The impact of Tantrism on kingship extends from India through to Southeast Asia. At the heart of the tantric idea of kingship is the ritual diagram, the mandala, where the deity and his consort are surrounded by a retinue of deities who are themselves emanations or belonging within the same sphere, clan or lineage. David White1 has convincingly argued that underlying this structure are the goddesses of clans and land, and the formation of alliances between ruling families is important in this understanding. At one level the king is identified with the high god Visnu or Siva and so transcends particular political alliances within the kingdom, while the tutelary goddesses represent connections to land and powerful ruling families, who ratified and energised the pragmatic religious life of the kingdom as a whole. This mandalic model of kingship can also be seen in Nepal, where three gods are important for royalty and from them the king derives his power: the sovereign god Visnu; the master of ascetics and of Nepal, Pasupati; and the secret tantric goddess, Taleju. Indeed, among the NeNvars of Nepal the power of the Goddess lies in royalty. The most important tantric rite connected with kingship is the king's consecration or anointing (abhiseka). Davidson has shown the connection between royal consecration and tantric initiation. The Jai, khya-samhitd interestingly links the anointing of kingship - although texts such as the Netra-tantra may well be from courtly circles - yet the ideal of kingship is directly influenced by them in the medieval period. in the areas of temple-building and iconography. As the body of the king becomes divinised in the rite of anointing, so the temple deity becomes enlivened through the appropriate rites (as in standard temple Hinduism). The divine body of the king in the palace recapitulates the divine body of the deity in the temple and there is a parallelism between the temple and the palace, as Tofflin has shown existed in Nepal to recent times.

Temples are an important concern in tantric literature, and texts of the Saiva Siddhanta contain much material on the construction of temples, installation of deities, and temple rites. The Rauravottaragama describes different kinds of temple styles, octagonal (dravida), circular (vesara) and square (nagara), along with the deities to be installed The text describes the installation of the main deity, the Siva liriga on its pedestal (pitha), the installation of the Goddess and her marriage to Siva, and the installation of the guardians of the doors (dvarapala), descriptions which, with some variation, are found in other Tantras as well. Temple tantrism continues into present times in temples of Tamil Nadu and, especially, Kerala where 'tantric Hinduism' is normative, some Nambudiri families using the fifteenth-century Tantrasamucca, as their base text. Even the more extreme cults of goddesses, the Yoginis, were expressed in temples during the early medieval period. In line with orthodox, puranic tradition, such temples can be seen as the body of the deity, and indeed when discussing the temple the distinction between the tantric and non-tantric becomes blurred. The great Saiva temple at Cidambaram, for example, a centre of orthodox power and learning, performed temple rites according to Saiva Siddhanta texts, yet there were also non-dualist theologians such as Mahesvarananda writing against dualist interpretations of scripture within the institution of that temple.

As the divinisation of the body occurs at the level of the individual practitioner, in the body of the king, and, in an extended sense, with the temple, so the same topos occurs in possession and exorcism and even in popular devotion (bhakti). Indeed, it would be possible to read the history of religion in South Asia in terms of possession as the central paradigm of a person being entered by a deity which becomes reinterpreted at more refined cultural levels.2

We see this with the term saniavesa, whose primary designation is, like dvesa, `possession', coming from the root vii, `to enter', but which comes to mean `immersion' in non-dual consciousness for the Saiva theologian Abhinavagupta. The whole idea of the self becoming brahinan, the very term r'ipra, `shaker', as a term for a Brahman and ritualised divinisation through initiation and consecration (abhiseka) might be seen as pointing to this foundational, recurring process.The institutionalized possession is a central paradigm of worship which is anciently attested for example in the  Tamil Cankam literature of the early centuries of the common era.3

Clearly possession is a fundamental trope in the history of Indian religions, and alternativly can be said to be an entextualisation, through the identification of the self with the `text' both oral and written. And becomes divination where it has a `good' aspect when the deity enters a performer and so gives a blessing (darsana) to the assembled community or makes a prophesy, or a `bad' aspect when possession is said to  manifest  as illness, especially illness in children, about which much of the literature is taken up. Smallpox, for example, was thought to be due to the hot goddess euphemistically called Sitala, `the cool one', orNlariamman in the South. Possession can be seen as the divinisation of the body, which is also its entextualisation. In becoming the host for the deity or supernatural being external to the self, the body becomes constructed in tradition and text-specific ways. While the process and symptoms of possession might be common - even across cultures - it is the specificity that is important and that gives the possession legitimacy for a particular community.

The interiority of the first person is subsumed by a more powerful first person, and the `I' comes to refer not to the everyday self but to a greater self defined within the parameters of the tradition. The body is colonised by textually defined supernatural beings, it is then recolonised by the Brahmanical tradition, tamed, controlled, and brought back into conformity through being entextualised in ways legitimised by a tantric, Brahmanical orthodoxy. Indeed the ritual procedures are familiar to us from other contexts, especially divinisation in the dehasuddhi or hhutasuddhi. This inscription of the text on to the body is at times literal, with the subtle centres of the possessed being inscribed with Siva's trident. The ritual procedures are tradition-specific - as we see from overlap with the Kuruara-tantra - showing how the body becomes the vessel for supernatural beings, in a way not dissimilar to the divinisation of the body in the tantric ritual process of the hhutasuddhi, but this process is controllable and unwanted entry by lower categories of supernatural agents can equally be affected through ritual means. The entextualisation of the body is the control of the body and arguably the community's self-policing of its boundaries, as well as giving expression to those otherwise excluded from mainstream channels of expression.

Devotion or bhakti as a particular form of interiority is not central to tantric discourse and practice generally, but it is undoubtedly present as is attested by devotional hymns to deities and the supplication of practitioners to their gods for the purposes of power and/or liberation. Erotic bhakti, such as that articulated in the Bhagavata puraiza and the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition more widely, is pervaded by tantric ideas, not only seen in the centrality of tantric Vaisnava theology in the form of the Pancaratra, but seen in the erotic devotion (madhura/srngara bhakti) of the late medieval Caitanya sect and the Gosvamins. Here devotion to Krsna is akin to the devotion of lovers, and as the deity enters the practitioner through formal ritual structure in tantric daily ritual or in possession, so the deity is invited to enter into the devotee. The types of devotion articulated by rupa Gosvamin in his Bhaktirasamrta siudhu. This kind of devotionalism becomes explicitly fused with a left-hand ritual practice in the Vaisnava Sahajiya sect. The reverse is also true, that bhakti becomes influential and important in tantric traditions, especially the Pancaratra and Saiva Siddhanta in the South, but also in monistic Saivism.  

The Purification of the Body

The general idea of the identification of the body with the cosmos is of course ancient, with textual antecedents in the Veda, where, particularly in the Brahmanas, correspondence (bandliu) between the sacrifice and the cosmos becomes central to ritual performance and speculation. Second, its origins may arguably be found in early Buddhist meditation exercises (krtsna/kasina) and the cultivation of the meditative sign (nimitta) that leads into meditative absorption (dhyana/jhana). Indeed, it is possibly here that we find the origins of the visualisation methods that were to become so important in the tantric traditions, both Hindu and Buddhist. These exercises are ten among forty objects of meditation described in Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga, although they also occur in the Pall canon itself.4

The kasiyzas comprise the five elements and five colours, focusing upon which leads into the higher levels of medittion. For example, the earth is a clay disc, an object that is concentrated upon until the image is internalised within consciousness without external support. In this way the kasina is akin to the internally arising sign (nimitta), like an afterimage, which leads into jhana.

In a Hindu context, the bhutasuddhi's earliest occurrences are in the Jayakhya and in the Saiva Kamikagama. There is a passage in (sadadhvan), which are parallel ritual courses through the cosn inscribed on the body.These ways incorporate the cosmological categories (tattva) and their division into five realms (kaM). In the Saiva system we have thirty-six tattvas, which adds eleven Saiva ones to the twenty-five Samkhya ones, while the Pancaratra assumes only the Samkhya categories, although it has cosmological functions analogous to the higher Saiva ones, as we have seen. There is a common overall structure here of a pure, mixed and impure creation, although for the monistic Trika Saivism the broad distinction is between the pure and the impure creations. While these cosmologies are theologically important - as can be seen in Bhojadeva's linking of higher beings to different levels of the cosmos in the Tattvaprakasa - their primary importance is as ritual rather than theological entities; cosmology has a primarily ritual function in these traditions.This can be illustrated particularly well in the bhutaiuddhi sequence where the cosmos is mapped on to the body and dissolved, as the lower levels of the cosmos are dissolved into the higher during the cosmic dissolution (prala)ia). The terminology here is that of the tattvas of Samkhya in which the gross elements (bhuta) that comprise the physical world are dissolved into the subtle elements (tanmatra) that are their source. The purification of the body through dissolving its constituent elements into their cause would seem to be a characteristically tantric practice.

Within all tantric ritual, visualisation of ritual action and deities is of central importance in daily and occasional rites, and in both the Pancaratra and Saiva Siddhanta to perform a visualisation is to perform a mental action that has soteriological effects. Once initiated, the Saiva or Vaisnava adept in these cults was expected to perform obligatory daily worship. For the Pancaratrin his practice meant following the Pancaratra samskaras, whereby his body was inscribed with tradition by being branded at initiation (tapa) with a hot iron discus (cakra), being given a ritual name, reciting mantra, and engagaing in ritual practice (yaga). The Pancaratrin's daily observances involved five obligatory acts adopted from vedic orthopraxv characterised by Gupta as the recitation of laudatory verses or stotras (brahmayajna), daily liturgy (devayaji a), making offerings to malevolent supernatural beings (bhuta),ajna), making offerings to the ancestors (pitr),ajna) and the feeding of (Vaisnava) guests (nTyajna).

The Saiddhantika similarly follows the orthoprax injunctions of the dharmasastra, performing rites at the junctures (samdh),a) of the day, particularly the puja at dawn (as do the Pancaratrins). The purpose of this daily rite, apart from its being a sign of the devotee's adherence to the cult of his initiation, was to enable him eventually to destroy the limiting factors (mala) which constrain his soul (jzta) within the cycle of reincarnation (samsara) and so to be ready for liberation (moksa) by receiving the grace of the Lord (Siva or Visnu) at his death. In this sense the Pancaratra and Saiva Siddhanta are very different from the monistic traditions of non-Saiddhantika Saivism, as Sanderson has demonstrated.

The Jayakl ya describes four classes of adept, the samayajna, putraka, sadhaka and dcarya,}'each having undergone a particular ablution (ahhiseka) as part of his initiation (diksa). As other texts, the 7ayakhya has the male practitioner in mind, although it does allow women initiation, aligning them with sudras and Chapter 10 of the Jayakhya is devoted to the bhutasuddhi and the spiritual ascent of the soul (jiva) ready for the creation of the divinised body. Through symbolically destroying the physical or gross body, the adept can create a pure, divinised body (divyadeha) with which to offer worship to the deities of his system. He does this first only in imagination and second in the physical world, for - as in all tantric systems - only a god can worship a god. The textual representation of the bhutasuddhi is set within a sequence in which the physical or elemental body (bhautika-sarira) is purified and the soul ascends from the heart through the body, and analogously through the cosmos, to the Lord Narayana located at the crown of the head. The text presents us with a detailed account of this process, which can be summarised as follows.

Going to a pure, unfrequented, but charming place, the adept offers obeisance to the Lord and pays homage to the lineage of teachers (gurusantati), and having received the mental command (naanasi-djna) from the Lord and lineage of teachers, he is ready to perform mental action (mdnasim nirz•ahet... kriham).` The practitioner purifies his hands with the weapon (astra) mantra and purifies the place by visualising Visnu, like a thousand suns, vomiting flames from This process of inhaling the visualised element that pervades a particular area of the body, dissolving it into its mantra, then into its subtle cause, and exhaling it, is followed with the other elements. The energy of smell having been exhaled into the substratum of water, the water element is then imagined as having the form of a half-moon, marked by a lotus, and containing all aquatic media - the oceans, rivers, the six flavours (rasa) - and aquatic beings. Inhaling the image, it pervades the adept's body from the thighs to the knees and is dissolved into its mantra, then into the energy of taste (rasasaki), which he emits with the exhaled breath.' The same process occurs with the remaining elements. The triangle of fire containing all fiery and bright things, including beings at higher levels of the cosmos with self-luminous bodies (svaprakasa-sarira), is inhaled, pervades the body from the navel to where the water element had begun, is dissolved into its mantra, into the energy of form (rupasakti), and exhaled as before. Similarly the air element is inhaled, pervades from throat to navel and is exhaled as the energy of touch (sparsasakti). This merges into space (akasa), which, in the same way, is inhaled, pervades to the aperture of the absolute (brahmarandhra), dissolves into its mantra, then into the energy of sound (sabdasakti), and is emitted through the aperture at the crown of the head (brahmarandhra). All this is accomplished by the power of the mantras of the elements. Having left the body through the brahmarandhra, individualised consciousness (caitanya jivabhuta) has transcended the `cage of the elements' (bhutapanjara) by rising through the stages of space, the stars, lightening, the sun and moon, stages which are themselves found in the Upanisads. In this way the soul ascends in imagination up the central channel of the body (susumna) from the heart, through the levels of the cosmos (pada), to the Lord at the crown of the head. He is envisaged in his supreme body (paravigraha) as a mass of radiance (tejopu)ia) standing within a circle of light;" a standard identification of Narayana with the sun. The joy that arises is the supreme energy of Visnu (pard vaisnavi sakti) and results in a state of higher consciousness (sanaadhi) that is the ineffable freedom from ideation (sankalpanirmukta avacya).

He enjoys this state of bliss, but the process of purification is not yet complete. Having transcended the subtle elements along with the his mouth. The earth then appears as if baked by the fire of mantra.' In this process we see the construction of a `ritual body' in opposition to the `genetic' or `biological' body, which, in its non-ritual state, is impure (malina), subject to decay, not autonomous (asvatantra), and made from blood and semen (retoraktodbhava). The non-purified body is the opposite of the Lord's body possessed of the six qualities.' This purification of the body entails the construction of the ritual body; a process which had begun with bathing and which continues with the selection of the place and the placing of a blade of sacred grass, flower or leaf in the tuft of hair, with mantra. The symbolic destruction of the body takes place through dissolving the elements of the cosmos within it. As in the final dissolution of the cosmos, when each element or category retracts into its source, so in daily ritual this process is recapitulated within the adept's body. The actual process occurs through linking together sequences of syllables to form mantras associated with the elements, such as the OM SLAM PRTHIVYAI HUM PHAT corresponding to the earth element, which are modified for each element, replacing the seed syllable (bija) SLAM with SVAM, HYAlM and KSMAM as necessary. Each of the elements is visualised in a certain way, associated with particular symbols, and as pervading a particular part of the body in a hierarchical sequence. Each element is in turn symbolically destroyed in the imagination through being absorbed into its mantra and into the energies (sakti) of the powers (vibhava) or subtle ele­ments (tanmatra) which gave rise to it. For example, the Jayakh_ya describes the purification of the earth element as follows:

[The practitioner] should visualise a quadrangular, yellow earth, marked with the sign of thunder, connected with the five, sound etc. [i.e. the five subtle elements sabda, sparia, rupa, rasa and gandha] and filled with trees and mountains, adorned with oceans, islands, good rivers and walled towns. He should visualize [that earth] entering his own body from the outside with an inhaled breath, and uttering the mantra he should imagine it as tranquilized, pervading in due order from the knees to the soles of the feet by means of the retained breath, O best of twice born ones. Then, [the earth is] gradually dissolved in its own mantra-form, and this mantra-king [dissolved] in the energy of smell. After that he should emit the energy of smell with the exhaled breath. gross body, the sadhaka should burn it with the fire arising from his feet, generated by the power of his mantra. All that remains is a pile of ashes that are then washed away to the quarters in his imagination by a flood of milky water arising from his meditation." With the universe of his imagination now filled with the ocean of milk, a lotus emerges out of it containing Narayana, whose essence is his mantra, the truth of the six cosmic paths." The sadhaka's body, identified with Narayana, is purified, freed from old age and death and has the appearance of pure crystal and the effulgence of a thousand suns and moons. Having purified his body in this way, his soul enters the inner lotus of this subtle body (puryastaka) through the aperture of the absolute from which it had earlier vacated its residence. With a calm awareness (prasannadhi) the adept is ready to perform worship of the deity pajed devam); that is, ready to perform the divinisation of the body through imposing mantras upon it, followed by mental sacrifice (manasayaga) and external sacrifice (bahyayaga).

The process of imposing mantras on the body is called nyasa, from the verbal root ny plus as, to put or cast down, within whose semantic range is to place something in a picture, to paint and depict. The practitioner touches the requisite part of the body and recites the correct mantra. The Jayakhya is in no doubt about the importance of this procedure as it makes the practitioner `equal to the god of gods' (devadevasama), fearless, and having power over unexpected death.

With this ritual sequence we are presented with an excellent example of the way the body becomes the text in tantric traditions. The practitioner imposes deities as mantras upon his body and these mantras and deities are text- and tradition-specific. While the material of the Jayakhya is recapitulated to a large extent in the Laksmi-tantra, the text is unique in its full explication of the ritual process of the identification of the practitioner with the universe and divinity. While the process, as I argue, is common to tantric traditions, the content is always text- and tradition-specific. Thus the initiate into the Pancaratra, specifically the Jayakhya-samhita, becomes divinised by Pancaratra deities through Pancaratra mantras.

Once again we see how indexicality is variable and the subject of first person predicates, the indexical-I of everyday transaction, becomes expanded to the cosmic subjectivity of Visnu. It is this indexical variability that is important in the ritual sequence that is directly linked to the entextualisation of the body. With the Pancaratra there is a potential theological problem in that Visnu-Naravana is thought to be ontologically distinct from the devotee, and this would generally seem to be the case, but at the level of ritual this theological desire for separation is eroded. We are dealing here with a tradition that might be characterised as having both monistic and theistic or dualistic dimensions, or, as its later theological articulation has it, a theology of `qualified non-dualism' (visistadvaita).

Next, during the inner worship, the practitioner visualises the hierarchical cosmos in the forms of deities located within his own body. The account that follows is from the Saydkhya, although an almost identical account is found in the Lakszni-tantr, and also occurs in other Samhitas.5

We have here a constructed vision of the body in which the hierarchical universe pervades the practitioner's body from the genitals to the heart and corresponds to the Goddess Kundalini. Above her is the `fire of time' (kalagni), then the Tortoise (kurma) bearing the insignia of Visnu, the discus and club. Above him is the cosmic snake Ananta, upon which Visnu is represented as lying, in traditional mythology; above him is the Earth goddess and above her at the level of the navel is the ocean of milk. Out from this arises a white lotus which gives rise to sixteen supports of the throne. These comprise the eight dispositions (bhava) of the buddhi, the four sacred scriptures or Vedas and the four ages of the world yuga). They support a white lotus, upon which are the sun, moon and fire. Above these, although not explicitly named in this sequence, is the `throne of being' (bhdvasana), upon which rests the vehicle of Visnu, the great mythological bird Garuda, and the boar incarnation Varaha. Visnu is invoked in due course upon his mount. Each of these visions is in turn identified with one of the hierarchical categories or tattvas of the Sankhya system, with the addition of two more tattvas, time (kala) and lordship (tivaratva), making a total of twenty-seven. This is described by for example following passage from Oberhammer and M. Rastelli, 2002:

So having formerly become Visnu [through the purification of the body previously described], the practitioner should then worship Visnu with the mental sacrifice. Imagining [the area] between the penis and the navel filled with four parts, one should visualise the energy whose form is the earth (Adhara-sakti), above that the fire of time [Kalagni], above that Ananta, and then the Earth Goddess [Vasudha Devi]. [2-3b] From the place of the `bulb' (kanda) to the navel is divided into four parts. Visualising the ocean of milk in the navel and then a lotus arising [out of it], extending as far as a thousand petals and whirling with a thousand rays [of light], having the appearance of a thousand rays, he should fix the throne on its back. [3c-5b] The fourfold [dispositions] dharma, knowledge, detachment, and majesty, descend by means of their own mantras to the four [directions] of Fire [the south east] and so on [south west, north west and north east], fixing those four up to the abode of the Lord Isana [the north east]. On the four feet of the throne they are white, with lion faces, but the forms of men in their body and possessing exceeding strength. [5c-7] The parts from the eastern direction up to the northern abode are fixed with the opposites of dharma, knowledge, detachment, and majesty. These are of human form, blazing like the red bandhuka flower. [8-9b] The four [scriptures] the Rg-veda and so on have the form of a horse-man, are yellow, and [situated] in between the east and the direction of the Lord [north-east], between the east and the direction of Fire [the south east], between the south-west and Varuna [the west], and between the wind [north-west] and Varuna [the west]. [9c-io] The group of ages, namely Krta and so on, have the form of a bull-man, are black, and are located in the directions between Isana [north-east] and Soma [north], between Antaka [another name for Yama, the south] and Agni [south-east], between Yama [south] and the demon [Yaksasa, the south-west], and between the Moon [the north] and the wind [north-west]. [11-12b] They all have four arms; with two they support the throne and with two they make obeisance to the Lord of the universe. [12c-13b] Above them he should fix first a white lotus [and then] threefold [forms, namely sun moon and fire], way above with those mantras, arising from himself and previously articulated, 0 Narada. On the back of that he should establish both the King of Birds and the Boar. Having imagined [the area] from the navel to the heart pervaded by five equal sections, he should worship the mantra-throne. 13c-15].

After creating himself as the deity, inscribing the body with the text in visualisation and imposing mantras upon it, the practitioner is ready to perform external worship (bahya yaga), making offerings to the deity in the physical world. The Jayakhya raises the question that the performance of external worship may seem superfluous," and to the question as to why external worship should be performed after the internal the Laksmi-tantra says that while inner worship removes karmic traces (vasana) from internal causes, external worship removes karmic traces from external causes. The Jyakhya describes the construction of a diagram (mandala) in which to house the deity for the purpose of worship. Offerings are gathered together and Narayana's presence along with his retinue of deities is invoked through mantra and visualisation and installed in the mandala. Incense and food are offered to the deity, along with bell sounds and so on - in other words, a standard puja for a Hindu deity. Mantra repetition is performed with a rosary (aksamala), followed by the fire offerings (homa) made into the fire-pit (kunda), as would occur in a standard Brahmanical rite.' Some concluding rites round off the ceremony and the practitioner is enjoined not to forget the Lord.

The ritual procedure for the initiate presented in the Jaya.khyasarrahita follows a standard pattern that in some sense shows the conservative nature of tantric tradition in following a textually prescribed ritual procedure and also shows the continuities with standard, Brahmanical practice in the early medieval period. The tantric Pancaratrin saw his tradition as complementing and completing the vedic, and the deity and practice of his cult as ensuring salvation. Through entextualising the body in ritual he is making himself conform to the tradition and the indexical-I becomes identified with the I implied in the texts.


Continued in part 3


1. Kiss of Yogini, 2003.

2. For details see Frederick Smith, Friendly Acquisitions, Hostile Takeovers: Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asian Civilization, University of California Press, forthcoming.

3. For this, see Freeman, `The Teyyam Tradition of Kerala', in Flood (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, Oxford, 2003, p. 308.

4. For this see Majjhima-nikaya 2.14. Translated by LB. Horner, The Middle Length Sayings vol. 2 (London: Pali Text Society, 1972). Dtgha-nikaya 3.268. Translated by TWV and C. A.E Rhys Davids, Dialogues of the Buddha, part 3 (London: Pali Text Society, 1971). Anguttara-nikaya 111.5.46,60. Translated by EL. Woodward, The Book of Gradual Sayings vol. 5 (London: Pali Text Society, 1972).

5. G. Oberhammer and M. Rastelli, Studies in Hinduism III: Pjdcaratra and Visistadvaita Vienna: Der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2002, pp. 9-59.

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