Category Archives: J. Tantra



One of the most obscure goddesses in the Hindu religion is the Tantric goddess Kubjika. The obscurity is due to the fact that she is mainly worshipped by a small Newar cult called the Transmission of the Mother (avvakrama) in Nepal (Dyczkowski 2004: 253). Although recognized as a great Indian goddess (Mahadevi), comparable to Kali, she is practically unknown outside Nepal. The proof of her once being an Indian goddess comes from the Kubjika Tantras. They describe her as the goddess of the city of Candrapura and the land of Konkana, India (Dyczkowsi 2004: 129). While she is quite a unique goddess physically and figuratively, she also shares many common characteristics with other, better known goddesses, specifically those worshipped in India. Another cause of her obscureness is the fact that she is found only in the Kaula Tantras, specifically the Sakta Kaula Tantras, which are mostly unexplored to those outside the Newar cults (Dyczkowski 2004: 193). The unusualness of this is that these Tantras are very large for such an unknown goddess. Although it has been determined that Kubjika was at one point a Southern Indian goddess, most of the manuscripts dedicated to her, the most celebrated being the Kubjikamatatantra, come from Nepal, where Kubjika is primarily worshipped (Dyczkowski 2004: 175-176).

The Kubjikamatatantra is a very large Tantra with over 66 manuscripts. A Tantra is a text composed of many scriptures that describe techniques and rituals including meditative, sexual practices, yoga, and religious practices. As a great goddess, Kubjika is the energy of universal, absolute consciousness and is said to be both creative and destructive (Dyczkowksi 2001: 43). Today Kubjika is most well-known as an erotic goddess and a hunchback. Though there are other goddesses in Hinduism who are considered erotic and are ugly, Kubjika stands out among them, by the methods by which she is worshipped and those who worship her. She is also unique in that she incorporates other goddesses into her own appearance and actions.

Kubjika and the cult associated with her were not discovered until the late 1980’s due to the secretive nature of her story. In actuality, the first texts on Kubjika date back to 11th century, in the Kathmandu Valley in Central-Eastern Nepal. These are Tantric texts that describe the following and worshipping of the goddess Kubjika, such as the Kubjikamatatantra and the Manthanabhairavatantra. The schools dedicated to the worship and study of the goddess Kubjika are known as the Kubjikamata, where the Kubjikamatatantra is studied (Dyczkowski 2004: 112). These schools are most commonly found in Nepal, the center for the cult of Kubjika. This cult consists of the Newar people of Nepal.

The Newar people make up approximately half of the current population of the Kathmandu Valley (“Newar People”: 2007). Their language comes from the Tibeto-Burman family, compromising of 250-300 languages, spread throughout Asia. The Newar people were strongly influenced by Indian religious institutions as their population is mostly Hindu and Buddhist. Although influenced by India, the religious tendencies in Nepal were unique in their own right. They are known for combining older forms of practicing Hinduism with newer, more modern approaches as well (Dyczkowski 2001: 2). While they do still focus on more common, major, typically male gods such as Visnu and Siva who fit within the outer domain, the cults like those of the Newar people, have tendencies to put their religious focus on smaller, more obscure, typically female goddesses such as Kubjika, who are found within the inner domain (Dyczkowski 2001: 2).

Another unusual practice of the Newar people is that they believe strongly in ancestral worship. They believed that elderly men and women had the opportunity to achieve the level of a deity by going through specific rites of passage (Dyczkowski 2001: 17-18). This belief caused the uncommon and odd religious tendencies of the area. This abnormal form of faith explains why said cults were not discovered by outsiders until quite recently, as they remain to this day, quite secretive. It is common practice in Hinduism to keep the teachings of the Tantras a secret and the Newar people are strong believers in this tradition (Dyczkowski 2001: 2). Mark Dyczkowski was one of the first outsiders who discovered Kubjika in 1981 when he received a copy of the Kubjikamatatantra as a wedding gift from another scholar, which inspired him to further investigate the subject. He found that Kubjika was a Hindu Tantric goddess who originated in India but is mostly unknown to all those except the Newar people. The proof of worship was not existent until Dr. Dyczkowski found himself as part of the Kubjika cult in 1987. Dr. Dyczkowski’s acceptance into the cult allowed him to share their traditions and beliefs with the world, allowing other people and scholars to explore it aswell.

The initiation into the Newar cults of Kubjika was not a simple nor common occurrence. Intiation was restricted to only high caste, or twice-born Newar people. Another restriction is that only the Rajopadhyaya Brahmins, the former family priests of the Malla kings, can give initiation to those who do not belong to their own family. The Malla kings ruled Nepal from 1201-1779CE and declared themselves Ksatriyas (“Malla”: 2018). Also known as Karmacaryas, they were able to initiate their own family members into the cult. The Karmacaryas were also unique in the sense that they focused their worship on the mother goddesses, such as Kubjika, who were believed to be protecting their community. These initiates made up a small group who were the sole worshippers of Kubjika and other goddesses. They worshipped in private shrines that were only accessible to the cult members. The worship of Kubjika is not traditional in the sense that she does not have a clear iconic form and is mainly only worshipped in her mandala. At home initiates perform daily worship by tracing a triangular diagram into the palm of their hand with one of their fingers and at the beginning of the rite, imaging said triangular diagram as the yoni (vulva) of Kubjika (Dyczkowski 2004: 176).

Another unusual aspect of the cult is that it consists primarily of householders. The householder stage (grhastha) is the middle/second stage of life. It is the stage for marriage and achieving kama (pleasure) and artha (skill/power) which appeals to the erotic tendencies of the goddess Kubjika (Dyczkowski 2004: 176).  In addition to all the specifics, Kubjika was also regularly worshipped through stones (pitha) instead of the more common methods of openly worshipping other Hindu gods and goddesses in temples (Dyczkowski 2001: 19). The stones were found in human settlements and the countryside and were believed to be watching over and protecting the area in which they are found.  The size of the protection zone was dependant on the status of the stone.

Kubjika was a goddess who was described with many identities and forms, although there is little photographic/artistic evidence of said forms. The Tantras describe her origin as an embodiment of the creature of desire (iccha) of the god Bhairava [her “father”] (Dyczkowski 2001: 41). In one of her iconic forms she is shown with six faces. Amongst those six faces, the uppermost face is the goddess Para and is described to be as white as milk and possessing 17 energies (Dyczkowski 2004: 182). The top head is Malini, the face of the sky and is white to represent peacefulness. The eastern face is Siddhayogesvari, a face described to be full of rage, which is also adorned with the form of the mantra. The southern face is Kalika, the worst looking face with large protruding teeth and described like a dark-blue lotus. The northern face is that of the goddess Tripura. This face is red like a pomegranate flower and is round like a full moon, portraying peace and bliss. The last face is the face of Umakhecari and is also white.  Each of the six faces was said to have three eyes, one for the sun, one for the moon, and the one in the middle was for fire.

Although there are stories in the Kubjikamatatantra describing her origin, there are no stories or myths as to how and why these other goddesses came about as Kubjika’s faces. In this form she had 12 arms each carrying a different item. These items included, the stick of the world, a great lotus [symbol of beauty and fertility], an ascetic’s staff (khatvanga), a noose, a rosary, a bouquet of brilliant jewels, a number of scriptures held along with a conch (sankhapala), a skull, a trident, the gesture of fearlessness, the gesture of granting favours, the mirror of Karma, and the five immortal substances (Dyczkowski 2004: 182). She is depicted sitting on a lion throne, adorned with many ornaments. The lords of snakes serve as her anklets (connection to Siva), zone, belt, chock, and tiara. She also wore scorpions as rings on her fingers. On her head she wears a garland of vowels and a necklace of letters along with a necklace of 50 scorpions around her throat (Dyczkowski 2004:182).

Kubjika’s iconic form is generally described as bright and often blue, and the goddess Kali and her darkness is the shadow-like counterpart of Kubjika (Dyczkowski 2001: 39). Her heart shines like a clean mirror, her face shines like a newly risen sun, her hair in a topknot made of light that emulates lightning, and her breast place made of brilliant energy. Her weapon is the Fire of Time that was known to lick up the worlds and was hard to bear which starts to describe her destructive side (Dyczkowski 2004: 182)

Some of the most interesting aspects of Kubjika is how she is described as many different goddesses. The primary being the goddess of pottery which is still very known today but the others being more definitive. In her Kubjikamata schools, she is known as a tree goddess (Dyczkowski 2001: 70). She is also considered a lunar goddess, similar to the goddesses Kali and Tripura, who she shares connections with. Kubjika’s creative and destructive tendencies are perpendicular to the shift between light and dark we see with the moon. Her lunar whiteness is also representative of Sukra which means female sperm, thus matching her eroticism. Along with these two qualities, she is also considered a goddess of fire which closely relates to her destructive side.

Kubjika is known as a creator, as described in her erotic ways, but also a destroyer, comparative to the goddess Kali (Dyczkowski 2001: 62). She had darkness within her that was feared. The creator aspect of Kubjika’s personality is also associated with her hunchback figure. The purpose of her being hunchbacked is so that she was able to impregnate herself without a second party by licking her own vulva and creating her own bliss and pleasure (Dyczkowski 2004: 242). This benefits the goddess and makes it easy for Kubjika to expand the universe as she can do it independently. As explained in her origin myth found in the first three chapters of the Kubjikamatatantra, she becomes hunchback due to the embarrassment of being asked to be the god Bhairava’s teacher by giving him a favour of empowerment (ajna), which in simple terms, comes from her vulva (Dyczkowski 2004:179). This event also explains how the goddess Kubjika is androgynous. During her realization (as told in the myth, see Dyczkowski 2004: 176-184) she takes the form of Linga (phallus). During her embarrassment, she must transition from Linga to Yoni (vulva). This transition explains how she is capable of being male and female, thus meaning androgynous. When Kubjika is in the form of Yoni she is aroused and fertile and the energy that comes with this is the flow of her emission, which is Sukra (female sperm) and Sukravahini (she who causes sperm to flow) (Dyzckowski 2004: 181). These factors are what makes her the most well known as being an erotic, hunchbacked goddess.

The goddess Kubjika, although widely unexplored, is very unique and full of depth. The small Newar cult that worships her has chosen to remain secretive and exclusive. Still centered in a small region in Nepal, they embody Hindu orthodoxy while also creating and following their own methods of practicing Hinduism and worshipping the gods and goddesses. The Newar people have very strict initiation rites and keep to themselves which explains why the goddess Kubjika was not made known to the rest of the world until the 1980’s. The goddess herself has very few evidential forms and is worshipped primarily by her mandala, stones, and very small, private shrines, very unlike the large one’s seen dedicated to better known Hindu gods and goddesses. She is know known mainly as the erotic, androgynous, hunchbacked goddess who embodies the faces and characteristics of other goddesses such as Tripura. She has a very detailed iconic form that is similar to other great goddesses in India, as represented by her multiple heads and arms, which indicate power. It is proven that she was originally from India, though she is practically unknown in that region today. The goddess of pottery, trees, and fire is very important in the Sakta Kaula Tantras and the Hindu religion in general.


Avantazi, Beatriz and Gutman, Alejandro (2013) Tibeto-Burman Languages

Dyczkowski, Mark (2001) The Cult of the Goddess Kubjikā. Stuttgart: Nepal Research Centre; No. 23

Dyczkowski, Mark (2004) The Journey in the World of the Tantras. Varanasi: Indica Books

Goudriaan, T. and Schoterman, J. A. (1988) The Kubjikamatatantra; Kulalikamnaya Version. Leiden: Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Gupta, Kanchan and Prine Pauls, Elizabeth (2007) Newar People. Encyclopaedia Britannica

Setis, Veenu and Matt Stefon (2009) Tantra; Religious Texts. Encyclopaedia Britannica

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, October 28) “Malla” (Kathmandu Valley). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, October 31) Hindu iconography. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Wright, Daniel (1990) Malla (Kathmandu Valley). Wikipedia


Related Topics for Further Investigation





Kathmandu Valley

Kaula Tantra





Malla Kings


Newar people

Rajopadhyaya Brahmins

Sakta Kaula Tantras


Transmission of the Mother





Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Shay Routly (October 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

Mahanirvana Tantra

The Tantras are texts that deal with an assortment of ritual methods used to control and manipulate the cosmic powers, belonging to the literature of the Saktas. The Tantras deal with a wide variety of subject matter such as yoga practice, dharma behavior, the prescribed stages of life, the realms of heaven and hell, and importantly, worship ritual. The Mahanirvana Tantra was composed in the 18th century and is the most well-known Tantra in the west (Payne 53-55). It is regarded as the revelation of Siva, the destroyer of the world and god of the Yogis, to his wife, Parvati, at the summit of Mount Kailasa.

It was on Mount Kailasa that Parvati found her husband, Siva, described sitting silently on the mountain surrounded by a beautiful landscape. The text begins with Parvati asking Siva a question relating to the liberation of beings. Siva’s answer to Parvati is then answered in the chapters of the Mahanirvana Tantra. Siva begins the first four chapters by relating the importance of worshiping Brahman, the ultimate reality. Siva explains when good is done to the universe, He will be pleased, as He is the soul of the universe and it depends on Him (Avalon 3). Siva tells her that by worship of Brahman, there will be no need for any other religious observances (Avalon 4). Due to Siva’s strong affection to Parvati, he tells her more about the Supreme Brahman, and the secrets of worshiping Him by prescribed mantra to attain siddi, the enlightenment and understanding possessed by a siddah, or accomplished one. Siva states that liberation “does not come from the recitation of hymns, sacrifice or a hundred fasts… man is liberated by the knowledge that he is Brahman himself” (Payne 10). Pleased by what Siva has bestowed on her, Parvati asks another question concerning worship of Supreme Prakrti in union with Supreme Brahman. This delights Siva and he spoke unto Parvati how everything in the universe owes its origins and manifestations to the Supreme Prakrti and Supreme Brahman in motion with each other (Avalon 5). He relates the Supreme Prakrti to the Deva herself, informing her that she is everything in all forms and manifestations, and everything is her. Siva explains that success is solely achieved by Kaulika worship, the most supreme doctrine, and the merit achieved by honoring a Kaulika, is enough to protect one from all the harm the Kali Age has to offer (Avalon 5).

In the fifth chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra, Siva speaks to his wife of the formation of mantras, composed of single letters, syllables, a word, or an entire phrase to make a sacred sound (Feuerstein 191) and the preparatory acts to be done each day. Mantras are creative forces that act upon one’s consciousness when empowered and communicated to a disciple (Feuerstein 191). Siva explains to Parvati that there are countless mantras for worship, presented in the various Tantras but he only states twelve of them, because these twelve are for the pleasure and benefit of all humanity (Avalon 6). After presenting the twelve mantras to Parvati, he moves on to explain worship of Sakti by the five elements, wine, meat, fish, grain, and union of man and woman to attain the position of vira (Bhattacharyya 121). After which he describes placing of the jar, which is called a kalasa, because Visva-karma, son of Brahma, composed it from various parts of each of the Devatas (Avalon 6). He explains the measurements in fingers, and that it is to be made of gold, silver, copper, metal, mud, stone or glass free from any imperfections and on the left side a hexagon enclosed by a circle, enclosed by a square. In detail Siva speaks of the proper worshipping and mantras to be recited important in all power of creation, preservation and destruction of the universe.

The sixth chapter of the text Parvati asks Siva about the Pancha-tattvas and the appropriate worship of the Deva. The Pancha-tattvas, or five elements, are given in sacrifice to propitiate the Deva (Avalon 7). Siva declares that there are three kinds of wine, made from molasses, rice, or the juices and flowers of plants, that are first tattva and no matter how it has been made, is equal in the worship of the Deva. The second tattva is meat from three kinds of animals, those of the earth, sky and water. Siva explains that to please the Deva it does not matter where or by whom the animal was killed, so long as the animal being decapitated is male and not female (Avalon 7). The third tattva is three kinds of fish, ranked in superiority and quality due to their bones. Fish with the most amount of bones, considered inferior, must be well fried before being offered to the Devi. Parched food is the fourth tattva and contains three categories. Superior food is white rice, barley and wheat all fried in butter, the middle being a fried paddy, and the most inferior food consists of any fried grain that is not contained in the superior category (Avalon 7). After explaining the first four features, Siva looks unto Parvati and says “O Great Devi! when the weakness of the Kali Age becomes great, one’s own Shakti or wife should alone be known as the fifth tattva”(Avalon 7). Thus, making sexual union between man and women the fifth and final Pancha-tattva. Before revealing the mantras to Parvati, Siva warns her that man who offers these sacrifices to the Devas without proper purification will not please the gods and one will go to hell for it (Avalon 7).

The seventh chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva addresses the Goddess Kali as the supreme yogini, for at the end of time she devours Siva, the devourer of time himself (Feuerstein 35). Kali, who’s name relates to the words “time” and “death”, is the dark goddess and the Destroyer. Siva recites a hymn to Parvati, containing the Hundred Names of Kali, all beginning with the letter Ka, entitled Adya-Kali-Svarupa. By worshiping Kali and repeating her Hundred Names, one will enjoy a happy life and becomes suffused with the presence of the Devi (Avalon 8). Only when one is in the presence of the Goddess, does he reach the hearts of women, attain his desires, conquer his enemies, master his caste and enjoy good fortune. For once she suffuses him “there is ever victory, and defeat never” (Avalon 8).

Parvati asks Siva in the eighth chapter to hear of the castes, the prescribed stages in life, and the mode they should be observed in, having just heard the different dharmas and union with the Supreme. Siva tells her in the Kali age, there are five castes, Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra and Samanya (Avalon 9) and each of these castes has two stages of life. He begins first by describing the householder stage, with devotion to Brahman. He tells Parvati the importance of pleasing one’s mother and father, raising obedient and educated children, being kind to neighbors and cherishing his wife, so she will be ever devoted to him. Siva after explains the exclusive mantras to be performed only by the twice-born, and the other mantras to be used for the lower castes. Siva relates to Parvati the duties of the king, that he is to watch his subjects and protect his people and describes the manner in which he should present himself. The king is to be the courage of his warriors, highly knowledgeable, discriminatory, and honorable, but never arrogant, when awarding both reward and punishment (Avalon 8). Agriculture and trade, are only appropriate for the vaishya class and all acts of negligence, laziness, untruthfulness and deceit should be avoided. Finally, servants should be clean, skillful, alert and careful, they should treat their master with the uttermost respect as the servant should be aspiring for happiness in this world and their next incarnation.

In the ninth chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva explains the ten kinds of Purificatory Rites, or sangskaras to Parvati. He tells her that each caste has their own specific rites that need to be performed to purify the body. These ten ceremonies deal with the events of conception, pregnancy, birth of the child, naming of the child, the child’s first view of the sun, its first eating of rice, tonsure, investiture and marriage (Avalon 10). Following the introduction of the events for the ceremonies, Siva recites all the sangskara mantras to Parvati. After listening to the mantras, she inquires about the rites dealing with funerals, Vriddhi Shraddha and Purnabhisheka, thus beginning the tenth chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra. Siva informs Parvati of the importance of offering Pinda, a cooked ball of flour, butter and seeds, along with repeating the mantras to please the ancestors. The Vriddhi Shraddha is the ritual performed during special occasions to get the blessings of the ancestors, and the Purnabhisheka is the rite of initiation (Avalon 11). Siva presents the funeral rites and mantras to Parvati, explaining the period of uncleanliness dependent on the caste system. Brahmanas are unclean for ten days, Kshatriyas twelve days, Vaishyas a fortnight, Shudras and Samanyas are unclean for an entire month (Avalon 11).

In chapter eleven Siva introduces the expiatory rites, and explains to Parvati the types of sins and their accompanying punishments. Siva tells her that there are two types of sin, both which lead to pain, sorrow and disease. The first sin is one that leads to injury of one’s own self, and the second being one which leads to injury of others. Siva informs Parvati that men who sin and who are not purified by the form of punishment or expiation will be doomed to hell, and will not be incarnated into the next world (Avalon 12). In this chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva recites no mantras to Parvati, alternately he explains each sinful act one could perform and the accompanying punishment for each caste. The twelfth chapter entitled “An Account of the Eternal Immutable Dharmma” is the outline for the regulations which deal with property, inheritance and wealth. Siva explains to Parvati of the inheritance hierarchy, and how it is to be distributed among the living members of the family or the spouse’s family. Siva tells her of the rules in agriculture, mercantile transactions and other monetary dealings so that they may be deemed Dharmmic (Avalon 13). At the close of the chapter, to enforce the greater purpose of the accounts of Dharmma, Siva claims “The Lord protects this universe… Therefore should one act for the good of the world” (Avalon 13).

In the final two chapters of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva reveals the installation and worship of the Devata and Shiva-linga. Siva tells Parvati that all beings have qualities of the goddess Kali, and to worship Kali one must form images in adherence to her. Siva says that there are two types of men, those who act with a view to the fruits of action, and those who act without a view to the fruits of action and the latter will attain final liberation (Avalon 14). He recites the mantras of this chapter to Parvati, dealing with the worship and meditation of Vastu and Dhyana. Siva concludes the thirteenth chapter by telling Parvati that by worshipping the gods with immense devotion and act, without a view of reward, will be released from rebirth (Avalon 14). In the final chapter, Parvati asks Siva to tell her of the distinct features of the four classes of Avadhutas. There are two kinds of Shaivavadhutas and Brahmavadhutas, either purna or apruna, meaning perfect and imperfect, respectively. The first three classes practice yoga, have enjoyment, and are liberated. The fourth chaste is known as the hangsa, and does not touch metal nor women (Avalon 15).

The Mahanirvana Tantra is described as noble work, probably produced in the latter half of the eighteenth century in Bengal, and belongs to the left hand school (Payne 55). Until the twentieth century, the Tantras had not been seriously studied or translated in the west, and there was little access to the religious materials in them. The Mahanirvana Tantra was translated to English by Arthur Avalon in 1913, and has since gained much more recognition in western cultures. The Mahanirvana Tantra is known as the Great Tantra because it contains all the Dharmmas, while the others deal with one subject only. The Lord Siva tells Parvati in the conclusion of the Tantra that man who knows the book, knows also the three worlds of past, present and future, and by worship of the Tantra will be liberated (Avalon 15). “What further shall I tell Thee of the greatness of the Mahanirvana Tantra? Through the knowledge of it one shall attain to Brahma-nirvana” (Avalon 15).


Avalon, Arthur (2010) Mahanirvana Tantra of The Great Liberation. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing.

Avalon, Arthur (1918) Shakti and Shakta. London: Luzac & Company.

Bhattacharyya, N.N. (1987) History of the Tantric Religion. New Delhi: Manohar Publications.

Feuerstein, Georg (1998) Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Payne, Ernest A. (1997) The Saktas: An Introductory and Comparative Study. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Woodroffe, John (1980) Introduction to Tantra Sastra. Madras: Ganesh & Company.

Related Readings

Avalon, Arthur (2010) Mahanirvana Tantra of The Great Liberation. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing.

Hugh B. Urban (2001) “The Path of Power: Impurity, Kingship, and Sacrifice in Assamese Tantra.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Vol. 69, No. 4 pp. 777-816. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Pechilis, Karen (2016) “Bhakti and Tantra intertwined: the explorations of the Tamil Poetess Karaikkal Ammaiyar.” International Journal of Dharma Studies 4: 2. doi:10.1186/s40613-016-0024-x

Related Research Topics

  • The Saktas
  • Hindu God Siva
  • Hindu Goddess Parvati
  • The Tantras

Related Websites

This article was written by: Emily Sim (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for this content

The Tantras

The Tantras are a genre of religious literature that shows how to achieve salvation through various esoteric practices, making these texts distinct from other religious literature of India, such as the Vedas or Puranas (Barthakuria 1). Still, ordinary Tantras share some similarity in form to the Puranas, as they theoretically discuss the same five subjects, dealing with the nature of the creation and destruction of the universe, worshipping gods, achieving supernatural powers, and becoming one with the Supreme Being. However, mythological elements are replaced with ritual details (Bhattacharyya 39). A complete Tantra generally has four components: the nature of knowledge (jnana), the concentration of mind and how to achieve this (yoga), temple construction and idol worship in temples (kriya), and religious rites, adherences, and social institutions (carya). One or two of these parts are generally more prominent than the others, depending on the tradition of worship a Tantra belongs to (Thakur 7).

The word tantra simply means “loom” in the Rg Veda and Atharva Veda (Thakur 4). It can be also be derived from the root tatri (to understand) or tantri (to explain). The Pingalamata explains the word tantra as spreading truths and saving mankind from conceding to maya and losing the way to moksa (Barthakuria 2). Probably from the 9th century CE onwards the meaning of tantra changed from “loom” to denoting a genre of literature which involves multiple subjects, ranging from the nature of ultimate truth to practises branded as immoral (Thakur 5). When denoting a type of Sastra, tantra denotes a set of practices, doctrines, magic, metaphysical speculations, etc; it is also taken by some to mean a Sastra that expands on tattvas and mantras (Banerji 1-2). A definition of the word in this sense is given by the author of the Sanskrit lexical work Sabdarthacintamni and follows thus: the word tantra itself simply means “treatise”, not necessarily a religious scriptural work; when referring to religious literature it can denote the scriptures of various divisions of worshippers, namely those of Vaisnavas, Saivas, and Saktas, and further divisions of these (Thakur 6).

Each division of worshippers have their own Tantras, as do the Jains and Buddhists, and there are particular subdivisions among these (Thakur 9). The Tantric texts of the Vaisnavas, Saivas, and Saktas are respectively referred to as samhita, agama, and tantra (Banerji 2). By those traditions which venerate them, the Tantras are regarded as divinely revealed: Vaisnava Tantras by Visnu, Saiva Tantras by Siva, and Sakta Tantras by the Goddess. The Vaisnava Samhitas generally take the form of dialogue with Visnu teaching and answering the questions of Sri or Laksmi. In Saiva Agamas, the dialogue is between Parvati, the disciple who asks, and Siva, the master who answers. Contrastingly, in Sakta Tantras it is Siva who asks the questions and the Goddess who replies; these works are often denoted nigama. Despite this distinction, all share certain characteristics and thus are all often referred to generally as Tantras (Thakur 18-19).

According to the Tantric texts themselves, Tantras are innumerable (Bhattacharyya 37). The Tantras in their current form are mostly from the medieval and late medieval periods, though references to older Tantric works and translations of them can be found in various sources such as inscriptions on temple walls. The Tantric texts available today are largely unpublished manuscripts (Bhattacharyya 40). Though there are few published Tantric texts, they list numerous Tantras, and also give different systems of grouping; for example, the Tantric text Vamakesvarimatam mentions 64 Tantras (Thakur 7). The Sammohana tantra divides the Tantras into six amanayas or traditions, corresponding to the six faces of Siva – looking east, west, south, north, up, and down. Tantras are also organized in accordance to the nature of the sadhana into divya, kaula, and vama, each of these subdivided further as harda (inner) or bayha (outer). Works are also classified geographically (Thakur 9-11). One method of classification is based on the mythological ages (Banerji 4).

It is not exactly known when Tantra originated, though the Atharva Veda is said to foreshadow the Tantras as it contains Tantric elements of black and white magic. The first explicit reference to Tantric literature is seemingly found in the Bhagavata-purana, which some date no later than 800 CE (Banerji 6-7). There is evidence of Buddhist texts that speak of themselves as Tantras, distinct from orthodox Sutra belief, emerging before the 6th or 7th centuries CE. There are strong similarities between the content of these early Buddhist Tantras and Tantras of the Hindu religion, particularly regarding the Saiva Tantras. Hindu Tantras, however, do not emerge until the 9th or 10th century CE. The majority of these Tantras had originally been written in Sanskrit, and there are Tibetan translations preserving many Buddhist Tantras (Rodrigues 293). The region where Tantra originated is not precisely known either, though Kashmir may have been the birthplace of Tantras of the agama classification. Tantric works may have been first produced in Bengal, as many manuscripts in Bengali script are available there, particularly old Buddhist Tantras (Banerji 10-11). Important Tantric manuscripts have been preserved in Kashmir and Nepal, which were the main geographical areas for Tantra in the medieval period. Assam and Bengal were also important regions, and the Tantras ultimately spread farther south. Many Tantric texts were translated to Tamil and used in south Indian temples for liturgies (Thakur 31). Followers of the Tantric religion treat the Tantras as secret, and the interest in avoiding publicity from scholars and the general society contributed to many Tantric texts being lost over time (Barthakuria 183-184). Though there are varying views on the origin of the Tantras and how they were spread throughout India, Jayaratha, who commented on Abhinavagupta’s Tantraloka, states the Tantras originated in Assam, the home of the famous temple Kamakhya (Tantrapitha Kamakhya) from which Tantra likely spread (Barthakuria 4-5).

Tantric literature deals with a wide variety of material, from religious matters such as deity worship to prescribing cures for diseases and ways to injure enemies. For the latter subjects the Kamaratna is a potent example, full of mantras concerning such “folk elements” (Barthakuria 16-17). The Tantras assert that the Vedic practices are too difficult for this age, and thus allow people to follow their natural inclinations; the Tantras state that mukti (salvation) is attainable through bhukti (enjoyment). The texts stress the maintenance of health and preservation of body, for the highest power is contained in the body and it is the optimum means of sadhana (Banerji 59-60). In general, the content of the Tantras can be sorted into two classes: the philosophical and spiritual, and the popular and practical (Banerji 13). The religio-philosophic aspect, particularly in the agamic works, largely follows much of Sankhya philosophy (Thakur 20). The human body is accepted as divine, and is stated to contain the cosmic hierarchy within it. This refers particularly to the male deity, often Siva, and the female principle, the Goddess Kundalini which is also Siva’s consort and Sakti. Within the Tantras, the union of Siva and Sakti within the body is the symbolic expression of liberation (Thakur 24). A pervasive aspect of Tantric literature is the sexual representations invoking this imagery of male and female principles being united (Rodrigues 295). The Sakti Tantras describe the supreme force of the universe, Sakti, as imparting consciousness even unto Siva (Barthakuria 2); the Todala Tantra states that if Siva is separated from Sakti he will be reduced to a corpse, but he is never detached from her (Barthakuria 62).

The other main class of content, that of the popular and practical, deals with sadhana and involves various practices and ritual matters such as mantra, mandala, yoga, and kundalini and cakra, through which one could achieve supreme bliss and attain supernatural powers or siddhi (Thakur 24). The most significant focus of the Tantras are concerning kundalini and cakra (Thakur 29); the texts prescribe mantras for use in awakening the Kundalini Sakti (Serpent Power) within the body, guiding her up through the six cakras inside the body, and uniting her with para-Siva (the Supreme Self) (Barthakuria 7-8). All Tantric texts make mention of the pancatattva or pancamakara (the five makaras) which pertain to the union of Siva and Sakti: madya (wine), mamsa (meat), matsya (fish), mudra (finger-pose), and maithuna (sexual union) (Thakur 25). Another interpretation of mudra in this context means parched grain or a female sexual partner (Rodrigues 301). Some Tantras recommend substitutes for the five makaras, for example the Kaulavali-nirnaya suggests buffalo or sheep milk in place of fish (Banerji 20). Most Tantras emphasize the incomprehensible power that mantras possess (Banerji 22). The Tantras mention various modes of sadhana, seven according to some texts and nine according to others, which have a hierarchical organization with each succeeding method being superior to the one previous (Banerji 30). Some Tantras divide gurus into various classes, report suitable guru characteristics and proper sisya-guru relations, and describe various forms of diksa (Banerji 33-35). The Tantras were composed in a context of living oral tradition and teachings of the guru, thus the importance of the guru in Tantrism. Specifically, the Kularnava tantra states diksa is essential in achieving moksa, but there is no diksa without a guru, and additionally the mantras are useless without the guidance of a guru (Thakur 19).

Buddhist Tantric texts develop Tantra within the overall structure of the Buddhist philosophy. These texts are largely found in areas where Tantra thrived, namely Tibet and Nepal (Bhattacharyya 57-58). One of the earliest surviving Buddhist Tantras is the Guhaysamaja which apparently was comprised prior to the 7th century CE. It mainly deals with yoga and also with mandalas, and its principal purpose is to explain the unknowable reality and how to realise it. This text puts forth that the truth is the oneness of the universe or vajra, and details a short and fast method for attaining supernatural powers and realising Buddhahood. It even allows for the killing of animals and practices such as incest (Bhattacharyya 61-62).

The great Tantra writer Abhinavagupta constructed, on the basis of many earlier works, the Tantraloka, “a magnum opus of saiva-sakta philosophy” (Thakur 13). A famous Saiva Tantra is the Mrgendra Tantra, while the Gautamiya Tantra and the Gayatri Tantra are important Vaisnava Tantras. One example of a Sakti Tantra is the Yogini Tantra composed in the 17th century CE in Assam; in fact the Tantras of Assam belong solely to the left path Sakta school of Tantrism (Barthakuria 5-7). The Yogini Tantra is not only a religious text but also a source on the history of Assam, mentioning various wars and describing periods of Mughal and Muslim occupation of the area (Barthakuria 41-42). It recounts several legends, some related to the birth of the famous epic character Naraka and his ascent to the throne of Kamarupta, and also legends dealing with the worship of the goddess Kamakhya (Barthakuria 45), such as Kali (who is Goddess Kamakhya) defeating the demon Kolasura in the form of a little girl; this legend is related to the important religious ceremony of kumaripuja where Kamakhya is worshipped in the temple in the form of a kumari (little girl) (Barthakuria 47). This Tantra holds Siva and Parvati at the supreme position and its contents are provided through dialogues between the two. Despite the high position of these deities in the text, the Yogini Tantra also identifies Visnu as a great god, having a major role in the legend of Naraka, although possessing a lower status than Siva (Barthakuria 49-50). This is reflective of the high position Visnu occupied in the religious life of Assam, and the text gives elaborate details about his worship (Barthakuria 55). The Yogini Tantra imparts the most supreme position to Mother Goddess Kamakhya and describes elaborate worship of her, including precise instructions for bathing the deity, such as prescribing mixes of milk, curd, honey etc. and the use of flowers and jewels, and also relates the beneficial results of these practices (Barthakuria 66-67). The text advocates specific sacrificial offerings the different classes can present to the goddess, including animal sacrifice which can be practiced by all classes; specific regulations regarding the age, number, and kind of animals are given (Barthakuria 68-69). This Tantra also imparts rules for diksa, such as the worthiness of guru and disciple, and auspicious periods for its performance. It distinguishes between the diksa of worldly people and relating to such activities, and the diksa related only to salvation (Barthakuria 91).

The Kamakhya Tantra has certain features that distinguish it from other Assam Tantras. The greatness of Mother Goddess Kamakhya is described in the first chapter, as it is designated that all permanent and impermanent things of the universe stem from her, and that her devotees can achieve all the goals of human life (Barthakuria 169). She is the Supreme Being, the Sakti of Siva, and through proper worship of her, which in this Tantra is related to individual worshippers rather than in temples or festivals, one can achieve realization of the Supreme Reality and ultimately obtain salvation. The Kamakhya Tantra indicates four kinds of salvation or mukti, namely salokya, sarupya, sayujya and nirvana. The most highly desired state is nirvana, where the soul unites entirely with the Supreme Being (Barthakuria 171). The text indicates various specifications for worship of Kamakhya, essentially requiring the five makaras and also detailing diagrams and mantras for use in meditation or dhyana upon the goddess (Barthakuria 172). This Tantra also references three groups of worshippers or sadhakas, which are divya, vira, and pasu, with those of the divya class stated as the best sadhakas and the pasu ranking lowest. Though they are described as good men living the ideal life of a housekeeper, the Kamakhya Tantra bars pasu worshippers from any Tantric diksa (Barthakuria 173-174).

It has been argued that much of Indian chemistry had been derived from information contained in the Tantras, particularly by the renowned chemical scientist Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray (1861-1944) (Bhattacharyya 19).  However, there are very few surviving Tantric texts that deal directly with scientific subjects; no medical texts are extant, though a few dealing with alchemy remain. In the religious Tantras there is some scientific information, but it is viewed from the abstract metaphysical and religious approach inherent in these texts. There is, however, in the surviving Tantric literature information on the content of these largely lost scientific texts, and the names of many of these are known (Bhattacharyya 16-17). These Tantras deal mostly with medical preparations of mercury. In the Gupta manuscript of the Kubjikatantra, Siva speaks of mercury as being his generative principle and of its usefulness when “killed” six times. This work also alludes to alchemic processes involving mercury. One notable Tantric alchemy text is the Rasaratnakara of the author Nagarjuna, who is dated to the 8th century CE, and deals with the purification of minerals, particularly the fixation or “killing” of mercury (Bhattacharyya 19-20).

Generally speaking, the Tantras depict the Vedic tradition as being inferior or at least insufficient, providing only a basis for the greater truths of Tantra, whereas the Tantras encompass a more refined understanding of Vedic teachings (Rodrigues 293). It is claimed within an early Dharma Sutra text classification scheme that both Vedic and Tantric srutis exist, and indeed, Tantric literature has arguably been more influential than the Vedas in shaping the Hindu religion. Within the orthodox belief, however, Tantric scripture’s claim to sruti status is not accepted (Rodrigues 43). Correspondingly, the teachings of the Tantras were originally rejected by the orthodox tradition; however, by the 11th century CE the practices conveyed by the Tantric texts had influenced all of Hinduism, aside from the strictest Vedic adherents (Rodrigues 293). In fact, many from the Brahmin class actually wrote Tantric treatises, and also took part in Tantric practice (Banerji 153-154). Women and sudras are generally barred from practicing the Vedic religion, but the Tantras provide a religious structure inclusive of these groups, within which initiation is often available to them. Furthermore, women predominantly hold a distinguished position within Tantric worship (Barthakuria 19). Yet, it is unclear how the teachings of the Tantras actually impacted the lives of women within Hinduism during the flourishment of Tantra (Rodrigues 302). The Tantras are infamous for their erotic elements and practices such as consumption of alcohol and meat, and have been criticised for their endorsement of sexual promiscuity. However, the majority of the content in the Tantras is more sober in nature and covers material from a wide variety of subjects (Thakur 31-32). In general, the Tantras offer a non-Vedic path for practitioners of various Hindu religious sects through the altered modes of worship so acclaimed by the Tantric texts (Bhattacharyya 31).









Banerji, Sures Chandra (1988) A Brief History of Tantra Literature. Calcutta: Naya Prokash.

Barthakuria, Apurba Chandra (2009) The Tantric Religion of India: An Insight into Assam’s Tantra Literature. Kolkata: Punthi Pustak.

Basu, Manoranjan (1986) Fundamentals of the Philosophy of Tantras. Calcutta: Mira Basu

Bhattacharya, Narendra Nath (1982) History of the Tantric Religion: A Historical, Ritualistic, and Philosophical Study. New Delhi: Manohar Publications.

Bose, D. N. (1956) Tantras: Their Philosophy and Occult Secrets. Calcutta: Oriental Publishing Co.

Chakravarti, C. (1963) Tantras: Studies on Their Religion and Literature. Calcutta: Punthi Pustak.

Chattopadhyaya, Sudhakar (1990) Reflections on the Tantras. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Goudriaan, T., and S. Gupta (1981) A History of Indian Literature 2: Hindu Tantric and Sakta Literature. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.

Harper, Katherine Anne, and Robert L. Brown (eds.) (2002) The Roots of Tantra. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism – The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Samuel, Geoffrey (2008) The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thakur, K. Manoj (2001) The Tantras: An Introductory Outline. Delhi: Worldwide Publications: An Imprint of Book Land Publishing.


Urban, Hugh B. (2003) Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religion. Berkeley: University of California Press.



Related Topics for Further Investigation


Atharva Veda

Buddhist Tantras


Five Makaras

Gautamiya Tantra

Gayatri Tantra

Goddess Worship



Kamakhya Tantra

Kundalini Yoga

Kumari Puja



Mrgendra Tantra







Sankhya Philosophy





Tantric Alchemy

Tantric Medicine




Yogini Tantra


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


This article was written by: Kara Valgardson (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.

The Kula Ritual

An important text that has been used to fully introduce the Kula ritual is Dupuche’s book entitled: Abhinavagupta: The Kula Ritual: As Elaborated in Chapter 29 of the Tantraloka (2003). The Kula ritual is cited within the Tantraloka and therefore falls within tantric Saivism, particularly the Trika Saivism sect (Dupuche 8). Research of Abhinavagupta and his contributions to Trika Saivism is an important part of fully grasping what the Kula ritual includes and the ideologies that are related to it. Abhinavagupta wrote the Tantraloka, which is still an extremely important treatise within the Tantric tradition (Rodrigues 283). It is essential to note that Abhinavagupta did not fully reject the Vedic tradition, however his work is not considered to belong to Hindu orthodox work (Dupuche 8). The orthodox Vedic traditions emphasize living a pure life and then has a host of items, actions, foods, etc. that would be considered impure. The Kula ritual does not have a preference for purity or impurity. Dupuche’s even states that it “uses forbidden foods and forbidden women” (Dupuche 9).

Overall, the general idea and structure of the Kula Ritual is the ‘secret ceremony.’ It is shrouded in mystery, but at the very root of the Kula ritual; it is the worship of Perfect Beings. Dupuche describes Perfect Beings as: beings that “occupy a place midway between gods and mankind” (Dupuche 80). He further explains that these beings enjoy siddhi and try to lead others to the same state (Dupuche 80). A paper written by Karel Werner tries to explain the complicated and confusing factor of the Kula Ritual. The writer continues to suggest the “aim of the Kula Ritual is to overcome every day common dualisms” (Werner 117). Tantric tradition seeks to go beyond dualisms, which equivocate to spiritual ignorance (Rodrigues 399).  Werner goes on to explain that another overarching theme of the Kula Ritual the idea of finding one’s true self (Werner 117). The ritual has various separating factors that include: qualified and unqualified persons, men and women, niracara and sacara, pure and impure, and initiated and not initiated persons.

The elaboration of those that are qualified to practice the Kula ritual and those who are unqualified simply fall under the categories of disciple and guru or simple layperson. The category seems rather arbitrary because it implies that anyone who wishes to practice the Kula ritual would simply need to search for a guru and become his disciple. Only those that have a specific “seed” that are related to the Kula tradition may be considered qualified. Since the “seed transmission” is implied to the transfer of semen, it implies that only men can be considered a qualified, initiated guru. Abhinavagupta lists “six qualified gurus” and “six unqualified gurus” (Dupuche 74). He further goes on to dichotomize the transmission of seed and the transmittance of vibrating power of Siva. The transmission of seed is the transfer of semen (Dupuche 74). Those who do not have potent seed are seen as not functioning and therefore do not have disciples and must remain celibate. Those that do have proper functioning seed are qualified to practice the Kula tradition. Even so, the Kula ritual allows for both male and female practitioners. To understand how women are seen within the Kula ritual, one needs to be aware of how niracara and sacara are related to religious philosophy. The term niracara speaks toward those who are not attached to any ritual and the term sacara defines those who are attached to or emphasize ritual practice. Many of the qualified women that are part of the Kula ritual are considered to be niracara and therefore should be seen and treated as goddesses (Dupuche 77). The ‘officiate’ of the ritual is the guru, typically male, and because of his role with the ritual he is seen as the sacara aspect of it.

Abhinavagupta composed Tantraloka 29 in eight different sub-topics. The Tantraloka is a text that is found within the Saivism sect. It outlines a series of rituals and practices. However, Tantraloka 29 discusses the topic of the Kula Ritual. It explains specific rituals that an individual who practices the Kula ritual abides by. These topics are grouped under rituals for those who are initiated and rituals for those who are not initiated. However, as a prelude to the sub-topics there are preliminary rituals. “The Essence [of the Kula ritual procedure]” (Dupuche 70) is an important subsection within the prelude. The section has been speculated to truly be the essence of the Kula ritual as it is the opening of the Tantraloka 29 and sets the tone for the entirety of the chapter. The structure is ultimately laid out in three categories: daily, occasional, and optional rituals (Dupuche 85). Daily rituals, as with many other religions, are set to happen every day at the same time. Occasional rituals are performed during certain and specific events. Optional rituals happen at times when the practitioner chooses. While there are clearly defined rituals for the initiated and not initiated, the sub-topics are not evenly distributed. However, before the start of the categorized sub-topics there is an Opening Ritual that is involved. There stands to be four sub-topics that are involved with the initiated rituals and three sub-topics that are involved with the not initiated.

The opening ritual is a separated ritual that also serves as an introduction to procedure of the chapter (Dupuche 93). The mechanics of a ritual is important- and Abhinavagupta goes through it quite comprehensively. Similarly to the Vedic traditions, purity is an important part of ritual. So, to mirror certain practices one must bathe prior to the start of the ritual. The practitioner is also required to cleanse instruments that are to be used in the ritual. He mentions that after cleansing procedures, two important stages take place (Dupuche 94). The first step that a practitioner must come to is an achieved state of bliss that is called a “state of Bhairava” (Dupuche 94) and “sprinkles himself… with droplets taken from the vessel” (Dupuche 94). The droplets may be related to alcohol (wine). A further continuation of the opening ritual starts to deviate from the Vedic traditions. Many rituals within the Vedic traditions are done in the public eye. In contrast, the Kula Opening Ritual is meant to be private- to never be seen in public, to avoid societal influences may contribute to. However, while the ritual is not meant to be in public, it is also not meant to in the private space that is considered the home (Dupuche 94).

There are three great mantras used within the Opening Ritual. As previously mentioned there is a strong tie between external manifestation and the state of Bhairava. The three mantras are used as a “form of bath the external sort of which is discounted in the Kula rituals” (Dupuche 100). A keystone of the opening ritual is the filling of the Vessel. The practitioner is responsible for filling the vessel with various forbidden items such as: wine, meat, and sexual fluid (Dupuche 101). The items lead to bliss, which is considered to be one of the highest realities (Dupuche 101). However, the bliss that is mentioned within the document is related to consciousness. Within the literature, there is great implication that sacrifice is an act that is a manifested within the individual’s consciousness. Dupuche supports this claim by stating “[t]hree inter-related internal acts may be considered here since they are the essential method of all the Kula sacrifices,” and that “[i]t brings into reality the object which exists only as a desire” (Dupuche 102). By participating in the Opening ritual, the practitioner realizes his state as Bhairava and is now able to engage in Sacrifices (Dupuche 104). Within his text, Dupuche highlights the sacrifices one, two, and three. Dupuche quickly brushes over each subject. Sacrifice one is considered to be the “external celebration of splendor of consciousness” (Dupuche 105).

Sub-topic three is part number two of the rituals for the initiated. It is entitled “the Ritual of Adoration.” Sub-topic three and Sacrifice two are closely related. Sacrifice two is related to the dualism of the term sakti. It relies on the idea and philosophy that sakti is the female principle and is the principle that is seen as responsible for all activity in the world. Due to the nature of the tantric tradition, one may assume that the term refers to an actual woman. However, within Dupuche’s text, he explicitly states, “it does not refer to an actual woman” but rather “is based on the “internal sakti.” The Ritual of Adoration is concerned with sacred sites (pitha) and four stages of Krama (Dupuche 113). The sacred sites that are being referred to correspond to the sites on the practitioner’s own body, and note external landmarks, rooms, etc. These pitha correspond to spaces on the “sexual dimensions on the body” and the pitha symbolize the “sacred union of ‘the faculty and its object’ (Dupuche 115). The four stages of Krama include: emanation, maintenance, reabsorption, and a section entitled “Nameless.” The first step (emanation) is considered the “installation of the sites” (Dupuche 116). It ensures that these sacred sites are defined. The male reabsorption starts from his hands and slowly moves down his body and ends in his toes. The nine women that are to be included within the ritual are to be considered ritually impure within the classical Vedic traditions (Dupuche 117).

Sub-topic four is entitled: The Ritual with the Sexual Partner. There are two defined sub-sections. The main sections within this particular sub-topic are participants and the ritual. Within the Vedic tradition, brahmacaya is the student phase that promotes celibacy. Within the Tantraloka 29, Abhinavagupta describes brahman as “the bliss between Siva and sakti” (Dupuche 125). There are elements of sub-topic four that have been focused upon within Tantraloka 28. One of the key elements of Tantraloka 28 is the circle sacrifice. The circle sacrifice within the context of the Tantraloka 29 refers to the “theatrical aspect of the gathering” (Dupuche 129). This circle ritual aspect also advocates for consent of all those involved, as well as searching for the true interpretation of sakti. The ritual has three emissions that include: emanation, reabsorption, and blending. The emanation of the ritual has three trajectories in which can be viewed as subsections of emanation. The first trajectory is “Emphasis on Action” in summations focuses on the erotic nature of the Kula ritual and tries to explain the bond between bliss, Siva, and sakti. The second trajectory is Emphasis on Knowledge. This section goes on to explain differentiated though “leads to absorption and the emission of the fluid” (Dupuche 138).  The final trajectory is entitled “Emphasis on the sakti.” This section starts with defining the important of sakti and the “immediacy of her impact” (Dupuche 139). It further goes on to state that sakti goes beyond the other two trajectories and is much more complex. As a closing statement to the third trajectory, Abhinavagupta state that “sexual fluid… results from consciousness” (Dupuche 140). After the three trajectories that are housed under the first emission are explained, the second and third emissions are briefly summarized. Reabsorption (the second emission) explains the “a human of flesh and blood” reach a state of bliss, rest, and then ultimately fall into a state of non-bliss. At this point of time the circle ritual that is described above is stopped. The final emission, the “Union” or “Blending.” There are various sexual connotations and it seems that the over-all reason for such emissions is to conceive a child that would be the counterpart of Rudra (Dupuche 147).

The last ritual for those that have been initiated is “The Ritual of the Secret Teaching” or sub-topic five. The fifth sub-topic focuses on sacrifices four, five, and six. Sacrifice four is based on the body, the fifth on the Subtle-breath (prana), and the sixth is based on the mind. In a way it does make sense that all three of these sacrifices are closely related to one another. Within sacrifice four, Abhinavagupta explains that human bodies are akin to the mandala (Dupuche 148). The fifth explains that the satiation that is found within the third sacrifice also satiates the fifth sacrifice (Dupuche 149). Lastly, the sixth sacrifice is simply stated that at the highest level it is consciousness that has been obtained (Dupuche 150).

The next three sub-topics are considered to be rituals for those that need to be initiated. The first of these three is sub-topic six. There are two types of initiation: Ordinary Initiation and Initiation as the Son. After the two types of initiation are explained, Abhinavagupta goes on to explain a section entitled “On the Son who Desires Enjoyment.” The reason for ordinary initiation does not focus on the “external events” but rather focuses on the reabsorption of energy (Dupuche 154). It also is the search for the balance between liberation and sexual pleasures. It is the first step toward being initiated as a Son. After one goes through ordinary initiation, one may be able to initiate as a son. This proves to be the next step toward becoming a master within the rituals. In order to be initiated as a son one must be able to be “brought to liberation and only then can he be properly receive the enjoyment which penetration procures” (Dupuche 158). However, as this is only initiation into the Kula ritual, the initiate focuses on himself rather than the sexual aspect of the ritual (Dupuche 162). Sub-topic seven simply discusses anointing the adept and the master (Dupuche 164). Finally Sub-topic eight focuses on the penetration. This form of penetration concerns breaking through various bondages that a person find himself naturally in.

The Kula ritual is a ritual and tradition that is shrouded within a lot of mystery and secrecy. It is split between two groups of people: Those who are already initiated and those who still have yet to initiate into the ritual. There are various sexual themes that are associated with the ritual.



Basu, Srishchandra (2004) The Esoteric Philosophy of The Tantras. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Dupuche, John R. (2003) Abhinavagupta: The Kula Ritual: As Elaborated in Chapter 29 of the Tantraloka. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Muller-Ortega, Paul E. (1997) The Triadic Heart of Siva. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications.

Rodrigues, Hillary. (2006) Introducing Hinduism. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Sastri, Gaurinath (2002) Rituals and Practice of Tantra Vol. I. India: Cosmo Publications.

Sastri, Gaurinath (2002) Rituals and Practice of Tantra Vol. II. India: Cosmo Publications.

Werner, Karel. (2005) “Review of Books.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 15#1 (April): 116-118.


Related topics for further investigation


Tantraloka 29








Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Jessica Mariano (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.


The Sacred Lotus Symbol

The lotus is an iconic flower, originating in Southern Asia, which has claimed a place as a prominent symbol in ancient history, remaining as such today. It is through a combination of religious and symbolic connotations, nutritional and medicinal applications, and sheer aesthetics and laudability in its natural life cycle that have facilitated the lotus’s significance. While there are many species of lotus flowers across Asia, the Hindus’ Sacred Lotus is scientifically known as the Nelumbo nucifera. This perennial flower grows in the muddy waters of shallow pools throughout Asia (Kew n.d.). It possesses a unique nanostructure of its leaves which provides an uncanny self-cleaning ability, allowing the flowers to emerge from the mud without tarnish (Kew n.d.). This natural trait has facilitated symbolic reference towards the flower; rising out of the mud, untouched by the filth, resonated with ancient thinkers, philosophers, and religious peoples. Furthermore, beyond its life cycle, the lotus holds many unique properties which benefit human nutrition and health. Studies have found that this ancient plant, consumed throughout Asia, is highly nutritious and retains a number of medicinal properties from gastrointestinal regulation to bad breath remedy to insomnia reduction (Zhang et al 323,324). The relevance to health and wellness worked well with the divine reference in ancient Vedic scripture, where the lotus gained connections to the gods, to build the foundations of an icon.

Even as far back as the holy sruti texts of the Rgveda, the lotus finds its home in Hinduism’s spiritual origins. One translation of the Rgveda expresses the first mention of the lotus in the form of a metaphor (RV 5.LXVIII.7-9). The verse seems to describe a well wish for an unproblematic delivery of a child. One interpretation is that the metaphor of the wind ruffling the lotuses evokes auspiciousness in regard to the delivery (Garzilli 295). The lotus also appears in connection to the birth of Agni in Rgveda hymn XVI (Garzilli 300). There Agni is recognized as one of the two most worshipped gods of the scripture alongside Indra, God of Thunder. This initial reference to birth and divinity can be seen as a starting point for the symbolism of the lotus in later literature and practice. Although its presence in the sacred text elevates it to a status of divinity, its connection with the gods does not end with Agni and the Rgveda; rather it appears again and again throughout Hindu scripture.

Laksmi is the consort of Visnu, one of the most renowned gods in the Hindu pantheon, and she appears in each of Visnu’s reincarnations as his wife, should he have one. She is seen by the followers of Visnu as the “mother of the world” (Kapoor 1083), and maintains a close connection with the lotus, having her abode within the flowers themselves (Mahabharata LXVI). The Hindus Encyclopedia of Hinduism details the story of her birth: from the great churning of the sea, Laksmi was brought forth inhabiting the lotus and was “…covered in ornaments and bearing every auspicious sign…” (Kapoor 1083). She held lotus flowers in each hand and was called the Goddess Padma, meaning Lotus. Laksmi holds many names and many titles, just as the sacred flower does; she is the goddess of wealth, auspiciousness, fortune and luck. The auspiciousness of the lotus may be due in part to the connection between the flower and the great goddess of luck. Indeed, followers of Vaisnavism, one of the main sects of Hindusim, hold Laksmi in high regard, believing she is the very power of Visnu to govern and protect the universe (Encyclopedia of Asian History 1988). As the goddess of the Lotus, this symbol becomes specifically significant to the Vaisnavas, although its significance is by no means confined to them.

Beyond the auspiciousness and fortune of the lotus in its connection to Laksmi, the creator god Brahma ties in early references of the lotus to the concept of rebirth. Though there are many stories regarding the origins or birth of Brahma, one depicts the god being born on a lotus flower from the navel of Visnu, the great unifying principle (Coulter and Turner 105-106). In fact, it is common for Hindu gods and goddesses to be depicted sitting on a lotus throne, as a gesture of divinity, purity, and a power (Lee and Nadeau 69). Even beyond its connection to the creator god, the lotus is one of Visnu’s four attributes, standing as a symbol of creation (Timalsina 70). Furthermore, the sacred plant and deity, Soma, is believed, by some, to be the Sacred Lotus (MacDonald 150-152). Referenced in the Rgveda, (RV 8. XLVIII.3-4,11) Soma is deified, worshipped, and even expressed as offering immortality.  There are numerous theories on the true identity of Soma and the Lotus would indeed be a likely candidate with its medicinal properties and previously established connection to the divine.

Each of the factors mentioned have played a role in the Sacred Lotus becoming an icon of Hinduism. The flower’s natural life cycle and biological properties make it both admirable and valuable. Its presence in the Vedas and its connection to popular deities, including its potential identity as a deity (i.e. Soma), make it sacred and spiritual; these aspects, and more, have elevated the wild flower of Asia to an icon of the Hindu faith. And yet, beyond its religious connotations, the sacred symbol of the lotus has spread, with the Hindu tradition, into the very culture of India.

In Indian art and architecture there are 8 symbols of auspiciousness. Among other key symbols like the conch shell (sankha) and the wheel (cakra), the lotus (padma) is incorporated into Indian art, bearing powerful symbolism in regard to divinity, purity, and auspiciousness (Gupta 30). Throughout numerous temples and shrines erected to worship various gods such as Siva and Surya are stone carvings, motifs, and statues accents by the image of the lotus (Harle 139, 144). Beyond the presence of lotus imagery, there is a further, subtle connection between Hindu architecture and the lotus in the very structure of Hindu temples. Rising up in tiered domes, or buds, the temples are said to resemble Mount Meru, a sacred cosmic center in Indian religions (Gupta 30). The mountain itself holds extensive symbolic reference to the cosmic lotus, standing as point of origins of creation and divinity (Mabbett 71,72). The intertwining of lotus imagery and symbolism into such a vast range of concepts as mountains to temples to health to the divine creates a picture of the depth of the symbol’s place in Hinduism.

As the powerful symbolism of the lotus transcends the centuries, it ultimately finds its place in the modern day as an icon for businesses, a symbol of peace or tranquility, a reference to Indian religion, and more contemporarily so, as an image of a movement sweeping Indian politics. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a popular political party in contemporary India with a unique platform of defining “. . . Indian culture in terms of Hindu Values. . .” (Britannica 2014). The party poses the lotus as their logo, utilizing the religious symbol to gain the favor of Hindus (Malik and Singh 321). For the Hindu population, standing behind a banner bearing the Sacred Lotus of India, a central icon in the ancient tradition, may mean standing behind Hindutva, or Hindu national identity, embodied in the sacred meaning of the lotus. This connection between the divine flower and the national identity of India reveals just how deep the roots of the lotus symbol are. Even before the rise of the BJP party, the lotus held the title of national flower for its sacred symbolism, according to the Government of India (Government of India 2016). The connection between the Indian subcontinent and the lotus, beyond any single faith, expresses the significance of the flower even beyond its place as a religion icon.

To this day, the lotus stands as a symbol related not only to Hinduism, but also to numerous other religions, historical and modern alike. The lotus appears historically in ancient Egyptian religion where it held connections to birth, including that of the sun god, Ra (Renggli 220), and was used as an apparent hallucinogen (Sayin 291). Buddhists adopted symbolic meanings of the lotus very similar to the Hindus, viewing it as a representation of one’s personal journey through the muddy waters of samsara towards blossoming, pure and perfect, into Nirvana (Prasophigchana 103-104). The lotus is also representative of enlightenment through the idea that those who have attained it will rise above the world like a lotus rises above the muck and filth. Jains also view the lotus as a sacred symbol of purity and power. Within the tradition are 14 auspicious dreams and eight auspicious marks, the lotus claiming a place in both lists (Fischer and Jain 22). The Jains also maintain the portrayal of their founders (tirthankaras) as seated or standing on lotus blossoms, as seen Hinduism with respect to their gods (Lee and Nadeau 69). As the religions of India spread across the globe, the iconic image of the lotus continued to diversify and grow, maintaining its significance while transforming with the times. From the Rgveda to Indian Politics, the sacred flower of Hinduism has certainly left its mark on history and continues to do so today.


Coulter, C.R. and Turner, Patricia (2000) “Brahma.” Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities pg 105-106. North Carolina: MacFarland & Company Inc. Publishers.

Brittanica (2014) Bharatiya Janata Party. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.

Fischer, Eberhard and Jain, Jyotindra (1978) Jaina Iconography. Part 12: 22. Leiden: Brill

Garzilli, Enrica (2003) “The Flowers of Rgveda Hymns: Lotus in V.78.7, X.184.2, X.107.10, VI.16.13, and VII.33.11, VI.61.2, VIII.1.33, X.142.8. Indo-Iranian Journal. Volume 46, Issue 4: 293-314. Dordretch: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Government of India (2015) “National Symbols.” National Portal of India. New Delhi: National Informatics Center.

Gupta, Swarajya Prakash (2002) Elements of Indian Art. 29-30. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld Ltd.

Harle, J.C. (1994) The Arts and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent. Connecticut: Yale University Press.

Kapoor, Subodh (2000) “Laksmi.” The Hindus Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Volume 3. Edited by Subodh Kapoor. 1083-1087. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Kapoor, Subodh (2000) “Symbolism.” The Hindus Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Edited by Subodh Kapoor. Volume 4: 1171-1714.  New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Kew (n.d.) “Nelumbo nucifera.”  Kew: Royal Botanical Gardens. Surrey: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Lee, Jonathan H.X. and Nadeau, Kathleen M. (2011) Enclypedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife. Edited by Jonathan H.X. Lee and Kathleen Nadeau. Volume 1: 22. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Mabbett, I.W. (1983) “The Symbolism of Mount Meru.” Chicago Journals. Volume 23, Issue 1: 64-83. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Macdonald, Andrew (2004) “A Botanical Perspective on the Identity of Soma (Nelumbo Nucifera Gaertn.) Based on Scriptural and Iconographic Records.” Economic Botany. Volume 58: 147-150. Texas: Economic Botany.

Mahabharata. “SECTION LXVI. Sambhava Parva.” Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli (1883-96).

Malik, Yogendra K. and Singh, V. B.  (1992) “Bharatiya Janata Party: An Alternative to the Congress (I)?” Asian Survey. Vol. 32, Issue 4: 318-336. DOI: 10.2307/2645149

Prasopchigchana, Sarunya (2011) “Symbolic Representation in Buddhism.” International Journal on Humanistic Ideology. Volume 4, Issue 2: 101-111. Cluj-Napoca: International Journal on Humanistic Ideology.

Renggli, Franz (2002) “The Sunrise as The Birth Of A Baby: The Prenatal Key to Egyptian Mythology.” Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health. Volume 16, Issue 3: 215-235. Forestville: Association for Pre & Perinatal Psychology and Health.

Rgveda. “HYMN LXXVIII. Aśvins.” Translated by Ralph T.H. Griffith (1896).

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism the Ebook. Pennsylvania: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Sayin, H. Umit (2014) “The Consumption of Psychoactive Plants During Religious Rituals.” Neuroquantology. Volume 12, Issue 2: 276-296. Bornova Izmir: Nova Science Publishers.  DOI: 10.14704/nq.2014.12.2.753

Timalsina, Sthaneshwar (2012) “Reconstructing the Tantric Body: Elements of the Symbolism of Body in the Monistic Kaula and Trika Tantric Traditions.” International Journal of Hindu Studies. Volume 19, Issue 1: 57-91

_____ (1988)”Vaishnavism.” Encyclopedia of Asian History. Charles Scribner’s Sons (1988). World History in Context.

Zhang, Yi , et al, (2015) “Nutritional composition, physiological functions and processing of lotus (Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.) seeds: a review.” Phytochemisrty Reviews. Volume 14, Issue 3: 321-334. Netherlands: Springer. DOI: 10.1007/s11101-015-9401-9


Recommended areas of Research:

Padma (Sanskrit word for Lotus)

8 symbols of auspiciousness

Visnu & Laksmi

Mount Meru


Nelumbo nucifera


Useful Websites:


Useful Books:

The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent by James C. Harle

Elements of Indian Art by Swarajya Prakash Gupta



Article written by: Jessica Knoop (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its contents.


The Sakta Pithas

The Sakta Pithas are places of worship, created to worship Hindu goddesses and or places of sacred capacity regarded as seats of the Devi (the Great Goddess). Sakti is known as the female principle of Hinduism and means ‘power’. Sakti is worshipped under many different names such as Durga, Ma, Devi and so on. These places of worship are spread throughout India, often with 51 places of worship in total, most of which are in Bengal or Assam (Payne 1). The 51 Pithas or places of worship are first described in the Mahapithanirupana or Pithanirnaya manuscript. (Sircar 3). Although it is not exactly evident when these manuscripts were composed, it is probable that they were prepared in the Medieval period (Sircar 4). However, it was not until later that works were prepared for Saktism to be greater studied and understood (Payne 15).

Related to these places of worship is an ancient myth depicting how these Pithas, or places of pilgrimage, came to be created. This myth involves the goddess Sati who is regarded as the wife of the great god Siva. There are many different legends and stories that go along with the naming and placing of these Pithas, as every author writing on the Sakta Pithas present different lists as to where the body parts fell. This myth is one that can be described as grim and violent, and thus has not received much attention as far as research goes. However, Saktism is a very important religious movement within Hinduism, and there are millions of Saktas or worshippers of Sakti throughout India (Payne 14).  With any religion, the origins of certain myths can vary making it complex to comprehend. In this article, we will examine the well-known myth of the Sakta Pithas, which tells how they came to be created. We shall also examine some of the legends of the Pithas in regards to their placement and names

One of the most ancient myths, which although not directly connected to the Pithas, provides a parallel symbolic motif. It tells a story of incest between a father, the creator god Prajapati and his daughter, the goddess Usas. The gods became disgusted with this act of incest and, requested Rudra to destroy Prajapati. Rudra thus pierced Prajapti with an arrow and Prajapati proceeded to fall to the ground, which is thereafter used in sacrificial rituals. Since Prajapati represents sacrifice his body could not simply be destroyed.  This version of the myth can be found in the Puranas or Tantras (Sircar 5).

Although the above is an ancient tale, with no direct connection to the Pithas, it grows from there into the well-known Daksa-Yajna Story approximately in the fourth century CE (Sircar 5). This tells of the mother goddess, in the form of Sati, who was a daughter of the “great king Daksa”. She took on this form of Sati in order to marry Siva (Courtright 39). After the couple was married, they went to live in Siva’s home at Mt. Kailasa. Following their marriage Sati’s father, Daksa Prajapati, hosted a sacrifice inviting all the gods but excluded his daughter Sati and his son in law, Siva. Dadhici, (Daksa’s priest), warned against the exclusion of Sati and Siva. He stated that without the ‘great God’, Siva, the ritual would be ineffective (Courtright, 39). However, Daksa believed that Siva was a terrible son in law and that he did not deserve to attend the ritual. Sati, enraged that she and her husband were not invited to her father’s sacrifice, decided to attend nonetheless. Upon attending the sacrifice, Sati was greatly mistreated by her father. Due to this mistreatment, Sati is said to have thrown herself into a fire feeling broken hearted and hurt. News of Sati’s death reached Siva, who furiously headed to the sacrifice and completely destroyed the scene. Some versions of the myth say that he beheaded Daksa. Others say that it was Virabhadra who destroyed the sacrificial ritual and beheaded Daksa (Courtright 41).

The further progression of this myth was added in the later part of the Medieval period, to justify the creation of the Pithas. It tells how Siva roamed around mad with despair carrying Sati’s body. Sati’s body was eventually cut piece by piece out of Siva’s hands; each piece was a different body part, which fell to the earth, thereby creating the holy sites of the Sakta Pithas. Some versions of the myth state that it was Brahman, Visnu and Sani that freed Siva from carrying Sati’s body, while others state that it was Visnu alone. As Sati’s body fell to the earth it spread Sakti or power across India. This spreading of Sati’s body, which not only created the Sakta Pithas, but which offers a mythic rationale for why the entire landscape of India is sacred, is the final portion of the myth.

Courtright suggests that there is a link regarding the creation of the Sakta Pithas and the ancient sacrificial ritual of sati practiced by widows upon the death of their husbands. However, different circumstances resulted in the immolation of Sati versus the sacrificial practice of sati performed by Hindu wives. Sati’s immolation was due to the harshness of a father towards a daughter and her husband while sati is a sacrifice performed by widows to accompany their husband after death (Courtright 37).

The locations where Sati’s body parts fell, or the Pithas, are often connected with linga, which represents Siva. Hindus believe that both worship of the linga and yoni should be held in the same high regard (Sircar 7). The locations, names and traditions of the Pithas differ throughout history. Many writers used a great deal of imagination when creating the lists of Pithas, so there is a great deal of variation amongst them (Sircar 32). However, many texts speak of the four Pithas also known as the Adi Pithas. The Adi Pithas are considered the major sites of Sakti worship, associated with the northern, southern, eastern and western regions of India (Sircar, 17). One early tradition, written about in the Catususpithatantra, indicates the four Adi Pithas as “Atmapitha, Parapitha, Yogapitha and Guhyapitha” (Sircar 11). Due to the fact that Saktism and the worship of Sakti and the Sakta Pithas are not strictly linked to Hinduism, and are also worshipped in Buddhism and Jainism, there are various names and traditions of the Sakti Pithas amongst these groups. The Hevajra Tantra, a Buddhist religious text, lists the Adi Pithas as “Jalandhara, Odiyana, Purnagiti and Kamarupa” (Sircar 12).

Popular writings about the Sakta Pithas speak of the Adi Pithas or the four Pithas and also state that there are a total of 51 Pithas. However, A section of the Kalika Purana contributes an account of seven Pithas as opposed to four: Devikuta, where the two feet of Sati fell, Uddiyana, where the two thighs fell, Kamagiri, where the pudendum muliebre fell, the eastern borders of Kamarupa, where the navel fell, Jalandhara, where the two breasts fell, Purnagiri, where the neck and shoulders fell and once again the borders of Kamarupa, where the head fell. The Rudrayamala, a Tantric text, mentions ten holy sites, rather than four. This tradition discusses sites in Kamarupa, Jalandhara, Purnagiri and Uddiyana, similarly to the Kalika Purana.  The Matysa Skanda and Padma Puranas list the large number of 108 Pithas in total. Such variations seem to derive from the writer’s fabrication and the imagination (Sircar 32). Although the list of names for the Sakta Pithas vary and are plentiful, the Kamarupa Pitha is commonly mentioned in many of the lists. Another commonality is a list of countries connected to a high level of Sakti worhip, namely: Gandahara, Uddiyana, Jalandhara and Kashmir (Sircar, 16). Two of the best-known temples that are widely acknowledged as Sakta Pithas by most worshippers today, are Kamakhya and Kalighat.

One of the oldest and most popular sites of goddess worship is Kamakhya temple, located at Guwahati, Assam. The legend of this site, as forwarded by the current temple management, tells of the king of Nepal approaching a sage known as Vatsayana. He was seeking advice on how to convert the popular ritual of human sacrifice to a more socially accepted rite of worship.  Vatsayana suggested the worship of a Tantric goddess named Tara in place of sacrificial rituals. The worship of Tara spread reaching to the Garo Hills where local tribes worshipped a fertility goddess named Kameke. As time went on the Tantric goddess Tara, and the fertility goddess Kameke were linked with the legend of the Sakta Pithas and began to be worshipped as Devi. This site is said to be where Sati would escape to spend time with Siva. It is also said to be the location where her yoni fell (

The Kalighat is an ancient site located in city of Calcutta (Kolkata), on the bank of the Hooghly river, and said to be where Sati’s toes and right foot fell. A well-known, newer temple, dedicated to the goddess Kali, is now situated there. Legend has it that a devotee’s eye was caught by a ray of light while passing the Bhagirathi river. Upon moving toward the light the devotee found a human toe carved in stone. After discovering this stone foot the devotee immediately began praying to the mother goddess.  The temple was originally a small hut, constructed in the early 16th century. It was founded by Chowringee Natha, son to the king of Bengal. Kalighat was lavishly reconstructed in 1809 by the Chowdhrys family, transforming it from a small hut to a beautiful site. The government of Bengal has taken a great interest in this temple, as it has become a main tourist attraction (

The Sakta Pithas have not been well studied; perhaps this is because scholars in the past have regarded the myth and the tradition of the Pithas negatively instead of attempting to understand their complex origins. However, these sites attract many pilgrims from far and wide, and will continue to serve as an important place of worship for centuries to come.


References and Further Recommended Reading

Courtright, Paul (2011) “Searching for Sati.” Studying Hinduism in Practice. edited by Hillary Rodrigues. P.37-45. London: Routledge.

Foulston, Lynn (2009) Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. London: Oxford University Press.

kalighat Kali Temple.”

Payne, Ernest (1997) The Saktas: The Introductive and Comparative Studies. New York: Dover Publications.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2007) Hinduism the Ebook: An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books

Sircar,D.C. ( 2004) The Sakti Pithas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

The History of Kamakhya Temple Assam.”


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Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by Sydney Cleland (February 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.



The Tantras

An expansion in Hinduism after the eighth century is the rise of a body of texts known as the Tantras. The Tantras are characterized by their secrecy and its oral lessons were traditionally passed from teacher to students through a series of graded initiation. Hindu Tantras point the disciple in the direction of Self-realization, through a unitive encounter with Absolute Reality (Robinson and Rodrigues 158). The Tantras are a system of thoughts or a set of principles and the genre of its texts are based on meditation, rituals and instructions (Banerji 1). The body of texts known as the Tantras have been misinterpreted and misunderstood by Western scholars, but the texts appears not to have been alienated or underestimated by these Western scholars. Instead their seedy and dangerous world has produced a sense of fascination and often, preoccupation and obsession (Urban 8). Sacred utterances, sacred gestures and richly extravagant symbolic constructions may be used as meditative aids (Robinson and Rodrigues 158-159). The Tantras describe the first, golden age as an era filled with spirituality. According to Mahanirvana-Tantra, people were wise and virtuous and the deities were pleased by their practice of Yoga and sacrificial rituals. The people acquired fortitude and power by studying the Vedas [The Vedas are the most revered texts in Hinduism, possessing the status of sruti, divinely revealed teachings (Robinson and Rodrigues153)].  They also acquire courage through meditation, charitable deeds and mastery of the senses. People were good-hearted, happy and prosperous (Feuerstein 5).

The origin and development of the Tantras as a special class of literature and as a special mode of sadhana are ultimately connected to the rise of Saivism and the Pancaratra, the prehistoric Samkhya-yoga providing them with a philosophical background. Although the early recognised literature of the Pancaratra is lost, the literature of this sect and of other contemporary sects are called Tantras. The Pancaratra remained restrained in its development and it is Saivism which supplies a more propitious ground for the development of the Tantras (Basu 55-56). Tantra, though highly inventive, has from the beginning been seen as a continuation of earlier teachings. Therefore, while Buddhist Tantra understands itself as an esoteric tradition going back to Guatama the Buddha himself, Hindu Tantra regards the revelatiory teachings of the Vedas as its starting point (Feuerstein 10). Within the Hindu tradition, the Tantras are composed by the Vaisnava Pancaratra School, the lost Tantras of the Sauras, as well as the more famous Tantras of the Saivities and Saktas. Tantras are found in more almost every corner of the subcontinent, with a powerful hold in the northeast (Bengal, Orissa and Assam) and the northwest (Kashmir). They later spread to the far south (Tamilnadu and Kerala). Buddhist Tantras have spread to not only throughout India, but also to Nepal, Tibet, China and some parts of Southeast Asia (Urban 28). According to the tradition found in the Tantras, Tantras are innumerable. The Nityasodasikarnava says that Tantras are endless in number but records only sixty-four Kaula Tantras. The Saundaryalahari, attributed by some to Sankaracarya, refers to sixty-four Tantras. The numbers are invented but they show that the author of the named Tantra has an elusive idea of the sects and their texts. Tantric texts in their present form belong to the medieval and late-medieval periods (Bhattacharyya 37 and 40).

The practices recommended in the Tantras embrace both elements of enjoyment and renunciation found in karma-kanda and jnana-kanda. Karna-kanda is the path of action which is meant for the preservation and smooth running of the society and jnana-kanda is the path of knowledge which leads man to liberation. Some practices in the Tantras are regarded as mandatory or extremely necessary for spiritual empowerment and are accepted by people with respect as the practices are neither dreadful nor are they secrets. Some other practices of The Tantras are considered obligatory for the attainment of an enlightened life and these practices are looked upon as dreadful and are extremely secretive. There are also some practices which have little or no relation to religion or spirituality and are performed for the fulfillment of some worldly desire or the gratification of some evil motive (Santidev 87-88).

The Hindu Tantras consider themselves to be revealed teachings delivered by Siva, Visnu or Devi. Paralleling the Upanisadic dialogues between student and teachers, the Tantras are often framed as dialogues between god and goddess, Siva (or Visnu) and Parvati (or Laksmi). She asks questions and he replies. In Sakta Tantras, Siva asks the questions and Devi provides the answers. The oft-depicted images of Siva and Parvati seated beside each other, in which she is nestled next to him, sometimes on his lap, evoke the setting of the teaching scenario of the body of texts known as the Tantras. The gods, who are creators of the cosmos, investigate the meaning of existence, which is an exploration of their own natures (Rodrigues 385-386). The contents of a complete Tantric text may be broadly divided as jnana or vidya, which is knowledge including philosophical and metaphysical doctrines with a monotheistic tendency and sometimes a monistic bias. One contains occultism, including a knowledge of the mystic bias while the other contains formulae and figures. The contents of the Tantras can further be divided as yoga or upaya, which means having mind-control, especially with the object of acquiring magic powers. The contents can further be divided as Kriya, which contains instructions for making idols, for constructing and consecrating temples. Finally, it can also be divided as carya or siddhi, which are rules about rites, festivals and social duties (Santidev 14). Broadly speaking, the content of the Tantras fall into two classes. One philosophical and spiritual, the other popular and practical. The latter includes magic, mandra, mudra, mandala, nyasa, cakra and yankra. The principal aims of the Tantras are liberation and siddhi (Banerji 13). [Siddhi means the acquisition of supernormal powers (Robinson and Rodrigues 159)].

The texts list the rewards, including supernatural powers and liberation from worldly existence that accrue form undergoing initiation and worshiping gods in the ways prescribed. However, these texts are not merely ‘manuals’ for the preceptor, as they also address various theological and cosmological topics. Many of them consists of parts apparently intended for the initiate alongside parts intended for the preceptor. Not only is access to these texts prohibited to the uninitiated, it is also prohibited even for those who have undergone initiation as access is only mediated by one’s guru or preceptor. The genre of the Tantras share several features with Stotras [stotras are hymns of praise] (Leach 24-25). Tantra denotes a particular style or genre of spiritual teachings that affirm the continuity between Spirit and matter (Feuerstein 2).

A good example of the numerous texts of the Tantras is the Gandharva-Tantra. The Gandharva-Tantra is an anonymous text in forty-two chapters. It is stated to have been composed after gathering the essence of other Tantras. Chapter one deals with Yoga, Brahman and the way to liberation through enjoyment. Chapter two speaks of Sati as well as the tantric way to mukti through bhukti (Banerji 176). [Mukti is the freedom from Samsara and bhukti is the enjoyment of wordly pleasures (Rodrigues 95)]. Chapter three introduces Pancami-Vidya and some other vidyas or mantras. Chapter four treats the worship of Devi. Chapter five contains matters relating to Devi-Puja. Chapter six deals with the rights of those opposed to Vedic rites and of women opposed to Tantric practices. Chapters seven and eight deal with the worship of Devi.  Chapters nine to seventeen deal with the worship of gods and deities associated with these worships. Chapter eighteen deals with the rules relating to the offer of certain articles in worship. The next three chapters deal with the worship of Sesika Devi. Chapters twenty-two to twenty-three deal with practices connected with the worship of virgins. This worship of virgins and its effect according to prescribed rules is also dealt with. Chapter twenty-four enumerates the places suitable for worship. Of all places, a lonely spot, devoid of animals is stated to be the best. Towards the end of the chapter, the characteristics of good and bad people have been laid down. The next two chapters are devoted to the discussion on the merits, demerits and the duties of sisya and guru as well as diksa. Chapter twenty-seven to thirty-two deal with the mantras and its different kinds. Chapter thirty-three deals exhaustively with Kulacara. This chapter contains some ethical precepts such as having consideration for women, avoidance of jealousy towards others, observance of the rules of conduct, showing respect towards the family members of a guru and also having the absence of greed for other’s property. The next chapter deals with how devotees, who keep their activities secret, should perform their duties. Chapter thirty-five focuses on Sakti, who is necessary in Tantric sadhana. [Sadhana means spiritual rituals (Rodrigues 321)]. In chapter thirty-six, Devi raises the important question about how a man’s wife’s association with someone who has been declared sinful in other Sastras can be acceptable in a Tantric rite. The same topic of supporting Tantric rites is continued in chapter thirty-seven. The next chapter lays down, among other things, how atman is distinct from the body. Chapter thirty-nine deals with how Siva and Sakti became manifest and the knowledge about them arises. The rest of the chapters deal with the rise and disappearance of speech and the two-fold of mukti (Banerji 176-178).

Another text of the Tantras is called Kalitantra, which belongs to kalikula and it comprises twenty-one chapters. The text of the kalikula, the family of the black goddess, is depicted as the chief of all the mahavidyas in different Tantric sources. The worship of Kali is found at the heart of Kashmir Saivism traditions whose origins can be found in the cremation-ground cults (Thakur 72). Chapter one of the Kalitantra deals with the nature of yoga. Yoga is divided into two kinds Manusa (human) and Daivika (Divine). In chapter two, it is stated that man’s mind is restless and can be calmed by yoga. Therefore, yoga should be practised with care. Chapter three holds that detachment is the calmness of mind that is the means to salvation. Salvation is attained when the mind rests on the highest state which is existent, all-compassing, and is free from the dirt of illusion. Chapter four describes maya (illusion). Maya leads to moha (delusion) which produces the quality of tamas and causes disturbances from which danger arises. The following chapter deals with the means of attaining Brahman. The mind with desire is the seed of the tree of rebirth. Brahman is the seed of the worlds, the essence of everything but Brahman has no seed. If vasana (desire) is suppressed, Brahman is quickly attained. Chapter six describes the means of the acquisition of self-knowledge. The next chapter deals with how reflecting on prana by concentration gives perfect bliss and makes one free from fear and unaffected by adversity and prosperity. Chapter eight deals with the nature of Brahman. It is through action that one gets pleasure and pain. But, salvation is not attainable so long as good and bad actions are not destroyed. Salvation is possible by the knowledge that everything in the world, even a blade of grass, is Brahman. Chapter nine describes the housholder’s life. One should take to this life first. When true knowledge dawns, one should resort to samnyasa (renunciation). The next chapter deals with the nature of Laksmi and the means of worshipping her. Chapter eleven deals with diseases and their causes and the following chapter prescribes cures for these diseases. Chapters thirteen and fourteen deal with the six Tantric rites and the practice of yoga. Chapter fifteen focuses on the eight accessories of yoga and the six means of purification. Chapters sixteen to nineteen focus on the eightfold kumbhaka, gives the mantras relating to Navagraha, lays down the dhyanas of various deities, and sets forth the characteristies of a sadhaka (devotee). The sadhakas are Mrdu, Madhya, Adhimatra or Admimatra-tama. Mrdu-sadhaka has the characteristics of little energy, delusion, evil deed, disease, greed and impatience.  Madhya-sadhaka has characteristics such as looking upon all as equal, forgiveness, self –restraint, desire of merit, pleasant speech and freedom from doubt. Adhimatraka-sadhaka has the features of a firm mind, independence, kindness, truthfulness, physical strength, hopefulness, heroism and faithfulness. Adhimatratama-sadhaka has characteristics of energy, courage, knowledge of scriptures, good memory, freedom from delusion and fresh youth. The last chapter lays down the result of studying or listening to this particular Tantra. It destroys all sins and leads to prosperity (Banerji 199-205). The texts of the kalikula describe morbid rites in the cremation grounds to evoke a goddess and allow the practitioner to accomplish salvation through challenging experience (Thakur 73).

These texts are good examples to show how, like other numerous texts of the Tantras, the focus on meditative instructions is necessary in order to attain spiritual realization in corporation and union with the deities. Tantra is not always confined to gross material objects. It recognizes the three aspects of the deity worshipped. These are Sthula (image), Suksma (mantra) and Para (highest; in this aspect, the Devi is to be mentally apprehended) (Banerji 531). The Tantras are a new revelation replacing that of the Vedas. Likewise, most scholars reject the notion that Tantra originated in the era of the Vedas or earlier (Feuerstein 15).



Banerji, Sures Chandra (1988) A Brief History of Tantra Literature. Calcutta: Naya Prokash.

Basu, Manoranjan (1986) Fundamentals of the Philosophy of Tantras. Calcutta: Mira Basu Publishers.

Bhattacharya, N.N. (1987) History of the Tantric Religion. New Delhi: Manohar Publications.

Feuerstein, Georg (1998) Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy. New Delhi: Shambhala Publications.

Leach, Robert (2014) “A Religion of the Book? On Sacred Texts in Hinduism.” The Expository Times, Vol. 126, Issue 1. Pages 15-27. Web. 5 March 2014.

Robinson, Thomas and Hillary Rodrigues (2006) World Religions: A Guide to the Essentials. Michigan: Baker Academic.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2007) Hinduism – The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Santidev, Sadhu (2000) Encyclopedia of Tantras. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Thakur, K. Manoj (2001) The Tantras: An Introductory Outline. Delhi: Worldwide Publications: An Imprint of Book Land Publishing.

Urban, B. Hugh (2007) Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics and Power in the Study of Religion. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

Woodroffe, John George (1980) Introduction to Tantra S’astra. India: Ganesh and Company.



  • The Contents of the Tantras.
  • Saivism and its influence on the Development of the Tantras.
  • Jnana, Yoga, Kriya and Carya in Hinduism.
  • Ritual Practices in the Tantras.
  • History of Tantra Literature.
  • Practice of the Sadhana.

RELATED WEBSITES   books/unpublished_manuscripts/making_sense_tantra/pt1/making_sense_tantra_01.html


Article written by: Udoh, Nseobong Martins (April, 2015), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Vastu Tradition in Hinduism

The vastu tradition is said to be the ancient science of designing and constructing buildings and houses with a corresponding plot of land. The root word vas in vastu means to dwell, live, stay, and reside (Gautum 17) (Kramrisch 82). The vastu-shastra is the manual used for the architecture on how sacred or domestic building must be constructed. The vastu-purusa-mandala is a metaphorical expression of the plan of the Universe and depicts the link between people, buildings and nature it is used to position a building on potential plots of land (Patra 2006:215-216). This mandala is so universal that it can be applied to an altar, a temple, a house, and a city.  Hindu temples are meant to bring humans and gods together.

The vastu shastra is found originating in the Vedas the most ancient of sacred Indian text, tracing back to at least 3,000 B.C.E., if not earlier. The knowledge of constructing and designing a building is found specifically in the Sthapatya Veda, which is a sub heading in the Artharva Veda which is the fourth Veda. Principles of vastu-shastra can be found in several other ancient texts such as Kasyapa Silpa Sastra, Brhat Samhita, Visvakarma Vastu Sastra, Samarangana Sutradhara, Visnu Dharmodhare, Purana Manjari, Mayamata, Aparajitaprccha, Silparatna Vastu Vidya (Patra 2006:215). Hindu literature also cites that the knowledge of sacred architectural construction of buildings was present in the oral traditions since before the Vedic Period. According to Indian experts the vastu is possibly the oldest sacred architectural construction in the world up to date (Osborn 85-86). The oldest master known for vastu is Maya Danava, acknowledged as the founder of this ancient sacred Indian architectural tradition (Osborn 87). It is said that “man can improve his conditions by properly designing and understanding the location, direction, and disposition of a building that have a direct bearing on a human being” (Patra 2014:44). Based on the experience of several generations it has proved that the building and arrangement of villages and capitals in ancient India gave health and peacefulness. The principles regarding the construction of buildings that are in the vastu-shastra are used to please the vastu-purusa; they are explained by the mandala vastu-purusa-shastra. 

There are five basic principles of the sacred science of sacred architecture, the first of which is the doctrine of orientation (diknirnaya), which related to the cardinal directions: north, east, south, west. Second is site planning which uses the vastu-purusa-mandala and is the examination of the soil through categories such as taste, color, etc. Third is the proportionate measurement of the building (mana, hastalakshana), which is divided into six sections: measurement of height, breadth, width or circumference, measurement along plumb lines, thickness, and measurement of inter-space. Fourth there are the six canons of Vedic architecture (ayadi, sadvarga), base (aadhistaana), column (paada or stambha), entablature (prastaara), ear or wings (karna), roof (shikara) and dome (stupi). Fifth is the aesthetics of the building (patakadi, sadschandas) which deals with the nature of beauty such as principles of texture, color, flow, the interaction of sunlight and shadows, these are some principles of aesthetics (Patra 2014:44). The most important requirement in the manual is that the site of a new building must be placed where the gods are at play (King 69). If the temple is unable to be built by a tirtha (a sacred ford or a crossing place that must be by sacred water) then another suitable site should be found. This can be a riverbank, a river junction, a lake, or a seashore. It can even be mountains, hilltops, or forests/gardens. It can also be placed in populated areas like towns, villages, and cities (King 69 and Osborn 87). Water was said to be a fundamental part of the gods’ play, therefore a sacred temple must be near water but if no water was present then man-made a water source. Directions also hold a particular significance (north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west, and northwest) they help to clarify the principles of the vastu-shastra.

Once the land has been chosen with appropriate knowledge the ground is then prepared properly using the geometrical design known as vastu-purusa-mandala. Then before the mandala is placed a Priest must perform a number of mantras a sacred utterance that urges all living creatures in the plot to leave so that the new land for the building will not kill any living things (King 69). The soil in the desired area of land must undergo some tests to show whether it is suitable or not. One test that occurs is a pit is dug in the ground and then is filled with water, and the soils strength is then judged by how much water is remaining when the next day arrives. Of course with this in mind before these tests can be done the soil must be examined in the following categories: smell, taste (whether it is sweet, pungent, bitter, astringent), color (white for brahmanas, red for kshatriyas, yellow for vaisyas, black for sudras, the color of the soil and the caste correspond with each other), sound, shape or consistency. After all that is done and if the soil is suitable, then the fertility of the soil must also be tested by plowing the ground and planting seed and recording the growth at 3, 5, and 7 nights. Then according to the success of growth, it is decided whether the soil is fertile and helps decide if this is a good place to build using the mandala (Kramrisch 13-14).

It does not matter whether the building is going to be a house, office, or a school the knowledge from the vastu-shastra must be taken into consideration in order for the execution to be successful. The walls that strengthen the temple are known as prakaras and they may vary in size and number in regards to the size of the temple. When building larger temples like the one in Srirangam they are occasionally surrounded by seven concrete walls that represent the seven layers of matter: earth, water, fire, air, either, mind, and intelligence.


The geometry and measurements of the vastu (blueprint) planned site is a very complex science. The shape must be a square that is a fundamental form of Indian architecture; its full name is vastu-purusa-mandala [the sacred diagram by which a temple is configured (Rodrigues 2006:568)] consisting of three parts vastu, purusa, and mandala. Purusa is a universal essence, a cosmic man representing pure energy, soul, and consciousness whose sacrifice by the gods was said to be the creation of all life. Purusa is the reason that buildings must be created using a mandala of him, which means a diagram relating to orientation. A mandala can also be referred to as a yantra (a cosmological diagram). The vastu-purusa-mandala adopts the shape of the land it is set on so it can fit suitably wherever it is placed. The mandala therefore accepts transformation into a triangle, hexagon, octagon, and circle if the area is consistent and it will maintain its symbolism. Even though the ideal shape is a square, its acceptance of transformation in shape shows the inherent flexibility of the vastu-purusa-mandala (Kramrisch 21 and Patra 2014:47). When configuring a temple they use this mandala of purusa to enable them to place the proper things in the proper directions and proper places (i.e. north, west, etc.) such as where the worship places or bedrooms must be and so forth. If the rooms in these buildings are appropriately placed this will keep the building healthy and keep the people in it happy (Patra 2014:47).

Another thing that the vastu-shastra states is that the layout for residences be placed based on caste; the brahmins (priestly class) are placed in the north, the kshatriyas (the warrior class) in the east, the vaishyas (the merchant class) in the south, and the sudras (the lower class) in the west.  When the land is purified and sanctified the vastu-purusa-mandala is drawn on the site with all the subdivisions helping to indicate the form of the building. The mandala is divided into 64 (8×8) squares and is meant for construction of shrines and for worship by brahmins, or 81 (9×9) squares and is meant for the construction of other buildings and for worship of kshastriyas (kings). These squares (nakshatras) are said to be the seats of 45 divinities that all surround a central open space that is ruled by Brahma (Chakrabarti 6-7 and Kramrisch 46). The square is occupied by the vastu-purusa his very shape of his body. His body with its parts, limbs, and apertures is interpreted as having the same boundaries or extent in space, time, or meaning and is therefore one with the 81 squares of the plan. The mandala is filled with magical effectiveness and meanwhile the body of man is the place of insight by the practice of the discipline of yoga (Kramrisch 49). The vastu-purusa-mandala is the vastu-purusa, his body is together with the presence and actions of the divinities located in the mandala, which is their yantra, the center is the brahmasthana and designates the center point of a building (it is a giant skylight) and its superstructure is the temple (Kramrisch 63).

The brahmasthana is the principle location in the temple because this is where the seat of the godhead will eventually be placed. A ritual is performed at this space in the vastu-purusa-mandala called garbhadhana, which invites the soul of the temple to enter the radius of the building. In this ritual a brahmin and a priest place a gold box in the earth during the ceremony of the first ground breaking. The interior of this box is an exact replica of the mandala squares and each square is filled with dirt. The priest then places the correct mantra in writing to call on the presence of the matching deity. When the base is complete the external features of the temple are brought to life through meticulously sculpted figures and paintings, these arts are generally conveyed as the forms of the divine entities (Osborn 90-91).     

It is said that the vastu-shastra is a very powerful ongoing tradition in India today and is in no threat of becoming extinct. The post secondary schools in India have classes to teach students about the variation of skills and techniques required in the science of sacred architecture. In these classes the literature is all written in Sanskrit, therefore in order for the students to learn the correct knowledge they must know how to read Sanskrit. They are taught everything required for vastu-shastra such as geometry, drafting, stone sculpture, bronze casting, woodcarving, painting, and so much more. When the students gain the correct knowledge and skills to be an architect in India they then graduate with a degree and then receive the title sthapati [(temple architect and builder) this title is named after Sri. M. Vaidyantha Sthapati a master architect, he was the designer and architect of some very popular temples and other Hindu buildings]. India has the most examples of sacred architecture that exist compared to all other countries in the world combined (Osborn 87). One of the more important requirements for vastu-shastra that is used today is the orientation of where parts of the buildings needs to be situated based on the points on the vastu-purusa-mandala. Hindu temples back in the nineteenth century were located at the heart of the city.  With that in mind today if one desires to go to a temple the most important temples are now all found in the suburbs, but they still have the same purpose, to bring human beings and gods closer together.


References and Further Recommended Reading

Boner, Alice (1966) Slipa Prakasa Medieval Orissan Sanskrit Text on Temple Architecture. Leiden: Brill Archive.

Chakrabarti, Vibhuti (2013) Indian Architectural Theory and Practice: Contemporary Uses of Vastu Vidya. New York: Routledge.

Gautum, Jagdish (2006) Latest Vastu Shastra (Some Secrets). New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

King, Anthony D. (ed.) (2003) Building and Society. New York: Routledge.

Kramrisch, Stella (1976) The Hindu Temple, Vol 1. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Meister, Michael (1976) Mandala and Practice in Nagagra Architecture in North India.” Artibus Asiae, Vol.99, No.2: p.204-219.

Meister, Michael (1983) Geometry and Measure in Indian Temple Plans: Rectangular Temples. Artibus Asiae. Vol.44, No.4: p.266-296.

Michell, George (1977) The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to its Meanings and Forms. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Osborn, David (2010) Science of the Sacred. Raleigh: Lulu Press Inc.

Patra, Reena (2006) Asian Philosophy: A Comparative Study on Vaastu Shastra and Heidegger’s Building, Dwelling and Thinking. New York: Routledge, Vol.16, No.3: p.199-218.

Patra, Reena (2014) Town Planning in Ancient India: In Moral Perspective. Chandigarh: The International Journal of Humanities and Social Studies, Vol.2,  No.6: p.44-51.

Rodrigues, Hillary P. (2006) Introducing Hinduism-The eBook. Pennsylvania: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, LTD.

Rodrigues, Hillary P. (ed.) (2011) Studying Hinduism in Practice. New York: Routledge.

Trivedi, Kirti (1989) Hindu Temples: Models of a Fractal Universe. Bombay: Springer-Verlag.

Vasudev, Gayatri D. (Editor) (1998) Vastu, Astrology, and Architecture: Papers Presented at the First All India Symposium on Vastu, Bangalore. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.


Related Topics for Further Investigation


Vedic Period



Caste System





Vedic Gods (divinities)

Purusa Legend





Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Brandon Simon (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Matrkas (Mothers)

In the Hindu tradition, the Matrkas are groups of goddesses with various origins that are associated with violence and diseases that afflict children (Bose 36). In literature, these goddesses are often presented with more recognizable goddesses such as Kali’s precursor Camunda (Donaldson 301) and the Great Goddess Devi in battle (Donaldson 305).  The size of the group of goddesses varies throughout literature and mythology, and early references to the group of “mothers” mention their innumerable size (Kinsley 1986:151). Eventually, the representation of the Matrkas evolved from unspecific groups of goddesses to an organized unit because of development in the Brahmanic tradition (Harper 97). The group is unique in that each individual goddess holds little significance and is therefore difficult to describe individually but they garner significance when mentioned as a group (Kinsley 1986:158).  The Matrkas are featured most prominently in the third episode of the Devi-mahatmya (Kinsley 1986:156) but are also featured in the Mahabharata (Kinsley 1986:152) and Puranic literature (Harper 52) both as the Matrkas and the Saptamatrkas, a specified Tantric group of seven goddesses. These goddesses are not often worshipped like other significant goddesses, however worship is done for specific circumstances both in literature and tradition. Although these goddesses do not have one specific role within religious tradition, they have a very interesting origin and place within Hinduism and Indian culture.

The origins of the Matrkas is cautiously believed to be a synthesis of both Vedic and tribal goddesses that were worshipped regionally (Foulston 107). These goddesses were all seen as mother goddesses that could cause harm to children and were often featured in battles (Donaldson 301). Due to the belief that the Matrkas are drawn from tribal village-goddesses, epics and Brahmanic traditions are weary of the goddesses, possibly contributing to their negative depiction (Kinsley 1986:155). Iconographically, the Matrkas are mostly represented in calm and maternal form, often holding a child and in some instances emblems of their supposed male counterpart (Donaldson 320). These visual depictions of the goddesses heavily contrast with their physical descriptions that emphasize their fearsome natures and frightening features (Kinsley 1986:155).

Bas-relief of the group of goddesses known as the Matrkas (Mothers) (Ellora, India)
Bas-relief of the group of goddesses known as the Matrkas (Mothers) (Ellora, India)

Early references rarely specified their number, and it is unclear whether the same goddesses were involved every time they were mentioned (Kinsley 1986:151).  During the medieval period though, and possibly after being merged into Brahmanic tradition, the number of goddesses in the group were standardized and named. Most often there are seven goddesses, the Saptamatrkas, but groups of eight and sixteen were also used in literature (Kinsley 1986:152) with up to 24 Matrkas being mentioned by name (Donaldson 318). How the Matrkas are created differ throughout the literature, however it is agreed upon that rather than divine consorts or saktis of male gods as mentioned in the Devi-mahatmya and the Devi-bhagavata-purana, they are extensions or forms of the Great Mother or Goddess, Devi as mentioned in Puranic literature (Bose 36). The popularity of these goddesses increased after 400 CE due to many casual references in literary works (Kinsley 1986:55).

The Matrkas are featured in many literary works. Most prominent is the third episode of the Devi-mahatmya, however it draws on a tradition that was established in the Mahabharata (Kinsley 1978:494). In the Vana Parva, the narrative of Karttikeya is told. In this, a group of goddesses were sent by Indra to kill Karritkeya but when they arrived they developed maternal instincts towards him and were unable to kill the child.  Instead, they ask him to adopt them as his mothers. They also requested that they be elevated and worshipped in the same position as Brahma’s and Siva’s consorts as the “mothers of the world” and for permission to live off the offspring of man (Kinsley 1978:495). Karritkeya denies the last request, asking that they protect children. However, he adds a caveat that they may torment children with disease and ailments up to the age of 16. The Matrkas’ desire to be mothers and to punish men through harming children stemmed from their own lost opportunity to bear children due to their divorces (Kinsley 1986:152). Further mention in the Mahabharata includes when Karttikeya is given command of the army in which the Matrkas assist him in battle (Kinsley 186:153).

The Matrkas in the Devi-mahatmya are similar to those in the Mahabharata including their ability in battle and dangerous nature (Kinsley 1975:496). The third episode of the Devi-mahatmya includes the formation of the Saptamatrkas from the saktis of seven gods (Donaldson 304) to assist Camunda, precursor to Kali, defeat Raktabija during Devi’s battle with demon brothers Sumbha and Nisumbha (Donaldson 303). The goddesses created closely resemble the saktis they were created from (Kinsley 1986:156) but it is believed by scholars that the story in the Devi-mahatmya references a group of seven goddesses that are further representing a larger group of village goddesses (Kinsley 1978:496). This story is echoed in the Devi-bhagavata-purana (Kinsley 1986:156).

In Puranic literature, the Matrkas are always featured in battle in a supportive role (Kinsley 1986:160). In the Vamana Purana, the story stays similar to the battle in the Devi-mahatmya, however the goddesses are formed from various parts of Devi’s body (Donaldson 305), adding evidence to the belief that the goddesses are an extension of Devi herself. In the Matsya Purana, Siva created the Matrkas to help combat the demon Andhaka, who possessed the ability to duplicate from the blood spilled from his wounds. The Matrkas were instructed to drink the blood of the demon in order to kill him; because of their bloodthirsty nature they gladly complied with Siva’s request (Kinsley 1986:158). However, the blood intoxicated the Matrkas, and Siva was unable to control them or convince them to return to protecting creation, thus beginning their destructive bloodthirsty path (Donaldson 310).  The Varaha Purana is based on three battles mentioned in the Devi-mahatmya, however the demons change and Camunda is dominant rather than Devi (Donaldson 308). In this version, the Matrkas were created from Camunda’s mouth and when they emerged, they were deformed and bloodthirsty. In order to control them, Siva set out guidelines for how they should quench their thirst (Donaldson 309). Puranic writers are credited with making the Matrkas mainstream through the simplification of the origins and personalities of the group. The goddesses are restricted in number, are related to male gods in name and depiction and to draw away from their dangerous nature, the Puranic writers focus the Matrkas role to assisting Devi in maintaining cosmic order (Kinsley 1986:158).  This intention could stem from a need to incorporate the goddesses into the Brahmanic tradition, however it is still understood by scholars that this group is dangerous and violent, especially towards children (Kinsley 1986:160).

Although the Matrkas are mentioned in varying numbers, seven goddesses are most often referred to as the Saptamatrkas. The significance of the number seven stems from the Indus Valley Civilization, in which seals have been discovered featuring seven female figures that are believed to be “officiants or ministrants of the goddess” (Harper 6). In addition to the seals, the heptad recurs so frequently that it implies the heavy significance of the number seven in Indus culture (Harper 6). In early folk tradition, there were many groups of seven female deities that brought disease and bad luck (Harper 34) and communities would often be subject to these various deities’ wrath for disregarding their worship and as a result be plagued with various diseases and ailments (Harper 41). In Vedic literature, the heptad is also very prominent. The Rg Veda contains the division of the universe into seven regions and in the Artharva-Veda and Kathaka Samhita there are references to seven suns (Harper 13). Even though it seems that the origin of worship to female heptads did not emerge from Vedic literature but rather aboriginal or tribal traditions, the number seven in both cultures seems to represent regeneration of people and the universe (Harper 45).

The Seven Goddesses, Saptamatrkas, of Vedic literature are adaptations of village goddesses and because the village goddesses and Vedic goddesses share many characteristics, they were mutually acculturated in order to be incorporated in Hindu tradition  (Harper 52). They are a systematically refined form of the earlier Matrkas that represent the Great Goddess Devi and the cosmic powers of creation, preservation and destruction (Foulston 109). The goddesses named are Brahmani, Vaisnavi, Mahesvari, Kaumari, Varahi, Indrani and Camunda (Foulston 111). The names of these goddesses are similar to the male deity whose sakti they were formed from, however, it is understood that they are not in any way consorts of male deities instead are from the sakti and body of Devi (Foulston 111). Identified as tantric goddesses, they were very popular between the fourth and sixth centuries (Foulston 109). The similarities between the significance of seven and of the Seven Mothers allowed for the mutual acculturation of the Saptamatrkas between Brahmanic and aboriginal traditions (Harper 52). When the Saptamatrkas were accepted into orthodoxy, through being featured in Vedic literature, they contributed to the recognition of some aboriginal deities in Brahmanic worship.

As the Matrkas are associated with harm to children, most worship that is directed at them is essentially to keep the spirits of the goddesses away from their families. This includes shielding children’s beauty from the world, both in speech and in reality (Kinsley 1986:154). Most worship of these goddesses is done in fear of what may come; however they are worshipped for positive reasons as well. The Saptamatrkas are often worshipped for personal spiritual renewal, which touches on the shared belief that the Seven Mothers represented renewal and rejuvenation (Foulston 112).  In the Kadambari, Queen Vilasavati worships the Matrkas because of her desire to have a son (Kinsley 1986:156), possibly implying that the Matrkas can influence fertility. The Nayta-sastra speaks to worshipping the Matrkas before setting up a stage for theatre and dance and presenting offerings to the Matrkas at times of indecision and at cross roads in one’s life is encouraged by both Caruddatta of Bhasa and Mrcchakatika of Sudraka (Kinsley 1986:155).

Bas-relief of two of the Matrkas (Mothers) accompanied by Ganesa, the elephant-headed god (Ellora, India)
Bas-relief of two of the Matrkas (Mothers) accompanied by Ganesa, the elephant-headed god to the right (Ellora, India)

The Matrkas have a vast and diverse history in both Vedic and folk tradition. Their origins and nature differ through the course of Hindu literature. It is generally understood that they are extensions of Devi and are often featured as bloodthirsty and very dangerous. They are dangerous to children and very formidable in battle. However, their portrayal in Hindu iconography portrays them as soft maternal figures. This juxtaposition brings out the two sides of the goddesses that are mentioned in the story of Karritkeya, maternity and danger. It is evident that the Matrkas have evolved over time to fit in the Brahmanic worldview, although their fearsome, dangerous nature remains embedded in both orthodox and folk tradition.



 Bose, Mandakranta (2010) Women in the Hindu tradition: rules, roles, and expections. New York: Routledge

Donaldson, Thomas (2002) Tantra and Sakta Art of Orissa Vol. 1. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Foulston, Lynn and Stuart Abbott (2009) Hindu goddesses : belief & practices. Thornhill: Sussex Academic Press (Canada)

Harper, Katherine Anne (1989) Seven Hindu goddesses of spiritual transformation : the iconography of the Saptamatrikas. Lewiston: E. Mellen Press.

Hawley, J. S., and D. M. Wulff (eds.) (1996) Devi: Goddesses of India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kinsley, David (1978) “The Portrait of the Goddess in the Devi-mahatmya.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 46, No.4 (Dec.,1978): p 489-506. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Kinsley, David (1986) Hindu goddesses. Berkeley: University of California Press.


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Article written by: Mikayla Kwan (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.


Yantras are diagrams that are composed of geometrical patterns that are used to visualize mantras and are claimed to be encapsulations of a deity or power in tantric ritual (Sastri 628, Khanna 11, 21). Practitioners of yantra believe the diagrams create a religious energy field in which the sacred powers can be invoked  (Khanna 30). They are typically drawn on paper, metal, or rock surfaces. Three-dimensional yantras also exist; they can be as small as an object that fits in your hand or may be as large as a building. Because of the complexity of composition, any rearrangement of the shapes or mantras used in the yantra creates a completely new yantra (Khanna 22-23, Buhnemann 30).

The word yantra stems from the word ‘yam,’ meaning to hold or control the energy of an object or element, which is often used in the building of something. The term has been extended into religious tradition as tools of ritual and meditation (Khanna 11, Buhnemann 28). Mantras and yantras are used together as tools in tantric ritual to achieve liberation (Khanna 37).

Today, yantra use is found in tantric practices but according to Khanna in Yantra: The Tantric Symbol of Cosmic Unity, yantra origin can be traced back to the Harappan culture about c. 3000 BCE. Seals have been found at Harappan sites that have yantra-like symbols engraved onto them. A thousand years later (c. 2000 BCE), Vedic altars have been found with yantra-like diagrams constructed on them. The yantra ritual wasn’t brought back into practice until tantric practices became popular around 700-1200 CE. The use of yantras is widespread throughout Hinduism but the tantric ritual power of a yantra is a guarded secret that is only orally passed down from guru to student (Khanna 10-11).

Tantra followers believe the symbols composing a yantra diagram hold little meaning by themselves, as the yantra must be understood in its entirety. Through ritual and meditation the cosmos, deity, and mantra are all inseparably joined to one in yantra (Khanna 21-22). Fusion of three principles: form, function, and power, is thought to compose a yantra. The shapes that often compose a yantra (triangle, square, circle, etc.) are the most basic forms that the universe deduced to. To understand the composition of the universe it is believed one must use a yantra to map together the basic shapes of the universe. The function principle is the process of interpreting the symbols as cosmic truths that metaphysically guide one to a spiritual realm of existence. Each symbol or shape in the yantra is used to achieve a psychological state needed to reach liberation. Our psychological states are a function of the symbols in yantras. The power principle is the true meaning of the yantra and can only be achieved by transcending form and function. It is the power principle, that tantric Hindus believe to be contained in a yantra, only emerges when it is no longer perceived as shapes and symbols (Khanna 11-12). Only transmitting the true meaning orally from guru to student it is protected from misuse.

A mantra must be said to understand the inner nature of a yantra. Mantras are believed to be the metaphysical forms of deities or cosmic power in the tantra tradition. It is thought that the vibrations of sound paired with the physical yantra that unites space, and the written and spoken word embodies this meaning. Script on paper has only limited meaning as does the vibration of sound but when you pair the two they contain a conceptual meaning that separately they don’t have  (Khanna 34-37, Buhnemann 40). The Om mantra is regarded as a yantra of its own. When Om is said it begins with silence then manifests sound vibrations and ends with silence. Yantra practice starts with empty physical space then a physical form manifests and ends in transcendence past the physical to a true meaning. Om is thought to embody the perfect vibration and is associated with the center (bindu) of a yantra (Khanna 37).

When multiple deities are believed to be encapsulated in a yantra the deity associated with the bindu is thought to be the most important (Buhnemann 40). The bindu is often depicted as an infinite point (a dot) symbolizing the pure energy of creation and existence. The bindu is where atman (true self) and Brahman (reality) is found. A triangle is the primary sign that encloses space because no fewer lines can create a bounded area. An Inverted triangle represents the yoni or the sakti female principle. A triangle with an apex pointing upward represents the linga. A circle often represents the cyclic nature of life: creation, preservation, and destruction. The bindu is the innermost regression of the cycle and also the source of expansion. The square is the depiction of the manifest world that must be transcended to reach to true meaning of the yantra and life. (Khanna 32-33, Buhnemann 41, Sastri 628)

The bindu is sometimes called the seed of fertility when it is inside an inverted triangle and an inverted triangle represents the womb (yoni) in yantras that depict the union of male and female as it is in the Sri Yantra (Khanna 67,72). In tantra, Siva the ultimate male principle (purusa) is the principle of consciousness and Sakti the ultimate female principle (prakrti) is the opposite and is the principle of energy and action. Siva oversees action while Sakti is the matter and nature. They are inseparable as the union allows each to fully manifest (Sastri 630-631, Khanna 67).

Hindus revere the Sri Yantra as the greatest of all yantras (Khanna 70, Bunce 44). The most common interpretation of the Sri Yantra is of nine interconnected triangles, four represent Siva with the apex facing upward, five inverted triangles represent Sakti and there is a dot in the center (Sastri 632). From the center bindu to the outer square there are nine containments representing the three phases of the cosmos and time: creation, preservation, and dissolution. The outermost phase (square field, 16 pedal lotus, and 8 pedal lotus) represents creation. The middle phase (14 outer triangles, 10 triangles inside the 14, and another ten triangles inside the previous ten) represents preservation. The innermost phase (the bindu, the inner-most triangle, and the 8 triangles that surround it) represents destruction of the world. Within each phase includes a dynamic cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction/dissolution but the cosmic cycle is only complete with the assimilation of all three phases. (Sastri 632, Khanna 78, Bunce 44-50)

The Sri Yantra is also represented as a mythical mountain or pyramid. At the apex of the pyramid is the union of Siva and Sakti. As the pyramid unfolds purity decreases as differentiation occurs and more cosmic categories are created. When the base reaches its maximum size the process must reverse and the pyramid must regress back to the pure unity at the apex. (Sastri 628, Khanna 79)

This cycle is symbolically the same as the cycle of life. In tantric philosophy it is believed that before coming into existence we are pure consciousness, Atman. Unfortunately one mistakes the physical existence for reality and thinks it is Atman. This illusion of maya causes one to not see the inner wholeness.  Through ritual and meditation maya can be overcome and Atman can be re-attained (Khanna 79-80). Like the journey from the base of the pyramid to the apex, Sri Yantra acts as a 9 – step map for the return to enlightenment. Each of the nine stages corresponds with one of the nine containments in the Sri Yantra. Starting from the outer square, one must work inwards conquering obstacles, each one harder than the next. The last stage arriving at the bindu is liberation and attainment of Atman (Khanna 109-118).

In the Tantra tradition, ritual is an outer form of spiritual discipline that gives away to inner form of contemplation needed to meditate. Yantra meditation is often combined with classical techniques of classical Yoga meditation by gaining perfect control of one’s mind to control all thought processes. A yantra provides a powerful tool to focus one’s consciousness. It is only after complete control over conscious thought that the yantra meditations lead on to symbolic revelation (Khanna 107).
References And Further Recommended Readings

Buhnemann, G. (2003) “Mandala, Yantra and Cakra: Some Observations”. Mandalas and Yantras in the Hindu traditions. Leiden: Brill, pp. 13-56.

Bunce, Fredrick W. (2001) The Yantras of deities and their numerological foundations: an iconographic consideration. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

Chari, V.K. (2002) “Representation in India’s Sacred Images: Objective vs. Metaphysical Reference”. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol 65 London: Cambridge University Press, pp. 52-73.

Khanna, Madhu (1979) Yantra: The Tantric Symbol of Cosmic Unity. London: Thames and Hudson.

Sastri, Gaurinath (2002) “The Yantra of Sri-Chakra”. Rituals and Practices of

Tantra, vol. 3. New Delhi: Cosmo Publication, pp. 625-662.

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Article written by: Jarett Rude (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.