Vaishnavi Kavacha of Madhumati Krama

Mahamaya Vaishnavi

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Padmavati of Jaina Tantra


After we published the previous article on Tirupati Venkaṭeśvara, several folks wrote to us expressing surprise especially regarding Padmāvatī. It’s unfortunate that followers of Mantra śāstra today are 'kūpa maṇḍūkas' who have the attitude, “there is nothing worth knowing in other systems be it Bauddha, Jaina or other Indic systems”. So it’s no wonder that these folks have never heard of Padmāvatī outside of the mythic tale of Venkaṭeśvara popularized through movies and popular media.

Jaina Tantra is a reasonably well-developed school where śakti upāsanā is chiefly centered around the śāsana devīs of Tīrthaṅkaras, such as Cakreśvarī, Ajitā, Duritāri, Kālikā, Vairoṭī and others. There is also a tradition of sixteen goddesses grouped as ṣoḍaśa vidyā vyūha that invokes Rohiṇī, Prajñā, śṛṅkhalā etc. In the same manner as the central position held by Srīvidyā for followers of āstika tantra, and Tārā to Bauddhas, the worship of Pamāvatī is important to Jaina Tāntrikas.

Various forms of Padmāvatī are worshiped such as Rakta-padmāvatī, Haṃsa-padmāvatī, Sarasvatī Padmāvatī, śabarī padmāvatī, Kāmeśvarī Padmāvatī, Bhairavī Padmāvatī, Tripurā Padmāvatī, Nityā Padmāvatī, Mahāmohinī Padmāvatī, Putrakarī Padmāvatī, Kajjalāvatārā Padmāvatī, Ghaṭāvatārā Padmāvatī, Dīpāvatārā Padmāvatī etc. It is clear from some of these names that these mantras are influenced by śākta tantra. In fact, a form of the goddess is called śaivāgamoktā Padmāvatī, hinting at her śaiva origin.

In the context of upāsanā of Padmāvatī, one can even find the statement: 'antaḥ śaktā bahirjainā', clearly copied from the older 'antaḥ śāktā bahiḥ śaivāḥ'. The only aspect missing in Jaina Tantra seems to be that similar to Kaula/Vāma practices, and those similar to Vajrayāna - as much of Jaina Tantra echoes Dakṣiṇācāra.

The popular tale of Jinadutta narrates the miraculous help by Padmāvatī which helped him establish a Jaina kingdom in Karnataka, making her a popular goddess in Southern India.

Sri Svarnakarshana Ganapati

Svarnakarshana Ganapati

स्वर्णाभं वरदाभये गजमुखं पाशाङ्कुशौ बिभ्रतं
गेहे स्वर्णमये स्थितं शशिधरं पीताम्बरं सुन्दरम् |
नित्यं ऋद्धिसमृद्धियुक्तमनिशं शङ्खादिभिः सेवितं
स्वर्णाकर्षणनामकं च वसुमत्याद्यावृतं चिन्तये ||

svarṇābhaṃ varadābhaye gajamukhaṃ pāśāṅkuśau bibhrataṃ
gehe svarṇamaye sthitaṃ śaśidharaṃ pītāmbaraṃ sundaram |
nityaṃ ṛddhisamṛddhiyuktamaniśaṃ śaṅkhādibhiḥ sevitaṃ
svarṇākarṣaṇanāmakaṃ ca vasumatyādyāvṛtaṃ cintaye ||



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Tirumala Tirupati Venkateshwara - Shiva-Vishnu Controversy

- V N Srinivasa Rao

The questionable authority of Silappadigaram

The only authority on which the claim that the temple on the hill of Tirumala was that of Viṣṇu prior to Rāmānuja is a passage in Silappadigaram, referring to the ‘God on the hill’. This work was fancifully assigned to first century A.D., but later researches assign it to the eighth or ninth century. Even then we are warned not to place much reliance on its authority. Dr S Krishnaswai Aiyangar relies mainly on this book for his thesis that the Tirumala temple was that of Viṣṇu from the first century A.D.

K V Subramaniya Aiyar observes, “We can safely accept Swamikannu Pillai’s date 756 A.D. for Silappadigaram. Still we cannot but maintain that the matter contained in this and other works of a similar nature is useless for purposes of history. If we are asked to explain further why we adopt the accounts furnished in Purananuru and Pattupattu as come down to us from the hand of Perundevanar, an author who cannot be said to have lived earlier than the date (A.D. 756) assigned to Silappadigaram, we would say that Perundevanar stands in the high position of an editor of some older and trustworthy historical documents of great merit, while the authors of Silappadigaram and other similar works appear before us as mere story tellers and that their compositions are full of improbabilities, impossibilities and inconsistencies.”

We can therefore dismiss the authority of Silappadigaram on this question as the particular passage was either an interpolation or one of the anachronisms found in the book. Further, the description of the image in Silappadigaram does not agree with the image of Srī Venkateśvara and may not refer to this shrine at all.

Tracing Tondaiman

The next point to be clarified is about Tondaiman Charavarti the supposed ‘human founder of the temple’ on the hill. Dr Sakkottai Krishnaswami Aiyangar, in his work, ‘A History of Tirupati’, first tries to identify him with Tondaiman Ilan Tiraiyan and finally decides to treat him as a predecessor of Ilan Tiraiyan. According to the genealogical lists, Ilan Tiraiyan is the grandson of Karikāla, whose date is 550 A.D. The grandson should have come about 60 years later. We do not hear of any Pallava or Chola king bearing that name reigning at Kāñcī about this time; Venkaṭācala māhātmyaṃ, which is relied on for connecting Tondaiman with the temple, states that Tondaiman was the son of a king named Suvīra by his wife Nandinī, and he married a Pāṇdyan princess named Padmā. He claimed to belong to candravamśa. The Māhātmyaṃ says that he was asked in a dream by Srī Varāha, whom he had rescued from an anthill, to build only the compound walls, as the vimāna and other structures would be put up by Nārāyaṇarāja, one of his successors. The local manuscript in Nārāyaṇavanaṃ refers to Nārāyaṇarāja as the grandson of Tondaiman Charavarti, whom an ancestor of Akāśarāja had solicited for the gift to him of the Nārāyaṇavaṃ country. We do not hear of Pāṇdyan influence in this tract of country earlier than 1251 A.D.; Jaṭāvarman Sundara Pāṇdya I was the first Pāṇḍyan king to penetrate into Tondamandalam and conquer it. The reference to Tondaiman as belonging to candravamśa, to which the Pāṇḍyan kings claim to belong, and his marriage to a Pāṇḍyan princess would indicate that he was a later local chief of the Sālva family, who married a princess of the Western Pāṇḍya family. Both the Sālvas and the Western Pāṇḍya chiefs were of the Yādava stock. Dr S Krishnaswami Aiyangar, in his ‘Ancient India’, identifies Tondaiman Chakravarti with Karuṇākara Tondaman, the general of Kulottuṅga I. “It will be seen that the Vaiṣṇava account says that the deity on the hill had just lent his characteristic weapons, his disc and conch, to Tondaiman Chakravarti. This evidently refers to the conquest of Kalingam by Karuṇākara Tondaman about 1111 A.D.” What interest the Tirupati Deity had in Karuṇākara Tondaiman and his conquest of Kalingam, he does not explain.

The North Arcot District Manual furnishes an extract of an article by Mr. Elliot, in the Madras Journal of Literature and Science, bringing to notice the existence of a local manuscript which gives an account of Sālva or Sālua chiefs, who, having migrated from Pittapuram, reigned in Nārāyaṇavanaṃ from the ninth century. In 930 A.D., Narasa Reddi, a chief of the family, was formally recognized by the Eastern Chālukya Emperor and permitted to use the Boar signet. These chiefs were ruling the country, now comprising of Sholinghur, Tiruttani and Tirupati taluks, with varying degrees of fortune, till they were conquered by the Vijayanagara kings to them they remained subject. Inscriptions of these chiefs have not been so far discovered, but the area around this locality has not yet been fully surveyed by the Epigraphical Department. Mr B L Rice in his summary of the inscriptions in the Epigraphica Carnatica, gives details of a family of Sāluva or Sālva chiefs, who had their capital in Saṅgītapura or Haduvalli in the Mysore state. They were of the Yādava stock and claimed to belong to candravamśa and were Jains. The Nārāyaṇavanaṃ family and the later Sāluva emperors of the second Vijayanagara dynasty were Sāluvas of the Yādava stock. The Yādava dynasty of the kings, who contributed much to the temple, probably belonged to a branch of the same family. There was another family of Yādava chiefs who styled themselves Pāṇḍyas of Ucchangi, a fortress south-west of the Bellary district. These chiefs also claim to belong to the candravamśa and Kāśyapagotra, which are also adopted by the kings of Karvetnagar. One of the titles assumed by them was ‘Boon Lord of Kāñcīpura’. It is quite possible that Tondiman was a prince of the Sāluva family who married a Yādava - Pāṇḍyan princess Padmā.

Between the tenth and fifteenth centuries, Nārāyaṇavanaṃ was a stronghold of Yādava families of various branches, which styled themselves as Yādavas or Sālvas. After the breakup of Western Chālukya power, several feudatory families of chiefs who carved out small principalities for themselves, adopted Chālukya emblems and titles. Their early religion was Jainism. Even Viṣṇuvardhana was a Jain prior to his alleged conversion to Vaiṣṇavism. His queen Shāntalādevī was a devoted Jain. The existence of rock beds on the summit of the Nigiri hills, close to the Sāluva capital of Nārāyaṇavanama, and the remains of Jain temples within the Chandragiri fort, show that the early religion of these chiefs was Jainism. They seem to have been first converted to Harihara cult and later on to Vaiṣṇavism. They appear to have been devotees of the Jain goddess Padmāvatī. Her marriage to Srī Venkaṭeśvara may merely mean the absorption of the goddess into the Hindu pantheon after the conversion of the chiefs to Vaiṣṇavism. As observed by M S Ramaswami Aiyangar, “Such Jain foundations are so subtly disguised very often by the theological zeal and ingenuity of the later day revivalists, that while the fact illustrates the absorbing catholicity of the latter, it confuses all traces of historic continuity” (Studies in South Indian Jainism).

Padmāvatī, the Jain Goddess

Though the Tiruchanur goddess is popularly called Padmāvatī, there is no image of Padmāvatī, the daughter of Akāśarāja of Nārāyaṇavanaṃ either on the hills or in Tiruchanur. The temple of the goddess at the latter place is dedicated to ‘Alamelu mangai’ or the Lotus born, Lakṣmī who emerged out of the tank, Padmasaras. She is a different goddess altogether, for whose origin, there is an independent legend. Thus, only the name Padmāvatī is preserved and the goddess has disappeared. The form of worship in Tiruchanur temple is said to be according to the Pñcarātra āgama, while the worship on the hill is according Vaikhānasa āgama. These point to the later linking of the Tiruchanur shrine with the Tirumala shrine, without changing the Vaiṣṇava character of the worship of the goddess. In the Shakti forms of worship adopted in the hill shrine, we have perhaps some echo of the Padmāvatī cult practiced in the temple.

Incidentally, it may be mentioned that though the Veṅkaṭācala māhātmyaṃ refers to the Mahālakṣmī temple at Kolhapur, as the place to which Srī Veṅkaṭeśvara first went in search of the goddess. There is nothing in the present institutions of the temple at Tirumala connecting it with the Kolhapur temple in any way. The Silharas of Kolhapur were Jains and the story has probably some reference to the time of the absorption of the Padmāvatī cult into Lakṣmī worship both at Tirupatī and at Kolhapur.

Other Shrines

Coming next to the origin of the several subsidiary shrines on the hill, we find that inscriptional reference to Sri Varāha occurs only in 1378 A.D.; the references to Narasimha’s shrine and the images of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa, installed within the sanctum, occur only in the beginning of the fifteenth century. Another feature uncommon to Viṣṇu temples is that the shrine to Garuḍa was the last to be built (1512 A.D.). No further proof is needed to show that these deities had no place in the hill temple till its transfer to Vaiṣṇavas. Several of the Viṣṇu temples and the mutts even in Tirupati came into existence only from the fifteenth century. The first Jiyangar’s name we come across, is that of Mullai Tiruvenkata Jiyar in 1387 A.D.

Subrahmaṇya and Shaiva modes of Worship

A F Cox, who had personal knowledge of Tirupati, in the North Arcot District Manual, 1880 edition, which is acknowledged as the best of the series of District Manuals published by Government, writes as follows: “There can be no reasonable doubt that originally the idol was worshiped as Shiva. This is denied by none and the story goes that Rāmānuja asserting that it was all a mistake, and that the deity was Viṣṇu, procured a conch and a chakra of gold, which he placed before the image and closed the temple doors. When they were next day opened, these ensigns were found grasped in the idol’s hands, which was regarded as a proof that he was Viṣṇu. The śaṅkha and chakra are not portions of the stone image, but are made of gold and fitted upon the two hands, which point upwards. The arrangement of the hair as jaṭā or tangled mass, the cobras carved upon the body and various other peculiarities prove that Shiva was intended to be represented. Probably, the deity who has no consort on the hill was the bachelor Subrahmaṇya. “

This extract is important as a record of the personal investigation of a non-sectarian historian of unimpeachable probity. It will thus be seen that nobody till now doubted that the original character of the temple was that of Shiva and that it was transferred to the Vaiṣṇavas due to royal influence. Dr. S Krishmaswami Aiyangar for the first time in his History of Tirupati, asserts that the temple had always been of Viṣṇu, even prior to the first century A.D., and that it has been more or less the private property of the Srīvaiṣṇava community of Tirupati.

In the same breath, however, he admits that this claim is not supported by the references quoted by him. The Sawal-e-jawab, which is a record prepared by the Vaiṣṇava sthānikas of the temple, honestly admits that the deity was worshiped as Shiva, according to śaivāgama, and as Subrahmaṇya till Rāmānuja’s time. The account further states that Rāmānuja introduced Vaikhānasa forms of worship after investing the deity with śaṅkha and chakra and that nāgābharaṇa and bilvārcana which came into vogue when the deity was worshiped as Subrahmaṇya, were continued at the personal desire of the deity Himself. This is a clear admission that both śaiva and pāñcarātra forms of worship were excluded and that the śaiva attributes of the deity were somewhat retained. Further, the same authority concedes that Shaṅkarācārya installed a yantra and ākarṣaṇa cakra near the pādapīṭha of the deity.

A Srimperambudur manuscript also admits that the deity was worshiped as Shiva until the time of Rāmānuja and that ‘he established the forms of worship, of offering food, of bathing the deity and other ceremonies which are still going on’. A reference also shows that among the special utsavas performed at the temple, there is one which is called Shivarātri chatra pālaka utsava (possibly Kṣetrapālaka) - ceremonies performed to the guardians of the holy place. We have no information whether this utsava is now performed openly as before, but the observance of the festival clearly proves that the earlier Vaiṣṇavas had not only no objection to acknowledge that the place belonged to Shiva but were liberal enough to respect Shaivite sentiment by continuing the special utsava in honor of Shiva. Similarly Varalakṣmī grata and Vināyaka caturthī were also preserved.

Shaṅkarācārya, Veṅkaṭeśvara and Chandramauḻīśvara

A book entitled ‘Biographical Sketches of Deccan Poets’, being memoirs of the lives of several eminent bards, both ancient and modern who have flourished in different provinces of the Indian Peninsula compiled from authentic documents by Cavelly Venkata Ramaswami, head translator and pandit in the Literary and Antiquarian Department published in Calcutta and reprinted by Messrs. Higginbotham and Co. in 1888, is a rare volume of peculiar interest. Cavelly Ramaswami was one of the assistants of Co. Colin Mackenzie and was employed in translating manuscripts. In this book he gives sketches of the lives of 149 poets among whom Srī Shaṅkarācārya is also included. He refers to the visit of Srī Shaṅkarācārya to the Tirumala shrine. It will be useful to read it in his own words. “The following account of the life and actions of the great legislator is principally taken from a book written in the Sanskrit dialect called Shaṅkaravijaya. All the wonderful and supernatural performances related in the work named above are implicitly believed by orthodox Hindus. It would therefore be presumptuous and perhaps impious in me to modify or alter one particle of the materials from which I compile this biography of a prophet and sage, who flourished in an age so remote as to claim antiquity prior to the Christian era.” Then he gives an account of his birth, his discipleship under Govinda Yati, and the usual account of his obtaining permission of his mother to become a sannyāsi, his confutation of the Buddhists, his visit to Kāñcī and then to Tirupati. “He afterwards consecrated an image of the goddess Kāmākṣī on a copper pedestal and engraved mysterious syllables in the different arches and rooms according to the rules laid down in the Atharvaveda and composed eight sanskrit verses in praise of the goddess which are entitled Kākāmkṣī aṣṭaka. He also established a liṅgaṃ at Kāñcī and dedicated it to Ekāmreśvara since which time the place is called Shivakāñcī. Srī Shaṅkarācārya then went to Tirupati where he was again engaged in religious debate and overcame the most learned pandits in disputation and erected a crystal liṅgaṃ as the image of Venkaṭeśvara and denominated it Chandramauḻīśvara or the crescent-crowned Lord. The temple was in a conspicuous position on a hill where the doctrine of there being no distinction between Shiva and Viṣṇu was taught. He directed his disciples to collect contributions from every pilgrim that was present at the procession of the chariot of Venkaṭeśvara and that food should be supplied to indigent visitors and votaries. The above mentioned sage composed 27 verses in honor of Chandramauḻīśvara and Venkaṭeśvara and entitled them Nakṣatramālā and he left directions that the liṅgaṃ should be worshiped one month with Bilva leaves. From this place, Srī Shaṅkarācārya proceeded to Kāśī.“

This is an interesting account in more ways than one. In the first place, it confirms the tradition in the Sawal-e-jawab account about Srī Shaṅkarācārya’s visit to the temple. We learn from this biography that the name of Srī Veṅkaṭeśvara was first applied to the presiding deity by Shaṅkara, after the name of the crystal liṅgaṃ established by him in the shrine. There is no reference to the existence of a temple in this account, which refers only to the place having been a center where the non-difference between Shiva and Viṣṇu was being taught.

The Worship of Shakti-Goddess

The Gopuram on the top of the first hill is now called ‘Gāḻi Gopuram’ or ‘wind-swept tower’. This, in fact, would convey no meaning as all towers built on mountain slopes are wind swept. The word ‘gāḻi’ appears to be a corruption of the word Kālī; In one of the rooms on the side of this Gopuram there is a shrine dedicated to Kālī. The Tamil letter ‘Kā’ was apparently transliterated into Telugu as ‘Gā’. A Bairāgi officiates as a priest. The name perhaps indicates it is the tower of the temple of Kālī on the mountain. Again, at the corners of the top of the central vimāna of Srī Veṅkaṭeśa are placed figures of couchant lions, the vehicle and emblem of Shakti. No other Viṣṇu temple is known to bear these emblems on its vimāna.

Though the image of the deity appears to have undergone alterations with the changing faiths of those who had control over the shrine, during the long period of its history, there are some traces of the Shakti aspect in the image such as Siṃhalalāṭaṃ, jaṭā, and Srīcakraon the crown. In the ritual followed in the worship of the deity, even today, the Shakti aspect receives greater emphasis than the Viṣṇu aspect. The drapery around the image, consisting of a silk cloth thirty-two cubits in length, is arranged in the style of a spree and a sword hangs from the girdle. The two arms are adorned with Nāgābharaṇa, an ornament much prized by Hindu women; a ball of richly perfumed sandal paste adorns the chest; a bath is given on Fridays, a special item of which, is water mixed with turmeric which Hindu women use. The bath is immediately followed by an offering of vaḍai (black gram cake) and pāyasaṃ (a preparation of milk and sugar); After the bath is concluded and the image is decked, the doors are closed and it is stated, in the Devasthānaṃ guide, that the gold emblems of the Goddess worn by the deity as a necklace now receive abhiṣeka in secret; there seems to be no need for secrecy as the deity’s abhiṣeka takes place openly. It is learnt that a Meru chakra which is embedded under the pedestal of Bhoga Srīnivāsa mūrti image, is worshiped secretly, by an Archaka who has received special dīkṣā in the ritual. For one month in the year, the deity is worshiped with Bilva leaves. The nāmaṃ itself is a line drawn vertically with musk (kastūrī) which is a favorite article of toilet with women. Above all, the principal festival of the deity, Brahmotsavam, is celebrated during Dasara, a festival specially and exclusively devoted to the worship of the Devī. All Viṣṇu images are installed close to the wall behind them whereas Shaivite images are installed in the center of the sanctum. There is no outlet to drain off the abhiṣeka water from the room. The height of the central vimāna is not proportionate to the height of the image. This clearly shows, that the original floor of the room was lower and that the present floor has been built at some height from the original floor leaving some room in between the two floors. This room may perhaps hold the key to the early history of the temple and its former deities. There are several other such items of detail extending even to the matter of waving lights before the deity which point to Shakti ritual. However much it may be attempted to explain away these facts, there is no other temple dedicated to Viṣṇu with this architectural, iconographic and ritualistic combination.

The markings of Srīvatsa on the right chest, near the shoulder, instead of on the middle of the left chest, as is usual with Viṣṇu images, betrays hasty and imperfect execution by later artists. Only Jain images have Srīvatsa marking on the right chest. The Vaiṣṇavas state that the image was without śaṅkha and chakra and that Rāmānuja invested the deity with these emblems in gold. A representation of the figure of Durgā with the two upper hands caring śaṅkha and chakra, the lower right hand in the varada pose (pointing to the earth) and the lower left hand in the Kaṭyavalambita (holding the hip) pose is found in the Shiva temple at Tiruvanjikalam. To Rāmānuja goes the credit of converting this goddess into a male deity and discovering for the deity a wife in Padmāvatī who was supposedly the daughter of Akāśarāja. In a book on Srīvaiṣṇavism, the tradition is recorded that Rāmānuja is considered the father-in-law of Veṅkaṭeśvara as he had gifted Padmāvatī to him and the ācārya of the deity, as he had invested him with śaṅkha and chakra.

The lone image on the hill, without any Parivāra devatāS, with full cheeks and a trace of a small at the corners of the small mouth, could be a mountain goddess Durgā or Bālā. The writer of Tholkappiam when describing the limits of the Tamil country as bounded on the north by Vengaḍam and the south by Cape Comorin, was suggesting apparently that these two frontiers were guarded by the two Kumārīs.

Examining the association with Rāmānuja

It is doubted whether the Mysore King Bittideva, Viṣṇuvardhana, was actually the patron of Rāmānuja, whom the latter is said to have converted to Vaiṣṇavism, as the Divyasūricarita refers to a chief named Viṭṭhala reigning in Tirupati, who gifted an agrahāra to Rāmānuja and was converted by him. These discussions push back the date of Rāmānuja’s first visit to Tirupati to settle the Shiva-Viṣṇu dispute to about 1032 A.D.

Musings on Para Shodashi

Para Shodashi

Last Thursday, after what had been a sardonic, wet, rainy day here, I addressed a small group of academicians who were interested in the topic, ‘Haṭha Yoga in Traditional Tantra’. One of the illustrious scholars, who is a known name in the field of Shaiva Siddhānta related research, surprised me by stating that he was a Srīvidyā Upāsaka initiated by a Guru from Kāśī. His primary practice was centered around the hallowed Parāṣoḍaśī vidyā, which, thankfully, was not the same medieval mantra that most seem to be be aware of in the present day.

This discussion brought back memories of someone I consider a mentor, the late Shāstrālaṅkāra Dr. S K Ramachandra Rao. Sri Rao, who I first met when I was, I think fifteen, lived pretty close to my childhood home. Before the advent of the despicable Daivajña Somayaji, who has made a mockery of vāstuśāstra today, Dr. Rao headed the Kalpataru Research Academy, funded by Sringeri Shāradā pīṭha, in some capacity. I was told, by several acquaintances of my Guru, that he was a treasurehouse of many rare manuscripts. One afternoon, I decided to show up at his door unannounced and asked him access to his library with what I can now only term incredible audacity. He regarded me with dismissive amusement and told me to come back another day. I returned, with more determination, this time with some name throwing. My Guru’s name gained me entry, and he asked, ‘what have you studied lately?’ I replied, without hesitation, 'Tripurārṇava Tantra' and that seemed to impress him. Over the course of a few visits he seemed to warm up to me, albeit with some reluctance.

So far he had only allowed access to some of his published works and nothing else, which was quite disappointing to me. It was during one such visit that I noticed Dr Rao suffering from a certain condition associated with the excretory system that put him in immense pain. I decided to try to assist him and did what I could do best, given my age and incompetence - recite Vanadurgā for a fortnight every night, and took some Bhasma to him. It seemed to work and his condition improved overnight. After this incident, he completely opened up to me and let me run amok examining his manuscripts.

Around the same time, I was initiated into the sacred Parāṣoḍaśī mantra and into the hoary lineage of Bhagavatī Bimbāmbikā. The first thought that came to my mind was: “Hey! This mantra is not what I had read in manuals listed as Parāṣoḍaśī”. I had a reason, a theory and when I explained it to Dr Rao, who had documented this mantra (in the incorrect form) in some of his books, agreed vigorously with me. His nod of approval encouraged me immensely and taught me to think out of the box. It reemphasized Kālidāsa’s words: purāṇamityeva na sādhu sarvaṃ, an ideal that Dr Rao lived, breathed and embodied.

Years later, Smt. Rajam (Suri) Mami of Guhananda Mandali was the second person that I shared my hypothesis with. At that time, she was examining a text named Nābhividyā (a very recent text of questionable origin and authenticity), which again centered around the same Parāṣoḍaśī. She pondered over it for days and finally agreed that I was possibly correct. Her regard for this text seemed to have drastically depleted after this incident.

Anyway, the popular version of Parāṣoḍaśī seems to be traced back to Gīrvāṇendra Sarasvatī who presents a certain mode of worship of Srīcakra where Mahālakṣmī is worshiped in the sṛṣṭikrama and Mahātripurasundarī in saṃhārakrama. The ṛṣi of this mantra is listed as Nārāyaṇa and the Goddess is visualized as a certain hybrid form of Lakṣmī and Tripurasundarī, within Viṣṇu’s heart. Her popular dhyāna is:

तार्क्ष्यरूढहरिहृत्सरोजके भाति या परमचित्स्वरूपिणी |
पद्मयुग्ममणिपात्रधारिणी भासतां हृदि सदा ममाम्बिका ||

Now let us look at the uddhāra śloka for this mantra:

तारं च भूतिकमले कथिता च विद्या |
शक्त्यादिकान्तु विपरीततया प्रयुक्तं
श्रीषोडशार्णमिदमागमसंप्रसिद्धम् ||

Now let us look at the uddhāra ślokas for the more mainstream Mahāṣoḍaśī:

तारञ्च माया कमलाथ विद्या |
शक्त्यादिबीजैश्च विलोमतः सा
श्रीषोडशी यच्च शिवप्रदिष्टा ||

लक्ष्मीः परा मदनयोनियुता च शक्तिः
तारं परा च कमलाप्यथ मूलविद्या |
शक्त्यादिभिश्च विपरीततया प्रदिष्टं
श्रीमन्त्रराजमुदितं परदेवतायाः ||

Now, Rudrayāmala provides a strikingly similar uddhāra, but for Mahāṣoḍaśī:

लक्ष्मी परा मदनवाग्भवशक्तिबीजं
तारञ्च भूतिकमलेऽप्यथ मूलविद्या |
कूटत्रयञ्च विपरीततया नियुक्तं
श्रीषोडशाक्षरमिहागमसुप्रसिद्धम् ||

Now let us take the uddhāra of the so-called Parāṣoḍaśī by Gīrvāṇendra Sarasvatī and examine his interpretation. He traces this to a work called Mahālakṣmī Ratnakośa which deals mainly with saṃpuṭīkaraṇa of Srīsūkta with Kādi Srīvidyā. I examined two manuscripts of this unpublished work, first one at Tanjore’s Saraswati Mahal Library, and second in the possession of Dr Rao. Interestingly, neither talked of Parāṣoḍaśī. Anyway, getting back to Gīrvāṇendra Sarasvatī:

तारं च भूतिकमले कथिता च विद्या |
शक्त्यादिकान्तु विपरीततया प्रयुक्तं
श्रीषोडशार्णमिदमागमसंप्रसिद्धम् ||

लक्ष्मीति श्रीबीजम् | परेति बालातृतीयबीजम् | मदन इति कामबीजम् | वाग्भव इति बालाप्रथमबीजम् | शक्तिरिति भुवनेशी | तार इति प्रणवः | भूतिरिति भुवनेशी | कमलेति श्रीबीजम् | कथिता च विद्येति | श्रीविद्यायाः सोमसूर्यानलात्मकक्रमेण खण्डत्रितयम् ||

Here, he interprets 'Parā' as the third bīja of Bālā mantra, and śakti as Māyābīja. Also, he proceeds to interpret 'śaktyādikāntu viparītatayā' to mean - reverse the three kūṭas of Kādividyā.

The term 'Parā' can be interpreted to mean both Māyā bīja as well as Bālā tṛtīya bīja, sacred to the Trika lore. Mantrābhidhāna kośa says:

परा - दन्त्यसकारः | ह्रीमिति हकाररकारचतुर्थस्वरबिन्दुयोगेन मायेति |

Similarly, the term śakti can mean either the Māyā bīja or the Bālā tṛtīya bīja.

शक्तिः - सकारोदन्त्यः | ह्रीमिति मायाबीजम् |

He seems to clearly mix up these two bījas. And then, the instruction 'śaktyādikāntu viparītatayā prayuktaṃ' (to reverse the starting five bījas, at the end of the mantra) is again misinterpreted as reversing of the main three kūṭas of Kādividyā. And this incorrect interpretation results in the vikāra which he calls Parāṣoḍaśī mantra.

If we examine the famous uddhāraśloka for Mahāṣoḍaśī from Rudrayāmala, it becomes evident that the above interpretation of the Mantra is incorrect:

लक्ष्मी परा मदनवाग्भवशक्तिबीजं
तारञ्च भूतिकमलेऽप्यथ मूलविद्या |
कूटत्रयञ्च विपरीततया नियुक्तं
श्रीषोडशाक्षरमिहागमसुप्रसिद्धम् ||

Also, the term 'āgamasuprasiddhaṃ' can only apply to the extremely well-known Mahāṣoḍaśī, and not to this hardly known, obscure mantra!

So, what this boils down is to this: Some medieval manual picked the famous Mahāṣoḍaśī mantra and detailed its Vaiṣṇava adoption by placing Mahālakṣmī at its center in a syncretic ritual. Someone later, possibly Gīrvāṇendra Sarasvatī himself, assumed this mantra to be different from Mahāṣoḍaśī, interpreted the uddhāra śloka incorrectly and generated a whole new Mantra which was not found in any older, classic Tantras of Srīkula. And this error continued to be propagated by others copying the mantra without discrimination, in their manuals and compilations.

This mantra of Gīrvāṇendra Sarasvatī is not found in any other standard Tantras or manuals. Also, there are no other uddhāra ślokas that reveal his mantra, except for the above one. Even the popular Trailokyamohana Kavacha does not talk about it, nor do works like Srīvidyārṇava Tantra, Srītattvacintāmaṇi, Bṛhattantrasāra, Mantramahodadhi, Puraścaryārṇava etc.

Those initiated into the Krama system are well-aware of the closely guarded, correct mantra of Parāṣoḍaśī. Clearly, the mantra should have Parā (in other words, Bālātṛtīya bīja) in a central position for a certain ṣoḍaśī to become Parāṣoḍaśī. Needless to say, Mantrasaṅketa for the correct form of the mantra should be learned from a competent Guru. It would suffice to state that the actual Parāṣoḍaśī mantra does not resemble Gīrvāṇendra Sarasvatī’s version even faintly. And it certainly has no association with Mahālakṣmī.



शिवशरवणजातं शैवयोगप्रभावं
भवहितगुरुनाथं भक्तवृन्दप्रमोदम् |
नवरसमृदुपादं नाथह्रीङ्काररूपं
कवनमधुरसारं कार्तिकेयं भजामि ||

śivaśaravaṇajātaṃ śaivayogaprabhāvaṃ
bhavahitagurunāthaṃ bhaktavṛndapramodam |
navarasamṛdupādaṃ nāthahrīṅkārarūpaṃ
kavanamadhurasāraṃ kārtikeyaṃ bhajāmi ||

A Comprehensive Introduction to Mantras

- Dr. Debabrata Sen Sharma

Yāska in his Nirukta has provided us with the etymological meaning of the term Mantra in this way - mantra signifies that which saves one 0from taking recourse to reflection (manana), a kind of intellectual activity (mananāt trāṇatā). Abhinavagupta, while shedding light on the meaning of the word mantra, has accepted this etymological meaning given by Yāska. Shabaka in his commentary on the Mīmāmsā sūtra of Jaimini, as quoted by Mahāmahopādhyāya Gopinath Kaviraj, improves this etymological meaning by adding a few very significant expressions. The derivative means of the term mantra that Abhinavagupta gives is as follows:

mantrādi cimarīcayaḥ tadvācakatvād vaikharī varṇavilāsabhūtānāṃ vidyānāṃ mananāt trāṇatā |

That is, mantras are of the nature of the effulgence of the consciousness-light (cinmarīcayaḥ), the word in gross form (i.e. ordinary words used by common man in his daily life) called vaikharī varṇa or vāk denotes the highest and purest spiritual knowledge embodying within them the consciousness-light, which, when grasped by men, saves them from the trouble of resorting to reflection by their intellect for understanding its real import. To put it in other words, the mantras heard or used by us in vaikharī or gross verbal form contain within their bosom the effulgence of the consciousness-light which shines forth when the potency ‘lying dormant in it’ is aroused, i.e., when the outer cover encasing the consciousness-light is broken open by the Guru at the time of initiation (dīkṣā). The mantras received in this manner by the disciples and used during their spiritual practices provide them with the opportunity of obtaining a direct vision of the light of consciousness. When the mantras are used as an instrument for the revelation of consciousness (chaitanya) contained therein, the disciple is not required to look for spiritual knowledge from any other external source. This is what the expression trāṇatā (saving) signifies when used by Shabara in his commentary.

The word mantra is a generic term connoting different shades of meaning in different contexts. For example, mantras are used by people belonging to different levels for accomplishing different purposes. For instance, devout religious minded persons utter mantras for propitiating their favorite deity in the course of their daily worship. These mantras are drawn from different sources, such as Purāṇas, Stotras etc. It is impossible to conduct social rites, technically called daśakarma (ten kinds of rites), beginning with the ceremonial shaving of the head of a young child, the sacred thread ceremony, marriage or offerings to the departed souls, without using mantras as prescribed in the treatises on Dharmaśāstra. These mantras, borrowed freely from different texts, do not play however any role in the spiritual upliftment of the user. Such mantras are devoid of special potency, hence they are not relevant in the context of our present discussion.

Before we take up for discussion the nature of mantra and the role it plays in the spiritual discipline of a sādhaka following the Tāntric mode of sādhanā, it would perhaps be useful if we give a bird’s eye view of the development of the concept of mantra from the Vedic tradition, and then turn our attention to the Tāntric tradition.

When we study the Vedic literature, we find that the term mantra was first used to denote the spontaneous utterances of the Vedic seers on their obtaining the vision of the spiritual Truth through their inner eye called ārṣacakṣu. The Vedic seers are traditionally called mantradraṣṭā, the ‘seers’ of mantra or the Spiritual Truth. They articulated their deep and sublime experiences spontaneously in their own words before their disciples. As ordinary words were incapable of conveying their vision of the Truth, very deep and complex, they had to employ symbolic language pregnant with deep implications, which was later difficult to grasp by ordinary minds. Nonetheless, their words contained the vision of Truth in a condensed verbalized form, and the disciples of the Vedic seers had the privilege of listening to Vedic mantras coming directly from the lips of the seers of Truth, hence they could immediately grasp their inner meaning. The Vedic mantras had a denotative power hidden in them, which got ‘stirred up’ as it were as the Vedic seers uttered them before their disciples. This led to revelation of the spiritual Truth seen by them as a result of their saṅkalpa (conscious resolve). Others who came later, in succession to their direct disciples, could not decipher the hidden meanings in the Vedic mantras, but, realizing their sacredness because they had been uttered by the seers, made great efforts to preserve their outward verbal structure and then pass them on orally to their disciples. Thus the process of oral transmission started. The Vedic mantras, embodying the esoteric experiences of Vedic seers, came down orally through a chain of disciples without any distortion, but their true meaning remained hidden. However, some seekers of truth succeeded to a great extent in decoding their true meaning by elevating themselves to that level of consciousness on which the supreme Truth was ‘seen’ by the seers.

Looking from the point of view of the verbal structure, the Vedic mantras are mostly multi-worded complete sentences, which are difficult for the spiritual practitioners to use for their spiritual elevation. The Brāhmaṇa texts however have found their utility in the performance of different kinds of sacrifices for obtaining mundane results. The focus of the Brāhmaṇa texts is to secure the welfare of the sacrificer on the mundane levels, but they are only minutely concerned with the spiritual life of man.

However, a few mantras occurring in ṛgveda saṃhitā (II,3,2) and the Atharvaveda samhitā (IX,25,27) refer to a theory pertaining to the nature of vāka which has deep spiritual ramifications. They mention for levels of speech or vāk enshrined in the mantra, but does not spell out what these levels of speech are, neither whether these levels have any relevance in the field of spirituality. Taking clue from these Vedic mantras, Bhartṛhari, the celebrated grammarian philosopher formulated the philosophy of vāk (Primordial Word) in his famous work Vākyapadīya. According to him, the four levels of vāk in the descending order from subtlest to grossest are parā, paśyantī, madhyamā and vaikharī.

While the vaikharī represents the speech in grossest form, the form we use for communication in our daily life, the other three forms are very subtle and beyond the ordinary reach of our mind. These, parā, paśyantī and madhyamā represent the Shakti which is enshrined in the gross form of vāk, vaikharī.

This Shakti underlying vaikharī vāk is designated as the vīrya (potency) innate in the ordinary world. It may be mentioned in this context that some logins are well known for possessing the extraordinary power to use the potency lying encased within the word in vaikharī form to materialize gross objects denoted by the particular word by concentrating on it, thereafter unlocking the vīrya lying innate in it. There are several instances of amazing feats demonstrated by some Indian yogins, miracles which cannot be otherwise explained. It might appear as a miracle to ignorant persons but it can be explained on the basis of the theory of vāk mentioned above.

Let us now turn our attention to the mantra, the role it plays in the spiritual life of a seeker of truth, and the manner it secures their spiritual elevation. It is well known that the Guru ‘implants’ the mantra in the psychophysical apparatus of the disciple during dīkṣā (initiation), after it is purged of impurities. The Advaita Shaivites of Kashmir hold that with the influx of divine grace from the Supreme through the Guru into the spiritual seeker, the thick crust of basic defilement, āṇavamala gets ‘broken’ when the initiation takes place and when the divine mantra is implanted in him. When the Guru ‘gives’ him the mantra for use in spiritual practices, like japa of mantra during the control of prāṇavāyu (technically called prāṇāyāma) or for meditation (dhyāna) etc., he first arouses the Shakti lying encased in the mantra, and thereby ‘enlivens’ the mantra, drawing the consciousness energy (chaitanya shake) from the Parā vāk. The Guru has access to that level of vāk from which he can ‘draw’ shake and transform the mantra in gross vaikharī form into what has been called chaitanya mantra - the mantra becoming ‘alive’ with the arousal of Shakti lying latent in it.

It may be mentioned here that the Vedic tradition, prescribing the path of spiritual knowledge as a mode of spiritual discipline to be followed by practitioners, held similar views about the role of mantra in sādhanā. The Yajurveda Samhitā refers to the hams mantra. The term hams represents so.ahaṃ (‘That I Am’) arranged in reverse form, which was capable of bringing about self-realization by the spiritual practitioners as ahaṃ brahmāsmi. As a matter of fact, when the Upaniṣadas speak about the Mahāvākyas which are ‘great sentences’ conveying the spiritual experiences in different steps, this very idea about the role of mantra in sādhanā is somewhat implicit there.

The role of the mahāvākyas in the sādhanā as laid down in the Upaniṣads needs a little elaboration. It is said that as soon as the spiritual master utters the mantra ‘tattvamasi’ before the disciple who has acquired all the qualities needed for following the path of knowledge, and who has also succeeded in cleansing fully his antaḥkaraṇa, he grasps the highest spiritual knowledge contained in his great mantra through reflection (manana), deep and continued reflection (nidhidhyāsana) in samādhi of the savikalpa type. The Great Word contains within its verbal form the shake, which is manifested spontaneously the moment the Guru utters it. He immediately begins experiencing ahaṃ brahmāsmi. This is called anubhavavākya, the expression conveying the highest spiritual experience. This expression conveying the spiritual experience of the sādhaka is, in fact, an echo of the haṃsa mantra (so.ahaṃ) mentioned in the Vedic Saṃhitā texts. As the sādhaka turns around to experience his surroundings, he discovers the presence of his consciousness nature everywhere (sarvaṃ khalvidaṃ brahma). His own being-experience expands from individual being-experience into universal being-experience, i.e. Brahman. He is filled with ecstatic delight. When he reaches the peak of his spiritual path, his individual being-experience melts, as it were, into the Universal, and that is the indescribable state of spiritual realization which the savants of Kashmir call pure ‘bodha’ (self-experience). The sādhaka then gets immersed in his fullness-nature (akaṇḍa svarūpa).

As is clear from the brief account of modes of spiritual discipline followed by the sādhakaS belonging to the Tāntric as well as to the Vedic tradition, the role of the mantras ‘given’ by the Guru to disciples plays a pivotal role in their spiritual elevation, culminating in the achievement of the ultimate goal.

Let us now turn our attention to another aspect of the nature of mantra, namely the structural aspect. We have already mentioned that the Vedic mantras comprise complete sentences. It is obvious that the Vedic mantras, found in the multi-worded form is not commonly used by sādhakas for their spiritual elevation, in the classic sense, but for few exceptions. The mantras must be short so that they can be uttered with ease during contemplation or meditation. We find some shorter mantras comprised of fear words, also in later texts like the Purāṇas etc., but these are also not immensely popular with the sādhakas.

The Tāntric bījamantras, on the other hand, have found favor with the practitioners of spiritual discipline. These represent certain sounds of mātṛkā varṇas, coalesced together and put in an encased (saṃpuṭita) form. Since the components of bījamantras are mātṛkā varṇas i.e., letters symbolizing the spiritual energy or the consciousness force (Shakti), they, when used properly during the practice of sādhanā, are capable of generating the experience of true consciousness nature in the sādhaka. The bījamantras are likened to the ‘seed’ which, when implanted in the pure psychophysical framework of the sādhaka by the Guru, fructifies in the course of his sādhanā and produces the desired result.

The origin of the bījamantras can be traced to the Vedic times; the Praṇava mantra is the classic example. As is well known, the Māṇḍūkyopaniṣad explains the significance of the Praṇava mantra in philosophical terms. The Tāntric texts mention a large number of Bījamantras, which have been collected from different texts and listed in the Mantrābhidhānakośa, a dictionary of Tāntric mantras, along with shirt explanations.

We come across a reference in the first āhnika of the Tantrāloka by Abhinavagupta where the probable origin of bījamantras is given. It is said there that bījamantras originated from sañjalpa, i.e., sounds escaping involuntarily from the lips of a yogin during the transitional period from the state of trace (samādhi) to the normal state of awareness. The yogin is then in a state of half-trance and half-waking condition, being in a spiritually intoxicated state, and having no conscious control over his sense faculties. It is believed that during samādhi the yogin has wonderful spiritual experiences or visions, which he is unable to articulate, or wish to communicate. He only mutters something, which apparently does not appear to convey any meaning. These apparently meaningless sounds, condensed or juxtaposed one over the other, were heard by persons who were nearby, and constitute the bījamantras. These mantras contain a natural shakti or potency, and are therefore capable of revealing the power of chaitanya shakti.

There is a corroborative evidence about this explanation provided by Abhinavagupta from the spiritual life of many sādhakas. The Pātañjala yoga also refers to sañjalpa indicative of deep spiritual experiences of yogins during the state of of saṃprajñāta samādhi.

Vajrayana, Consort Practice and Sublimation

- Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche

The Tantras, which are the almost exclusive preserve of Tibetan Buddhism, form part of the teachings of the Mahāyāna. Like the Mahāyāna sūtras, they are animated by the attitude of Bodhichitta, the determination to attain supreme Buddhahood for the sake of all beings. A number of features distinguish the tāntric teachings, or Vajrayāna, from those of the sūtra. One of these is the great variety of skillful means whereby the process of attainment is vastly accelerated. According to the sūtra teachings, the two accumulations of wisdom and merit required to produce the state of enlightenment are expected to require continuos practice over a period of three countless eons. By contrast, through the implementation of the most advanced tāntric yogas, and given favorable kārmic circumstances, the fruit of Buddhahood may be actualized within the course of a single human life.

The reason for the esoteric character of the tāntric teachings is given by Guru Padmasambhava. He says that they are kept secret not because they are in some way shameful or defective, but because their power renders them proportionately precious and perilous. Being profound, they are easily misunderstood and are to be transmitted only to appropriate persons at the right time. They are likened to the milk of the snow lion, an elixir of such potency that it will shatter a vessel of anything but the purest gold.

In contrast with the ascetic approach of the Hīnayāna teachings, and unlike the meditative antidotes used on the Mahāyāna sūtra path to counteract emotional defilement, the Vajrayāna is characterized by its direct utilization of emotion, as well as the psychophysical energies of the mind and the body. The external supports of ritual, visualization, mantra recitation and yoga are all of great importance. It is convenient to speak of the tāntric path in terms of four initiations or four levels of empowerment that introduce the disciple to the different aspects of the fully enlightened state. In the simplest terms, the first of the four initiations empowers the disciple to undertake the yogas of the Generation Stage. These aim at the realization of the true nature of all phenomena and mainly involve the practice of visualization and recitation. The second initiation introduces the disciple to the practices of the Perfection Stage, in which the subtle channels, energies and essences of his or her own body are meditated upon and brought under control. When this has been perfectly accomplished, the disciple is ready to receive the third initiation, which empowers him or her to practice a similar type of yoga but this time taking support of another person, in other words a consort. Finally, the fourth initiation is directly concerned with the introduction to the nature of the mind itself.

The most striking aspect of the yoga related with the third initiation and one that many will find intriguing and perhaps troubling, is that it specifically involves the use of sexual energy. Given that Tantra works directly with the emotions and utilizes various physical and psychic yogas, it would be surprising if it neglected what is after all a driving impulse in human existence. Even so, for many people, the idea of using the sexual act as a spiritual path may seem strange if not actually contradictory. perhaps this is due to the fact that in western religions, the morally correct environment for sexual activity is considered to be marriage, and the spiritual dimension of sex is intimately associated with the begetting of children. At the other end of the spectrum, it is evident in secular life that sex is often trivialized and debased in exploitative and degrading ways. These two contrasting attitudes are apt to complicate our approach to this aspect of the tantra, and in the task of interpretation it is hard to find a vocabulary able to express the notions of both physical intercourse and spiritual purity in ways that are not either unduly diffident or else tainted by prurience and vulgarity. In Tibetan Buddhism, the instructions associated with the third initiation are regarded as extremely high teachings and are the object of profound respect. they are not widely disseminated and are well beyond the reach of the majority of practitioners.

The ability to feel but not to crave, to experience and yet not hanker for more, or indeed for anything at all, is the mark of long training and a sign of great spiritual stature. The practice of the third initiation can only be implemented by people who are able to feel and yet remain without attachment, even in the situation of physical climax. It stands to reason that individuals who are genuinely able to practice in this way (as distinct from those who merely think they are) are few and far between. On the other hand, for those who can implement it, the yoga of the third initiation is said to be of immense power and swiftness. At the same time, it is a profoundly dangerous path, involving an area in which people are particularly fragile and prone to self-deceit. It is hazardous even for advanced and sincere practitioners because the arising of attachment can be extremely subtle, with the result that they may go astray and fall from the path. It is no doubt for this reason that few people are encouraged to attempt these practices. Active discouragement is much more likely to be encountered.

In his commentary on the Treasure of Precious Qualities, Khenpo Yonten Gyasto says: The teachings say that those who take and practice explicitly the third initiation must have previously trained their own bodies by the path of skillful means, so that their subtle channels are perfectly straight, the wind energy is purified and the essence-drops brought under control. Trained in the view of the two previous empowerments, they must be able to tread the path with the help of the extraordinary view and meditation, without any craving for pleasure. If a beginner, who lacks this capacity, goes around claiming to be a practitioner of Mantra and becomes enmeshed in ordinary desire, he is destined for the lower realms. It is better to practice according to one’s true capacity and to the limit of one’s ability.

In this advanced yoga, sexual energy is used in a way entirely cleansed of the impurities of ordinary passion and lust.