[The author of this article is Jean Filliozat, a French Indologist. He is responsible for the founding of the French Institute of Indology at Pondicherry. It is to him we owe, in a great measure, the revival of interest in agamic study. His discovery that the majority of Brahmins are not priest and the majority of priests are not Brahmins is of supreme significance. The contribution of Filliozat to Dravidology is inestimable. He has retrieved many old and rare manuscripts and historical documents from oblivion. He is also considered an authority on ancient Indian medicine. Ed.]
The standard ritual in Hindu temples is based on books of religious technical teachings which are called Tantras or Agamas. They are in use in Vishnu temples as well as in Siva temples.
Vaishnava Tantras usually bear the title of samhita, as in Ahirbudhnyasamhita, Paramasamhita etc…..But we do find such titles as Lakshim Tantra as well. Saiva Tantras are ordinarily termed Agama, as in Kamikagama and other texts.
These texts, as well as the corresponding ones in Jain and Buddhist circles, are normally divided into four parts or pada-s: 1) jnana- or vidyapada, dealing with doctrine, 2) kriyapada, devoted to the description of rites and to the rules for building temples and making images, 3) caryapada giving directions for the conduct of life and for individual observances, and 4)yogapada, completing the caryapada by psychosomatic training leading to the supreme goal.
As Agama simply means “Tradition”, the name has been applied in India to any tradition; it has even been borrowed in Indonesia to designate religions, for example, “Agama Hindu, Agama Islam, or Agama Kristen”.
Today, the Saivagamas are chiefly in use in South India. It is in South India that the religious tradition has been preserved at its best, as South India has been less disturbed by various kinds of invaders than was Northern India. Further, South India, after the decline of Vedic and Brahmanical religions has been a region of intense creativity in philosophy and devotion. Sankara, for example, was born in Kerala, Ramanuja in Tamil Nadu, Madhava in Karnataka, while Nimbarka and Vallabha were natives of Andhra.
The first great movement of poetic bhakti, both Saiva and Vaishnava, appeared in Tamil Nadu with the Saiva saints called Nayanmar and the Vaishnava saints, the Alvar. But the Saivagamas have also been in vogue in Kashmir where flourished the Saiva school of Trika different from but analogous to the Tamil Saiva Siddhanta school which was also based on the Agamas.
Moreover, the Saivagamas have been exported from India to South-East Asia. Not only are the main features of Hindu rituals practised in Cambodia and Indonesia based upon the Saivagamas, but also these texts are explicitly referred to in Sanskrit inscriptions of Cambodia. The Paramesvara, for example, is mentioned in one inscription of Bantay-srei in 976 A.D.1
Some theories have been advanced regarding the origin of mountain-temples in Cambodia and of the so-called davaraja. One such theory supposes that the human king was divinized and represented by a linga established with his name. Such theories are no longer tenable when we consider the Agamas. Mountain-temples either symbolising Mt.Meru or being built on tombs are erected according to the Agamic prescriptions. Davaraja is not merely a god-king, but is Siva himself as king of the gods, Brahman, Vishnu and Indra. He is naturally represented by a linga which may be designated with the name of the king who established it.2
In modern times, in the Buddhist court of Cambodia and Thiland, the so-called “Bahmins” who have been in charge of State ceremonies are not spiritual descendants of the Hindu priests of the Khmer empire period. They mainly came from the Coromandel coast and belonged to the Kailasaparampara, a Saiva group still flourishing in Tamil nadu.3 Their texts in Sanskrit-texts they no longer understand-are inspired by the Saivagamic rituals and also quote the Vedas very often. Their Tamil texts are hymns, both Saiva and Vaishnava.4 These “Brahmins” represent a second Agamic waves of Hindu influence on the Indo-Chinese Peninsula. The previous one had been more important, beginning in the first centuries of the Christian or Saka era. By that time Vedic ritual had already been virtually abandoned, despite the fact the Vedic texts were still sacred and still inspired religious and cosmological doctrines. Agamic practices, such as agnikarya, arcana and puja, were more popular than Vedic yajna and great Vedic ceremonies like agnistoma, asvamedha, and others. The Epics, Puranas, Dharmasastras, Arthasastra, Vyakarana and scientific books of medicine and astronomy were imported from India side by side with Buddhist scriptures. But these texts did not give rules for religious practices. These have been supplied by the technical manuals- The Tantras or Agamas.
The Western notion of Tantrism separates the corresponding practices from “orthodox” Hinduism (represented by Smrtis, Epics, Puranas and Darsanas) and evokes images of magical and sexual practices as characteristic of the Tantras. That is the consequences of paying exclusive attention to such practices as prescribed in some peculiar Buddhist Trantras and parallel Hindu sectarian texts. But the ordinary Saivagamas or Tantras are simply the detailed manuals of general Saivism, just as Pancaratrasamhitas are those of general Vaisnavism.
The classical list of Saivagamas is as follows:
Several of these texts seems to be lost. Many are restricted to one or two pedas instead of four. The priests of the temples ordinarily keep the kriyapadas, which are specially useful for them to perform the rites.
There are also a number of upagamas and secondary technical manuals or paddhatis, in Sanskrit, also often translated into Tamil. The most important authors of these manuals have been Isanasivaguru, Aghorasivacarya and Somasambhu. The Somasambhupaddhati belongs to the XI century. This text is being translated into French because it is a standard text of Agamic rituals.5
But the ritual and the technical practices of yoga are not separable form the doctrine, because the full practice of Saiva religion includes the knowledge of Siva as Supreme Being producing the world from himself, under the influence of his Sakti who has generally three aspects: Jnanasakti (by whom he wishes to enjoy this world), and Kriyasakti (by whom the world is created). As far as man is concerned the doctrine refers to him as pasu (a cow). Siva is the pati who takes care of the pasu, afflicted by the pasa, the bondage which is constituted by the world and the human condition in this world.
This doctrine is fundamental to the Sanskrit Agamas and also to the Tamil Saiva Siddhanta. The Saiva Siddhanta is referred to by name in one inscription of Kailasanatha’s templeat Kancipuram, perhaps as early as the seventh century.
This doctrine attained great popularity in Tamil Nadu thanks to Meykantatever (“the tever-a name of a caste-who has seen the Truth”)A, author of the Civananapotam and thanks to such of his followers as Civananacittiyar5. The Civananapotam is considered to be a commentary to twelve stanzas from the Rauravagama. But these stanzas have not been traced in the text presently at our disposal.6
Before Meykantatever Saiva Siddhanta principles had been described in a large collection of stanzas known as the Tirumantiram by Tirumular. The poetic value of the works is great, but veiled allusions and double meanings make t sometimes obscure. The author is considered to be a Cittar (Skt. Siddha) in ……………. Pg 198
A. Tevar means celestial
B. Arul Nandi who is the author of Civananacittiyar.
…………....pg 199 possession of marvellous powers (astamahasiddhi). According to his legend, he met cows which were in danger because their cowherd had died. In order to save the cows he entered the cowherd’s corpse. That is an image which recalls the compassion of Siva as Pati taking care of the pasu-s. Tirumular claims to have been instructed by Manadi, who is Siva himself in the guise of an antrhropomorphic god with a bull’s head (Nandikesvara).
The Tirumantiram deals extensively with the practice of yoga, sometimes in an original way. For example, taranai (Skt. Dharana) is understood not simply as a fixation of the attention but also as the stopping of breath (kumbhaka) together with the awakening of the consciousness of Siva’s unity. The symbolism of ritual yogic practices like the awakening of Kundalinisakti is also revealed. The text serves as a guide by means of Psychosomatic exercises towards the Supreme goal.
These exercises, ordinarily known as Hathayoga are more ancient than it has been generally supposed. There is in the Lalitavistara (composed around the start of our era) a description of one practice tried by the Bodhisattva which corresponds to causing the ascension of the Kundalinisakti towards the skull. When the exercises are performed in order to reach the astamahasiddhi, they are characteristic of the siddha-s the “Perfects”. The name Saiva Siddhanta has a double meaning: “Demonstration of Siva’s truth” and final term for the “Saivite Perfect ones”.
In any case, the teachings of the Agamas in their carya and yogapadas, like similar teachings in various manuals,7 are essential for individual ritual andfor their prescriptions of the kriyapadas for the public cult.
This public cult consists first in the daily services of the God in the temple. He is treated like a king in his palace. He is awakened and receives everything for bathing, eating, enjoying music and dance, etc.
During the festivals, (mahotsava) he is carried outside in procession. The ritual also includes oblations in fire (homa) and sprinkling of water (snapana, kumbhabhiseka etc)….. Symbolism plays a great role in the ritual. For example, in the different kinds of snapana (bathing), the vessels in use represent Siva, Sakti, around them, the gods of the universe as conceived in the Agamic cosmology. They also receive samples of precious things and medicine plants. They are established in fixed places, as are the Buddhist deities in the famous Tantric mandalas.
All the rites must be accompanied by recitation of formulae (mantra, astra, kavaca etc), enunciation of condensed symbolic syllables (bija)and also by gestures (mudras).
Vedic rc and yajus are also prescribed in some Agamas (Ajitagama for example), but they must be excluded according to others.
The ritual may be performed or conducted only by persons having received an appropriate diksa. These do not always belong to the Brahmanical class, though they are commonly termed “Brahmins”. The kiksa for certain Agamas, is more important than birth. Nevertheless, those who order the ritual, the acarya or desika, must be Brahmins. The ordinary officiants in Tamil the gurukkal, are not recognised as regular Brahmins. That is in accordance with the general situation in India. Regular Brahmins are characterized more by knowledge and technical science than by sacerdotal functions. In fact, majority of Brahmins are not priests and the majority of priests are not Brahmins. Even the Vedic Brahmana did not perform any ritual operation; rather, he surveyed the ceremony, intervening with his science only in case of faults.
But the Saiva doctrine of the Agamas’ emphasizing, as they do, knowledge and ritual observances more than lineage, has helped to open the highest religious practice of non-Brahmins.
The Saiva cult together with the Sakti cult has been the most widespread throughout India and even in all the countries which have received a strong Hindu influence. This cult is based on the Agamas. So the role of these Saivagamas has been and still is fundamental in the Saiva ritual system.
1. G Coedes, Inscriptions du Cambodge, 1,Hanoi, 1937, pp. 150-154.
2. J Filliozat, ‘New researches on the relations between India and Cambodia’, INDICA, 3.2, Sept. 1966, pp 95-106. And Laghuprabandhaa, pp, 454-465.
3. Kailasparampara Felicitation volumes of South East Asian Studies presented to H.H. Prince Dhani Nivat, Vol. II, Bangkok, 1965, pp 241-247 and Laghuprabandhah, pp.394-400.
4. Neelakanta Sarma – Textes sanskrites et tamouls de Thailande. Publ. Institut francais d’ Indologie, no 47. Pondicehrry, 1972.
5. Cf. Helene Brunner, Somasambhupaddhati, Publications Institut francais d’ Indologie, no 25, 2 vol, . Pondicehrry, 1963-1968.
6. N.R Bhatt, Rauravagama, ed, 2 Vol., publications of the Institut francais d’ Indologie, 1961-1972.
7. One has been recently published: Tara Michael, Sivayogaratna. Publ. Institut francais d’ Indologie, no 53. Pondicehrry, 1975.