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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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The Stinking Fruit in the Garden of Love

The Stinking Fruit in the Garden of Love

The Kartābhajās and the Ambivalent Role of “Tantra” in Colonial Bengal

Chapter:
(p.161) 6 The Stinking Fruit in the Garden of Love
Source:
The Economics of Ecstasy
Author(s):

Hugh B. Urban (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/019513902X.003.0007

This chapter engages the more problematic side of Kartābhajā secrecy as a source of scandal and embarrassment – above all, with regard to Tantric sexual practices, and the corresponding “meta‐strategies” of self‐censorship, concealment, deodorization, and disguise, which esoteric traditions must often employ in order to protect themselves. After a brief summary of the history of the debate surrounding parakīyā love (intercourse with another man's wife) in the Tantric Vaiṣṇava and Sahajiyā traditions, an examination is made of the rise of the Bengali Kartābhajā sect within the context of colonial Bengal, and of their highly enigmatic songs describing the “stinking fruit” of parakīyā love. The chapter concludes by suggesting that this basic ambivalence at the heart of the Kartābhajā tradition opens up a number of larger questions for the study of Tantra in Bengal. First, it demonstrates the ways in which Tantric traditions are deeply rooted in real social, political, and cultural conditions and the ways in which these traditions change historically, creatively adapting in the face of changing circumstances; second, it raises the critical question of censorship – the central ambivalence surrounding Tantra and the constant attempts to mask, suppress, or eradicate any elements smacking of scandal or immorality; and last, and perhaps most important, the Kartābhajās also raise the question of the very definition of Tantra itself – i.e.,, how certain groups come to be identified (or attacked) as “Tantric,” and how the term Tantra has come to be constructed in the popular and scholarly imaginations.

Keywords:   Bengal, censorship, concealment, cults, India, Kartābhajās, parakīyā love, secrecy, sects, sexual practices, songs, Tantrism

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