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In Indian doctrine and legends, mantras perceived by rishis invoke deities and have transformative powers.
But are there revelations today? Can there be new mantras?
Adopting a methodology that combines scholarship and practice, Mani Rao discovered a continuing tradition of visionaries and revelations in Shakta communities of Andhra-Telangana. Her book ‘Living Mantra’ probes practical and theoretical questions— Is vision visual? How to tell if a vision is real or imagined? Are deity-visions mediated by culture? Are mantras language?
In this presentation, she describes her research and shares her findings, as well as presents glimpses from her interactions with mantra-vettas at Shakta sites in Andhra-Telangana, especially Devipuram (near Visakhapatnam), Svayam Siddha Kali Pitham (Guntur) and Nachiketa Tapovan (Kodgal).
Mani Rao (b.1965 India) is a poet, translator and scholar with nine books of poetry including New & Selected Poems (Poetrywala) and two books in translation— Bhagavad Gita as a poem (Fingerprint), and Kalidasa for the 21st Century Reader (Aleph). Her latest book Living Mantra— Mantra, Deity and Visionary Experience Today (Palgrave Macmillan 2019) is an anthropology of mantra-experience among Hindu-tantric practitioners in Andhra-Telangana. Mani’s poems and essays are in or forthcoming in journals including Poetry Magazine, Wasafiri, Meanjin, Washington Square, Fulcrum, West CoastLine, Interim, Indian Literature, and in anthologies including W.W.Norton’s Language for a New Century, Penguin’s 60 Indian Poets, and the Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets. She has held writing residencies at Omi Ledig House (2018), Iowa IWP (2005 and 2009) and was the 2006 University of Iowa International Programs writer-in-residence. Mani has an MFA in Creative Writing from UNLV, and a PhD in Religious Studies from Duke University.
Dr. Lata Mani is a historian, cultural critic, filmmaker. She is the author of The Integral Nature of Things: Critical Reflections on the Present (Routledge, 2013), Interleaves: Ruminations on Illness and Spiritual Life (Yoda, 2011), SacredSecular: Contemplative Cultural Critique, (Routledge, 2009), Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India(University of California Press, 1989); and with Ruth Frankenberg The Tantra Chronicles (Self-published, 2013). She directed Leela’s Journey (2009); and with Nicolás Grandi, Here-Now (2012), Nocturne I & II(2013), De Sidere 7 (2014) & The Poetics of Fragility(2016), an ongoing transmedia project (film, website, artist book, installations).