The presence of Apabhraṃśa in tantric Buddhist texts has long been noted by scholars, overwhelmingly explained away as an example of “Twilight language” (saṃdhā-bhāṣā
). However, when one looks closer at the vast number of Apabhraṃśa verses in this canon, one finds recurring patterns, themes, and even tropes. This begs for deeper study, as well as establishing a taxonomy of these verses based on their place and use. This paper focuses on a specific subset of Apabhraṃśa verses: “goddess songs” in maṇḍala visualization rituals. These verses are sung by yoginī
s at specific moments in esoteric Buddhist ritual syntax; while the sādhaka
is absorbed in enstatic emptiness, four yoginī
s call out to him with sexually charged appeals, begging him to return to the world and honor their commitments to all sentient beings. When juxtaposed with other Apabhraṃśa verses in tantric Buddhist texts, these songs express an immediacy and intimacy that stands out in both form and content from the surrounding text. This essay argues that Apabhraṃśa is a conscious stylistic choice for signaling intimate and esoteric passages in tantric literature, and so the vast number of Apabhraṃśa verses in this corpus should be reexamined in this light.
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