Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Voracious Virgin: The Concept and Worship of the Kumārī in Kaula Tantrism
by Johansen Hurwitt, E. Sundari, Ph.D., California Institute of Integral Studies, 2019, 694; 13879668
Abstract (Summary)

The kumārī is a powerful, often overlooked symbol of identity for practitioners of Kaula Tantrism. This dissertation argues that she is an important liminal, independent figure weaving together many intersecting, opposing threads of orthodox, Tantric, and indigenous culture and belief. Focusing on Kaula literature and practice, this expansive study traces the origins of the kumārī and her worship throughout history, documenting for the first time several significant developments in the history of Kaula Tantrism.

First, the origins of kumārī worship are traced to early indigenous practices and Vedic ritual, documenting her interdependent arising in the Purānas and Kaula literature. The development of the concept and worship of the kumārī in the Trika, Kubjikā, and Śrīvidyā traditions is then uncovered through original research, demonstrating the weaving together and survival of these traditions in her ritual forms. Following the thread of her assimilation into and growing prominence in the Kālīkula, this study argues that this appropriation reflects the weaving together of several important elements in the development of Śākta philosophy, which can be read in parallels between the mythological cycles of the Devī Māhātmyam and Yoginī Tantra.

By decoding and carefully reconstructing the kumārī ritual in the Kulārnava Tantra, Kaulāvalī Nirnāya, Nīla Tantra, Brhannīla Tantra, Rudrayāmala, and Vārāhī Tantra, the kumārī material is shown to represent a previously undocumented but significant influence of the Kubjikā and Śrīvidyā/Śrīkula traditions on Kālīkula literature in Bengal and the Northeast. A point of unity between popular and secret practices, the kumārī facilitated the entry of Kaula practice into the mainstream by simultaneously subverting and upholding brahmanical norms. A rare comparative ethnographic study of the concept and worship of the kumārī at the Kāmākhyā temple follows, for the first time documenting how the unique interaction of Śrīkula and Kālīkula inform its organization, practice, and negotiated ritual space, and how the concept and worship of the kumārī communicates its identity. Finally, a model of kumārī worship as a hub of enjoyment, secrecy, and power is constructed, reflecting the persistence and evolution of a core Kaula identity captured in the concept of the kumārī and performance of her ritual.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ryan, James D.
Commitee: Jones, Constance, Urban, Hugh B.
School: California Institute of Integral Studies
Department: Philosophy and Religion with a concentration on Asian and Comparative Studies
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 80/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religion, Asian Studies, Gender studies
Keywords: Ethnography, Hinduism, Kumari puja, Philosophy and religion, Ritual studies, Tantra
Publication Number: 13879668
ISBN: 978-1-392-19780-6
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