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University of California Press
Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas / Edition 1

Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas / Edition 1

by David KinsleyDavid Kinsley


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The Hindu pantheon is rich in images of the divine feminine—deities representing a wide range of symbolic, social, and meditative meanings. David Kinsley's new book documents a highly unusual group of ten Hindu tantric goddesses, the Mahavidyas, many of whom are strongly associated with sexuality and violence. What is one to make of a goddess who cuts her own head off, or one who prefers sex with a corpse? The Mahavidyas embody habits, attributes, or identities usually considered repulsive or socially subversive and can be viewed as "antimodels" for women. Yet it is within the context of tantric worship that devotees seek to identify themselves with these forbidding goddesses. The Mahavidyas seem to function as "awakeners"—symbols which help to project one's consciousness beyond the socially acceptable or predictable.

Drawing on a broad range of Sanskrit and vernacular texts as well as extensive research in India, including written and oral interpretations of contemporary Hindu practitioners, Kinsley describes the unusual qualities of each of the Mahavidyas and traces the parallels between their underlying themes. Especially valuable are the many rare and fascinating images he presents—each important to grasping the significance of the goddesses. Written in an accessible, engaging style, Kinsley's book provides a comprehensive understanding of the Mahavidyas and is also an overview of Hindu tantric practice.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520204997
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 08/18/1997
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 289
Sales rank: 1,082,513
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

David Kinsley is Professor of Religion at McMaster University, Canada. He is the author of Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition (California, 1985), and The Sword and the Flute: Kali and Krisna, Dark Visions of the Terrible and Sublime in Hindu Mythology (California, 1975).

Read an Excerpt

Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine

The Ten Mahavidyas
By David R. Kinsley

The University of California Press

ISBN: 0-520-20499-9

Chapter One

Ten Hindu goddesses form a group known as the Mahavidyas. This group is important in tantric Hinduism and contains a few very well known goddesses, such a Kali and Kamala (Laksmi), and several obscure goddesses, such a Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, and Matangi. The book first deals with the group as a whole, discussing several theories and theological structures that might shed light on the goddesses as a unified collective. It then looks at each of the ten goddesses individually, tracing her history, describing her nature, and interpreting her meaning within Hindu tantra. Distinctive characteristics or themes emerge as central in Mahavidya theology and iconography. Several of the goddesses vividly represent inauspicious, polluting, or dangerous qualities. Several seem to represent "antimodels" for women, that is, they display characteristics that are opposed to the virtuous qualities of women as described in Hindu scriptures. Both sex and death feature prominently, and in conjunction with each other, in Mahavidya iconography. The book interprets the Mahavidyas as "awakeners," as spriritual "devices" that tantric adepts might employ to stretch their categories or expand their awareness beyond the conventional. The Mahavidyas have the potential to deconstruct accepted moral, religious, and social paradigmsby elevating for reverence goddesses that embody the forbidden, polluted, and marginal elements of Hindu culture.


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Table of Contents


The Ten Mahavidyas; Typical Literary and Iconographic Contexts; The Mahavidyas as Forms of the Mahadevi;
Mahavidya Origin Myths; Interrelationships among the Mahavidyas; Worship of the Mahavidyas;
The Mahavidyas and Magical Powers; The Significance of the Term Mahavidya;
Concluding Observations

Kali: The Black Goddess    
Tara: The Goddess Who Guides through Troubles    
Tripura-sundari: She Who Is Lovely in the Three Worlds    
Bhuvanegvari: She Whose Body Is the World    
Chinnamasta: The Self-Decapitated Goddess
Bhairavi: The Fierce One    
Dharnavati: The Widow Goddess    
Bagalamukhi: The Paralyzer    
Matarigi: The Outcaste Goddess    
Kamald: The Lotus Goddess    

Corpses and Cremation Grounds 233; Skulls and Severed Heads;
Sexuality and Awakened Consciousness; The Conjunction of Death and Sexual Imagery;
The Roles of Women and Reverence for Women; The Potentially Liberating Nature of Social Antimodels


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