The art of transgression
Country Life UK|October 28, 2020
Laura Gascoigne finds more feminism than sex or yoga in the British Museum’s interpretation of Tantra
Laura Gascoigne
IN 1698, the East India Company bought three villages in Bengal as a base for its trading operation. They grew to form the city of Calcutta—an anglicised version of ‘Kalikata’— named after the Hindu deity Kali, with a temple nearby.

As the goddess of destruction, Kali seems an odd choice of patron deity for the seat of British power in India, but Company officers paid little attention to a religion they regarded as primitive. One exception was Maj-Gen Charles Stuart (1757–1828), an Irish officer who earned the nickname ‘Hindoo Stuart’ by collecting images of Hindu deities, which he was said to worship. More than 100 of his sculptures ended up in the British Museum and one example in this exhibition gives a clear indication of Kali’s ferocious character: with weapons in five of her eight hands and a bloodied corpse dangling from a sixth, she stands on the supine body of her husband, Shiva, with a garland of decapitated heads around her neck.

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