By Biren De via The British Museum

Why Tantra Isn’t What you Think It Is

5 min readMar 21, 2022

When discussing Tantra, many immediately think of tantric sex. But Tantra is so much more than that. Tantra is an ancient spiritual path that turns into a self-development system in which the human body is seen as a microcosm of the universe. In Tantra, there is no distinction between pure and impure and no difference between the self and the divine. Tantra shatters the cultural conditions of the mind and ego-led emotions such as hate and fear. Instead, it adopts a non-discriminating attitude that breaks taboos. Tantra is both a lived experience and science that people can use to bring out their inherent spiritual power.

The History of Tantra

Tantric philosophy dates back to first-century India. The word is coined from the word tan which means to weave or compose. Originally, Tantra is an instructional text, often a dialogue between a goddess and a god. After the breakdown of two major dynasties, Guptas and Vakatakas, the popularity of Tantra rose, simultaneously with the rise of new kingdoms, across the land. At this time arts flourished and Tantra goddesses were depicted everywhere.

Tantric god Bhairava, was worshiped by early tantric practitioners called Tantrikas. They mimicked his anarchic appearance, to obtain his power. Many rulers worshiped Bhairava as well because they believed that this would strengthen their political positions. The practice accepts people of all social backgrounds. Since it challenged the caste system Tantra has become particularly appealing to women and marginalised groups. Among early followers was a poet called Karaikkal Ammaiyar, who left her role of obedient wife to become a Tantrikas.

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Tantra Practice and Worldview

The Tantric worldview believes that all material reality is made by the feminine power of Shakti, which led to the sudden rise of goddesses worshiping in medieval India. Shakti epitomised the tension between maternal and catastrophic. But this isn’t the only goddess Indians worshiped. Yoginis goddesses, which could change shape and turn into women, tigers, or other animals, were also highly revered. Many Tantrikas…


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