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2018 January | 2018 | Ithihas

Kaleidoscope of Indian civilization

In this blog you will find

Monthly Archives: January 2018
Writeups on Indian historical
themes and Biographies of
rulers and statesmen.
Tantra- A Brief Introduction, Part II
January 27, 2018 – 10:16 am
Tantra is an important, practical and popular religious path of Hinduism. It is a
facetsofindianhistory repertoire of spiritual practices which is concerned with the application of the
Sanatana Parishad science of cosmic principles (tattva) and the science of mystic sound (mantra) with
Thinkerspad a view to the attainment of spiritual ascendancy1

Classification of Hindu Tantric Literature

February 2018
According to the tradition found in Tantric texts themselves Tantras are
innumerable. The Saundaryalahari refers to 64 Tantras. The Tantraloka of
January 2018
Abhinavagupta states that there are three groups of ten, eighteen and sixty-four
October 2017
Shaiva tantas. In the Mahasiddhasaratantra, India and its adjoining regions are
August 2017 divided into three krantas or divisions namely Vishnukranta (extended from
June 2017 Vindhya hills up to Chittagong and included all places in North-Eastern region),
May 2017 Rathakranta (comprised of the entire area in the North-Western region which lay
March 2017 between the Vindhyas and Mahachina or Tibet) and Ashvakranta (extended from
October 2016 the Vindhyas the southern oceans); each of these krantas is said to has 64 tantras.
June 2016
A number of tantric texts speak of nine or six amnayas or regions- eastern,
western, northern, southern, upper and lower- each containing its distinctive texts,
January 2016
cults and rituals. From geographical point of view tantra are divided into four
November 2015
classes, viz. Kerala, Kashmira, Gauda and Vilasa2.
August 2015
June 2015 Tantra texts are classified into Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina tantras; Hindu tantras are
February 2015 broadly divided into two classes, Agama and Nigama. In the former Shiva answers
January 2015 questions asked by Parvathi and in the Nigama Parvathi answers questions asked
September 2014 by Shiva. In accordance with the predominance of the deities Hindu Tantras are
June 2014 also classified into Shakta, Shaiva, Vaishnava, Saurya and Ganapatya. The works
May 2014
of Shakta, Shaiva and Vaishnava are called respectively Tantras, Agamas and
April 2014
Samhitas3. Some divide tantric texts into the following group- Agama, Damara,
March 2014 Yamala and Tantra4.
December 2013
The Damara tantra is dedicated to Lord Shiva and his mystical teachings. Damara
November 2013
has several meaning; it means ‘wonder’, ‘goblin’ or an attendant of Shiva. The
October 2013 Damara tantra includeds Yogadamara, Shivadamara, Durgadamara,
September 2013 5
Sarasvatadamara, Gandharvadamara, Brahmadamara, etc. It is not clear what
August 2013 was the characteristic feature of Damara except that they were preoccupied with
May 2013 magic or exorcism6.
April 2013
February 2013 The Yamala tantra contains the secret conversations between different deities and
January 2013 their respective consorts. The word Yamala literally means twins, united or a
July 2012
couple. The Yamala tantra includes texts like Rudrayamala, Vishnuyamala,
Brahmayamala, Lakshmiyamala, Umayamala, Skandayamala, Adityayamala, and
January 2010
July 2009
Bhairavayamala among others7. The Yamala indicate a great development in the
tantrika sadhana not only by trying to define for the first time the various tantric
June 2009
traditions but also by introducing a great variety of cults of new gods and
May 2009
goddesses. They open the field of tantric sadhana to people of all castes8. In the
April 2009
Yamalas the sadhana of the Agamas assumes a pronounced character of
March 2009 Shaktism. The religion of Agamas had developed through two channels, one
February 2009 exoteric and the other esoteric. The former continued as a part of Shaivism with
October 2008 greater emphasis on the devotional aspect of the worship of Shiva and Pashupati
September 2008 with a view to attain liberation. The latter centered as Shaktism with greater
emphasis on various Shakti cult not so much as to attain liberation but to gain 1/19
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August 2008 ascendancy and control over the forces of nature, liberation was too small a goal
July 2008 for them. In course of time (around 10th century A.D.) the literature of pure
June 2008 Shavism ceased to be called Tantra and Tantra proper became more Shaktic in
May 2008 character9.
April 2008
March 2008
Literature of Vaishnava Tantras
February 2008
The Vaishnava Tantras are represented by the Pancaratra Agamas and
Vaikhanasa Agamas which were originally voluminous in form but unfortunately a
considerable part of them has now been lost. The Vaishnava Agamas said to be
108 in number seem to be developments of the Bhagavata and Pancharatra and
the Sattvata schools which are mentioned in the Mahabharatha. The differentiation
into schools seems to have originally depended on the specific mantra, which was
the shibboleth of each school. Thus it appears that the Bhagavatas adopted the 12
lettered mantra and Pancharatras the 8 lettered one. The fundamental ideas and
practices of the Bhagavatas have been adopted by the Ramanuja, Madhava and
the later schools of bhakti. The 108 Agamas are all called Pancharatra Agamas10.

According to the Narada Pancaratra, ratra means knowledge; hence Pancaratra is

a system which deals with five kinds of knowledge, cosmology (tatva), the science
of liberation, (muktiprada), of devotion (bhaktiprada), of yoga (yaugika) and
pertaining to the senses (vaishesika). According to Ishvara Samhita the religion
that was taught by the gods to five sages; Shandilya, Aupagayana, Maunjayana,
Kaushika and Bharadvaja, in five successive days and nights came to be known
among the people as Pancaratra. According to Padma Tantra the system is so
named because just as the sun dispels the night, the Pancaratra dispels the other
five systems which are the Yoga, Samkya, Buddhism, Jainism and Pashupata11.
Although tradition mention 108 Samhita there are actually mention of more than
215 of which however only very few have been published12.

The well-known Pancharatra Agamas are the Ahirbudhnya Samhita, Jayakhya

Samhita, Vishnu Samhita, and Satvata Samhita. Of the Vaikhanasa School only
four namely Vaikhanasa Mantra Samhita, Vaikhanasa Grhyasutra, Dharmasutra
and Shrautasutra are now available13. Other important works of belonging to
Vaishnava Tantras are Ishvarasamhita, Paramasamhita, Paushkarasamhita and
Lakshmi Tantra.

Literature of Shaiva Tantras

The literature belonging to Shaiva and Shakta tantricism is extensive. There is a

great deal of affinity between these two schools of thought so much so that there is
considerable overlapping between them so far as metaphysical theory and
ritualistic principles are concerned. It is sometimes very difficult to differentiate
between the two schools in the tantric texts belonging to these two schools.

According to traditions the total number of Shaiva Tantras is 28 which include ten
Shaivagamas or Shaiva Tantras and 18 Raudragamas. While the Shaivagamas
propagate dualistic philosophy the Raudagamas propagate monistic cum dualistic
philosophy. The names of these Agamas differ in different texts. Apart from the
above texts there is a group of 64 Bhairava Tantras which preach purely monistic
Shaiva philosophy14. Some of the important works belonging to the Kashmir
school of Shaivism are Abhinavagupta’s Tantraloka, Tantrasara,
Pratyabhijnavimarshini and Pratyabhijnakarika; Sivasutra, Malinivijaya,
Vijnanabhairava, Rudrayamala, Svayambhuva, etc15.

Literature of Shakta Tantras

There are 77 Shakta Agamas subdivided into five Shubhagamas, 64 Kaulagamas

and eight Mishragamas16. The tenets of the Samaya schools are contained in five
agamas known as shubhaagama panchaka which are regarded as interpretations
of the Veda by Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumara, Vasishta and Shuka. The
Mishra literature is contained in eight agamas namely Chandrakala, Jyotsnavati,
Kalanidhi, Kularnava, Kuleshvari, Bhuvaneshvari, Barhaspatya and Durvasas17.
Some of the published Kaula works are Kularnava Tantra, Kula Chudamani,
Kaulavali, Vamakesvara Tantra, Meru Tantra, Gandharva Tantra, Sambhava
Tantra, Rudrayamala, Bramananda Tantra, Sri tattvachintamani, Tantraraja, etc.
Works like Kaula Tantra, Kulasasana, Kuladipani, Tantrachudamani, Agamasara, 2/19
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etc are available in manuscript form deposited in different libararies18. Other

important Shakta tantric works include Mahanirvana, Tantraraja, Kalivilasa,
Jnanarnava, Sharadatilaka and Varivasyarahasya19.

Tantric Denominations

The Tantra worshippers are divided into various sects and sub sects based on
deities worshipped and the ritualistic procedure followed. The Shaktisangama
Tantra refers to the sects of Vaishnavas, Shaivas, Ganapatyas, Svayambhuvas,
Candras, Pashupatas, Cinas, Jainas, Kalamukhas and Vaidikas. But judged by the
number of followers they have we have three major sects, namely Shaiva
(worshippers of Shiva), Shakta (worshippers of Shakti or divine mother) and
Vaishnava (worshipper of Vishnu) and two minor sects, namely Ganapatyas
(worshippers of Ganesha) and Souras (worshippers of Surya the sun god). These
sects are once again subdivided into various sub-sects20.

According to Lalan Prasad Singh the Vaishnava, Shaiva and Shakta are the
metaphysical schools of Tantra; Avidya, Upavidya and Vidya are the esoteric
division of Tantra and Dakshinacara, Vamachara and Madhyamacara the
psychological schools of Tantra21.

In the view of Kamalakar Mishra there are several traditions and sub traditions of
Tantra in India, some of which have become extinct and some still living.
Accordingly the living traditions are classified under three major denominations
namely Shaiva-Shakta Tantra, Buddhist Tantra and Vaishnava Tantra. All the sub
trend of Tantrism can be placed under one or the other denomination. For example
the Natha tradition of Gorakhanatha and the Aghora tradition of Kinarama can be
regarded as branches of Shaiva Shakta Tantra. Similarly the Sahajiya cult of
Bengal which might have originated from the Buddhist Sahajayana and later on
taken Vaishnava form can be safely classified as Vaishnava Tantra. The Baul
tradition of eastern India seems to be a combination of Buddhist Tantra, Vaishnava
Tantra and Islamic Sufism. The Kapalika tradition which flourished in the medieval
period is now virtually extinct is an off shoot of Buddhist Tantra with a mixture of
Shaiva-Shakta Tantra. The cults of Shaiva-Shakta Tantra are divided into two
lineages, the Girnari and Newari. Girnar in Gujarat is the seat of Lord Dattatreya
and he is regarded as the original leader of Shaiva-Shakta Tantra. The followers of
Aghora tradition owe their allegiance to Dattatreya and are called Girnaris. Newar
is the sub Himalayan region chiefly Nepal. The followers of Natha tradition are
mainly Newari22.

Tantric Buddhism

According to Benoytosh Bhattacharyya the founder of Buddhist Tantrism was

Buddha and he was initiated into the mysticism of the Tantra by Sanjaya, a great
tantric yogin of the day. The Jatakas speak of Buddha performing miracles. Only
the closest disciples of Buddha practiced tantra and the general laity was kept
away from it as they had not reached an advance stage of spiritual development.
The secret conclaves of the Buddhist tantrics developed into a large underground
organization known as Guhyasamajas which practiced the new doctrines in secret
(guhya). The teachings of Guhyasamajas emerged as a respectable teaching
during the time of Nagarjuna around 300 A.D. and evolved as the Vajrayana school
of Tantrism. One of the main teachings of this school was that without suffering the
multiple reincarnations and even during one’s birth and by indulging in all objects of
earthly enjoyment one could attain Buddhahood. The Guhyasamaja integrated into
the system of Vajrayana Tantrism all form of mysticism, various forms of yoga,
mystic poses, sacred diagrams, mandala, mantras, dhyani Buddhas and their
Shakti deities, etc. While Vajrayana represents the most influential school of Tantric
Buddhism, other major schools which evolved are Sahajayana, Kalachakrayana
and Mantrayana23.

Difference between Buddhist Tantrism and Hindu Tantrism

Benoytosh Bhattacharyya emphatically states that Buddhists were the first to

introduce the Tantra into their religion and the Hindus borrowed them from the
Buddhist in later times. In Hindu Tantrism the union of Shiva and Shakti leads to
the creation of a new world; while in tantric Buddhism Shakti represents prajna, the
supreme knowledge and wisdom and her union of the male deity Kalacakra does
not create a new world but leads to Nirvana, the supreme bliss, knowledge and 3/19
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enlightenment24. Some of the important Buddhist tantric works are Advaya Siddi,
Arya Manjusri Mulakalpa, Sambhara Tantra, Guhya Siddi, Hevajra Tantra,
Kalacakra Tantra, Mahakala Tantra, Sadhana Mala, etc.25

Schools of Shaiva Tantras

The Shaiva schools are so intimately allied to the Shakta schools that the literature
and doctrines of one are quoted as authoritative by the other. The chief
characteristic of the Shaiva School is that Shiva is the prominent being and
especially in the later developments of these schools, Shakti is almost negligible
factor of the cosmos26.

The worshippers of Shaiva are referred under four groups namely Shaivas, the
Pashupatas, the Karunikasiddhantins and the Kapalikas. The name
Kathakasiddhantins and Kalamukhas are referred in place of Karunikasiddhantins
in other sources. The Viraagama refers to four schools of Shaivas as Samaya
Shaiva, Purva Shaiva, Mishra Shaiva and Suddha Shaiva. Some Puranas refer to
Shaiva sects such as Vama, Pashupata, Soma, Langala, Bhairava, Kapala and
Nakula. They were considered as un-Vedic. Gunaratna refers to a number of sub
sects like Bharata, Bhakta, Laingika, etc. Other famous Shaiva schools are the
followers of Siddhantaagamas and the Lingayats or the Virashaivas in south

The Parameshwara Agama mentions Shaiva sects like Virashaiva, Anandashaiva,

Adishaiva, Anushaiva, Mahashaiva, Yogashaiva and Jnanashaiva. Apart from them
seven other schools have been enumerated namely Ganapatya, Virabhadra,
Bhairava, Sharabha, Nandikesha, Kumara and Paishaca which are again sub
divided into several sub sects28. In Kashmir the important Shaiva schools were the
Spanda, the Krama and Kula. Abhinava Gupta the founder of the Pratyabhijna
School incorporated the teaching of Spanda, Krama and Kula into Pratyabhijna28.

Schools of Vaishnava Tantras

The two important Vaishnava schools are the Pancharatra and the Vaikhanasa.
The former is considered as sathvika and superior to Vaikhanasa which is
considered as tamasika30. The Pancharatra School is more liberal in its outlook
and practice and tantric practices have exerted a very deep influence on it. The
Vaikhanasa School on accounts of its pure Vedic links perhaps arouse earlier than
the Pancharatra school and naturally tantric mantras (and yantras) have no role to
play in Vaikhanasa31.

Schools of Shakta Tantras

There are three principal schools of Shakta Tantrism namely the Samaya, the
Mishra and the Kaula. The Samaya school is concerned with internal worship or
meditation. It has nothing to do with external worship or rituals including muttering
of mantras, homa and purashcarana. It lays stress on mental performance of the
rites which is very difficult and can be known only from the preceptor. Among
Samayin are two groups, samanya or general and vishista or special32. The
Mishras perform all nitya karmas and worship Devi. The Kaula school is one of the
most powerful Shakta schools which occupies a unique position among the left
handed Shakta tradition with a history of 1300 years. It was popular in all parts of
the country and directly and indirectly influenced the religio-philosophical thoughts
of all Shaiva-Shakta schools. According to Kularnava Tantra– The Shaivas are
superior to the Vedic, the left handed and right handed Shaktas are superior to the
Shaivas, the Kaulas are superior to both left and right handed and there is none
which surpasses the Kaulas33. The Kaulas are pure monists who postulate one
Supreme Reality which they name as the Supreme Samvit34.

A number of sub schools exist among the Kaulas and the Kaularatnodyota list six
schools namely- Ananda, Avali, Prabhu, Yaugika, Atika and Pada. The
Kaulajnananirnaya a Tantrik test ascribed to Matsyendranath mention seven
distinct schools of Kaula worshippers like Padottistha Kaula, Maha Kaula, Mula
Kaula, Yogini Kaula, Vahni Kaula, Vrishnottha Kaula and Siddha Kaula. Jayaratha
in his commentary on the Tantraloka mention four Kaula schools like Maha Kaula,
Kaula, Akaula and Kula Kaula35. There is also mention of Kaula sub sects like
Purva Kaulas, Uttara Kaulas and Kapalikas. The Digambaras are stated to be a 4/19
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sub sect of the Kapalikas while the Ksapanakas a sub sect of the Digambaras36.
Another important Shakta school is the Parananda or Paramananda school which
is similar to the Samayins in some respects though it is characterized by certain
peculiarities. It taboos Nyasas and killing of living beings. Other Shakta schools are
the Gaudas, the Kashmira and the Kerala schools37. Though different texts refer to
a variety of Kaula schools established by different Kaula teachers in different
periods of time each of which is characterized by a particular mode of spiritual
discipline, they fail to mention their distinguishing traits. Hence it is not possible for
us now to delineate their individual nature38.

Shakti Pitas

According to Devibhagavata and Kalika Purana, Lord Shiva became inconsolable

at the death of his wife Sati and after destruction of Daksha’s sacrifice; he
wandered over the earth in mad dance with Sati’s dead body on his shoulder. To
free Shiva from his infatuation, Brahma, Vishnu and Shani entered the dead body
and disposed of it gradually and bit by bit. In some accounts it is said that Sati’s
body was severed into pieces by the discus of Lord Vishnu. The places where the
pieces of Sati’s dead body fell are said to have become Pitas, that is seats or
resorts of the mother goddess in all of which she is represented to be constantly
living in some form together with a Bhairava, that is a form of her husband Shiva.
We have heard of the enshrining of the teeth, nails and possessions of Lord
Buddha in different parts of India and even outside it shores. Hence there may be
some truth behind the legends associated with the origins of the Pitas39 .Some of
the early Tantras refer to four Pitas namely Kamarupa in Assam, Purnagiri (place
not identified), Oddiyana (situated in the valley of the Swat river) and Jalandhara
(situated on the highway connecting Tibet with India)40 .But in an 16th century
account the four Pitas mentioned are Sharada in modern Sardi in north Kashmir,
Tulja Bhavani in Bijapur district of Karnataka, Kamakhya in Kamarupa and
Jalandhari near Nagarkot in Punjab41.

There is no unanimity with regards to the number of Pitas. The Rudrayamala

composed earlier than 1052 A.D. mentions ten holy places as the principal pitas42.
The Kubjika Tantra speaks of 42 pitas43 while the Jnanarnava Tantra speaks of 50
pitas44 and the Matsya Purana speaks of 108 pitas45.


The Tantrik texts speak of ten Vidyas or cultic goddesses whose worship is
commended for health, happiness, wealth and welfare here and liberation from
phenomenal bondage hereafter. The ten divinities are classified into-

1. The extraordinary vidyas (maha vidyas) where the divinities are Kali and
2. The ordinary vidyas (vidyas) with divinities like Shodashi or Tripurasundari,
Bhuvaneshvari, Chinnamasta, Bhairavi and Dhumavati
3. Adept vidyas (siddha vidyas) where divinities like Bagalamukhi, Matangi and
Kamala are worshipped.

The practice of extraordinary vidyas is filled with great risks as the devotee is
supposed to exercise great rigour, austerity, persistence and detachment while
worshipping the divinities. So also is the case of adept vidyas which involve rituals
of a kind that the common man would find extremely ardous and hazardous. The
ordinary vidyas are suitable for ordinary aspirants and are considered safe. Each of
these Vidyas has a characteristic form and particular dhyana, mantra, kavacha and
other details of tantric ritual46.

The gods of Mahavidyas are in fact the manifestations of Shakti or the Great
Mother in the process of creation, preservation and destruction of the universe47.
The primal (adya) vidya is Kali who is the bestower of direct liberation while
goddess Tara is the bestower of knowledge. The third goddess Shodashi is known
for her benevolence. Goddess Bhuvaneshwari is conceived of as the protectress of
the world while Bhairavi as the goddess who relieves her worshipper from all types
of distress. Chinnamasta bestows on her worshippers anything they want and
Dhumati is invoked for the purpose of destroying enemies. Goddess Vagala, 5/19
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Matangi and Kamala are goddess of tamas quality and invoked especially in
connection with satkarma and allied purpose48.

Texts that dwell in detail on the Mahavidyas are the Tantrasara, Shakta Pramoda,
Shaktisamgama–tantra, etc49. The lists or depictions of the Mahavidya almost
always include Kali, Tara, Chinnamasta, Bagalamukhi, Tripurasundari and
Dhumavati, but the others are sometimes excluded. At times well known
goddesses such as Durga, Annapurna and Kamakhya may be included in the list
and even obscure goddesses such as Vashali, Bala and Pratyangiras are

Both literary and iconographic materials give the general impression that the ten
Mahavidyas are different forms of an overarching, transcendent female reality, who
is usually referred to simply as the Mahadevi (great goddess)51. An underlying
assumption of many Shakta texts is that the highest reality is the Great Goddess
and this infinitely great being manifests herself in a wide variety of forms. Many
myths in Shakta literature describe a goddess or the goddess as producing other
goddesses from her own body. In such cases she often announces that she
assumes different forms at different times to maintain cosmic stability, to bless a
particular devotee or out of a sense of sport or playfulness. There is evidence that
the ten avataras (incarnations) of Vishnu are the model for the ten Mahavidyas as
expressions of the Mahadevi that is the Mahadevi represents at least to some
extent a Shakta version of the Vaishnava idea52.

Regarding the origin of Mahavidya as a group the first version is that the
Mahavidyas are different forms of Goddess Sati, the second version is that they
are form of Parvathi, the third version is that they arise from goddess Kali, herself
one of the Mahavidya and the fourth version is that they are forms of goddess
Durga and the fifth version is that they are said to arise from goddess Shataksi who
is identified with Shakambari and Durga53.

Sri Vidya Cult

The Sri Vidya cult is of considerable antiquity and in its origin was a folk cult with a
beginning before the formation of the Vedic corpus. But in due course the folk
elements and sophisticated Vedic ideas were fused together and the cult assumed
its present form. This cult is prevalent all over India and there are regional
variations in the practical details of the tradition54.

Vidya usually means knowledge, learning, discipline, system of thought. But in the
tantric contest it has an extended meaning and it signifies a female divinity or her
power. The mother goddess Durga is described as stationed in all being in the form
of Vidya. Adepts of Sri Vidya cult recite a 15 lettered mantra known as
panchadasakshari. By adding the secret syllable ‘shrim’ it becomes shodashi (16
lettered). Shodashi literally means ‘the damsel of sixteen years’ and her form is
identified with deities like Lalitha, Rajarajeshvari, Sundari, Kameshvari and Bala.
According to texts this vidya is called Shodashi as the manta of this vidya consists
of 16 seed syllables. The verbal expression of this vidya is the mantra panchadashi
or shodashi and the visual expression is the yantra, Sri Chakra. The chief
instrument through which the mother goddess is propitiated and the knowledge
concerning her as put into practice is Sri Chakra yantra55.

Sri Chakra

The Sri Chakra is the most celebrated and potent yantra mentioned in the Tantra
sastra. It is famous as the eternal abode of Lalitha, the mother of grace. Sri Chakra
is called the king of Chakras for it contains and sustains all other Chakras in the
same way as the Divine Mother, the abiding deity in the Sri Chakra is the source
and sustenance of all the gods and goddesses. The Tantra says that the worship of
any deity can be conducted in Sri Chakra as this is the foundation, basis and
continent of all the other Chakras56. The mere presence of Sri Chakra is believed
to confer on the faithful material and spiritual benefits. There are several temples in
south India like Kanchipuram, Chidambaram, Sringeri, Kollur, etc. where the
worship of Sri Chakra assumes importance57.

Worship through Sri Chakra is more abstract than worship through pratima, image
and leads one to the direct perception of the divine form and that is why so much 6/19
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importance is given to the Chakra in Tantric worship. When the Chakra is

conceived as the material manifestation of the deity, all the emanations of the deity
are also conceived as stationed in the Chakra. The main deity (pradhana) takes
abode in the centre of the Chakra while its emanations gather round the pradhana
as the parivara devathas. The worship is done to the parivaras and then to the

There are nine Chakras in the Sri Chakra, proceeding from the outermost to the
innermost they are Trailokya Mohana, Sarvasaparipuraka, Sarvasankshobhana,
Sarvasaubhagyadayaka, Sarvarthasadhaka, Sarvarakshakara, Sarvarogahara,
Sarvasiddhiprada and Sarvanandamaya chakras. Each chakra has a colour of its
own, a presiding deity, Chakreshvari and a particular class of Yoginis belonging to
it. Each chakra has its own mudra devata59.

There are two ways to worship the Sri Chakra, external and internal. In external
worship one worship the Sri Chakra by adoring it with leaves of bilva, lotuses or
tulsi, flowers, waves lamps in front of it, etc., do the japa of Sri Vidya (panchadashi
or shodashi mantra) and recites the thousand names of Lalitha
(Lalithasahasranama). In inner worship all these activities are imagined. The
followers of Samaya marga install (imagine) the Sri Chakra in the adhara chakra or
basic centres in their subtle bodies and conduct the worship of the goddess

Shankaracharya and Sri Vidya cult

It is said that Sri Shankaracharya was initiated in the tantric cult of Sri Vidya at
Varanasi and the principal poetic work of this cult Saundaryalahari is ascribed to
his authorship; so also tantric works like Prapanchasara and Chintamani–Stava.
But S.K.Ramachandra Rao says that the authorship of the above works are
wrongly ascribed to Shankaracharya and he was entirely ignorant of Sri Chakra. It
is probable that Vidyaranya who is regarded as a teacher in Shankaracharya’s line
was proficient in the Sri Chakra cult. Associated with the founding of Vijayanagara
Empire and with two pontificates, Sringeri and Kanchipuram he was a great
spiritual, social and political force in south India. It may be due to his influence that
the Sri Vidya cult spread in this part of the country61.

Sri Vidya cult belongs to Vaishnava Tantra

According to Lalan Prasad Singh, Sri is the consort of Vishnu and Sri Chakra is the
abode of Vishnu, hence Sri Vidya cult belongs to the Vaishnava Tantra and not
Shakta Tantra. Also according to him the Saundaryalahari is a devotional hymn in
praise of Sri Chakra and is the canonical literature of Tantric Vaishnavism62.

The Cult of Yogini

The word Yogini has several meanings like a female devotee, sorceress or witch,
fairy, attendants of Durga, a name of Durga and the female counterpart of a Yogi63.
In some texts the term Yogini is used to denote minor goddesses who are
described either as companions or attendants of the Goddess64. The names of the
64 Yoginis contained in the Puranic list suggests that in certain traditions the
Yoginis were regarded as varying aspects of the great Goddess who through those
Yoginis manifested the totality of her presence65. An important tradition derives the
64 Yoginis in groups of eight from the Ashta Matrakas or eight mothers. From very
early times we know that Sapta Matrakas or seven mothers (namely Brahmi,
Maheshvari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Aindri and Narasimhi) as an independent
group of goddesses later expanded to eight, nine or sixteen were popularly
worshipped all over India66. The main goal in the worship of Yoginis was to obtain
a wide variety of occult powers67. These powers were achieved through a series of
rites and practices known collectively as Mahayaga68.

According to Kaulajnananirnaya, Matsyendranatha the first of the Natha gurus was

responsible for introducing the Yogini cult among the Kaulas. Matsyendranatha
must have belonged to a date prior to 900 A.D.69 and archaeological and textual
evidence point to the emergence of the Yogini cult to around 9th century A.D70.
The cult at one time extended its influence over large portion of India though the
existing temples of the Yoginis are found mainly in Orissa and central India71. A 7/19
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Yogini temple is a simple circular enclosure with no roof or a sanctum sanctorum.

Within the enclosure and placed in niches in its circular walls are a series of female
images generally 64 in number with beautiful bodies but often with non-human
heads. These shrines are referred as Chaunsat (sixty four) Yogini temples72.

Genesis of the Yoginis

The origins of the worship of Yoginis can be traced to the worship of village
goddesses called grama devatas. In the villages of India each grama devata
presides over the welfare of her village. These village goddesses seem to have
been gradually transformed and consolidated into potent numerical grouping of 64
acquiring thereby a totally different character. It was tantrism that elevated these
local deities and gave them a new form and vigour as a group of goddesses who
could bestow magical powers on their worshippers. The philosophy and rituals of
these deities were brought together under the heading Tantra and thus given
legitimacy in later Hinduism73. Even today in the daily worship of Devi Kamakhya
in the temple of Kamakhya in Assam, the names of the 64 Yoginis are recited74.

To be continued


1. Prabuddha Bharata, vol-121, no.1, January 2016, pp:23,24,158

2. N.Battacharyya- History of the Tantric Religion, Manohar, 2005, p.51
3. C.Banerji- A Companion to Tantra, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi,
4. Ibid, p.19
5. Paramahamsa Prajnananda- Jnana Sankalini Tantra, Motilal Banarsidass
Publishers Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, 2006, 12
6. Teun Goudriaan & Sanjukta Gupta- Hindu Tantric and Sakta Literature,
Publisher Otto Harrassowitz- Wiesbaden, 1981, p.118
7. Paramahamsa Prajnananda- cit, p.12
8. Manoranjan Basu- Fundamental of the Philosophy of Tantras, Mira Basu
Publishers, Calcutta, 1986, p.58
9. Ibid, p.59
10. T.Srinivasa Iyengar- Outlines of Indian Philosophy, Theosophical Publishing
Society, Benares and London, 1909, p.174
11. Suniti Kumar Chatterji, Edited- The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol-V, The
Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Calcutta, 1978, p.109, see
12. Ibid, p.110, see footnotes
13. Deba Brata Sen Sharma- Studies in Tantra Yoga, Natraj Publishing House,
Karnal, Haryana, 1985, pp:7,8
14. Ibid, pp: 8,9,10
15. N.Battacharyya- Op.cit, p.308
16. T.Srinivasa Iyengar- Op.cit, pp:138,139
17. Narayanaswami Iyer- Sri Vidya, part-II- Upasana, QJMS, 23 (2) 1932,
18. Deba Brata Sen Sharma, Edited- Matsyendra Samhita, part- I, The Asiatic
Society, Calcutta, 1994, p.15
19. Gaurinath Sastri, A Concise History of Classical Sanskrit Literature, Motilal
Banarsidass Publisher Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, p.50
20. Chintaharan Chakravarti- Tantras, Studies on the Religion and Literature,
Punthi Pustak, Calcutta, 1963, p.50
21. Lalan Prasad Singh- Tantra- Its Mystic and Scientific Basis, Concept
Publishing Company Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, 2010, p.131
22. Kamalakar Mishra- Kashmir Shaivism– The Central Philosophy of Tantrism,
Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi, 1999, pp:19,20
23. Victor M. Fic- The Tantras- Its Origin, Theories, Art and Diffusion from India
to Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Japan and Indonesia, Abhinav
Publications, 2003, pp: 43-51
24. Ibid, pp:53,54
25. Suniti Kumar Chatterji, cit, pp:233-243
26. T.Srinivasa Iyengar- Op.cit, p.147
27. Chintaharan Chakravarti- cit, pp:50-52
28. Rama Ghose- Parameshwaragama, Shaiva Bharati Shodha Pratishthanam,
Varanasi, 2004, p.xxii
29. Kamalakar Mishra- cit, pp:46,47 8/19
26.02.2018 January | 2018 | Ithihas

30. Chintaharan Chakravarti- cit, p.57

31. Varadachari- Agamas and South Indian Vaisnavism, M.Rangacharya
Memorial Trust, Triplicane, Madras, 1982, p.74
32. Chintaharan Chakravarti- cit, pp:55,56
33. Deba Brata Sen Sharma, Edited- Matsyendra Samhita, cit, pp:3,4
34. Ibid, p.13
35. Ibid, pp:10,11
36. Chintaharan Chakravarti- cit, pp:54,55
37. Ibid, pp:56,57
38. Deba Brata Sen Sharma, Edited- Matsyendra Samhita, Op.cit,p.12
39. C.Sircar, The Sakta Pithas, Motilal Banarsidas, Delhi, pp:6,7; Bose & Haldar-
Tantras- Their Philosophy and Occult Secrets, Firma KLM Private Ltd,
Calcutta, 1981, p.24
40. C.Sircar- Op.cit, p.12; Bose & Haldar-Op.cit, pp:23,24
41. C.Sircar- Op.cit, p.14
42. Ibid, p.17
43. Ibid, p.19
44. Ibid, p.20
45. Ibid, p.25
46. K.Ramachandra Rao-The Tantra of Sri Chakra, Sharada Prakashana,
Bangalore, 1983, p.vii
47. Bose & Haldar-cit, p.194
48. N.Battacharyya- Op.cit, pp: 321-325
49. David R Kinsley- Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten
Mahavidyas, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1998, pp:2,3
50. Ibid, p.14
51. Ibid, p.18
52. Ibid, p.20
53. Ibid, p.22
54. K.Ramachandra Rao- Sri Chakra, Sri Satguru Publications, New Delhi,
55. K.Ramachandra Rao-The Tantra of Sri Chakra, Sharada Prakashana,
Bangalore, 1983,, vii, viii, ix
56. Shankaranarayanan- Sri Chakra, Dipti Publications, Pondicherry,1979,
57. K.Ramachandra Rao- Sri Chakra– Op.cit, p.1
58. Shankaranarayanan—Op.cit, pp:9,10,12
59. Ibid, p.47
60. Ibid, pp:93,96,99,100
61. K.Ramachandra Rao- Sri Vidya Kosha, Sri Satguru Publications, New Delhi,
2000, pp:179,180
62. Lalan Prasad Singh- cit, pp: 136,137.97
63. Vidya Dehijia- Yogini Cult and Temples- A Tantric Tradition, Published by
National Museum, Janpath, New Delhi, 1986, p.11
64. Ibid, p.23
65. Ibid, p.22
66. Ibid, pp:27,28
67. Ibid, p.53
68. Ibid, p.56
69. Ibid, p.74
70. Ibid, p.67
71. Ibid, p.77
72. Ibid, p.ix
73. Ibid, pp:1,2
74. Ibid, p.78 9/19
26.02.2018 January | 2018 | Ithihas


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By S.Srinivas | Posted in essays | Comments (0)

Tantra- A Brief Introduction, Part I

January 14, 2018 – 11:58 am

Tantra is a body of theories, techniques and rituals developed in India in antiquity

which later spread to other parts of Asia. There are two fundamental aspects of
tantra. The first aspect is its theory of creation which posits that the universe has
no beginning and no end and that all its manifestations are merely the projections
of divine energy of the creator. The second aspect of the tantra is the belief that the
performance of tantric techniques and rituals facilitates access to this divine
energy, enabling their practitioners to empower themselves as well as empower
others associated with them in the guru-disciple relationship. Thus the knowledge
and proper application of tantric techniques and rituals is believed to harness the
creator’s cosmic energies to the promotion of the mundane as well as spiritual
goals of their practitioners1.

Original Home of Tantra

Eastern India was the birth place of Tantric sadhana and from there it travelled to
other parts of India and Nepal. According to Jayaratha (12th century A.D.) a
commentator of Tantraloka of Abhinavagupta, Kaula Tantras are said to have
issued from Kamarupa in Assam2. Some eminent scholars including Winternitz
think that Bengal was the cradle of Tantra based on the following facts-

Worship of Kali, the most prominent tantric deity is most widespread in

Bengal. 10/19
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A large number of Shakti Pitas (holy resorts of Shakti) are in Bengal.

Kamakhya (in Assam) was a strong hold of Tantra.
A largest number of Tantric manuscripts have been found in Bengal and
It is believed that Tantra was introduced in Tibet and China from Bengal
through Buddhism and Tantric sadhana in Nepal appears to have been
influenced by Tantric devotees of Bengal3.

Meaning of Tantra

Tantra is a Sanskrit word meaning rule and regulation, system or administrative

code. For example the word Shasana Tantra means a system of government.
Taking in this light, Tantra would come to mean a branch of knowledge which will
offer a systematic and scientific method by which the spiritual powers inherent in
man can be brought out and human life may be blessed with a glimpse of reality
and attain salvation. Tantra also stands for Shastra meaning a code which is meant
to govern the activity of man in all their aspects4. The expression Tantra is also a
generic name applied to Aagama, Tantra and Samhita which are theological
treatises discussing the codes of discipline and worship among different sects of
religion along with their metaphysical and mystical points of view5. Derived from
the root ‘tan’ meaning ‘to spread’, in religious sense Tantra mean ‘the scripture by
which knowledge is spread’6.

Contents of Tantra

The Tantras contain an amalgam of religion, philosophy, superstitious dogmas,

rites, astronomy, astrology, medicine, prognostications, etc7. The Hindu tantra
works present two sides, one philosophical and spiritual, the other popular,
practical and more or less magical which relies on mantras, mudras, mandalas,
nyasas, chakras and yantras as physical means to realize one’s identity with the
supreme power or energy by concentration and as conferring extraordinary powers
on devotees8. Regarding the contents of the Tantra, the Varahi Tantra gives a long
list of 24 topics which include the following; the creation and dissolution of the
world, classification of deities, description of tirthas (holy places), laws and duties
for people in their different ashramas (stations of life), prescription of rules for
vows, distinction between pious and sinful deeds, description of different psychic
centers in the physical body, use of different Yantras (mystical diagrams), etc. A
perusal of the long list of contents in any Tantra text shows their encyclopedic
nature. But most of the Tantra being short in size do not cover all of these topic9.

Tantra and Aagama

The word Aagama or Aagamana means inductive experience. Aagama also means
that which come, that is the knowledge which arises from within the self when
spiritual impurity is removed. Aagama also means that which come by tradition.
The two words Tantra and Aagama taken together mean a fully and logically
worked out discipline or body (tantra) of knowledge that has come down by
tradition and that is originally based on inductive experience (aagama) of the
seers10 Aagama is that wisdom spoken by Lord Shiva to Parvathi. All available
Aagamas contain a fourfold content-

1. Vidya Pada- section dealing with metaphysics,

2. Kriya Pada- section dealing with rituals,
3. Yoga Pada- section laying down modes of spiritual disciplines and
4. Charya Pada- section prescribing the daily routine of a spiritual seeker11.

The word Aagama and Tantra are often used as synonymous terms and there is
also no distinction in respect of their essential teachings. The Aagama have been
divided into Sat Aagamah or orthodox which accept the authority of the Vedas and
Asat Aagamah or heterodox which do not accept the authority of the Vedas12. The
Aagamic scriptures as a whole have branched out in three main currents, the
Shaiva, the Shakta and the Vaishnava sastras or scriptures13. Usually the sastras
of the Shaivas is referred as Aagama, that of Shaktas as Tantra and that of the
Vaishnavas as Samhita14.

Thought the terms Tantra and Aagama are used synonymously the scope of Tantra
is wider than that of Aagama as the former deals with as many as 25 subjects 11/19
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whereas the Aagamas covers only seven of the said 25 subjects15 According to
Varahi Tantra the Aagamas contain seven topics that includes origin and
dissolution of the world, modes of worship of deities and modes of spiritual
disciplines, purificatory rites and practice of magical rites called satkarmas namely
marana- vanquishing enemies, ucatana- ruining of adversary, vashikarana-
subjugation of enemies, stambhana- paralyzing enemies or inimical forces,
vidveshana- causing hostility in enemies and svastyayana- rites for obtaining
peace and prosperity16.

Antiquity of the Tantras

It is difficult to determine the exact time when the word tantra came to be employed
in the sense in which it is used in the so called tantra literature nor is it possible to
decide what people first introduced its principles and practices or where they first
arouse17. Dr. Bhattacharya says that the Buddhist were the first to introduce the
tantras in their religion and that the Hindus borrowed them from the Buddhist in
later times. But there is hardly any evidence of any Buddhist tantrik work before
650 A.D. except perhaps the Guhyasamajatantra and Manjushrimulakalpa, both of
which contain late elements. There is evidence of the prevalence of tantra and
shakta worship in India long before the 7th century A.D.18 Hence the question
whether Buddhist tantra were prior to the Hindu tantras or vice versa is difficult to
decide. It appears probable that both arose nearly about the same time19. The
Amarakosha composed around 500 A.D. is silent on the Tantras and so also the
Chinese pilgrims who visited India during 400-700 A.D. make no reference to
Tantra literature. It seems safe to assume that the Tantras did not take a define
shape before seventh century though many mantras and hymns which they include
may be of very much earlier date. The existing works on Tantra and commentaries
written on them belong to the period 7th century to 18th century A.D.20

At the same time orthodox scholars believe that the Tantras may have existed from
the time of the Vedas or may be even older than the Vedas. Of course the
language of the Tantric texts presently available is the post Vedic Sanskrit
systematized by Panini, which might suggest that Tantras are post Vedic. But
almost all the traditions in ancient India existed first in oral form and were handed
down from guru to disciple or from generation to generation. Hence it is reasonable
to believe that the Tantra philosophy existed in oral form from the time of the Vedas
if not earlier and was only written down after the time of the Vedas21

Founder of Tantra

The founder of Tantra is Lord Shiva. He is known as Adi Guru, a great ascetic
(Maha Yogi) and a great Tantrika (Maha Kaula). He attained occult power through
Tantra sadhana22. Lord Shiva was skilled in chemistry and medicine and was
known for his yogic powers. He resided in the vicinity of Himalaya Mountain and
his religious outlook was non-Vedic. He was a champion of the poor, diseased and
the tyrannized. He made no distinction between the high and low. He had
numerous followers all over India who were designated as Asuras, Rakshasas and
Danavas by the Devas (Manavas). These followers of Shiva constantly clashed
with Devas and caused hindrance to the sacrifices of the Brahmanas. Sati the
daughter of Daksha a king who ruled a part of Himalayan territory fell in love with
Shiva and married him though opposed by her father. Once when Sati heard that
her father was performing a sacrifice, though uninvited she wished to attend it. At
the venue of the ceremony Sati was humiliated by her father who used offensive
words against Shiva. Unable to bear the humiliation Sati swooned never to regain
her senses. When Shiva heard this he was furious and in rage desecrated the
sacrificial ground. All these incidents mentioned in the Puranas are interpreted as a
revolt against the domination of Brahmins and their sacrificial modes of worship.
After this incident there was reconciliation between the followers of Vedic religion
and followers of Shiva and the latter was included one among the Trinity and yoga
prescribed as a method for spiritual advancement. Gradually the popularity of
Tantra increased among all class of people23.

Inauguration of New Method of Worship

The advent of Mahesha or Ishwara as a prominent figure or conception of divinity

marks an epoch in ancient Hindu civilization. A new method of worship and a new
methodology were inaugurated which developed into the Tantras and the tantric 12/19
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system. Music, art, literature, yoga; were all getting a new life and a new form.
Henceforth every department seems to start with the name of Iswara and his
consort. The goddess becomes markedly prominent in the shape of Durga and
Kali. The old gods Mitra, Varuna, Indra, Aswins were subordinated and gradually
became mythological beings shorn of their divine importance24.

In the old method of worship the fire god is the duta or messenger and offerings
were thrown to the fire were carried to different gods. In the new method Avahan,
Dhyana, Shodashapachara, Dharana, Nyasa and Kshamaprarthana were
introduced. The mythology as disclosed in the Vedas is quite different from the new
mythology of the Tantras and Puranas. The new mythology deals principally with
Shiva, Durga, Kali, etc. and does not deal principally with the Vedic deities.
Goddesses became very prominent in the shapes of Dasamahavidya; all being
different manifestation of Shakti. In the old method of worship prayers or hymns to
divinity consisted mostly in asking for worldly boons and pardon as also for moral
advancement. The new method of worship consisted of contemplation of divinity
and merging of the smaller individual self into the higher ego (Brahman)25.

Characteristics of Tantra

Tantra Shastra is meant for all classes irrespective of caste, creed, sex and
all could be given spiritual initiation.
Tantra Shastra is primarily a sadhana shastra and it affords to all freedom to
be engaged in spiritual practice according to one’s competence and shows
the practical method which would qualify the spiritual aspirant (sadhaka) to
proceed along the higher path of knowledge; knowledge in terms of
experience as distinguished from intellectual theorizing alone26.
The most significant character of the Tantra is to synthesize all the facts
apparently opposed to each other. Tantra Shastra embraces all the view
points of the Indian mind right from the black magic of the occultist to the
highest peaks of karma, bhakti, upasana and jnana yoga of the rishis, munis,
siddhas and saints27.

Philosophy of the Tantra

The philosophical foundation upon which Hindu Tantrism rest is the Sivadvaita
school of Hinduism which maintains that the Supreme Reality is Shiva himself,
being a Pure Consciousness, which is self-luminous, all pervading, eternal and
absolute. Shiva is endowed with a Shakti (a female principle) which is a part of Him
and eternally coexisting in Him. Their collective name is Param Shiva representing
two aspects of the Absolute, one transcendent and static Shiva and the other
immanent and dynamic, the Shakti28.

The essence of Tantra philosophy is the attainment of the supreme unification of

Self with Parama Shiva. This state of self-realization is both an enjoyment and
liberation. To a Tantric sadhaka world is nothing but the manifestation of Reality.
With the gradual ascent to God-path, one experience Him both in animate and
inanimate objects. This realization of divine presence puts an end to all physical,
mental and spiritual sufferings and inspires one to live up to the ideal and glory of
man. According to Tantra the world is neither an illusion nor reality. Tantra put
emphasis on the spiritual realization with ignoring the material aspect of life29.
According to S.K.Ramachandra Rao Tantra is primarily a practical discipline and its
philosophy was never crystallized. The need was never strongly felt and much of
the instruction was oral and situational. Some of the Tantric texts like Saradatilaka
do deal with philosophical matter, but these accounts are neither systematic nor
consistent. It is hard therefore to define and describe what may be called the
Tantra philosophy30.

Factors favouring the rise of Tantra

The origin and development of the Tantras as a special class of literature and
Tantras as a special mode of sadhana were intimately connected with the rise of
Shaivism and Pancaratra movement31. The Tantra form of sadhana probably came
into special prominence when on the one hand, the elaborate details enjoined by
the Vedic sacrifices taking a long time to be performed could not be accomplished
by the people of feeble attainments and when on the other the Upanishadic
method of acquisition of transcendent knowledge surpassed the intellects and 13/19
26.02.2018 January | 2018 | Ithihas

equipment of the common people. The Puranas were at this time preaching the
bhakti cult in order to place before the masses an easy method capable of being
grasped and followed by all. Then the Tantras offered themselves to the people
containing within them the essentials of the Vedic sacrifices and oblations, the
essence of the monotheistic philosophy of the Upanishad, the bhakti cult preached
by the Puranas, the Yoga method propounded by Patanjali and the mantra element
of the Atharva Veda32

Tantra preached the principle of mukti (liberation) through bhukti (enjoyment) and
did not advocate the repression of natural human propensities. It also did not
advocate its adherents to give up eating meat and drinking wine and in the
observance of Tantric rituals there was no caste restriction, all these factors gave
rise to the popularity of Tantras33.

The development of Tantric Hinduism reached its zenith in Bihar, Bengal and
Orissa under the Pala kings who ruled these parts of eastern India from 760-1142
A.D., in Kanyakubja under the Pratihara kings from 800-1019 A.D. and in
Bundelkhand under the Chandella kings from 950- 1203 A.D.34

Was Tantra an alternate to Vedas?

What was the necessity of Tantra to emerge when there was Veda and many Vedic
based scripture like Dharmasastra and the six philosophical treatises? This was
because the elitist sastras failed to satisfy the aspirations of the common men
particularly the shudras and women. In the post-Vedic scriptures, shudras and
women were marginalized. They were denied the right to perform sacrifices and to
participate in other religious observances. Moreover as life became busier and
living more complicated, people felt the need for easier ways of devotion than the
elaborate rituals. The orthodox Brahmanical scriptures demanded self-mortification
and renunciation as stepping stones to liberation. This stifled the people’s natural
inclination for enjoyment of sex, drinking wine and eating meat, etc. All these
reasons led to the composition of Tantras, which provided easier methods of
devotion without denying the satisfaction of natural human propensities35. As
Tantra was a collective expression of numerous tribal and regional cults36 it could
be termed as an alternative religion of the commoners as against the Vedas which
was the religion of the elitist.

According to S.S.Suryanarayana Sastri from a very early stage in the history of

Indian philosophical speculation there would seem to have been two currents of
thoughts, the Vedic and the Agamic (Tantric), apparently independent and
antagonistic. The Mahabharatha mentions Pancaratra (Agama texts of the
Vaishnavas) as one among the various kinds of religion, the other being, Samkya,
Yoga, Vedas and Pashupatas37.

The smrti texts based on the Vedas repudiated the Pancaratra doctrines as they
initiated and admitted within their sect even women and Shudras38 Badarayana in
his Brahma Sutras refutes the Pashupata and the Pancaratra Agamas39. Similarly
the Agamic schools rejected the authority of the Vedas. The Anandabhairava
Tantra declares-‘A wise man should not elect as his authority the words of Vedas
which is full of impurity, produces but scanty and transitory fruits and is limited. He
should instead sustain the authority of the Shaiva scriptures. Abhinavagupta in his
Tantraloka remarks-‘That which according to the Veda is a source of sin leads
according to this doctrine (Tantra) directly to liberation. In fact all the Vedic teaching
is dominated by Maya40. In Mahanirvana Tantra Shiva declares- ‘The fool who
follow other doctrines heedless of mine is as great a sinner as a parricide or the
murderer of a Brahman or of a woman. The Vedic rites and mantras which were
efficacious in the first age have ceased to have power in this age. They are now as
powerless as snakes whose fangs have been drawn and are like dead things41.
The Kularnava says ‘Mukti does not result from the study of the Veda nor by the
study of shastras, it results from correct knowledge alone which is imparted by the
teaching of the guru and which confers mukti42.

Differences between Tantras and Vedas

The Vedic ritual is propitiatory and sacrificial while the Tantra (Agamic) ritual
consists essentially in devote worship of and personal communion with the
deity. 14/19
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The study of Vedas is restricted to certain castes while the doctrines of

Tantra could be studied irrespective of sex or caste.
The Vedic worship is mainly sacrificial while the Tantric method of worship
involves idols, symbols and meditation43
The Brahman of Vedic thought is static while the Brahman (Siva) of the
Tantra is dynamic44
Tantra is a cult and the Veda a religio-philosophical school
Tantra is for salvation of the soul and the Veda for the enrichment of mind45
Vedic knowledge comes mainly through the process of revelation whereas
the Tantric knowledge comes mainly through experiences46.

Reconciliation between Tantra and Vedas

At first the Vedic tradition and the Tantric tradition were almost irreconcilable. Each
camp looked upon the other as antagonistic, perverse and purposeless. If the
Puranas proclaimed that the Tantras were prepared only in order to confound the
wicked the Tantras like Kularnava claimed that a Tantra is like an honourable
house wife while the Veda with its accessories like Puranas and shastras is like a
common harlot. The orthodox view projected mainly by Kumarila (early 6th century)
holds that Tantra was meant for the degenerate, the uneducated, the fallen or the
infirm and that its rituals were fraught with dangers of all sorts. But the Tantrik
enthusiasts held and hold even now that the Vedas being antiquated cannot lead to
much good. There was obviously a struggle for ascendance and each tradition
geared itself up to meet the needs of both the folk and the elite. And in the process
inevitably each modeled itself after the other, assimilated the attractive particulars
of the other and attempted to secure the authority and support of the other. The
Tantrik adherents sought to show that Tantra had Vedic foundation, Vedic sanction
and Vedic authority. The Vedic puritans took over many of the hand gestures
(mudras), spells (mantras) and magic designs (mandalas) the Tantriks employed
together with their method of exposition47.

The reconciliation between the two divergent traditions was partly effected by the
orthodox authorities affiliating the Tantra to the Saubhagya kanda of Atharvaveda
and the Tantrik writers relying heavily on Vedic texts like Taittiriya Aranyaka and
describing their scriptures as continuation of the Upanishadic traditions. The Vedic
rituals adopted numerous Tantrik details and the Tantra abandoned its cruder
ideology in favour of the austere aspiration of the Upanishads48.

Attempts to Sanskritise Tantra

Although later authors of Tantric texts and commentators on these texts sought to
base their doctrines and commentaries on the Vedas, Tantra remained a separate
branch of knowledge quite outside the pale of Vedic tradition. This was due to the
fact that in the ideological conflict between the two tradition, the Veda and Tantra,
the latter held its own although many of its theoreticians mostly Brahmins covertly
or openly supported the Vedic tradition and fabricated the Tantra in the Vedic lines.
In spite of all sorts of Brahmanical interpolations, grafting and handling, Tantra
clearly rejects the varna system and patriarchy and in the field of religion, all
external formalities in regard to spiritual quests49.

Seeds of Tantra in Atharva Veda

At Mohenjodaro a seal have been discovered with a figure in yogic posture and
surrounded by animals and is identified with Shiva. Also a number of conical stone,
shell and clay pieces have been found which is identified as a Linga. Similarly a
number of terracotta figurines of a female figure have been found which is
identified with mother goddess50. All these show that Shiva and mother goddess
were worshipped during the time when the urban civilization at Harappa and
Mohenjodaro were flourishing. This implies that Tantra flourished during that period
as Shaivism and Shaktism are the two aspects of Tantra. Shaktism represents the
beginning of Tantra sadhana and Shaivism is the culminating point of the spiritual
march51. The urban civilization which flourished at Harappa is identified with the
Atharavan phase of the Vedic civilization and this has led scholars to believe that
the Atharva Veda as the basis of all the tantras, especially those connected with
the worship of the mother goddess. The Sammohana Tantra asserts that without
the worship of Kali or Tara there can be no practical application of Atharvan charms
and spells52. 15/19
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The Atharva Veda is an inestimable source of knowledge of the actual popular

religion of ancient India and for its populist character had been for centuries
tabooed in the upper echelons of the society dominated by the sacerdotal class53.
This Veda is quite different from the Rig Veda in content and form and hence was
not recognized as a revealed scripture (Sruti). The word trayi which is used to
signify the Vedic scriptures does not recognize the Atharva Veda as the fourth
Veda. Panani the grammarian of India describes the Veda as trayi and Dayananda
Saraswati the founder of Arya Samaj condemn the Atharva Veda as a heretical
literature54. As the name of the seers who composed the Atharva Veda did not
figure in the traditional lists of the Vedic seers (anukramanis), for long the Atharva
Veda was denied the status enjoyed by the trayi55. It was only after the insertion of
about 1/7th part of the Rig Veda and associating mythical sages as authors with it
did the Atharva Veda get elevated as the fourth Veda56. The Atharva Veda mainly
deals with the Tantric cult and covers all the branches of Tantrism. Atharva Veda is
a compendium of Vidya Tantra which propagates the philosophy of Brahma Vada
and Upavidya Tantra which deals about charms and sorceries57.

Tantras and Puranic Dharma

Among the followers of Vaishnavas and Shaivas were a section of Brahmins who
while believing in the worship of Vishnu and Shiva as a means to attain salvation
also looked upon the Vedas as authorities, attached great importance to
varnashrama dharma and the smrti rules and did not like to give them up. The
Puranic Dharma originated from these classes of people who were also the
authors of the various Puranas58. As the Trantrics preached ideas and practices
which often went against the Brahmanical ones, the early Puranas denounced the
Tantras as Mohana Sastra59 and the Tantra scriptures as inferior and tamasi. They
agreed that Shiva had revealed the Tantras but his reason for doing so was to
delude the apostate and distract him from the true path. In Varaha Purana Rudra
himself denounces the Pashupatas and the other followers of the Shaivagamas as
given to mean and sinful acts and as addicted to meat, wine and women60. In
chapter 15 of Kurma Purana it is said that the great sinners the Pancaratrins were
produced as a result of killing cows in some other birth, that they are absolutely
non-Vedic and that the literature of the Shaktas, Shaivas and the Pancaratras are
for the delusion of mankind61.

But from about the end of eighth century or the beginning of ninth century A.D. the
Puranas began to recognize the Tantras as one of the authorities on religious
matters. Tantric mantras and performance of Nyasas and Mudras were introduced
in diksha (initiation ceremony), consecration of images, performance of
sandhyavandana, and the Yantra as a medium of worship was also recognized.
This recognition must have been effected by the great spread of Tantricism among
the people including even the Buddhist62 The Devi, Devibhagavata and the Kalika
and large portions of Narada Purana are extensively Tantric63

Both Tantras and Puranas are didactic and sectarian. As a rule Tantras contains
less historical and legendary matter and more directions as to ritual. While the
Puranas approve of Vedic rites as well as other, for which they give directions, the
Tantras insist that ceremonies other than theirs prescribed are useless64

Reasons for Tantra to acquire a negative image

Tantras do not believe in caste and creed. Tantric social system runs counter
to the rigid Vedic system of caste and creed. There is no place for a Brahmin
priest in tantric sadhana. That is why Brahmins started a tirade against
tantras and declared the followers of tantras as outcaste65.
Another main cause for the apathy towards Tantra was the baseless Aryan
bias. Earlier scholars equated Tantra with the so called degraded forms of
Hinduism supposed to be the legacies of uncivilized aboriginal cultures. To
these learned western scholars just as the Englishmen came to India with a
civilizing mission, so also in the past aboriginal Indians were civilized by the
Aryans who came from outside. To them whatever is noble and praiseworthy
in Hinduism is found in the so called Aryan tradition that is the Vedic texts
and Brahmanical literature and all the barbarous and degraded aspects
attributed to Tantras are derived from the uncivilized non-Aryans. This idea
was also shared by the learned Indians who belonged mostly if not 16/19
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exclusively to the upper strata of society who took pride in thinking of

themselves as direct descendants of the great Aryan race66.
The practice of Panchamakaras involving wine and women which was
considered as obnoxious and revolting and the inclusions of the six magical
rites called Satkarmas in the Agamas led people develop a negative attitude
towards Tantras.
In course of time for some people, Tantric practices became exclusively self-
indulgent. Excessive drinking and promiscuous sexual unions marked their
so called rituals. As Tantra attaches importance to guru and gurus being
hereditary, sometimes a worthless and avaricious son of a guru led to
denegation of Tantra. This led western and Indian scholars to believe that
obscenity was the soul of this cult and even patriots like Bankim Chandra
Chaterjee viewed Tantra as a misguiding principle which offered only wine
and women in the name of religion67.

Contributions of Tantra

Tantra is the oldest and the most scientific religion of the world. It is the first
spiritual faith laying down ethical norms to be strictly observed for the
spiritual enlightenment and integrated development of society68.
Tantras endeavored to provide a common platform for differing and
wrangling sects of Vaishnavas, Shaivas and others by putting forward Devi
as the object of worship for all69.
The Tantra placed women on a footing of equality with men and accorded
them an exalted position. She could play the role of a guru and in certain
tantric rites was worshiped as Shakti70.
The orthodox Brahmanical scriptures by compartmentalization of society into
four castes and by rigorous divisions of the people into higher and lower
classes fostered animosity among them. There was an upsurge for leveling
down this invidious discrimination. Tantra came forward to reduce the rigours
of the caste system and put more premium on merit than the accident of
The murder of a woman is regarded as a heinous crime by Tantrists and they
denounced prostitution and burning of widows and allowed remarriage of girl
The popularity of Tantra compelled the orthodox Brahmanical sastra to
incorporate Tantra practices. For instance the Tantric concepts of mandala,
mudra, yantra, the mystic bija mantras like hrim, krim, kumara puja, etc.
crept into the traditional works of the Brahmanas. Similarly Buddhism was
also deeply influenced by Tantras73.
Tantra developed a system of medical treatment for diseases affecting men,
women and children. As the human body was considered essential for
Tantric sadhanas, various drugs both herbal and chemical were prescribed
for the preservation of youth and virility and for the treatment of diseases; so
also medicines for rejuvenation and destroying the effects of various kinds of
Art and architecture was also influenced by Tantra. There are many images
of various Tantric deities particularly of Kali in her different forms. Many
temples sculptures particularly of Orissa and south India show an
abundance of tantric motifs. Several temples in south India worship Sri
Chakra, the yantra associated with the Sri Vidya cult. There are also painting
of Kali and other tantric deities as also of mandalas, mudras, yantras and
The rational and liberal outlook of Tantras made it popular in foreign
countries like Tibet, Nepal and Cambodia. Thus Tantras played an important
role in the spread of Indian religious concepts abroad76.
The living Hindu religion of today is essentially Tantric. Even a few genuine
Vedic rites that are preserved and are supposed to be derived straight from
the Vedas, i.e. the Sandhya have been modified by the addition of tantric
practices.77 The rituals of the temples based on Agamas have replaced the
Vedic yajnas.78

To be continued

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1. Victor M. Fic- The Tantras- Its Origin, Theories, Art and Diffusion from India
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8. Ibid, p.1057
9. Prabuddha Bharata, vol-115, no.6, June 2010, p.373
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Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi, 1999, p.36
11. Prabuddha Bharata– cit, pp:372,373
12. Nando Lall Kundu- Constructive Philosophy of India, Vol-II (Tantra),
Published by Nando Lall Kundu, Calcutta, p.24
13. Ibid, p.31
14. Gaurinath Sastri- cit, p.47
15. Manoranjan Basu- Tantras- A General Study, Published by Shrimati Mira
Basu, Calcutta, 1976, p.1
16. Prabuddha Bharata– cit, pp:372,373
17. P.V.Kane- Op.cit, p.1033
18. Ibid, pp:1039,1040
19. Ibid, p.1038
20. Earnest A Payne- The Shaktas: An Introduction and Comparative Study,
Cosmos Publication, New Delhi, 2004, pp:52,53
21. Kamalakar Mishra- cit, p.14
22. Lalan Prasad Singh- cit, p.8
23. N.Bose & Hiralal Haldar- Op.cit, pp:26-29
24. Babu Dhanapati Banerji- The Evolution of Rudra or Mahesha in Hinduism,
QJMS, Vol-X, April 1920, No.3, pp:221,222
25. Ibid
26. Manoranjan Basu- cit, p.25
27. Ramakant Sharma Angiras- Trilogy of Tantra, Natraj Publishing House,
Karnal, Haryana, 1989,p.3
28. Victor M. Fic- cit, p.27
29. Lalan Prasad Singh- cit, p.43
30. S.K.Ramachandra Rao- Tantra Mantra Yantra, The Tantra Psychology, Sri
Satguru Publication, New Delhi, 2008, p.57
31. Studies on the Tantras– Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Calcutta,
1989, p.10
32. Subodh Kapoor- Short Introduction to Shakta Philosophy, Cosmo
Publication, New Delhi, 2008, p.68
33. Sures Chandra Banerji- The Cultural Glory of Ancient India, D.K.Printworld
(P) Ltd, New Delhi, 2000, p.121 and P.V.Kane-cit, p.1077
34. Victor M. Fic- cit, p.42
35. S.C.Banerji- A Companion to Tantra, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, p13
36. S.K.Ramachandra Rao- Tantra Mantra Yantra, The Tantra Psychology, p.19
37. S.Suryanarayana Sastri- The Sivadvaita of Srikantha, University of Madras,
1930, p.1
38. Surendranath Dasgupta- History of Indian Philosophy, vol- III, Cambridge
University Press, 1952, pp: 19,20
39. S.Suryanarayana Sastri- Op.cit, p.1
40. Mark S.G. Dyczkowski- The Canon of the Shaivagama and the Kubjika
Tantras of the Western Kaula Tradition, Motilal Banarasidass, New Delhi,
1989, p.9
41. Earnest A Payne- cit, pp:50,51
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43. S.Suryanarayana Sastri- Op.cit, pp:5,7,8
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46. Kamalakar Mishra- cit, p.5

47. S.K.Ramachandra Rao- Tantra Mantra Yantra, The Tantra Psychology, p.12
48. Ibid, p.13
49. N.N.Battacharyya- Op.cit, pp:21-23
50. B.N.Luniya- Life and Culture in Ancient India, Lakshmi Narain Agarwal, Agra,
51. Lalan Prasad Singh- cit, pp:2,3
52. Srikantha Sastri- Tantri Hieroglyphics, QJMS, vol-51, No.1, April 1960, p.11
53. S.C.Banerji- A Companion to Tantra, p.13
54. Lalan Prasad Singh- cit, p.22
55. S.K.Ramachandra Rao-The Tantra of Sri Chakra, Sharada Prakashana,
Bangalore, 1983, p.3
56. Sanjay Sonawani- Origins of the Vedic Religion And Indus ghaggar
Civilization, Book Tango, 2015
57. Lalan Prasad Singh- cit, p.23
58. R.C.Hazra- Studies in the Puranic Records on Hindu Rites and Customs,
Abinas Press, Calcutta, 1940, pp:193,203,204
59. Ibid, p.260
60. Mark S.G. Dyczkowski- cit, p.10
61. Surendranath Dasgupta- cit, p.19
62. R.C.Hazra- Op.cit, pp:260-262
63. Mark S.G. Dyczkowski- cit, p.8
64. Earnest A Payne- cit, p.50
65. Lalan Prasad Singh- cit, pp: 139,140
66. N.N.Battacharyya- Op.cit, p.43
67. N.N.Battacharyya- Op.cit, p.41 and Sures Chandra Banerji- Op.cit, p.123
68. Lalan Prasad Singh- cit, pp: 11,12
69. P.V.Kane- Op.cit, p.1092
70. P.V.Kane- Op.cit, p.1092 and Sures Chandra Banerji- Op.cit, p.120
71. S.C.Banerji- A Companion to Tantra, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi,
72. Earnest A Payne- cit, p.59
73. Sures Chandra Banerji- cit, p.122
74. Ibid, pp:121,122
75. Sures Chandra Banerji- cit, pp:122,123 and S.K.Ramachandra Rao- Sri
Chakra, Sri Satguru Publications, New Delhi, 1989,p.1
76. Sures Chandra Banerji- cit, p.121
77. P.T.Srinivasa Iyengar- Outlines of Indian Philosophy, Theosophical
Publishing Society, Benaras and London, 1909, p.130
78. Ibid, pp:124,128

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