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This book is a social-scientific interpretation of the 15 centuries-old Hindu and Buddhist traditions of tantra. It is a self-reflexive study, informed by an insider's empathy and the apprehension of an Indologist-cum-anthropologist who is also a mystic and an initiated practitioner of the cult himself. Using his personal praxis to inform his research, the author examines three core themes tantra: a 'holonic'/mandalic individuality that conduces to the mystical experience; a positive valorisation of pleasure and play; and cultural attitudes of gender-mutuality and -complementarity as neatly encapsulated in the icon of Shiva as Ardhanariswara. This analysis -as captured by the tantric mandalas of deities in intimate union who vividly enact the three themes - leads to his compelling metathesis, that of tantra serving as a permanent counterculture within Indic civilisation. This book should be of interest to those in anthropology, South Asian studies, religious studies, gender studies, psychology, and philosophy, as also the general reader.
Prem Saran is currently Commissioner of the Department of Science and Technology in the Assam State Government. He joined the IAS in 1978 and has since been working in the Assam cadre. Having taken initiation into a traditional tantric cult in 1981, he first obtained an MA in South Asian Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. He then completed another MA and a Ph.D. in Sociocultural Anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Dr. Saran's first book Tantra: Hedonism in Indian Culture (1994) and is currently in its fourth reprint. He is also working on another book titled Indic Play Ethic.