Category Archives: J. Tantra


Abhinavagupta was said to be one of the greatest philosopher of his kind in his life time (Dupuche 3). Abhinavagupta was born into a Brahmin family in Srinagar, in the Indian state of Kashmir. His family was renowned for their profound dedication towards God, religion and for their partiality to intellectual pursuits. In other words they were, as a family, devoted to learning and gaining knowledge.  He lived from about 950 AD to 1020 AD and accomplished a great deal in his fields of study over those 70 years (Muller-Ortega 45).

Abhinavagupta believed his parents, Narasimhagupta his father and Vimala his mother, when they claimed that we was conceived through their union as Siva and Sakiti, which in turn produced a yogini-child meaning the “depository of knowledge” in whom this yogini-child had the form of Siva (Dupuche 4).

Abhinavagupta’s name is quite interesting when explained by its Hindu meaning and it is thought that Abhinavagupta was given his name by one of his masters. His name can be summarised as:

“That person is ‘Abhinavagupta’ who remains vigilant in the course of everyday activities; who is present everywhere (abhi), in the objective domain as much as in the subjective domain, and dwells there without limitation. He sings the praise (nu) without ceasing to concentrate on the energies of knowledge and activity. He is protected (gupta) by this praise even though he lives under the presser of temporal affairs.” (Dupuche 4)

In other words, Abhinavagupta was born with knowledge and had the means to share it as a philosopher, teacher, poet, musician, exegete, logician, dramatist and a theologian [to learn more about Abhinavagupta’s name, see Dupuche (2003)]. He also believed strongly in the power of language and speech, as a great asset, to spread his immense knowledge (Isayeva 164-165).

When looking into Abhinavagupta’s ancestry an important fact comes to light. An ancestor of his named Atrigupta, who was born in Madhyadesa (now most likely Kannauj) India, traveled to Kashmir on the request of a great king named Lalitaditya around the year 740 AD. The importance of this is that Atrigupya’s move from Madhyadesa to Kashmir brought Abhinavagupta’s family blood line to Kashmir (Dupuche 4).

As a young child Abhinavagupta was pained greatly by the death of his mother, and her death had a great effect on the rest of his life. His first teacher was his father Narasimhagupta. His father began by teaching him Sanskrit grammar so that he could then go on to read, write and teach himself.  Abhinavagupta would often travel through Kashmir to visit teachers. Not only did he study under Hindu teachers but also with Buddhist and Jain teachers (Muller-Ortega 45).  His love for learning brought him to study any and everything that he could learn under his different teachers, this included: literature, drama and aesthetic theory, traditional texts of dualistic and monistic Saivism, darsana, Krama, Trika, and the doctrines and practices of Kaula (Muller-Ortega 45).

Abhinavagupta himself was a great teacher and his students held him on high regards. They saw him as an incarnation of Siva. They would describe him in ways that made him seem more God like than human (Muller-Ortega 45).  He also took great joy in discussing philosophical arguments with his fellow knowledge seekers (Gerow 188).

Eventually, his studies took him out of Kashmir to Jalandhara where he found Sambhunatha who was a tantric master in the Kaula traditions (Muller-Ortega 45). The Kuala tradition is a reformed version of Kula which refers to families or groupings of the yoginis and of the mothers; however the mothers are also considered a group of goddesses.  Holistically, Kuala refers to the corporeal body, body of power, the cosmic body and the totality of things. The Kuala tradition incorporates the idea of overcoming dualism of impure and pure/divine and human or good/evil and the understanding that ordinary life is the expression of Siva in union with his Sakti (Dupuche 16).  Abhinavagupta’s knowledge and texts contributed greatly to the traditions of this practice (Muller-Ortega 48).

There are many books with writings by Abhinavagupta that have been translated to English but there are still many of his works that are very complicated and make it difficult to translate; in order to properly translate the rest of his works it would take persons with knowledge in not only all of the six systems of Indian philosophy but also knowledge in Buddhism, Tantra and more (Marjanovic 13).

Abhinavaguta wrought two important texts on the topic of aesthetics, these being the Dhvanyaloka-locana and the Abhinava-bharati ((Muller-Ortega 47).

Among the most popular of Abhinavagupta’s works is the Gitarthasamgraha; this additionally goes by the name Bhagavadagitartha-samgraha. The English translation of this Gita text outlines the non-dualistic philosophy of Kashmir Saivism as described by Abhinavagupta; it also explains the nature of the highest reality in Kashmir Saivism.

It details the process of creation, and explains the theory of causation (karyakaranabhava), insights into Jnana-karma-sammuccayavada and descriptions on what is occurring in the last moments as a soul is leaving the body and in addition it has some descriptions of the practice of yoga (Marjanovic 14-22).

Abhinavagupta wrote Tantraloka (Light on the Tantras) which falls in with tradition of tantric Saivism.  It differs from the orthodox Vedic tradition which Abhinavagupta demotes to the lowest position in Siva’s hierarchy of revelations to mankind.  He suggests that Vaisnavas do not come to know the supreme category due to pollution of impure knowledge (Dupuche ii). The Tantraloka is the most voluminous of all the literature written by Abhinavagupta; it comprises of twelve volumes, and includes a commentary by Jayaratha called Viveka (Muller-Ortega 47).

Abhinavagupta lived about 70 years and in his lifetime he never married.  This is said to be due to his great dedication to his religious practices (Muller-Ortega 45). In order to posses the findings and knowledge of Saivism, Abhinavagupta had to reach the highest state of consciousness. This is characterized by jnanasakti (power of knowledge). Once this is reached the knowledge will flow through the individual so they can then share it, teach it, write it etc. (Singh 14). This dedication to finding the knowledge within would have taken an extensive amount of time. Over his life Abhinavagupta wrote many works, thus far twenty-one are available for reading but there are as many as twenty-three other writings that have been lost. His major period of writing occurred mainly between 990 AD and 1014 AD. It seems that he split his works into separate time periods based on the three topics of texts. The first was the Alankarika period, with all of the texts dealing with aesthetics. The second was the Tantrika period with all of the texts on Tantra, and lastly, was the Philosophical period with all of the texts dealing with philosophy. With this being said it has still been very difficult to date most of his writings, due to them not containing historical information that can be used to date the piece (Muller-Ortega 45). Abhinavagupta was a highly influential thinker in his time and his literature is still significant to this day.


Dupuche, John R. (2003) Abhinavagupta: The Kula Ritual. Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

Gerow, Edwin (1994) Abhinavagupta’s Aesthetics as a Speculative Paradigm: Journal of the American Oriental Society, 114: 186 – 208

Isayeva, Natalia (1995) From Early Vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Marjanovic, Boris (2003) Gitartha-samgraha: Abhinavagupta’s  Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Varanasi: Indica Books

Muller-Ortega, Paul E (1989) The Triadic Heart of Siva. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications

Singh, Jaideva (1988) Abhinavagupta: A Tradition of Wisdom. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Singh, Jaideva (1988) Abhinavagupta: Para-trisika-Vivarana The Secret of Tantric Mysticism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism The eBook An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Related Topics for Further Investigation









Kashmir Shaivism



Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Sarah Nielsen (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Tantraloka

The Tantraloka (TA; The Light of the Tantras) is a text from the tradition of non-dual Kashmir Saivism. Composed by Abhinavagupta (c. 975-1025 CE), the TA is valued as a core teaching and exemplification of Trika Saivism. Founded by Vasugupta in the eighth century, Trika Saivism is the philosophy of non-dual Kashmir Saivism (Ortega 44). While Vasugupta is credited as the founder, Abinhavgupta is claimed to have been the most influential figure in the tradition. This is due to his unique conception of the tradition, expressed in his collection of writings, the exact number of which is unknown. One identified text is the highly esoteric TA, believed to be composed in the late tenth or eleventh century (Ortega 44).

The TA is comprised of 37 chapters. The first half discusses philosophy while the second half explains rituals. Abhinavagupta is stated to have composed the TA at the request of his disciples, so they may have a complete understanding of the Tantras and practices (Dupuche 23). Written for an audience of which he had taught, the TA is cryptic and difficult to comprehend to those inexperienced in the Trika tradition. Three main concepts are found throughout the TA; the Absolute, the Emanation of the Absolute, and the Reabsorption of the Absolute (Dupuche 33). These concepts are intertwined and buried within multiple symbols, practices, and prose. The TA is a complex works, representative of Abinavagupta’s philosophy of Trika Saivism.

Abhinavagupta held a unique conception of non-dual Kashmir Saivism, largely in part of his extensive background in theology. Due to an extensive appetite for learning and fascination with spirituality, Abhinavagupta possessed an uncommon knowledge of multiple religions and schools of thought. He studied dualistic Saivism, under Buddhist and Jain mentors, and belonged to the Kaula lineage of monistic-dual Kashmir Saivism (Ortega 45). This blending of education is displayed in the TA, with his unique view of Trika and means of achieving enlightenment. Trika Saivism, as the name suggests, focuses on the number three, and utilizes this through multiple concepts within the tradition.

Trika Saivism is said to have derived its name from the synthesis of the three ideologies of non-dual Kashmir Saivism; Agama, Spanda, and Pratyabhijna. There is also the worship of three goddesses; Para, Parapara, and Apara. These goddesses are each related to one of the three modes which comprise the universe; man, Sakta, and Siva, respectively (Flood 150). Following the use of the number three, there is also the triad of knower, knowing, and known. These are symbolized in the TA with meditation rituals using the sun, moon, and fire, respectively (Ortega 157). These three symbols are intertwined and held within the most famous of Abinavagupta’s symbols, the Heart (Skora 2). The Heart symbol, a main facet within the TA, has received much attention by scholars, and is an example of the unique twist Abinavagupta incorperated into Trika Shaivism.

Simplistically, the Heart is the considered the Ultimate. It is referred to throughout the TA as both an object and a symbol with multiple meanings. The TA is a tantric text, which focuses on practices using touch and body awareness to achieve higher consciousness. In this context, Abinavagupta refers to the Heart as the main energy center. Ultimate awareness stems from awareness of the body, which is given through mastery of the divine energy of the Heart (Skora 4). Metaphorically, the heart is a symbol of many things. It both represents and is Siva. It is the keeper of higher consciousness and is ultimate reality (Ortega 82). Regardless of the interpretation, the Heart is deemed to be both the center of all things, and all things. To be in touch with the divine energies related to the Heart, one must practice bodily awareness (Skora 16). This includes all that is ‘felt’, be it emotions, sensory awareness, or touch. The emphasis Abinavagupta places on the Heart, and the body is shown throughout the TA.

Abinavagupta believed that tantric revelation, enabled by the practice of tantric ritual(s), surpassed that of the Vedic orthodox tradition. Tantra was considered to be highly esoteric, and both required and gave a higher level of understanding than the Vedic scriptures. Common to others of the non-dual Kashmir Saivism tradition, Abinavagupta did not reject the Vedas, rather he viewed them as limited (Flood 55). He believed they were external sources, while tantric texts such as the TA allowed for achievement of higher consciousness and liberation. This required internal knowledge and connection with Siva. This, according to Abinavagupta, was accomplished by using the body as well as the mind (Ortega 28). Abinavagupta expressed this use of the body through sexual rather than more traditional yoginic practices. Chapters 13-47 of the TA are filled with tantric rituals; however the most infamous of these is the Kula Ritual.

Chapter 29 of the TA is dedicated solely to the Kula Ritual, an uncommon and highly debated sexual ritual. Due to its esoteric nature, this chapter, along with the remainder of the TA is widely variable in interpretation and meaning. For rituals such as this, the contribution of Jayaratha’s commentary, the Viveka, to the TA is regarded as important as the writing of Abinavagupta itself. Written two centuries following the release of the TA, the Viveka explains the passages contained within the TA, allowing for a deeper insight into the esoteric knowledge contained with the TA (Padoux 677). Other writings by Abinavagupta lend to clarification of his philosophy, and thus the TA as well. The TA was composed in the “tantric” phase of Abinavagupta’s literary life. Along with the TA, Abinavagupta wrote several other tantric texts, including the summary text of the TA, the Tantrasara. Previous to that were philosophical writings which included commentaries on the works of others. Following his tantric phase, Abinavagupta wrote mostly of aesthetics. The chronological order of these writings does not represent the stages of Abinavagupta’s life, but rather the time in which he wrote of certain topics (Ortega 45).

The TA is over one thousand years old. Even with the Viveka, scholars are forced to draw conclusions with a base of limited information from this time. Missing pieces which may have been lost forever, translation, and logical interpretation of esoteric writings make it difficult to state anything with conviction. As we progress further in time, we risk losing more information to time, but can hope that time will grant clarity into this mysterious and cryptic writings of Abhinagupta, including the TA.


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

Flood, Gavin (2006) The Tantric Body: The Secret Tradition of Hindu Religion. London: I.B Tauris & Co.

Muller-Ortega, Paul Eduardo (1989) The Triadic Heart of Siva: Kaula Tantricism of Abhinavagupta in the Non-Dual Shaivism of Kashmir. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications.

Paranjape, Makarand (ed.) (2006) Abhinavagupta: Reconsiderations. New Delhi: Samvad India Foundation.

Skora, Kerry (2007) The Pulsating Heart and Its Divine Sense Energies: Body and Touch in Abhinavagupta’s Trika Saivism. Numen, 54, 420-458.

Walli, Koshalya (1998) A Peep Into The Tantraloka and Our Cultural Heritage. New Delhi: Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan.

Related Topics for Further Investigation



Non-dual Kashmir Saivism


The Kula Ritual





Trika Saivism



Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Adrienne E. Robertson (April 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

Saiva Siddhanta

Saiva Siddhanta is a bhakti (loving devotion) tradition. This system is a dualist (this is somewhat problematic but will be discussed in the section on philosophy) form of Saivism that has ancient roots in north India, though is most popular now in southern Tamil regions of India (Prentiss 1996). The goal of this system is ultimately liberation (moksa) from the cycle of rebirth, achieved through the Lord (Siva).

Hillary Rodrigues translates Saiva Siddhanta to mean “the ultimate goal of Saivism” (Rodrigues 270). In a definition that expands from a literal translation to one more anchored in the Indian philosophical system, Dr. S.C. Nandimath tells us that Saiva Siddhanta “means a system of Saivism, the doctrines of which are logically proved and are accepted as true” (Nandimath 80). The portion about being “logically proved” will come up again when we turn to Saiva Siddhanta philosophy. In the past, Saivism and even Saiva Siddhanta had a very strong presence and development in northern India (Gwalior state for example), though now it appears to be most influential in southern Indian Tamil regions and Sri Lanka (Prentiss 1996).

Saiva Siddhanta is an ancient system that has an equally long textual tradition. Tracing its history through its literature we see that Saiva Siddhanta seems to have gone through earlier phases to later become the influential tradition it is now. According to the tradition the Saivagamas are the original works, but according to Nandimath “available copies are very corrupt; therefore an attempt to determine their age on linguistic evidence must be abandoned at present” (Nandimath 80). This is important because it directs us towards a more historical study, as does Nandimath’s approach to Saiva Siddhanta literature. In the earliest phases the literature appears to be somewhat ambiguous. The tradition appears to be found in inscriptions as early as 6th or 7th (Nandimath 80) century with the Pallava king Rajasimha. Nandimath also tells us that there is a very important link with the Saivacayas. He argues that the Saivacaryas became prominent around 900 CE (Nandimath 82) and had links with Saiva Institutions (mathas). It is through monasteries, and mathas that Saivism, and particularly Saiva Siddhanta was spread through out India. According to Nandimath the Saivacaryas were not simply Saivites; many were followers and teachers of Saiva Siddhanta. Vairocani and Srikanthasiva are said to significant Saivacarya teachers of Siddhanta doctrine. This demonstrates that as early as the 6th or 7th century, Saiva Siddhanta existed in some form and that it was spreading and still popular nearly one-thousand years later. This has been a short history of a massive amount of literature of Siddhanta Saivism produced over around two-thousand years of existence.

Ultimately, all Saivism sects directly trace their lineage back to the sage Durvasa. Somananda wrote that there was a time in which all rsis, the Saiva Sastras and their knowledge disappeared. This seems to have been heralded as a particularly spiritually bleak time. As mythic accounts tell, Siva took pity on the mortals and went to a particularly chaste sage named Durvasa, and charged him with spreading the sastras (Nandimath 83). Durvasa in kind “charged [his three sons]… with establishing spiritual order and of teaching men again the…Saiva faith and doctrine in their three aspects of Unity, Diversity, and Diversity in Unity” (Nandimath 83-84). Tryambaka is the immediate ancestor (after Durvasa) of Somananda, who is held to be responsible for establishing Kashmiri Saivism. There is disagreement as to which branch of Saivism was originally established by Somananda in Kashmir. Dr. S.C. Nandimath argues that because Tryambaka was charged with teaching the aspect of Diversity (here the dualist or rather the pluralist Saivism), it is most likely that Somananda and his ancestors also taught the dualist version of the Trika; “Trika refers to the triad of God, souls, and bonds, with which the philosophy deals” (Rodrigues 566). This is problematic because Trika generally is used in reference to a non-dualist philosophy, and has for some time. Rohan A. Duniwala states that Amardaka was “one of the reputed founders” (Dunuwila 26) of the pluralist Saiva Siddhanta. The issue here is on the specific roots and founders of Saiva Siddhanta. The position that Nandimath takes is based on an interpretation of the mythic account of the origin of Saivism (in which Somananda (descendent of Tryambaka) actually taught a dualist version of the trika), where as the argument that Dunuwila makes is based on tracing the history of literature (Dunuwila 27).

Saiva Siddhanta is a dualist tradition, though in reality this tradition appears to be pluralistic. The simile most often evoked to explain the basic elements of Saiva Siddhanta is that of the pot (Nandimath 145). Here Saiva Siddhanta claims “three important eternal entities” (Ibid). The three eternal entities are explained in terms of the evolution of the universe; here the name Siddhanta is evoking the logic previously mentioned. To start Saiva Siddhanta does not deny the reality of the material world. In fact, the existence of the material world is crucial to understanding Saiva Siddhanta. The three basic elements are the Lord (Siva), Matter (the world) and the Soul. These elements are eternal and are eternally different. In this system Siva “is both transcendent, yet immanent in all aspects of creation” (Rodrigues 270). To better understand what the above quote means we can think of the evolution of the universe as being conceived in this way: the Lord creates a pot (Lord and Matter), and only creates a pot for the use of a consumer (soul)(Nandimath 145-146). Through this simile we again see that all is dependent on the Lord and yet is distinct from him. Liberation, as is implied, is achieved through the Lord. The critical distinction in Saiva Siddhanta (that distinguishes it as pluralistic) is that once a soul becomes liberated and realizes it is like the Lord, the soul does not then become (or become united with) the Lord after liberation (i.e. “three eternal distinct entities” and “the Lord is immanent and yet transcendent”). While caught in the cycle of rebirth the soul is completely dependent on the Lord as the source of all knowledge and especially of liberation. By saying that the soul realizes it is like the Lord the system is recapitulating the idea that makes this system dualist; it is saying that the soul is intelligent like the Lord and also is liberated like the Lord. The important piece of information here is that the soul is like the Lord and is never equated with the Lord as per the three eternal entities. This is a major point of philosophical difference between Saiva monists and dualists, as both take Siva to be the immanent factor in the world. The point is that for monists once liberation is achieved the soul is no longer distinct from the Lord (in this system the only reality is Siva), while for dualists (or more appropriately pluralists) the soul and Siva are eternally different.


Dunuwila, R. A. (1985) Śaiva Siddhānta Theology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

Nandimath, S. C. (2001) Theology of the Saiv¯agamas : a survey of the doctrines of Saiva Siddhanta and Veerasaivism. Thiruvananthapuram : International School of Dravidian Linguistics

Prentiss, Karen Pechilis (1996) Tamil Lineage for Saiva Siddhānta Philosophy. History of Religions, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Feb., 1996), pp. 231-257. Published by: The University of Chicago Press

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The eBook an Online Introduction. Published by: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Related Terms:









Siva in Srikantha form

Matta-Mayura matha



Saiva Siddhanta Church:

Vedic Books (a good source for books on a variety of topics relating to Hindu religion/spirituality)

A general google search that has a lot of promising websites:

Written by Calvin Gee (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Trika Saivism

Trika Saivism is a sect that developed in Kashmir around 8th-9th century, but it is not certain that it had its origins there. Prior to the 8th century, Kashmir has been an important Buddhist cultural center. In this region, many Asian religions intersected and impacted each other over the years. Political expansion and cultural consolidation made Kashmir fertile for Saivism in the 8th and 9th century. Saivism in the area was reconsolidated and took two main directions: one led by Vasagupta, focusing on the “vibration” of Siva and his consciousness; and the other, led by Somananta dealing with the idea of “recognition”. These two traditions taken together are referred to as Trika. In the 10th and 11th centuries, right before Kashmir came under the influence of Muslims, Trika Saivism reached its peak under Abhinavagupta. (see Larson* 372-3)

As its name indicates, the god that is worshiped in this religious philosophy is Siva. Although Kashmir Saivism is often equated with the Trika School, there are actually several Siva schools that developed in Kashmir. (see Benard 372). Trika is a school of monistic idealism, which refers to Consciousness being the one and only reality. It teaches that one can find Siva’s omnipresence at the intersection between any two states of awareness, no matter how opposite they appear to be. The concept of Siva as Consciousness is a critique of Advaita Vedanta and other Vedic traditions. It draws from teachings from srutis such as the Bhairava Tantra [tantras on meditation], the Siva Sutras [also known as Mahesvara Sutras, revealed to Panini by Siva in his sleep; probably one of the most important texts of Kashmir Saivism] and Gitartha Samgraha [this translation of Bhagavat Gita helps explain its external meaning and the effects it has on the individual’s inner well-being]. The primary god in Trika Saivism is Paramasiva, which means “Supreme Auspiciousness”, which also has an active and creative

side, named Sakti. Siva, through his many functions, liberates polluted souls by making them pure and able to achieve moksa. (see Good 281).

Eastern sages focus on certain crucial functions of consciousness: sustenance, reabsorption, creation, concealment and revelation.Absolute Consciousness or Siva is interpreted as active and dynamic, rather than a passive and non-interfering entity, such as found in Buddhism or other philosophical systems. For instance, the positive outcome that Siva has on our consciousness and livelihood , contrasts with the concepts of “emptiness” and “illusion” found in Buddhist metaphysics. Kashmir Saivism expands on the two concepts of “vibration” and “recognition”. Siva resonates through all of our activities and we must eventually “recognize that our nature and the whole world is nothing else than the Absolute Consciousness or Siva(see Larson 259). Abhinavagupta taught that Absolute Consciousness or Siva is reflected in our every action and leads to a fuller and more concrete understanding of the meaning of our life. In context, the Advaita school uses language to move one towards a more abstract understanding of consciousness (see Larson* 383)

Vasagupta wrote out the Kashmiri philosophies a few centuries after Sankara formed his Advaita Vedanta school. Although both are non-dualist and similar at a first glance, after a closer examination we can find several key distinctions. Trika Saivism focuses on the Absolute as all encompassing beings (i.e, Siva), rather than on Brahman which is uncharacterizable. They also perceive everyday experiences as real, not as maya or illusion, as according to Advaita Vedanta. The textual authorities in Trika Saivism are the Saiva Agamas, not the triad of the Vedanta Sutras, the Upanisads and the Bhagavagita, like in the case of Sankara’s school. Because Kashmir Saivism is a non-dualist school, they focus more on internalized contemplation and not as much on external dsplays of devotion (see Davis 425).

The founder of Trika Saivism was Vasugupta and the most influential teacher was Abhinavagupta whose writings include the Tantraloka. These were only some of the sages who developed the “Philosophy of Recognition”, also known as the Pratyabhijna Darsana. They perceive Siva not as the destroyer god, as he is known by most people, but as a presence that is within all of us and in everything we do. According to Abhinavagupta, the main reason for human suffering is our own ignorance, which is not an “illusion” as it is understood in Buddhism and Vedanta teachings. Trika Saivas refer to ignorance as incomplete knowledge. We need to expand our consciousness to understand the cause for our ignorance in order to surpass it. Once a person gains insight and is one with Siva, only then can he or she achieve moksa, or ultimate liberation. This is liberation not only from the world, but also from one’s own limited nature, freeing one to reflect the intentions of Siva through their own actions. In order to gain universal knowledge and leave behind one’s selfish nature, Abhinavagupta offers four paths together with certain tantric rituals that accompany these(see Wulff 675-6).

The Tantraloka expands on all three branches of non-dual Kashmir Saivism: Agama, Spanda and Pratyabhijna, but in a synthesized form. Although Vasagupta played the key role in developing the basic tenents of Trika, his follower, Abhinavagupta is generally recognized as the more influential figure in Kashmir Saivism. Though centuries of development, the non-dualist Kashmir Saivism increasingly focused on Siva, rather than all the other deities in the Hindu pantheon. Research does not uncover a linear progression of Siva groups, making it difficult to trace their historical development.

There have been no rituals or traditions found in any form of text left behind from these Saiviste groups. The only inscriptions left behind have been the ones on temples or the Siva symbol itself, seen as a influential and frightful figure.

Although it rejected the world view of other influential traditions at the time, such as Buddhism, for example, Trika still incorporated some aspects into its rituals or beliefs. Many of the texts that they drew their concepts from were dualistic, so Trika reinterpreted them in a non-dualistic manner and then incorporated them into Saivism.

In Kashmir, there was more than one form of Saivism. Among these were: Trika, Kula and Krama. Trika and Kaula are Siva-oriented, whereas Krama is Sakti oriented. Kula and Krama are both tantric systems giving them a mystical aspect and making Saivism be understood as monistic. To them the subject of reality relative, hence taking a dualistic or non-dualistic stance is irrelevant. Kula and Trika seek immediate self-realization which make it harder to achieve, according to Krama supporters.

Trika Saivism originally was a cremation cult, with monistic basis which appealed to the Brahmans and they reinterpreted it in a non-dualistic way according to Hindu main traditions.


Davis, Richard (1990) The Doctrine of Vibration: An Analysis of the Doctrines and Practices of Kashmir Shaivism”. History of Religion

Good, Anthony (2002) “Congealing Divinity: Time, Worship and Kinship in Souoth Indian Hinduism”. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Larson, Gerald James (1976) “The Aesthetic (Rasasvada) and the Religious ( Brahmasvada) in Abhinavagupta’s Kashmir Saivism”. Philosophy East and West

Larson, Gerald James(1997) “Kashmir Saivism: The Central Philosophy of Tantrism”. Philosophy East and West.

Wulff, Donna M. (1986) “Religion in a New Mode: The Convergence of the Aesthetic and the Religious in Medieval India”. Journal of the American Academy of Religion.

Related Topics for Further Investigation:

Advaita school


Bhairava Tantras



Websites related to topic

Written by Ana Mosoi (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content

Kundalini Yoga

Although Tantric literature has gained popularity throughout the world, Kundalini Yoga remains one of the most mysterious subjects within Hinduism. Perhaps this is because it is one of the most radical forms of worship in Hinduism, and to work with Kundalini is to work with the occult.

Kundalini is the name of the serpent energy that Tantric physiological models say is located in the base of the human body. When utilized properly, one can use this energy to achieve moksa and reach levels of indescribable bliss. However, teachers of this approach warn that it is a grave mistake to attempt to reach these goals without proper guidance, as this may lead to complete moral and spiritual degeneration (Kapoor et al 1074).

Kundalini is envisioned as a serpent that lies dormant in most people throughout their lives, idly coiled around herself three and a half times. The serpent occupies a point in the body lying two fingers above the rectum and two below the generative organs, the location of muladhara plexus. (Kapoor et al 1074). However, it is important to note that the serpent lies not in the physical body, but rather in what is known as the “subtle body.” She, for Kundalini is also considered to be a goddess, rests there before being awakened, and scholars differ in their opinions on where she ends up after her awakening. Some say that after reaching the highest point in the body, she stays there permanently, although others argue that she returns to her base at the muladhara plexus (Kapoor et al 1074).

The female nature of the serpent is important, as Kundalini is regarded as Sakti manifested as the serpent energy. Kundalini at the muladhara is regarded by Tantrics as the whole primordial Sakti (Woodroffe 306). Sakti is the female principle, perceived as primordial force, a causal matrix which spews out matter and endows it with forms, colours, and other attributes, called prakrti (Fic 28-9). Sakti is said to both create and obscure the material universe, also known as maya (Fic 29).

The process to moksa through Kundalini begins with consultation with a guru who has been through the process before. With an understanding of the aspirant’s mental and intellectual capabilities, the guru should be able to tell from experience whether it is possible for him or her to succeed in this task (Woodroffe 25). It is said that for every thousand individuals who embark on this path, only one will succeed (Woodroffe 26).

Before being able to understand the process of awakening Kundalini, though, one must understand the concept of the cakras. At various locations of the subtle body, there are six centres of operation, each depicted as a lotus flower with a different number of petals. These centres are: muladhara, as mentioned above; svadisthana, located around the generative organs; manipura, around the navel region; anahata, the region around the heart; visuddha, the region connecting the spinal cord and lower portion of the medulla oblongata; and ajna, located between the eyebrows (Bhattacharyya 144). Above all of these lies the sahasrara, known as the cakracita, or “beyond cakra” (Thakur 106). This lies on the top of the cerebral part of the brain. Each cakra and cakracita is depicted as a lotus flower with a different number of petals. The numbers are, respectively, four, six, ten, twelve, sixteen, two, and the sahasrara having 1000 (Thakur 106). The total of the number of petals (excluding the sahasrara) is 50 – the number of characters in the Sanskrit alphabet. It is said that Sakti creates the world by singing her song using all 50 characters, and after propagating the world, rests in the individual’s muladhara cakra (Stutley 260).

Another important concept in this yoga is the asana. Simply put, asana means position or posture. However, there is much more to it than that. 84 asanas are mentioned in various works, but there are believed to be 8 400 000, of which only 84 are known to human beings (Stutley 21). One important idea is that it is essential in asanas is that all extremities of the limbs must be pressed together to keep an uninterrupted flow of life energy by ensuring the energy radiated by nerves in fingers and toes is kept in a closed circuit and not wasted (Stutley 21).

One last concept important to understanding the awakening process is prana. Prana is the “vital energy” that is all around us and in the air we breathe. Prana in the body of the individual is just part of the “Universal Breath” (Woodroffe 199). The yogi aspiring to awaken Kundalini must grab hold of prana in the process.

To utilize the energy of Kundalini, one must get her to pierce all six cakras and rest above them at the sahasrara. This is to be done through a complex process, focusing mainly on meditation under the supervision of a guru. There is no simple, generally accepted set of rules for the process of awakening the energy, but all processes tend to be very similar. One method suggests that the yogi should fill the body with prana by breathing in slowly, and eventually hold the breath. Then, he or she should relax to lower the heart rate, move the prana downwards, contract the anus and direct prana through a semicircular motion, left to right around the muladhara, all while slowly saying a secret bija-mantra. Doing this will warm up and stir Kundalini (Kapoor et al 1074).

Another process is much simpler, but the yogi must have a higher level of expertise to do it. The yogi is to take up a specific asana as assigned by a guru. The breath is to be held by curling the tongue to the back of the throat, and then the sexual energy is to be aroused. This alone is enough to awaken Kundalini, since the sexual energy dwells near the muladhara cakra (Stutley 156).

To try and hasten the process, some tantric schools incorporate sexual practices with some asanas to achieve simultaneous immobility of breath, thought, and semen (Stutley 156).

Once she is awakened, Kundalini can be directed up the central column through nerves that lie in the subtle body. These nerves are known as nadi, and conduct prana through the body (Woodroffe 109). There is no confirmed number of nadis since the Bhuta-Suddhi Tantra speaks of 72 000, the Prapancasara of 300 000, and the Siva-Samhita of 350 000, but the most commonly agreed upon number is 72 000 (Woodroffe 110). There are fourteen main nadis, but in Kundalini Yoga, only three are really emphasized: ida, pingala, and susumna. Ida and pingala meander upwards through the body transporting prana, and susumna goes straight up the body and is the channel through which Kundalini flows. All three of these nadis meet at the cakras as they travel upwards through the body (Woodroffe 151). Ida is a white, feminine nerve beginning on the left side of the spinal cord and ending in the left nostril and is a symbol of the moon (Bhattacharyya 70). Pingala, on the other hand, begins on the right side of the spinal cord and ends in the right nostril. It symbolizes the waking state and leads individuals to violent actions (Bhattacharyya 123).

As Kundalini moves upward through the susumna, it opens up a myriad of nadi at every cakra it pierces for prana to flow through. It starts with the muladhara cakra, which is inverted prior to Kundalini’s awakening and turns upright after. The cakra is the location of the prthvi-tattva, meaning element of solidity, and is the grossest form of manifest energy (Thakur 159). The second cakra is the svadisthana cakra, which translates to “own abode of Sakti” (Woodroffe 118). The next cakra up, the manipura cakra, also known as the jewel city, is so called because the lotus is said to be as lustrous as a gem (Woodroffe 119). This cakra is the location of the teja-tattva, meaning element of heat (Thakur 159). When Kundalini reaches the anahata cakra, the yogi can supposedly hear the anahata-sabda, or the “sound which comes without the striking of any two things together” (Woodroffe 120). The visuddha cakra is the location where the biological self is purified by a vision of the true self, or atman (Thakur 160). Finally Kundalini reaches the ajna cakra, which provides the yogi with supernatural powers, or siddhi (Woodroffe 127). Finally the serpent reaches her ultimate destination: the sahasrara, the location where the serpent causes the yogi to reach moksa.

Physical effects also take place at each of the cakras once they are pierced by the serpent. These effects are called nimitta, meaning, literally, “signs” (Kapoor et al 1074). These signs are profuse sweating, an increase in body temperature, and a stinging sensation (Kapoor et al 1074). Some yogis say that as the energy moves up, all the cakras below return to a cold temperature, even described as “corpse-like” (Stutley 158).

Once piercing all six cakras (this is known as the sat-cakra-bheda), the Kundalini energy reaches the sahasrara, her ultimate destination. It is said that on the center of the sahasrara lotus shines the full moon, within which rests a triangle of lightning containing the most secret bindu. All gods worship this hidden bindu and it is said to be the basis of moksa (Thakur 160-61). Some yogis maintain, however, that after reaching the sahasrara, the energy returns to the muladhara (Fic 34). Some also say that Kundalini needs to pierce only three cakras, the muladhara, anahata, and ajna, to reach the sahasrara (Kapoor et al 1074). There are many different descriptions of the events that take place once Kundalini reaches the sahasrara. Some describe it as a very simple experience, whereby the yogi reaches a full understanding of the self, then returns to his or her normal life and repeats the procedure often to maintain control of the energy (Fic 36). Others describe a much more complex occurrence starting with the yogi perceiving the “inner sounds” – sounds that start like a roaring ocean, becoming progressively quieter until they are like a bee, and finally the nada, or “unmanifested” sound (Kapoor et al 1074). Often, the yogi is said to see a taraka; that is, a small, intensely bright light resting between and in front of the eyebrows (Bharati 265).

Although the entire process of using Kundalini to achieve moksa in this lifetime may seem relatively simple and straightforward, the yoga is not something to be toyed around with. Less documented than the theory and practice of this yoga are the potential negative consequences. Two of the main fears are that increased energy in the lower region will cause an insatiable sexual desire, and that awakening Kundalini will lead to moral and mental instability (White et al 460). The latter fear may become a reality for someone who suddenly awakens Kundalini, due to the increase in energy flow in the nervous system (White et al 198). Often, individuals who have improperly awakened Kundalini report symptoms such as short or long-term disorientation, severe anxiety, and a general mental incapacity (White et al 205-6).

It is important to keep these ideas in mind when considering Kundalini Yoga as a means to moksa, but they should not be discouraging as it is still a fascinating subject. Therefore, although the serpent energy is to be revered, with caution, a thorough knowledge of the subject, and the guidance of a guru, one can certainly consider the path of Kundalini for their own liberation.

References and further Recommended Reading

Bhattacharyaa, Narenda Nath (1990) A Glossary of Indian Religious Terms and Concepts. Delhi: South Asian Publications.

Bharati, Agehananda (1975) The Tantric Tradition. New York: Samuel Weiser Inc.

Fic, Victor M. (2003) The Tantra: its Origin, Theories, Art, and Diffusion from India to Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Japan, and Indonesia. Delhi: Shakti Malik / Abhinav Publications

Kapoor, Subodh et al (1999) Encyclopedia of Hinduism vol. 3. Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Rodrigues, Hillary P. (2005) Hinduism: the e-book: an Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Stutley, Margaret (2002) A Dictionary of Hinduism. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.

Thakur, Dr. Manoj K (2001) The Tantras: An Introductory Outline. Delhi: Book Land Publishing.

White, John et al (1979) Kundalini, Evolution and Enlightenment. Garden City, New York: Anchor Books.

Woodroffe, Sir John (1978) The Serpent Power. Madras: Ganesh and Co. Publishing.

Related Topics for Further Investigation










Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Written by Urvil Thakor (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Cakras

chak·ra: (n.) One of the seven centers of spiritual energy in the human body according to yoga philosophy.

[Sanskrit cakram, wheel, circle.] [American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edn.]


In ancient Indian physiological theory, the human body is composed of two systems, the physical system and the energy system. The physical body is filled with skin, muscles, tissue, and bones. Alternatively, the human energy body system is filled with physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental layers (Feuerstein 139-140). These energy systems are called cakras [Chakra is a transliteration format of the word to help Western pronunciation. The formal transliteration from Sanskrit is cakra]. Cakras are the centers of spiritual energy nodes in the human body and are fundamental to spiritual systems of yoga practiced in the Hindu culture (Radha 18) [Yoga is also practiced by many other religious cultures, especially the Buddhist, and many New Age movements that have adapted it through Western influence]. The cakras are associated with the interaction between the physical and mental nature. The cakras are a form of life energy (prana) (Mangla 39), which moves through a series of pathways (nadis)(Saraswati 303). Each of the seven main cakras is aligned along the spine in an ascending order, and each possesses many distinguishing characteristics (see Figure 1 and Figure 2). The alignment of the cakras reflects an individual’s present state of consciousness and their desire to reach Sahasrara [Considered to be pure consciousness].


The cakras are thought to have origins in the later Upanisads (Mookerjee 24), specifically the Brahma Upanisad and the Yogatattva Upanisad. The earliest Upanisads originated in the eight century BCE, with over 100 different “lesser upanisads” being written over the following several hundred years (Mangla 249). These writings influenced both Tibetan Buddhism in Vajrayana theory (Feuerstein X), as well as Hinduism through the Tantric Sakta theory of cakras (Radha 25-28). The Sakta theory of the cakras is the primary form that is understood by most western cultures due to the work of Sir John Woodroffe, who went by the alias Arthur Avalon. In 1919, Woodroofe wrote The Serpent Power, a translation and commentary on two primary Indian texts, the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana and the Padaka-Pancaka.

Cakras comes from the Sanskrit, meaning wheel or circle, and is derived from the Aryan’s word for the wheel of their chariots (Feuerstein 47). It represents balance, and often refers to the “wheel of life” (Dharmacakra), as in the Mahabharata’s Aswamedha Parva (Section XLV). The Mahabharata [longest epic in history], an influential text in Hindu culture, was thought to have originated between 200 BCE and 200 CE. It tells the many stories of India, including what Swami Satyananda Saraswati explained as the “wheel of life” (Kumar 9) [“The whole process occurs in continuity, each stage fusing into the next and transforming in a very graduated way. This seems logical when you consider that it is the same consciousness which is undergoing the experience…” “From Mooladhara up to Ajna Chakra, the wareness is experiencing higher things, but it is not free from ego. You cannot transcend ego at the lower points of awakening. It is only when Kundalini reaches ajna chakra that the transcendence begins. This is where the ego is exploded into a million fragments and the ensuing death experience occurs. At this point Savikalpa ends and Nirvikalpa begins. From here, the energies fuse and flow together up to Sahasrara, where enlightenment unfolds.” (Kumar 9)]. When Sat-Cakra-Nirupana and Padaka-Pancaka were written, they explained the cakras as an emanation of consciousness from Brahman. The energy of Brahman comes down to create the specific levels of the cakras, and settles in the Muladhara Cakra until union with Brahman is achieved in the Sahasrara Cakra.

Each cakra has many unique characteristics that make them different from the next. Each level is like a hierarchy that can only be reached by following a path through each cakra. The cakras represent different locations throughout the body. Each location rises up from the next until it reaches the head and above. The cakras also depict any relations to nature and the benefits that this must bring. Each of the individual cakras will be explored on an individual basis in the following sections.


The first cakra is the root or base. It is found at the base of the spine, as it is the foundation of all cakras. Muladhara represents the earth and an orientation towards self-preservation (Woodroffe 115). The relationship between the earth and energy leads to the hypothesis that this region is responsible for the survival instincts (Radha 34). The connection that is created between the individual and their bodies helps to bring health, prosperity, security, and dynamic presence. The Muladhara region is also thought to be the region that controls ejaculation in the sexual act (Johari 51).


The second energy along the spine is represented by the element water, which is related to emotional identity and a need for self-gratification (Mangla 183). The energy aids in the connection between individuals through feeling, desire, sensation and movement. The overall fluidity of life is increased by the development of Svadhisthana (Woodroffe 118). This is the first rise in energy in the flow through the cakras.


Manipura is the power cakra that is located in the abdomen near the adrenal glands. This cakra is responsible for keeping individuals healthy (Johari 59). It works by representing fire and the need to orient oneself to better achieve success. Manipura allows for the energy required to stay spontaneous and effective. Patanjali argued that this was the cakra that was responsible for the knowledge of the orgasm because this is the cakra of the life force (Mookerjee 40). This control is important, as it is the base of all of the cakras and the origin of all life.


The fourth cakra is one of balance and integration (Mangla 185). Anahata is represented by air and self-acceptance. The fourth cakra is considered the heart cakra because it is at the centre of the body’s energies. Anahata is related to love and is responsible for the unity of mind and body, male and female, persona and shadow, ego and unity (Radha 163). Anahata uses its strong positioning to develop along the spine to achieve an elevated level of consciousness. Like the heart is the center of the physical body, Anahata is the center of the cakras.


The fifth cakra is located just prior to the mouth, in the throat. It is responsible for many of the creative steps required to improve the status of a specific individual (Mookerjee 42). There is an overall feeling towards the vibrations that help to orient one’s self with their creative identity or self-expression (Johari 71). These vibrations are also responsible for the production of language and sound that can be used for Mantras.


The sixth cakra is the eyebrow cakra. It has light as a symbol in order to help guide the way to a self-reflection (Saraswati 114-122). It works on the skills required to see both physically and intuitively. It allows for an increased level of communication with the God’s, as well as an overall bigger picture to see how to improve the current situation. This is the first level of cakras that is involved with abstract thought and the ability to look back at one’s self (Mookerjee 44).


The final cakra is the crown cakra, which is considered to be like pure consciousness. It is required to have a high level of awareness, thought and universal identity (Mangla 89-95). By supporting the development of consciousness, the cakra is bringing new knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual connections (Woodroffe 138). This is the location where the paradoxical act of transcendence occurs by passing beyond samsara (Mookerjee 44).

Western Culture

Since the original versions of the Upanisads were written in India, there have been many different adaptations of Indian practices that have been brought to the western world, including the cakras. People have continually attempted to reach higher levels of consciousness through meditation, prayer, and overall lifestyle choices. The presence of higher levels of consciousness, or energy, continues to be found throughout the world. The impact of Indian culture and their traditions is becoming mainstream and is starting to be found in American pop culture (Sharp 84). By gaining an understanding of the history behind these traditions, people can be aware of the impact that these references have on them.

Figure 1: Cakra table depicting the many different aspects of the central body energies. Taken from Kundalini Tantra (Saraswati 401-403)



# of Petals






root lotus


Deep red


Perineal body



one’s own abode







city of jewels







Source of unbroken sound







Center of nectar







Center of command


Clear or grey





Thousand petalled lotus


Red or multi-colored



Semen (the essence of all others)

Figure 2: Cakra table further depicting the different energy nodes of the body (Meadow 3)




Altar Offering







Yellow square








Silver/white crescent moon







Red inverted triangle







Smoky six-pointed star








White circle



White Elephant




Clear/grey circle












References and further reading

Eden, D and Finklestein D (1998) Energy Medicine. New York: Penguin Putman Inc.

Edson, Cynthia (1991) Kundalini: Is it Real? in Journal of Religion and Psychical Research. Vol. 14: No. 1.

Feuerstein, Georg (1998) Tantra: the Path of Ecstacy. New Delhi: Princeton University Press.

Johari, Harish (1987) Chakras. Bombay: India Book Distributors.

Kumar, Ravindra (1994) Journal Back Home-IV: Personality Transformation with Chakras in Journal of Religion and Psychical Research. Vol. 17: No. 4.

Mangla, Dharam Vir (2003) Kundalini and Kriya Yoga. Delhi: Geeta International Publishers and Distributers.

Mazak, Arlene (2002) Animating the Insentient Universe: The Hindu Tantric Yogin as Thaumaturge in Journal of Religion and Psychical Research. Palo Alto: EBSCO Publishing.

Meadow, Mary Jo (1993) Yogic Chakra Symbols: Mirrors of the Human Mind/Heart in Journal of Religion and Health. Vol. 32: No. 1.

Mookerjee, Ajit (1982) Kundalini: the Arousal of the Inner Energy. Delhi: Clarion Books.

Rhada, Swami Sivananda (1978) Kundalini Yoga for the West. Spokane: Timeless Books.

Saraswati, Swami Satyananda (1996) Kundalini Tantra. Munger: Bihar School of Yoga.

Sharp, Michael (2005) Dossier of the Ascension: A Practical Guide to Chakra Activation and Kundalini Awakening. New York: Avatar Publications.

Wauters, A (2002) The Book of Chakras, Discover the Hidden Forces Within You. London: Quatro Inc.

Woodroffe, Sir John (1989) The Serpent Power: Being the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana and Paduka-Pancaka. Madras: Ganesh and Company.

Related Topics of Interest










Brahma Upanisad

Yogatattva Upanisad

Mahabharata Aswamedha Parva

“Wheel of Life”





Woodroffe, Sir John

The Serpent Power



Avalon, Arthur


Vajrayana Theory

New Age

Endocrine System

Medulla Oblongata





Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Noteworthy Websites on the Topic

Written by Aaron Doyle (Spring 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.

Related Readings (Kashmir Saivism)

Alper, H. P. “Siva and the Ubiquity of Consciousness,” Journal of Indian Philosophy (1976): 345-407.

Chetananda, Swami (1983) Dynamic Stillness, Vol 1. The Practice of Trika Yoga. Cambridge, MA: Rudra Press.

_____ (1991) Dynamic Stillness, Vol 2. The Fulfillment of Trika Yoga. Cambridge, MA: Rudra Press.

Dyczkowski, M. S. G. (1987) The Doctrine of Vibration. Albany: State University of New York Press.

_____ (1988) The Canon of the Saivagama and the Kubjika Tantras of the Western Kaula Tradition. Albany: State University of New York Press.

_____ (1992) The Stanzas on Vibration. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Flood, Gavin D. (1993) Body and Cosmology in Kashmir Saivism. San Francisco: Mellen Research University Press, 1993.

Gnoli, R. (1956) The Aesthetic Experience According to Abhinavagupta. Rome: Is MEO.

Hughes, John (1994) Self-Realization in Kashmir Shaivism: The Oral Teachings of Swami Laksmanjoo. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Lakshman Jee, Swami (1988) Kashmir Saivism: The Secret Supreme. Albany: Universal Saiva Trust.

Muller-Ortega, Paul (1989) The Triadic Heart of Siva: Kaula Tantrism of Abhinavagupta in the Non-Dual Shaivism of Kashmir. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Pandey, K. C. (1963) Abhinavagupta: An Historical and Philosophical Study. Varanasi: Chowkhamba.

Rastogi, N. (1981) Krama Tantricism of Kashmir: Historical and General Sources. Vol. I. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Sanderson, Alexis (1988) “Saivism and the Tantric Traditions.” In S.Sutherland et al (eds.) The World’s Religions. London: Routledge, pp. 660-704.

Sensharma, Deba Brata (1990) The Philosophy of Sadhana, with Special Reference to the Trika Philosophy of Kashmir. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Singh, Jaideva (ed. and trans.) Pratyabhijnadrdayam: The Secret of Self-Recognition. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

_____ (1979) Siva Sutras: The Yoga of Supreme Identity. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

_____ (1980) Spanda-Karikas: The Divine Creative Pulsation. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

_____ (1991) The Yoga of Delight, Wonder, and Astonishment. Albany: State University of New York Press.

_____ (1992) The Yoga of Vibration and Divine Pulsation. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Singh, Jaideva, Swami Lakshmanjee, and Bettina Baumer (1988) Abhinavagupta, Paratritrisika-Vivarana: The Secret of Tantric Mysticism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

History and Fundamentals of Tantra

Like the Veda, Tantra was primarily the way or means to understand the mysteries of life and universe, somewhat akin to the old Pythagorean concept of “philosophy” which was “contemplation, study and knowledge of nature” (See Bhattacharyya 1). The scope of Tantra is wider than that of Agama as Tantra is varied in character and deals with as many as twenty-five subjects, such as Brahman, The Chakras, Karma, Yoga and the principles of creation [(Basu, 1-2). The term Agama covers only seven of the said twenty-five subjects, especially the revelation side of knowledge]. “Tantra” is derived from the root tan, to spread (Sastri 2). Etymological interpretations of the word Tantra, as found in the ancient texts, clearly and conclusively point out that originally, the term Tantra had no special religious or metaphysical significance (See Bhattacharyya 1). In the Vedic texts the word Tantra occurs in the sense of a loom [Rgveda; X.71.9; Artharveda, X.7.42; Taittiriya Brahmana, II.5.5.3. Panini derived the word tantraka (V.2.70), meaning a cloth taken away from the loom, from Tantra]. Tantra nowadays comes to mean the way of realizing the true nature of Brahman, and is conceived as a moksa-sastra [(Bhattacharyya. 14) Moksa-sastra meaning a scripture meant for liberation from worldly fetters. Not only the followers of Tantra, but those of other quasi-materialistic systems as well-like the Jains, the Sankhyas, the Mimamsakas, the Nyaya-Vaisesikas, etc., which came more or less close to a mechanistic conception of nature-could not free themselves from the influence of this concept of moksa]. It is not known precisely when Tantra originated. It is given the status as sruti in some works and is stated by Harita in Kallukabhatta’s commentary on Manu [(Sastri 7) Srutisca dvividha prokta vaidiki tantriki tatha. Manu (ii. I)]. Tantric concepts can be compared to the Chinese principles of Yin and Yang, symbolizing the positive and negative forces. In the 19th century Western scholars of Indian religious systems regarded Tantra as a degraded form of Hinduism which consisted of the most barbarous, repulsive, and obnoxious elements [H.H. Wilson, Essays and Lectures on the Religion of the Hindus, London 1862, Vol. I, pp. 248-257; M. Monier-Williams, Indian Wisdom, London 1875, pp. 501ff; Brahmanism and Buddhism, London 1891, pp. 191 ff; E.W. Hopkins, Religions of India, Boston 1885, pp 489-492; etc. The use of animal food and spirituous liquors, indulged to in excess, is the rule of these strange ceremonies, in which Sakti is worshipped in the person of a naked woman, and the proceedings terminate with the carnal copulation of the initiated, each couple representing Siva and Devi, and becoming thus for the moment identified with them].

We do not know whether Tantra was imported into India or exported from India to other countries. Tantric influence is clear far beyond the limits of India. China and Tibet are the two most prominent places beyond India which reveal the influence of Tantra. Several Sanskrit Tantras are preserved only in Chinese and Tibetan translations, the original works being lost. Evidences are available that Tantric philosophers and scholars from India visited China and Tibet (See Sastri 67). When considering foreign influence of Tantra, it deserves notice that, according to the Sammoha-tantra, goddess Nila-Sarasvati was worshipped at a place supposed to have been included in Mongolia (See Sastri 77). In Bengal and Orissa, especially, Tantrism exerted a tremendous influence on Vaisnava ideas and practices. The Tantric goddess, Ekanamsa, was able to find her way into the Vaisnava religion as the consort of Krsna. Her image between Krsna and Balarama can be seen in the sanctum of the Ananta-Vasudeva temple at Bhuvaneswar (See Bhattacharyya 253). The origin and development of the Tantras as a special class of literature and as a special mode of sadhana are ultimately connected with the rise of Saivism, and the Pancaratra, the ancient Samkhya-Yoga supplying them with a philosophical background (See Basu 55). The Tantric practice of the offering of blood and flesh by the sadhaka (an aspirant, seeker) out of his own body might have developed from the idea of self-immolation found in sarva-yajna or from the Vedic idea that the sacrificer is to be looked upon as the pasu or animal to be sacrificed (See Sastri 95). Although these Tantric practices cannot be directly traced to the Vedic tradition, they seem to be later developments of some or the other Vedic rites.

Ethically the Tantras are said to be directive principles that help formulate what is good and what is bad in the social context (See Basu 362). So as long as there is a world to live in, and consciousness to know and survive, the Tantras will remain in some form or another. The Tantras believe in the principles of polarity both in its original and derivative forms. (Basu 367) There is a technical term in the Tantras, viz., “sadadhva” which means “six-ways,” and it is said that those who have understood it have realized the secret of the Tantras (Basu 402). The Mother Goddess figurines, scenes on seals and ritual objects, notably large stone lingas, give glimpse of Tantric survivals of magica fertility rites that formed the basis of primitive Tantrism, and of the deities arising out of them (Bhattacharyya 159). The existence of a Male Principle is not inconsistent with the cult of the Female Principle. We find that the Male Principle has some part to play although it is described as “the connotative of static existence and dissociated from Sakti or the Female Principle, and is no better than a corpse [(Bhattacharyya, 159-160)]. According to the Tantric view, the act of creation is due to the union of the Female and Male Principles, the former being the more important functionary (See Bhattacharyya 225). According to the Tantras, there are different grades of consciousness working through the different layers of being. The Tantric concept of unconsciousness covers not only the total range of consciousness but also that which goes beyond the ordinary reach of consciousness (i.e., the super-conscious and the cosmic-conscious) (See Basu 535).

The story related in the pages of numerous Tantric works was supposed to be so repugnant that, excepting a few, “most scholars had condemned them avoided the field of study. These scholars had equated Tantra with the degraded forms of Hinduism supposed to be the legacies of uncivilized aboriginal cultures [Bhattacharyya, 27-29)].

Modern Tantra may be divided into practices based on Hinduism and Buddhism. The form of Hindu Tantra popularly practiced in America is said by Hindu Tantra traditionalists “to represent a mutilated and extremely narrow-minded, sensationalist approach encompassing only a misguided thinking about ‘sacred sexuality,’ with little reference to its true practice” (Sastri 517). In traditional pockets of Tantric practice in India, Tantra has retained its true form. Its variance in practice is seen where many Tantrics are known to frequent cremation grounds in attempts to transcend their worldly attachment to life, while others still perform more unacountable acts. But what is common to them all is the intense secrecy in which their rituals are kept and the almost godlike reverence paid to the Guru, who is seen as the pinnacle of Tantra (See Bhattacharyya 382).


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

Bhattacharyya, N.N. (1982) History of the Tantric Religion. New Delhi: Manohar Publications

Sastri, Gaurinath (2002) Rituals and Practices of Tantra: Vol 1 and Vol 2. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Fic, Victor M (1922) The Tantra: Its origins, theories, art, and diffusion from India to Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Japan and Indonesia. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

White, David Gordon (2001) Tantra in Practice. 1st Indian Edition. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers

Feuerstein, Georg (1998) Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy. Boston: Shambhala, South Asia Editions

Garrison, Omar V (1964) Tantra: The Yoga of Sex. New York: Julian Press

Related Topics for Further Investigation



Darma Sastras









Notable Tantra Related Websites

Article written by Neil Schultz (April 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

Related Readings (General Studies on Tantra)

Banerji, S. C. (1992) New Light on Tantra. Calcutta: Puthi Pustak.

_____ (1977) Tantra in Bengal: A Study of Its Origin, Development and Influence. Calcutta: Naya Prokash.

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

Bharati, Agehananda (L. Fischer) (1965) The Tantric Tradition. London: Rider and Company.

Bhattacharya, B. (1988) The World of Tantra. New Delhi: Munshiram Mahoharlal.

Bhattacharyya, N. N. (1982) History of the Tantric Religion. Delhi: Manohar.

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, S. (1978) Reflections on the Tantras. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

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

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

Gunther, H. V. (1976) Yugan??dha: The Tantric View of Life. Reprint. Boulder: Shambala.

Gupta, S., D. J. Hoens, and T. Goudriaan (1979) Hindu Tantrism. Handbuch der Orientalistik. B. Spuler (gen. ed.) Leiden: Brill.

Nagaswamy, R. (1982) Tantric Cult of South India. Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan.

Strickmann, M. (ed.) (1981) Tantric and Taoist Studies in Honor of R. A. Stein. Brussels: Institut Belge des Hautes ??dudes Chinoises.

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

White, David Gordon (ed.) (2000) Tantra in Practice. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

_____ (2003) Kiss of the Yogini. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Woodroffe, John (Arthur Avalon) (1960) Principles of Tantra. Madras: Ganesh & Co.

_____ (1963) Mahanirvabatantra: The Great Liberation. Madras: Ganesh & Co.

_____ (1963) Introduction to Tantra Sastra. Madras: Ganesh & Co.