About Shankari Baba and understanding Tantra

  • By Dr. Subhasis Chattopadhyay
  • February 13, 2024
  • Article helps you understand Tantra and tells about Shankari Baba. 

At Tarapith, long ago, before this author was born, there lived a hermit, Shankari Baba. He lived in a trench dug within the main crematorium (maha-shamshan) of Tarapith. Baba used to wear nothing most of the time and only rarely wore a loin-cloth. To keep the steady stream of devotees away he used to behave in an odd way. He threw his excreta to the hundreds who came to visit him.

Lest you jump to the conclusion that this is all bunkum and impossible; I ask you to read up about the Russian Holy Fools. We, the followers of the Dharma Sanatana, or the Laws Eternal, would believe that pigs can sing if the white man declares so. Therefore, before rejecting what is written here; I invite you at the cost of repetition, to Google search the Russian Holy Fools.

In a nutshell, the Holy Fools of Russia were Christian mystics who behaved very much like Shankari Baba and many other holy women and men of our Faith. Shankari Baba’s aim was not to insult anyone, nor was he eccentric but he was a recluse for the sake of the Holy Mother; Maa Tara of Tarapith. This is how Shankari Baba drew close to Her and chose the greatest living Tantric --- one who has now become one with the One. This will be apparent in a moment.

One day, a young boy who hails from Gorakhpur and lives in a shanty in the northern fringes of Kolkata visited the Baba with his dad. Shankari Baba was in his mud-cave dug within the main crematorium of Tarapith where Sri Vamdev had meditated and had eventually united with Maa Tara. Shankari Baba was as usual nude, and was in an apparent rage.

Hundreds were there asking him for the cures of their worldly troubles. Not a single person asked for mukti. They asked only for this or the other solution for their worldly problems. Be that as it may; suddenly Shankari Baba called by name this young man who had gone to visit the Holy Mother with his father. The young boy saw Shankari Baba throwing excreta to him. But I emphasize that Shankari Baba had called this boy by name and had beckoned him.

The boy under some unknown power, instead of being repulsed, put out his hands to receive the faecal matter. And what he received were Bengali sweetmeats and a  command to learn Shakta Tantra from Shankari Baba. That moment changed this living Bhairab’s life. To this day, every fortnight he goes to Tarapith. And he continues to live unknown even after attaining all the Tantric Siddhis mentioned in our Shastras. He lives unknown because he has the Siddhis --- those who do not know, speak and those who know, are silent. 

What I am typing here in English, this 69 years’ old Hindi speaking class eight school dropout knows. He can see it remotely. The Shvetashvatara Upanishad says that the eyes and ears of Rudra are everywhere --- through the blessings of Sri Vamdev, that young lad of that day who received the blessings of Shankari Baba and today is an old man who lives in a chawl, has become a Bhairav and part of Rudra. Thus, His eyes and ears are everywhere. Incidentally, he had to drop out of school to work at a brick kiln since his father had died and he was the sole breadwinner of his family.

From monks to professors to beggars to politicians, all go to him for solace. And they encounter loving silence and no judgment. All are welcome to take help from Tantra, but the doors to learning and speaking of Shakta Tantra are closed and rightly so. This is because Tantra is like a burning and fiery sun which has to be contained in the body of the practitioner and it burns to insanity and death anyone who cannot bear this heat. This is why Tantra is for only a very few and is passed on from Master to disciple. No written records are kept except anecdotal records. This fire originating from the primal Bindu will certainly destroy anyone unfit for this marga, or discipline.

Only one who has seen through the powers of Maya and has total control over the senses and is as cool as the ice water of Gangotri can remain calm with Tantra within him. There are no external marks or signs of having attained any siddhis; just contentment --- this is Tantra.

Now to explain the fiery nature of Tantric siddhis I quote from a lengthy paper/correspondence I had with a sincere first world scholar of Tantra who is considered an expert in the field. Due to copyright and confidentiality clauses I am only producing parts of the paper:

We are unfit for the discipline of Tantra now and we were unfit during the middle ages. This is why the Tantras are often misread as advocating eroticism or contemporary commentators are taken up by casteist Brahmins denying them entry to temples two decades ago. Or, by continually referring to the Codes of Manu or, the Brahmayamala Tantra. It is like referring to the Inquisition to understand contemporary Roman Catholic theology and to get stuck at the Song of Songs in the Hebrew Bible respectively. 

Certainly, some white man denying a Hindu  entry to a Church in WASP United States cannot be the basis of anyone’s judgment about the nature of Christianity. Similarly, being denied entry to a temple as had been sadly done to Professor XYZ and his colleague at Kerala two decades ago cannot be a representation of Tantra in its pure and pristine glory. None of these experiences capture the essence of Tantra which cannot be practiced initially within a house or even a temple. 

To reach the essence of Tantra one must understand that transgressiveness is not the aim of Tantra. In fact, Tantra then and now in praxes throughout India and Nepal, forbids the indulgence of the flesh for the sarx is detestable within all branches of the Sanatana Dharma (deha ninda). This is not sanitizing Tantra for making it normative or a reaction to David Gordon White’s The Kiss of the Yogini. 

The sixty-four Yoginis do not kiss anyone but tear them alive unless they are fit to even invoke them. Tantra is not somebody dancing and getting into a trance induced by wine and money and prestige. These are contemporary subaltern practices which have their role in society as being reactions against imagined and real casteism, but these are not Tantric practices. Neither does one remain chaste after lying down with women without clothes. That amounts to sadomasochism.

The written Tantras are warning against power, fame, money and of course, unchaste behaviour. The true Tantric understands that it takes years to become dead or cold to this passing world and then alone the fireball of Tantra comes to reside within the practitioner. The reality is that practitioners are assailed by various forms of modifications of the mind which lead them to get trapped within samsara which is best represented by erotica. 

Sri Abhinavagupta says that this world is very real, and it is a fool who thinks that it is not. It is another matter that he is attacking Adi Shankara’s version of monism. The necessary disciplines are all confused by relying solely on extant texts. For Tantrics, Tantra predates even the Vedas and the need to become a god to worship God is an echo of this ancient but unchanging religion from its sources in previous eons. Celibacy and perfect chastity are so difficult that later writers got stuck with discussions on the erotic. 

The discussion of this is itself a sign that the writers are now no longer focused on Shaktih but on the very thing forbidden in the living lineage: that is, the discussion of the body.

This author has found online discussion of awakening of the Kundalini and Shaktipat. And they all come at hefty prices.

Therefore, this essay began with mentioning capitalism. This is something one misses. In the times of the black-sect and the Kalamukhas and the Kapalikas people did horrifying things to earn money and even now at Tarapith and Kamakhya they do horrifying things to earn their living which has nothing to do with Tantra. In this sense too nothing has changed, and nothing will.

The essence of Tantra will be missed because of a lack of immersion in the unwritten tradition(s), because Tantra including Sri Vidya has to be learnt in a crematorium and have to be taught by Hakinis, Dakinis and Shakinis and then one can actually write on it, if at all.

The Tantric liturgy have remained the same through the centuries and to date, this author has not found them to be written anywhere. It is through these embodied beings, these eternal ‘dasein’, one learns to be quiet and have no external marks as an Aghori or a Tantric. This is what Sri Abhinavagupta means when he cautions the practitioner never to be something without and something else within. Sri Abhinavagupta's triune Goddess is this fire which unless kept safe, hidden and chilled, will burn whoever tries to touch it.  

The texts only gesture towards this fire through synecdoches and metonymies and the ‘nyasas’ are not merely deity visualizations or entextualisations but actual blocking of entries of all manners of beings. This will make no sense if one does not have Faith. Only Roman Catholic priests know that their wine is the Paschal Blood. The Katha Upanishad says in different words that Shaktih chooses whom It wants to choose. This author cannot ratiocinate knowing that ratiocinating about Tantra is useless to those entrenched in structuralist modes of thinking.

On a personal note, this author is indebted to European and American scholars working on Tantra since this author believes that the future of Hinduism does not lie in India any longer. And he has consulted Professor Flood’s lectures and book, The Tantric Body…it has been the point of this essay to stress that nothing about Tantra has changed. What we call New Age Tantra was there from the beginning and will be there. Hedonism was always there and will always be there. Folks on dope will think they are having kundalini awakenings and psychotic folks will see Yoginis kissing them. But one can only repeat, Tantra is only for the likes of Sri Ramakrishna and not Osho. This author once visited Osho’s center at Pune and nearly puked at the horrors being passed off as Tantra there. Tantra is for the Vira, the powerful who are not swayed by their passions.

Part of the reply of this scholar at England whose focus is Tantra:

This is an interesting essay that I enjoyed reading. Yes, there is a dimension of tradition that is conveyed through a non-literary transmission, although as ‘external’ commentators we tend not to know about it. You make an excellent point that the tantric traditions are not hedonistic and are rather about transcending passion and that is what is understood by ‘the hero’ (vīra). I take your point about the problem of these periodisations – medieval, modern – although I tend to think that ‘medieval’ maps on quite well to Indian history if we take it to refer to the post-Gupta period up to the dominance of the Mughals. As you observe, it is also the case that some tantric traditions, such as in Kerala, simply become normative Brahmanical ones adapting those rules of purity and impurity.

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Author Dr. Subhasis Ph.D. is primarily a theologian.  


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