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TantraSex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religion$
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Hugh Urban

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780520230620

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520230620.001.0001

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The Golden Age of the Vedas and the Dark Age of Kālī

The Golden Age of the Vedas and the Dark Age of Kālī

Tantrism, Orientalism, and the Bengal Renaissance

(p.44) Chapter 1 The Golden Age of the Vedas and the Dark Age of Kālī

Hugh B. Urban

University of California Press

This chapter discusses the age of Orientalism, focusing on the first British depictions of Tantra and the ways in which they played into the colonial political programs and the sexual-moral ideals of Victorian culture. It also examines the earliest discussions of Tantrism as a distinct entity, which appear in European missionary works, Orientalist scholarship, and the early Indian reform movements such as the Brāhmo Samāj and the Ārya Samāj. What we find here is a fairly consistent dichotomy between different conceptions of “Hinduism” and the Indian mind: at one extreme, the ideal of an ancient, pure, and uncorrupted Golden Age, identified with the Vedas and Upanisads, and at the other extreme, the nightmare of a modern, perverse, and degenerate era, embodied in the licentious idolatry of the tantras. Discourse about Tantra was thus bound up with the construction of Western cultural identity, and above all with the problem of sexuality and sexual deviance in modern Europe. But at the same time, the discourse surrounding Tantra would also became a key part of the conceptualization of India and “Hinduism.”.

Keywords:   Tantra, Orientalism, India, reform movements, Brāhmo Samāj, Ārya Samāj, Hinduism, cultural identity, sexuality, sexual deviance

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