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History of tantra

Tantra is not a religion, although tantric symbolism and practices have appeared throughout history in all religions and cultures. Representations of the sacred union of masculine and feminine principles and the non-duality of this 'sacred inner marriage' can be found as far back as 2000 BC in the Indus Valley civilisation and the old kingdom of Egypt. Tantric principles are inherent in mystical Judaism (Kabbalah), Christianity and Sufism. Chinese Taoism is another strand of Tantra.

Tantra most obviously emerged in India, between 300 and 400 AD, when the first Hindu and Buddhist Tantric texts were written down as poetic metaphors indicating oneness and divine love. These first writings were deliberately obscure so that only the initiated could understand them. Prior to this time, Tantric teachings were closely guarded and only passed orally from master to disciple after long periods of preparation and purification.

Tantra reached its peak in the 11th and 12th centuries, when it was widely and openly practised in India. Tantra refuted the common belief that liberation could only be achieved through rigorous asceticism and renunciation of the world. Tantriks (Tantric yogis) believed that human suffering stemmed from an erroneous notion of separation. They advocated the celebration of the sensual and thus the transcendence of the physical.

Tantra was, and still is, practised in three main forms: in the monastic tradition, in the household tradition and by wandering yogis. While Hinduism had many rules and laws, including strict caste divisions, Tantra was completely non-denominational and could be practised by anyone, even in everyday life.

So meditations on weaving, for example, could be practised by weavers as they contemplated the interwoven and undifferentiated nature of existence, while meditations on eating, drinking and loving could be practised by kings and queens.

With the invasion of India in the 13th century came the widespread slaughter of the Tantras and the destruction of their manuscripts. Tantra went underground, where it has mostly remained ever since. Tantric Buddhism has been preserved especially in the monasteries of Tibet. After the Chinese invasion of Tibet, when monks and nuns were murdered and manuscripts destroyed, those who escaped found ways to gently spread this knowledge on a wider scale.

It is customary to divide tantric paths into two sectors. Those in which the individual practitioner works with his or her own sexual energy, mainly internally, are called 'right hand' or 'white Tantric' paths. Then there are Tantric approaches that involve direct sexual contact between loving partners and these are called 'left-hand' Tantra or 'red Tantra'. However, these terms are part of a more modern classification system.

In the West today, traditional Tantric practices can be found in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and through the Kundalini and Kriya schools of yoga, all of which are right-hand paths. There is also the Taoist tradition, which has only been slightly modified and is a left-handed path. Daniel Odier was initiated by Lalita Devi in the Himalayas, in the lineage of Kasmimir Shaivism.

The main practices he teaches are seated meditation, 'tandava', a form of very subtle free movement in which practitioners contact increasingly refined states of 'divine trembling' resonance with the essence of life, and Kashmir energy massage.

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