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B. V. SUBBARAYAPPA .AND MIRA ROY*
National Commission for the Compilation of History of Sciences of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi 1
(Received June 24,1968)
In the Indian alchemical literature, apart from the well-known texts which are generally classed under the RasaBastra, are a few tantrik texts which deal with alchemical ideas in consonance with their psycho-experimental-symbolic presentation of tantrik ideals. The Matrkabhedatantram, a tantrik text in Sanskrit, is one of them. The main alchemical ideas of this text relate to transmutation processes, preparation as well as powers of mercurial compounds and the rasalinga. The concept of rasalinga is clearly suggestive of the male-female symbolism associated with mercury and sulphur respectively. Significantly, in the opening chapter, the text makes a reference, among others, to Oinatantra and its precepts, indicating thus a possible transmission of mercury-based ideas and practices between the southern parts of China as well as their adjoining areas and India. On the basis of the tantrik elements as well as what are generally known as 'intentional language' expressions (8andhya b~a) presented in the text, the probable date of the Matrkiibhedatantrum may be eleventh or twelfth century A.D., perhaps belonging to the Natha-Siddha cult of Indian tantrism.
Among the varied literary sources relating to alchemical thought and practice in India, those in Sanskrit and Tamil are of great importance. The Sanskrit sources, which generally belong to a period between the ninth and the eighteenth centuries A.D., appear to reveal evolutionary trends in the manner of presentation of alchemical ideas: Broadly, the textual composition seems to be of two types: (i) alchemical ideas forming a composite part of certain tantrik texts and (ii) a systematic presentation of different facets of alchemy. The texts of the latter type come under the category of Rusaaastra. The nomenclature of the texts on Rasa8iistra follows a particular pattern, like RasartuLva, Rasaratnasamuccaya, Rasahrdaya, Rasaprakii8asudhiikara, and so on. As alchemy in India grew around male-female symbolism cast in an indigenous imagery and sustained by tantrik beliefs and practices, the Rasasastra texts also speak of certain aspects of tantrik elements even when they present a systematic account of alchemy. It should, however.. be emphasized that the Rasa8astra texts are not generally recognized as part of tantrik literature,! while those of the first type mentioned above are tantrik texts.
• Place of work: National Institute of Sciences of India (History of Sciences in India Unit) 1 Park Street, Calcutta 16.
VOL. 3. No.1.
SUBBARAY.APPA &; ROY : MAT~KABHEDATANTRA.M
The Tamil sources which have received till now little or no attention are attributed to a number of authors like Agastyar, Bogar, Konksnar, Ramadevar and Nandanar. Even though the tradition of the region claims remote antiquity in respect of these authors, it would appears that the Tamil alchemical sources relive the inspiration of the Sanskrit sources with particular reference to the essential tantrik elements, incorporating at the same time some of the occult and obscure religious practices of the region germane to tantrik beliefs. A comparison between the Sanskritic and Tamilian sources would be possible only when the latter are studied in detail, a scholastic pursuit which is yet to be accomplished.
A survey of the general trends of studies in the Sanskritic Rasa8iistra texts reveals that a majority of them have come to light and that those which are yet to be studied contain material of alchemical interest probably not wholly different from what has already been known. However, certain tantrik texts, which are but a few and which contain alchemical ideas in a condensed manner, deserve scholastic attention, for they present those alchemical ideas as a part of their psycho-experimental-symbolic enunciation and treatment of tantric goals and related practices: To this class belongs the text known as Miitrkiibhedatantram which probably belongs to the eleventh or twelfth century A.D., as will be seen later. The other notable literary work belonging to the same class is Rudrayiimala which gives rather a detailed account of alchemical interest under the section entitled 'Rasart;la vakalpa ' .3 Matrkiibhedatantra, in form and content, is different from the 'Basarnavakalpa ', even though the general doctrinaire approach remains practically the same.
Admittedly a tantrik text,4 the Miitrkiibhedatantra seems to connote an exposition of. the knowledge and practice pertaining to the differentiation of what are called miitrkiis. The miitrkiis are 50 letters (at (a) to ~ (k§a» and the letters are not of the common parlance, but considered to possess divine potential, coloured and associated with the §atca,kra85 (generally, perhaps wrongly, translated as the six plexuses). The tantrik view is that the letters are the repositories of the Supreme 8 akti; and K ur.uf,alini,6 a form of the Supreme 8 akti, is potentially connected with the letters which are therefore vibrant with energy. In fact, the body of Kur.uf,alini is considered to be made of 50 letters and K u'IJrJ.alini is roused by certain tantrik practices gradually from one cakra to another and made to unite with the highest centre (8akasriira) in the cerebrum. Of importance to us is the fact that the tantriks endeavoured to attain their highest goal by some esoteric ways? which included the use of life-sustaining elixirs or alchemical compositions based on mercury and a host of other substances.
The Miitrkiibhedatamra8 (14 palalas or chapters; 573 verses in liturgical style) is presented in the form of a dialogue between SaIikara (Siva) and Ca1;lc;li.ki
B. V. SUBBARAYAPPA & MIRA ROY
(Sakti) like the other well-known tantrik texts. The authorship of this text is thus divine. The text opens with a setting wherein the Devi seeks to get the desired knowledge from the Bhairasx: form of Psramesvara, significantly and to this we shall return later.
Alchemical ideas: Chapters one, five, eight and nine contain descriptions and narrations of alchemical interest. Briefly stated, the main alchemical ideas of the text relate to (i) the varieties of what it calls sambala and the use of sambala in the conversion of copper into silver; (ii) processes for converting mercury into bhaema; (iii) powers attributed to mercurial bhaema ; and (iv) the rasalinga.
The exact meaning of sambala9 is not known. Probably it refers to a potent natural exudate with salt-like composition with attributed lifeprolonging or transmuting powers. According to the text, two tolakas of sambala are to be taken and mantras (spiritual utterances) uttered over it. The same mantras are also to be muttered 800 times on 80 tolaka« of milk of black cow. Then, the sambala, tied on a piece of cloth, should be deposited in the spiritually processed milk and heated over mild fire till about one-fortieth part of the milk evaporates. The sambala should now be removed, and placed on fire, till it no longer emits smoke. It is removed again and mystic mantras uttered over it. If to this, pure and bright copper is thrown, the latter, it is stated, becomes silver.10
The text seems to accord the most important place to the spiritual practices and this is evidently reflected even when it gives an account of the preparation of mercurial bhasma. It is pointed out that as many difficulties arise in the conversion of mercury into the bhaema, propitiatory rites should be observed at the commencement of the process including the worship of the 16lingas according to the dictates of TOfjalatantra.ll The process described for converting mercury into bhasma is as follows: Mercury is placed on a stone and mantras uttered on it. The spiritualized mercury is then tied in a piece of cloth mixed with fresh sulphur and heated in two earthen vessels. Then it is treated with paddy water and again heated.12 Yet another process for obtaining bhasma of mercury consists in heating mercury with the juice of valli (a kind of plant not satisfactorily identified) and ghrtaniiri (Aloe indica). Mercury, thus treated, is made into small balls, kept in the cavity made in a thorn-apple along with black basil (kr§1Jatulasi) as well as ghrta-kumari (Aloe indica), and heated till it turns to bhasma. With the application of this bhaema, according to the text, gold can be obtained by the favour of the Celestial Lord of Wealth (Kubera), although it is secretively silent about the modus operandi.1S Later, however, the text gives an account of further processing of the bhaema with sulphur in a symbolic way and converting copper into gold in a quantitative way. It is stated that one gunja of the bhaema would transmute entirely one tolaka of pure and molten COpper.14 In addition, the bhasma has three other
MAT~K:iBHEDAT.4.NTRAM AND ITS ALCHEMICAL IDEAS
attributes: (i) a panacea for all diseases; (ii) a beautifying agent; and (iii) increasing of virility.lo
Rasalinga: The preparation of rasalingal6 is dealt with in the eighth chapter. The term used for rasa in this respect is parada which, according to the text, includes the four gods and their consorts.tt The process consists in intimately mixing mercury (here referred to as the seed of Siva) with the extract of jhinti (Barberia cristata), constantly stirring (without rubbing) till it assumes the consistency of mud. Then the mixture is shaped into a linga (phallus) form and with sulphur (referred to as the Deoi:« principle) all over the surface heated slightly over the fire of charcoal or cowdung. The process is repeated till the linga, now called rasalinga, becomes hard.Is
An examination of the alchemical contents of the Matrkiibhedatantra reveals that the alchemical knowledge, as assimilated into the text, is seemingly at a rudimentary stage, if an attempt at comparison were to be made with the well-known systematic texts on Indian alchemy, like Rasa'f'l'}(1,va, Rasahrdaya, Rasaratnasamuccaya and Rasaprakii8asudOOkara. In Rasarr_uLva, for example, there is a clear classified account of alchemical substances such as the mahiiraeas, uparaeas, dOOtus and several processes concerning them on the one hand and the associated experimental techniques including the apparatus on the other. Even in respect of the use of herbals, the Matrkiibhedatantra mentions six herbs while Rasarr_uLva, Rasahrdaya, Baearatnasamuccaqa and RasaprakiisasudOOkara mention respectively as many as about 160, 40, 120 and IlO herbs. But the Matrkiibhedatantra is aware of the importance of the medicinal plants and hence emphatically says that mercury cannot be reduced to bhaema without the help of the medicinal plants.I9 As for the transmutation process, too, this text mentions one or two and, even so, in a sketchy way while the other texts give accounts of transmutation processes in considerable detail. On closer examination, however, it would appear that the text has taken into account such of the alchemical ideas as are relevant to its purpose. Probably the text has given an account of the substances and processes which it considers to be most efficacious towards realization of the tantrik objectives.
From the point of view of Indian alchemy, the importance of Matrkiibhedatantra seems to lie in its description of the process for the preparation of rasalinga (the mercurial phallus). Though some of the other well-known texts mention the rasalinga, they do not contain an account of its preparation, with the "exception of Rasaratnasamuccaya which speaks of the placement of rasalinga in the alchemical laboratory (rasasalii), and also gives in a different way the preparation of rasalinga.20 Agnipuriitta only mentions rasalinga as one of the lingas without describing it.21 The description of rasalinga as given in Miitrkabhedatantra is of importance in another respect, viz. it throws enough light on the symbolism associated with it.
B. V. SUBB.A.RA.Y.APPA & MIRA. ROY
Male-female symbolism: Like the other texts, the M iitrkiibhedatamra thinks of mercury and sulphur as masculine and femine principles respectively. In the preparation of rasalinga, according to the text, Siva tells Devl that mercury is his seed (bija), sulphur, her menstrual fluid (svapUljpa)22 and that rasalinga is to be prepared with these two constituents. This is doubtless a symbolic imagery. Tantrism, it may be noted, visualizes the Supreme in terms of male-female polarity at a divine level in the form of male god and famine consort. In this symbolical dual imagery, the mystagogue thinks of the active and the passive principles corresponding to his vision of the highest which is non-dual. The Hindu tantrism thinks of the male principle as static, the female principle as active and the former without the latter is lifeless. The union of mercury (male) and sulphur (female) in the form of rasalinga is the'Supreme non-dual. Rasalinga thus represents the highest vision of the tantriks.
The concept of rasalinga of the Miitrkiibhedatantra has an added significance in the context of the history of alchemical ideas. Historically, the male-female symbolism is encountered first in the Chinese alchemy. The Chinese alchemists held cinnabar, the naturally occurring mercuric sulphide, in veneration as an energetic essence and a bestower.of long life. They regarded the two constituents of cinnabar-mercury and sulphur-as being composed of Yin (female) and Yang (male) principles respectively in accordance with Taoism, believed in the possibility of attairring what is called the 'material immortality' and thought that the youthful state was in harmony with the Tao or its cosmic constituents Yin and Yang. The followers of Tao adopted various processes and techniques including the sexual and alchemical practices.2s In the latter cinnabar, the Yin-Yang prime, played a pivotal role.
In this connection the reference made in the Miitrkiibhedatantra to Oinatantra and its precepts is significant.24. It is stated that the worship of SiddhaKiilikii and Dak§i1}a-Kiilikii should be done according to Oinatantra and Kiilikii-tantra. It is well known that the Indian tantrism has absorbed foreign elements also. One of the tantrik compendia, Siidhanamiilii, says that the cult of the tantrik goddess Tiirii is not Indian in origin but might have emanated from a region comprising the country of Bhota (Tibet). The other tantrik works, Rudrayiimala and Brahmayiimala, speak of one Vasif?tha going to Mahacina to get well versed in the methods of tantrik worship.25 Among the numerous schools of siiktas, Oinatamra is also one which deals with the various rites to be performed at the time of worshipping the goddess Tara,26 including practices profane such as those of sex and wine. Miitrkiibhedatantra also deals with these practices more or less in a similar tone. Methods of making wine or fermented liquids and also obtaining them. in a desirable form are dealt with in considerable detail. The text gives rather an elaborate account of the sexual
MAT,KABHEDATANTRAM AND ITS ALOHEMIOAL IDEAS
elements in a. creative or refined form.21 These would indicate a possible transmission of mercury-based ideas and practices between the southern parts of China as well as the adjoining areas like Tibet and India in the course of the absorption by the Indian tantrism of the foreign elements. The mercury-sulphur symbolism28 of the Matfkiibhedatantra is too vivid to escape attention in this respect.
The probable date of Matrkabhedatantra: The text deals succinctly with the eakrae, the KU1!4alini and the panca-makiiras (mudrii, maithuna, madya, mii1]'l-sa and matsya).29 It says that by the application of the Supreme Vidyii (knowledge) of goddess Oiimu1'Jifii Kiilikii everything is achieved in this world. 30 The effect of gold obtained by transmuting pure copper using the spiritualized mercury-sulphur composition, according to the text, is that it cures all diseases, increases virility and enables the body to attain beautiful form like that of Madana, the Indian god of worldly enjoyment. In other words, perfection of the body and satisfying of carnal desires are considered to be important so as to make the body immutable and attain the highest state (jivanmukti or mahiimok§a). These are also the notable characteristics of the Niitha-Siddha cult of Indian tantrism. The N iitha-Siddha cult believed in the use of mer-curial preparations and transmuted gold to become immortal and live at will in this very world. This cult had intimate connections with the Rasaviidins or the Rasasiddhas.31
The Niitha-SiiJdha school which represents a particular phase of the Siddha cult flourished in different parts of India probably from the eleventh century A.D. onwards. On the basis of various literary and inscriptional evidences, it is very likely that Gorakhnath, the celebrated. master of this school, lived not later than A.D. 1200 and probably early in the eleventh century. 32
The physical body is considered to be of karma, kiima, candra (moon), surya (sun) and agni (fire). But for all praetical purposes, it is regarded as the combination of sun and moon principles. The word Niitha means master and the Niitha school has a hierarchical order of a number of masters, among whom Gorakhnath is the most popular. Tradition has it that Gorakhnath obtained his knowledge and powers from Mateyendrenath who, in turn, heard them secretly as Siva taught them to Parvati.33 The Niitha Yogis pay special attention to the worship of the horrible-looking form of Siva, called Bhairava. The worship is characterized by intemperate and licentious rites. The object of the worshippers is to acquire magical and worldly powers as well as to experience the. sense of tiintrik union.
As stated before, the Matr'kiibheiJ,atantra, in its opening verse, introduces the Bhairava form of Siva, whom Devi asks about the secrets of gold, silver and gems. Another. noteworthy aspect of the Niitha-Siddha school is that it has its own way of expressing its tii.n.trik concepts and practices
B. V. SUBBARAYAPPA & MIRA ROY
in what is known as Sandha (or Sandhya) b~a or 'intentional language'. In a figurative way, the word sun is used to denote Siva, moon the SaTcti and Rahu the passage from the moon to the Kalii,gni which is the fire of destruction of the body. The Matrkiibhedatantra in its sixth chapter deals with sun, moon and Rahu in much the same figurative way. It mentions of Rahu in contact with moon, sun and vahni (fire) and regards these three as the three eyes of Bakti. Details are given of how Rahu brings about. 'occultation'.s4 There are also expressions, like tithi, which are also encountered in. the Niitha-Siddha literature.S5 It would, therefore, be reasonable to suppose that the Miitrkiibhedatantra found among its adherents those of the Niitha-Siddha tradition and probably belongs to the eleventh or twelfth century A.D., when the cult of the N atha-Siddha had established itself.
In conclusion, the M iitrkiibhedatantra, with its sacral equipment as well as mystical and alehemistio passages, is of special significance to the understanding of the probable origins of alchemy in India. In addition, the text also presents yet another facet of the tautrik practices towards the attainment of the 'material immortality' with particular reference to the use of mercurycentred preparations and transmutations.
1 Siidhanarnfjla, by B. BhaWtcarya, Vol. II; Baroda, 1928; p. XXI.
2 See Deecriptiee Oataloque of the Tamil Manuscripts in Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, Madras, Vols. V and VI.
a In his paper on 'Enumeration of Indian Classes' (A8iatick Besearches, 5, pp. 62 f.), H. T. Colebrooke lists 27 tantras according to Devi Miihiitmya. Among them, the position of Miitrkiibhedatantra is 14 immediately after TcxJalatantra. Kiilitantra and Tiiratantra are also included in this list.
, See, for details, 'Rasarl,lavakalpa of Rudrayiimalatantra', by Mira Roy, Indian J. Hiet, Sei., 2, 2, 1967, pp. 137-42.
6 The l}afcakras are: mtiliidhiira (location: spinal centre of region below the genitals; lettera; va, 8a, 'la, 8a; colour yellow); 8viidhil4hiina (location: spinal centre of the region above the genitals; letters: ba, bha, ma, ya, ra, la; colour: white); manipUra (location: spinal centre of the region of the navel; letters: !}a, rJ,ha, na, ta, tha, da, dha, na, [a, pha; colour: red); aniihata (location: spinal centre of region near heart; letters: ka, kha, ga, gha, nga, ca, cha, ja, jha, fla, ta, tha; colour: smoky); vi8uddha (location: spinal centre of region of the throat; letters: a, a, i, r, u, ii, ri, ri, lri, lri, e, ai, 0, au, am, a[l,; colour: white) and iijM (location: centre of region between the eyebrows: letters: ha and k'la). For details, see Serpent Power by Arthur Avalon, Madras, 1953, pp. 142-43.
6 Idem, pp. 167-68; also The My8terious Kutt4alini, by V. G.. Rele, Bombay, Taraprevala, 1929, pp.11-33.
1 The five tantrik Siddhis are: janmaja (coexistent with birth); ausadhija (due to medicinal composition); mantraja (due to spiritual utterances); tapoja (due to austerities) and 8amiidhija (due to intense meditation)-Patanjali Darl}ana, 1, i.
The eight mahasiddhis relate to powers of 8ssuming minute dimension (anima), huge dimension (mahirnfj), lightness (laghirnij), heaviness (garirnfj), obtaining everything (priipti), possessing objects of pleasure (prakamya), attaining su~remacy (Uitva) and subduing or bewitching (tJa8itva).
MAT~,KiBHEDATANT1UM AND ITS ALCHEMIOAL IDEAS
8 The text followed here is Matrkabhedatantram, edited by Cintamani Bbattacarya, Calcutta Sanskrit Series, Calcutta, 1933, based upon four manuscripts from different sources (vide Introduction, pp. 9-10).
9 S'ambala is translated as viaticum by the Editor of the text. 10 Matrkabhedatantram, I, 9-16.
II Op, cit., V, 4.
12 Op. cit., V, 17-21. 11 Op. cit., V, 22-25. 14, Op. cit., V, 33-38. 16 Op. cit., V, 39-40.
16 Op. cit., VIII, 30-32. 17 Op. cit.,-VIII, 6-7.
18 Op, cit., VIII, 34.
u Op, cit., VIII, 33-34.
20 Rasaratnasamuccaya, ed.: Krishna Roo Bapte; Poona, Anandasrama Press, 1890; VII, 3; III, 19. This text gives the preparation of raaalinga briefly in terms of mercury and gold in presence of an acid.
21 Agnipuriitta, ed. with Bengali translation by Panchanan Tarkaratna, Calcutta, oh. 54, 4, also Lalqrniniirayatta-sarrwiida, ch, XVIII., referred to in Original Inhabitants of India by Gustav oppert, Westminster, 1893, p. 383.
22 Miitrkiibhedatantram, VIII, 12 and 32.
23 Mason, S. F., A History of the Sciences, London, 1953, pp. 56-57. 24 Miitrkiibhedatantram, I, 7.
25 See On the Foreign Element in the Tantra, by P. C. Bagchi, I.H.Q., Vol. VII, 1, 1931, 2 ff.
26 Vividha-tantriitti (in Bengali script) edited by Rasikamohan Bhattacarya, Calcutta, and under M ahiiciniikrama.
27 Miitrkabhedatantra, ch. II.
28 In Chinese alchemy mercury is female (Yin) and sulphur male (Yang). This view is held by the Buddhist tantriks. The Hindu tantriks, however, hold the opposite view and hence mercury is semen of Siva (male) and sulphur, the menstl'trol fluid of Devi (female).
29 Miitrkiibhedatantram, cbs. II, III and VI.
so Op. cit., ch, VI, 4-5.
31 Das Gupta, Obscure Religious Cult. Second edition 1962, Calcutta, pp. 251 ff., also Kalyani Mallick, Niitha Sampradayer ltihaaa, Daraana, Siidhanpral)ijll, Calcutta University, 1950, pp. 523-24.
82 See Gorakhanath and Kiinphata Yogis, by George Western Briggs, Oxford, 1938, pp. 228--50. 88 Idem, pp. 152 ff.
34 Matrkiibhedatantrmn, ch. VI, 6-13.
36 Das Gupta, Obscure Religious Cult, pp. 241 ff.