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Taylor, Kathleen (1998) The creation of a legendary Orientalist : Sir John Woodroffe as Arthur Avalon in Calcutta. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The thesis studies the collaboration between Sir John Woodroffe and his Bengali friend Atal Bihari Ghose. Together they created the pseudonymous orientalist Arthur Avalon who produced a considerable volume of works on Tantra from 1913 onwards, and brought about a revolution in attitudes to this previously despised branch of the Hindu religion. Woodroffe became identified with Avalon in the public eye, but Ghose was Woodroffe's chief source of the textual knowledge in which 'Arthur Avalon' appeared to be deeply versed. I try to assess Woodroffe's own relationship to Sanskrit and to the texts, and highlight his very extensive use of secondary sources and the knowledge of other Indian people besides Ghose. The thesis also focuses on Woodroffe's social identity in Calcutta which formed the context in which he 'was' Arthur Avalon. To a very unusual degree for someone with a high position under the empire, Woodroffe the High Court Judge of Calcutta Indianized himself, sometimes wearing Indian dress in social or religious contexts, but above all absorbing the world of the Bengali intellectuals of his time, among whom his popularity was widely attested. He had his critics, but he also had an enthusiastic coterie of admirers who were attracted by his Indian nationalism, to which his Tantric studies and supposed Sanskrit learning formed an important adjunct. He can be placed, then, alongside other prominent British supporters of nationalism of the time, such as Annie Besant, Nivedita, and C.F. Andrews. But Woodroffe possibly entered even more deeply into Hinduism (for a time at least), for he is reported to have taken initiation from a Tantric guru and to have practised Tantric sdhani in some form. Best known for The Serpent Power, the book which introduced Kundalini yoga to the west, Woodroffe and Ghose turned the image of Tantra around, from that of a despised magical and orgiastic cult, into a refined spiritual philosophy which greatly enhanced the attraction of Hinduism to later generations of Westerners. This thesis also studies Avalon's 'apologetic' themes by which he made Tantra, first acceptable, then fashionable.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 14:58

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