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Among the many spiritual traditions born and developed in India, Tantra has been the most difficult to define. Almost everything about it--its major characteristics, its sources, its relationships to other religions, even its practices--are debated among scholars. In addition, Tantrism is not confined to any particular religion, but is a set of beliefs and practices that appears in a variety of religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism. This book explores one of the most controversial aspects of Tantra, its sources or roots, specifically in regard to Hinduism. The essays focus on the history and development of Tantra, the art history and archaeology of Tantra, the Vedas and Tantra, and texts and Tantra. Using various disciplinary and methodological approaches, from history to art history and religious studies to textual studies, scholars provide both broad overviews of the beginnings of Tantra and detailed analyses of specific texts, authors, art works, and rituals.
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Collective works of this kind are notoriously difficult to summarize and assess. Here, the authors, scholars across various fields, attempt to deal with different aspects of the origins of Tantra as a movement in the ancient Indian subcontinent. Perhaps most interesting are M.C. Joshi's essay, "Historical and Iconographic Aspects of Sakta Tantrism," Thomas McEvilley's "The Spinal Serpent," and editor Harper's "Warring Saktis." Like the contributors, this reviewer flinches from the task of defining Tantrism. Suffice it to say that this volume is a savory and well-illustrated collection on certain aspects of religion in the Indian subcontinent. Highly recommended.About the Author:
Katherine Anne Harper is Associate Professor of Art History at Loyola Marymount University and the author of The Iconography of the Saptamatrikas: Seven Hindu Goddesses of Spiritual Transformation.
Robert L. Brown is Professor of Art History at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Curator of Southeast Asian Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He is the author of The Dvaravati Wheels of the Law and the Indianization of South East Asia, and editor of Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God, also published by SUNY Press, and Art from Thailand.
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