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  Tantrism (from tantra, ‘rule’ or ‘ritual’) is the blanket term for a welter of sects based on occult practices, the development of psychic powers by special yogic disciplines, and the recitation of secret texts or mantras. Its origins lie in non-Vedic popular religions, with the need to tap into spiritual power in a hostile world, and it is, therefore, not surprising that Tantric worship also flourishes in Buddhism. The most notorious were based on worship of kali or ‘the goddess’, who traditionally stands on the left hand of ‘the god’. Members ritually broke all taboos, for example, they drank alcohol, ate meat and some indulged in group sex.

Tantrism has always been an esoteric, minority movement, though strong in Bengal, and sharing the features of other sects with the emphasis of self-mortification and yoga. Practitioners of Tantrism keep their identity secret. Since Tantrism is based on worship of the goddess, Tantric Scriptures often consist of dialogues between Shiva and his spouse (Shakti or Durga), and cover such subjects as creation, the destruction of the world, worship of the gods and modes of union with the supreme spirit. Sexual intercourse between the god and his consort, and between the worshippers, was felt to have cosmic and supernatural power, which the believer could cultivate to gain power. Hence the erotic element in Hindu religious sculpture. EMJ



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