Dark Shades of Power

The Crow in Hindu and Tantric Religious Traditions


  • Xenia Zeiler University of Bremen




black magic, crow, fear, Hinduism, inauspicious gods and goddesses, religion and nature, ritual, Tantra


The crow is subject to intricate symbolism in religious traditions worldwide. In mythology, crows are very often understood to be wise and cunning on the one hand and dangerous and inauspicious on the other. This highly ambivalent character dominates the crows’ representation in South Asia. But while crows as birds only play a secondary role in classic Hindu mythology, they are of particular interest in Tantric narratives and Tantric rituals. In the general Hindu context, the crow is often stereotyped as inauspicious and its role limited to that of v?hana (vehicle of a deity). Conversely, in Tantric ritual manuals, the crow’s sphere of influence is based on a broader concept. Such scriptures imply ominous and ‘dark’ aspects of agency in crows, but they do so in a strikingly different way than Hindu classic mythology. Tantra emphasise an ambivalent potential in crows as beneficial to certain rituals and occasionally incorporate a ‘crow potency’ in ritual instructions. This article discusses the role of the crow in certain Tantric rituals and mythologies and analyses its relation with inauspicious, ominous, deities.

Author Biography

Xenia Zeiler, University of Bremen

Xenia Zeiler studied South Asian Classical and Ancient Studies at Humboldt-University Berlin and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She concluded her Ph.D. in Cultural and Religious History of South Asia (Classical Indology) at the South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, in 2009. Her dissertation analysed the Tantric background of the goddess Dhūmāvatī and her recent transformation processes, including her rise to an urban deity in Benares. She published several articles and book chapters, mainly on the goddess Dhūmāvatī and the Mahāvidyās. Her research interests include Ethno-Indology, transformations in contemporary urban Hinduism and Hinduism and Modern Mass Media. Since 2008, Xenia Zeiler is a Lecturer for South Asian Religions at the University of Bremen, Germany.


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How to Cite

Zeiler, X. (2013). Dark Shades of Power: The Crow in Hindu and Tantric Religious Traditions. Religions of South Asia, 7(1-3), 212-229. https://doi.org/10.1558/rosa.v7i1-3.212



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