Image: Ten Great Wisdom Goddesses (daśa mahāvidyā).
Join scholar-practitioner Dr. Sravana Borkataky-Varma (PhD, Rice University), and a global cohort of students, for this unique opportunity to study and explore the fascinating history, philosophy, and practice of living Śākta Tantra.
This online course surveys the rich tapestry of Goddesses within the Hindu Śākta traditions—and uniquely explores their living relationship to the practices of Yoga.
We will begin with the ten Great Wisdom Goddesses (daśa mahāvidyā) of India. Then we’ll look at the significance of the 51 energy centers (śakti pīṭha) and embodied sacred sites of the Goddess, zooming in on two sites of significant importance: Kāmākhyā and Tārāpīṭh.
Drawing on scholarly sources, as well as the instructor’s unique perspective on this tradition as a scholar-practitioner (Dr. Borkataky-Varma was initiated at Kāmākhyā at the age of fifteen), this course provides students with a thorough grounding in the living Śākta traditions practiced within two important Goddess temples. By carefully reconstructing these embodied tantric practices, within their historical and contemporary contexts, this course hopes to provide students with a rich set of tools and ideas which may shine new light on what it means to practice yoga today.
Each Module also includes: recommended weekly readings, a PDF handout, and optional quiz.
The first module introduces popular Hindu goddesses and the ten great-goddesses (daśa mahāvidyā). While discussing the goddesses we will also lay out a working definition for Tantra, which we will use for the rest of the course. We will then move to the 51 energy centers (śakti pīṭha). We will end this module by looking at a few modern-day representations of the goddesses to encourage conversations on domestic violence, empowered women, and begin thinking about the relationship between goddesses, gender, and women.
This module zooms in on one of the most important śakti pīṭhas, namely the Kāmākhyā temple. In reference to antiquity, the temple of Kāmākhyā surpasses most of the shrines in India, and definitely in eastern India. We will begin with its history—but our central focus will be on blood, rituals, and the role of women. Kumārī pūjā and Rājarājeśvarī pūjā will be used as two case studies of practice to bring forth the complexities of the ritual space. We will end the module with a discussion on two festivals: the Ambubachi mela and the Deodhani festival.
Liminality, exclusion, and inclusion are at the heart of this module. Corpse meditation (śāva sādhanā) will be discussed to bring forth the complexities involved in the worship of goddesses. They are all-empowering, yet at the same time they are also very dangerous and problematic. How are we to reconcile these disparities? Mother figure goddesses in India are highly exoteric (public, external), but we will also examine and give thought to the complexities involved with their esoteric (private, internal) nature.
The final module brings Kāmākhyā, Tārāpīṭh, goddesses, and women together within the context of Kuṇḍalinī Yoga. We will look at the specific practices used to cultivate and raise Kuṇḍalinī within the living communities at these Śākta Tantra Goddess temples. Finally, we’ll conclude the course by reflecting on the broader significance of our case studies, and the status of these Śākta Tantra traditions today.
Dr. Sravana Borkataky-Varma is a historian of Indian religions focusing on esoteric rituals and gender especially in Hinduism (Śākta Tantra). After earning a PhD in Religions from Rice University, she is currently working as Lecturer at the University of Houston and the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. She teaches introductory courses on World Religions and higher-level courses on Hinduism, Buddhism, Religion and Film, and History of Yoga.
Her dissertation project was a study of Kuṇḍalinī rising in women’s bodies. Since then, she has published papers such as “Red: An Ethnographic Study of Cross-Pollination Between the Vedic and the Tantric” (2019), and “The Dead Speak: A Case Study from the Tiwa Tribe Highlighting the Hybrid World of Śākta Tantra in Assam” (2018); book chapters such as “Taming Hindu Śākta Tantra on the Internet: Online Pūjās for the Goddess Tripurasundarī,” in Digital Hinduism (forthcoming, 2019) and “The Yogic Body in Global Transmission,” in The Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies (forthcoming, 2020).
Dr. Borkataky-Varma is also a social entrepreneur, and is the co-founder of a non-profit, Lumen Tree Portal. She invests in building communities with individuals from various faith-backgrounds who believe in kindness, compassion, and fulfillment.
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