Woodroffe, Sir John (1865-1936)

views updated

Woodroffe, Sir John (1865-1936)

The pioneering scholar of the beliefs and practices of the Tantra, a group of religious and occult Hindu scriptures emphasizing the female energy known as kundalini. He was born December 15, 1865, the eldest son of J. T. Woodroffe, advocate general of Bengal, India. He was educated at Woburn Park School and Oxford University, England, where he took classes in jurisprudence.

He was called to the bar in 1889, and a year later he was enrolled as an advocate of the Calcutta High Court. He became a fellow of Calcutta University and was appointed Tagore Law Professor. In collaboration with Ameer Ali he published the widely used textbook Civil Procedure in British India.

In 1902 he became standing counsel to the government of India, and in 1904 he was raised to the High Court bench, where he served for a number of years before being appointed chief justice in 1915. Upon his retirement he became a reader in Indian law at Oxford University. He died at Beausoleil (Alpes Maritimes) on January 16, 1936, at the age of 70.

In addition to his official duties, he spent many years translating some then little-known Hindu scriptures and in the study of Hindu culture. These were published under the pseudonym "Arthur Avalon." They provided many Western scholars with their initial entre into a major, if minority, perspective in Indian religion. Even under a pseudonym, however, he had to cover the discussion of the Tantrics' sexual practices with indirect allusions. He also published several volumes of Tantrik Texts.


Avalon, Arthur [Sir John Woodroffe]. The Garland of Letters: Studies in the Mantra Shastra. 1922. Reprint, Madras: Ganesh, 1963.

. The Great Liberation (Mahanirvana Tantra). Madras: Ganesh, 1927.

. Hymns to the Goddess. London: Luzac, 1913.

. The Serpent Power. 1918. Reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1974.

About this article

Woodroffe, Sir John (1865-1936)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article