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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 4. Materializing Space and Time in Tantric Images


Chapter 4


mūrttivaicitryato deśakramam ābhāsayaty asau |

kriyāvaicitryanirbhāsāt kālakramam apīśvaraḥ ||ĪP 2.1.5

The Lord reveals the sequence of space with diversity in materialization. This [Lord] also [reveals] the sequence of time with the manifestation of diversity in action.


Images in general bring to life abstract concepts. Processes such as compression, magnification, or integration of multiple concepts into one are ubiquitous in image making. Tantric culture utilizes these cognitive mechanisms in order to materialize various concepts embedded within the plethora of divine images. Tantric meditative practices, such as the visualization of images, relate the material culture to textual exegesis. This process explicitly links concepts to specific images, as vividly demonstrated in the deities who personify anger (Krodha-Bhairava), arousal (Unmatta-Bhairava), bliss (Ānanda-Bhairava), or desire (Kāmeśvarī). The central argument of this chapter is that the process in which abstract concepts are materialized can be explained through viewing divine forms in the two categories of space and time. This grouping into two sections arises from the Tantric cosmology that explains reality in six ‘paths’ (adhvan), with three grouped under the category of time and the rest under space. The grouping of three within time includes letters, words, and sentences, and the remaining three attributed to space are the limiting factors (kalā), principles (tattva), and the cosmic planes (bhuvana). This configuration is based on linguistic philosophy...

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