The Hindu Tantric World

An Overview

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André Padoux
  • Chicago, IL: 
    University of Chicago Press
    , March
     2017.
     240 pages.
     $30.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780226424095.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

This book has also been reviewed in JAAR by Lorillai Biernacki.

Tantra, a western designation that has spawned a whole range of scholarship and focus is front and center in scholar André Padoux’s latest work on Tantra, The Hindu Tantric World: An Overview. Padoux has a task of succinctly organizing rituals, beliefs, theology, and philosophical tenants that have since grown out of this given name and tradition. Padoux does a good job of showing how for Tantra functioned within both Vedic and medieval Hinduism. It was in the modern era that Tantra grew and progressed alongside and outside of Hinduism. Padoux’s writing is clear and precise and gets to the point, although he does show how separate books could be written just on Tantric rituals alone.

The Hindu Tantric World explores the complex and elaborate rituals, mantras, and systems that are considered Tantric. It also explores how many mainstream Hindu rituals and mantras are can be classified as Tantric, if one is using the scholarly definitions attributed to the classifications of Tantra. Padoux’s impetus to write this tome was his belief that Hinduism and Tantra are intricately linked; that one cannot talk about one without the other. The fundamental religious elements now denominated as Tantra were one of the ways the Indian continent functioned for fifteen hundred years and a crucial example of religious praxis. Padoux explores how one must view Tantra from within Hinduism as well as from the outside, with the addition of a Western lens, as it was the West that codified Tantra, deciding that Tantric practices were operating on a different wavelength, with a different set of rules and outcomes. So it is fitting to explore how and why this could have happened and how it changed Tantra’s trajectory. The Hindu Tantric World pushes against this with its chapters exploring the historical accounts and the texts, traditions, and rituals. Padoux wants to show that even with the codification of Tantra, both it and Hinduism continue to interplay with each other.

This is an excellent text to be used within the classroom as an introductory text on Tantra as well as a consolidated resource for scholars. For those that have want to understand the intricate underpinnings of Tantra and for the seeker looking for a clear survey of a tradition that at times has been shrouded in mystery and misrepresentation, this book is a valued resource. The book situates itself within the Hindu religion, the Sanskrit tradition, and the historical narratives which nourish its roots. It is important to explore Hinduism to help illustrate the complexities of Tantra. Padoux also goes into detail regarding Tantric views on body, sex, mantras, and locations. Padoux’s focus on location was especially interesting in this modern age where transnationalism is on the rise and more and more people are having to rethink and rework sacred space.

The bulk of the book is well written and backed up with primary and secondary sources. The last two chapters, those focused on modern Tantra, seemed a bit informal and sporadic. The chapter, “Tantra in the West” reads like a “who’s who” of Tantric practitioners and was almost a disservice to the rest of the book’s structure and credibility. The chapter did not adequately engage with the material presented in the previous chapters nor explore the future of Tantra. Perhaps this might be Padoux’s next book. These two chapters do however, show that Tantra, both within Hinduism and on its own, is still a living tradition. The Hindu Tantric World: An Overview wants to leave the reader with a clearer understanding of the efforts that are undertaken to achieve a more perfect relationship with the divine and all that is considered Tantric.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Anjeanette LeBoeuf is a doctoral candidate in Womens Studies in Religion at Clarmeont Graduate University, an Adjunct Professor at Whittier College, a Wabash Teaching Fellow, and the Queer Advocate for AAR/Western Region.

Date of Review: 
January 15, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

André Padoux is professor emeritus in the research unit on Hinduism at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique in Paris and the author of a number of books on Tantra.

Keywords: 

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