An Evaluation of the Tantras


In the whole range of Tantric literature, the concept of Shri Chakra as crystallized in Shiva-Shakti stands foremost and represents culmination of the Tantric Sadhana. Shri Chakra is a symbol of the Universe both macrocosm and microcosm. There are in it two sets of triangles, one set composed of four Shiva triangles and the other of five Shakti triangles. In the centre reside Shiva and Shakti in an undifferentiated union. Enclosed in the centre is an inverted triangle representing the Iccha (will), Kriya (action) and Jnana (knowledge) aspects of shakti, the three gunas and the deities presiding over them. All the nine triangles are rules over by the divinities presiding over forms of mind, sense and matter with their special functions. These divinities are but rays inherent in the central luminary and Shri Lalita is conceived of as being absorbed in Her. In the Upasana of Shri Chakra are harmonized the personal and impersonal aspects of God.



Hinduism is not a cult nor a creed but it is a composite culture. It is composed of various cultural elements such as Austric, Dravidian, Aryan and Mangolian. Of these elements the Dravidian and Aryan stand out prominent. In course of time both the streams of culture amalgamated and this amalgam gave birth to Hinduism. The Scriptures of Hinduism are known as Nigam-agama. Nigama is another name for Veda. The Vedic tradition represents the Aryan culture while the Agamic tradition stands for the Dravidian. The Vedas and the Agamas are the two streams of thought, acting and reacting upon each other so as to enrich the contents of Hinduism. This is why later thinkers admit the authority of both the Vedas and Agamas. Harita who seems to have flourished about the beginning of the Christian era says, “the Sruti is two-fold, Vedic and Tantric”. Tantra is another name for Agama. Today the religious rights of Hinduism are more markedly Agamic or Tantric in their nature than Vedic. In his outlines of Indian Philosophy, Dr. Radhakrishnan observes thus, “The living Hindu religion of today from Cape Comarin to the remotest corner of Tibet is essentially Tantric. Even the few genuine Vedic rites that are preserved and are supposed to be derived straight from the Vedas e.g. the Sandhya have been modified by the tradition of Tantric practices.”

The Agamas, as we find them today, are of three kinds – the Shaivagamas, the Shaktagamas and the Vaishnavagamas as they deal with the deity Shiva, Shakti or Vishnu as the object of worship. But the worship of Shiva and Shakti is very old, so old that it is Pre-aryan and pre-vedic. The recent findings of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa have proved the existence of an advanced stage of civilization of people who flourished in the Indus valley. They exhibit that the Indus people who belong to Chalcolithic age which goes as far back as three thousand B.C. are in possession of a highly developed culture in which no vestige of Indo-Aryan influence is to be found. Sir John Marshall in his Mohenjo Daro and Indus civilization devotes one full chapter to the religion of the Indus people. Therein he concludes that those people worshipped Mother Goddess Shakti and a male deity Shiva. He identifies the male deity with Shiva because of the prominent characteristics of the deity, having three eyes and being a Mahayogin as represented on seals, images, carvings and other signs discovered in different sites. The observations of Marshall are worth noticing; “In the religion of the Indus people, there is much of course, that might be paralleled in other countries. This is true of pre-historic and of most historic religions as well. But taken as a whole, their religion is so characteristically Indian as hardly to be distinguishable from still living Hinduism or at least from that aspect of it which is bound up with animism and the cults of Shiva and the mother goddess – still the two most potent forces in popular worship. Amongst the many revelations that Mohenjo Daro and Harappa have had in store for us, none perhaps is has a history going back to the Chalcolithic Age or perhaps even further still, and that it thus takes its place as the most ancient living faith in the world.”

Marshall and his collaborators have definitely proved with a profusion of arguments that the people of Mohenjo Daro were certainly pre-Aryan, but about their race they opine that they were probably Dravidians. But Father Heras by reading the scripts and inscriptions proved that the inhabitants of Mohenjo Daro were definitely Dravadians. He himself observes thus: “The consequence deduced by Sir John Marshall after the study of Mohenjo Daro remains that this civilization probably is Dravidian is now fully confirmed by the decipherment by the present writer of about one thousand eight hundred inscriptions found in all these sites.”

Dr. Hall and a host of others have come to the conclusion that the Indus people were mostly Dravidians and that they professed Shaivism as their religion. Dr. Hall suggests even the possibility of Sumerians being the Dravidian race which passed to the Valley of two rivers. Sir John Evans and others are now coming round to the view that the wave of migration of the Mediterranean race is from the East to the West.

The Dravidians worshipped An and Amma; An is Shiva, Amma is Shakti. An – Shiva was the supreme being of Dravidian religion which later on came to be known as Shaivism. The description of Shiva as obtained in the Mohenjo Daro inscriptions exactly tallies with the description of Shiva as revealed by the present day Shaivism. Then Shiva had three eyes, his emblems were trident, snake and axe and his names were Iruvan, Enamai, Bidukan and Tandavan. Even now these are his names and these are his characteristic emblems. The Dravidians have endowed Shiva with a full fledged mythology which reveals itself in such concepts as Shiva the dancer, as a tri-murti, as a yogin, as a Himalayan God, as a Pashupati and as a God with three eyes. All these concepts as regards Shiva are found in the present day Shaivism. The concept of Shiva as An is also prevalent. Dr. A.P.Karmarkar in his Religions of India throws further light on the concept of An. “The inscriptions of the Indus Valley relate that the Supreme Being is Shiva. He is the Supreme Being of all the Gods of the temple. He is the Lord of the whole universe. The fact that the name of Shiva is An becomes very clear from the corroborative evidence obtaining in the puranas and epics. The Mahabharata refers to An meaning Shiva. Further the word Anu which is the later rendering of the word An is frequently used as a name of Shiva. The word Sthanu according to Brahmand and other purarnas meant a standing figure of Shiva. Further the Harivamsha narrates that Anuha practiced the Anudharma, which expression evidently meant the religion of An or Shiva or the Shaivism of the later period. The word An – Shiva traveled to Sumer, Egypt and other countries. Father Heras observes that the word Anu in feast of the striking of Anu in Egypt is actually connected with the followers of Anu or An.”

Madame Blavatsky in her Key to Theosophy says that Theosophy means divine wisdom or Brahmavidya and it comes to us from the Alexandrian philosophers, called lovers of truth. The name Theosophy dating from the third century A.D. began with Ammonius Saccas and his disciples who started eclectic theosophical system. They were also denominated Neo-Platonists. But its origin is much earlier as it is attributed to the Egyptian priest, Pot Amun who lived in the early days of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Diogenes tells us that the name is Coptic and signifies one consecrated to Amun, God or wisdom. But here we venture to say that Amma, which is the correct form of Amun is not originally Egyptian Deity, it in reality belongs to India and especially to the Dravidians in whose divine trinity Amma constitutes the middle term. Amma, Uma, Maya, Mata are all Cognate terms implying the divine power and wisdom of An or Shiva, the transcendent reality. So if we trace the origin of Theosophy impartially, it goes back as far as the Dravidian Culture and then it finds its source in Amma.

Now the question crops up, what is the age of the Agamas? It is rather difficulty to determine the age of the Agamas. Three possible theories as regards the age of the Agamas are advanced. According to the first theory Agamas developed paripassu with the Upanishadas. “That such a considerable literature existed even at the time of inception of puranas lends colour to the surmise entertained by many that some of these Agamas had their origin almost coeval with the dim days of the Brahman period.” The second theory is only a continuation of the first theory for it maintains that the Agamas interpret the Upanishads and elaborate their teachings. “The Agamas have their own interpretations to offer as regards the cardinal precepts and teachings of the archaic Upanishads.” Some of the scholars opine that the Agamas bear the same relation to the Upanishads, as the new Testament of the Christian Holy Bible bears to its old Testament. According to this view the Upanishads present the quest and Agamas the attainment.

The third theory, which is original, upholds that the Agamas as a religious literature are independent. This view suggests that the present Agamas, though written in Sanskrit, embody the Dravidian religion and culture as represented in the seals and inscriptions of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. The first two theories hold that the Agamas owe their origin to the Vedas and this is likely because of the later attempts of philosophers at reconciliation of antagonism between the Vedas and Agamas. If the subject matter and the contents of the Agamas and of the Vedas are closely scrutinized, it will be found that the Vedas and the Agamas represent two independent religious cultures, though in course of time they have fused together giving birth to Hinduism.

The Agamas are otherwise known as Tantras and the Tantras have remained a neglected branch of study, in spite of the labours of the Agama Anusandhana Samiti of which Sir John Woodroff and Atal Behari Ghosh were the leaders. Some relegate the Tantras to the class of black magic while others consider them full of obscenities unfit for the study of a man of good taste. It cannot be denied that in some texts there is black magic while a few texts are full of obscenities; but these do not form the main bulk of Tantras. The Tantric literature represents an important part of the spiritual lore, so far as its practical aspect is concerned.

The word Tantra is derived from the root ‘tan’ to spread and in special sense it means the scripture by which knowledge is spread. It is a system of knowledge which enables the aspirant to purity – the physical, vital and mental planes by virtue of which a centre of being can render itself an apparatus efficient for the purpose of accomplishing the two-fold end of abhyudaya, the secular progress and nihsreyasa, the spiritual perfection. The Tantras form a vast literature touching upon philosophy, biology, psychology, hypnotism, medicine, symbology etc., in fact everything that has some importance to life. The Tantras do not indulge in speculative theories but a speculative philosophy can be developed out of them. What they value most is the one thing which will naturally manifest in the process of self-opening. In fact the fundamental tendency of Hinduism that the truth is more to be realized in life than to be inferred by reason, finds clear expression in the Tantras.


                        ‘The Divine Temple’ built by His Holiness Shri Kumarswamiji is based on ‘Shri Chakra’ principles of Shakti

There are three currents of the Tantric tradition, viz, Dakshina, Vama and Madhyama. They represent the three Shaktis of Shiva and are characterized respectively by the predominance of the three gunas – Sattava, Rajas and Tamas. The Tantras of each class follow a particular line of Sadhana. Hence there are three classes of Tantras; Dakshina, which is characterized by Sattva is pure; madhyama, which is characterized by rajas is mixed; and Vama, characterized by tamas is impure. The sadhanas of the Agamas assume a more pronounced character of Shaktism. The religion of Agamas apparently developed through two channels – one exoteric and the other esoteric. The former was continued as pure Shaivism with greater emphasis on the devotional aspect of the worship of Shiva, with a view to attaining salvation. The latter was continued as Shaktism with greater emphasis on the various Shakti cults, not so much to attain salvation as to gain mastery over the forces of nature. The literature of pure Shaivism ceases to be called Tantras. Tantra proper became more Shaktic in character by the end of fifth century.

Buddhism also had developed a Tantric aspect. The Buddhist Tantras came into existence, according to the Tibetan evidence, after the time of Dharmkriti. Their origin may be placed in the seventh century but they underwent great development during the three succeeding centuries. By the tenth century a distinct class of literature and a mode of Sadhan was well established. Buddhist Tantrism assumed three different forms in this period, viz, Vajrayana, Sahajayana and Kalachakryana. The philosophic background of these sects is supplied by the Madhyamikas and Yogachara systems. Vajrayana and Sahajayana represent two aspects of the same Tantrism – the first dealing with ritualism of a more exoteric nature and the second laid more stress on the esoteric aspect. The word for Shakti in these sects laid more stress on the esoteric aspect. Here Shakti means prajna which is the female principle, the male being vajra, the sahajayana discards every kind of formalism and lays emphasis on the cultivation of the state of Sahaja which is said to be achieved by ignoring all sorts of knowledge derived from outward sources and by giving up formalism of all kinds. The Tibetan texts say that Kalachakrayana was developed outside India in a country called Sambhala and was introduced into Bengal in Pal period. This sect attaches importance to the time factor, viz, muhurta, tithi, naksatra, rasi etc. Thus astronomy and astrology came to be associated with the practice of yoga.