Tandava Takedown – Oh Dear, Odier!

Various lineages of neotantra orient themselves by the spiritual patriarch Daniel Odier, promoting a form of dance he called “tandava”.

My research* and personal experience suggests that Odier is peddling a colonised distortion of sacred teachings that is causing spiritual and relational harm in ways that are subtle but real and growing as his teachings take root in the neotantrik network.

* For those interested in evaluating evidence, I have included hyperlinks to documents and websites throughout the text, which are highlighted in red as well as a reference list with links to books and articles.

shiva nataraja - lord of dance - in tandava
Shiva Nataraja. Image by Santu Brahma – source: Pinterest

Tandava is the dance of creation and of dissolution. It is the dance in which Shakti will vanquish Shiva, reestablishing the power of the feminine, imposing her rhythm and inviting us in our turn to create and destroy in an infinite cycle. Kali, through tandava, expresses the creativity of chaos.

Daniel Odier – Tantric Kali

Voilá, c’est Tandava!

French novelist and New Age heavyweight Daniel Odier is the first teacher of this dynamic meditation, which involves subtle, slow, spontaneous movements. Usually the arms are raised, hands floating about head-height. The dance synchronises deep, abdominal breathing with a gentle undulation of the spine and ribcage. Tandavistas cultivate a sense of embodying limitless space.

Dancers drift in deep embryonic bliss to the accompaniment of exotic, often oriental ambient music. Their eyes remain closed, bodies softly undulating, mesmerised by the mystical murmurings of the teacher guiding the session. Indeed the practice is delightful, and can help access sublimely expansive states of sensual pleasure. This can allow the discursive mind to come to rest in deep stillness. Odier claims that “tandava” is so complete that no other practice is necessary. Yet Odier teaches other practices, particularly internal visualisations. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the centrality of “tandava” in his doctrine.

Many participants feel that they have benefited from “tandava” and that Odier is an inspired teacher who conveys genuine tantrik “transmissions”. Moreover, his books have made many Westerners aware of tantrik nondual teachings for the first time, inspiring deep and ongoing explorations and transformations. Although I have also experienced moments of healing and expansive bliss, I have become increasingly critical of Odier and his “tandava”. Yet his followers claim that it is perhaps the most ancient, primordial form of tantrik yoga.

How true is this, and how useful is this practice as a spiritual path?


I have never personally met Odier or participated in his workshops, and my lived experience of Odier’s “tandava” is limited to three “tandava” workshops conducted by Valentina Leo, one of Odier’s local followers, personal solitary and partnered practice, and a detailed reading of four of his books. My comments should be understood accordingly. My reading of Odier’s published teachings and his “tandava” is informed by my professional perspectives as a critical social scientist and by three decades of embodied and scholarly exploration of nondual traditions including taoism, buddhist and shaivite tantra, and dzogchen.

Ultimately, my credentials, and the motives I explain below, are largely irrelevant to the substance of this critique. The arguments I make stand on their own and are clearly reasoned and referenced. I invite readers to consider them and the evidence I present on their own merit. This reflection is itself tantrik in several ways:

  • This exploration aims to cultivate “tarka” – discernment “between what ought to be held close and cherished (upādeya) and what is best laid aside (heya).”
  • With this inquiry, I cut through false and misleading concepts, narratives and ego-constructs (vikalpas) that obscure direct experience of reality.
  • In critiquing the method of “tandava”, I highlight the importance of embodying the core tantrik principle of interdependent co-emergence to counteract narcissistic interpretations of the spacious emptiness of being.
  • Rather than tossing out the baby with the bathwater, I suggest improvements of the practice to increase likelihood of awakening and liberation through dynamic meditations like “tandava”.

My motives

As a researcher and yogi passionate about tantra, I care about the integrity of tantra. Though I distance myself from Odier’s lineage, I love the people in my community who teach and practice “tandava”. So why would I criticise Odier’s teachings and lineage so sharply? It is not to break down other would-be gurus to draw students to my “school” – I have none and am not competing in the neotantrik market.

As a tantrika, I will not pretend scholarly neutrality, approach this from a cool intellectual distance, and deny the embodied emotional energy that infuses my critique. Instead, I leverage my anger at the dishonesty, personal and potential harms of Odier’s teachings to sharpen my argument and drive its points home.

Dharma protector Fudo Myoo, also known as Acala, the immovable, and Caṇḍaroṣaṇa – the violent wrathful one.

Two strands inform my critique – one is personal, the other more concerned with the wellbeing of the evolving neotantrik community.

Personal harm

I share the personal background here not to make this post about me, but so that readers can better contextualise my motivations and to show how the shortcomings of Odier’s view and method matter.

The conduct of devoted “tandava” practitioners has harmed me deeply in a series of engagements over the past few years. I believe their self-absorbed deception, avoidance and impulsiveness is at least in part a result of views, attitudes and relationships they cultivated with Odier’s practices. This inflicted relational trauma (CPTSD) that I am still recovering from.

I have seen committed partnerships unravel and young children traumatised as a result of parental break-ups that neotantrik practices triggered. Yet when I have attempted to address this directly with Odier’s followers, my concerns were dismissed. So part of my reasons for speaking up are to complete my own healing by holding teachers inspired by Odier accountable. But this post is not simply a revenge rant: if I was negatively impacted in this way, so could others.

Concern for the tantrik commons

Out of deep concern for the neotantrik community, I offer this critique to encourage seekers curious about Odier to be discerning so that they may better avoid the potential harms of his teachings. Not speaking up after having seen this would make me complicit. Yet in the spirit of constructive critique, I suggest ways to enhance the practice. Also, I want to challenge “tandava”s proponents to be more critical and truthful about the origins of these practices. I desire to remedy their divorce from the accountability mechanisms inherent in traditional lineages.

I invite reflection and debate by revealing why it appears that Odier’s claims are false, he seems deeply dishonest, and his teachings are problematic. Ultimately, it boils down to two things:

Firstly, all the evidence suggests that “tandava” is not an ancient tradition, but a modern invention rebranded as an authentic kashmiri tantrik practice.

Secondly, my experience of tandava indicates that the practice can cultivate a navel-gazing narcissism, susceptibility to manipulation, and impulsivity that can unravel important relationships.

Authentic transmission of the oldest yoga?

Let me deal with the first question – the claim to ancient kashmiri lineage raised by the inventor of “tandava”.

Lalita Devi – Odier’s Oriental Fantasy?

In “Tantric Quest“, Odier claims that he learned “tandava” from his mysterious tantrik teacher Lalita Devi during his travels in Kashmir during the 1970’s. That he names her thus is an immediate indication that she is a literary fiction. It suggests Odier is invoking an archetype rather than a real person: this is in fact the name of an erotic manifestation of Tripura Sundari, the supreme goddess.

Lalita Devi – Art credit Peakpx.com

And this is where things start feeling even sketchier. It seems no-one else has ever met Lalita Devi, apparently not even Odier’s senior students. But according to Odier, encountering “Shivaic tantrism” is nearly impossible due to thousands of years of persecution, and Lalita Devi lived as a recluse far from prying eyes. But this realised yogini chose Odier – the quintessential intrepid white European explorer – as the recipient of her secret teachings? So essentially we have to take Odier’s word for it that this story is true. But how trustworthy is his word? Something about this messianic claim just didn’t ring true, so I decided to dig a bit deeper.

Tandava is Shiva’s Wild Dance

I found many references to tandava – the term is very well-known in India and is indeed a traditional form of dance inspired by Shiva. In fact, there are several different forms of tandava as documented in detail by Rangaswamy (1958). However, tandava itself is consistently described as a vigorous, wild form of Shiva’s dance. The movements and gestures are precisely choreographed and have very specific symbolic significance. Dancers often begin training in early childhood to master this sophisticated art. None of the dances described even remotely resemble the beatific, free-floaty practice taught by Odier or his followers.

An exquisite classical rendition of Kali Tandava Nityam by Rukmini Vijayakumar literally crackling with Shakti

Here is a contemporary interpretation of traditional shiva tandava by Anjali Abhilash:

Although Shiv tandava is usually performed by men, women also have clearly demonstrated deep mastery. Women often practice the related, softer form of Lasya. Here is a beautiful rendition of Lasya by Damini Bisht:

So it seems that Odier simply borrowed a term from sacred Hindu dance traditions. But perhaps his form does reflect an older form of dance secretly preserved by tantrik adepts in remote valleys of Kashmir? In other words, is Odier alone privy to secret knowledge of which millions of Hindu devotees remain ignorant?

Distorted “translations”

Another source of my skepticism about Odier’s claims to authentic tradition arises from shoddy “translations” of tantrik texts. Scholar-practitioner Dr Christopher Wallis has collated several translations of the Spandakarika and the Vijnanabhairava tantra side by side (Szabo; Wallis & Chenault). Comparisons reveal the quality of Odier’s “translations” in his Yoga Spandakarika as dubious. This might be due to the double “translation” from Sanskrit to French and then from French to English. However, the comparisons suggest that they might not in fact be translations at all. Instead they seem cavalier reinterpretations of other translations.

Often, Odier gestures in the general direction of the original meaning, but many times, he misses the mark. It is worth reading these comparisons (Szabo; Wallis & Chenault) in detail to get a sense of how Odier consistently reinterprets these classical scriptures to back his claims that tandava and the spanda are at the core of traditional tantrik practice. However, in this post, I highlight only two translations directly relevant to tandava.

Spurious Scriptural References

In “Yoga Spandakarika”, Odier interprets the Spandakarika as a reference to the subtle pulsation induced by “tandava”. In “Tantric Kali”, he attempts to legitimise his “tandava” as an authentic practice by referring to two passages from the Vijnanabhairava tantra, Yuktis 83 and 111 as translated by “Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati of the Bihar School of Yoga”.

Having been placed thus, turn the body slowly. As a result of this movement, in calmness, in spirit, O Goddess, the Divine, flooding in, culminates.

(Odier, 2016)

Here is the same yukti as translated by Wallis:

Situated on a swing or moving seat [such as in a vehicle],

or through the [slow] rocking of the body,

one’s mental-emotional state becomes soothed & still, O Goddess,

and one attains the Divine Flood [of Bliss].

(Vijnanabhairava Tantra Y83, translation Wallis)

Here Odier’s version of yukti 111:

Turning, the body, and suddenly, falling down, on the ground, cessation of energy, which causes disturbance, there appears, Supreme Energy. 

(Odier 2016)

Again Wallis’ version:

Whirling quickly around and around with the body and then falling to the ground,

by the cessation of the power of excitation, the Supreme State arises.

(Vijnanabhairava Tantra Y111, translation Wallis)

Yukti 83 might, with some stretch of the imagination, reflect something akin to “tandava”. The rapid whirling and fall described by Yukti 111 is something completely different. Notably, these are the only references that Odier cites from the VBT, which contains over a hundred different yogic meditations. It seems that the scriptural basis for Odier’s “tandava” is shaky at best. Moreover, contrary to Odier’s claim that “tandava” is the only practice necessary, the accomplished masters who taught the VBT evidently felt that there is merit in sharing many different yogas appropriate to the different capabilities of yogins.

Scholarly piracy?

Though Odier apparently claims his translations are by Lalita Devi, the wordings are suspiciously similar to Jaideva Singh’s and Paul Reps’. Singh studied with Swami Lakshmanjoo, a widely acclaimed teacher of tantrik shaivism who was still alive and teaching during Odier’s sojourns in India. Evidently tantrik shaivism was not as deeply underground as Odier suggests.

In fact, he does reference Singh and Lakshmanjoo in his later works, “Tantric Kali” and “Crazy Wisdom of the Yogini”. To be fair, Odier is obviously still researching and learning. Still, in failing to acknowledge the sources his renditions in Yoga Spandakarika so clearly echo, Odier disrespects the very scholars from whom he derives his authority. This is another indication that Odier seems to have a tenuous relationship with honesty. Is Odier banking on the likelihood that his followers are unable to access, read and compare recent translations?

Racist colonial histories

Odier also claims between 6000 and 8000 years of continuous tantrik tradition. This is factually incorrect – tantra as it is known today originated in India around the 6th century CE (Samuel 2008) – 1400 years ago. Yet Odier insists on referencing a long-outdated colonial scholar, Alain Danielou, to back up his flawed historical claims. Consequently, Odier’s story deploys colonial racist theories that warlike Aryans from central Europe subjugated ancient matriarchal Dravidian cultures, driving tantra underground. Archaeological findings refute this myth, which conveniently legitimised British imperialism. It is more than a little ironic that Odier’s colonisation of tandava mirrors this mythical conquest.

Is “tandava” a Modern Colonial Remix Rebranded as Kashmiri Tantra?

So where does “tandava” come from? When I watch videos of Odier demonstrating “tandava”, I get the impression that what he is doing is actually a form of spontaneous qigong – zifagong. This is not entirely unlikely, given that he claims to have studied secret taoist yogas in China. It is also possible that he drew inspiration from other modalities of conscious dance. This might include elements of “kundalini meditation” and “skydancing” pioneered by Osho’s followers, notably Margot Anand. As such it may have been influenced by Latihan as adapted by Osho (2009), who also associates the practice with mahamudra. When I first encountered “tandava” it felt familiar as I had naturally entered similar states of spontaneous spirited movement with qigong.

These observations indicate that Odier’s “tandava” is in fact a modern invention inspired by various unacknowledged sources and repackaged as an ancient tantrik tradition. In principle, there is nothing wrong with inventing a new practice based on multiple sources. As long as we are transparent about it and acknowledge our sources. Instead of being honest about it though, it seems that Odier has simply appropriated the term “tandava” to give his New Age remix a shallow but glitzy tantrik veneer.

Why pretend primordiality?

That Odier chooses a term sacred to millions of Shaivites to brand his product feels profoundly disrespectful and distasteful. Why would Odier invoke the term “tandava” to make a false claim of sacredness and authenticity? My gut feel is that Odier and his acolytes depend on attracting followers in a competitive and saturated spiritual marketplace (Urban 2012). They shrewdly understand that tantra is associated with sex and that “sex sells”. And those who are invested in this brand have rent to pay, kids to send to school.

The claim to kashmiri tantrism invokes stale orientalist stereotypes contrasting sensual, embodied, promiscuous Hindu tantrikas with rational, disembodied and repressed Europeans. In this way, Odier lends his practice an air of mystery and traditional authenticity. Westerners, disillusioned by their own culture’s apparent lack of deeply rooted spirituality, love to identify with the authenticity which ancient traditions invoke.

In summary, it seems that Odier has positioned himself as the patriarch of his own neotantrik lineage by appropriating and colonising tandava to brand his own remixed innovation.

How tantrik is “tandava”?

Now for my second concern, that there are some aspects of the practice itself which are problematic. Tantrik yogas enable awakening to and resting in the scintillating divine consciousness that enfolds and penetrates all phenomena. To this end, tantra cultivates practices that liberate yogins from false views and behaviours rooted in the contracted ego.

My impression is that “tandava” falls short of these aims and can in fact detract from them. It is in the tantrik spirit of cutting through vikalpas – false and misleading ideas and narratives – that I have revealed Odier’s apparent dishonesties and that I now question how tantrik “tandava” is.

Narcissistic navel-gazing

Classical tantra sees the body as a microcosmic reflection of the greater cosmos. It therefore inspires awe-struck recognition of the divine – in oneself, one’s senses, but also in the objects of perception (Wallis 2017). This includes the intricate weave of co-emerging relationships from which all phenomena – including our sense of self – arise. This recognition engenders a deep sense of humility, compassion, and respect for the web of relations that shape and sustain us.

A key limitation of Odier’s “tandava” in this regard is that the practice is generally done entirely introspectively. The eyes remain closed, and facilitators suggest that dancers experience their own body as the space which enfolds the entire cosmos. Internal focus on its own is not necessarily problematic, as long as it is balanced by practices that explicitly extend attention outward, too. This is what some of the key meditative practices taught by Abhinavagupta and others do. It is also one of the basic aspects of the Spanda principle which Odier invokes at length – the pulsation of awareness from subject via sensory channels to the object of perception and back again to absorption and dissolution (See Dyczkowski 1990; ibid 2000).

The inward focus makes this experience far less accessible and may lead practitioners with dissociative tendencies to “space out”. In cutting off one’s senses and internalising the entire universe, the practice can encourage a narcissistic and dissociated embodiment of pseudotantrik principles. This is especially risky for people with narcissistic or dissociative personality disorders. This feeds wetiko – the disconnect and impulsive individualism at the root of the Western hunger to dominate, extract, consume and distract oneself from collective suffering. It therefore neglects cultivating deep compassion.

Susceptibility to manipulation and abuse

Moreover, the slow, floaty movements may invoke an embryonic state of consciousness. This lulls practitioners’ critical awareness into a sense of trust and surrender to the guru’s hypnotically murmured insinuations. Dancers therefore open themselves to subtle manipulations and distorted “teachings”. “Tandava” is often a prelude to naked, sensual “kashmiri” massage. The addictive feelgood neurotransmitters these practices release can trigger feelings of falling in love, bonding, reducing critical thought or inhibitions and opening the door for transference and counter-transference.

This creates opportunities for participants to cross boundaries and form new attachments. In the context of widespread sexual trauma and suppression of feminine voices, the potential for re-traumatisation is significant. Reports from workshops Odier facilitated indicate that he has repeatedly initiated touch in a context where consent was neither sought nor obtained. In doing so, he appears consistently to have favoured young, attractive women. Furthermore, upon being challenged, he appears to have responded defensively, essentially gaslighting the objections raised by workshop participants. It seems clear that Odier is not trauma-informed and that his method of teaching does not consider consent relevant.

Kundalini activation

The physical and mental states invoked by tandava can elicit and accelerate the activation of kundalini energy. In itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as kundalini activation ultimately sparks spiritual evolution and liberation. However, it is widely acknowledged that this awakening process can be extremely disruptive and frightening if practitioners are not well prepared and supported.

Yet it does not seem that Odier’s practice explicitly provides guidance for kundalini awakening experiences, especially in terms of cognitive maps to navigate the experience or inner yogas to cultivate, refine, guide and transmute this powerful energy. There is no discussion of nadis, chakras, bindus, koshas etc. “Tandava” as I have seen it taught and practiced also encourages an upward and outward movement of kundalini, which can contribute to deeply ungrounded states of awareness. One of the first ways kundalini awakening often manifests is in increased libido and sexual cravings.

Relational disruption

Tandava teachers often instruct dancers to trust the wisdom of the body, and denigrate the rational mind. This is a dualistic position which discredits the supremely sophisticated scholarship of tantrik sages like Abhinavagupta. This is another clear deviation from non-dual tantra that celebrates the divinity of all aspects of being. Overriding critical awareness encourages a hedonistic impulsiveness that can be profoundly disruptive. When people in existing relationships participating in “tandava” and “kashmiri massage” workshops and retreats follow sexual impulses, the fallout for them and their children can be catastrophic. Not only have I witnessed neotantrik disruptions in the community, but I and my loved ones have been directly impacted.

Dodging lineage accountability

In authentic tantrik traditions, the relationship between guru and student is sacred. Teachers realise that they bear karmic responsibility for their teachings and for their followers’ actions. They acknowledge that each student needs uniquely personalised guidance. Therefore they are very discerning about whom they share teachings with, how they facilitate awakening, and whom they authorise to teach. This maintains the safety and coherence of teachings.

When components of eastern lineage based teachings are appropriated and crafted into mass-produced, standardised and addictive commodities, they are no longer honouring this intention. This compromises the coherence, the purpose and the safety of the work. As “tandava” and other neotantrik practices have taken root in the West, there is no accountability for trauma, relationship chaos, mental health issues or bliss addictions.

So what?

But why does it matter? If the practice feels good, if it leads to deeply peaceful, expansive states, what does it matter what it is called? Well, to me, the more useful question is really what the long term spiritual fruit of a practice is, as revealed by those who have followed that path.

In this case, “tandava’s” lead proponent and longest-standing practitioner, Daniel Odier, appears to be a colonial patriarch who reveals several flaws that would in my eyes discredit him as a spiritual teacher. Odier

  • Claims to know better than millions of shaivites what tandava is
  • Attributes his practice to a mythical teacher who probably never lived
  • Knowingly deceives devotees about the origin of his teachings
  • Reinforces orientalist stereotypes
  • Perpetuates long-discredited racist colonial myths of India’s history in his books and philosophy
  • Disseminates distorted interpretations of classical scriptures as translations
  • Doesn’t have the basic decency to acknowledge his sources
  • Is clearly at odds with the core precepts of tantrik tradition
  • Takes no responsibility for the impact of the teachings in the world

The narcissistic distortions and opportunities for abuse and relational chaos that “tandava” can cultivate are a clear reflection of his shortcomings as a spiritual guide.

If this is the origin and destination of the “tandava” path, is it truly worth following?

Can we salvage “tandava”?

Perhaps we need not scupper the entire enterprise? Those who wish to salvage this leaky vessel might consider the following integrity patches:

  • Drop the name “tandava”
  • Cease attributing the practice to Kashmiri Shaivism
  • Divorce the practice from the dubious authority of the colonial patriarch Odier
  • Acknowledge the novelty of the practice as a Western remix/innovation
  • Inform participants of potential risks associated with bliss practices that may activate kundalini
  • Inform participants about potential after-effects including changed perceptions and emotional sensitivity
  • Reference authentic teachings (the subtle body, emptiness, co-emergence, recognition of divinity, etc)
  • Acknowledge authentic scriptural and oral sources
  • Be clear that you are offering a neotantrik service for a fee, what the services entail and that participants are consumers of a commodified experience – caveat emptor!
  • Adapt the practice to incorporate authentic tantrik elements (pledges, mantra, pranayama, inner yogas etc)
  • Maintain open eyes and relaxed gaze, cultivating an expansive merging or pulsing of awareness of internal and external phenomena
  • Empower participants to assess potential risks linked to prior abuse, dissociative disorders or narcissistic personality disorder
  • Monitor participants for signs of dissociation and narcissism
  • Separate the dynamic meditation from touch-based practices
  • Include grounding practices afterwards
  • Offer participants after-care
  • Be available for the ongoing effects of the practices in the lives of students and their families

Concluding reflections

In this post, I have taken a close look at Odier’s claims to authentic lineage transmission, and carefully examined his scriptural references for “tandava”. This has revealed his claims to be built on very shaky foundations. I have also highlighted several aspects of the practice which are problematic from a tantrik perspective as they present clear possibilities for egoic delusion, relational disruption and personal harm. Still, there might be ways that the spontaneous moving meditation he branded “tandava” could be salvaged.

Odier’s lyrically beautiful writings sometimes reveal glimpses of deep insight and personal experience of non-dual states. However, his troubled relationship with truth and the problematic aspects of his practice suggest that he is perhaps more of a neotantric troubadour and yogic bricoleur than a true sage.


This inquiry into the veracity of Odier’s claims benefited greatly from the careful scholarship of Dr Christopher Wallis, Ashton Szabo and Amber Chenault. Much of my critique was informed by comments by members of the Tantrik Yoga Now facebook group, particularly Kurt Keutzer, Florentine Faltin, and the late Gerald MacKenzie Castro. A special note of thanks is due to Martin Jelfs and Akira for pointing out the similarities of “tandava” with Latihan. I also wish to acknowledge several of my close friends who have read early draft of this post and offered very useful critique.

I reached out to Valentina Leo, one of the primary local proponents of “tandava” to ask her reflections on the issues raised in this inquiry. The feedback she offered did not engage with the substance of this critique, and she remains steadfast in her devotion to Daniel Odier. Instead, she encouraged me to meditate on my own woundedness, brokenness and self-victimisation.


#neotantra #tantra #tandava #odier #bliss #dance #samadhi #kashmir #yoga #tantratakedown #tantraberserker #tantrageek #sexuality #meditation #dancingdragontantra @dancingdragonyogi

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *