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Lecture by Eric Steinschneider ( University of Toronto, Canada)
18 AUGUST 11
by Eric Steinschneider, University of Toronto, Canada
"Taming the Tantras: The Order of Texts in Early 18th Century Śrīvidyā"
The seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries witnessed a neo-Vedic "revival" of the ancient, and no longer relevant, varṇāśramadharma. At the theological level, this development prompted the reevaluation of the tantras, the basic texts of contemporary religious life, whose esoteric, un-systematized and often mutually contradictory character ran counter to the new preference for totalizing prescriptions of proper brahmanical behavior. This lecture will examine how the tantras were reinterpreted in light of this new model of Vedic dharma in the writings of Bhāskararāya, an early 18th c. Maharashtrian intellectual. Bhāskararāya's magnum opus, his Setubandha commentary on the Nityāṣoḍaśikārṇava Tantra, demonstrates a comprehensive reimagining of the tantras within an all-encompassing structure of Śaiva Smārta textuality. Viewed in the light of contemporaneous projects occurring elsewhere in the subcontinent, Bhāskararāya's sweeping domestication of the tantras suggests a major reworking of the diverse theological traditions of medieval India into monolithic religious systems immediately prior to the onset of colonialism in South Asia.