Secrecy and Symbolic Power
The phenomena of secrecy and esotericism remain among the most persistent and pervasive, yet poorly studied and misunderstood aspects of the history of religions. The field of South Asian studies is no exception to this trend, although it has generated a growing interest in the role of secrecy in Indian traditions, and specifically in the texts and rituals of Tantrism. However, Tantric studies have hardly made any inquiry into the real historical and social contexts in which Tantra is practised, have not looked at any of the broader comparative issues involved in the study of esoteric traditions, and have yielded little critical reflection on the historical construction of the category of Tantrism. This book aims to address these issues through the study of one specific esoteric and secret sect: that of the Kartābhajās or “Worshippers of the Master,” which spread throughout Calcutta (Bengal, India) in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and still has some living and practising representatives. The first half of this introduction provides a general background on the Kartābhajās and their importance for the scholarly imagining of Tantrism, and the study of esoteric traditions as a whole; the second half engages the larger theoretical snarls inevitably involved in the study of something that is supposed to be secret.
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