Thursday, January 08, 2009

Filled with a Strange Frenzy

"The Hindu Mantramahodadhi of Mahidhara, a 1558 c.e. work, describes a rite in which the practitioner worships the Goddess while sitting on a corpse with flowers sprinkled with the practitioners own semen."

This is a quote from the book I've just finished reading - David Gordon White's highly interesting book on medieval Tantra, 'Kiss of the Yogini. "Tantric Sex" in its South Asian Contexts'.

The quote put one of the most scandalous and disgusting episodes of George Bataille's oeuvre in my mind: he masturbated naked, in the night, before his mother's corpse, which lay on her bed, alone, stretched out between two candles for her vigil. Both scenes evince the same disturbing assemblage of necrophilia, aesthetics and religious devotion to a motherfigure.

Thus, the quote from White's book prompted some internet research.

In another book by White, 'Tantra In Practice', he describes the Mantramahodadhi as a Sanskrit text that prescribes the mantras of different deities and ritual practices connected with them. "Mahidara wrote the work with the intention of gathering all significant information on the topic in a single book. Because of the clarity of its presentation, the Mantramahodadhi - along with the Nauka (The Boat) , the author's commentary written to enable practitioners to cross the "Great Ocean of Mantras" - has enjoyed great popularity in all parts of India up to the present day." Indeed, the Mantramahodadhi can easily be orderered through the internet (here, for example). Sadly, I could not find the book on Google Books or Project Gutenberg.

In the 1861 book 'The Literary Remains of the Late Professor Theodore Goldstucker' I did find the following:

"The Vamacharins [followers of the left-hand ritual] ... and amongst these especially that branch called Kaula or Kulina, adopt a ritual of the grossest impurities. Their object is, by reverencing Devi, who is one with S'iva, to obtain supernatural powers in this life, and to be identified after death with S'iva and his consort. 'According to the immediate object of the worshipper,' Professor Wilson says, ' is the particular form of worship ; but all the forms require the use of some or all of the five letters M viz., Mansa, Matsya, Madya, Maithuna, and Mudra i. e., flesh, fish, wine, women, and certain mystical gesticulations. Suitable mantras (or formulas) are also indispensable, according to the end proposed, consisting of various unmeaning monosyllabic combinations of letters, of great imaginary efficacy. Where the object of the ceremony is to acquire an interview with, and control over, impure spirits, a dead body is necessary. The adept is also to be alone, at midnight, in a cemetery or place where bodies are burned or buried, or criminals executed ; seated on the corpse, he is to perform the usual offerings, and if he does so without fear, the Bhutas, the Yoginis, and other male or female goblins, become his slaves.

In this, and many of the observances practised, solitude is enjoined ; but all the principal ceremonies comprehend the worship of S'akti, and require for that purpose the presence of a female as the living representative and type of the goddess. This worship is mostly celebrated in a mixed society, the men of which represent Bhairava (or S'iva as the Terrific), and the women, Bhairavi (S'akti or Devi as the Terrific). The S'akti is personated by a naked female, to whom meat and wine are offered, and then distributed amongst the assistants ; the recitation of various Mantras and texts, and the performance of the Mudra, or gesticulations with the fingers, accompanying the different stages of the ceremony ; and it is terminated with the most scandalous orgies amongst the votaries.'

The same author adds that, "in justice to the doctrines of the sect, it is to be observed, that these practices, if instituted merely for sensual gratification, are held to be as illicit and reprehensible as in any other branch of the Hindu faith"; but full assent must be given to his remark which follows a text quoted by him in support of this view, for he says: " It is only to be added that if the promulgators of these doctrines were sincere, which is far from impossible, they must have been filled with a strange frenzy, and have been strangely ignorant of human nature.

Filled with a strange frenzy! But are they really so 'strangely ignorant of human nature'?

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