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TitleThe Art of Tantra
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Page 109

Krisna and aesthetics

hollow in the temple icon. The latter is renewed every twenty years, the bone
being transferred by a holy Brahmin, who always dies soon after.

One small point must be added. Indians attribute a clear set of values to
different parts of the body. The head is the most valuable; the feet the least.
To touch someone with one's foot or shoe is an insult. But to pay true reverence
to someone, one may set their feet on one's own head, and worship them. On
the transcendent value-scale it is the feet of the deity which are nearest to men.

Hence, as the most direct approach to God and as an emblem of one's own
humanity, one may pay worship to the divine footsole, such as the Visnupada
in which the created world is reflected.



Page 110

8 Graveyards and horror





The imagery of the graveyard also has the essential Tantrik double aspect,
outer and inner. Cremation-grounds in India usually lie to the west of a town.

In them corpses are laid out and cremated on carefully constructed piles of
wood, so that the spirit may move on to a fresh birth. The burning is often far
from complete. Dogs, jackals, crows and vultures live there, feeding on the
remains and scattering the bones. Contact with the dead, from the point of
view of caste, is deeply defiling, especially if the dead are themselves of lower

castes. To handle corpses is the task of the lowest members in the whole caste
hierarchy. The graveyard, nevertheless, is where high and low alike end up,
and is a perpetual reminder of the death which consummates life.

Here the sadhaka must encounter the reality of the disintegration of his neat
conceptual universe, as a necessary prelude to experiencing the state of rational

non-integration mentioned earlier.

Tantra makes use of the graveyard in several ways. The sadhaka is supposed
to make it his home, at first literally, later metaphorically. He must confront
and assimilate, in its most concrete form, the meaning of death together with

the absolute social defilement it entails. His Goddess, his loving Mother in time,
who gives him birth and loves him in the flesh, also destroys him in the flesh.
His image of Her is incomplete if he does not know Her as his tcarer and
devourer. The hideous corpses, defiling corpse-handlers, jackals and crows
scattering his bones, are Her agencies. She thus has a form he must learn to
assimilate into the whole image to which he makes puja, and which is not
outwardly beautiful at all. It is the hideous form which She assumes when the
sadhaka recognizes that to him as an individual She is the girl with the axe
or sword, the smallpox, cholera and famine-lady who grins as She drains his
blood and cracks his spine. Her body may be black, greyish or dark blue. Her
garland is of human heads. Her belt ornaments are choppcd-off^hands. He may
call Her, among other names, Durga (hard to approach) or Kali (the power of
time), the Goddess to whombuflalo, goats and doves are sacrificed in Her many
temples, where the stinking walls and pavements run with blood.

The point is : the graveyard is the gateway to spiritual success, to regeneration
and bliss (as being sacrificed is held to be for the animal victims). This fanged

and bloodv Goddess is the same as the other, the beautiful mother and lover.


Page 218

TANTRIK ART, the visual expression of a
philosophy as old as humanity, has only

beconne known to the Western world in the
last ten years.

Tantra is a special manifestation of Indian

feeling, art and religion, probably an adapta-
tion into later Indian life-patterns of powerful

images, practices and thought older than any
of the individual Indian religions. A cult of
ecstasy focused on a vision of cosmic
sexuality, Tantra, as compared to other
Indian philosophies, s3ys an emphatic "Yes"

to life. Its ritual, magic, myth, and life-style
have given rise to a complex of signs and
emotive symbols which form the basis of a
fascinating series of paintings and works of

Tantra has a particular wisdom of its own.
It deals with love. Basic to it is the assump-

tion - one having very ancient roots in the
constructive imagination of the human race -
that human sexual libido is in some sense
identical with the creative and beneficial
energy essence of the universe The mathe-
matical, verbal, and visual embodiments of
its practice and intuition offer to the peoples
of the West concrete symbolisms with which
the contemporary mind can feel deep
empathy despite cultural differences.

Philip Rawson, author of The Art of South-
east Asia and organizer of the recent exhibi-
tion of Tantrik art held in London under the
auspices of the Arts Council of Great Britain,
writes this book as an interpreter, explaining,
with the aid of the many illustrations of classic
examples of Tantrik art, how Tantra invites
its followers to a personal meditative and
visual exploration of self and the world.

Printed in Ho/land ISBN 0-8212-0523-4 S7.95

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