The earliest text that documents the six cakras, known to later Kaulism and yoga traditions, is the eleventh-century CE Kubjikamata-tantra, where we have for the first time the standard list of the muladhara (anal region), svadhisthana (genital region), manipura (navel), anahata (heart), visuddha (throat) and ajna (between the eyebrows), plus the `centre' beyond the cakras at the crown (sahasrara), although later chapters only present five cakras, not linked to Kundalini, as Padoux has observed, but associated with the five elements. Indeed the humpbacked or crooked Goddess Kubjika of this text is identified with Kundalini. This list of six is unknown to the earlier tradition, where instead we find a variety of terms and text-specific systems the six `seasons'. five `knots' (granthapalh), five voids (v)'omani), nine wheels (cakrani), eleven wheels, twelve knots, at least three sets of sixteen loci (adharah), sixteen knots, twenty-eight vital points (marmani), etc..(see  my introduction for more on this subject.)

The non-Saiddhantika traditions, often referred to as `Kashmir Saivism', assume the Saiva Siddhanta as their theological and ritual background.They draw on the more extreme anti-vaidika and antinomian revelation of the Tantras of the right and left currents, the tradition known as the Trika and its philosophical articulation in the Pratyabhijna became established within the mainstream of medieval Kashmiri society.

These non-Saiddhantika traditions assume the revelation of the Saiva Siddhanta and assume its cosmological and ritual schemes, adding layers of complexity to this already complex system and reading the tradition through the lens of a monistic metaphysics. As a consequence, their account of cosmology, while often being terminologically identical (especially in respect of the tattva hierarchy), differs from the Saiva Siddhanta in being understood as the manifestation of consciousness itself rather than an unconscious, material substrate (bindit or mahama)

This entails  the filling out of subjectivity with the absolute subjectivity of pure consciousness, especially in the works of Abhinavagupta and Ksemaraja; second, the mapping of the pantheons of deities on to the body; third, the locating of centres of power within the body, the systems of cakras; and, fourth, a concern with sexual experience in the context of ritual. Next for example as presented in a the key texts of Abhinavagupta and Ksemaraja.

The first-person pronoun that in the nominative case (namely aham) refers to the subject of predicates, the `I', is used in the non-dualist tradition of Kashmir to refer to the supreme subject of consciousness, Siva or Bhairava himself, inseparable from his energy (sakti) and containing within it the totality of manifestation. Thus it continues in the Tantraloka:

The flowing forth [of the cosmos] whose nature is energy begins with the incomparable (a) and ends with ha. Condensing the whole universe, it is then reabsorbed in the supreme. This entire universe abides within energy and she in the highest absolute. This is truly an enveloping by the omnipresent one. In this way, the enveloping of energy [is described] in the revelation of the Trisika. The universe shines there within consciousness and on account of consciousness. These three factors combine and unite in pairs to form the one, supreme form of  first phoneme, ha is the mother and in her subtle form the Sanskrit aspirate or visarda represented by two dots (transliterated as h), and this emission and manifestation finally retrieve the condition of the incomparable (anuttara) with the anusvara (m) or bindu.1

What is referred to is that the true reference of the first-person pronoun is not the indexical subject of everyday language, but rather the transcendent subject as the source of all phenomena. Indeed, to speak of a subject, an `I', in this way is to use the term such that it does not imply a distinction between subject and object. While this is a counter-intuitive use of the first-person pronoun, it is nevertheless at the heart of Abhinavagupta's thinking. The absolute `I' is yet mediated by a number of levels or realms within which the identification of the self with the implied self of the texts also occurs. Thus the supreme I is mediated through the Bhairava, whose nature is the `I'.

The cosmos emerges from the `I' and returns to it, although this separation and return can never be outside of that consciousness. The three elements of the word aham combine to form the totality of the cosmos. The cosmos is within the absolute subject, as the word aham contains the first and last letters and, by implication, all between them from a to ha. The three combinations of a and ha, ha and m, and in and a create a continuous flow of sound, with aham becoming mnaha, the former being the expansion of the cosmos, the latter being its contraction: both expansion from a and contraction into anust ara, the in or bindu, are mediated through the energy of ha.b The word aham is therefore treated as a mantra.

According to the commentator Jayaratha, this ahain is unitary consciousness, the supreme beyond everything, the place where all rests, the light of knowledge, knower, and object of knowledge. The `I' is Siva, who is both father and mother of the universe, who abides as the universal agent (karta viszatra samsthitah), and who penetrates the universe as phonic resonance (nada).

Further the body is animated by deities as the emanation of the consciousness itself.These are the eight mothers of the Kaula tradition, sometimes listed as seven, namely Brahmani, Sambhavi, Kumari, Vaisnavi, Varahi, Indrani, Camunda, and Mahalaksmi. They are also found, with some variation, in the Puranic texts, particularly the Devimahatmya, as forms of Durga' and in the Agnipurana, where they are framed by Tumburu/Virabhadra and Vinayaka. In one of the earliest tantric references they are listed in the Netra-tantra, where they are the entourage of Kulesvara. The Tantraloka refers to them in the context of the secret ritual focused on Kulesvara and Kulesvari, where each is in sexual union with a form of Bhairava. In the Isanasivagurudeva paddhati we find seven mothers in the context of the worship of attendant deities to Siva, each with her particular visualised form, colour, mount and so on.

In the stotra, quoted above, we see that the body becomes the text upon which the deities of the tradition - the goddesses of the senses - are inscribed. The body is inhabited by the circle of deities; this pantheon animates the body, which becomes the mandala wherein they reside. One of the terms for the pantheon of goddesses here represented is `clan' or kula,but one of whose meanings according to a scripture cited by Jayaratha is, indeed, `body'. These goddesses are identified not only with the body but with different levels of the hierarchical cosmos, thereby creating a homology between body and cosmos. While there is no narrative dimension to this text, set in a broader context of its liturgy this sacralisation of the body entails a temporal and so narrative identification of the practitioner with the cosmos. constructed through text and ritual. We might even say that the story of the body becomes the story of the cosmos, which is the story of the unfolding of the essence of experience.

While the kula rite in the Tantraloka undoubtedly reflects the earlier tradition of consuming sexual fluids - and this would seem to be a part of the rite - there is also an emphasis on an aesthetic dimension and the realisation of the bliss of the consciousness of Siva and Sakti in union.

Establishing a connection between human sexual experience and trans-human cosmic forces is not unique to Tantra; it had precedents much earlier in the Indian traditions. Perhaps the most famous example is from the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, where human sexual experience is akin to a person realising the self: As a man embraced by a woman he loves is oblivious to everything within or without, so this person embraced by the self (atman) consisting of knowledge is oblivious to everything within or without. The same is true of the Chandogya Upanisad, where the vedic recitation is identified with the sexual act.

While the expansion of pure consciousness, the filling out of the indexical-I with the I-ness of Siva, can be realised in ordinary, everyday transactions, it can also be evoked through ritual. The kula prakriya sets up a situation in which the intention is the identification of the practitioner and his partner with Siva and Sakti and the resulting sexual experience with the joy of their union. This identification can be seen in terms of the remembrance of tradition, always mediated through sacred text or revelation and through the teacher. To undergo the kula prakriya means that the couple need to have the requisite qualification (adhikara) which means having undergone an initiation into the practice showing levels of receptivity, such as the displaying of signs of possession (trembling, loss of consciousness) during initiation. The ritual process for the entextualisation of the body in the kula rite entails the male practitioner (sadhaka) performing preliminary purifications that include the visualisation of the rise of Kundalini. Once the female partner, called the `messenger' or dutm, joins him they both perform nyasa, thereby divinising their bodies. before the practice of the `three ins' (makaratra ,a), namely consumption of wine (mad),a), meat (mamsa) and sexual fluids resulting from their union (nmithuna). The sexual substances are actually passed from mouth to mouth in the rite (a practice which reflects Kashmiri marriage custom of passing food from mouth to mouth"). These three were to become transformed into the famous `five ms' (pancamakdra) or substances (pancatattva) of later Sakta Tantrism, with the addition of fish (mats),a) and parched grain (mudra), which in the Sri Vidya Brahmanical response to the earlier tradition were substituted with `pure' substances (pratinidhi). The hero (vira) or perfected one (siddha) who follows the esoteric path (kulavartman) must perform the rite with complete detachment and without desire, consuming the probhibited substances as integral to the ritual process, for otherwise the hero would simply remain as a beast (pasu).

Further it is important that the practices of vision or visualisation (dh)'ana), gesture (mudrc) and divinizing the icon (naairti, bimba, vigraha) are shared across the tantric traditions. Inseparably associated with visualisation are the two practices of ritual hand gestures or mudras and the utterance of mantra. There is a variety of madras that accompany ritual, described in various texts including foundational ritual texts such as the Mrgendragama.

 The term mudra, `seal', is rich, with levels of meaning that exceed the primary reference to gesture. Its principal designation is to hand gestures that accompany ritual action; hence it might be seen as the gestural equivalent of mantra. Mudra is the gestural form of the deity. Yet the term can refer not only to ritual gestures that seal' and protect the body but to practices that seal power within it in the form of semen: the practice of the vajroli mudra in which mixed sexual fluids are retracted into the penis for the purpose of gaining power,and the khecari-mudra of hatha yoga, the practice of turning the tongue back above the palate in order to drink the nectar of immortality dripping from the thousand petalled lotus at the crown.

The term mudra is even used for levels of the cosmos, perhaps in the sense that one level is sealed off from the next. Andre Padoux has outlined the meanings and contexts of the term's occurrence, especially with reference to the t azzzakesvarirzzata-tantra and to Abhinavagupta.' Mudra, explains Abhinavagupta, is of four sorts, done with body, hands, speech or mind and he gives an etymology (nirukta) of the word: that it `is so called in the §astras because it is that which gives, that which bestows, upon the self, through the body (dehadcarena), a bliss which is the attainment of one's real nature. Mudra is not simply a ritual gesture but a reflection (pratibimba) of a deity and energy (sakti) that liberates beings from all conditions of existence. The Yoginihrdaya gives ten kinds of mudra as hand gestures which are aspects of the deity Tripurasundari, and indeed only discusses their cosmic significance as ten aspects of her energy of action.

Mantra is connected to mudra in that as mudra is the expression of the deity in the body through gesture, so mantra is the sonic form of the god. In the tantric traditions mantra is the sound form of the deity empowered by the master and given at initiation. The inner vision of the deity and retinue, which is the niandala, has an external correlate installed and empowered as a temporary focus for daily rites or on a more permanent basis as a temple icon. The temple itself is an icon of the deity and the deity's body. The identification of the temple with the deity is a standard idea, well documented in medieval Hindu kingdoms. As vision is to the practitioner's body, so the icon in the temple is to the temple as a whole. The representation of the body of the deity at the heart of the temple is a correlate to the inner vision of the deity by the practitioner, and as the external practice can be seen as an extension of the inner practice of mental worship, so the temple itself can be seen as an extension of the icon at its centre - the extended body of the deity extended in precise ways as laid down in tantric revelation. The material representation of the deity in the image or icon (murti, zigraha, bimba) is the correlate of the deity within the practitioner's body; indeed, the traditions of the left tend to disparage physical manifestations of the deity as inferior.

Finally to conclude part three, and before we continue, I should reiterate that the tantric body has been established within traditions of specific revelation, ritual practice and initiatory teachings from which it cannot be separated. Attempts to identify the tantric body with eroticism in the West are as indicated so far, distortions of a much more complex tradition.

The distortion however have taken two routes, one a laudation of an imagined tantric body as being a way of maximising erotic pleasure, the other a condemnation of the tantric body as being irrational in promoting `magic' and `immorality', an attitude found in nineteenth-century scholarship and in Hinduism itself in the trajectory stemming from the Hindu renaissance.

Yet while the tantric traditions are attenuated, the traditions that do remain - in Kerala, for example - will inevitably continue to undergo change and probable erosion. I suspect that the tantric body is at odds with modernity because it can only be understood in relation to a hierarchical cosmology.

Clearly as seen, there are elements within the tantric body that have appeal Western in modernity but that have been distorted through their extirpation from their historical and textual locations. This appeal is inevitably linked to the critique of religion as the history of error.

There are, of course, Hindu-based traditions in the West, such as Siddha Yoga, the Nityananda Institute, and the Western inheritors of the Laksman Joo's `Kashmir Saivism', which claim to inherit the tantric traditions, and indeed sometimes guru lineages can be traced (as in the case of Laksman Joo), but inevitably these traditions are strongly affected by modernity and the tantric body they promote is not the tantric body of tradition.



1. Andre Padoux, L'iniage divine, culte et meditation dans I'Hindouisme, Paris, 1990, pp. 31-88.



For updates click homepage here





shopify analytics