By Swami Harshananda
Significance of Tantras
The tantras are the religious works mainly dealing with the Devi-sect or worship of God as the Divine Mother. They have exercised a tremendous influence over the ritualistic and the practical aspects of the religion. The upāsanā or meditation upon a deity also requires the japa (repetition) of the mantra. Mostly it has a bīja or a seed-letter. There are different bijas for different deities of the pantheon. One bīja can even represent several deities.
Significance of Bījākṣaras
To keep the science well-guarded, but intelligible only to the initiates, the tantras adopt a round-about way of indicating these bījas. Unless the methodology adopted is understood by the initiates, it is impossible to decipher the bījākṣaras or bījamantras.
Works to Uncode Bījākṣaras
To help the novitiates in this field, expert teachers have composed abhidhānas, kośas and nighaṇṭus (dictionaries) that unravel the mystic syllables more easily. The following list gives some of these works arranged in the English alphabetical order:
- Bijābhidhāna of Bhutadāmaratantra - This is a small work of 75 lines in anuṣṭubh meter. It describes the bījamantras like hrīm, strīm, aim, krīm representing various deities like Aindrī, Vāmekṣaṇā, Sarasvatī and Kālī.
- Bījanighantu of Bhairava - The author Bhairava says in the beginning of this work that it is based on the information given in the Bhutadāmaratantra and the Śrutis he has studied. It starts with the narration as to what the 50 letters of the alphabet stands for. This is followed by various bījamantras like śrīm, hrīm, krīrii, huiṅ and others and what deities they represent.
- Ekāksarakośa of Puruṣottamadeva - As per the name, this short work describes the various gods and goddesses and other objects represented by each of the Sanskrit alphabets. For instance if ‘a’ represents Vāsudeva, ‘ā’ stands for the Pitāmaha. ‘Pa’ indicates Pavana or god of wind. ‘Sā’ represents both Lakṣmī and Śiva.
- Mantrābhidhāna - There are 35 ślokas in this work. They also describes the letters of the alphabet called as ‘mātṛkā-akṣaras’ as standing for certain deities.
- Mantrārthābhidhāna of Varadātantra - This is a short work of 50 lines in the śloka meter. It describes the various bījamantras like haurh, dum, krīrh, hrīiṅ, klīm, gaṅ, kṣrauih and so on.
- Mātrkānighantu of Mahīdāsa - Like the other works described above, this work also describes the letters of the alphabet and what they stand for in 59 verses. For instance, ‘a’ stands for Śrīkaṇtha, Keśava and Vāta. The letter ‘ka’ represents Māyā and Deveśa. If ‘ma’ denotes Vaikuṇṭha and Mahākāla, ‘ya’ stands for Yamunā.
There are three more similar works which are variations of the ones already mentioned like the Mantrābhidhāna, with practically the same subject-content.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore