The hymns to the Devi in this volume (introduced by a stotra to Her Spouse, the Kalabhairava) are taken from the Tantra, Purana, Mahabharata, and Sankaracarya, who was "the incarnation of devotion" (bhaktavatara) as well as a great philosopher; a fact which is sometimes ignored by those who do not wish to be reminded that he, whose speculative genius they extol, was also the protagonist of the so-called "idolatrous Hinduism." As his great example amongst many others of differing race and creed tell us, it is not, from the view of religion, the mark of discernment (even though it be the mode) to neglect or disparage the ritual practice which all orthodoxies have prescribed for their adherents.
Of the Hymns now published, those from the Mahabharata and Candi have already been translated; Adyakalisvarupastotra has also been previously published as part of a rendering of the Mahanirvana Tantra. It is necessary to study the Hindu commentators and to seek the oral aid of those who possess the traditional interpretation of the Sastra. Without this and an understanding of what Hindu worship is and means, absurd mistakes are likely to be made. The author has therefore availed himself of the Commentaries of Nilakantha on the Mahabharata, of Gopala Chakravarti and Nagogi
Bhatta on Candi, and of Nilakantha on the Devibhagavata.
Sir John George Woodroffe (15 December 1865 – 16 January 1936), also known by his pseudonym Arthur Avalon, was a British Orientalist whose extensive and complex published works on the Tantras, and other Hindu traditions, stimulated a wide-ranging interest in Hindu philosophy and yoga.
Woodroffe was the eldest son of James Tisdall Woodroffe and his wife Florence, daughter of James Hume. James Woodroffe was Advocate-General of Bengal and Legal Member of the Government of India, a Justice of the Peace, and a Knight of St. Gregory. John was educated at Woburn Park School and the University College, Oxford, where he took second classes in jurisprudence and the Bachelor of Civil Law examinations. He was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1889, and in the following year was enrolled as an advocate of the Calcutta High Court. He was soon made a Fellow of Calcutta University and appointed Tagore Law Professor. He collaborated with Ameer Ali in a widely used textbook, Civil Procedure in British India. He was appointed Standing Counsel to the Government of India in 1902, and in 1904 was raised to the High Court Bench. He served there for eighteen years, becoming Chief Justice in 1915. After retiring to England he served as Reader in Indian Law at the University of Oxford. He died on 18 January 1936 in France.
Alongside his judicial duties, he studied Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy and was especially interested in Hindu Tantra. He translated some twenty original Sanskrit texts and, under his pseudonym Arthur Avalon, published and lectured prolifically on Indian philosophy and a wide range of Yoga and Tantra topics. T.M.P. Mahadevan wrote: "By editing the original Sanskrit texts, as also by publishing essays on the different aspects of Shaktism, he showed that the religion and worship had a profound philosophy behind it and that there was nothing irrational or obscurantist about the technique of worship it recommends."
- Woodroffe's The Serpent Power – The Secrets of Tantric and Shakti Yoga, is a source for many modern Western adaptations of Kundalini yoga practice. It is a philosophically sophisticated commentary on, and translation of, the Satcakra-nirupana ("Description of and Investigation into the Six Bodily Centres") of Purnananda (dated c.AD 1550) and the Paduka-Pancaka ("Five-fold Footstool of the Guru"). The term "Serpent Power" refers to the kundalini, an energy said to be released within an individual by meditation techniques.
- Woodroffe's Garland of Letters expounds on the "non-dual" (advaita) philosophy of Shaktism from a different starting point, the evolution of the universe from the supreme consciousness. It is a distillation of Woodroffe's understanding of the ancient Tantric texts and philosophy. He writes: "Creation commences by an initial movement or vibration (spandana) in the Cosmic Stuff, as some Western writers call it, and which in Indian parlance is Saspanda Prakriti-Sakti. Just as the nature of Cit or the Siva aspect of Brahman [Supreme Consciousness] is rest, quiescence, so that of Prakrti [matter] is movement. Prior however to manifestation, that is during dissolution (Pralaya) of the Universe Prakrti exists in a state of equilibrated energy.... It then moves... this is the first cosmic vibration (Spandana) in which the equilibrated energy is released. The approximate sound of this movement is the mantra Om."
Woodroffe translated the Mahānirvāṇatantraṃ from the original Sanskrit into English under his nom-de-plume of Arthur Avalon: a play on the magical realm of Avalon and the young later-to-be, King Arthur, within the story-cycle of tales known generally as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table; specifically according to Taylor, Woodroffe chose the name from the noted incomplete magnum opus, the painting 'Arthur's Sleep in Avalon' by Burne-Jones. Moreover, Taylor conveys the salience of this magical literary identity and contextualises it by making reference to western esotericism, Holy grail, quest, occult secrets, initiations and the Theosophists:
"This is quite important to know, for here we have a writer on an Indian esoteric system taking a name imbued with western esotericism. The name at any rate seems to hint at initiations and the possession of occult secrets. The Arthurian legends are bound up with the story of the Holy Grail and its quest. This was a symbol of esoteric wisdom, especially to Theosophists who appropriated the legend. Anyone who named himself after King Arthur or the mystic isle of Avalon would be thought to be identifying himself with occultism, in Theosophists' eyes."
The Mahānirvāṇatantraṃ is an example of a nondual tantra and the translation of this work had a profound impact on the Indologists of the early to mid 20th century. The work is notable for many reasons and importantly mentions four kinds of Avadhuta.