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Language of Images

Visualization and Meaning in Tantras

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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 5. Transformative Role of Imagination in Visualizing the Image of Bhairava

Extract

Chapter 5

TRANSFORMATIVE ROLE OF IMAGINATION IN VISUALIZING THE IMAGE OF BHAIRAVA

Introduction

Bhairava is the central deity of Kaula Tantrism. In medieval Tantras, Bhairava is considered to be the central deity of sixty-four Āgamas, and while separate Tantric texts are attributed to goddesses such as Kubjikā, Bhairava resides at the center of the deity maṇḍala in many of these traditions. The peculiarity of Bhairava as carrying a skull cup, as well as other weapons such as a staff or a trident, helps to relate this deity to the Kāpālikas. The shrines of Bhairava located nearby the cremation grounds (most often near the shrines of Yoginī, Cāmuṇḍā, or Kālī), or the deity shown with a dog as his ride further confirm his Kāpālika association. Bhairava, however, is not merely worshipped by the Tantrics in their esoteric rituals, as the deity is widely revered throughout the pan-Indian continent, with shrines dedicated to him widely distributed in Kathmandu valley, Varanasi, Rajasthan, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. While the earliest imagery of Bhairava appears around the 6th Century, this deity comes to prominence with the rise of the distinctive philosophical school of Trika in Kashmir during the 9th-10th centuries. In this chapter I will examine one image of Bhairava, the Svacchandabhairava, as detailed in a text by the Kashmiri Tantric theologian and philosopher Kṣemarāja (11th C.), disciple of the prominent Kashmiri philosopher Abhinavagupta.

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