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TitleNetra Tantra
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Netra Tantra at the Crossroads of the

Demonological Cosmopolis

David Gordon White*

University of California
*Corresponding author: [email protected]

The Netra Tantra (NT), the ‘Tantra of the Eye’, is a text from Kashmir dated to the
early-ninth-century CE. As such, it is later than the core of the better-known
Svacchanda Tantra (SvT), another Kashmirian Tantra, which dates from no later
than the seventh century. The NT is nonetheless referenced by Abhinavagupta,
and a comprehensive commentary on the work was authored by his disciple
[email protected] The NT is, in many respects, derivative of the SvT, and also less
systematic and less comprehensive, which likely accounts for its secondary
status. One topic on which the NT far outshines the SvT, however, is demonology:
its nineteenth and longest chapter is entirely devoted to the subject, which is also
discussed in several other chapters of the work.

Like the SvT and most other Tantras, the NT is a composite work, with no fewer
than two highly visible layers of redaction (Brunner 1974: 127; Sanderson 2004:
293). The first of these is the demonological layer, which comprises unadorned
descriptions of demons, symptoms of demonological possession, and techniques
for countering the same. This stratum of the text comprises a pragmatic, technical
guide to certain types of Tantric ritual. The regular (nitya) and occasional (naimit-
tika) rites that the NT surveys are only sketchily described here, leading one to
assume that it postdates works in which those rituals would have been described
in full. However, the NT’s treatment of votive ([email protected]) rites—which include
practices of protection, pacification, exorcism, and the cultivation of prosperity
(the [email protected]>i of Tantric sorcery)—are quite detailed. In his commentary,
[email protected] cites and quotes extensively from several likely South Asian sources
of the NT’s demonology, including such ‘Bh+ta Tantras’ as the [email protected]@lagu>ottara
and the Totula. Included in these works were ritual instructions for the mastery of
[email protected] (Sanderson 2006: 149), a theme to which I will return in the second part of
this study.

The NT’s second layer of redaction, which attempts to structure the text into a
coherent and unified thesis, is devoted to the AmPteśa form of Śiva, and more
importantly, to his all-powerful Conqueror of Death (mPtyujit) mantra, which con-
trols, routs, and destroys demons with total efficacy. Abrupt shifts in content and
style mark the insertion of this layer of redaction. One finds such a shift, for

� The Author 2012. Oxford University Press and The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. All rights reserved.
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The Journal of Hindu Studies 2012;5:145–171 doi:10.1093/jhs/his019
Advance Access Publication 4 July 2012

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example, in the middle of the eighty-first verse of chapter nineteen—where,
following a long discussion of symptomologies of possession, the clans of the
demonic Seizers, and of the rites of propitiation that one is to direct to the
leader of a given clan—Śiva, the narrator of the text, abruptly launches into a
praise of the universal applicability of the mPtyujit mantra, which he had never
divulged before. As is so often the case in these Kashmirian traditions, the earlier,
demonological stratum of the NT is overtly dualistic in its metaphysics, and in this
respect, very much in line with Ś[email protected] positions; while its later layer of
redaction is non-dualist after the Trika fashion, casting even demons and demon-
esses of childhood possession—the adversaries of their human victims—as internal
to Śiva and the universe he embodies. This trend is further accentuated in the
commentary of [email protected], who seldom misses an occasion to champion the
non-dualist exegesis. This often makes for forced readings, if not outright misin-
terpretations on his part, of demonological data.

Kashmir’s geographical location at the northern-most reach of the Indian sub-
continent has made for a somewhat eccentric history with respect to Indic and
Sanskritic traditions. To begin, Kashmir was (and, as many would argue, remains)
politically, geographically, and culturally distinct from the polities of the greater
Indian subcontinent. Over the millennia, the region’s great wealth, as well as its
stunning cultural and religious productions, have been catalysed by its strategic
location at the meeting point of three of the world’s great civilisations: Persia to
the west, China to the east, and India to the south. As such, it was, throughout the
ancient and medieval periods, a changing house for the religious productions of
Zoroastrianism, Manicheanism, Chinese religion, Buddhism, and Hinduism. More
than this, Kashmir—or more properly speaking, the region comprised by Kashmir,
Gandhara, and Bactria (which I will refer to hereafter as KGB)—lay within the
borders of several ancient polities, including the Bactrian Greeks, Indo-
Parthians, Indo-Scythians, Kushans, and Sassanians. As such, the region was a
nursery for new cultural forms and religious doctrines and practices, which it
‘exported’ to the Zoroastrian and Manichean (and later Muslim and Christian)
west, the Taoist and Buddhist east, and the Buddhist and Hindu south.

Demonology and symptomatology

Appearing in NT 19.3–6, the term [email protected]@-cchidra introduces what is to my know-
ledge the sole comprehensive treatment of the ‘evil eye’ in the Hindu Tantric
corpus. In her formulation of a question to Śiva concerning the evil eye (literally,
the ‘casting of the gaze’: [email protected]), the Goddess states:

Now, those innumerable “goddesses” are indeed possessed of immeasurable
power. The Yoginas who are more powerful [than they] oppress by means of
the [email protected]@-cchidra. They are exceptionally filthy, violent, merciless, fearless,
[and] mighty. They are injurious to all creatures, and especially to children.

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destruction of one’s enemies. A [email protected] is a device (yantram13) causing death,
expulsion ([email protected]), and so forth.14

The passage (NT 18.3d-4d) that [email protected] is interpreting in his commentary is
one that treats of

spells . . . by means of which [1] practitioners gain mastery; [2] [email protected]@rkhoda-
type objects and so forth, which are hurled by others, are destroyed; and by
means of which [3] practitioners repeatedly slay evildoers by using a
counter-device (pratyaṅ[email protected]).15

We can see that in his commentary, [email protected] has chosen to read [email protected] as a
device, whereas for him a [email protected] is a female zombie ([email protected]). What he does not clarify
is whether a female zombie is an injurious being capable of acting autonomously,
or rather an animated tool or device created in order to be ‘hurled by others’, as
the text states. I will return to this matter shortly. As for [email protected], it resembles,
but is not identical to the MVS’s ka$khorda. It also resembles a range of terms
found in other sources, many of them Buddhist, from KGB and other parts of Inner
Asia. Before examining these, I first wish to return to the NT, which mentions
[email protected]@rkhoda in two other contexts. In NT 18.87–90, we read that

a person [may be] suffering from a hundred cuts, or afflicted with the pangs of
sorrow, or sullied with every [sort of] misfortune. [He may be] tormented by
the [email protected]@rkhodas, by spells and likewise magical devices, by visualizations,
by practices involving chanting and fire offerings and [the uses of] powders,
pastes, and unguents—as well as the tricks ([email protected]) that enemies will play:
[but] whithersoever She [i.e., the Goddess Śra, who is identified as the consort of
MPtyujit in NT 18.62-69] is honored in this way by either a man or a woman, She
shall become their counter-device (pratyaṅ[email protected])

Here, the Sanskrit [email protected] . . . kariXyanty-arayo$ appears to be a paraphrase of the
chalam . . . kurvanti of NT 19.5–6: both mean ‘the tricks that [enemies] will play’ or
perhaps ‘the witchcraft that [enemies] will practice’ or ‘the witchcraft devices that
enemies will fashion’. Recall, however, that in the NT 19 passage, there were two
types of tricks or craft, the one involving the [email protected]@ and the other the casting of the
eye ([email protected]). After NT 19.48 has related that the ‘injurious ones (hi:sakas) who
have found their opening ([email protected]), cast their terrifying gaze’, it adds that
‘enemies who are puffed up with [their own] intelligence, [and] who are mad,
evil-minded, sinful, greatly depressed, power-hungry, [or] envious’ are capable
of doing the same.

By juxtaposing these two passages, we can see that many of the enemies against
which Tantric practitioners ([email protected]) do battle are human: they are the ‘injurious
ones’ or sorcerers. But whereas in NT 19 these enemies’ ‘tricks’ or ‘witchcraft’ also

David Gordon White 157

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involved the evil eye, here in NT 18 they include various sorts of ‘devices’. As we
saw, NT 19 offered no specific countermeasure against the evil eye cast by human
enemies. Their particular case was subsumed under the general rule, i.e. that
Mothers and Spirit Beings who are enabled to possess victims through the casting
of the evil eye can be countered through offerings to one or another sort of
[email protected] At two points in NT 18, however, we find references to counter-devices
that can be used against the devices of enemy sorcerers (NT 18.4cd, 90ab). Here as
well, [email protected]’s commentary (to NT 18.89-90) is instructive:

‘Tricks’ [are] the devices, the [email protected] and so forth, that enemies will
make . . . [There is] the person against whom the device, etc. is fashioned. By
means of that [uttered spell] ‘a counter-device (pratyaṅ[email protected]) shall come into
being’. Like a badly hurled missile, it [the enemy’s device] shall become a des-
troyer of the enemy’s own side.16

The first mention in the NT of counter-devices appears two chapters earlier, in NT
16.31–2, in the context of a discussion of protective measures to be taken against
‘others in the world who are viewed as injurious to siddhis’—that is, against enemy
sorcerers who would seek to disrupt the initiations of the very practitioners who,
by virtue of said initiations, would become empowered to do battle against their
sorcery. The text then continues with a list of black magic practices undertaken by
wicked mantra experts (duXbamantribhi$) that include nailing, cleaving, pounding,
and pratyaṅgiratvam, which [email protected] glosses, in his commentary on NT 16.34, as
‘the counter-measure taken against the wielder of a mantra used for controlling
Spirit Beings and so forth’.17

This brings us back to the problem raised by [email protected]’s commentary on NT
18.89–90. In it, he made the [email protected] out to be one of the devices held in an enemy
sorcerer’s bag of tricks (or repertory of spells). In his commentary on NT 18.4,
however, he identified a [email protected] as ‘a female zombie ([email protected]) that has penetrated into
the corpses of women for the destruction of one’s enemies’, seemingly in distinc-
tion to a [email protected], which he simply called a ‘device’ (yantram). Is there a quali-
tative difference between a [email protected] and a [email protected], the two members of this dvandva
compound? Why do they form a compound? We seem to be circling back to the
sort of ambiguity we saw in the compound term [email protected]@-cchidra.

Other Kashmirian sources are equally ambiguous. The twelfth-century
[email protected]>i (HCC) includes the compound [email protected]@[email protected] in a
list of the diseases routed by Time (HCC 2.125a, in Sivadatt and Parab 1983:
23). Kalha>a’s twelfth-century [email protected]:gi>a (RT) (4.94; 5.239–40) mentions
[email protected]@, and speaks of a regicide, who, ‘versed in witchcraft’
(kharkoda-vedin), used sorcery to cause a king to die of fever. Several passages
from the [email protected], an early and essential Kashmirian Tantric scripture,
also employ the term in this way. In his extensive discussion of this term, Alexis
Sanderson (2004: 290–2) reproduces several quotations from this work, as well as

158 Netra Tantra

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1 I will return to the meaning of this term later in this study: in the present context, I
translate the term according to its classical Sanskrit meaning of ‘trickery, fraud,

2 [email protected] stra puruXo [email protected]@[email protected] [email protected]@: [email protected]/ [email protected]@[email protected]: [email protected]: ca
[email protected]: [email protected]// [email protected]@cchidre>a [email protected]́ca [email protected] [email protected]$
[email protected]: prakurvanti. Brunner (1974: 175, n.1) rightly emends [email protected]@ in the
text to its opposite: [email protected]@.

3 Here, I have emended the lacunary reading found in Shastri (1939: 171)
([email protected]@ . . . [email protected] [email protected]$) to read ‘[email protected]@nta: dhiX>yo [email protected]$’. These are
therapeutic measures: for apotropaic measures against these forms of aggression,
see NT 19.207–211.

4 ebhi$ karmabhiranyaiś[email protected]́ubhai$ p+rvakaiśceha kPtai[$] . . . chidreXvete-
[email protected] [email protected]@ri>a sajjate . . . striya: garbhi>a: [email protected] [email protected]
‘nvakXate na [email protected]@$ ś@ntikarma kriyate [email protected][email protected] [email protected]@ri>a sajjate//. The same
data is reiterated in similar language at vv. 63–66.

5 tacchidre>a [email protected]́ya [email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected] (Durgasankara ke Sastri 1932:
155). The full text reads: [O]wing to the curse of the very virtuous mother of
[email protected] the king of Kaccha, it [the disease] was handed down to all the descend-
ents of [email protected] and in consequence of this transmission, it came to pass that [when
Hemacandra briefly replaced [email protected]’s descendent [email protected]@la, thereby becoming
[email protected]’ successor], the disease of leprosy penetrated into the sage by that opening
(tacchidre>a)’ (Tawny 1899: 150).

6 Here I use Sax’s (2009) transliteration of these Garhwali cognates of the Sanskrit
[email protected]@, chidra, and chalam.

7 Sax (2009: 85). Numerous other examples may be cited from modern ethnographies,
such as Nabokov’s (2000: 74) discussion of possession of young women by peys in
Tamilnadu. Tantric manuscripts held in private collections in Garhwal, and dating
back to the eleventh to twelfth centuries, consistently describe chhals as demonic
afflictions arising from fear: email communication from Garhwal University histor-
ian Dinesh Prasad Saklani, 12 October 2010.

8 The NT (19.175) appears to make the same sort of identification, speaking of
hi:sakas (in this case demonic beings and not sorcerers) who, ‘fond of tribute
offerings ([email protected]), gathering together in a windy space [or the place of wind in
the body: [email protected]@nam), arise as ‘wind-born’ [demons]’. The same is said of
phlegm-born and bile-born beings (19.176).

9 Confusingly, Sax (2009: 88) uses Masan here in the plural, but it is clear that he is
referring to the chhals.

10 Internal evidence from the MVS supports this range: its ‘catalogue of YakXas’ con-
tains references to toponyms spread across much of KGB, including Gandhara,
Bactria, Kashmir, eastern Iran, the valleys of the Indus, Swat, and Oxus rivers,
and China (Lévi 1915: 19–139).

11 Hoernle (1893–1912, codex 6, folio 1, verso, line 6): [email protected] [email protected]@to
[email protected] piś@[email protected] [email protected]$ [email protected]>[email protected]$ [email protected]
. . . [email protected]@[email protected]

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12 Hoernle (1893–1912, codex 6, folio 2, recto, line 1): [email protected]>a-ka$khordo-
kira>[email protected]́chardita-duś[email protected]@-duXpre . . . My
translation is based on that Hoernle translation (quoted in Dietz 1997: 88); Hoernle,
however, simply translates [email protected]@ as ‘bad appearance’.

13 Sanderson (2004: 290, n. 149) defines a yantra as follows: ‘a Mantra-inscribed dia-
gram written in various colours and with various inks on cloth, birchbark, the hides
of various animals and the like, wrapped up and then employed in various ways (by
being worn as an amulet, by being burned in a cremation ground, and so on) for
purposes such as warding off ills, harming and enemy, of forcing a person to submit
to the user’s will’.

14 [email protected]́ca [email protected]@[email protected]@: . . . naśyanti/ ś[email protected]́@ya strakalev-
arapraveś[email protected] [email protected] [email protected], [email protected]@dikPt yantra: khakhorda$: [email protected] ad
NT 18.1a–4a. One of [email protected]’s sources may have been [email protected]’s
sixth-century BPhatsa:[email protected], which defines [email protected] and [email protected] in similar ways to
those found here (Turstig 1985: 75). Another tradition, found in the
[email protected] and MPgendratantra, rather identifies [email protected] as Śaiva practitioners
who have been reborn in demonic bodies as karmic punishment for illicit sexual
activities (Vasudeva 2012: 292–3).

15 [email protected] sidhyanti [email protected]@$/ [email protected] naśyanti [email protected]@[email protected]$/ pratyaṅ[email protected]
prayoge>a hanti [email protected]́a$//.

16 [email protected] [email protected] [email protected] ripava$ kariXyanti, [email protected]@ uktena [email protected]
p+jiteti [email protected] ya: prati [email protected] kPta: tena pratyaṅ[email protected] bhavediti [email protected]
stravat rip+>@meva [email protected]́ina [email protected]

17 pratyaṅgiratva: [email protected] [email protected]: prati
[email protected]

18 This is the [email protected] (Asiloma’s protective spell) fragment, in Waldschmidt
(1965–2008: no. 4, p. 272, quoted in Dietz 1997: 88). It should be noted that in these
Buddhist sources, kPtya is declined as a masculine, rather than a feminine ([email protected]) as
in Hindu works.

19 Burrow (1935: 781) notes that ‘no example is given of the akXara -rd- in the account
of the KharoXbhi alphabet. It would naturally be quite uncommon, and possibly is
intended here and has been confused in the transliteration with –rn-’.

20 On the basis of philology and mythology, both the Avesta and the Vedas are datable
to ca. 1500–1000 BCE. The Avesta as we know it was not compiled until the Sassanian
period, and its earliest (lacunary) manuscripts date from the thirteenth and four-
teenth centuries (Forrest 2011: 18).

David Gordon White 171

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