Tantra and Woman

During my soul searching days, I wanted to get familiar with religious scriptures. It was worthy ambition, but with a lot of spare time in hand, I thought I could accomplish it. Very quickly I realized reading them cover to cover was not just a daunting task but also a treasure trove to explore!

As I was digging in them for the first time, I started to look for themes or areas which were of particular interest to me. I started looking for the role of the woman and place of the woman in these religious texts.

I make no such claims that I have read everything, or I fully comprehend whatever little I read.

There were a lot of contradictions regarding role and equality of women in the texts. In some instances, it is stated that men hold the authoritative positions, but in some places, more freedom is given to females. The possible reason could be that most of these texts were written at different points in time and by different people. So they reflect the thought processes and the prevailing culture of that time. But more or less they were patriarchal and male-centric in nature.

But Tantra was an exception to this. I never took Tantra seriously because it is often portrayed as dramatic, sensational and sexual in the West or as sorcery or black magic in India. The Indian television has reduced Tantra to stones, gems, and some weird superstitions and blind faith.

But thankfully, I read a few books by Sir John George Woodroffe, known by his pen name, Arthur Avalon. Arthur Avalon was a British Orientalist who worked tremendously to familiarize West with Hindu philosophy and Yogic practices.

I came across his three books: The Serpent Power, Mahanirvana Tantra Of The Great Liberation and Sakti and Sakta. You can buy these texts here, here and here. 

I must say, it was an eye-opener. I am stunned to see the way Tantra is being distorted. It has become a form of entertainment and a device for gaining sexual pleasure, more money, for having extramarital affairs and what not!

Arthur Avalon has explained the philosophy and rationale behind the ancient yogic tradition of worship. I was particularly happy, to read about the role of the women in this ancient practice.

These are some of the main points concerning women that I came through in his writings about Tantra. I am still reading on Tantra and will hopefully add to them.

Tantra considers Divine Mother as supreme and gives immense respect to womankind, as they are all born of the family of the Divine Mother. Tantra does not consider a woman,  merely as a woman. She is the inner Sakti, the inner energy that is lying asleep or dormant in the ordinary being and is to be awakened. Women or feminine is not seen as the sexual object but as an attribute which is present in both the sexes. Even the God is half man and half woman; he is Ardhnarishwar.

The woman is considered as an equal partner in this yogic tradition. In the performance of the Tantrik rituals, Sakti must be possessed of the same powers and competency as the Sadhaka. In other words, a Sahadharmini (an equal partner in the rituals) must have the same skill as the Sadhaka (the chief worshipper) with whom she performs the rituals. She is considered not less than the central sadhaka.

‘Sakti’ is to be served and attended to patiently. There should be no rush in the meeting of Sakti and Sakta. Women are not an object of mere cohabitation. If liberation were to be achieved by mere cohabitation with the woman, all creatures would stand liberated by female companionship.

The worshipper or the performer has to bow down to the woman, who is to be worshipped in certain rituals.

According to the Tantra Sastra, a woman is considered as the Guru as she can initiate the Mantras and also give it.

There is an intense fervor for sexual equality. Treating women with the bad intent is a crime and deserves the highest punishment.

Women need to be honored, cherished, educated before marriage and advanced. She is the life force herself.

Avalon quotes from Gautamiya Tantra, Sarvavarnādhikārashcha nārīnām yogya eva cha; which means Tantra Sastra is for all castes and women and a lower caste person or a woman cannot be refused to be initiated.

I think it can be said that Tantra is not discriminating, it is liberating and empowering!





12 thoughts on “Tantra and Woman

  1. I can not withstand from commenting on this post now, can I!
    This is a very good one! You have justly stumbled on one of the works of profound sages of modern era! I think his serpent power was released in 1918. So, now its been 100years. Imagine my joy to see it being an eye opener in the era of nano and quantum accomplishments. 😁

    Just to add or guide or inform you, no ‘scripture’ in the world discriminates between genders. The fault lies in translations and interpretations. So, what you found sometimes as patriarchal and sometimes as female domination, is but what is called ‘Dosha’, fault of us. The fault arises from not scrutinising coherently, the scriptures, but dissecting it into parts and using ‘known’ vocabulary. Many people say, Bible is full of unscientific scenarios and manu smriti just thrashes womanhood into slave hood. That’s the pitiful state of present day inquirer.
    But I see, you are atleast seeking Truth, so I wish you that, one day you will stumble upon a lightening thunder of clarity that will dispel all the faults of observation with its roar and lets you see through with its flashing light.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You rightly said, no religion discriminates between genders, and if it does, I don’t consider it as a religion. But people who claim that they know religion do it all the time. This whole menstruation debate in India shows people know and understand very little.


  3. Sorry, comment got cut inbetween. So, religion is a problematic thing. It used to flourish when the leaders were occultists themselves. But now we are left with dead man’s letters and hence the fuss.
    So, may be you write an article about menstruation and problem in India. I want to see it through your pen.


  4. Yea! I know right! But You know some thing interesting? Man, Manas, Moon, etc comes from the word MANU. A MANU is actually the presiding MIND over a period of evolutionary cycle. When it is taken in human years on Earth, that period is divided into 14 Manvantaras. A deity of such high magnitude personified in human form is Sage MANU (vaivaswat for present). The laws laid by him are compendium MANU SAMHITA. But that which is heard and remembered by people is MANU Smriti. Now, from this background when observed the man’s laws, one will immediately see a triple implication: physical, mental and vital.
    Unfortunately, a good commentary is not available, because the basis of MANU’s laws can be understood when one is ready to properly decide Veda. That is why, the manu smritis are, at present at hault in terms of receiving the modern light – like tantra did, from Arthur Avalon/Woodroofe.
    So we have to wait much longer I guess, sadly. But yea, in my life, if possible, I will try to learn and then touch upon his laws. 🙂 Hehe, let’s see..


  5. I was re-reading the article again …. two statements sound SOLID:

    1) “Women need to be honored, cherished, educated before marriage and advanced. She is the life force herself”

    2) “Tantra Sastra is for all castes and women and a lower caste person or a woman cannot be refused to be initiated”

    additional point (I do not remember if I added these earlier) : Rig Veda has almost 42 women sages who were “Seers” for the Mantras. And as such, Rig Veda is a compendium of very old tradition, even by the time Vyasa put them into one genre. So, Role of Equality reverberates through the vault of distant past, “as well”.

    Another interesting point I came across was the arguments of “Vasishtha Ganapati Muni”, that Even women were initiated into the Mantra of GAYATRI in the past. He argued this with national scholrs in debates and earned the title “Kavya Kantha”, and even initiated the interested in regions of Tamil Nadu. (of course, people should follow the norms of path of initiation and after-life regulations/obligations – like sandhya vandan etc.)

    Anyway, coming back to some articles give new dimension!

    Liked by 1 person

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