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Representation of the Agamas

Vedas are known as Nigama as many of us know but even though we have heard of Agama, most of us do not know what it is. Actually both Vedas and Agamas can be regarded as Shruti (that which is heard). The Vedas are full of mantras and therefore in the form of aphorisms and the Agamas are in the form of discussion and written in a simple verse structure. Both were revealed to the rishis in their heightened state of vision.

The Agamas are based on the belief that God can be approached in two ways. It can be viewed as nishkalaformless and absolute or as sakala, having specific aspects. The Vedas accept the nishkala aspect that is both transcendent as well as immanent and is found in the

human as the atman, the antaryamin or inner self. Sakala aspect on the other hand believes that this energy can manifest itself in different forms and human beings can approach these forms through appropriate means. The methods of worship are different according to each form of the energy manifested by the divine.

The seed idea of the multiple forms of the divinity was already latent in the Vedas. It speaks about the thirty-three divinities classified into those of the earth, heaven and the intermediate regions like the Adityas, Rudras, Vasus, earth and space. These were later condensed to three – Agni, aspect of the fire element, energy and life

on earth, Vayu, the aspect of space, movement and air in the mid-regions and Surya or sun, the universal energy and life that sustains all existence. This formed the basis of the Hindu trinity, Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu.

The Upanishads that come at the end of the Vedas deal with the Absolute, attribute-less and limitless universal consciousness. The Agamas however deal with the saguna (with form) aspect of the divine which could be worshipped by all in a variety of ways for innumerable reasons.

The Agamas are the source of almost all the rituals and daily habits of Hinduism. Like the Veda, they also enunciate the nature of the Supreme but also reveal the method of attaining it. They give the practical aspects of religious

life. They are the source from which all the glorious rituals that are practiced in our temples come. They are also the source of all the personal rituals that we practice at home. These rituals can be followed by anyone without bothering about caste, creed or sex.

Hinduism is both spirituality and ritualism. Whereas the Nigamas provide the spirituality, the Agamas give the ritualism. They are an enormous collection of Sanskrit scriptures that serve as practical manuals for the worship of the divine in all its forms.

The Agamas include yogas like Kundalini Yoga and other concepts for self- realisation. They have their foundation in Advaita (non-dual) but the practice lies in the Dwaita (dualistic) philosophies.

The word Agama means that which has come down or that which is without access. They are all Vedic in spirit and character. This is why they are regarded as authoritative. However they put the vast amount of esoteric knowledge contained

in the Vedas into practical use. The word Veda indicates the root word –“vid” – “to know” so the root word in Agama is “gam” which indicates dynamism. Vedas contain the unadulterated truth or the Science of the Supreme whereas Agama gives us the method or recipe for attaining the Supreme. If Veda is pure science, Agama is applied science.

Many of the books on the Agamas are missing from our country. They have either been lost or stolen. Many are found in German and English libraries. Among the existing books which are still available to us, the most famous are the Isvara Samhita, Ahirbudhnya Samhita, Sanatkumara Samhita, Narada Pancharatra, Spanda Pradipika and the Mahanirvana Tantra.

Hindu scriptures are not dead books. They are timeless and living and give us timeless cosmic truths. Even though the mental capacity for people to do tapas has diminished, the relevance of these scriptures remains unchanged.

This is because Hinduism does not insist on absolute faith on the written word given by some person at some time or other. That word has to be corroborated by the rishis or sages and then by one’s own guru. But the final verification

lies with oneself after having practiced and found that it is the best for us. Having read it and seen it being practiced by your Guru you have a right to practice it for yourself and if you have the same experience that has been given in the Shruti and explained by your Guru then you know that it must be correct.

Hence we have what is known as pramanas or logical affirmations. First of all, we have Shastra Pramana which contains all the Vedas and the Agamas and are known as Shruti.

Next, we have Apta Pramana or the recorded account of the rishis. Many of these Agamas are what have been recorded by rishis.

Then come Atma Pramana or that which has been given to us by our own Guru as part of his personal experience.

Finally, we have Sakshi Pramana or that which has been corroborated by our own personal experience. Therefore the efficacy of any system finally rests on one’s own personal acceptance and understanding.

The Agamas are divided into five sections known as Pancha Upasakas that describe the methods of worship of the five main gods in Hinduism. They are the Vaishnava Agamas that proclaim Vishnu as the highest source, Surya

Agamas that worship the visible source of power which is the sun (Surya), Ganapatya Agamas that worship Ganesha or Ganapati as the Supreme power, Saiva Agamas that worship Shiva as the Supreme power, Shakta Agamas that worship the Divine Shakti or goddess as the Supreme.

The Vaishnava Agamas are known as Pancharatra Agamas and they glorify the Supreme as Vishnu. The Shaiva Agamas glorify the Supreme as Shiva and have given rise to two important schools of philosophy known as Shaiva Siddhanta which is prevalent in South India and Kashmiri Shavism found in Kashmir. The Shakta Agamas or Tantras use the many names of Devi and glorify the Supreme as feminine- the mother of the Universe. These Agamas make use of Tantra, mantra and yantra.

Each of these three Agamas contains an ocean of knowledge which can never be totally learned or even read by anyone in one lifetime. The more you delve into this ocean the more you realise its depth. You keep getting more and more with every dive so you never know if you have come to the bottom of the ocean.

All three Agamas give elaborate details about temple building, image making, mystic diagrams or yantras, charms and spells, methods of devotion, meditation, mystery behind mantras, how to conduct public festivals etc. All the internal and external forms of worship of different deities which are carried on mechanically by priests and votaries of each of the deities originate from the Agamas! So really speaking they are the most important treatises on which the actual practice of Hinduism rests.

Vaishnava Agamas

There are four kinds of Vaishnava Agamas of which the Pancharatra is the most important. The Naradiya section of the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata is the earliest source of the Pancharatra.

They contain seven groups






Gautamiya and


Vishnu is extolled as the Supreme Being in the Pancharatra Agamas. They were revealed by Lord Vishnu himself. There are two hundred and fifteen of these Vaishnava texts. Narada says, “Everything from the Brahman to a blade of grass is Lord Vishnu.” This corresponds to the Upanishadic declaration –“Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma,” “All this is verily Brahman.”

Saiva Agamas

Lord Siva is the central God in the Saiva Agamas. They were revealed to the sapta rishis by Lord Shiva himself at Mt.Meru. They are living scriptures which allow human beings to connect with the inner realm and ultimately realise the cosmic truth of Shivoham - “I am Shiva”. They cover everything from the nature of the cosmos to the knowledge of personal liberation. They give the precepts of yoga and experiencing the

oneness of Tantra. They also teach us how to conduct ourselves in our daily life, the different types of rituals -puja, mantras and mudras. They are the applied science of ancient Hindu spirituality that offers a lasting solution to the myriads of problems that face humanity. They are open to all castes and both sexes.

The Saivas recognise twenty-eight Agamas. Ten of them are known as Shiva Agamas and eighteen as Rudra Agamas. Of these, the most important is the Kamika. All of them are said to have originated from the five faces of Shiva - Sadyojata, Vamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusha, and Ishana.

The Sadyojata face is the one that taught the most famous of the Shiva Agamas known as Kamika to Kaushika Rishi.

The Vamadeva face revealed the knowledge to Kasyapa Rishi, the Aghora face to sage Bharadwaja, the Tatpurusha face to the sage Gautama and the Isana face to the sage Agastya.

These Agamas form the basis of the worship of Lord Shiva. They also have Upa Agamas that support the texts. There are two hundred and four Upa-Agamas that support the twenty-eight Agamas. Each of these has four padas or sections known as Jnana (knowledge), Yoga (practice), Kriya (esoteric rituals) and Charya (external forms of worship). The verses in each of these run into trillions. But many of them have been lost or stolen. Some of the Agamas only have some of these padas. A “pada” does not mean a step but a part.

Yoga pada tells us how to train our bodies so as we can experience unity. So it talks about the thirty-six tattvas and the procedures for yama, niyama, asana, samadhi and so on. They aim at rewiring our body so that it is strong enough to experience unity with the Shiva tattva.

Kriya Pada explains how mantras should be chanted, how to do sandhya vandana which are the rituals to be done during the time of the three sandhya's (morning, mid-day and twilight). They also teach us how to perform puja, japa, homa (fire ceremonies), and other initiations into spiritual processes. They contain practical rules for the construction of temples and instructions on the worship of different types of deities.

Charya Pada gives details about ways of atonement for sins (prayaschitta), ways of purification (pavitra vidhi), what type of malas or rosaries to be used for japa and the method of using them and types of yogic postures to be used while chanting and during meditation etc. It even tells you how and when to take baths and what type of baths to be taken at different seasons etc. The amount of detail that is given in these Agamas is unimaginable.

Jnana Pada is the knowledge you need to understand everything in the cosmos. This section includes cosmology, epistemology, and philosophy. It is not just knowledge. It is the capacity to imbibe the knowledge so that it enhances one’s own life.

It also elucidates the characteristics of pashu, pati and pasha. These three are important terms in the Shiva Agamas. Pashu refers to the creature or human being, pati is the Lord or master, who is Shiva himself and pasha is the types of bondages that we suffer. It is only through the worship of the pati that the pashu can get over his pasha or bondage.

The Shiva Agamas are the basis of Kashmir Saivism. In the South it gave rise to something called Saiva Siddhanta. Both these regard the Agamas and the Vedas as their authority.

Shakta Agamas

Hinduism has another group of Agamas known as Tantras. They belong to the Shakti cult which is the worship of the divine as Devi or the goddess. Agama is essentially a tradition and Tantra the technique. Both have the same ideology but Agama is wider in scope.

Shakti is the creative power of Lord Shiva so Shaktism is really a supplement to Saivism. The Tantras describe numerous methods of ritualistic worship of the Divine Mother in her various forms. There are seventy-seven of these Agamas which are still available to us. They are divided into Dakshina Marga which follows the normal methods of worship and Vama Marga which give a different type of method using

occult practices. They are all in the form of dialogues between Shiva and Parvati. In some of these Shiva answers the questions posed by Parvati and in others Parvati answers the questions posed by Shiva. These Agamas or Tantras teach many occult practices which can confer great powers. They are also capable of bestowing knowledge and liberation.

The names of some of these works are Mahanirvana, Kularnava, Prapanchasara, Tantraraja, Rudra-Yamala, Brahma-Yamala, Vishnu-Yamala and Todala Tantra.

The Jain Agamas are based on Mahavira’s teachings.

In Buddhism, Agama is a collection of the early Buddhist scriptures. In their Pali canon the word Nikaya is used instead of Agama.

To sum up, though the Vedas are the basis of Hinduism, the fact is that all the rituals that are practiced today come from the Agamas. The Agamas worship God through rituals (tantras), symbolic charts (yantras) and verbal symbols (mantras). All Agamas regard devotion and

complete submission to the personal deity as fundamental to success. Jnana or enlightenment automatically follows by the grace of the deity. But it must be remembered that self-discipline and intensity of devotion is necessary for grace to flow and this alone can allow the aspirant to attain Moksha which is the 4th goal of Hinduism.

Actually temple worship is a combination of the two forms of Vedic and Tantric. A temple in Hindu tradition is a public place of worship; several sequences of worship are conducted in full view of the worshipping devotees; and another set of rituals are conducted by the priests in the privacy of the sanctum away from the public gaze.

The temple worship is guided by its related Agama text which invariably borrow the mantras from the Vedic tradition and the ritualistic details from Tantric traditions. This has the advantage of claiming validity from Nigama, the Vedas; and at the same time, carrying out popular methods of worship.

This is what has kept Hinduism alive for so many centuries despite repeated attacks on it. Unfortunately, now there is a concerted effort by many groups all over the world to undermine the religion by destroying our festivals and forbidding temple worship. Unless the Hindus themselves take a strong hand on this citadel of the most- highest form of

worship of the divine is in danger of collapsing. Let all Hindus join together to pray that our culture will remain despite all the efforts of our enemies to destroy it. We must have the courage to fight for our dharma if all other methods of coercion fail. This was the advice of Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the Srimad Bhagavad Gita.

Hari Aum Tat Sat