United Kingdom

British Museum exhibition takes the sting out of Tantra misconceptions

Dr Imma Ramos, who curates the new exhibition at the British Musuem, said:  “I think it was in the early 90’s that Sting said that he said that he performed seven-hour Tantric sex sessions, that really promoted the stereotype."

She added on the purpose of range of Tantric rituals, from the sexual to meditative: “The ultimate aim of that is spiritual enlightenment… rather than pleasure.  That’s what has become misconstrued.

“The easiest definition of tantra and what it’s about is it is a new world view, it’s a vision of the world as charged with divine feminine power.”

The celebration of this power, Shakti, promoted the female form in medieval Hinduism, and in broader Asian art as the philosophy spread.  The embodiment of this female spirit in the decapitating goddess Kali would centuries later offer a totem for anti-British sentiment in India.

Tantra has since been enthusiastically embraced by countercultural movements, and its ideas have informed modern yoga and kundalini practices which are blossoming anew in the 21st century.

Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution opens at the British Museum in April. 

Tantra often stimulates a titter from those who have only heard the rumours

But a new exhibition at the British Museum will expose the ancient spiritual practice as more than the proclivity of potent pop stars.

Curators are keen to dispel the myths surrounding the Indian system of thought, which has not only fuelled carnal rapture, but enlightenment, feminist thought, and revolt against the British Empire.

Sting suggested in 1990 that Tantra had given longevity to his libido, but the fabled seven-hours of sacramental intimacy are as nothing compared with the vast history of the philosophy.

Emerging from ancient Sanskrit texts, its rituals and rites broke religious and cultural taboos, making the feminine more prominent in Hindu worship, and feeding into the practice of yoga.

In the 19th century the rebellious striving for individual enlightenment found in Tantra was harnessed by Indian revolutionaries seeking freedom from colonial rule.