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Tantra (British Museum)

enlightenment to revolution

Imma Ramos


A compelling exploration of Tantric rituals and spirituality, published to coincide with a once-in-a-generation exhibition at the British Museum

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Tantra: enlightenment to revolution explores the radical force that transformed the religious, cultural and political landscape of India and beyond.

A philosophy originating in medieval India, Tantra has been linked to successive waves of revolutionary thought – from its sixth-century transformation of Hinduism and Buddhism, to the Indian fight for independence and the rise of 1960s counterculture.

Centring on the power of divine feminine energy, Tantra inspired the dramatic rise of goddess worship in medieval India and continues to influence contemporary feminist thought and artistic practice.

Presenting masterpieces of sculpture, painting, prints and ritual objects from India, Tibet and around the world, this publication offers new insights into a philosophy that has captured our imagination for more than a millennium.


'This wonderful catalogue is not merely a supplement to the exhibition - or even a replacement for those who had to miss it in the lockdown - but a great resource, a gateway to learn more about the wider context of Tantra. It achieves the rare feat of being scholarly and very readable while the exquisite illustrations offer endless opportunities to reflect on the aesthetic traditions inspired by Tantra'
Professor Rachel Dwyer (former Professor Emerita and Professorial Research Associate, SOAS South Asia Institute), Open

'A coherent and informative text that brings the tradition to life through representations from the history of tantric art. Tantra is the most important tradition of India from around the 6th to 13th century, and this book is the best synthesis of textual and historical scholarship along with art historical scholarship that has been written. The exhibition on which it is based is the finest there has been to date. The book is interesting and engaging: a wonderful achievement'
Professor Gavin Flood (Professor of Hindu Studies and Comparative Religion, University of Oxford)

'Filled with beautiful artwork … the book is a visual feast, and the accompanying text, fascinating, clear and to the point. An excellent introduction to the reality of what tantra actually is, its history and the importance of art within it. A delight'
Sacred Hoop

'Scholarship on tantra has flourished over the last three decades, revealing its strong influence on all aspects of Indian religion and society. In this beautiful book Imma Ramos analyses and synthesises the latest academic findings at the same time as putting them in dialogue with the finest examples of the wealth of artistic creativity that tantra inspired. Dr Ramos thereby creates a coherent and highly readable history of this vast, complex tradition, from its first-millennium roots to its twenty-first-century flowerings'
Dr James Mallinson (Senior Lecturer in Sanskrit and Classical and Indian Studies at SOAS, University of London)

'This book, based on the splendid exhibition Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution, is an outstanding scholarly contribution to the study of Tantra and its place in Indian culture. With its eminently readable text and superb reproductions this work is a must for all those interested in Indian religious studies and art'
Professor Anna L. Dallapiccola (Honorary Professor of Indian Art, University of Edinburgh)

'Achieving the impossible, this brilliant book pulls together the many facets of Tantra - its history, ritual, cosmology, societies, and spiritual practices, into a single coherent picture. Spanning vast territories, from Indian through Tibet and beyond, Imma Ramos's explanations decode the art of the tradition. She tells a story that is both scholarly, and vividly fascinating. Through the window of tantric art, we discover important beliefs about nature, divinity, and what it is to exist as a human channelling the powerful forces of the cosmos'
Dr Jessica Frazier (University Research Lecturer, University of Oxford)

'This compelling catalogue traces the history of Tantra - from a revisionist perspective. Travelling from its earliest manifestations as a form of Mother Goddess worship and ending with a look at contemporary art by South Asian female practitioners (such as Bharti Kher and Sutapa Biswas’s re-works of powerful female deities), it seeks to challenge Imperialist stereotypes of Tantra as exotic, erotic and, irredeemably, decadent. Instead, we learn an alternative history of the movement, as a rebellious female energy that was harnessed for anti-colonial revolts in the 19th and early 20th centuries in British India (think of the lolling-tongued Kali on many a ‘seditious’ nationalist poster in Bengal) even as it contained within itself the seeds of a subversive feminist politics … Well worth a read for anyone seeking to challenge traditional ideas about South Asia’s traditions in the British imaginary'
Dr Zehra Jumabhoy (Art Historian and Curator)

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 28.0 x 23.0 cm

Extent: 320 pp

Illustrations: 213

Publication date: 3 September 2020

ISBN: 9780500480625

Contents List

1. The Rise of Tantra in Medieval India 2. Tantric Yoga in the Court 3. The Spread of Tantra Across Asia 4. Tantra and Revolution in Colonial India 5. Reimagining Tantra in the 20th Century

About the Author

Imma Ramos is a curator of the South Asia collections at the British Museum.

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