Dr Bihani Sarkar publishes ‘Heroic Shāktism’

Dr Bihani SarkarDr Bihani Sarkar’s new book, Heroic Shāktism, published by the Oxford University Press, was launched in Christ Church’s Upper Library on Friday 10 November.

The book is the first published chronological study of the cult of Durgā. According to the OUP’s description of the book, ‘Heroic Shāktism is the belief that a good king and a true warrior must worship the goddess Durgā, the form and substance of kingship. This belief formed the bedrock of ancient Indian practices of cultivating political power. Wildly dangerous and serenely benevolent at one and the same time, the goddess's charismatic split nature promised rewards for a hero and king and success in risky ventures.’

The OUP go on to say: ‘This book is the first expansive historical treatment of the cult of Durgā and the role it played in shaping ideas and rituals of heroism in India between the 3rd and the 12th centuries CE. […] By assessing the available epigraphic, literary and scriptural sources in Sanskrit, and anthropological studies on politics and ritual, Bihani Sarkar demonstrates that the association between Indian kingship and the cult’s belief-systems was an ancient one based on efforts to augment worldly power.’ 

Dr Sarkar was a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at Christ Church during the writing of the book. She began her academic career studying for a BA in English Language and Literature at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, before going on to do an M.Phil in Classical Indian Religions at Wolfson College. Follwing this, she studied for a D.Phil in Sanskrit at Wolfson College, after which she was awarded a Nachwuchsinitiative Postdoctoral Fellowship by Hamburg University, Germany. She was appointed to a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Oriental Institute at Oxford University in 2014, at which point she also became a member of Christ Church. As part of this Fellowship, she studied the localizations, ritual expressions and belief systems connected to the Indic cult of the warrior goddess Caṇḍikā, and looked into the impact of the cultic practices of goddess-worshipping political lineages on early medieval court culture in India. Her broader research interests include Śākta mythology and poetry, the cult of the Goddess in Indian kingship, Classical Sanskrit poetry and drama, and Aesthetics, and whilst at Christ Church she carried out undergraduate teaching in classical Sanskrit literature. She is now a Teaching Fellow in South Asian Religions at the University of Leeds.