Category Archives: Tantra

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. ]


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 mould of Asura Kavya Usanas (Shukra) who brought together the worlds of the Indra and Rudra. And, 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). Siddha is also compared to Brihaspathi (the counterpart of Kavya Usanas – Shukra), the Guru of the light-filled worlds of the gods and demigods.

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 Gorakshakanatha.

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

 [* 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.]

2.3.  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.



3.1. 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.

3.2. 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.

3.3.  Because of its popular appeal, Mercury is called by various names, such as: Rasa, Padarasa, Parada, Sukta, Vaikrnta, Vyomadharana, Avithyaja, Rasayana–shresta, Rasendra 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.

3.4. 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

4.1. 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).

4.2. 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.

4.3. 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.

Mercury in Siddha traditions

5.1. 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.

5.2.  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).

5.3. 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 Siddha

6.1. 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.

6.2. 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.

6.3. 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.

6.4. 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.

7.1. 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 ]

7.2. 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.



8.2. 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.

8.3.  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.

8.4. 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.

8.5. 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.

8.6. 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.

Alchemist Siddhas

9.1. 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.

9.2. 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 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.

9.3.  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).

10.1. 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.  

10.2. 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. ]

10.3. 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: Maha (primary) Rasa; Uparasa (secondary); Dhatu (minerals), Ratna or Mani (crystal or salts -lavana) and Visha (toxins or poisons). And again within these , there are eight Maha Rasas ; eight Uparasas;  seven Dhatus  – Sapta DhatuSuvarna ( 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].



11.1. 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.

11.2. 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.

11.4. According to Rasa-shastra texts – Rasa-ratha-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.

12.1. 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. ]

12.2. 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.

13.1. 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.] 

13.2. 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”.

 13.3. 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.]

13.4. 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.]

 Decline of the Siddha traditions

14.1. 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.

14.2. 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.

15.1. 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.

15.2. The first, I reckon, was the bad publicity they gained because of their reckless 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.


15.3. 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.

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 power brokers for the ordinary men of this world.

 [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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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 ascendency.

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 unique 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 Daivikaand 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 ascendency.

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.

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, 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 Yajur Veda .The first half (Ch. 1 – 4) contain mantras of Grihyasutra. The second half called daivikacatustyam (Ch 5 – 8) includes portions relating to temple-ritual taken from the handbooks of the four rishis: Atri, Bhrgu, 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 ]

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 realisation 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 worshipped with love and reverence, a sense of devotion arises from within and envelops the mind and heart of the worshipper. 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 fulfilment of normal aspirations in one’s life. The two must be worshipped 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 worshipped 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 worshipped 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 a departure from the practice of worship at home. It was seen as an act of devotion and also as duty

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 wellbeing of the entire community. Worshipping 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, crystallysized 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.

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.

81.2. 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.

81.3. 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.

81.4. 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 worshipper) is a very important worship ritual based in Tantra ideology. Nyasa  collectively called bhagavad-aaradhana adhikara-yogyata-siddhi confer on the worshipper the competence to worship the deity.

82.1. Atma-sukta is a collection of nine verses in tristubh chhandas (Vaikhanasa samhita: mantra prashna: 5.49; SrI Vaikhanasa Mantra Prasna, 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 “Atmatma (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.

82.2. The worshipper, 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’.

82.3. 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

stapomurtiriha punyamurtirasan || 9 ||


83.1. 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.

83.2. 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’.

83.3. 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’. 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. 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 fulfilment 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, what use of antelope skin, what use of (growing) the beard, what is the use of tapas? O! Brahmanas! Desire a son; he is a world that is to be highly praised.’ The idea appears again in Chandogya Upanishad (Ch. Up. 2. 23. 1). 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’. 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).

The theory of asramas 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 I 

 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-malimluc (Panchvimshathi Brahmana: 14.4.7).]

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 favourites of Indra (vaikhanasa vaa rushyah Indrasya priya aasan).

45.4. Max Muller states that Bahudayana 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 (shastra parigrahas sarvesham vaikhanasamBahudayana Dharmasutra: 3.3.17). Bahudayana also describes the forest dwelling hermits as those who devotedly tend sramanakagni.


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.


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 worshipper 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.


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 Kumara while conducting certain life-cycle–rituals (samskaras). For instance; the Vaikhanasas invoke Kumara for blessing the infant during its namakarana ceremony (naming the infant).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. 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 worshipped Kumara (sesham gurubhih supujitam pushpam); may you be protected ‘ (Guhasya sesham gurubhih supujitam pushpam dadami –sya Shammukham).

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. 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 do 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).

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).

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  foetus,  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 worshipping 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. Kashyapa’s Adhikaras are mainly in the form of sutras. 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-radhana).

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 worshipping an idol is based in the Samkhya concept of duality, while at the same time, perceiving their essential unity. The worshipper 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 worshipper 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 Devaexplains: 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.

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 behaviour 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).

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. They 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’.

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. 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.

10.3. 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.

10.4. 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).

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. 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.

16.2. 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.

16.3. 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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1. Bhavanopanishad is one among the minor Upanishads; and is, comparatively   , a recent one. It is listed under the category of Shaktha Upanishads viz. the Upanishads that delineate the tantric outlook and attempt to reconcile that with the Vedic approach. Bhavanopanishad is affiliated to Atharva Veda. It is a major text in the Sri Vidya – Sri Chakra tradition; and, brings out, very crisply, the symbolism of Sri Chakra and its upasana; its spiritual mode of worship of kadi (samaya) school, and contemplation. Bhavanopanishad is an important text for the practice of antar-yaga, the internal worship.

2. Before we proceed further, a brief explanation on the suffix (Upanishad) to the title of the text appears necessary.

As per tradition, about thirteen Upanishads are considered major Upanishads; and they represent the core of the Upanishad wisdom. They are of doubtless antiquity and constitute the first tier of the prasthana-traya (the set of three principal texts), the foundations of the Vedic heritage; the other two tiers being the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad-Gita. Sri Shankara commented on ten of those major Upanishads (Ishavasya, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Taittireeya, Aithreya, Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka, Mundaka and Mandukya); and cited the other three (Kaushitaki, Svethavatara and Jabaala) as being authoritative

2.1. During the later times, varieties of texts gave themselves (or were attached with) the suffix-Upanishad –to their title. That was perhaps meant to provide those texts a halo of authority and an elevated position in the hierarchy of traditional texts. The thoughts in most of such texts were neither fresh nor universal. Many of those texts were theistic and sectarian in their approach; and were, therefore, classified according to their affiliations, such as Vaishnava, Shaiva and Shaktha etc. All such Upanishads are enumerated in the Charana-vyuha section of Atharva Veda, to which they are affiliated. That section itself has a supplementary character about it.

Mukthikopanishad (1.5), itself a  minor Upanishad affiliated to Atharva Veda, lists about 95 minor (apart from the major 13) Upanishads.

2.2. Their claim to being Upanishads was, generally, based on their acceptance of the authority of the Vedas; rejection of the gross ritualism of karma-kanda; and, highlighting the esoteric or the mystical significance of the rituals.

SRI Kameshwara

3. Coming back to Bhavanopanishad; it is described as an Upanishad in the sense of a secret doctrine or a liberating-wisdom.

3.1. Nothing much is known about its author or its period. It is surmised the text may belong to about 12th century.

3.2. Bhavanopanishad is a short text; a collection of aphoristic statements (vakyas) running into just about 36 lines. The statements are in Sutra style; exceedingly cryptic and with no suggestions. It is not easy to interpret the sutras and derive meaning out of them.

3.3. The Bhavanopanishad is closely related to the Tantra-raja-tantra, another major tantric text of the Kadi School of the Sri Vidya tradition. The Kadi_ matha is regarded the most orthodox among all the schools of Sri Vidya tradition. It insists on virtue, discipline and purity of rituals. Its attitude is Sattvic; and its form of worship is internal. Hence Kadi School (also known as Samaya) is regarded as Para Vidya (transcendental knowledge) where the worship (archana) is conducted in the space of one’s heart (hrudayakasha madhye).

4. 1.The main purport of Bhavanopanishad is to establish a relation between structures of the human body and Sri chakra. The Sri Chakra, in turn, is regarded as a projection of the essential characters of the universe. There is an attempt to harmonize (samarasya) the micro (pindanda) and the macro (brahmanda), with Sri Chakra being the median imbibing in itself the characteristics of the both.  Bhavanopanishad lays greater emphasis on symbolic representations and contemplation, than on rituals.

4.2. The text begins with salutations and surrender to the Guru, hailing him as the fountainhead of the liberating wisdom. Then it goes on to relate the human constitution in its physical, mental and vital levels to the nine-fold energy represented by the nine enclosures of the Sri Chakra. A significant portion of the text is devoted to the enumeration of the nine enclosures (avaranas) that compose the Sri Chakra yantra; and to their geometric, cultic and psycho-physical representations. The method of enumeration adopted is the samhara-krama (absorption or dissolution method), which commences from the outermost avarana and proceeds inwards, systematically, till the central point of the Sri Chakra, the bindu,  is reached.

In short, the text attempts to construct a harmonious relation between the micro and the macro; between the Tantric and the Vedic; and between worship and contemplation. It also renders the Tantric worship sattvic and sublime.

5.1. In the Sri Vidya tradition, the concept of Bhavana (after which the text is named) has a very special significance.

In the tantra tradition, the worship is classified as external (bahir-yaga) and internal (antar-yaga).In the former the worship is offered to a concrete representation of a divinity which inspires devotion and reverence. Here, the object of adoration and worship is gross (sthula). The devotee looks upon the mother-goddess as having a human form which he can see and touch. The services (upacharas) are offered to that form as if it were the most adorable and highly revered human being. The worship also includes praising the divinity (stuti), repeating the mantra handed down by the Guru (japa), which the tongue can utter and the ears can hear. There is also the contemplation on the glory of the God (dhyana). This form of worship is termed as gross (sthula).

The text says that external worship is only a stepping stone, a preliminary procedure; and, one must go beyond that in due course. The external worship is a means and not an end.

5.2. The other form of worship viz. antar-yaga, the internal worship, is in two stages – with external props (sa-adhara) and without such props (nira_dhara).The props referred to here are the physical accessories, such as image, gestures (mudra) or sounds. The devotee understands and appreciates the symbolism involved in those objects of adoration and in the ritual sequences. He knows that the props are there to help him and guide him along the path; and yet he submits to them, entirely, with devotion and reverence until the wisdom dawns. His dependence on the props tapers gradually. The worship here tends to be subtle (sukshma).

5.3. The second stage of antar-yaga is transcendental (para), leading to gradual dissolution of mind in intense contemplation and visualization of identity with the mother-goddess. His entire psyche is immersed in the mother principle. Now, the external rites, worships or conducts, no longer carry any meaning, for him.

5.4. The devotee’s consciousness undergoes a transformation with the realization that he and the Mother are one. Such transformation is termed Bhavana. Etymologically, the term is derived from the root bhu (to be) to suggest bringing something into being. It also suggests a mental process that transforms an idea into reality. In an extended sense, the term means contemplation or meditation, comprehending the abstract as real and tangible.

5.5 The expression Bhavana here is taken to mean, internal worship (antar –yaga) of the Devi, visualizing Sri Chakra as identical with one’s own being (sva-atma shakthi) and offering worship through mental constructs , projections and visualizations. The method of Bhavana is regarded as the sublime form of worship for attaining liberation, even while one is alive (jeevan mukthi).

6. Bhavana emerged as a very significant concept in the development of the tantric tradition; and, to an extent, it rescued the tantra from totally degenerating into grotesque and abominable cult practices. It came as a breath of fresh air cleansing the polluted atmosphere of the tantra. It helped sublimating the coarse tantric beliefs into universal principles. The advocacy of meditation (bhavana) rendered the tantra acceptable to householders too. It also helped to reconcile the tantra outlook with the Vedic ethos.

7.1. As I mentioned earlier, the Bhavanopanishad is in the form of terse Sutras and it is not easy to understand its import without the aid of a commentary. The most well known of  all the commentaries on Bhavanopanishad is The Bashya by Bhaskararaya Makhin, who called himself Saubhagya-bhaskara.

7.2. Bhaskararaya was a celebrated authority on the philosophy and practice of Tantra; and, especially on the Sri Vidya upasana. Though his exact dates are uncertain, it is accepted he lived (between 1690 and 1795) ; mostly  during the 18th century. His father Ghambhira Raya was a scholar and served as a minister in the court of the sultan of Bijapur (North Karnataka).His mother’s name is given as Konnamamba; and his place of birth is mentioned as Bhaga-nagar (the present-day Hyderabad in AP).

7.3. He was initiated into tantric worship by his father; and he had the formal initiation and final consecration from the tantric master Shivadatta Shukla of Surat (Guj). He later married Anandi Bai from Maharashtra and initiated her in Sri Vidya. After studying for many years in Varanasi, he returned to the south; and finally settled down in Tiruvalangadu on the banks of the Cauvery in Chola mandala. He was a versatile scholar and a prolific writer with more than forty books in Sanskrit on several branches of learning.

7.4. His commentary on the Bhavanopanishad is brief but well constructed. His explanations are precise and pre supposes familiarity of the reader with the ideologies and concepts of Sri Vidya.

His works are of particular interest to Sri Vidya upasakas, as they furnish practical instructions and information concerning its upasana and sadhana. The more important among such texts are his companion volume to his commentary on Bhavanopanishad; it is called, for short, prayoga-vidhi, a practical manual for worship of Sri Chakra.

His other well-known works concerning Sri Vidya are his commentaries on: Lalitha sahasranama, Tripuropanishad, Kaulopanishad and Lalitha –tripura-sundari Upanishad.

He lived to be a very old man and spent his last days at his house on Mahadanapuram Street of Madhyarjuna-kshetra (Tiruvidaimarudur). He passed away at the age of 95.

8. The best known rendering (in English) of Bhaskararaya’s commentary on Bhavanopanishad is by Prof. S K Ramachandra Rao, published by Kalpatharu Research Academy, Bangalore.


Sources and References:

The tantra of Sri Chakra by Prof. S K Ramachandra Rao

Bhavana Upanishad- text in English

Nitya Kala Devis

The Fifteen Nityas

Life sketch of Bhaskararaya Makhin

 (Please click here for a fairly detailed account of Sri Bhaskararaya Makhin’s life)


Posted by on September 15, 2012 in Books, Sri Vidya, Tantra


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Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar and Sri Vidya (8 of 8)

Kamalamba Navavarana kritis-Part two



Continued from page one.

While discussing the Navavarana kritis, I propose to restrict myself to those portions of the kritis that have reference to Sri Vidya and Sri Chakra. Most of such references occur in the Charanam segment of the kritis.

1.      First Avarana – Bhupura

Kamalaambaa Samrakshatu Maam– Ananda Bhairavi – Misra Chapu (Triputa)

[The avarana is Bhupura and the Chakra is Trailokyamohana chakra ‘enchants the three worlds’. The yogini is Prakata; Mudra is Sarva Somkshibhni; Siddhi is Anima; and the mental state of the aspirant is Jagrata. The presiding deity is Tripura. Her Vidya is Am Am Sauh.The gem is topaz. The time is 24 minutes and the Shaktis are 28 that include the ten starting with Anima, the eight Matruka Devis starting with Brahmya and Maheshwari;  and the ten Mudra Shaktis. 28 is the dominant number. This avarana corresponds to the feet of the mother goddess.]

Tripuraadi Chakreshvari Animaadi Siddhishvari Nitya Kaameshvari
Kshitipura Trailokyamohana Chakra Vartini Prakata Yogini
Suraripu Mahishaasuraadi Marddini Nigama Puraanaadi Samvedini
Tripureshi Guruguha Janani Tripura Bhanjana Ranjani
Madhuripu Sahodari Talodari Tripura Sundari Maheshvari

The Bhupura Chakra, the earth stretch, includes within its spacial scope the entire design even as the earth supports the entire existence .As he enters the first Avarana, Dikshitar submits his salutations to the Mother Goddess Kamalamba and prays for protection and guidance. He address her as the magnificent transcendental beauty without a parallel in three worlds (Tripura Sundari); the conqueror of three levels of existence; the presiding deity of Tripura and other chakras (Tripuraadi Chakreshvari); Kameshwari; the empress of Trailokyamohana Chakra (Trailokyamohana Chakravartini) of Bhupura (Kshithipura). She is the presiding deity of the chakra (Tripureshi); mother of Guruguha; and the enchanting beauty of all the tree worlds (tripura Sundari).

He also submits his salutations to Anima and other Siddhi deities of the Avarana (Animaadi Siddhishvari); the Nitya Devis; the Yogini of the Avarana (PrakataYogini); and Maheshwari and other Matruka Devis.

Thus, along with the prayers, he brings out the salient features of the Bhupura Chakra, the Earth principle. The name of Raga Anandabhiravi is suggested by the phrase Kamalaja-ananda Bodhasukhi. His signature also appears in Guruguha janani.

2, Second Avarana – Shodasha dala padma

Kamalambaam Bhajare Re Maanasa –Kalyani- Adi.

[The avarana is Shodasa Dala, and the Chakra is Sarva asha paripuraka chakra ‘fulfiller all desires and expectations’; the yogini is Gupta Yogini; Mudra is Sarva Vidravini; the Siddhi is Laghima; and the mental state is Swapna, The presiding deity is Tripureshi. Her vidya is Aim Klim Sauh. The gem is sapphire. The time is three hours. The Shaktis are the sixteen starting with Kamakarshini.16 is the dominant number. This avarana corresponds to the Savdhistana chakra of the mother goddess.]

Sarvaashaa Paripuraka Chakra Svaamineem Parama Shiva Kaamineem
Durvaasaarcchita Gupta Yogineem Dukha Dhvamsineem Hamsineem
Nirvaana Nija Sukha Pradaayineem Nityakalyaaneem Kaatyaayaneem
Sharvaaneem Madhupa Vijaya Venim Sad Guruguha Jananeem Niranjaneem
Garvita Bhandaasura Bhanjaneem Kaamaa Karshanyaadi Ranjaneem

Nirvishesha Chaitanya Roopineem Urvee Tatvaadi Svaroopineem

 The sixteen petalled lotus(shodasha dala padma) called sarva asha paripuraka chakra , the fulfiller of all desires , is the second enclosure. In the sixteen   petals , the sixteen vowels of Sanskrit alphabet is inscribed.These symbolize sixteen kalas or aspects or phases.This Avarana is about the self protection of the devotee (atma raksha); and liberation from discontent by seeking identity with Shiva the ever complete and content.

He calls upon his mind to meditate on Kamalamba and cast aside attachments to illusory existence (kalpita maaya).The craving Asha springs from discontent; and is quenched when discontent is eliminated. That is possible when devotee identifies himself with Shiva, ever complete and ever content.

He worships the presiding deity of Sarvasaparipuraka chakra, the fulfiller of all desires and expectations (Dukha Dhvamsineem);the beloved of Parama Shiva; the bestower of true and everlasting bliss (Nirvaana Nija Sukha Pradaayineem). She is the manifestation of attribute_ less supreme spirit (Nirvishesha Chaitanya Roopineem).She is also the representation of the world and its principles (Urvee Tatvaadi Svaroopineem).

When he calls her “she who is worshipped by Durvasa (Durvaasaarcchita)”, he is referring to the Kaadi matha tradition to which he belonged. The sage Durvasa is one of the gurus of the Kaadi matha.

Dikshitar also refers to the Gupta Yogini, the yogini of this avarana; the sixteen, Shakthis starting with Kamakarshini (Kaamaa Karshanyaadi Ranjaneem). They are also called nithyas and named Kamakarshini (fascinating the desires), Budhyakarshini (fascinating the intellectetc. They relate to powers in the Five Elements, the ten senses of perception or Indriyas (being further divided into five organs of action and five sense organs) and the Mind.   

The phrase Nija Sukha Pradaayineem Nityakalyaaneem refers to the sixteen Devis of this avarana, called Nitya Kala or Nitya Devis.

Raga mudra is in the phrase Nityakalyaneem; and his signature is in Guruguha -jananeem.

3. Third Avarana –Ashta dala padma

 Shree Kamalaambikayaa Kataakshitoham -: Shankarabharanam-Rupaka

 [The avarana is ashta dala; The Chakra is Sarvasamkshobana chakra ‘agitates all’. The Yogini is Guptatara; Mudra is Sarvakarshini; the Siddhi is Mahima; and the mental state is Shushupti. The Presiding deity is Tripura Sundari. Her vidya is Hrim Klim Sauh. The gem is cat’s eye. The time is day and night. The Shaktis are the eight starting with Ananga Kusuma. 8 is the dominant number. This avarana corresponds to the navel region of mother goddess.]

Ananga Kusumaadyashta Shaktyaakaarayaa
Arunavarna Samkshobhana Chakraakaarayaa
Anantakotyandanaayaka Shankara Naayikayaa
Ashta Vargaatmaka Gupta Tarayaa Varayaa
Anangaa Dyupaasitayaa Astadalaabjasthitayaa
Dhanur Baanadhara Karayaa Dayaa Sudhaa Saagarayaa

Eight petalled lotus (astha dala padma) called Sarva-samkhobhana –Chakra the agitator of all, is the third avarana.Each petal has a consonant inscribed within it that begins with ‘Ka’  The petals represent eight divinities associated with erotic urges , independent of physical body(ananga).

The Avarana is about overcoming agitations (Samshkoba) and the formless erotic urges (ananga)that arise in mind .These refer to mental pleasures and agitations related to the modalities of mind such as  rejection (repulsion or withdrawal), acceptance (attention or attachment) and indifference (detachment).

The eight petals of the Avarana Asta dala represent eight divinities associated with such erotic principles. They are named Ananga Kusuma, Ananga mekhala, Ananga madana and so on. Dikshitar refers to them as Ananga Kusumaadyashta Shaktyaakaarayaa.

Dikshitar obviously succeeded in gaining freedom from mental agitations and urges.

 Dikshitar is thrilled with divine ecstasy; I am blessed by the grace of mother Kamalamba (Shree Kamalaambikayaa Kataakshitoham); and I have realized that Absolute Brahman (Sacchidaananda Paripurna Brahmaasmi). 

He describes the Devi as the one seated on the red colored (Aruna Varna)Samkshobhana Chakra,amidst its eight petals (Anangaa Dyupaasitayaa Astadalaabjasthitayaa) having names starting with Ananga (Ananga Kusumaadyashta).In the eight petals of the lotus, eight consonants such as ka, cha, ta and so on are inscribed (Ashta Vargaatmaka).She holds in her hands the bow and arrows (Dhanur Baanadhara Karayaa). She is the ocean of mercy (Dayaa Sudhaa Saagarayaa).

Ananga has also a reference also to the cult of Cupid or Eros (Manmatha or Kamaraja) and its deities that have merged into the tradition of Sri Vidya. Dikshitar is referring to the school propagated by Kamaraja, the Kamaraja vidya or Kadi matha; and continued by the sage Agasthaya. Dikshitar belonged to this school.

He mentions the yogini of the Avarana, Gupta Tarayaa (Gupta Tarayaa Varayaa).

Raga mudra is hinted in Shankara Naayikayaa, the beloved of Shankara. His signature appears in the phrase Guruguhatatraipadayaa.

4. Fourth Avarana –chaturdasha trikona

 Kamalaambikaayai Kanakamshukaayai-Kambhoji -Khanda Ata

[The Avarana is chaturdasha trikona, a figure made of 14 triangles; the Chakra is Sarvasoubhagya dayaka chakra, ‘grants excellence’. The Yogini is Sampradaya Yogini; the Mudra is Sarva Shankari; the Siddhi is Ishitva. The mental state is Iswara Vichara. The presiding deity is Tripura Vasini. Her vidya is is Haim Hklim Hsauh. The gem is coral. The time is day and night . The Shaktis are the fourteen starting withSamkshobhini.14 is the dominant number. This avarana corresponds to the heart of mother goddess.]

Sakala Saubhaagya Daayakaambhoja Charanaayai
Samkshobhinyaadi Shaktiyuta Chaturthyaavaranaayai
Prakata Chaturddasha Bhuvana Bharanaayai
Prabala Guruguha Sampradaayaantah Karanaayai
Akalanka Rupa Varnaayai Aparnaayai Suparnaayai
Sukara Dhruta Chaapa Baanaayai Shobhanakara Manukonaayai
Sakunkumaadi Lepanaayai Charaacharaadi Kalpanaayai
Chikura Vijita Neelaghanaayai Chidaananda Purna Ghanaayai

Dikshitar worships the presiding deity of the fourth Avarana, playing on the words occurring in the title of the Chakra: sarva sowbhagya dayaka, the bestower of all prosperity and addresses the Mother asSakala Saubhaagya Daayakaambhoja Charanaayai, the goddess with lotus like feet and benefactor of all good things in life. He inserted the Raga mudra, in the phrase kaambhoja Charanaayai,worshipping her lotus feet.

The fourteen triangles are inscribed with fourteen consonants beginning with ka and ending with dha.The fourteen corners represent fourteen powers of mother goddess. The fourteen triangles(chaturdasha trikona) of the chakra represent fourteen channels  of the vital forces in the body(naadis), corresponding with the fourteen divinities Sarva Samkshobhini and thirteen others. Dikshitar refers to these fourteen forces of the fourth avarana asSamkshobhinyaadi Shaktiyuta Chaturthyaavaranaayai.

He adulates the Devi as manifest ruler (prakata bharanayai) of the fourteen worlds (chaturdasha buvana).The fourteen worlds also represent the faculties : the Mind (Manas), the Intellect (Buddhi),Being (Chitta), the Conscious Ego (Ahamkara) and the ten Indriyas.

This avarana corresponds to the heart of the mother goddess. Dikshitar addresses Kamalamba as the heart (antah karanaayai) of the great tradition (prabala sampradaya) to which Dikshitar (Guruguha) belongs. He is referring to the tradition of the Kaadi matha of the Dakshinamurthy School of Sri Vidya.

He describes the mother as seated in fourteen triangle (manu konayai), smeared with vermilion (sa kunkumayai), holding in her beautiful hands (su_kara) arrows (baana chaapa). She is the creator of moveable and immoveable existence (Charaacharaadi Kalpanaayai). She is the embodiment of consciousness (chit) and bliss(ananda).

The symbolism of this avarana is the one cherished by all, sarva sowbhagya dayaka; for it suggests the identity of Shiva with his Shakthis (Chidananda purna ghanaayai).

5. Fifth Avarana –Bahir dasara

Shree Kamalaambikaayaah Param Nahire- Bhairavi -Misra Jhampa

 [The Avarana is Bahirdasara; the Chakra is Sarvarthasadhakachakra, the ‘accomplisher of all’. The Yogini is Kulotteerna yogini; the Mudra is Sarvonmadini; and the Siddhi is Vashitva. The mental state is Guroopa Sadanam. The presiding deity is Tripura Shri. Her vidya is is Haim Hklim Hsauh. The gem is pearl. The time is lunar day. The Shaktis are the ten starting with Sarva Siddhi Prada.10 is the dominant number. This avarana corresponds to the neck of mother goddess.]

Shreekantha Vishnu Virinchaadi Janayitrayaah
Shivaatmaka Vishvakartryaah Kaarayitryaah

Shreekara Bahirdashaara Chakra Sthityaah
Sevita Bhairavi Bhaargavee Bhaaratyaah


Naadamaya Sukshmarupa Sarva Siddhipradaadi Dasha Shaktyaaraadhita Moorthe
Shrotraadi Dasha Karana-aatmaka Kula Kauli Kaadi Bahuvidhopaasita Keertthe
Abheda Nitya Shuddha Buddha Mukta Saccida Anandamaya Paramaadvaita Sphurtthe
Aadi Madhyaanta Rahitaaprameya Guruguha Modita Sarva Arttha Saadhaka Sphurtte
Mulaadi Navaadhaara Vyaavrtta Dashadhvani Bhedajhna Yogibrunda Samraksanyaa
Anaadi Maayaa Avidyaakaarya Kaarana Vinoda Karana Patutarakataaksa Viksanyaah.

 This avarana which is in the form of a figure with ten corners is called Bahir dasara , the outer ten triangles; and represents ten vital currents (pranas) responsible for the various functions of body and mind. They are also the representations of ten incarnations of Vishnu meant to accomplish welfare of mankind. Hence the chakra is called Sarvartha Sadhaka, the accomplisher of all objects.

Dikshitar addresses the Devi as the auspicious one (Shreekara) seated on the Bahirdasara Chakra, served by Bhairavi (Kaali), Bhargavee (Lakshmi) and Bharathi (Saraswathi). The term Bhairavi is also the Raga mudra, here. (Shreekara Bahirdashaara Chakra Sthityaah Sevita Bhairavi Bhaargavee Bhaaratyaah)

The shakthis of the avarana are ten in number; and are named Sarva Siddhiprada, Sarva Sampathprada, and Sarva Priyankari and so on. Dikshitar worships the ten manifestations of these shakthis (Sarva Siddhipradaadi Dasha Shaktyaaraadhita Moorthe); and describes them as the subtle forms of sounds in the body (Naadamaya Sukshmarupa).

The yoginis of the chakra are Kulotteerna yoginis and are also called Kuala yoginis. Dikshitar worships the mother as being present in various forms (Bahuvidhopasthitha) such as the ten yoginis kula, Kaula and others (Dasha Karana-aatmaka Kula Kauli Kaadi).

He describes the fifth avarana Sarvartha Sadhaka, the accomplisher of all objects, in highly lyrical terms. He hails her as the ultimate good (Shiva) and the objective of the Tantra and Vedic rituals alike; and as the supreme non-dual non-differentiated ever pure enlightened free self, consciousness and bliss. She is the incomparable, nondual being, without an end or beginning. She is loved in devotion by Guruguha; and is manifested in Sarvartha Sadhaka Chakra. She is the sublime inspiration. (Abheda Nitya Shuddha Buddha Mukta Saccida Anandamaya Paramaadvaita Sphurtthe, Aadi Madhyaanta Rahitaaprameya Guruguha Modita Sarva Arttha Saadhaka Sphurtte).

She is also present as Naada, sound, in the nine vital centers such as Muladhara and other chakras. She protects yogis; dispels delusion and ignorance. The nine chakras referred to are Muladhara, Svadhistana, Manipura, anahata, Vishuddha and ajna; together with manasa chakra (mind centre) situated above ajna, soma chakra (lunar centre) situated above manasa chakra; and Sahasra padma, symbolically, located above the head. The Sahasra is the seat of consciousness (shiva).

 6. Sixth Avarana –Antar dasara

Kamalaambikaayaastava Bhaktoham- Punnaagavaraali -Thrisra Eka

[The Avarana is Antardasara; the Chakra is Sarvaraksakara chakra The gem is emerald. The time is Lunar Fortnight. The Shaktis are the ten starting with Sarvagnya.10 is the dominant number. This avarana corresponds to the middle of the eyebrows (bhrukuti) of the mother goddess.] ‘Protects all’. The Yogini is Nigarbha Yogini; the Mudra is Sarva mahankusha; and the Siddhi is Prakamya. The mental state is Upadesa. The presiding deity is Tripura Malini. Her vidya is is Hrim Klim Blem.

Dasha-kala-atmaka Vahni Svaroopa Prakaasha-antar-dashaara
Sarva Rakshaakara Chakreshvaryaah

Kachavarga Dvaya Maya Sarvajhnaadi
Dasha-shakti-sameta Malini Chakra-eshvaryaah
Tri-dashavim-shad-varna Garbhini Kundalinyaah
Dasha-mudraa Sama-araadhita Kaulinyaah
Dasharathaadinuta Guruguha Janaka Shiva Bodhinyaah
Dashakarana Vrutti Mareechi Nigarbha Yoginyaah Shree

The ten- sided figure (antar dasara) called Sarva raksha karaka (one that protects all) consisting ten triangles is the sixth avarana. The ten triangles represent the powers of the mother goddess who presides over ten vital fires (vanyaha). These represent  the ten specific fires within the body; they  being the fire of purgation (Rechak), digestion (Pachak), absorption (Shoshak), burning (Dahak), the secretion of enzymes (Plavak), acidification (Ksharak), to take out or excrete (Uddharak), the fires of pessimism and frustration (Kshobhak), the fire of assimilation (Jrambhak) and creating lustre(Mohak).

The significance of this avarana is explained as protection from all obstacles. The devotee distances himself from all that hinders his spiritual progress; and he begins to develop the awareness he is Shiva (the consciousness).

Dikshitar describes the antar dasara chakra as endowed with ten aspects and glowing like fire(Dasha-kala-atmaka Vahni SvaroopaPrakaasha-antar-dashaara) .These ten vital fires correspond to the ten divinities named as Sarvajna, sarva shakthi prada, Sarvaishvarya prada and so on. These along with the presiding deity Tripura Malini, reside in the ten-cornered-figure antar dasara (Sarvajhnaadi Dasha-shakti-sameta Malini Chakra-eshvaryaah).

Tripura Malini is the goddess of the Chakra Sarvarakshakara (Sarva Rakshaakara Chakreshvaryaah).

The ten triangles are inscribed with ten consonants beginning with letters of the Ka and Ca groups (Tridasha-adi-nuta Kachavarga Dvaya Maya). They, again, represent the powers of the mother goddess who presides over ten vital fires (vanyaha).

She is the goddess Kaulini, propitiated by ten Mudras .The mudras of the avarana are Mahakusha Mudra (Dasha-mudraa SamaaraadhitaKaulinyaah).Dikshitar also mentions the yogini of the chakra: Nigarbha yogini (Nigarbha Yoginyaah). 

Dikshitar describes the Sri Chakra as containing initself the fifty six alphabets and also being the very representation of Kundalini (Tri-dashavim-shad-varna Garbhini Kundalinyaah).

Sri Chakra  has several symbolizms. As per the Tantric idealogy the Sanskrit alphabet is regarded the vocal epitome of the universe; and each letter is transformed into energy when introduced into the chakra. It acquires the character of a “seed_syllable” , Bijakshara, representing a divine aspect or a retinue divinity. Here , the Tantra texts explain that the consonants are basically inert and depend on vowels (just as Shiva depends on Shakthi) to manifest in a meaningful form. It is only when the germinating power (bija) of the vowels is infused with consonants, the latter gain meaning. That is the reasons the vowels are Bija aksharas. They transform ordinary letters into mother like condition (matrika); that is, they impregnate ordinary letters with meaning and power. The consonants inscribed into Sri Chakra derive power since they are now in union with Shakthi.

Further, in Tantra, the articulate sound is the basic structure overwhich all our thoughts, emotions, aspirations and pleasures are woven as fabrics.

As regards Kundalini, it is basically a terminology of the Yoga school. In Tantra the term has an extended meaning. Tantra regards the creation as an expression of the universal energy (maha-kundalini); Its representation in the individual is the kundalini. That Kundalini is the basis for all his intensions, cognitions and actions. The awakening of Kundalini signals the spiritual progress. It is by means of its mediating power(mantra shakthi) , the individual realizes the oneness of consciousness-energy.

Dikshitar therefore says that the vowels and consonants inscribed into the Sri Chakra as representations of energy and consciousness.

Dikshitar hides the Raga mudra in a delightful flight of phrases(Ati-madhuratara-vaanyaah Sharvaanyaah Kalyaanyah Ramaniya-punnaagavaraali Vijita Venyaah Shree)She whose braided hair excels the beauty of lovely black bees swarming around the Punnaga tree.

The Charanam concludes with salutations to the Yogini of the chakra, the ten aspects of  Nigarbha Yogini, shining brightly like the rays of light (Dashakarana Vrutti Mareechi Nigarbha Yoginyaah Shree)

7. Seventh Avarana-Ashtara

Shree Kamalaambikaayaam Bhaktim Karomi- Sahana-Thrisra Triputa

[The avarana is asthakona; the Chakra is Sarvarogahara chakra ‘cures all ills’. the Yogini is Rahasya Yogini; The Mudra is sarva khechari; and the Siddhi is Bhukthi. The mental state is Manana. The presiding deity is Tripura Siddha. Her vidya is is Hrim Shrim Sauh. The gem is diamond (Vajra). The time is Lunar month. The Shaktis are the eight, starting with Vashini. 8 is the dominant number. This avarana corresponds to the forehead (lalata) of the mother goddess.]

Raakaachandra Vadanaayaam Raajiva-nayanaayaam
Paakaarinuta Charanaayaam Aakaashaadi Kiranaayaam Hrimkaara

Vipina-harinyaam Hrimkaara-Susharirinyaam
Hrimkaara Taru Manjaryaam Hrimkaareshvaryaam Gauryaam

Sharira-traya Vilakshana Sukhatara Svaatmaanu Bhoginyaam
Virinci Harishaana Harihaya Vedita Rahasyayoginyaam
Paraadi Vaagdevataa-rupa-vashinyaadi Vibhaaginyaam
Charaatmaka Sarva-roga-hara Niraamaya Raaja-yoginyaam
Karadhruta Vinaa Vaadinyaam Kamalaanagara Vinodinyaam

 Eight-cornered figure(ashtara) called Sarva roga hara ( the remover of all deceases) is the seventh avarana.In the eight triangles formed by this figure, eight divinities presiding over speech reside.They are known as deties of self expression(Vak Devatha).These shaktis also rule overbasic urges and contradictions in life (dwandwa) such as  cold(water) and heat(fire); happiness(air) and sorrow( earth);  as also the Desire(akasha-space) and the three gunas  of Sattvas (consciousness), Rajas(ego) and Tamas(mind).

The significance of this enclosure is its power to eradicate the most basic of diseases viz. involvement with impure, fleeting existence laden with stress. The blessed state is attained when

the distinctions between the subject, the object and transactions between them are dissolved.

Hrim is the Bija-mantra (seed-syllable) of this chakra. In the context of Sri Vidya, hrim is a particularly sacred syllable; it represents the mother goddess herself. Dikshitar worships the mother as the very embodiment of hrim (Hrimkaara-Susharirinyaam Hrimkaara Taru Manjaryaam). She is Gauri; she is the presiding deity of hrim (Hrimkaareshvaryaam Gauryaam).

Dikshitar refers to his tradition (Kadi matha) by invoking the name of one of its gurus Hayagreeva(Harihaya Vedita). He also refers to the Yogini of the chakra Rahasya Yogini (Rahasyayoginyaam);and to the letters of the Pa group inscribed in the eight triangles, representing eight Shakthis (Vasini and others) presiding over the aspect of speech (Paraadi Vaagdevataa-rupa-vashinyaadi Vibhaaginyaam).

Dikshitar refers to the basic nature of the chakra Sarvarogahara chakra ‘cures all ills’ and calls the mother the Raja Yogini, who cures all kinds of illness ( Charaatmaka Sarva-roga-hara Niraamaya Raaja-yoginyaam).

The Raga mudra is the phrase Harishaana; while the composer’s signature is in Guruguha-vara-prasaadinyaam.

 8. Eight Avarana –Trikona

Kamalaambike Avaava-Ghanta-Adi

[The Avarana is Trikona; the Chakra is Sarvasiddhiprada chakra, ‘grants all attainments’. the Yogini is Athi Rahasya Yogini; the Mudra is Sarva Beeja; and the Siddhi is Iccha. The mental state is Nitidhyasana. The presiding deity is Tripuraamba. Her vidya is is Hsraim Hsrklim Hsrsauh.. The gem is Gomaya .The time is a ritu- two months. The Shaktis are the three: Kameshwari, Vajreshwari and Bhagamalini. (4+3=7) is the dominant number. This avarana corresponds to the top of the head (masthka) of the mother goddess]

Lokapaalini Kapaalini Shoolini Lokajanani Bhagamaalini Shakrudaa
Aalokaya Maam Sarva Siddhipradaayike Tripuraambike Baalaambike


Santapta Hema Sannibha Dehe Sadaa-akhandaika-rasa-pravaahe
Santa-apahara Trikona-gehe Sa-kaameshvari Shakti-samuhe
Santatam Mukti Ghantaamani Ghosaayamaana Kavaata-dvaare
Ananta Guruguha Vidite – Karaahnguli Nakhodaya Vishnu Dashaavataare –
Antahkaraneksu Kaarmuka – Shabdaadi Pancha Tanmaatra Vishikhaatyanta
Raagapaasha Dvesa-ankusha Dharakare Atirahasya Yoginipare

 The primary triangle with its apex downward (East) and colored white(Sattva) sorrounding immediately around the central point , Bindu , is the eighth avarana. It is called Sarva Siddhi prada chakra, the one that bestows all accomplishment. This triangle does not intersect with other triangles; and stands independent. It is Kama Kala. It is feminine in its aspect; and represents three fundamental manifestations of the mother goddess: Kameshwari (symbolizing moon – creation); Vajreshwari (symbolizing sun- preservation); and Bhagamalini (symbolizing fire -dissolution).

The three angles of the triangle also represent three forms of speech : Pashyanthi,Madhyama and Vaikhari. The triangle is therefore the speech aspect Vak Bhava.

It also represents the three powers of iccha (will) , jnana (knowledge) and kriya(activity).The three corners of the triangle stand for three peaks(kuta) of the fifteen_lettered mantra; or as three dimensions of all existence. The triangle itself is regarded the abode of the mother goddess (kama-kala).

Dikshitar in divine ecstasy sings the glory of the Mother, the protector of worlds adorned with garland of skulls and holding a trident. She is Bhagamalini, symbolizing fire representing Rudra’s power of dissolution. She is also Tripurambika; the presiding deity of the avarana. She is Balamba. She is the ruler of the Sarvasiddhiprada chakra (Lokapaalini Kapaalini Shoolini Lokajanani Bhagamaalini Shakrudaa Aalokaya Maam Sarva Siddhipradaayike Tripuraambike Baalaambike).

She whose body is glowing like molten gold(Santapta Hema Sannibha Dehe); She who is the eternal undifferentiated unique bliss(Sadaa-akhandaika-rasa-pravaahe ); She who resides in the enchanting  Trikona chakra(Santa-apahara Trikona-gehe ); and delighting in the company of Kameshwari (symbolizing moon – creation) and host of  other friends ( Sa-kaameshvari Shakti-samuhe).

The eight cornered figure that surrounds the Trikona, suggests five basic elements of phenomenal existence (tanmatras: earth, water, fire, air and space), symbolized by five arrows of flowers (pancha bana) which is also the symbol of Kama; passion (raga) symbolized by the noose (pasha); aversion (dwesha) symbolized by the goad (ankusha); and mind (manas) symbolized by sugarcane stalk (ikshu danda); all of which are held by the deity, in the company of the yogini of the avarana ,Athi Rahasya Yogini.

Dikshitar puts the entire thing, beautifully, in just two compact lines:

Antahkaraneksu Kaarmuka – Shabdaadi Pancha Tanmaatra Vishikhaatyanta
Raagapaasha Dvesa-ankusha Dharakare Atirahasya Yoginipare.

The Raga mudra is in Mukti Ghantaamani Ghosaayamaana; while the composer’s mudra is in Ananta Guruguha Vidite.

Tripurasundari (1)

9. Ninth Avarana-Bindu

Kamalaambaa Jayati-Ahiri-Rupaka

[The avarana is the Bindu and the Chakra is Sarvanandamaya chakra, ‘replete with bliss’. The yogini is parathi para Rahasya; the Mudra is sarva yoni; and the Siddhi is Prapthi. The mental state is Savikalpa Samadhi. The presiding deity is her Transcendent Majesty Lalita Maheshvari Mahatripurasundari. Her vidya is Kamaraja vidya : ka e i la hrim ha sa ka ha la hrim sa ka la hrim, plus a secret 16th syllable. The gem is ruby. The time is year. The Shakti is Maha Tripura Sundari the personification of Brahman. This avarana corresponds to Brahma_randra on the top of the head of the mother goddess.]


Shri Kamalaambaa Jayati Ambaa Shri Kamalaambaa Jayati Jagadaambaa

Shri Kamalaambaa Jayati Shringaara Rasa Kadambaa Madambaa

Shri Kamalaambaa Jayati Chidbimbaa Pratibimbendu Bimbaa

Shri Kamalaambaa Jayati Shreepura Bindu Madhyastha

Chintaamani Mandirastha Shivaakaara Manchasthita Shivakaameshaankasthaa


Sukara-ananaadya-arccita Mahaa-tripura
Sundarim Raajaraajeshvareem
Shreekara Sarva-ananda-maya Chakra-vaasinim Suvaasinim Chintayeham
Divaakara Sheetakirana Paavakaadi Vikaasakarayaa
Bheekara Taapa-traya-adi Bhedana Dhurinatarayaa
Paakaripu Pramukhaadi Praarthita-Sukalebarayaa
Praakatya Paraaparayaa Paalitodayaakarayaa


Shrimaatre Namaste Chinmaatre Sevita Ramaa Harisha Vidhaatre
Vaamaadi Shaktipujita Paradevataayaah Sakalam Jaatam
Kaamaadi Dvaadashabhir-upaasita Kaadi Haadi Saadi Mantra-rupinyaah
Premaaspada Shiva Guruguha Jananyaam Pritiyukta Macchittam Vilayatu
Brahmamaya Prakaashini Naamaroopa Vimarshini Kaamakalaa Pradarshini Saamarasya Nidarshini

The ninth enclosure is the Bindu. It is called Sarvananda-maya chakra , the supremely blissfull one.  It is independent of the intersecting triangles. This, in a temple, would be the sanctum sanctorum, with all the other circles or enclosures representing various parts of the temple as you move inwards.

It is this Bindu that is in reality the Sri Chakra; it represents the mother goddess Maha Tripura Sundari, Lalitha or Rajarajeshwari herself; and everything else is a manifestation of her aspects.

The goddess is nothing other than the devotees own self. The self here refers to individual consciousness (buddhi) which is beyond the body-mind complex. It is filled with all bliss (sarvananda maya). This constant, abundant bliss is the expression of the union of Shiva (consciousness) and Shakthi (power of deliberation Vimarsha). It is the very basis of existence.

The significance of this avarana is the complete harmony (samarasya) of principles of pure consciousness (Shiva) and the principle of energy as deliberation (vimarsha shakthi).It signifies a state of non-duality, where all tendencies of approach and withdrawal become nonexistent, dissolve in a state in which the devotee ultimately rests. Bliss, in Tantra, is explained as resting in oneself (Svarupa pratishta).

Dikshitar bursts forth into a fountain of divine ecstasy and sings the glory and the celebration of the Supreme Mother Goddess in highly lyrical and sublime poetry. The krithi is also rich in Sri Vidya lore.

He describes the Mother as the very personification of the Bindu, the pure consciousness at the centre of Sri Chakra (Chidbimbaa Pratibimbendu Bimbaa); and as one who resides as the Bindu, in a mansion of ruby (Chintaamani Mandirastha), at the heart of the Sri Chakra (Shreepura Bindu Madhyastha).Here the expression bimbendu, refers to the moon and the point. As per the Tantric ideology the mother goddess is the moon; and the fifteen phases of the moon are her individualized aspects, kalas. She resides in the lunar orb.

The phrase Chintamani mandirasthitha carries with it an elaborate background. The Devi’s mansion is visualized as situated in a great garden (mahodyana) rich with many species of trees such as Santana, Kalpaka, Hari-chandana, Parijatha, Bilva etc. The garden is enclosed by four ramparts made of nine gems. The central hall of her mansion (prasada) is made of coral (manikya mantapa). Inside this vast enclosure are three tanks (vapika) of immortality (amrita), of biiss (ananda) and of deliberation (vimarsha).There is also a grove of lotus flowers (padmatavi). Amidst all these is the magnificent mansion of the “wish granting jewel” (Chintamani mandira). The mother goddess resides (sthitha) in this enchanting mansion.

At the entrance of this mansion (Kavaata-dvaare), the bejewelled bells (Ghantaamani) constantly (Santatam) ring and announce loudly the message of salvation (Mukti Ghantaamani Ghosaayamaana).

The line “Shivaakaara Manchasthita Shiva-kaamesha-ankasthaa” ordinarily means that the goddess is sitting on the cot in embrace of Shiva. But, in Sri Vidya, the imagery of the cot on which the mother goddess rests has a symbolic significance. The Mother Goddess is imagined to be seated at the Bindu (in her mansion) on a cot (mancha). The four corners of the Bhupura represent the four legs of the cot. The four legs are the four principles of the phenomenal world: emanation (shristi Brahma); preservation (sthithi Vishnu); dissolution (upasamhara Rudra); and withdrawal of the entire creation into a very subtle form (Ishvara).The plank (phalakha), which rests on the four legs of the cot is Shiva; he represents the principle of reception, retention of the withdrawn phenomena. Such dichotomy of existence is preserved (anugraha) until the time for re-emanation arrives. This principle is Sadashiva tattva (the ever auspicious but inert principle of pure consciousness) ; corpse-like , hence also called Sadashiva-preta . The Mother Goddess rests on this plank, the principle, of Shiva. The Mother Lalitha is surrounded by nine guardian spirits (nava-shakthi ) : vibhuthi (splendour), unnathi (upliftment) , Kaanthi (lustre) , hrsti (satisfaction ), kirti (celebrity) , shanthi ( courtesy ) , vyushti ( prosperity ) , utkrshta (excellence )  and  riddhi  (supremacy or accomplishment ).


In Tantra, the female is the predominant aspect and the male is subordinate to her. The plank of the cot is male; and the female rests on that. The cot is inert, and the Devi is dynamic. Yet, the male provides the female a field to function; and the two cannot be separated. Sri Chakra demonstrates this principle.

It is explained further, Shiva and Shakthi should not be viewed as mere male or female principles. They are indeed neither male nor female; nor even neuter. They represent the unity of consciousness and energy the very basis and the essence of all Universe.

[The seat of Lalitha or Maha Tripurasundari is Yoga pitha, in the form of red lotus, impressed with the Sri Chakra design, symbolizing the very heart of the devotee. The symbolism of this appears to be that Mother goddess worshipped in Sri Chakra is indeed the universe in all its aspects; and the devotee has to identify this principle in his body; and again his body too is Sri Chakra and the universe in miniature.]

The presiding deity of the avarana is Maha Tripura Sundari and her chakra is Sarvanandamaya chakra. Dikshitar meditates on the chakra and the presiding deity worshipped by Varahi and other attendant deties, the Yoginis (Sukara-ananaadya-arccitaMahaatripura –Sundarim Rajaraajeshvareem).

Dikshitar mentions the Sun (Divaakara), the moon (Sheetakirana) and the fire (Paavaka) as the expansion (Vikaasa) and manifestation of the presiding deity. Here, he is referring to the view that the central point, the Bindu, is actually composed of three dots or drops (Bindu traya) representing three fires (vanhi): Moon (soma); Sun (surya); and Fire (Agni). The Bindu expanding into three three is an act of swelling (ucchuna); and is the immediate unfolding of the Sri Chakra.

Dikshitar then sings the glory and the powers of the mother worshipped by Lakshmi, Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and other divinities.

In the line “Kaamaadi -Dvaadashabhir-upaasita Kaadi- Haadi- Saadi – Mantra-rupinyaah”, Dikshitar is recalling the twelve gurus and the traditions of the Sri Vidya. The Sri Vidya tradition which centres on the worship of Sri Chakra considers the following twelve gods and sages as its gurus: Manu, Chandra, Kubera, Lopamudra, Kama (Manmatha), Agasthya, Nandisha, Surya, Vishnu, Skanda, Shiva and Durvasa. It is said; each of the twelve gurus propagated a school with regard to the worship and significance of Sri Chakra. Of these, only two schools have survived to this day; one is the school started by Manmatha (also called Kamaraja) known as Kadi-matha. The Kadi tradition was continued by sage Agasthya. The other school is Hadi-matha started by Lopamudra wife of the Sage Agastya. There is also an obscure third school called Sadi-matha. Dikshitar belonged to the Kadi Matha School, started by Kamaraja.

Let my loving mind (chittam) be dissolved (vilayatu) in her, whose beloved (prema) is Shiva, and who is the mother (jananyaam) of Guruguha.

In the line “Brahmamaya Prakaashini Naamaroopa VimarshiniDikshtar touches upon the core concepts of Sri Vidya. Shiva as consciousness is illumination (prakasha); and the Kameshwari as the energy to unfold the creation, to evolve, is the deliberation (vimarsha).The two principles are undistinguished, united and in perfect harmony at the time of dissolution (pralaya).They however appear distinct at the time of creation (shristi) and preservation (sthithi).The twin aspects of illumination (prakasha) and evolution (vimarsha) are the basis of the expanding universe. The relation between the two is analogues to that of lamp and its light. The rays of lamp spread in all directions and is responsible for life and its evolution. Shiva is absolute consciousness (Brahmamaya Prakaashini) and vimarsha the energy flows into the world of names and forms (Naamaroopa Vimarshini).These two principles come together again at the time of withdrawal or dissolution.

The phrase “Kaamakalaa Pradarshini “ is again a reference to the concepts of Sri Vidya. The triangular formation of three dots or drops (Bindu traya) at the centre of Sri Chakra is rich in symbolism. The triangle is named Kama Kala. One of the interpretations is that the top dot is shiva and the bottom dots are Shakthi (energy) and nada (sound).Here, Kama is the union of Shiva (kameshvara) and Shakthi (Kameshvari): and the concrete manifestation of the two is Kala. This is also referred to as Nada-bindu-kala.

The other interpretation is that the top dot stands for Kama (primordial desire to evolve) and the bottom two dots represent the manifestation and eventual withdrawal.

The concluding phrase “Saamarasya Nidarshini” suggests the complete harmony (samarasya) of the principle of pure consciousness (Prakasha, Shiva) and the principle of energy, as evolution or expansion (Vimarsha, Shakthi). It signifies (nidarshini) a state of non-duality, a state in which the devotee ultimately rests (Svarupa pratishta).

Dikshitar concludes in his auspicious mangala kriti in deep devotion, fulfilment and celebration of the Mother’s transcendent powers and glory.

Sri Rajarajeshwari by Shilpi Sri Siddalaing aSwamy


Painting of Sri Rajarajeshwrai by Shilpi Siddanthi Shri Siddalainga Swamy of Mysore



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