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This project is based on research on Tantric alchemy and how it underwrites specific notions of asceticism, healing and vitality. Previously the problem was seen as expressing a contradiction between the worship of god for the sake of liberation (mukti) and the cultivation of occult powers such as levitation, atomization and other kinds of wizardry (siddhi). But I think this framework is faulty. The stumbling block is that a large part of the tantric alchemical corpus is used for routine healing like the use of a concoction of mercury against snakebite or indigestion. How does a religious orientation of salvation connect to this kind of healing? On the other hand, how does everyday healing square with extraordinary occult powers?
Ronald Barrett’s work on Aghori healing establishes the argument that ritually polluting substances are used for healing stigmatized diseases like leprosy and leukoderma. The argument appears a little limited and contrived.
I have observed that village people go to Tantric healers for everyday illnesses and practical cures. To be useful, there has to be some institutional or doctrinal form within Aghori or Tantric healing which explains this flexibility and range.
While on the one hand I am convinced that such a long tradition and corpus of writings as Tantric alchemy embodies cannot be happenstance. Whatever be its actual worth, there has to be a well-spring for it to be alive till today in the rural milieu. And yet on the other hand, the problem is how to have a framework, which addresses the specificity of this tradition. What can be adduced on the behalf of a religious idiom that justifies this angle of healing, hygiene and diet along with the cultivation of extraordinary occult powers and the desire for salvation?