that one is religiouslysanctified. To express power.the adept must create an of power which can be confirmedby others.to all who see them.432 Journalof the American Academyof Religion made possible certainroles and behaviorsthat would. In contrast." the possibility of which is renderednugatory. in these particular Tantricterms. by definition. to be pillars of community rectitude. even if it requiresa double distortion. drinkingliquor.could not rely for its power by being completely concealed. can be just as powerful as breaking them."albeit one that leaves nothing to chance. as their canon and ritualsprofess. by publications.like contemporary ritualists. Further. if at theyare performed all. But flirting with taboos in ritual language is not the same as being "caughtin the act.the author or ritualistwho uses the text gains notoriety even when others do not realize they could not do likewise without endangeringtheir social standing. but depend merely also on the self-perceptionof the Tantricthat he or she might possibly do what others would not dare to propose.make themselves well-known and respectedthroughintellectualprowess and ritual literacy. The fact that Srividyainitiates find it necessaryand possible to conceal or obfuscatetheir Tantricheritagefrom the largercaste community may seem a dramatic compromise of their own ideology of power. An adept's flirtationswith alterityserve only to increase the perception of the individual as powerful. Such writing.the adepts appear. is taboo.not transferto other settings. in other media. South Indian brahmanSrividyaadepts flirt with their alteritynot to countercompetingclaims of power made within their communitybut to createan experienceof power and of "risk.
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