Early Tantric Medicine: Snakebite, Mantras, and Healing in the Garuda Tantras
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  • Book Name Early Tantric Medicine: Snakebite, Mantras, and Healing in the Garuda Tantras
  • Author Michael Slouber
  • Language, Pages English, 386 Pgs., (PB)
  • Upload Date 2023 / 05 / 23
  • ISBN 9788120841239, 8120841239

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Early Tantric Medicine: Snakebite, Mantras, and Healing in the Garuda Tantras
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My work on this book began in 2005 in a graduate seminar on reading Sanskrit manuscripts. Eager to test my new skills on fresh material, [ had brought a list of potential manuscripts to Dr. Somadeva Vasudeva, then a visiting faculty member at UC Berkeley. Skimming the list, he noticed one titled Kriyakalagunottara and told me with full confidence to order copies of all of its manuscripts. His former mentor at Oxford, Professor Alexis Sanderson, had positively identified it as the same text quoted by Ksemaraja in his eleventh-century AD commentary on the Netra Tantra. In other words, here was an early Hindu Tantra important enough to be read and cited by the learned disciple of famed Kashmirian polymath Abhinavagupta, and one that was yet unknown to modern scholarship. It took several years of diligent study for me to realize the true importance of this work to the history of Indian medicine and religion. Set in the voice of the Hindu god Siva, the text preserves rich medical and religious material from two of the five classes of his Tantric revelation. Leading scholars had deemed these medical Tantras lost, but my work with the Kriyakdlagunottara led to the discovery of several other original texts surviving in fragile palm leaf manuscripts in Nepal.

Before proceeding further, some clarification of the word "Tantra" is necessary. Indeed, in the popular imagination as well as in the minds of many scholars, Tantra is a religious tradition associated with depraved sexual practices and intentionally transgressive ritual involving the most impure substances. This mistaken portrait of Tantra derives partly from modern Indian usage of the word as a pejorative referring to sorcery and secret rites, Many scholars would distinguish between Agama, the respectable revelations of Siva concerning normative temple worship—still valued in South India—and the more or less transgressive Tantras concerned with wild female deities, and the powers that they grant to aspirants secretly worshipping in cremation grounds. Such a division did come about in the minds of Indian intellectuals in the later medieval period, but the early Tantras themselves use the terms Tantra and Agama interchangeably to refer to a scripture revealed by a deity. The guiding strategy of this book project has been to understand these traditions as they saw themselves, and to resist reading later categories into earlier material.

I discovered that historians of Indian medicine have tended to overlook or misrepresent medico-religious literature, perhaps as a result of the modern tendency to see religion and medicine as two distinct spheres. The medicine of the early Tantras exerted wide influence on Indian medicine in general, and this book aims to correct the tendency to dismiss medical systems that are based in religion.

The project began as a doctoral thesis done under the supervision of Professors Robert Goldman and Alexander von Rospatt at the University of California, Berkeley. I owe a great debt to these scholars as well as to Sally J. Sutherland Goldman, all of whom had a profound impact on my early years of Sanskrit study. Many other teachers and colleagues have also guided me along the way, and this book would not have been possible without their support. With financial support from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), I worked for two years with Professor Dr. Harunaga Isaacson of the University at Hamburg in Germany. He generously read the most important sources with me, and offered countless corrections to the texts and my translations. I am also grateful to Alexis Sanderson, who kindly guided me for three weeks in 2010, and whose comments and scholarship have had a major impact on this book. While studying Nepali on a FLAS fellowship in Kathmandu, I participated in the First International Workshop on Early Tantra and met many colleagues who remain valuable contacts to this day, including Diwakar Acharya, Dominic Goodall, Kenichi Kuranishi, Kengo Harimoto, Péter-Daniel Szanté, Gergely Hidas, Judit Torzsok, Shaman Hatley, Iain Sinclair, and S. A. S. Sarma. All of these astute scholars and unnamed others have contributed to this book in various ways: by sharing electronic texts, by feedback, and by their encouragement.

The book was initially typeset by the author using a number of free and open-source software tools based on the T¢X typesetting system: the memoir class for layout and organization, XELATEX for fonts, LEDMAC for the edition, and BIBTEX for bibliography management. Several key macros and much useful advice was provided by Somadeva Vasudeva and Dominik Wujastyk. Thanks to the Newgen production team for fine-tuning and finishing the production of this beautiful book.

The final revisions to the book were supported by family, friends, colleagues, and a few kind members of the general public via a Kick- starter crowdsourcing initiative. Backers included, in alphabetical order by surname: Jung Lan Bang, Jason Birch and Jacqueline Hargreaves, Michael Brackney, Evelyn Brooke, Dar and Jana Chehrazi, Chris Fluke, Saumya Garg, Snaman Hatley, Oliver Hellwig, Moira Hill, Ellen and Saul Lindenbaum, Jim Mallinson, Edward McCarron and the Lister Society, Mohanan CG Nair, Larissa Pickens, Garda and Glenn Robinson, Marlene Robinson and Robert Bloodgood, Kashi and Christian Royer, Florinda De Simini, Corinne Robinson Slouber, James and Katherine Slouber, John Slouber, Amy Zahn Stewart, Sthaneshwar Timalsina, Somdev Vasudeva, Dominik Wujastyk, and Chieko Yamano.

I am grateful to Cynthia Read and Oxford University Press for publishing and promoting this book. The two anonymous reviewers that they selected offered excellent critical feedback that helped to improve the book in countless ways. The excellent index to the book was prepared by LS. Summer. My gratitude is also due to Owen Duffy for permission to use his photograph on the cover of this book.

I would especially like to acknowledge the enduring support of my wife, Corinne, who has seen me through the project from start to finish. She helped with everything from proofreading to translating secondary sources, and has been the prime motivator for my finishing it in a timely manner.

Contents and Sample Pages


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