Skip to main content

Purity and Power: Jesus as a Tantric Vīra


For the past 2000 years, Christians have been using terms such as “Messiah,” “Christ,” and “Son of God,” to reflect on the nature of the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, the first-century prophet, healer, and foundational focus of Christianity. However, these terms are ancient and ambiguous for a global context, and it can be argued that, in different cultural contexts, different conceptions of Jesus may be necessary so that the signifier renders Jesus intelligible in various settings without the need for constant explanation and reinterpretation. Can Jesus’ divinity be viewed through a cultural lens other than those that arose in the ancient Greco-Roman classical world? I would suggest that it is indeed imperative to do so if we are to confer respect on cultures other than the ones in which ancient Christianity arose. It is all the more urgent for Christians to seek new ways of envisioning Jesus in the face of the emergent new hermeneutics based on the call by decolonial studies scholars to use critical indigenous epistemologies. As an answer to this need, I propose Jesus as a Tantric vīra. By observing Jesus from a Tantric lens, I re-envision the image of Jesus for a South Asian context while perceiving certain aspects of his divinity that a normative Christian reading may have possibly neglected.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Michael Amaladoss, The Asian Jesus (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006); Jan Peter Schouten, Jesus as Guru: The Image of Christ among Hindus and Christians in India (New York: NY, Rodopi); M. Thomas Thangaraj, The Crucified Guru: An Experiment in Cross-Cultural Christology (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994); Martiea E. Brinkman, The Non-Western Jesus: Jesus as Bodhisattva, Avatara, Guru, Prophet, Ancestor or Healer? (Oakville CT: Equinox, 2009).

  2. Satī is the willing sacrifice of a widow unto death on her husband’s funeral pyre.

  3. Arianism is a heresy named after the Alexandrian priest Arius (c.250 –336 c.). Arius argued that if “Jesus is the Son of God, and begotten before all worlds…but if he is distinct from the Father, he is not God; and if he is Son, he is not co-eternal with the Father. And what is not God is a creature, and what is not eternal is also a creature. On both grounds, then, the Lord is only a creature; so that if he is called God, it is in a lower and improper sense, and if we speak of him as eternal, we mean no more than the eternity of all things in God’s counsel” (Gwatkin, 2016, p. 7).

  4. Swami Vivekananda, Christ, The Messenger, Delivered at Los Angeles, California, 1900.

  5. This is not a primer on Tantric thealogies, theologies, or philosophy. To gain a full understanding of the subject, the reader may familarize themselves to studies in this area.

  6. Clan sisters are observed in various yantras (metaphysical diagrams of the cosmos used for visualizations and contemplation) and mantras. An example of the clan sisters or clan goddesses may be seen in the Devī Kavacham (The Armor of the Goddess) of the Devī Mahātmyam (henceforth DM), also called the Durgā Saptashatī, Caṇḍī, and Caṇḍī Pāṭha.

    prathamaṃ śailaputrī ca dvitīyaṃ brahmacāriṇī |

    tṛtīyaṃ candraghaṇṭeti kūṣmāṇḍeti caturthakam || 3 ||

    pañcamaṃ skandamāteti ṣaṣṭhaṃ kātyāyanīti ca |

    saptamaṃ kālarātrīti mahāgaurīti cāṣṭamam || 4 ||

    navamaṃ siddhidātrī ca navadurgāḥ prakīrtitāḥ |

    uktānyetāni nāmāni brahmaṇaiva mahātmanā || 5 ||” (DM 3–5).

    “First is the Goddess of Inspiration [Śailaputrī, the daughter of the Himalayas], and second the Goddess of Sacred Study [Brahmacāriṇī, celibate woman devoted to knowledge of Brahma], third is the Goddess of the Delight of Practice [Chandraghaṇṭa, she who hangs the crescent moon in her bell], and the Goddess of Purifying Austerity is fourth [Kūṣmāṇḍa, the mother who contains the universe]. Fifth is the Goddess who nurtures Divinity [Skandamāta, Mother of the god of war, Skanda], sixth is the One who is ever Pure [Kātyāyanī, daughter of sage Kathyanana]; seventh is the Goddess of the Dark Night of Overcoming Egotism [The Goddess Kālarātrīti]. The Goddess of the Great Radiant Light is eight [The Great Goddess Mahāgaurī]. Ninth is the Goddess who grants Perfection [The Goddess Siddhidātrī grants spiritual gifts including enlightenment]: the nine Durgās (Saraswati, 2010, pp. 57–58).

  7. In the Dakṣiṇācāra (right-hand) Śākta Tantra tradition one’s mantra, Śaktīgitī (devotional hymns), and sometimes even the sight of ones Guru is enough to take one’s consciousness through stages of samādhīs (mystical states).

  8. Tantric Kāpālika practitioners belong to the mantra pathway called the mantramārga who, unlike the ascetic liberationist of the atimarmārga (Outer path/extreme path), may remain in the world and enjoy both yoga and bhoga. Yoga is union with the Divine, and bhoga means partaking of enjoyments such as eating, drinking, and sexual pleasures.

  9. The Śri Vidyā and the Daśnami schools are great examples of how Śākta Tantra has been assimilated into pan-Hindu schools.

  10. Jesus touching a leper is not viewed as violating the commandment since the disease in question was not a serious contagious disease (Mk 1: 41; Wills, 2011, p. 73). The healing of leprosy is compared to that of Naaman in 2 Kings 5.10, in which the focus is not on abrogation of the law but the cleansing of the disease. Jesus commands the man to present the offering prescribed by the Torah. In regards to Jesus taking a corpse by the hand, it is argued that the narrative is making similarities with the story of Elijah and Elisha raising the dead (Mk 5: 41; Kazen, 2010, p.171). The second argument is that the narrative is a “literary motif” based on the Hebrew Bible thus, “lacking” any historical value (Kazen, 2010, p.171). Thus it attains an “ideological layer, exhibiting a Christological variant: Jesus as the prophet in the tradition of, or even outdoing, Elijah and Elisha” (Kazen, 2010, p. 173). While not denying the Christological intent in the Elijah and Elisha allusions, it “is hardly sufficient to claim that the narrative…has been construed only from these stories, with no historical memories behind it” (Kazen, 2010, p.173). In the case of Jesus touching a woman in hemorrhage, it is argued that Mark is not referring to a menstruating woman (niddah) but a woman with an “abnormal” “irregular, continuous flow of blood (zavah; Lev 15.19–30). Further, it is debated if such ritual impurity would have “mattered in a local village, where access to the Temple is not an issue” (Wills, 2011, p. 73). What is often described as Jesus’ rejection of Jewish purity codes which would have been burdensome for women, is the contrast between “sickness and healing based on faith” as emphasized by the text (Kazen, 2010, p. 28–29, 34). Finally, Israelites were not forbidden to be ritually impure as the prior discussion suggests.

  11. Drawing from Jesus’ cleansing in Mk 1: 40–45, the “kingdom of God is a time of liberation from impurity, not from purity laws” (Zech 13.1–2; 14.20–21; Wills, 2011, p. 73). Viewed within this frame of reference, Jesus’ defense of his disciples not washing their hands is not a nullification of the kosher laws rather has to do with the elimination of impurity in “Jewish apocalyptic tradition” (Wills, 2011, p. 84).

  12. Scholarly opinions differ if Jesus would have openly rejected the Sabbath, if he denied the binding nature of biblical rules, if he is against “scribal or Pharisaic halakhah,” or if his criticism of “halakhic interpretation was an attack on the Sabbath commandment itself” (Kazen, 2010, p. 57). Others question if the text is historical and suggest that since it was part of church polemics, it represents how Jesus followers define their own identities against their opponents. Finally, some argue that Jesus may be viewed as upholding Sabbath laws since a similar Sabbath exception is observed in t. Shabb. 16.12 and Mk 3.1–6. Further, “Son of Man” can be interpreted as “person,” which would mean that Jesus’ Lordship as Son of Man means the lordship or ladyship of every human person “in the sense of enjoying the day rather than feeling burdened by Sabbath laws (b. Yoma 85b reads: ‘The Sabbath is given for you, not you to the Sabbath’” (Wills, 2011, p. 76).

  13. Scholars find no clear textual evidence as to why Jesus objected to these activities. “Suggestions include: (1) He [Jesus] finds a violation of the sanctity of the Temple (m. Ber. 9.5, not relating to money but to general behavior in the Temple precincts); (2) for all nations means an end to the exclusion of Gentiles; or (3) he condemns the purported economic injustice of the Roman-appointed Temple establishment in requiring money to be changed at the Temple” (Wills, 2011, p. 93). Prophetic texts such as Isa 64:11 also predict the fall of the first Temple due to sin.

  14. Demons were thought to possess people in the second Temple period. Although some scholars will separate demon possession and diseases, “Demons in Antiquity were among other things thought to cause sickness, and were sometimes given the names of various diseases, such as Fever or Headache [the 4Q versions of the Damascus document make associations between leprosy and possession]. That this was the case in Second Temple Judaism as well is evident from 4Q560, in which Fever and Chills are personified as demonic beings” (Kazen, p. 303). “The presence of Jewish exorcists during this time is also attested by Mark (Mk 9:38–40/Lk 9:49–50), Q (Mt 12:27/Lk 11:19) and Acts (Acts 19:13–16)” (Kazen, p. 310). To be sure, there are other interpretations such as this pericope could be related to the condition of the Israelites during Roman occupation or it represents the spread of Christianity into Gentile territory therefore the triple emphasis on uncleanness of land, unclean spirit, and the mention of pigs.

  15. Tensions between Jews and Samaritans were related to differences related to place of worship, canonical texts, and Jewish intermarriages.

  16. Jesus then proceeds to list the things that defile a person, which are strikingly similar to ancient Jewish sources, “For it is from within, out of the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these things come from within and they defile” (Mk 7: 202–23; Klawans 2000, p. 148).

  17. Tantrics are known to raise people from the dead even today.


  • Altman, M. J. (2017). Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu: American Representations of India, 1721–1893. Oxford University Press.

  • Banerji, D. (2021). Swami Vivekananda: His life, legacy, and contemporary relevance. In: Lexington series explorations in Indic traditions: Theological, ethical, and philosophical.

  • Boyd, R. H. S. (1975). Indian Christian Theology. The Christian Literature Society.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coward, H. (1933). Hindu-Christian dialogue: Perspectives and encounters. Motilal Banarsidass.

  • Dupuche, J. R. (2003). Abhinavagupta The Kula ritual as elaborated in Chapter 29 of the Tantraloka. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

  • Ellsberg, R. (1991). Gandhi on christianity. Mary Knoll.

  • Eyal, R. (2001). Vetus testamentum, 51(2), 243–261, Brill.

  • Farquhar, J. N. (1915). Modern religious movements in India. Macmillan & Co.

    Google Scholar 

  • Flood, G. (1996). An introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Flood, G. (2006). The Tantric Body: The secret tradition of Hindu religion. IB Tauris.

  • Frevel, C., & Nihan, C. (2013). Purity and the forming of religious traditions in the ancient Mediterranean World and Ancient Judaism Series (Dynamics in the History of Religions, Volume: 3). Brill.

  • Green, G. L. (2014). Jesus without borders: Christology in the majority world. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

  • Gwatkin, H. M. (2016). The Arian Controversy. University of Michigan Library.

  • Kazen, T. (2010). Jesus and purity Halakhah: Was Jesus indifferent to impurity? In Coniectanea Biblica, New Testament Series 38. Eisenbrauns.

  • Killingley, D. H. (1981). Rammohun Roy on the Vedānta Sutras. Religion, 11(2), 151–169.

  • Klawans, J. (2000). Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism. Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Kopf, D. (1979) The brahmo samaj and the shaping of the modern Indian mind. Princeton Legacy Library.

  • Lapan, S. D., Quartaroli, M. T., Reimer, F. J. (Eds.). (2012). Qualitative Research: An Introduction to Methods and Design (1st ed.). Jossey-Bass.

  • Malkovsky, B. (2010). Some recent developments in Hindu understandings of Jesus, Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies, 23, Article 5

  • Mookerjee, A., & Khanna, M. (2003). The tantric way: Art. Science, Ritual: Thames & Hudson.

  • Nelson, L. E. (1998). Purifying the earthly body of God: Religion and ecology in Hindu India. State University of New York Press.

  • Neyrey, J. H. “The Idea of Purity in Mark’s Gospel.” University of Notre Dame. Accessed December 21, 2015.

  • Padoux, A. (2002). What do we mean by Tantrism? In Roots of Tantra, SUNY Series in Tantric Studies. State University of New York Press.

  • Pape, W. R. Biblical Making Biblical Scholarship Accessible Since 2001. Keshub Chunder Sen’s Doctrine of Christ and the Trinity: A Rehabilitation.

  • Parappally, J. (2002). Rejection and reception of Jesus Christ the word in India. VJTR, 66, 884–892.

    Google Scholar 

  • Regev, Eyal. (2001). Priestly Dynamic Holiness And Deuteronomic Static Holiness. In Vetus Testamentum LI, 2, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden.

  • Reinhartz, Adele. (2011). The gospel according to John. In: Levine, Amy-Jill. & Brettler, Marc Zvi, (eds.). The Jewish annotated new testament (1st edition). Oxford University Press.

  • Sanderson, Alexis. (1985). Purity and Power Among the Brahmans of Kashmir. In Michael Carrithers, Steven Collins and Steven Lukes (eds.), The Category of the Person: Anthropology, Philosophy, History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Saraswati, S. S. (2010). Caṇḍī Pāṭhaḥ: She Who Tears Apart Thought. Devi Mandir Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schouten, J. P. (2008). Jesus as Guru: Currents of encounter.

  • Sharma, A. (2006). Religious studies and comparative methodology: The case for reciprocal illumination. SUNY.

  • Sherma, R. D. (2016). The world according to Tantra. Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sherma, R. D. (1998a). Sacred immanence: Reflections of ecofeminism in Hindu Tantra. In L. Nelson (ed.), Purifying the earthly body of God: Religion and ecology in Hindu India, State University of New York Press.

  • Sherma, R. D. (1998b). Sacred immanence: Reflections of ecofeminism in Hindu Tantra and world as Shakti/World as self. State University of New York Press.

  • Sherma, R. D. (2020). God the mother and her Sacred text: A Hindu vision of divine immanence. In V. Howard (ed.), The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Indian Philosophy and Gender, Bloomsbury.

  • Stephen. M. (2001). A Christian theology in the Indian context. ISPCK.

  • Sugirtharajah, R. S. (1993). Asian faces of Jesus. Mary Knoll.

  • Törzsök, Judit. (2020). Why Are the Skull-Bearers (Kāpālikas) Called Soma? In Śaivism and the Tantric Traditions: Essays in Honour of Alexis G.J.S. Sanderson. (eds). Dominic Goodall, Shaman Hatley, Harunaga Isaacson, Srilata Raman. Brill. Boston.

  • Vivekananda, The Complete Works, vol. I, P; 319

  • Wills, Lawrence M. (2011). “The Gospel According to Mark.” Levine, Amy-Jill. & Brettler, Marc Zvi. (eds.). The Jewish Annotated New Testament 1st Edition. Oxford University Press.

  • Zimmer, H. R. (2001). Philosophies of India. Princeton University Press.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Pravina Rodrigues.

Ethics declarations

Competing Interests

The author declares no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Rodrigues, P. Purity and Power: Jesus as a Tantric Vīra. DHARM (2022).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI:


  • Śākta
  • Tantra
  • Hindu–Christian interreligious dialogue
  • Hindu-Christian comparative theology
  • Reciprocal illumination
  • Inculturation