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About the Author

Elisabeth Benard became interested in India at the age of twelve years when her father first brought back Hindu image from a trip to India. For many years she looked at these image in her family library never dreaming that one day she would become a scholar in Indian religions. She researched in India under the auspicious of the American Institute of Indian Studies and received her doctorate from Columbia University. She has lectured widely in the United States, including at Smithsonian Institute and Asia Society, as well as in India and Japan. She has taught at Princeton, Rutgers University, Collage of Wooster and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Presently she is teaching Hinduism, Women in Religion, and Asian Religions at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.


This is the first monograph which examines the rare Hindu and Buddhist Tantric Goddess, Chinnamasta, her rituals, her names and forms (namarupa) and their symbolism by comparing and contrasting her sadhanas (spiritual practices) in Hinduism and Buddhism. The entire Hindu "Chinnamastatantra" section from the Sakta Pramoda, the Buddhist "Chinnamunda Vajravarahisadhana" and the "Trikayavajrayoginistuti" are translated for the first time into English. Since Chinnamasta is a rare goddess, her texts were not popularized or made "fashionable" according to the dictates of a particular group at a particular time. The earliest extant texts date from the ninth and tenth centuries-a time when Hindu and Buddhist Tantras were developing under common influences in the same places in India. Having such texts about Chinnamasta Chinnamasta from these centuries, one can begin to understand the mutuality of a general Tantric tradition and the exclusivity of a particular Hindu or Buddhist Tantric tradition. Hence the study, not only examines Chinnamasta, but also attempts to understand what is a Tantric tradition.


Elisabeth Benard’s work on the Hindu-Buddhist goddess Chinnamastã is a product of indefatigable energy, not overlooking any lead from Sanskrit and Tibetan texts or from knowledgeable informants. So to cast light on a goddess that was strangely obscure and yet implicates any Indian goddess properly to be called wondrous or arousing of awe. Although completed in the United States, her treatise does not follow a History of Religions approach with a baggage of technical terms. Besides, Dr. Benard avoids the guessing and speculations that characterized some previous references to this goddess. Throughout she employs a direct communication with the reader while soberly basing her conclusions on stated sources.

One welcome feature of Benard’s book is the translation of much material from the Sakta Pramoda. Another fine feature is the treatment of the goddess’s names, both the 108 and 1,000 list. Her classification of the names by the rasas of Hindu drama is probably unique.

This work is a solid contribution to the theories of the Hindu and Buddhist Tantras and their symbolism, in particular as related to the goddess.

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