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The Naga worship


Dear Sir,

What you have to say about ‘naga’ (snake god) worship in Hinduism. Which scriptures mentioned about ‘naga’? Please provide some detailed explanation. Any books to read to get more details?



The serpent lore

In the ancient Indian symbolisms, the tree and the serpent are twin spirits. And, the two have close association with the mountains*. The big trees that populate the hills are the natural abode of the serpents that move around freely amidst the branches and the foliage of the giant trees. The seals of the Indus valley excavated from the sites in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro also depict close association of trees with the serpents.

[*The Sanskrit expression ‘Naga’ has a dual connotation as: serpent and mountain. Naga is also a term that is often used in Indian literature to denote a distinguished person (nagadhipati); a city (nagara); a precious stone (nagamani); a flower (nagamalli); and, Indra’s elephant (nagendra).]

Apart from the trees and mountains, the domain of the serpents is also said to be the enchanted underworld, the realm of the Naga-loka or Patala-loka, ruled by King Vasuki, the Nagaraja. It is described as   an immense province , with its Capital at Bhogavati, crowded with palaces and mansions; and, filled with precious gems (nagamani), jewels, gold, other treasures  and with various other types of riches.   

Srimad Bhagavata Purana (5.24.31) describes the nether land known as Pātāla or Nāgaloka, where there are many demoniac serpents, the masters of Nāgaloka, such as Śankha, Kulika, Mahāśańkha, Sveta, Dhanañjaya, Dhritarashtra, Śańkhacūda, Kambala, Aśvatara and Devadatta. The chief among them is Vāsuki. They are all extremely angry, and they have many, many hoods —some snakes five hoods, some seven, some ten, others a hundred and others a thousand. These hoods are bedecked with valuable gems; and ,with  the light emanating from the gems.

Tato’ adhastat patale naga loka patayo vasuki-pramukhah; sankha-kulika mahasankha-sveta-dhananjaya-dhrtarastra-sankhacuda-kambalaasvatara devadatta -adayo maha bhogino mahamarsa nivasanti yesam u ha vai panca sapta sata sahasra sirsanam phanasu viracita maha-manayo rocisnavah patala vivara timira nikaram sva rocisa vidhamanti

Srimad Bhagavatha Purana (11th Chapter, 12th Skanda) mentions the names of the Nagas associated with each of the months in a year.

Nagas and Months

navanaga devata yantra

The serpents  are also often associated with bodies of waters — including rivers, lakes, seas, and wells — and are also regarded as the guardians of treasures. However, the favorite place of dwelling of the serpents is said to be the ocean, which is described as the ‘the abode of the Nagas ‘(Naganam aalayam).

They are embodiments as also the custodians of terrestrial waters. The Nagas are creatures of abundant power who defend the underworld; confer fertility and prosperity upon those who are associated with them ; be it  a meadow, a shrine, a temple, a person , or even a kingdom.

Thus, the Nagas are, virtually, almost everywhere – below the ground; under   the sea; in the lakes and springs; on the mountains; on the trees; in the borrows; and, even in the skies.


Ancient Indians both feared and revered the snakes, as they were seen to be associated with power, fear and deference. The Snakes are always looked upon , in every culture over the generations, as mysterious, dangerous, unseen and unacceptable within human habitats. And yet, there has always been a strange kind of fascination towards those meandering coldblooded reptiles.

[India, somehow, has since acquired the dubious distinction of being the ‘snake-bite-capital’. Please check here. It is said; an international team, comprising several Indian researchers has since reported high-quality sequencing of Indian Cobra genome, unlocking the secret code of its ‘venome-ome’ that carries 139 genes, out of which 19 are linked to venom-specific toxins> It is believed; the finding may help save thousands of lives in future as it opens up the doors to create better quality anti-venoms in the laboratory using recombinant DNA technology. ]

Apart from being symbols of fertility, the serpents have deep religious significance. The serpent lore in India is not only vast and varied, but is also very old and persisting. After the cow, the snake was perhaps the most revered animal of ancient India. Legendary serpents, such as Sesha and Vasuki , lent the snake a certain prestige,

Even as early as in the first century, Huvishka the Scythian (Kushan) emperor had erected a stone sculpture of a hooded serpent, with the inscription “propitiation to the worshipful Naga” (Priyatti Bhagava Naga). That was to mark the consecration of a tank and a garden dedicated to Bhagavat Bhumi Naga.

The practice of erecting such Naga-slabs, for worship, must have been in vogue even during much earlier periods. There was also the practice of erecting Naga-kastha (a pole with a snake shaped logo at the top), to mark the occasion. There are, of course, plenty of references to snake-worship in the Hindu and the Buddhist mythologies.

That tradition still continues. Hindus worship snakes in temples as well as in their natural habitats; offering them milk, incense, and prayers.

nagas stones

The Snakes seemed to have secured a powerful hold upon the imagination of people, prompted by the several characteristics associated with this creature. There was a great allure towards snakes; the mysteries they hold; and the symbolisms the project.

The snake, undoubtedly, is a unique creature. It is decidedly un-human (a-manusha); yet, exhibiting a bewildering blends of human and serpentine uncanny powers.  It is also unlike any other animal; because of its peculiar shape and its distinctive ability to move swiftly, in mysterious gliding motion, without the aid of limbs or wings. Further, it is the power of their unblinking mesmerizing eyes that holds one spellbound.

The other characteristic features of snake are its forked tongue; and, the periodical casting of its skin, rejuvenating itself, each time. The practice of shedding its skin, from time to time, suggested longevity or even immortality of the snakes. It also suggested a sense of freeing oneself from the evil of ignorance and progressing towards attaining freedom from mundane existence. 

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.4.7) remarks : ‘Like a Snake’s skin, dead and cast off, lies upon an ant-hill, likewise lies his body; but that which is body-less, immortal and life, is pure Brahmana, is pure light. ’

yadā sarve pramucyante kāmā ye ‘sya hdi śritā | atha martyo ‘mto bhavaty atra brahma samaśnuta iti | tad yathāhinirlvayanī valmīke mtā pratyastā śayīta | evam eveda śarīra śete | athāyam aśarīro ‘mta prāo brahmaiva teja eva | so ‘ha bhagavate sahasra dadāmīti hovāca janako vaideha || BrhUp_4,4.7 ||

These fabulous beings are also believed to have the power of speech.  Therefore, the serpents came to be invested with divine wisdom. 

Thus, the serpent, by all accounts, is indeed, the uncanniest of all creatures. Above all, it is the deadly venom they hold and inject that causes the whole species to be looked upon as dreaded beings that are to be feared, respected and worshiped. There is always an aura of mystery surrounding the snakes.


Patrick Russell (6 February 1726, Edinburgh – 2 July 1805, London) was a Scottish surgeon and naturalist who worked in India.

Patrick Russell

As a physician, as well as a naturalist to the East India Company in the South India,  he was concerned with the problem of snakebite; and , he made it his aim to find a way for people to identify venomous snakes.  Russell, therefore, attempted to classify the snakes using the nature of scales; and, studying their characteristics. With this, he hoped to find an easy way to separate the venomous snakes from the non-venomous ones. Apart from that; he conducted experiments on dogs and chicken and described the symptoms. He tested remedies claimed for snakebite.

 Because of the detailed studies he undertook on the snakes of South India, Patrick Russell is considered the ‘Father of Indian Ophiology’ (the branch of zoology that deals with snakes).  Russell’s viper, Daboia russelii, (a species of venomous snake) is named after him.

Some of his papers were collected and published as : An Account of Indian Serpents – Collected on the coast of Coromandel : containing descriptions and drawings of each species, together with experiments and remarks on their several poisons; Illustrated By Patrick Russell (1727-1805), East India Company; Printed by W. Bulmer & Co., London – 1796

This volume features the  details of 42  poisonous and non-poisonous  snakes found in Southern India; their biological and native names; their physical features; eyes, fangs, teeth; average lengths, sizes; color ; scales; their habitats; their characteristics. In addition, Patrick Russell provides his own observations on the selected species along with their drawings.

Patrick Russell3

The allure of the silent creeping creatures is so great that the Amarakosha (1,8; 6-8), the Indian lexicon – dated around 400 AD – has as many as thirty-three synonyms for a serpent; and, in addition it names varieties of snakes .

## Snake or serpent (33) ##
(1.8.497) sarpaḥ pṛdākurbhujago bhujaṅgo ‘hirbhujaṅgamaḥ
(1.8.498) āśīviṣo viṣadharaścakrī vyālaḥ sarīsṛpaḥ
(1.8.499) kuṇḍalī gūḍhapāccakṣuḥśravāḥ kākodaraḥ phaṇī
(1.8.500) darvīkaro dīrghapṛṣṭho dandaśūko bileśayaḥ
(1.8.501) uragaḥ pannago bhogī jihmagaḥ pavanāśanaḥ
(1.8.502) lelihāno dvirasano gokarṇaḥ kañcukī tathā
(1.8.503) kumbhīnasaḥ phaṇadharo harirbhogadharastathā

King of snakes and types of snakes

(1.8.493) śeṣo ananto vāsukistu sarparājo ‘tha gonase
(1.8.494) tilitsaḥ syādajagare śayurvāhasa ityubhau

Water snakes and non-poisonous snakes

1.8.495) alagardo jalavyālaḥ samau rājilaḍuṇḍumau
(1.8.496) māludhāno mātulāhirnirmukto muktakañcukaḥ

## Body of a snake (1), Fang (2), Pertaining to a snake (1), Hood of a snake(2) ## 
(1.8.504) aheḥ śarīraṃ bhogaḥ syādāśīrapyahidaṃṣṭrikā
(1.8.505) triṣvāheyaṃ viṣāsthyādi sphaṭāyāṃ tu phaṇā dvayoḥ

These include terms such as: Bhujaga; Bhujanga; Bhujamgama;  Bhogin;  Pannaga; Uraga; and, Jihamaga,  all of which  refer to the animal’s peculiar way of moving , creeping on their chests. There is also a belief that a snake has hidden legs (guptapada).

The curious way in which the snake protrudes its tongue, as if licking or tasting the air , earned it names such as : Lehiha , Lelihana (licker); Dvi-jihva, Dvi-rasana (Double-tongue); and, Vayu-bhakshaka, Vatasin,Pavanasin, Pavanabhuj, Anilasana,  Svanasana, marutasana (all suggesting that snakes  feed  on the wind –  the wind-eater).

According to the Nāṭyaśāstra 3.40-44 gods and demigods should be worshiped before the commencement of the play. In that context, the prayer submitted to the Nagas avers:   “I bow to all the Pannagas of the nether region, who are devourers of wind, grant me success in the drama we are about to produce.” ‘

Rasātala-gatebhyaśca pannagebhyo namo nama | diśantu siddhiyasya pūjitā pāpanāśanā ||

There was a belief that while it inhales, it also sucks in the poisonous elements in the air; and, thus the snakes are said to aid in purifying the atmosphere.

They also protect the environment and the crops from the menace of the rodents. An indiscriminate killing of snakes, will surely lead to severe ecological imbalance.

Naga worship

The snake has acquired some curious names, inspired by its shape, such as: Dantavati rajju (toothed-rope); Putirajju (putrid-rope); Dhirga-Jathika (the long one) and Nikkamaitva (biting-rope).

Apart from the  synonyms which have reference to its peculiar shape, the snakes have  some others,which are  obliquely related  to its qualities – either observed  or merely ascribed to it by popular belief or by false notion.

For instance, the absence of external organs of hearing led to the strange belief that the snake can hear through its eyes. And, hence it was called Chakshu-sravas (hearing-by-sight).

There is also a belief that the snakes enjoy listening to music, though they have no external ears; particularly the music played by the snake-charmer on the Been, a folk wind-instrument.

They are said to be greatly attracted by the strong fragrance of the Champaka flowers (Michelia champaca).

The hood of a snake is variously denoted by words such as Phana, Phata, Sphata, Phuta and Dravi (like a ladle or a spoon). Following that; a snake is often referred to Phani or Dravi. The Naga, the hooded cobra, is regarded as the king of snakes (Phanindra).

The Nagas are said to be adorned with half-Swastika (auspicious mystic cross). It is explained that the marks on the back of the hood resembling spectacles may possibly be such Svastika-ardha (half-Swastika).

There is also a belief that serpents grow to such  huge size as to be able to devour goats ; and, hence are called Ajagara.

As the guardians of hidden treasures, they are also said to posses various priceless magical gems (Naga Mani) and other objects of wealth. Thus the possession of treasures, magical gems and spells has come to be regarded as a trait of the Nagas.

The Nagas are said to be endowed with the magical powers of assuming various forms (iccha-dhari Naga). Because of its such powers, the snake is regarded with awe and veneration. 

The Nagas are also said to know magical spells, which they impart to the devoted worthy recipients. 


The  mythical cosmology of ancient India believes that the Earth, on which we live, is held and supported by the enormous thousand-headed serpent, Sesha. He is described as ‘one whose thousand hoods are the base of the world , carrying the load of the orb of the earth ; and, spreading good qualities (sakala –jagan-mulo-vichakra –mahabhara –vahana-guna-vamana –phana –sahasra).


There is also a close connection between the sacred Naga and the ant-hill. It is looked upon not only as holy abode of the Naga; but, also as the entrance to the mysterious world of snakes (Naga-loka; or Patala), far below the world of humans.

Some mention of a connection between rainbow (Indra-danush) and the anthills (Valmika) where the Nagas reside.  Varahamihira, the mathematician (505–587 CE), and Kalidasa (Meghaduta  stanza 15) the great poet – Ca. 4th–5th century CE –  speak of rainbows that issue forth  from the top of the anthill – valmīkāgrāt prabhavati dhanukhaṇḍam ākhaṇḍalasya  . Some have tried to explain saying that such phenomenon could possibly occur when the evening sunrays fall on crest jewel atop the hood of the great Nagas, emerging out of the anthill.


There is a rampant belief that snakes drink milk. The cobras are therefore worshiped with milk-offerings, specially on Nag Panchami day . But, in fact, the snakes , which are reptiles, have no mammary glands; and, therefore, cannot digest milk. Some have expressed the fear that consuming milk  is harmful to the snakes; and, might  even cause death.

There is a belief that snakes use their tails as a whip; and, the  green snakes aim at the eyes of humans.

There are myths that assert that a cobra nurtures a grudge against an injustice meted out to it ; and, might even wait up to twelve years to take its revenge .


The snakes are symbolically related with Astrological formations. The planet Rahu is identified with the head of the snake; while , Kethu is identified with the snake’s tail.  And, when the other  planets in the horoscope fall in between these two, then it is said to give rise to the inauspicious  Kaala Sarp Dosha; which , it is feared , can wreak havoc in one’s life  . A set of special prayers and rituals are recommended to get rid of  the ill effects of this Dosha.

naga deva

While the animal is dreaded on one side, it is admired on another side.

Since there is a faith that the snakes are associated with gods, ancestors (Pitris) and other super-beings, they are even called Deva-jana (god-people). They are mentioned along with other celestial beings, such as: Devas, Gandharva, Apsaras, Yakshas and Pitras (manes).

On the other hand, the most dreadful and awesome attribute of certain varieties of snakes is their lethal power to inflict sudden death . by injecting deadly poison.

The Amarakosa lists nine types of snake venoms (viṣabhedāni nava) : 

(1.8.506) samau kañcukanirmokau kṣveḍastu garalaṃ viṣam
(1.8.507) puṃsi klībe ca kākolakāla-kūṭa-halāhalāḥ
(1.8.508) saurāṣṭrikaḥ śauklikeyo brahmaputraḥ pradīpanaḥ
(1.8.509) dārado vatsanābhaśca viṣabhedā amī nava

This has given rise to many superstitions. And, its destructive power is compared to that of the all-devouring fire, the Agni or Tejas. There is also a belief that through the mere fiery blast of his nostrils (Nasavata, Nasikavata) an angry Naga can cause destruction. Such ill-wind could also pollute the air and bring about diseases (Ahi vataka roga).

There is also a fear that a snake could kill merely through the power of its poisoned sight (Visha drsti).

At the same time, it is believed that, by nature, the serpents are benevolent; but, they can turn out to be destructive and vengeful, if disrespected or not treated well


Despite the array of its horrific attributes, what is remarkable is that the snake, a deadly reptile, has come to be looked upon with great awe as the titular deity of the house (Vastu sarpa) ; and,  as a harbinger of good luck and prosperity.  

Having said that; it is not the snake, in general, that is offered worship. But; it is the Naga, the cobra – raised to the rank of a divine being – in particular that is worshiped in large parts of India.

Even today, the Indian women desirous of begetting offspring do worship Naga or its replica, in hope and reverence. Killing or even harming a Naga (cobra) is dreaded as the deadliest of the sins. It is feared that the wrath of the serpents would haunt generation after generation. The remedial rituals are quite elaborate.

It could be said ; while the Major gods and the Devi are worshiped in order to attain salvation (Moksha), release from  ignorance and freedom from the attachments of earthly coils ; the Nagas are propitiated for practical purposes, such as to avoid their malevolent actions; to seek their blessings either to beget progeny or to secure health and wealth ; to ward off evil effects; and, also for protection against drought and such other  disasters.  


[For a study on the practice of worship of snakes in Southern India – please click here]



The Nagas enjoy a prominent place in Indian legends and folklore. A range of symbolisms are associated with serpents. 

For instance; Anantha or the Adi-Sesha represents both the timelessness and the primal energy (mula-prakriti), reposing, at rest, prior to the manifestation of the created world.

vishnu on shayana

A snake (sarpa) coiling around the drum held by Sri Dakshinamurti is said to symbolize Tantric knowledge.

In the Yoga tradition, the Kundalini Shakthi, the energy at the base chakra (the Muladhara) is represented as a coiled serpent, just about to uncoil. As the Kundalini gets awakened; and as it begins to move up, the serpent gradually ascends through the higher chakras, until it reaches the highest chakra, the Sahasrara.

naga bandha 3The Kundalini Shakhty, human energy, in its latent state, is pictured as a resting coiled serpent.  And, when it is awakened and when it actively moves up , it is said to take the form of spirals resembling Naga-bandha, the intertwining of two vibrant cobras . Later, the Naga-bandha also came to be viewed upon as the symbol of dynamic movement of the ethereal or cosmic forces; and, also as the male and the female energies representing the transmission of the positive and negative charges in the universe; thus enlivening all existence.


And, in the Yoga-practices, the Bhujanga-asana, the posture resembling a  cobra with its hood raised and bent back, represents the dual serpentine energy emanating from Bhuja its circular coils; and , Anga, the limb-like, linear form it assumes when extended .

As the Yogi straightens the arms, lifts the upper body and throws back the head while performing the Bhujanga-asana, her/his spinal curve  is believed to stimulate the movement of Prana (life force) within the body ; her/his  chest expands  and fills the lungs with vitality ; and, the heart  throbs evenly  , energizing the whole of the body-mind complex.


The serpents, strangely,  symbolize both  Life and Death. Prana, the vital breath, that keeps the body alive is compared to a serpent. Just as a snake moves in the passages below the earth,  the Apana, the outward breath,  moves through various channels and exits through the holes in the body. It is the Apana that ensures distribution of vital energy to every segment of the organs in the body.

And, when the Apana (the Prana-vayu) departs from the body, the body dies.  That is death, the Kala – the end of one’s time on earth. The serpent as Kala, the Time, devours everything (sarva-bakshaka); all this existence is its food.

The Snake primarily represents rebirth, death and immortality. And, due to its ability to cast off its skin from-time-to-time, it is said to be being symbolically ‘reborn’, each time.

The serpents also represent Kama, the desires and cravings, which drive the beings in this world. It is the motive forces that propel life.

The serpents , thus, summarily represent all aspects and processes that occur in one’s life cycle:  creation; good fortune; misfortune; destruction; and death. The serpents also stand for the mysteries, the allures, the dangers as also the rewards in life.


Worship of the Nagas as per  ancient texts

You mentioned about the practice of worshiping the Nagas; and, the related ancient scriptures.

Snake worship is a manifestation of one’s devotion towards the serpent deities. The tradition is present in several ancient cultures, religions and mythologies, where the snakes are regarded as entities of strength and rejuvenation.  Worship of the Naga goes back to thousands of years.

As regards the Vedic texts, there is no direct reference to snake worship in Rig-Veda, the earliest of the four Vedas. Naga, the name by which the serpent-god became famous in the later texts does not appear in the early Vedic literature. Even when the term appears in Satapatha Brahmana (mahā-nāga-mivābhi-sasāra11.2.7.12), it is not clear whether it refers to a snake or to an elephant. Yet; the serpent as a symbol of life-energy appears at many places.

Here, in the Vedic lore, the serpent Vrtra or Ahi appears as a powerful rival to Indra, the King of the Devas. He lies around or under water. And, he seemed to have control over the waters in the havens and on the earth, alike. Later in the text, there is a reference to Ahi Budhnya, meaning – the serpent of the deep – ahir budhnya (RV_10,066.11c). Ahir-Budhnya , described as a deity of the mid-regions (Antarikshya), is variously associated with Visvedevas, Apam -Napat, Samudra, Aja-Eka-pada, and Savitri.

And, Ahi Budhnya came to be particularly associated with Aja-Eka-pada, ‘the supporter of the sky, streams and the oceans’; and, with the thundering flood. And, Aja-Eka-pada was described as a kind of Agni, Apam Napatu, the raging fire in the ocean-waters. Aja-Eka-pada, in turn was associated with Rudra. That, it is surmised, might have laid the foundation for linking the Naga cult with Shiva.


śa no aja ekapād devo astu śa no ‘hir budhnya śa samudraśa no apā napāt perur astu śa na pśnir bhavatu devagopā |RV_7,035.13a |

 [The Zend Avesta mentions Azi, as the serpent chief.]

Amaravathi Naga

Amaravathi stupa

But, it is in the Yajur Veda; and, more particularly in the Atharvana Veda, you find several passages relating to serpent-worship.

In the Maitrayani Samhita (2.7.15) of the Yajur Veda, prayers are addressed to the snakes (Sarpa), which move along the earth, the sky and the heavens; and, which have made their abode in the waters. And, to the snakes which are the tree spirits; as also, to the snakes which are as bright as the rays of the sun – rocane divo ye vā sūryasya raśmiṣu.

namo astu sarpebhyo ye keca pṛthivīm anu / ye antarikṣe ye divi tebhyaḥ sarpebhyo namaḥ// ya iṣavo yātudhānānāṃ ye vanaspatīnām / ye ‘vaṭeṣu śerate tebhyaḥ sarpebhyo namaḥ //  ye amī rocane divo ye vā sūryasya raśmiṣu /    ye apsu ṣadāṃsi cakrire tebhyaḥ sarpebhyo namaḥ /

There are, of course, numerous interesting references in the Atharva Veda to the mysteries, powers, poisons and the healing remedies of the snakes. There are also several magical spells and charms to avert the dangers caused by the snakes. There are prayers that are submitted to the snakes, in order to solicit their protection against demons, as also against their own tribe. At the same time, there are charms to counteract the powers of the wicked snakes.

The Prayers seeking protection mention: Let not the snakes, Oh gods, slay our offspring, our people. What is shut together may it not open. What is open may it not shut together.  Homage to the Devas. (It is interpreted; here, the terms ‘open’ and ‘shut’ refer to the jaws of the snakes.)

mā no devā ahir vadhīt satokānt sahapuruān | samyata na vi parad vyātta na sa yaman namo devajanebhya ||1|| namo ‘stv asitāya namas tiraścirājaye |(AVŚ_6,56.2c)  svajāya babhrave namo namo devajanebhya ||2||sa te hanmi datā data sam u te hanvā hanū | sa te jihvayā jihvā sam v āsnāha āsyam ||3|| (AVŚ_6,56.1)

In the Atharva Veda Samhita (7. 56.1) homage is submitted, in particular, to four types of serpents named: Tiraschiraji (cross-lined); Asita (black); Pridaku or Svaja (adder); and Babhru (brown) or Kanakaparvan.

These four are associated with the guardian deities (Adhipathi) of the four quarters of the space. Asita is associated with Agni as the warden (rakshitar) of the East; Tiraschiraji, with Indra, as the regent of the South; Pridaku with Varuna. as warden of the West; and, Kanakaparvan with Kubera, as the warden of the North.

tiraścirājer asitāt pdāko pari sabhtam | tat kakaparvao viam iya vīrud anīnaśat ||AVŚ_7,56. |

The main remedies employed against snake-bite are herbs and charms; the secret of which is supposed to be held by the seers.  But, in Atharva Veda (8.7.23) it is said that the snakes themselves have knowledge of the cure or a remedy for their poisonous bites. There is also a belief that the snakes themselves produce an antidote against their own poisons, perhaps on the principle that like-cures-like.

(AVŚ_8,7.23a) varāho veda vīrudha nakulo veda bheajīm | (AVŚ_8,7.23c) sarpā gandharvā yā vidus tā asmā avase huve ||23|

nagadevata2 Brooklyn Museum

There are certain passages in the Taittiriya Brahmana (Kanda 3, Part 1, Anu 1, and Sloka 5) where the offering (havis) within the course of a Yajna are submitted to the divine serpents:

Idam sarpebhyo havirastu-justa / Asresa yesa manuyanti chetah //

Again,  as per the passages in the Taittiriya Brahmana (Kanda 3, Part 1, Anu 4, and Sloka 7), during the course of the Asvamedha Yajna, offerings of  ghee and barley are submitted to the serpents (Sarphebyam svaha) by the Devas , praying for their help (ashrebhyah)  in subduing  (upanayati) the Asuras.

Te Devah sarpebhyo ashreshabyo ajyo karmbham nirevapanna/ tanetabhireva devata abhirupanyan/  yetabhirha vai devata abhirudpatham brathruvyam upanayati/ ya yetena havisha yajate/ ya u chainadevam vede /strotra juhoti/ Sarphebyah svahai ashrebhyah svahai / dandasukebhyaha svaheti //7//

The Grihya-sutras also contain accounts of the Sarpa-bali, the annual rites  (Yajus) conducted during the  full moon of the first month of the rainy season and the full moon of Sravana the first month of  winter (Sravana-nakshatrena-yukta pournamasi-sravani) , with the twofold purpose of honoring  or gratifying the Nagas;  and , the other for , warding off the evils caused by the snakes. 

Baudhayana Grihya Sutra (3.10.6) mentions several serpentine deities that are to be propitiated on the occasion of the Sarpa-bali; and, these include Naga deities such as Dhrtarastra, Taksaka, Vaisalaki, Tarksya, Ahira and Sanda

It is in the Asvalayana Grihya Sutra, that the divine serpents have been for the first time termed as “Naga’. The Sarpa-Bali ritual or the offerings to the serpents are described  

Here, in the  Asvalayana Grihya Sutra(2.1.9)the divine snakes that dwell in different directions are divided into three groups – as those pertaining to the earth (Prithvi), the sky (Antariksha) and the heaven (Divya Desha) – Ye sarpah  Prithivyam , ye Antariksha , ye Divya Deshasthebhyam , imam bali , maharshebya imam bali upakaromiti.

In addition to the classification of the serpents  chiefly based upon their habitation, there is also a classification made with reference to their color and to the celestial deities to whom they belong.

albino cobra 2

In the Paraskara Grihya Sutra, the Sarpa-devajna or the divine serpents are invoked and offered Payasa (sweet-syrup) ; and, are worshiped with flower garlands. Here, the Payasa is offered to gods and Nagas,  alike : Indra, Aja-Eka-pada, and Ahir-Budhnya.

Payasam-Indra-Sarpayitva-a-pupanscha-a-pupah;stirtva-a-aajaya bhaga-vistva-a-a-jya-huti; juhoti-Indrayena-a-Ajapada-Ahir Budhnya-yaya-proustha-pada-abhyascheti–(Paraskara Grihya Sutra-Kanda 2; Ka,15; Sloka 2)

The Paraskara Grihya Sutra (2.14.9-10), while offering oblations onto the Yajna kunda, states: To the lord of the serpents belonging to Agni, of the yellowish, terrestrial ones; to the lord of the white serpents belonging to Vayu, of the aerial ones; to the lord of the over powering serpents belonging to Surya, of the celestial ones; and,  to the firm one, the son of the Earth.

Among these, the white serpents (Sveta Naga), the sons of Vidarva, were regarded as the most powerful; and, capable of  restraining the other serpents from causing needless harm .

white naga


A domestic ritual called Vastu-samana is prescribed by the Ghobila Grirhya Sutra in order to please the regents of the ten regions (Dasa Disha); to be performed at the time of entering a newly built house (Griha-pravesha). Among the ten regents to whom the Bali is offered, Vasuki is  the regent of the downward region (Adho loka – Patala) – Vasukaya ity adhastad – (Gobhilya – 4.7.41)

naga sculpture 2 naga sculpture

References in Mahabharata

But, it is truly, in Mahabharata that the history of the Naga race initially gets elaborated. In the first major Canto of the Epic – Adiparva – the Slokas 657 to 2197 are devoted the history of the origin of the Nagas and of their progeny. It starts with the marriage of the sage Kashyapa with Kadru. She becomes the mother of as many as one thousand Nagas, who are the progenitors of the Naga race.  The names of some of their principal descendents are mentioned as:  Sesha, Vasuki, Airavata, Takshaka, Karkota, Kaliya, Aila, Elapatra, Nila, Anila and Nahusha; and so on.

The story of the Nagas (MB. 1-16,122) is intertwined with that of the sons of the sister of Kadru – that is, Vinata (who also was married to Sage Kashyapa) – the Garuda, the eagle, Suparna, race.

As per Mahabharata, the Suparna-s headed by Garuda were formerly servants of the Nagas. With the help of the Devas, Garuda succeeded in ending the slavery of his brothers and their tribe. And later, Suparnas became enemies of the Nagas (MB.1.3.159); and vowed to bring death and destruction on the snake-race (sarpa-kula). Thus, the sons of the two sisters, followed by their descendents grew into bitter enemies, recklessly determined to destroy each other.

Some scholars opine that a tribe called Suparna (to which Garuda belonged) was the archrival of the Nagas. The Suparna-s were probably falcon rising or falcon worshipping tribes

Later, in the Epic, there are more references to the Nagas. And, they are more closely associated with the Pandavas than with their cousins, the Kauravas.

It seems that when the Khandava forest near Hastinapur (near the present Delhi) was burnt down to make place for the new capital, the Naga race was rudely dislodged (Adi parva). Despite that, the Pandava branch of the Lunar race (Chandra vamsa) and the Nagas seemed to have had friendly relations. Later, Arjuna marries Ulupi, daughter of the Naga King, belonging to the race of Airavata. And, shortly thereafter he marries Chitrangada, daughter of another Naga King at Manipur.

But, the enmity between the Pandava and Naga races erupted into serious trouble when Parikshit, the grandson of Arjuna, was cursed by a sage to die of snakebite. Thereafter, Parikshit was bitten by Takshaka, a Naga said to be from the region of Takshashila. It was a city named after Naga King Takshaka Vaisaleya (Taxila, near Peshawar of the present-day), to the west of the river Vitasta (Jhelum); which, was said to be his abode.

In order to avenge his father’s death, Janamejaya, went on a killing spree slaughtering thousands of snakes. Naga race was almost exterminated by Janamejaya, the Kuru king, It is said; that massacre was halted by the intervention of Astika, a nephew of Vasuki, the serpent king of the Eastern Nagas.


.. In the Puranas

And, it was in the Puranas – mythological and often fanciful narrations – that the serpents came to be associated with numerous gods and goddesses, such as: Shiva; Vishnu; Ganapathi; Subrahmanya; Devi and others. In many of these cases, the serpent is an ornament, a weapon or a symbol of power or knowledge.

And, boy Krishna’s encounter with the river-snake Kalinga sarpa  is , of course, depicted in countless  manners through sculptures, paintings, Dance-dramas , songs etc.

The Puranas also mention several large serpentine deities like Kadru, Manasa, Vinata and Asitka. And, Vasuki the king of snakes played a vital role in the churning of the oceans. Several myths, beliefs, legends and scriptures are associated with snakes. And, the Snakes were used in warfare; and, snake poison was often used in palace intrigues.

You will find references to snake deities in both Hindu texts as also in the folklore. Even in Buddhism and Jainism there are abundant references to the practice of the worship of Trees and Serpents. Perhaps, the new religions absorbed the accumulated mass of the Naga-mythologies.


But, it is in the Vaishnava tradition that the serpent occupies a position of far greater significance. The Agamas mention eight lords of the Nagas; the chief of these being Ananta, Sesha or Adi-sesha. It is the Ananta, representing timelessness, on which the Lord Vishnu reposes, contemplating the creation of the world yet to come into existence. It was with the assistance of Vāsuki the King of Serpents that the ocean was churned; and, Amrita, the elixir, was produced, bestowing immortality to the gods (Deva). The other seven Nagas mentioned in the Agamas are: Vasuki; Takshaka; Karkotaka; Abja (Padma); Maha-bhuja; Maha-padma; Shankadhara; and, Kulika.

deva asura

’Tree & Serpent Worship

Fergusson J, in his ’Tree & Serpent Worship, Or Illustrations of Mythology & Art in India’ (India Museum 1868), a remarkable work of research, studies the serpent-worship practices in several regions, under their varied the cultural and religious faiths. The study, apart from the Eastern countries like India, China, Ceylon and Cambodia; also covers parts of the western world such as : Egypt, Greece , Germany, France , and Scandinavian countries;  as also Africa and Americas. Fergusson, in his Introductory Essay, writes:

The worship of the Serpent is not so strange as it might at first sight appear. As was well remarked by an ancient author (Sanchoniathon quoting Taatus ap Eusebium):

The serpent alone of all animals without legs or arms, or any of the “usual appliances for locomotion, still moves with singular celerity;” and he might have added — grace, for no one who has watched a serpent slowly progressing over the ground, with his head erect, and his body following apparently without exertion, can fail to be struck with the peculiar beauty of the motion. There is no jerk, no reflex motion, as in all other animals, even fishes, hut a continuous progression in the most graceful curves. Their general form, too, is full of elegance, and their colours varied and sometimes very beautiful, and their eyes bright and piercing. Then, too, a serpent can exist for an indefinite time without food or apparent hunger. He periodically casts his skin, and, as the ancients fabled, by that process renewed his youth. Add to this his longevity, which, though not so great as was often supposed, is still sufficient to make the superstitious forget how long an individual may have been reverenced in order that they may ascribe to him immortality.

Though these qualities, and others that will be noted in the sequel, may have sufficed to excite curiosity and obtain respect, it is probable that the serpent never would have become a god but for his exceptional power.

The poison fang of the serpent is something so exceptional, and so deadly in its action, as to excite dread, and when we find to how few of the serpent tribe it is given, its presence is only more mysterious. Even more terrible, however, than the poison of the Cobra is the flash-like spring of the Boa — the instantaneous embrace and the crushed-out life — all accomplished faster almost than the eye can follow.

It is hardly to he wondered at that such power should impress people in an early stage of civilization with feelings of awe; and with savages it is probably true that most religions sprung from a desire to propitiate by worship those powers from whom they fear that injury may be done to themselves or their property.

Although, therefore, fear might seem to suffice to account for the prevalence of the worship, on looking closely at it we are struck with phenomena of a totally different character.

 “When we first meet Serpent Worship, either in the Wilderness of Sinaa, the Groves of Epidaurus, or in the Sarmatian huts, the Serpent is always the Agathodaemon, the bringer of health and good fortune.

 He is the teacher of wisdom, the oracle of future events. His worship may have originated in fear, but long before we become practically acquainted with it, it had passed to the opposite extreme among its votaries. Any evil that ever was spoken of the serpent, came from those who were outside the pale, and were trying to depreciate what they considered as an accursed superstition.

If fear were the only or even the principal characteristic of Serpent Worship, it might he sufficient, in order to account for its prevalence, to say, that like causes produce like effects all the world over; and that the serpent is so terrible and so unlike the rest of creation that these characteristics are sufficient to explain everything.

When more narrowly examined, however, this seems hardly to be the case. Love and admiration, more than fear or dread, seem to be the main features of the faith, and there are so many unexpected features which are at the same time common to it all the world over, that it seems more reasonable to suspect a common origin.

 In the present state of our knowledge, however, we are not in a position to indicate the locality where it first may have appeared, or the time when it first became established among mankind.

I would feel inclined to say that it came from the mud of the Lower Euphrates, among a people of Turonian origin, and spread thence as from a center to every country or land of the Old World in which a Turonian people settled. Apparently no Semitic, or no people of Aryan race, ever adopted it as a form of faith. It is true we find it in Judea, but almost certainly it was there an outcrop from the older under- lying strata of the population. We find it also in Greece, and in Scandinavia, among people whom we know principally as Aryan, but there too it is like the tares of a previous crop springing up among the stems of a badly-cultivated field of wheat.

Naga from Chinese Sutra

The essence of Serpent Worship is as diametrically opposed to the spirit of the Veda or of the Bible as is possible to conceive two faiths to be; and with varying degrees of dilution the spirit of these two works pervades in a greater or less extent all the forms of the religions of the Aryan or Semitic races. On the other hand, any form of animal worship is perfectly consistent with the lower intellectual status of the Turonian races, and all history tells us that it is among them, and essentially among them only, that Serpent Worship is really found to prevail.

Sanchi Naga 1 Sanchi Naga 2

Snake Worship is general throughout peninsular India, both of the sculptured form and of the living creature. The sculpture is invariably of the form of the Nag or Cobra, and almost every hamlet has its Serpent deity. Sometimes this is a single snake, the hood of the Cobra being spread open. Occasionally the sculptured figures are nine in number, and this form is called the “Nao-nag,” and is intended to represent a parent snake and eight of its young, but the prevailing form is that of two snakes twining in the manner of the Esculapian rod.]


Worship practices in Indian traditions

The worship of the Nagas has taken a deep root in many of the Indian religions, for a variety of reasons. It could be either for fertility, protection, and eradication of poisons, securing or protecting hidden treasure or in repentance of past sins or to avert the anger of the snakes (Naga-dosha) or for whatever other reasons. Apart from the snakes, the goddesses such as Manasa Devi are worshiped with fear, hope and devotion.  In South India, it is a common practice that women desiring to bear children set up Naga-stone-images (Naga shila).

As said, the Nagas, the cobras, have enjoyed a high status in Indian mythology and religious traditions. You will find numerous temples in South India dedicated to Snake-gods (Naga-devata). There are also special forest reserves for the Nagas (Naga-vana or Sarpa Kavu).

[Some say that the Nairs of Kerala were Nagavamshis or warriors following the serpent cult. The Naga worship among Nairs is widespread. Each Nair Tharavad or household had a separate place for Sarpa Kavu or a sacred grove dedicated to Nagas. Nair women also wore Naga-pada-thali or necklace with amulets in the shape of a cobra hood; and, also tied their hair into the front as a bun symbolizing the hood of a cobra. This is believed to be due to their affinity with the Naga serpent cult of the Nagavamshis.]

sarpa kavu

[ Shri Ajay Shetty, in his comments observes: In Tulu-nadu  ( comprising Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts of of Karnataka and the Kasargodu region of Kerala) there is a special place for Naga worship. Before the commencement of any auspicious program, we first offer Pooja to the Naga; and, then to other deities. Even Bunts of Tulu-nadu belong to Nagavanshi clan. In each Bunt-tharavad,  there is a Naga-bana. For the Tuluvas, Naga worship is most important. Naga is indeed the patron deity of Tuluvas. Many rituals like Ashlesha Bali, Dakke Bali, Sarpa Samskara, and Nagamandala are practiced even now. The process of worshipping Naga is called Nagaradhane .]

Devi Yantra by Pieter Weltevrede

Here, in the South, the Naga is identified with Skanda or Subrahmanya; often depicted in serpentine shape, either entirely or is half-human. And, the sixth day of the lunar-month Shasti is regarded particularly sacred for worship of Subrahmanya. There are countless temples of Lord Subrahmanya in South India. Further, in the temples of other deities too, there would normally be snake-stones (Naga-shila) having images of snakes carved on them, placed on specially prepared platforms under the shade of a papal tree conjoined with a Margosa tree. And, in almost every part of India there are carved representations of cobras or Nagas.

[ For the purpose of offering worship to the Nagas , several Stotras and Namavalis have been composed . A few of the well known among those are :

Sri Subrahmanya Ashtottara Sata Namavali; Sri Naga Devata Ashtottara Shata Namavali ;  Sri Naga Namavali (citing names of 78 revered Nagas) ]

Nagakal, Kukke Subramanya

On Naga Panchami, the fifth day of the bright half of Shravana (July-August), many Hindus visit temples specially dedicated to snakes and worship the snake, or Naga idols or the anthills. It is also the auspicious day on which the sisters affectionately greet their brothers and pray for their welfare .

In the Bengal region, the worship of the serpent-goddess Manasa Devi is widespread. Further, on the last day of the Bengali month of Shravana the Naga worship is celebrated as a religious festival.


[In the classical version, according to a Shilpa text Pratista-lakshana-Sara-samucchaya, ascribed to Vairochana (Ca.11th century)  the Devi is  known as Svangai or Sungai-bhattarika.  It is said; it is in the Brahmavaivarta Purana, the deity came to be known as Manasa-Devi. The iconography (Prathima-lakshana)  of Manasa-Devi describes her as a deity with two arms; seated in Lalita-asana; her right leg hanging down; and, the bent left leg resting on a huge lotus. She holds a fruit in the right hand; and, either a child or a snake in the left hand. A huge seven-hooded serpent serves as a canopy over her head. To the right of Manasa Devi , is sage Jaratkaru (husband of the goddess), who is shown as an ascetic with matted hair; and, to her left, is her brother Vasuki,under a snake-canopy. Manasa Devi’s son Astika sits on her lap.

]ManasadeviManasadevi Rangpur Museum

There is a similar sculpture of the goddess Devi Svangai, Svangi, or Sungi-devi (Rangpur Museum) – shown here to your right.  But, there are some variations. Here, to the right of the goddess, a male figure rides a donkey; holding a sword in the right hand and wearing high boots. He is identified as Nairutta; the guardian of the South-west . This figure is rather an unusual companion to the Snake-goddess. And, to the left of the goddess, another male figure is shown riding an antelope and holding a piece of cloth,  indicating the movement of wind over his head. He is, identified as Vayu, the guardian of North-west .]

Naga1 Naga2

In the coastal regions of Karnataka, Naga Mandala, a unique, an  elaborate and a complex ritual tribal dance-worship (Nagaradhane) sequences is performed with great pomp and fervour. The Mandala is the depiction of colourful design of a huge serpent coiled into numerous knots (pavitra). At the centre of the design is painted a small raised mound and a seven-hooded serpent. The ritual dance is performed, around the Mandala, by the priest possessed by the serpent-spirit (Naga-patri) to the accompaniment of music played by two musicians (Vaidya).The inspired Naga-patri dances with abandon mimicking the steps of an excited serpent. The ritual concludes with the possessed Naga-patri uttering oracle-like predictions;   and, offering solutions to the problems and prayers submitted by the assembled devotees.

Naga mandala



The mythological serpent race that took form as cobras often can be found in Indian iconography. The Nāgas are described as the powerful, splendid, wonderful and proud semi divine race that can assume their physical form either as human, partial human-serpent or the whole serpent.

Therefore, the Nagas are invested with great importance; and,  the Naga cult is depicted both in the Vedic and Buddhist texts as also in art,  in myriad ways – as divine beings, humans and animals; and also as a blend of all these. A number or of Naga (male) and Nagi (female) deities are described in various texts; and, represented in images. Many of these form a part of the Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina pantheon, representing power, wisdom and fertility.  For instance; you find abundant representations of the adoration of snake-deities on the Buddhist Stupas of Sanchi and Amravati. The Tibetan paintings depict the Buddha with the Naga coiled round him, seven times.

And,at the Wang Boran and Parsat Mai temple at Pattaya , Thailand there is a beautiful depiction of a Naga with his consorts. There is also a well sculpted image of Nagaraja at the Jetavana Buddhist  vihara  . 

Naga Prasat Sut Ja-Tum, Pattaya, Thailand Nagaraja Jetavana


The serpent stones installed under the tree depict two serpents interlocked in an embrace. Sometimes, the serpents are shown as seated in the form of a Linga.

The simplest form in which the Naga appears in Indian art is the serpent form.

The mythical Adi-Sesha is celebrated with as many as one thousand hoods.

The female counterparts of the Nagas, the amorous and charming Nagini, are usually depicted with a crest consisting of a single serpent hood.


The iconography of the Nagas  broadly fall into three types : as many headed serpents; as human or divine being characterized by  five or seven serpent-hoods , each having two tongues; coiled into  diverse kinds of knots; and, as the combination of the two with the upper part of human/divine being combined with the lower half of  a snake’s coil (say , like mermaids).


A Dhyana Sloka (word-picture) of a belligerent  serpent (kopakutilam) , in aggressive posture ; with its upper part in human form adorned with  multiple hoods , each with two tongues ;  its lower part in snake form – reads:

Dhyayeth Nagarupam hinapherudam,  narakruthim / sarpakaram adhobhagam , mastake goghimandalam / phanatraye , parijagirda , navagirda, saptadhihi /  jihvam , kopakutilam , khadgacharma-dharam tatha //

The texts of the Shilpa-shastra, such as Amsumadbheda-agama, Shilparatna and Maya-mata mention that the image of Nagadeva should have three eyes; four arms; a beautiful countenance of red complexion.  The Shilparatna adds that the image should be half human and half serpentine; and must carry a sword and shield in his hand. And, Maya-mata gives a description of seven great Nagas: Vasuki, Takshaka, Karkotaka, Padma, Mahapadma, Sankhapala and kulika; providing descriptions of their colour, attributes and their Ayudhas.

The Visnudharmottara-Purana (Ca.6th century) makes a special mention of the Great Serpent Ananta. Here, Ananta is not regarded merely as the serpent on which Vishnu reclines; but, is revered as the very incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Thus, Ananta is Vishnu himself.

The Text describes the iconography of such divine Ananta, endowed with countless virtues , powers (ananta-shakthi)  and countless forms (ananta-rupastu) . The Ananta-puruṣha, here, is said to be matchless (anantāy-āprameyāya); and, resplendent with: four faces; and, twelve arms. In the hands on his right side, Ananta holds Ayudhas such as: Gada (mace), Chakra (disc), Khadga (sword), Vajra (thunderbolt), and Ankusha (goad); and, he also displays Varada-mudra (assurance and protection). And, in the hands on his left side, Ananta holds the Ayudhas such as: Dhanus (bow), Padma (lotus), Khetaka (shield), Shankha (conch), Danda (rod) and Pasha (Noose).

Ananto-ananta-rupastu, hastau dwadasasa–abhiryutah / ananta-shakthi samvito garudastha chatur-mukhah / gadha-krupanu-chakradyau vajra-ankusha-varnvitah/ shanka khetam dhanuh padmam dandam pasau ca vamatah //  Vdha.3,350.[6]


The Nagas also find place in the iconography of the other deities. Vishnu is portrayed as reclining on the Sesha; and, at other times the hooded serpents forms a canopy over his head. Vāsuki serpent became the churning rope for churning of the Ocean of Milk. And, Shiva is adorned with KingCobra as garland round his neck; as coiled on his arms as armlets; and on his head. Ganesha uses a serpent as a belt tied around his sumptuous waist; and, as a sacred thread (yajñyopavīta).  The Devi as Bhairavi is adorned and served by Shakthi-Naga. The s images of the sages like Sri Dakshinamurthy; the Buddha and Parsvanatha are all depicted as seated under hooded serpents.


Nagarjuna, the champion of the Madhyamika Buddhist philosophy is traditionally portrayed with a halo formed by a multi-headed serpent.

shiGaneshmahavidya_bhairavi_hk53Lord Vishnu

Further, Balarama , the elder brother of Sri Krishna; Lakshmana , the younger brother of Sri Rama; and, the Sage Patanjali who composed the remarkable Yoga Sutra – are all revered as the incarnations of Sesha Naga.

god budhha under banyana tree buddha-hindu-artpatanjali

Suggested Reading

You asked; any books to read to get more details?

Yes; there are plenty. There are some comprehensive works on all aspects related to Nagas. You may follow some of these that are available on the net:

Indian Serpent-lore: Or, The Nāgas in Hindu Legend and Art By Jean Philippe Vogel

Tree and serpent Worship, or illustrations of mythology and art in India By James Fergusson

Encyclopaedia of Oriental Philosophy and Religion: Hinduism  Serpent worship: Pages 774 to 791

 You may also follow the links mentioned under ‘Sources and references’.

Ganesha Vignarajasnake-skanda

Nagas in history and anthropology

What was said so far was concerned with the Naga worship.

 But, the term Naga has multitude of connotations.

The term , depending upon the context,  might refer to the oldest tribal communities in the world; to snake worshiping Aryan tribes; to the Naga royal lines of the Kings of Magadha , viz., Shishunaga dynasty (c. 413 – 395 BCE),  believed to have been the second ruling dynasty of Magadha Empire of ancient India (after the Haryanka dynasty) ; to the  Bharasiva Nava Naga dynasty who ruled  from 150-170 AD; to the linage of Naga kings dating back to the Gupta period (from approximately 240 to 590 CE); and to the various Naga communities settled in different parts of India during the early and medieval periods, such as : the Nagas of Vidisha, Padmavathi, Kantipur and Mathura; the Nagas of Erikina (Madhya Pradesh); the Nagas of Bastar; the Nagas of Kawardha; the Nagas of Bhatgaon ; the Nagas of Eastern India ; and so on .

It is said;  Ananatnag city in Kashmir was  founded by the Naga named Ananta. In Rajtarangini  , which chronicles  the history of Kashmir kings, there is mention of a brave handsome king of Kashmir, son of a Karkotaka Naga and a Kashmiri Brahmin girl. Their dynasty came to be known as Karkotaka Dynasty. His son became the most powerful king; and, brought peace and prosperity in Kashmir. This Karkotaka was said to be of very kind and  helping nature. He helped the Nishada king Nala in regaining his lost kingdom. 

 It’s also said that Naga dynasty ruled near Ravi in Punjab, from North West of part of Punjab which now is in Pakistan up-to Kazakhstan; Vitasta or Jhelum in Kashmir; River Saraswati’s basin; banks of River Gomati; Kurukshetra, parts of Uttrakhand etc.  The Pannagas and the Urgas were said to be the sub-sects of the Naga dynasty. The people who went by the surname Pannaga or Urgas were said  to be the either supporters or the descendants of that dynasty.


The Śivadharmaśāstra (a Shaiva text dated prior to seventh century) is in the form of Samvada, a dialogue that takes between the divine sage Sanatkumāra and Śhiva’s foremost Gaa Nandi-keśvara. At the request of  Sanatkumāra, Nandikeśvara instructs Sanat-kumāra and the other sages dwelling on Mount Meru in the worship of Śhiva.

The Śāntyadhyāya, the longest Chapter of the  Śivadharmaśāstra, recounts ,with devotion, the eight serpent lords Naga-rajas (Asta-Nagas) as:

Ananta; Vāsuki; Takṣaka; Karkoṭaka; Padma; Mahāpadma; Śaṅkhapāla; and Kulika

Each Nāgarāja is invoked in elaborate detail, with much attention paid to their individual iconography.


With a red body, elongated eyes that are red at the edges, swelling with pride with his great hood, marked by a conch and a lotus—may Ananta, king of the Nāga lords, delighting in the praise of Śiva’s feet, destroy the poison of great evil and quickly bestow peace on me!(166–167)

āraktena śarīreṇa raktāntāyata-locanāḥ| mahā-bhogāḥkṛtāṭopāḥ śaṅkhā-abjāḥkṛta lanchaṇāḥ || Ananto-nāgarājendra Shiva parartane rataḥ| mahā pāpaviṣaṃ hatvā śāntim āśu karotu me||166-167||


With a very white body, with a crown of very white lotuses, swelling with pride with a handsome hood, adorned with a charming necklace—may  Vāsuki, king of the Nāga lords, the great one, intent upon the worship of Rudra, destroy the poison of great evil and quickly bestow peace on me!(168–169)

Suśvetena tu dehena suśvetot palaśekharaḥ|cārubhogakṛtāṭopo hāra cāru vibhūṣaṇaḥ|| vāsukir nāgarājendraḥ rudra pūjāparo mahān| mahā pāpaviṣaṃ hatvā śāntim āśu karotu me|| 168-169||


With a very yellow body, rich in quivering coils, and with a very luminous splendour, marked by the Swastika — may Takṣaka, the illustrious Nāga lord, accompanied by a crore of Nāgas, bestow peace on me, destroying the poison of all crimes! (170–171)

Atipītena dehena visphurad bhogasampadā|tejasā cātidīptena kṛtasvastika lāñchanaḥ||nāgarāṭ takṣakaḥ śrīmān nāgakoṭyā samanvitaḥ|karotu me mahāśāntiṃ sarva doṣa viṣāpahām|| 170-171||


With a very black color, an expanding hood over his head, provided with three lines on his neck, furnished with terrible fangs as weapons —may the great Nāga Karkoṭaka, possessed of poisonous pride and power, destroy the pain of poison, weapon and fire, and bestow peace on me! (172–173)

Ati-kṛṣṇena varṇena sphaṭā-vikaṭa mastakaḥ| kaṇṭhe rekhā trayopeto ghora daṃṣṭrā -yudhodyataḥ||karkoṭako mahānāgo viṣadarpabalānvitaḥ| viṣa śastrā agnisaṃtāpaṃ hatvā śāntiṃ karotu me|| 172-173|| 


With a lotus-colored body, his elongated eyes like handsome lotus petals, illuminated with five spots — may the great Nāga called Padma, delighting in the praise of Hara’s feet, bestow peace on me, destroying the poison of great evil! (174–175)

Padma-varṇena dehena cāru padmāyate-kṣaṇaḥ| pañca bindu kṛtābhāso grīvāyāṃ śubha lakṣaṇaḥ||khyāta padmo mahānāgo hara pādārcane rataḥ|karotu me mahā śāntiṃ mahā pāpaviṣakṣayam||174-175|| 


And with a body like a white lotus, of immeasurable splendour, always adorned on his head with the marks of a brilliant conch, trident and lotus—may the great Nāga Mahāpadma, constantly bowing to Paśupati, destroy the terrible poison and quickly bestow peace on me! (176–177)

Puṇḍarīka-nibhenāpi dehenā amitatejasā|śaṅkhaśūlā abjarucirair bhūṣito mūrdhni sarvadā||mahāpadmo mahānāgo nityaṃ paśupater nataḥ| vinikṛtya viṣaṃ ghoraṃ śāntim āśu karotu me|| 176-177||


With a dark body-mass, his eyes like beautiful lotuses, intoxicated with poisonous pride and power, with a single line on his neck—may Śaṅkhapāla, bright with luster, worshiping the lotus-feet of Śiva, destroy great evil, the great poison, and bestow peace on me! (178–179)

śyāmena deha-bhāreṇa śrīmat-kamala-locanaḥ| viṣa darpa balonmatto grīvāyām eka rekhayā|| śaṅkhapālaḥ śriyā dīptaḥ śiva pādābja pūjakaḥ|mahāviṣaṃ mahāpāpaṃ hatvā śāntiṃ karotu me|| 178-179|


With a very terrifying body, his head furnished with the sickle of themoon, swelling with pride with a shining hood, marked with an auspicious mark—may Kulika, the best of the Nāga kings, always intent upon Hara, remove the terrible poison and bestow peace on me! (180–181)

Ati ghoreṇa dehena candrārdhakṛta mastakaḥ|dīpta bhoga kṛtāṭopaḥ śubha lakṣaṇa lakṣitaḥ|| kuliko nāgarājendro nityaṃ hara parāyaṇaḥ|apahṛtya viṣaṃ ghoraṃ karotu mama śāntikam|| 180-181||


Prayers are also submitted to other Nagas in the sky; the Nāgas abiding in heaven, on earth, on mountains, in caves and in forts; as also the Nāgas present in the nether region .

And to Nāginīs; Nāgakanyās; and, Nāgakumārās -the Nāgas’ wives; daughters; and the Nāgas’ sons— may all of them, assembled here, dedicated to the praise of Rudra’s feet, bestow peace on me!

nāginyo nāgakanyāś ca tathā nāgakumārāḥ|śiva bhaktāḥ sumanasaḥ śāntiṃ kurvantu me sadā|| 184||

Shiva under Naga

[I acknowledge with deep gratitude, the source: Universal Śaivism: The Appeasement of All Gods and Powers in the Śāntyadhyāya by  Peter Bisschop.

The translations of the verses are by the author.]


There is also a tradition winch recounts NavaNagas. The Nava-Naga Stotra mentions the Nine Nagas as:

(1) Ananta; (2) Vasuki; ( 3) Shesha; (4) Padmanabha; (5) Kambala;(6) Shankhapala; (7) Dhritarashtra; (8) Takshaka; and, (9) Kaliyan.


Prayers are submitted to these Nagas seeking protection  from the dangers of poison; and, to grant success at all times in one’s life (Vishabhayam Naasti ; Sarvatra Vijayi Bhaveth)

Anantam Vasukim Shesham / Padmanabham cha Kambalam / Shankhapalam Dhartarashtram / Takshakam Kaliyam Tatha

Etani Nava Namani Naganam cha Mahatmanah / Sayankale Patten-nityam Pratahkale Visheshatah / Tasya Vishabhayam Nasti ; Sarvatra Vijayi Bhavet

[ According to the Nava Naga tradition, the Naga King Ananta was the founder of the Naga dynasty; and, was a very saintly person. He preferred to reside at Gandhmadana Parvata (in the Himalayan region). And, at times, he stayed deep inside the ‘Great lake’ (perhaps the Manasa lake).

It is said; the Naga King Vasuki saved his community from the assault of the Suparna tribes; and, rehabilitated them in a city called Bhogawati, which later became his capital.  It is said; Vasuki’s nephew, the wise and bright looking Astika saved the  beleaguered Nagas by causing to stop the massacre or genocide of Nagas undertaken the avenging Kuru King Parikshit.

Following Vasuki, the good-looking, powerful Naga King Airavata, further developed the Capital Bhogawati into a splendid affluent city. He is also said to have founded a place, later named as Nag-Tirtha, which still exists in Uttarakhand region.

The handsome and rich Naga King Takshaka was the son of Airavata. He, in turn, founded the famous city Takshashila (Taxila – now in Pakistan) . The Takshashila later developed in a famous center of learning, to where the students from all parts of India came seeking higher education.

The famous King Pururava hailing from a Deva-Kshatriya clan had a son called Ayu. And, one of Ayu’s son was Nahusha. According to the myth Nahusha was a Naga King. His son was the famous king Yayati of the lunar dynasty (Chandra-vamsha), who tried to reconcile the differences between the followers of the rival sages Brighu (Asuras) and Angirasa (Devas).

The descendants of Yayathi – Puru, Kuru, Yadava and Bharatas – ruled as the celebrated kings of ancient India.  It is said; the clans of Sawhanis, Seuna Yadavas, Bhattis, Chandelas and the Jats of Bharatpur and Mathura have descended from the Chandra-vamsha

The Naga King Aryaka was said to the great grandfather of   Kunti, the mother of the mighty Pandavas. Aryaka saved the young Bhima’s life when he was food-poisoned by his  embittered cousin Duryodhana.

The cultured and wise Naga King Padmanabha is said to have extended his kingdom; and, established a new capital adjacent to the forest Naimisharayna, near the river Gomati (in the present day Uttar Pradesh) .]

Ngaraja with wife

Apart from these, the literary traditions too mention of the royal dynasties of ancient India, which claimed a Naga or a Nagini as their progenitor. Such instances include those of King Udayana who married a Naga princess, giving rise to Sakya dynasty. The dynasty of Kashmir, which included the famous King Lalitaditya (Ca.8th century), is said to have descended from Naga Karkotaka. The neighboring Kings of Bhadarwah claimed descent from the serpent king Vasuki. And, the Rajas of Chota Nagpur derive their origin from Naga Pundarika. And, in the South, the Shalivahana of Pratistana as also the Pallavas claimed descent from Ananta Naga. And, so on…

The tradition recorded by Hiuen Tsang suggests that the city of Nalanda got its name from a Naga named Nalanda, which was believed to be the guardian deity of the city.

Countless ancient Naga images have been discovered at the various regions of India, as in areas around Mathura; Rajagriha (Modern Rajgir in Patna, Bihar), the ancient capital of Magadha, and its neighborhood; and many other places.

The history of the Naga cult is one of the most interesting chapters in Indian history. And, that, by itself, is a vast subject; and, has been dealt with in great detail by several historians, anthropologists and scholars of social studies.

Naga Devatha

 In case you are interested in such studies, I suggest, you may start with Chapter Seven: Naga, the evolution of tribal culture (from pages 177 to 234) by Dr. Shiv Kumar Tiwari – (Published by Sarup &Sons; New Delhi; 2002-3). It comprehensively deals with numerous legends, traditions, histories and cultures related to the Nagas. The full view of the book is available on the net. Please also check the bibliography given therein for further study.

You may, may also follow the sources and references listed  under; at the end of this post.

As regards the  Naga Identities: Changing Local Cultures in the Northeast of India, please read the scholarly study made by Alban von Stockhausen,  Michael Oppitz, Thomas Kaiser and Marion Wettstein.

Please also see the very well researched paper  The Nagas; an introduction ; covering  their Social Identity, Cultural Identity, Nagaland etc. by Alban von Stockhausen and Marion Wettstein.


Sources and references

Indian Temple traditions by Dr.SK Ramachandra Rao

Indian Serpent-lore: Or, The Nāgas in Hindu Legend and Art By Jean Philippe Vogel

Tree and serpent Worship, or illustrations of mythology and art in India By James Fergusson

Encyclopaedia of Oriental Philosophy and Religion: Hinduism – Serpent worship: Pages 774 to 791

Naga, the evolution of tribal culture  by Dr. Shiv Kumar Tiwari

The Nāgas and the Naga cult in ancient Indian history by Karunakana Gupta (Proceedings of the Indian History Congress – Vol. 3 (1939), pp. 214-229) –

A Study of Naga Beings as a Global Phenomenon and their relation with Kailash / Manosarovar  region by Susan M. Griffith-Jones  byU N Mukherjee

Serpents in Angkor by Adalbert J. Gail

All images are from Internet.


Posted by on June 9, 2018 in Nagas, Uncategorized


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The Question of Hindu, Hinduism et cetera – Part One


The Newspapers have been reporting that a Seven-judge  Bench of the  Supreme Court Of India headed by the Chief Justice T S Thakur  has since 18 October 2016 taken up a review of a judgement handed down by a Three-judge Bench  of the Supreme Court in 1995.

The uncomfortable issues questioning the legitimacy of the statements made by political parties canvassing for votes in the name of religion had since been coming up before the Apex Court. The present Review, it is said, had become necessary for arriving at ‘an authoritative pronouncement on electoral law categorising misuse of religion for electoral gains as corrupt practice”.


The first reference to ‘Hindutva’ was recorded by the Supreme Court in its judgment [1994 (6) SCC 360] in the case ‘Ismail Faruqi’, who had challenged the validity of the 1993 central law acquiring the disputed area in Ayodhya and large tracts of land around it. Justice S P Bharucha, who was part of the three judge bench which upheld the acquisition, said, “Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and it is not to be equated with, or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism.”

The nascent interpretation of ‘Hindutva’ as ‘a way of life’ by Justice Bharucha in Ismail Faruqi, engaged deeper scrutiny analysis at the hands of a three-judge bench headed by renowned Justice J S Verma in Ramesh Yeshwant Prabhoo vs Shri Prabhakar Kashinath Kunte [1996 SCC (1) 130]. The case witnessed a see-saw battle between two heavyweights— Ram Jethmalani for Shiv Sena and Ashok Desai for the opposite side, both quoting scriptures and historians liberally.

Justice Verma relied on numerous past constitution bench judgments and said those decisions “indicate that no precise meaning can be ascribed to the terms ‘Hindu’, ‘Hindutva’ and ‘Hinduism’; and no meaning in the abstract can confine it to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage. It is also indicated that the term ‘Hindutva’ is related more to the way of life of the people in the sub- continent. It is difficult to appreciate how in the face of these decisions the term ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hinduism’ per se, in the abstract, can be assumed to mean and be equated with narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry…”.

The SC ruled that mere use of the word ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hinduism’ or mention of any other religion in an election speech does not bring it within the net of sub-section (3) and/or sub-section (3A) of Section 123, (to constitute corrupt practices which could disqualify the candidate) unless the further elements indicated are also present in that speech.

The SC also dispelled the notion, being given currency by politicians of different creeds, that terms’ Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ per se cannot be construed to depict hostility, enmity or intolerance towards other religious faiths or professing communalism. Such an apprehension, the SC said, proceeded from an improper appreciation and perception of the true meaning of these expressions emerging from the detailed discussion in earlier authorities of this Court.

 However, the court had warned against possible politically beneficial misuse of the terms and advised strong measures to curb such tendencies. “Misuse of these expressions to promote communalism cannot alter the true meaning of these terms. The mischief resulting from the misuse of the terms by anyone in his speech has to be checked and not its permissible use. It is indeed very unfortunate, if in spite of the liberal and tolerant features of ‘Hinduism’ recognized in judicial decisions, these terms are misused by anyone during the elections to gain any unfair political advantage. Fundamentalism of any colour or kind must be curbed with a heavy hand to preserve and promote the secular creed of the nation. Any misuse of these terms must, therefore, be dealt with strictly.


The 1995-Judgment that the Newspapers have been talking about refers to the famous case of Manohar Joshi vs. Nitin Bhaurao Patil & Anr (citations: 1996 AIR 796, 1996 SCC (1) 169) delivered on 11 December, 1995 by the then chief justice of India, J S Verma . Please click here for a copy of the judgement.

The judgement handed down by a bench of three  judges  of the Supreme Court led by the then chief justice of India, J S Verma was examining the question regarding the scope of corrupt practices mentioned in sub-section (3) of Section 123 of the 1951  Representation of People Act  and its interpretations. The Court in its ruling found that that statement by Manohar Joshi that “First Hindu State will be established in Maharashtra did not amount to appeal on ground of religion”.

The court had held that seeking votes in the name of Hinduism is not a “corrupt practice” under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act; and , it would not result in setting aside the election of winning candidates.

This ruling delivered in 1995 which earned the nickname ‘Hindutva judgement ‘ held that ‘Hindutva/Hinduism is a way of life of the people in the sub-continent; it represents the culture of India, and of all people of India, whether Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, etc.;  and ‘is a state of mind’.  

And, the Judgement concluded that ‘Hinduism’ was “indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people and is not confined merely to describe persons practicing the Hindu religion as a faith”.


In effect, the 1995-Verdict was taken to interpret that seeking vote in the name of ‘Hindutva/Hinduism’ did not prejudicially affect any candidate

However, the issues regarding the interpretations of the sub-section (3) of Section 123 had been coming up before the Apex Court quite regularly. Three election petitions are pending on the subject in the Apex court. The questions raised were: whether a politician can legitimately seek votes in the name of ‘Hinduism’; whether will it amount to corrupt practices under the Representation of People’s Act; and, whether will it subsequently attract disqualification.

The issue for interpretation of the sub-section (3) once again arose on January 30, 2014, before a five-judge which referred it for examination before a larger bench of seven judges. The apex court in February 2014 had decided to refer the matter to a seven judge’s bench.

Now about two decades after that 1995-Judgment, a Seven Bench Judges of the Supreme Court of India has taken up  this contentious ruling, commencing from 18 October 2016.

On October 19, 2016 the Supreme Court asked the Counsels if non-contesting spiritual leaders or clerics could be held accountable for corrupt practices under electoral law for asking voters to vote for a particular party or candidate; and how such appeals seeking votes would fall foul of the RP Act.

The proceedings are on .

Let’s wait and watch the final outcome.

[ Update

On October 25, 2016 , a Seven-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur said that for now it will not touch on its 1995 definition of “Hindutva is a way of life and not a religion” and also not ban its use during elections.

At this stage, we will confine ourselves to the issue raised before us in the reference. In the reference, there is no mention of the word ‘Hindutva’. We will not go into Hindutva at this stage.

The SC said that it would not examine the larger issue of whether Hindutva means Hindu religion, and whether the use of Hindutva in elections is permissible.

“It is difficult to define religion. There will be no end to this ”

The 7-judge bench, however, said it is looking into the nexus between religious leaders and candidates and its legality under Section 123 (3) of the Representation of People Act; and, whether seeking of votes in the name of religion will amount to a corrupt practice under the Representation of the People Act warranting disqualification.

But , asserted that asking for votes in the name of religion was ‘evil’ and ‘not permissible’ ]


[ Further Update:

A seven-judge-bench of the Supreme Court of India in its judgement delivered on 02 January 2017, by a 4 to 3 majority view, enlarged the scope of Section 123(3) of the Representation of People Act 1951. The Section 123(3) defines as ‘corrupt practice’ appeals made by a candidate or his agents to vote or refrain from voting for any person on the ground of ‘his’ religion, race, caste, community or language. The court  has  now interpreted Section 123(3) of the Representation of People Act to mean that this provision was brought in with intent ‘to clearly proscribe appeals based on sectarian, linguistic or caste considerations”.

The reference to the seven-judge bench had become necessary in view of the conflicting rulings in the previous judgements. In that context, the present Constitution bench explained the meaning of the term ‘his’ since that was relevant as to whose religion it has to be when an appeal is made.

 In substance, it ruled that an election could be annulled if candidates seek votes in the name of their religion or that of their voters. Till now, soliciting votes on the basis of religion and other such considerations was restricted to that of the candidates alone. 

The latest ruling is significant in the sense that any attempt to canvass for votes on the ground of religion or other such parochial identities – either of the candidates’s or on behalf of his agents or groups or his opponents – would invite the provisions of the Representation of People Act.


In their majority view, Chief Justice T S Thakur, Justices Madan B Lokur, S A Bobde and L Nageswara Rao ruled in favour of a ‘purposive interpretation’, stating that the term ‘his’ would mean the religion of the candidate, his agents, voters as well as any other person who, with the candidate’s consent, brings up religion or such subjects in an election

“An appeal in the name of religion, race, caste, community or language is impermissible under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and would constitute a corrupt practice sufficient to annul the election in which such an appeal was made regardless of whether the appeal was in the name of the candidate’s religion or the religion of the election agent or that of the opponent or that of the voters,” the majority view held.”

The Chief Justice said in his separate verdict:

 “The state being secular in character will not identify itself with any one of the religions or religious denominations…The elections to the state legislature or to Parliament or for that matter any other body in the state is a secular exercise just as the functions of the elected representatives must be secular in both outlook and practice,”



Justices Adarsh K Goel, Uday U Lalit and D Y Chandrachud, however, dissented with the majority’s view, holding that the expression ‘his’ used in conjunction with religion, race, caste, community or language is in reference to the candidate, in whose favour the appeal to cast a vote is made, or that of a rival candidate when an appeal is made to refrain from voting for another. 

His’ in Section 123(3) of the RP Act cannot validly refer to the religion, race, caste, community or language of the voter.

To hold that a person who seeks to contest an election is prohibited from speaking of the legitimate concerns of citizens that the injustices faced by them on the basis of traits having an origin in religion, race, caste, community or language would be remedied is to reduce democracy to an abstraction,” the minority judgement held”. ]


In this context , while on the question of ‘Hindu ‘and ‘Hinduism’ I would like to draw attention to another important judgement of the Supreme Court , also of 1995, which somehow seems to have been forgotten. I am referring to the case  ‘Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal’ in the matter of the Ramakrishna Mission’s petition to be declared a non-Hindu, minority religion under the Indian constitution. Please click here for the full text of the judgement that was delivered on July 2, 1995 ; delivered by Justice N. Venkatachala.

The judgement, interalia, discussed the intent and connotation of the term Hindu; and also identified Seven Defining Characteristics of Hinduism. The petition filed by Ramakrishna Mission was denied.


The following are the observations of the Supreme Court of India while dealing with the term Hindu:

 (27). Who are Hindus and what are the broad features of Hindu religion, that must be the first part of our inquiry in dealing with the present controversy between the parties. The historical and etymological genesis of `the word `Hindu’ has given rise to a controversy amongst indologists; but the view generally accepted by scholars appears to be that the word “Hindu” is derived from the river Sindhu otherwise known as Indus which flows from the Punjab. `That part of the great Aryan race”, says Monier Williams, which immigrated from Central Asia, through the mountain passes into India , settled first in the districts near the river Sindhu (now called the Indus ). The Persian pronounced this word Hindu and named their Aryan brother Hindus. The Greeks, who probably gained their first ideas of India Persians, dropped the hard aspirate, and called the Hindus `Indoi’.

 (28). The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. VI, has described `Hinduism’ as the title applied to that form of religion which prevails among the vast majority of the present population of the Indian Empire (p.686). As Dr. Radhakrishan has observed: `The Hindu civilization is so called, since it original founders or earliest followers occupied the territory drained by the Sindhu (the Indus ) river system corresponding to the North-West Frontier Province and the Punjab . This is recorded in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures which give their name to this period of the Indian history. The people on the Indian side of the Sindhu were called Hindu by the Persian and the later western invaders [The Hindu View of Life by Dr. Radhakrishnan, p.12]. That is the genesis of the word `Hindu’.


On the question of Hinduism, the Supreme Court of India discussed in detail the nature of Hinduism, citing several references and authorities.

While laying down the characteristics of Hinduism, the Hon. Court observed:

Features of Hindu religion recognized by this Court in Shastri Yaganapurushdasji (supra) as coming within its broad sweep are these:

(i) Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matters and acceptance with reverence of Vedas by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy.

(ii) Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view based on the realization that truth was many-sided.

(iii) Acceptance of great world rhythm, vast period of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession, by all six systems of Hindu philosophy.

(iv) Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy the belief in rebirth and pre-existence.

(v) Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many.

(vi)  Realization of the truth that Gods to be worshipped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not believe in the worshipping of idols.

(vii) Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such.

While drawing up the criteria for indentifying Hinduism, the Court relied heavily on the views of Swami Vivekananda and Dr. Radhakrishnan that stressed tolerance, universality and a search for a fundamental unity as the virtues of Hinduism. It also relied on B.G. Tilak’s view: “Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means to salvation are diverse; and realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of Hindu religion.”Even in the earlier case (Yagnapurushdasji) the “acceptance of the Vedas” was a key element in the court’s decision.

The criteria drawn up in the Brahmachari Siddheshwar Shai v. State of West Bengal case is taken as a working rule evolved for a limited purpose. It is not construed as the definition of Hinduism; because, Hinduism is described on various occasions depending on the context. Each time a ‘context- sensitive’ interpretation has been put forth.

It was therefore said: All definitions of Hinduism are indeed  ‘context –sensitive’; and there is no absolute and precise definition.

For instance:

: – In the Indian Constitution, Explanation II appended to Article 25 says that the “reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion”

: – The Hindu Code Bill (which comprises four different Acts), too, takes an undifferentiated view of Hinduism: it includes anyone who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew under ‘Hindu’ as a legal category.

: – Any reform movements, including Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, were seen as merely different sects within Hinduism.

: – There are legal pronouncements that Hindus are Indian citizens belonging to a religion born in India. This means Buddhists, Sikhs or Parsis, even those who did not recognize themselves as Hindus, are to be considered Hindus.

The Supreme Court of India dealt with the meaning of the word ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hinduism’ when used in election propaganda. The court came to the conclusion that the words ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ are not necessarily to be understood and construed narrowly, confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices unrelated to the culture and ethos of the People of India depicting the way of life of the Indian people. Unless the context of a speech indicates a contrary meaning or use, in the abstract, these terms are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people. Unless the context of a speech indicates a contrary meaning or use, in the abstract, these terms are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people and are not confined merely to describe persons practicing the Hindu religion as a faith. This clearly means that, by itself, the word ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ indicates the culture of the people of India as a whole, irrespective of whether they are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Jews etc.”


Incidentally the Seventh in the list of criteria drawn up by the Supreme Court in Brahmachari Siddheshwar Shai v. State of West Bengal case leaves me a little perplexed. It reads ”Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such”. This in a way sums up the position; but, at the same time, it appears to knock down the earlier six criteria.

Perhaps it is because of this view ( of not being tied down to any definite set of concepts)  that many say “The term ‘ism’ refers to an ideology that is to be propagated and by any method imposed on others for e.g. Marxism, socialism, communism, imperialism and capitalism but the Hindus have no such ‘ism’. Hindus follow the continuum process of evolution; for the Hindus do not have any unidirectional ideology, therefore, in Hindu Dharma there is no place for any ‘ism’”


That leads us to the question: how did a ‘way–of-life’ that was not tied down to an ‘ism’ came to be known as Hinduism, a religion?

Tracing such process that led to tagging or assigning a name to a ‘way of life’ is, no doubt, an elusive exercise.

It is explained that the name Hinduism was coined by the foreigners as an operative term; points at a much larger entity; but, does not exactly stand for it.

I sometimes wonder whether even in the distant past it ever had a specific name or did it needed one, perhaps because of the absence of a rival. It is also plausible there was none.

For instance:

: –  The ancient Indian texts such as Vedas and Upanishads do not talk in terms of a ‘Religion’.  

 : – The Buddha also does not name, refer to or attack the religion of the day though he criticizes the Brahman attitude, the rituals; and discourages its ungainly speculations. He sometimes referred to his disciples by their sect as Brahmins or Kshatrias. He addresses some of them by their Gotra like Vaccha (Vatsa), Kassapa (Kaashyapa), and Mudgala (Maudgalya) etc. Some of the disciples address the Buddha by his Gotra- Gautama.

Buddhism did not start as a religion. The Buddha intended to offer true interpretations of the Dharma. (That perhaps was how his sect was named.) It started as a free-thinkers-moment that attracted the seekers and the lay intellectuals; in much the same way as the Ramakrishna moment did at a much later time. During the Buddha’s time it was not a religion yet; the rituals related to births, deaths and weddings were presided over by the Brahmin priests. The Buddhist rituals and practices (vinaya) were collated from the teachings and the incidents in the Buddha’s life at a much later time, after his death.

What set apart the Buddhism and other school of thought was is emphasis on compassion towards all and ethics in all walks and modes of life.

:- Megasthenes (Ca. 350 BCE – 290 BCE )- the Greek explorer who became an Seleucus I Nicator to the Court of Chandragupta Maurya in Pataliputra –  in his  the work Indika , though mentions Brahmins and Sramanas does not  talk about the name of any religion.

 : – The Arthashastra of kautilya makes frequent references to classes of people within its society; but does not refer to a Religion in particular.


Perhaps it was this factor of the absence of a Religion per se in ancient India that largely guided the Supreme Court of India in listing some criteria for Hinduism while handing down the ruling in Brahmachari Siddheshwar Shai v. State of West Bengal.



Here, in these references by the Apex Court,  the term Hindu had somehow travelled a full circle and came back to the original view of territorial and not creedal significance. It implied residence in a well-defined geographical area.

But now, generally, one is understood to be a Hindu by being born into a Hindu family and practicing the faith, or by declaring oneself a Hindu. It has been used as a geographical, cultural, or religious identifier for people indigenous to South Asia. In any case, Hinduism is now a nomenclature for the religious tradition of India and the suffix ism is hardly noticed. Not many have qualms in accepting “Hinduism.


How did this transformation of ‘Hindu’ which originally referred to an inhabitant of the subcontinent into one of   religious identity take place? It is t important to learn the changing meaning of ‘Hindu’ whereby an original geographic , ethnic and cultural meaning was much later superseded by a religious meaning.

It is a long story. Let’s read that in the next part.

 flower design.jpg

Continued in Part Two


References and Sources

  1. Manohar Joshi vs Nitin Bhaurao Patil & Anr on 11 December, 1995(Equivalent citations: 1996 AIR 796, 1996 SCC (1) 169) Author: J S Verma

  1. Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal (in the supreme court of India ; civil appellate jurisdiction;  civil appeal nos. 4434a-34d of 1986 with civil appeal nos. 4937/85, 5676-78/85; with I.A.No. 1 in C.A. Nos. 5676-78/85 and CMP  No. 23111/86 in C.A. No. 4937/85
  1. Newspaper reports

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Bhagavad-Gita Multiple interpretations- Part Two

Continued From Part One


As mentioned in the prior part of this article, the Bhagavad-Gita is a many splendored marvel. It could be read and understood in any number of ways. And yet; according to TG Mainkar: ‘no single commentator has been absolutely faithful to the Gita’. The scholarly opinion is that each commentator seemed to have been keen on championing his preferred view of the text. And, in that process he subordinated certain verses of the text to the verses of his choice.

It is said in the ancient days; Bodhayana, the Vrittikara (the commentator – around the early centuries of the Common Era) had accepted the plurality of the text of the Bhagavad-Gita; and, did not uphold a single view above all the other plausible meanings/interpretations. He is said to have preached the doctrine of ‘Jñāna-Karma-Samuccaya’ – the doctrine that synthesizes Jnana and Karma.

The Brahma Sutras the highly condensed summary of the Upanishads   are open to multiple interpretations; and, each interpretation is valid in its own context. And, in a similar manner, the Bhagavad-Gita which also is considered to teach the essence of the Upanishads is amenable to varied interpretations. The pluralism of the interpretive approaches to Gita is truly interesting.


The renowned scholar and one of the the most versatile and brilliant of the Judges of the Bombay High Court, Justice Kashinath Triambak Telang (1850-1892), in his introduction to Bhagavad-Gita  (Oxford, New  Clarendon Press, 1875/ 1882) , writes :

My view is that the Gita and the Upanishads – the philosophical part, has not been consistently and fully worked out. We have there, the results of free thought, exercised on different subjects of great moment, unfettered by the exigencies of any foregone conclusions; or any fully developed theory.

It is only afterwards; it is at a later stage of philosophical progress that systems of various kinds arise. In that stage some thinkers interpret the whole works in the light of some particular doctrine or expressions.

And, the result is the development of a whole multitude of philosophical sects, following the lead of those thinkers; and, all professing to draw their doctrine from the Gita or the Upanishads; yet each differing remarkably from the other.

The Acharyas

The early commentators of the Gita belonged to certain specific Schools of philosophy or traditions.  And, their view of the Gita and its interpretations depended upon the concept of the Supreme reality, the individual and the world; and the nature of relationship between these entities espoused by his School.

In the classical commentaries (Bhashya) produced by the Revered Acharyas, the interpretations and the related discussions were mainly in terms of the triad themes of: Jnana, Karma and Bhakthi. The paths (Yoga) associated with each of these    held the complete attention of the commentator.

 Each of the Acharyas insisted on providing a particular, single-pointed interpretation (Bhashya) to the text, championing the  principal philosophical precept of his School of thought; sidelining the other plausible interpretations ; and, subordinating the rest of the text to his chosen verses .

 Sri Sankara


For instance; Sri Sankara (Ca.8th century) in his commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita argued that the prime or sole point of dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna was jnana marga (the path of knowledge) and giving up the path of action (karma marga).

He focused particularly on the verse 4.33: Son of Pritha all action is fully contained in knowledge; the Yajna of knowledge is better than Yajna of action, scorcher of enemy.

श्रेयान्द्रव्यमयाद्यज्ञाज्ज्ञानयज्ञ: परन्तप | सर्वंकर्माखिलंपार्थज्ञानेपरिसमाप्यते || 33||

Śhreyān dravya-mayād yajñāj jñāna-yajña parantapa/ Sarva karmākhila pārtha jñāne parisamāpyate

BG 4.33: O subduer of enemies, sacrifice performed in knowledge is superior to any mechanical material sacrifice. After all, O Partha, all sacrifices of work culminate in knowledge.

 Sri Sankara saw the true object of knowledge as Brahman

 For Sri Sankara, the attributes of Krishna, so wonderfully discussed in Chapters 10 and 11 represent the relative aspects; and, not the all-encompassing Absolute reality, the Brahman.

In Sri Sankara’s view, any verse of the Gita that did not engage in pursuit of Jnana was secondary to other verses that did. Such verses are, at best, incidental (prasangika) discussing worldly matters (laukika nyaya); but, not directly engaged in pursuit of Jnana, the knowledge of self, which is the main intent of the Gita.

The other commentators, of course, disagreed with Sri Sankara’s view of the God and the Universe. They staunchly believed that the personified Brahman (Isvara) was real; and , could be attained and experienced in that form.

Sri Ramanuja


Sri Ramanuja, in his Gita Bhashya,  argued that the intent and the message of Gita was not what Sri Sankara had supposed. He advocated the path of devotion (Bhakthi marga), which was rather more important than the path of knowledge. For him, the Bhakthi Yoga, the path of devotion, as detailed in chapters 12 and 18 that sing the glory of the God in his all encompassing magnificent splendor are indeed the true force and intent behind the teachings of the Gita. Krishna’s display of his most wonderful Universal form (Vishwa rupa) represented the true manifestation and the transformative reality of the God. Sri Ramanuja saw particularly the later chapters as being crucial to its central meaning of the Gita : Son of Bharatha go with your whole being , to that One alone ; and from that Grace you will reach the eternal dwelling place (BG : 18.32).

 अधर्मंधर्ममितियामन्यतेतमसावृता | सर्वार्थान्विपरीतांश्चबुद्धि: सापार्थतामसी || 32||

 Adharma dharmam iti yā manyate tamasāvitā / Sarvārthān viparītānśh cha buddhi sā pārtha tāmasī

BG 18.32: That intellect which is shrouded in darkness, imagining irreligion to be religion, and perceiving untruth to be the truth, is of the nature of ignorance.

According to Sri Ramanuja, Krishna’s exhortation to Arjuna in verses 2.37-38 ( highlighted by Sri Sankara ) , is not a way of dispelling fear as Sri Sankara claimed ; but,  it is  merely a way of arguing that Atman is real.

Sri Madhva


Sri Madhva  (late twelfth century) , in his Bhashya and Tatparya Nirnaya on Bhagavad-gita,   argued that one should maintain strict dualism between God and the world; and, held the view that both the path of devotion and the path of knowledge were central to the teaching of the Gita; and that one should not put one above the other.

According to him, the relation between the Lord and the created world is not one of absolute realty and mere illusion. It was rather more like relation between a man who does not need a stick to walk, but still uses it rather playfully. Following that , one of the central verses in the Gita , for his school , was the verse 9.8 : Born up by my own material nature (prakrti ) , again and again , I send out by the power of material (prakrti) , this whole collection of beings which is , in itself , powerless.

 सर्वभूतानिकौन्तेयप्रकृतिंयान्तिमामिकाम् | कल्पक्षयेपुनस्तानिकल्पादौविसृजाम्यहम् || 7||

प्रकृतिंस्वामवष्टभ्यविसृजामिपुन: पुन: | भूतग्राममिमंकृत्स्नमवशंप्रकृतेर्वशात् || 8||

 Sarva-bhūtāni kaunteya prakiti yānti māmikām / Kalpa-khaye punas tāni kalpādau visijāmyaham

Prakiti svām avahabhya visijāmi puna punaḥ / Bhūta-grāmam ima kitsnam avaśha prakiter vaśhāt

BG 9.7–9.8: At the end of one kalpa, all living beings merge into my primordial material energy. At the beginning of the next creation, O son of Kunti, I manifest them again. Presiding over my material energy, I generate these myriad forms again and again, in accordance with the force of their natures.

According to this school himsa or violence necessary for Arjuna is a part of the reality of the world, the stick that one must use to walk.



Abhinavagupta (Ca. 11th century), the great light of Kashmiri Shaivism, developed a mystical allegorical approach to Gita. He said that he intended to bring to light the hidden or esoteric meaning of the Gita. According to his commentary (Gitartha-samgraha – the summary of the true meaning of the Bhagavad-Gita), knowledge and action, essentially, are not different. The framework of his approach is – jnana-karma-samucchaya – the reconciliation of the paths of knowledge and action. Abhinavagupta advises that while knowledge is important, action should not be sidelined. The two are equally important; as both emanate from consciousness (ज्ञानक्रियामयत्वात् संवित्तत्वस्य).  It is essential that involvement in action does not bind one to the mundane (कर्मणां ज्ञाननिष्ठतया क्रियमाणानामपि    बन्धकत्वम्).

 The jnana, bhakthi (devotion) and karma also called vijnana. Actions are modified and transformed by knowledge, so that they are no longer necessary.

According to Kashmiri Shaivism, the highest reality is the light (Prakasha) of pure consciousness; and it is manifested through Vimarsha. In the process of expansion of consciousness (creation), Vimarsha gives rise to powers of Iccha (will), Jana (knowledge) and Kriya (action). It maintains that the activity (Kriya) of Shiva is his very nature; and, is the result of his absolute freedom (Svatantra-shakthi).   It asserted that Universe is real and is not an illusion.

As Abhinavagupta puts it:    actions flee before knowledge of Brahman like gazelles in the forest when the lion roars.

He found the verse 6.31 of the Gita very apt for liking: the follower of the Yoga who resorts to Me as One who abides in all beings, abiding in oneness existing in all ways, that one dwells in Me.

 सर्वभूतस्थितंयोमांभजत्येकत्वमास्थित: | सर्वथावर्तमानोऽपिसयोगीमयिवर्तते || 31||

 Sarva-bhūta-sthita yo mā bhajatyekatvam āsthitaḥ / Sarvathā vartamāno ’pi sa yogī mayi vartate

G 6.31: the yogi who is established in union with me, and worships me as the Supreme Soul residing in all beings, dwells only in me, though engaged in all kinds of activities.

For Abhinavagupta, even as God the Supreme consciousness is non-dual, its opposite the illusion Maya, is not negative, as Sri Sankara implied, but is also the free play of consciousness.

Abhinavagupta visualizes the battle between Pandavas and the Kauravas as the conflict between knowledge and ignorance. And, through that he understands the related dualism of the body and spirit; passion and equanimity. Here, the Kauravas stand for ignorance and the Pandavas stand for knowledge. Arjuna’s battle has thus to be seen as the fight for knowledge, resulting in the free play of consciousness. Thus, all the verses, including 2.37-38, are interpreted in the light of this extended metaphor. One must cultivate the patience, energy and courage in this larger spiritual process whereby ignorance is eliminated.

Santa Jnanesvar


The Jnaneshwari (Bhavarth Deepika) is one among the most celebrated commentaries on the Bhagavad-Gita. It was composed by Santa Jnanesvar or Jnanadeva (1274-1297) the boy saint – poet – philosopher- Yogi of Maharashtra belonging to the Natha tradition of Siddhas.  He composed this magnificent work while he was a lad of thirteen years. Jnaneshwari is revered as crest jewel of Marathi literature.

Jnanadeva compared the Gita to Chintamani – the legendary multifaceted wish-granting-gem. He considered Bhagavad-Gita under three broad divisions. The first three chapters of the Gita, according to him, relate to karma-yoga; the next eight chapters (from four to eleven) are devoted to Bhakthi-marga combined with action (karma); and the third segment of the Gita (from chapters twelve to fifteen) describes the Jnana marga.

Jnanadeva considers that Bhagavad-Gita, proper, per se, ends at the fifteenth chapter.  The chapter sixteen, he says, merely points out the qualities that help or hinder the path of knowledge. The last two chapters (seventeen and eighteen) are incidental, clearing some doubts raised by Arjuna. Besides providing such clarifications, the last chapter serves also as the pinnacle of the Gita –text- structure (Kalasha-adhyaya).


The narrative presentation of the Jnaneshwari is quite dramatic. Here, Jnanadeva seated on the south bank of the Godavari River, with his Guru, Nivrittinatha, talks about the Bhagavad Gita. Jnanadeva addresses his immediate audience, and the audience listens attentively. And, a scribe named Sacchittananda writes down the whole conversation.

In his oral discourse, Jnanadeva assumes the voices of all the characters of the Gita: Sanjaya, Dhritarashtra, Arjuna, and most of all Krishna. And, it is with Krishna that Jnanadeva gets totally involved. He becomes one with Krishna and speaks in his voice.  The Krishna of the Jnaneshwari is an Eternal and Universal Being living in the past, present and future; ever active and communicating with the world. Here, in Jnaneshwari, Krishna comments and explains, employing delightful metaphors and analogies, on concepts, ideas and practices that were not mentioned in the Bhagavad-Gita. For instance; Jnanadeva speaks of the virtues of Nama-japa ceaselessly repeating (chanting) of the holy name of the Lord, with faith and devotion; and, he also brings in the yogic discipline of the Natha School of the Siddhas explaining the processes of awakening the Kundalini within the subtle body.

 And, Bhagavad-Gita for Jnanadeva is a living and a vibrant text that is relevant for all times, reinventing itself all the time.


Jnanadeva was basically an Advaita-vadin [though he sharply differed from Sri Sankara on his concepts of Ajnana (ignorance) and Maya]. Janadeva was in some ways, closer to Abhinavagupta. 

According to Jnanadeva, Reality is beyond relative knowledge and ignorance.   He adopts the theory of Chid- vilasa which maintains that the universe is the expression of the Absolute Reality. He asserts that though the Absolute Reality is beyond being (sat) and non-being (a-sat) it has its own glory.  It surely is not void. While addressing the Supreme Self, Jnanadeva employs such terms as omnipresent (vishwarupa), having the form of the universe (vishvakara), and soul of the universe (vishvatman), Lord of the universe (vishwesha), existing in all forms (vishuamurti) and the one who pervades of the universe (vishvavyapaka)

Jnanadeva asserted that the true knowledge consists in realizing Supreme Self in the non-dual form; and, that devotion should culminate in Advaita Bhakti. He taught that the path of loving and guileless devotion (Akritrim Bhakthi) and self-less action as  the  way to attain that goal. He said that everyone should perform his duty lovingly as a Yajna and offer his or her actions as flowers at the feet of the Lord.

Infinite Love of God is the central reality (Chid-vilasa) of which His power and wisdom are but aspects. According to Jnanadeva; it is through such Bhakthi and Bhakthi alone that the Supreme Reality can be realized. In the ultimate, the devotee merges with his God; but, yet remains distinct.  He emphasizes Upasana (service) and Bhakthi (loving-devotion) not merging with the Absolute while not losing one’s identity.

The Jnaneshwari which advocates the path of Bhakthi provides the philosophical basis for the Bhakthi sect which flourished in Maharashtra. It is worshipped as one of the three sacred books (i.e.the Prasthanatrai of Bhagawata Dharma) along with Eknathi Bhagawata and  Tukaram Gaathaa.


 Colonial period

In 1785, the Gita became the first Sanskrit work to be translated into English; and, it provoked widespread excitement among English Orientalists, German Romantics, and American Transcendentalists. By about 1890, the Gita was accessible to average European and American; and, it came to be regarded as India’s national or spiritual symbol.

Following its translations into European languages, during the 18th century, the Gita gained a sort of territorial transcendence, spreading its influence beyond Asia. The Bhagavad-Gita captured the attention of the western scholars, intellectuals as also that of the general-readers. That not merely widened the extent of its readership but also lent it the scope for providing varied interpretations.

Apart from its mythological, historical and linguistic interpretations, the Gita came to be regarded as a text of universal relevance having an allegorical construction, which uses symbols and metaphors to put across hidden truths of spiritual significance.

In its extended life, the Bhagavad-Gita was enriched with new meanings and new relevance in new settings. Different aspects of the work came to the fore.   The new hearers and new readers found in it ways the answers to their varied concerns.

Thereafter, the discussions about Bhagavad-Gita were no longer limited to the classical terms of Advaita – Dvaita. The commentaries based solely in such theological doctrines, somehow, became rather rare.

In the next phase of its unfolding, the Gita was discussed in terms of   Jnana-Karma-Bhakti Yoga. That was before it slid into the uncomfortable question of the relevance of violence in dealing with the problems of existence.



The commentaries of the eighteenth and nineteenth century asserted that the Gita does not seem to favour renunciation or total withdrawal from the world resulting in inactivity, nivritti. Instead, it was said, the Gita teaches Jnana that endorses renunciation of desires, of fruits of action. It advocates activity pravritti the opposite of renunciation of action.

 The general drift of the explanations was:

The term Yoga used in the Gita is not confined to mean a discipline as developed by Patanjali. Yet, it includes some refined processes that pre-date Patanjali.  Yoga is used in Gita in a variety of senses. It might mean a deliberate process; the instrument chosen by a person committed to it; or, the prospect of one’s goal. The text calls itself Yoga-shastra – the science and knowledge of Yoga .The term Yoga is the path or marga; be it the path of knowledge (Jnana-yoga), devotion (Bhakthi-yoga) or the path of action (Karma-yoga). In all these paths the essential message of renouncing the fruits of action is stressed. The Gita does not explicitly support one Yoga over the other. It rather extols one Yoga then another or a combination of Yogas. It is understood as a many-sided system with various elements harmonized.

Just as the Bhakthi-marga, the Karma-marga too involves Jnana (wisdom, knowledge) in order to acquire the right perspective of what the action should be. Karma-yoga takes the view that it is impossible to totally avoid action in any manner, simply because we are a living organization.

Karma-yoga that Gita talks about , basically, has two dimensions: action without attachment; and, action without desire or attachment for results. Gita terms it as ‘inaction in action and action in inaction’ (4.18).

Karma-yoga of Gita is not opposed to Jnana, but does not approve of Jnana that breeds inaction.  It reconciles Jnana, action and complete inaction. It is essentially the desireless-action, nish-kama-karma (which term was not used in Gita, but coined in later times)



Chapter 12 of the Gita is devoted to Bhakthi. It does not say that the path of Jnana is inferior; but, merely points out that it is more difficult (12.5). The Bhakthi here is supreme love, of surrender, trust and adoration. It is assisted by knowledge. But, there is a dual relation between the devotee and the object of his/her devotion, even after liberation (Moksha) is achieved.

Moksha, generally, is liberation from the coils of the world and the release from cycle of births. The Moksha is not something that can be reached or acquired, because the individual (Atman) is already free. It is merely the realization of one’s essential true nature and experiencing it.

The differences among the various Schools of Indian Philosophy all stem from ways or paths for attaining such realization: whether it is by Jnana, Bhakthi, Yoga or Karma. The Gita attempts to synthesize all such diverse paths; and says, the liberation need not be brought about by one single path; but, it could be arrived at by their harmonious combination or even independent of such ‘paths’. But, it is essential to give up frits of action; but, not actions per se.

The liberated one is characterized by ‘equanimity, balance and steadfastness of judgment; clarity of vision; seeing One in all; independence of external limitations; and utter joy in self’. The liberated self rises above sense of pain and pleasure and all such pairs of opposites with equanimity, and acts without motives of gain or reward. 

The principle of desireless-action was taken up by many social reformers, including Swami Vivekananda, in the nineteenth and twentieth century India. The message of the Gita came to be regarded as practical Vedanta or Vedanta in practice.


Comprehensive treatment of the Gita

Of all the translations and interpretations of the Gita that I have come across, I find Dr. D V Gundappa’s Srimad Bhagavad Geeta Tatparya or Jeevana Dharma Yoga; and Acharya Vinoba Bhave’ s Talks on Gita or (Gita-Pravachan) as among the best , taking a comprehensive view of the text and its relevance to day-to-day life .

:- Dr. D V Gundappa steers clear of sectarian interpretations; and, attempts to bring out the relevance of the Gita to the common man in his everyday life.  He talks about the values in life; and the Dharma which can guide, comfort, sustain and strengthen the individual. According to Dr. Gundappa, the Gita deals with the challenges that both the individual and the society have to contend with in their meaningful existence; and provides the way in the maze of actual life.

: – Vinoba Bhave’s Talks on Gita or (Gita-Pravachan) is a lucid and logical interpretation of the Gita.  Its narration is simple and direct. He asserts:  the Gita is a scripture intended for ordinary men, living their daily lives in the world. The Bhagavad Gita is for the whole world. Its Paramartha, the higher knowledge, teaches us how by keeping our lives pure, we can attain equilibrium and peace of mind. The Gita tells us how our lives can be kept pure. It comes to your help in whatever you are doing , and particularly during the conflicts in your life.

He interprets Gita as a gospel for self-less action (A-karma) In the introduction to the Book, Vinoba wrote:  ‘When I was studying the meaning of the Gita, it took me several years to absorb the fifth chapter. I consider that chapter to be the key to the whole book, and the key to that chapter is in the Eighteenth verse of the Fourth chapter: ‘inaction in action, and action in inaction’. The meaning of those words, as it revealed itself to me, casts its shadow over the whole of my Talks on the Gita’.

कर्मण्यकर्म : पश्येदकर्मणि कर्म : |  बुद्धिमान्मनुष्येषु युक्त: कृत्स्नकर्मकृत् || 18||

 karmayakarma ya paśhyed akarmai cha karma yaḥ / sa buddhimān manuhyehu sa yukta kitsna-karma-kit

Those who see action in inaction and inaction in action are truly wise amongst humans. Although performing all kinds of actions, they are yogis and masters of all their actions.


Father Thomas Merton

Father Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Roman Catholic monk and mystic of the Abbey of Gethsemane, Kentucky. He wrote avidly about peace and justice during the 1960s. Thomas Merton also wrote about the Gita. The introduction he wrote for the ISKON edition of the Bhagavad-Gita (1968) is worth quoting for his understanding, guided by his own mystical experiences. Here is a brief extract:

The Gita sees that the basic problem of man is his endemic refusal to live by a will other than his own. For surviving to live entirely by one’s own individual will, instead of becoming free, man is enslaved by forces even more exterior and more delusionary than his own transient fancies. He projects himself out of the present into the future. He tries to make for himself a future that accords with his own fantasy; and, thereby escape from a present reality which he does not fully accept.

And yet, when he moves into the future he wanted to create for himself, it becomes a present that is once again repugnant to him . And yet, this is what he had ‘made; for himself – it is his Karma.

It is in surrendering a false and illusory liberty on the superficial level that man unites himself with the inner ground of reality and freedom in himself which is the will of God, of Krishna , of Providence , of Tao .These concepts do not all coincide  exactly ; but they have much in common.

It is remaining open to an infinite number of unexpected possibilities which transcend has his own imagination and capacity to plan that man really fulfils his own need for freedom’

[Source: The Bhagavad Gita and the West: The Esoteric Significance of the Bhagavad-Gita by Rudolf Steiner]



In the next part of this article, let us talk about the translations of the Gita and their varied influences.


Continued in Part Three

References and sources

  1. Interpretations of the Bhagavad-Gita and Images of the Hindu Tradition: by Catherine A. Robinson
  2. The Bhagavad Gita and the West: The Esoteric Significance of the Bhagavad-Gita by Rudolf Steiner
  3. Exploring the Bhagavad Gitā: Philosophy, Structure, and Meaning by Ithamar Theodor
  4. The Bhagavad Gita: A Text and Commentary for Students by Jeaneane D. Fowler
  5. Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts by John Renard
  6. The Failure of Allegory: Notes on Textual Violence and the Bhagavad Gita by Laurie L. Patton
  7. A Comparative Study of the Commentaries on The Bhagavadgītā by T. G. Mainkar
  8. Bhagavad-Gita in Mahabharata Translated and Edited by J. A. B. van Buitenen
  9. My Gitaby Devdutt Pattanaik
  10. The Bhagavad-Gita and modern thought introduction by Shruti Kapila and Faisal Devji
  1. The quest for objective truth – Modern Indian Interpreters of the Bhagavad Gita Edited by Robert Neil Minor
  2. Who Wrote Bhagavad-Gita by Meghnad Desai
  3. Da’ud ibn Tamam ibn Ibrahim al-Shawn – The Bhagavad Gita interpreted – Edited by Daud Shawni
  4. A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 2 by Dr. Surendranath Dasgupta



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Discussions, Debates and Arguments: Ancient India – Part Two

 Continued from Part One

 Vaada, Jalpa and Vitanda


Vaada is a debate between two persons of equal standing. The term Vaada by itself means a theory, doctrine or thesis. In the debate, the proponent who puts forward arguments in support of his doctrine (Vaada) is termed as Vadin. The opponent who refutes that theory through his counter-arguments is termed as Prati-vadin. Unlike in Samvada, there is no teacher-taught relationship here; nor is it a discourse. 

Ideally, both the parties to the Vaada should have mutual regard, respecting each other’s learning and status; and should participate with an open mind in order to explore various dimensions of the subject on hand; to examine it thoroughly by applying the accepted norms of logic and reasoning (Tarka), supported by passages from  texts of undisputed authority (Sabda Pramana). The principal aim of a wholesome Vaada is to resolve the conflict; and, to establish ‘what is true’. The proceedings of the Vaada should be characterized by politeness, courtesy and fair means of presenting the arguments. You might call it a healthy discussion. 

Vatsayana in his commentary Nyāya Bhāya, says that congenial debate (Anuloma Sambasha) takes place when the opponent is not wrathful or malicious; but, is learned , wise, eloquent and patient  ; is well versed in the art of persuasion ; and, is gifted with sweet speech. 

As regards the benefits (Sambasha prashamsa or prayojana)  of such peaceful and congenial debates  : If a learned person debates with another scholar, both versed in the same subject, it would increase the depth of their knowledge, clear misapprehensions, if any, and lead them to  find certain minor details which hitherto might have escaped their attention . It was said: Vade Vade jayate tattvabodhah – Truth emerges out of debates – Besides, it would heighten their zeal to study further; and bring happiness to both.   

But, in cases where two scholars hold contrary views, the Vadin and Prati-vadin will each try very hard to establish the doctrine which he believes is true; and to convince the other to accept its veracity through fair and effective presentation and arguments. At the same time, each is willing to understand and appreciate the arguments of the other; and accept any merit they might find in it. In case, one is in doubt or unable to respond  satisfactorily , one can take a break to re-group his position or to re-examine the issue to see whether he can refute the opponent’s argument more effectively or put up a sounder defense.

And, if one is convinced that the doctrine and the argument presented by the opponent is valid, he adopts it with grace.   And, at the end, one of the two might be proven wrong; or both could be right.  In any case, they accept the outcome of the debate, whatever be it; and, part their ways without rancor. 


The Buddhist text Milinda Panha (The Questions of King Milinda) dated between second and first century BCE is said to be a record of the conversations that took place between the Indo-Greek king Menander I Soter  (who is said to have ruled over the regions of Kabul and Punjab) and the Buddhist monk Nagasena. 

[Menander (Milinda), originally a general of Demetrius, is probably the most successful Indo-Greek king, and the conqueror of a vast territory. The finds of his coins are the most numerous and the most widespread of all the Indo-Greek kings. From at least the 1st century AD, the “Menander Mons“, or “Mountains of Menander”, came to designate the mountain chain at the extreme east of the Indian subcontinent, today’s Naga Hills and Arakan, as indicated in the Ptolemy world map of the 1st century.  

Minander had expanded his kingdom into Gangetic plains, where Buddhism was flourishing. He is reputed to have been a secular King , who protected the beliefs of his Greek and Buddhist subjects.

Menander is remembered in Buddhist literature (the Milinda Panha) for his conversations with the Buddhist elder Monk Nagasena. According to Milinda –panha, the King Milinda carefully listens to Nagasena’s teachings; and, at the end of each discourse exclaims ‘Very good, Bhante* Nagasena’.

[*Bhante (Sanskrit: Bhavanta) is a respectful title used to address elder Buddhist monks in the Theravada tradition. The term literally means “Venerable Sir’.]

Sagala , the city in which King Milinda met the Bhikku Nagasena is identified with Sialkot . The Jatakas  mention : There is , in the country of the Yonakas , a great center of trade , a city that is called Sagala, situated in a delightful country, abounding in parks , groves , lakes and tanks ; a paradise of rivers, woods and mountains.

Wise architects have laid out the Sâgala city; and its people know of no oppression, since all their enemies and adversaries have been put down. Brave is its defense, with many and various strong towers and ramparts, with superb gates and entrance archways; and with the royal citadel in its midst, white walled and deeply moated. Well laid out are its streets, squares, cross roads, and market places. Well displayed are the innumerable sorts of costly merchandise with which its shops are filled. It is richly adorned with hundreds of alms-halls of various kinds; and splendid with hundreds of thousands of magnificent mansions, which rise aloft like the mountain peaks of the Himalayas. Its streets are filled with elephants, horses, carriages, and foot-passengers, frequented by groups of handsome men and beautiful women, and crowded by men of all sorts and conditions, Brahmans, nobles, artificers, and servants. They resound with cries of welcome to the teachers of every creed, and the city is the resort of the leading men of each of the differing sects. So full is the city of money, and of gold and silver ware, of copper and stone ware, that it is a very mine of dazzling treasures. And there is laid up there much store of property and corn and things of value in warehouses-foods and drinks of every sort, syrups and sweetmeats of every kind. In wealth it rivals Uttara-kuru, and in glory it is as Âlakamandâ, the city of the gods. (The Questions of King Milinda, translated by T. W.Rhys Davids, 1890)

Source : Greeks and Buddhism: Historical Contacts in the Development of a Universal Religion by Demetrios Th. Vassiliades ]

Milinda panha

At the outset, Nagasena remarks that the debate they would be having would be one between two wise men; and it would not be a debate for the King.

Then, King Menander enquirers as to the distinction between the two. 

Monk Nagasena explains:   

When scholars debate, your Majesty, there is summing up and unraveling of a theory, convincing and conceding; there is also defeat, and yet the scholars do not get angry at all.   

When the Kings debate, your Majesty, they state their thesis, and if anyone differs from them, they order him punished, saying ‘Inflict punishment upon him’. 

Thus, in a good debate there could be defeat or censure or clincher (Nigraha-sthana) but no animosity.

[This debate is justly praised for the incisive questions asked by Menander; and, it is regarded by the Buddhists as equal in value to their canonical scriptures.

It is not certain whether Menander was  converted to Buddhism; but, he seemed to have taken a deep interest in it. Some of his coins show a wheel, similar to the Buddhist Chakra. Plutarch reports that after Menander’s death his ashes were distributed to all cities of his kingdom where monuments were then constructed to contain them—a kind of commemoration which was in tune with Buddhist practice.]

milinda nagasena

 [Dr. Sangeetha Menon, in her scholarly article, though she writes about Savāda, she is actually referring to Vada:

(Sa)vāda, is meant to lead to transforming experiences, in the process of which attempts are made jointly to (i) ascertain what is true knowledge, (ii) to understand new ideas, and,  (iii) to understand the nature of the inquirer herself/himself.

(Sa) vāda plays a central role in understanding Indian philosophy as well as Indian psychology. It has references not only to logical and epistemological methods but also to states of mind which are important in the discussion about the primal nature of self. Hence, the discussions on metaphysical and ontological issues are always interrelated to understanding ethical, axiological, aesthetic and spiritual issues. There is a constant attempt to reconcile and integrate different experiences, and the existence of contradictions so as to generate worldviews based on an understanding of life with answers for fundamental questions about self-identity, nature of world, creation, purpose of life, nature of knowledge, value systems etc.

Apart from the content of the dialogue, the process of dialogue plays an important role in contributing to the well-being of the partners involved. It gives total and one-time attention to how world views are formed, how mental and physical discipline are significant to conceive an idea, how way of living is connected with the self-identity of the inquirer.

Being and Wellbeing In Upanishadic Literature  by Dr. Sangeetha Menon ]



Nyaya Sutra in its First Book enumerates the steps or the categories (padartha) of the methods (Vadopaya) for structuring the argument and for presentation of the subject under debate, while the rest of the four Books expand on these steps. The Vada-marga (the stages in the course of a debate) is classified under sixteen steps: 

  • 1) Pramana (the means of knowledge);
  • 2) Prameya (the object of right knowledge);
  • 3)  Samsaya (creating doubt or misjudgment );
  • 4) Prayojana (purpose);
  • 5) Drshtanta  (familiar example);
  • 6) Sidhanta (established  tenet or principle);
  • 7) Avayava (an element of syllogism);
  • 8) Tarka ( reasoned argument);
  • 9) Niranaya (deduction or determination of the question); 
  • 10) Vada (discussion to defend or to arrive at the truth);
  • 11) Jalpa (wrangling or dispute to secure a win );
  • 12) Vitanda (quibble or mere attack);
  • 13) Hetvabhasa (fallacy, erratic  contrary , ill-timed challenges);
  • 14) Chala (misleading or willfully misinterpreting the words);
  • 15) Jati (futile objections founded on similarities or otherwise) ;and
  • 16) Nigrahaslhana (disagreement in principle or  no purpose in arguing further or the point nearing  defeat). 


These sixteen steps are meant to ascertain and establish ‘what is true’ (yathartha).The first four steps deal, mainly, with logic; while the latter seven perform the function of preventing and eliminating the errors. Among the first fou; Pramana with its four reliable means of obtaining knowledge is of cardinal importance [Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference), Upamana (comparison) and Sabda (reliable verbal testimony)].

As said earlier, these sixteen categories are discussed in detail in four sections of the Nyaya Sutra.  The Nyāya Sūtra (verse 1.1.2) declares that its goal is to study and describe the attainment of liberation from wrong knowledge, faults and sorrow, through the application of above sixteen categories of perfecting knowledge.

duḥkha-janma-pravṛttidoṣa-mithyājñānānām uttarottarāpāye tadanantarā pāyāt apavargaḥ (1.1.2: )


Nyaya Sutra (1.2.1) – (vāda-lakṣaṇam) states that Vaada, the good or honest debate, is constituted by the following characteristics:

 1. Establishment of the thesis and refutation of the counter thesis should be based upon adequate evidence or means of knowledge (pramana) as well as upon proper reasoning (tarka). Pramana, the valid knowledge, is defined as the cognition of the objects as they actually are, free from misapprehension (tatha bhuta rtha jnanam hi pramanam uchyate); and, anything other than that is invalid A-pramana or Bhrama – the cognition of objects as they are not (atha bhuta rtha jnanam hi apramanam). Pramana stands both for the valid -knowledge, and for the instrument or the means by which such valid knowledge is obtained.

2. The conclusion should not entail contradiction with analytical or ‘accepted doctrine’; 

3.  Each side should use the well-known five steps (syllogism) of the demonstration (Sthapana) explicitly.

4.  They should clearly recognize a thesis to be defended and a counter thesis to be refuted.

(pramāṇa-tarka-sādhanopālambhaḥ siddhāntāviruddhaḥ pañcāvayavopapannaḥ pakṣapratipakṣaparigrahaḥ vādaḥ 1.21 )


Nyaya Sutra (1.1.32- avayava-uddeśasūtram; and 1.1.39- nigamana-lakṣaṇam) lays down a five-part syllogism for proper presentation of the elements of the arguments (Vaada).  It states that any valid argument must include the following five factors, as they help to establish the object of right knowledge. These five steps also combine in themselves the four means of cognition: viz., Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference), Upamana (comparison) and Sabda (reliable verbal testimony):

1. Pratijna – the proposition or the enunciation of the object – that needs to be proved in the light of the approved texts (Sabda)

2. Hetu – the reason or evidence through the vehicle of inference (Anumana); it furnishes a means to prove the proposition;

3. Udaharana – the citation of examples (well recognized, universally acceptable and independently verifiable) that illustrates (Pratyaksha) the  common principle underlying the subject in question and the example  . It provides the supporting reason or evidence;

4. Upanaya – the application (validity of the example cited- Upamana) evidencing that present thesis is essentially similar to example cited.


5. Niranaya – the conclusion eliminates all plausible contrary conclusions against the proposition; and re-states the proposition or the thesis as proved and established beyond doubt – derived by bringing together all the four means of right knowledge (proposition, reason, example and application)

 ( pratijñā-hetū-udāharaṇa-upanaya-nigaman āni avayavāḥ -1.1.32)

 ( hetvapadeśāt pratijñāyāḥ punarvacanam nigamanam- 1.1.39)

Pratijna is enunciation of the thesis that is sought to be proved – (e.g. Purusha is eternal).

Sthapana is establishing the thesis through a process employing reason (hetu), example (drstantha) , application of the example( upanaya)  and conclusion (nigamana) — (e.g. the statement – Purusha is eternal- has to be supported by valid reasoning (hetu)- because he is uncreated; by examples (drstantha) – just as the sky (Akasha ) is uncreated and it is eternal ;  by showing similarity between the subject of the example and the subject of the thesis (Upanaya) – just as Akasha is uncreated a , so the Purusha is uncreated and eternal : finally establishing the thesis (Nigamana) – therefore Purusha is eternal.

Prativada is refuting the proposition or thesis put forth by the proponent. Thus when the proposition of the thesis Sthapana is Purusha is eternal, the   Prati-stapana, the counter proposition, would be Purusha is non-eternal; because it is perceivable by senses and the jug which is perceivable by senses is non-eternal; Purusha is like the jug; therefore Purusha is non-eternal


At the commencement of the Vaada, the Judge or the arbiter (Madhyastha) lays down rules of the Vaada. The disputants are required to honor those norms and regulations. They are also required to adhere to permissible devices; and not to breach certain agreed limits (Vada maryada).

For instance; in the case of debates where the Vadin and Prati-vadin both belong to Vedic tradition it was not permissible to question the validity of the Vedas or the existence of  God and the Soul. And, any position taken during the course of Vaada should not contradict the Vedic injunctions.

In the case of the Vada where one belongs to Vedic tradition and the other to Non-Vedic traditions (say, Jaina or Bauddha) they had to abide by the rules and discipline specifically laid down by the Madyastha.

As mentioned earlier, according to Nyaya Sutra (1.2.1) Vaada comprises defense and attack (Sadhana and Upalambha). One’s own thesis is defended by means of genuine criteria of knowledge (Pramana) and the antithesis (opponent’s theory) is refuted by negative dialectics of Tarka (logic). But, when defense or attack is employed excessively, merely for the sake of scoring a win, then there is the risk of the debate degenerating into Jalpa.

It is said; Vaada and Jalpa are contrasting counterparts. In Vaada, the thesis is established by Pramana-s; and the anti-thesis is disproved by Tarka or different set of Pramana-s. Whereas in Jalpa, the main function is negation; the Pramana-s do not have much use here.  Jalpa tries to win the argument by resorting to quibbling, such as Chala, Jati and Nigrahasthana. None of these can establish the thesis directly, because their function is negation. But, indirectly , they help to disprove anti-thesis. Thus, Jalpa in general is the dialectical aid for Vada (Nyaya Sutra: 4.2.50-51

[It is said; at times, the Madhyastha might allow or overlook ‘Jalpa-like’ tactics ‘for safeguarding the interests of truth, ‘just as a fence of thorny hedges is used to protect the farms’.]

It is at this stage in the Vaada that the Madyastha might  intervene  to ensure that the participants, especially the one who is at the verge of defeat (Nigraha-sthana) do not resort to tricks such as quibbling (Chala) , false rejoinder (Jati)  etc. 

The Madyastha may even call off the Vada; and award to the candidate who in his view performed better. 

The Vada could be also treated as inconclusive (savyabhicara) and  brought to an end if there is no possibility of reaching a fair decision; or the very subject to be discussed is disputed (Viruddha); or when arguments stray away from the subject that is slated for discussion (prakarana-atita) ; or when the debate prolongs beyond a reasonable (Kalatita).

In this context, it is said the debate could be treated as concluded and one side declared defeated: a) When a proponent misunderstands his own premises and their implications; b) when the opponent cannot understand the proponent’s argument; c) when either party is confused and becomes helpless; d) when either is guilty of faulty reasoning or pseudo-reasoning (hetva-bhasa); because, no one should be allowed to win using a pseudo-reason; or e) when one cannot reply within a reasonable time. 

When one party is silenced in the process, the thesis stays as proven.  Hence, in Vaada, there is no explicit ‘defeat’ as such. The sense of defeat (Nigraha-sthana) becomes apparent when there are contradictions in logical reasoning (hetvabhasa); and the debate falls silent.

And, at the end, one of the two might be proven wrong; or both could be right.  In any case, when one is convinced that the doctrine and the argument presented by the opponent are valid, he adopts it with grace. Ideally, whatever might be the outcome of a Vaada, it should be accepted; and, both – Vadin and Prati-vadin  should part their ways without rancor.

Shankara Mandana Misra 2

[The most celebrated Vaada is said to be the one that took place between the young monk Sri Sankara and the distinguished Mimamsa scholar, householder, Mandana Misra.  Considering the young age of the opponent, Mandana Misra generously offered Sri Sankara the option to select the Madyastha (Judge) for the ensuing debate. Sri Sankara, who had great respect for the righteousness of Mandana Misra, chose his wife Bharathi Devi, a wise and learned person.  

During the course of the lengthy debate when Mandana Misra seemed to be nearing Nigrahasthana (clincher) Bharathi Devi raised questions about marital obligations.  Sri Sankara being a monk had, of course, no knowledge in such matters. He requested for and obtained a ‘break’ to study and to understand the issue. It is said; he returned after some time equipped with the newly acquired knowledge, renewed the Vaada and won it. Thereafter, Mandana Misra and Bharathi Devi accepted Sri Sankara as their teacher, with grace and respect.] 


[Please click here for a writing about Vada-vidhi (method of argumentation), a treatise about the methods to mould flawless logic, ascribed to the celebrated Buddhist scholar Vasubandhu (4th to 5th century CE). Vāda-vidhi is the only work of Vasubandhu on logic which has survived. Vasubandhu contributed to Buddhist logic and is held to have been the origin of formal logic in the Indian tradition. His text paved the way for the later Buddhist scholars like Dignaga and Dharmakirti, in the field of logic.

Vasubandhu’s methods for distinguishing fallacious arguments from valid ones rely heavily on his theory of cognition.

He describes a number of logical fallacies, which he classifies into three types: reversed, incorrect or unreal, and contradictory. He then moves on from the trivial examples to complex ones. Vasubandhu’s formal system of argumentation is simple and practical, and especially well-suited for the quick back-and-forth of the verbal debates that were very much in vogue in Vasubandhu’s day. He had a reputation for being an experienced, ferocious debater, with a sharp mind.

His ideas on cognition are quite interesting. The underlying principle in Vasubandhu’s treatise on logic is an unstated premise seemed to be that the objects in the argument structure have no independent existence. Instead, they only come into existence provisionally, when cognized. He further breaks down our process of cognition into direct perception, such as perceptions of pleasure, pain, sound, or sight, and inferred perception, such as the perception of a mountain as fire-possessing when it is observed to be smoke-possessing.

According to him : Knowledge through inference can be specified as an observation coming when the means-of-evidence is directly observed, and the invariable concomitance between it and what can be inferred is remembered. One does not occur unless something else is directly known. Otherwise there is no inference.

Vasubandhu points out, we can never be absolutely certain about anything, because we can only make inferences based upon our perceptions, which can be misleading, and memory, which is unreliable. He goes on to give examples of problems with cognition, such as a false cognition-of-silver arising from looking at mother-of-pearl, and cognition of objects that do not exist, such as a luminous circle that is perceived when a torch is hurled in an arc.

This method makes the example and counter-example so vital to the argument. Any thesis can be disproved by showing that the proposed invariable concomitance is not, in fact, invariable.

 The last part of Vāda-vidhi is devoted to methods that can be used to distinguish logical fallacies from valid arguments.

For more , please read, ]



As per the classification made by Akshapada Gautama in his Nyaya Sutra (1.2.2- jalpa-lakṣaṇam), while Vaada is a ‘good’  or congenial debate (anuloma sambasha or Sandhya sambasha), Jalpa along with Vitanda is treated as ‘bad’ or hostile  argument (Vigrahya sambasha).

Jalpa is described as debate between two rivals who are desperate to win, by fair or foul means. It is characterized as clever or tricky disputation and a quarrelsome verbal fight that is often noisy.

Unlike Vaada which is an honest debate aiming to ascertain ‘what is true’, Jalpa is an argument where each strives to impose his thesis on the other. The question of ascertaining the ‘truth’ does not arise here. Each party to the Jalap is already convinced that his thesis is true and perfect; while that of the opponent is false and totally wrong. Each is not prepared to understand and appreciate the rival argument; but, is over anxious to ensure the opponent is ‘defeated’ and is made to accept his thesis. Even while it   becomes apparent  that one might be on the verge of defeat , he will not accept the position;  instead , he will  try to  devise a strategy or  will take a ‘break’  to gather  some material or to  concoct  a fallacious argument  to evade defeat and , if possible, to prove the other wrong.

Both the Vadin and the Prati-vadin work hard to establish their thesis through direct and indirect proofs. In Jalpa, the Pramana-s, the means of valid knowledge do not have much role to play. The arguments in Jalpa relay more on negation or negative tactics, such as: discrediting the rival argument, misleading the opponent or willfully misinterpreting rival’s explanations. The main thrust of the arguments in Jalpa is not so much as to establish the thesis directly, as to disprove or refute the rival’s thesis, through circumvention.

The reason why Jalpa is labeled as tricky is that apart from traditional means of proving one’s thesis and for refuting the opponent’s thesis, the debater can use elusive and distracting devices such as: quibbling or hair-splitting (Chala); inappropriate rejoinders (Jati), and any kind of ruse that tries to outwit and disqualify the opponent (nigrahasthana),    circumvention, false generalization and showing the unfitness of the opponent to argue; without, however, establishing his own thesis.

 (yathoktopapannaḥ chala-jāti-nigrahasthāna-sādhanopālambhaḥ jalpaḥ -1.2.2)

Nyaya Sutra gives a fairly detailed treatment to the negative tactics of Jalpa. Nyaya Sutra (1.2.11-14; 5.1.1- 39; and 5.2.1-25) enumerates three kinds of quibbling (Chala); twenty-four kinds of inappropriate rejoinders (Jati); and twenty-two kinds of clinchers or censure-situations (Nigrahasthana).

 (jāti-lakṣaṇam —  sādharmyavaidharmyābhyām pratyavasthānaṃ jātiḥ -1.2.18)

(nigrahasthāna-lakṣaṇamn – vipratipattiḥ apratipattiḥ ca nigrahasthānam-1.2.19)

 (nigrahasthānabahutva-sūtram — tadvikalpāt jātinigrahasthānabahutvam-1.2.20)

It is said; such measures or tricks to outwit the opponent are allowed in Jalpa arguments, since the aim of the debate is to score a victory. However, those maneuvers are like double-edged swords; they cut both ways. Over-indulgence with such tactics is, therefore, rather dangerous.    One runs the risk of being censured, decaled unfit and treated as defeated, if the opponent catches him at his own game.


Quibbling (Chala) is basically an attempt to misinterpret the meaning of an expression (Vak-chala); or, improperly generalize its meaning (samanya-chala); or by conflation of an ordinary use of a word with its metaphorical use (upacara-chala), with a view to derange the argument.

(chala-lakṣaṇam —  vacana-vighātaḥ artha-vikalpopapattyā chalam – 1.2.10)

(chala-bheda-uddeśa-sūtram – – tat trividham – vākchalam sāmānyacchalam upacāracchalam ca iti- 1.2.11)

For instance; when one says: the boy has a nava kambala (= new) blanket; the other would look horrified and exclaim:  why would a little boy need nava (=nine) blankets !

And, when one says: he is a hungry man (= purusha) , the other would generalize Man – Purusha as ‘ humans’ , and ask why are all the human beings hungry? and, all at the same time?

Similarly, term ‘mancha’ ordinarily means a cot; but, its metaphorical meaning could be platform or dais or the people sitting on it. The opponent would wonder ‘why on earth , would the couple choose to sleep on a public platform , while many persons are already seated on it ?’.

There are many other similar words, such as:  Mantapa which normally is understood as an open-hall; but, its etymological meaning could be ‘one who drinks scum of boiled rice (Ganji)’. And, the term Kushala is generally used to denote an expert or a highly skilled person (pravina); but, its etymology analysis would lead to one who is ‘good at cutting grass (kush). And, similarly, Ashva-gandha is literally ‘smell of the horse; but in common usage it refers to a medicinal herb.

A mischievous quibbler would deliberately twist the meaning of such words; take them out of the context; and, try to distract and confuse the his rival 

Improper rejoinder or futile rejoinder (Jati) is generally through falsifying the analogy given; and ridiculing it.

For instance; when one says: sound is impermanent because it is a product, such as a pot; the other would ignore the ‘impermanent’ property of the analogy (pot), but would pick up a totally un-related property of the analogy (say, the hollow space or emptiness in the pot) and say that a pot is filled with space (akasha) which is eternal, then how could you say that a pot is impermanent? And, further pot is not audible either.

Censures or the point at which the Jalpa could be force-closed (Nigrahasthana)  by pointing out that the opponent is arguing against his own thesis  ; or , that he is willfully abstracting the debate; or to his inappropriate ways. 


There are also some statements that defend the Jalpa-way of arguments.

One reason adduced for allowing in the debate the diverse interpretations of the terms is said to be the flexibility that the Sanskrit language has, where compound-words can be split in ways to suit one’s argument; where words carry multiple meanings; and, where varieties of contextual meanings can be read into with change in structure of phrases, sentences and context of topics.   

And, the other is that the ancient texts in Sutra format – terse, rigid and ambiguous – can be read and interpreted in any number of ways. Each interpretation can be supported by one or the other authoritative text. There is therefore, plenty of scope for legitimate disputation.

It is said; that Jalpa way of arguments is at times useful as a defensive measure to safeguard the real debate (Vada),just as the thorns and branches are used for the protection of the (tender) sprout of the seed’.

The other reason is that it would be in the interest of an aspiring debater to be familiar with divisive tactics; and, also the ways and means of deflecting them.

It is also said that Jalpa-tactics might come in handy to a novice or an inexperienced debater, as a ploy . If such a person, without adequate skills,   enters into a debate, he might not be able to come up with proper rejoinder at the right time to safeguard his thesis. In such a crisis, he may get away with such tricky debate. In any case, if the opponent is not quick witted, the (novice) debater may gain some time to think of the proper reason. Thus, he may even win the debate and the sprout of his knowledge would be protected.

However, this justification was not altogether acceptable.


The next question would be why would a debater resort to such tactics as quibbling and dishonest rejoinder?  Or why would anyone waste his time and effort in learning those tactics?

Bimal Krishna Matilal in his The Character of Logic in India explains:

‘ Uddyotakara, in the beginning of his commentary on chapter five of the Nyaya Sutra explains that it is always useful to learn about these bad tricks, for at least one should try to avoid them in one’s own debate and identify them in the opponent’s presentation in order to defeat him. Besides, when faced with sure defeat, one may use a trick, and if the opponent by chance is confused by the trick, the debater will at least have the satisfaction of creating a doubt instead of courting sure defeat.

This last point was, however, a very weak defense; and not convincing at all , as the Buddhist scholar Dharmakirti (c. 600-660) elaborately pointed out in his book on debate, Vada-nyaya.’


The crucial difference between Vada and Jalpa  appears to be that in the case of Vada the ‘truth’ is established by positive evidence; and, the invalid knowledge (A-pramana) masquerading as a good reason (that is, a hetvabhasa) is detected and eliminated. No one is really defeated and the truth is established.

In the case of Jalpa, it mainly depends on negation (which is non-committal) and on effective refutation of the proponent’s argument. There is no earnest effort to build positive irrefutable proof. And, the fear of defeat overhangs the whole proceedings.

 The scholarly opinion is that the rejection or refutation of a position may not always amount to the assertion of a counter-position. And, determination and establishment of truth depends upon positive evidence; and not merely on refutation.




In Akshapada’s Nyaya-Sutra (1.2.3), Vitanda is classified as a ’bad’ or hostile argument (Vigrahya sambasha) or wrangling, which does not allow the opponent to establish his  argument . In terms of merit; it is the worst; it is rated inferior to Jalpa, which also employs such trickery as quibbling and illegitimate rejoinder. While Jalpa tries to argue for the success of its thesis by whatever means, Vitanda does not seriously attempt to put up any counter-thesis. That is because, its debater has no thesis of his own to put forward.

In other words, the debater here tries to ensure his victory simply by refuting or demolishing the thesis put forward by the other side, by browbeating or misleading or ridiculing the opponent. The whole purpose of its exercise seems to be to prove the opponent wrong and incompetent; and to confuse and humiliate him.  Vitanda is therefore termed as a destructive debate.

(vitaṇḍā-lakṣaṇam — saḥ pratipakṣa-sthāpanā-hīnaḥ vitaṇḍā- 1.2.3 )

Vitanda is a ruthless debate, the major part of which is spent in denying the opponent’s views, in discrediting him or in quarrelling. Vaitandika, the one who adopts Vitanda style of argument, might at times pick up the opponent’s thesis (though he himself might not believe in it) and argue in its favor just to demonstrate that the opponent is not doing a ‘good job’; and rebuke him saying that his thesis might not be after all so bad, but he made it look worse by making a terrible mess of it.

Vaitandika makes it a point to disagree with the other, no matter what the other says. It is a way of saying: you are wrong, not because your statement by itself is wrong; but, it is wrong because you said it. He tries to effectively undermine the credibility of the opponent; and demonstrate to him that he is neither competent nor qualified to discuss the subtleties of the logic. Then he would shout:” go back and study for one more year at the feet of your teacher; you have done enough for today”.

What the Vaitandika says might be irrational or illogical; but, he tries to effectively silence the opponent. In such type of debates either ‘valid knowledge’ or ‘truth’ has no place.

[ please also read about : How to Win Arguments with Stupid, Stubborn People]


Nilakanta Dikshita (16th-17th century), minister, poet and theologian of Nayaka-period, known for his incisive satirical wit , in his work, the Kala-vidambana (A Travesty of Time), avers:

If you want to triumph, do not be afraid; do not pay attention; do not listen to the opponent’s arguments— just immediately contradict him.  Unflappability; shamelessness; contempt for the adversary; derision, and, praise of the king – these are the five grounds of victory … If the opponent  is not learned, you win by shouting at him. If he is a taught one, then you have only to insinuate bias, such as: greed for money; thirst for fame; anxiety to be in the good-books of the King; or advance oneself in the society. You have to unsettle and insult the opponent. Such is the correct and effective syllogistic procedure.


In a Vitanda, where both the parties employ similar tactics, the debate would invariably get noisy and ugly. The Madhyastha or the Judge plays a crucial role in regulating a Vitanda. He has the hard and unenviable task of not merely controlling the two warring debaters and their noisy supporters, but also to rule on what is ‘Sadhu’ (permissible) or ‘A-sadhu’ (not permissible) and what is true (Sat) what is just a bluff (A-sat). And, when one debater repeatedly oversteps and breaches the accepted code of conduct, the Madyastha might have to disqualify him and award the debate to the other; or, he may even disqualify both the parties and scrap the event declaring it  null and void.


Vatsayana, the commentator of the Nyaya Sutra finds the Vitanda debate irrational and rather pointless. He observes that it is unfair that a debater is simply allowed to get away with irresponsible statements, particularly when he is neither putting forward a thesis nor is defending one. In fact, most of the times, he has no position of his own, but attacks rabidly whatever the other debater utters. This is a travesty and abuse of the platform.

According to Vatsayana, the format of Vitanda is totally wrong. Vatsayana insists, whatever might be the tactics adopted by Vaitandika, he must be forced to specify his stand. And, when the opponent states his thesis, the Vaitandika must be asked either to accept it or oppose it.  If he concedes, the debate is virtually over. And, if he argues against the thesis, he must argue logically, in which case he gives up his status of Vaitandika (refuter). And, if he does not choose either of the options then, his rationale should be questioned; or, the debate be brought to an end, if need be, by disqualifying him.

Vatsayana’s observations and recommendations are sound and healthy. But, sadly, they were hardly acted upon.


Sources and References:

A History of Indian Logic: Ancient, Mediaeval, and Modern Schools

By Mahamahopadyaya Satis Chandra Vidyabhusana

The Character of Logic in India Edited  by Bimal Krishna Matilal, Jonardon Ganeri, Heeraman Tiwari

The Nyâya Sûtras of Gotama by Nandalal Sinha

Hindu Philosophy  by Theos Bernard

Categories of Cognition and Proof – Shodhganga

A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1 By Surendranath Dasgupta

The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought  by  David B. Zilberman

History of Indian philosophy: The philosophy of the Veda and of …, Volume 1 By Erich Frauwallner


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Shishira Rtu

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

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

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

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

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

floral design3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. Shishira

Shishira Rtu

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

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

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

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

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

Aayanas and change of seasons

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

small pox

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

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

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

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

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

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


B. Birds and flowers


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

sea geese in ontario

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

. For details please click here.

 Flowering trees

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

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


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


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


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

Haladi mara

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

Moulmein Rose Wood

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

Pink Tabebuia

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

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

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


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

You may find these links useful while teaching the children

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



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

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


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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Other ways


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


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


References and sources

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



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Siddha and the way of Rasa

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

Siva Appears as a Siddha


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

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

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

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

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

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

Natha siddha lianage

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nava-nāthas, the nine Nathas are:

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

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

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

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

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

Hata yoga

3. Ayurveda and Rasa-shastra

It is said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kaviraj Bhudeb Mookerji

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

Mercury in Ayurveda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mercury in Siddha traditions

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

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

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


Rasa Siddhas and Natha Siddhas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kubjika secret goddess

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

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

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

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

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

                 kubjikA Yantra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please also refer to: ]

siddhi chakra yantra

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



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

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

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

Siva- devi

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

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

siddhas alchemists

Alchemist Siddhas

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

Shiva as Hata Yogi

Shiva as Hata yogi2

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Agni and Varuna


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

group of Nath yogis

 Decline of the Siddha traditions

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

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


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


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


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

siddhas3 Tantric

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

Natha yogi

 [ A Note:

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

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


Sources and References

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

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

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

Alchemically purified and solidified mercury by  Petri Murien



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


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Indian History by a Schoolboy !!!

You have read many scholarly, educative and enlightening articles on HISTORY on this site. You have grown wiser reading the articles posted by Subash Kak, Rajeev Malhotra, azygos and Riverine and of the ilk.

None of that holds a candle to the one you are about to read. It is educative and entertaining. It takes the cake. It is written by a schoolboy! It is not surprising; the Indian kids are the brightest in the world. (What they turnout to be when they grow up is a different matter.)

This is a delight.

Indian History by a Schoolboy !!!

The original inhabitants of ancient India were called Adidases, who lived in two cities called Hariappa and Mujhe-na-Daro. These cities had the best drain system in the world and so there was no brain drain from them.

Ancient India was full of myths which have been handed down from son to father. A myth is a female moth. A collection of myths is called mythology, which means stories with female caricatures. One myth says that people in olden times worshipped monkeys because they were our incestors.

In olden times, there were two big families in India . One was called the Pandava and the other was called the Karova. They fought amongst themselves in a battle called Mahabharat, after which India came to be known as Mera Bharat Mahan.

In midevil times, India was ruled by the Slave Dienasty. So named because they all died a nasty death. Then came the Tughlaqs who shifted their capital from Delhi because of its pollution.

They were followed by the Mowglis. The greatest Mowgli was Akbar because he extinguished himself on the battlefield of Panipat which is in Hurryana. But his son Jehangir was peace loving; he married one Hindu wife and kept 300 porcupines. Then came Shahajahan who had 14 sons. Family planning had not been invented at that time. He also built the Taj Mahal hotel for his wife who now sleeps there.

The king sent all his sons away to distant parts of India because they started quarrelling. Dara Seiko was sent to UP, Shaikh Bhakhtiyar was sent to J & K, while Orangezip came to Bombay to fight Shivaji. However, after that they changed its name to Mumbai because Shivaji’s sena did not like it. They also do not like New Delhi , so they are calling it Door Darshan.

After the Mowglis came Vasco the Gama. He was an exploder who was circumcising India with a 100 foot clipper. Then came the British. They brought with them many inventions such as cricket, tramtarts and steamed railways. They were followed by the French who brought in French fries, pizzazz and laundry. But Robert Clive drove them out when he deafened Duplex who was out-membered since the British had the queen on their side.

Eventually, the British came to overrule India because there was too much diversity in our unity. The British overruled India for a long period. They were great expotents and impotents. They started expoting salt from India and impoting cloth. This was not liked by Mahatma Gandhi who wanted to produce his own salt. This was called the Swedish moment. During this moment, many people burnt their lion cloths in the street and refused to wear anything else. The British became very angry at this and stopped the production of Indian testiles.

In 1920, Mahatma Gandhi was married to one wife. Soon after he became the father of the nation. In 1942, he started the Quiet India moment, so named because the British were quietly lootoing our country. In 1947, India became free and its people became freely loving. This increased our population. Its government became a limited mockery, which means people are allowed to take the law in their own hands with the help of the police.

Our constipation is the best in the world because it says that no man can be hanged twice for the same crime. It also says you cannot be put in prison if you have not paid your taxis. Another important thing about our constipation is that it can be changed. This is not possible with the British constipation because it is not written on paper.

The Indian parlemint consists of two houses which are called lower and higher. This is because one Mr. Honest Abe said that two houses divided against itself cannot withstand. So Pandit Nehru asked the British for freedom at midnight since the British were afraid of the dark. At midnight , on August 15, there was a tryst in parlemint in which many participated by wearing khaki and hosting the flag.

Recently in India , there have been a large number of scams and a plaque, it can be dangerous because many people died of this plaque in Surat . Scams are all over India . One of these was in Bihar where holy cows were not given anything to eat by their elected leader. The other scam was in Bofor which is a small town in Switzerland . In this, a lot of Indian money was given to buy a gun which can shoot a coot.

Presently, India has a coalishun government made up of many parties, left, right and centre. It has started to library the economy. This means that there is now no need for a licence as the economy will be driven by itself.

India is also trying to become an Asian tiger because its own tigers are being poached. Another important event this year was the Shark Meeting at Malas Dive. At this place, shark leaders agreed to share their poverty, pollution and population.



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Posted by on September 2, 2012 in Uncategorized


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A Medicinal system for the benefit of plants

All of us know very well about the health systems that work for the benefit of humans and animals. Many may also be familiar with the ancient Indian (Auyur-Veda), Chinese (Zhōngyī xué) and Tibetan (gSoba Rig-pa) health systems for the humans. However, not many may be aware of an ancient medicinal system devised to ensure healthy growth of plants, trees and preservation of environment; and that too an Indian one! Well, is there really such a system? Yes, there is one. It is Vrikshayurveda (Sanskrit term to mean the Plant Life Science or the Science of Plant Life) – (Vriksha = tree + Ayur- Veda = science of life).

2. Vrikshayurveda

2.1 It is interesting that ancient India not only had a medical science for the humans (Auyur-Veda) but also a one for the plants, called Vrikshayurveda. The earliest references to such a science are in the Rig-Veda and Atharvaveda. The other books that provide valuable information are Kautilya’s Artha-sastra, Amarsimha’s Amarkosha, Patanjali’s Mahabhasya, Krishi-Parashara, and Varahmihira’s Brhat Samhita etc. But, no   independent texts seem to have been written on the subject. The oral tradition   however regarded Surapala’s Vrikshayurveda as a credible compendium. Sadly, the actual text of Surapala was not available.

2.2 It was only in the   year 1996 i.e. after Dr. Y. L.  Nene (Asian Agri-History Foundation , India ) procured the manuscript from the Bodleian Library, Oxford , UK and Dr. Nalini Sadhale translated it into English; Surapala’s work became known to the modern world.

[ Shri keshavapuri , however mentions :

the book Vrikshayurveda was published in English translation long back in 1935 from kolkata. it is still available over internet. Vrikshayruveda has been published in Kannada in 1950, 1972,, 1990 etc/. the reprint of 1935 edition was published in 1994 from Bengaluru. No one of the so called modern minded people took cognizance of the subject.]

3. The manuscript written in a form of Sanskrit since extinct runs into 60 pages containing 325 well-knit verses , describing, among other things, characteristics of 170 plants. Surapala’s work puts forth authoritative opinions on several issues concerning plant life such as procuring, preserving, treating of seeds before planting; preparing pits for planting saplings; selection of soil; method of watering; nourishments and fertilizers; plant diseases and plant protection from internal and external diseases , remedies there to; layout of a garden; agricultural and horticultural wonders; groundwater resources; etc.    It is a comprehensive and a systematic compendium on all issues of plant life and environment.


4. Surapala

4.1 A word about Surapala before we get to know  his work; no definite facts are available about him or his time (as it usually happens in Indian history). Historians approximate his time as 10th century A.D. He was a renowned and a highly respected physician in the court of the King Bhima Pala. Judging by the soil types, plants, and environments discussed in the work, historians surmise Surapala lived in the Gangetic plain i.e. the present day U.P / Bihar region.

4.2 Surapala calls his work a compendium of Auyur-Veda as applied to plants. He expresses indebtedness to the earlier scholars but declares that in writing the present text his own reasoning was his guide.

4.3 What were the Ayur–Vedic principles applied ?

5. Auyur-Veda grafted on plants

5.1 As per Ayur – Veda   all substances ,all physical  and mental constitutions , all ailments and all curative processes are pancha –bhautika in character , meaning they are related to the ambiance created by the composition of five elements viz. earth , water , fire , air and space. Further, it assumes that a person’s constitution, health and disease are a result of the balance/imbalance of three different biological systems – vata, pitta and kapha. While Vata controls all the movements in the body, pitta takes care of chemical reactions and biosynthesis of various compounds within the body. Kapha, on the other hand, deals with balanced growth, development and functioning of the body. If the functions of these three humors were well balanced, then the individual would be in a healthy condition. An imbalance within or between them, would lead to various kinds of ailments. This is the tri-dosha-siddhanta. The primary purpose of Ayur – Veda   is to restore/ maintain proper balance of vata, pitta and kapha. In Surapala’s work, these concepts are grafted on to the plants as well. According to him, the plant condition, health –sickness, cause –remedies etc. all are to be viewed through the prism of Ayur-Veda.

5.2 Interestingly, the ideological structure of Ayur – Veda itself is in the image of a tree. It employs terms such as root, trunk, branches, leaves etc. while describing the disease cause, its symptoms, diagnosis, remedy etc.

5.3 Surapala advocates a holistic crop management system. He stresses the use of suitable cultivars, use of good seeds, pre-sowing treatment of seeds, use of suitable soils, growing intercrops, having optimum plant population, balanced nutrition, optimum use of water, timely weeding, protection from disorders by use of herbal products or dead animal wastes, harvest at the right stage, and seed drying and storage

6. A word of caution    Surapala also comes up with a number of impractical suggestions, untested methods, fanciful ideas that do not make sense. Therefore, caution, discretion, further study and research should go along with the enthusiasm to accept  the book.

[ Shri keshavapuri does not agree with this view. He points out:

Such caution is  meaningless. this opinion is formed without any practical knowledge of the subject. All these methods in Vrikshayruveda have been tried on large scale which is still unknown to the many, practical implementation of Vrikshayruveda can solve many problems of the modern day world like pollution of all types, which is yet unknown to many.]

The text is a very helpful compendium in deed.


7.  Continuing on  Vrikshayurveda, the science of the treatment of plants in other ancient texts, Prof. Girija Prasanna Majumdar writes in his Vanaspati: plants and plant-life as in Indian treatises and traditions (Published by the University of Calcutta 1927, pages: 46-49) refers to passages in Agni Purana, Brihat-samhita of Varahamihira, and other texts dealing with maintenance and treatment of plants:

Just as the human body is subject to jaundice, dropsy,  emaciation and defects (dwarfness) of finger, nose, etc., etc., so also plants suffer from similar diseases such as inception of disease, displacement or dislocation of flower, fruit, leaves, bark.

And just as by the application of the appropriate remedies unnatural growth, deterioration, wounds, fractures, etc., can be cured, so also in plants by application of proper drugs as prescribed in Vrikshayurveda.

Varahamihira gives the following signs of the diseased condition of plants:   Cold climate (low temperature), wind (dryness) and sun (high temperature) are the causes of disease. When the plant is diseased, the leaves become yellow (etiolated), buds (pravalanam) do not develop or their growth arrested, branches become dry and the sap (rasa} exudes.

Kasyapa says: those plants that have yellow leaves (pandurii patreshu), that are fruitless and denuded of leaves arid those caused by coldness, excessive heat, too much rain, dry wind and by the intermingling of roots of different plants are to be known as diseased, and are to be treated accordingly


Remedies that are prescribed are both preventive and curative.

As a general prophylactic, Varahamihira says:   As a sort of general prophylactic, mud kneaded with ghee and Vidanga (Embelica glandulifera) should be applied to the roots; and, after which milk diluted with water should be poured.

Agni Purana also recommends similar remedies: Vidanga mixed with rice, fish and flesh all these mixed together constitute a remedy invigorating to the plants and curative of their diseases.

As regards the curatives:

A cure is prescribed for that most incurable of diseases barrenness. Varahamihira prescribes: as a remedy against barrenness, a hot decoction should be made of Kulattha (Dolichos biflorus), Masha (Phaseolus mungo var Roxburghii), Mudga (Ph. radiatus), Tila (Sesamum indicum) and Yava (Barley) which when cooled should be poured round the roots.

Almost an identical recipe occurs in the Agni Purana: Vidanga and ghee kneaded with mud and sprinkled with cold water together with Kulattha, Masha, Mungo, Yava and Tila should be used in a case of barrenness (phala-nashi).


8. Further Reading :

1). Sadhale, Nalini (Tr.). 1996.   Surapala’s Vrikshayurveda (The Science of Plant Life by Surapala). Agri- History Bulletin No.1. Asian Agri-History Foundation, Secunderabad – 500 009,   India .

THE PRINTED BOOK IS HARD TO GET. BUT, YOU MAY GET TO READ THE TEXT ON THE NET  ( the original manuscript in Sanskrit, with English commentary) AT





3) Also  Click to follow the links::


tree of life


Posted by on September 1, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The varieties of human expressions are almost infinite. There are the bodily expressions through face, eyes, limbs, fingers etc. There are also the expressions through voice such as talking, shouting, crying, singing etc. There is another whole range of expressions through dancing ,  writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, etching, weaving, building, crafting; and through various types of instruments and also through light and shades etc. In addition, there is the complex and exaggerated forms of expressions that combine a variety of these art forms, in an ingenious manner, to produce a sensitive or a stunningly spectacular , mammoth art or a commercial expression, whichever way you choose to look at it.
I am talking about theater or opera productions and films.
Each of these carries its sub-forms. It is virtually impossible to enumerate all the modes of human expressions. Most of these expressions have flowered into valid art forms. What I do not know of each of those can fill several Universities
As one who had to produce words to make a living, I strived at writing a passably good prose in order to make myself understood. I am aware my prose does not measure up to “industry” standards. Poetry interested me a great deal, though I was incapable of writing any sort of poetry. Poetry appealed to the other side of my mind that longed to be lost amidst the flights of fantasy or loved to scale the peaks of idealism or to caress the tender graces of love. Listening to music was of course an experience of wandering in the land of delight. It is an art and an entertainment; closer to my heart.
As the years progressed, I realized there was another form of sublime expression that I had not meaningfully cultivated ; and , it was ideally suited to exploring the Self. I am talking about silence. It is the silence of a kind I had not known before.
I realize Prose is the language of the mind, while poetry is the heart speaking through the medium of mind. The music, on the other hand, is the language of the heart. It emanates from heart and reaches the heart of the listener. These forms of expressions relate to the instruments of mind and heart. There is the human mind; the earth bound mind; ever  judging and doubting the reality in others. But, we have also the loving and the aspiring heart; free from insecurity, eager to establish oneness with the rest of the world. Both of these – head and the heart – explore the known and the unknown, in their own way.
Silence of course is the most sublime and the ultimate form of expression. It transcends the limitations of the mind, thought, voice and the heart. It encompasses in itself all other forms of expressions. It is the language of the Soul.
Let us briefly talk about forms of expressions in prose, poetry, music and silence.
Here is the essence of mankind’s creative genius:
Prose is the lifeblood of the day to day living. It has the ability to produce concise descriptive expressions, to make life possible among our fellow beings. With the use of language and prose we grope toward understanding; and to  , some degree , intelligently respond to what meets us in the lived world. But since we live more deeply than we can think, we are always short of appropriate expressions. That forces us to improvise,to  innovate and to coin, each day, a new term to keep pace with the world streaking past us at breakneck speed. Keeping pace with the times is surely a true sign of a living and a dynamic language.
The growth of the language , however , is always regulated and governed by its grammar. The rigidity of grammar, the orderly structure and its disciplines are essential to preserve the identity and the purity of a language and its form.
A good prose aims at full expression within the limitations set by the grammar. Within that approved format a sentence is born of two elements: a thought and then a structure chosen out of an infinite number of possibilities which express the thought. It tries to present the ideas with lucidity and with slight ornamentation; to say it clearly and to make it beautiful, no matter what.
The test of a good prose is its ease and its readability; leading you on from each sentence, paragraph and page to the next; not letting your interest wane. It not merely expresses a thought or a feeling that captivates you; but, it also succeeds in evoking a cascade of thoughts and emotions.
For that reason, a good prose is comparable to music. A good book is worth reading not merely for the thought it contains but also for the thought which it inspires; just as the charm of music dwells not in the tones but in the echoes of our hearts. Inspire (from the Latin inspirare) means to breathe life into another. As Gass once said, “Language serves not only to express thought but also to make possible thoughts which could not exist without it.”
Once you have learned to trust your own voice and allowed that creative force inside you to come out, you can direct it to write short stories, novels, and essays and so on.
A good prose is essentially giving a lucid expression to a well composed mind. Prose is the language of the mind.
Poetry is a more liberated form of expression, as compared to prose. One cannot easily define poetry. As Dr. Johnson exclaimed “Sir, what is poetry? Why, Sir, it is much easier to say what it is not. We all know what light is; but it is not easy to tell what it is.”
Poetry discards the rigidity, the disciplines and the correctness of the structure prescribed by the grammar. Poetry enjoys the voluptuous malleability and freedom with words and sounds; it bends and twists them in any number of ways. Its concern is not so much with the correctness of form than with the sensitivity, refinement and brevity in expression of a range of thoughts, feelings as also  human emotions of joy, sorrow, grief, hope, despair, anger and fulfillment.
Poetry  has the soft power to compress lengthy passages of prose into a few lines of wit and wisdom. That is the reason why some call poetry, life distilled.
Poetry can be subtle and suggestive. The imagery that poetry evokes can hardly be captured in words. What is unsaid in poetry is more evocative than the explicit. “Poetry is the opening and closing of a door leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during a moment” as Carl Sandburg said.

[ Poetry, in the Indian traditions, is often called ‘vyakaranasya puccham’ – the tail piece or the appendix of Grammar. The Grammar determines the correctness of the words and their arrangement within a sentence. The poetry is however more concerned with the appropriateness and mutual relations among the words.  The poetry, as far as possible, follows Grammar. But , when it finds that the rules of Grammar are too constrained or suffocating , it switches over to other means of expressions that are more appropriate or conducive to its natural flow; or , it invents its own means. At times, when those inventive expressions of poetic suggestions are so charming and become so popular, they walk into Grammar per se.  Scholars like Nagesha Bhatta say that Grammarians must necessarily accept (svikara avashyakah) the power of suggestion (Dhvani) that poetry alone can display – vyakarananamapi etat svikara avashyakah).

It is, therefore, often said that the poets enjoy a rare privilege; and a certain liberty that others cannot claim. They seem to have the license to wield the language in any manner they choose, appropriate to their work. In a way of speaking; a poet can typically write ‘against the natural language’; breaking conventions, transgressing grammatical rules, and saying what could not have been said ordinarily.]

Poetry , thus, has the power to set us free from the limited confines of our regimen, existence and personality. It is the language in which man explores his own amazement. Poetry represents the world as a man chooses to sees it, while science represents the world as he looks at it. It is the difference between seeing with the heart, and looking at the world unfeelingly. Poetry is Truth, but not necessarily reality.
Poetry is a search for syllables to express an unknown. It is direct and universal. It appeals to the heart. It finds its echo in another heart. Poetry is the heart talking through the mind.
Music is surely the most basic of human expressions and predates the written word. The melodic and rhythmic patterns are natural to humans and are tied to the unique expression of their various cultures. Music and man have influenced each other in a variety of ways, over the ages. Music and sound have infiltrated society on many levels, from sinister use in propaganda to simple listening pleasure. Our actions and emotional responses are greatly influenced by what we hear.
Music does not need a specific language ; and, its sounds need not carry meanings to be enjoyed as such. Music is the language of languages; and, is the universal language of mankind. Music is the vernacular of the heart.
It can be internal and personal, or uniting and widespread. Everyone can and does participate in music; whether it is creating, listening, or simply singing or humming a tune. From an entire orchestra to a single whisper, memories, new ideas and a whole spectrum of feelings can be roused. Music may produce expressions of various emotions – peaceful, relaxing, exciting, festive, boring, unsettling, unstimulating, invigorating … and so on. We can close our eyes to escape from the visual world; even in silence we can hear breathing and the heartbeat, keeping the sense of rhythm that marks the progression of time.
Music is an extremely versatile medium of human expression. It is capable of exploring all the features that are used in verbal communication; and can go beyond. Its sounds carry no meaning; yet, give expression to sorrow, joy, peace and prayer in a manner the words are incapable of achieving.
Music can express itself directly and does not need the aid of explanations to reach the listener. For instance, when one writes the most often repeated set of words ”I love you”, it carries with it an infinite shades of meanings. The author has to, each time, prop this term with additional words to provide explanations to clarify which one of those meanings, his set of three famous words meant to say. The mere words “I love you” when written could mean: I like you, I desire you, I want you sexually, or even to mean I hate you. It could be a barely audible murmur full of surrender; a wish for emotional gratification; a heartfelt admiration; a hope for love relationship; a request for intimacy; a submissiveness, a begging to be accepted; a longing for comfort and tenderness; a conquest; a dry meaningless repetition; a mockery or charade; a whiplash of cruelty; or it could a deceit or anything else.
Music can expresses all these and more, spontaneously, without external aid. When words fail to express the sentiments and finer emotions of the human heart, music takes the place of the sublimated language. Moreover, it does so in an explicit and structured way, which makes it an interesting window into human understanding, in general. There is none that more powerfully moves and touches consciousness, than music.
Music is so ideally suited to express the worlds beyond petty human concerns. It can say that which cannot be said and that on which it is impossible to be silent.. It emanates from the heart and the success of it is ultimately in the heart of the listener. Music is such an experience. It is the language of the heart.
After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
Silence is sublime; and is the ultimate form of human expression. It envelops within itself all other forms of expressions. Every thought and every word is born out of silence, dies back into silence; and, during its life span is surrounded by silence. Silence lends the voice a space for it to reverberate. In silence resounds a voice;and , in voice silence finds its existence. Silence endows identity to thought and sound. Poetry consists in turning the invisible silence into perception and voice.
One cannot understand the value of silence unless one respects the validity of language, for the reality that waits to be expressed in language resides in silence. It would be impossible to think of a voice without thinking of silence; the two are inseparable. Voice and silence coexist in ones heart. If noise is the inner chaos , silence is the inner peace. That peace cannot be attained by letting one fight against the other. Peace and silence has to be attained gradually through continuous self discipline. The purpose of silence is to be able to see and hear clearly.
The silence we are talking about is not just the absence of sound; but it is the very space of our being and is with us every moment of our life. It transcends speech and thought. Silence also means silence from thoughts. There is something beyond mind that abides in silence. Silence is a quality; it is an experience. A silent mind, freed from slashing waves of thought and thought patterns is a more potent medium of understanding than words.
All religious traditions therefore stress the importance of being quiet and still in mind .They tell us that when mind is still , the Truth gets a chance to be heard in the purity of silence. They ask us to let-go all attachments, rather than fight noise. We are asked to let go of our thoughts, emotions and everything; and see what is left. We are asked to watch for that imperceptible interval of infinitesimal duration between thoughts; and seize that silence, hold on to that minute fraction in space and time and let the mind stay open. If we could do that, we are told, we are awake, at last.
Silence stabilized is fulfillment. That inner silence brings us in contact with the reality. It is that state of silence, stability and openness which transcends speech and thought, which we call meditation. Zen Masters tell us that the essence of living dwells in visiting that infinitesimal zone of stillness and silence again and again; and enlarging it. “Silence is the essential condition of happiness” said a Zen Master.
At the core of Sri Ramana’s teachings is silence. He said the inner silence is ever speaking, it is the everlasting eloquence punctured by thoughts and words; and it is the best language (Para Vac). What exists in truth is Self which resides where there is no “I” ; and that is silence, he said.
Our sages’ right from Sri Dakshinamurthi to Sri Ramana Maharsi; and, from the Buddha to the Zen Masters imparted knowledge through silence. Their silence underlined the limitations of rational knowledge, futilities of the blind alleys of metaphysical queries and the frailty hollowness of words. Where silence reigns supreme, words are rendered redundant. The language of their silence helped dispel the doubts, the confusion and uncertainties in the minds of those around them sitting in silence. Silence flows from the transcendent Self and speaks best for the enlightened.
Silence is the language of the soul

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Posted by on August 9, 2012 in Uncategorized