Patricia Sauthoff

Key information

7:00 pm to 8:15 pm
Virtual Event

About this event

Patricia Sauthoff

You can watch the recording of this event on YouTube .

Holy-man pharmacist? Tantra and alchemical medicine

Rasaśāstra (alchemical) literature begins to appear in India around the 10th century as works written by alchemists for alchemists. These works include medicinal recipes and remedies as well as philosophical notions of gender, pediatrics, and mythological accounts of deities and medicinal ingredients. But who are the alchemists themselves?

In this talk I will explore what the corpus itself says about the alchemist and his (female) assistant, their knowledge, bodies, working quarters, and how their divine manifestations play a vital role in alchemical outcomes. Each of these spaces -- mind, body, and world -- are imbued with tantric references, such as mantras and yantras. In addition to complex descriptions of ritual elements, we also find much of the corpus imitating the tantric dialogue between Śiva and Śakti and overt references to kaula and kaulikā practice.

I will also trace references to alchemy in the pre-rasaśāstra literature of tantra, demonstrating that alchemical knowledge developed within the tantric milieu prior to the creation of practical alchemical manuals, which in turn used tantric notions such as the six acts (saṭkarman) to further alchemical practice.

Patricia Sauthoff holds a PhD from SOAS in South Asian Languages and Cultures. She is currently an assistant lecturer at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. She is the author of Illness and Immortality: mantra, maṇḍala, and meditation in the Netra Tantra, which examines healing rites in medieval Śaiva tantra. She was formerly a postdoctoral fellow with the AyurYog project focused on Sanskrit alchemical traditions.

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