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Hirmer, Monika (2022) Cosmic Households and Primordial Creativity: Worlding the World with (and as) Devī in a Contemporary Indian Śrīvidyā Tradition. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Mostly focusing on ancient texts, Tantric studies reflect (and perpetuate) the notion that Tantric traditions are largely extinct, or practiced in utter secrecy. By looking at Śaktipur’s contemporary Śrīvidyā tradition, I provide new insights from an anthropological perspective, which, on the one side, complement Tantric scholarship and, on the other, expand praxis-oriented studies on Indian Goddess traditions. Living at the temple-complex as researcher and initiate, I was worlded into a world informed by Devī’s presencing and, in turn, participated in worlding Śaktipur’s world alongside fellow practitioners. A fieldwork that resembled dwelling allowed appreciating how existence unfolds within Śrīvidyā’s cosmological framework. Permeated by the Śrīcakra (Devī’s diagrammatic form, or “genetic code of the cosmos”), bodies, rituals, temple-architecture and metaphysical dynamics are expressions of the diagram’s inherent tension between expansion and contraction—or, Śakti and Śiva’s eternal play. Expanded, the Śrīcakra governs differentiated life, and Devī manifests anthropomorphically as Tripurasundarī; supported by her consort Śiva, she presides over the cosmic household—embodied by Śaktipur’s Śrī Meru temple. Venerating Devī through conventional idol-worship, practitioners reflect her household by emphasising women’s roles as housekeepers and mothers, and men’s duties as their supporters. Contracted, the Śrīcakra informs undifferentiated beingness, and Devī manifests as cosmic yoni (womb, vulva)—embodied by Śaktipur’s Kāmākhyā shrine. Underpinning all existence, Devī is venerated in practitioners themselves, through esoteric practices: experiencing ecstatic pleasure, female and male practitioners alike access ultimate oneness and, becoming Devī, partake in primordial creativity. Unravelling potentiality into manifestation, esoteric rituals ensure the auspicious unfolding of mainstream setups, rather than challenging them. At the intersection of anthropology, philosophy and Tantric studies, this study revises salient notions of Tantric scholarship and illustrates negotiations between mainstream and marginalised Hindu traditions; appreciating elementary constituents of Śrīvidyā practitioners’ beingness, it challenges Western notions of body, gender, motherhood and existence at large.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Sian Hawthorne
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 15 Jul 2022 17:00
Funders: Other

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