Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution review, British Museum: this serious-minded show proves it’s time we stopped tittering – Telegraph.co.uk

Posted: September 24, 2020 at 3:56 pm


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Well, this could get embarrassing. In the West, the word Tantra has, ahem, certain connotations. Sexual rites play a prominent role in Tantric practice, and, since the Sixties, the philosophical movement has been championed as a kind of guide to free love. The sensational subtitle of the last big Tantra exhibition, at the Hayward Gallery in 1971, gives a flavour of what I mean: The Indian Cult of Ecstasy.

Even Mick Jagger was a fan. In 1969, he asked a designer to come up with a logo for the Rolling Stones inspired by the Tantric goddess Kali. Usually, Kali appears with a bright red protruding tongue. In India, this is understood to represent her bloodthirsty appetite on the battlefield. For Jagger and the Stones, however, her lolling tongue had other, suggestive possibilities.

Nor is Jagger the only devotee of Tantra among British rock royalty. Sting has yet to live down a notorious boast about seven-hour Tantric sex sessions. Thanks to him, even mentioning the word Tantra is still likely to elicit a raised eyebrow, a snigger.

Poor old Sting: while Jagger makes the catalogue for Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution, a conscientious new exhibition featuring around 130 artefacts at the British Museum, he doesnt get a look-in. I suppose thats no surprise. Its curator, Imma Ramos, wants to scrape away all the clichs that surround Tantra. (Another, still prevalent in India, is that it is a form of black magic.) Her show does contain erotic imagery: a few exhibits near the start, for instance, focus on the Tantric ritual of yoni puja (veneration of the vulva). An 11th-century sandstone temple frieze represents a man performing oral sex on an impossibly acrobatic woman. In general, though, the X-rated material is kept to a minimum. This is a serious-minded show with zero interest in titillating giggles or cheap thrills.

The opening section outlines Tantras mysterious origins. It would be a mistake to think of it as an independent religion. Rather, Tantra first emerged in India around AD 500 as a set of radical beliefs and practices communicated by sacred instructional texts. At its heart is the affirmation that all aspects of the world are manifestations of Shakti, all-pervasive divine feminine power. While adherents of other Eastern philosophies understand the world as illusory, Tantrikas (Tantric practitioners) believe that it is real, and seek enlightenment by engaging with, rather than transcending, the physical realm.

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Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution review, British Museum: this serious-minded show proves it's time we stopped tittering - Telegraph.co.uk

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September 24th, 2020 at 3:56 pm

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