Monthly Archives: January 2014

Shishira Rtu

[Ms.B i; January 22, 2014; Dear Mr.Sreenivasa Rao,

I am currently working on indianising the curriculum for the school that I work for. In my research, I stumbled upon this article and the one on Sharad Ritu. It is very relevant to the work I am doing, as the curriculum is imparted mainly through stories embedded in local culture.

We are now in the season of Shishira. Would you be able to give a similar description of this season?

Ms.B ; January 24, 2014; what is said about this particular season in these translations is something that I cannot use… these descriptions cannot  be given to children.

I can see that there aren’t many flowers around in this season, but there still are. How are they coping with the cold? How about the birds, squirrels, worms and other creatures? What are the first things to change at the end of Shishira, when Vasantha begins to set in? ]

floral design3

Dear Ms.B , I wrote the article on Rtu Varnana mainly thanks to my friend   Ms. Venetia Ansell, a Sanskrit Scholar from Oxford University – now in India. I expanded on Rtu Varnana by bringing in Barahmasa poetry and painting, just to make it a bit more complete.

Venetia Ansell is managing a Publishing House (Rasala) ; and also a website devoted to Sanskrit Literature

Please check on the latter link; and that could, perhaps, answer many of your concerns.

On that page, under the table ‘Categories’ you may click on Seasonal Poetry . There you will find that Venetia has written extensively on seasonal poetry in Sanskrit; as also on flowers of each season as described in the poetic works of Kalidasa and other eminent poets. I am sure the detailed references would be of much use to you in your task.

As regards Shishira please check on pages 10 and 11 of ‘Seasonal Poetry’ at   the following link for a brief description

Yes Maa, I agree. Those translated poems on Venetia’s site are about the pleasures of Shishira, enjoyable delights of lovers within the confines of the bedroom.  They, of course, are   not suitable for children. Those pieces of poetry were created in an entirely different context for the pleasure of a totally different set of readers. In contrast, the stanzas you have written are purposeful and serve your objective better.

I have just tried writing a few lines about Shishira. I now realize how difficult it is to write about these subjects for the children. It calls for a special way of understanding and a style of putting across the information in a manner that is at once simple, inoffensive, educative and enjoyable by the children. I had not attempted it earlier.  This is a new experience for me.  I am not sure I got it right. My respect for you, therefore, goes up all the more.

See, if the following could be any use to you. Modify it in any way you think best. I am sorry; I have not been of much help to you. Pardon me.

[As regards Yakshi and others you mentioned, let’s talk of them at another time.]

A. Shishira

Shishira Rtu

1. 1. In the part of country we live, Shishira and Hemantha run into each other. That is mainly because, unlike in the North, we do not experience severe winters. Though Hemantha is described as pre-winter and Shishira as late-winter, both the Rtus are moderately cold, and dewy. While Hemantha is colder, Shishira is its diminishing phase. 

1.2. Shishira is the Rtu comprising Magha and Phalguna, the months related to winter’s cold and snug- comfort.  The Shishira Rtu, season, usually starts in January and ends in March. The mild winter gradually gives place to spring (Vasantha), which itself transforms into summer (Grishma).

1.3. The temperatures during Shishira are pleasant, breaking into enjoyable sunshine, evoking images of warmth, the stoking of the fires.    The sun shines weakly and even the moon is pale. Days are short and nights long. Few flowers or trees are in bloom.  During the latter half of Shishira, trees may shed their leaves.  The life-force of the plants lie dormant, waiting to burst forth at the advent of Vasantha, the spring.  These seasons are typical to tropical and subtropical regions. Some, therefore, even call Shishira; the early spring – prelude to Vasantha.

2.1. Shishira is one of the many names of Vishnu (Shishira sharvaree Kara – Vishnusahasranama 97). And yet;   as Venetia says: ‘Śhiśhira is the much neglected step child among the seasons’. It doesn’t seem to have definition of its own. Shishira, unlike Vasantha or Varsha, is not much celebrated in our poetry.  In the ancient days of the Vedic texts, when the Rtus  were counted as five, Hemantha and Shishira were considered as forming one Rtu. Some texts did not even regard Shishira as a Rtu, but called it a month – Shishira Maasa.

2.2. Shishira (magha –phalguna) is the transitory season of cool days; the waning phase of winter, when the season of cool comforts steadily picks up heat gets quietly warmer. Shishira stands at the threshold when earth changes its fabric. It acquires a rather rough surface after the dry winter. Then the earth switches into its explicit warmer mode.

Aayanas and change of seasons

3.1. Shishira marks the Parva-kaala – change of seasons – from winter into spring; from short days into longer days; and from Dakshinayana into Uttarayana.  It transfers from the night (Dakshinayana) of the gods to the day (Uttarayana) of gods. Shishira stands at the head of Uttarayana. 

3.2. The Indian year is divided into two semesters (Aayana): the fiery (agneya) in which the Sun rises higher in the sky with each passing day, spreading heat, blowing winds, and sapping out (aadana) fluids from all living things. The other is the lunar season (saumya) during which the moon is relatively higher up in the sky than the lowering Sun. It pours in (visarga) moisture through the rains.

3.3. The first of these, the hot season, roughly corresponds with the period between the winter (14th January) and summer solstice (14th July). During this Aayana, the Sun’s angle of elevation increases; and the point of sunrise moves northward (Uttara) along the horizon with each passing day. This is known as Uttarayana; and roughly corresponds to the period between 14th January and 14th July.

3.4. The second is the period between summer and winter solstice, when the Sun’s angle of elevation decreases and apparently moves along the horizon southward (Dakshina). This is the Dakshinayana – the period between 14th July and 14th January.

4.1. The turning points (Sankarnathi) fall on or about 14th January (Makara Sankranthi) and 14th July (Karka Sankranthi) when the Sun’s orientation shifts, and when winter and summer change places. Shishira Rtu covers the transition period from winter to spring, from Dakshinayana to Uttarayana. Uttarayana Sankranthi (14th Jan) is celebrated to mark the beginning of the sun’s journey in the northern solstice. On this day prayers are offered to Surya, the visible representation of the God.  This is followed by Ratha Saptami marking the seventh day of Sun’s journey in the north-easterly direction. And, with that the day temperature increases gradually. Ratha Saptami heralds staring of the harvesting season; and, are celebrated as Surya Jayanthi (birthday).

[This traditional explanation is from the point of view from the Earth.  But, we all know that the Sun does not move; and it is the Earth that rotates on its axis round the Sun.  The earth is titled at about 23 degrees and circles around the Sun with this tilt. It is this tilt that creates the various seasons on different parts of the Earth.


The tilt of the Earth and its rotation round its axis is very important for the creation of seasons. Supposing the Earth did not tilt round its axis, and had been erect (zero degree), the sun would always have been below on the horizon; the Sun would set and rise at the same time everyday of the year; there would be no variation in daylight hours; there would less sunlight towards either ends of the Earth; and, It would be warm at the equator and cold at the poles. That is to say; with zero tilt,    a single uniform weather condition would have prevailed over the Earth. All through the year, it would have been as if it is the middle of fall or spring; we would have a totally different plant and animal life. Or , it could possibly have been something else; who knows !

With no tilt, the most profound impact on temperatures would have been at the poles where the sun would always circle round its horizon and the temperatures throughout the year would have been uniform.  The day in the Polar Regions would be shorter and colder; the effect on animal and plant life would have been significant without having any ‘growing’ or migration seasons.

Therefore, the earth’s 23 degree tilt doesn’t just give us the variations of the seasons and all the wonderful things we’ll be experiencing from season to season.  The tilt is really important for setting the basic foundations of the environment we take for granted in our part of the world. As you can see, we’d have a very different planet without those 23 degrees.

Having said that; let us be aware that the earth hasn’t always rotated with a 23 degree tilt. Its tilt varies by a couple of degrees every 41,000 years or so. And, that changes the strength of the seasons on the earth as we experience it.  When the tilt is greater, summers are warmer and winters are colder; and, when the tilt is smaller there’s less of a difference in the seasons. Over the last million years the changes in the tilt have   just been 2 or 3 degrees. And, that is huge enough to force huge climate shifts of the glacial cycles that the earth has experienced. Scientists say that the Earth’s tilt is slightly decreasing, which means the variations among the seasons ,  ever so slowly,  is getting less perceptible  .]

5.1. The Dakshinayana begins with pouring monsoon rains beating down the heat and ushering in cool relief, And, as the Aayana ends, the mild winter steps into prelude to spring. Dakshinayana is the life giving season in which all creatures and vegetation thrive. The thirsty plants and animals fanatically drink and soak in the elixir of life, and regain their vitality.   It is the season of life and festivity.  All the major festivals from Krishna Janmastami, through Gauri, Ganesh, and Nava Ratri, on to Deepavali are celebrated during Dakshinayana. This particularly is the Aayana of the Devi – the Mother. Dakshina is also understood as the grace; the feminine principles, the Mother who can create, unfold and manifest. Dakshinayana is the time of receptivity and is the feminine phase of the Earth.

5.2. In contrast; the Uttarayana (Jan – July) is a long period of dry heat, blazing summers and swirl dusty winds. During this uncomfortable season of heat, dust and winds the life withers and dies.  The heat takes away moisture from all living things. It is also the season of ‘hot’ diseases and epidemics. The village minor goddesses such as Sitala (small pox) are ‘cooled’ or appeased (shanthi).

small pox

At the same time; Uttarayana is also the invigorating   , new good healthy wealthy beginning.  It is the time of harvest, gathering the fruits of your efforts.  Uttarayana is also the northward noble path (Deva Yana) that leads the virtuous to gods; and, is therefore called Uttarayana Punyakaala. The old warrior Bhishma of Mahabharata lay in wait on the bed of arrows for the arrival of Uttarayana. On the dawn of Uttarayana the Grand-old Bhishma chose to give up his life. Uttarayana is the time of fulfilment, while Dakshinayana is the season of growing up.

5.3. Maha Shivaratri which heralds the true beginning of hot summers, as also the Holi  the festival of colours marking  the burning down of Kama are celebrated during Uttarayana . Shivaratri, it is said, is the remembrance, in gratefulness, of Shiva the Neelkanta who saved the world by consuming the deadly poison thrown up after Samudra Manthan, churning of the ocean. And, Holi, in some parts of the country, is day on which the fearsome Lord Narasimha killed the tyrant king Hiranyakashipu. 

Many of the festivals in Uttarayana are in celebration of male gods. The season of six months from January to July is regarded   masculine in nature, while Dakshinayana is the feminine phase of the Earth.

[In the ancient and medieval times, Dakshinayana was also the season of re-union; when men travelling on business hurried back home before the rain bearing clouds broke out in torrents; and, when the separated lovers ran into each other arms.

Even for the ascetics, the recluse and the Parivrajakas (wandering monks) the monsoon was a period of retreat. During the four months (Chatur-masa) of Dakshinayana when travel used to be difficult and hazardous the monks in the olden days used to assemble at a place far away from towns for exchange of views and experiences. It was essentially a period of study, reflection and contemplation. The period of retreat commenced from the end of Ashada (June–July) and through the months of Shravana, Bhadrapada, Asvina and ending in the Kartika, the day after Deepavali (November) marking the beginning of  winter ]

6.1. The Rtu of Shishira bridges the winter and hot seasons, marks the transformation of the Earth in its nature and appearance. Shishira stands at the threshold when earth changes its fabric; switches from Devi to Shiva; from thriving into fulfilment. It leads on to way to openness and liberation.


B. Birds and flowers


7.1. Shishira is the season of migratory birds. Every year, in this season, varieties of colorful migratory bird species flock to the   habitats that suit them in Southern India. In these sanctuaries, the arrival of migratory birds commences in the last week of October and continues till February end. 

sea geese in ontario

The annual migration of snow geese turning up in Ontario, Canada is  not only an incredible demonstration of the unique and amazing ways the flocks of birds  have evolved to survive;  but,  it’s also a visual spectacle

7.2. For instance, birds from North Europe, Afghanistan and West Asia make their home in the wetlands of Malady in Udupi district between September and March. The influx of waterfowls in the wetland crosses 1.2 lakh every winter. The best time to watch them is in January and February. Some birdwatchers say they have identified here even the bird species from Patagonian region of South America. These include different varieties of ducks, coots, swans, birds of prey and many others.

[It appears, during this season, in the warm waters of South India, Olive Ridley Turtles arrive to lay eggs.]

7.3. The other is the famous bird sanctuary at the mini-islets of Ranganathittu along the River Cauvery, near Mysore. During the months of January and February, more than 30 species of birds are found here. About 50 pelicans have made Ranganathittu as their permanent home. The season of the sanctuary is from November to June, when Ranganathittu comes alive with birds of different species flocking there to herald the nesting and breeding season. About 40,000 birds of various plumes arrive here from the cold regions of Siberia, Latin America and the Himalayan regions in North India, to nestle and hatch eggs. They stay throughout the summer and fly away after breeding ahead of the onset of monsoon.

7.4. The migratory birds that arrive at Ranganathittu are of wide variety .They range from Pelicans, Painted Storks, Open Billed Storks, River Terns, Spoon Bills, Night Herons, Cormorants and other birds. A lot of other varieties such as Kingfishers, Hornbills, Wagtails and many other species can also be found. Between February and April you’ll find a greater variety of birds with their breeding plumage are at their finest. And, between April and July, you’ll still get to see the Mother birds with their offspring.


8.1. As regards the flowers of Shishira as described in the Sanskrit poetry, you may refer to Venetia Ansell’s most delightful series of posts on Seasonal poetry. Please click here for the link.  

Here, she talks of:” Priyagu creepers, their young shoots bowed under their burden of golden yellow  blossom, outshine the beautiful hue of women’s arms arrayed with jewellery – Ritu Samhara of Kalidasa; 3.18.

; And of Kunda – Jasmine buds that bloom in Shishira and withers at the onset of spring  (Vasantha)  , and  “that shine with a glistening sheen as if stars, terrified of the cold, have taken refuge in the kunda creeper: Verse 3 of Śiśira in the Subhāitaratnabhāṇḍāgāram.

 8.2. The season of Shishira is special, as both winter and summer flowers blossom around this time of the year. While the winter flowering plants do wither away, the summer ones begin flowering around January and February.  “In January and February, winter flowers cease to bloom slowly and summer flowers start blossoming”.

The biannual flower show at Lal Baugh celebrates the culmination of the seasonal flowers of winter and summer.


8.3. Though it is true that flowers bloom in full in spring and summer seasons, there are yet a large variety of flowers that can decorate and brighten-up your garden with their colour and style in the cold months of January and February. These include, among others: 

Witch Hazel, a shrub which produces sweet-smelling flowers having yellow;

the elegant looking Pansies of white, purple, pink or yellow;

the graceful winter Jasmine glowing in mild yellow  strung along creepers lazing on garden slopes;

the coloured snow Drops that create an illusion that garden is covered with snow drops;

and, the Winter Iris of  deep blue, white and lilac that are refreshingly aromatic having  lemony-vanilla-fragrance

. For details please click here.

 Flowering trees

9.1. There are a number of trees in South Karnataka that flower during the Shishira Rtu – January and February. The list is exhaustive. But, let me mention here just a few of the flowering giants of January – March:

Booruga (Kannada) – Red Silk Cotton – bearing   large, cup-shaped, crimson flowers that attract a variety of birds; 


Muttuga (Kannada) – Flame of the Forest – like many of the other trees in this season sheds most of its leaves before putting forth clusters of bright orange red flowers that stand out amidst  dry and leafless vegetation;


Honge (Kannada) – Indian Beech Tree – the native, evergreen and hardy Honge – that bear small – pea-plant like flowers – in colours  from white to pale purple attracting butterflies;


Haladi Mara (Kannada) –  The Tree of Gold – bearing large clusters of bright yellow flowers on its crooked branches;

Haladi mara

Another type of Honge –  Moulmein Rose Wood – bearing   bright mauve flowers on its  drooping stalks ;

Moulmein Rose Wood

and,  Pink Tabebuia- stunningly beautiful clusters of  flowers in deep pink with a pale yellow centre  .

Pink Tabebuia

For details, please click here for Karthik’s Journal on Flowering Tree.

This is a wonderful site where Karthik has posted information and pictures of about twenty-six flowering trees that are found in Bangalore. He has also identified the locations in Bangalore where such species are to be found.

 C. You asked what do the birds, squirrels, worms and other creatures do in winter


10.1. Yes, when the weather gets colder, the days get shorter and the leaves loose colour and fall off the tree, it surely is a hard time for birds, squirrels, worms and other creatures. But, animals are amazing creatures and are very inventive. They learn to survive the cheerless winters by resorting to many tactics. They might: migrate, hibernate, adapt to the situation, and find many other ways to see through the cold unhelpful conditions.

You may find these links useful while teaching the children

Let’s look at these with reference to moderate climatic conditions, setting aside the extremes in polar and desert zones.  ;



10.2. The birds, for instance, might migrate to far off warmer places if they can fly long distances. Else, they may just fly into a nearby more tolerable place. Similarly, whales, fish etc travel South or move into deeper, warmer waters. Insects also migrate. Some butterflies and moths fly very long distances.  The mammals in the colder regions also move out in search of food. But, this happens only in extreme conditions. And, it is not warranted in South India which enjoys moderate climate.

As regards the insects and termites, they move through holes in the ground downward into the soil looking for winter shelters. Earthworms also move down, some as far as six feet below the surface. Insects, most times, take shelter beneath the bark of trees, deep inside rotting logs or in any small crack they can find.


Snakes and many other reptiles find shelter in holes or burrows, and spend the winter inactive, or dormant. This is similar to hibernation.



10.3. Animals, like Bears and some bats, hibernate for part or all of the winter. This is a special, very deep sleep. The animal’s body temperature drops, and its heartbeat and breathing slow down. It uses very little energy. Every living thing learns to adapt.

In the autumn, before the onset of winter, these animals are prepared to live through winter by eating extra food and storing it as body fat. They use this fat for energy while hibernating. Some also store food like nuts or acorns to eat later in the winter.

 As regards the insects, every type of insect has its own life cycle, which is the way it grows and changes. Different insects spend the winter in different stages of their lives. Many insects spend the winter being dormant, or in hibernation. It is a time when growth and development may temporarily halt. The insect’s heartbeat, breathing and temperature drop. Some insects spend the winter as worm-like larvae. Others spend the winter as pupae. (This is a time when insects change from one form to another.) Other insects die after laying eggs in the fall. The eggs hatch into new insects in the spring and everything begins all over again.



10.4. If an animal or plant is to survive it must be able to fit in with the environmental conditions which surround it in its habitat. This adjustment is called adaptation.

Depending on what sort of habitat it lives in, an animal or plant may have to adjust itself to changes in its environment.  In winter, the most obvious changes are those of shortening of daylight hours and decreasing temperature. This is what happens when autumn turns into winter.

Some animals continue to be active in the winter. They however learn to adapt. Sheep, for instance, grow thick fur or wool to keep warm. So do the Rabbits.

Animals may find winter shelter in holes in trees or logs, under rocks or leaves, or underground. Some mice even build tunnels through the snow. To try to stay warm, animals like squirrels and mice may huddle close together.

Food is hard to find in the winter. Some animals, like squirrels, and mice, gather extra food in the fall and store it to eat later. Some, like rabbits and deer, spend winter looking for moss, twigs, bark and leaves to eat. Other animals eat different kinds of food as the seasons change.

Other ways


The puffin species have predominantly black or black and white plumage, a stocky build, and large beaks. They shed the colourful outer parts of their bills after the breeding season, leaving a smaller and duller beak. Their short wings are adapted for swimming with a flying technique under water. In the air they need to beat their wings rapidly (up to 400 times a minute) to stay airborne (Samuele Parentella)


10.5. Water makes a good shelter for many animals. When the weather gets cold, they move to the bottom of lakes and ponds. There, frogs, turtles and many fish hide under rocks, logs or fallen leaves. They may even bury themselves in the mud. They become dormant. Cold water holds more oxygen than warm water, and the frogs and turtles can breathe by absorbing it through their skin.


References and sources

The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India by David Gordon White



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Siddha and the way of Rasa

[Dear vasudev-anand , the subject of Siddhas, Rasa, sexual fluids, rejuvenation etc is rather bizarre. Here, I hesitate to write about it candidly. But, since you persist, I am posting an outline of it – for whatever it is worth. Trust this helps your task. ]

Siva Appears as a Siddha


1.1. A Siddha is one who is said to have attained superhuman powers (Siddhis) or Jivanmukthi (It could also be perfection? or immortality?). Such a Siddha with a divine body (divyadeha) is Shiva himself (Maheshvara Siddha).  He is the perfect One, who has transcended the barriers of time, space and human limitations. A Siddha , in his idealized form , is freed from all wants (anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyam)- the one who has attained flawless identity with the Reality.

1.2. For a Siddha, the world is a play-area (Lila kshetra), in which he experiences the absolute, as he does the world. He, therefore, seeks Jivanmukthi, freedom from human constraints and weaknesses; and, not Moksha the total liberation from existence.    A Siddha is thus, a death-defying, wonder-working wizard. He is in the world; and yet, he is out of it.  For a Siddha, the world has gently slipped away, even as it still remains.

1.3. Siddha is also described as a Kavi, in the Rig-Vedic sense of an exalted seer, in the mold of Asura Kavya Usanas (Shukra – ?) –  said to be the son of Rishi Bhrigu and Kavyamata (Ushana) – who brought together the worlds of the Indra and Rudra. It is said; Kavya Usanas alone knew the secret knowledge (guhya vidya) of life-giving-magic that rejuvenated the old and ailing, and also brought the dead back to life (Sanjivani vidya). A Siddha , who is pure , is also compared to Brihaspathi (the counterpart of Kavya Usanas – Shukra), the Guru of the light-filled worlds of the gods and demigods. He is Vidyadhara. 

[ It is interesting that the healers in the Ayurveda tradition go by the title Kaviraja]

2.1. There have been various traditions of Siddhas: Ancient Alchemist Sittars of South India (18 Sittars starting from Agastiyar and including Kagapujandar, Boghar and others); the nomadic Buddhist Tantrics of Bengal, adepts in Vajrayana techniques (Maha-siddhas, Siddhacharyas); the Alchemists and Yogis of medieval India (Rasa Siddhas); and , mainly the North Indian hoard (ganas) of Natha Siddhas, following the cult founded by Matsyendranatha and developed by Gorakshaka-natha.

The names of Matsyendranātha and Gorakanātha are taken with great reverence in the Nātha sampradāya. Goraksanātha is considered as a disciple of Matsyendranātha, as per the Sampradāya.

Natha siddha lianage

Apart from these Yogīs, the name of the other Yogīs like Cauragīnātha; Jālandharnātha; Kāniphanātha; Mīnanātha; Gahiīnātha; Carpaī; Gopīcanda; Maināvatī; Bharthari; Ratananātha; Dharmanātha; Mastanātha;  etc., are also well known in the Natha Sampradāya.


2.2. The Siddhas were proficient in yoga, alchemy, magical powers (siddhi) and other occult practices. They were also famous for their whimsical behavior. Some names of Siddhas are related to the Nātha tradition of 84 Siddhas.  The Siddhas are, therefore, worshiped in the Nātha tradition with great respect even today.

As regards the Nathas, the term Natha is often used as a name for Lord Śhiva. In the Nātha texts, Śhiva is often called ‘Ādinātha’, the first   or primeval Lord. Scholars Lorenzen and Muñoz explain the word ‘Nātha’ in this way:

Linguistically, the word Nātha is associated with the Sanskrit root Nāth, meaning ‘to have dominion or power” but also “to implore or beseech”. Nātha is also explained in traditional sources according to a homiletic etymology. Thus the Rāja-guhya states that the syllable Nā connotes the anādi (literally “without origin”)-i.e., the primordial form, whereas the syllable that connotes sthāpita, the “established”.  Nātha then would mean the primeval form or dharma established in the three worlds (bhuvana-tryam) according to this religious speculation”.  (Lorenzen & Muñoz 2011: x; Dvivedi 1950: 3).


2.3. Siddhamata; Siddhamārga; Yogamārga; Yoga sampradāya; Avadhūtamata; Avadhūta-sampradāya; Gorakh-sampradāya; and, Kānaphaas; etc., are other popular names for Nātha-sampradāya or Nātha Pantha.

The Nātha sampradāya is also known as ‘Ādinātha- sampradāya’ (Order of the Primordial Śhiva)

Traditionally, there are twelve sub-branches within the main  Sampradāya. They are :  

Satyanāthī; Dharmanāthi; Rāmapantha; Nāeśvarī;  Kanhaa; Kapilānī; Bairāgapantha; Mānanāthi; Āīpantha; Pāgalapantha; Dhajapantha; and  Gagānāthī .

2.4. In the tradition of the Siddhas (Siddha Sampradaya), 84 *Siddhas and 9 Nathas are recalled with awe and reverence.

The Caturasiti-siddha-pravrtti ‘The Lives of the Eighty-four Siddhas’, a Sanskrit text compiled by Abhayadatta Sri during 11th or 12th century provides brief sketches of the 84 Mahasiddhas. Four of the Mahasiddhas were women: Manibhadra, Lakshmincara, Mekhala and Kanakhala. By and large, typically, the Siddhas were saints, doctors, alchemists and mystics all at once. 

For the list of the 84 Siddhas, according to various traditions, please check the Table 3.1 of the thesis submitted to the Deccan College, Post Graduate and Research Institute (Deemed University) by Dr. Vijay Sarde.

*[* The number eighty-four is regarded   a ‘whole’ or ‘perfect’ number: (3+4) x (3×4). The number is matching with the number of Siddhi or occult powers. Thus, the eighty-four Siddhas can be seen as archetypes representing the thousands of exemplars and adepts of the Tantric way.]

The Nava-nāthas, the nine Nathas are:

  • Ādinātha;
  • Udayanātha;
  • Santoanātha;
  • Gajbalī-Gajakanthara-nātha;
  • Acala-Acambhenātha;
  • Satyanātha;
  • Matsyendranātha;
  • Gorakanātha; and
  • Cauragīnātha.

There are some other lists of twenty-seven  Rasa Siddhas and Nātha Siddhas.

Though there are many classifications among the Siddhas, there is no strict demarcation between the various the Siddha Sampradayas. The titles, Siddha, Mahasiddha, Natha and Yogi are used by all interchangeably.  Further,  the Siddha traditions occur in Hindu, Buddhist, Tibetan  and also in Jain traditions alike .

2.5.Despite wide disparities among the diverse Schools of the Siddhas in regard to their unique techniques and goals of their Sadhana,   one of the major aims of all the Siddhas was to attain a state of deathless-ness. That is, their goal was to deliver the body free from ravages of age and disease; to attain a sort of Invincibility. This, they sought to achieve through a sustained and an incredibly rigorous process of Hata Yoga aided by an Alchemic process (nectar making – amrtikarana) involving the production and consumption of a concoction (rasayana) based mainly in purified  Mercury.

[ For a detailed treatment of the Natha sampradaya , please read Chapter 3: A Brief History of the Nātha sampradāya (Pages 29-76) of the  Research Paper produced by Dr. Vijay Sarde.]

Hata yoga

3. Ayurveda and Rasa-shastra

It is said:

The term Rasa, in this context, generally refers to the science and the technique of preparing medicines based in minerals; and, in particular, to element Mercury. According to Rasa Shastra doctrine, many types of minerals, including Mercury, though commonly considered as toxic, can , by proper procedures, be made into medicines.

Rasa-shastra is a pharmaceutical branch of Indian system of medicine which mainly deals with the metals, minerals, animal-origin products, toxic herbs and their use in therapeutics.

The preparation of Ayurveda medicines involves processes by which various metals, minerals and other substances, including mercury, are purified and combined with herbs, in an attempt to treat illnesses and to strengthen the system.

In Ayurveda, generally, about twenty per cent of its medicines are herbal preparations; about thirty percent are pure mineral preparations; and, the rest fifty per cent is a mixture of herbal and mineral preparations.

The credit of developing Rasa Shastra as a stream of classical Ayurveda, especially in fulfilling its healthcare-related goals, goes to Nagarjuna (5the Century CE).

The methods of Rasa shastra are contained in a number of Ayurveda texts, including the Charaka Samhita and Susruta Samhita. An important feature is the use of metals, including several that are considered to be toxic, in medicines. In addition to mercury, gold, silver, iron, copper, tin, lead, zinc and bell metal are used. Apart from these metals,  other substances such as salts, coral, seashells, and feathers are also used. Sublimation and the preparation of a mercury sulphide are also  used in the preparation of its materia-medica.

The usual means used to administer these substances is by preparations called Bhasma, Sanskrit for “ash”. Calcinations, which is described as Shodhana, ‘purification’, is the process used to prepare these Bhasma for administration.  A variety of methods are used for purification and removal of undesirable qualities ;  enhancing  their therapeutic power.


Kaviraj Bhudeb Mookerji

Rasa-Jala-Nidhi or Ocean of Indian Chemistry and Alchemy, Compiled in Sanskrit (with English translation) by Rasacharya Kaviraj Bhudeb Mookerji; Published in Calcutta – 1926

The voluminous Rasa-Jala-Nidhi, spread over Four Volumes, is  based on numerous traditional texts on Ayurveda and Rasa-shastra.

Shri Mookerji , towards the end of his introduction to  Volume One of  the Rasa-Jala-Nidhi remarks :

The treatment of diseases by Rasa (Mercury) , Gems, Metals etc ., is divine; that by incantations and vegetable drugs is human; and, that by surgical instruments is diabolical. Metallurgy is therefore, to be learnt very carefully.




4.1. Mercury is one of the densest possible substances; and, it is in liquid form – the only liquid metal.  And, it always stays in liquid form. It is highly sensitive to heat; and expands quickly as its temperature rises. That is the reason it is used in thermometers. Once the Mercury is energized and maintained in proper conditions, it stays energized for a very long time, without dissipation. In the olden times, it appears, mercury deposits/ traces were found in the Siddhipur region of Gujarat; and, in Srisailam hills in AP (?). Mercury in purer form was imported from Roman regions.

4.2. In India, there is an abundance of traditional literature about alchemical and clinical mercury; and about the many ways it can be prepared, purified and handled. Several classical works praise solidified mercury, and talk about the various processes of its purification and solidification to perfect it into a glorious Rasa.

4.3.  Because of its popular appeal, Mercury is called by various names, such as: Rasa, Padarasa, Parada, Sukta, Vaikrnta, Vyomadharana, Avithyaja, Rasayana–shresta, Rasendra , Maha-rasa and by many other names/epithets. Mercury is also associated with Moon:  as Soma, Indu, and Bindu (drop or mind).  It is also related to Amrta Rasa, the elixir of immortality and to Soma offered to gods.

4.4. Mercury occupies a very important position in the Siddha ways of training and also in Ayurveda, the science of life.  In the Indian traditional literature there are copious references to Mercury, to its properties, its virtues and its supposed magical powers. There are elaborate descriptions of various processes of purification and solidification of Mercury in order to render it perfect, into an exalted essence.

Mercury in Ayurveda

5.1. The Ayurveda has eight divisions; and, the seventh is titled Rasayana – (Rasa+Yana), Rasa meaning Mercury, and Yana the clinical procedures involving Mercury (Rasa Chikitsa). Generally, Rasayana is taken as the way or the procedures of Mercury.  In Ayurveda, Rasayana refers to Mercury as medicine (elixir), as also to a whole group of medical tinctures based in Mercury  , herbs  and other minerals (including processed gold).

[For the process of cleansing and preparing the the Mercury for clinical purposes – Rodhana Samskara of Parada – please click here.]

5.2. As a method of treatment, Rasayana is a way of cleansing the body (samsodhana cikitsa; and, a rejuvenation therapy for replenishing the bodily fluids (rasa) and supplementing other substances (dhatus) of the body.  The treatment is also termed as kshetri-karana, preparation of the body for absorbing the medicines per se.  Here, Rasa or Rasa-bija – the essence in a substance – is used to influence and enhance the health of vital bodily fluids or its constituents in the body.

5.3. The Rasayana line of treatment aims to arrest physical and mental decay. This is a part of sets of detailed procedures, regimen, meant to ensure a prolonged healthy and happy life. Ayurveda claims the clinical use of systematically purified and treated mercury can stimulate cerebral functions without agitating the mind; improve concentration, reduce fickle mindedness; and, enhances memory power.   And physically it renders the person vigorous, disease-free, enabling him to enjoy a long youthful life.

5.4 The texts –Rasaśāstra (Rasāyana), the Ānandakanda, and the Rasa-svacchanda – which are based in the Tantra-scriptures such as the Rasa-ratna-samuccaya (which is credited to Vāgbhata), teach the initiatory Tantric alchemic-cult aimed for the attainment of immortality and liberation through the use of mercurial elixirs.

Vāgbhata, a scholar believed to have lived during 12th century, is said to be the author of the texts relating to Ayurveda, such as the Ashtāga-sagraha and the Ashtānga-hridaya-sahitā.  The one other work credited to Vāgbhata, viz., Rasa-ratna- samuccaya   deals with the alchemic extraction, purification, conversion of metals/minerals (such as Pārada, Abhraka, Añjana, Vaikrānta, Capala, Gandhaka  etc.,) into therapeutically suitable forms.

The Chapter Two of the Rasa-ratna -samuccaya   describes eight Mahārasas (eight metals which are considered superior in processing mercury); their types;, acceptable varieties; their therapeutic attributes; and,  the detailed procedures of purification and calcinations or thermal treatment process.

And the Chapter Eleven mentions various units of measurements and the Pārada -aṣṭa saskāra (eight basic processing steps of mercury). Along with that, it also details use of mercury in the treatment of wounds and burns. It also underlines the precautions that have to be taken before and while using mercury internally. It also deals with the treatment of the adverse effects caused by the improper use of mercury or improperly processed mercury.

[For more on this, please do read the Critical Review of Rasaratna Samuccaya : A Comprehensive Treatise of Indian Alchemy]


5.5 .  Rasacharya Kaviraj  Shri Bhudeb Mookerji in the Volume One of  his Rasa-Jala-Nidhi in its Eight Chapters, from page 29 to page 350, commencing from Chapter Three deals, almost exclusively, in great detail, with  Mercury (Parada). It specifies the particulars regarding the setting up of the laboratory, the apparatus, the crucibles, the equipment, the tools etc. then it goes on to describe the  attributes of Mercury; the processes involved in purification of mercury; sublimation of mercury;  swallowing by Mercury of other metals, sulphur (Rasa-sindhuram) etc.,; Killing of Mercury; pharmaceutical applications of purified Mercury;  administration of such Mercury based medicines;  and,  dietary regulations   etc.

The Rasa Siddantha believes that Parada, the mercury, has six different kinds of taste –sweet, sour, saline, pungent, bitter and astringent. The purified Mercury enhances the medicinal properties of other drugs with which it is compounded. Parada, in its purified form, has a soothing effect on the human system; and, is capable of destroying three kinds of Doshas (faults) – Vata, Pittha and Kafa (Tri-dosha).  Parada, when it is properly reduced to the form of ashes (Bhasma) effectively prevents on set of diseases and premature old age. It nourishes and increases the strength of the vital parts of the body ; and , improves the eyesight.

[ As regards the  subjects covered in the other volumes of the Rasa-Jala-Nidhi:

Volume Two, in its four Chapters, deals with the preparation and applications of the medicines prepared with metallic content, such as Mica (Abraca), Silver, Copper, tin, lead, Bitumen, Sulphur, Cinnabar etc.

Volume three, in its eleven chapters, details the use of Iron (Lauha); Zinc (Jasoda); Mixed metals such as Brass (Pitala),Bell-metal (Kansya), etc.

It also enumerates (Chapter four)  the use of gems , such as Diamond (Vajra), Emerald (Marakata), Ruby (Manikya), Pearl (Mukta), Safire (Nila), Zircon (Gomedha), Garnet (Vikranta), Quartz (Spatika), Coral (Pravala), Topaz (Pushaya-raga ),  and cats-eye and similar other stones (Vaidurya) etc.

Then it goes on to talk about varieties of alkalis (Kshara), oils (taila), extracts (takra), cow urine (gomutra) and other substances, their properties and applications  in medicine . And then of salts (Lavana) ; of poisons (Pashana or Visha), semi-poisons (Upa-pashana or Upa-visha) like, Arka, Languli, Gunja , Dattura, Opium etc.

Chapter ten , details the liqueurs, the alcoholic based medicines , tinctures etc. such as : Gouri, Madhavi, Palsti, Kadamvari, Varuni , Madhuki etc.

And, the Volume four covers peripheral issues such as  the management of feverish conditions (Jwara lakshana) ; other diseases; their side effects; observance of recommended diet (Pathya sevane); administration of medicines, their dosage, frequency .; healthy living habits etc.]


Mercury in Siddha traditions

6.1. The wonderful and exhilarating elixir-like benefits of Mercury-treatment seemed to have excited the Siddhas, inspiring them to speculate on achieving a sort of an amazing immortal body. That prompted Siddhas to explore the diverse and manifold possibilities surrounding the applications of solidified Mercury. Ayurveda thus, it seems, paved the way for Alchemist Siddhas to speculate on the immortality of the body and to concoct an enabling elixir. Attaining immortality then became the life-ambition and the goal of many Siddha traditions.

6.2.  According to Siddhas, Mercury is a poison for the uninitiated who partake of it or its compounds improperly. Mercury, they said, has always been a part of the nature; and, has not poisoned either the air, the waters or the earth. It is only its abuse that brings forth its deadly effects.  Even the combination of the so-called poisons – neither too strong, nor too weak- when properly prepared, can act as nourishing medicine. The medicinal blend of poisons (Visha) in prescribed proportions can energize the body, invigorate its functions and generally act as a tonic. And, in some ancient temples (e.g. Palini Hills) the idol of the main deity, it is said, is crafted  out of an alloy of nine types of deadly poisonous minerals, herbs, chemicals and crystals (nava-pashana).

6.3. The Siddhas asserted that for   an initiated alchemist Siddha, Mercury if properly treated and processed can be transformed into nectar of immortality.  It converts from visha into amrita. They believed that its soft and subtle blue energy invigorates the vital functions of the body; and   ‘through the use of mercury that is healing and medicinal in nature, one rapidly obtains a body that is un-aging and immortal; and endowed with concentration of the mind. He who eats treated mercury (mrtasutaka) truly obtains both transcendent and mundane knowledge, and his mantras are effective’ (Rasasara, XV, 19-22)


Rasa Siddhas and Natha Siddhas

7.1. The Siddhas therefore became engaged in developing a branch of chemistry or proto-chemistry known as Rasa-shastra (science of Mercury) or generally the Rasayana-shastra. This whole science of solidifying and energizing mercury is called Rasa Vidya.

The prominent among such Alchemist Siddhas were the specialist Rasa Siddhas and Natha Siddha.

7.2. The most important innovation of the Rasa Siddhas and the Natha Siddhas was the method they crafted for attaining Siddha status and Siddha powers. They claimed that dedicated humans through practice of Yoga, Tantra and Alchemy can become Semi Divine Siddhas, provided they rigorously followed the prescribed disciplines.

7.3. Apart from the Semi Divine Siddhas, there is another classification of Siddhas into three strands (ogha): the divine, the perfect and the human. Among these, the human-kind Siddhas sought an ageless physical body (svarna deha); the perfect sought a perfected (siddhadeha) or indestructible (vajradeha) physical body; and Maheshvara Siddha sought to attain an ethereal divine body (divyadeha) of an integrated nature. Otherwise, the dividing lines among them are rather unclear.

7.4. The Natha Siddhas along with Rasa Siddhas recount their lineage from Shiva (Adi Guru) himself and from Dattatreya, Adinatha, Naganatha, Caparti, Matsyendranatha, Gorkhnatha, and other Gurus of Natha Sampradaya.

[For a study-note on the Nath Sampradaya by Dr. Anoop Pati Tiwari ,  please click here.

And , for about the Nāth Yogī Ascetics in Modern South Asia by VÉRONIQUE BOUILLIER , please click here.]

8.1. These two groups, in particular, – Rasa and Natha Siddhas- interacted with a third group that flourished mainly in the Nepal region (though it is likely the cult was initially based in the western Himalayas). This was the Pashima-amnaya (the westward), a Shakta cult devoted to a Tantric goddess Kubjika. They too were engaged in alchemy.


Kubjika secret goddess

Kubjikā a secret goddess, having immense metaphysical depth, a large varieties of forms, and varied methods of yoga (especially those linked with the movement of vital breath), appears in the Bhairava and then the Western Kaula Tantra  (Paschima-amnaya ) Traditions of the Himalayan regions  during 7th century.  She is variously addressed in her Tantras as :Kubjinī – the Hunchback Girl; Kubjī, Kujā, Kujī, Khañjinī – the Lame One; Vakrikā or Vakrā – the Crooked One;  Ciñcinī – the Goddess residing in the Tamarind tree;  Kulālikā – the Potteress; Ambā or the vernacular forms as : Avvā, Anāmā, Laghvikā; and, most common of all as Śrī – the Royal One who has as her scripture, teaching, school and tradition (anvaya, āmnāya);  and as the Śrīmata.  Kubjinī, a very secret goddess is worshiped in her Tantras along with Bhairava, her consort.  As Kundalini, Kubjika is worshipped as the Goddess who is curled up and sleeping, waiting to be awakened. The sect of Nine Natahas is believed to have propagated the cult of Kubjika throughout Nepal and North India. 

In the Kaula Tantra  (Paschima-amnaya) Tradition, Devi Kubjika  is worshiped with Shiva with his five faces Sadyojata; Vamadeva, Tatpurusha; Aghora and Ishana.. The hallowed mother Kubjika has six faces.

She is adorned with serpents: Karotaka as a waist band; Takshaka as a mid-riff ornament; Vasuki as garland; and, the venomous cobra Kulika as an ear ornament.

She holds in her arms as skull, a king-cobra, a crystal-bead rosary, skull-topped rod, a conch, a book, a trident, a mirror, a straight sword, a gem necklace, an ankusha (goad) and a bow. She is of fair complexion like a young jasmine flower.

The mantra of Kubjika is Om Shrim Prim Kubjike Devi Hrim Thah Svaha. The yantra of her worship is

                 kubjikA Yantra

As per the Kaula Tantra (Paschima-amnaya), Lord Bhairava initiates the Devi into the Kubjikā-mata-tantra, saying:  Oh the Goddess of great fortune! O bestower of great bliss! (Mahābhāge Mahā-ananda-vidhāyini) The teaching that you have requested is truly astonishing and salutary (atyadbhutam anāmayam). That is kept secret by all the Rudras, Tantric heroes, and Bhairavas. Nevertheless, I will teach you that secret Tantra, which has come down through a series of transmissions,established through the line of Siddhas (Siddha mārga kramāyāta Siddha pakti vyavasthita)..

Sādhu sādhu Mahābhāge Mahā-ananda-vidhāyini | pcchita yat tvayā vākyam atyadbhutam anāmayam || gopita sarva Rudrāā vīrāā Bhairaveu ca | Siddha-krama nirācāra tathāpi kathayāmi te || Siddha mārga kramāyāta Siddha pakti vyavasthita – Kubjikāmatatantra 1.44-46:

 The Kaula Śhaiva Siddantha recognizes the lineage (santati) of four innately enlightened Siddhas (sāṃ-siddhika), the Masters of Four Ages (Yuga-nāthas) in the transmission (krama) of the Kaula-marga.

Abhinavagupta, in his Tantrāloka, recalls with reverence the Guru-linage (Guru-santati) , commencing with the four Siddhas, the Yuga-nāthas, together with their consorts: Khagendra and Vijjāmbā; Kūrma and Maṅgalā; Meṣa and Kāmamaṅgalā;  and finally,  Macchanda (Matsyendranātha) and Kuṅkuṇāmbā (Koṅkaṇā).

khagendra sahavijjāmba illāri ambayā saha || vaktaṣṭir vimalo ‘nantamekhalāmbāyuta purā | śaktyā magalayā kūrma illāri ambayā saha || jaitro yāmye hy avijitas tathā sānandamekhala | kāmamagalayā mea kullāri ambayā saha || vindhyo ‘jito ‘py ajarayā saha mekhalayā pare | macchanda kukuāmbā ca ayugma sādhikārakam. – Tantrāloka 29.29cd-31:

Matsyendranātha or Macchandanātha, the most iconic Siddha, is said to be primarily responsible for the spread of the Kaula-marga of the Shaiva Siddantha in this Kali Age.

Apart from Matsyendranātha, some other Siddhas were also said to have played an important role in propagation of the Kula-mārga.

The Tantric text, Devīpañcaśatikā, mentions the set of four other Siddha-couples: Niṣkriyānanda and Jñānadīpti; Vidyānanda and Raktā; Śaktyānanda and Mahānandā; and , Śivānanda and Samayā

nikriyānandanāthaś ca jñānadīptyā sahaikata ||vidyānandaś ca raktā ca dvitīya kathitas tava | śaktyānando mahānanda ttīya siddhapūjita || śivānando mahānanda samāyātaś caturthaka | khagendrādyādisiddhānā kathitā gurusantati  – Devīpañcaśatikā 3.15cd-17.

Please also refer to: ]

siddhi chakra yantra

8.2. Apart from their traditional goals, the one other interest that Natha Siddhas and Rasa Siddhas shared with the Pashima-amnaya Siddhas was the mystic doctrine and practices involving sexual fluids – male and female. Their beliefs in this regard were rooted   in Rasa vada, the theory concerning Rasa.



9.2. In the Taittiriya Upanishad (2.7) the expression ‘Raso vai sah’ is meant to suggest the essence, the very core of ones being; and it is of the nature of pure bliss (Raso hyevayam labdhva anandi bhavati). But, elsewhere, Rasa is the fluid element (essence) that Vedic sages identified as the juice of life and of non-death (a-mruta), which sustains both the gods and the humans. Rasa is also understood as Dravya – the substance combining in itself   the properties of all the five elements – having sixty three varieties.   Rasa, as essential element, in its many forms is both manifest and dormant.

9.3.  In Ayurveda, Rasa stands for vital body fluids.  Its treatment (Rasayana), the Rasa or Rasa-bija – the essence in a substance – is used to influence and enhance the health of bodily fluids or its constituents in the body.

9.4. According to Tantra ideology, male and female vital fluids, semen and uterine blood, are power-substances (Shakthi dhathu) because their combination gives rise to life and vitality. These Rasas are even identified with gods and goddesses whose boundless energy was often portrayed as sexual in nature. Usually the god invoked in this context was some form of Shiva and the female was some form of Devi.

Siva- devi

9.5. Those ardent followers- the Tantrics , Siddhas and others – who aimed to attain the status of second – Shiva sought to realize their goal through the conduit of wild goddesses (who then were identified with their human consorts) generally known as Yoginis. These ‘bliss-starved’ minor goddesses would converge into the consciousness of the Sadhaka the ardent practitioner, to transform him into a sort of god on earth.

9. 6. The doctrine of Rasa (Rasa vada) as  adopted by the mystique Siddhas is based on the theory that Rasa – all kinds of fluid elements found in universe , world , human beings , plants , rain , waters , and the oblations in the  Yajna –  is the fountainhead of life. There are countless manifestations of Rasa including the vital sexual fluids in male and female, blood, bone marrow, mucus and every other fluid substance in body and as water , snow , moisture etc  in nature.

siddhas alchemists

Alchemist Siddhas

10.1. With the advent of the great scholar and Tantrik Abhinavagupta (ca.10th century – Kashmir) and his school of Trika Kaula philosophy, the messy parts of the Tantra practises were cleaned up, ‘sanitized’, refined ,  and given a sophisticated look ( at least outwardly).In these “High’ Tantric Schools many of the sordid looking elements and practices were sublimated . The cult of the Yoginis, ritual reproductions, offering and consuming sexual fluids etc were refined and re-defined.  However, the old practices did not go away altogether; but, they went underground and were practiced as ‘secret-learning’ (gupta vidya) by closed circle of initiates.

Shiva as Hata Yogi

Shiva as Hata yogi2

10 .2. Then came the Siddhas of Natha Pantha, who brought into fore the Hata yoga, a rather violent method of exertion. Matsyendranatha was the pioneer of this School of Natha Siddhas. He visualized Shiva as a Hata-yogi.  He preached the doctrine of Six Chakras of transformation. But, the secret part of it was the belief in the transformation of the sexual fluids into a sort of potent power, the amrita, the nectar of immortality.

10.3.  According to this sect, the combination of male and female sexual fluids brings into existence an explosive power that is truly unique. No other elements or fluids in the whole of the universe have the power to create life. And, that is remarkable.  For the Natha Siddhas, persuasion of that line of creative power became the route to attain Siddhis (miraculous powers) and Jivanmukthi (liberation while in the body).

11.1. They were followed by a third group, the Rasa Siddhas, the alchemists who coined the phrase: yatha lohe, tatha dehe (as in the metal, so in the body). They, in principle, adopted the doctrine of Natha Siddhas regarding the power of sexual fluids. But, they lent it a rather unexpected twist, that of metallurgy.  

11.2. The Rasa Siddhas seemed to believe that metals are living-substances; and, gold was the natural endpoint of their countless years of gestation within the earth’s womb.  Adopting the metaphor of the humans, they said mica (abhraka) and sulphur (gandhaka – literally meaning that which has aroma) were analogous to the female reproductive fluids   from which the metals   arose. Here the male fluids came to be identified with the eighth metal, the Mercury, Rasendra, the King of Rasas, the shining liquid amazingly volatile, as if having a life of its own.

[The Alchemist Siddhas equated Mercury with a male, warm substance which controls the elements Earth and Water. And, symbolically it was   called the semen of Shiva.  Mica which is cold was the element of air; and regarded the female counterpart of Shiva, the Shakthi.  Therefore through the union of mercury and mica, male and female, (Shiva and Shakthi or Yang and Yin), they sought to obtain a married metal which controls the elements Earth (solids), Water (fluids) and Air (mental aspects in the body).  But, it increases the element Fire, the invigorating heat in the body. ]


11.3. An important finding that the Rasa Siddhas came upon was that purified mercury, through a special process, can be made to devour or digest (meaning, assimilate) an enormous amount of other metals without the swallowing (grasa) mercury gaining appreciable weight. The assimilation (jarana) of base metals into mercury became the hub of an entire regimen of an alchemy engaged in transforming base metals into gold.

[In the Indian alchemy texts, the chemical substances are divided into five main categories:

    1. Maha (primary) Rasa;
    2. Uparasa (secondary);
    3. Dhatu (minerals),
    4. Ratna or Mani (crystal or salts -lavana) and
    5. Visha (toxins or poisons).

And again within these , there are eight Maha Rasas ; eight Uparasas;  seven Dhatus  – Sapta Dhatu

Suvarna (gold) , Rajata ( silver) , Tamra (copper) , Trapa (tin) , Ayas or Tikshna  (iron ) , Sisha or Naga (lead ) and Vaikrantika .

And, Mercury in a special category is included under metals.

The alloys include alloys: brass (pitala), Bell metal (kamsya), and a mixture of five metals (kamsya).

The Salts are five: Sauvaechala, Saindhava, Vida, Aubhida, and Samudra

The powdered metals and salts are Bhasmas.  Substances derived from animal (horns, shells, feathers etc) and plant sources are also grinded into it.

Various plant products, minerals, fluids etc having toxic properties are included under Visha. In Siddha system sixty four types of poisons are mentioned for therapeutic purpose].

[ Please do read the classic : A History of Hindu Chemistry  From the earliest times to the middle of the sixteenth century, A.D., with Sanskrit texts, variants, translation and illustrations. By Prafulla Chandra Ray; Published by The Bengal Chemical & Pharmaceutical Works, Ltd., Calcutta – 1903]

 Agni and Varuna


12.1. The Siddhas have always been technicians of the concrete; transforming base metal into gold; ailing into the healthy; and , mortals into immortals. They are the masters of the process, seeking raw and ruthless power over natural processes, say over aging, death and political, social rulers and leaders.

12.2. The process of transforming Mercury into gold or elixir (Rasa-karma); to transmute a base metal into the noble one; and to make the perishable body an ever immortal is very complicated and time-consuming, spread over several months. Indian alchemy developed a wide variety of chemical processes.


11.3. The Rasashastra texts – such as, Rasarnava of 11th century (perhaps the oldest Rasa Tantra text available   , narrated as series of dialogues between Bhairava and Devi), Rasarathnakara, Rasendramangala, Bhutikaprakarana and Rasahrudaya describe the procedures meticulously and in great detail. There are hundreds of verses in the Rasashastra texts which deal with a wide variety of processes.  The texts also caution that among all the Sadhakas only an infinitesimally small number of worthies might achieve their goal.


12.4. According to Rasa-shastra texts – Rasa-rathna-samucchaya and Rasa-rathnakara – the Alchemic Siddha (Rasacharya) should be a highly learned person (jnanavan), respected by all (sarva-manya ), well versed in the science of Mercury (Rasa-shastra-kovida) ,proficient in processing Mercury ( Rasa-karma-kaushala) , highly competent in his task (daksha) , free from greed , lust, hatred and other weaknesses (dhira-vira) , dear to Shiva (Shiva vatsala) and devoted to Devi (Devi-bhaktha) . His intentions for undertaking task should be pure and noble; and, blessed by his Guru. Else, the entire process would end fruitless (nishphala).

Needless to say, a worthy Rasa Siddha is extremely hard to find.

13.1. The process, which is spread over eighteen stages, and carried out over several months, involved planting a ‘seed (bija)’ of gold into a mass of mercury (whose power of absorption has already been increased enormously by series of treatments of mica, sulphur and other female elements) which then becomes a ‘mouth’ capable of swallowing incredible amounts base metals (usually, 1:6; mercury absorbing six times its mass of Mica).

[The process of making the Mercury absorb (grasa) in ever increasing quantities of Mica or Sulphur called Jarana is carried on till the Mercury becomes   (baddha) or killed (mrta).This is done in three stages each consisting six steps. In the first stage; Mercury is made to take in mouthfuls (grasa) of mica, in six successive operations. At each step in this process, the mercury becomes physically altered: in the first step, in which it consumes one sixty-fourth of its mass of mica, mercury becomes rod like (danda vat). It next takes on the consistency of a leech, then that of crow droppings, thin liquid, and butter. With its sixth and final “mouthful,” in which mercury swallows one-half its mass of mica, it becomes a spherical solid.

This six-step process, by which mercury is bound, is followed by another six-step process, in which the proportions of mica or sulphur swallowed by mercury greatly increase. It is this latter process that constitutes jarana proper. Here,  mercury  is made  to absorb a mass of mica equal to its own.

Next, mercury is made to swallow twice its mass of mica, and so on until the proportions ultimately reach 1:6, with mercury absorbing six times its mass of mica. In this final and optimal phase mercury, said to be “six-times killed,” is possessed of fantastic powers of transmutation. At the conclusion of this process, mercury takes the shape of a Linga. ]


13.2. Mercury is regarded as ’killed’ when it becomes a hard metal or a red-blood stone. The mercury that is ‘killed’ – mrta  or stilled (rendered non-volatile – baddha and reduced to ashes- bhasma) with the help of powerful herbs, is transmuted into gold through a mystic process (samskara).That is to say; after having been killed or fixed, Mercury changes its character, it takes on a nobler, more exalted form and is reborn.

After the mercury has been completely purified, a process which usually requires several months, it must be allowed to   cool down and solidify. The cooling-operation is done with the application of concentrated vegetable extracts and mineral ashes which have cooling properties. These ingredients help the Mercury to coagulate quickly.

14.1. It was believed that after undergoing seventeen sequential processes, the mercury would be rendered   pure (detoxified) solution and fit for consumption. At this stage, the Mercury cleansed of its poisons can be handled safely. The Mercury thus treated and processed over elongated procedures acquires new properties and becomes beneficial to humans.

[There is a mention of another peculiar property of solidified Mercury:  its psychological effect. Those who swallow it become aware of an aspect of their consciousness which they did not explicitly know. Solidified mercury thus acts as a revealing agent, providing the person an opportunity to cleanse himself.] 

14.2. At the end of the fantastic series of samskaras, the mercury itself would have disappeared leaving only the ‘noble and immortal’ metal – the gold. The final product, if consumed in prescribed quantity would, it was claimed, rejuvenate the body and make it as resplendent and burnished as gold. ”The Siddha who ingests is immediately transported to the realms of the gods, Siddhas, and Vidyadharas”.

 14.3. The gold here becomes an insignia of immortality. And, by swallowing a pellet of such created gold the alchemist becomes a second Shiva, a Siddha, perfected, golden and immortal*. There is also a Vedic myth of Prajapathi turning into gold (hiranya purusha): ‘he is Prajapathi, he is Agni, he is made of gold, for gold is light and fire is light, gold is immortality and fire is immortality’ (Shatapatha Brahmana: 4.1.18).

 [*This is regarded a re-enactment of the cosmic process. Mercury here symbolizes Shiva, the all-absorbing supreme ascetic, at the end of time cycle, effortlessly withdrawing into himself the whole of the Universe; transforming matter into essence – Rasa. The swallower and the swallowed are immortal.

The process is also described in another manner: metal, the earth element (muladhara) is absorbed into water element (svadistana); the water element into fire element (manipura); the fire element is absorbed into element of air (anahata) ; and the air is absorbed into ether – akasha (vishuddhi) . And, at the sixth stage, all these are telescoped, swallowed back into manas – mind (ajna). Finally, everything merges into pure Shiva consciousness, prakasha – at the thousand-petalled sahasra.]

14.4. In a way of speaking, the shodhana (purification) of mercury and the Sadhana (accomplishment) of the Siddha are analogues; as they both aim for perfection.

The goal of Siddha alchemy (which essentially is a spiritual technique) is immortality of body, invincibility and transcendence of human conditions. The transformation of base metals into gold is largely a symbolic concept than a concrete objective.  At another level, what is of prime importance is liberation (Moksha or Paramukti) which requires self-purification and separation from baser earthly bonds, as also from their tendencies.  The path of the Siddhas though alchemic in nature is entwined with Yoga and spiritual traditions.

[In comparison, the Ayurvedic use of mercury (rasa shastra) which by far pre-dates that of Siddha Alchemists was for medicinal purposes. Rasa Shastra was basically a medical alchemy. It was a process which attempted  to fuse metals, minerals, gem-stones, animal products, herbal ingredients and other substances to concoct medicinal compounds aim to cure chronic diseases , to rejuvenate the system and ultimately achieve indefinitely long-life. Thus, its primary application was therapeutic (rogavada), to restore health; and not to create a second Shiva or a Superman.]

group of Nath yogis

 Decline of the Siddha traditions

15.1. However, in the later times, the practice of consuming treated mercury and its allied elixirs in order to attain various Siddhis and longevity sharply declined. That was, perhaps, mainly because the samskara techniques of purifying mercury, and transforming it into elixir were lost. Another reason could be that the standards set by the texts for a qualified Alchemic Siddha (Rasacharya) were exceedingly high; and in the later periods  there were hardly any who measured up to those lofty standards.

15.2. Because of such imperfections, the Siddha techniques and aspirations became rather faulted. In recent times, many would- be – Seekers have attempted to bind Mica, Sulphur and Mercury together, but with little success. And, in a few cases where they succeeded the mercury could not be entirely detoxified or the resultant ‘gold’ did not gain the requisite physical (specific gravity, colour etc) and chemical properties of true natural gold. Therefore, the sort of transmutation power ascribed to mercury in the old texts could not be realized.  Some scholars even wonder whether Mica and Sulphur mentioned in the texts did actually mean the metals. It is quite likely, they surmise, those terms might have been employed as symbols or codes to denote something else.


16.1. As regards the Siddha cults, except for a sprinkling of Natha Siddhas in North India the other Siddha sects have virtually vanished.  The sects of the Siddhas were, mostly, the victims of their own excesses.


16.2. The first, I reckon, was the bad publicity they gained because of their reckless ways of living and lack of decorum in public.  But, to be fair to them, they were merely living out or putting into practice, in good faith, the traditional beliefs of their sect.  In seeking to be true to the principle of non-difference, being indifferent to – the good and the bad; sacred and the profane; beauty and ugliness; pure and the sordid; exalted and the demented; squalor and grandeur; decent and indecent etc – many aspiring Siddhas, clueless ,  indulged in what appeared to common people as anti social, atrocious and totally unacceptable reprehensible  behaviour. The Siddhas were in due time ostracized by the polite society.


16.3. The other was the sanitization or sophistication brought in by Abhinavagupta and his School. This rendered the Siddha and Tantric ways into refined, mystique, highly complicated and theorized schools of thought. Such elite and cerebral teachings were beyond the ken of most initiates who ordinarily came from the lower rung of the society. The new entrant could neither grasp nor identify himself with such ethereal discourses. The new teachings were unrelated to a common man’s day-to-day experiences,  entangled in a web of social and family bonds; living, loving, eking out a living; aging and dying as anyone else did.  The thirty-six or thirty-seven steps of metaphysical levels of existence (tattvas) charted out by Abhinavagupta were beyond the understanding of common man; and, it held out few answers to his concerns and aspirations.

siddhas3 Tantric

The adherents of Natha Siddha cult, therefore, fell back to the older and primitive beliefs of Pashupathas and Kapalikas, the devotees of terrible forms of Shiva, who practiced in seclusion and lived away from the puritan and highly discriminating learned class. Natha Siddhas, away from public gaze, now offered concrete pleasures and powers that could be experienced in the real world by aspiring men. The Natha Siddhas, the kanphatas (split ear lobes) thus emerged as a sort of powerful distant ideals  for the ordinary men of this world.

Natha yogi

 [ A Note:

 A-mruta (non-death) or immortality has been one of the fascinations of the ancients.  It is said; in the Vedic times the gods attain and maintain eternal life by offering Soma to one another, as oblations among themselves. The message is:  It is not enough to merely possess the Soma drink to gain immortality. The secret lies in offering it as oblation to another god. It is only then , one gains immortality that Soma confers. The Asuras were perhaps not aware of this secret; and greedily drank the soma without offering it to others.  And, therefore they gained no benefit from the Soma drink.

The premise of the Yajna, it is said, is based on this secret. The humans offer oblations idealized as Soma into Agni who in turn hands them over to Svaha Devi to pass on to other gods. The oblation offered sustains the gods; and, maintains their immortality. The humans receive from the gods the benefit of the Soma offered to them, as god-given gifts of wealth, happiness, full-life span (visvayus) and even immortality.  In order to live a full and a satisfying life, one needs to be ever engaged in Yajnas, in giving and sharing. ]


Sources and References

The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India  by David Gordon White

Mysticism and Alchemy through the Ages: The Quest for Transformation by Gary Edson

Alchemical Traditions: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde  by Aaron Cheak

Alchemically purified and solidified mercury by  Petri Murien



Posted by on January 10, 2014 in Siddha Rasa, Tantra, Uncategorized


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