Especially during the Buddhist Renaissance period, Tibetan Buddhism was shaped considerably through ritual and esoteric literature and practices of Indian Tantric traditions – with Tantrism being a phenomenon that in Indian contexts cuts across the boundaries of Buddhism and Śaivism. Moving beyond the geographic and historical frame of medieval Tibet, research in this sub-programme addressed, for the first time, the phenomenon of Tantra in late medieval India (ca. 700–1200 CE) through the lens of “community”. The VISCOM project thus provided new stimuli for this area of study, in which social questions hitherto occupied a marginal position.

The project team around the former PL Vincent Eltschinger, consisting of Nina Mirnig, Marion Rastelli and Francesco Bianchin­i, investigated early medieval Tantric communities and their surviving textual testimonies in Himalayan border regions (i.e. Northern India, Nepal and Kashmir) in individual case studies. An international symposium, Tantric Communities in Context: Sacred Secrets and Public Rituals (IKGA, 5-7 February 2015), brought together leading experts from the field of ancient and medieval Indian textual traditions. The voluminous contributions, published in a conference volume, offer new insights into the emergence and institutionalisati-
on of various Tantric communities as they sought to expand their networks across South-, Central- and South-East Asia.

Mirnig’s post-doctoral research in the project investigated death rites in the earliest extant Śaiva Siddhānta Tantric sources as a mirror of the social expansion of early Tantric communities, and illustrated how Tantric religious spe­cialists adopted the ritual repertoire to include a wider clientele. Mirnig also conducted research on regional patronage networks of Śaiva communities in the Kathmandu Valley (Nepal) on the basis of newly surveyed Sanskrit epigraphic evidence dating to the 5th to 7th century, shedding light on the role of early local devotional practices and courtly patro­nage in promoting Śaiva initiatory communities within the religio-­political landscape of the valley. Pursuing the question of an interface between Tantric communities and political elites, Bianchini focused on the role of Tantric rituals in consolidating the power of Tantric priests in the Vaiṣṇava Pāñcarātra tradition, reconstructing their strategic role in the legitimation of royal power. The research activities of this sub-programme provided fertile ground for wider-ranging explorations into the social history of Indian religions.



Mirnig, Nina. Liberating the Liberated: Tantric Death Rites in Early Śaivism. (BKGA 96.) Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2018.

Collected Volumes

Mirnig, Nina, Marion Rastelli and Vincent Eltschinger (Eds.). Tantric Communities in Context. (BKGA 99.) Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2019.


Bianchini, Francesco. “Scripture meets royal power: The case of the Ahirbhudhnyasaṃhitā”, in Tantric Communities in Context, (eds) Nina Mirnig, Marion Rastelli, Vincent Eltschinger. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press. (forthcoming). 

Mirnig, Nina. “Rudras on Earth on the Eve of the Tantric Age: The Śivadharmaśāstra on creating Śaiva lay and initiatory communities”, in Tantric Communities in Context, (eds) Nina Mirnig, Marion Rastelli, Vincent Eltschinger. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press. (forthcoming).

Mirnig, Nina. “Adapting Śaiva Tantric Initiation for Exoteric Circles: The Case of the Lokadharmiṇī Dīkṣā and its History in Early Medieval Sources”, in Śaivism and the Tantric Traditions: Essays in Honour of Alexis Sanderson, (eds) Dominic Goodall, Shaman Hatley, Harunaga Isaacson, Srilata Raman. Leiden: Brill. (forthcoming).

Mirnig, Nina. “Early Strata of Śaivism in the Kathmandu Valley: Śivaliṅga Pedestal Inscriptions from 466–645 CE,” in Indo-Iranian Journal, Volume 59 4/4, Brill. (2016)

Mirnig, Nina. “Exploring ancient Pashupati: the results of preliminary surveys and excavations at Bhandarkhal 2014–2016”; Coningham, R.A.E., Acharya, K.P., Davis, C.E., Manuel, M.J., Kunwar, R.B., Hale, D., Tremblay, J., Gautam, D. and Mirnig, N., Ancient Nepal 192, pp. 28–51. (2016)

Mirnig, Nina. “Hungry Ghost or Divine Soul? Post-Mortem Initiation in Medieval Śaiva Tantric Death Rites,” in Ultimate Ambiguities. Investigating Death and Liminality, (eds) Peter Berger and Justin Kroesen. Berghahn Books. (2015)

Rastelli, Marion. “Narratives as a medium for appealing to the royal court: A look into the Ahirbudhnyasaṃhitā”, in Tantric Communities in Context, (eds) Nina Mirnig, Marion Rastelli, Vincent Eltschinger. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press. (forthcoming).