Woodroffe, Sir John (Arthur Avalon)

Woodroffe, Sir John (Arthur Avalon)
   scholar of tantric texts
   Sir John Woodroffe was an Englishman, Indian civil servant, and scholar who pioneered the mod-ern study of the tantric literary tradition.
   Woodroffe was born December 15, 1865, the eldest son of James T. Woodroffe, advocate-gen-eral of Bengal and occasional member of the gov-ernment of India, and his wife, Florence. John was educated at Woburn Park School and University College, Oxford, where he studied law. He was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1889. He soon served as advocate of the Calcutta (Kolkata) High Court and was made a fellow of Calcutta University and appointed Tagore Professor of Law. He served as judge on the High Court and in 1915 served as chief justice.
   In addition to his practice and writing on jurisprudence, Woodruffe studied SANSKRIT and Hindu philosophy extensively, particularly TA N-TRIC literature. As a result of long and assiduous study of classical texts and contacts with tantric pundits of Bengal, he translated important tan-tric texts and added his own commentary and introductions. His publication The Garland of Letters is a clear and authoritative exposition of the Mantra Shastra and includes his explanation of the philosophy underlying tantric philosophy and practice.
   Around 1910, Woodroffe was initiated by Shi-vachandra Vidyarnava. He did not take students, but rather remained a scholar, intent upon provid-ing clear and authoritative translations and expo-sitions that would be appreciated only decades after his death.
   His publications have left an enduring legacy of original resources translated into English and valuable commentary on tantra. He collaborated with a fellow initiate, Atal Behari Ghose, in pro-ducing the first translations and interpretations of tantra in a Western language. Because Ghose remained anonymous in his publications, Wood-roffe also published under a pseudonym, Arthur Avalon. Under the name Avalon, he published Shakti and Shakta, commentaries on the Shakta Tantra Shastra, and under the name Woodroffe, he published The Garland of Letters, a commentary on the Mantra Shastra. He lectured in England and India, including addresses to the Royal Asi-atic Society and the Vivekananda Society. After retirement from legal work in India, he returned to England and served as reader in Indian law at the University of Oxford. He died there on Janu-ary 18, 1936.
   Further reading: Arthur Avalon, (Sir John Woodroffe), Shakti and Shakta, 2 vols. (Madras: Ganesh, 1959); K 502 Woodroffe, Sir John ———, The Tantra of the Great Liberation (Mahanirvana Tantra) (London: Luzac, 1913); Shiva Chandra Vidyar-nava Bhattacharya, Principles of Tantra, edited by Sir John Woodroffe, 5th ed. (Madras: Ganesh, 1978); Pur-nananda, The Serpent Power. Translated by Arthur Ava-lon, 4th ed. (Madras: Ganesh, 1950); Sir John George Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon), Bharata Shakti: Collection of Addresses on Indian Culture, 3d ed. (Madras: Ganesh, 1921); ———, The Garland of Letters (Varnamala): Studies in the Mantra Shastra, 3d ed. (Madras: Ganesh, 1955); ———, Introduction to Tantra Shastra, 2d ed. (Madras: Ganesh, 1952); ———, The World as Power: Reality, Life, Mind, Matter, Causality and Continuity, 3d ed. (Madras: Ganesh, 1966).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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