Courtesans and Tantric Consorts: Sexualities in Buddhist Narrative, Iconography and Ritual

By Serinity Young | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6

SOUTH ASIAN COURTESANS

Courtesans have long been a staple of South Asian myth, literature, drama, and ritual life. Plays featuring courtesans were frequently performed during spring fertility festivals to help promote the fruitfulness of humans, animals, and crops. 1 In keeping with this connection between courtesans and fecundity, there are many tales in which a king can only end a drought by sending a courtesan to seduce a celibate sage. This theme was enacted in an annual ritual by devadāsīs, the sacred courtesans at the temple of Jagannātha in Puri in order to hasten the monsoon rains. 2 The connections between semen and rain have a long history in the ancient world, and both are also connected to fecundity and thus to power. By withholding his semen a sage can blight the land, unless the king has a greater command over the powers of fertility, or unless he can command the auspicious powers of a beautiful and fertile woman. In similar scenarios the god Indra sends heavenly courtesans (apśaras) to seduce celibate sages whose spiritual power threatens his own. 3

Buddhist stories utilize these same motifs, most famously as when the god Māra attempts to prevent the Buddha's enlightenment by sending his daughters to seduce him. Stories in which courtesans fail in their attempts at seduction serve several purposes: the encounter between ascetic and courtesan is often a literary device to highlight an ascetic's control of his sexuality, as when the harem women fail to seduce the Buddha, but they also serve as warnings about the dangers of sexuality to spiritual power and define women as sexual temptresses. For instance, as we saw in chapter 5, there are several stories of monks whose former wives attempted to seduce them back

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Courtesans and Tantric Consorts: Sexualities in Buddhist Narrative, Iconography and Ritual
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Advance Praise for Courtesans and Tantric Consorts ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations xi
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Abbreviations xvii
  • Note on Transliteration xix
  • Introduction xxi
  • Chapter 1 - Rejection and Reconciliation 3
  • Part II - Parents and Procreation 21
  • Chapter 2 - Mothers and Sons 23
  • Chapter 3 - Medical Excursus 57
  • Chapter 4 - Fathers and Heirs 67
  • Part III - Sexualities 81
  • Chapter 5 - Wives and Husbands 83
  • Chapter 6 - South Asian Courtesans 105
  • Chapter 7 - Courtesans in Buddhist Literature 121
  • Chapter 8 - Tantric Consorts: Introduction 133
  • Chapter 9 - Tantric Consorts: Tibet 149
  • Chapter 10 - The Traffic in Women 165
  • Chapter 11 - Women, Men, and Impurity 179
  • Chapter 12 - Sex Change 191
  • Chapter 13 - Other Lands/Other Realities 211
  • Conclusion 231
  • Bibliography 233
  • Index 249
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