Hinduism,Cosmos ,Sanatan Dharma.Ancient Hinduism science.
Tantra is an integral component of Hinduism at a structural level just as hydrogen atoms are an integral component of a water molecule (H2O).
In addition to this, a cottage industry of “Tantra Sex” and “Tantra Massage” has grown up in Western countries, especially in the USA, which tries to equate Tantra to soft pornography and sells products and services around this gross and deliberate misrepresentation. This perverted definition of Tantra has spread globally and thus we even have an Australian School of Tantra (Love Works), whose top selling program is “Melbourne Couples Coaching,” which claims to provide “Tantric skills for him for longer lasting sex and Tantric skills for her for more pleasure”!
This is a very serious matter. Most of these notions about Tantra are, of course, grossly incorrect and are demeaning to Hinduism. In this series of essays, I will deal with what Tantra is, what it is not, its relationship to the Vedic theology and metaphysics, various myths and misconceptions about Tantra and finally its relevance in modern Hinduism. I will show how tantra pervades almost all aspects of the life of an average Hindu, many a times, in ways he or she cannot even comprehend.
Some esoteric Tantric practices like Pañca-makāra (use of meat, cereal, fish, wine and sexual intercourse) or ṣaṭ-karma (the six “magical” rituals) appear to be occult or deviant from mainstream Hinduism. These have also been exaggerated and exoticized by some Western Indologists from a Judeo-Christian background since they tends to look at religion normatively.
However tantra is much more that meat and sex— these are in fact rare and exceptional forms practiced by a few practioners under special circumstances. In the words of the noted Tantra scholar P. C. Bagchi, “It cannot be denied that in some texts there is what may be called black magic, and there are also a few texts full of obscenities; but these do not form the main bulk of the Tantric literature”.
Often the focus on these esoteric practices misses the substance for the shock-value. Relentless focus on self-purification and spiritual development are integral to Tantra Shastra, which includes subtle metaphysics, and advanced yogic practices. In this regard, noted German Indologist Georg Feuerstein rightly says: “The paucity of resources of research and publications on the tantric heritage of Hinduism has in recent years made room for a crop of ill-informed popular books on what I have called Neo-Tantrism. Their reductionism is so extreme that a true initiate would barely recognize the Tantric heritage in these writings. The most common distortion is to present tantric Yoga as a mere discipline of a ritualized or sacred sex. In the popular mind, ‘tantra’ has become equivalent to sex. Nothing could be farther from the truth!”
This is extremely unfortunate, and to a great extent, we Hindus are ourselves to blame, because we have allowed this distortion to persist due our ignorance and lack of interest. Then, there are many self-proclaimed Hindu gurus, who peddle this perverted version of Tantra. Moreover, Bollywood movies with their stereotypical depiction of a lecherous “Tantric Baba” or a cave-dwelling Tantric guru, who can foretell the future through sammohana (hypnosis) and magical prowess, has not helped either; Bollywood has, sadly, poisoned the minds of three generations of film-loving Indians.
Tantra is an integral component of Hinduism at a structural level just as hydrogen atoms are an integral component of a water molecule (H2O). Tantra “permeates every system of worship in India at the present day, including Vaishnavism”; one cannot segregate it from Hinduism, just as one cannot segregate taste from the food.
The essential philosophy is in harmony with the Vedic worldview and whatever differences exist are with respect to very subtle and highly specialized philosophical points. In the words of Swami Samarpanananda:
Tantra is not a unitary system like the Vedas or any of the Hindu philosophies. It is an accumulation of practices and ideas of the Hindus, since prehistoric times. Its birth is rooted in the Vedas; its development proceeded through the Upanishads, Itihasas, Puranas, and Smritis; and its luxuriant growth has been fostered by Buddhism, various minor Hindu sects, and also foreign influences. The vitality and elasticity, thus acquired made tantra enter every house and temple of India and it also made powerful inroads into every country where Indian thought went. What obtains as Hinduism in India and the West, is essentially tantra packaged to suit the need of a particular community or individual.
An important point to be noted is that Puja, the mode of worship that is common in household and temples is essentially Tantric in its origin and development; a yajna on the other hand is a pure Vedic construct rooted in Vedic metaphysics. While there is something known as Puranic Puja, the Puranas themselves have heavily borrowed from the Tantra Shastras.
To be very clear, Tantra as a separate category was introduced by 19th century Indologists, who were unable to grapple with the vast popular body of Hindu (and Buddhist) literature, distinct from Vedas, yet similar in meta-physics and having names ending with tantra, agama and yamala. Till the 19th century, the Hindus themselves never regarded Tantra as anything distinct from Hinduism, barring the extremely objectionable practices or the guhya (secret) practices of certain sects. According to French Indologist, André Padoux, “[Tantra was] so pervasive that it was not regarded as being a distinct system.”
Therefore, the structure of Hinduism today is like that of a DNA’s double-helix; it consists of two strands which are intertwined and inseparable:
The Atharva Veda is, in fact, considered a precursor to the Tantras, because many ideas found in the Atharva Veda like the philosophy of Oneness, initiation, chakras, mantra-elements, and also the so-called “magical” elements like Vaśīkaraṇa, Stambhana, etc. were later elaborated in the Tantras. The Tantra texts often refer to ancient revered teachers like Dadhichi, Lakulisha, Kacha and others belonging to a hoary past, who were instrumental in transmitting the knowledge of the Tantras.
To illustrate the relationship between Tantra and Veda, I will give an illustrative example from the field of computer science.
Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page published their path-breaking dissertation thesis in 1998, titled “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine“, where they presented a prototype of a large-scale search engine making heavy use of the structure present in hypertext. The paper discusses the question of “how to build a practical large-scale system, which can exploit the additional information present in hypertext” and also the “problem of how to effectively deal with uncontrolled hypertext collections, where anyone can publish anything they want.” This paper was widely appreciated in academic circles, and has been cited and referred to numerous times in many peer-reviewed journals, and is considered one of the most path-breaking dissertation papers of the 21st century. It has essentially changed the face of the 21st century. An average person will most likely tear his head in frustration trying to understand what Brin and Page were talking about. However, in ordinary English, the paper discusses the origins and internal workings of the now popular search engine Google.
Now the question is, for someone who wants to learn how to use Google search, will a study of Brin and Page’s dissertation thesis help? Not really, because he needs a “How To” guide with a brief description of each functionality, some illustrative examples, helpful diagrams and FAQ style answers, and not Google’s underlying algorithm. Does this mean that the thesis is useless? Not at all. Both are equally important depending on the intended audience. With this in mind, let us try to understand the nature of the relationship between the Tantras and the Vedas.
Traditionally, the Vedas are a repository of knowledge and refer to that knowledge which had been perceived by Rishis in a higher state of consciousness and codified as Mantra-saṃhitās. However, this knowledge is abstruse, vast and not readily accessible, except to the specialist, who has undergone extensive rigorous training over a long period of time. The technical texts that are available (the Brāhmaṇa) with extensive commentaries and steps, are themselves quite cryptic, complex and detail-oriented and not something that one can suddenly pick up one day and decide to do a Yajna. He or she must have been trained in this science for a long period. The Tantras, on the other hand, are the scriptures through which the knowledge is supposed to be spread. They had been created manifestly to make the abstruse and esoteric knowledge of the Vedas, accessible to all. Vedic texts are texts written by specialists for other specialists, while Tantric texts are texts written by specialists and practitioners for other practitioners.
Tantra plays the same role in a spiritual practitioner’s life that the “How To” guide alluded to above, plays in a Google search learner’s life. The Dissertation thesis mentioned above is the equivalent of the Brāhmaṇas and the Upaniṣads, which are specialized documents meant for specialists who want to gain knowledge. Tantra is therefore a spiritual knowledge of practical nature and is concerned with the application of the principles of tattva (science of fundamental building blocks of nature) and mantra (science of the sound equivalent of deities) to facilitate spiritual evolution. More specifically, the underlying framework of tantra is based on Vedānta and Sāṃkhya, with some differences. Tantra “combines with the ultimate reality of Brahman or Siva, the validity of the world as an expression of His Shakti.” Tantra is therefore the bridge between the Vedic Karmakāṇḍa (rituals) and Darshana (philosophy), and hence Tantras are sometimes mentioned as a part of the Vedas and also called as the fifth Veda.
Sir John Woodroffe (also known as Arthur Avalon) in his book Shakti and Shakta says:
The Agamas are not themselves treatises on Philosophy, though they impliedly contain a particular theory of life. They are what is called Sadhana Shastras, that is, practical Scriptures prescribing the means by which happiness, the quest of all mankind, may be attained. And as lasting happiness is God, they teach how man by worship and by practice of the disciplines prescribed, may attain a divine experience. From incidental statements and the practices described the philosophy is extracted.
Some of the other similarities between Vedic and Tantric metaphysics are as below
One of the major differences between the Vedic and Tantric mode of worship is with respect to the re-usability of the Mantras. In the Vedic scheme, each desired outcome and each action has a different set of Mantras and corresponding detailed processes. In the Tantric scheme, the same mantra can be used to achieve different aims, only the Sankalpa has to be different.
Today, if you want to do a Pujā at home, you will typically refer to a Nitya Karma text and not a Brahmana or Upanishadic text. These Nitya Karma books will have detailed descriptions of various karmas (nitya, naimitya, etc), methodology and mantras of different Pujās and a collection of Stotrams of various deities. It will not contain a single line of philosophy or esoteric knowledge. Most of these steps of ritual purification, mudrā, nyāsa etc., would have been collated from Tantric manuals, while many of the Mantras will be from the Vedas and Puranas. As an illustration, a typical Nitya Karma Puja guide from the Bengal region today is based on many earlier guides like the 18th century mantra digest Pranatoshini Tantra or the 16th century worship manual Brihat-tantrasara by Krishnananda Agamvagish. Krishnananda himself referred to still earlier Tantric texts, mantra digests and major compendiums like the Prapañcasāra Tantra and śāradā Tilaka Tantra.
Thus, as we can see, Tantra is an essential constituent element of Hinduism and pervades almost all aspects our lives. While Vedas provide knowledge and illumination, the Tantras provide a practical “how to” guide to spiritual aspirants to gain spiritual ascendancy. Tantra philosophy accepts an all-pervading Ultimate Reality and subscribes to the Samkhya cosmology and thus presupposes the philosophy of the Vedanta and Samkhya. However, there are some fundamental philosophical and technical differences between the Vedic and Tantric streams, some of which we have covered. In the words of Swami Samarpananda:
The tantras successfully worked out the synthesis of karma, jnana, bhakti, and yoga for the benefit of practitioners in achieving ultimate union with the supreme Reality. Being a product of the spiritual cross-currents of Hinduism, it sucked into its domain everything connected with religion that was to be found anywhere in India. In turn, it churned out numerous spiritual insights that were beneficial for humankind.
Despite being such an integral part of Hinduism, Tantra continues to be misunderstood and misrepresented. Sir John Woodroffe said in 1913: “of all the forms of Hindu Shastra, the Tantra is that which is least known and understood, a circumstance in part due to the difficulties of its subject-matter and to the fact that the key to much of its terminology and method rest with the initiate.”
In his book Shakti and Shakta, he says of the Tantric rituals: “How profound Indian ritual is, will be admitted by those who have understood the general principles of all ritual and symbolism, and have studied it in its Indian form, with a knowledge of the principles of which it is an expression. Those who speak of ‘mummery,’ ‘gibberish’ and ‘superstition’ betray both their incapacity and ignorance.” So, the logical question is that if Tantra is such an integral part of Hinduism, then why is there so much ignorance about it? Why do most people associate Tantra with marginal practices alone? Given that Tantra is a major component of Hinduism, what can we do to reclaim our heritage and disassociate it from the perverted depiction of Tantra, especially in the west?
Writer Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay explores and delve into the classification of tantras including practice of Pañca-makāra and ṣaṭ-karma, which are in a way, the source of many confusions and misinterpretations and try to challenges prejudices of early 20th century Indologists, as they attempted to study, classify and deconstruct a pluralistic “pagan” faith with sophisticated philosophy, through a colonial history-centric exclusivist Abrahamic lens.
Before analyzing the etymology of Tantra, let us step back a little and examine a few ancient as well as modern “secular” usage of words containing tantra.
In all these usages, the only sense of the word tantra, which makes sense across the board, is “traditional knowledge” or “science” or “specialism” or “rules”. Thus:
The term Tantra (1) is “applied in several other provinces of Indian literature to a technical ‘expose’ or ‘handbook’, which in a more or less extensive way deals with a certain subject. Sometimes it means little more than ‘tradition’, ‘specialism’”. John Woodroffe explains in his book ‘Shakti and Śākta’ (2) : “A Very common expression in English writings is “The Tantra”; but its use is often due to a misconception and leads to others. For what does Tantra mean? The word denotes injunction (Vidhi), regulation (Niyama), Śāstra generally or treatise. Thus Shamkara calls the Samkhya, a Tantra. A secular writing may be called Tantra.” This is also broadly in line with some of the commonly accepted etymologies of Tantra:
Over a period of time tantra came to be associated mostly with tantra śāstra, a specialized body of knowledge in the Śaiva, Śākta and Vaiṣṇava domains dealing with spiritual ascendancy and Brahmavidyā.
Except for the Śaiva Siddhāntas of southern India, most tantric schools believe in the philosophy of advaita (non-dualism or monism). Advaita literally means “one undivided without a second” and is a philosophical notion unique to India (7), especially Hindu thought. Advaita posits that the entire Universe is one reality, which is also known variously as tat (That), Brahman, Śiva and perhaps God (for the want of a better English term, though not to be confused with Abrahamic God). That reality is abstract, infinite and eternal. Creation and all that we see around us is a projection of ‘That’ reality, having undergone (or apparently having undergone) a two-fold change of “finitization” and “manifestation”, to become perceptible as objects having names and forms:
The implication of non-dualism is that, all objects in the universe, whether living or non-living, plants or animals, cells or galaxies, are non-separate from this grand reality. Hence, we are all part of God in the sense of Ultimate Reality, and there is no creation that is separate from the creator. In short, therefore, Hindu philosophy categorically insists that all men are born Divine, by virtue of being a part of the underlying Universal Consciousness. However, on account of the limiting adjuncts, we are not conscious of our underlying divinity and potential. The basic aim of all Hindu religious practice is thus to realize this divinity within us and thereby become one with “That”.
Please note that this is quite distinct from the Abrahamic God (Christian God, Muslim Allah and Jewish Yahweh), who are accepted as Creators and thereby separate from Creation. The Abrahamic God is not abstract, all-pervading or genderless like our Brahman, but rather a violent (8), jealous (9), and anthropomorphic male God, who does not like non-believers (10). During the 14 billion years history of the universe, God has revealed Himself only a few times to a few people (the Prophets) in a rather small geography, the middle-east, within a very narrow span of 1,000 years somewhere between 600 BCE to 600 CE. God, then spread His message through these Prophets and Holy Books were written. That was the final word of God. The Abrahamic God will never reveal himself again ever, and there cannot be any other prophets. Each of these religions thinks that their God is the only true God and all other Gods are false. More importantly, since God in the Abrahamic religions is a category separate and distinct from the phenomenal world, there is no concept of achieving Oneness as in Hindu thought. Hence, all practices like Yoga or Tantra sādhanā, whose aim is to achieve union with the Universal Godhead, is experientially as well as intellectually incomprehensible to the practitioners of Abrahamic religions.
Consequently, the categories of monotheistic Abrahamic religions are not as comprehensive as those of non-dual or dualist Indian faiths. It is this inadequacy of the Abrahamic lens, which has been one of the biggest handicaps and stumbling blocks for understanding and interpreting Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism in religion and culture studies in colonial India as well as in the West today. These deficiencies in Abrahamic categories are a major reason behind most of the distortions and misunderstandings that we see today in Indology. It is exceedingly difficult and perhaps well-neigh impossible for a monotheist (or even an atheist) (11) to comprehend non-dualism and its associated practices like yajña, yoga, homam, pūjā and sādhanā. It is like somebody with a PhD in only Waste Management, trying to understand particle physics directly. Garbage, sewage, drainage and sludge are the only categories he knows, so he will only see filth everywhere and not atoms, and consequently map everything from electron to quarks onto a garbage framework.
We are now in a better position to understand and appreciate the essential philosophy of the Tantra śāstra . (12)
The important differences between Vedānta and tantra are:
The Vaiṣṇava Pañcarātra Agamas believe in the philosophy of Bhedābheda, which means “simultaneous difference and non-difference”. According to this school, the individual self (jīvātman) is both different and at the same time not different from the ultimate reality known as paratattva (Brahman). The relationship between jīva and brahman is similar to that between waves and ocean or between sparks and a fire.(13)
The aim of the Pañcarātra Agamas is also the attainment of knowledge of paratattva, the Highest Reality. However, when the sādhaka realizes “this Brahman or God, the jivas appear to have become one with Him, but do maintain a subtle distinction also”. (14)
The Śaiva Siddhāntas have a distinctly dualistic framework and insist that one can never become a Śiva and at best one can become like Śiva and experience the world in the same way as him. As per this school (15) , the jīva (individual self) is different from Śiva, the Ultimate Reality and this “difference is not in their essence but in their constitution. Their relationship with Siva is not a state of oneness but of sameness… After liberation, the liberated soul knows that its intrinsic nature is that of Siva but that it is not Siva or the Supreme Self. Thus in its liberated state it continues to experience some form of duality, while enjoying Siva (pati) consciousness as its true consciousness free from all bonds (pasas).”
The highest aim of the Tantra Śāstras is therefore mokṣa or liberation from bondage. Tantra as a system of thought and practice enables a person to visualize the Universe within himself and to visualize himself as being one with the Universe. Tantra is an inward-looking Science, where both the Subject and the Object is the person himself and hence Tantra can be described as “both an experience and a scientific method by which man can bring out his inherent spiritual power”. (16)
This state of liberation may be achieved by sādhanā, which is the systematic performance of certain rituals and adherence to specific methods of worship and includes:
In describing the ritual-orientation of Tantra Śāstras, David Kinsley notes that (17) “by means of various rituals (exterior and interior, bodily and mental) the sādhaka (practitioner) seeks to gain mokṣa (release, liberation)”. The ultimate aim of sādhanā is therefore to “increase concentration and make the mind still. It helps to make an individual detached and become Stitahprajna (stable/equilibrium). But this detachment is neither disinterest towards objects of outer world, nor apathy towards people; instead it is pure selfless love for the whole cosmos without any discrimination or selfish attachment. What actually Sadhana does is to burn away the burden of past karmas that are blocking one’s journey towards the source. Hence, the ultimate end result of any spiritual Sadhana is Jnana (Enlightenment) and complete merger with the Cosmos/God.”(18)
John Woodroffe in his introduction to the Mahanirvana Tantra says (19) : “The Indian Tantras, which are numerous, constitute the Scripture (Śāstra) of the Kaliyuga, and are as such a voluminous source of present and practical orthodox ‘Hinduism’ … To the Tantras we must therefore look if we should understand aright both ritual, yoga, and sādhanā of all kinds as they exist today, as also the general principles of which these practices are but the objective expression.”
A Tantra traditionally is supposed to cover five (20) or seven (21) topics. The five topics are creation, destruction, worship of Gods, the attainment of all objects and the so-called six magical rites. The seven topics are: Process of creation, dissolution of the Universe, worship of God according to prescribed rules, rules of propitiating all deities, the practice of purascaraṇam, the six practices – ṣaṭkarman and the fourfold dhyānayoga – Yoga of meditation.
Typical subject-matter of a Tantra text (22) :
In addition to cosmogony, mantra creation and other theoretical matters, a typical Śaiva Agama orVaiṣṇava Samhita text will deal more with kriyā and charyā based topics like (23) :
French Indologist, Andre Padoux, while talking about the doctrinal aspects of Tantra, describes it as (24) “an attempt to place kama, desire, in every sense of the word, in the service of liberation . . . not to sacrifice this world for liberation’s sake, but to reinstate it, in varying ways, within the perspective of salvation. This use of kama and of all aspects of this world to gain both worldly and supernatural enjoyments (bhukti) and powers (siddhis), and to obtain liberation in this life (jivanmukti), implies a particular attitude on the part of the Tantric adept toward the cosmos, whereby he feels integrated within an all-embracing system of micro-macrocosmic correlations.”
The Vedas are intended for specialists, while Tantras are meant for spiritual practitioners.
Swami Satyaswarupananda, while discussing Tantric Sādhanā in Prabuddha Bharata, very rightly observes (25):
Tantra, it has been pointed out, is the soul of Hindu spiritual practices. Its wide acceptance— consciously or unconsciously—is the result of its eclectic and pragmatic nature. The tantras contain within them ‘the essentials of the Vedic sacrifices and oblations, and the essence of the monotheistic philosophy of the Upaniṣads, of the Bhakti cult preached by the Purāṇas, of the Yoga method propounded by Patañjali, and of the mantra element of the Atharva-Veda. … The Tāntric mode of Sādhanā, which combines in it Yoga and Bhakti, mantra and homa (oblation), jñāna and karma, prove beyond doubt that Tāntrism can be best studied as the synthesis of all that was good in the various forms of Sādhanā in vogue and, as such, its claim to be the shortest route to the summum bonum, and its promise to its adherents of the easy and speedy attainment of the end, are perhaps justified.’
However, over the last 200 years and especially in the last 50 years, as a consequence of colonial rule as well as post-colonial South Asian studies in the West, and on account of certain socio-political and divisive forces both within and outside India, the meaning of tantra has undergone a drastic change from “technical spiritual knowledge” to ritualized sex and perversions. This is a serious matter which we will fully explore in the latter part of the series. However, to fully appreciate the dynamics of these external forces and how they work, we would first need to deepen our understanding of the tantra Śāstra in general, including the underlying metaphysics, which we have covered to a certain extent.
The tantra śāstras are an integral part of Hinduism, and provide spiritual practitioners concrete guidelines to achieve spiritual ascendancy. In terms of philosophical outlook, most of the tantras, have a decidedly non-dual outlook. Many of the sādhanā practices like pūjā, meditation and yoga described in the tantra śāstras are rooted in the non-dualist aim of achieving experiential Oneness with the Universal cosmic consciousness . In comparing and contrasting non-dualism and Abrahamic monotheism, we had earlier highlighted the severe challenges encountered by those with an Abrahamic lens (whether theist or atheist) in trying to comprehend tantra Śāstra and its allied practices.
A classification exercise will help us map out the complete landscape and make sense of the diversity of traditions, and also to appreciate the commonality between seemingly disparate texts. Compared to Vedic studies, an easily accessible, comprehensive and detailed study of all tantric and Agamaic texts, at a comparable scale, is not available. There is a huge amount of material available in different versions and very few critical editions have been published. Even today, there are numerous manuscripts in Sanskrit and regional languages, both within and outside India, which are yet to be translated. On the top of that, there are many spurious and fake manuscripts, some indigenous and others of foreign origin . Lamenting on the neglect of the systematic study of Tantra Śāstra, Goudriaan  says: “The study of Tantric literature has often been neglected in the past… Systematic further investigation into the field is important and urgent; important because of the intrinsic value of this province of Indian literature as the literary heritage of an extremely influential stream in Indian religious history… and urgent, because a great number of manuscripts, neglected by the present generation, is in danger of getting lost.”
The Tantra Śāstra also known as Agamas permeate the life of modern Hindus across the length and breadth of Indian-subcontinent and Southeast Asia. The diversity of these texts is immense – for example a Kāmākhyā Kālī tantra text from Assam appears to be vastly different from a south Indian Śrīvidyā text, both in the diversity of topics and differentiation of outlooks. However, underlying all this diversity are a lot of common themes pertaining to metaphysics, cosmology, epistemology, yoga and meditation techniques. Given the immense landscape with respect to deities, geographies and chronology, before classifying the texts, we need to select a method of classification. Traditionally, there are five major ways of classifying the Tantra texts based on the deity, nature of the texts, Krāntās, Sampradāyas and srotas.
Different modes of classification yields different sets of texts. Not all the systems are able to account for all the texts. Let me illustrate by taking an example of a text called Brahma yāmala, which is an yāmala text of the Bhairava stream of the Śaiva tradition (specifically Śivaśakti tradition). The knowledge of Brahmayāmala was transmitted via the guru- śiṣya paramparā across geographies over the ages. The first recipient of the divine knowledge was Śrīkaṇṭha, who communicated it to a Bhairava in Prayāga, who in turn taught to other Bhairavas: Krodha, Kapāla and Padma. Padma transmitted the divine knowledge to Devadatta of the Oḍra country. Devadatta had fourteen disciples, who were residents of Madhyadeśa, Saurāṣṭra, Sindhu and other areas . In terms of krāntā, sampradāya and deity, Brahma yāmala has no clear-cut position, but must rather be defined in relation to one or more categories. Therefore, Barhma yāmala describes itself as adhering to the Bhairava srota, Mahābhairava tantra, vidyā pīṭha, and picumata.
Apart from the primary tantra and Āgama texts, there are many specialized tantras, which deal with Ṣhaṭ-Karma, chemistry, astrology and other specific topics. Then, we come across, a major class of very important texts in the nature of mantra Śāstra texts, pūjā digests and compendiums, many of which are the source material for the regular Pūjā books that we use in our homes or temples. Hence, we need a system that spans across all these diverse set of texts. To this end, we will use a classification and enumeration system, given below, based on traditional sources and commentaries, Indian works of pandits like Mahamahopadhyay Gopinath Kaviraj (~1925) and P.C. Bagchi (~1940), modern Indian writings of monks like Swami Samarpanananda and Swami Harshananda, and finally works of Western Indologists like Jan Gonda (1977) and Teun Goudriaan (1981).
Tantra and Āgama for all practical purposes can be treated as the same and are used interchangeably in the Tantric literature. However, there are some technical differences, especially in the domain of the Ṣaivāgamas, which we have covered in our earlier essay. The south Indian Śaiva Agamas deal more with practical matters like daily worship, building temples, and installation and consecration of idols, and have lesser dealings in the metaphysical realm. The Śaiva tantras focus more on the metaphysical and mystical aspects of the non-dualist doctrine. Another type of text that we come across is the saṃhitā, which is characterized by a four-pāda (quarter) structure and which we find in both the Śaiva as well as Vaiṣṇava domain. In this context, Goudriaan explains  :
“Notwithstanding the differences, we are bound to assume that the Agamas and saṃhitās on the one side and the early Tantras on the other have grown on common ground; that both were originally known in the North of India (although the Agamic and Pāñcarātra literatures were preserved almost only in the South); that both were perhaps not meant as antagonistic, but as complementary to each other; that both Agamas and early Śaiva tantras originated in the circles of those, who were well versed in the speculation on Śiva’s mystic nature and in the symbolic expression thereof (and the quest for identification with it) in ritual and yogic practice.”
Overall, the different types of Tantric texts are tantra, Āgama, saṃhitā, sūtra, upaniṣad, purāṇa, tīkā (commentaries), prakaraṇa, paddhati texts, stotram, kavaca, nighaṇṭu, koṣa and hagiographical literature.
The Śaiva Tantras are vast and varied and have some important texts like Amṛteṣaṭantra or Netratantra, Netragyanarṇava tantra, Niḥśvāsatattvasaṃhitā, Kālottārā tantra, Sarvajñānottārā tantra and others. According to Abhinavagupta, Kashmiri Śaiva trika philosophy, which deals with the core essence of the ultimate universal reality, was transmitted through a series of ten Ṣaivāgamas, eighteen Raudrāgamasand sixty-four Bhairavāgama texts . The Śaivagamas, which are ten in number are distinctly dualistic or pluralistic in their outlook as they posit three fundamental realities pati, paśu and pāśa. The remaining eighteen Agamas are in between monistic and pluralistic in their metaphysical outlook .
Tumburu is a special manifestation of Śiva with four shaktis, Jayā, Vijayā, Ajitā and Aparājitā. The vāmasrota was quite popular even in south-east Asia (Kambuja and Indonesia) till the 10th century CE.Vāma Āgama supposedly contain works of Kāpāla, Kālamukha and Aghora among others. Some of the important vāmagama texts are śiraśchedatantra, Vīṇāśikhatantra, Sammohanatantra, and Nayottārātantra. Other texts belonging to this category are Bhairavī, Vīnā, Vīnāmaṇi, Damara, Atharvaka, many of which are now lost.
According to tradition , the dakṣiṇa Āgama issued from the right mouth of Śiva. Dakṣiṇāgama texts can be divided into four pīṭhas, the vidyā, mantra, mudra and maṇḍala. The tantras belonging to the vidyāpīṭha are Yoginījāla, Yoginīhṛdaya, Mantramālinī, Āghoreṣī, āghoreśvarī, Krīḍāghoreśvari, Lākinīkalpa, Māricī, Mahāmāricī and Ugravidyāgaṇa.
The Śaiva siddhānta tradition of Southern India is based on the Śaivagama and the raudrāgama tradition, which are believed to have been revealed by Śiva’s five mouths Sadyojāta, Vāmadeva, Aghora, Tatpuruṣa and Īśāna. They have a total of twenty eight texts.
The yāmalas represent the Bhairava tradition of the Śaiva domain. The Bhairavas are believed to have been human teachers, who through their spiritual practices attained liberation during their lifetimes and became Śiva-like in their purity. These eight spiritual giants were Bhairavas: Svaccanda, Krodha, Unmatta, Ugra, Kapālin, Jhaṅkāra, Śekhara and Vijaya and they transmitted the knowledge of the eight principal yāmalas to human-kind through the guru-śiṣya paramparā.
The Vaiṣṇava Agamas, also known as the Vaiṣṇavatantras include the popular Pāñcarātra andVaikhānasa traditions, along with lesser known tantras of Kṛṣṇa, Rādhā, Gaurāṅga and Rāma. According to the Sammohana tantra, the latter group includes 75 tantra texts, 205 upatantras, 8 saṃhitās, 1 Yamala, and 2 Damaras , but perhaps many of those works are lost and no longer available to us.
Pāñcarātra literally means five nights (pañca: five, rātra: nights) and refers to that esoteric knowledge taught by Keshava (viṣṇu) to Ananta, Garuda, Vishvaksena, Brahma and Rudra over five nights. Swami Harshananda  says that since Pāñcarātra “teaches five kinds of knowledge, it is called Pancharatra. These are tattva (cosmology), muktiprada (that which gives mukti, or liberation),bhaktiprada (that which confers devotion), yaugika (yoga) and vaishayika (objects of desire). Or, alternatively, since it teaches about the five aspects of God (called Purushottama)—parā (highest), vyuha(emanation), vibhava (incarnation), antaryāmin (indweller), and archa (form of worship)—it is called Pancharatra.”
Traditionally, there are one hundred and eight Pāñcarātra saṃhitā texts. There are five such lists of hundred and eight texts with some variances, and hence the total number of saṃhitās in existence could have been two hundred and ten. However, many of these works have not been studied owing to a variety of reasons. Gonda  explains that “over thirty of the texts extant remain in manuscript form, but many works survive only in fragments; others have not been found or recovered. There are no doubt many works still surviving in libraries yet to be identified with at least some of the titles occurring in the lists.” While the Pāñcarātra texts are called saṃhitās, they also include the important work Lakṣmītantra. Pāñcarātra texts form an important part of the Śrīvaiṣṇava sampradāya.
An important text is the Ahirbudhnya Saṃhitā , having 3880 verses in the anuṣṭubh metre. Spread over 60 chapters, it specifically propounds the mystery of Sudarśana, the wondrous discus of Lord Viṣṇu as given by Ahirbudhnya (Śiva) to Nārada and narrated by Durvāsas to Bharadvāja. The text describes the nature of Ultimate Reality Nārāyaṇa, and its two aspects, the active aspect kriyāśakti and the material aspect the bhūtaśakti, and how the world is created as the configuration of sattva, raja and tamas changes. Similar to other texts in this genre, it talks about mantras for meditation and worship, characteristics of the ācārya (preceptor), śiṣya (disciple) and dīkṣā (initiation), yantras, yoga, astras (supernatural weapons), and mantras for curing diseases of body and mind.
Some of the other important pāñcarātra texts are Jayākhya saṃhitā, Pārameśvara saṃhitā, Pauśkara saṃhitā, Pādma saṃhitā, Nāradīya saṃhitā, Haṃsaparameśvara saṃhitā, Vaihāyasa saṃhitā and Śrīkālapraā saṃhitā.
The Vaikhānasa sampradāya are a community of temple priests, who are ordained by birth to be priests. They base their spiritual practices on the Vaikhānasa Agamas. The founder of this sect is believed to beVikhanas, a spiritual giant, who is considered to be an incarnation of Viṣṇu. He gained divine knowledge through his spiritual practices and passed it on to his four disciple’s Marīci, Atri, Bhṛgu, and Kāśyapa. Important texts which have survived are as follows :
The Gautamīya tantra is a very famous Vaiṣṇavatantra work which describes the ritual worship of Kṛṣṇa, and has been extensively cited and commented upon later by scholars like Mukundalal, Radkakrishna Goswamin, and Radhāmohana. It is a very important text for the Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇava sampradāya as well as for the puja system of Sri Jagannath in Puri in Odisha. In thirty four chapters, it talks about Krishna mantras, description of Vrindavana, meditation on chakras and Kundalini Yoga, among other topics. Gautamīya tantra says  that Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is very affectionate toward His devotees, sells Himself to a devotee, who offers merely a tulasī leaf and a palmful of water and that the transcendental goddess Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, the direct counterpart of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the primeval internal potency of the Lord. This bhakti-oriented tantra recommends that for a sannyāsī, who has no home, worship of the Deity within the mind is appropriate.
Other important texts are:
Incidentally, the Gītā Dhyānam, which millions of Hindus chant every day before commencing with Bhagavad Gītā pāṭha, is believed to be from the Vaiṣṇavīya Tantrasāra.
Interestingly, the Jayadhrata yāmala and the Vīṇāśikhatantra prescribes a specific mode of sādhanā calledśiraścheda, which is no more in vogue today, but was quite popular till early 9th century even as far as Kambuja (Hinduized Cambodia) and Bali in Indonesia. Many modern Hindus may not be aware that an important factor behind the spread of Hindu culture throughout south-east Asia was the popular demand for tantra vidyā in those areas. There was a constant flow of highly trained Brahmin tantric adepts like Hiraṇyadāma and Kaundiṇya, who migrated from India to different parts of south-east Asia and imparted knowledge of specialized modes of worship like śiraścheda to local priests, many of whom were in fact earlier Indian migrants.
The Sdok kak Thom inscription in Thailand alludes to this mode of worship and explains the iconography and the philosophy. According to Chirapat Prapandvidya , “It begins with an invocation to Śiva, who is described as the one whose real nature is ātman (Supreme Reality), which cannot be expressed in words, but its existence can be inferred by the fact that it pervades the whole bodies of living beings and causes their sensual organs to function. He is further invoked to protect the whole universe with his three eyes, which are the moon, the sun and fire. Those, who see the real nature of ātman, see him clearly in all respects.”
This inscription talks about the Devarāja tradition of Shiva in ancient Cambodia. The tradition started  in 802 CE under the reign of King Jayavarman II, when a Brāhmaṇa named Hiraṇyadāma from India accompanied “His Majesty, and His Majesty’s guru, into the depths of the moss-laden forests of Mahendraparvata”. Hiraṇyadāma, then disclosed the mysteries of Devarāja, so that “the king [could] become the cakravartin, or universal ruler.” He taught to Śivakaivalya, the royal priest, four texts, which embodied this esoteric knowledge, namely, Vīṇāśikha, Sammohana, Śiraścheda and Nayottārā.
The Vīṇāśikha is an extremely important work as it is perhaps the only available document concerned with the  “Tumburu tradition or Vamasrotas within early Tantric Saivism. About one thing there should be no doubt: the Vīṇāśikha was conceived in India and was brought, together with the other mentioned texts of the Vamasrotas, to South East Asia, where it was taught and written down by Saiva religious specialists… Besides the reference in the Sdok kak Thom inscription, we find several allusions to Tumburu in Sanskrit hymns and fragments from Bali, which partly must go back to an early period of Hindu influence in Indonesia.”
Āgama Hindu Dharma is the name of the religion practiced by Hindus in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia. The very fact that Southeast Asian Hindus prefixed their religion with the word Āgama shows how integral tantras are to Hinduism. The massive, rapid and peaceful Hinduization of south-east Asia during the early years of CE, can be attributed to the flow of the knowledge of Āgama Śāstras from India and the continuous migration of Indian tantric sādhakas from different parts of India to Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia. Within mainland India, tantra sādhanā and metaphysics, deeply influenced Jainism, Buddhism and even the Ismaili Nizari sect of Shia Islam. In terms of geography, tantric influence is seen in China, Tibet, and Southeast Asia and even as far as Japan.
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By Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay