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The Hindu Tantra Tradition

The Indian Tantras, which are numerous, constitute the Scripture (Shastra) of the Kaliyuga, and as such are the voluminous source of present and practical orthodox “Hinduism.” The Tantra Shastra is, in fact, and whatever be its historical origin, a development of theVaidika Karmakanda, promulgated to meet the needs of that age.


Shiva says: “For the benefit of men of the Kali age men bereft of energy and dependent for existence on the food they eat, the Kaula doctrine, O auspicious one! is given” . To the Tantra we must therefore look if we would understand aright both ritual, yoga, and sadhana of all kinds, as also the general principles of which these practices are but the objective expression.”


The word “Tantra” means “treatise”, and is applied to a variety of mystical, occult, medical and scientific works as well as to those which we would now regard as Taantrik. Most tantras were written between the 10th and 14th centuries CE.


While Hinduism is typically viewed as being Vedic, the Tantras are not considered part of the orthodox Hindu/Vedic scriptures. They are said to run alongside each other, The Vedas of orthodox Hinduism on one side and the Agamas of Tantra on the other. However, the practices, mantras and ideas of the Atharva Veda are markedy different from those of the prior three and show signs of powerful non-Aryan influence. Indeed, the Atharva Veda is cited by many Tantra texts as a source of great knowledge.


it is notable that throughout the Tantras, such as the Mahanirvana Tantra, they align themselves as being natural progressions of the Vedas. Tantra exists for spiritual seekers in the age of Kaliyuga, when Vedic practices no longer apply to the current state of morality and Tantra is the most direct means to realization. Thus, aside from Vajrayana Buddhism, much of Tantric thought is Hindu Tantra, most notably those that council worship of Lord Shiva and the Divine Mother, Kali.


A Tantra typically takes the form of a dialogue between the Hindu gods Shiva and Shakti/Parvati, being that Shiva is known in Hinduism as being ‘Yogiraj’ or ‘Yogeshwara,’ ‘The King of Yoga’ or ‘God of Yoga’ and that his consort is known to be his perfect feminine equal. Each explains to the other a particular group of techniques or philosophies for attaining moksha (liberation/ enlightenment), or for attaining a certain practical result. [Agamas are Shiva to Shakti, and Nigamas are Shakti to Shiva.]


This extract from the beginning of the Yoni Tantra gives an idea of the style.


Seated upon the peak of Mount Kailasa the God of Gods, the Guru of all creation was questioned by Durga-of-the-smiling-face, Naganandini.


“Sixty-four tantras have been created O Lord, tell me, O Ocean of Compassion, about the chief of these.”

Mahadeva said:

“Listen, Parvati, to this highly secret one, Dearest. Ten million times have you wanted to hear this. Beauteous One, it is from your feminine nature that you continually ask me. You should conceal this by every effort. Parvati, there is mantra-pitha, yantra-pitha and yoni-pitha. Of these, the chief is certainly the yoni-pitha, revealed to you from affection.”


Tantra Mantra Yantra Hindu tantra

The philosophy of Tantra is based on any collection of the 92 Śrutis, the Tantras. Tantra exists in Vaisnava, Shaiva, Ganapatya, and Shakta forms, amongst others.


The Tantric tradition, or Tantrika Parampara, may be considered as either parallel to, or intertwined with, the Vedic tradition (Vaidika Parampara). Swami Nikhilananda wrote not only of the close affinity with the Vedas, but also that the development of Tantric thought shows the influence of the Upanishads, the Puranas and Yoga.


Reality as Shiva-Shakti

According to Tantra, Reality is pure consciousness (chit), which is considered to be identical with both being (sat) and bliss (ananda). In Tantra, this being-consciousness-bliss or Satchidananda is enshrined as ShivaShakti, a conjoined term conveying the inseparable nature of Shiva (the Absolute) and Shakti (the power of creation). In Tantra, any conception of the Divine which does not include Shakti, or the power to become, is considered to be incomplete.


History of Tantra

Tantra as a post-Vedic Hindu Yogic movement began in North India and flourished in the middle ages before declining in the nineteenth century, partly as a result of persecution by the British and orthodox Hindus, and partly, perhaps, because of the increasing popularity of Bhakti yoga amongst the masses.


Legend ascribes the origin of Tantra to Dattatreya, a semi-mythological yogi and the author of the Jivanmukta Gita (“Song of the liberated soul”). Lord Adinath, or Shiva, is the first Guru of Tantra. Things become a little more clear with Matsyendranath (Master of fish). He is accredited with authorship of the Kaulajnana-nirnaya, a voluminous ninth-century tantra dealing with a host of mystical and magical subjects, and occupies an important position in the Hindu tantric lineage, as well as in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. His disciple, Gorakhnath, founded laya yoga. Hatha Yoga was penned by Swami Swatamarama as the secrets of Lord Adinath (another name for Shiva) in the 15th century.


Tantra evolved into a number of orders (sampradaya) and diverged into so-called “left-hand tantra” (varma marg), in which sexual yoga and other antinomian practices occurred, and “right-hand tantra”, in which such practices were merely visualized. Both groups, but in particular the left-hand taantrik, opposed many features of orthodox Hindu culture, particularly the caste system and patriarchy. Despite this, Tantra was accepted by some high-caste Hindus, most notably the Rajput princes. Hindu tantra even briefly enabled a yogic/sufi synthesis among some Indian Muslims. Nowadays Tantra has a large, though not always well-informed, following worldwide.


Buddhist and Hindu Tantra, though having many similarities from the outside, do have some clear distinctions. Scholars are unable to determine whether the Hindu or the Buddhist version of Tantra appeared first in history. Buddhist Tantra is always part of the Mahayana school of Buddhism, which has as main aim to help all sentient beings becoming free from problems (Dukkha), in order to achieve this aim, one should try to achieve Buddhahood oneself, in order to be the most profound teacher for others. Buddhist Tantra spread out from (North) India, chiefly to Tibet, where it became known as the Vajrayana school of Buddhism. It also had some influence on Chinese and Japanese Buddhism (notably Shingon).


What is Shiv Tantra


Shiva (or Siva), in Hinduism, is one of the major gods and the center of worship of numerous devotional cults. Shiva composes a triad along with Brahman and Vishnu, and his worship called by a variety of names is primary in Hinduism. Shiva does not appear in early Vedic scriptures where the god Rudra, the Howler or Roarer, the Terrible One, is dominant; as Shiva later assumes a more dominant god role it is from Rudra’s characteristics that he assumed the role of destroyer.


Shiva, in the fullest sense, is a god of the common people, although at first excluded by the Aryans. Representations of a god appearing identical to Shiva have been discovered in the cities of the Indus Valley, especially those of stamp seals, where he is shown three-faced and seated in the lotus position of meditation, surrounded by animals, and wearing what appears to be a headdress of horns. In these small representations he appears to be lean and ascetic, his body marked by painted stripes, and his arms extended over his knees. In other representations Shiva is fair, with four faces and three eyes. The third eye, situated in the middle of his forehead, has a fiery glance from which all created things shrink. Three horizontal lines sometimes represent Shiva’s third eye, a mark worn by devotees.


It is because the horns of his previously mentioned headdress resemble the horns of the buffalo that Shiva has been associated with the later buffalo god Mhasoba, the deity of primitive pastoral tribes who, though most commonly located in the South, wander all over the subcontinent. The buffalo god was in conflict with the Earth Mother, the goddess of the rival food-gathering (agricultural) people; eventually the two are found linked as male and female, the forerunners, it is presumed, of the Shiva and Shakti (or Shiva-Parvati, Shiva-Durga, etc.) of more prehistoric times. Shiva is also a god of various goblins and demons, minor deities inherited from primitive ages, and is closely identified animals, not only his famous bull Nandi (a bull alone is another motif of the Indus stamp seals) but also a sacred cobra, and the elephant god Maha-Ganapati or Ganesa, his son; he is occasionally glad in a tiger skin or is accompanied by a dear. Possibly all these animals are totemic remnants that have coalesced around this god. Also, over the millennia, innumerable local gods have been absorbed into his more powerful cult and became identified as aspects of Shiva. He has 1,008 names (108 in some recensions), which are but manifestations of his accreted power, and so leading to one of his names of Mahadeva or Mahesvara (the Great God).


What is Rudra Tantra

The origin of the name Rudra is uncertain; its etymologies are symbolic. Possibly, the meaning is “the red one.” The god is called Rudra in the Puranas because he wept at birth, the word for weeping being the root rut-. In other versions the name may mean “Remover of Pain,” for rut is the term given for three forms of pain (physical, emotional, and spiritual) found in the world. Rudra was eventually identified with Shiva, the god of the people conquered by the Aryans, and became so associated with the god that he was on of Shiva’s many aspects.


In the Vedas Rudra is the god of storms, of howling winds, and is somewhat feared, being separated from the other gods in certain rituals and kept with malevolent spirits and deities. Rudra gives sinners the tortures of hell: He is death, the demon, the cause of their tears, the god that kills. He is also auspicious,” the lord of songs, of sacrifices, the sweet-scented divine healer, the most generous of gods who bestows property and welfare, not just to humankind but also to horses, cows, and sheep, the mainstay of the early Aryan economy. As a warrior, he rides his chariot bearing a thunderbolt and shooting arrows from his formidable bow.


What is Kapalik Bhairav Tantra

In Hindu culture, Kapalika means bearer of the skull-bowl, and has reference to Lord Bhairava’s vow to take the kapala vow. As penance for cutting off one of the heads of Brahma, Lord Bhairava became an outcast and a beggar. In this guise, Bhairava frequents waste places and cremation grounds, wearing nothing but a garland of skulls and ash from the pyre, and unable to remove the skull of Brahma fastened to his hand. The skull hence becomes his begging-bowl, and the Kapalikas (as well as the Aghoris of Varanasi). supposedly use skulls as begging bowls and as drinking and eating vessels in imitation of Shiva. Although information on the Kapalikas is primarily to be gleaned from classical Sanskrit sources, where Kapalika ascetics are often depicted as depraved villains in drama, it appears that this group worshiped Lord Shiva in his extreme form, Bhairava, the ferocious. They are also often accused of having practiced ritual human sacrifices. Ujjain is alleged to have been a prominent center of this sect.


The Kapalikas may also have been related to the Kalamukhas (“black faces” or “face of time”) of medieval South India. Moreover, in modern Tamilnadu, certain Shaivite cults associated with the goddess Ankalaparamecuvari, Irulappasami, and Sudalai Madan, are known to practice or have practiced ritual cannibalism, and to center their secretive rituals around an object known as a kapparai (Tamil “skull-bowl,” derived from the Sanskrit kapala), a votive device garlanded with flowers and sometimes adorned with faces, which is understood to represent the begging-bowl of Lord Shiva