Tantra (तन्त्रम्)

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Based on the Sanskrit texts called the Tantras, Samhitas, and Agamas. They were also called agamas in Shaivism, samhita or Pancaratra in Vaishnavism, and as tantras in Shaktism.

the term "Tantrika" is based on a comment by Kulluka Bhatta on Manava Dharmasastra 2.1

tantric traditions are found in Shaivism's Shaiva Siddhanta and the Mantrapīṭha (Bhairava-centred), and in Shaktism's Vidyāpīṭha and the Kulamārga traditions.

The Agama texts describe cosmology, epistemology, philosophical doctrines, precepts on meditation and practices, four kinds of yoga, mantras, temple construction, deity worship and ways to attain sixfold desires.

The three main branches of Agama texts are Shaiva, Vaishnava, and Shakta. The Agamic traditions are sometimes called Tantrism, although the term "Tantra" is usually used specifically to refer to Shakta Agamas.

The Agamas literature is voluminous, and includes

  • 28 Shaiva Agamas,
  • 77 Shakta Agamas (also called Tantras), and
  • 108 Vaishnava Agamas (also called Pancharatra Samhitas),

and numerous Upa-Agamas.

The means of worship in the Tantric practice differs from the Vedic form. While the Vedic practice of yajna there are no murtis and shrines, in its Tantric traditions, murtis and symbolic icons with puja are the means of worship. Temples, symbolism, icons that remind the devotee of attributes and values are a necessary part of the Agamic practice. This, however, does not necessarily mean that Tantra-Agamas and Vedas are opposed. Tirumular, for example, explained their link as, "the Vedas are the path, and the Agamas are the horse".

Each Tantra-Agama text consists of four parts:

  • Jnana pada, also called Vidya pada – consists of doctrine, the philosophical and adhyatmik knowledge, knowledge of reality and liberation.
  • Yoga pada - precepts on yoga, the physical and mental discipline.
  • Kriya pada - consists of rules for rituals, construction of temples (Mandir); design principles for sculpting, carving, and consecration of vigrahas of deities for worship in temples; for different forms of initiations or diksha. This code is analogous to those in Puranas.
  • Charya pada - lays down rules of conduct, of worship (puja), observances of religious rites, rituals, festivals and prayaschittas.

Elaborate rules are laid out in the Agamas for Shilpa (the art of sculpture) describing the quality requirements of the places where temples are to be built, the kind of murthis to be installed, the materials from which they are to be made, their dimensions, proportions, air circulation, lighting in the temple complex, etc. The Manasara and Silpasara are some of the works dealing with these rules. The rituals followed in worship services each day at the temple also follow rules laid out in the Agamas.

The Agama texts are premised on existence of Atman and the existence of an Ultimate Reality Brahman called Shiva in the Shaiva parampara, and Vishnu in Vaishnava parampara.

Kashmir Shaiva Agamas posit absolute oneness, that is Shiva is within man, he is within every being, he is present everywhere in the world including all non-living beings, and there is no adhyatmik difference between life, matter, man and the supreme being.

Tantra texts

The different types of Tantric literature are tantra, Āgama, saṃhitā, sūtra, upaniṣad, purāṇa, tīkā (commentaries), prakaraṇa, paddhati texts, stotra, kavaca, nighaṇṭu, koṣa and hagiographical literature. They are written in Sanskrit and in regional languages. The major textual Tantra traditions with some key exemplary texts is as follows:

  • Śaiva – Sadaśiva (Śivagama), Vāma or Tumburu, Dakṣiṇa or Bhairava
    • Kularnava Tantra
    • Amṛteṣaṭantra or Netratantra
    • Netragyanarṇava tantra
    • Niḥśvāsatattvasaṃhitā
    • Kālottārā tantra
    • Sarvajñānottārā
    • Ṣaivāgamas
    • Raudrāgamas
    • Bhairavāgamas
    • Vāma Āgamas
    • Dakṣiṇāgamas
  • Śivaśakti traditions – Yāmala (also part of Bhairava tradition)
    • Brahma yāmala
    • Rudra yāmala
    • Skanda yāmala
    • Viṣṇu yāmala
    • Yama yāmala
    • Yāyu yāmala
    • Kubera yāmala
    • Indra yāmala
  • Śākta – Kālī traditions (Kālī, Kālī Viṣṇu, Kāmākhyā/Kubjika, Tārā and Others), Śrīkula tradition
    • Shakta Agamas
    • Muṇḍamālātantra
    • Toḍalatantra
    • Cāmuṇḍatantra
    • Devīyāmala
    • Mādhavakula
    • Yonigahavara,
    • Kālīkulārṇava tantra
    • Kaṇkālamālinī tantra
    • Jhaṃkārakaravīra,
    • Mahākālasaṃhitā
    • Kālī tantra
    • Kālajñāna tantra
    • Kumārī tantra
    • Toḍala tantra
    • Siddhalaharī tantra
    • Niruttārā tantra
    • Kālīvilāsa tantra
    • Utpatti tantra
    • Kāmadhenu tantra
    • Nirvāṇa tantra
    • Kāmākhyā tantra
    • Tārā tantra
    • Kaula tantra
    • Matsya Sūkta / Tārā Kalpa
    • Samayā tantra
    • Vāmakeshvara tantra
    • Tantrajā tantra
    • Yoginī tantra
  • Kula - Kulamārga and Other tantras
    • Kulārṇava tantra
    • Mahānirvāṇa tantra
    • Kulacūḍāmaṇitantra
    • Kulārṇavatantra
    • Guptasādhanatantra
    • Mātṛkābhedatantra.
  • Vaiṣṇava – Vaikhanasas, Pancharatra, bhakti-oriented tantras of Kṛṣṇa and Rāma
    • Pāñcarātra saṃhitā texts
    • Ahirbudhnya Saṃhitā
    • Jayākhya saṃhitā
    • Pārameśvara saṃhitā
    • Pauśkara saṃhitā
    • Pādma saṃhitā
    • Nāradīya saṃhitā
    • Haṃsaparameśvara saṃhitā
    • Vaihāyasa saṃhitā
    • Śrīkālapraā saṃhitā
    • Vaikhānasa Āgamas
    • Gautamīya tantra
    • Bṛhadbrahmasaṃhitā
    • Māheśvaratantra
    • Sātvatatantra
    • Rādhātantra
    • Agastyasaṃhitā and Dāśarathīyatantra
    • Īśānasaṃhitā and Ūrdhvāṃnāyasaṃhitā
  • Mantra-śāstra - textbooks on Mantras, metaphysics of mantric sound, related practices and rituals
    • Prapañcasāra tantra and its commentaries and Ṭīkās
    • Śāradatilaka tantra by Lakṣmaṇa Deśikendra
    • Mantramuktāvali of Paramahaṃsa Pūrṇaprakāśa
    • Mantramahodadhi of Mahīdhara
    • Mantradevaprakāśikā of Viṣṇudeva
    • Mantrakamalākara of Kamalākara Bhaṭṭa
    • Mantraratnākara of Yadunātha Cakravartin
    • Mantramahārṇava of Mādhava Rāya Vaidya
    • Tantrasāra of Kṛṣṇānanda āgamvāgiśa
  • Nibandha - handbooks on ritual worship, sadhana and puja
    • Kriyākalpataru of śaktinātha Kalyānakara
    • Kaulāvalīnirṇaya of Jñānānandagiri Paramahaṃsa
    • śāktanandataraṃgiṇī of Brahmānanda Giri
    • śāktakrama of Pūrṇānanda
    • śrītattvacintāmaṇi of Pūrṇānanda
    • āgamakalpadruma of Govinda
    • āgamakalpalatikā of Yadunātha
    • āgamatattvavilāsa of Raghunātha Tarkavāgīśa, and āgamachandrikā of Rāmakṛṣṇa
    • Tantrachintāmaṇi of Navamīsiṃha
    • Prāṇatoṣiṇī of Rāmatoṣaṇa Vidyālaṃkāra
    • Śhivarahasya
    • Śaivakalpadruma

Number of Shaivagama texts and their nature:

Tantra are mainly two types Agama and Nigama.

  1. Agamas are those texts in which Devi asked questions and the Lord replied.
  2. In Nigama texts Lord asked questions and Devi replied.

This dialogue between Bhagavan and Devi is special feature of Tantra.

The Tantra-Agama texts present a diverse range of philosophies that is discussed in Chapter 36 of Tantraloka of Abhinavagupta. The Shaiva Agamas total ninety-two scriptures;

  • Dvaita Agama texts - 10 (known as the Śiva Tantras.)
  • Bhedabheda Agama texts - 18 (known as the Rudra Tantras)
  • Advaita Agama texts - 64 (Purely Abheda known as Bhairava Tantras or Kashmir Śaivite Tantras)

The Bhairava Shastras are advaitik Tantra texts, while Shiva Shastras are dvaitik.

The Rudra Tantras and 'Śiva' Tantras are used by the Śaiva Siddhāntins, and thus are sometimes referred to as Shaiva Siddhanta Tantras, or Śaiva Siddhānta Āgamas.

The Shaiva Agamas are found in four main schools: Kapala, Kalamukha, Pashupata and Shaiva, and number 28 in total as follows:

  1. Kamikam
  2. Yogajam
  3. Chintyam
  4. Karanam
  5. Ajitham
  6. Deeptham
  7. Sukskmam
  8. Sahasram
  9. Ashuman
  10. Suprabedham
  11. Vijayam
  12. Nishwasam
  13. Swayambhuvam
  14. Analam
  15. Veeram
  16. Rouravam
  17. Makutam
  18. Vimalam
  19. Chandragnanam
  20. Bimbam
  21. Prodgeetham
  22. Lalitham
  23. Sidham
  24. Santhanam
  25. Sarvoktham
  26. Parameshwaram
  27. Kiranam
  28. Vathulam

Shaiva Agamas led to the development of the Shaiva Siddhanta philosophy in the South and Kashmir Saivism in the North.

The Agamas of Kashmiri Shaivism is also called the Trika Shastra. The trika philosophy derives its name from the three shaktis, namely, parA, aparA and parApara; and provides three modes of knowledge of reality, that is, non-dual (abheda), non-dual-cum-dual (bhedabheda) and dual (bheda). The literature of Kashmiri Shaivism is divided under three categories: Agama shastra, Spanda shastra, and Pratyabhijna shastra. Vasugupta (850 AD) to whom the Shiva Sutras were revealed is considered as the founder of the Trika Shastra. Kallata in Spanda-vritti and Kshemaraja in his commentary Vimarshini state Shiva revealed the secret doctrines to Vasugupta. Bhaskara in his Varttika also mentions that a Siddha revealed the doctrines to Vasugupta in a dream.

The Shakta Agamas are commonly known as Tantras. The Shakta Agamas or Shakta tantras are 64 in number. Some of the older Tantra texts in this genre are called Yamalas.

The Vaishnava Agamas are found into two main schools – Pancharatra and Vaikhanasas. While Vaikhanasa Agamas were transmitted from Vikhanasa Rishi to his disciples Brighu, Marichi, Atri and Kashyapa, the Pancharatra Agamas are classified into three: Divya (from Vishnu), Munibhaashita (from Muni, sages), and Aaptamanujaprokta (from sayings of trustworthy men). Originally Vikhanasa passed on the knowledge to nine disciples in the first manvantara -- Atri, Bhrigu, Marichi, Kashyapa, Vasishta, Pulaha, Pulasthya, Krathu and Angiras. However, only those of Bhrigu, Marichi, Kashyapa and Atri are extant today. Thus, the four sages Atri, Bhrigu, Marichi, Kashyapa, are considered the propagators of vaikhānasa śāstra. A composition of Sage Vikhanasa's disciple Marichi, namely, Ananda-Samhita states Vikhanasa prepared the Vaikhanasa Sutra according to a branch of Yajurveda and was Brahma himself.

The extant texts of vaikhānasa Agama number 28 in total and are known from the texts, vimānārcakakalpa and ānanda saṃhitā, both composed by marīci which enumerate them. They are:

The 13 Adhikaras authored by Bhrigu are khilatantra, purātantra, vāsādhikāra, citrādhikāra, mānādhikāra, kriyādhikāra, arcanādhikāra, yajnādhikāra, varṇādhikāra, prakīrnṇādhikāra, pratigrṛhyādhikāra, niruktādhikāra, khilādhikāra. However, ānanda saṃhitā attributes ten works to Bhrigu, namely, khila, khilādhikāra, purādhikāra, vāsādhikāraṇa, arcanādhikaraṇa, mānādhikaraṇa, kriyādhikāra, niruktādhikāra, prakīrnṇādhikāra, yajnādhikāra.[citation needed]

The 8 Samhitas authored by Mareechi are Jaya saṃhitā, Ananda saṃhitā, Saṃjnāna saṃhitā, Vīra saṃhitā, Vijaya saṃhitā, Vijita saṃhitā, Vimala saṃhitā, Jnāna saṃhitā. However, ānanda saṃhitā attributes the following works to Marichi—jaya saṃhitā, ānanda saṃhitā, saṃjnāna saṃhitā, vīra saṃhitā, vijaya saṃhitā, vijita saṃhitā, vimala saṃhitā, kalpa saṃhitā.[citation needed]

The 3 Kandas authored by Kashyapa are Satyakāṇḍa, Tarkakāṇḍa, Jnānakāṇḍa. However, Ananda Saṃhitā attributes the satyakāṇḍa, karmakāṇḍa and jnānakāṇḍa to Kashyapa.[citation needed]

The 4 tantras authored by Atri are Pūrvatantra, Atreyatantra, Viṣṇutantra, Uttaratantra.[citation needed] However, Ananda Saṃhitā attributes the pūrvatantra, viṣṇutantra, uttaratantra and mahātantra to Atri.[citation needed]

Like the Vaikhanasa Agama, the Pancharatra Agama, the Viswanatha Agama is centered around the worship of Lord Vishnu. While the Vaikhansa deals primarily with Vaidhi Bhakti, the Pancaratra Agama teaches both vaidhi and Raganuga bhakti.

Occurrences of the word Tantra

ऋग्वेद: सूक्तं १०.७१, Wikisource, Quote: "इमे ये नार्वाङ्न परश्चरन्ति न ब्राह्मणासो न सुतेकरासः । त एते वाचमभिपद्य पापया सिरीस्तन्त्रं तन्वते अप्रजज्ञयः ॥९॥"

Yajurveda, Taittiriya Brahmana

Sāmaveda, Tandya Brahmana

10.7.42 of the Atharvaveda

Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa

Pāṇini in Aṣṭādhyāyī 1.4.54 and 5.2.70

Patanjali in his Mahābhāṣya quotes and accepts Panini's definition, then discusses or mentions it at a greater length, in 18 instances.

Īśvarakṛṣṇa author of Sānkhya Kārikā (kārikā 70)

Chanakya on Arthaśāstra

Viṣṇu Purāṇa

Gangdhar stone inscription in Rajasthan

The Mimamsa school uses the term tantra extensively.

When an action or a thing, once complete, becomes beneficial in several matters to one person, or to many people, that is known as Tantra. For example, a lamp placed amidst many priests - Sabarasvamin's commentary on Mimamsa Sutra 11.1.1, 11.4.1 etc.

Kāmikāgama or Kāmikā-tantra

Abhinavagupta in his Tantrāloka

Jayaratha, Abhinavagupta's commentator on Tantrāloka


Banerjee, Sures Chandra (1988). A Brief History of Tantra Literature. Kolkata: Naya Prokash.

Kauṭalya; R. P. Kangle (1986). The Kautiliya Arthasastra. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 512 with footnote. ISBN 978-81-208-0042-7.

Bagchi, P.C. (1989). Evolution of the Tantras, Studies on the Tantras. Kolkata: Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture. ISBN 978-81-85843-36-0.

Banerjee, Sures Chandra (2002). Companion to Tantra. Abhinav Publications. ISBN 978-1-70174-022-8.

Singh, L. P. (2010). Tantra, Its Mystic and Scientific Basis, Concept Publishing Company. ISBN 978-81-8069-640-4

Ghose, Rajeshwari (1996). The Tyāgarāja Cult in Tamilnāḍu: A Study in Conflict and Accommodation, Motilal Banarsidass Publications. ISBN 81-208-1391-X

DS Sharma (1990), The Philosophy of Sadhana, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0-7914-0347-1, pages 9–14

JS Vasugupta (2012), Śiva Sūtras, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-81-208-0407-4, pages 252, 25

Basu, Manoranjan (1986), Fundamentals of the Philosophy of Tantras, Mira Basu Publishers

Bhattacharyya, N. N. (1999). History of the Tantric Religion. New Delhi: Manohar. ISBN 978-81-7304-025-2. Second Revised Edition

Sarkar, Prabhat Ranjan (1959), Tantra and its Effect on Society, Bhagalpur: Ananda Marga Pubs

Kularnava Tantra,Paramhansa Mishra

Yogini Hridaya, Vraj Vallabh Dwivedi

Yogini Tantra by GangaVishnu ShriKrishnadas

Maheshwar Tantra Sarala Hindi Vyakhya Sudhakar Malaviya Chowkambha(Narada Pancrata)

Kamratna Tantra, Hemchandra Goswami

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Ghose, Rajeshwari (1996). The Tyāgarāja Cult in Tamilnāḍu: A Study in Conflict and Accommodation. Motilal Banarsidass Publications. ISBN 81-208-1391-X. [2]

Ganesh Tagare (2002), The Pratyabhijñā Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-81-208-1892-7, pages 16–19

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SrI Ramakrishna Deekshitulu and SrImAn VaradAccAri SaThakOpan Swami. SrI VaikhAnasa Bhagavad SAstram [5] Archived 2012-09-15 at the Wayback Machine

PT Raju (2009), The Philosophical Traditions of India, Routledge, ISBN 978-81-208-0983-3, page 45; Quote: The word Agama means 'coming down', and the literature is that of traditions, which are mixtures of the Vedic with some non-Vedic ones, which were later assimilated to the Vedic.

Archana Verma (2012), Temple Imagery from Early Mediaeval Peninsular India, Ashgate Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4094-3029-2, pages 150–159, 59–62

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