Early Modern Śrīvidyā: Tantra and Orthodoxy in South Indian Śaivism
In my first book manuscript, I document for the first time the origins of the Smārta-Śaiva community of the Tamil region, which emerged as a distinct religious tradition during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Beginning in this period, theologians across sectarian boundaries forged an unprecedented alliance with new religious institutions, laying the foundation for the esoteric as well as public religious culture of present-day south India.
Smārta-Śaiva theologians cultivated unprecedented devotional relationships with monastic preceptors of the Śaṅkarācārya lineages, adopting their esoteric Śākta tantric tradition—Śrīvidyā—as their personal ritual practice. Through their exegetical efforts, they canonized Śrīvidyā esotericism as the central pillar of Smārta-Śaiva religious culture, a public secret that defined the contours of community belonging, functionally demarcating Smārta-Śaivism from rival sectarian traditions.
I am currently working on a critical edition and translation of a previously unknown Sanskrit treatise on Śrīvidyā ritual and theology: the Saubhāgyacandrātapa of Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita (17th Century, Madurai), one of the greatest literary wits of Indian history. Scholarship to date has represented Nīlakaṇṭha as a strictly secular intellectual, and yet, his theology was foundational to the emergence of the Smārta-Śaiva community within the sectarianizing landscape of seventeenth-century south India.
This monograph will include a critical edition, translation, and study of the textual history of Śrīvidyā and its role in constructing a new Smārta-Śaiva orthodoxy.