Scholar

Creating the Virtual Yantra

By: E. Sundari Johansen Hurwitt  

The kumārī pūjā is one of the most important rituals performed at the Kāmākhyā temple in Assam, one of the oldest and most important sites of Tantric goddess worship in the world. The three primary participants of the pūjā are the kumārī, who is also the goddess, the devotee, who directly offers worship to the goddess in the form of the kumārī, and the priest, who facilitates this worship with both overt and secret knowledge. Among these various participants is a cycle of ritual relationships that can be distilled into three primary points. Each point is a locus at and through which a different kind of transmission, convergence, and/or exchange happens, typically uniting two of the three participants at any given time. These interactions happen continuously and simultaneously, creating a constantly moving cycle of worship and transmission of power throughout the ritual. The three loci together create an energized triangle within the circle of ritual time and space. When the ritual is performed to the satisfaction of the priest and devotee, and the kumārī is calm and pleased with the ritual throughout, representing the approval of the goddess, each locus escalates in power throughout the course of worship, fueling each other in a continuous cycle until the end of the pūjā. When taken together, this invisible yantra of continuously moving and shifting energies is the framework through which power is summoned, circulated, transmitted, and directed. These primary interactions represent three loci of enjoyment, power, and secrecy.

Tantra, Kamakhya, Assam, Hinduism, Shaktism, Gender, Power, Ritual, Secrecy
2019 Special Focus—Universal Religious Symbols: Mutual Influences and Specific Relationships
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Dr. E. Sundari Johansen Hurwitt

PhD Candidate, Asian Philosophies & Cultures Program, Department of Philosophy & Religion, California Institute of Integral Studies, United States
United States

I am a PhD candidate studying gender, secrecy, and power in the esoteric Tantric traditions of northeast India. My work is based on years of ethnographic research, supported by extensive textual research in the Sanskrit Kaula Tantras. I served for several years as a teaching assistant and research assistant in the Asian Philosophies & Cultures Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), and as a Fellow at the Center for Writing and Scholarship at CIIS. In 2011, I was a language fellow with the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) and grant recipient in Kolkata, studying Assamese, then spent a year conducting intensive ethnographic fieldwork on the kumari puja and Tantric culture at the Kamakhya temple in Assam.