chapter  1
17 Pages

S´akti in early tantric S´aivism: historical observations on goddesses, cosmology and ritual in the Nis´va-satattvasam. hita-


This essay seeks to elucidate conceptions of s´akti and the roles of goddesses in the early form of tantric S´aivism represented by the Nis´va-satattvasam. hita-. Probably the oldest surviving tantric S´aiva scripture, portions of the text could date to as early as the fifth century C.E.2 The essay emerges from preliminary observations I made concerning continuities between the Nis´va-satattvasam. hita-

and the Brahmaya-mala, the latter being one of the oldest surviving tantric S´aiva texts with a S´a-kta cultic orientation (Hatley 2007). The S´a-kta cults of vidya-pı-t.ha works such as the Brahmaya-mala evidence profound transformations of S´aiva cosmology,3 with myriad s´aktis displacing the male deities who presided over the hierarchy of tattvas or ontic levels as delineated in earlier Siddha-ntatantras. While the aims of the present essay are limited, my larger objective is to reconstruct the processes of transformation underpinning the Brahmaya-mala’s S´a-kta cosmology, in tandem with the project of editing chapters of this text concerned with the intersecting subjects of cosmology and initiation (pat.alas 32-38). In studying the Nis´va-satattvasam. hita-– hereafter, ‘the Nis´va-sa’ – I rely

heavily upon the foundational studies of Alexis Sanderson (2006) and Dominic Goodall (forthcoming), particularly in the area of cosmology. My reading of the Nis´va-sa is based on the provisional editions circulated among participants in the Nis´va-sa workshop (Pondicherry, 2007) and Early Tantra project (2008-2010);4 and the more recent draft editions and translations of Goodall et al. (forthcoming), and, for the Mukha-gama, Nirajan Kafle (forthcoming). I approach the text diachronically, following the hypothetical stratification being proposed by its editors (Goodall et al., forthcoming) – namely, that the scripture’s five bookswere composed in the following chronological order: theMu-lasu-tra, Uttarasu-tra, and thenNayasu-tra, followed by the Guhyasu-tra and Mukha-gama, the whole presumably being complete before the end of the seventh century. In the present essay I for the most part omit discussion of the Nis´va-saka-rika-, a large and poorly transmitted supplement to the Nis´va-sa which might belong to a somewhat later period.