The Wild World of Tantra

The 'Crude Side' of Hinduism

Sri Yantra diagram with the Ten Mahavidyas. The triangles represent Shiva and Shakti, the snake represents Spanda and Kundalini.
toyin adepoju/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Have you ever seen anyone praying to his or her own portrait? You may think it's preposterous, but what about those few who do not believe in God and instead consider the physical self as the Supreme Reality? Here's a peek into the wild world of Tantrism.

Satisfying the Self

There are some ancient Hindu texts, which emphasize the exaltation of the physical self more than anything else. The concept that arises out of this kind of devotion to self, forms the basis of what is known as tantra, and the followers of this 'crude side' of Hinduism are called tantrics.

These people not only glorify the physical body but also go to any extent to satisfy the self to attain occult powers. Tantrism entails the antinomianistic or immoral way of gaining uncanny powers. According to Tantrism, it is through bhoga or satisfying desires that man can gain salvation, and he must do anything that he wishes to do, particularly those that are regarded sinful.

Origin of Tantrism

There are many disputes about its origins. Some observe that the Pre-Aryan Indians could have been the originators, others ascribe it to the tradition of primitive people. Whatever its remote origins may be, historically it can be dated about the time of the rise of Buddhism, because the later Buddhists adopted some of the Tantric symbols and have grown as a sect. Today, tantra is not practiced widely in India, and survives mostly in the far northeast, amid the jungles and foothills of the Himalayas.

Life of a Tantric Sadhaka

A sadhaka, or person performing tantric acts, lives a simple life, practices yoga and meditates in the quiet of the countryside, far away from the madding crowd. He is distinguished by his saffron robe and begging bowl, or in some cases, he might go stark naked! He sells charms, amulets, 'magical' medicines and herbs.

He sometimes gathers together with other sadhus to form vast processions during religious festivals. So much for the brighter side of a tantric. The darker half involves taking drugs, inflicting austerities upon himself, or doing certain things that outrage morality.

Tantra Teachings

Tantras, like the Vedas, are collections of verses suggesting elaborate directions for the right way to worship. They are generally esoteric, mystical teachings addressed to the sadhakas. Sex and the various postures of love-making form an important tenet of tantrism. There is an adolescent fascination about breaking the sexual code with women. Using obscene words, visiting prostitutes or seducing another man's wife is held conducive to acquisition of uncommon powers.

Kundalini: Serpent Power

Another way to acquire siddhi or occult powers, is by practicing Kundalini or 'serpent power'. According to the tantric texts, a serpent lies in our crotch, extending to the rectum. To awaken it, one must perform certain yoga, which will gradually arouse it. Practicing Kundalini uncoils the serpent and releases vast energy, which proceeds up our spine like hot liquid. The skin burns, we sweat and experience a stinging sensation.

The siddhi attained through this method can be so powerful that it may destroy the person if not controlled. Kundalini rises and when it reaches its limit, there is complete bliss. And once the sadhaka reaches this goal he becomes a sadhu or sage.

The Tantrics Obsession with Women

Tantrics are wild people with ingenuous tastes, possessing an intense love of freedom of the will. They can be hailed as the predecessors of the hippie movement in America in the sixties, for they have much in common. It is particularly interesting to note that, in the 17th century British-India, when tantrism was extant, the English were horrified to discover such a barbaric practice and tabooed it as a kind of obscene voodoo.

Obsession for the Female Form

For the tantrics, the object of devotion is not the male God, but his wife.

They fanatically admire the woman form in all her aspects. The cruder the better. Their frenzy goes to the extent of abasing themselves before motherhood, the apotheosis of womanhood. The tantric devotee yearns for mother to take him on her lap. He craves for the security and warmth of her breasts.

Sex for Nirvana

Tantism upholds the view that the best way of being godlike is to have intense sex with a woman. Having sex to the point of utter exhaustion can attain nirvana. While meditating, it is usually the woman's sexual organs that arrest their concentration, especially when it is combined with the mental picture of penetration.

Gender Bender

One tantric sect believes that every human being has both the male and the female attributes within. Similarly, gods too have bisexual characteristic. A representation of Lord Shiva, at the Elephanta Caves, show the right side of the god being masculine, the left having a female rear and a breast. Another sect of tantrism opines that the male devotee, to complete himself, must think of himself as a woman. He should walk like her, talk like her, have her emotions, and dress like her. Some men, by nature, are more feminine than male and these are particularly holy. They are of several kinds: the eunuch, hermaphrodite, the neuter whose sex has dried up and so on. The devotee, in his search for sexual experience, can try out having sex with such kinds of people.

The orthodox Hindus shun and fear a tantric. He is detested and persecuted by the police, who considered him a charlatan, and an antisocial.

Large tantric gatherings are banned. So, very little of it is left in actual practice. Nevertheless, its legacy cannot be ignored.