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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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Preface and Acknowledgements


With images in religious discourse, the topic of imagination in philosophy, and cognitive images in psychology, the visual aspect of consciousness has surfaced with full force from its long-banished oblivion. The central assumption of this monograph is that imagination is a creative process that constitutes reality, and its ritualized application in the practice of visualization is crucial for understanding this relationship. What is central to the practice is discovering the meaning of an obscure image. With meaning, these images become their own language, and are the field of hermeneutics. The time-consuming and rigorous practice of viewing images thus finds its relevance in understanding human cognitive mechanisms for maintaining a balance between fiction and fact, imagination and reality. This work is an effort to give the primarily Tantric practice the attention that it deserves. It is also timely as our obsession with words and the denial of images is slowly fading in the mainstream culture. This work is a product of a lengthy engagement, as most of the chapters in it have been presented in different conferences, modified in the form of different essays, and finally assembled together to offer a coherent meaning. The images explored here are cultural, grounded in the Tantric culture of Indian subcontinent. The reason for doing so is because these images have been historically accompanied with words and the marriage of language and images is vividly found in classical Tantric depictions, whether in the form of maṇḍalas, sculptures, or the manuals prescribing the...

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