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Doubling, Pairing, (Bodily) Combining: Translocal Models and Medieval Practices in the Shaping of Tantric Identities



Lucia Dolce (SOAS, University of London)


This presentation wants to reflect on the dynamics that shaped the bodily identit(ies) of discrete translocal figures of the mediaeval Buddhist pantheon. In particular it questions the ‘doubling’ and ‘pairing’ of Tantric deities which took place at a specific moment in Japanese religious history.

I focus on Aizen, for this figure may be seen as a paradigmatic example of the process(es) of bodily multiplication, and its combinatory identities are well documented in a wide range of sources of the period. On the one hand, Aizen appears as an individual deity, not inserted in existent, continental networks of similar deities (grouping of wisdom kings or the major esoteric mandalas). On the other hand, the mediaeval figuring of this deity emphasises its double being (as Aizen and as Zen’ai) and expands on its coupling with another deity of the same type (Aizen and Fudô) through ritual and visual practices of combination that draw on physiological and natural characteristics. In other words, the medieval interest in Aizen expresses an interest in bodily matters and creates new bodies. 

The paper asks to what extent such developments reflect established features of the continental Tantric pantheon rather than being eccentric creations of the Japanese medieval mentalite and explores why deities that embody such characteristics became prominent in the medieval period.

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