Agama - History
(Original Article by Sri Srinivasa Rao Subbanna)
Agamas are a set of ancient texts and are the guardians of tradition. They are of uncertain antiquity. And , there are many legends associated with their origins. Dr. Surendranath Gupta says “The date of the Agamas cannot be definitely fixed. It maybe suggested that the earliest of them were written sometime in the second or third century A.D. and these must have been continued till the thirteenth or fourteenth century”.
The Agamas have come down to us, over the centuries, in oral traditions, from master to disciple. They are of practical applications in day-to-day worship practices associated, mainly, with temple-worship. It is likely that, over the centuries, some changes or modifications might have crept into the pristine lore to suit the changing needs of times according to the local contexts. It is, therefore, quite possible the original texts became elastic and new ideas entered into its procedural aspects. We may not be sure that the present versions of the agama are exactly those which existed at that ancient past.
What we now know as Agama shastra had its roots in the Kalpa-sutras, the supplementary texts appended to the main division of each Veda. Each of the four Vedas has its own specialKalpa sutra. They are meant to guide the daily life and conduct of those affiliated to its division. Generally, the set of Kalpa sutra texts include: Grihya-sutra (relating to domestic rituals); Srauta-sutra (relating to formal yajnas); Dharma-sutra (relating to code of conduct and ethics); and Sulba-sutra (relating to mathematical calculations involved in construction of Yajna altars (vedi, chiti) and platforms); and specification of the implements used in Yajna (yajna-ayudha).
The initial set of ritual- texts dated around third century, based, mainly, in Grihya-sutra andSrauta-sutra did not call themselves Agamas. But, at a later period, they came into prominence as Agama Shastra following the emergence of temple culture. They were rendered into written form as palm –leaf-texts rather quite late. Even these texts were not easily accessible outside the priestly class. According to one version, by around 6-7thcenturies, as the Temple-culture gathered strength, several Agamas were compiled into written texts as manuals for temple construction and vaastu; as also for deity worship (sakala-radhana).
The Agama tradition began to flourish by about the 10th or the 11th century with the advent of the Bhakthi School having strong faith in worship of icons installed in homes and temples.
But, the history of the Agamas between the period of early texts (3rd or 4th century) and the period when they began to come into prominence (say10th or 11th century) is rather hazy. No significant development seems to have taken place during the intervening period.
Agama is of post Darshana period
Most of the ritual-worship sequences that are followed during the present-day seem to have developed after the establishment of the six orthodox schools of Indian philosophy (darshanas). The changes in religious rituals from the Vedic to the Aagamic find an echo in the themes elaborated in the six orthodox systems.
A very significant change is the integration of Samkhya ideologies and Yoga practices into worship-rituals which somehow are juxtaposed with Vedic mantras. The very act of worshipping an idol is based in the Samkhya concept of duality, while at the same time, perceiving their essential unity. The worshipper initially regards the idol, the most revered object, as separate from him/her, whatever is the non-dual philosophical doctrines to which he/she might be intellectually attracted to. But, the Sadhaka is also aware that the aim and the culmination of his/her worship practises is to attain the ‘ upasaka-upasya-abhedha-bhava’, the sublime state where theupasaka comes to identify her/himself with her/his upasya-devata. The summit of the Sadhana is when the worshipper and the worshipped are united as One. The worship of the murtiis in the manner of the visible leading to invisible.
As regards the elements of Yoga, four of its eight stages are an integral part of worship sequences, viz. posture, (aasana), breath (life force)-control, (praanayaama), placing or invoking the divine aspects in self (nyaasa or dhaaranaa or atma-nikshepa ), and deep concentration and contemplation (dhyaana). There is also the process of transferring ones prana into the worship-image (dhruva-bera); and identifying the self with the archa image. The object is the union (yoga) of the individual with the absolute.
Agama - Classification
The worship of the deities may have been the immediate cause for the emergence of Agama literature. The worship of god in a particular form that is dearer to ones heart became the prime concern. The Agama thereafter branched into sects; each sect affiliated to its chosen god (ishta-devata). Each branch, each sect and sub sect of Agamas created its own set of texts and commentaries describing the virtues and powers symbolized by its deity; the aspects of its manifestations; and the particular ways to worship its chosen god.
It is said; the Agamas, in truth, are countless. But, generally, eleven branches of the Agamas are mentioned; each branch having several texts associated with it. The eleven are : (i) Vaishnava;(ii) Shaiva; (iii) Shaktha ; (iv) Saura; (v) Ganapathya; (vi) Svyambhuva (Brahma); (vii) Chandra ; (viii) Pashupatha ; (ix) Kalamukha; (x) Jina; and (xi) Cina.
The first five branches follow the panchayatana tradition of the Smartas .Of these, Saura and Ganapathya are now not in common use. And the practices of Pashupathas and Kalamukha sects are not in the open. The Agama texts relating to Brahma and Chandra are deemed lost. The China Agama is presumed to be in China, Tibet or Nepal. And, Jina Agama has a very long history; and, is still in practice among the Jains.
Thus, the three prominent branches of Agama shastra in practice during the present times are: the Shaiva, the Shaktha and Vaishnava. And, each of these in turn has numerous sects within it.
Shabda-kalpa-druma integrates the three branches of the tradition and explains: ‘It has come from Him who has five mouths; and, it is in the mouth of Her who is born from the mountains. And, what else, it is recognized by Vasudeva himself; and, that is why it is Agama’ (Agatam panchavaktrat tu gatam cha Girijanane; matam cha Vasudevasya tasmad agamam utchyate).
The term Agama is more often used for the Shaiva and Vasishnava traditions; and the Shaktha cult is termed as Tantric. But, there is an element of Tantra in Agama worship too.
The Shaiva branch of the Agama deals with the worship of the deity in the form of Shiva. The Shaivas recognize twenty-eight Agama texts, of which the Kamica –agama is better known. And, each Agama has subsidiary texts (Upa-agama). Shaiva–agama has given rise to Shaiva Siddantha and Veerashaiva of the South; and the Prathyabijnana School of Kashmir Shaivisim which leans towards Advaita. The Shaiva-agamas, in general, regard Shiva as the Supreme Conscious Principle of the Universe, while Shakthi is the Prakrti or the natural principle who is the cause of bondage as also of liberation. The union of Shakthi with Siva leads to the freedom of the pasu (inner Self) from the Pasa or the attachment.
The Shaktha Agama texts (also called Tantras) prescribe the rules and tantric rituals for worship of Shakthi, Devi the divine Mother of all Universes, the Supreme Self, in her various forms. She is both the cause of delusion (maya) and the liberation. It is said; there are as many as seventy-seven Shaktha-agama texts. Most of these texts are in the form of dialogues between Shiva and Parvathi. In some of these, Shiva answers the questions put by Parvathi, and in others, Parvathi explains to Shiva. Among the Shaktha-agama texts, the better known are: Mahanirvana, Kularnava, Kulasara, Prapanchasara, Tantraraja, Rudra-Yamala, Brahma-Yamala, Vishnu-Yamalaand Todala Tantra.
The third one, the Vaishanava Agama adores God as Vishnu the protector, the Supreme Lord of the Universe. It emphasizes that worship, service (archa) and complete surrender (prapatti) to Vishnu with devotion is the only sure path to liberation. Vaishanava Agama has four major divisions Vaikhanasa, Pancharatra, Pratishthasara, and Vijnanalalita.Pancharatra in turn is said to have seven branches: Brahma, Saiva, Kaumara, Vasishtha, Kapila, Gautamiya and the Naradiya. An offshoot of Pancharatra called Tantra Sara is followed mainly by the Dvaita sect (Madhwas).
The Vaishnava–agama has the largest number of texts, say , about two hundred and fifteen .Among these , Isvara, Ahirbudhnya, Paushkara, Parama, Sattvata, Brihad-Brahma andJnanamritasara Samhitas are the important ones. The Naradiya section of the Shanti-Parva of the Mahabharata is one of the earlier references to Pancharatra.
Of the Vaishnava Agamas, the Vaikhanasa and Pancharatra are most important. According to one opinion, the Vaikhanasa Agama is the most important and the most ancient Agama; and all other Agamas follow it.
All Agamas or Tantras of whatever group, share certain common ideas, outlook and practice. They also differ on certain issues depending on theIshta-devata they worshipped.
Wednesday, 09 January 2013 17:37
" VAIKHANASA MUNI SRESHTHA PUJITAYA NAMAH "
(meaning): Surrender unto Lord Srinivasa Whose worship was inaugurated by Sage Vikhanasa Muni (in His Shrine at Tirumala).
This is the 61st name of Lord Srinivasa from Sri Venkateshwara Sahasranamam. It evidently refers to the renowned sage Vikhanasa or Vaikhanasa by name who formulated a reular system of worship subsequent to the consecration of an Archa form of the Lord in the sanctum sanctorum. The system propounded by the great Sage is known as Vaikhanasa Agama, which has later on developed into a big scientific literature dealing with the architecture regarding the construction of the temples, inner and outer walls, vimanas, and the nature of the minor temples, etc. and the consecration of the idols. The Agama texts expounded by the disciples of the great sages, like Atri, Bhrugu and Marichi have acquired the names of Samhitas and they constitute the basic foundation of the Agama literature. The other form of worship independent of the Vaikhanasa Agama is known as Pancharatra Agama, which is followed in other temples such as Srirangam, Kanchi, etc.
Tuesday, 25 December 2012 20:46
Sri Vaikhanasa Agamam
Part 3 - Tirumala
The very act of worship (archa) is deemed dear to Vishnu. The major focus of Vaikhanasa texts is to provide clear, comprehensive and detailed guidelines for worshipping Lord Vishnu exclusively. The Vaikhanasa texts are characterized by their attention to details of worship-sequences. It is not therefore surprising that Vaikhanasas do not employ the term ’Agama’ to describe their text. They know their text as ‘Bhagavachhashastra’ which indicates that it is directly taught by Lord Vishnu to Bhagavan Vikhanasa Maharshi.
The characteristic Vaikhanasa view point is that the pathway to salvation is not devotion alone; but it is iconic worship (samurtha-archana) with devotion (bhakthi). ‘The archa with devotion is the best form of worship, because the icon that is beautiful will engage the mind and delight the heart of the worshipper’. That would easily evoke feeling of loving devotion (bhakthi) in the heart of the worshipper. The icon is no longer just a symbol; the icon is a true divine manifestation enliven by loving worship, devotion, and absolute surrender (parathion). And, Vishnu is best approached by this means. Only the Worship (Archana) invloves 'manasA vAchA karmaNA' which means we use our mind to contemplate on Lord, use our mouth to recite vedic hymns eulogising Lord and to offer upacharams to Lord, then finally we will be engaged in action - that means we will be actually performing Archana or Upacharams with our Hands suggested by the Vaikhanasa Bhagavachhastram. In this age of Kali, when we use all the three i.e. 'manasA vAchA karmaNA' it yields best results and it is the ultimate approach to Salvation.
The Agamas combine two types of scriptures: one providing the visualization of the icon form; and the other giving details of preparation of icon for worship. This is supplemented by prescriptions for worship of the image and the philosophy that underlies it.
The Agamas also deal with building a shrine to Vishnu (karayathi mandiram); making a worship-worthy beautiful idol (pratima lakshana vatincha kritim); and worshipping everyday (ahanyahani yogena yajato yan maha-phalam). The Agamas primarily refer to ordering one’s life in the light of values of icon worship (Bhagavadarcha). It ushers in a sense of duty, commitment and responsibility.
For worship, Godhead is visualized as in solar orb (arka-mandala) or in sanctified water-jala kumbha; or in an icon (archa-bera).
SRI VAIKHANASA AGAMAM - PART 2
The temple worship , per se, is guided by its related Agama texts which invariably borrow the mantras from the Vedic traditions and the ritualistic details from Tantric traditions. This has the advantage of claiming impressive validity from Nigama, the Vedas; and at the same time, carrying out popular methods of worship.
For instance, the Bodhayana shrauta sutra and Vishhnu-pratishtha kalpa outline certain rites for the installation of an image of Vishnu and for conduting other services. The Agama texts combined the rules of the Grihya sutras with the Tantric practices and formed their own set of rules.
While installing the image of the deity, the Grihya Sutras do not envisage Prana-prathistapana ritual (transferring life into the idol by breathing life into it); but the Agamas borrowed this practice from the Tantra school and combined it with the Vedic ceremony of “opening the eyes of the deity with a needle”. While rendering worship to the deity the Agamas discarded the Tantric mantras; and instead adopted Vedic mantras even for services such as offering ceremonial bath , waving lights etc. though such practices were not a part of the Vedic mode of worship. The Agamas, predominantly, adopted the Vedic style Homas and Yajnas, which were conducted in open and in which a large number of people participated. But, the Agamas did not reject the Tantric rituals altogether; and some of them were conducted within the sanctum away from common view.
The Vaikhanasa archana vidhi, which perhaps was the earliest and very ancient text of its kind, codified the of worship practices by judicious combination of Vedic and Tantric procedures. In addition, the worship routine was rendered more colorful and attractive by incorporating a number of ceremonial services (upacharas) and also presentations of music, dance, drama and other performing arts, but every Upachara combined with a vedic recital. It also brought in the Janapada, the popular celebrations like Uthsavas etc, These ensured larger participation of the enthusiastic devotees.
The Agamas tended to create their own texts. That gave rise to a new class of texts and rituals; and coincided with the emergence of the large temples. It is not therefore surprising that town-planning, civil constructions and the arts occupy the interest of early Agamas.
In due course the Agama came to be accepted as a subsidiary culture (Vedanga) within the Vedic framework. Especially the Vaikhanasa Samhithas, as stated in Marichi's Ananda Samhitha elaborate us that
vEdAnam vysanAdyantu prAgrUpam miLitam mahat |
tAntu vaIKhAnasIm sAKhAm yajurvEda tarOrvidu: ||
Before the Sage Vedavyasa (an amsa of Lord Vishnu) has divided the Vedic Corpus into four divisions viz., Rig Veda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvana Veda, They are combined into one single unit and that unit is called with the name 'SrI vaIKhAnasa YajussAKhA' and respected by all Veda Learners. There is an interesting account of how Veda's have been divided into divisions by Sage Vedavyasa is given in Sage Marichi's Ananda Samhitha.
Tirumala Hill Shrine is a famous Divya Kshetram which follows the ancient Sri Vaikhanasa Agamam from times immemorial. Many great Vaikhanasa Rishis have worshipped Lord Srinivasa and we have evidence in this regard in the form of the following sloka from 'Garuda Purana' and it stands as a 'Smriti Pramanam' for the link between Lord Srinivasa and Vaikhanasa Agama, as we read,
The relation between the Vaikhanasa mode of worship and Tirumala hill shrine is cited in several of Astadasa Puranas. There is an interesting sloka in Garuda Purana(also reproduced in Bhrigu’s Prakeernadhikaram) regarding the worship of Tirumala. It mentions that the divine Vaikhanasa sages namely Atri, Bhrigu, Marichi and Kasyapa, who are direct disciples of Bhagavan Vikhanasa Maharshi, by the command of Brahma wrote the Vaikhanasa Scriptures and worshipped Lord Vishnu on earth; Marichi in Mandara Kshetram; Atri in Srinivasa Kshetram; Kasyapa in Visnvadhistana Kshetram and Bhrigu in Subha Kshetram. It is difficult to identify what these places were, excepting Srinivasa Kshetra, which is the present day Tirumala.
purA chaturmuKhAdESa: chatvArO munayOmalA: |
praNIya vaIshNavam SAstram bhUmAvabhyarchannRupa ||
marIchirmandarE vishNumarchayAmAsa kESavvam |
sarvadEvOttamam dEvam (AdEsAt brahmaNO vishNum) SrInivAsEtrirarchayEt |
kASyapO vishNvadhisTAnE SubhakshEtrE bhRugurmuni: ||
Extract from Garuda Purana
The follwing series of write-ups focus on elaborating several interesting details on Vaikhanasa Bhagavachhastram. We thank the original author of these articles 'Sriman Srinivasa Rao Subbanna' for his valuable contribution to Vaikhanasa Community and Bhagavan Vikhanasa Maharshi in the form of these excellent write-ups. May Lord Srinivasa and Bhagavan Vikhanasa Maharshi Shower their choicest blessings on Sri Srinivasa Rao ji to complete more and more authentic articles on Bhagavan and to Astika Community!
Agamas and Temples
The Hindu temples are complex institutions. They represent the culmination of social and religious aspirations of a society. Temple is the focal point in the life of a community and often represents its pride, identity and unity. It is also the index of the community's wellbeing. It draws into its fold people from its various segments and denominations; and binds them together. In smaller communities the temple apart from being a source of spiritual or religious comfort, also serves as center for education and recreation.
A temple is also a treasure house of art and architecture, designed according to the principle of Vaastu Shastra, characterized by their majesty, serenity and beauty of intricate sculpture and designs. A temple evokes in the visitor a sense of beauty in art and in life as well. It lifts up his spirit, elevates him to a higher plane dissolving his little ego. At the same time, it awakens him to his insignificance in the grand design of the Creator.
The most significant aspect of the temple worship is its collective character. Peoples' participation is both the purpose and the means of a temple. The community is either actually or symbolically involved in temple worship. The rituals that dominate temple worship are therefore socio- religious in character.
The worship in a temple has to satisfy the needs of individuals as also of the community. The worships that take place in the sanctum and within the temple premises are important; so are the festivals and occasional processions that involve direct participation of the entire community. They complement each other. While the worship of the deity in the sanctum might be an individual's spiritual or religious need ; the festival s are the expression of a community's joy , exuberance , devotion , pride and are also an idiom of a community's cohesiveness.
The worship at the Tirumala Temple is done as per Sri Vaikhanasa Bhagwad Sashtram.
Amongst the Indian Communities of Priests, committed to the promotion of temple-culture, the Vaikhanasas occupy a significant position. The oldest such priestly communities, they even to this day largely function as temple priests. They find mention in Vedic corpus, the epics (Mahabharatha and Ramayana), the puranas (like Bhagavatham) and the Smriti literature. They are described as ascetics, hermits, devoted to contemplation on Godhead, and engaged in Vedic sacrificial rituals. They were sages closely associated with Valakhilyas of Rigvedic celebrity, and dear to Indra. So we read in Tandya-maha-brahmana (14,4,7)
vaikhAnasA vA rushayA indrasya priyA Asan||
They had their scriptural lore, named after tehir own designation, rooted in the Vedic corpus, containing the essence of Vedic wisdom, and given entirely to the worship of Vishnu as the supreme spirit of the Vedic canon. Sage Marichi's Vimanarchana Kalpam (patala 96), one of the earliest of Agama works, has this to say:
vaikhAnasam mahAshAstram sarvavEdEshUdrutham sarvavEdArthasAram
apratarkya aninditam vaidikairUpasEvitam vishnOrAradhanam|
sarvabhUthahitArdAya shAbdam pramAnamavalambya vishnunAm vikhanasa uktham, vikhanasa bhrugvAdInAmuktham ....
It may be noted that this scriptural lore aligned itself firmly and uncompromisingly to the Vedic wisdom (more specifically to the Aukheya-Taittiriya branch of Krishna-yajurveda) and was therefore described as 'vaidika' in contradistinction to the other approaches which incorporated the tantrika or folk practices. Even now, the Vaikhanasa priests, at home and in the temple, insist on first performing the fire-ritual prescribed in the Vedas, and then worshipping Vishnu, as the supreme spirit:
tasmAdagnau nityahOmAnthE vishnurnithyArchA gruhe dEvAyatane bhaktyA bhagavantam nArAyanamarchayEditi vignAyate|
This is prescribed by the Vaikhanasa-srauta-sutra. Infact, the Vaikhanasa is the only group among temple-priests to have a kalpa-sutra of their own.
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