Anya Golovkova

The Goddess’s Forgotten Consort: Desire in Early Śrīvidyā Ritual

April 25th, 12:00 PM CST

206 Ingraham Hall

Photo description: Milk being offered to the Śrīcakra in contemporary tantric ritual

Presentation Description

The term “tantra” in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions refers to a vast number of religious texts written in the form of a dialogue and containing detailed systems of instruction for esoteric practices. My research focuses on a Hindu tantric goddess tradition called Śrīvidyā (Tradition of the Auspicious Mantra). Earlier scholars of tantric traditions often focused their attention on Hindu doctrines of liberation and enlightenment, drawing on philosophical texts. My work includes scriptures and commentaries relevant for the study of Śrīvidyā that were composed well into the medieval period in the beginning of the second millennium CE in the north and/or north-east of the Indian subcontinent. In addition to philosophical texts and commentaries, I also delve into texts detailing tantric practice, i.e., everyday ritual performed by ordinary people. In this talk, I will discuss how ritual goals, iconography, and imagery connected with love, desire, and amorous attraction were drawn from the earlier tradition of Nityā (lit. eternal) goddesses. Only one scriptural text from within the tradition of Nityās has survived in a single damaged and incomplete palm-leaf manuscript from Nepal. Highlighting how the authors of Śrīvidyā, a pan-Indian and global tantric tradition that flourishes to this day, drew on this earlier ritual system, I provide a new model for the study of religious traditions and the process of their formation, reformation, and reinterpretation.

About the Speaker

Anya Golovkova is a historian of Asian Religions and a Sanskritist. Prior to joining Lake Forest College as Assistant Professor of Religion, she was a Visiting Scholar at Cornell University’s South Asia Program and an A. W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Religion at Bowdoin College. Dr. Golovkova completed her Ph.D. in Asian Studies at Cornell University and holds a B.A. (with distinction) in Linguistics and Intercultural Communication from Moscow State Linguistics University, an M.A. in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures from Columbia University, and a Master of Studies (with distinction) in Oriental Studies from Oxford University. Dr. Golovkova has published articles in peer-reviewed journals and edited book chapters. She is the co-editor (with Hugh Urban and Hillary Langberg) of The Tantric World, forthcoming from Routledge. Her forthcoming monograph, A Goddess for the Second Millennium: The Making of Śrīvidyā, is the first comprehensive study of a Hindu Tantric (esoteric) tradition called Śrīvidyā. Dr. Golovkova serves as the Co-Chair of the Tantric Studies Unit of the American Academy of Religion, the largest scholarly society dedicated to the academic study of religion, with more than 8,000 members around the world.