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Language of Images

Visualization and Meaning in Tantras


Sthaneshwar Timalsina

While Indian visual culture and Tantric images have drawn wide attention, the culture of images, particularly that of the divine images, is broadly misunderstood. This book is the first to systematically address the hermeneutic and philosophical aspects of visualizing images in Tantric practices. While examining the issues of embodiment and emotion, this volume initiates a discourse on image-consciousness, imagination, memory, and recall. The main objective of this book is to explore the meaning of the opaque Tantric forms, and with this, the text aims to introduce visual language to discourse. Language of Images is the result of a long and sustained engagement with Tantric practitioners and philosophical and exegetical texts. Due to its synthetic approach of utilizing multiple ways to read cultural artifacts, this work stands alone in its attempt to unravel the esoteric domains of Tantric practice by means of addressing the culture of visualization.
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Chapter 2. Image and Visualization in Classical Hinduism


Chapter 2


Historical Overview

The power of visualization, or imagining something as living and breathing, is essential to worshipping images in the Hindu traditions. In the absence of this imaginative process, images are merely stones. After tracing the early history of worshipping images in India, I will advance the argument in this chapter that the power of imagination has always remained at the center of worshipping images. Existing scholarship has paid excessive attention to the historicity of images, while shortchanging the creative imaginative role of humans in constructing reality. Image worship is a good example for exploring the early history of imagination, where human ingenuity vividly manifests the divine in its own image, and acceptance of this image as alive becomes an initial ground for comprehending the transcendent. This belief works when there is no dichotomy between the manifest and the unmanifest. The attribution of presence in material form to the transcendent especially depends on the underlying principle that there is no dichotomy between the transcendent and the immanent: the manifest reality is an expression of the absolute.

The tradition being explored in this chapter, and the particular ritual of visualizing images, depends on and expresses these concepts. After addressing the early instances of beliefs about images, I will explore a range of terms used to denote the image in classical India that align with the thesis of the absolute manifesting in multiple immanent and mundane...

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