Body Building in the Hindu Tantric Tradition

The Advantages and Confusions of Scriptural Entextualization in the Worship of the Goddess Kali


  • Rachel McDermott Barnard College


Hindu tantric tradition, Kali, entextualization


Rachel Fell McDermott analyzes Bengali Tantric poetry dedicated to the goddess Kali. Culling examples from her previous publications about this tradition, she shows how Bengali court poets in the eighteenth century popularized the esoteric Tantric traditions that had become associated with Kali over the preceding millennium. These traditions emphasized entextualizing Tantric teachings through meditation so as to reproduce the macrocosm within the microcosm of one’s own body. However, later Bengali poets reflect the rising popularity of bhakti traditions that simplify the tradition into pure devotion to the goddess herself, rather than trying to reproduce her journey within the body. McDermott thus charts the transition from esoteric to exoteric tradition that, for most people, changed their dedication to this Tantric deity from practices to be mastered into feelings of love and devotion.





Books as Bodies and as Sacred Beings