In this groundbreaking study on Sarvamnaya Shakta Tantra in Nepal, Jeffrey S. Lidke combines the study of primary sources with the investigation of living interpretations of these sources by contemporary Nepalese practitioners. Lidke focuses his twenty-year analysis on a specific Tantric tradition – Shri Vidya – a specific deity – Tripurasundari – a specific text Nityashodashikarnava – and a specific set of initiates within a specific locale – the Kathmandu Valley.
This emphasis on specificity enables the author to contextualize his study within the unique Nepalese historical and sociocultural context, and thereby to represent Sarvamnaya Shakta Tantra not as a static, universal "ism" present in a single form throughout the subcontinent, but as a dynamic place-specific tradition reflecting the nuanced ways that peoples and institutions shape their religious traditions according to the power negotiations that arise in Tantric worlds in which individuals imagine they can be like the gods they worship. The central symbol that drives these negotiations in Nepal is the mandala, a pan-Tantric instrument of worship by which Tantric practitioners – be they kings, commoners, artisans or warriors – navigate, imagine and identify with the territories in which they live and strive to obtain their mundane and spiritual aims.
The mandala's ubiquitous presence is found not just overtly in city designs, temple architecture and a seemingly infinite array of artistic representations (including sculpture, painting, music and dance) but also covertly in the secret rituals and meditation practices of initiates at all levels of Nepalese society, ranging from lower caste girls to the former kings of Nepal.