‘Field Work on the Kula Ritual in Orissa’, Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia 43 (2011) 49-60.
During the Golden Age of Kashmir one thousand years ago, Vasugupta (c.875-925 CE) ‘discovered’ the Śivasūtra which established a non-dualist school of thought which is now called ‘Kashmir Shaivism’. In his massive Tantrāloka (‘Light on the Tantras’) Abhinavagupta (c. 975-1025 CE), the leading writer of that school, reviews all the tantras of his day and reinterprets them in the light of his tradition which is properly called ‘Trika’ meaning three since all reality is understood as a series of triads which are in fact non-dual. In chapter 29 of the Tantrāloka he describes the most extreme of the tantras, the Kula ritual, which André Padoux, one of the major authorities of Kashmir Shaivism, describes as ‘an important element, in many respects the essential element, of tantrism’. The Kula tradition was the object of my doctoral research.
The Kula ritual of chapter 29 and its commentary by Jayaratha refer to many sacred sites, twelve of which are located two thousand kilometres away in the cultural band that sweeps across the modern states of Orissa, Jharkhand, Bengal and Assam. The question arises, therefore, does some special connection exist between the Kula ritual and this area of India? In his edition of the Kauljnana-nirnaya, Bagchi concludes that Matsyendra founded a new sect of the Kaula School whose chief seat was Kāmarūpa in modern day Assam. This is in keeping with Jayaratha’s commentary on Tantrāloka 1.7 that Macchanda, aka Matsyendra, founded the school in Kāmarūpa. Padoux states that Bengal is the region of India where tantra is most frequently found in our day.
The question then arises: to what extent is the Kula tradition still practiced in that part of India? It was to answer this question that I have done some field work over the last five years, during my annual vacation in Orissa.