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Title: The Economics of Ecstasy: Tantra, Secrecy and Power in Colonial Bengal
Author: Urban, Hugh B
Publisher: Oxford University Press; Publication Date: 2001
Hardcover; ISBN: 9780195139020
Volumes: 1; Pages: 304
List Price in Cloth: $98.00 Our price: $79.99
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This volume explores the Bengali Kartabhaja sect and its place in the broader movement of Tantra, an Indian religious movement notorious for its alleged use of shocking sexual language and rituals. Hugh B. Urban looks closely at the relationship between the rise of the Kartabhajas, who flourished at the turn of the nineteenth century, and the changing economic context of colonial Bengal.Made up of the poor lower classes laboring in the marketplaces and factories of Calcutta, the Kartabhajas represent "the underworld of the imperial city." Strikingly, Urban shows, their esoteric poetry and songs are saturated with the language of the marketplace and the bazaar, which becomes for them the key metaphor used to communicate secret knowledge and mystical teachings. Not only do they employ the imagery in the market of moneylending and brokering, and swindling and haggling, they even name their sect after the British East India Company, giving themselves the ironic title of the "Poor Company."Urban shows that the case of the Kartabhajas opens many new insights not merely into the specific case of one minor Bengali cult, but also into much larger cross-cultural and theoretical issues, including the changing role of the lower class, marginalized groups under the changing conditions of colonialism, the changing role of Tantric traditions during the period of British rule, and the topic of secrecy as a cross-cultural category in the study of religion. Urban's reflections on the ethical and epistemological dilemmas involved in studying traditions that wish to remain secret will set a new standard for discussion of this controversial issue.