Tag Archives: Tantra

The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine


Levels of speech

The various ancient texts speak of the levels of speech, which, generally, are taken to be four. Each School – Grammarians, Mimamsa, Upanishads, Tantra, Yoga, mythology etc – offers its own understanding and explanation of the four levels of speech. These levels are variously explained  as the varieties of  speech  that are said to be  spoken either in four regions of  the universe;  or spoken by divine beings and humans ; or as speech of the  humans , animals, birds and creatures .  These four are even explained as four levels of consciousness.

For our limited purpose, let us briefly scan through other interpretations, before we discuss  the Grammarians’ views and their explanations of the four levels of speech.


The Asya-vamiya – sukta  (Rig Veda: 1.140- 164) which is one the most philosophical , but  rather enigmatic Suktas (hymns) of Rig Veda, ascribed to Rishi Dīrghatamas  Aucathya  (son of  Ucathya  ),  who was  also called as Mamateya (son of Mamata) ,  mentions  about the levels of speech, among many other things.

According to Rishi Dīrghatamas, there are four levels of speech. Only the wise who are well trained, endowed with intelligence and understanding know them all. As for the rest; the three levels remain concealed and motionless. Mortals know  only  the fourth.

Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani / taani vidur braahmaanaa ye manishinaah. Guhaa trini nihita nengayanti / turiyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti. (Rigveda Samhita – 1.164.45)

But, he does not specify what those four levels of speech are.


The notion that there are four quarters or  four levels of existence ; and of which, only  one quarter is within the experience of mortals also appears in the Purusha-sukta  (Rig-Veda 10.90.3) ascribed to Rishi Narayana – Paadosya Vishva Bhutaani Tri-Paada-Asya-Amrtam Divi .

That idea of four quarters is extended to speech as well. The texts of several traditions speak of four levels of speech. For instance :

The Maitrayaniya (Maitri) Upanishad (1, 11.5), of Krishna Yajur-Veda, mentions the four quarters of speech as those belonging:  to the upper region – the heavens (Divi); to the intermediate space (Antariksha); and, to the region of earth (Prithvi) as spoken by the humans (Manusi); and, to the animals (Pashu).

The Atmavadins (mainly those belonging to Nyaya and Vaisesika Schools) say: the four fold speech can be found in the animals; in musical instruments (such a flute); in the beasts ; and,  in the individuals (Atmani)

–  pasusu tunavesu mrgesu atmani ca iti atmavadinah

The Satapatha Brahmana (1.3.16) categorizes the speech into four kinds: as that of the humans; of animals and birds (vayamsi); of reptiles (snakes); and, of small creeping things (kshudram sarisrpam)

– varā vā ia iti hi varā io yadida kudra sarīspa

Similarly, those who believe in myths and legends say that – the serpents; birds; evil creatures; as also the humans in their dealings with the rest of the world – all use speech of their own.

Sarpanam vagvayasam ksudrasarispasya ca caturthi vyavaharika-ityaitihasikah 

The Jaiminiya-Upanishad-Brahmana (1.40.1)  deals with the four levels of speech in a little more detail. In a verse that is almost identical to the one appearing in Rig-Veda Samhita – 1.164.45, it mentions that the discriminating wise know of four quarters of speech.  Three of these remain hidden; while the fourth is what people ordinarily speak.

Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani / taani vidur braahmaanaa ye manishinaah. Guhaa trini nihita nengayanti / turiyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti //

Then, the text goes on to explain that of the four quarters of speech: mind is a quarter, sight is another quarter, hearing is the third quarter; and, speech itself is the fourth quarter. 

 tasya etasyai vaco manah padas caksuh padas srotram pado vag eca caturtah padah

Further, it says: what he thinks with the mind, that he speaks with speech; what he sees with the sight, that he speaks with the speech; and, what he hears with hearing, that he speaks with speech.

 tad yad vai manasa dyayanti tad vaco vadati; yac caksus pasyati tad vaca vadati; yac srotrena srunoti tad vaco vadati/

Thus, finally, all activities of senses unite (Sam) into speech. Therefore speech is the Saman.


In the later Upanishads, speech is said to be assimilated with consciousness. The four divisions of speech are explained as four states of consciousness. For instance; Sri Gauda-Paada, the Parama-Guru of Sri Sankara (the teacher of his teacher) , in his celebrated commentary (Gaudapada-karika) on the Mandukya Upanishad while explaining his concept of Asparsha Yoga or pure knowledge,  identifies the four levels of speech with the four states of consciousness : Vishva or Vaisvanara in wakeful state (Jagrat); Taijasa in dream state (Svapna); Prajna in deep-sleep (Shushupti); and, Pranava AUM with Turiya, the fourth, the Absolute state which transcends all the three states and represents Ultimate Reality .


Explanations offered by Sri Sayana

Sri Sayana in his Rg-Bhashya   deals with the subject of four levels of speech in a little more detail. He says, people use speech in a variety of ways to fulfil their roles and responsibilities in life. And, similarly, the animals, birds, creatures and objects in nature do use their own sort of speech to serve their needs.  He  then , while explaining these four levels or quarters of speech (ani tani catwari ityatra bahavah) , remarks that  each School  offers explanations  (bahudha  varnayanti ) according to its own  tenets  (sva- sva-mantanu-rodhena). He, next, briefly mentions what those explanations are:

: – According to Vedantins, the four levels of speech could be the Pranava (Aum) – which is the sum and substance of all the Vedic terms (sarva-vaidika-vag-jalasaya), followed by three Vyahritis (Bhu, Bhuh and Suvah). Thus the Pranava along with three Vyahritis form the four quarters of speech.

: – According to Nirukta (Etymology), the language of the three Vedas (Rik, Yajus and  Saman ) and the speech commonly used  for dealings in the world , together make the four quarters of speech– (Rg-yajuh-samani-caturdhi vyavharikiti nairuktah )

: – The four levels of speech could also be related to four regions representing four deities : on the Earth as Agni (yo prthivyam sa-agnau); in the mid-air as Vayu (Ya-antarikshe sa vayau); and, in the upper regions as Aditya (Ya divi saditye). And whatever that remains and transcends the other three is in Brahman (Tasya-mad-brahmana).

: – The speech, though it is truly indivisible, is measured out or analyzed in the Grammar as of four kinds or four parts-of-speech (akhandayah krtsnaya vacah caturvidha vyakrtattvat).  Accordingly, the four divisions of speech are named by the followers of the various Schools of Grammar (vyakarana-matanus-arino) as: Naaman (Nouns), Akhyata (Verbs), Upasarga (prepositions or prefixes) and Nipata (particles)

:-  According to the wise who are capable of exercising control over their mind; the Yogis who have realized Sabdabrahman; and, others of the Mantra (Tantra) School,  these four levels of speech (Evam catvari vacah padani parimitani)  are classified as : Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari.

Manisinah manasah svaminah svadhinamanaska brahmana vacyasya sabdabrahmani dhigantaro yoginah paradicatvari padani viduh jananti 

Apare mantrkah parkarantarena pratipadanti Para, Pasyanti, Madhyama   Vaikhariti catvariti 


The power of the spoken word

In the Indian traditions, it is believed that it is only  in its oral form that the language becomes fully alive and reveals  its true nature , provided it is spoken properly.  For Indian thinkers, language was  primarily the spoken word or speaking itself (vac); while the written word, as a secondary aid, was only a coded-representation of the spoken word; but, without its nuances. Perhaps the most salient feature of ancient Indian linguistic culture was its concern for preserving the purity of the spoken word.

It was the speech, the spoken word not the written letter that is at the base of the Sanskrit grammar. All speculations and practices are concerned with the oral. Panini’s Astadhyayi is also based on the sounds of spoken Sanskrit. The spoken language in Sanskrit was/is the real language.

Therefore, right from the earliest period, the study of speech has been one of the major concerns of various Schools of Indian traditions. The power of the spoken word or still more of the potent un-spoken sound was well recognized.


Levels of awareness and speech

The notion of various levels of awareness and speech is accepted and discussed in almost all the Schools of Indian philosophy and Grammar. Although numerous meanings are read into the term catvari vak (four kinds or levels of speech), the one that is commonly understood and commented upon by most Grammarians and philosophers is the classification of speech into four strata: Para; Pashyanti; Madhyama; and, Vaikhari.

The entire system of such classification is rooted in the faith that at the top of this language hierarchy, there is only One-indivisible (ekameva) Reality; and, it transforms itself (Vivarta), manifests itself , resulting (Parinama) in  variety of  sounds,  word, sentence etc.

The theory underlying the evolution of speech is an extension of that faith; and it asserts, though there are several levels in the hierarchy of language, they all emanate from one indivisible reality Sabdabrahman. And again, the Sabdabrahman is identified with Para Brahman, the Absolute.

The principle that is involved here is also based in the dictum that diversity essentially pre-supposes an underlying unity (abedha-purvaka hi bhedah).  In other words, it says, where there is difference or division there must be a fundamental identity underneath it ; else, each cannot relate to the other; and , each object in the world would be independent of , or unconnected to  every other thing in existence.

This concept provides the foundation for treating all forms of speech as emanating from a single source. The various levels of language from the most subtle to the gross are, therefore, treated as hierarchy or the levels of a unitary language-system. Most of the philosophical speculations on the process of manifestation of language; and, the discussions upon its various stages – from the subtlest (Para) to the most explicit (Vaikhari) – are based in that principle.


Grammarians’ view

Each of the major schools of Indian philosophy and Grammar tried to explain the origin and nature of the Universe by exploring the nature and manifestations of the sound. They built elaborate philosophical edifices around the concepts they evolved during that process. Those traditions considered sound as one of the most important principles of existence; as the source of matter ; and , also the key to be free from it. They described Sound as the thread-like link connecting  the material and spiritual realms.

The analysis of the speech by the Grammarians is not merely an intellectual exercise, but is also a philosophical quest in an attempt to identify all forms of speech as originating from Sabda-Brahman, the ultimate ground of all speech phenomena. The study of Grammar was itself looked upon as a means or as a right-royal-path to liberation (moksha-manamam ajihma raja-paddhatih).


Speech was  regarded as the verbal expression of a thought that arises in a person’s consciousness. If there is no consciousness, there would be no speech. Speech (Vac) is indeed an outward form of consciousness (chetana). Vac is the word principle that gives expression to the latent or unmanifest thoughts and feelings.

That was meant to say; thinking is, in fact, a sort of internal speaking. Such inaudible speech was regarded the seed or the potent form of explicit speech that is heard by others. It was also said; all knowledge is interpreted in terms of words; and, it is quite not possible to have any sort of cognition that is free from words (Vakyapadiya: 1.123)

The process of transformation of a thought or an impulse arising in ones consciousness into a cognizable, explicit speech is said to resemble the evolution of the Universe from the un-manifest (A-vyakta) to the manifest (Vyakta) material world.

Such process of unfolding is said to take place, at least, in two stages. The first one is the thought that flashes and takes a form within. And, the other is that which comes out as audible speech riding the vehicle of words and sentences; attempting to convey the idea that arose within.  The former is intuition that springs up; and, the latter is the effort that is exerted, both internally and externally, to put it out.

Here, the latent, unspoken form of thought that instinctively springs up and is visualised, within one’s self, is called Pashyanti Vak (thought visualized). The Pashyanti, which also suggests the visual image of the word, is indivisible and without inner-sequence; in the sense, that the origin and destination of speech are one. Here, the ‘internal speech’ or ‘thought’ stands for what is intended to be conveyed. That intention is instinctive (prathibha) and immediate; and, it does not involve stages such as: analysis, speculation, drawing inferences and so on. At the level of Pashyanti Vak, there is no distinction between word and meaning. And, there is also no temporal sequence.

The Pashyanti Vak thereafter transforms into an intellectual process, the level of thought (Buddhi), during which the speaker looks for and identifies appropriate words, phrases, and their sequence, which are capable of conveying his intention candidly. That sequence of thoughts results in definite and clear array of words. As that cognition arises and takes a form within, he grasps it. This is the intermediate stage – The Madhyama vak, a sequenced but a pre-vocal thought – described as the voice of silence; perhaps best understood as internal speaking. Here, there is no perceptible sound (Nada). The Madhyama vak is in an inaudible wave or vibratory (spandana) form.

And, the Madhyama, when it is put out explicitly through uttered words and sentences; and, when it comes out of the speaker’s mouth in sequenced and verbalized speech-form, it is called Vaikhari Vak. For the purpose of putting out the Vaikhari Vac, the speaker employs a sentence comprising words uttered in a sequence. The word itself comprises letters or syllables (varnas) that follow one after the other in space and time.

Thus, the Vaikhari is the articulated speech, which, as sound waves, reaches the ears of the listener and then on to her/his intellect.  The Vaikhari is the physical or gross form of the subtle thought or is the outward expression of the intention of the speaker. And, when it emerges as the spoken-word, it is the one that is heard and apprehended by the listener, in a flash of understanding (Sphota). 

 [The process of Hearing, that is what is heard and grasped by the listener, of course, operates in the reverse direction.]

The spoken word comes out of one’s mouth, no doubt. However, it needs the assistance of breath and of several body parts in order to manifest itself (Vikhara literally means body; and, Vaikhari is that which employs bodily organs). The head, throat, tongue, palate, teeth, lips, nose, root of the tongue and bosom are said to be the eight places which assist  the sounds of the letters to become audible and explicit.

When a person wills to express a thought orally, the air (Prana) inside his body spurs and moves up. Sabda or the Vac (speech or utterance) then manifests through Dhvani (sound patterns), with the assistance of appropriate organs.

[The King Pratardana of Kasi (Kasi-rajah-Pratardanaha), in the Kausitaki Upanishad, makes an interesting observation that one cannot breathe and speak at the same time (‘when a man speaks he cannot breathe; and when he breaths he cannot speak’- kau.Up.2.5).

Yavadvai purusho bhasate na tavat-pranitum shaknoti pranam …. Yavadvai purushah praniti na tavat-bhashitum shaknoti vacam-kau.Up.2.5]

Thus, the transformation of a thought into spoken-words involves two kinds of effort: the internal process (abhyantara prayatna) and the external effort (bahya prayatna). The former is classified into two kinds (Pashyanti and Madhyama), while the latter (the external) is said to be of eleven kinds.

And, of the three levels or stages of speech, Pashyanti is regarded the subtle forms of Vac; while Madhyama and Vaikhari are its gross forms.

The chief characteristic of Vaikhari Vak is that it has a fully developed temporal sequence. At this level, the speaker’s individual peculiarities (such as accent, voice modulation etc) are present, along with relevant parts of speech. Though the Vaikhari gives expression to subtler forms of Vac, it is not considered as the’ ultimate’.


The ancient Grammarians went to great lengths, systematically, to trace the origination of each letter, its appropriate sound; the intricacies and efforts involved in producing them. (Please see the Note * below)


[* In the Sanskrit, the vowels and consonants sounds are classified and arranged dependent on their origin (pronunciation) in different parts of mouth, such as throat, palate, teeth or lips.

The vowels and consonants are so arranged that those emanating from the throat come first. These are followed by those pronounced through tongue; the palate; teeth and the lips. All sounds are arranged as those from the inside of the mouth proceeding outwards, in that order. No other ancient system of writing seems to have been so systematically thought out.

The vowels (Svara-s) , alternating long and short, come first : अ(a)  (aa)  इ(i)   ई(ee)  उ(u)  ऊ(oo)  ऋ(r)  ॠ(r)  लृ(lr)  ए(e)  ऐ(ai)  ओ(o)  and औ(au)

The commencing vowels अ(a) and  (aa)  are pronounced in the throat – Kantya  (कण्ठ्य). They are followed by vowels इ(i) and  ई(ee) produced by the tongue touching the base of the teeth ,Taalavya (तालव्य). The vowels उ(u)  and ऊ(oo)  are produced using the lips making a rounded opening – Oshtya (ओष्ठ्य).  The vowels ऋ(r) and ॠ(r) are produced by the tip of the tongue curling back against the roof of the mouth- Murdhanya (मूर्धन्य). The vowel लृ(lr) is produced by the tongue touching the upper teeth – Dantya (दंत्य).  The vowels ए (e) and ऐ (ai)   are produced near the throat by the tongue touching the bottom of the teeth and sucking in the air – Kanta-taalavya (कंटतालव्य).  The vowels  (o) and औ (au) produced near the throat by the rounding of the lips are called Kantoshtya (कंटोष्ठ्य).

The two ornamental nasal (Anusvara) letters अं (am) and  अः (aha ) ,which are used to decorate the vowels, are called the Visarga , meaning  sending forth . These sounds, which are neither consonants nor vowels, add a softening short burst effect at the end.  These are usually listed as a part of the vowel -group; but are shown at the end.

Similar is the emanation of the consonants – from throat outwards to the lips .

The set of consonants – क(ka) , ख(kha) , ग(ga) , घ(gha) , and ङ(nga) – are guttural (throaty) consonants – Kantya  (कण्ठ्य). Then the consonants – च(cha) , छ(chha) , ज(ja) , झ(jha) , and ञ(nja)- are pronounced on the palate- Taalavya (तालव्य). The next set of consonants –  ट(ta)  ,ठ(tha) , ड(da) , ढ(dha)  and ण(na) – is  produced by the tip of the tongue curling back against the roof of the mouthMurdhanya (मूर्धन्य). Next are  those on the teeth (दन्त्य), like – त(ta) , थ(tha) , द(da) , ध(dha) and  न(na) . And last come those on the lips प(pa)  फ(pha)  ब(ba)  भ(bha)  and म(ma) – (ओष्ठ्य). Oshtya (ओष्ठ्य).

The list is rounded off with semi-consonants like – य(ya) , र(ra) , ल(la)  and व(va) ; and the aspirated and sibilant sounds like श(sha)  ष(sha) ,  स(sh)  and ह (ha ).

Such unique organization of the alphabet underlines the attention paid to the patterns of articulated sound; points  of its location; and , to degree of resonance,  in a way that has not been attempted in any other language]

[ Abhinavagupta offers a mystic explanation of the arrangement of the Sanskrit alphabets, which are placed in between A and Ha. According to him, in the Sanskrit alphabet, the very first letter A stands for Shiva, the primal source of all existence. A is the initial emergence of all the other letters; and hence is Anuttara, the absolute. And, A not only represents the origin of the language; but, also the expansion of consciousness.

If A  the first letter represents Shiva the transcendent source, then Ha the final letter of the alphabet represents the point of completion when all the letters have emerged. If A is Shiva, Ha the last letter is Shakthi, His cosmic outpouring that flows back into Him.

Again, the vowels (Bija – the seed) are identified with Shiva; and, the consonants are Yoni identified with Shakthi. The intertwined vowels and consonants in a language are thus the union of Shiva and Shakthi.

Thus, the sequence of A to Ha contains within itself not only all the letters of the Alphabets, but also every phase of consciousness, both transcendental and universal.

The entire sequence of alphabets, according to Abhinavagupta, represents the state in which all the elements of experience, in the inner and the outer worlds, are fully displayed.]


Philosophers’ view

In the ancient traditions of India, the Grammar, the philosophy of Grammar and the Philosophy run into one another. At times, it is hard to separate them.

While the Grammarians, generally, speak about three levels of speech, the philosophers identify four levels or stages of speech (Vac): Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari.  Of these four forms of Vac, Para and Pashyanti are the subtle forms of Vac; while Madhyama and Vaikhari are its gross forms.

The explanations of the Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari are almost the same as offered by the Grammarians; however, their interpretations and connotations differ slightly.


It is said; the sound has four divisions:  Para manifested in Prana (vital energy); Pashyanti manifested in the mind (Manas); Madhyama manifested in the senses (Indriyani); and, Vaikhari manifested in articulate expressions (Vac).

Para Vac is the ultimate and unmanifest principle of speech, the Sabda-tattva (Sabdasya tattvam or Sabda eva tattvam), where there is no subject-object distinction; and, is of the nature of the Absolute (vag vai Brahmeti).

Para vac is identified with Pranava (Aum), the primordial speech-sound from which all forms of speech emanated. It transforms or manifests (Vivarta or parinama) as all forms of sounds, speech etc.


According to Abhinavagupta, word is a symbol. The four stage of Vac: Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari represent its four phases of evolution and also of absorption; the ascent or descent from the undifferentiated to the gross.

It is explained; Para Vac as Sabda-Brahman is the creative energy (Shakthi) that brings forth all existence. It is also the consciousness (chit, samvid), vital energy (prana shakthi) that vibrates (spanda) and enlivens.

While Para Vac is pure consciousness; the three other forms are its transformations. The three lower forms of speech viz. Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari which correspond to intention, formulation and expression are said to represent ts powers , such as :  iccha-shakthi (power of intent or will) , jnana-shakthi (power of knowledge) and the power of becoming (bhuti sakti) or the power of action (Kriya shakthi  ). Thus, out of the transcendent Para, the three phases of its power (Shakthi) emanate.

The urge to communicate or the spontaneous evolution of Para into Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari   epitomizes the Cosmic act of One becoming many; and, the subtle energy transforming into a less- subtle matter.

Thus, the speech, each time it emanates, is an enactment, in miniature, of the unfolding (Vimarsa) of the One into many.  And each time, when that speech is grasped by the listener and each time it merges into her/his intellect, it re-enacts the process of absorption (Samhara) of the many into One.

The process of manifestation of speech is, thus, compared to the evolution of the Universe. And, that process is said to take place in four stages. First, in the undifferentiated substratum of thought, an intention appears. This first impulse, the self-radiant consciousness is Para-vac (the voice beyond).  This latent, un-spoken, un-manifest, silent thought (Para) unfolds itself in the next three stages as Pashyanti (thought visualized), Madhyama (intermediate)   and as Vaikhari  (explicit) speech).

In its second stage, the subtle thought visualised (pashyanthi-vak) is yet to acquire a verbal form. It is the first sprout of an invisible seed (Bija); and, is the second stage in the manifestation of thought or intention. Then the potential sound, the vehicle of the thought, materializes finding   words suitable to express the idea. This transformation of thought into words, in the silence of the mind (Buddhi), is the third or the intermediate stage of Vac (Madhyama-vak). From this non-vocal or un-voiced thought, emerges the fourth stage – the audible sound patterns. It is in that fourth stage, the ideas acquire cognizable forms of speech; and, are transmitted through articulated audible syllables (vaikhari-vak).  These four stages are the four forms of the speech.



The three- Pashyanthi, Madhyama and Vaikhari – are construed as the three sides of the triangle at the centre of which is the dot-point (Bindu) representing the undifferentiated notion of Para-Vak. The triangle with the Bindu at its centre suggests the idea of Isvara the divinity conceived as non-dual Shiva-Shakti.

In the traditions of Tantra, the process of evolution of the principle of speech (Sabda Brahman) from its most subtle and soundless state of sound – consciousness (Para), in successive stages, into the gross physical speech (Vaikhari) is explained through the principle underling the structure of Sri Chakra.


Sri Yantra is a ‘Cosmogram’ – a graphic representation of the processes of evolution (Sristi) of the Universe emanating from its core; and, re-absorption (Samhara) of the created existence back into itself. And, at the very core or the centre of the Sri Chakra is the Bindu, the dimensionless point about to expand immensely. The Bindu denotes what is hidden; the subtle and the most sensitive.

It is said; the true nature of the Supreme Goddess is beyond mind and matter. She is limitless and formless. She is Arupa. But, when She takes a form, the Bindu is her intense representation. The Bindu symbolizes Her most subtle micro form as the Universal Mother, womb, yoni, creator, retainer as also the receiver of the created universe. It is this Bindu that is, in reality, the Sri Chakra; and, everything else is an expansion and manifestation of its aspects.

The Sri Vidya texts call the Bindu also as Sarva-ananda-maya (all blissful); and, the transcendental power (Para Shakthi). It denotes the absolute harmony (saamarasya) between Shiva and Shakthi; as the immense potential of the non-dual Shiva-Shakthi, the union of Purusha and Prakriti.

The evolution (shristi) from the primary state into the mundane level is said to be the apparent separation of Shiva and Shakthi (avarohana karma). And, the reverse process of re-absorption or withdrawal from the gross to the very subtle state is termed Samhara karma.

According to Sri Vidya ideology, in the process of evolution (Vimarsa), that is in the process of shristi or the outward movement or descending arc of creative activity, the speech proceeds from the creative consciousness pulsations (spanda) of the Devi as Para-Vac, the most subtle and silent form of speech-consciousness. And, in successive stages or forms,  it moves on to more cognizable forms as : Pashyanti (Vak-shakthi, going forth as seeing, ready to create in which there is no difference between Vachya– object and Vachaka-word); Madhyama (the speech in its subtle form as existing in the anthahkarana prior to manifestation); and, Vaikhari (as articulated gross physical speech).

If the Bindu represents the Para-Vac, its immediate expanded form, the triangle formed by three points, represents the Pashyanti, the second stage of the sound (Nada). The enclosure next to this, the eight sided figure (ashta kona chakra) is the Madhyama or the third stage in the development of sound. The rest of the Chakra represents the physical or the phenomenal stage, the Vaikhari, which is the manifest and articulate form of sound. The Vaikhari form is represented by the fifty letters of the alphabet, called Matrka-s or the source of all transactions and existence.

Thus, in the process of Sristi, in the outward movement from the centre of Reality to the periphery, from the most sublime to the ordinary, the Para assumes different forms, in successive stages. All these four forms, apparently different, are indeed the manifestations of Para Vac which pervades the entire structure of speech and consciousness, in all their levels – from the highest to the lowest; and, it transforms (Vivarta) projects itself in various forms (Parinama).  

 (Abhinavagupta treats these aspects in a very elaborate manner. We shall talk about the explanations provided by Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari in the next part.)



 The Tantra explains the concept of Mantra and Japa in a similar manner.

Mantra is said to connect, in a very special way, the objective and subjective aspects of reality. The Mantra, in its sublime form, is rooted in pure consciousness. The Shaiva text Shiva Sutra describes Mantras as the unity of Vac and consciousness: Vac chittam (Shiva Sutra: 2.1). It is the living sound, transcending beyond the mental plane; the indistinct or undefined speech (anirukta) having immense potential.  In its next stage, it unites harmoniously with the mind. Here, it is union of mind (Manas) and word (Vac).  That is followed by the Mantra repeated in the silence of one’s heart (tushnim). The silent form of mantra is said to be superior to the whispered (upamasu) utterance.

[When one utters a deity’s Mantra, one is not naming the deity, but is evoking its power as a means to open oneself to it. It is said; mantra gives expression to the identity of the name (abhidana) with the object of contemplation (abhideya). Therefore, some describe mantra as a catalyst that’ allows the potential to become a reality’. It is both the means (upaya) and the end (upeya).]

The reverse is said to be the process of Japa (reciting or muttering the mantra). It moves from Vaikhari through Madhyama towards Pashyanti and ideally, and in very cases, to Para vak.

Ordinarily, Japa starts in Vaikhari form (vocal, muttering). The efficacy of the Japa does depend on the will, the dedication and the attentiveness of the person performing the Japa. After long years of constant practice, done with devotion and commitment, an extraordinary thing happens. Now, the Japa no longer depends on the will or the state of activity of the practitioner. It seeps into his consciousness; and, it goes on automatically, ceaselessly and inwardly without any effort of the person, whether he is awake or asleep. Such instinctive and continuous recitation is called Ajapa-japa. When this proceeds for a long-time, it is said; the consciousness moves upward (uccharana) and becomes one with the object of her or his devotion.

[The term Ajapa-japa is also explained in another manner. A person exhales with the sound ‘Sa’; and, she/he inhales with the sound ‘Ha’. This virtually becomes Ham-sa mantra ( I am He; I am Shiva). A person is said to inhale and exhale 21,600 times during a day and night. Thus, the Hamsa mantra is repeated (Japa) by everyone, each day, continuously, spontaneously without any effort, with every round of breathing in and out. And, this also is called Ajapa-japa.]



The system of Yoga also accepts and speaks in terms of Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari. Here, those terms are meant to denote different sounds (Nada) or the stages of consciousness. It is explained:

: – Para is the most subtle form of sound, not audible; and, in its un-manifest (Avyakta) form resides as Nada at the base (Karana-bindu) in the centre of the Muladhara-chakra, solar plexus (Ekaiva nadatmika vak muladharadudita sati Para ityucyate)


: – And, with the ascent of Prana (vital energy) it moves up to Manipuraka-chakra in the region of navel; and, it is transformed to Pashyanti when it enters the heart-region (hradayakhya) and becomes visible to the Yogis (hradayakhya udiyamanatvat)


The Pashyanti (radiant) stage is compared to a well nourished seed (Bija) which sprouts into two leaves. it, then, acquires the qualities of subtle sound ( which is not audible to the physical ear) , and hue of colour (varna) which can be seen (Pashyan).

: – The Pashyanti, moving up and enters the mind (Buddhi) with a desire or the urge to express itself (Saiva buddhim gata vivaksam prapta madhyama ityucyate). And, on reaching the Anahata–chakra in the region of the heart, it is transformed into Madhyama Vac.  Anahata literally means un-struck. Here; the subtle sound (Nada) at the level of the mind is like ‘internal-speech’ which is heard, internally, by the Yogi.


[It is said; the Vac which sprouts in Para gives forth leaves in Pashyanti; buds forth in Madhyama; and, it blossoms in Vaikhari.]

: – When the Madhyama moves up further from heart-region to throat, tongue and mouth it becomes articulate (Vyakta) sound, clearly audible to the external ear at the Vishudhi -chakra. This is Vaikhari, the last stage of sound or speech when it emerges out of the mouth with the help of syllables, words etc and is heard by the listener. And, Vaikhari is the intended speech that comes out clearly through the mouth with the assistance of tongue, lips, teeth and the breath


(Atha yada saiva vaktre sthita talvosthadivyaparena bahirnirgacchati tada vaikhari ityuchyate)


Other explanations

Various other interpretations are also imposed on these four terms.

It is said;   Para represents transcendental consciousness; Pashyanti the intellectual consciousness; Madhyama the cerebral consciousness; and, Vaikhari the physical consciousness.

Further, these levels of consciousness are said to correspond with varying levels of awareness:  Turia (the fourth, the transcendental or the one-beyond); Shushupti (deep sleep); Svapna (dream state) ; and Jagrat ( wakeful state) , in that order.

And again, these states of consciousness are said to relate to different states of being (bodies). Para which is referred to as the Supreme form; the first form; the pure and resplendent Highest-light etc, is indeed beyond all forms (Turiya); and it is formless. The sphere of consciousness at Pashyanti is said to be the causal body (Karana-sarira); at Madhyama, the subtle or psychic body (Sukshma-sarira); and at Vaikhari, the physical body (Sthula-sarira).

While Para is pure consciousness, the other three are said to be its powers through which it differentiates as its power of will (iccha shakthi) at the subtle level of Pashyanti; as the power of discrimination or knowledge (Jnana shakthi) at the mental level of Madhyama; and, as its power of action (Kriya Shakthi) at the physical  level of Vaikhari.


In the next part, let’s talk about the theories expounded and the explanations offered by two of the great thinkers – Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari- on the subject.

Buddha Meditation Song




The next part

Sources and References

Ritam “The Word in the Rig-Veda and in Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri

.Vedic river and Hindu civilization; edited by Dr. S. Kalyanaraman

Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India…Edited by John Muir

Devata Rupa-Mala(Part Two) by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 edited by Harold G. Coward, K. Kunjunni Raja, Karl H



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Tantra – Agama – Part Two – Agama

Agama – History

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agama is of post Darshana period

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

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

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

Agama – Classification

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agama – Content

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agama- Tantra

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

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

Agama -Shilpa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agama – approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agama -Nigama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Agama – Nigama rapprochement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agama – Temple worship


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Continued in Part Three

– Vaikhanasa Agama

References and Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Tantra Shastra and Veda by Sir John  Woodroffe

8. The Tantras: An Overview by Swami Samarpanananda

9. Evolution of Tantra by Nitin Sridhar


Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Agama, Tantra


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Tantra – Agama – Part One – Tantra

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tantra – Agama

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

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


Tantra – what is?

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

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

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

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

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

Tantra – a synthesis

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

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

Tantra Outlook

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


6.2. Central to Tantra-faith is the concept of duality that culminates in unity. Shiva the pure consciousness and Shakthi its creative power are eternally conjoined; the one cannot be differentiated from the other. They are essentially two aspects of One principle. In reality, the whole of existence, the range of manifold experiences in the world are but the expressions of Shiva-Shakthi combine.  Shiva (Purusha) does not act by himself, but is inseparably associated with – and influences through – his Shakthi (Prakrti), the dynamic primal energy that manifests, animates, sustains and finally re-absorbs the universe into itself. This Shakthi is all powerful and infinite.  It is only in the relative plane that Shiva-Shakti might appear as separate entities. But, the Reality is unity, an indivisible whole.

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

Tantra – Man

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

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

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

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

Tantra- world

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

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

Tantra – approach

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

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

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

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

Veda and Tantra


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

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

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

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


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

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

Tantra is origin of Vedas ?

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

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

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

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

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

Tantra – Veda – compatible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tantra – Veda – reproachment

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

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

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

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

Tantra – Impact


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

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

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

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

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

Summing up

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk of Agamas in the next part.


Continued in part two

References and Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Tantra Shastra and Veda by Sir John  Woodroffe

8. The Tantras: An Overview by Swami Samarpanananda

9. Evolution of Tantra by Nitin Sridhar


Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Agama, Tantra


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

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

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

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

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

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

SRI Kameshwara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sources and References:

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

Bhavana Upanishad- text in English

Nitya Kala Devis

The Fifteen Nityas

Life sketch of Bhaskararaya Makhin

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


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


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Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar and Sri Vidya (6 0f 8)

The structure of Sri Chakra 

The basis of Sri Chakra is its mantra; the fifteen lettered mantra in three groups: a e i la hrim; ha sa ka ha la hrim; sa ka la hrim. The sixteenth letter “srim” is present in a subtle form. Sri Chakra is basically a triad. The triangle which is primary to the chakra has three angles and the deity residing in it is Tripura. The mantra of each of the nine enclosures of Sri Chakra is three lettered; the mother goddess is worshipped in her three forms; the Kundalini energy in the individual is threefold, and the phenomenal processes arising out of the union of Shiva and Shakthi are also three. The Chakra design represents Tripura or Tripura Sundari; while her manifest powers (yogini) are nine.

All its other interpretations are also in terms of three and nine. The three groups that constitute the mantra are called Kuta (peaks) or Khanda (segments). They are interpreted variously in sets of three as:

 Agni (fire), Surya (sun) and Chandra (moon); srishti (creation), Shtithi (preservation) and laya (dissolution) ; Iccha ( will), jnana (knowledge) and kriya (action); Sattva, Rajas and Tamas; Jagrat (wakefulness) ; swapna (dream state) and sushupthi (deep sleep); jnatra (the knower), jnana (the knowledge) and jneya ( the known) ;  as atma (individual self), antaratma (inner being) and paramatma (supreme self) and  also as past , present and future.

In general, the Sri Yantra is a ‘cosmogram’ – a graphic representation of the universal processes of emanation and re-absorption reduced to their essential outline.

The diagram of the Sri Chakra is primarily a Matrix (i.e. womb) of nine interlocking triangles. Five of these triangles have their apex facing downward. They are

Shakthi trikonas, the triangles representing five forms of feminine energy, Shakthi. The other four triangles with their apex facing upward are Shiva trikonas representing the male aspect, Shiva, Consciousness. In Tantra, the feminine is the active principle; and the male is passive. The Tantra texts mention that Sri Chakra is produced when five forms of Shakthi and four forms of Shiva unite. The intersection of these nine triangles creates forty-three triangles. It is customary to regard the point at the centre also as a triangle. Thus, in effect there are forty-four triangles in Sri Chakra; and these are arranged in nine enclosures (navavaranas), in groups of three. 

The intersection of two lines is called Sandhi; and there are 24 such Sandhis. These intersections have certain significance. The meeting of two lines represents union of Shiva and Shakthi. 

And, the points where three lines meet are called marma sthanas. There are 28 such marma sthanas.

The meeting of three lines represents explicit harmony between Shiva and Shakthi; and they are vital spots in the body where the life-energy resides as well as accumulates. The marma has thus been called the Seat of Life or Jiva-sthana.

sri yantra marmas
A total of 43 triangles are created from the overlapping of the nine original triangles.

As regards the Bindu , the dimensionless point at the core of the Sri Chakra Yantra, the Tantra texts explain  that Bindu is Kameshwara , the ground of the universe; and the immediate triangle is Kameshwari the mother of universe; the union of purusha and prakriti. The union of these two is the Sri Chakra, which represents the entire phenomenal pattern. This is denoted by the secret syllable shrim. In fact, it is this point, coloured red, which really is the Sri Chakra. Every other detail is an expansion or a manifestation of its aspects. The mother goddess worshipped in Sri Chakra is the universe. The devotee has to identify that principle in his body, for his body is the Sri Chakra or the universe in epitome. He is guided in this endeavour by the guru who is the representative of Shiva.

The Bindu also represents, at various times, the principles or activities known as the Pancha Kriya of: Emanation of the cosmos from its primal source; Projection of creation into the primal void; Preservation of the created universe; Withdrawal of the creative and preservative energies in cosmic dissolutions; and lastly, Retention of the withdrawn energy-universe for the next cycle of re-creation. These five activities are regarded as the five modes of expression of the Universal Mother.

There are several other explanations.

Bindu is regarded a sphere in its own right. The expanded form of the Bindu is the triangle formed by three points and is called Sarva siddhi prada (the sphere of fulfilment of all aspirations). It is described as Prakriti (Mother Nature) composed of three gunas (fundamental fabric of all existence) sattva, rajas and tamas. The Kadi School explains sattva as that which covers and conceals (aavarana); while the other two gunas as that which project the world of duality or multiplicity (vikshepa). The three gods Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver) and Rudra (destroyer) are actually the representations of these three gunas. They are in turn the three aspects of the Devi represented as trikona chakra.

It also explained that from Shakthi flashes forth the creative impulse known as nada (sound), which manifests as Kundalini or the creative urge, in all living beings. Here, Bindu is Shiva; Bija is Shakthi; and nada is their union. These give rise to the power of will (icchha shakthi); the power of knowledge (jnana shakthi); and power of action (kriya shakthi).These in turn give rise to Rudra, Vishnu and Brahma.

Another explanation is, Bindu, also called Sarvanandamaya (all blissful), and represents the transcendental power (Para Shakthi) and absolute harmony (saamarasya) between Shiva and Shakthi. This is equivalent to what the Vedanta calls the Brahman. Owing to the power of the will (icchha shakthi) there comes about an apparent differentiation of Shakthi from Shiva, expressed in the form of triangle.  Here again, the triangle is the expansion of the Bindu (bindu vikasana).

If the Bindu represents the Para-nada, the triangle represents the Pashyanti, the second stage of the sound, nada. The enclosure next to this, the eight sided figure (ashta kona chakra) is the Madhyama or the third stage in the development of sound. The rest of the Chakra represents the physical or the phenomenal stage, the Vaikhari, which is the manifest and articulate form of sound. The Vaikhari form is represented by the fifty letters of the alphabet, called matrikas or the source of all transactions and existence.

The sixteen vowels (from aa) constitute the lunar sphere (Chandra mandala), the twenty-four consonants (from ka to tha) the solar sphere (Surya mandala); and the remaining ten consonants (from ma to ksha) the sphere of fire (Agni mandala). Thus, the triangle is also known as tri kuta, tri khanda and tri mandala.

Bindu is identified with Shiva and trikona with Shakthi. The process of evolution (shristi) or the apparent separation of Shiva and Shakthi is referred to as adi-dwandwa. The evolution from the primary state into the mundane level is regarded as a descent, avarohana krama; whereas the withdrawal from the gross to the very subtle state is termed Samhara krama.  Here the devotee moves into higher spiritual levels; and therefore it is termed arohana krama. It is a gradual process.

The significance of the triangle is explained thus:

The name of the goddess is Tripura; and number three is important in approaching her. She is of the nature of the sun, the moon and the fire. She is masculine, feminine and neuter. Her form is red, white and the mixture of the two. Her mantra has three letters (hrim, klim, sauh); and from this mantra three segments of time – past, present and future – emerge. From this mantra too emerge the realms, three Vedas, three states of existence ( waking, dreaming and sleeping) and three gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.



All these geometric designs are contained within Sri Chakra, arranged in nine enclosures or nava-avaranas.They are also termed as nine chakras. Each of this has its name, a characteristic physical form and a spiritual significance. Each has its colour suggesting its tendencies. Each Chakra has its presiding deity (chakreshwari or Chakra nayika); and she is a variant form of the mother goddess abiding at the Bindu. The Chareshwari rules over her set of attendant divinities; such as Yoginis who aid the devotee on in his spiritual progress, and the Mudra Devatas, seal-divinities, who welcome, purify and delight the devotee.

The yoginis have a special role in Sri Chakra worship. They make explicit the union of the male and female aspects of the Sri Chakra in each of its enclosures. They are in fact, the symbols of urges, aspirations, inhibitions, limitations, obstructions and powers active in each individual. The yoginis aid the devotees, but derive their power from the mother goddess.

Sri Chakra is verily the body of the mother goddess, who resides as energy in the universe and as pure consciousness in the individual. The nine enclosures symbolize in a graded series the significance of the universal and individual; the ideological and ritual; expressive and contemplative; and the in inner and outer aspects of Sri Chakra.

The outer group of chakras (1, 2 and3) symbolizes extension or shristi. They represent Shiva aspect of the chakra. The middle group (4, 5 and 6) symbolizes the preservation or sthithi. They represent Shakthi aspect of the chakra. The inner group (7, 8 and the Bindu) symbolize absorption or samhara. The Bindu represents the transcendental aspect of mother goddess. The other two avaranas (7and 8) are also Shakthi aspects.

The nine chakras are interpreted in terms of Time (kaala), the five elements that compose all things (Pancha-Bhuthas); and three states of awareness-wakefulness, dream and deep sleep.

The nine chakras are also interpreted as corresponding to parts in human body.

No. Chakra Corresponding to part of human body
01 Bhupura First line: feet; Second line: knees; and third line : thighs
Triple girdle Mid portion of the body
02 Shoidasha-dala padma Region below navel and  up to penis region ; kati
03 Ashta-dala padma Navel region – nabhi
04 Chaturdasha Abdominal region-kukshi
05 Bahir -dasha Neck-kantha
06 Antar-dasha Region between eye brows- bhru-madhya
07 Ashtara Forehead-lalata
08 Trikona Top of the head- masthaka
09 Bindu Opening on the crown of the head leading to Sahasra Dala padma (Brahma randra)

The nine avaranas are again recognized as chakras said to be situated along the central channel or the Shushumna nadi.

No. Avarana in Sri Chakra Nadi-chakra
01 Bhupura Muladhara
02 Shoidasha dala padma Svadhistana
03 Ashta-dala padma Manipura
04 Chaturdasha Anahatha
05 Bahir _dasha Vishuddha
06 Antar-dasha Ajna
07 Ashtara Manasa-chakra
08 Trikona Soma-chakra
09 Bindu Sahasra Padma


The nine avaranas, enclosures that compose Sri Chakra are briefly as under. These are described in the order of absorption (Samhara-krama) according to Dakshinamurthy tradition. It starts with the outermost enclosure-Bhupura- and leads to Bindu, the central point.

1. Bhupura also called Trilokya –mohana-chakra (Deluder of the Realms) , is the four-sided enclosing wall. The three lokas being three levels of experience:  attainments, obstructions and powers. They are also related to the body- mind complex of the devotee.

A tantra design is always enclosed within an outer wall serving as a protective cover. As the devotee enters into the Mandala he leaves behind the normal worldly distractions and conflicts; and emigrates into a world of symbols and visualizations. A Mandala is thus a mansion of gods and goddesses, a symbol of a higher form of existence.

There are actually six gateways to the fort Sri Yantra, if we take a three-dimensional view of it; the four obvious dwaras and those ‘above’ and ‘below’. The Eastern gate is the way of the mantras. The Southern gate is the way of devotion or bhakti. The Western gate is for the performance of rites and rituals, or karma-kanda. The Northern gate is the way of wisdom, or Jnana. The gate ‘below’ is the ‘path of words’ while the gate ‘above’ is the way or ‘road of liberation’. These are located at the Southern and Northern gate, respectively, i.e. ‘above’ is north, ‘below’ is south. Each of these gates also stands for one of the six primary chakras in the body.

The Bhupura Chakra, the earth stretch, includes within its spatial scope the entire design even as the earth supports the entire existence. Bhupura is a Shiva aspect and is made up of three lines or ramparts. The first (outermost) line is identified with the attainments of yoga powers called Siddhis. They are needed for self-protection along the inward journey. Such Siddhis are eight in number; and are attained consequent on gaining control over the elements and the mind.

The second or the middle line represents the powers of eight mother-like divinities Mathrika who rule over emotions such as passionate longing (Brahmi), violent anger (Maheshwari), avarice (kaumari) obstinacy (Varahi) etc

The third (inner) line of the square is identified with ten feminine deties, Mudra devathas, carrying seals of authority. The mudras are an approach to the divinities. These could be gross (sthula) being body postures and gestures by hand; subtle (sukshma) by way of seed-mantras; and para transcendental that is mental or intuitional approach.

These three lines are also taken to represent the Mother goddess; the outermost line corresponds to her feet; the middle line to her thighs; and the inner line to her knees.

There are also three concentric circles (trivritta) representing three objectives of life: Dharma, Artha and Kama.

The avarana is Bhoopura and the Chakra is Trailokyamohana chakra ‘enchants the three worlds’. The yogini is Prakata; Mudra is Sarva Somkshibhni; Siddhi is Anima; and the mental state of the aspirant is Jagrata. The presiding deity is Tripura. Her Vidya is Am Am Sauh.The gem is topaz. The time is 24 minutes and the Shaktis are 28 that include the ten starting with Anima, the eight starting with Brahmya and the ten Mudra Saktis. 28 is the dominant number.

This avarana corresponds to the feet of the mother goddess.

2. The sixteen petalled lotus (shodasha dala padma) called sarva asha paripuraka chakra, the fulfiller of all desires, is the second enclosure. In the sixteen   petals, the sixteen vowels of Sanskrit alphabet is inscribed. These symbolize sixteen kalas or aspects or phases. They are also called nithyas and named Kamakarshini (fascinating the desires), Budhyakarshini (fascinating the intellect) etc. These relate to powers in the Five Elements, the ten senses of perception or Indriyas (being further divided into five organs of action and five sense organs) and the Mind.

The significance of this enclosure is explained as self-protection (atma raksha) of the devotee. Since frustrated desire is the strongest obstacle to spiritual progress, the next stage is wisely concerned with satisfying them. Only he who has experienced can renounce. The values of virtue, wealth and pleasure are granted at this stage.

The craving Asha springs from discontent; and is quenched when discontent is eliminated. That is possible when devotee identifies himself with Shiva, ever complete and ever content.

This is achieved by the cultivation or strengthening of power over mind, ego, sound, touch, sight, taste, smell, intellect, steadiness, memory, name, growth, ethereal body, revivification, and physical body.

The avarana is Shodasa Dala, and the Chakra is Sarvasaparipuraka chakra ‘fulfils all expectations’; the yogini is Gupta Yogini; Mudra is Sarva Vidravini; the Siddhi is Laghima; and the mental state is Swapna, The presiding deity is Tripureshi. Her vidya is Aim Klim Sauh.The gem is sapphire. The time is three hours.  The Shaktis are the sixteen starting with Kamakarshini. 16 is the dominant number.

This avarana corresponds to the Savdhistana chakra of the mother goddess.

3. Eight petalled lotus (astha dala padma) called Sarva-samkhobhana –Chakra the agitator of all, is the third avarana. Each petal has a consonant inscribed within it that begins with ‘Ka‘  The petals represent eight divinities associated with erotic urges , independent of physical body(ananga).These relate to mental pleasures derived through five organs and through the modalities of mind: rejection(repulsion or withdrawal), acceptance (attention or attachment) and indifference(detachment).

This enclosure represents the last of the first group of the chakras that symbolizes Shrusti or emanation.

The avarana is ashta dala; The Chakra is Sarva-samkshobana chakra ‘agitates all’. The Yogini is Gupta- Tara; Mudra is Sarvakarshini; the Siddhi is Mahima; and the mental state is Shushupti. The Presiding deity is Tripura Sundari. Her vidya is Hrim Klim Sauh. The gem is cat’s eye. The time is day and night. The Shaktis are the eight starting with Ananga Kusuma. 8 is the dominant number.

This avarana corresponds to the navel region of mother goddess.

4. Fourteen triangles (chaturdasha trikona) called sarva sowbhagya dayaka; the bestower of all prosperity is the fourth enclosure. This is in the form of a complex figure made up of fourteen triangles. The fourteen triangles are inscribed with fourteen consonants beginning with ka and ending with dha. The fourteen corners represent fourteen powers of mother goddess. These are said to preside over fourteen principle channels of vital forces in human body (naadis) corresponding with fourteen powers Sarva -Samkshobhini and others.

They are also related to the seat of Shaktis who represent: the Mind (Manas), the Intellect (Buddhi), Being (Chitta), the Conscious Ego (Ahamkara) and the ten Indriyas.

This enclosure refers to the channels of life currents in the human body (prana) and their identity with the aspects of Sri Chakra. The explanation given in Tantra texts is that the breathing in human body is influenced by five elements present in the body; and in turn those five elements are influenced by the manner we breathe. Normally, we breathe 360 times in a unit of time called nadika (equivalent to 24 minutes). A day (dina) consists 60 such nadikas. Therefore, in a day (24 hours) we breathe 21,600 times. The collection of all breathes is mother goddess herself. This is called nadi-chakra, the organization of winds within the body. The distribution of breathes among the body centres are as follows:

Chakra Number of Breathes Time taken Hrs-mins-sec
Muladhara 0,600 00-40-00
Svadhistana 6,000 06-40-00
Manipura 6,000 06-40-00
Anahata 6,000 06-40-00
Vishuddha 1,000 01-06-40
Ajna 1,000 01-06-40
Sahasra 1,000 01-06-40
Total 21,600 24-00-00

The navel is the central point for distribution of all breathes and life forces moving along the channels. Normally breath alternates between the ida channel reaching the left nostril and pingala the channel reaching the right nostril. The former is moon principle and cools the body; and the latter is sun principle warms the body. The two meet at muladhara, close to kundalini. Around this central channel is a network of 72,000 channels of which the more important are the 14 mentioned earlier in this paragraph. These are referred also as 14 divinities. In this avarana the number 14 is dominant.

Sri Chakra is also described as the diagrammatic representation of the cycle of time (kaala chakra) and of the chakras in human system.

The Avarana is Chaturdasara; the Chakra is Sarva soubhagya dayaka chakra, ‘grants excellence’. The Yogini is Sampradaya Yogini; the Mudra is Sarva Shankari; the Siddhi is Ishitva. The mental state is Iswara Vichara. The presiding deity is Tripura Vasini. Her vidya is Haim Hklim Hsauh.The gem is coral. The time is day and night. The Shaktis are the fourteen starting with Samkshobhini.14 is the dominant number.

This avarana corresponds to the heart of mother goddess.

5. Ten-sided figure (bahir-dasara) called Sarvartha Sadhaka chakra (accomplisher of all objects) consisting ten triangles, is the fifth avarana. It is named “the outer ten cornered figure” (bahir dasara) in order to distinguish it from a similar figure enclosed within it.

The ten triangles in this avarana house ten auspicious deties , such as Sarva siddhi prada, Sarva sampath prada, Sarva priyamkari, Sarva mangala karini and so on. The five of the triangles are inscribed with consonants beginning with Ka; and the other five triangles are inscribed with consonants beginning with Cha..These represent ten powers of mother goddess who presides over ten vital forces pranas active in the body. The idea of vayu the winds or vital currents is fundamental to the concept of channels.

The vital currents are divided into two groups: prana- panchaka andnaga-panchaka. The first group consist:  prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana vayus. These are responsible for body functions such as respiration, blood circulation, digestion, voice and separation of nutrients from food etc.

The second group consists vital currents such as naga, kurma, krkara, devadatta and dhananjaya. These are involved in body movement like belching, yawning movement of eyelids, causing various sounds in the body. The Dhanajaya vayu, it is said, is the last to leave the body at its death. In this avarana the number ten is dominant.

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

This avarana corresponds to the neck of mother goddess.

6. Ten sided figure (antar dasara) called Sarva raksha karaka (one that protects all) consisting ten triangles is the sixth avarana. It is named antar dasara, the inner ten cornered figure, since it is placed within a similar ten cornered figure, mentioned earlier.

The ten triangles are inscribed with ten consonants beginning with the five of Tha and the five of Tta group. They represent the powers of the mother goddess who presides over ten vital fires (vanyaha).These represent the ten specific fires within the body; being the fire of purgation (Rechak), digestion (Pachak), absorption (Shoshak), burning (Dahak), the secretion of enzymes (Plavak), acidification (Ksharak), to take out or excrete (Uddharak), the fires of pessimism and frustration (Kshobhak), the fire of assimilation (Jrambhak) and creating lustre (Mohak).

This enclosure is the third of the second group of chakras representing Preservation. The advent of inner realization begins here. The significance of this avarana is explained as protection from all obstacles. The devotee distances himself from all that hinders his spiritual progress; and he begins to develop an awareness he is Shiva ( the consciousness).

The Avarana is Antardasara; the Chakra is Sarvaraksakara chakra ‘protects all’. The Yogini is Nigarbha Yogini; the Mudra is Sarva mahankusha; and the Siddhi is Prakamya. The mental state is Upadesa. The presiding deity is Tripura Malini. Her vidya is is Hrim Klim Blem.The gem is emerald. The time is Lunar Fortnight. The Shaktis are the ten starting with Sarvagnya.10 is the dominant number.

This avarana corresponds to the middle of the eyebrows (bhrukuti) of the mother goddess.

7. Eight-cornered figure (ashtara) called Sarva roga hara (the remover of all deceases) is the seventh avarana. In the eight triangles formed by this figure, eight divinities presiding over speech reside. Between them they cover all the alphabets in Sanskrit grammar. These shakthis also rule over contradictions in life (dwandwa) such as  cold(water) and heat(fire); happiness(air) and sorrow( earth);  as also the Desire(akasha-space) and the three gunas  of Sattvas (consciousness), Rajas(ego) and Tamas(mind).

The significance of this enclosure is its power to eradicate the most basic disease viz. involvement with impure, fleeting existence that is laden with stress. The blessed state is attained when the distinctions between the subject, the object and transactions between them are dissolved.

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

This avarana corresponds to the forehead (lalata) of the mother goddess.

The Four Weapons

In between the mandalas of eight triangles and the central triangles are the four weapons — flowery bow, flowery arrows, noose (pasha) and goad (ankusha). They are red in colour. They are the weapons of both the mother goddess as Kameshwari and also of Shiva as Kameshwara.

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

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

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

The Avarana is Trikona; the Chakra is Sarva-siddhi-prada chakra, ‘grants all attainments’. The Yogini is Athi Rahasya Yogini; the Mudra is Sarva Beeja; and the Siddhi is Iccha. The mental state is Nitidhyasana. The presiding deity is Tripuraamba. Her vidya is is Hsraim Hsrklim Hsrsauh..The gem is Gomaya .The time is a ritu- two months. The Shaktis are the three starting with Kameshwari. (4+3=7) is the dominant number.

This avarana corresponds to the top of the head (masthka) of the mother goddess.

9. The ninth enclosure is strictly not an enclosure. It is the central dimensionless point, the Bindu. It is called Sarvananda-maya chakra, the supremely blissful one.  It is independent of the intersecting triangles. It is coloured red. This, in a temple, would be the sanctum sanctorum, with all the other circles or enclosures representing various parts of the temple as you move inwards.

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

The goddess is nothing other than the devotees own self. The self here does not refer to jiva, engaged in organizing the body, mind and senses. The self here refers to individual consciousness (buddhi) which is beyond the body-mind complex. It is filled with all bliss (sarvananda maya). This constant, abundant bliss is the expression of the union of Shiva (consciousness) and Shakthi (power of deliberation Vimarsha). It is the very basis of existence. It is called beautiful, sundara, in this sense. It is in this sense the supreme mother goddess is called Maha Tripurasundari.

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

There is also a school which propounds that the central point is composed of three dots or drops(Bindu traya) representing three fires(vanhi): Moon(soma);Sun(surya); and Fire(Agni).The top dot symbolizes the head of the deity; and the pair of dots at the bottom symbolize the breasts of the Mother. It is explained that the central point expanding into the three is an act of swelling (ucchuna); and that is how the central point becomes the primary triangle in Sri Chakra.

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

This avarana corresponds to Brahma-randra on the top of the head of the mother goddess.


Travelling from the outer periphery wall to the inner bindu is an ascent through various levels of consciousness and mystical significance, overcoming myriad obstacles of conditioning and fears along the way. As he proceeds inward from the outermost enclosure the devotee’s thoughts are gradually refined; and the association of ideas is gradually freed from the constraints of conventional reality. The Devi is felt or visualized in his heart and then drawn out through the breath and installed in the yantra. She is then worshipped as actually residing there. The true home of Devi is however in his heart .The devotee identifies himself with the Devi and goes through the worship guided by the symbolism. Whatever be the details, the symbolism involved is important in the external worship ; and more so in internal worship( contemplation on the import of the chakra).

Sri Chakra is also a construct of space and time, just as the universe is a space time continuum. The way of the universe is continuous and constant change. That change, in a relative existence, is measured by the phases of moon. Mother goddess is the principle of time; she is kala or nitya. The Sri Chakra also puts forth the interdependence of time and space. The devotee views the evolution of the universe as the unfolding of a changeless reality of Mother Goddess.

The Sri Chakra represents the interplay of the purusha and prakriti; the universe and its energy. The union of the Devi (energy) and Shiva (consciousness) worshipped in Sri Chakra is the universe and its evolution. The universe is thus stylized into a pattern of energies, symbolized by the patterns and layout of Sri Chakra. It provides a model to the individual for transformation. The consciousness of the individual finds in it an articulation; and the model helps in breaking the barriers of subjective feelings and limitations of the objective world. The devotee identifies that his body is the Sri Chakra or the universe in epitome; and that The Yantra too is the Devi. The aim is to realize that oneness, the bliss of pure consciousness.

Continued in the Next Part

Kamalamba Navavara kritis –Part One


The Tantra of Sri Chakra by Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao(1953)

Lalita Tripurasundari, the Red Goddess

Sri Yantra – the Significance and Symbolism of its design
Sri Yantra Definition
Hymns of Sri Chakra


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