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The Economics of EcstasyTantra, Secrecy and Power in Colonial Bengal$
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Hugh B. Urban

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195139020

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/019513902X.001.0001

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Secret Bodies

Secret Bodies

Physical Disciplines and Ecstatic Techniques

Chapter:
(p.137) 5 Secret Bodies
Source:
The Economics of Ecstasy
Author(s):

Hugh B. Urban (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/019513902X.003.0006

The role of secrecy is looked at as a practical and ritual strategy. It is argued that the esoteric practices and ecstatic techniques of the Kartābhajās involve a key strategy of deconstructing and reconstructing the human body; their aim is to dismantle or dissolve the ordinary socialized body of the initiate, along with the conventional social hierarchy itself, and to create in its place a new, divinized (spiritualized) body, which is in turn reinscribed into an alternative social hierarchy, with its own relations of authority and power. The chapter begins with a brief discussion of the relationship between the body and the social body in mainstream Bengali culture, as well as the ritual sacraments used to inscribe the physical body into the greater Bengali social hierarchy. Next, the role of initiation and bodily practice within the Kartābhajā tradition is discussed as it serves to deconstruct the conventional socialized body, and to create in its place an alternative, liberated body. Finally, an examination is made of the attempt of the Kartābhajās to construct not simply an alternative body, but an entire alternative identity or secret self – the “supreme” or ultimate identity, which is at once freed from the bonds of labor and servitude in the exoteric social hierarchy, while at the same time it is inscribed into a new hierarchy of power within the Kartābhajā sect itself.

Keywords:   Bengal, cults, deconstruction, esotericism, identity, India, Kartābhajās, reconstruction, rituals, sacraments, secrecy, sects, self, social hierarchy, spiritualization

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