Monthly Archives: October 2012

Srisukta Part Three

Continued from Part Two

Please do read Part One which serves as an introduction to Srisukta

Please also click here for a rendering of Srisukta (The link seems to work better with Google Chrome)

Mantra Eight


क्षुत्पिपासामलां ज्येष्ठामलक्ष्मीं नाशयाम्यहम् |
अभूतिमसमृद्धिं च सर्वां निर्णुद मे गृहात् ||८||

Kshut pipásá-amalám jyesthám alakshmím náshayámy aham
Abhūtim asamriddhim cha sarván nirnuda me grihat|| (8)

 [The Rishi of the mantra is Maha Vishnu; Its Chhandas is Anustubh; and its Devata is Sarva-aishwarya–karini Mahalakshmi who grants all kinds of riches. Kshum is the Bija; Haam is the Shakthi; and, Srim is the Kilaka. Its viniyoga is a-lakshmim-nasham.]

By your grace, I shall get rid of Jyeshta, the A-lakshmi who is the very personification of hunger, thirst, squalor and all other miseries. Oh Mother, drive away from my home pain, poverty, and decadence.


20.1. The eighth verse of Srisukta submits a prayer to destroy A-lakshmi (alakshmír me naśyatám). And, as mentioned, A-lakshmi is the opposite of Lakshmi and stands for everything that Lakshmi is not. A-lakshmi is personified as Jyeshta the elder sister of Lakshmi; and she is portrayed as ugly, irritable, cruel and impoverished. Jyeshta represents  the wretched and loathsome aspects of life.

20.2. One of the commentaries mentions the six types of miseries or six waves of disturbances (shad-urmi) that afflict human life. They are: hunger (kshuda); thirst (pipasa); agony of grief (shoka – mano vyadha); delusion (moha); old age or decay (jara); and, death (marana).

These miseries are attributed to the evil influence of three types of A-lakshmis. Of these the first two (hunger and thirst) are caused by Jyeshta, the elder A-Lakshmi. The next two (grief and delusion) are said to be caused by Madhyama, the middle or the second A-Lakshmi. And, the other two miseries (decay and death) are said to be caused by Kanishta the least or the third A-Lakshmi. All these A-Lakshmis hinder life.

20.3. The devotee prays to Sri to drive out (nirnuda) of his home abhooti (an-aishwarya, the lack of well being) which is poverty, and asamriddhi (lack of progress or growth) which is decay.

21.1. The Dhyana-sloka of this verse is addressed to Garuda, Suparna the King of the ‘sunbirds’ who destroys ignorance and misery.

Ajnana-pathaka-tamah-sthiti- surya-rashmim
daurbhagya-bhu-dhara- vidarana- vajra-mide |
roga-arti-ghora-phani mardana pakshi-rajam
lakshmi-pada-dwaya-anartha- haram sukharthi ||

Mantra Nine

गंधद्वारां दुराधर्षां नित्यपुष्टां करीषिणीम् |
ईश्वरीं सर्वभूतानां तामिहोपह्वये श्रियम् ||९||

Gandha dvárám durá dharşhám nitya-pushtám karíshiním
Iśhvarígm sarva bhūtánám tám ihó pahvaye śhriyam| (9)

[The Rishi of the mantra is Maha Vishnu; its Chhandas is Anustubh; and, its Devata is Sri Mahalakshmi. Gam is the Bija; Hrim is the Shakthi; and, Shrim is Kilaka. Its viniyoga is krishi-phala, dhana-dhanya-sampath, and Prabhtva-prapti.]

I pray to Sri who is forgiving and tolerant as the Mother earth, who is richly fragrant and ever nourishing, who is always prosperous, who is the supreme ruler of all creatures, and without whom no life is possible. May that Sri who is full of love towards all enter my life.


22.1. Sri is addressed in this verse as Mother Earth who supports and sustains all life, with infinite patience and with boundless love towards all. No life is possible without Sri and her grace; and, she is indestructible (durdasham).

22.2. The other explanation for the term durdasham is that Sri yields only to untainted love and devotion (bhakthi-vashya); and, never to compulsion or force.

23.1. Fragrance or the sense of smell (gandha) is the basic property (guna) of the principle of Earth-element (prithvi tattva). Sri being Prithvi, fragrance is one her characteristics. She is gandha-vathi, the one who is endowed with fragrance. Later, in the epics, Bhu (earth) comes to be recognized as one of the direct (pratyaksha) forms of Lakshmi.  The Lalitha-ashtottara-shata-naamavali that adores Devi Lalitha with 1008 names opens with the phrase which celebrates the Mother in the form of the Earth (Bhu rupa) that sustains all life: Bhu-rupa-sakala-adharai-namaha.

23.2. Sri is also the guardian deity of agriculturists; and, she is associated with agricultural prosperity, fertility and wealth (nityam-sada-sasyadibh-samriddham). Sri as earth is the eternal source of all forms of life and their nourishment (nitya-pushtam karishinim).Sri combines in herself the aspects of prosperity and productivity , which again are the virtues of Prithvi , the Mother Earth.

23.3. Karsha is one of the many names of Earth. It indicates auspiciousness (mangala pradathrim) as also the property to attract and hold (aakarshana, gravity).

24.1. It is said; the term karshnim also means cow dung,which is very essential for the success of agriculture. Plenty of cow dung is also indicative of abundance of cattle wealth (gau-samriddhi). There is a close association between Sri, cows and cow-products. The other ancient texts too cite this association. For instance; Maitrayani Samhita mentions that the other name for cow-pen is Lakshmi (goṣṭho vai nāmaiṣa lakṣmīḥ : MS: 4.2.1). And, Satapatha Brahmana states that one who has attained Sri (prosperity) is known as purishya, having plenty of cow-manure (purīṣya iti vai tamāhuryaḥ śriyaṃ gacati samānaṃ vai purīṣaṃ: SB:

25.1. The verse is addressed to Jatavedasa Agni, who is repeatedly requested to cause the goddess come to the worshipper.

25.2. The worshipper prays that Sri may stay in the house abounding with agricultural wealth; and, may grant him with cows, food, wealth, prosperity, as also fame and fulfillment of all desires.

26.1.  It is also said; the   viniyoga of the mantra is  success in agriculture, abundance of agricultural and cattle wealth (dhana-dhanya-sumriddhi), eminence among the peers (mahatva) and acquisition of assets (prabhutva).

The Dhyana sloka prays to the indestructible (durdasham) Devi Sri adorned by plentiful (pruthulam)   nature (sasya malinim), surrounded by cows (gau vrinda) and the bestower of cows. She indeed is the ruler of all life (praninaam Isham

Govrinda-anugatam  dhyatva- surabhim sasya-maalinim |
prithulam  praaninam isham durdharsham shriyam-archayet ||

Mantra Ten

मनसः काममाकूतिं वाचः सत्यमशीमहि |
पशूनां रूपमन्नस्य मयि श्रीः श्रयतां यशः ||१०||

Manasah kámam ákūtím vácah satyam ashímahi
Paśhūnágm rūpam annasya mayi śríh shrayatám yaśhah|| (10)

[The Rishi of the mantra is Kaama; its Chhandas is Anustubh; and, its Devata is Sri Mahalakshmi. Mam is the Bija; Shum is the Shakthi; and, Shrim is the Kilaka. The viniyoga of the mantra is: Vac siddhi and bhoga-bhagya-siddhi.]

By the grace of Sri, let all my heart-desires, fervent hopes   and aspirations be fulfilled; let prosperity and fame abide in me; and, let me be blessed with abundance of food, cattle-wealth and other riches. Bless me with truthfulness in my speech.


27.1. The worshipper prays to Sri for a prosperous life in a house abounding with agricultural wealth and other riches. He prays to Sri to grant him plentiful cows, food, wealth and prosperity. He requests:  May truthfulness be established in my speech; and may all my cherished desires and ambitions be fulfilled.

27.2. The term ‘akuthi’ signifies a determined aspiration (sankalpa) that has taken a grip over ones heart; and, it is not a mere passing whim or a pleasant desire that floats away. Akuti, is therefore, understood as intense yearning or determined resolve. The attainment of such deep-rooted aspirations is possible only with the grace of Sri.

27.3. Similarly, vachas satyam or truthfulness is more than not – telling- a- lie or stating a  fact . The term signifies, here, integrity in life; and purity in word, thought and deed. Sathya is said to be the principle of integration in life. It is the truth of being.

There is a faith that the words uttered by one who is pure in heart and mind do not go in vain, but they do come true (vac-siddhi).

The worshipper in this mantra pure in word (vac) and mind (manas) is determined (akutim) to attain Sri.

28.1. The Dhyana sloka of this mantra is dedicated to Lakshmi who induces the wisdom of life in all beings

Taam dhyayet satya-sankalpam laksmim kshiirodana-priyam I
khyataam sarveshu bhuteshu tatva-jnana-bala- kriyaam II

Mantra Eleven

कर्दमेन प्रजाभूता मयि सम्भव कर्दम |
श्रियं वासय मे कुले मातरं पद्ममालिनीम् ||११||

Kardamená praja-bhūtá mayi sambhava kardama
Śriyam vásaya me kule mátaram padma-máliním| (11)

[The Rishi of the mantra is Kardama; its Chhandas is Anustubh; and, its Devata is Mahalakshmi. Kam is the Bija; Vam is the Shakthi; and, Shrim is the Kilaka. Vamshabhiruddi, Aishwaryasiddhi are the viniyoga.]

Oh…Kardama the son of Sri, I welcome you heartily. Bring along your Mother who is adorned with lotus-garlands. Reside with me; and, also request the Mother Sri to reside in my home.


29.1. Elsewhere in Srisukta, the terms Kardama and Chikliita are understood as wet or fertile soil that is suitable for agriculture. And, the association of the goddess with wet soil (kardama, chiklita) is also mentioned. However, in the eleventh and the twelfth mantras of Srisukta, Kardama and Chikliita are the names of two sages.

29.2. The eleventh mantra is, in fact, addressed to Sage Kardama. There are, however, varying descriptions of the relation between Kardama and Sri. Vishnu Purana mentions that Sage Kardama requested Sri who emerged out of the milky ocean; and adopted her as his daughter (prathitha tasmai tanayaa abhuth).The phrase Kardamená praja-bhūwould then mean: ‘the one who let herself to be seen as the daughter of Kardama’.

29.3. At another place it is said, Sri adopted three sages as her sons (manasa-putra). Among the three was Kardama; and the other two were: Ananda and Chiklita (Ananda, Kardamashaiva Chikleetha ithi vishrutha I Rishayasthe thraya proktha). By taking them as her sons, Sri became a mother (prakrishtam apatyam yasyah saa suputravati ityarthah). Now, the phrase Kardamená praja-bhūwould mean: ‘the one who appeared as Mother because of Kardama’.

29.4. Since this mantra is addressed to Kardama and Sri is described here as ‘maataram shriyam’, it is, generally, taken to mean that Sri, here, is the mother of Kardama. Some versions mention `tava maataram’, meaning `your mother’, referring to Kardama.

29.5. The commentators have explained, the words `tava maataram’’ do not merely refer to Kardama, but they do refer to the whole of existence whose mother is Sri (chetananam srih). The Lalitha-sahasra-nama commences by adoring Sri as the Mother `Srimata‘.

30.1. The description of Sri as Padma-malinim is ordinarily taken to mean Sri who is decorated with lotus-garlands. But, Tantra regards Sri as moola prakrti the cause of the whole of this existence; and, lotus as a symbol of the created world.  The world, as we experience, is characterized by several principles (tattva) as enumerated in Samkhya (avyakta, mahat, ahamkara, the senses, the physical elements etc). And, all these tattvas are but the aspects of Devi as she evolves from a-vyakta to vyakta, from the infinitely subtle to the gross physical world. The lotuses strung on the garland adoring Sri symbolize her tattvas.

31.1. It is said; the import (bhava) of the mantra is that when Kardama is invited, the most gracious (Kalyani) Sri out of boundless affection for her son (sa vatsa gauriva preeta) follows him (sa vatsa gauriva preeta Kardamena yatha Indira; Kalyani math gruhe nityam nivaseth Padmalini).

31.2. It is explained; when the worshipper requests Kardama to cause Sri to reside in his home forever (math gruhe nityam nivaseth), it truly means inviting the grace (anugraha) of Sri into his heart.

32.1. The Dhyana-sloka is dedicated to the Devi who grants the wishes of her devotees (sarva-abhista-phala-pradam) and ever blesses with abundant riches (sampath-samruddhi). She is described as glowing with crystal clear complexion (spatika sannibham), adorned with gorgeous dresses (divya-ambara–krutam), sparkling gem-studded crown (nana-ratha-kirita) and earrings (kundalam). She is holding a pair of fresh and tender lotuses (padma-komala – yugam).  And, a most beautiful gentle smile lightens up her radiant face.

Dhyayet spatika-sannibham dwinayanam divya-ambara-alankritaam
satphullodara padma-komala-yuga-shriimath-karambhoruham.
Nana-ratna-kiriita-kundala-lasad-vaktra-ambujam padminim
sarva-abhiishta-phala-pradana-niratam sampa-tsamriddhyai sadaa


Mantra Twelve

आपः सृजन्तु स्निग्धानि चिक्लीत वस मे गृहे |
नि च देवीं मातरं श्रियं वासय मे कुले ||१२||

Ǎpah srijantu snigdháni chiklíta vasa me grihe
Nicha devím mátaram śhriyam vásaya me kule|| (12)

[The Rishi of the mantra is Chiklita (Chandra is also mentioned as the Rishi); its Chhandas is Anustubh; and, its Devata is Amriteshwari Mahalakshmi, Sri the mother of Chikliita. Aam is the Bija; lum is the Shakthi; and, Shrim is the Kilaka. Its viniyoga is sthira-lakshmi, jnana-siddhi and anna-siddhi.]

Oh… Chiklita, the son of Sri, reside in my home; and, please also cause the Mother goddess Sri to stay with me and with my generations to come. Let the life-giving waters create harmonious relations among all.


33.1. This mantra is in continuation of the eleventh mantra inviting Kardama the son of Sri and requesting for Sri to abide with the worshipper forever. This time, the request is submitted to the other son of Sri, Chikliita, to stay in his home (nivasa mad grihe) firmly (nischaram) forever, and bring along his mother (tvan maatha).

34.1. It is said;Chikliita is the favourite (preeti-para) son of Sri (Sri-suta), and she, out of affection, follows his wishes. The purport of the mantra is :  just as Chikliita enters into the house (tad agamana matrena), Sri follows him, lovingly, of her own accord (tva manu vrajeth).

34.2. Sri is addressed in this Mantra as: Devim mataram shriyam, the resplendent Mother Goddess Sri who shines forth (div) and enlivens all creation. She is not merely the mother of Chiklita, but is the Mother of the universe (vishwa matarah).

[There is an alternate explanation.Sri is the guardian deity of agriculture (krishini); and is associated with agricultural prosperity.  As mentioned earlier,the terms: ardra (moist), kardama (mud) and chiklita (fertile soil) are all related with fertility, prosperity and growth. All these terms strengthen her association with food and water (apah srajanti snigdhani chilita).

But, in the context of this mantra, Chiklita is understood as a sage who was regarded as one of the sons of Sri. Some identify Chiklita with Kama , the god of desire, since  the eleventh and twelfth  verses are about fulfillment of desires . And, one of the Dhyana slokas pays respect to Chiklita and Sri Devi, together: namostute tubyam Chiklita-Sri-Devyayi namao namah. ]

35.1. The mantra also refers to Apah the waters, smooth and friendly (snigda) that bring harmony and well being into life. Apah itself is the very source of all life.

There is an extended discussion on the term Apah.

35.2. Apah ordinarily denotes waters. But, in the ancient texts, Apah is a term that is heavily loaded with layers and layers of esoteric meanings and interpretations.  In the most celebrated hymn of creation – Nasadiya Sukta which occurs in the Tenth Book of Rig Veda, as also in the Vak Sukta (RV.10.125.1-8) and in the Hiranyagarbha Sukta (RV10.121.1-10) the terms Apah represents Great Waters or the primeval matter of creation. It stands for the manifest as also for the un-manifest primeval matter. That is; these Great waters represent the immense potential of Prakrti in its un-manifest (a-vyakta) state. It has that potential to give expression to infinite possibilities as forms (vyakta).

35.3. Apah or Salilam is, thus, conceived as the threshold prior to which there was no distinction between existence and non-existence; between form and formlessness. Whatever that was there prior to it was neither sat nor a-sat; neither being nor non-being. It is the first stage of creation. That is; Apah represents Prakrti (as in Samkhya); and it is the primary source of all possibilities of manifestation in the world.

35.4. In the Vak Sukta or Devi Sukta    of Rig Veda (RV.10. 125), in an intense and highly charged superb piece of inspired poetry, Devi declares “I sprang from waters there from I permeate the infinite expanse. It is I who blows like the wind creating all the worlds “.

अहं सुवे पितरमस्य मूर्धन्मम योनिरप्स्वन्तः समुद्रे । ततो वि तिष्ठे भुवनानु विश्वोतामूं द्यां वर्ष्मणोप स्पृशामि ॥७॥अहमेव वात इव प्र वाम्यारभमाणा भुवनानि विश्वा । परो दिवा पर एना पृथिव्यैतावती महिना सं बभूव ॥८॥

Aham suve pitaram asya murdhan Mama yonir apsv antah samudre Tato vi tisthe bhuvananu visvo ‘tamum dyam varsmanopa sprsami || 7

Aham eva vata iva pra vamy Arabhamana bhuvanani visva Paro diva para ena prthivyai ‘tavati mahina sam babhuva || 8

35.5. It is also said ‘waters are the Truth…where waters flow there the Truth resides …. It is the waters indeed that were made first of this universe, hence when waters flow then everything whatever that exists in the universe is brought forth’ (Sathapatha Brahmana).

35.6. To explain it in another way; these dark, deep and unfathomable waters (gahanam ghabhiram – RV. 10.129.1) hold in their womb the un-manifest universe. And, it is from these dark waters the manifest world springs forth.

35.7. Apah is, thus, the universal mother–principle. It is perhaps for that reason that Rig-Veda says: ‘the waters (Apah) are our mother (apah asmin matarah), womb of the universe (ambayah),’ (RV.1.023.10). It is also the best of the medicines (āpaḥ pṛṇīta bheṣajaṃ –RV.1,023.21)

35.8. It is explained; when Sri is described as waters (Apah) that bring harmony and wellbeing into life, the mantras of Sri Suktam echoe the ancient concept of water as the creative principle (Shakthi), the nectar (madhu), and the joy of life. Sri Devi the Mother Goddess as Apah is Prakriti.  She denotes freedom from bondage. She is the Mother of all creation. She gives birth to manifest reality – the past, the present and the future; of “all that has been and will be born”. She is the nourishing mother who harmoniously blends (srijantu snigdháni), heals and purifies life.

 [Tantra of the Shakthas, on the other hand, regards Sri as a tattva the principle that is beyond any known identity (Brahma Rupini). She is both Purusha and Prakriti  (prakriti–purushatmakam–jagat). She is vishwa-matruka the origin of all existence (yoshith Purusha rupena sphurantee vishwa-matruka).]

36.1. The Lotus symbolizes waters as also life. Lotus and water with which Sri is closely associated, both, symbolize life, purity and radiant beauty.

37.1. The Dhyana sloka of the mantra is dedicated to Devi Amrutheshwari .She is described as seated under the Kalpataru–tree, upon a throne studded with gems, elaborately adorned with rich ornaments, wearing a multi-coloured- gem-studded upper garment (Sarva-ratna-vichitra-angim), having red coloured lotus as the footstool,   holding a golden sceptre, a pair of lotus flowers and blessing the entire world.

Dhyayet kalpatarormule ratna-simhasane sthitam
padma-dwaya-dharam padmam varada-abhaya-dharinim.
Sarva-ratna-vichitra-angim rakta-shri-pada-piithikam
hema-danda-sita-Chatra-chamara-dwaya vijiam

Mantra Thirteen

आर्द्रां पुष्करिणीं पुष्टिं पिङ्गलां पद्ममालिनीम् |
चन्द्रां हिरण्मयीं लक्ष्मीं जातवेदो म आवह ||१३||

Ardám pushkariním pushtim pingalám padma máliním
Chandrám hiran-mayím lakshmím játavedó ma ávaha| (13)

[The Rishi of the mantra is Jatavedasa; its Chhandas is Anustubh; and, its Devata is Sri Mahalakshmi. Aum is the Bija; Svaha is the Shakthi; and, Shrim is the Kilaka. Its Viniyoga is amritatva siddhi.]

Oh…Jatavedasa Kindly invoke for me Lakshmi the Supreme ruler who isbeautiful like the moon that shines, radiant like the yellow burnished gold, brilliant like the sun; adorned with lotus-garlands and gleaming ornaments; who is served by the elephants; who is compassionate and  who nourishes all.


38.1. This mantra is very similar to the first mantra. And, in fact, the second line of this mantra is the same as the second line of the first mantra. After submitting his requests to Kubera, Manibhadrda, Kirti, Kardama and Chiklita, the worshipper returns to Jatavedasa, the Agni. It is as if the worshipper has traversed a full circle and submitted his original plea afresh to Jatavedasa.

38.2. Sri, again, is described with the term ardra, which here indicates the flowing grace; the easily-moved, kind and considerate nature of Sri Devi who is the very embodiment of compassion.

38.3. Sri’s association with water, lotus and elephants is again pictured here with use of words: ardra, pushkarnim and padmamalinim. Ardram, as said, refers to kind-heartedness of Sri, and it also suggests Sri being served by two elephants that pour over her pots of water; and she becoming wet. The phrase ardram–pushkarnim–pusta suggests sprinkling of water through lotus flowers. And, pushkarnim, again, suggests the lotus-pool as also a female elephant. Her description as padma-malinim indicates she is adorned by lotus garlands.

39.1. The term Pushti means abundant nourishment; and, it suggests the motherly nature of Sri who nourishes. Devi Mahatmya describes the Devi as :Yaa Devi sarva bhuteshu pushti rupena samsthita. She is the Mother who nourishes and sustains the whole universe.

39.2. Pingala indicates the reddish golden-yellow tint at the edge of the flame. Sri Devi is said to be glowing with the pingala complexion. It is also a combination of sattva and rajo gunas. Pingala is also one of the many names of Durga.

40.1. The Dhyana sloka of the mantra describes the Devi bright and beautiful like mellow glowing moon, smiling gently, seated on a lotus. A prayer is submitted to her to eradicate A-lakshmi misery, ugliness and ignorance.

Aakaasha-padmaakara-chandrabimba plavollasantim  paripurna-kantim .
padma-sthitam padm-akaram prapadye lakShmim alakshmi vinivrittaye.

Mantra fourteen

आर्द्रां यः करिणीं यष्टिं सुवर्णां हेममालिनीम् |
सूर्यां हिरण्मयीं लक्ष्मीं जातवेदो म आवह ||१४||

Ǎrdhám yah kariním yashtim suvarnám hema-máliním
Sūryám hiran-mayím lakshmím játavedó ma ávaha|| (14)

[The Rishi of the mantra is Jatavedasa; its Chhandas is Anustubh; and, its , Devata is Sri  Rajyalakshmi. Shrim is the Bija; Hum is the Shakthi; and, Hrim is the Kilaka. Its Viniyoga is rajya prapti. ]

Invoke for me, O Jaataveda, Lakshmi who is compassionate; who shines like gold; who is brilliant like the sun; who is adorned with golden ornaments and garlands; who wields the sceptre of the supreme ruler; and who inspires men to perform their ordained duties.


41.1. This mantra is similar in its structure to the thirteenth mantra. It refers to the virtues associated Surya in place of that of Chandra as in the previous mantra.   There are certain other new expressions.

 [ The idea of the Mother Goddess being the Supreme Ruler of all existence appears in many texts. This Mantra  which refers to Sri  as one who wields the scepter of the supreme ruler; and who inspires men to perform their ordained duties is similar to verse three of Vac-Sukta where the Devi declares: I am the Queen, a repository of good things, wise, the first of those worthy of sacrifice. As such, I pervade many forms.

Aham rastri samgamani vasunam Cikitusi prathama yajniyanam Tam ma deva vy adadhuh purutra Bhunisthatram bhury avesayantim || 3 ]

42.1. The phrase yah kariním yashtim is much debated. It either means a royal scepter or the Danda of Dharma Devatha dispensing justice. Or, it could be both.

42.2. The other interpretation refers to the term pushkarini, which appears in the previous mantra. And, there it meant a female elephant. The term yah kariním in this mantra is said to be a variation of pushkarini. And, it is meant to suggest a female elephant strolling with a bit of swagger, arrogance and a certain abandon or disdain . The gait of the Devi is compared to that of the female elephant.

43.1. In this mantra, the glory and luster of the Devi is compared to that of the Sun (suryavath prakashamanam tad rupam vaa).  The commentators explain that Sri here is Savithri-Gayatri the solar goddess. Both are the forms of sanketa-vidya or atma-vidya.

43.2. Another explanation mentions that one should recite Srisukta turning towards the sun, just as the lotus that is about to open at the first rays of the sun. The Sun and Lakshmi share the common epithet Padma-priya.

It is suggested that Sri should be meditated upon picturing her as settled in the solar-orb surrounding one’s heart-lotus (hruth padma vasini Devi, chid-rupini abhichyate).

Lakshmi on elephant

The yoga recognizes anahata-padma as surya mandala located in the heart region. It is said; the inner consciousness of the devotee is indeed the lotus (hrudaya-aravinda), which is illumined and opened by the grace of the Devi. The Devi is truly surya-swarupini.

anahata padma

44.1. The Dhyana sloka of the mantra is dedicated to Mahalakshmi who is glowing like a precious diamond, holding set of arrows, a pot filled with nectar. Mahalakshmi grants kingdom and sovereignty. 

Padmam manimayam kumbham ikShuchaapam cha bibhratiim.
Pushpa-banaam mahalakshmim dhyayed raajya-pradayiniim

Mantra Fifteen

तां म आवह जातवेदो लक्ष्मीमनपगामिनीम् |
यस्यां हिरण्यं प्रभूतं गावो दास्योऽश्वान्विन्देयं पुरुषानहम् ||१५||

Tám ma ávaha játevedó lakshmím anapa gáminím yasyám
Hiranyam prabhūtam gávó dásyó aśván vindeyam purushan aham|| (15)

[The Rishi of the mantra is Kubera; its Chhandas is prasara-pankthi,, a verse with longer lines; and , its Devata is Mahalakshmi. Hrim is the Bija; Shrim is the Shakthi; and, Hrim is the Kilaka. The viniyoga of the mantra is rajya-prapti.]

O Jataveda…I pray to you. Let Lakshmi never ever go away from me. Let Lakshmi be with me forever. With her grace I shall gain wealth in plenty, abundance of gold, cattle, horses, servants and followers.

Lakshmi by Shilpi Sri Siddalingaswamy.jpg

45.1. The concluding mantra is similar to the second mantra. Both the mantras aspire for happiness, prosperity , a sense of well-being , wealth and riches in plenty, abundance of gold, cattle, horses, sons, grandsons, servants and followers. They pray to Lakshmi never to go away, but to reside in their forever and for generations to come.

45.2. This last mantra is regarded as the phala-sruti of Srisukta. It sums up the fruits of listening, reciting and meditating upon Srisukta.

46.1. The Dhyana sloka of the mantra is dedicated to Lakshmi the daughter of sage Bhrigu;  Mother of all existence ,  glowing with  a benign smile on her joyful face; bright as gold ;adorned with rich ornaments ;  seated upon a royal throne ; holding the royal signs of sceptre ; served by all ; worshipped by Agni; blessing the whole world ; and, conferring happiness and prosperity on all beings and nature.

Dhyaye lakshmim pra-hasita-mukhim raajya-simhasana-sthaam
mudra-shaktim sakala-vinuta- sarva-samsevyamanaam .
agnau -puujyam akhila-jananim hema-varnam hiranyam
bhagyopetam bhuvana-sukhadam bhaargavim bhuta-dhatriim

References and souArces

Goddesses in Ancient India by PK Agrawala; Abhinav Publications (1984)

Srisukta (in Kannada) by Prof SK Ramachanra Rao; Published by SAKSI (2209)

I gratefully acknowledge the sublime illustrations of the Sri Sukta which are the creations of the renowned artist of Vedic and traditional themes,   Shri GLN Simha of Mysore.  These are said to be in the collections of Ramsons Kala Pratishatana, Mysore

And the painting of Lakshmi by Shilpa Siddanthi Sri Siddalingaswamy of Mysore


lotus red2




Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Srisukta


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Srisukta Part Two

Continued from Part One

Please click here for a rendering of Srisukta (The link seems to work better on Google Chrome)

Let’s briefly, talk about each of the fifteen mantras of the Srisukta.

Mantra One

ॐ हिरण्यवर्णां हरिणीं सुवर्णरजतस्रजाम् |
चन्द्रां हिरण्मयीं लक्ष्मीं जातवेदो म आवह ||१||

Hiraņya varnám hariņīm suvarna-rajata-srajám
Chandrám hiranmayīm lakshmīm jatavedo ma avaha|(1)

 [The Rishi of the mantra is Jatavedasa (Agni); its Chhandas is Anustubh; its Devata is Mahalakshmi the goddess who grants prosperity of all kinds. Srim is the Bija of the mantra; Hrim is its Shakthi; and, Klim is its Kilaka. Its viniyoga is threefold: adibhautika, adidaivika and aadhyaatmika. The three refer to Agni, as fire on earth; to Sun-moon, as the deities that bestow fulfilment in life purushartha; and, to the resolute determination (sankalpa) in man.]

Oh..! The all-knowing Jatavedasa, invoke in me Lakshmi the symbol of wealth , of enchanting form, of golden lustre, splendorous like gold, adorned with brilliant ornaments of gold and silver ; and,  beautiful like the female deer that shines like moon.


1.1. The opening mantra of Srisukta is a prayer submitted, primarily, to Agni addressed as the all-knowing Jatavedasa, who is the source of all knowledge (Veda); and, is the very personification of Yajna-purusha Vishnu (yajño vai viṣṇuḥ). Agni is requested to bestow all those signs (Lakshana, Lakshmi) of happiness, wealth and prosperity that a person desires.

1.2. Lakshmi represents the sense of beauty, grace, wealth and happiness that is manifest in all existence.  Lakshmi is the very embodiment of all the auspicious virtues that inspire life. Lakshmi is also understood as the one who ignites the desire for knowledge that inspires us to attain the highest state in human life.

1.3. Lakshmi’s association with gold that shines, signifies purity (pavitram vai hiranyam) and brilliance. The deer stands for enchanting allure; the fleeting desire that draws one out in its pursuit. Just as it is not easy to chase and catch an eluding deer that runs away fast, it is also hard to attain and hold on to success, wealth and fame that are ever transitory. Sri is thus Harini the deer that sparkles. And Harini is also the sheen of turmeric (haridra-bha); the sign of auspiciousness and a remedy against infections.

2.1. In Tantra, Sri , revered as Devi, is Matruka , the Mother (matrka-mayi), the Supreme Mother Goddess (devim mataram sriyam), She is also the power of sound (Matrika Shakti) , the matrix of the cosmos manifest as the alphabets. The phrase ‘suvarna-rajata-srajaam’ is also understood to mean that Sri is adorned with Matrika Mala, the garland of letters/alphabets woven with vowels (suvarna) and consonants (rajata). Sri is thus mantra-mayi the origin and essence of all mantras.

3.1. Chandraam, the aspect of moon, denotes mellow glow that spreads happiness (aahlada). Sri is Chandra, bright (Chandrah chandate) and beautiful as the moon that delights the hearts of all (sakala jana-ahlada–karini). Further, in the Srividya tradition, the worship of the Devi follows the phases of the moon in a fortnight. Her Vidya is therefore termed as Chandra-vidya or Chandra-kala-vidya. And, the Devi is worshipped through her pancha-dashi-mantra, the mantra of fifteen syllables.

4.1. Sri , when personified as goddess, is described as radiant ;  shining like gold; decorated with splendid ornaments; wearing a brilliant crown;  seated on a magnificent lotus-throne studded with gems; holding freshly blossomed beautiful lotus flowers; and, served by a pair of elephants pouring over her golden pots of nectar.

The Dhyana–sloka of the first mantra describes Gaja-lakshmi.

Gaja Lakshmi

Kaantyaa kanchana -sannibhaam himagiri-prakhyairsh-chaturbhir-gajaih
hastot-kshipta-hiranmaya-amrita-ghata-raasichyamaanaam – shriyam |
nana-ratna-samujwalaam karala-satpadmam kiriitojwalaam
kshauma-abaddha-nitamba-bimba-lasitaam vande-.aravinda-sthitaam ||

Mantra Two

तां म आवह जातवेदो लक्ष्मीमनपगामिनीम् |
यस्यां हिरण्यं विन्देयं गामश्वं पुरुषानहम् ||२||

Tám ma ávaha játavedo lakśhmīm anapa gáminīm
Yasyám hiraņyam vindeyam gám aśvam puruśhán aham|| (2)

[The Rishi of the mantra is Jatavedasa (Agni); its Chhandas is Anustubh; its Devata is Rajya-lakshmi. The Bija, Shakthi and Kilaka of this mantra are again said to be Hrim, Shrim, and Klim. The viniyoga of the mantra is sakala-sampath-siddhi.]

Oh..! Jatavedasa, please cause Lakshmi to come to me. And, let Lakshmi never ever depart from me. While she is here, I shall gain wealth, riches such as gold, cows, horses and man-power (which term includes friends, family and the other dearer ones).


5.1. This is in continuation of the first mantra which ends with the phrase ‘jatavedo ma avaha’, requesting Agni to invoke the presence of Lakshmi. The second mantra qualifies Lakshmi, further, with the epithet: ‘a-anapa-gamini’, the one who does not stray away, but stays with you forever. [The phrase anapa-gamini suggests fleeting nature (chanchala)]

5.2. The gold mentioned in the verse represents immovable wealth (sthavara), while the cattle, horses and men are movable assets (jangama). As Lakshmi enters into one’s life, she brings along with her various kinds of wealth and riches.

6.1. The Dhyana-sloka of the second mantra adores Rajya-lakshmi, riding a horse and leading an army of four divisions (Chaturanga: infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariots). The golden-hued Rajya-lakshmi grants riches of corn, wealth and happiness.

Chaturanga-balopetam dhana-dhanya-sukhesh-wariim |
ashwa-arudha-maha vande raajyalakshmim hiranmayiim ||

Mantra Three

अश्वपूर्वां रथमध्यां हस्तिनादप्रबोधिनीम् |
श्रियं देवीमुपह्वये श्रीर्मादेवीर्जुषताम् ||३||

Aśhwa-pūrvám ratha-madhyám hasti náda prabódhiním
Śhriyam devím upahvaye śhrír ma devír jushatám| (3)

[The Rishi of the mantra is Ananda described as manasa-putra the virtual son of Lakshmi; its Devata isSri Lakshmi; `U‘ is the Bija, `ta‘ is the Shakti and `Shriim‘ is the Kilaka. The viniyoga is shatru-jayam, rajya-prapti.]

The horses in the lead, the chariots in the middle, followed by the trumpeting elephants, herald the arrival of Sri. I pray to you Jatavedasa, let that magnificent Sri Grace me and come to me.


7.1. In the first two mantras, the Sadhaka prays to Agni to cause Sri to come to him.  This verse is an answer to his prayers.  It heralds the arrival of the glorious Sri in all her grandeur and regal majesty. The procession of her mighty army of infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariots signifies her magnificence and splendour. As it draws closer, the devotee prays that the Grace of the Mother (mam) Sri may descend upon him (jushatam).

7.2. The esoteric meaning of the verse interprets the chariot as the body of the devotee (sareeram ratha-mevathu);  at the heart of the Chariot is Sri , the centre of  consciousness, as  the presiding deity; and , the leaping horses are his senses that need to be controlled (indriyani hayan aahuh).

7.3. The phrase Sriyam-devi is explained as the most radiant (div) Sri Devi who is the refuge of all (shreyaniya) .

8.1. The Dhyana-sloka of the third verse is dedicated to the most auspicious Mother Goddess Soubhagya-lakshmi (saubhaagya-jananiim).

Tadid-warna-purnaam shashil-apanataata -nkayugalaam
darasmeraadhiraam kara-kalita-padmaam dwi-nayanaam |
lasad-griivaam kshaumaa-mshuka-vishada-naabhii sarasijaam
bhajaami tvaam devim pranata-Jana-saubhaagya- jananiim ||

Mantra Four

कां सोस्मितां हिरण्यप्राकारामार्द्रां ज्वलन्तीं तृप्तां तर्पयन्तीम् |
पद्मे स्थितां पद्मवर्णां तामिहोपह्वये श्रियम् ||४||

Kám sósmitám hiranya prákárám árdrám jvalantím triptám tarpayantím
Padme sthitám padma-varnám támihópahvaye śhriyam|| (4)

[The Rishi of the mantra is Ananda; its Chhandas is Bruhati; and its Devata is Sri-Lakshmi. Kam is the Bija; Hrim is the Shakthi; and Shrim is the Kilaka. Its viniyoga is sampath-siddhi and sarasvata-siddhi.]

I welcome the pleasantly smiling, the kind-hearted Sri who is of the nature of Brahman; glowing with a beatific smile , like burnished gold; of beautiful lotus-complexion; and, seated on lotus. She is easily pleased; and, she readily fulfills the desires of her devotees.

The devotee is preparing to welcome Sri.


9.1. This mantra, again, refers to Sri’s association with gold (hiranya prákárám) and the lotus (Padme sthitám padma-varnám). Sri is explained as the bright and joyful consciousness that resides in the heart-lotus (hrudaya-kamala) of all beings.

9.2. As said, Lakshmi’s association with gold that shines signifies her purity (pavitram vai hiranyam) and her brilliance. And, Padma, the lotus, is the primary symbol of Sri. The Padma symbolizes several adorable virtues: purity, beauty, the very essence of life, spiritual power, fertility and growth. The Tantra regards lotus as a symbol of created universe. And, Sri is all of those auspicious signs (lakshana). Sri is Padmini (a variant of padmanemi, meaning holding a lotus) and pushkarini (pushkara meaning lotus). Lotus, again, is her seat (padma-sthitha). And, her complexion glows like that of lotus (padma-varna).

[ There is another explanation for the term Padmanemi. Here, Padma is derived from the root Pad (to lead or to induce); and Nemi (connected with – Nayami) , denoting that which encircles the periphery. And, the seven-syllable  mantra : Om Padmanemyai namah , is hailed as the mantra that bestows fortune and prosperity.]

10.1. The opening term Kam is of special interest here. The commentators explain that the syllabus Ka indicates the form-less Brahman (ka iti Brahmano naama). Kam is meant to suggest that Sri is indeed the principle (tattva) that is beyond intellect (vangmanaso agochara) ; and , is at the root of all existence.

Ka is also the first letter in the fifteen-lettered (pancha-dashi) mantra of the Devi in the Kadi-matha (Kadi School) of the Sri Vidya tradition. Ka is an important syllable in the 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.

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 ‘Shrim’ is included; the mantra becomes explicit or becomes visible. Shrim is regarded the original or the own form of the Mother Goddess. And, with the sixteenth syllable (Shrim) 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 (Shrim) is thus revered as Saguna Brahman,  the sa-kara approach to the absolute principle of the Devi. 

10.2. The other point of interest  is the use of the term ardra (which ordinarily is translated as wet or moist) immediately followed by jwalantim (which conveys a sense of blazing and sparkling like the tongues of fire). Apparently, the two are of opposite nature.

It is explained that ardra, here, indicates the flowing grace; the easily-moved, kind and considerate nature of Sri Devi , who is the very embodiment of compassion (as portrayed in Sri Vedanta Deshika’s Daya-shataka).

10.3. The term jwalantim is, again, indicative of the radiant nature of Sri who resides as the inner light (jyothi swarupam) at the core of the consciousness of all beings (mula-prakrti). Sri Devi is the inner energy of all that glows and sparkles (tasya bhasa sarva idam vibhati).

It is also explained; it is the spontaneous flow of the graceful Devi’s compassion (ardra) that enlightens (jwalantim) the consciousness of the devotees. The boundless love that envelops all existence and the all-inspiring radiance that enlivens the created world are the nature of Sri Devi.

11.1. The Dhyana-sloka of this mantra describes Sri as the bright and beautiful goddess of golden complexion; her face aglow with tender smile; seated on a lotus; and holding a book and a parrot that speaks. This sloka is also taken as an invocation to Sarasvati the goddess of speech (vac–rupa-sri) and learning (vidya-rupa-sri). Therefore, sarasvata-siddhi (the attainment of true knowledge) is also one of the viniyoga of the fourth verse of Srisukta.

Varada-abhaya-shuka-pustaka-kara-kalitaam kamala-madhyagam kalaye |
kamalam- sasmitavadanam –kanaka-avarana-sthitaam kanchith ||

Mantra Five

चन्द्रां प्रभासां यशसा ज्वलन्तीं श्रियं लोके देवजुष्टामुदाराम् |
तां पद्मिनीमीं शरणमहं प्रपद्येऽलक्ष्मीर्मे नश्यतां त्वां वृणे ||५||

Chandrám prabhásám yaśhasá jvalantím śhriyam lóke deva justám udárám
Tám padminim-ím saranam aham prapadye’ alakshmír me naśyatám tvám vrne| (5)

[The Rishi of the mantra is Ananda; its Chhandas is Trishtubh; and, its Devata is Sarava-aishwarya-prada-lakshmi, the Lakshmi that grants all kinds of riches. Cham is the Bija; Nam is the Shakthi; and, Shrim is the Kilaka. Its viniyoga is nidhi-prapti, shatru-jayam.]

I submit to the mercy of Lakshmi , who is beautiful as the mellow glow of the moon; who is surrounded by lotus flowers; who is generous and kind; who is adored by gods; and whose renown lights up all the worlds. I seek refuge in that resplendent Sri. May she destroy all my misfortunes.


12.1. This verse re-calls Sri’s association with the moon, as referred to in the first verse. Sri is of the nature of moon that spreads happiness (aahlada), brightness (prabhasam); of beauty (Chandrah chandate), and of delight that lights up hearts of all (sakala-jana-ahlada–karini).

12.2. The mantra further glorifies Sri as one who sustains and supports all life in the nature (Shriyam loke); fulfils the desire of all; and, is beloved by all beings, including the gods (deva justám). The generous (udárám) Sri is indeed the Mother (taam Padmanemim); and. is the refuge of all the worlds.

12.3. Sri’s association with lotus is again elaborate d in this verse. Lotus (Padma), as said, symbolizes life that is characterized by beauty, purity, grace and abundance. Sri is of the nature of Padma ; and, the whole existence is but the projection of Sri.

13.1. The devotee submits (sharanamaham prapadye) to Sri, praying for release from the blight of A-lakshmi (the opposite of Lakshmi; and, who stands for everything that Lakshmi is not). Though A-lakshmi is personified in the legends as Jyeshta the elder sister of Lakshmi, it essentially signifies the aspects of wretchedness, misery, ugliness and cruelty that disfigure life.  Lakshmi, on the other hand, is everything that is auspicious, prosperous, beautiful and virtuous. 

13.2. The prayer is to drive away the evil that has taken shelter in the hearts of men/women; and, to invite Lakshmi into the purity of one’s heart-lotus (amala-kamala–hrud-deshe).

14.1. The Dhyana-sloka of the verse is dedicated to Sri Lakshmi who is seated amidst the splendorous solar-orb, holding lotus and gesturing assurance. She is richly decorated with gorgeous dresses, sparkling ornaments and holding the most precious Chintamani jewel. She grants fulfilment of all desires; and destroys misfortunes. I pray to that Supreme Goddess.

Tejomandala-madyagam dwi-nayanam divya-ambara-alankritaam
devim padma-vara-abhayam kara-talai-chintaamanim bibhratiim |
nana- divya-vibhushanam cha bhajatam daurbhagya-samhaarinim
nana-abhiishta- vara-pradana-niratam  vande param devataam ||

Mantra Six

आदित्यवर्णे तपसोऽधिजातो वनस्पतिस्तव वृक्षोऽथ बिल्वः |
तस्य फलानि तपसा नुदन्तु मायान्तरायाश्च बाह्या अलक्ष्मीः ||६||

Ǎditya varne tapasó dhijátó vanaspatis tava vrikshó’ tha bilvah
Tasya phalani tapsá nudantu mayántaráyás cha báhya alakshmíh|| (6)

[The Rishi of the mantra is Ananada; its Chhandas is Trishtubh; and, its Devata is Mahalakshmi. Aaam is the Bija; Shrim is the Shakthi; and, Hrim is the Kilaka. The viniyoga of the mantra is Arogya-aishwarya-abhiruddhi.]

Oh Devi, you are splendorous like the rising sun. By the intense power of your penance (tapas), the wondrous medicinal plant Bilva was brought forth. Let the Bilva-fruits, ripened by the radiance of your austerities; eradicate the ailments caused by the inner and external impurities.


15.1. There are some mythological and other references in this verse.


15.2. To start with, Bilva (Aegle marmelos) or Baelis  is the Indian wood apple tree. It is referred to in this verse as a Vanaspathi that belongs to Sri (vanaspatis tava vrikshó’ tha bilvah). In the Indian texts, Vanaspathi is described as a class of trees that bear fruit ; but, no blossoming or flowers (a-pushpah, phalavantah). The tree is also described as sada-phala (always bearing fruit), durarudha (difficult to climb) and trishikha or tridala (leaves having three points).

15.3. The Bilva fruit, skin, leaves and roots are said to be lively (sri-yukta), having great medicinal properties. Ayurveda recognizes Bilva fruit as an effective remedy for diarrhoea, dysentery, loss of appetite and abdominal pains. Its roots and leaves help in reducing fever. It is also said to be useful in removing mental imbalance (chitta-dosha-hara) and bodily problems (sarira-dosha-hara). The Bilva is thus a cure for both the internal and external ailments.

15.4. The Bilva tree is regarded sacred, for many other reasons also. It is associated with Shiva as also with Lakshmi. The worship with Bilva–leaves (Bilva-patra) is said to be greatly pleasing to Shiva, as it is very dear to Shiva (mahadevasya cha priyam). And, the Bilva tree is therefore called Shiva-druma, the tree of Shiva; and, its fruits are hailed as jnana-phala, the fruits of knowledge of Shiva.

The Bilvashtakam opens with the verse hailing the virtues and powers of Bilva leaf

Tridalam triguNaakaaram trinetram cha triyaayudham / trijanma paapasamhaaram eka Bilvam shivaarpaNam

I offer the bilva patra to Shiva. This leaf embodies the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas. This leaf is like the three eyes, and the sun, moon and fire. It is like three weapons. It is the destroyer of sins committed in three earlier births

There is a faith that offering of a Bilva bestows  merit as do ten million   yagnas (kotikanyaa mahaadaanam eka bilvam shivaarpaNam ).

The Bilva vriksha is also associated with goddess Sri (Laxmyaa stnam unpanam ). Bilva is the tree of Lakshmi. Tantra regards Bilva vriksha as the form of Lakshmi (Lakshmi swarupa); and, its fruit as Sri-phala, the fruit of Sri. According to a narration in Kalika Purana, Sri performed penance amidst the Bilva trees; and, because of her grace (anugraha) the Bilva fruits acquired unique medicinal properties. There is the faith that Lakshmi resides in Bilva tree; and, the worship with Bilva-leaves is dearer to her, and hence to Vishnu.The Laksmi Tantra (Pancaratra Agama) mentions that Vishnu temple should preferably be surrounded by Bilva grove.

[Interestingly, during the time of Sri Ramanuja, the practice of worshiping Sri Venkateswara at Tirumala  with Bilva leaves came under question.  It is said; Sri Ramanuja defended the practice by quoting the sixth verse of Srisukta; and asserted that whatever was dear to Lakshmi was also dear to Vishnu.

Further , even to this day in Bengal , the annual worship of Devi that begins in autumn (sharad-ritu), which marks the coming of the harvest season, is inaugurated by invoking (or awakening) her presence  in the branch of the Bilva tree. The faith is that the goddess resides in Bilva   .]

16.1. The mantra prays  to Sri , radiant like the rising sun (taruna-arunava daruna varne) for cleansing of inner and external impurities (mayántaráyás cha báhya alakshmíh). The term A-lakshmi here, refers to ignorance ; and , to depravity in ones thinking and in ones conduct.

17 .1. The Dhyana-sloka of this verse is dedicated to the Devi, radiant as the rising sun, residing amidst Bilva grove, and rescuing the devotees from ignorance, disease and misfortunes.

Udyada-aditya-sankaasham bilva-kaanana- madhyagaam |
tanu-madhyam  sriyam  dhyayed- lakshmi-parihaarinim ||

Mantra Seven

उपैतु मां देवसखः कीर्तिश्च मणिना सह |
प्रादुर्भूतोऽस्मि राष्ट्रेऽस्मिन् कीर्तिमृद्धिं ददातु मे ||७||

Upaitu mám deva-sakah kírtis cha maniná saha
Prádūr bhūtó’ smi rashtre’ smin kírtim riddhim dadátu me| (7)

[The Rishi of the mantra is Kubera; its Chhandas is Anustubh; and, its Devata is Manimalini-Mahalakshmi. Om and Shrim are its Bija; Mam and Blum are its Shakthi; and, Shrim is the Kilaka. Its viniyoga is ratna-siddhi and Bhuta-bhaya-nivarana.]

I am born in this state (Rajya). Let the friend of gods along with the fame, fortune, and precious gems come near to me. Grant me renown (distinction) and prosperity.


18.1. The verse prays to Lakshmi for riches, fame and prosperity; as also friendship with the highly affluent.

18.2. The term Deva-sakha meaning the friend of gods is interpreted by scholars as referring to Kubera, the Yaksha regent (Dikpala) of the North; and , the Lord and guardian of all the treasures in the world. That is because; Kubera is often described, in the Puranas, as the friend of Shiva, who conferred on Kubera the privilege to grant riches to his devotees – (devashabdo Mahadeve rudhah kuberah tryambaka sakhah). Lakshmi the goddess of wealth; and, Kubera the custodian of treasures are often worshiped together.

18.3. The term Mani is interpreted in two ways. One; Mani is understood as a jewel used as an amulet to guard against evils of all kinds. It, perhaps, was strung on a sutra, thread (say as in, sutre manigana iva) and worn around the neck.

The Mani is also said to refer to Chintamani, the wish-fulfilling gem , which emerged  out of the milky ocean

Its other meaning refers to Manibhadra, a Yaksha; and, a friend of Kubera , guarding his treasures. Since the verse prays for the friend- of -gods (Kubera) along with Kirti and Mani, some scholars are inclined to accept it as a reference to Manibhadra, the friend of Kubera.

18.4. Similarly, Kirti is understood as fame; as also as the name of one of the daughters of Daksha-prajapathi. Kirti is a member of Lakshmi’s entourage (Parivara).  It is by her grace that one performs deeds that earn fame and fortune. 

[The other divine beings in the entourage of Sri are said to be: Mati (intellect); Dyuti (brightness); Pushti (nourishment, vigor); Samriddhi (prosperity); Tushti (happily satisfied); Aarogya (health); Jaya (victory);and, Shraddhaa (diligence).]

18.5. The mantra, according to some, invites Kubera along with his friend Manibhadra and Kirti , the associate of Lakshmi. (as in illustration provided above)

19.1.The Dhyana-sloka of the mantra prays to Manimalini, who is dear to gods; who is also Rajarajeshwari and Lakshmi; and who grants fame, wealth and other desires. Manimalini is one of the many names of the Devi.

[Please refer to the Varna in Kambhoji raga: Mam pahi Sri Raja Rajeswari Sekari Sivasankari Simmavahini Sevaka janapalini Kapalini Manimalini Varadehini]

Raajaraajeshwarim- lakshmim  varadam  manimaaliniim |
devim devapriyam  kiirtim  vande kamya-artha-siddhaye ||

Continued in Part Three

References and sources

Goddesses in Ancient India by PK Agrawala; Abhinav Publications (1984)

Srisukta (in Kannada) by Prof SK Ramachanra Rao; Published by SAKSI (2209)

I gratefully acknowledge the sublime illustrations of the Sri Sukta which are the creations of the renowned artist of Vedic and traditional themes,   Shri GLN Simha of Mysore.  These are said to be in the collections of Ramsons Kala Pratishatana, Mysore



Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Srisukta


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Srisukta Part One

Sri Devi

Sri in Rig-Veda

1.1. The term Sri in Rig-Veda was used to portray the highly desirable virtues such as radiance, splendor, (divine) beauty, fortune, prosperity, abundance, bliss, happiness, welfare, possession of desired objects etc.  Sri, in general (visva-sri), represented all the beautiful and resplendent aspects; happy conditions; and desirable possessions that one aspires for in life. Sri, however, was not, originally, the   name of a goddess.

1.2. The attribute of Sri was often used to describe the glory and divine qualities of gods such as Agni, Pushan, Indra, Soma, Rudra and the goddess Ushas. For instance;

:-while describing the radiance of Agni, it was said: your glory (sriyo) is like the lightening in rainy-clouds (tava sriyo varsha-asyeva vidyuth: RV.10.91.5).

:- And, again, Agni displaying his glories (sriyamavah:RV: 2.10.1) ‘is the Lord among the gods, having all the glories (sriyo): ayam visva abhi sriyo Agnir-deveshu pratyate (RV: 8.102.9).

:- Rudra is said to have been born as the chief- of-all by the virtue of his Sri (sreshto jatasya Rudra sriyasi: RV: 2.33.3).

:- In Indra, rests all the glories (yasmin visva adhi sriyah: RV: 8.92.20).

:- And, as regards the splendor and radiance of Ushas the goddess of dawn, it was said ‘the radiant Ushas has risen up ushering in glory and brightness (ud u sriya Ushaso rochamana: RV: 6.64.1).

Sri in Brahmanas

2.1. Sri as the goddess perhaps first appears in Satapatha Brahmana (SB:; Here, Sri is described the as resplendent (dipayamana) and shimmering (bhrajamana) goddess; daughter of Prajapathi.

prajāpatirvai prajāḥ sṛjamāno’tapyata tasmācrāntāttapānācrīrudakrāmatsā dīpyamānā / bhrājamānā lelāyantyatiṣṭhatāṃ dīpyamānām bhrājamānāṃ lelāyantīṃ devā abhyadhyāyan

And, she was assigned a position of eminence among goddesses.  The other gods take from Sri and gift back to her various powers and virtues, such as:  anna (Agni); rajya (Soma); samrajya (Varuna), kshatra (Mitra); bala (Indra); brahmavarchas (Brihaspathi); rastra (Savitr);bhaga (Pushan), pusti (Sarasvathi); and, rupa (Tvasta). Since then, the presence of Sri and her activities manifest in these spheres of beauty, prosperity, virtue and power.

tasyā agnirannādyamādatta somo rājyaṃ varuṇaḥ sāmrājyam mitraḥ kṣatramindro
balam bṛhaspatirbrahmavarcasaṃ savitā rāṣṭram pūṣā bhagaṃ sarasvatī puṣṭiṃ
tvaṣṭā rūpāṇi

2.2. And, Sri, as a goddess, is mentioned more regularly, thereafter, in Vedic texts; and is identified with earth, abundance of food, cattle- wealth, Viraj*, Soma and the gods.

[*Viraj as a female principle is closer to Sri than others (srir vai virat). Viraj is the wife of Purusha; so too is Sri. In the later mythologies when Purusha – Prajapati – Narayana all merge into Vishnu, Sri is the consort of Vishnu (Vishnu patni).The term Vishnu patni was earlier used for Srinivali and Aditi.

Of the two consorts of Purusha – Sri and Lakshmi – the latter was, at times, replaced by Hri. In the Vedic texts, Hri represents the virtue of modesty.]

devi 2222

Sri and Lakshmi

3.1. However, Sri and Lakshmi are treated separate (not as one) in the Brahmanas.

3.2. The phrase ‘bhadra – lakshmi’ appears in the tenth mandala of Rig-Veda, to mean an auspicious imprint (nihita) upon the speech (Vac) of the wise (bhadraisham lakshmir-nihita-adhi vachi: RV: 10.71.2). But, Lakshmi is mentioned as a personified auspicious (punya) goddess in Atharva Veda (7,115) who drives away evil spirits (papi) of misfortune and wickedness (a-lakshmi) – puṇyā lakṣmīr yāḥ pāpīs tā anīnaśam ; and ushers in security (fearless-ness-Abhaya) and prosperity (Abhivruddi). Thus, two distinct forms of Lakshmi are mentioned: the auspicious and the foul. But, over a time the fiendish aspects got erased; and the auspicious aspects gained ascendancy; celebrating the victory of the glorious Lakshmi over evil natures – apa krāmati sūnṛtā vīryaṃ punyā lakṣmīḥ ( AV.12,5.6).

3.3. Sri and Lakshmi appear as distinct goddesses, at the earliest, in Vajasaneyi Samhita of Shukla Yajurveda, where they are called the consorts of Purusha. But, not much is discussed about them.

3.4. In the Upanishads, Sri and Lakshmi who were earlier distinct, become synonyms, tend to merge and finally become one. Their worship together is formalized in the hymn Srisukta, which in fact, is an appendix or supplement (khila) to the fifth mandala of Rig-Veda. The Khila portions of Rig-Veda are considered as addendums or latter inclusions into the Vedic texts, when the gods and goddess tended to become personified.

3.5. Srisukta establishes the identity of Sri and Lakshmi as two names of a single divinity. She is the antithesis of Jyeshtha A-lakshmi representing hunger (a-samrddhi), thirst, impurity depravity, and decay (a-bhuti).

In this context, there is a mention of the six types of miseries or six waves of disturbances (shad-urmi) that afflict human life. They are: hunger (kshuda); thirst (pipasa); agony of grief (shoka – mano vyadha); delusion (moha); old age or decay (jara); and, death (marana).

These miseries are attributed to the evil influence of three types of A-lakshmis. Of these, the first two (hunger and thirst) are caused by Jyeshta, the elder A-Lakshmi. The next two (grief and delusion) are said to be caused by Madhyama, the middle or the second A-Lakshmi. And, the other two miseries (decay and death) are said to be caused by Kanishta the least or the third A-Lakshmi. All these A-Lakshmis hinder life and its progress.

The A-lakshmi , in whatever type or form, causing internal (antara) and external (bahya) misery should be driven away  .  The worshipper , therefore,  takes refuge in the protection of the auspicious and gracious goddess Sri.

Sri in Srisukta

4.1. Sri in Srisukta is not portrayed in the limited sense of the consort of Vishnu (Vishnu patni) or the goddess of wealth. Sri, here, is the Supreme Mother Goddess (devim mataram sriyam), the supreme ruler of all creation (Ishvari sarvabhutanam), beyond any flaw (durdharsha) and revered by all gods (deva-jushta).

4.2. The Great Goddess Sri sustains all existence. She is jagad–dhatri (adhara-bhutah jagatah tva-me-va); the Shakthi that supports Agni, Surya and all the gods. She is Narayani and Trayambika too. Durga-saptashati adores the Great Goddess Devi as Sri who rules over the Universe (tvam Sri, tvam Eshwari).

4.3. Sri, indeed, is Agni the all-knowing Jata-vedasa who resides in the hearts of the Yogis as the blazing pillar (agni-sthambha) of consciousness. Sri is Atma-vidya, Maha-vidya and Guhya-vidya the summit of spiritual attainment.

4.4. Tantra regards Sri as a tattva the principle that is beyond any known identity (Brahmarupini). She is Purusha and Prakrti too (prakrti–purushatmakam–jagat). She is vishwa-matruka the origin of all existence (yoshith Purusha rupena sphurantee vishwa-matruka).

Tantic Lakshmi (Tantric Lakshmi)

5.1. As said; Sri is Brahmarupini, and her glory is beyond description. And, yet, for worship-purposes, Sri is represented as a radiant goddess glowing like burnished gold (tapta kanchana sannibha), seated on a white, radiant lotus in full bloom (Amala-kamala-Samsthaa), holding lotus flowers ; and, adorned with rich and sparkling ornaments.

Thus, Srisukta is revered as the approach to Saguna Brahman visualized as the auspicious Sri, the very epitome of beauty, grace, magnificence and prosperity manifest in all creation.

5.2. Srisukta describes Sri as the most glorious goddess, radiant as Agni, Chandra and the sun; lustrous as gold; richly ornamented; and, regal in bearing. She is generous, kind-hearted, having infinite patience and boundless love towards all. She drives away hunger, poverty and ignorance; and ushers in light, beauty, prosperity and all the precious virtues of life.

5.3. Her bodily form is described as shining brightly (jvalanthi), refulgent (prabhasa) like that of the gold (hiranya-varna), the lotus (padma-varna) or the sun (aditya-varna). She is golden (hiranyayi), decked with lotus – garland (padma-malini) and gold necklaces (hema-malini); and adorned with precious ornaments  , made of gold (suvarna-rajatha-srajam).

Her associations

Lakshmi Hirnaya varnam

Lakshmi’s association with gold that shines signifies purity (pavitram vai hiranyam) and brilliance.

6.1. Sri is said to be radiant as the burnished gold .The phrase hiranya-prakara indicates her form as gold or encircled by gold. Sri’s special association with gold is expressed through several other phrases: hiranya-varna; hiranya-mayi; hiranya–prakara; hema-malini; svarna-rajatha–sraja; sauvarna. Among other things, she is requested to give gold.

6.2. Sri is also addressed as Chandra; bright (Chandrah chandate), mellow and the beauteous as the moon that delights the hearts of all (sakala jana-ahlada–karini).

6.3. Her tree is bilva (vanaspathi-stava-vriksho-tava-bilva) which effectively drives away A-lakshmi. Tantra regards Bilva vriksha as the form of Lakshmi (Lakshmi swarupa); and, its fruit as Sri-phala, the fruit of Sri. According to a narration in Kalika Purana, Sri performed penance amidst the Bilva trees; and, because of her grace (anugraha) the Bilva fruits acquired unique medicinal properties. There is a faith that Lakshmi resides in Bilva tree; and the worship with Bilva-leaves is dearer to her, and hence to Vishnu.

6.4. The primary symbol of Sri is lotus. In the Indian texts, lotus symbolizes several desirable virtues:  purity, beauty, the very essence of life, spiritual power, fertility and growth. The Tantra regards lotus as a symbol of created universe. And, Sri is all of those auspicious signs (lakshana). Sri is Padmini (a variant of padmanemi, meaning holding a lotus) and pushkarini (pushkara meaning lotus) . Lotus, again, is her seat (padma-sthitha). And, her complexion glows like that of lotus (padma-varna).

6.5. It is said; goddess Sri delights in the sounds of trumpeting elephants (hasti-nada-pramodini). Her Gajalakshmi form is shown with pair of elephants pouring water over her head. The phrase ardram–pushkarnim–pusta suggests sprinkling of water through lotus flowers. In the Indian texts, elephants are symbols of royalty, majesty and power. They also suggest water-bearing clouds, pools of water and rain. Sri thus, aptly, is the goddess of abundance and fertility.

gaja lakshmi2

[The Vishnudharmottara (III, Ch. 82), states that Devi Lakhsmi should be depicted with two-arms when she  is by the side of Hari (Vishnu) – Hareh samipe kartavya Lakshmis tu dvibhuja- V. 2a): but, when Goddess Lakshmi is portrayed singly, she should be made of four-arms; seated on an auspicious throne : prithak chaturbhuja karya devi simhasane shubhe (v.3b);  and,  two elephants should be each be emptying a water-pot on her shoulders : avarjita-ghatam karyam tat- prishthe  kunjara-dvayam (v. 7b).]


6.6. The goddess is called ardra, krishini; and staying in mire (kardama) and wet soil (chiklita). All these terms strengthen her association with food and water (apah srajanti snigdhani chilita).

Sri is the guardian deity of agriculturists; and is associated with agricultural prosperity. The goddess is called krishini, ardra; and, she is said to be staying in wet soil. The terms: ardra (moist), kardama (mud) and chiklita (fertile soil) are all indicative of her association with fertility, prosperity and growth. They also strengthen her association with food and water (apah srajanti snigdhani chilita).

6.7. The association of Sri  with Cows and its products that are helpful in producing abundant harvest is mentioned in other texts too. For instance; Maitrayani Samhita mentions that the other name for cow-pen is Lakshmi (goshtho vai namaisha lakshmih: MS: 4.2.1). And, Satapatha Brahmana states that one who has attained Sri (prosperity) is known as purishya, having plenty of cow-manure (purīṣya iti vai tamāhuryaḥ śriyaṃ gacati samānaṃ; SB:

7.1. Jatavedasa Agni is repeatedly requested to cause the goddess come to the worshiper . The epithet anapa-gamini suggests her fleeting nature (chanchala).

7.2. The worshipper prays to Sri for stay in the house abounding with agricultural wealth. He prays to Sri to grant him with cows, food, wealth, prosperity, truthfulness in speech as also fame and fulfillment of all desires.



8.1. Sukta in the Vedic context is a bunch of hymns (riks). A collection of Suktas is a Mandala (a Book or a Chapter). The Rig-Veda is made of 10,522 riks, grouped into 1,028 Suktas, spread over ten Books (mandala).

8.2. The term Sukta is also understood as well–articulated statements (shustu-uktam). The Suktas, generally, are not given titles; but, at times, they are identified and known by the names of the deities which they address.  For instance; the Sukta commencing with the words ‘aham rudrebhihi’ is celebrated as Devi-sukta (RV: 10.125); the one commencing with ‘ato deva avantu no’ as Vishnu–sukta (RV: 1.22.16) ; and the one commencing with ‘hiranya-varnam ‘ as Sri-Sukta .There also instances where a Sukta is known by its commencing words. For instance;  the 52 riks  appearing in the First Book of Rig-Veda and  commencing with the words ‘ asya vamasya palitasya h0tuh’ ,  attributed to Sage Dirghatamas  is known as Asya Vamiya Sukta.

8.3. The celebrated Srisukta that is recited with joy and reverence on all auspicious occasions, originally, occurs in the supplement (khila) appended to the fifth mandala of Rig-Veda . It is placed between the end of the fifth mandala and the beginning of the sixth mandala. There are a number of sets of mantras in this Khila : a set of five mantras commencing with words ‘athe garbho’ ( RvKh_2,10.1a) ; followed by a  set of five mantras commencing with words ‘agnir etu prathamo  (RvKh_2,11.1a ) ; and another set of fifteen mantras commencing with words ‘hiranya varnam harinim’. Please click here ; and, look for riks starting with RvKh_2,6.1a

9.1. The last mentioned set of fifteen mantras is renowned as ‘Srisukta’. The mantras are, in fact, addressed to Agni (jatha-vedasa). But , since the mantras pray for the  glory (Sri)  , the radiance, the wealth   and the beautiful aspects of life , they have customarily  come to be associated Lakshmi  the Goddess of  beauty and wealth.

9.2. The term Sri is derived from the root `Shriy‘ which suggests the refuge of all (sreeyate sarvai iti Sreehi). Sri is also Lakshmi the sign or the index (lanchana) of beauty, grace and wealth in all creation. Lakshmi is also a mark of energy (chaitanya) and excellence (vibhuti) that enriches life. The Devi dwells in the Universe as Lakshmi (ya Devi sarva bhooteshu lakshmi roopena samsthitaa).

9.3. The fifteen riks or mantras (pancha-dasharcha) of the Srisukta, when recited during worship-sequences are usually followed by another twelve (or thirteen) prayer-verses, three slokas of mythological nature; and concluded with the recitation of Lakshmi–Gayatri (Om Mahalakshmyai Cha Vidmahe Vishnu Patnyai Cha Dheemahi  Tanno Lakshmi Prachodayat). But, it is only the first fifteen mantras from Rig-Veda that are regarded as riks; and, commentaries on Srisukta by various Acharyas are also confined to these riks.

10.1. Each of these fifteen riks is regarded a mantra in its own right. That is, in the sense, each mantra is associated with a Devata, the deity that resides in the mantra (thus, the mantra is Devata, and the Devata is its mantra); each mantra is ascribed to a Rishi who envisioned it; and, each mantra is composed in a particular Chhandas (metrical form).The fifteen riks together, in their integrated form , are also called Samasti-sukta.

10.2. The Devatas of the Samasti-sukta aretwo: Agni (Jatavedasa) and Sri (Lakshmi).The two are together addressed as ‘Srir-Agnir-Devata’.  The composition of the fifteen riks is ascribed to four Rishis: Ananda, Chaklitha, Kardama and Sreeda (or Indira).

As regards their Chhandas:

:- The first three mantras are set in Anustub-chhandas [32  Matras (syllables) , in 4 Paadas (lines) of 8 Matras each (4×8) – this is the classical Sloka format)]; 

:- the fourth in Bruihati-chhandas (36 Matras in 4 Paadas of 8+8+12+8);

:- the fifth and sixth in Tristub-chhandas  (44 Matras in 4 Paadas of 11 Matras each ; 4×11) ;

:-  the last (fifteenth) in a prose-like rendering called Prasa-pankthi.

:- And, the rest of the mantras (7th to 14th) are set in Anustub-chhandas (4×8).

sri lakshmi

11.1. Every mantra-structure is characterized by three components: Bija, Shakthi and Kilaka. It is said; these three components balance the power in mantra and the benefit (viniyoga) that one seeks from it.

:- Bija is the seed-phrase or significant series of words with which the mantra commences. It is the root-sound or the keynote which harmonizes the mantra. Sometimes, it is taken to express the essence of the mantra.

:- Shakthi is the power that carries within its womb  the esoteric (adyathmika) import or the significance latent in the mantra.  It is indeed is the ‘consciousness’ of the mantra that transports (trayate) the mind (mana) of the worshipper to its Devatha. 

:- Kilaka is the pillar or the pin or the peg which supports and holds together the structure of the mantra. It is also said the worshipper should fasten his faith (sraddha) to this plug (Kilaka); and stay steadfast as he repeats (japa) the mantra.

As regards Srisukta (taken as Samasti :  all the fifteen mantras taken together as a unit) , its opening line ‘Hiranya varnám ‘ is its Bija; the second mantra commencing with ‘Tám ma ávaha játavedo  is its Shakthi ; and , the phrases occurring towards the later part of the seventh mantra ‘kírtim riddhim dadátu me‘ is its Kilaka. (Śrīm Beejam ; Hrīm Shakthih;  Klīm kilakam)

[It is also said; each of the fifteen verses, which is a mantra, has its own Bija, Shakthi, Kilaka and Dhyana-sloka. And, each verse has its own Devatha/s. Let’s see those, later, as we come to each sloka.]

11.2 The Dhyana-sloka of Samasti-sukta is

Arunakamalastham tadrujah-punjavarna I Karakamaladhrute ashta-bhiti-yugmam ambujah

Mani-makuta-vichitra-alamkritih padmamaala I Bhavatu Bhuvana-mata santatam Sreeh Sreeyai namah II

Sri , here , is personified as the goddess seated on a red lotus covered with the pollen of red-lotus and  glowing with red-lotus complexion . In her either hands , she holds lotus flowers; and , with her other two hands , she bestows prosperity (varada-mudra) and gestures her protection(abhaya –mudra). She is adorned with radiant crown and garland of fragrant fresh lotus flowers. I submit (namah) to the Mother of Universe (Bhuvana mata) and the cause of abundance in prosperity in all existence (santatam sreeh sreehaih) .

Let’s briefly, talk about each of the fifteen mantras  of Srisukta

in the next two parts.




Reference and sources

Goddesses in Ancient India by PK Agrawala; Abhinav Publications (1984)

Srisukta (in Kannada) by Prof SK Ramachanra Rao; Published by SAKSI (2209)

Pictures are from Internet and from paintings of Shri GLN Simha of Mysore

Continued in Part Two



Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Srisukta


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Tantra – Agama – Part four – Vaikhanasa continued

Continued from Part Three

Vaikhanasa Literature- continued

68.1. Vaikhanasa-kalpa –sutra ascribed to Sage Vaikhanasa and the various texts collectively called Vaikhanasa Shastra composed by his four disciples are together taken to be the cannon of the Vaikhanasa tradition. Scholars date these texts as being around third or fourth century. But, the next significant reference to Vaikhanasas appears in the inscriptions dated around ninth century (during the time of Raja Raja Chola). The developments, if any, within the Vaikhanasa tradition between the period of the Vaikhanasa Shastra and the ninth century are rather hazy and virtually unknown. It was only after this period that a number of significant texts were produced detailing temple and domestic rituals. The authors of these texts were mostly the temple priests serving at the major Vishnu temples following the Vaikhanasa mode of worship.

68.2. The reasons for recording those texts appear to be two-fold. One, to prescribe in detail and to establish temple–worship sequences and procedures; and, the other to assert  and defend the identity of the Vaikhanasa tradition in the face of the challenges it was  facing from the Sri Vaishnava sect that was beginning to gain ascendancy.

68.3. By about the 11th century, Sri Vaishnavas established themselves as the dominant sect among the Vaishnavas. And, their way of worship (pancharatra) took charge of most Vaishnava temples in South India, and made it open to a larger participation by larger segments of the community. As a result of this development, the Vaikhanasas, rooted in orthodoxy, appeared to have been increasingly marginalized as temple priests. In order to distinguish themselves and to assert their identity as hereditary temple ritual-specialists following the pristine Vedic practices they interpreted certain pre-natal rituals (say, Vishnu –Bali) to serve as the boundaries of their group. Those set of rituals and the texts that highlighted the superiority of Vaikhanasa paramparapantha (tradition) and its  siddantha (ideology) attempted to transform the self perception of a close knit group of priestly class  placed in a fluid  historical and local setting.

69.1. The Vaikhanasas scholars of this period strove to define and defend their unique identity through their highly specialized practices; and, by means of their texts on temple worship rituals and the domestic rituals. Among these, Nrsimha Vajapeyin, Bhatta Bhaskaracharya, Anantacharya and above all Sreenivasa-makhin are prominent.

69.2. Nrsimha Vajapeyin (described as the disciple of  Varadacharya and son of Madhavacharya) is held in high regard as a great scholar well versed in Vedic srauta rituals (he having performed the Vajapeya yajna), in Vaikhanasa temple worship-rituals, and in Tantra-mantra-shastra. His Bhagavad-archa-prakarana  details the daily worship procedures at the temple.  He also prepared an elaborate and an excellent gloss on the seven chapters of Grihya-sutra, three chapters of Dharma-sutra and on the one chapter of Pravara-sutra. Nrsimha Vajapeyin’s gloss provides main framework for the elaborations in the later texts. It also lucidly presents the significant aspects of temple-worship sequences, in concise form.

69.3. His disciple, Bhatta Bhaskaracharya wrote commentaries on Daivika and Manusha sutras ; and, also on Khila (appendix) mantras of Rig-Veda.

69.4. However, the most prolific writer among them was Sreenivasa-makhin (also known as Sreenivasa Dikshita or Sreenivasa-adhvari) hailed as ‘the Vedanta Deshika of Vaikhanasas’. He enjoys a preeminent position in the Vaikhanasa lore.  It is said; he was the son of Govindacharya and Rukminiyamma of Vaikhanasa Brahmin family of Kaushika gotra.   He was born at Venkatachala (Vrsagiri), the present Tirumala. Sreenivasa-makhin served as the priest in the temple of Sri Venkateshwara on the Tirumala hills. He is said to have lived after Nrsimha Vajapeyin, Bhatta Bhaskara and Anantacharya. And, his period is said to be around the 11-12th century.

69.5. Sreenivasa-makhin in his famous work Dasha – vidha – hetu-nirupana   , the descriptions of the tenfold reasons (or arguments why Vaikhanasas are superior) outlines the situation of the Vaikhanasas as obtaining and provides the strategies to establish the superiority of Vaikhanasas over rival traditions, the Vaishnava sects in particular. Dasha-vidha-hetu-nirupana,   perhaps, came about as a reaction to the perceived threats from the more aggressive Pancharatra sect, which at that time was gathering strength and gaining ascendancy.

70.1. Dasha-vidha-hetu- nirupana   emphasized the merits of Vaikhanasa tradition, highlighting its distinctive features and merits; demarcated Vaikhanasa from the rival traditions, particularly the Pancharatra; and put forth elaborate reasons why Vaikhanasa is superior to other traditions.

70.2. At the commencement of the text (2.5-9) Sreenivasa-makhin presents in abstract form ten reasons why Vaikhanasa is superior to other traditions:

  • (i) Vaikhanasa-sutra is established by Sage Vaikhana an incarnate Vishnu who is the cause of the world;
  • (ii) it is the first among all the sutras;
  • (iii) it follows the ways of Sruti (Vedas) in all its ritual-actions;
  • (iv) it   encases all its ritual-actions in Vedic mantras;
  • (v) it has niseka   as its first life-cycle ritual;
  • (vi) it prescribes eighteen kinds of bodily life-cycle rituals (samakaras) that purify body and mind ;
  • (vii) it presents unity of ritual-actions and their associated components ;
  • (viii) it is accepted by Manu and other Sutra-kaaras;
  • (ix) it extols the absolute supremacy of the glorious  Narayana who is the only cause of the entire universe; and
  • (x) those who ardently follow the Vaikhanasa dharma as expounded in its sutra are dearest to the adorable Narayana.

akhila jagat kāraṇa bhūtena vikhanasā praṇītatvāt. sarva sūtrāṇām āditvāt. sarva karmasu śruti mārgā  anusāritvāt. samantrakasarvakriyā pratipādakatvāt. niṣekasaṃskārādi matvāt. aṣṭādaśa śārīrasa ṃskāraprati pādakatvāt. sāṅga kriyākalāpa vattvāt. manvādyaiḥ svīkṛtatvāt. akhila jagad eka kāraṇa bhūta śrīmannārāyaṇa eika paratvāt. etat sūtrokta dharmānuṣṭhāna vatām eva bhagavat priyatama tvopapatteś ca. iti.

70.3. Sreenivasa-makhin cites, in support of his arguments, passages from various Grihya and Dharma sutras, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Upanishads, Puranas and various other texts that are generally held in acclaim. He says the worship at home (griha-archa) which is done for securing individual and family welfare; and worship in temple (alaya-archa) which is done for the good of the whole community are both important. But, for icon-worship the temple is said to be the most suitable place.

70.4. The central issue that runs through Dasha-vidha–hetu-nirupana    is establishing  the eligibility (adhikara) of the Vaikhanasas, gained by birth, to act as temple- priests (archaka) in Vishnu temples – mukhyādikāriṇāṃ vaikhānasānāṃ, to worship on behalf of the devotees, and to mediate between god and the devotees. Sreenivasa-makhin argues that the Vaikhanasa worship of the deity installed in temples is for the good of all (sarve janah): the individual, the community (loka), the state (rastra), the glory of the ruler (rajan) and the welfare of the ruled (praja).  It prays for timely rains, for abundance of food, the well being of the animals (dvi padechatush pade) and of the whole of nature. The worship of the deity installed at the temple is thus benign (soumya) and beneficial/auspicious (Sri Kara) to all.  It contributes to the spiritual uplift of all the worshiping devotees. This worship is regarded as Kriya-yoga.

70.5. Sreenivasa-makhin explains that the Vaikhanasa tradition accommodates those who prefer to worship the form-less (amurtha-archana) through yajna, as also those who worship Vishnu through his icon (samurtha-bhagavad-yajna). It is explained; the two are not substantially different. Yet; according to Sreenivasa-makhin, in the present age of Kali the Agama inspired worship is most suitable, since the srauta and smarta rituals are beyond the capability of most of the people. He however adds; the temple must be properly constructed; the and the icon appropriately installed in it; and it should be effectively consecrated. The worship should be carried out with single-minded devotion by priests well trained in conducting worship –sequences.

71.1. Among the other Vaikhanasa texts, the significant ones is, Archana – navanita (the essence of worship) by Keshavacharya who also prepared a gloss (vritti) on Vedanta Sutras of Badarayana, from the standpoint of view of Lakshmi-vishitadvaita. As mentioned earlier, Bhaskara Bhattacharya a disciple of Nrsimha Yajapeyin wrote commentaries on Daivika and Manusha sutras. And, Prayoga –vidhi on procedural aspects of icon worship by Sundara-raja, a writer of later period, is well known.

71.2. One work that includes much of the older material is the renowned Vaikhanasa-mantra-prashnam (daivikacatustyam) or Mantra Samhita. This book contains all the Vedic mantras needed in temple –worship rituals. Most of these are taken from Yajurveda .The first half (Ch. 1 – 4) contain mantras of Grihya Sutra. The second half called daivikacatustyam (Ch 5 – 8) includes portions relating to temple-ritual taken from the handbooks of the four rishis: Atri, Bhrigu, Kashyapa and Marichi.

[ For Vaikhanasa Mantra Prashna you can go to

and download the translation by Resnick, H. J. (1996). The Daivika-catustayam of the Vaikhanasa-mantra-prasna: A Translation. Published Ph.D. dissertation. Harvard University: Cambridge, Massachusetts.

with transliteration in English

And , for Bhrigu Samhita , please check here]

Vaikhanasa Philosophy

72.1. Vaikhanasa is essentially a religious system that preaches worship of Vishnu-icon with devotion and a sense of complete surrender. Its texts are primarily ritual texts (prayoga shastra) containing elaborate discussions on various layers of temples-worship-sequences and their significance; as also instructions on practical aspects concerning yajnas and domestic ritual procedures. The major thrust of Vaikhanasa texts is to provide clear, comprehensive and detailed guidelines for Vishnu worship.  The jnana-paada segment of Vaikhanasa Agama texts is , therefore, rather brief as compared to discussion on rituals. It does not go about setting out a detailed philosophical doctrine of its own. However, Vaikhanasa, Surely, prescribes its way of life (dharma) and its outlook (darshana) on God, Man and the relation between the two; and the ways that lead Man towards God.

72.2. During the medieval periods, the Vaikhanasa scholars, most of whom were temple-priests, provided a philosophical basis for worshipping Vishnu icons installed in temples; and to harmonize icon-worship with the Vedic practices of performing Yajnas.  These works derive their authority from the Kalpa-sutra of Sage Vaikhana and the Vaikhanasa Shastra texts composed by his four disciples.

72.3. Sreenivasa–makhin, a Vaikhanasa Acharya, produced several works bringing out the characteristic features of Vaikhanasa philosophy.  Among his works of this genre, the better known are: Lakshmi-vishistadvaita–bhashya; Vaikhanasa–mahima-manjari; and paramathmika-Upanishad-bhashya.

Another author who attempted a clear presentation of Vaikhanasa philosophy was Raghupathi-Bhattacharya (also known as Vasudeva). His work Mokshopaaya-pradipika spread over twelve chapters discusses the nature of Brahman, the ways of attaining Brahman in his manifest form through worship rendered with intense devotion and a sense of absolute surrender (prapatti-purvaka-bhagavad-aaradhanam).  Raghupathi-Bhattacharya explains the Vaikhanasa doctrine employing the terms of Samkhya ideology. And, his work is seen by some as an attempt to bring about a sort of rapprochement between Vaikhanasa and Pancharatra traditions.

73.1. Sreenivasa-makhin in his Lakshmi – vishistadvaita- bhashya, which is a commentary on Badarayana’s Brahma sutras, states that Vishnu alone is the highest Reality (eka eva para-tattvah).

Both the authors, Sreenivasa – makhin (Tatparya chintamani) and Raghupathi Bhattacharya, explain that Brahman (Narayana) the Paramatman is of dual nature. He is visible and invisible; perfectly bright and pure; immutable. He is both nishkala (devoid of forms and attributes) and sakala (with forms and attributes). The two aspects, truly, are one; and are inseparable. The former   aspect (nishkala) is all-inclusive. It pervades everything, in and out, like ghee in milk, oil in sesame seed, fragrance in flower, juice in the fruit and fire in the wood. It has the nature of space (akasha) in which everything resides; and which resides in everything.   That precisely is the nature of Vishnu (vyapanath Vishnuh) who permeates the entire existence. Because of being extremely subtle, he cannot be described as real or unreal.

73.2. Vimanarchana-kalpa ascribed to Sage Marichi mentions that Vishnu may be approached in one of the four ways: recitation / repetition of the sacred name of Vishnu (japa), attentive repetition of prayer; huta, sacrifice; arcana, service to images, or dhyana, yogic meditation. Of the four, the Marichi Samhita says, archana leads to the realization of all aims.

73.3. Further it is said; the worship of the Vishnu can be either internal (antaryaga) or external (bahiryaga). The Grihya sutras explain: the Godhead is formless –nishkala; perfectly pure and bright filled with lustre tejomaya; beyond comprehension achintya; and is of the nature of pure existence, consciousness and bliss sat-chit-ananda; and abides in the heart-lotus- hridaya-kamala – of the devotee.

But, because of the limitations of the human mind the worship of Brahman –without form, nishkala, is beyond the capability of us who live ordinary lives. The human mind finds it easier to deal with forms, shapes and attributes than with the formless absolute. And therefore, when an icon is properly installed and consecrated; and it is worshiped with love and reverence, a sense of devotion arises from within and envelops the mind and heart of the worshiper. By constant attention to the icon, by seeing it again and again and by offering it various services of devotional worship, icon that is beautiful will engage the mind and delight the heart of the devotee. Enlivened by loving worship, devotion, and absolute surrender (parapatti) , the icon will  no longer be  just a symbol. The icon invested with love and devotion will be   transformed into a true divine manifestation. And, its worship ensures our good here (aihika) and also our ultimate good or emancipation (amusmika). The archa with devotion is therefore the best form of worship. And, Archa is dearer to Vishnu.

73.4. That is the reason, though the nishkala aspect is the ultimate, the worship of Vishnu-icon (samurtha-archana) with devotion is recommended as the best way for all, especially for those involved in the transactional world.  Yet, the devotee must progressively move from gross sthula towards the subtle sukshma.

74.1. Vishnu’s visista (aspected) nature becomes manifest when the devotees churn him within their hearts by contemplation and devotion. It is like igniting fire by churning the wood. And, like sparks that fly from the burning fire, Vishnu shines forth in varieties of forms. He appears variously, to satisfy the aspirations of the devotee. Vishnu who is all-pervasive now becomes manifest in all his splendour. This is the Sakala aspect of Vishnu. The devotees must visualize, invoke and worship his divine form (divya mangala vigraha).

74.2. When Vishnu is visualized as a worship-worthy icon, he usually is imagined in a human form with distinguishable features (sakala). Vishnu’s form, seen in mind’s eye, for contemplation (dhyana) and worship (archa) is four armed, carrying shanka, chakra, gadha and padma. His countenance is beatific radiating peace and joy (saumya), delight to behold soumya-priya-darshana, his complexion is rosy pink wearing golden lustrous garment (pitambara). To meditate upon a beautiful image of Vishnu with a delightful smiling countenance and graceful looks is the greatest blessing.

75.1. Sreenivasa-makhin in his Lakshmi-vishistadvaita – bhashya, explains that Vishnu the highest Reality (eka eva para-tattvah) is distinguished by Lakshmi (Lakshmi – visista- Narayanah). Isvara associated with Lakshmi (Lakshmi visita isvara tattvam) is Vishnu.   Lakshmi (Sri) is not as an independent reality (tattva) but is an aspect that is inseparable from Vishnu (Srisa or Narayana), like moon and moonlight. Vishnu’s power (maya) and splendour is Sri (Lakshmi); and, she is mula-prakrti the original source of energy and power (shakthi) that enlivens all existence. She is the cause of all actions by all beings.

75.2. Vishnu is Purusha and Lakshmi is Prakrti; the whole of existence proceeds from the union of the two. And, Purusha abiding in Prakrti experiences the qualities that result from Prakrti.   The Vaikhanasa, therefore, calls its ideology as Lakshmi-visita-advaita (the advaita, non-duality); and its   doctrine of Isvara associated with Lakshmi as Lakshmi visita isvara tattvam.

[The Lakshmi-Visita-advaita varies significantly from the philosophical and religious positions taken by Sri Ramanuja in his Sri Bhashya.]

75.3. As said; Lakshmi is inseparable from Vishnu. The non-duality (advaita) refers to the unity of Vishnu with Lakshmi. The Ultimate Reality is Vishnu with Sri. Those devoted to him are Vaishnavas.  The sakala aspect is the excellent form of Vishnu in association with Lakshmi (Sri) who is Prakrti the shakthi of Vishnu. For the purpose of devotion and worship, the sakala aspect is brilliant. For, in his sakala form, Vishnu responds most gracefully to devotional worship and contemplation.

76.1. Sreenivasa –-makhin explains that in the Pranava (Om-kara), O-kara represents Vishnu; U—Kara, Lakshmi and Ma-kara, the devotee. The Om-kara binds the three together. Lakshmi (U-kara) bridges the transcendental Narayana the Supreme Self and the individual soul (pratyagatma). In other words, Lakshmi leads the devotee to the grace of Narayana.

76.2. If Vishnu (purusha) grants release from the phenomenal fetters (Mukthi), Lakshmi (Prakrti) presides over bhukthi  the fulfillment of normal aspirations in one’s life. The two must be worshiped together.

76.3. Therefore, the worship of Narayana alone or the worship of Lakshmi separately is not suggested. The proper worship is the worship of Narayana with Sri or Lakshmi as his aspect (visista).

77.1. Further, the Vaikhanasas evolved the theory of the five aspects (swarupas):  of Godhead: Vishnu as sarva vyapin, the one who pervades all existence and in whom everything resides; as Purusha the pure consciousness, the principle of life; as Satya, that which sustains the universe; as Acyuta the time-invariant aspect of all matter; and, as Aniruddha the ultimate constituent of all existence.

[If Vishnu is considered as the primary deity Adi-murti, then the four aspects are regarded as components of that single unit. This is the notion of chatur-murti.  If on the other hand, Vishnu is also counted along with the other four, then we have the pancha-murti concept. But, the first four forms of icons, chatur-murti, are regarded important.]

77.2. According to Vaikhanasa ideology, the four aspects of Vishnu -PurushaSatyaAchyuta and Aniruddha– are the four stages of emanations of Vishnu. In this scheme; Purusha is identified with Dharma (virtue); Satya with Jnana (wisdom); Acchuta with Aishvarya (sovereignty); and Aniruddha with vairagya (dispassion).

77.3. In the Vaikhanasa temple layout, the four aspects of Vishnu are visualized as four deities located around the main icon of Vishnu: Purusha to the East; Satya to the South; Acchuta to the West; and, Aniruddha to the North (pragadi chatur – dikshu).

77.4. The four virtues or planes of Vishnu are also regarded the four quarters (pada) of Brahman: aamoda, pramoda, sammoda and  vaikuntaloka  (sayujya)  . The highest of which is parama pada, Vaikunta the abode of Vishnu (Vishnod paramam padam).

[The Vaikhanasa regard the icon worship as the royal way for achieving emancipation from the worldly confines; and for leading the individual to Vishnu’s grace. Its faith is that when the individual jiva that frees itself from the fetters of the transactional world enters into the sphere of Vishnu vishnuloka through four successive stages; each stage being designated a plane of Vishnu-experience Vaishnava-ananda. The first stage is aamoda where the jiva experiences the pleasure of residing in the same plane as the Godhead is Vishnu (saalokya)- associated with Aniruddha. The next stage is pramoda where the jiva experiences the great delight of residing in proximity to with the Godhead Maha-vishnu (saamipya)-associated with Acchyuta. The stage higher than that is saamoda where the jiva experiences the joy of obtaining the same form as the Godhead sadaa-Vishnu (sa-rupya) –associated with Satya. The highest plane is vaikunta loka where the individual jiva experiences the supreme joy of union with the Godhead Vyapi-narayana (sayujya) – associated with Purusha.]

78.1. In the Vaikhanasa temple, the immovable (Dhruva-bimba or dhruva-bera) main idol that is installed in the sanctum and to which main worship is offered (archa-murti)   represents the primary aspect of the deity known as Vishnu  (Vishnu-tattva). The other images in the temple which are worshiped each day during the   ritual sequences are but the variations of the original icon (adi-murti). These other forms are emanations of the main idol, in successive stages. And, within the temple complex, each form is accorded a specific location; successively away from the Dhruva bera.

78.2. Just as the Vishnu of Rig-Veda takes three strides (trini pada vi-chakrama Vishnuh), the main idol (Dhruva – bera) installed in the temple too takes three forms which are represented by Kautuka-beraSnapana-bera and Utsava-bera.

The Kautuka-bera (usually made of gems, stone, copper, silver, gold or wood and about 1/3 to 5/9 the size of the Dhruva-bera)receives all the daily worship(nitya-archana); the Snapana-bera (usually made of metal and smaller than Kautuka receives ceremonial bath (abhisheka)  and the occasional ritual- worship sequences(naimitta-archana); and, the Utsava-bera (always made of metal) is for festive occasions and for taking out in processions . To this, another icon is added . This is Bali – bera ( always made of shiny metal) taken out , daily ,  around the central shrine when  food offerings are made to Indra and other devas, as well as to  Jaya and Vijaya the doorkeepers of the Lord ; and to all the elements.

78.3. And, on occasions when a movable icon is used for daily worship, special rituals, and processions and for food-offering, it is known as Bhoga-bera.

These five forms together make Pancha bera or Pancha murti.

78.4. And again it is said, Purusha is symbolized by Kautuka bera; Satya by Utsava bera; Acchuta by Snapana bera; and Aniruddha by Bali bera.

78.5. To put these together in a combined form:

The main idol (Dhruva-bera) which is immovable represents Vishnu (Vishnu-tattva).

Purusha symbolized by Kautuka-bera is an emanation of the Dhruva-beraKautuka-bera is next in importance, and is an exact replica of the Dhruva-bimba. it is placed in the sanctum very close to Dhruva bera.

Satya symbolized by Utsava-bera (processional deity) emanates from Purusha represented Kautuka-bera. And, Utsava-bera is placed in the next pavilion outside the sanctum.

Achyuta symbolized by Snapana-bera emanates from Satya represented by Utsava-beraSnapana-bera receives Abhisheka, the ceremonial bath; and, it is placed outside the sanctum in snapana-mantapam enclosure.

Aniruddhda symbolized by Bali-bera emanates from Achyuta represented by Snapana-bera. The food offerings are submitted to Balibera. And, it is placed farthest from the Dhruva-bhera residing in the sanctum.

These different icons are not viewed as separate or independent deities; but are understood as emanations from the original icon, Dhruva–bimba.


79.1. The symbolisms associated with the four murtis (chatur-murti) are many; and are interesting. As said earlier; the four are said to compare with the strides taken by Vishnu/Trivikrama.  The main icon represents Vishnu who is all-pervasive, but, does not move about. When the worship sequences are conducted, the spirit (tejas) of the main idol moves into the Kautuka,-bera, which rests on the worship pedestal (archa-pitha). This is the first stride of Vishnu.Again, at the time of offering ritual bath, the Tejas of the main idol moves into the Snapana-bera which is placed in the bathing-enclosure (snapana-mantapa). This is the second stride taken by Vishnu. And, the third stride is that when the Utsava-bera is taken out in processions. This is when the tejas of the Main idol reaches out to all.

79.2. In Marichi’s Vimana-archa-kalpa the five forms, five types of icons, the pancha-murti (when Vishnu is also counted along with the other four forms) are compared to five types of Vedic sacred fires (pancha-agni): garhapatya; ahavaniya; dakshinAgni; anvaharya; and sabhya. These in turn are compared to the primary elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space). And, the comparison is extended to five vital currents (prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana).

79.3. Further it is explained; the Vaikhanasa worship-tradition retained the concept of Pancha-Agni, but transformed them into five representations of Vishnu (pancha –murthi): Vishnu, Purusha, Satya, Achyuta and Aniruddha. And, that again was rendered into five types of temple deities as pancha-beraDhruva, Kautuka, Snapana, Utsava and Bali.

[The Vaikhanasa concept of five forms of Godhead parallels with that of Pancharatara which speaks of: Para, Vyuha, Vibhava, Antaryamin and Archa. Of these, Para is the absolute form, the cause of all existence and it is beyond intellect. Vyuha are the emanations from Para for sustaining creation. The Vyuha, in turn, assumes five worship-worthy forms: Vishnu, Purusha, Satya, Achyuta and Aniruddha. Vibhava represent the Avatars for destroying the evil, uplifting the virtuous and maintain balance in the world.  Antaryamin is the inbeing who resides as jiva in all creatures. And, Archa is the most easily accessible form; the form which protects the devotees and eliminates their sorrows. This is the form that is worshiped in the temples.]

Vaikhanasa –Temple context

Srinivasa PerumaL Moolavar

80.1. The earliest Vaikhanasas are projected as a group of hermits affiliated to Krishna Yajurveda – Taittiriya Shakha, having their own Kalpa-sutra and deeply devoted to worship of Vishnu. They are not referred to as professional temple-priests. And, of course, there is no mention of temples either. But, by about the ninth century (during the time of Raja Raja Chola) they are largely identified as a community of temple priests. Thereafter, they gain prominence not only as ritual-specialists who worship Vishnu on behalf of others but also as administrators of temples and managers of its estates.

80.2. But, the history of the Vaikhanasas during the intervening period (that is, between the time of Kalpa sutra, before 3rd or 4th century, and the time of the inscriptions) is rather hazy. Though the Vaikhanas texts of the later period claim that they derive their   authority from the Kalpa-sutra and also make frequent references to Vedic passages, they are mostly temple ritual-manuals elaborating upon details of worship sequences carried out in temples.

80.3. And, it is not clear, how the followers of a Vedic branch rooted in Vedic rituals turned into a community of temple priests.

81.1. After they were established as temple priests, the Vaikhanasas produced many texts on temple –rituals as also prescribed domestic rituals for governing the conduct of their followers. Through these texts and ritual practices they aimed to distinguish themselves from other ritual traditions as also from other Vaishnavas.

81.2. The Vaikhanasas make a clear distinction between the worship carried out at home (griha-archana)  and the worship carried out as a priest at a temple (alaya-archana)  for which he gets paid. The worship at home performed dutifully is motivated by desire for spiritual attainments (Sakshepa); and it is for the upliftment of self (atmartha). And, on the other hand, while he carries out worship at the temple, as a priest, he is not seeking spiritual benefits for self, but is only discharging his duty (nirakshepa).Here, he conveys the prayers of the worshipping devotees to the god installed at the temple; and offers worship on their behalf (parartha).  It is mainly for the fulfilment of the desires of those who pray at the temple.

This distinction seems to have come about following the proliferation of temples and with the advent of temple-worship-culture.  Rig Vedic culture was centred on home and worship at home. And, the worship at temple appears to have come as an of the  the practice of worship at home. The worship of Vishnu installed at the temple was regarded  as an act of devotion and also as duty.

The Vaikhanasa Grihya Sutra system of Vishnu worship at home closely resembles the worship-practices described in the Bodhayana Grihya Sutra, Apastamba Mantra Prashna, and the Mantra Brahmana of the Samaveda. Further, the worship-system of Vishnu installed at the temple follows the worship-practices carried out at home. This, again, suggests that the earliest temple worship emerged within the Vedic tradition as a mirror of the basic household system, even as the Srauta (temple) and Grihya (household) systems mirror each other in the older Vedic traditions. As regards the Mantras chanted during the worship; the Vaikhanasa mantra-prashna, contains several accented mantras of clearly Vedic nature that are found in no other Yajush Samhita.

81.3. The Vaikhanasa treat the worship at home (atmartha) as more important than worship at the temple. A Vaikhanasa-priest is therefore required to worship the deities at his home, before he sets out to temple to conduct worship there (parartha) as a priest   employed by the temple management.

81.4. There is an alternate explanation offered to the term parartha. It is said; the term ‘parartha’ which ordinarily means worship on behalf of others, truly is ‘parartha-yajna’, that which is concerned with what is ‘superior’ or ‘excellent’; and that which prays for the well-being of the entire community. Worshiping divine images installed in temples is like the sun which illumines the entire world, while worship at home is like a domestic lamp. And, parartha worship leads to final liberation.

82.1. Having said all that, it also needs to be mentioned that the status of temple-priests in the Indian context has always been an uncomfortable issue and a dicey proposition. The standing of a temple priest is high insofar as he acts as an intermediary between devotees and god; and offers worship on behalf of the devotees.  However, the social rank of the priestly class among orthodox   Brahmins is not high. That is perhaps because, their practice of accepting payment for worship god is rather looked down; and is not considered virtuous. Further, their practice of receiving gifts which are ritually ‘polluting’ is also not viewed with favour. The implication is that, while the priest accepts the gifts he also takes upon himself the impurities of the giver.

82.2. Traditionally, a person who receives remuneration for worshipping a deity is not held in high esteem. The old texts sneer at a person “displaying icons to eke out a living.” That perhaps led to a sort of social prejudices and discriminations among the priestly class. But, with the change of times, with the social and economic pressures and with a dire need to earn a living, a distinct class of temple-priests, naturally, crystallized into a close knit in-group with its own ethos and attitudes.

82.3. Devalaka is a term used in the old texts as a derogatory reference to a person who is ‘desirous of money’, and who is hired to perform worship. Sreenivasa –makhin argues vigorously why the term ‘Devalaka’ should not be slapped on the hereditary Vaikhanasa temple priests. He draws a distinction between a Devalaka and an Archaka who is guided by Vaikhanasa- Grihya sutra and Dharma-sutra /  Smarta-sutra.

82.4. Sreenivasa –makhin does not question the traditional definition of Devalaka and its negative import. But, he provides an alternate interpretation to the term to mean:  ‘one who carries out acts not prescribed by Sruti or Smrti; or acts in a way contrary to their spirit’. Following that interpretation, he excludes Vaikhanasas from the scope of the term Devalaka, for the reason that Vaikhanasas are indeed the ‘servants of god’ and are born for the sole purpose of offering worship to Vishnu.  Their loving devotion (bhakthi) towards Vishnu is free from pride or greed. He worships Vishnu according to Vedic traditions; and, is not motivated or distracted by material or personal desires. These indeed are the prime characteristics of a true Vaikhanasa–Archaka.

When a Vaikhanasa priest accepts remuneration for his priestly duties, it is just incidental to his main purpose of his life. And, therefore, a Vaikhanasa priest worshipping Vishnu in temple and accepting remuneration there for, cannot in any manner be equated with  a Devalaka (Dasha-vidha-hetu-nirupanam; 65.5-6).

82.5. Further, Sreenivasa–makhin explains: Vaikhanasa, a born-priest (janmathah – archaka) is guided by Vaikhanasa- Grihya sutra and Dharma –sutra, which are within the orthodox Vedic culture. He undergoes several samskaras (life-cycle-rituals) , follows the Vedic mode of performing yaja-yagnas , and tends to sacred – fires such as aupasana-agni at home and observes sandhya, ishti, charu-homa etc,  all through his life. He dedicates his life to worship of Vishnu. The Vaikhanasa Archaka serves in a temple not because it is a means of livelihood, but, primarily because he regards it as the fulfilment of the very purpose of his existence. The worship of Vishnu, for him is more than mere duty (as detailed in Tatparya Chintamani of Sreenivasa-makhin while commenting upon Vaikhanasa- Grihya –sutra: 3.14).

82.6. He remarked; an Archaka need not be a scholar. More than book learning, what is more important is his devotion to the deity of his worship and his commitment to his calling. An Archaka renders a sacred service to the society as a mediator between the god and the worshipping devotee. He deserves respect and good care.

82.7. The guidelines that Vaikhanasas texts frequently refer to are neither static nor closed systems. The Vaikhanasa tradition like any other tradition did absorb innovations and modifications that arose in the context of changing times and circumstances. The causes for change may have arisen either from within the system or from outside events. And, therefore, whatever might have been the past understanding, one should recognize that in the present-day the temples are public places of worship and the priests are professionals trained and specialized in their discipline; and they do constitute an important and a legitimate dimension of the temple-culture. There is absolutely no justification for looking down upon the priestly class or their profession, for the mere reason they now receive remuneration.

83.1. The Vaikhanasa community is regarded orthodox for yet another reason.  They consider the life of the householder as the best among the four stages of life. Because, it is the householder that supports, sustains and carries forward the life and existence of the society. There is not much prominence for a Yati or a Sanyasi in this scheme of things. They decry a person seeking salvation for himself without discharging his duties, responsibilities and debts to his family, to his guru and to his society.

83.2. The Vaikhanasa worship is considered more Vedic, the various and mantras / suktams from the Vedas are in Sanskrit and there is a greater emphasis on details of worship rituals and yajnas. Depending on the ritual being performed, various panca suktam or sets of five suktams are recited. For instance; the pancha-suktams could be Vishnu, Purusha, Narayana, Sri and Bhu suktams; or, Vishnu, Nrusimha, Sri, Bhu and Ekakshara suktams. There is also another set of ten suktas (dahsa suktam): Rudra, Dhruva, Durga, Ratri, Saraswatam, Viswajit, Purusha, Aghamarshana, Godana and Atma suktams. The set of fifteen suktas (pancha-sutams + dasha suktams) together make ‘Panca dasha suktam’.

Among these suktas, the Atma sukta (SrI Vaikhanasa Mantra Prasna, 5.120.1-12 ) is particularly unique to the Vaikhanasa paddathi of worship


84.1. Although the Vaikhanasa try to distance themselves from Tantra, there are many ritual sequences in their worship practices that derive inspiration from Tantric ideology.  In fact, the worship sequences conducted at the temple are a combination of several elements: Vedic practices together with its mantra; Tantra ideology and its techniques; Agama concept of divinity and its elaborate (Upachara) worship sequences; and the popular festivities (janapada) and processions (Utasava) where the entire community joins in celebration, singing, dancing, playacting, colourful lighting, spectacular fireworks, offerings of various kinds etc.

84.2. The tantra, practiced within the privacy of the sanctum, says that the communication with the divine is not possible unless the worshiper identifies himself with the worshiped (sakshath vishnu rupi). It is said; one cannot truly worship god unless one realizes the divinity within (naadevo bhutva devam pujayet). The mantra that is recited by the Vaikhanasa priest, in that context, is the famous Atma-sukta. This a significant step based in the Tantra ideology, where the worshiper regards his body as a Yantra in which the deity resides; and as belonging to the deity (tasyaivaham ). He then invokes divine presence in himself, evoking his identity with Vishnu, and transfers the Vishnu in him to the idol to be worshiped. This is a deeply intimate Tantric process that is special to the Vaikhanasa mode of worship. The priest conducts these symbolic sequences in the privacy of the sanctum, with the notion that he and Vishnu are indeed one; and that he as the priest has an enduring divine presence within him.

84.3. As a prelude to worship per se, the worshiper literally breathes life into the deity. The idol is transformed to divinity itself. The worshiper does this by extracting the power or the luster (tejas) of the divinity residing in his heart by means of inhalations and exhalations (ucchvasa and nishvasa), and investing it upon the deity. At the same time, the worshiper draws the presence of the Highest Spiritual being (paramatma) into his own individual being (jiva).This process symbolizes invoking (avahana)the divine residing in ones heart, extracting it (bahir agatya) and transferring it with ease (sukham thistathu) in to the deity in front (asmin bimbe).The transferred Tejas stays in the deity until the worship is formally concluded.

84.4. Invoking the deity (avahana) through reciting the Atma –sukta, arousing the divinity within him by the ritual sequence of nyasa (placement of divine presence in the structure of the icon as also in the worshiper) is a very important worship ritual based in Tantra ideology. Nyasa  collectively called bhagavad-aaradhana adhikara-yogyata-siddhi confer on the worshiper the competence to worship the deity.

The core Brahma-nyasa comprises of Anga-nyasa, Bija-dhyana, Kara-nyasa and Brahma-aikvatvam (seeking identity with Brahman).

The Anga-nyasa involves invoking the presence of Vishnu in various parts of the worshiper’s body (Hridaya; Shiras; Shikha; Kavaca; Astra; and, Netra).

The Bija-dhyana is meditating upon the Adi-Bija (the primordial sound). It is said; the A-kara-bija should be surrounded by resounding OMs.

Then the worshiper performs the Kara-nyasa on his five fingers, for invoking the Devata-s: Abhuranya; Vidhi; Yajnam; Brahma; and, Indra.

Then he performs the Brahma-aikvatva-dhyana, meditating and visualizing the presence of the whole of the existence within himself by reciting the mantra:

Antar asminn ime Lokah; Antar Vishvam idam Jagat | Brahmaiva bhutanam jyestham tena ko arhati spardhitum ||

85.1. Atma-sukta is a collection of nine verses in tristubh chhandas (Vaikhanasa samhita: mantra prashna: 5.49; SrI Vaikhanasa Mantra Prashna, 5.120.1-12 ). It is unique to Vaikhanasa worship sequence. The hymn is called ‘Atma-sukta’ not only because it commences with the words “ātmātmā paramāntarātmā mahy-antarātmā yaś cātirātmā satano ‘ntarātmā vyāveṣṭi (the self of the self) ’, but also because it concerns transforming the individual self into cosmic Self. Here, the meditation on Vishnu’s  nish-kala aspect is followed by a request to Vishnu to assume his sa-kala form within the idol so that the devotee may submit his worship.

The purpose of Atma-sukta is to invoke the presence of Vishnu who is the Purusha the Cosmic person, in the worshiper, and transfer that Tejas into the idol.  It is meant to enlarge the consciousness of the worshiper so that he may identify himself with the object of his worship in its cosmic aspect (sa-kala). The recitation of Atma-sukta is followed by the hymn Purusha –sukta  (balam āsuraṃ yat satataṃ nihantā brahmā buddhir me gopa īśvara).

85.2. The worshiper, initially,   beseeches the deity and avers: ‘I am thine’ (tavevaham); and finally identifies himself with the deity: ‘I am you’ (tvamevaham) and says ‘we are never apart’.

85.3. Towards the end of the Atma-sukta the worshipper declares that in his pure   heart-lotus (vimalahrutpundarIka), the Yajna vedi (altar), sanctified by goddesses Savitri and Gayatri, enters (pravishta) Vishnu in his cosmic aspect (sakala) along with Lakshmi (sa-Lakshmi) in all his glory. May my virtuous merit (punya) provide Vishnu the space to reside.May he receive the worship offered (Kriyadhikaram)

SavitrI GayatrI maryada vedI |    hrutpundarIka vimale pravishta:  sakala: salakshmI: savibhutikango | yatsava punyam mayyadhishtanamastu || 8 ||

May the essence of all the gods reside in me; may the essence of all the great sages reside in me; may I become the personification of the fruits of all the austerities (tapo-murti) and of all the virtuous deeds (punya-murti).

savasham devanamatmaka: |  savasham muninamatmaka I  stapo murtiriha punyamurtirasan || 9 ||


86.1. A unique feature of Vaikhanasa temple construction is the erection of a Taruna-alaya. That is, before the construction of the main temple is undertaken a mini-sized temporary temple (termed as Taruna-alaya) is built for Vishnu on the construction site. The main temple to be constructed is termed as Bala-alaya.  The mini temple (Taruna-alaya) is intended to gather spiritual power while the construction is in progress.

86.2. Vimanarchana Kalpa ascribed to Sage Marichi says that the Taruna-alaya should be built in the north-east/north-west (Indra) direction of the main temple site in the same premises. The symbolic temple could a small one (say, within 100 s.ft in area).

Vaikhanasa-alaya-nirmana -vidhi   also recommends that a Taruna-alaya should be built first. And, if that requirement is satisfied then the auspicious Bala-alaya   which comes up is termed ‘samurtham’.  If on the contrary, the prescription is not followed, the Bala-alaya would be called ‘harakam’.

86.3. The basic idea of the Vaikhanasa faith is that when Vishnu is worshipped in a temple according to the Vaikhanasa scriptures , regularly, at least once each day, it will ensure the prosperity (sarva-sampathkari) of the whole world.

In the next part of the article let’s talk about the other major Vaishnava Agama viz, The Pancharatra; and also about its apparent differences from the Vaikhanasa.



Continued in Part Five


References and Sources

1. A History of Indian Literature: Epics and Sanskrit religious literature… By Jan Gonda

2. Vishnu’s children: Prenatal life-cycle rituals in South India By Ute Hüsken; Harrassowitz Verlag .  Wiesbaden (2009)

3. Sri Vaikhanasa Bhagavad Sastram by Shri Ramakrishna Deekshitulu

4. Agamas and the way of life  Dr. V. Varadachari, 1982. Agamas and South Indian Vaishnavism. Chapter X pages 407-426. 

5. Agama Kosha by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao; Kalpataru Research Academy (1994)


Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Agama, Tantra


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Tantra – Agama – part Three – Vaikhanasa



43.1.  Among the Vaishnava Agamas that glorify Vishnu as the Supreme Principle, and as the Ultimate Reality, to the exclusion of other deities, the Vaikhanasa and Pancharatra are prominent. Some say, Vaikhanasa is the older tradition that is rooted in the orthodoxy of the Vedic knowledge. The Pancharatra, in contrast, is regarded relatively less conservative, a bit more liberal and closer to the Tantra ideology.

There are several explanations to the term Vaikhanasa.


44.1. According to one interpretation, Vaikhanasa is the ancient word for Vanaprastha (life of a forest dweller or hermit). Vanaprastha, according to the scheme of man’s lifespan as developed during the later Vedic age*, is the third stage (ashrama) in a man’s life. It is the stage prior to and in preparation for Sanyasa the last stage of total withdrawal from the world.

Although Vaikhanasa-s are not directly  mentioned in the Rig-Veda, there are references to them in the Anukramani Index to RV hymn at 9.66 , which is addressed to ‘Indra, Pavamana and one hundred Vaikhanasa’ ( RV_9,066.23.2 indur atyo vicakṣaṇaḥ). And, the RV hymn 10. 99 is addressed by Indra to ‘Vamra Vaikhanasa’. There are also reference to Vamra Vaikhanasa in Jaiminiya Brahmana at 3.99 and 3.215, which say that  : Puruhanma vaikhanasas loved animals , underwent austerity . He Visualized the Jagata saman (hymn) – (Vaikhanasam bhavathi jagatam sama) and  (Vaikhanasa va etani samany apasyan)

Here , Vaikhanasa hermits are said to be dear to Indra – indrasya priyā āsaṃ. Vaikhanasa quote extensively from Rig-Veda in which Indra is the principal deity. In the later times, Indra merged with Vishnu.

There are several references to Vaikhanasa-s in the Ramayana. At end of the Ayodhya-kanda while they were departing to the forest clad in bark–garments , it is said, the brothers Rama and Lakshmana adopted the ways of the hermits and vow of ascetic life (Vaikhanasam margam) – Rama –rakshamanau tato Vaikhanasam margam asthitah saha Lakshmanah –R. 2.57-58. Later in the Ayodhya kanda, the ways of living of the Vikhanasa hermits are described in detail. And again, in the Khishkinda–kanda there is a reference to the ascetic groups of Vaikhanasa-s and the Valakhilya-s (Tatra Vaikhanasa Nama Valakhilya maha-rishayah-R.4.40.60)

 In all these references, the Vaikhanasa-s are described as forest-dwellers, ascetics following a pristine way of life dedicated to Indra/Vishnu/

The Varnashrama system expanded  by Dharmashastras, mention that after fulfilling his family responsibilities and social obligations, say at the age of sixty or thereafter; and  at the end of his well-lived family-life , a man retires into forest , along with his wife (sa-pathnika), to lead a peaceful and contemplative  life of a recluse , away from the  worldly conflicts and its snares. The two live like trusted old friends; and, lead   a happy, contented and tranquil life. It is the fulfillment of the long journey they travelled together. As his sense of detachment ripens, the man finally accepts sanyasa; and,the wife returns home, to the family of her sons.

44.2. Vanaprastha, in its concept, is not an end by itself; but is deemed as a step to reach man’s highest aspiration, the liberation. The characteristic of its ascetic mode of life is detachment and contemplation.  Yet; it is the stage of life marked by selfless friendship, open-heartedness, mellow glowing wisdom and compassion towards all, including strangers , animals and plants. It is the maturity of life when positive attitudes and social virtues ripen.  Vanaprastha is not distracted by motives of personal gain (artha) or desire for pleasures (Kama). But, he does not lead a harsh and an arid life of self-mortification. That is because; he views the body and spirit as equal expressions of the divine. Vanaprastha stage is conceived as a well balanced rounding off to a worthy life.

[* Prof. PV Kane in his monumental History of Dharmashastras (pages 417– 419) explains the concept of ashramas (in the sense of different stages in man’s life) is not found either in the Samhitas or in the Brahmanas. According to him, a germ of the idea occurs in an obscure form in Aittereya Brahmana (Ait. Br. 33. 11), which decries a person who moves away from life and the world:

‘what (use is there) of dirt (malam) , what use of antelope skin (ajinam), what use of (growing) the beard (imasruni), what is the use of tapas? O! Brahmanas ! Desire a son; he is a world that is to be highly praised.’

nu malam kin ajinam kimu imaśrüni kim tapah/ putram brahmāna icchadhvam sa vai loko vadāvadah

The idea appears again in Chhandogya Upanishad (Ch. Up. 2. 23. 1), where it is characterized by the practice of asceticism (Tapas). A Vanaparasta is regarded as a Tapasvin.

And it comes out a  little more clearly in Jabalopanisad and in Svetasvataropanisad (VI. 21)  which speaks of those ‘who had risen above the mere observances of asramas’; by virtue of whose Tapas are blessed by gods ; and,  attained the most sacred stage in man’s life  – atyā-śramibhyaḥ paramaṃ pavitraṃ .

tapaḥ-prabhāvād devaprasādācca / brahma ha śvetāśvataro’tha vidvān।atyāśramibhyaḥ paramaṃ pavitraṃ / provāca samyagṛṣisaṅghajuṣṭam ॥ śvetāśvataropaniṣat21

The concept of man’s life span spread over a well-knit scheme of four stages (ashramas) was fully developed in Dharmashastras of Manu (Manu 6. 1-2; 33 etc). And, Manu remarks that a Vanaprasta should continually increase the rigor of his Tapas

The theory of Ashramas was truly an idealist concept. Owing to the exigencies of the times, the conflicts of interests and distractions of life, the scheme could not, even in ancient times, be carried out fully by most individuals. And it surely has failed in modern times, though the fault does not lie with the originators of this concept. ]

44.3. The later texts and Puranas elaborated on the scheme and devised sub-classifications under each stage (ashrama). For instance, Srimad Bhagavata (15.4) classifies the third stage – Vanaprastha – into four types Vaikhanasa; Valakhilya; Audumbara; and Phena.

 Vaikhanasa valakhilyau-dumbarah phenapa vane  Nyase kuticakah purvam bahvodo hamsa-niskriyau II

44.4. Following that sub classification, the Gaudiya-Kanthahara, a twentieth century text ascribed to Atulakrsna Datta of Gaudiya Vaishnavas tradition explains Vaikhanasas as those hermits (Vanaprastha) who retire from active life and live on half-boiled food (ardha-pakva-vratya). Similarly Valakhilya is one who discards the stock of food he has with him (purva ancita anna tyagah) the moment he gets a fresh stock of food (nave pane labdhya); Audumbara is one who lives on what he gets from the direction towards which he walks (prathamam disam pasyanti) after sunrise (prathar uttha); and, Phenapa lives on fruits (phaladbhir jivantah) that drop from the trees on their own accord (svayam patitaih).

44.5. However, what is interesting is that Vaikhanasa-smarta-sutra, a division of the primary text of Vaikhanasas (Vaikhanasa Kalpa Sutra) does not mention a category of hermits called as Vaikhanasa.

Apparently, the perceptions on the stages of man’s life had undergone a huge change between the period of Kalpa Sutras and the period of the later Puranas.

[Incidentally, Vaikhanasa is also the name of mythical group of saintly hermits who were slain at Muni-marana (death of sages) by one Rahasyu Deva-malimlud (Panchvimshathi Brahmana: 14.4.7).

vaikhānasā vā ṛṣaya indrasya priyā āsaṃs tān rahasyur devamalimluḍ munimaraṇe ‘mārayat taṃ devā abruvan kva tarṣayo (?) ‘bhūvānn iti tān praiṣam aicchat tān nāvindat sa imān lokān ekadhāreṇāpunāt tān munimaraṇe ‘vindat tān etena sāmnā samairayat tad vāva sa tarhy akāmayata kāmasani sāma vaikhānasaṃ kāmam evaitenāvarundhe stomaḥ- P.Br.14.4.6]


45.1. As regards the question of equating Vaikhanasa directly with Vanaprastha stage of life, Professor PV Kane clarifies; there is nothing in the Vedic literature expressly corresponding to the Vanaprastha. And the germ of the idea of equating Vanaprastha with Vaikhanasa might have arisen at a later stage in the Sutras.

45.2. Max Muller in his commentary on the Laws of Manu mentions that Manu (4.21)   refers to the Sutra of Gautama which talks of the hermit in the forest who ‘may subsist on flowers, roots, and fruits alone’. Max Muller, however, asserts that it may not be correct to simply straightaway translate hermit as Vaikhanasa, because    the term Vaikhanasa doesn’t merely mean a hermit. Vaikhanasa here has to be understood,  he says, as referring to only those hermits who are   ‘abiding by the Vaikhanasa opinion’ (vaikhanasamate sthithah). And he explains: ‘here the term Vaikhanasa denotes a shastra or a sutra promulgated by Vaikhanasa, in which the duties of hermits are described in detail’. He reminds: Manu’s discussion on Vanaprastha also mentions a Vaikhanasa –rule (Manava Dharmashastra: 6.21).

45.3. In support of his argument, Max Muller cites Haradatta the commentator of Apastambha and Gautama (3.2) who opines: ‘the Vanaprastha is called Vaikhanasa because he lives according to rules (sutra) formed and taught by Vaikhanasa’.

He also mentions of Kullaka Bhatta (6.21), another commentator of Manu, who says that Vaikhanasa were a distinct group who were rooted in their own doctrine (Vaikhanaso vanaprasthah taddarma – pratipadaka –shastra – darshane – sthitah)

Tandya Mahabrahmana (14. 4. 7) says: ‘Vaikhanasa sages were the favorites of Indra (vaikhanasa vaa rushyah Indrasya priya aasan).

45.4. Max Muller states that Baudayana does refer to a Vaikhanasa sutra and gives a short summary of its content in the third chapter of the third prashna of his Dharmashastra. He describes Vaikhanasas as a group that abides Vedic authority (śāstra.parigrahaḥ sarveṣāṃ brahma.vaikhānasānāmBaudayana Dharmasutra: 3.3.17-18). Baudayana also describes the forest dwelling hermits as those who devotedly tend sramanakagni – (vaikhānaso vane mūla.phala.āśī tapaḥ.śīlaḥ savaneṣu udakamupaspṛśan śrāmaṇakena agnim ādhāya^agrāmya – Baudh


46.1.  It needs to be  mentioned ;  a distinguishing feature of Vaikhanasa, as given in the early texts , is their pre-occupation with tending a sacrificial fire known as sramanaka-agni (instead  of tretagni which is  usually  tended by  householders). It appears, sramanaka-agni was no ordinary fire. But, it was the fire born out of Vedic rituals; and was one with the worshipper (Agnim apy atma-sat krtva).

46.2. The term Sramana, in the ancient context, referred to a mendicant who leads a life of restraint and discipline (tapo-yoga); but continues to be in Vedic fold tending sacrificial fires with a sense of duty and not by desire to gain material rewards. And, the terms Sramana and Sramanaka came to be equated with Vaikhanasa and their scriptures.

46.3. Haradatta, the ancient commentator also talks about kindling the sramanaka-agni (sramanakena agnim adhya); and says it followed the doctrine of the  Vaikhanasas (vaikhanasam shastram sramanakam ).

The Sramanaka method of invoking sramanaka-agni perhaps involved icon – worship along with the usual fire rituals. That perhaps distinguished the Vaikhanasas from the other hermit (Vanaprastha) groups.

[Some say; the Vaikhanasa (Sramanaka) prescription of the abstract worship of one fire (ekagni) perhaps led to the doctrine of ekayana; and to the formation of ekantinah group (or Bhagavatas).]

Disciples of Sage Vaikhana

47.1. It is said; Vaikhanasa is the name of a community as also the name of the philosophy they follow. It is also said; Vaikhanasa community derived its name from its founder (a manifestation of Brahma or Vishnu): sage Vaikhanasa of Angirasa gotra, affiliated to Krishna-Yajurveda -shakha. He is credited with organizing    worship of Vishnu in  image form (samurtha-archana), which, in effect  , was the transformation of the Vedic mode of  worship through  ‘shapeless’(amurtha) ritual-fire . The feature of his teaching, while it is rooted in the pristine Vedic tradition, is that it extolled a strong devotion towards Vishnu and worship of Vishnu icon.  Vaikhanasa, perhaps, was amongst the earliest Vaishnavas mentioned in the Narayaniya section of Mahabharata. They are described as peaceful, benign (soumya), self possessed, (bhavitathmanam), highly evolved (utcchyante) and satttvic in their food- habits (Mbh. Shanthi parva).

[An interesting interpretation of the term Vaikhanasa is derived from the root khanana   meaning ‘digging into’.  According to Ananda –samhita ( ascribed to Marichi ) the task of : ’digging into or deeply  inquiring  into  the meaning of the Vedas and related texts , for the benefit of all mankind ‘ was  accomplished by  the founder sage of this spiritual   heritage  ( parampara ); and , therefore he was aptly addressed as Vaikhana: (Khananam –tattva -mimamsa – nigama-arthanam   khananad iti nah srutam) .]

47.2. Thus, the term Vaikhanasa includes in itself several shades of meaning: the forest-dwelling hermit in the third stage of his life; a great sage who was the founder of Vaikhanasa tradition, an incarnate Brahma or Vishnu; and, the set of the sutras named after him. Perhaps the earliest hermits following this tradition were all of these. But, in the later stages, the followers of the tradition identified and distinguished themselves as disciples of Vaikhana the adept in Vishnu-worship (Vishnu – puja – visharada) and those guided by the instructions of Vaikhanasa -kalpa – sutra, which in all its aspects is devoted to Vishnu.

Sri Vikanasa Acharyan6

Principles of Vaikhanasa tradition

48.1. The Vaikhanasas are distinguished by their uncompromising devotion to Vishnu as the Vedic God par excellence; and, are rooted in the faith that Vishnu who pervades all existence (vyapanath Vishnuh) alone is worthy of worship. The early Vaikhanasas retained Vishnu in his pristine Vedic context; and preferred the expression ‘Vishnu’ over ‘Narayana’ or ‘Vasudeva’ (although they are synonyms), because Vishnu is the one that occurs in the Vedas. They steadfastly held on to the Vedic image of Vishnu; and, also clung to the Vedic orthodoxy.  They remained faithful to Vedic principles and traditions. And, proudly asserted that they are the surviving school of Vedic ritual propagated by the sage Vaikhana; and above all, they are the children of Vishnu.

48.2. The Vaikhanasa tradition asserts that it is the most ancient; and traces its origin to Vedas.  Vishnu, they declare, who is the Supreme god adored by the Vaikhanasas is not only a Vedic god, but is also the very personification of Yajna (Yajna-purusha).  Their principal text calls upon its followers:  that after the customary offerings made to Agni, Vishnu must be worshipped morning and evening, for that means the worship of all gods (Girhya – smarta- sutra: parshna 4, khanda 10).  That is because; all gods reside in Vishnu.

49.1. The teachings of sage Vaikhana provide for worship of the Supreme Being having attributes (sa-kala) and also for worship of  the one without attributes (nis-kala); with form (samurtha) and without form (amurtha).

The Yajna, the worship of the divine through fire, is a-murta; while the worship offered to an icon is sa-murta. According to Vaikhanasas, though yajna might be more awe-inspiring, archa (worship or puja) the direct communion with your chosen deity is more appealing to ones heart, is more colourful and is aesthetically more satisfying.

As regards the term formless (nis-kala), it is explained, suggests a state of pure-blissful- existence (satchidananda rupi), beyond the intellect (achintya) and wondrously lustrous (tejomaya) that abides in one’s heart lotus (hrudaya pundarika).

Sakala, on the other hand, is when the Godhead is visualized as an icon, a human form with distinct features, seated in a solar orb (arka-mandala) or in sacred- water pot (jala-kumbha) or as worship worthy icon (archa-bera).The Vishnu’s Sakala form for contemplation (dhyana) and worship (pranamet) is four-armed (chaturbhuja) holding four ayudhas : conch, disc, mace and lotus  (shanka, chakra, gadha and padma);  beaming with blissful countenance dear to look at (saumyat –priya – darshanh) ;  having rosy pink complexion (shyamala) ; and,  wearing yellow silk garments (pitambara).

Along with icon form of Vishnu, the text suggests techniques for visualising contemplating and worshipping the most adorable form of Vishnu. It also elaborates on four aspects of Vishnu as: Purusha, Satya, Acchuyta, and Aniruddha.

49.2. Vaikhanasa view point is that icon-worship was an integral part of Vedic culture; and it was not a later innovation. It says; Godhead is described by the performers of Vedic Yajnas as Yajna-Purusha; and as Vishnu by those who know the final import of the Vedas (Vedantins). Vaikhanasa regard themselves as those who moved from the first stage of Vedas to its final import (Vedanta); and therefore are the Vedantins. The ancient smriti- kara Bahudayana (Dharma – sutra: 3.3.17) calls Vaikhanasas as a group that abides Vedic authority (shastra parigrahas sarvesham vaikhanasam).

49.3. Vaikhanasas assert, their method of worship is indeed truly Vedic. It was explained; when Bhagavata-purana (11.27.7) speaks of three varieties of worship (tri -vidho – makhahah) : vaidika, tantrika and misra (mixed), the vaidika refers to the Vaikhanasa mode of worship.

49.4. Further, the Agamas are regarded as Vaidika, because they accept the ultimate authority of the Vedas and employ Vedic mantras in all types of rituals. The worship practices at home as described by the Vaikhanasa –Grihya-sutra closely follow the vidhi-s prescribed in Bodhayana–Grihya–sutra, Apastamba sutra, and Atharvaveda- parishistha. They are also said to resemble mantra prashnas of Taittariyakas and Brahmana of Sama-vedins. And, these perhaps represented the earliest surviving textual references on icon-worship.

50.1. The householder was required to perform regularly a group of five sacrifices (pancha-maha-yajna). These were the sacrifices rendered to gods (deva); the ancestors (pitr); animals, birds and elements (bhuta); fellow beings (manushya); and, Veda- study (Brahma). These were, however, not Yajnas proper, But, were meant as means for developing the sense of detachment and compassion towards all  .

50.2.  Sage Vaikhana observed that ‘Vishnu is the very essence of existence (sat), consciousness (chit) and bliss (ananda); and, he can be attained either by Yajnas or by icon-worship. If one does not perform Yajnas then one must contemplate on Vishnu who is the very personification of Yajna. And, one must worship Vishnu, the Supreme god, constantly with devotion, in his home or in a temple. That will surely lead to the highest realm of Vishnu’ (Vaikhanasa – grihya –sutra: 4.12.8-11).

50.3. Following that, the concept of Yajna was re-defined. The Yajnas and icon worship were regarded as complimentary; and the icon worship was not viewed as distinct from or contrary to Vedic rituals.  It was explained that Yajna which involves offering through Agni is, in fact, the worship of formless God (amurtha-archana). But, Yajna is by itself Vishnu (yajno vai Visnhuh). In converse, it meant that worship of Vishnu icon was also a Yajna (samurtha-bhagavad-yajna), which in turn was the worship of all gods (sangathi deva- pujanam yajnah). The two forms of worship are not essentially different.   Therefore, the rewards of the Yajna are also obtained by worshipping and meditating upon the icon of Vishnu (murtha-archana). It was  also explained  that worship of Vishnu is in effect the worship of all gods as the whole existence resides in him (vishnau-nitya-archa sarva deva-archa bhavathi: Vaikhanasa – grihya –sutra: 4.10.1).

50.4. Thus, the Vaikhanasa teachings provide both for worship the form-less (amurtha-archana) through performance of yajnas and for worship of Vishnu through his image, with equal dedication and devotion. This dual spiritual heritage, blended harmoniously, underline the twofold character of Vaikhanasa worship -tradition (archana- sampradaya).

51.1. The characteristic of Vaikhanasa view point is that the path way to final emancipation is not devotion alone, but worship of icon (samurtha-archana) performed with devotion (bhakthi) and sense of absolute surrender (prapatthi). It says, devotion may at times be a passing mood, but worship-sequences (kriya-yoga, upasana) rendered with utmost diligence when combined with devotion leads to fulfilment of human aspirations.

A sense of devotion envelops the mind and heart when the icon that is properly installed and consecrated is worshipped with love and reverence. By constant attention to the icon, by seeing it again and again and by offering it various services of devotional worship, the icon is invested with divine presence and its worship ensures our good here (aihika) and also our ultimate good or emancipation (amusmika).

And therefore, ‘archa with devotion is the best form of worship, because the icon that is beautiful will engage the mind and delight the heart of the worshipper’.   That would easily evoke feeling of loving devotion (bhakthi) in the heart of the worshipper. The icon is no longer just a symbol; the icon is a true divine manifestation enliven by loving worship, devotion, and absolute surrender (parathion). And, Vishnu is best approached by this means.

The very act of worship (archa) is deemed dear to Vishnu. It points out that such upanasa is the same as Vedic Yajna; nay but is superior to Yajna Worship (bhavad-samutha-archana) is indeed more effective and purposeful than mere knowing scriptures.

The major thrust of Vaikhanasa texts is to provide clear, comprehensive and detailed guidelines for Vishnu worship. The Vaikhanasa texts are characterized by their attention to details of worship-sequences. It is not therefore surprising that Vaikhanasas describe their text as ‘Bhagava archa-shastra’.

51.2. The icon worship (archana) is held by Vaikhanasas as being superior to all other modes of worship because it includes in itself the special attitude of devotion (bhakthi), the offerings (huta) to god, recitation of mantras, repetitions of the sacred mantra (japa) and meditation upon the glory of god (dhyana). The Vaikhanasa texts hold the view that icon-worship is best suited for the present age of Kali. The well made icon of Vishnu pleases the eyes; delights the heart; engages the mind; fills the worshiper with loving devotion; and, blesses with a great sense of joy and fulfillment.

That is the reason the texts advise that icon worship must be resorted to by all, especially by those involved in the transactional world.  In these  texts, the Nishkala aspect continues to be projected as the ultimate, even as they emphasize the relevance and importance of the sakala aspect. The devotee must progressively move from gross sthula to the subtle sukshma.

51.3.  Yes; Vaikhanasas valued icon worship very highly; but, at the same time they did not give up performance of Yajnas altogether. They learnt to combine the two streams of worship harmoniously. The Vaikhanasa tradition represents the passing stage of transformation from pure Vedic Yajna-Yagas to their combination with icon-worship.

[To Sum up : Though the Vaikhanasa Agamas give primary importance to Arca or Murti-puja; i.e., offering  worship to the images of gods, their consorts and attendant deities; their outlook is, in essence, idealistic. It is rooted in the faith that Godhead is Sarvadhara (support of all of this existence); Sanatana (timeless and eternal); Aprameya (without a comparison); Acintya (indefinable); Nirguna (without attributes) ; and, Niskala (without parts). It is all-pervading; even as butter in milk; oil in oil-seeds or fire in firewood. However, even as fire blazes forth by friction of the Arani sticks, Vishnu appears in the heart of the devotee by dhyana-mathana (churning due to meditation) or constant meditation. This is the ‘Sakala‘ form; the Absolute materializing itself due to the devotion and visualization of the devotee. Even then, worshiping an icon, properly prepared; and, as per the rules (Vidhi) prescribed in the Vaikhanasa Agama treatises, is extremely important. That itself can, ultimately, lead to salvation (Moksha). This seems to be the sine qua non of the Vaikhanasa Agamas.]


52.1. The Vaikhanasas as a group of religious practitioners are of great antiquity. It is likely they were a separate forest dweller community that existed some time before the beginning of the Common Era.  According to Max Muller, ‘the ancient Vaikhanasa Sutra which is an important portion of the sacred law preceded Manu Smriti’.

52.2. Max Muller opines that the work of Vaikhanasa must be extremely ancient. And, it is not advisable to assume that it had any connection with Vaikhanasa sutrakarana a sub division of the Taittiriyas which is one of the youngest schools adhering to Krishna Yajur Veda.

52.3. Dr. Nagendra Kumar Singh in his Encyclopaedia of oriental philosophy and religion (page 891) observes: it is likely that the Vaikhanasa literature documents the community’s transition from a Vedic School of ritual observance to a School of those engaged in religious performances; and particularly in devotional worship of Vishnu-icon (archana).

53.1. The scholars cite many internal evidences that go to suggest the antiquity of the Vaikhanasa tradition. It is said; the Vaikhanasa worship practices carried out within the inner and surrounding shrines mention only five avatars of Vishnu: Kapila, Varaha, Nrsimha, Vamana/Trivikrama and Hayashirsha (Hayatmaka). There is no mention of the ten Avatars (dashavatara-s) in the core Vaikhanasa texts. Perhaps, the concept of dashavataras was then yet to be developed, evolved and elaborated.

53.2. Atma Sukta hymn is unique to the Vaikhanasa mode of worship. It seeks to evoke in the worshipper his identity with Vishnu in his cosmic form as Purusha. It’s composition having a typical mix of Vedic and classic features suggest that it dates back to the late Vedic era; and, is definitely older than the Puranas. This hymn mentions only three Avatars explicitly: Varaha, Kapila and Hayashirsha. It identifies the Varaha the boar that blesses (varado) with the upward breath (udana); Sage Kapila the personification of penance (tapasam ch murthim) with the spreading breath (vyana); and the horse-headed Hayashirsha with the downward breath (apana).

53.3. Similarly, there is no mention of Vibhavas or Avatars such as Vasudeva and his Vyuha (group) of Vrishni clan of Sankarshana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha et al, as in the Pancharatra tradition .This again suggests that Vaikhanasa is older than the Pancharatra, perhaps on account of its Vedic associations.

54.1. Further, the association of Kumara and Kaumara – mantra with Vaikhanasa tradition is also interesting. The Kaumara – mantra: Om aghoraya mahaghoraya nejameshaya namo namah (as provided in Vaikhanasa –samhita, mantra –prashna: 5.49) is said to represent the earliest form of the tantric school Kaula –vidya. It is also said; Vaikhanasa were the earliest to adopt the tantra technique of worshipping Vishnu icons.

54.2. We find that the later Vaikhanasa Grihya sutra include practices of  praying to Guha or  Kumara while conducting certain life-cycle–rituals (samskaras) of the child . For instance; the Vaikhanasas invoke ‘Guha’ , Kumara for blessing the infant during its namakarana ceremony (naming the infant) – bhushane–-Shanmukham Aavahayami. The newborn is blessed with mantra: ‘be invincible (sarvatra-jayo bhava) like Kumara, son of Shankara’ (Shankarir iva sarvatra-jayo bhava: Vaikhanasa smarta sutra 3.19.20). Invocations are also made to protect the child from Kumara-grahas, the spirits that seize the children below the age of five.

Kumara is also invoked while the Vaikhanasa – child is taken to Kumara temple for its first outing – Pravasagamana. The father takes the prasada, the flowers that adorned Kumara, and places it on the child’s head saying: ‘I give you the flowers with which the Gurus worshiped Kumara (sesham gurubhih supujitam pushpam); may you be protected ‘ (Guhasya sesham gurubhih supujitam pushpam dadami –sya Shammukham).

After the above Samskaram; it is indicated that a ritual food sharing  is arranged; where, the Vaikhanasas will partake the meal along with other Vaikhanasas . Such ‘kumara bhojanam‘  is also performed during Upanayanam of the boy.

54.3. Interestingly, the ashtottara-shata-namavali of Sri Venkateshvara, calls the Lord: ‘karttikeya-vapudharine namah’. Correspondingly, Markandeya  one of the oldest Puanas names Kumara as ‘Vasudeva-priya’, the one who is dear to Vasudeva. Kumaraswamy is a member of the parivaram (entourage) of Vishnu. Further, Vishnu and Kumara are said to have an ‘understanding’ and recognition of each others might.

54.4. The Vaikhanasa association with Kumara (unlike in other Vaishnava tradition), even to this day, suggest the faint memory of its origin in the tantric traditions of the distant past. Some say; the Vaikhanasa practice of reciting  Vedic mantras along with Tantra-related rituals suggests its emanation  from the oldest phase of worship in the Chaitya-s , the earliest form of temples. Although the Vaikhanasa mode of worship may have evolved and changed over the long periods, its core is indeed very ancient; and is much older than other temple-traditions.

Vaikhanasa Literature

Vaikhanasa -Kalpa –sutra

55.1. Each of the four divisions of the Vedas has its own special Kalpa sutra. They are meant to guide the daily life and conduct of those affiliated to its division. Generally, the set of Kalpa sutra texts include: Grihya-sutra (relating to domestic rituals); Srauta-sutra (relating to formal yajnas); Dharma-sutra (relating to code of conduct and ethics); and Sulba-sutra (relating to mathematical calculations involved in construction of Yajna altars (vedi, chiti) and platforms); and specification of the implements used in Yajna (yajna-ayudha). Thus, Kalpa sutras by their nature are supplementary texts affiliated to the main division of a Veda.

55.2. Vaikhanasas belonging to Taittiriya division of Krishna–Yajur Veda are perhaps the only group that rely heavily on their Kalpa sutra. Vaikhanasa -Kalpa –sutra is the primary text;   the basic and authoritative scripture of the Vaikhanasa tradition. And, all other definitive texts, manuals, traditions, beliefs and practices are derived from this source. It, in essence, provides the necessary framework, code of conduct for a Vaikhanasa in his spiritual, personal, family and social life. The text is intended to guide him in all spheres of life.

55.3. Vaikhanasa -Kalpa –sutra is ascribed to the ancient Sage Valkanas who is said to have received it from Brahma or Vishnu. It has come down to us in oral traditions; and its age is rather uncertain. But surely, its origins are in the very distant past. Some scholars date it around the third century of the Common Era.

56.1. The Vaikhanasa – kalpa – sutra is indeed a group of four texts. The whole set of texts is spread over thirty two prasnas (chapters). Its three main segments include: Vaikhanasa- srauta-sutra (21 chapters);   Vaikhanasa – grihya – sutra or smarta sutra (7 chapters); and, Vaikhanasa-dharma –sutra (3 chapters)And, in addition there is a chapter named Vaikhanasa- Pravara – sutra.

56.2. As may be seen, the Vaikhanasa-kalpa-sutras (page 29) consist of 32 chapters. Among them are 7 Grihya sutras; 3 Dharma sutras; 21 Srouta sutras ; and , 1 Pravara sutra . But, it does  not contain a Sulba-sutra of their own. That might be because of the secondary position assigned in this tradition for performing Yajnas.  Instead , they have Pravara-sutra that deals with genealogy of the seers who initiated families (vamsha) into Vaikhanasa tradition. However, the matters relating to Sulba –sutras are covered under its two other sections (srauta and grihya).

Please also see An Introduction to Vaikhanasa Kalpa Sutra by Sri Animeshnagar

Vaikhanasa – srauta – sutra

57.1. The Vaikhanasa- srauta-sutra deals with all types of ritual-actions which need to be carried out daily (nitya) and occasionally (naimittika), in addition to several types of yajnas (yaga-yajna). There is also a section on purification rituals (prayaschitta) to take care of minor or major lapses in conduct of rites or in personal behaviour. The srauta – texts are not however held in highest regard because the rituals are motivated by desire (kamya) to acquire something or the other.

Vaikhanasa – grihya – sutra or smarta sutra

58.1. In order to preserve the Vedic affiliation, a Grihya-sutra was essential.  The Vaikhanasa –grihya –sutra or smarta sutra emphasizes devotion to Vishnu or Narayana. It  provides the main framework for Vishnu –worship ; prescribes rules governing life in household and also the rules for installation (prathista) and worship of Vishnu’s image at home (grharchana bimba prathista archana), in a shrine or in the yajna mantapa pavilion; and, for introduction of divine power (shakthi) into the image before its worship. The icon which is divinely auspicious (divya-mangala– vigraha) should be sculpted according to the prescriptions of Shilpa-shastra (shilpa –shastrokta –vidanena). The text prescribes that the icon of Vishnu must be duly installed at home (tasmad grihe param Vishnum prathistya) and should be worshipped daily – morning and evening- (saayam –prathya) after performing the customary homas. It also discusses, in detail, about other religious observances.

58.2. The text includes invocation of four aspects of Vishnu: Purusha, Satya, Achhuta and Aniruddha. The invocations prescribed here  involve two mantras: one of eight syllables – ashtakshari mantra-   (Om namo Narayanaya) and the other of twelve syllables – dwadashakshari mantra – (Om namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya).These mantras are of great importance and of  sacredness in Vaishnava traditions ; and are regarded as divine sacraments (daivika).

According to the Vaikhanasa; these five states of Vishnu are represented by the five Vedic fires: Garhapatya; Ahavaniya; Dakshinagni; Anvaharya; and, Sabhya. 

58.3. Vaikhanasa – smarta – sutra is perhaps the only text of its kind to prescribe a ceremony for entering into the hermit stage of life (Vanaprastha).  It describes ways of the hermits devoted to Vishnu and practicing Yoga involving  ten external observances, niyama (bathing, cleanliness, study, ascesis, generosity etc) ; and ten internal observances , yaama ( truthfulness, kindness, sincerity etc) .

58.4. Vaikhanasa – smarta – sutra also teaches yogic paths leading to Brahman without qualities* (nishkala). It contrasts actions with desire (sa-kama) seeking fruits of action in this world and in the next, with actions without desire (nis-kama) performance of prescribed actions with a sense of duty and without expectations. The desire-less action (nis-kama) is of two kinds: activity (prvrtti) and disengagement (nivrtti) .Here, ‘activity’ signifies yogic practices which procure yogic-powers, but not leading to release from samsara the series of births. Disengagement (nivrtti), in contrast,   relates to the way of yogis who are solely intent upon realizing Supreme Self and to attain union (yoga) of the individual self with the Supreme Self.

[*This view point as the primacy of Brahman without attributes (nir-guna) and with attributes (sa-guna) differs significantly from the position taken by the later Vaishnava Vedanta School of Vishistadaita.  ]


59.1. Vaikhanasa – grihya – sutra deals in particular with eighteen life-cycle-rites (samskaras) which are meant to cleanse the body and mind of one born in the Vaikhanasa lineage ; and attune  him  to be fit for rendering  service to Vishnu . The rituals range from niseka (ritu –san – gamana first mating in the proper season) and garbhadana (impregnation) to samavarthana (return from study) and pani-grahana (marriage). In effect, it prescribes   rites ranging from before-birth and ending with death and cremation (jatakaadi – smasananta).

[It is said; there was another text (Vaikhanasa-grihya- parishistya-sutra) which supplemented the main Grihya-sutra textIts passages are quoted in other Valkanas texts. But, it is not available at present.]

59.2. Grihya-sutra emphasizes the significance of pre-natal samskaras.  These are directly linked to the marriage and birth in a Vaikhanasa family. The related samskaras are meant to define and lend specific identity to a Vaikhanasa. The inherited identity is beyond the scope of discretion. One has to be a born-Vaikhanasa (janmathah). Initiation or conversion into Vikhanasa sect is ruled out. Pre-natal -life-cycle –rituals (garbha-samskara), thus, become one of the distinguishing features of the Vaikhanasa community. This and the rituals of Vishnu-Bali are important for their identity.


60.1. Of the five parental samskaras, the one symbolic ceremony, in particular, has developed into an essential characteristic of the Vaikhanasas; and up to the present day, it plays an important role in defining their specific identity. This is a samskara performed in the eighth month of pregnancy following Pumsavana and Seemantha (parting of the hair) meant for the benefit of the pregnant woman and the foetus growing within her. And, this is known as Vishnu–Bali (or garbha-chakra samskara) prescribed to be performed during the bright-half of the eighth of pregnancy (garbhaadhady-astame masyeva shukla pakshe).

60.2. The significance of the offering (Bali) to Vishnu is that, while  even as the un-born  is inside the mother’s womb , as  fetus,  it acquires the status of a Vaishnava (garbha-vaishnavesti), a  Vishnu devotee (garbha vaishnavatava siddyarthyam) . The ceremony involves offering  the pregnant woman a  cup of payasam in which the insignia of Vishnu- chakra is dipped. The infant the moment it is born is deemed a Vaishnava by birth (garbha-Vaishnava – janmanam), not needing any initiatory rites (diksha) or branding. In the case of such male offspring, he automatically becomes eligible to render temple worship-rituals. As it is often said;’ they indeed are Vihṣṇu’s children, protected by Vishnu and preordained for temple service even before birth’.

Vishnu-Bali and the significances attached to it illustrate the concern of the Vaikhanasa community to distinguish themselves as Vaidikas who are different from other Vaishnava sects, particularly the Pancharatras, and also to assert their premier position as born-priests not needing any other sort of vaishnava-diksha.

Vaikhanasa – dharma – sutra

61.1. A Vaikhanasa, a born-priest (janmathah – archaka) is guided by Vaikhanasa- Grihya sutra and Dharma –sutra , which are within the orthodox Vedic culture. The Vaikhanasa – dharma –sutra also deals with religious life; and the conduct, duties and responsibilities in different stages of life (asramas). They also detail the eight-fold system of yoga (ashtanga –yoga) and related spiritual practices.

Works of the four sages: Vaikhanasa Shastra – Agama – Samhita

62.1. Sage Vaikhanasa is said to have taught his doctrine to his nine disciples: Kashyapa; Atri; Marichi; Vashista; Angira; Bhrgu; Pulasthya; Pulaha; and Kratu. Among these, four rishis viz. Atri, Bhrgu, Kashyapa, and Marichi composed a set of texts, based on the philosophy expounded by Sage Vaikhanasa, detailing various aspects of worship, conduct in personal life and several other disciplines. The collection of these texts along with Vaikhanasa’s original instructions constitutes the core of the Vaikhanasa literature.


62.2. Vimanarchana –kalpa (1001.1) a prose work which elaborates on worship of Vishnu–icon ,  ascribed to Marichi talks about  the doctrine taught by Sage Vaikhanasa to his four chief disciples: Bhrgu, Kashyapa, Atri and Marichi .The disciples who received the knowledge from their Master expanded upon his philosophy and teachings. And, they produced four classes of texts: Bhrgu (Tantras); Kashyapa (Adhikaras); Atri (Kandas); and Marichi (Samhitas). The four sets of texts together ran into four lakh granthas; each grantha being 32 letters composed in anustubh chhandas (metrical form).

62.3.  Vimānārcakakalpa of Marichi mentions thirteen works attributed to Bhrgu:

Khilatantra; Puratantra; Vasadhikara ; Chitradhikara ; Manadhikara ; Kriyadhikara ; Archanadhikara ; Yajnadhikara ; Varnadhikara ; Prakirnadhikara ; Pratigrihyadhikara ; Niruktadhikara ; and , Khiladhikara.

Kashyapa is said to have composed three Samhitas consisting  64,000 verses: Satyakanda; Tarkakanda; and, Jnanakanda.

Atri is credited with   four works spread over 88,000 verses composed in anustuph chhandas: Purvatantra; Atreyatantra ; Vishnutantra; and, Uttaratantra.

The set  of eight Samhitas (1, 84, 000 granthas) composed by Sage Marichi form the Vaikhanasa Samhita (samhita-ashtaka).The titles of the eight Samhitas are said to be : Jaya ; Ananada; Samjnana  ; Vira  ; Vijaya; Vijita; Vimala ; and Jnana  Samhita.

[Having said this, let me also mention that there also alternate lists of the texts attributed to these four Rishis.]

62.4. The collection of four lakh granthas, spread over  128 books,  came to be known as Vaikhanasa Shastra (chatur-laksha grantham pradadur etad  Vaikhanasam shastram ). They are also collectively  known as Vaikhanasa Agama.

62.5. All these four classes of texts acknowledge that the Vaikhanasa- kalpa – sutra handed down by their Master Sage Vaikhana is their primary source; and it is the Authority for the Vaikhanasa sampradaya.

63.1. Although the Kalpa –sutras of Vaikhanas provided the inspiration and the substance for the later Vaikhanasa writings, a distinction is drawn between the Sutra (of Valkanas) and the Shastra (by his disciples).

Kalpa –sutra is different in its approach from its Shastra or Agama texts. There is a marked difference between the environment of Kalpa-sutra period and that of the Agama shastra. The Kalpa-sutra belongs to a period when Yajnas and related rituals  as prescribed in Yajur Veda , the Brahmanas etc were still being performed fairly  regularly .But, by the time of the Agamas,  the age of the Yajnas was fading out; and the prescriptions of the srauta section of  Kalpa –sutra were  also losing the  focus of attention. However, the Grihya –sutra section (which deals with domestic rituals) based on the Smritis and which is also known as Samarta –sutra was still relevant, and it was gaining greater importance.

Transition:  Veda – Kalpa –Agama

64.1.  We see here a transition from Vedas to Kalpa and then on to the Agama. The worship of Agni (homa-puja) which  was  the focus of attention in the  Vedic  period   was   translated  by the Kalpa  into  the  worship  of  Vishnu  in  the  iconic form (bera-puja).  Vishnu was a prominent Vedic god; and in the Brahmanas Vishnu came to be regarded as the very personification of Yajna (yagno vai Vishnuh) . Following that, the Kalpa Sutra said, the worship of Vishnu is indeed equivalent to the performance of Yajna.The kalpa- sutra therefore prescribed worship of Vishnu in the household along with the customary ritual-fires. The Agamas thereafter not only transformed the Vedic Yajna ideology (amutha-archana) into worship of Vishnu, but also extended it into worship of icons installed in temples (samurtha-archana). Though the Vedic rituals gradually gave place to worship of Vishnu-icon, the Agama did not entirely give up Vedic rituals.

64.2. The archana (service to the images) detailed in the Vaikhanasa Agama represents the community’s transition from a Vedic School of ritual observance to a Bhagavata tradition emphasising bhakthi towards Narayana and worship of Vishnu/Narayana idol installed at the temples. The Kalpa-sutra always addressed their Supreme deity only as Vishnu; and, Vaishnava ideology was evident. The use of the term Narayana was not yet prominent. But, by the time of the Agamas, the names Vishnu and Narayana came to be used alternatively.

64.3. And, when Vaikhanasa Agama was composed it had to comment on  details which the Kalpa sutra did not contain;  or elaborate on details which were only suggested by Sage Vaikhanasa. The requirements of Agama appear to have necessitated the composition of Shastra-texts by the four sages, to compliment the Kalpa-sutra handed down  by their master.

64.4. Together with the Kalpa Sutras, the Vaikhanasa –samhita are traditionally taken to be the cannon of the Vaikhanasas (Vaikhanasa-shastra or Vaikhanasa-Bhagavad-shastra).

65.1. Vaikhanasa-Bhagavad-shastra or Vaikhanasa-Agama, in many ways, compliment the Vaikhanasa-kalpa – sutra. It also elaborates on certain issues that the Kalpa –sutra did not touch upon.It is said; the Kalpa –sutra of Vaikhanadid not deal with temple-worship at all; and, even the worship at home was discussed rather briefly. But, his disciples realizing the importance of worshipping Vishnu in temples and having in view the greater good of all mankind, elaborated on this aspect following the broad principles for worship at home as mentioned in the Kalpa –sutra. And, that, it is said, resulted in Vaikhanasa- Agama.

65.2. The Vaikhanasa tradition frequently avers to its Vedic affiliation and Vedic authority. But, in its living practices it is mostly about temple-rituals.  The texts now classed under Vaikhanasa Agama are primarily ritual texts (prayoga shastra); and they contain elaborate discussions on various aspects concerning temples as also instructions on practical aspects of worship-procedures. The jnana-paadas of Vaikhanasa Agama texts are brief as compared to discussion on rituals.

[It is said; initially, the Vaikhanasa texts did not generally employ the term Agama to describe themselves.  They were known as ‘VaikhanasaBhagavad-shastra’ or as ‘Daivika-sutra’. However, the term Vaikhanasa-Agama came into use in later times in order to distinguish them from other Agama traditions.]

Subjects dealt by the four classes of texts

66.1. The four classes of texts produced by the four disciples of Sage Vaikhanasa may be considered as different streams of the same tradition or School handing down the same ritual doctrine and practices, but with slight variations when it comes to the details of ritual – sequences, circumstantial descriptions of the same set of procedures or ceremonies.  But, the texts attributed to the four sages, in the main, are in agreement as regards their content and the disposition of the topics dealt with. They even tend to quote each other.

66.2. The main tantras pertaining to the installation and worship of idols are in Bhrgu, Atri, Kashyapa and Marichi Samhitas.  They deal with building a shrine to Vishnu (karayathi mandiram); making a worship-worthy beautiful idol (pratima lakshana vatincha kritim); and worshiping everyday (ahanyahani yogena yajato yan maha-phalam). The texts  primarily refer to ordering one’s life in the light of values of icon worship (Bhagavadarcha), to usher in a sense of duty, commitment and responsibility.

The Bhrgu, Atri and Marichi Samhitas in particular go into different aspects of architecture of Vaikhanasa Vishnu temples, while other fragments cover Chitra karma or painting of pictures of deities.

66.3. The Vaikhanasa-tantra texts (ascribed to Bhrgu) broadly deal with (i) karshana (construction of shrines); (ii) prathishtha (installation of idols of gods); (iii) puja (worship of the idols); (iv) snapana (the abhisheka or bathing of idols); (v) utsava (festivals and processions); and , (vi)  prayashchitta (expiatory rites relating to errors in rituals ).

66.4. Atri’s   Kandas also cover these topics at great depth in addition to the design of temples. Adhikaras are mainly in the form of sutras. The basic plan of a temple is termed the Vimana. The Atri samhita enumerates 96 different plans of Vimanas, which are described as belong to the several basic classes termed Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Indra, Soma and those of various Rishis. 

Apart from these; the Kashyapa gives a description of the world; a classification of the good (auspicious) and evil elements; the appeasement of the ominous, causes of welfare and defeat; directions for construction of houses; the donations of village; plans for  towns and villages; etc

67.1. The Agamas combine two types of instructions: one providing the visualization of the icon form; and the other giving details of preparation of icon for worship. This is supplemented by prescriptions for worship of the image and the philosophy that underlies it.

When the four classes of texts are put together, in regard to the subjects relating to construction of temples, mainly, the following are discussed:

the types of shrines; inspection of temple-site; preparatory ploughing on that site; the deposit of the temple-embryo; the construction of a provisional miniature temple (bala-alaya) for Vishnu and his attendant deities during the time when the main sanctum is under construction or when an evil omen or a damage has occurred; temple architecture; collection  of materials (stone and wood); construction of the temple proper; iconography of Vishnu images and of other deities; preparation of the clay for modelling the image;  the measures of the image , ornaments etc;  sculpting of the images; the measure and other characteristics of the frames and their construction; consecration and installation of of the icon;  the oblation into five fires; the sequence of daily worship in the temple;  occasional festivals, celebrations (uthsava) ; etc.

As regards the topics related to worship at the temple, the following stages are described:

entering the temple; duties of the assistants (such as the water fetcher and others); meditation and personal preparation of the priest; bathing of the image ; preparations and worship of the minor deities ; invocation of Vishnu; worship of Vishnu; various details about the flowers to be offered or to be avoided ; details about the elements of daily worship; various details about the consecration and worship of Avatars; extensive bathing on special occasions or to regenerate the divinity of the image; the festival; the atonement or correction of errors (pryaschitta) etc

67.2. In the next part let’s continue with the Vaikhanasa literature and then go on to Vaikhanasa philosophy and its preoccupation with temple –worship.


 Vaikhanasa Continued in Part Four

References and Sources

1. A Companion to Tantra by S C Banerji ; Abhinav Publications (2007)

2. Tantra: its mystic and scientific basis by Lalan Prasad Singh ;Concept Publishing Company (1976)

3. Tribal roots of Hinduism by SK Tiwari ; Sarup & Sons (2002)

4. The Tantric way by Ajit Mukherjee and Madhu Khanna ; Thames & Hudson (1977)

5. Agama Kosha by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao ; Kalpataru Research Academy (1994)

6. The Perspective of the Tantras By K. Guru Dutt

7. Tantra Shastra and Veda by Sir John  Woodroffe

8. The Tantras: An Overview by Swami Samarpanananda

9. Evolution of Tantra by Nitin Sridhar

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Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Agama, Tantra


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Tantra – Agama – Part Two – Agama

Agama – History

21.1. Agamas are a set of ancient texts and are the guardians of tradition. They are of uncertain antiquity. And , there are many legends associated with their origins. Dr. Surendranath Gupta says “The date of the Agamas cannot be definitely fixed. It maybe suggested that the earliest of them were written sometime in the second or third century A.D. and these must have been continued till the thirteenth or fourteenth century”.

21.2. The Agamas have come down to us, over the centuries, in oral traditions, from master to disciple.  They are of practical applications in day-to-day worship practices associated, mainly, with temple-worship.  It is likely that, over the centuries, some changes or modifications might have crept into the pristine lore to suit the changing needs of times according to the local contexts.  It is, therefore, quite possible the original texts became elastic and new ideas entered into its procedural aspects. We may not be sure that the present versions of the agama are exactly those which existed at that ancient past.

22.1. What we now know as Agama shastra had its roots in the Kalpa-sutras, the supplementary texts appended to the main division of each Veda. Each of the four Vedas has its own special Kalpa sutra. They are meant to guide the daily life and conduct of those affiliated to its division. Generally, the set of Kalpa sutra texts include: Grihya-sutra (relating to domestic rituals); Srauta-sutra (relating to formal yajnas); Dharma-sutra (relating to code of conduct and ethics); and Sulba-sutra (relating to mathematical calculations involved in construction of Yajna altars (vedi, chiti) and platforms); and specification of the implements used in Yajna (yajna-ayudha).

22.2. The initial set of ritual- texts dated around third century, based, mainly, in Grihya-sutra and Srauta-sutra did not call themselves Agamas.   But, at a later period, they came into prominence as Agama Shastra following the emergence of temple culture.  They were rendered into written form as palm –leaf-texts rather quite late. Even these texts were not easily accessible outside the priestly class. According to one version, by around 6-7th centuries, as the Temple-culture gathered strength, several Agamas were compiled into written texts as manuals for temple construction and vaastu; as also for deity worship (sakala­-aradhana).

22.2. The Agama tradition began to flourish by about the 10th or the 11th century with the advent of the Bhakthi School having strong faith in worship of icons installed in homes and temples.

22.3. But, the history of the Agamas between the period of early texts (3rd or 4th century) and the period when they began to come into prominence (say 10th or 11th century) is rather hazy. No significant development seems to have taken place during the intervening period.

Agama is of post Darshana period

23.1. Most of the ritual-worship sequences that are followed during the present-day   seem to have developed after the establishment of the six orthodox schools of Indian philosophy (darshanas). The changes in religious rituals from the Vedic to the Aagamic find an echo in the themes elaborated in the six orthodox systems.

23.2. A very significant change is the integration of Samkhya ideologies and Yoga practices into worship-rituals which somehow are juxtaposed with Vedic mantras. The very act of worshiping an idol is based in the Samkhya concept of duality, while at the same time, perceiving their essential unity. The worshiper initially regards the idol, the most revered object, as separate from him/her, whatever is the non-dual philosophical doctrines to which he/she might be intellectually attracted to. But, the Sadhaka  is also aware that the aim and the culmination of  his/her worship practises  is to attain the ‘ upasaka-upasya-abhedha-bhava’,  the sublime state  where theupasaka comes to identify her/himself with her/his upasya-devata. The summit of the Sadhana is when the worshiper and the worshipped are united as One. The worship of the murti is in the manner of the visible leading to invisible.

23.3. As regards the elements of Yoga, four of its eight stages are an integral part of worship sequences, viz.  posture, (aasana), breath (life force)-control, (praanayaama), placing or invoking the divine aspects in self  (nyaasa or dhaaranaa or  atma-nikshepa ), and deep concentration and  contemplation (dhyaana). There is also the process of transferring ones prana into the worship-image (dhruva-bera); and identifying the self with the archa image.  The object is the union (yoga) of the individual with the absolute.

Agama – Classification

24.1. The worship of the deities may have been the immediate cause for the emergence of Agama literature. The worship of god in a particular form that is dearer to ones heart became the prime concern. The Agama thereafter branched into sects; each sect affiliated to its chosen god (ishta-devata). Each branch, each sect and sub sect of Agamas created its own set of texts and commentaries describing the virtues and powers symbolized by its deity; the aspects of its manifestations; and the particular ways to worship its chosen god.

24.2. It is said; the Agamas, in truth, are countless. But, generally, eleven branches of the Agamas are mentioned; each branch having several texts associated with it. The eleven are : (i) Vaishnava;(ii) Shaiva; (iii) Shaktha ; (iv) Saura; (v) Ganapathya; (vi) Svyambhuva (Brahma); (vii) Chandra ;  (viii) Pashupatha ; (ix) Kalamukha; (x) Jina; and (xi) Cina.

The first five branches follow the panchayatana tradition of the Smartas .Of these, Saura and Ganapathya are now not in common use. And the practices of Pashupathas and Kalamukha sects are not in the open. The Agama texts relating to Brahma and Chandra are deemed lost. The China Agama is presumed to be in China, Tibet or Nepal. And, Jina Agama has a very long history; and, is still in practice among the Jains.

Thus, the three prominent branches of Agama shastra in practice during the present times are: the Shaiva, the Shaktha and Vaishnava.  And, each of these in turn has numerous sects within it.

24.3. Shabda-kalpa-druma integrates the three branches of the tradition and explains: ‘It has come from Him who has five mouths; and, it is in the mouth of Her who is born from the mountains. And, what else, it is recognized by Vasudeva himself; and, that is why it is Agama’ (Agatam panchavaktrat tu gatam cha Girijanane; matam cha Vasudevasya tasmad agamam utchyate).

25.1. The term Agama is more often used for the Shaiva and Vasishnava traditions; and the Shaktha cult is termed as Tantric. But, there is an element of Tantra in Agama worship too.

25.2. The Shaiva branch of the Agama deals with the worship of the deity in the form of Shiva. The Shaivas recognize twenty-eight Agama texts, of which the Kamica –agama is better known. And, each Agama has subsidiary texts (Upa-agama).     Shaiva–agama has given rise to Shaiva Siddantha and Veerashaiva of the South; and the Prathyabijnana School of Kashmir Shaivisim which leans towards Advaita. The Shaiva-agamas, in general, regard Shiva as the Supreme Conscious Principle of the Universe, while Shakthi is the Prakrti or the natural principle who is the cause of bondage as also of liberation. The union of Shakthi with Siva leads to the freedom of the pasu (inner Self) from the Pasa or the attachment.

25.3. The Shaktha Agama texts (also called Tantras) prescribe the rules and tantric rituals for worship of Shakthi, Devi the divine Mother of all Universes, the Supreme Self, in her various forms.  She is both the cause of delusion (maya) and the liberation. It is said; there are as many as seventy-seven Shaktha-agama texts. Most of these texts are in the form of dialogues between Shiva and Parvathi. In some of these, Shiva answers the questions put by Parvathi, and in others, Parvathi explains to Shiva. Among the Shaktha-agama texts, the better known are: Mahanirvana, Kularnava, Kulasara, Prapanchasara, Tantraraja, Rudra-Yamala, Brahma-Yamala, Vishnu-Yamala and Todala Tantra.

25.4. The third one, the Vaishanava Agama adores God as Vishnu the protector, the Supreme Lord of the Universe. It emphasizes that worship, service (archa) and complete surrender (prapatti) to Vishnu with devotion is the only sure path to liberation.  Vaishanava Agama has four major divisions Vaikhanasa, Pancharatra, Pratishthasara, and Vijnanalalita.Pancharatra in turn is said to have seven branches:  Brahma, Saiva, Kaumara, Vasishtha, Kapila, Gautamiya and the Naradiya.  An offshoot of Pancharatra called Tantra Sara is followed mainly by the Dvaita sect (Madhwas).

The Vaishnava–agama has the largest number of texts, say , about two hundred and fifteen .Among these , Isvara, Ahirbudhnya, Paushkara, Parama, Sattvata, Brihad-Brahma and Jnanamritasara Samhitas are the important ones. The Naradiya section of the Shanti-Parva of the Mahabharata is one of the earlier references to Pancharatra.

Of the Vaishnava Agamas, the Vaikhanasa and Pancharatra are most important.  According to one opinion, the Vaikhanasa Agama is the most important and the most ancient Agama; and all other Agamas follow it.

25.5. All Agamas or Tantras of whatever group, share certain common ideas, outlook and practice. They also differ on certain issues depending on the Ishta-devata they worshipped.


Agama – Content

26.1. Agamas are a set of ancient texts; and are the guardians of tradition. However, they are not treatises on Philosophy, although they follow and expound a particular theory of life and its goal. They are essentially Sadhana Shastras (practical Scriptures) primarily addressed to ardent aspirants. They, among other things, prescribe the means to attain ones ideal of God through worship, devotion and submission, aided by set of prescribed disciplines. The Agama manuals serve as important guidebooks for deity worship by the devotees of all affiliations: Saiva, Vaishnavas and Shaktas. And each of those has its own set of Agamas.

26.2. According to Varahi Tantra (quoted in  Shabda-kalpadruma)  : Agama is characterized by seven ‘marks’ (sapthabhir lakshana-yuktam tva-agamam): creation (shrusti), dissolution (laya), worship of gods (deva-archanam), spiritual practices (sadhana), repetition and visualization  of mantras (purascarana), set of six magical practices (shad-karma-sadhana), and contemplative techniques (dhyana yoga).

26.3. The six goals (shad-karma-sadhana) that Agama strive to achieve are said to be:(i) utchatana  – vertical integration of natural energies, maintaining the balance in  nature; (ii) sthambhana –  increase energy and holding capabilities of a particular place; (iii) maarana- destroy the negative energy influences over a particular area; (iv) bhedana – split different energies within a given area to maintain balance of nature; (v)  shanthi – maintaining the balance of nature with social progress; and, (vi) pushti – nourishing the nature and species so that evolution progresses.

27.1. Agamas which also mean ‘acquisition of knowledge’, ‘traditional doctrine’, ‘science’ etc draw their theory and practices from many sources, including Tantra. Agamas also draw upon Vedic knowledge, Yogic disciplines, Tantra techniques as also mantras, Yantras and other modes of worship employed in the temples.

27.2. Each Agama consists of four parts (paada). These broadly deal with jnana or vidya –paada (knowledge), Yoga-paada (meditation), Kriya (rituals) and Charya-paada (ways of worship).

[The Buddhist and the Jaina traditions too follow this four-fold classification; and with similar details]

It is said; each paada has external (bahir-yajnam) and internal (antar-yajnam) interpretations. The former is about the way of doing things; while the latter explains the esoteric or spiritual significance of the rituals performed.

(i) The first part (jnana paada) includes the philosophical principles, theoretical framework for explaining the ultimate reality, its manifestations; the nature of the universe, creation and dissolution; and the nature of self, bondage and liberation.

(ii) The second part (Yoga-paada) covers the six-limbed yoga (sadanga: asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dhyana, dharana and samadhi) as also the aspects of the physical (bahiranga) and mental (antaranga) disciplines and the essential purity in living and thinking (shuddhi). The aspect of dhyana receives detailed treatment in many of the Agama texts.

(iii)  The third segment Kriyapaada (rituals) articulates with precision, the principles and practices of deity worship – the mantras, mandalas, mudras etc; the mental disciplines required for the worship; the initiation (diksha) process,  the role of the preceptor (acharya) ,the rules for constructing temples and sculpting the images. They also specify the conduct of other worship services, rites, rituals and festivals.

(iv) The fourth one, Charya-paada, deals with priestly conduct and other related aspects; as also the austerity, purity in conduct; and devotion to one’s own Agama in outlook and in practice.

27.3. It is usually the last two segments of the Agama texts – Kriya and Charya paadas – which deal directly with temple or worship. These receive greater emphasis because of their application in the day-to-day worship practices.  These are the segments that are in greater use by the priestly class following the Vaishnava-agama – tradition (paddathi) in their day-to-day observances.  This seems   quite natural, considering that the Agamas in the present-day are mainly related to the temple and its worship practices. 

[The Shaiva Agamas, in contrast, seem to attach greater importance to the first paada (jnana) than to the other three paadas].

27.4. The four paadas complement each other; and they all contribute towards the same objective. They all aim at the twin rewards (viniyoga or phala) of liberation from bonds of samsara (mukthi); and prosperity and wellbeing in worldly life (bhukthi).The Agama texts point out that the two aspects are equally important. They decry a person seeking salvation for self without discharging his duties and responsibilities towards his family and fellowmen. And, they therefore praise the virtuous life of a householder as the foundation which supports the other three stages of life; and as the best among the four stages.

28.1. The Agama prescriptions form the basis for worship practices at home or at Temples, as it exists today. They, in fact, cover the entire gamut of activities associated with temples, its functions and its purpose. These include , among other things, the training manuals meant for the performing priests, their initiation into worship-service; the worship attitudes and procedures specially designed for each type of deity; the details of daily rituals, occasional celebrations, festivals etc.

28.2. The Agama texts also give elaborate details about the theories of creation, ontology, cosmology, nature of the universe, the relations that exists between god-world- man, observances of religious rites, rituals, and festivals as also the rules (grihya-sutra)  of  domestic rites , household life, community living , and celebration of public festivals (uthsava).

Agama- Tantra

29.1. Agamas and Tantras are a vast collection of knowledge and form a major portion of religious literature and practices. The two are of similar nature; and share common ideology. Both are dualistic in their outlook and approach. It is the sort of duality that aims at unity. Agamas and Tantra are based in the faith that every experience in this world bears subject-object relation; this world is a passage towards perfection; and the visible is the way to the invisible. Both address the fundamental question: how to gain the direct experience (sakshatkara) of the highest. And, both are primarily concerned with devising   practical means of dedicated- action to attain the goal.  Both idealize the faith of a person seeking unity with ones ideal of God or the Supreme whose grace alone can save her/him from samasara the misery of worldly involvements. Devotion and implicit surrender is the key to their Sadhana. Without surrender there is no possibility of success.

29.2. Agama and Tantra texts deal with same subjects; adopt the same principles; and quote same set of authorities. It is said; Agama is essentially a tradition and Tantra is technique. But, Agama is wider in its scope; and contains aspects of theory, discussion and speculation about a range of issues.  Agamas cover various other subjects with particular reference to worship of the deity installed in the temple. In that context, Agamas discus the minute details of appropriate worship services to be conducted at the temple during each part of the day; yogic disciplines and mental attitudes required of the worshipper. They also indirectly cover various other fields of knowledge such as grammar, etymology, chandas, astrological significances, conduct of a devotee, ethical values in life , observances of religious rites, rituals, and festivals etc. The other important aspect addressed by the Agamas is the Devalaya – vastu- shilpa, temple architecture.

Agama -Shilpa

30.1. The Agama texts state that if an image has to be worshipped it has to be worship – worthy. The rituals and sequences of worship are relevant only in the context of an adorable icon installed in the heart of the shrine. And the icon is meaningful when its shrine aptly reflects its glory.  The temple should be in harmony with the essential character of its presiding deity; and the temple complex should also truly reflect the attributes of its associate gods and goddesses. The worship services are, therefore, structured by Agama texts having in view the nature of the deity and of the shrine in which it resides.

30.2. It is in this context that Agama texts forge a special relationship with Shilpa shastra which is basic to iconography; and, in particular, with devalaya-vastu-shilpa the temple architecture and design. The involvement of the Agamas with temple architecture is based in the faith that the temple, in truth, is the expansion or outgrowth of its presiding deity installed in the innermost sanctum of the shrine. And, it believes that the temple must be built for the idol, and not an idol got ready for a temple already built, for the temple verily is the expanded reflection of the icon.

30.3. The Agamas thus get related to icons and temple structures, rather circuitously. And, this   is how the Agama literature makes its presence felt in the Shilpa-Sastra.

31.1. The Shilpa aspects of the Agamas cover in elaborate detail the principal elements of   devalaya-vastu-shilpa, temple architecture such as: the suitable requirements of the temple site (sthala), temple tank (teertha) and the idol (murthy); dimensions, directions and orientations of the temple structures; the suitable building materials; the specifications, the sculpting and carving details of the image of the deity to be installed; as also the placement and orientation of supplementary deities  within the temple complex etc.

Thus, the icon and its form; the temple and its structure;   and the rituals and their details, are all meaningfully interrelated.

31.2. In due course, each branch of Agama tended to create set of its own texts. That gave rise to a new class of texts and rituals. And that coincided with the emergence of the large temples. It is not therefore surprising that town-planning, civil constructions and the arts occupy the interest of early Agamas.

Agama – approach

32.1. The Agama Shastras are based in the belief that the divinity can be approached in two ways. It can be viewed as nishkala, formless – absolute; or as sakala having specific aspects.

Nishkala is all-pervasive and is neither explicit nor is it visible. It is analogues, as the Agama texts explain, to the oil in the sesame-seed, fire in the fuel, butter in milk, and scent in flower. It is in human as antaryamin, the inner guide. It has no form and is not apprehended by sense organs, which includes mind.

Sakala, on the other hand, is explicit energy like the fire that has emerged out of the fuel, oil extracted out of the seed, butter that floated to the surface after churning milk or like the fragrance that spreads and delights all. That energy can manifest itself in different forms and humans can approach those forms through appropriate means. The Agamas recognize that means as the archa, the worship methods unique to each form of energy-manifestation or divinity.

32.2. The Upanishads idealize the Godhead as formless, attribute-less absolute. The God here is the most sublime concept. Yet; one has to concede that concrete representation of such a God is theoretically impossible. The human mind with its limitations cannot easily comprehend God in absolute. It tries to grasp the divine spirit; bestow a form to the formless (Na cha rupam vina devo dyatum kenapi sakyate: Vishnu Samhita 29. 51).  The worship through image helps the devotee :  to visualize the incomprehensible divinity in chosen form and attributes; to give substance to one’s notion of God so that he devotee may dwell on it and engage himself in a certain service ; and,  realize her/his aspirations .  Else, the mind of an ordinary person might lapse into drowsiness or his/her attention may wither away.

32.3. The worshipper following Agama tradition fully appreciates the Vedic monism and its ideal of formless Brahman that pervades all existence. Yet, he finds comfort in the duality of Tantra and Agama rituals.   The worshipper is aware, all the while, that the forms (murti), sounds (mantras) and diagrams (mandalas) employed in worship are just human approximations and are inadequate representations of God (prathima svalpa buddhinaam). Yet, he tries to find through them an approach to the Supreme.

32.4. He would argue:  It is not very important whether the medium of worship you choose is either Agni or something else; but it is the archa with devotion and sincerity of purpose that truly matters. Here, faith is more significant than precepts; procedures more significant than concepts and symbolism more relevant than procedures.

33.1. The most widespread rituals of worship today are of the Agamic variety which includes elements of Tantra. The Agama methods are worship of images of God through rituals (Tantra), symbolic charts (Yantra) and verbal symbols (Mantra). The symbolism behind this method of worship is that God pervades the universe and that the entire creation is his manifestation in myriad ways. All the forms of his manifestation are but aspects (vibhuthi) of the Divine .There can exist no object, no form of any sort which is not divine in its nature. Any name, any form that appeals to the heart of the worshipper is gracefully accepted as a representation or manifestation of the Divine.

33.2. Following that, one’s chosen form of the divine (ishta-devata) is regarded as a concrete and a specific expression of the formless. Vishnu Purana (2.14.32) offers a beautiful analogy to explain the concept of the idol that one loves to worship. It compares the worship-images fashioned according to one’s heart-desire (mano-kamana) to the notes of the flute. It says; the air that fills the player, the air that flows through the column of the flute, and the air that flies out of the holes of the flute, are but different aspects of the same air that fills the whole emptiness of existence.  But, it is the specific vibrations, the modalities and the patterns of relations of the air that flows in and out of the flute that creates the sweetness of the melodious musical notes. From an absolute point of view, all the air that flows in and around the world is but one. But, the same air in its relative form and with its delicate differences creates cognizable sounds and melodies that are enjoyable. Similarly, the all-pervading divine essence can be better grasped when given specific forms through human ingenuity, imagination and love.

34.1. Agama regards devotion and complete submission to the deity as fundamental to pursuit of its aim; and hopes that wisdom, enlightenment (jnana) would follow, eventually, by the grace of the worshipped deity. The Agama is basically dualistic, seeking grace, mercy and love of the Supreme God, represented by the personal deity, for liberation from earthly attachments (moksha).

34.2. The Agama texts hold the view that japa (recitation of mantra as initiated by the Guru), homa (oblations offered in Agni accompanied by appropriate hymns), dhyana (meditation on the aspects of divinity) and archa are the four methods of approaching the divine.  And, of these, the archa (worship of the icon) is the most comprehensive method. It is explained; the first approach (japa) is through a pattern of sounds (nada/shabda), while the second (homa) is through the medium of Agni. Meditation (dhyana) is, of course, independent of concrete representations. All these three are individual approaches. It is archa, the worship of a deity individually and in communion with the gathering of devotees that is easiest. Further, the archa includes in itself the essentials of the other three approaches as well.  Archana in temples is an integrated mosaic of individual and congregational worship; and is the most accepted approach.

This is the faith on which the Agama shastra is based. The Agama shastra is basically concerned with the attitudes, procedure and rituals of deity worship in the temples.

Agama -Nigama

35.1. It is said; Agama is distinct from Nigama, just as Tantra is distinct from Veda. Agama is closely linked to Tantra; while Nigama is synonym for Veda. If Veda is taken to mean knowledge, Nigama is that by which one learns, one knows (nigamyate jnayate anena iti nigamah: Sabda – kalpa -druma).   Therefore, Nigama, since Panini (, has come to mean Vedas. And, even during the later times the two terms were used interchangeably. For instance; Sri Vedantadeshika is also addressed, at times, as Nigamantadeshika.

35.2. Agama, generally, stands for Tantra. The Agama-Tantra tradition is as important and as authentic as the Vedic tradition. Vedas and Agamas are intimately related. The Agama claims that it provides the practical application and the means of action for realizing the teaching of the Vedas and Vedanta.

36.1. The two traditions, however, hold divergent views on matters such as God; relationship between man and God; the ways of worship; and path to salvation etc .The Vedic concept of God is omniscient, omnipotent, a formless absolute entity manifesting itself in phenomenal world of names and forms. The Agama which is allied to Tantra regards God as a personal deity with recognizable forms and attributes.

36.2. The Vedas do not discuss about venerating the icons; though the icons (prathima or prathika) were known to be in use. Their preoccupation was more with the nature, abstract divinities and not so much with their physical representations. The Vedas did however employ a number of symbols, such as the wheel, umbrella, spear, noose, foot-prints, lotus, goad and vehicles etc. These symbols, in the later ages, became a part of the vocabulary of the iconography.

36.3. The idea of multiple forms of divinity was in the Vedas .They spoke about thirty-three divinities classified into those of the earth, heaven and intermediate regions. Those comprised twelve Adityas, aspects of energy and life; eleven Rudras, aspects ferocious nature; eight Vasus, the directional forces; in addition to the earth and the space.

36.4. The aspects of the thirty-three divinities were later condensed to three viz. Agni, the aspect of fire, energy and life on earth; Vayu, the aspect of space, movement and air in the mid-region; and Surya the universal energy and life that sustains and governs all existence, in the heavenly region, the space. This provided the basis for the evolution of the classic Indian trinity, the Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu.

37.1. Rig Veda at many places talks in terms of saguna, the supreme divinity with attributes. The Vedanta ideals of the absolute, attribute- less and limit-less universal consciousness were evolved during later times as refinements of those Vedic concepts. The Upanishads are the pinnacles of idealism that oversee all horizons. But, in practice, common people worship variety of gods in variety of ways for variety of reasons. The worship rendered are relevant in the context of each ones idea of god; needs and aspirations; fears and hopes; safety and prosperity; and, the pleasures and pains of life.

37.2. Vedic worship is centred on the fire (the Yajna) the visible representation of the divine, certain religious and domestic rituals, (shrauta sutraas and griyha sutraas), and the sacraments, (samskaara). In this tradition, the gods and their descriptions are, mostly, symbolic; and not presented as icons for worship. The hymns of the Rig Veda are the inspired outpourings of joy and revelations through sublime poetry. The Yajur and Sama Vedas do refer to conduct of Yajnas; but they also suggest certain esoteric symbolic meaning. And, very few of Vedic  rituals are in common practice today.

Vedic approach to divinity is collective in character involving a number of priests specialized in their branch of learning and having specific roles to play in the conduct of the Yajna.. The Yajnas always take place in public places and are of congregational nature.  The Yajnas are celebrations, performed with exuberance in presence and view of large number of persons participating with gaiety and enthusiasm.

37.3. As compared to Yajnas, the tantric rites are conducted in quiet privacy within secret enclosures or in secluded spots. TheTantra or Agamic worship is individualistic in its orientation; and, calls for quiet contemplation, intensity and self-discipline as demanded by its texts. Tantra – Agama regards its rituals as a sort of direct communication between the worshipper (upasaka) and his or her personal deity (upasana-devata).Its ultimate aspiration is the unity of the worshipper and worshipped.

The aim of Agamika, the ardent aspirant, following the Agamas is, therefore, to gain, on his own, a direct experience (sakshatkara)of his highest ideal. The Agamas provide well defined and time tested practices leading towards that ideal.  It is for this reason the Agamas are called pratyaksha Shastra (the science of real experience), Sadhana Shastra (the science of spiritual practice) and Upasana Shastra.

38.1. While the Vedic rituals lay a great emphasis on fire rituals and the sacrifices, the Agamas recommend worship of images of gods as the efficient means to salvation.  Its way is through rituals (tantra) employing word symbols (mantra) and charts (yantra). These symbolic activities strengthen the individual’s conviction and help her/him to bind a harmonious relation with the object of worship.  The approach of Agama is dualistic: that of a man seeking God the Supreme whose grace alone can save him from samasara the misery of worldly involvements.

38.2. The Upasaka worships the divine through the medium of bera, murthi, archana whose shape is symbolic. Agamas  believe that the worshipper must identify himself with the object of his worship: na devo devam archayet ( one cannot worship a deity unless one becomes that deity)  .Hence the various ritual practices – mental and physical- meditation , visualization, invoking the presence of the deity in one’s body (nyasa), mantras and mudras are employed; all aiming to achieve this identification.

39.1. In the Nigama tradition greater attention is paid to the knowledge of the gods, though such knowledge is not systematized. The Agama texts no doubt extol knowledge; but they also emphasize that without ritualistic action mere knowing is ineffective and rather pointless. Agama texts, however, clarify that worship-action (karma) and liberating wisdom are secondary to deep devotion.

39.2. The most distinctive feature of Agamas is immense devotion (Bhakthi) and submission to the will of god (prapatthi).The two virtues are regarded    the primary requisites for attaining wisdom or enlightenment (jnana) leading to the path of salvation. It is this element of devotion that has given rise to temple-worship and the ritual-culture associated with it.

39.3. To put it in another way,the Agama texts no doubt extol knowledge; but they also emphasize that without ritualistic action rendered with devotion, any sort of knowledge is ineffective and is rather pointless. In the Agama context, devotion is understood as intense involvement in worship of the deity (pujadi sva anugraha bhaktih).


Agama – Nigama rapprochement

40.1. Although Agama and Nigama traditions started on divergent approach, in course of time there was reproachment between the two. Tantra-Agama barrowed many details from Vedic tradition and adopted many more. And, In due course the Agama came to be accepted as a subsidiary culture (Vedanga) within the Vedic framework.

40.2. The temple worship, per se, is guided by its related Agama texts which invariably borrow the mantras from the Vedic traditions and the ritualistic details from Tantric traditions.  This has the advantage of claiming impressive validity from Nigama, the Vedas; and at the same time, carrying out popular methods of worship.

40.3. Even in performance of rituals, the Agama harmonized within itself the elements of Veda and Tantra.  For instance, the Bodhayana shesha sutra and Vishhnu-pratishtha kalpa outline certain rite for the installation of an image of Vishnu and for conducting other services. The Agama texts combined the rules of the Grihya sutras with the Tantric practices and formed their own set of rules.

Further, while installing the image of the deity, the Grihya Sutras do not envisage Prana-prathistapana ritual (transferring life into the idol by breathing life into it); but the Agamas borrowed this practice from the Tantra school and combined it with the Vedic ceremony of “opening the eyes of the deity with a needle”.

While rendering worship-services to the deity, in open, the Agamas reduced the use of Tantric mantras; and instead adopted Vedic mantras for services such as offering ceremonial bath, waving lights etc. though such practices were not a part of the Vedic mode of worship.

40.4.  The Agamas, largely, adopted the Vedic style homas and Yajnas. But, they   did not reject the Tantric rituals and Tantric mantras altogether.

Agama – Temple worship


41.1. The worship of deities in public or at home might be the immediate cause for emergence of Agama traditions.

The Agamas in the present day find their full expression in temple- worship.  They form the basis for worship practices at temples, as it exists today. They prescribe the structure and architecture of various kinds of temples, the customs to be followed, the rituals to be performed and the festivals to be celebrated. They in fact cover the entire gamut of activities associated with temples, its activities and its purpose.

41.2. The Agamas deal with all types of worship practices followed either in temples or at home; either in communities or in private; either through image or formless fire or otherwise.  The worship in a temple has to satisfy the needs of individuals as also of the community. Agamas accommodate collective worship along with individual worship that is characteristically private when performed at home. The worships that take place in the sanctum and within the temple premises are important; so are the festivals and occasional processions that involve direct participation of the entire community. They complement each other. While the worship of the deity  in the sanctum might be an individual’s  spiritual or religious need ; the festival s are the expression of a community’s joy , exuberance , devotion , pride and are also an idiom of a community’s cohesiveness .

41.3. The temple worship ritual has two other distinct aspects; the symbolic and the actual which is secondary. The former is the inner worship (manasa puja or antar yajna) of the antaryamin (the inner being) residing in ones heart; and the latter is external worship characterized by splendour, spectacle and an overflow of religious fervour.

The inner worship involving Tantric rituals  that takes place in the privacy of the sanctum is more significant than the external worship These are in a sequence such as shudhi (purification of elements), mudras (assumption of appropriate and effective gestures), pranayama (regulation of breath to enable contemplation of the divinity), dhyana (contemplation), soham_bhava (identity of the worshipper with the worshipped), mantra (words to help realize the deity in worshipper’s heart) and mandala (diagrams representing aspects of divinity). In manasa puja, God is the worshipper’s innermost spirit. The worshipper visualizes and contemplates on the resplendent form of the deity as abiding in his own heart.

As regards the external worship it involves several kinds of service sequences (Shodasha Upachara) submitted, in full view of the worshipping devotees, to the personified god who is revered as the most venerated guest and as the Lord of Lords who presides over the universe (lokadyaksha). The services are rendered with gratitude, love and devotion to the accompaniment of chanting of passages and mantras taken from Vedas. The worship routine is rendered more colourful and attractive by presentations of music, dance, drama and other performing arts. These also ensure larger participation of the enthusiastic devotees.

Thus, at the temple, both the Agama worship-sequences and the symbolic Tantric rituals take place; but each in its sphere.

41.4. The worship practices that are followed in the temples are truly an amalgam of dissimilar streams of ideologies and practices. The rituals here are a combination of concepts, procedures and symbolism.  Each of these finds its relevance in its own context, without conflict or contradiction. The temple and iconic worship may appear like tantric. However, in practice the worship at temples involves both homa and archa rituals. The Agama mode of worship invariably borrows the mantras from the Vedic traditions along with ritualistic details from Tantric traditions. Vedic mantras are chanted in traditional manner while performing services such as ceremonial bath, adoring the deity with flowers, or waving lights. Apart from that, the Agama practices combine in themselves the elements from yoga, purana and Janapada the popular celebrations where all segments of the community joyously participate with great enthusiasm and devotion.


The Janapada  includes  periodic Utsavas, processions, singing, dancing, playacting, colourful lighting, spectacular fireworks , offerings of various kinds etc.; as also various forms of physical austerities accompanied by sincere prayers.

41.5. You find that temple worship is judicious mix (misra) of:  the Vedic mantras and its vision of the divine; the tantric rituals with their elaborate symbolisms; the Agamic worship practices, attitudes and devotion; the discipline of Yoga and its symbolic purification gestures; and, the exuberance and gaiety of folk festivals, processions and celebrations in which the entire community participates with great enthusiasm. All these elements combine harmoniously in the service of the deity and create an integrated Temple –culture.

42.1. That is so far as Agama in general is concerned.  In the subsequent parts let’s talk about specific branches of the Agama. In next lets touch upon Vaikhanasa Agama  a major branch of the Vaishnava Agama.


Continued in Part Three

– Vaikhanasa Agama

References and Sources

1. A Companion to Tantra by S C Banerji ; Abhinav Publications (2007)

2. Tantra: its mystic and scientific basis by Lalan Prasad Singh ;Concept Publishing Company (1976)

3. Tribal roots of Hinduism by SK Tiwari ; Sarup & Sons (2002)

4. The Tantric way by Ajit Mukherjee and Madhu Khanna ; Thames & Hudson (1977)

5. Agama Kosha by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao ; Kalpataru Research Academy (1994)

6. The Perspective of the Tantras By K. Guru Dutt

7. Tantra Shastra and Veda by Sir John  Woodroffe

8. The Tantras: An Overview by Swami Samarpanananda

9. Evolution of Tantra by Nitin Sridhar


Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Agama, Tantra


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Tantra – Agama – Part One – Tantra

[This article is primarily about Agama. Since Agama is closely aligned to Tantra, let’s briefly talk about Tantra before we revert  to a discussion on Agamas.]


1.1. The term Agama, primarily, signifies tradition; it is a way of life. Agama represents the previously ordained practices generally held in esteem (Agama loka-dharmanaam maryada purva-nirmita – Mbh 8.145.61). Agama is also that which helps to understand things correctly and comprehensively, in attaining the highest objective of Man (aa jna vastu samantaccha gamyat ith agamo matah: Pingala-matha). Agama, according to Jaya-mangala, is a well ascertained (siddam siddau pramanaustu) trustworthy knowledge (shastra aptanam) that contributes to our welfare (hitam) here (vaa tra) and hereafter (para tra cha).  Its authoritative traditions, which command faith, prescribe practices for day-to-day ritualistic life; and, in particular, for a well disciplined course of right conduct and purposeful worship – actions to be followed at each stage of one’s pursuit for attaining his/her ideal of God.

1.2. Agamas (the term Agama literally means wisdom traditionally passed on) have come down to us from the distant past through oral traditions. They are revered as revelations; but, are not essentially treated as part of the Vedas. The Agamas do not derive their authority directly from the Vedas. Yet; they are Vedic in spirit and character; perform Yajnas in the Vedic mode; and make use of Vedic mantras while performing the service.

1.3. It is also true that Vedas and Agamas are intimately related. They represent two aspects of a fundamental question: how to realize the Truth.  Veda, it is said, in its primary sense is Knowledge which liberates. Agama is a traditional doctrine grasped in faith. Agama developed the esoteric teaching and practice of the Vedas into external forms suitable for the changing needs of times.

2.1. The argument of the Agamas is that mere knowledge and discussion about That (tat) or the Truth or the Supreme Being will achieve nothing spiritually; and will not liberate, unless it is supported by purposeful action. It points out that just talking about spiritual experience is rather purposeless: ‘mere words cannot chase away the delusion of the wandering; darkness is not dispelled by mention of the word lamp’.  What is of prime essence is the actual, direct immediate experience (Sakshatkara) of the Supreme.  And, Truth has to be realized and brought into ones experience. That is not possible unless there is a definite, determined and sustained action (Sadhana kriya) to attain ones ideal of Truth. All must act, who have not achieved.

2.2. The claim of the Agama is that it provides such means of action, as also the technique for realizing and experiencing the sublime ideals eulogized by the Vedas and its associate scriptures of knowledge. Agama assures; its well defined and time-tested methods of Sadhana are indeed the practical applications of the teaching of the Vedas and Vedanta. Here again, it is explained, a single ritual act performed routinely in daily life is rather shallow.  But Sadhana, on the other hand, is an intimate spiritual discipline comprising set of coordinated practices of faith of which rituals form part. Agamika – Sadhana is more comprehensive; it is a sustained and a determined endeavour to realize ones ideal of Truth. Agama, therefore, aptly calls itself variedly as Pratyaksha Shastra, Sadhana Shastra and Upasana Shastra.

2.3. The Agamas promise that if you follow their direction you will achieve Siddhi. They assert; to experience a thing in its ultimate sense is to be that very thing.  It is for this reason the ancient faith of Agama has prescribed rituals, which are both symbolic and suggestive, as also a set of disciplines that ensure wholesome, healthy living in body, mind and spirit.

2.4. The Agama is thus a philosophy which not merely argues but acts and experiments. Agama is practical philosophy (prayoga shastra) addressed to ardent aspirants. It combines in itself the exposition of spiritual doctrine as also the means to realize its teachings.  Agama provides form and substance to ones faith and to its quest.

Tantra – Agama

3.1. It is perhaps because Agama is unity of a system of thought (or faith) and a body of practices; it has come to be very closely connected with Tantra. It is said; Agama is essentially a tradition, and Tantra is its technique (prayoga). You cannot think of the one without thinking of the other. Agama is the Sadhana part of Tantra. Tantra and Agama cite same set of texts. If Tantra is said to be in greater use in North, Agama is used in South. The Agama texts in South often include the term Tantra in their title.

3.2. The two terms are often used interchangeably.  For instance; an Agamika is also called Tantri. An old Tantric text Pingalamata says that Tantras are Agama with characteristics of Chhandas (that is Vedas). The Agama-Tantra way is as important and as authentic as the Vedic tradition.   The encyclopaedic dictionary Shabda– kalpa – druma of Raja Radha Kanta Deva explains: since Agama tries to protect the delicate balance in creation, the learned ones name it as Tantra (tanuthe trayathe nithyam tantra mithi viduhu budhaha). Tantra is also Siddantha-Agama (tantriko jnana siddantah) – an established system of knowledge and practices. Tantra is the process (vidhi) or the regulation (niyama), which amplifies and nurtures knowledge (Tanyate vistaryate jnanam anena iti tantram); it breathes life into forms of knowledge; and , devises methods to realize its aims.


Tantra – what is?

4.1. Kamikagama explains Tantra as a system which expands (vipula) on matters relating to essence (arthan) of philosophy (tattva) and mantra that help to attain liberation (tanoti vipula – arthaan tattva – mantra samanvitam; tantram cha kurute yasmad tantram ity abhidhiyate). Tattva is the study of the Absolute principle. Tantra brings the realization of tattva (tat=That) within ones experience, with the help of mantra – Sadhana. Tantra is therefore an intuitional wisdom that liberates (tatra ya ayat tarayet yastu sa tantra parikirtitah). At the same time, it is said, devotion and complete surrender is the secret of Tantra –Sadhana. And, itis characterized by high regard, implicit obedience and unquestioned faith in the guru.

The term  Tan-tra is also understood by analyzing it through  its two syllables: tan–a verbal root meaning to stretch, to expand, also to be diffused as light, to weave (with the image of extending the threads which are to be woven) ;and, tra , taken in the sense of trāa, the root meaning to save, to protect, to liberate. Thus, it means a system, theory or practice which saves and protects.

The further meaning of tan– is to show, to manifest; to accomplish, perform; to compose (a work). Therefore, Tantra, is also called Āgama (sacred tradition which has come down to us). Abhinavagupta defines Āgama as a fundamental, well-established knowledge (prasiddhi) which underlies the specific traditions and their scriptures and their instructions regarding way-of-life

4.2. Tantra is understood as a system which leads to growth of one’s awareness, higher faculty of reasoning and intuitive power leading to the path of self-realization. In practice,  Tantra is a dynamic philosophy  which supports life, action, aspiration, knowledge, quest  for truth, a path which unshackles the potential of  the human mind and helps one to realize the essential unity of all existence.

4.3. Tantra also stands for ritual, in general, wherever there is the concept of duality. The ritual might be external or internal by way of introspection. Ritual is the body tanu in which the spirit of Tantra manifests. Ritual, in fact, is the art of Tantra. It involves elaborate initiation (diksha) ritual; use of symbolic Yantras, mantras and mudra-s (suggestive gestures); and secretive Sadhana.  The rituals, here, are symbolic activities which strengthen the aspirant’s conviction and help him to achieve a harmonious relation with his environment in the broadest sense. All these are meant to fructify in direct experience of his ideal, which indeed is the aim of Tantra as also its justification.

4.4. Another feature of Tantra is the importance it assigns to speech and its power. In the Vedic context speech vak was invested with divine quality. Tantra went a step further and lent the speech energy and power. Its mantras are invariable accompanied by syllabic Bija mantras which are potent with inherent Shakthi. The Bija mantras of Tantric nature are subtle sounds of abstract language which attempt to visualize the un-differentiated divine principle.

4.5. Tantra is a vast and all comprehensive set of disciplines, beliefs systems and practices.  In the words of Sir John Woodroffe: ‘tantra, from its very nature is an encyclopaedic science… not weighed down by the limitation of words. It is practical; lights the torch and shows the way.’ ‘… Tantra is neither religion nor mysticism but is based upon human experience in the very act of living, as a source of the amplification of consciousness… The Tantra way has been absorbed as a cultural behavior valid for everyone and not merely to an exclusive group or sect’

Tantra – a synthesis

5.1. Tantra is not a single coherent system. It is an accumulation of ideas and practices dating back to pre-historic times. The Tantra synthesizes the various insights of karma, jnana, bhakthi and yoga for the benefit of the ardent practitioner in his endeavour to realize his ideal.  The Tantra works accept the validity of Vedic rituals; theframework of the Universe composed by the dual elements of pure consciousness (Purusha, Shiva) and Prakrti (Shakthi) as put forward by Samkhya; the wisdom (viveka) and detachment (vairagya) of  the Upanishads; the purifying disciplines of Raja yoga; as also the passionate love for the Divine as sung in the Puranas. They exhort the aspirant, Sadhaka, to exercise his/her will and strive even as they practise self-surrender, praying for divine grace.

5.2. In addition, Tantra employs numerous techniques which include mantras; Yantras; postures and gestures (nyasas and mudras); offerings of flowers, incense and ritual ingredients; breath control (pranayama); yogic practices (asana, dhyana, dharana) etc. The Tantra promises its followers Bhukthi and Mukthi: wellbeing in the present world and ultimate liberation from sorrows of the world. Tantra, thus aims to attain plural objectives (aneka-muddisya sakrt pravrttis-tantrata).

5.3. Both the Vedic and the Buddhist scholars were prolific writers on Tantra.  One of the reasons that Tantra cannot be precisely defined is that it comprises an astounding number of subjects, each with its own several sub-divisions. The writers on Tantra tried to bring in whatever that was best and interesting in other fields of study. As a result; the Tantra literature grew, spreading over a vast number of subjects, such as: yoga, astronomy, astrology, medicine, alchemy, divination, and so on. Besides that, Tantra turned into an admixture of religion, philosophy, science, superstitions, dogma, psychic exercises and mysticism.

In a way; it could be said that the Tantra literature reflects India’s past cultural history, particularly between the 7th and the 11th century. Despite its flaws, Tantra is India’s unique contribution to world-culture; no other country has  produced such a body of literature, beliefs and practices.

Tantra Outlook

6.1. Tantra believes that the culmination of all learning is sakshatkara the direct experience of one’s cherished ideal. It asserts that Truth cannot be attained by mere knowing about it. And, that if the Truth has to be realized and brought into ones experience, it surely needs Sadhana. Tantra claims it provides the means and the technique (upasana-prakriya) for realizing and experiencing that Truth. It is proudly calls itself  Tantriko jnata-siddanta an established system of knowledge and practices; as also Sadhana Shastra or Prayoga Shastra, the shastra distinguished by sprit of enterprise and adventure.


6.2. Central to Tantra-faith is the concept of duality that culminates in unity. Shiva the pure consciousness and Shakthi its creative power are eternally conjoined; the one cannot be differentiated from the other. The Tantra ideology explains the apparent duality of Shiva-Shakthi; Bhairava-Bhiravi; etc as being essentially non-dual (abheda). Their relation is that of Dharma and Dharmin; that is between the object and its properties. Their relation is analogous to that between fire and heat; the Sun and its rays; and, ocean and its waves. Philosophically, the relation between Shiva and Shakthi is compared to the pure-light of consciousness (Prakasha) and its power of illumination (Vimarsha). And, Shiva can be attained only through his power (Shakthi); and, Consciousness can be realized by self-reflection or meditative practices (Dhyana)

Shiva-Shakthi are essentially two aspects of One principle. In reality, the whole of existence, the range of manifold experiences in the world are but the expressions of Shiva-Shakthi combine.  Shiva (Purusha) does not act by himself, but is inseparably associated with – and influences through – his Shakthi (Prakrti), the dynamic primal energy that manifests, animates, sustains and finally re-absorbs the universe into itself. This Shakthi is all powerful and infinite.  It is only in the relative plane that Shiva-Shakti might appear as separate entities. But, the Reality is unity, an indivisible whole.

6.3. At the core of the Tantra ideology is the faith in ‘upasaka-upasya-abhedha-bhava’, where the worshipper and the worshipped are united. The Tantra mode of practice (upasana –prakriya), it is claimed, leads to the summit of its philosophy where the upasaka comes to identify her/himself with her/his upasya-devata.

Tantra – Man

7.1. The individual, according to Tantra, is not isolated but is integrated into the entire cosmic scheme. And, his limited experience is not separated from the Absolute experience.  The individual is a miniature Universe. The body is a microcosm of the universe (Brahmande ye gunah santi te tishthanti kalevare); and ‘what is here is elsewhere; and what is not here is nowhere (yadihasti tadanyatra yannehasti natatkvachit). 

7.2. Tantra firmly believes; the forces that operate the world are dormant within the person; but, functioning at a different level.  It asserts; Man is a spiritual being; and he realizes his full potential when he is awakened. The process of realization is self-discovery, which culminates in true understanding of the self. The purpose of Tantra is awakening the hidden potential in Man to enable him to realize this Reality.

7.3. Tantra regards human body as a mandala – a matrix of energy; and as a configuration of vital currents (prana-shakthi). It asks the individual to respect his being for it is Isha-para the city where Shiva dwells; to strive for self improvement; and, to keep body and mind healthy.

7.4. Tantra is the cult of householders. It does not encourage renunciation (sanyasa); but at the same time lays emphasis on internal purity and detachment. The view of the Tantra is that no realization is possible by negation or by escape from the world. Tantra asks the aspirants to accept the world as it exists; and not get involved in far-fetched assumptions.

Tantra- world

8.1. Tantra believes and says; the tangible world of actual experiences is real; and, it is not in conflict with the ‘other’.  Tantra’s approach is thus practical; and, it attempts to be free from conventional perfectionist clichés.  Tantra is not ‘other-worldly’ in its outlook. It is against extreme asceticism; and is also against arid speculations.

8.2. Tantra strives to show a way to liberation here in this life whilst in this body and in this world: jivanmukthi. And, that is not achieved by denial of the world, but by sustained discipline and practice while still being in the world, amidst its pleasures.  It assures that the tangible world of day-to-day experiences is real; and is relevant in its own context. This world is a passage towards perfection; the visible leading to the invisible.  There is no conflict between this world and the ‘other world’. It does not intend to sacrifice the present world to the ‘other world’, but aims to somehow integrate the two into the framework of liberation.  Tantra promises Bhukthi and Mukthi: wellbeing in the present world and liberation from sorrows of the world.

Tantra – approach

9.1. In the context of its times, the Tantra- approach was more open and radical. Tantra overlooked the artificial restrictions imposed by caste and gender discrimination. And, it willingly admitted into its common fold (samanya) the women and sudras hitherto kept outside the pale of religious practices. The Gautamiya Tantra declares:  “The Tantra is for all men, of whatever caste, and for all women” (Sarva – varna- adhikaraschcha naarinam yogya eva cha).

9.2. Tantra appeals to the common aspirations; and recognizes the urge of natural human desires.  It admits the ever ongoing conflict between flesh and spirit. Tantra ideology explains; every human experience bears a subject-object relation, the enjoyer and the enjoyed. It is not feasible either to destroy or to subjugate the object altogether; for any such attempt binds one into a vicious circle from which there is no escape. On the other hand, it is wiser to transform the disintegrating forces into integrating ones.

Tantra makes an amazing statement: even as the object can be overcome only by the object, the desire can be overcome by desire. Hence the Tantra dictum: ‘that by which one falls is also that by which one rises’ (Yatraiva patanam dravyaih, siddhis-tatireva). And, Sri Aurobindo therefore remarks: ‘tantra turns   the very obstacles to spiritual realisation into stepping stones.’ This is a truly distinctive feature of Tantra.

9.3. The essence of Tantra is direct experience. Tantra sets out its approach through direct action, in contrast to Vedic rituals performed indirectly through the priests. It says: ‘understanding Tantra is by doing it’. Tantra cautions: ‘There is no salvation by proxy; and definitely not through hired priests. Each aspirant has to strive to realize the true nature of self and attain salvation’.

9.4.  The Tantra was not so much concerned with the formulation of doctrinal principles as with the realization of a particular experience of the freedom (svatantra), spontaneity (svacchanda) and un-bound consciousness (prakasha). Tantra is a prayoga–shastra that involves activity and  experience.  It justifies any means that leads to authentic experience.

Such direct experience was called by many names by various groups ; Samarasya (harmony) ; Yuganaddha (sense of union) ; Sahaja (spontaneity) ; Adavya (non-dual) ; and , Khechari (moving freely in the void like a bird ).

In all the voluminous and complex writings of Abhinavagupta the symbolism of Heart (Hrudaya) plays an important role. He perhaps meant it to denote ‘the central point or the essence . His religious vision is explained through the symbol of heart, at three levels – the ultimate reality; the method;and, the experience. The first; the Heart, that is, the ultimate nature (anuttara – there is nothing beyond) of all reality, is Shiva. The second is the methods and techniques employed (Sambhavopaya) to realize that ultimate reality.  And, the third is   to bring that ideal into ones experience.

The Heart here refers, in his words ‘to a sublime experience that moves the heart (hrudaya-angami-bhuta). He calls the third, the state of realization as Bhairavatva, the state of the Bhairava. He explains through the symbolism of Heart to denote  the ecstatic light of consciousness as ‘Bhaira-agni-viliptam’, engulfed by the light of Bhairava that blazes and flames continuously. Sometimes, he uses the term ‘nigalita’ melted or dissolved in the purifying fire-pit the yajna–vedi of Bhairava. He presents the essential nurture (svabhava) of Bhairava as the  self-illuminating (svaprakasha) light of consciousness (Prakasha).  And, Bhairava is the core phenomenon (Heart – Hrudaya) and the ultimate goal of all spiritual Sadhanas.

Abhinavagupta makes a distinction between the understanding that is purely intellectual; and, the one that is truly experienced. The latter is the Heart of one’s Sadhana.

Veda and Tantra


10.1. Veda and Tantra are two life-streams of Indian heritage; are the warp and woof of the Indian culture and traditions. Veda is knowledge and Tantra is cult that aims at liberation. They have enriched our lives in countless ways. Though Tantra is more visible in our day-to-day practices, there cannot be a religious ceremony without the recitation of Vedic mantras. And, hardly any aspect of Indian thought and usage is outside the scope of all embracing twin- influence. The two most ancient mighty rivers of tradition could not have arisen in isolation nor could they have flourished without one influencing the other.

10.2. Actually,  if  Tantra is seen as  opposed  to  Vedic lore,  it is partly because  of its being altogether different from  it, and  also partly because  it  gives a  different, a new  interpretation  and  usage of Vedic elements. This is clearly apparent; for instance, a number of Vedic elements are built into the Tantric Mantra-shästra.

One important distinction between Tantra and the orthodox Vedic texts is that the Tantric revelation is supposed to be open   to all, irrespective of caste or sex.  This might have come about because of the Vedic culture expanding into new social strata or groups.

And, similarly, the Bhakati cults too   remained ‘Vedic’ in spirit while encompassing within its fold all classes and groups of the social structure.

10.3. Yet; in the general perception, the Veda and Tantra are distinct currents of India’s spiritual, cultural and intellectual life. Apparently, the two are not only mutually exclusive but also are opposed to each other. And, the orthodox followers of Vedic tradition tried to distance themselves from Tantric ideologies and stress that Tantra is not a product of Vedic wisdom.

10.4. Though the Vedic and Tantra traditions are often considered as parallel streams or even as intertwined, their mutual relations over the centuries have not always been comfortable. It is rather complex.

10.6. The traditional view is that Tantra and Veda are two distinct strands of Indian cultural fabric. The orthodox assert: ‘Tantra is cult and Veda is enlightened philosophy’ .Tantra, on the other hand, put forth their own arguments.


11.1. In the Vedic tradition, much attention is given to knowledge – the knowledge of gods, of the Yajnas. Its approach to gods is of collective character, involving a number of priests and adepts specialized in each part of the Yajna. The Yajnas are public occasions of great celebration where a large numbers participate enthusiastically.

11.2. The Tantra, in sharp contrast, is highly individualistic in its approach. The Tantric aspirant strives to communicate directly with object of her/his worship; without the mediation of priests. It is a private, one-to-one intimate communication with ones’ ideal. Further, Tantra is upasana-prakriya based in symbolic representations (sanketa prakriya).  The Tantra ideology is, often described as ‘symbolic wisdom, directly communicated through the teacher (sanketha-vidya guru-vakthra – gamya).

11.3. Tantra, unlike the Upanishads, does not always require that one should renounce the world in order to engage in the search for deliverance.  On the contrary, it endeavors to reconcile deliverance (moksha) with enjoyment (bhoga). One who pursues Tantra is, thus, a bubhukshu (desirous of enjoyment) rather than a mumukshu, who aspire to liberation (moksha).

11.4. The Tantric views the world as the place where salvation is achieved and experienced, while-living (jïvanmukti), the ultimate state for the Tantric adept.

The Tantric does not solely pursue the knowledge that liberates; but, he seeks autonomy and power as well. He stays in the world and strives to controls it by attaining supernatural powers (siddhis).  He becomes one with the Transcendental. 

11.5.  He does not shun earthly desires (in every sense of the word); but does his utmost to harness Kama and bring into service all its related values.

Related to this, and equally characteristic, is Tantric’s  concept of the Godhead, where  male and female principles are polarized  as contrasting energies ; and , the female pole being  regarded as that vital  energy  which pervades and gives life and sustenance to all the elements in existence . His pursuit of deliverance therefore involves tapping and using (or manipulating) this female energy.

11.6. Another contrasting feature is that the Tantric sects have always been small groups of initiated ascetics; and, there is a very strong allegiance to the Guru and to his tradition (Guruparamparä).

dhyānamūlaṃ guror mūrtiḥ pūjāmūlaṃ guroḥ padam | mantramūlaṃ guror vākyam mokṣamūlaṃ guroḥ kṛpā || Kulārṇava Tantra 12-13

The form of the Guru is the root of meditation. The feet of the Guru are the root of worship. The word of the Guru is the root of the mantra. The grace of the Guru is the root of liberation.

11.7 The Tantric mode of worship (Puja) is dominated by very complex ritualism and worship of an image or a chart (mürti, bera, and Yantra),   in contrast to the Vedic Yajnas.

11.8. Another characteristic feature of Tantra, in all its forms and tendencies, is the one related to speech and its powers. While the Vedas did recognize the divine quality of speech and, assigned it a central role, the Tantra, in addition, infused into it exceptional power and energy; and,  made it a very vital component of Tantric worship.

Tantra is origin of Vedas ?

12.1. There are other assertions that try to bind the two traditions together by saying that Veda and Tantra are braches of a single system.  For instance; Kulluka Bhatta (15th century), one of the commentators of Manava-Dharmasastra (2.1) states that Sruti or the revealed word is twofold:  Vaidiki and Tantriki (vaidiki tantriki caiva dvividha sruti kirtita).

12.2. There is another saying which declares that Veda is, indeed, a branch of Tantra. The Agama texts state that the discipline known as Tantra is twofold in nature: Agama and Nigama (agamam nigamam chaiva tantra-sastram dvividha matham). Here, Nigama stands for Veda and Agama is a system of practices inspired by Tantra ideology.

13.1. Some Tantra-texts go a step further and assert that Vedas originated from Tantra ideology .For instance; Narayaniya-tantra claims that the Vedas were derived from the Tantra-sources: Rig Veda from Rudra yamala; Yajur Veda from Vishnu Yamala; Sama Veda from Brahma Yamala; and Atharva Veda from Shakthi Yamala.

13.2. The assertions that the Vedas come within the scope of Tantra or that the Vedas originated from Tantra are rather intriguing; and it is very unlikely. Narayaniya-tantra, mentioned above, is of recent origin (c.14th century); and it might have overstated its position in order to elevate the Tantra School. It is very unlikely that Veda originated from Tantra.

Tantra perhaps developed largely outside the establishment and in the process developed its own outlook and approach to life, away from the conventional purist clichés.

Tantra – Veda – compatible

14.1. Some texts of Tantra acknowledge that Vedas are of great antiquity and are highly revered.  Tantra accepts the authority of the Vedas; and assures it is not in conflict with Veda or any other recognized Shastra. For instance; Kularnava Tantra says (2. 85,140,141) that Kuladharma is based on and is inspired by the Truth of Veda (tasmat vedatmakam shastram viddhi kaulatmakam priye). 

14.2. The Tantra School explains that if one gets the impression that Tantra is opposed to Vedas, it is partly because its approach is different, and also partly because of it attempts to give a new interpretation to Vedic elements.   Tantra argues; it essentially teaches the same tenets as the Vedas. It is, in fact, the culmination of the philosophies of Vedanta and Samkhya.  The difference of Tantra lies in its method and certain subtle points of philosophy.

14.3. Tantra calls itself the driving force spreading the light of knowledge (Veda): ‘Tanyate, vistaryate jñanam anena, iti Tantram’.   The Tantra School points out that the Samhitas (mantra portion of Vedas) and the Yajna- rituals are entwined. The mantras of Rig Veda and Sama Veda are concerned with offering Yajnas to various deities. The hymns of Yajur Veda, in the main, are about the actual performance of the Yajna. Above all, the Atharva Veda along with its mystic invocations is also about the practices known as abhicara the practical applications for medicinal, magical and other purposes.   The Samhita associated with the practical aspects Yajnas was elaborated in the later Brahmana texts. It is therefore argued that the Brahmanas are, in fact, the Tantra of the Vedas.

15.1. The tantra ideology projects itself as the natural evolution of the thought process. The Upanishads are appendices to the Brahmanas which, as already said, constitute the tantra or technique of the Vedas.  The older Upanishads, it said, adopted the Vedic deities and concepts for purposes of esoteric meditation. But soon, the later Upanishads took up to Mantra shastra or Varna sadhana, yoga and Yajna. Characteristically, a bulk of them is attached to the Atharva Veda having direct affinity with the Tantra, in aim and content and even in form. The Tantra School argued that Tantra-ideology is thus at the core of the Vedas. Pranatoshini tantra claims: ‘Veda is an extension of Tantra’.

15.2. Vedas may not have originated from Tantra. But, there appears to be some substance in other arguments of Tantra School. Over the centuries, the movement of all thought process has been from the general to the particular, from esoteric to the more explicit. It is the progression from principles and theories to their practical applications; simulating the relation between science and technology. In the Indian context, the Veda in the distant past was highly idealized poetry inspired by awe and wonder of the surrounding nature and a yearning for a true understanding of the mysteries of the Universe. The Upanishads that followed took up the germ ideas hidden in the philosophical hymns of the Vedas and expanded them into series of discussions. The Puranas conserved and propagated the exoteric ritualistic aspects of the Vedas through the medium of   wonderfully delightful legends that common people could relate to and enjoy.

The Tantra brought into its fold the esoteric teaching and practice of the Vedic mystics; the techniques of Yoga; and the sense of absolute surrender and intense devotion to ones ideal as extolled in the Puranas .It synthesized all those adorable elements and turned them   into forms of worship-practices (archa) designed to satisfy the needs and aspirations of   ordinary men and women of the world, in their own context. The growth and development of Indian thought resembles the imagery of the inverted tree – of which our ancients were very fond – with its roots in the sky and its fruit-laden branches spreading down towards the earth.

15.3. It is said; the Vedas represent distant past; the Smrti-texts represent middle-times; and, the Puranas represent mythical past. And today, it is the Tantra and Agamas that are most relevant.  Some Tantra-texts even remark that Vedas had become too distant and rather outdated because of their extreme (viparita) age. Its roots are lost in the distant antiquity; its intent is not easily understood; and, its gods and its rites are almost relics of the past. The men of the present age no longer have the capacity, longevity and moral strength necessary to carry out Vedic-karma-kanda. And, therefore Tantra, says, it prescribes a special sadhana or means of its own, to enable common people to attain the objectives of Shastra.  Therefore, Tantra claimed, it arrived to rejuvenate the Vedic texts and also to rescue men from the depths of depravity.

Tantra – Veda – reproachment

16.1.In fact, the relationship between the two traditions is complex. There is obviously nothing Tantric in Vedic literature. Although Tantra rejects the authority of the Vedas,    a number of Vedic elements have not only survived in Tantric texts, but also, sometimes, have been developed intensely. Moreover it seems that from a certain period onward , Vedic elements were  introduced  or added into the Tantric works—Tantras  or Ägamas—in order to lend them an aura of  respectability ; and, also to render them  more  acceptable within the orthodox circles.

Thus, instead of denying the import of the Vedas entirely, the Tantra contrasted itself from the Vedas, rejecting some of its elements while preserving, developing, and reinterpreting certain others.

16.2. Although Tantra and Vedic traditions started on divergent approach, in course of time there was reproachment between the two; and the two came closer. Tantra called itself the culmination of esoteric knowledge of Vedanta; and, came to be known as a special branch of Veda: Sruti-shakha-vishesha. It even said; the Vedic religion in its essence has survived and spread to common people through Tantra. The Tantra texts assert that the Tantra-Sadhaka must be a pure person (shuddhatma), a true believer (astika), and must have faith in the Vedas.

16.3. Tantra drew many details from Vedic and Yoga traditions and adopted many more with suitable additions and alterations. Its originality lies in the manner it organized various components into a creative, imaginative pattern.  The Tantra in general simplified the Vedic rituals and made greater use of esoteric symbols.For instance; although the celebrated Gayatri mantra (3.62.10) of Rig Veda is dedicated to the Vedic solar deity Savitr, it was adopted by Tantra as the representation of the Mother Goddess. The Dhyana-slokas portray the picture of a goddess. The repetition of the Gayatri is preceded by mystic syllables known as Vyahritis which are similar to the Bija-aksharas of Tantric meditation.

16.4. Similarly the hymn of benediction from Rig Veda (1.89.6) was adopted for worship of Shakthi. Kaula rites were interpreted through the imageries of the Yajna. Tantra developed texts in the mode of Vedic scriptures. For the worship of gods – Ganesha, Karthikeya and Vishnu – the Sama-Vidhana-Brahmana prescribed the collection of hymns known as Vinayaka Samhita (S. V. 4. 5. 3. 3), Skanda-Samhita (S. V. 3. 2. l. 4) and the Vishnu-Samhita (S. V.  3. l. 3. 9), respectively. Some say; Vedic elements were introduced into Tantra texts to lend them greater acceptance, an air of authenticity and respectability.

17.1. In a like manner, the Vedic tradition admitted within its fold the Samkhya and Yoga Schools aligned to Tantra ideology. The orthodox texts accommodated the concepts transformed from Tantra. For instance; the ancient Vedic mantra Savitri was accepted as the Mother – goddess (asya maata Savitri: Manu.2.170). And, Chandogya Upanishad (3.12) glorified Gayatri as being that which exists right here, that which sings (gayati ) and saves (trayati) all things in their Reality.  Further, many of the later Upanishads of sectarian character are about Tantric subjects. The recital of Vedic hymns now accompanies the various worship-rituals of Tantric nature. There cannot a religious ceremony without the recitation of Vedic mantras .And, the Vedic rituals are preceded by purification rituals like achamana, pranayama etc which are adopted from Tantra and Yoga.

Tantra – Impact


18.1. The living religion of Hindus, as practiced today, is almost entirely Tantric in nature. The Tantra doctrine and worship- rituals woven into Indian culture are now an integral part of Indian religions.  The Hindu, Buddhist and Jain ideas, beliefs, and practices of worship are permeated with Tantra. The Tantra ideology continues to form a part, in one form or other, of all Indian spiritual practices. The common worship practices – from the lowest to the most advanced – both at home or in temples is, almost entirely, based in the Tantra philosophy of duality, in its outlook and in its approach to god. Except for Vedic Yajnas, every religious sect in India uses tantric modes of worship for its rituals and spiritual practices – both external and internal.

18.2. In today’s world, it is the Tantra that has greater impact on socio religious cultural practices than the Vedas.  Despite its blemishes and the abuses it received, Tantra is the most popular mode of worship conducted at homes and in temples. It provides comfort to the devotees through its ritualistic, philosophical, and mystic aspects. The scholars hold the view:   what we today have come to appreciate as Indian culture and religion is more influenced by the subtle character of Tantra than the Vedas.

19.1. The reasons for growing influence of Tantra are not far to seek. Its importance is heightened mainly because of the fading influence of the ancient Vedic texts.The precepts of the Vedas (say, maintaining various ritual fires at home) have become too difficult for our age.  The stipulations for conduct of Vedic Yajnas have become rather impractical in the present context. The life-styles prescribed for Vedic practitioners have also become outdated; and are difficult to follow. The Vedic ideals, its gods and its view of the prospects in after- life seem too distant. The idealism of Upanishads and its contemplative philosophy are ethereal; and are beyond the ken of common people. The legends vividly narrated by the   Puranas sound fantastically unrealistic.

19.2. The common people yearn for a relation with the object of their worship. They need a god to love, to devote, to highly respect, to submit or even to fear. They look up to a god who loves and rescues from difficulties; protects the good; and punishes the evil. The devotee prays for happiness, success and enjoyment in the world. At the same time she/he also has a resolve (sankalpa) for mukthi, the ultimate-good.

People need something concrete, simple, and yet attractive to worship and to address their prayers. Tantra practices lead men and women to seek the divine with the help of bera, murti and other forms whose shape is symbolic. Tantra, in its simple form, with its dualistic approach; its sense of devotion, dedication and complete submission to the chosen deity (ishta-devata) fulfils the deepest desire of all. Tantra seems an easier cult with easier doctrine. At another level, it lends various ritual practices – mental and physical- meditation, visualization, invoking the presence of the deity in one’s body (nyasa), mantras and mudras all aiming to achieve identification with the object of their worship.

Summing up

20.1. Sir John Woodroffe, the greatest exponent of Tantra-vidya in recent times, in his lectures on ‘Tantra Shastra and Veda’, summed it up excellently with a remarkable statement:

The application of Tantric principles in worship-rituals is a question of form. And, all forms do change with the passage of time. Accordingly, the structure and content of worship-rituals are context-sensitive. And, they vary from region to region and from time to time to satisfy the needs of the age and the aspirations of worshipers in accordance with the   degree of spiritual advancement of the body of men who practice it.

Tantra and its rituals might therefore undergo changes over a period. But, the ancient and sturdy foundations of Veda and Vedanta on which Tantra rests will remain unaltered and unaffected.’

20.2. The Agama –Tantra tradition is as important and as authentic as the Vedic tradition. Tantra despite, its variations, is a specific system within the general system of Hinduism. The relevance of Tantra in the life of common people of today is mainly through worship practices carried out at homes and temples following the procedures laid down by Agamas. Agama is the Sadhana part of Tantra.  The two permeate the religious life of most Hindus.

Let’s talk of Agamas in the next part.


Continued in part two

References and Sources

1. A Companion to Tantra by S C Banerji ; Abhinav Publications (2007)

2. Tantra: its mystic and scientific basis by Lalan Prasad Singh ;Concept Publishing Company (1976)

3. Tribal roots of Hinduism by SK Tiwari ; Sarup & Sons (2002)

4. The Tantric way by Ajit Mukherjee and Madhu Khanna ; Thames & Hudson (1977)

5. Agama Kosha by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao ; Kalpataru Research Academy (1994)

6. The Perspective of the Tantras By K. Guru Dutt

7. Tantra Shastra and Veda by Sir John  Woodroffe

8. The Tantras: An Overview by Swami Samarpanananda

9. Evolution of Tantra by Nitin Sridhar


Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Agama, Tantra


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Who was Uddalaka Aruni? – Part Three

Continued from Part Two

Uddalaka Aruni – Teachings

22. 1. It is said; the great Yajnavalkya (Brh.Up.6.3.15) as also the sage Kausitaki (Sat Brh.11.4.12) to whose family the portions of the Kausitaki Brahmana are attributed, Proti Kausurubindi of Kausambi (Sat Brh. 12.2.213), and Sumna-yu (Sahkhayana Aranyaka -15.1) were at onetime the students of Uddalaka Aruni.

But Uddalaka’s fame as a teacher and a philosopher rests mainly on the discourses he imparted to his son Svetaketu (formally: Svetaketu Auddalaki Gautama). It contains the essential teaching of all the Upanishads.

22.2. In the Chandogya Upanishad, Uddalaka is portrayed as a caring father who sent his son, at his age of twelve, to a residential school (ante – vasin). And, on his return home, after twelve years of education, Uddalaka questions Svetaketu, now a bright looking well grown young man, to find whether he had learned anything of importance. He questions his son whether he has learnt ‘that by which one can : hear that which is beyond hearing (Ashrutam); think that which is unthinkable (amatam); and know that which is beyond knowledge (avijnatam)’.

Tam ādeśam aprākya yenā-aśruta śruta bhavaty; amata matam; avijñāta vijñātam iti || ChUp_6,1.3 ||

Of course, he had not. Uddalaka then proceeds to teach his son, with great diligence,   on what the school could not instruct: ‘knowing which everything becomes known (avijnatam vijnatam iti)’ – the real meaning of life.

Broad outline

Before entering into discussion on the teachings of Uddalaka let me outline, in broad strokes, the main aspects of his teaching.

Rishi teaching 2

23.1. In his exposition, in the form of a dialogue with his son Svetaketu, detailed in Part Six of the Chandogya Upanishad , spread over sixteen sections, Uddalaka covers a wide range of subjects touching upon the theories of  the Absolute Being, theory of creation , the living-principle (spirit) , the nature of matter and its multiple forms,  oneness of man with nature , relation between food , body  and mind etc.  

He bases some of his explanations on ideas that were current in his time (such as, the man being composed of sixteen parts; dependence of mind’s working on nutrition; or, the senses merging into mind and mind into Prana).

At the same time, he sets aside certain earlier notions concerning the origin of the universe (such as the universe originated from void or non-being). In addition, he breaks away from the earlier texts and covers some fresh ground.

23.2. He questions, how anything could come out of nothing; and argues that there must have been an original being, in a very subtle but a very powerful form, giving rise to everything in the Universe. Sat the primal Being exists solely and completely by the virtue of its own power of existence. It is not abstract. It is real and alive.

23.3. He demonstrates through skillful  teaching exercises – involving a pattern of activities designed to rouse the young man’s mind –  that the unseen need not be understood as ‘void’; it could well be the most wonderful subtlest essence of existence which is too fine to be perceived by senses, and from which everything springs forth (as a tree growing out of the invisible core of a tiny seed), and it permeates , unseen, everything in the universe (as a lump of salt dissolved in a jug of water)  as energy and vitality in all forms of life (as in a person , animal or in plants).And, finally  It is into That, all existence subsides. It does not mean the universe that once was, is reduced to nothingness; for, ‘something does not become nothing, just as nothing does not become something’- Na-asti satah sambhavah; na sata atmahanam

[  After Svetaketu breaks open the seed, he reports ‘it is broken Sir’ (binna Bhagavah iti). Uddalaka asks the boy ‘what do you see in it (Kim atra pashyati iti). Svetaketu replies ‘nothing Sir’ (kinchana Bhagavah iti).

Uddalaka explains to his son that finest part in the seed which one does not see (yam na nibhalayase) is indeed the essence (animnah). In it is hidden the big banyan tree (esah mahanya-nagrodhah). Have faith, dear one (sraddhatsva somya iti).

“Just as that subtlest unseen essence pervades the tree, Similarly, Sat, subtle and invisible, pervades all existence. That subtle essence Sat is the truth, the Atman (Ch.Up.6.12.3). Everything comes from That and everything merges back into That. It is in all beings. You like the tree and the world, is made of that essence. The evidence of that can be grasped by reasoning and faith. Svetaketu, you are That (tat tvam asi śvetaketo iti).

That ‘nothingness’ need not be understood as void; that nothingness, however subtle, is never non-existent

The essence of the tree is in that seeming nothingness. The manifest emerges from the un-manifest. The cause, that nothingness, however subtle, is never non-existent. For, nothing can come out of nothing, and nothing can altogether vanish out of existence. Na-asti satah sambhavah; na sata atmahanam. This, in short, is premise of Uddalaka.

This, in essence, is the principle of Satkaryavada.

The Samkhya notions of Prakrti and the emergence of the world from the Being (Sat) and its theory of causation – Satkaryavada have their seeds in Ch Up 6.2.3&4.

Bhagavad-Gita follows this principle saying ‘there is no existence from what does not exist; there is no non-existence from what exists’ (BG; 2.16): Na-sata vidyate bhavo; na-bhavo vidyate Satah

(The later Buddhists put forward the theory of prior-non-existence (pragabhava). It asserts that something can exist now though it was not in existence before (abhutva bhavati, abhutva bhavah). This is the A-satkaryavada) ]

24.1. As regards the process of evolution, Uddalaka tries to establish, methodically, in a series of natural stages how the Reality entered into matter giving rise to multiple forms. According to Uddalaka, all matter in the world, including human beings, is composed of three fundamental elements, each of which is a power. These are: heat-Teja (as also light or energy), water –Apah (all aspects of liquidity and fluency), and food –Anna (solids, plants and earth).These three dominant elements, in sequence, are inspired and animated in varied degrees by the primal being (Sat or Prana). The element of fire principle has its root in Sat; that of water in fire; and that of earth in the water principle . Each one of these elements carries within it some traces of the other two elements. Therefore, there is nothing in this world that is unmixed.

24.2. All these elements are charged with the will to become many (bahau –bhavitam-iccha) and to manifest as objects; each object having a different degree of fineness; each having its own   inner nature (nama) and an outward form (rupa).

25.1. Uddalaka asserts; understanding the material of which any given object is made yields an understanding of everything else made of the same material.

According to Uddalaka, every material object is composed of infinite number of extremely small particles (anu), so tightly packed they appear as a continuous whole leaving no scope for void. Each of these particles, according to him, is qualitatively different from the other; and is infinitely divisible. The minute particles (anu) ceaselessly separate and re-combine giving rise to newer forms. Each minute particle (anu) is in a churning motion within itself, by virtue of which it spontaneously unfolds or evolves; each according to its quality or nature. Each of   these minute particles is charged or animated by one and the same pure and invisible energy (Sat).

25.2. Each living body or an organism is an animated whole, all parts of which being   pervaded by one and the same living principle. That invisible power, the potent energy or vitality is present in the core of all beings. And, when that life-force leaves the body, the body  withers and dies. But the living principle (jiva or atman) never dies.

25.3. He teaches that all objects and all living things are inter-related.  The essence of everything is One, though the forms are many and the individuals are many. The whole world arises and continues to exist by virtue of that invisible essence – Sat. According to Uddalaka, in the ultimate analysis, man is nothing but an evolution of That essence. He tells his son, each time, there is nothing that does not come from that essence, “verily, you are that essence”. “O Svetaketu, do you understand what I am telling you? This great but most subtle essence of all the worlds is the Truth, the Atman, the Supreme Reality within you, and you are That (tat tvam asi)”.

26.1. Uddalaka observes that eventually, at the end, everything in existence is absorbed back into That from which everything emerged. It is the same In the case of an individual too.  At his death, man reverses in successive steps towards that being from which he originated. The speech merges into mind, the mind into prana, the prana into heat and the heat, the last to depart, into the Pure Being. This process occurs in every case, as in nature, no matter whether one is aware of it or not. The process of going back is natural and does not depend on the striving of the individual. But one who is fully conscious and understands the Reality at each stage of the process gains freedom. Such knowing or not-knowing is perhaps the difference between knowledge and ignorance.

27.1. He asks his son to exercise the mind which is endowed with fabulous capacity to observe, to reason and infer, in order to gain insight into the Reality. He advises that when both his intellect and his senses do not help in leading him on the right path, he should seek guidance from a proper teacher (acharya) who knows. An ardent seeker who finds an illumined teacher attains freedom. And, in the end it is truth that protects.

27.2. But , Uddalaka cautions his son , the proof of the existence of One subtle –force (Sat) which gives birth to and sustains all life is beyond the realm of subjective sense -cognition. It is possible to understand That only through reasoning, grasped in faith. Uddalaka urges Svetaketu: ‘śraddhatsva somyeti; have faith, my dear’ (Ch. Up. 6.12.2).

27.3. Uddalaka, in his teaching, does not refer to a God or any other Supernatural Being as creator. According to him, the process of evolution, sustenance and eventual withdrawal into the source follows its own natural laws, at each stage.

lotus design

Universe and its beginning

28.1. The question of the origin of the Universe and the process of evolution comes up for discussion on several occasions in the Samhitas, as also in the Upanishads. Many seers offered their explanations; and, there are, therefore, numerous theories on the subject. For instance, one theory in Rig Veda (RV 10.72) states that originally there was nothing (a-sat) and out of it being (sat) evolved. Similarly Taittiriya Upanishad (Tai.Up.2.7) mentions “Non-being, indeed, was here in the beginning (asad vaa idam agra aasiit) “. Another theory in Rig Veda (RV.10.129) speculates that in the beginning there was neither being nor non- being, but (somehow) the One , a living being, came into existence; and , it expresses a philosophical doubt as to how the universe may have evolved.

28.2. Uddalaka rejects the earlier notions of evolution of the universe. He asks how something could come out of nothing. And, he asserts that there must have been an original being from which everything in the Universe has come forth (Ch.Up.6:2:1, 2).It is not abstract; and, it is alive.  He proposes and tries to establish, methodically, a series of stages of development, explaining how all reality has emanated out of the Being.

[Even at the very early stages of Indian thought, two groups had clearly emerged: the one that asserted the hypotheses of the Being, and the other of non-Being . Both left strong impressions on the later Indian speculations. In a way of speaking, the history subsequent Indian philosophy is mostly about the unfolding and expansion, a wider application, continued modifications of these two ancient postulates, or   departure from either.]

28.3. Uddalaka puts forward a hypothesis: “In the beginning, my dear, this universe was Being (Sat); alone, one and only without a second (Sat tu eva, saumya, idam agra asid). Some say that in the beginning this was non-being (asat); and from that non—being, the Being was born (Kutas tu khalu, saumya, evam syat, iti hovaca, asatah saj jayeteti).” How is it possible for a Being to emerge out of Non-Being? (Katham, asatah saj jayeteti). Has anyone seen such a phenomenon? I agree, something might produce something; but, how can nothing produce something? … Listen to me my dear, In the beginning only being was here, one alone, without a second – ekam eva advaitam (Ch. Up. 6.2.2),by virtue of which everything evolved.

Kutas tu khalu, saumya, evam syat, iti hovaca, katham, asatah saj jayeteti, sat tu eva, saumya, idam agra asid ekam evadvitiyam.

[The term Sat (extended into Satyam) had several meanings depending on the context. Sri Sayanacharya has written a gloss explaining several meanings that could be ascribed to the term. For our limited purpose, Sat signifies a single (without a second) Reality existing in the beginning. A-sat is the opposite of Sat; it was non-existent at the beginning. Sat is the enduring ground; while a-sat, as opposed, is the transient variation. While sat is the substance (as in satva), a-sat relates to appearances as forms and names.

In the context of creation theories, Sat perhaps meant “this which is here and now”, and a-sat meant “that which has not yet come to be”. The Creation is understood as the transformation of the un-manifest into manifest; it is a process of becoming from Being.]

The Reality that pervades all existence

29.1. Sat, according to Uddalaka, is the origin of all things, all beings. There is nothing that does not come from Sat. It is the subtle essence that pervades all existence at all times. Of everything, Sat is its inmost Self. It is infinitely subtle and practically invisible; and one may even mistake it for non-existent.

29.2. Uddalaka demonstrates how the apparent nothingness at the innermost core of a seed holds within its womb the essence and the existence of a huge tree.” O soumya, the gentle one, in that finest part of the seed, in the core of its invisible essence resides, hidden and unperceived, the huge banyan tree (nagrodha). Is that not a wonder? Have faith in what I say” (Ch.Up.6.12.1-4). The whole varied world arises and continues to exist like a banyan tree, born and animated by virtue of That invisible essence.

Tam hovacha yam vai, saumya, etam animanam na nibhalayase, etasya vai, saumya, esho’nimna evam mahan nyagrodhas-tishthati srddhatsva, saumya iti.

“Just as that subtlest unseen essence pervades the tree, Similarly, Sat, subtle and invisible, pervades all existence. It is like a lump of salt dissolved in a jug of water, which you wouldn’t see; yet, it is there all the time. That subtle essence Sat is the truth, the Atman (Ch.Up.6.12.6). Everything comes from That and everything merges back into That. It is in all beings. You like the tree and the world, is made of that essence. The evidence of that can be grasped by reasoning and faith. Svetaketu, you are That (tat tvam asi).

Sa ya esho’nima aitad atmyam idam sarvam, tat satyam, sa atma, tat-tvam-asi, svetaketo, iti;

[This often repeated great epithet, sad-vidya or maha –vakya, at a much later time was adopted by the Vedanta School to assert oneness of Atman  with Brahman.

However, Uddālaka Āruṇi does not use the term “Brahman”— either in his instruction to his son Śvetaketu, or on any other of his many appearances in the Upanishads.

As regards the question of identity of Atman with Brahman, the concept , it seems , grew in stages over long periods. Although Śāṇḍilya’s teaching of atman and Brahman is often considered the central doctrine of the Upanishads, it is important to remember that this is not the only characterization either of the self or of ultimate reality. While some teachers, such as Yājñavalkya, also equate atman with Brahman (BU 4.4.5), others, such as Uddālaka Āruṇi, do not make this identification.

Moreover, it is often unclear, even in Śāṇḍilya’s teaching, whether linking atman with Brahman refers to the complete identity of the self and ultimate reality, or if atman is considered an aspect or quality of Brahman. Such debates about how to interpret the teachings of the Upanishads have continued throughout the Indian philosophical tradition, and are particularly characteristic of the Vedanta Darshana.

Uddālaka’s famous phrase tat tvam asi was later taken by Sri  Śankara to be a statement of the identity of atman and Brahman]

29.3. In order to explain his views, Uddalaka makes use of number of metaphors from the natural world. For instance, he compares Atman that exists in all beings to the nectar, despite originating from different plants, when gathered together forms a homogeneous whole. In the same way, he talks of the rivers flowing down from all directions merging into the ocean and losing their identities (Ch. Up. 6.9.1, 6.10.1–2).A wave or a bubble arising out of the vast waters of the sea loses its form and identity on merger with the sea .

Uddalaka argues, all living beings merge into existence – “whatever they are in this world a tiger, a lion, a wolf, a boar, a wolf, a worm , a gnat or a mosquito they all become That (Ch.Up.6.9.3; 6.10.2.). The process of returning to the source is a natural process and it does not depend on the striving of the individual to attain a certain ‘state’.

As bees suck nectar from many a flower / And make their honey one, so that no drop / Can say, “I am from this flower or that,” / All creatures, though one, know not they are that One.

Yatha, saumya, madhu madhukrto nistishthanti, nanatyayanam vrkshanam rasan samavaharam katam rasam gamaynti.

Te yatha tatra na vivekam labhante, amushyaham vrkshasya raso’smi, amushyaham vrkshasya  rasosmiti, evam eva khalu, saumya, imah sarvah
prajah sati sampadya na viduh, sati sampadyamaha iti

As the rivers flowing east and west/Merge in the sea and become one with it / Forgetting they were ever separate streams, / So do all creatures lose their separateness/ When they merge at last into pure Being.

Imah, saumya, nadyah purastat pracyah syandante, pascat praticyah tah samudrat samudram evapiyanti, sa samudra eva bhavati, ta yatha yatra na viduh, iyam aham asmi, iyam aham asmiti.

30.1. Then he points to a tree and says it is entirely pervaded with the living self. The tree stands alive, rejoicing moisture and fresh air, drinking in and taking in all that is good: ‘If one were to strike at the bottom of this big tree, it would bleed; but it will continue to live.  If one were to strike at the middle, it would bleed, but live. And,  if one were to strike at the top, it would bleed,  but live. Pervaded by the living self, the tree continues to live happily, drinking in its nourishment. That is to say, if life (jiva) leaves one of its branches then that branch withers, but, the tree continues to live. But in case the life were to leave the whole tree, then, the tree withers and dies’. In exactly the same manner,  “That which loses life dies; but life (jiva) itself does not die  (Ch. Up. 6:11:1-3)”.

1. Asya, saumya mahato vrkshasya yo mule’bhyahanyat, jivan sravet; yo
madhye’bhyahanyat, jivan sravet yo’gre ‘bhyahanyat, jivan sravet, sa esha
jivenatmana’nuprabhutah pepiyamano modamanastishthati.

3. Jivapetam vava kiledam mriyate, na jivo mriyata iti, sa ya esho’nima etad-atmyam idam sarvam, tat satyam, sa atma, tat-tvam-asi, svetaketo, iti;

Life is more than that which meets the eye. And life as life shall never die. The conditional existence (nama-rupa) of the world might vanish, but not the Sat, its underlying Reality.

30.2. Here, Uddalaka is pointing to the difference between a living organism that can survive injury, take nourishment, recover and flourish; and a dead limb, disconnected from the vitalizing principle (jiva), the source of life of the whole tree. That jiva is later identified by Uddalaka with the Atman.

30.3. Through these exercises Svetaketu learns that the Universe we live in – macro and micro – can be studied and understood. The Universe in all its aspects is infinite, complete and conserved. He learns that Self is not mere ‘me’, but is the knower.

“When a person is absorbed in dreamless sleep (swapiti) he is one with the Self, though he knows it not. We say he sleeps, but he sleeps in the Self. As a tethered bird grows tired of flying about in vain to find a place of rest and settles down at last on its own perch, so the mind, tired of wandering about hither and thither, settles down at last In the Self, dear one, to whom it is bound. All creatures, dear one, have their source in That. That is their home; That is their strength. There is nothing that does not come from That. Of everything That is the inmost Self. That is the truth; the Self supreme. You are That, Svetaketu; you are That.”  (Ch.Up.6.8.1-2)

1. Uddalako harunih svetaketum putram uvaca, svapnantam me, saumya, vijanihiti, yatraitat purushah svapiti nama, sata, saumya, tada sampanno bhavati svam apito bhavati, tasmadenam
svapitity-acakshate svam he apito bhavati

2. Sa yatha sakunih sutrena prabaddho disam disam patit-vanyatrayatanam-alabdhva bandhanam evopasrayate, evam eva khalu, saumya tan mano disam disam patit-vanyatrayatanam-alabdhva pranam evopasrayate prana bandhanam hi, saumya, mana iti.


31.1. Uddalaka conceived matter as one continuous whole in which all things are mixed up. All matter, according to him, is derived from the three basic elements (dhatu: fire, water and earth principles), which, are qualitatively different from one another; and each of it has something of the other two. These elements are infinitely divisible. According to Uddalaka, there is nothing in the world that is unmixed.

31.2. Uddalaka expands on this idea in his ‘doctrine of mantha’. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (Brh.Up.3.7.1) refers to the doctrine of Mantha (a super-fine mix of ingredients) in fair detail. The term mantha denotes: to churn, to blend or to a churning –rod (say, as in the verse: Krishnam vande mantha – pasa dharm, describing the boy Krishna holding a churning – rod). The concept is derived from pounding, fine mixing and blending of various ingredients into a smooth paste (Dravadravye prakshiptâ mathitâh saktavah).

Uddalaka visualizes matter as a super-fine paste, an extremely fine mixture of infinitely small particles or atoms (anu) which are qualitatively dissimilar. The atoms incredibly minute, abundant in number are fantastically durable. The long-lived atoms really go round. They unite, separate and reunite forming incredible numbers of varieties of forms.

All matter is composed of infinite number of infinitely small seeds of things (bijani) or minds (manas), so mixed together and so tightly packed they appear as a continuous whole leaving no scope for void. These particles, according to Uddalaka, are qualitatively different from each other and are divisible. Each of those small particles is in a churning motion within itself. With the aid of the churning motion within, they spontaneously unfold or evolve, each according to its quality or nurture.

31.3. But, all matter composed of such infinite number of   minute particles is animated by one and the same pure and invisible energy (Sat). Therefore, every instance of matter, beings or organisms is an animated throbbing whole, all parts of which being enlivened by one and the same living principle, in varying degrees of vitality.

31.4. Uddalaka is talking about the essential unity of the divisible and the un-divisible; of the particular and the universal; of the Being and the non-being; of the Atman and That primordial subtle essence.


32.1. Uddalaka puts forth his hypothesis of evolution. According to him the Reality, the Sat, the pure Being desired to become many (bahusyam). First, it entered into fire or heat / light principle (tat teja aiksata); then, heat, by the same desire, produced water principle (tat apah asrajata); and water, having the same desire, in turn produced earth principle – matter or food (tat annam asrajanta).

[In the language of these texts, the term Annam has multiple meanings. Here, Annam refers not merely to food but also to the earth, the plants and all matter. Following that, anything that is external to consciousness is Annam, food. Again, that which proceeds from condensation of water is food. An object of thought is also food. Further, the terms fire, water, earth stand for all the subtle elements of that nature. ]

32.2. Resorting to the metaphor of a tree (Ch.Up.6.8, 4-6), Uddalaka explains that Sat is the root (mula), of which tejas (fire) is the sprout (srunga).Tejas in its turn is the root, of which apah (water) is the sprout. And, apah in its turn becomes the root, of which anna (food) is the sprout. Every successive effect was already present in the original cause or deity (Devatha).

[Uddalaka’s use of the term Devatha (deity) is rather ambiguous. He employs the term in metaphysical sense and also to refer to the three dominant elements. His metaphysical Devatha could be construed as pure and unmixed, one and indivisible, universal and un-manifested. His reference to the elements (tejas – fire, apah -water and anna – earth) as Devatha might be because they all are highly concentrated form of matter; charged, inspired and enlivened by the one and the same living-principle (prana).Generally, Devatha appears to denote the physical power of existence that is in motion within itself.   Devatha, here, more often refers to matter than to the spirit (prana).]

The subtlest condition of fire is ether, the material basis of sound. The subtlest condition of water is air, the material basis of vital breath. The subtlest condition of earth is food, the material basis for mind or its functions.

32.3. Then, each of the three elements combined in itself something of the other two elements. Following that everything else in the universe came forth including man, mind, and matter.


33.1. Uddalaka then moves on to creation of organisms born out of heat and moisture of earth. The birth-types are classified according to the origin and mode of development. He says; all physical bodies (animals, plants and humans) come into the world in one of three ways: by an egg (andajam), by the womb (jaraujam), or through a seed (udhbijam). Each of these Jivas becomes three-fold, due to the three elements entering in them. They all are enlivened by consciousness in varying degrees

[Tesam khalv esam bhutanam triny eva bijani bhavanti, andajam, jivajam, udbhijjam iti – Ch.Up.6.3.2.]

[Some versions mention a fourth classification: svedaja, coming out of dirt, dust, sweat, etc.]

Scheme of things

34 .1. In Uddalaka’s scheme of things, evolution follows its own natural laws. There is no role envisaged for a Creator. What is discussed here is mainly the process.

Uddalaka conceives the original being (Sat) as alive and capable of forming a wish (sankalpa). It wished to become many (bahau – bhavitam-iccha); and therefore, Sat entered into each of the three primal elements as its life, its essence and its own living self. The three subtle elements heat, water and anna (food or matter) are also  conceived as  living; and, are indeed referred to as divinities (Devatha) .The three elements too  wished  to produce multiplicity of objects  having  certain inward nature (nama) and outward appearance or form (rupa) , having visible shape with colours. Everything in the world is therefore alive from the beginning.  Thus, the matter of the Universe is  alive having desires to grow. And, it is by the power of this urge that evolution takes place.

34.2. Here, the Sat did not ‘create ‘anything. Sat entered into the elements; extended into matter.

Another important feature of Uddalaka’s hypothesis is that, the Original Being, as it enters into the elements, is not divided in the process of emanation; but it remains the Absolute.

One in many and many into one

35.1. Uddalaka builds a systematic relation between the cause (mula or root) and its effect (shoot or shrunga). He believes the effect resides in its cause; in other words, things are contained in one another. Uddalaka provides an illustration:” My dear, when the curds are churned, its minute essence rises upward to the surface and forms butter. That does not mean, the curd transformed itself to butter. It is merely that the seeds of butter concealed in the curds were extracted by the aid of churning action. And so it is with everything else” (Ch.Up.6.6.1)

[Incidentally, the Buddha, too, following the general principle ‘Being follows from Being’ put forward his concept of continual ‘coming –to-be and passing –away’ as in a series of changes each rooted in its preceding one. This process of ever changing or becoming was neither capricious nor pre-ordained but went on by way of natural causation. He too, just as Uddalaka, did not talk in terms of an agent that causes/ brings about changes, but he brought focus on the order of things itself.

When faced with questions such as ‘who desires’.’ who creates’, ‘who controls’ etc he replied the questions were wrongly framed  and were not ‘sound questions’. The proper form of questions should be, he said, ‘through what conditions do desire or becoming etc occur’ (Samyutta Nikaya-2.13).In other words, there is no person or agent or soul whatever who does things. But there is only the process or the series of events which occur under certain conditions.

The Buddha also rejected the idea of the universe (loka) as an entity which had a definite beginning or an end; or as a changeless eternal substance.  He, on the other hand, held universe as a process (samsara) which had no definite origin (Samyutta Nikaya-2.178). Universe, according to him, is of natural and impersonal forces and processes driven by conditions ; and is not an enduring substance. In other words, universe is a system governed by its own sets of conditions and laws.

“Leave aside the questions of the beginning and the end. I will instruct you in the Dhamma: ‘If that is, this comes to be; on springing of that, these springs up. If that is not, this does not come to be; on cession of that, this ceases’. (Majjhima-nikaya, II. 32)

The Buddha employed Uddalaka’s simile and  extended it further  : “ Just as from milk comes curds , from curds butter , from butter ghee , from ghee junket;  but, when it is milk it is not called curds, or butter , or ghee or junket; and, when it is curds it is not called by any of the other names; and so on”.

Here, He was not only putting forward his concept of the law of causation but was also pointing to the principle of identity at each stage. Each state in the chain of changes is real in its own context and when it is ‘present’; and it is not real when it was past as ‘something that it was’; and also not real when in future ‘it will be something’.]

35.2. Having established that heat (taapa) emanated out of Sat, Uddalaka proceeds from heat to water and from there to matter. Among the later derivatives of the elements are the components of human body (flesh, blood, bone, breath etc) including mind (manas). He explains that food (or earth) is dependent on water; and, food, in turn, is the cause of man or his mind. These two-mind and matter- are indeed two aspects of the same element or power (Devatha).

“ So these three compose the world, first heat which is to say warmth in all its forms; the waters the liquidity,  the fluency in all matter, and  all moistures the elixirs of life in multiple forms , in our frames, plants  and  clouds, And food, that is solids , due sometime for one to eat but in turn be eaten by another for that is the way of all existence.

Although the substances are compounds of the elements; the elements themselves are real. They beget one another; and the Being enters them ‘with this living self’ and dwelling in them makes out their names and forms”.

35.3. Uddalaka asserts, repeatedly, everything in existence is produced by the three-fold (tri – vrit – karana) combination of these original elements (tanmatra) in varying proportions. Therefore, all the objects in the world; the nama – rupa, their name and form; are the result of the various combinations of the three elements (tanmatra). That is to say, all the variety in this world, whatever is their numbers and whatever be their forms, they all are the expressions of these three elements.

35.4. Again, each of the three elements has in itself certain properties of the other two elements. Fire, for instance, Uddalaka says, contains within itself not merely heat but something of the other two, its visibility and its colour (red). Similarly where there is water, there is food.

Generally, he says, the redness one sees in the objects is due to the fire principle in them; the whiteness that dazzles is due to the water principle; and, the darkness is due to the earth principle. These powers (the elements) are   present in an object as its intrinsic or essential property; and they are not separate from that object. If the threefold presence of the elements -fire, water and earth- is withdrawn from the object, then nothing will be left of that object. Uddalaka   says, therefore, whoever knows the three fundamental elements, understand the visible world. He seems to be saying that in order to understand something, it is essential to understand the elements with which it is composed.

36.1. Uddalaka explains that in order to bring forth multiplicity into  existence; to develop names – and –  forms in order to facilitate  distinguishing  one from the other; or , to set them in order, Sat entered into all elements as their living principle (jiva). That living principle is identical in almost every respect with the universal spirit (Sat or Prana). It animates in varying degrees all kinds of matter. Therefore, what is really extant in matter is the living principle.

36.2. The various distinct natures as also their names and forms (nama-rupa) are conceptions of the mind to distinguish one object from the other in this world of conditional existence. But the proof of the existence of subtle –force is beyond sense-cognition which is subjective. It is possible understand That only through reasoning, grasped in faith.

Nama –rupa

37.1. In order to introduce his doctrine of ultimate elements out of which the whole universe is constituted and of the still more ultimate being , Uddalaka points out how things superficially different may essentially be the same . “‘My child, as by knowing one lump of clay, all things made of clay are known; the difference being only in form and  name  arising from speech; and the truth being that all are clay. Similarly, by knowing a nugget of gold, all things made of gold are known; from one copper ornament everything made of copper are known; and, by one pair of nail scissors all that are made of iron are known; they differ only in name and form and as a matter of verbal classification, while in reality it is all iron . The different names used for different objects made from the same substance are mere conventions of speech for easy identification; but ,in fact ,the  nature of all objects made of same substance is one  “(Ch. Up. 6:1:4-6).

yathā somyaikena mṛtpiṇḍena sarvaṃ mṛnmayaṃ vijñātaṃ syāt | vācārambhaṇaṃ vikāro nāmadheyaṃ mṛttikety eva satyam || ChUp_6,1.4 ||

yathā somyaikena lohamaṇinā sarvaṃ lohamayaṃ vijñātaṃ syāt | vācārambhaṇaṃ vikāro nāmadheyaṃ loham ity eva satyam || ChUp_6,1.5 ||

yathā somyaikena nakhanikṛntanena sarvaṃ kārṣṇāyasaṃ vijñātaṃ syāt vācārambhaṇaṃ vikāro nāmadheyaṃ kṛṣṇāyasam ity eva satyam | evaṃ somya sa ādeśo bhavatīti || ChUp_6,1.6

37.2. Uddalaka is delineating the relation that exists between a particular material and all the objects made of that material (material causality). He is not suggesting that by knowing one material, the nature of all objects in the world made of other materials would become known. Nor is he suggesting that all objects in the world are made of the same material. Uddalaka’s claim is that, an understanding of the material of which any given object is made, yields an understanding of all other objects made of that material. Therefore, every object can be reduced to its constituents; and there is nothing in the object except its constituents.

37.3. At the same time, Uddalaka recognizes the distinctions we make amongst the different objects, made of the same substance, based on their form, structure and verbal identifications. Such object –form- distinctions are the concepts of the mind; and not intrinsic or not directly related to their cause which is uniform.  He explains, the cause and effect, the root (mula) and the shoot (shrunga) might look dissimilar having different attributes (lakshana), but their essential identity is the same. This perhaps is Uddalaka’s understanding of Nama – Rupa (name and form) – conditioned existence- which becomes relevant when one becomes many; and when there are multiplicities of objects.

38.1. Uddalaka extends his argument and suggests that since all things in the world are made by the combination of the three fundamental elements (dhatus) – fire, water, and matter, the world is nothing but the nama-rupa of these elements. Therefore, we can understand the nature of the world if we understand the nature of these three elements. Uddalaka extends this line of argument further, and says: since the three fundamental elements which make the world are mere emanations of That (Sat), the entire creation is ultimately nothing but the nama – rupa of That One single Reality. Uddalaka asserts; If you take away names and forms from this existence, what remains is That (sat).


39.1. Uddalaka extends the argument from forms to colours; and says that the colours we perceive are again the expressions of the three elements: heat, water and Anna or earth. Red (rohita) is the form of heat (tejas); white (shukla) the form of waters (apah); and black (tama) the form of food (anna) or earth principle. And, that which is ‘un-understood ‘is the combination of the three divinities (Devatha). (Ch.Up.6.4.6)

yad u rohitam ivābhūd iti tejasas tad rūpam iti tad vidāṃ cakruḥ | yad u śuklam ivābhūd ity apāṃ rūpam iti tad vidāṃ cakruḥ | yad u kṛṣṇam ivābhūd ity annasya rūpam iti tad vidāṃ cakruḥ || ChUp_6,4.6 ||

39.2. He then offers illustrations from nature. “Observe how these elemental forms present themselves, each in its own disguise, in these: Fire, sun, moon, and lightening, the powers – the four that shine”.

“First watch the fire advancing in the woods. It kindles as ‘red’; it is heat we see. It then glows as ‘white’; it is the fluidity in fire that allows it to flow and to spread like streams of water. When it is lowering back into ground as char, it is earth the solid that is presented to our eyes. (Ch.Up.6.4.1)

Next , watch the sun. As it rises, it is red- the color of heat. As it moves up the sky it is white and more white, a brilliant pool of brightness that seethes’ to its brim. It is then in the nature of water, spreading out fluently and relentlessly. And, descending down from its height, it sinks into black on to the solid earth.

Therefore, red, white or black are just putting names to forms of one and the same thing that does not change. The truth is; these are appearances of the three elements that constitute the world, which are born of One reality.” (Ch.Up.6.4.2)

“The moon perchance raises red. Then it slowly turns white and shines;   and wanes thereafter. The waters are teeming in, filling it up and passing out again. When these have gone out, we see black. Then it is nature of earth.

Therefore, red, white or black are just putting names to forms of one and the same thing that does not change”. (Ch.Up.6.4.3)

“When lighting breaks all of a sudden it is red, the heat. Next we see the flashes of white that run across the sky as rivers of dazzling light streaming down the mountain rocks in jets of white. It is then the waters. And as it strikes a tree and subsides into its trunk, it turns black.

Here again , the ‘red’ ,’white’ or ‘black’ are mere names we give to the forms we see. But the reality is one which is made of heat, water and earth, the three constituents that make the world; and these three again are enlivened by That Reality.” (Ch.Up.6.4.4)

yad vidyuto rohitaṃ rūpaṃ tejasas tad rūpam |yac chuklaṃ tad apām |yat kṛṣṇaṃ tad annasya | apāgād vidyuto vidyuttvam | vācārambhaṇaṃ vikāro nāmadheyaṃ trīṇi rūpāṇīty eva satyam || ChUp_6,4.4 ||

“Understand then, recognizing by colours and calling by names is similar to assigning names to objects formed, say, of clay, iron or gold etc. The colours too are the visible forms of the three dominant elements, the aspects of That”.

39.3. Thus, Uddalaka suggests that whenever we see an object, we usually see only those aspects which the eyes can see or the senses can grasp; and not its fundamental nature. The colours that we see in objects are really the threefold presence of the elements. No object in the world is independent of the three elements.

39.4. The contrast between the name assigned to a thing and its intrinsic property serves as an introduction to Uddalaka’s teaching on his classification of matter according to degrees of fineness of its essence: coarse, medium and fine.

Food – Body – Mind

40.1. Uddalaka maintains that man consists sixteen parts or fractions (shodasha kala); each equivalent to a day. And, if  a person  fasts for fifteen days , at the end of the fifteenth day he is exhausted ,  his psychic functions almost fade away ; and he is left with only  one part (prana). It is as if a great fire has burnt out; and is like the dying coal leaving behind just the firefly-sized embers.

[Breath arises from water, according to Uddalaka; and therefore remains despite the fast. On taking food again, the mind is nourished, and its faculties flare up once more like the spark that finds fuel.]

40.2. In order to demonstrate dependence of mind’s working on food or nutrition, Uddalaka proposed an experiment which his son carried  out (Ch. Up. 6. 7).  Accordingly, Svetaketu abstained from food for fifteen days, but taking only water. At the end of fifteenth day he was unable to recall and recite the hymns he had learnt earlier. On taking food again, his mind was revitalized and his memory returned. This exercise was meant to show the dependence of mind and its working on food and nutrition; and more particularly to demonstrate the unity of body and mind, with life as their common support. In another context, It strengthened the argument that the mind originates from food (anna); and, that mind and matter are indeed the two aspects of the same element.

Assimilation of food in body-parts

41.1. Uddalaka Aruni explains to his son that human beings too are composed of the elements of heat, water and food (solids); and, each of the elements have three different degrees of fineness: the gross, the medium and the subtle.  He then elucidates how the food intake contributes to the development of various organs of the body and influences their functions: ‘the foods we consume produce our flesh, blood, mind, life energy (prana), and the rest’.  According to him, the highest human functions are composed of the finest degrees of these elements: the organ of thought is composed of the finest degree of food, the life-breath of the finest degree of water; and the speech of the finest degree of heat.

41.2. All that we eat and drink is not absorbed by the body.   When the food (including solid, watery and hot substances) is churned and processed in the stomach, its ingredients are separated according to the degree of their fineness, in three ways : gross, medium and fine (Ch.Up.6.5.1).

annam aśitaṃ tredhā vidhīyate | tasya yaḥ sthaviṣṭho dhātus tat purīṣaṃ bhavati |
yo madhyamas tan māṃsam | yo ‘ṇiṣṭhas tan manaḥ || ChUp_6,5.1 ||

As regards the gross: some part of the solids and liquids (food, water and fire principles) are thrown out as ‘ excrement ‘ and   so too is  ‘ the noisome thing and so set in the bilge for riddance’ ;  while some parts of the gross fiery food (ghee, oils etc) are absorbed into bones.

In regard to that which is medium:    the medium of food (solids) is absorbed into the flesh ‘the tender wrap that clothes the bones’; the medium of water into the blood ‘ the tide of warming crimson that surges the heart within’; and the medium of the fiery substance goes into the bone marrow.

But, the most subtle and vibratory part which is the essence of all that we consume rises up (just as butter emerges when milk is churned); and goes into the mind and its functions. “ So my dear , the passage from coarse to fine , from dense to subtle , just as with the coagulated milk when churned all its essence rises up above the thickened curd , a crown of shining smooth butter fit to pour upon leaping  yajna flames reaching  up to the gods” (Ch.Up.6.6.1-2).

The subtlest portion of the solids goes to the mind; the subtlest portion of the watery substances becomes prana (life force) and virility; and the subtlest portion of the hot substances to the speech (Ch.Up.6.6.2-4).

tejasaḥ somyāśyamānasya yo ‘ṇimā sa ūrdhvaḥ samudīṣati | sā vāg bhavati || ChUp_6,6.4 ||

41.3. The thinking faculty of a person is thus influenced by the most subtle essence of what he consumes, comprising the three elements: The mind is made of the finest degree of food (anna) element; the life-breath (prana) and virility are influenced by the finest degree of water elements (apah); and speech (vac) by the finest degree of fiery elements (teja).

42.1. Thus, the three subtle elements (tanmatra) —fire, water and earth—enter into, sustain and become a part of our system. Our senses, our prana, our mind and our speech, are all influenced by the foods and drinks we consume: “The mind is the essence of food; prana of water; and speech of heat. You are made up of these elements”. (Ch.Up.6.5.4)

annamayaṃ hi somya manaḥ |āpomayaḥ prāṇaḥ |tejomayī vāg iti |bhūya eva mā bhagavān vijñāpayatv iti | tathā somyeti hovāca || ChUp_6,5.4 ||

42.2. Uddalaka explains, what we call hunger (ashana) is nothing but the dissolution of the physical food by the element of water and the absorption of it into the system. What you call thirst (pipasa) is similarly the absorption of the water element in the system by the fire principle within us. In short, at each stage, the effect is consumed by the cause and is absorbed into its own self (e.g. food into water; and water into heat) . This process continues until all effects are absorbed into the final cause of all things, where they abide absolutely and completely.

Asana-pipase me, saumya, vijanihiti yatraitat puruso asishati nama, apa eva tad asitam nayante: tad yatha gonayo svanayah purushanaya iti, evam tad apa acakshate asanayeti, tatraitacchungam utpatitam, saumya, vija nihi, nedam amulam bhavishyatiti.

The withdrawal

43.1. Uddalaka asserts; everything comes from That; and, eventually everything is absorbed back into That (Sat). At the time of dissolution, everything reverses in time; the three elements collapse back into the original being. That does not mean the universe that once was, is reduced to nothingness; for, ‘something does not become nothing, just as nothing does not become something’.  Uddalaka charts an inward course back to the very sources from which all existence originated. Speech recedes into breath, breath into mind, mind into prana; and prana back to Sat.

43.2. In the case of the individual too this process occurs, no matter whether one is aware of it or not. The process of going back to the source is natural and does not depend on the striving of the individual. But, one who is fully conscious and understands the Reality at each stage of the process gains freedom. It is that such knowing or not-knowing which perhaps makes the difference between knowledge and ignorance

[These ancient texts hold a view, among others, that our universe goes through eternal cycles of expansion followed by withdrawal or collapsing on itself. The process of expansion from the very core of the Universe is analogues to what has come to be called the Big-bang. However, it is preferable not to imagine the initial expansion as a thunderous explosion. It is rather understood as a sudden and a vast expansion on a truly enormous scale; but rather quietly. The theories of creation that are put forth are not merely about the initial outburst, but are more about what happened thereafter.

Here, the expansion or evolution takes place in stages, proceeding from the most subtle to the most gross; and the effect in each stage resides in its cause. And, therefore, it is said,’ it is not possible to get something out of nothing’. Eventually, all matter in existence retrace their steps, each effect collapsing into its cause, and finally into the original cause. That is, until the next cycle of expansion occurs.

The expanding universe is not conceived as a flat surface; but is visualized as curvilinear, bending on itself (Brahmanda – the Great Orb). It is therefore endless (anantha) or infinite. Everything in the universe is curvaceous, one stage leading into another. The sun’s rays too travel in a curved way as snakes do (bhujangana- mita).  Even man’s life too is not a flat journey starting at a point and ending at a point-of-no-return; it is a cycle. The course of human life is spherical; just as the capacious globe on which he lives.]

Death of a person

44.1. Coming back to the individual, Death of a person too is a process of withdrawal of prana; which, in effect, is retracing the steps over which the universe came into existence. It is the eventual way back into the ultimate source (Ch.Up.6.15). Thus at the time of death, man reverses, in inward steps, to that being from which he originated.  The speech merges into mind, the mind into prana, the prana into heat; and heat, the last to depart, into the Pure Being. In other words, each death is a re-enactment of the eventual withdrawal of universe into its original source. The process of withdrawal and expansion are, as explained, cyclical.

44.2. Uddalaka explains; when a person is fatally ill and facing death, his family gathers around and asks ‘do you know me? Do you recognize the one sitting next?’So long as his senses are awake he is aware of his surroundings and tries answering questions. But, when the senses are withdrawn into mind, the faculty of speech too subsides into the mind (Vang-manasi sampadyate). He might be aware; and might be able to think and to see, but he would not be able to speak. Next, is the absorption of mind into Prana (manah prane), wherein the breathing process continues, life exists, but there is neither thinking nor sensation. Then, the breath (Prana) is withdrawn into fire principle (heat in the system)-(pranah tejasi).  When Life (prana) is withdrawn there is neither consciousness nor bodily life.  The body thereafter becomes chill. That is to say, the fire element or heat too departs. But, heat is the last to leave the body. It is withdrawn into the Supreme Being – tejah parasyam devatayam – (Ch.Up.6.15.1).

Purusam, saumya, utopatapinam jnatayah paryupasate, janasi mam, janasi mam iti; tasya yavan na van manasi sampadyate, manah prane,
pranah tejasi, tejah parasyam devatayam tavajjanati

Atha yada’sya vanmanasi sampadyate, manah prane, pranastejasi, tejah parasyam devatayam, atha na janati.

Sa ya eso’nima aitad atmyam idam sarvam, tat satyam, sa atma tat-tvam-asi, svetaketo, iti; bhuya eva ma bhagavan vijnapayatv iti; tatha, saumya, iti hovaca

lotus design

Teaching methods

45.1. Uddalaka’s teaching method is skilful. Throughout his instructions, Uddalaka points to observable phenomena in life and in the surrounding nature. He sets up experiments, one after another, with a view to leading Svetaketu to proper understanding of the subject. He involves Svetaketu in a pattern of activity designed to raise questions in the young man’s mind.

For instance, he does not merely talk about the banyan seed; he gets Svetaketu to look at the fruit, to open it up, to extract the seed and then to break it open.  Svetaketu after breaking  open the seed reports ‘it is broken Sir’ (binna Bhagavah iti).At that point, when his son’s attention is on the broken seed  Uddalaka asks the boy ‘what do you see in it (Kim atra pashyati iti). Svetaketu replies ‘nothing Sir’ (kinchana Bhagavah iti).

Uddalaka explains to his son that finest part in the seed , the subtle essence within the seed which one does not see (yam na nibhalayase) is indeed the true essence (animnah). In it is hidden the big banyan tree (esah mahanya-nagrodhah). Have faith, dear one (sraddhatsva somya iti).

Uddalaka then names and identifies that subtle essence, presenting it as that from which the whole banyan tree grows. He then identifies that subtle unseen essence with Atman, with the Real, and, as that which Svetaketu himself truly is.

“Just as that subtlest unseen essence pervades the tree, Similarly, Sat, subtle and invisible, pervades all existence. That subtle essence Sat is the truth, the Atman (Ch.Up.6.12.3). Everything comes from That and everything merges back into That. It is in all beings. You like the tree and the world, is made of that essence. The evidence of that can be grasped by reasoning and faith. Svetaketu, you are That (tat tvam asi).

sa ya eṣo ‘ṇimaitad ātmyam idaṃ sarvam | tat satyam | sa ātmā | tat tvam asi śvetaketo iti |

That ‘nothingness’ need not be understood as void; that nothingness, however subtle, is never non-existent

The essence of the tree is in that seeming nothingness. The manifest emerges from the un-manifest. The cause, that nothingness, however subtle, is never non-existent. For, nothing can come out of nothing, and nothing can altogether vanish out of existence. Na-asti satah sambhavah; na sata atmahanam.

[Bhagavad-Gita follows this principle saying ‘there is no existence from what does not exist; there is no non-existence from what exists’ (BG; 2.16): Na-sata vidyate bhavo; na-bhavo vidyate Satah]

Uddalaka succeeds in imparting the teaching not through argument but by the force of the experience of Svetaketu as he peers at the ‘nothingness’ at the core of the split banyan seed , and understands it as an image of the nothing, which is the true-Self-of-all.

Similarly, In order to show Atman pervades everything but cannot be seen, he asks Svetaketu to add a chunk of salt into a jug of water. A day later, Svetaketu cannot locate the chunk of salt in the jug of water. However, he learns that even though he cannot see the salt he can taste it in every part of water in the jug. Through this experiment Svetaketu understands that like salt in water, Atman permeates his entire body though it is not directly observable by the senses.

In other examples, Uddalaka instructs his son about Atman by means of comparison with natural processes such as bees making honey, rivers running into ocean; and, sap flowing out of a tree.

45.2. Similarly, Uddalaka teaches his son Svetaketu the dependence of mental faculties on nutrition, by getting him to abstain from all food for fifteen days, save pure water. [Ch. Up. 6. 7]. At the end of fifteen days of fasting, Svetaketu is unable to recall any of the verses he had learnt earlier. Then Uddalaka compares Svetaketu’s temporary loss of memory to the sacrificial fire that has run out of fuel. Uddalaka then asks ‘eat, then you will remember’ (Ch. Up. 6.7.3). Uddalaka explains the connection between nourishment and mental faculties. Svetaketu understands the teaching well because he just had the experience of it.

Shodasa-kalah saumya purusah pancadaoahani masih kamam apah piba, apomayah prano na pibato vicchetsyata iti.

Sa ha pancadacahani na’sa atha hainam upasasada, kim bravimi bho iti, roah, saumya yajumsi samaniti; sa hovaca, na vai ma pratibhanti bho iti.

Tam hovaca, yatha saumya mahato’bhyahitasyaiko’ ngarah khadyota-mantrah parisishtah syat, tena tato’ pi na bahu dahet, evam saumya, te sodasanam kalanam eka kala’tisista syat tayaitarhi vedan nahubhavasi, asana atha me vijnasyasiti.

45.3. All these may be simple teaching methods; yet,  they do convey the lessons effectively well. Uddalaka is a good teacher. He comes down to the level of the student and provides illustrative examples, allegories, and images taken from life and nature that are easy to comprehend. The language used too is rich adorned with picturesque descriptions.

46.1. Thus, in the philosophical texts, Uddalaka Aruni was perhaps the first to apply a form of experimental verification . His method of investigation was based in observation of facts (drstanta) and drawing inference by way of induction. Which, in other words, was reasoning and generalization based on observation (than on speculation). The process of his inference moves from the particular to the general, from species to the genus or from appearances to reality.

It is said; a prominent landmark in the philosophy of his period was reached in the teachings of Uddalaka Aruni. According to Dr. Benimadhab Barua “ Indian philosophy took a systematic turn in the teachings of Uddalaka; for , it is here that we find different lines of thought branched off   to give rise in later times to the fundamental conceptions of Vedanta, Bauddha, Sankhya, Yoga , Nyaya and Vaisesika systems.”

[Uddalaka is credited with initiating a systematic way of investigating into nature. And, he is recognized as a rational thinker who attempted advancing logical proof for the reality of the Being. Yet, it would be incorrect to regard him as a rationalist through and through. Because, he also implicitly pre-supposed the Being as bringing forth primal elements and entering into them, in order to multiply. His approach could perhaps be called ‘rational mysticism’, if such a term exists.

His teachings would become more clear if they are read with passages on similar issues in other Upanishads, particularly the Katha, Mundaka and Svetasvatara Upanishads. ]

47.1. As regards the cognition, Uddalaka neither trusts nor distrusts the sense-perceptions. According to him, the senses provide information from which the knowing mind infers the nature as also the inter- relation of things among themselves. Uddalaka raises the question what can we perceive of objects from the senses? His answer to that is: nothing but sensations and impressions. According to him, power of human cognition is limited, as the knowledge gained through senses is subjective. The senses do not give us the knowledge of the absolute; one has to grasp that in reason and faith. Uddalaka urges Svetaketu: ‘śraddhatsva somyeti; have faith, my dear’ (Ch. Up. 6.12.2).

taṃ hovāca yaṃ vai somyaitam aṇimānaṃ na nibhālayasa etasya vai somyaiṣo ‘ṇimna evaṃ mahānyagrodhas tiṣṭhati | śraddhatsva somyeti || ChUp_6,12.2 ||

48.1. Uddalaka asks his son to exercise the mind which is endowed with fabulous capacity to observe, to reason and infer, in order to gain insight into the Reality. The sum of his assertion is that Self of the world, of him who knows, and of each being around us is one and the same; and it alone is real.

48.2. He advises that when both his intellect and his senses do not help in leading him on the right path, he should then seek guidance from a proper teacher (acharya) who knows. An ardent seeker who finds an illumined teacher attains freedom. And, in the end it is truth that protects.



Sources and References

Life in the Upanishads by Dr. Shubhra Sharma; Abhinav Publications, 1985

The History of Pre-Bhuddhistic Indian Philosophy by Dr .Benimadhab Barua; Motilal Banarsidass, 1921

The Upanishads by Ekanath Easwaran and Michael N Nagler; Nilgiri Press, 2007.

A Course in Indian Philosophy by AK Warder, Motilal Banarsidass, 2009

Indian Philosophy before the Greeks by David J Melling

Atman in pre-upanisadic Vedic literature By H G. Narahari; published by Adyar Library 1944.

What the Upanishads teach

The Chandogya Upanishad by Swami Krishnananada

Vedanta Philosophy in the Light of Modern Science by S.K. Dey


The Secret Lore of India and the One Perfect Life for All, By W. M. Teape, B.D. (Cambridge: 1932



Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Upanishads


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Who was Uddalaka Aruni – Part Two

Continued from Part One

Uddalaka Aruni – Life and his search

Philosopher- creation of Shri S Rajam

(Philosopher- creation of Shri S Rajam)

15.1. As mentioned earlier, Uddalaka Aruni was a classic student, teacher and a philosopher of the Upanishad times. He is recognized among all the Upanishad sages and teachers as the true representative of the Upanishad age and its spirit of rational enquiry. He   is reckoned    among great of thinkers and real philosophers. Uddalaka Aruni was systematic and cogent in his approach; and, he put forward rational explanations on the nature of Man and the nature of Universe without employing the terms Brahman or God. He retained till the end, an open mind and a keen desire to learn. He remained a student all his life; yet, he was the best of the teachers.

15.2. In the philosophical texts, Uddalaka Aruni was perhaps the first to apply a form of experimental verification . His method of investigation was based in observation of facts (drstanta) and drawing inference by way of induction. Which, in other words, was reasoning and generalization based on observation. The process of his inference moves from the particular to the general, from species to the genus or from appearances to reality.


16.1. According to Uddalaka, there is nothing that is unmixed in the material world. All matter is derived from three primordial elements (dhatus: fire, water and earth) combined in various proportions. Again, each of these elements has in it some traces of the other two.  And, every material substance is composed of infinite number of extremely small particles (anu), so tightly packed they appear as a continuous whole leaving no scope for void. Each of these particles, according to him, is qualitatively different from the other; and is infinitely divisible. Each minute particle (anu) is in a churning motion within itself, by virtue of which it spontaneously unfolds or evolves; each according to its quality or nature.

The particles ceaselessly separate and recombine into newer forms.

16. 2. But, all matter composed of infinite number of   minute particles is animated by one and the same pure and invisible energy (Sat). It pervades all parts of  all living bodies as their living principle (jiva).Therefore, each living body or an organism is an animated whole, all parts of which being   pervaded by one and the same living principle. That invisible power, the potent energy or vitality is present in the core of all beings, as in the womb of a tiny seed from which a huge banyan tree springs forth into existence. When that life-force leaves any part of the tree; say, a branch of the tree, then that branch withers away and ceases to an integral part of the living whole. And, when that life-force leaves the whole tree, then the tree withers and dies. But the living principle (jiva or atman) never dies.

16.3. Uddalaka conceives Sat, the origin of all things and all beings, not as an abstract concept but as real being; alive and capable of forming a wish. It appears to be a physical conception of the power of existence. It is absolute, pure and unmixed, indivisible, universal and un-manifested. When Sat entered into the three dominant elements in order to enliven them, it was not divided in the process; it remained the Absolute. There is nothing that does not come from Sat. Eventually, at the end; everything is absorbed back into That from which everything emerged. The process of going back is natural and automatic. It does not need a supernatural agency or the striving of the individual; and, it occurs in every case no matter whether one is aware of it or not.

[ He also rejected the ritualistic view that a certain thing is produced because a certain ritual is performed in a certain manner.]

16.4. Jiva or Atman is the living principle in individual beings, plants and matter; and it is identical in almost every respect with the universal spirit (Sat). It animates, in varying degrees, all kinds of matter. The various distinct  objects, their varied natures as also their names and forms (nama-rupa) that one comes across in this world of conditional existence are conceptions of the mind and verbal identifications to enable one to distinguish one object from the other. But the proof of the existence of One subtle –force (Sat) which gives birth to and sustains all life is beyond the realm of subjective sense-cognition. It is possible understand That only through reasoning, grasped in faith.

[Here , Sat and the elements (dhatus) are, roughly, analogues to Purusha and Prakrti of the Samkhya. But, in Uddalaka’s hypothesis they work together and are entwined, unlike in Samkhya where they are ever separate.]

16.5. Following his observations and reasoning, Uddalaka tried to demonstrate the essential oneness of man and nature; that everything in the universe is made from the primeval matter, which in turn is enlivened by one and the same life-force. According to him, in the ultimate analysis, man is nothing but an evolution of  That essence. His view was crisply captured in the epithet “That thou art, Svetaketu (Tat tvam asi)”.

16.6. Uddalaka did not involve a supernatural agency in the making of man or his world. He did not refer to God or any other Supernatural Being. According to him, the process of evolution, sustenance and eventual withdrawal into the source follows, at each stage, its own natural laws. Death according to him is a natural phenomenon where the body disintegrates into matter, water and heat. And, its living-principle (jiva) eventually resolves back into ‘Sat’ the primal source.

Early years

17.1. Uddalaka’s power of exposition shines forth in part six of the Chandogya Upanishad. He also figures in Kausitaki Upanishad (Kau.Up.1.1-2) and in Satapatha Brahmana (11. 4.1-9) where he is portrayed as a person of considerable wisdom and humility that is ever willing to learn from whosoever possessed knowledge he wished to acquire. Mahabharata briefly refers to an incident from his early student days, picturing him as an earnest pupil of Rishi Ayodah-Dhaumya (Mbh.1.3.638). This incident brings out Uddalaka’s dedication to work and absolute faith in his teacher’s commands.

17.2. Uddalaka son of Aruna Aupavesi of Gautama gotra, resident of Kuru-Panchala Desha, came from a long line of sage-scholars. His country, Panchala Desha, is identified as a region in Madhya Desha; the region south of the Himalayan foothills and the North of the Ganga in the present-day Uttar Pradesh. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (6.5.2-3) in its linage of teachers (vamsha-brahmana) lists fourteen generations of revered teachers and scholars of great merit. According to that rendering, Uddalaka Aruni was the son of Aruna Aupavesi Gautama who was the son or disciple of Upavesa. It is said; Upavesa followed Kushri the student of   Vajasravas. Uddalaka’s immediate ancestors were scholars of great merit. His father Aruna is an important name even in Satapatha Brahmana, while Upavesha is mentioned in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad as a great Rishi.

yājñavalkya uddālakāt |uddālako ‘ruṇāt | aruṇa upaveśeḥ | upaveśiḥ kuśreḥ | kuśrir vājaśravasaḥ | vājaśravā jīhvāvato bādhyogāt | jīhvāvān bādhyogo ‘sitād vārṣagaṇāt | asito vārṣagaṇo haritāt kaśyapāt | haritaḥ kaśyapaḥ śilpāt kaśyapāt | śilpaḥ kaśyapaḥ kaśyapān naidhruveḥ | kaśyapo naidhruvir vācaḥ | vāg ambhiṇyāḥ | ambhiṇy ādityāt | ādityānīmāni śuklāni yajūṃṣi vājasaneyena yājñavalkyenākhyayante || BrhUp_6,5.3 ||

17.3. Aruni of Panchala, son of Aruna Aupavesi Gautama, had his early education under the famous teacher (upadhyaya) Ayoda-Dhaumya. Two of his class-mates mentioned are: Upamanyu and Veda (Mbh.1.3. Paushya Parva). Mahabharata narrates an interesting event which epitomizes Aruni’s sense of dedication and sincerity to work assigned to him. According to the story, on one rainy night the teacher Ayoda-Dhaumya asked Aruni to supervise water flowing through a certain field. When Aruni went there, he found the dyke had breached and the water was seeping out. Aruni tried to plug the breach and to stop the leak, but was not successful. Aruni then lay down on the breach; stopping the water flow with his body. He lay there the entire night. The next morning, the teacher Dhaumya along with other students came in search of Aruni; and found the boy stretched out along the dyke trying to stop the outflow of water. Dhaumya was deeply impressed with the dedication and sincerity of Aruni. On seeing his teacher, Aruni stood up. And, as he did so, the water began to flow out.

The teacher highly pleased with the pupil Aruni called him Uddalaka: ‘Because in getting up from the dyke you opened the water-course, henceforth you will be called Uddalaka as a mark of my favour. And because you obeyed my bidding so sincerely, you shall prosper and all the Vedas and other scriptures shall shine in you (Shloka 30-35).’ Later, Aruni gained great fame as Uddalaka Aruni.

yasmād bhavān kedārakhaṇḍam avadāryotthitas tasmād bhavān uddālaka eva nāmnā bhaviṣyatīti /sa upādhyāyenānugṛhītaḥ / yasmāt tvayā madvaco ‘nuṣṭhitaṃ tasmāc chreyo ‘vāpsyasīti / sarve ca te vedāḥ pratibhāsyanti sarvāṇi ca dharmaśāstrāṇīti / sa evam ukta upādhyāyeneṣṭaṃ deśaṃ jagāma //MB.01,003.030-31//

[This simple story was somehow turned into a symbolic myth where the rice-field represents human body; the leaking and uncontrolled water running away aimlessly as the mind; and Uddalaka who prevents wastage and brings water under control as the uttama-purusha who channelizes his intellect purposefully.]


18.1. Apart from his initial ‘schooling’ at the Ashram of Dhaumya, Uddalaka Aruni studied under various other teachers reputed for their special knowledge on subjects that interested him. It appears, during those days, a student could, if he so desired, learn from another teacher while still being a student of one teacher. This he did with the permission of his teacher, usually at the end a term (samvatsara-vasin – Shata.Br. –

samvatsara-vāsine’nubrūyāt eṣa vai samvatsaro ya eṣa tapatyeṣa u / pravargyastadetamevai-tat-prīṇāti tasmāt-samvatsara-vāsine’- nubrūyāt

Uddalaka travelled long distances across the breadth of Aryavarta from Gandhara – Madra region in the west to Videha in the east (Bh.Up.3.7.1; Ch.Up.5.3.6; 10.4).

athainam uddālaka āruṇiḥ papraccha — yājñavalkyeti hovāca | madreṣv avasāma patañcalasya kāpyasya gṛheṣu yajñam adhīyānāḥ | tasyāsīd bhāryā gandharvagṛhītā | BrhUp 3,7.1 |

It must have taken considerable courage and determination to trudge such long distances on foot when roads were almost non-existent and the modes of travel were poor, slow and painful.

18.2. A devoted student who travelled across the country in search of suitable teachers and knowledge was termed a naistika-brahmacharin or chaaraka. Sri Shankara explained the term chaaraka as referring to one who was constantly on move, as he had taken a vow to learn wherever the knowledge was available (adhyayanartha vrata – charana –chaarakah). The Taittereya Upanishad also refers to eager students wandering from place to place in search of knowledge “They hasten from all sides to famous teachers, like water down the hill” – yathā apaḥ pravatāyanti yathā māsā aharjaram (Tait. Up. 1.4.3). Uddalaka was a Charana or a Chaaraka in its true spirit.

19.1. Uddalaka basically hailed from Kuru- Panchala region (Sat.Brh.11. 4, 1, 2) – (roughly the present districts of Bareilly, Badaun and Farrukhabad), but sought his education under many teachers, in different parts of the country. For instance ; Uddalaka learnt about the principles and practice of Yajna from Panchala Kapya by travelling to Madra country (Sialkot area) – (Bh.Up.3.7.1).He learnt about  transmigration of souls  and about the path  taken by the soul after departing from body from King Citra Gargyayana (his name is mentioned also as Citra Gargyayani or Gangyayani ) – (Kau.Up.1.1-2). Citra Gargyayana discoursed, in particular, on the question ‘who am I?’ and said “I am a season (ritu), born of the seasons, brought forth from the womb of endless space, and generated from the light, the luminous Brahman; I am tyam . I am that which you are. You are That ”. He described Brahman as the luminous primal energy. I am from – Brahman (Kau.Up.1.1.6).

ritur asmy artavo’asmy akasad yoneh sambhuto bharyayai retah samvatsarasya tejo bhutasya bhutasyatma bhutasya tvam atmasi yas tvam asi soham asmi tam aha ko’aham asmiti satyam iti bruyat kim tad yat satyam iti yad anyad devebhyas ca pranebhyas ca tat sad atha yad devas ca pranas ca tad tyam tad etaya vacabhivyahriyate satyam ity etavad idam sarvam idam sarvam asity evainam tad aha tad etac chlokenapyuktam.

19.2. Uddalaka Aruni is said to have studied for some time in the Gandhara* which formed a part of Uttarapatha, the northern region. In his later years, he mentioned Gandhara as a seat of learning; and compared a man who attains liberation to “a blind-folded person who reaches at last the country of Gandhara” (Ch.Up.4.14). The Satapatha Brahmana mentions; Uddalaka Aruni used to move about (dhavayam chakara) among the people of Uttarapatha, the northern country (Sat. Br. 11. 4. 1. 1).

(* It is explained that the Sindhu region represented the country of the lower Indus; while Gandhara included the sections of the middle Indus with its tributary the Kubha , the modern Kabul ; thus Gandhara , the North-west  frontier region was the most ancient center of the Vedic tradition)

uddālako hāruṇiḥ udīcyānvṛto dhāvayāṃ cakāra tasya niṣka upāhita āsaitaddha sma vai tatpūrveṣāṃ  vṛtānāṃ dhāvayatāmekadhanamupāhitam bhavatyupavalhāya  bibhyatāṃ  tānhodīcyānām brāhmaṇānbhīrviveda 

The Buddhist text Uddalaka-Jataka (No.487) too mentions that Uddalaka journeyed to Takshashila (Taxsila to the north-west of Rawalpindi) and learnt there from a renowned teacher.

19.3. It is said; while moving about in the northern country, Uddalaka was impressed with the learning of the sage Saunaka (three Saunakas are mentioned with their ‘last’ names as:  Kapeya, Svaidayana or Atidhanvan?), and immediately desired to become his pupil in order to study the ritual traditions, practices and interpretations (Ch.Up.1.9.3; 4.3.5-7). But, interestingly, in his own teachings in Chandogya Upanishad (ch.4) Uddalaka rejects those traditions and interpretations, and opts for more careful observations of nature carried further by experiments and reasoning. And, he attempts to find what causes the things to appear as they do, and to offer generalizations of a rational character.

19.4. Earlier, Uddalaka had learnt the Madhu-vidya (honey doctrine) from his father Aruna Aupavesi Gautama at Kuru-Panchala (Ch.3.11.4). Uddalaka is also said to have had contacts with Bhadrasena Ajatasatru Kasya, the king of Kasi and Janaka Videha, the king of Videha.

Later years

20.1. Uddalaka was a life-long student, never too old to learn. Even in his later years he learnt from Prince Pravahana Jaivali of Panchala the theory of karma and transmigration of souls, and about the path taken by the departed souls – devayana and pitriyana (Ch.Up.5.3.10; Brh.Up.6.2). Similarly, he learnt the doctrine of Vaisvanara –vidya from King Asvapathi kaikeya in the far off north-west region (Ch.Up.7.11).

20.2. How these came about is rather interesting. As regards the former, when his son Svetaketu unable to answer the questions posed by Pravahana Jaivali (such as: Do you know to what place men go after departing from here?; “Do you know how they return again?”; and “Do you know where the paths leading to the gods and leading to the Manes separate?” etc) returned home crest fallen and asked his father to teach him the right answers, Uddalaka admitted he too did not know the answer to many of those questions. And, he then said to his son ‘let’s both go to Jaivali and learn from him ’.

Similarly, on another occasion, five householders approached Uddalaka to teach them about Vaisvanara Atma. Uddalaka did not however know the subject very well; and said to himself, ‘these householders have come to question me of which I am not able to tell them completely; let me redirect them’. Uddalaka then suggested to them: “Revered Sirs, King Asvapati the son of Kekaya knows, at present, about the Vaisvanara Atma. Let us all go to him.” He then led those five to Asvapati, promptly (travelling all the way from central UP to north-west Punjab).

20.3. In the tradition of wandering scholars who went around the country engaging in disputes and discussions,   Uddalaka too participated in debates held in the far off Gandhara and other northern regions (Sat.Brh.11.4.1) as also in court of King Janaka of Videha in the east (along the Indo – Nepal border region)- (Ch.Up.4.14).

uddālako hāruṇiḥ udīcyānvṛto dhāvayāṃ cakāra tasya niṣka upāhita āsaitaddha sma
vai tatpūrveṣāṃ vṛtānāṃ dhāvayatāmekadhanamupāhitam bhavatyupavalhāya
bibhyatāṃ tānhodīcyānām brāhmaṇānbhīrviveda-11.4.1.[1


21. 1. It is said; the great Yajnavalkya (Brh.Up.6.3.15) as also sage Kausitaki (Sat Brh.11.4.12) to whose family the portions of the Kausitaki Brahmana are attributed, Proti Kausurubindi of Kausambi (Sat Brh. 12.2.213), and Sumna-yu (Sahkhayana Aranyaka -15.1) were at onetime the students of Uddalaka Aruni.

atha vaṃśaḥ | oṃ namo brahmaṇe nama ācāryebhyaḥ | guṇākhyāc chāṅkhāyanād asmābhir adhītam | guṇākhyaś śāṅkhāyanaḥ kahoḷāt kauṣītakeḥ | kahoḷaḥ kauṣītakir uddālakād āruṇeḥ | uddālaka āruṇiḥ priyavratāt saumāpeḥ | priyavrataḥ saumāpiḥ somapāt | somapaḥ saumāt prātiveśyāt | saumaḥ prātiveśyaḥ prativeśyāt | prativeśyo bṛhaddivāt | bṛhaddivaḥ sumnayoḥ | sumnayur uddālakāt | uddālako viśvamanasaḥ | viśvamanā vyaśvāt | vyaśvaḥ sākamaśvāt | sākamaśvo devarātāt | devarāto viśvāmitrāt | viśvāmitra indrāt | indraḥ prajāpateḥ | prajāpatir brahmaṇaḥ | brahmā svayaṃbhūḥ | namo brahmaṇe namo brahmaṇe ||ŚĀ 15,1 

But his fame as a teacher and philosopher rests mainly on the discourses he imparted to his son Svetaketu (formally: Svetaketu Auddalaki Gautama). It contains the essential teaching of all the Upanishads.

21.2. In the Chandogya Upanishad, Uddalaka is portrayed as a caring father who sent his son, at his age of twelve, to a residential school. And, on his return home, after twelve years of education, Uddalaka questions Svetaketu, now a bright looking well grown young man, to find whether he had learned anything of importance. Of course, he had not.  Uddalaka then proceeds to teach his son, with great diligence,   on what the school could not instruct: ‘knowing which everything becomes know’ – the real meaning of life.

21.3 Let’s talk of Uddalaka’s teachings in the next part.


Continued in Part Three

Sources and References

Life in the Upanishads by Dr. Shubhra Sharma; Abhinav Publications, 1985

The History of Pre-Bhuddhistic Indian Philosophy by Dr .Benimadhab Barua; Motilal Banarsidass, 1921

The Upanishads by Ekanath Easwaran and Michael N Nagler; Nilgiri Press, 2007.

A Course in Indian Philosophy by AK Warder, Motilal Banarsidass, 2009

Indian Philosophy before the Greeks by David J Melling

Atman in pre-upanisadic Vedic literature By H G. Narahari; published by Adyar Library 1944.

What the Upanishads teach

The Chandogya Upanishad by Swami Krishnananada


Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Upanishads


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Who was Uddalaka Aruni? – Part One

This article is primarily about Uddalaka Aruni, a classic student, teacher and a philosopher of the Upanishad times. To me, he represents the true spirit of rational enquiry of the Upanishads. Before meeting him, let’s talk of a few other things of his times.


The age of the Samhitas and the age of the Upanishads

1.1. The Vedic cannon are generally classified into the scheme of the Samhitas   followed by the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and ending with the Upanishads.  The Upanishads are therefore usually described as the fourth and the last phase of the Vedic texts- Veda_nta.

The Brahmanas are compendiums concerned mainly with the conduct of the Yajnas. They were composed over many centuries; and, their origin lies in distant antiquity.

Midway between the Brahmanas and the Upanishads are the transitional texts – Aranyakas.  Its texts are named after the ascetics (Arana) who retired to the seclusion of the forests (Aranya) to lead a life of contemplation. These Forest-treatises (Aranyakas) are more speculative in nature than the Brahmanas, They  attempt to explore the inner , spiritual significance of the Vedic rituals.

The Upanishads bring up the end (Anta) portions of the Vedic texts; and , are accordingly called Vedanta. They contain the teachings, discussions and debates of the ancient seers on the questions of identity of the Self (Atman) and the ultimate reality (Brahman), as also on the means of liberation (Moksha) through knowledge.


That scheme might be valid for classifying the texts according to the nature of the subjects they discuss. But, it would be rather incorrect to treat such classification as indicating the chronological sequence of the texts. Because,   the distinctions between each class are not always clear; there are several throwbacks and overlapping among the Brahmanas and the Upanishads; and, many of the early Upanishads are closely associated with or incorporated into the Brahmanas. For instance; The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad which contains the discussions and teachings of the Sage Yajnavalkya form the final section of the Satapatha-brahmana.

The texts cannot, therefore, be arranged in a chronological order. They are classified more by their nature than by the sequential order of their composition

 [ Vedas are generally concerned with the primacy of ritual-action (Karman); whereas  the Upanishads that follow , as their latter portion (Vedanta), are primarily concerned with the philosophical speculations that are deep and intuitive.  While both the Vedas and Upanishads are classified under Sruti –revealed knowledge, which is authoritative – the Vedas are regarded as Karma-kanda  (ritual-action segment) ;and , the Upanishads (that is the Vedanta) are regarded as Jana-kanda (knowledge segment). The transition from the Vedas to Vedanta is not abrupt ; but, it is a smooth progression, integrating the two with many overlaps.]

These make it difficult to say that the Upanishad period always followed that of the Brahmanas. The chronology in Vedic texts, as in Indian History, is still a major problem.

1.2.  About ten of the Upanishads are considered very ancient. But, all these do not belong to the same period.  Among the Ten, it can be said , without much doubt, that apart from the five ancient Upanishads (Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka, Aitareya, Kausitaki and Taittareya) the rest belong to a much later period than the Brahmanas.

Of these five,  the Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka which quote from earlier sources, texts, discussions and events drawn from older stock, are  considered ancient and authoritative.

The other early Upanishads, such as the Taittiriya, Aitareya, Isa and kaushitiki are also closely connected with the older Vedic texts.

The Upanishads of the middle period, Kena , Katha, Svetasvatara  and Mundaka  Upanishads , share many common features;  and , anticipate the thoughts that figure in  the later schools of Indian philosophy.

The latest among  the principal Upanishads are said to be the Prasna and  Mandukya Upanishads .

Further, the Rig Veda Samhita and the earliest of these principal Upanishads are separated by several centuries. And quite clearly the two sets of texts differ very substantially in terms of their thought, their concerns and their language , as also in their style of depiction. The prose of the Upanishads is distinct from the archaic language of the Rig Veda hymns. The charming prose style of the Upanishads is highly elliptical, speaking through symbolic metaphors and allegories.

1.3. It also true, Upanishads are in harmony with the Vedic setting; and, they inherit the inspired poetry, lyrical voice and complex layers of symbolisms of the Vedas. Their philosophical discussions too reflect an unbroken tradition of the Samhitas, especially the Rig Veda. Many of the philosophical Hymns of the Rig Veda are incorporated into some of the Upanishads. It also needs to be said; that such philosophical hymns in the Veda are not many in number; and, their philosophic ideas are scattered or not systematized. The significance of the Upanishads is that they attempt to understand the philosophy of the Rig-Veda, to develop those germ ideas, and to carry them forward.

The one significant trait that the Upanishads inherited from the Rig-Veda was that  of daring to ask questions. Unlike other religious or philosophical texts, the Rig-Veda asks questions, in awe and wonder of the phenomena; and, the beauty of nature. It does not make any excuses for not providing answers to the questions it poses. In fact, it opens up the whole arena; and, invites everyone  to come forth and express their interpretation of the world, its relation to god and man.

[Shri MP Pandit, a disciple of Sri Aurobondo writes: the Upanishads frequently invoke the authority of the Vedic seers in confirmation of what they say e.g. tad-etad-rikbhyuktam, (this is said by the Rik) or tad-uktam rsina bhuktyam (that is said by the Rishi) etc. or quote a whole Rik in clinching their pronouncement. Many of the ideas expounded by the Upanishads can be found present in germ form in the Vedas.]

Whatever might be these literary classifications, the ancient philosophers of India looked upon the Upanishads as of an entirely different type from the rest of the Vedic literature. By all accounts; the Upanishads stand on their own authority.

1.4. We also, at times, speak of Upanishads as a consistent body of knowledge as if they were chapters of a well edited book. But, in fact, each Upanishad is complete in itself; and , is distinct from other Upanishads in content as also in spirit of enquiry. They are also separated in time and space.

1. 5. The cultures represented in two sets of texts – Samhitas and Upanishads – are far too diversified to be treated summarily as belonging to a single cultural unit. There are too many geographical, socio-economical, political, religious and philosophical variations to be ignored. Even the gods, the religious practices and the questions raised by the Samhitas differ from those of the Upanishads. It would therefore be quite in order to treat the Samhitas and the Upanishads as representing distinct eras of Vedic culture.

Let’s briefly look at some of the dissimilar features of the two eras.

A. the world of the Upanishads


2.1. The geography of the Rig Veda is generally the land of seven-waters (saptha sindhavaha) which perhaps stretched from eastern Punjab to the present day Afghan-Pakistan regions. But, the geographical horizon of the Upanishads was much wider, stretching from the Gandharas in the west to the Videhas in the east and to the Vidharbha country to the south.

2.2. Apart from the Kuru – Panchala country which formed the hub of Vedic and Upanishad culture, several other new centres had sprung up during the times of Upanishads, such as: Madra, Kaikeya, Kasi, Kosala and the Videha which in particular had gained fame as a centre for performing the Yajnas as also for sponsoring philosophical debates.

2.3. The expanded geographical area and the increased number of centres of learning led to greater numbers of scholars, teachers and students participating in more debates. And with that, the range and the varieties of the subjects and the ideas discussed were also widened. With the heightened level of discussions, the concepts and concerns tended to get less hazy and a bit more focused. Uncertainty and vagueness were gradually giving place to clearer understanding.


3.1. As compared to the Vedic era, the period of the Upanishads enjoyed a more peaceful and settled pastoral life. The process of urbanization had brought in leisure and relative comfort. The people as also the kings could afford to set apart their time for contemplation and reflections. The kings of the Upanishad-age spent more time in performing Yajnas and in hosting philosophical debates than in waging wars. A king’s court or his Parishad was the meeting ground for the itinerant philosophers, teachers and students. The King presided over and guided the debates concerning the nature of life, of time and of the substratum of all existence.

The Kings such as Asvapathi Kaikeya, Ajatasatru Kashya, Janaka Videha, and Pravahana Jaivali of Panchala were regarded highly for their learning. Many philosophers and learned Brahmins went to them seeking instructions and explanations on spiritual matters.

[ It appears from the Chandogya-Upanishad (8-14-1; 5-11, 24; 1-8, 9; 1-9-3, 7-1-3, and 5-11); Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad (2-1-20, 2-3 -6); and Kausitiki Brahmana (2-1, 2; 10, 4.) that during the early Upanishad-period the Kshatriyas were adepts in Adhyatma-Vidya. For instance; king Ajatashatru of Kasi , in an assembly of the Kuru-Panchalas , consoles the Brahmin lad Svetaketu, son of Uddalaka Aruni of the Gautama Gotra that he need not be sorry for his inability to explain certain principles of Adhyatma-Vidya , because that has , so far, been the preserve of the Kshatriyas – tasmād u sarveṣu lokeṣu kṣatrasyaiva praśāsanam abhūd iti (Chandogya-Upanishad: 5-3).]

4.1. The kings too seemed to have benefitted from the discussions held in their Parishads as also by their own study and contemplation. The kings such as Ajatashatru Kasya, Pravahana Jaivali, Citra Gangyayani and Asvapathi Kaikeya were remarkably learned; and, each had developed his own theories on the nature of the individual and of the Universe.

4.2. For instance, the king Ajatasatru of Kasi put forward a theory that consciousness as prajnatma pervades the body and makes the senses alert; but during sleep, it absorbs the functions of the organs, and withdraws into the space within the heart:  ““As the spider moves along the thread it produces, or as from a fire tiny sparks fly in all directions, even so from this Atman come forth all organs, all worlds, all gods, all beings. Its secret name (Upanishad) is “the Truth of truth- tasyopaniṣat satyasya satyam iti ” (Br. Up. 2.1.20 ;  kaush. Up. 4).

[sa yathorṇavābhis tantunoccared yathā agneḥ kṣudrā viṣphuliṅgā vyuccaranty evam evāsmād ātmanaḥ sarve prāṇāḥ sarve lokāḥ sarve devāḥ sarvāṇi bhūtāni vyuccaranti| tasyopaniṣat satyasya satyam iti | prāṇā vai satyaṃ teṣām eṣa satyam || BrhUp_2,1.20 ||

sa yathā loka ūrṇanābhiḥ / ūrṇanābhirlūtākīṭa eka eva prasiddhaḥ sansvātmāpravibhaktena tantunoccaredudgacchet / na cāsti tasyodgamane svato ‘tiriktaṃ kārakāntaram  || BrhUp_2,1.20 || ]

Such discussions  display their great interest in the nature and the states of consciousness in its various levels. They identify the state of dreams and the state of dreamless – sleep as being different layers of awareness. In the latter state, both body and mind are at rest; but the individual is not aware of that. In either case, there must be someone who is in know of things. Then, they ask: what is “known” in each and who is the knower? In such constantly changing stream of thought, they question: is there an observer who remains the same? Is there a thread of continuity? Another aspect of the discussion is the relative significance of each state.

The trend of this argument is: All experience is real. When we wake up from a dream, we do not pass from unreality to reality; but, we pass from a lower level of reality to a higher one. It might, therefore, logically, be possible to move on from here to a higher level of reality, the one above this world of constantly changing sensory impressions.

4.3. Pratardana son of Divodasa the king of Kasi asserted that Prajnana, the right understanding, is the prime faculty which controls other faculties and senses (speech, breath, sight, limbs, mind etc). He spoke by employing the symbolisms of the Yajna; and explained self-control (samyama) as an inner sacrifice (antaram agnihotram). In that process, a person can withdraw from the senses as also the sensuous, exercise control over passions and emotions; and pour all that into Prana (vital breath) the nave of his being. Pratardana believed this  internal Yajna  (antar yajna) was a superior form of Yajna, as it did not aim at material or sensuous gains.  This was an idea that Pratardana carried forward from Kausitaki Upanishad; but, he enlarged it further.

He argued; breathing is an essential activity of a living body; but, breathing is a symbol or an outward active manifestation of Life (prana). One can hold breath for some time, and still be alive; but one cannot be alive, even for an instant, without prana. ‘Death occurs when prana departs; and when it resumes life arises’.  The proof of one’s existence and living is, in fact, Prana which is the first principle. It is the first cause as also the final cause of all things (yo vai pranah sa prajna; ya va prajna sa pranah).  Pratardana also made an interesting observation that one cannot breathe and speak at the same time (‘when a man speaks he cannot breathe; and when he breaths he cannot speak’- kau.Up.2.5).

yavadvai purusho bhasate na tavat-pranitum shaknoti pranam …. yavadvai purushah praniti na tavat-bhashitum shaknoti vacam-kau.Up.2.5

Clearly, a man is unable to breathe while he is speaking. So, during that time his breath merges into his speech. A man is, likewise, unable to speak while he is breathing. So, during that time his speech merges into his breath. One offers these two endless and deathless offerings , into self, without interruption, whether one is awake or asleep.

4.4. And, King Aswapati Kaikeya had developed his own theory of vaishvanara-vidya, of Super-Soul which pervades all existence as Atma – vaisvanara (Ch. Up .5.11.18). Many Brahman scholars learnt this doctrine from Asvapati. Here, Vaisvanara is explained as ‘He who is the ruler of all human beings’ (visvesam naranam netara); and as’ He who is the soul of all’ (visvesam ayam narah). The Vaishvanara-vidya that king Aswapati taught is a highly mystical form of meditation in which one contemplates on the Universe as one’s body. It is a process that is centred on the identity of the individual with the Universal. According to its doctrine, there is nothing in the Cosmos which is outside   the body of individual.

As Sri Swami Krishnananda explains  “When you see the vast world before you, you behold a part of your own body. When you look at the sun, you behold your own eye. When you look above into the heavens, you are seeing your own head. When you see all people moving about, you behold the various parts of your own personality. The vast wind is your breath. All your actions are cosmic movements. Anything that moves does so, on account of your movement. Your breath is the Cosmic Vital Force. Your consciousness is the cosmic consciousness. Your existence is Cosmic Existence. Your happiness is Cosmic Bliss”.

4.5. Another king, Pravahana Jaivali of Panchala (who was also well versed in Udgitha, recital of Sama) taught his theory concerning the path taken by the dead; and, how the departed soul fares on its way to rebirth, according to merits of its deeds (S.patha. Brh .; Ait. Brh. 8.36.2; 40.4). This was a departure from the faith of the earlier Brahmanas which did not specifically speculate on life after death; but, generally believed that those who performed Yajnas were granted material gains in the present life and proximity to gods in the afterlife.

Pravahana effectively negated the old beliefs; and, introduced his theories of karma-phala, rebirth etc. He said that only those who diligently practiced contemplation and meditation travel by the deva-yana and attain bliss; while the others travel the way of the manes (pitri – Yana) taking rebirth , according to ones’ merits. It underlines the importance of moral conduct in life.


4.6. Jaiminiya Brahmana (1.22-25) mentions that Uddalaka Aruni along with four other Brahmins (Yajnavalkya Vajasaneya , Barku Varsna, Priya Anasruteya, and Budila Asvatarsvi Vaiyaghrapadya) approached King Janaka of Videha with a request to teach them about Agnihotra.

4.7. These scholarly kings were respected for their learning. And, often the Brahmans, the scholars and other seekers of knowledge came to them seeking guidance and instructions on their specialized subjects.



As a caterpillar, having come to the end of one blade of grass, draws itself together and reaches out for the next, so the Self, having come to the end of one life and shed all ignorance, gathers in its faculties and reaches out from the old body to a new(Brihadaranyaka 4.4.3)

ad yathā tṛṇajalāyukā tṛṇasyāntaṃ gatvānyam ākramam ākramyātmānam upasaṃharati|evam evāyam ātmedaṃ śarīraṃ nihatyāvidyāṃ gamayitvānyam ākramam ākramyātmānam upasaṃharati || BrhUp_4,4.3 ||



5.1. Vedic literature is full of references to gods, invoked individually and also collectively. In the early Rig Veda, most of the gods correspond  to the phenomenon in nature; such as, the sky and earth (Dyava-Prithvi), the dawn (Ushas), the Sun at its various positions in the sky (Savitar, Surya, Pushan, Ravi and Vivasvan), the rain clouds (Parjanya), the fire (Agni) and so on. Some of the major gods – say, Indra, Varuna or Aswin – who acquired individual traits and distinct personalities evolved into other beings, over a period of time. Some other minor gods (Vishnu and Rudra) developed and enlarged into super-gods.

In the Brahmanas, most of the Rig Vedic gods were  continued to be worshiped; but, the Yajnas took precedence; and greater importance was accorded to Yajna than to gods.

5.2. As regards the Upanishads, they contain enough references to the religious life of people, their gods and their rituals. But by then; the concept of Devas, the gods, seemed to have changed significantly. While the Vedic hymns look outward in reverence and awe at the phenomena in nature, the Upanishads tend to look inward, attempting to interpret the powers of nature as varied expressions human consciousness.

The gods of the Upanishads are therefore rather ethereal; and, lack the human-like personalities as in the Rig Veda.  It suggests; gods prefer indirect references or symbolisms (paroksha priyaya vahi devahBhru. Up 4.2.2).Their personal attributes, powers, their likes / dislikes are not talked about in the Upanishads. The Devas of the Upanishads are also not shown performing astonishing feats.

5.3. Just as in the Samhitas, in the Upanishads too, the gods did not evoke fear. They were approached with awe and reverence for gaining an understanding of the secrets of the Universe. The Rig Vedic gods that appear in the Upanishads play special roles. They become the sage-like counselors or repositories of higher knowledge. They act as great teachers imparting instructions on the nature of Man and his Universe. 

For instance; Yama the god of death, initiated the boy Nachiketas into mysteries of life after death, and about the knowledge of the Soul (Katha Up.); the ancient god Varuna taught sage Bhrigu about the oneness of all life (Taiitt. Up.); and, the king of gods Indra preached Pratardana ‘the only knowledge that is worth knowing’. And, in a similar manner, Agni, Pushan and Uma were all respected as wise teachers; and, were invoked for True knowledge.

5.4. A peculiar trait of the Rig Veda hymns was that whichever god was being praised he was depicted as the highest, because he was seen as a representation or an aspect of the Supreme Being. These notions were to become the seeds of mono theistic tendencies which gradually led to the concept of a God of gods.  Most of the Upanishad thinkers seemed to be involved in long, curved and roundabout processes of enquiry in arriving at the concept of a   Supreme Being who was not merely the chief of the gods like Indra, not merely a creator like Prajapathi ; but was verily the very essence and the guiding principle behind all existence. He was not the creator from outside; but was in the very Self. The attention shifted from the objective to the subjective.

Eventually, after long centuries of speculation and introspection, Brahman emerged as the highest principle, the Supreme Being. The concept of Brahman is the original contribution of the Upanishads; the term Brahman in that sense did not appear in the hymns of Rig Veda.



6.1. The Upanishads continued to believe in the efficacy of the Yajnas; in many passages you find the glorification of the Yajna. The two streams of ritual and knowledge progressed without coming into conflict. But, evidently there was a shift away from rituals; the emphasis shifted from routine performance to the understanding of its significance with knowledge and faith. The Upanishads sages came to be regarded highly   more for their learning and their authority in debates, discussions and teaching, than for their ritual-skills.

The idea of the Yajna underwent a sea change. Even the need to offer oblations was debated. Many asserted that there is a Reality which the Yajnas cannot reach. The questions such as ‘To which god shall we offer the oblation’ (kasmaey devaya havisha vidhema) were no longer asked. The Yajnas were no longer performed merely to attain a certain human-desire (ishti); nor was Yajna deemed the best of deeds. Yet, the Upanishad thinkers were not totally against either the concept of Yajna or performing Yajnas. A quiet transformation was gradually taking place.

6.2. Instead of the ritual-details, the Upanishads talk in symbolisms. And, Instead of describing the offering of oblations into fire, they speak of speech or breathe offered as oblations into ones inner self. For instance; the objects of smell, taste, sound, color and touch as also that which is to be thought and that which is to be understood were symbolized as the seven kinds of fuel (offerings). These seven offerings (the perceived information) were poured into seven fires (organs of perception). It was said, the act of restraining ones senses and the mind, and pouring (offering) the objects of those senses and the mind (as libations) into the fire of the Soul within the body, was itself a Yajna.

6.3. Every aspect of life, even sex, was viewed through the symbolism of Yajna (as per sage Kumara Harita: Brh.Up.6.4.4: which suggests that sex-desire, like everything else, is partly physical; it is a powerful personal energy. It needs neither to be suppressed nor repressed, but to reconnect to its power-source – (bahu vā idaṃ suptasya vā jāgrato vā retaḥ skandati || BrhUp_6,4.4 ||

There is another elaborate symbolism at 6.4.3 of Brhu.Up drawing a comparison between sex organ of woman with Yajna – altar) – atha ya idam avidvān adhopahāsaṃ caraty āsya striyaḥ sukṛtaṃ vṛñjate .

Similarly, the issues relating to outward worship, rituals, oblations etc all came to be discussed. Philosophical doctrines were projected to explain the symbolisms associated with the Yajna.

6.4. Many times, the gatherings at a Yajna served as a forum for debates or discussions on philosophical issues. The king as the Yajamana, the performing priests, the invited scholars and iterant seekers, all participated in the debates that followed.

The Upanishads record in details the proceedings at such discussions.

Debates and discussions

Jaimuni questions Markandeya, Garwhal c 1785, 17.8x24.7cm

7.1. The bulk of the Upanishad teachings have come down to us in the form of discussions or debates, which took place in verities of contexts. Apart from intimate sessions where an illumined teacher imparts instructions to an aspirant , there are instances of varied kind, say, as when :

a wife is curious  to learn from her husband  the secrets of immortality;

a teenage boy approaches Death itself to learn the truth of life and death;

a king seeks instruction from an recluse sage who speaks from his experience;

Brahmans advanced in age and wisdom sit at the feet of a Kshatriya prince seeking instructions as also inspiration ; and ,

when sometimes , the sages are women who are approached by kings .

There are other sorts of dialogues , say, when Jabala is taught by bulls and birds (Ch. Up 4.4.1-4) , Upakosala by the sacred fires (Ch.Up_4,14.1), and Baka  by a dog (Ch.Up 1.12.1-3).

7.2. Most of the participants are just names, as very little or nothing is known about them. Some of them come alive because of their thoughts or the schools they represent. The more human and tangible persons among them include Janaka Videha, Yajnavalkya Vajasaneya, Uddalaka Aruni with his son Svetaketu, Satyakama Jabala, Ushasthi Chakrayana, Gargi Vachaknavi and a few others.

7.3. Many times , the debates came up spontaneously , say, when an aggressive questioner stormed into a Yajna and pelted questions at all those present there; as when Ushasthi Chakrayana walked into a Yajna being performed for the King of Kuru and demanded answers to his most perplexing questions on the divinities associated with each phase of the Yajna.

7.4. Some other times, certain topics arose in informal discussions as in the case of Prahavana Jaivali, Silaka Salavatya and Caikitayana Dalbhya (Ch.Up.1.8-9; Br.Up.4.1); and also as when   the much traveled scholar Gargya Balaki offered to teach King Ajatashatru of Kasi the knowledge of Brahman, the latter negated all of Gargya’s theories; and, instead, put forward his own views glorifying Prana as the highest principle (Brh.Up.2.1.1; Kaush.Up.4.1). The scholarly Yajnavalkya often talked to King Janaka Videha on the nature of Brahman (Brhu. Up).

7.5. Many times, a king would go up to a sage and seek instructions. For instance, the king Janasruti Putrayana approached the famed recluse Raikva Sayugvan for true knowledge; and, the latter preached his doctrine of Samvarga-Vidya ‘absorbing’ (Chan. Up. 4.2.5).  It speaks of air (Vayu) in the Universe and the vital breath (prana) in the individual as two fundamental elements. It believes that everything in the Universe emerges from these two ;and , eventually dissolves back into them.

Raikva said: “There are two ultimate elements which absorb everything; inwardly, it is prana into which all senses and mind merge; and outwardly it is Vayu the sutratman, the controller which absorbs all. Everything rises from it; and everything goes back into it“.  The two are said to be identical. His doctrine elaborately narrates how fire, the sun, the moon and water each successively subsides into the next; and finally into air. And, similarly, when a person sleeps, the speech, sight, hearing and mind – all these – are absorbed into his vital breath.

[This process perhaps could be understood as interiorization, as Mr. MN Nagler explains: reaching back to the center of one’s core.]

7.6. There are also instances where a group of earnest scholars went to a well informed person ; and, sought from him explanations on certain specific issues. For instance; a   group of six Brahmans traveled from Madhya-Desha in the Ganga –Yamuna doab to the far off Kaikeya country in the west, to learn about the concept of Atma-Vaisvanara as evolved by King Asvapathi (Ch.Up.5.3-10; Brh.Up.6.2; Katha Up.1.1).

Similarly, on another occasion, another set of six scholars Sukesa Bharadvaja, Saivya Satyakama, Sauryayani Gargya, Kausalya Asvalayana, Bhargava Vaidarbhi and Kabandhi Katyayana – went to sage Pippalada; and, stayed with him for over a year in order to learn his doctrine. He then answered their six questions concerning the nature of Reality and a range of other subjects – such as the origin of the world, its sustenance; and similar questions about the human being , how does Prana – life breath enter the body etc .

Pippalada names Prana and Rayi (equivalent to consciousness and matter) as the cause of all life on earth. Prana is the highest principle, that which fuels evolution and powers all forms of life. It gives rise to nama-rupa, to all conditioned reality. At the same time, Prana is understood here both as the vital breath – the life of the Man and also as the life of the Universe. Prana is the abiding element – the core faculty – that which gathers up all other faculties when they become dormant (Prashna Up.1.4.8). Just as senses and mind are withdrawn progressively into prana when a man sleeps, similarly all existence is eventually drawn into the ultimate source. In answer to the sixth question,

Pippalada taught the seekers that Prana is the first and the foremost of the sixteen successive phases or sixteen parts  that comprise Man (shodasha kalaa  purusha)-: the sixteen parts are Prana (life) , desire, space, air, fire, water, earth, senses, mind, food, virility, discipline, mantra (scriptures), yajna (karma), world, and nama-rupa (conditioned existence). ‘The Purusha is the hub of the wheel of life; and the sixteen forms are only the spokes. Purusha is the paramount goal of life. Attain this goal and go beyond death ‘- (Prashna.Up.6.6)

arā iva rathanābhau kalā yasmin pratiṣṭhitāḥ / taṃ vedyaṃ puruṣaṃ veda yathā mā vo mṛtyuḥ parivyathā iti // PrUp_6.6 //

[This set of sixteen mentioned by Pippalada varies from the sixteen enumerated in Samkhya: manas (mind); five buddhindriyas (organs of sense); five karmendriyas (organs of action) and five maha-bhutas (gross elements)]

7.7. At other times, formal debates were held in stately halls; as in the court of King Janaka of Videha, where the winner was awarded a very substantial prize. In one of those debates, it was Yajnavalkya who impressed the King Janaka with his erudite scholarship and sharp intellect. And, Yajnavalkya, walked away with the prize of thousand cows even before the debate was formally concluded. When those assembled protested furiously, shouting “how presumptuous of you…!” Yajnavalkya, with a wry smile said “I salute to the wisest among you; but, I just want those cows”. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad dwells on these debates in as many as nine chapters covering almost the entire span of Upanishad learning.

7.8. There was also a practice of holding ‘Brahmodya’ – a competition of solving riddles or a sort of quiz contest  – in the intervals during an Asvamedha or the Dasaratra- Brahma-vadya (a ten-day long Satra) , in which the the eager , the needy as also the learned scholars participated enthusiastically. The winners were honored with the titles such as Kavi or Vipra (the learned sage) and such others. The most famous  of such Brahmodya was that which was held at the court of Janaka of Videha, as detailed in the Brhadlranyaka Upanishad

Such  bouts which  carried prize money, as expected, tended to be aggressive. But, an unsavory feature of such debates was the trading of challenges and threats. Quite often, one would threaten the opponent that his head would fall off or his limbs would be harmed or his bones would be carried away by robbers if he did not answer (rightly) – (Ch.Up.1.8.6-8; 1.10.9-11; 5.12-17; Brh. Up.3.9.26)

Dialogues between students and teachers

8.1. Nothing in the Upanishads is more vital than the relationship between a student and his guide. The Chandogya Upanishad has more dialogues between teachers and pupils than any other Upanishad, including the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The teacher talks, out his experience, about his ideas of the nature of the world, of truth etc or about particular array of phenomena visualized through mental images that stay etched in memory; and the student questions him further, in earnestness. The teacher finally encourages and urges the student to think, to contemplate and to find out for himself the answers to his questions. A student needs humility, persistence, and honesty of purpose to go further.

8.2. An Upanishad-teacher does not teach everything that his student needs to know. But, he ignites in the heart of the boy a spark that sets ablaze his desire to learn and to know the central principles which make sense of the world we live in. The guide inflames the sense of challenge, the urge to reach beyond the boy’s grasp and to know the unknown.The Brihadaranyaka calls upon:

‘You are what your deep, driving desire is; as your desire is, so is your will (sa yathā-kāmo bhavati tat-kratur-bhavati); As your will is; So is your deed (yat-kratur-bhavati tat-karma kurute) ; As your deed is, so is your destiny (yat-karma kurute tad-abhi-sapadyate”- (Brhu. Up. 4.4.5).  

sa yathākāmo bhavati tatkratur bhavati | yatkratur bhavati tat karma kurute |
yat karma kurute tad abhisaṃpadyate || BrhUp_4,4.5 ||

As the Katha Upanishad says, ‘only a few hear the truth; of those who hear, only a few understand; and of those only a handful attain the goal’. In the end, all achievement is fuelled by burning desire.

śravaṇā̍yāpi ba̱hubhi̍r yo na labhyaḥ śṛ̱ṇvanto̍’pi ba̱havo̍ yaṁ na vidyuḥ | āśca̍ryo vaktā ku̱śalo’sya labdhā āśca̍ryo jñātā ku̱śalā̍nu-śiṣṭaḥ || 7 ||

9.1. As mentioned, the core of the Upanishad teachings is recorded in the discussions or dialogues between a learned teacher and his ardent student , who approached respectfully. Those were not formal bouts; but, were intimate sessions where the teacher guided, in confidence, the student seated close to him (Upa-ni-shad). The Upanishads abound in such student – teacher dialogues.

Let me just mention a couple of the more famous ones that took place between:

:-  Varuna and Bhrigu

[Varuna teaches Bhrigu said to be his son about Brahman as being food / matter (anna), life (prana), mind (mana), intelligence (vijnana) and bliss (ananda)- (Taitt.Up.3.1-6)].

: – Sanath kumara and Narada

[Sanath kumara teaches Narada about the various theories about Brahman that were prevalent at the time; and then leads Narada to the Understanding of Brahman, through progressive  stages  of name, speech, mind , will etc leading up to infinite and Self – adhīhi bhagava iti hopasasāda sanatkumāraṃ nāradaḥ (Ch.up.7.1-26)].

:- Ghora Angirasa and Devaki-putra Krishna

[Ghora Angirasa teaches that all of a person’s life is indeed a Yajna; his every act constitutes a ritual and death is the final offering; and, at the time of death one should believe he is indestructible and is the very essence of life – antavelāyām etat trayaṃ pratipadyetākṣitam asy acyutam asi prāṇasaṃśitam asīti(Ch.Up. 3.17.6)]

: – Yama and Nachiketas

[Yama teaches the truth about life and death]. The Katha Upanishad is held up as a lesson in asking the right question to the right person. The boy Nachiketas puts a simple-worded question to none-other -than Death: “When a person dies there arises this doubt: ‘He still exists’ some say; ‘No, he does not’ say some others. I want you to teach me the truth” – (katha Up. 1.1.20). The dialogue also covers the steep choices one has to make in life between what is implicitly good (shreya) and what is merely pleasant (preya). The message of the Katha Upanishad, which echoes throughout the Upanishads, is to dare like a teenager: to reach for the highest you can conceive with everything you have, and never be distracted.

: – And, another is the series of discussions between Uddalaka Aruni and his son/disciple Svetaketu. It covers almost the entire range of Upanishad learning (we shall talk more about this dialogue in the next part).

9.2. The discussion between Maitreyi and her husband Yajnavalkya could also be treated as of similar class. When Maitreyi desired to share her husband’s wisdom, Yajnavalkya imparts her instructions about the true nature of the soul, the world and the Brahman (Brh.Up.2,4.1; 4.5).He presents the Self as the pure subject, the knower, which cannot be described through any known array of terms or attributes.

He explains to her “Know that, whenever we love we are responding to the Self within that person. Therefore if we can discover that Self there would be no parting and no sorrow between us. … As long as there is separateness one sees the other as separate.  But, when Self is realized as the indivisible unity of life, there is no more sorrow”.

sage teaching

The spirit of enquiry

10.1. A remarkable feature of these discussions is the spirit of enquiry. Here, no teacher claims that he has discovered the ultimate truth, nor does he declare that his views are beyond dispute and should be obeyed implicitly, by all. None of the teachers or scholars is fully satisfied with the knowledge he has attained. All, the teachers and students alike, are eager to probe further and uncover more of the unknown. Even the aged wise teachers travel long distances and sit at the feet of the learned, who might be younger to them in age, and seek  instructions on subjects they are not well versed.

Philosophy in Upanishads

11.1. The discussions featured in the Upanishads record the opinions or views on various philosophical issues of that era. The participants came from all walks of life; there were sages, priests, women, teachers, kings, charioteers and common folk. The answers to the questions discussed in the texts varied from teacher to teacher; and from region to region. All the doctrines presented in them do not stand out equally prominent. Some are merely flashes of thought, others are only slightly developed ;and still others are but survivals from the older period. Many ideas are put forward, discussed or even withdrawn , according to their strengths and weaknesses.

11.2. As regards the Upanishads’ philosophy, although the Upanishads are often called philosophical treaties, they do not propound a single system of thought or philosophy. They do not explain or develop a line of argument. Instead, entire range or shades and hues of philosophical opinions are scattered across the texts.

For instance, The Upanishads have no permanent point of view in regard to such questions as how the One Principle or Thing was conceived, or what its relations are to the visible Universe. They are tentative and experimental, not fixed and final. They appear to be philosophy in the making. They never assert that they have found the ultimate truth.

Even the doctrine of transmigration, which is said to have found its full form in the Upanishads, leaves several questions unanswered. It was stated that the departed Soul proceeds along a certain path into the other world before it returns to earth for its next life. At the same time, it was also mentioned that at the moment of death the departed Soul instantly takes another body. The Upanishads do not specify the nature of the being that transmigrates. The question of transmigration was left open-ended.

Similarly,  on the  subject to the law of Karma  there is not much discussion on the scope for  free-will which gives man some sort of control over his actions  or whether God’s grace and such other factors also come in deciding human fate. These problems were are left unanswered; and, if some answer were given, they are merely hinted at.

Speaking of the Upanishads, Prof. Bloomfield says that they captivate, not because they are finished products; but , because they show   the human mind engaged in the most plucky and earnest search after truth. And the, Upanishads represent the earnest efforts of the profound thinkers of early India to solve the problems of the origin, the nature, and the destiny of man and of the universe; the meaning and value of knowing and being.

In other words, the Upanishads provided a platform for displaying various shades of thoughts and opinions that were actively churned in those times.  Thus the widely divergent philosophers and varied Schools of thought coexist in the Upanishads without contradiction. And , that is the reason why anyone is now able to quote some Upanishad passage or the other and claim authenticity for his interpretation or for his train of thought.

11.3. For instance, the Upanishads speak of Brahman as the substratum of all existence from which everything emerges and into which everything merges. These speculations gave rise to the Advaita philosophy of the later ages. At the same time,  the other notions which assert that the individual soul (Atman) and the Brahman are parted but unite into one, gave the Dvaita philosophy its authenticity. Thirdly, there is also a current of theism which looks upon Brahman as the Lord controlling the Universe. All such views find place in the Upanishads without a sense of contradiction.  But, it was the later commentaries, glosses etc that created further discrepancies and contradictions.

The Questions that arose

12.1. The Vedic line of thoughts found its culmination in the Upanishads. The Samhitas and the Brahmanas did raise many doubts and questions; but, these were merely hinted. The ‘doubt’ in this context, it is explained, is not suspicion (smashaya); it is neither a doubt as of a sceptic, nor it is suspended-belief as of an agnostic. The doubt here is indeed with wisdom and faith. For instance, Nasadiya Sukta (the creation hymn) in the tenth Book of the Rig Veda ends with the classic doubt: “Whether this creation has arisen by itself or whether it did not , only He knows ; or perhaps He also does not know.”

इ॒यं विसृ॑ष्टि॒र्यत॑ आब॒भूव॒ यदि॑ वा द॒धे यदि॑ वा॒ न ।
यो अ॒स्याध्य॑क्षः पर॒मे व्यो॑म॒न्सो अ॒ङ्ग वे॑द॒ यदि॑ वा॒ न वेद॑ ॥ ७॥

Those speculations were further developed in the Upanishads, which attempted to answer all those questions in a rational way. A great variety of views were expounded in the Upanishads   more systematically, and providing starting points for various schools of philosophies.

12.2. The elaborate discussions spread out in the Upanishads address and debate on various philosophical questions; and, much of that is subtle, sophisticated and intellectually challenging, such as: “What happens at death? What makes my hand move, my eyes see, my mind think? Does life has a purpose, or is it governed by chance?”. Yet, no single opinion or theory was held up as the indisputable truth; and, everything was left in a flux. It is because of its creative thinking and its open-mindedness that Upanishads continue to be an ever-fresh source of inspiration for people of all times and regions delving into it seeking answers to their questions.

12.3. But, the main concern of the Upanishads was the search for the central essence of Man; as also the essence of the Universe. The two independent streams of thought – one driven by the desire to realize the true nature of man ; and, the other, to understand the objective world – became fused. It represented an effort to express the world in terms of the individual; an attempt at rising from the known particular to the knowledge of the unknown universal. The blending of the two apparently dissimilar concerns led to the discovery of their essential unity.

12.4. The basic questions posed by the Upanishads in that regard were: ’Who am I?’ and ‘Who is He?’ . Centuries later, the Buddha, commenting on the Upanishads, remarked that the main concern of that period was: ’How shall I unite with Him?’ (Te-Vijja sutta – Dhiga Nikaya 1.13)

Brahman and Atman

13.1 The Rig-Veda is not a philosophical work. Questions which  came up much later, such as – the nature of Atman, the whence, how and whither of the Atman; the Supreme Self and its  relation to  the external world; and the mutual relations of Atmans and Isvara  – were  not  dealt with in the text of the Rig-Veda. But, there was awareness of a permanent factor in man’s life and its continuity even after the body perishes. There were also speculations about some essential unity among the individuals through some Supreme Being that is not conditioned by the limitations of a body and of worldly existence.

These and similar other questions were carried forward by the Upanishads.

13.2. The Upanishads are truly the continued saga of a prolonged search for understanding Man and his Universe. Its sages keep on pursuing their exploration, looking for a theory that would explain everything. Each of its philosophers identifies and argues about a particular aspect of life and existence as ‘the highest principle’ – as could be seen from the instances cited earlier in this article. Although all these teachers, as well as others, have varied understandings of Atman, they all present knowledge of self as a new way of thinking.

As many as about forty concepts such as prana, vayu, aph, purusha, aditya, agni , atma, akasha, manas, skamba, vac etc are alluded as the ‘highest principle’; and , as ‘the primary cause of the Universe, which bursts forth spontaneously as nature’ . If we collect all the terms employed in the Upanishads to describe ‘the basis and the cause for the universe ‘, it would read like a glossary of philosophical terms.

Eventually, all those terms, principles or powers that the Upanishad scholars believed to be the basis of the world; and , make the world explicable, merged into the meaning of Brahman. And yet, it would be incorrect to assume that apart from Brahman and Atman, all other terms in the Upanishads meant to signify the ‘highest principle’ fade into negligence.

13.3. Thus, the notion of Brahman in the Upanishads was arrived neither easily nor at once. It took centuries of thorough introspection, discussions and debates to reach at an acceptable concept. In the process, several notions, ideas and explanations were put forth, each more satisfying than the previous one, to account for the relation between the individual and the universe.

At some stage in the evolution of its thought, the Upanishads named Brahman as the primal source of the universe; and Atman as the individual’s inmost essence.

The two terms- Brahman and Atman – are now   ‘the two pillars on which rest nearly the whole edifice of Indian philosophy’. But, the concept and explanations of Brahman and Atman was not in the context of any religion or sect. The Upanishads, therefore, belong not just to Hinduism but to all mankind. They are India’s most precious gift to humanity.

13.4. The essential oneness of the individual and the universal was hinted at even before the Upanishads. But, the concept of Brahman – understood as that from which everything emerged and into which everything merges or like the web of the spider or a spark of fire (vispu lingaha) – was for the first time stated clearly in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Yajnavalkya came closest by describing it as :

‘ the imperishable is the unseen seer, Gargi, though unseen; the hearer though unheard; the thinker, though un-thought; the known though unknown. Other than this there is no seer; other than this there is no hearer; other than this there is no thinker; other than this there is no hearer; other than this there is no thinker; other than this there is no knower. It is on this imperishable (akshara), Gargi, that space (akasha) is woven, as warp and woof (ota – prota)’ – tad vā etad akṣaraṃ gārgy adṛṣṭaṃ draṣṭraśrutaṃ śrotramataṃ mantravijñātaṃ vijñātṛ |(Brhu.Up.3.8.11)

It was expanded upon in the Katha and the Manduka Upanishads. Brahman was referred to as the universal soul; and, Atman as a spark of the bigger fire, framed within the individual (Katha Up. 1.3.1). Here, the terms Brahman and Atman refer to the same principle. The later Upanishads  lent it  an another imagery through an allegory of a pair of birds perched upon the branch of a tree: Two bright-feathered bosom friends; Flit around one and the same tree; One of them tastes the sweet berries,  the other without eating merely gazes down (Sveta.Up.4.6; Mun.Up.3.1.1).  In a way, Brahman was an open concept in the Upanishads.

dvā suparṇā sayujā sakhāyā samānaṃ vṛkṣaṃ pariṣasvajāte /
tayor anyaḥ pippalaṃ svādv atty anaśnann anyo abhicākaśīti // SvetUp_4.6 //

[In the Brahma Sutra of Sri Badarayana and the commentaries of Sri Shankara, the concept of Brahman crystallized as the only unconditioned reality existing eternally beyond our relative, conventional understanding.]

13.5. Brahman was thus the last in the series of the solutions that the sages were seeking; and it became a symbol for ‘the ultimate essence of being, the final basis of reality’.  The term was meant to assert the truth that the individual and the Universe are verily the manifestation of the same reality. The individual, the nature or God are in essence not distinct. The realization of the identity of Self and Brahman became the objective of the Upanishad seekers. It was valued as the true knowledge that liberates; by knowing which everything becomes known (Para vidya).

13.6. The ideal of the Upanishads is to live in the world in full awareness of life’s unity; giving and enjoying, participating in others’ sorrows and joys; but, never unaware even for a moment that the world comes from That and returns to That.

As a tethered bird flies this way and that, And comes to rest at last on its own perch, so the mind, tired of wandering about…settles down in Self. (Chandogya Up.6.8.2)

sa yathā śakuniḥ sūtreṇa prabaddho diśaṃ diśaṃ patitvānyatrāyatanam alabdhvā bandhanam evopaśrayate | evam eva khalu somya tan mano diśaṃ diśaṃ patitvānyatrāyatanam alabdhvā prāṇam evopaśrayate | prāṇabandhanaṃ hi somya mana iti || ChUp_6,8.2 ||

The Rishi of the Rig-Veda and philosopher of the Upanishads

14.1. There is a marked difference between the Rishi of the Rig-Veda and the philosopher of the Upanishads. In the early Rig Veda, the Rishi is referred to as Kavi.  A Kavi in Rig Veda is an inspired Rishi who can see the unseen. He is the sublime poet who envisioned the mantras (mantra drastaraha); and who conceived the self-evident knowledge (svatah pramana) by intuition. A Kavi is also ‘the hearer of the Truth’ (kavayah satya- srurtah).That is the reason the Vedas are regarded as Srutis, revealed scriptures; and thus A-paurusheya, not authored by any agency.

14.2. By the time of the later Vedic age , the Kavis and Rishis had become mythical figures; and, their deeds were narrated along with the deeds of the gods. Those seers include the sapta-rishis enumerated in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: Gautama, Bharadwaja, Vashista, Vishwamitra, Jamadagni, Kashyapa and Atri. And the Rishis like Vamadeva and Narayana indeed merged with the gods of their mantra; and , are now regarded as Gods.

14.3. As regards philosophy, scholars like Dr. Benimadhab Barua opine that the Rig Veda in its early stages did not seem to have a specific term to denote what we now call ‘philosophy’, though its Kavis and Rishis were sublime philosophers. The hymns of the Rig Veda (uktha) and its recitation (udgitha) itself meant philosophizing. That was perhaps because they did not regard ‘knowing’ (vid) as separate from other aspects of’ ‘being’. These terms continued to stand for ’philosophy’ until other epithets such as Darshana or Brahma-vidya etc came into use.

14.4. But, by the time of the Upanishads, ‘philosophy’ was a well recognized branch of study. Most of philosophers and thinkers of the Upanishads were scholars in the traditional mould; and, a majority had to work and earn a living. Many were scholars, teachers of great repute, advisers to kings, and priests under the patronage of a king; but, most were householders with families, tending cows and the lands. Those keen on pursuing the path of knowledge, studied for long years under the guidance of a teacher. Thereafter, each followed his individual pursuit; some followed the way of Brahmacharins devoted to studies and later settled down as householders; some left the comfort of home and wandered about in forests or led a life of contemplation. Some of them became iterant seekers and recluse. Many of them were teachers of great repute.

14.5. It is estimated that the five oldest Upanishads feature about one hundred of such philosophers, spread over five generations. A good many of those philosophers appear in the Brahmanas also . This supports the view that there was overlapping; and , the two trends of thought coexisted for a considerable time.

14.6. The earliest of the teachers who appear in the Upanishads were mystics or interpreters of the symbolism of rituals and esoteric meaning of the hymns. For instance, the colourful-hero Yajnavalkya bursts forth into sparkling series of poetic intuitions, picturesque analogies, and mystical imageries bewildering the questioner. His brilliant exposition is expansive, highly impressive and breathtaking; but is neither systematic nor very logical.  He carried away the debate by the sheer power and dazzle of his intellect.

14.7. In contrast, Uddalaka son of Aruna of Gautama gotra was systematic and cogent in his approach. He put forward rational explanations on the nature of Man and nature of Universe without employing the terms Brahman or God. And, without bluntly rejecting the earlier mythological beliefs and religious injunctions, Uddalaka Aruni tacitly set aside all those in favor of a rational explanation for the ultimate cause of everything in nature. Uddalaka is therefore regarded the greatest of thinkers and perhaps the first real philosopher. He retained till the end, an open mind and a keen desire to learn. He remained a student all his life; yet, he was the best of the teachers. Uddalaka’s power of exposition shines forth in the Chandogya Upanishad.

For these reasons; Uddalaka Aruni is recognized among all the Upanishad sages and teachers as the true representative of the Upanishad age and its spirit of enquiry.

Let’s talk a bit more of Uddalaka Aruni and his teachings in the next part.

 [ The search  for Ultimate Reality and essence that underlies all existence is the specific quest of the Upanishadic thoughts … Some of the most ancient Upanishads represent earliest attempts of mankind to provide philosophical explanation of the Universe , of the Ultimate Reality , of the nature of Self  and the purpose of the human kind….

The importance of Upanishads in the development of ‘Hinduism’ is enormous; for, it contains most of the developing concepts that we associate with ‘Hinduism’ today, such as: Brahman the Absolute principle, Atman (true self), Moksha (liberation) , Dharma ( what indeed is right), Samsara (re-birth)  etc. These are some of the fundamental concepts that are accepted by all the Indian traditions. Bhagavad-Gita the sacred text of ‘Hinduism’ relies heavily on the teachings of the Upanishads… author of the Bhagavad-Gita included the words of a number of Upanishads very frequently.

Jeaneane D. Fowler (The Bhagavad Gita: A Text and Commentary for Students – Introduction) ]




Continued in Part Two

Sources and References

 Life in the Upanishads by Dr. Shubhra Sharma; Abhinav Publications, 1985

The History of Pre-Bhuddhistic Indian Philosophy by Dr .Benimadhab Barua; Motilal Banarsidass, 1921

The Upanishads by Ekanath Easwaran and Michael N Nagler; Nilgiri Press, 2007.

A Course in Indian Philosophy by AK Warder, Motilal Banarsidass, 2009

Indian Philosophy before the Greeks by David J Melling

Atman in pre-upanisadic Vedic literature By H G. Narahari; published by Adyar Library 1944.

What the Upanishads teach

The Chandogya Upanishad by Swami Krishnananada

All images are from Internet


Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Upanishads


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