Sri Chakra and Sri Vidya
According to Tantric texts, the Chakra, Mandala or Yantra is a sphere of influence and a consecrated environment. It is an instrument to harmonize feelings; and also to coordinate inner and outer forces.
The term Yantra is derived from the root yam suggesting a sense of control (say, as in niyantra to control), giving raise to the meaning of an instrument that can control or be controlled. In that sense, the body is a yantra. The other term tra is from the root word trayati, that which liberates. Yantra is that which controls and liberates. It draws towards the centre as also takes away from the centre of all reality.
The basic energies of the universe, which are the deities, can be approached through a mental creative process, that is, through words or through created forms. Deities are therefore represented both in words and forms.
There are different degrees of abstraction. We can represent a deity through the description of its characteristics in words, or sounds, that is, mantras. Similarly, we can represent a deity through diagrams, geometrical abstractions or patterns, the yantra. The representation of a deity through mantra or yantra is considered more subtle than through an image.
Yantras are the visual equivalents of the mantras. The yantra has the mantra as its soul; and the deity is the soul of the mantra. The difference between the mantra and the deity is the difference between the body and the soul. The deity is invoked by drawing its yantra and calling its subtle name (bija akshara).
All the elementary geometric figures –lines, triangles, crosses, and point (bindu) – have a symbolic value corresponding to their basic notions. They can be combined to form complex figures to give expression to forces, the inner aspects and qualities embodied in a given form of creation. It is said, there no shape, no form which may not be reduced to yantra patterns. Every shape, every leaf, every flower is a yantra, which through its shape, colour, formation, perfume can tell the story of its creation.
Yantras which are drawn on flat surfaces are basically conceived as solid forms. The drawing is a mere suggestion of its three dimensional aspects of the yantra. And, the yantra is itself a static image of the moving, living combination of forces represented in a divinity.
A Yantra is structured in three levels, of spaces, the level of physical world of beings and things (mahakasha); the level of thoughts and feelings (Chittakasha); and the level of pure, undifferentiated consciousness (Chidakasha).The first level is predominantly inert , Tamas; while the second level is active and emotional, Rajas. The third level is of light and pure awareness Sattva. A Yantra is a means to progress from the gross to the subtle, sukshma.
To put it in another way, Yantra is an instrument to transform matter into energy and the energy into consciousness. In the final analysis, the walls separating the objective world, the subjective person and the Universal consciousness break down; and it is all One in the end. This complete harmony of existence is symbolized by Bindu, a dimensionless point at the centre of the Yantra or Chakra.
In fact, chakra is regarded the expansion or the evolution of that Bindu. The Bindu in turn is epitome or the microcosm of the Chakra. The Yantra facilitates the movement of consciousness from the concrete form of Chakra to the abstract Bindu. It also enables movement from the abstract Bindu to the form of Chakra. A Yantra in essence is a map of the universe in its emanation and absorption.
Sri Chakra Yantra is regarded the supreme Yantra, the Yantra Raja, the king of Yantras. It is the Yantra of the Shaktha school of Tantra. It is also variously regarded as the visual representation of the city, mansion, island or the body of the mother goddess Devi, Tripurasundari, Lalitha, Rajarajeshwari and Parabhattarika, the supreme controller. The design also stands for this divinity’s court with all her attendant aids, guards, pavililions, enclosures and entrances. The principal divinity is regarded as being at the centre, the Bindu of the chakra.
The prefix Sri denotes that the Yantra is auspicious, beneficent, salutary, benign and conducive to prosperity. Sri is Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty and prosperity. Sri is also the Mother goddess who rules the universe (tvam sris tvam ishvari).She is called mother because all living beings depend upon her for being, for happiness for fulfillment of their destiny (sriyete sarvair iti sriah). Sri Chakra is a representation of the interplay of the principles of pure consciousness (Shiva) and primordial power (Shakthi). Sri Chakra represents the essential aspects of the universe and also the constitution of the devotee’s body-mind complex.
The concept and worship of Sri Chakra is relevant in the context of an esoteric discipline known as Sri Vidya.
Sri Vidya is hailed as the Vidya of Sri (the knowledge that leads to the ultimate benefit mukthi – liberation), she therefore is the highest divinity. Sri Vidya is also the Vidya that yields Sri (prosperity). Sri Vidya is thus Bhukthi Mukthi prada the bestower of well-being, prosperity and liberation. Sri Vidya is the path and also the goal.
Vidya usually stands for knowledge, learning, discipline and a system of thought. But, in the context of Tantra, it has an extended meaning. Here, it variously refers to a female deity, to the personification of her consciousness; or to the manifestation of her power.Each of these vidyas has a characteristic form and particular dhyana, mantra, kavacha and other worship details .
Devi Durga is described as the Vidya in all beings (Ya Devi sarvabhutheshu, Vidya rupena samsthita); and , the form of her Vidya is the primordial energy Adi prakrithi.
The Tantra texts classify ten divinities into three levels of Vidyas:
(1) Maha_vidya, the extraordinary Vidyas, consisting Kali and Tara. The worship of these divinities requires great rigor, austerity, devotion, persistence and a sort of detachment. The practice of Maha_vidya is very difficult and filled with risks and dangers ;
(2) Vidya, the normal Vidyas consist deities Shodashi (or Tripura), Bhuvaneshwari, Bhiravi, Chinmastha and Dhumavathi. The practice of this class of Vidya is considered safe and suitable for householders;
(3) Siddha Vidya, the Vidya for adepts involves deities Kamalaa, Matangi and Bhagalamukhi. This class is not for normal persons as it involves rituals that cannot be practiced normally.
Shodashi is the first among the Vidyas in the middle group; she is otherwise known as Sri Vidya. Shodashi literally meaning “a girl of sixteen” is identified with deities Lalitha, Raja_rajeshwari, Sundari, Kameshwari and Bala. Lalitha is the playful one; all creation, manifestation and dissolution is her play. She is Mahatripura Sundari the most magnificent transcendental beauty without a parallel in all the three worlds. She is the conqueror of three levels of existence.
The Tantra texts however explain that the Vidya is called Shodashi because the mantra of the Vidya is made up of sixteen seed _syllables (bija akshara). There is another school (Kadi Vidya) which says the mantra consists fifteen visible syllables (ka e i la hrim; ha sa ka ha la hrim; sa ka la hrim). It is explained that ka represents the air; ha the fire; sa the water; la the earth and e the space. The fifteen syllables are: one of space, two of air; three of fire; four of water; and five of earth. The sixteenth letter is “srim” in subtle form. The mantra then becomes Shodashi, the sixteen lettered.
The fifteen lettered (panch-dasha-akshari) mantra is considered the verbal form of the Devi. But, it is implicit or hidden. It is only when the sixteenth syllable ‘Srim’ is included; the mantra becomes explicit or becomes visible. Srim is regarded the original or the own form of the Mother Goddess. And, with the sixteenth syllable (Srim) the She comes to be celebrated as Sri-vidya. And, the mantra itself becomes the body of the Mother Goddess. She manifests the un-manifest. She is Prakrti. The auspicious Sri (Srim) is thus revered as Saguna Brahman, the sa-kara approach to the absolute principle of the Devi.
The mantra (fifteen or sixteen letters) is , thus, an expression of Sri Vidya. The verbal expression (nada or sound) of the Vidya is mantra and its visual expression is the Sri Chakra Yantra. The two are essentially the same. Both seek identity of consciousness with Maha Tripura Sundari.
Ka is the first letter in the fifteen-lettered (pancha-dashi) mantra of the Devi in the Sri Vidya tradition. Ka is an important syllable in the fifteen-lettered mantra, for it appears three times. Here, Ka variously stands the principle from which everything arises; for illumination (Kan dipatu) or the principle of consciousness (buddhi) in beings; and, also for the symbol of Self. And, Ka also stands for the form-less Brahman (ka iti Brahmano naamah).
The fifteen lettered mantra is divided into three groups: ka e i la hrim; ha sa ka ha la hrim; and; sa ka la hrim. The three groups that constitute the mantra are called Kuta (peaks) or Khanda (segments). They are interpreted variously in sets of three as:
- Agni(fire) , Surya(sun) and Chandra(moon);
- srishti (creation), Shtithi (preservation) and laya (dissolution);
- Iccha ( will), jnana(knowledge)and kriya (action);
- Sattva, Rajas and Tamas;
- Jagrat (wakefulness); swapna (dream state) and sushupthi (deep sleep);
- jnatra (the knower), jnana (the knowledge) and jneya ( the known) ;
- Atma (individual self) , Antaratma (inner being) and Paramatma (supreme self); and as ,
- Past , present and future.
There is also a view that the first group starting with ka is kadi_matha (ka e i la hrim); the second group starting with ha is hadi_matha ( ha sa ka ha la hrim ); and the third group starting with sa is sadi_matha (sa ka la hrim ).
Another interesting aspect is that the vowels (aa, e, i etc.) are regarded as representations of Shakthi; while the 35 consonants are basically inert and depend on vowels (just as Shiva depends on Shakthi) to manifest in a meaningful form. It is only when the germinating power (bija) of the vowels is infused with consonants, the latter gain meaning. That is the reasons the vowels are Bija aksharas. They transform ordinary letters into mother like condition (matrika); that is, they impregnate ordinary letters with meaning and power.
Sri Vidya is also described as Chandra_kala_vidya, the lore of the lunar digits. This school of Sri Vidya explains that the fifteen letters of the mantra correspond to fifteen digits of the moon in each fortnight commencing from prathipada, the first day of the brighter half, when the moon “comes out of the sun”; and ending with the full moon on the fifteenth day. Similarly, in the dark half of the moon cycles, all digits “return to the sun”. The emanation of the fifteen digits of the moon from the sun culminates in the full moon (purnima); while the absorption of the digits into the sun results in new moon (Amavasya).The sixteenth letter (Shodasha kala or Srim) is said to be present in each of the digits which are called Kalas or nityas. The digits are invoked as forms of the Mother goddess.
The first digit is Maha Tripura Sundari; the second is Kameshwari; and the third is Bhagamalini. These three together form the primary triangle which is the immediate unfolding of the central Bindu representing Mother Goddess.
The Sri Vidya tradition which centers on the worship of Sri Chakra, considers the following twelve gods and sages as its gurus: Manu, Chandra, Kubera, Lopamudra, Manmatha, Agasthya, Nandisha, Surya, Vishnu, Skanda, Shiva and Durvasa. It is said each of the twelve gurus propagated a school with regard to the worship and significance of Sri Chakra. Of these, only two schools have survived to this day; one is the school started by Manmatha (also called Kamaraja) known as Kadi_matha. The Kadi tradition was continued by sage Agastya. The other school is Hadi_matha started by Lopamudra wife of the Sage Agastya. There is also a mention of an obscure third school called Sadi_matha.
Of the three, the Kadi_ matha (with its mantra starting with letter Ka) is regarded the oldest and its attitude and worship is Sattvic. It insists on virtue, discipline and purity of rituals. The prominent gurus of this school are Paramashiva, Durvasa, Hayagreeva and Agasthya. Of the other two schools, Hadi_matha is Rajasik and the Sadi _matha is Tamasik.
Kadi matha accepts Vedic authority and formulates its position in accordance with the Vedic tradition. The other school is considered different (iyam anya cha vidya).The term Samaya also means Vedic convention as orthodox and valid. Hence Kadi School came to be known as Samaya.
Samaya believes in sameness of Shiva and Shakthi; and the form of worship is purely internal. Hence Kadi School is also known as Para Vidya where the worship (archana) is conducted in the space of one’s heart (hrudayakasha madhye).
The external worship conducted say by Kaulas, lays greater importance on the Muladhara and Swadhistana chakras which are said be situated at the base of the spinal column which relate essentially to physiological needs and psychological urges. The Samaya School , on the other hand, prescribes that the internal worship (antar aradhana) be conducted at higher levels, viz., from Manipura to Sahasra. The seat of Tripura is at Sahasra, beyond the six chakras. It is also the seat of supreme consciousness, Shiva from which Shakthi springs forth.
Shakthi is of the same nature as Brahma (Brahma rupini) that divides itself five-fold. It is a spontaneous unfoldment. In Samaya system Brahman is called Sadashiva; it is the Bindu, from which emerges nada which is Para_shakthi. It is at the Sahasra, the Bindu Sthana that Shiva and Shakthi reside. They are the same; one cannot be without the other.
Samaya is centred on knowledge (jnana) which is the realization of the identity of Shiva and Shakthi: Shiva becomes Kameshwara and Kameshwari becomes Shiva. Their names too get intertwined, for instance, Shiva and Shivaa; Tripura and Tripuraa; Bhava and Bhavani; Shambu and Shambhavi; Rudra and Rudrani; and Sundara and Sundari etc.
Dakshinamurthi is a revered seer of the Kadi (samaya) School. The term Dakshina literally means a woman and refers to the feminine principle, which can create, unfold and manifest. When Dakshina assumes a form, it results in Dakshinamurthi a variety of Shiva’s forms. Dakshinamurthi, as ardha_nari; Kameshwara and Kameshwari are together regarded the principle deities of Kadi School.
Sri Chakra is the main device employed by Kadi (Samaya) school; and the worship is mainly through symbolisms and successive identifications. The symbolism involves identification (saamaya) of the arrangements and the lines of the diagram with the structure of the Universe; the psychophysical aspects of the devotee with the spatial arrangement of the diagram representing the goddess; and identifying the Mantra with the Yantra.
As regards the worship of Sri Chakra, there are three recognized procedures :
- Hayagreeva tradition regarded as Dakshina_chara, the right handed method, reciting Lalitha_sahasra Nama and Lalitha_tristathi offering kunkumam.
- Anandabhirava tradition , a Vama_chara,a left handed method; and
- Dakshinamurthy tradition , a doctrinal school.
Of the three, the last one is considered the best.
Sri Vidya traditions speak of two forms of Sri Chakra. One is its physical representation of lines and forms. This form entails external worship (puja) according to prescriptions of kalpa sutra spread over 26 steps. Here, Kameshwara and Kameshwari are the deities that receive worship.
There are, again, three methods of worship of Sri Chakra. The shrishti_krama the expansion mode of worship, carried out in morning, comprehends the chakra from the central point the Bindu to the outer square. The Sthithi_krama the preservation mode of worship, carried out in the afternoon, comprehends the chakra from the outer square to the eight-fold lotus and from the Bindu to the fourteen cornered figure. The third, Samhara_krama the absorption mode of worship, carried out in the night, comprehends the chakra from the outer square to the central point.
[Even in this method the visualizations and contemplations are not entirely dispensed with.]
The other form of worship is Viyacchakra, the chakra emerging within ones heart. This entails visualization of Bindu, which is in the centre of the Sahasra, within ones heart. The ability to visualize Viyacchakra is known assamaya. The worship (maanasa puja) is offered internally and consists wholly of visualizations and contemplations; and is carried out in seclusion by one who is in control of his senses.
The process here involves a four-fold conceptualization of identity (aikya chintana). They are , briefly :
- Identity of the Supreme goddess who is un_manifest with Sri Chakra which is manifest;
- Identity of the design of Sri Chakra with the Universe. It is viewed as a cosmogram ;
- Identity of the individual with the Universe . This is done primarily on the basis of the Shat chakra ideology (six chakras- muladhara, svadhistana, manipura, anahata, visuddha and ajna) and the tattvas , the principles , of Shaivagama; and ,
- Identity of the letters of the alphabets (matrikas) with the deities located in various segments of the Sri Chakra.
As can be seen from the above the six factors involved are :
- the Universe (Brahmanda);
- the individual (pindanda);
- the structure of Sri Chakra;
- the letters of the alphabets(matrikas);
- the goddess (Devi); and
- the mantra specific to her.
[It is explained ; Matrka-cakra, is the articulate sound over which all our thoughts, emotions, aspirations fears and pleasures are woven, as nothing can go beyond the articulate sound, which evolves into an extremely complex universe of sentence to meanings, meanings to mental images and mental images to pleasures and pain. This is called as matrka-sakti that can spread out externally by way of object-denotations, cognition, intentions (raja), emotions like sorrow, pleasure, envy, memory traces etc.(vikalpa), and the world of endless differentiation. This is the outward emanation (vikasa), standing for creation (srishti-krama); and, it can also contract (sankocha) by withdrawing the world of differentiations into pure awareness (samhara)]
The Tantra texts emphasize the merit of inner worship (antar_yaga), once a fair degree of understanding has been gained. They said “Best of all forms of worship is inner worship. External worship (ritualistic) is to be resorted until the dawn of understanding.”
In any case, Sri Vidya is the worship of Mother Goddess incarnated in the Sri Chakra. Her worship includes the worship of her consorts (Devata) and aids (yogini); all of whom are female. The ritualistic details are characteristically feminine.
The Upaasana of Srividya is explained in Upanishads like Kenopanishad and Bhavanopanishad ; and , in various Tantra texts, extensively. For more on the worship practices, please click here.
A Sri Vidya Upasaka worships beauty and grace; rejecting ugliness in thought, word and deed. Sri Vidya is the path of devotion and wisdom. The wisdom consists in realizing ones identity (sva svarupa prapti) with the Mother Goddess. It is this wisdom that liberates the devotee (jivan Mukthi). This liberating wisdom is granted to him by the Mother out of pure love, when the devotee surrenders to her completely in full faith and devotion. The Mother is the path and the goal. Sri Vidya is the culmination of all paths, the consummation of all transformations.
Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar was initiated into Srividya Maha Shodasakshari Diksha. In his first kriti , he referrers to the Guru tradition, its twelve gurus and three schools of worship, kadi, hadi and Sadi: Kamaadi dwadashabhirupa_sthitha kadi hadi sadi mantra rupinya . Dikshitar also mentions that he followed the tradition of the sages Durvasa , Agasthya and Hayagreeva ; and declares he belonged to Kadi school: maatmaka kadi mathanusthano.
Dikshitar followed the Kadi practice of worship of Sri Chakra from Bhupura the outer square to the Bindu the central point. He had a certain pride in his tradition; in his kriti Kamalambikai, he states “prabala guruguha sampradaya anthah karayayai referring to his hallowed tradition
Dikshitar composed about 40 kritis spread over four sets of compositions on the subjects related to Sri Vidya; Kamalamba Navavarana (11+ 2 kritis); Nilothpalamba kritis (8 kritis); Abhayamba kritis (10 kritis) and Guru Kritis (8 kritis). Of these the Kamalamba set of kritis, is highly well organized; and, is truly remarkable for its classic structure , majesty and erudite knowledge. More of that in the succeeding sections.
Muthuswami Dikshitar, in his kritis, yearns for Videha Mukthi. He beseeches the Divine Mother repeatedly and addresses her as one who grants Videha mukthi (Mamaka videha mukthi sadanam– Ranganayakam-Nayaki); the bestower of videha mukthi (vikalebara kaivalya danaya– Guruguhaya-Sama); and at times , he feels he is nearing videha mukthi(Videha kaivalyam yami-Tyagaraje-Saranga). Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar was a jivan Muktha who attained his Videha Mukthi.
Videha mukthi is a concept of the later Advaita schools. It believes, one can attain liberation (moksha) from attachments while still encased in a body. Such an attained one is Jivan Muktha. The body continues to function till its Prarabdha Karma is exhausted; thereafter, the mortal coils fall away. Videha mukthi is shedding off the body by a Jivan muktha, the one who has already attained liberation.
Jivanmukthi, emancipation while yet alive, is also a concept of the Tantra Siddantha which believes that it is possible for a person to transact with the world without getting involved in it. In other words, one lives on actively and cheerfully, amidst distractions and confusions of the world without letting his self reflect them. His moorings in the phenomenal world have withered away, his instinct of self-preservation and insecurity has been minimized. He is alive only to essential thing in life that is the source of life. The real world continues to exist for him. But he does not rest in the world but rests in himself (Svarupa pratishta).
In the Sri Vidya tradition, a jivan muktha is a devotee, a bhaktha as well as a jnani the wise one. Here, the wisdom consists in realizing his identity (sva svarupa prapti) with the Mother goddess. It is this wisdom that liberates him (jivan Mukthi). This liberating wisdom is granted to him by the Mother out of pure love, when he completely surrenders to her in full faith and devotion.
Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar, either way, was a jivan Muktha who attained Videha Mukth with the grace of the Devi.
Continued in the Next Part
The structure of Sri Chakra
The Tantra of Sri Chakra by Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao (1953)