By Shankara Bharadwaj Khandavalli
Mantra Sastra is the foundation of spiritual practices and is central to all schools. It is the study of sound, how each sound is produced, the effect of each sound form, how to elevate one’s consciousness through these sounds to strike a rhythm with the cosmic vibration.
The study of sounds that activate different nadis, their rhythm and the timing/chanting methods that effectively activate those, is Mantra Sastra. Broadly there are three aspects, the study of various aspects of mantra, sadhana/upasana and the philosophy of sadhana/spiritual philosophy.
Aspects of Mantra
Mantra has two primary aspects – dhvani and varna or sound and the form/alphabet.
[[Brahman]] | | [[Sabda]] – Akasa | |____ [[Dhvani]] | |____ Dhvani (vibration) | | |____ Beeja ([[Mantra]] – Energy) | |____ Swara | |____ Swara (Siksha) | |____ Nada (Sangeeta) |____ Varna |____ Akshara (Alphabet/syllable) |____ [[Artha]] (Nirukta) |____ [[Vyakarana]] |____ Chandas
The actual sound or vibration and its effect are grouped under dhvani. This includes the science of pronunciation and chanting (Siksha), and the energy associated with sounds/beejas.
The basic study of varna or sound-roots is the next part. The combination of varnas to form words, their sequencing and ordering in sentences is called vyakarana or grammar. The study of meanings associated to words is nirukta. It is based on the psychological effect or reaction to various natural phenomena, and the sounds corresponding to those effects. Chandas is the study of meter, arrangement of syllable groups, with different lengths.
Dhvani is the acoustic aspect of Sabda.
Varna, as it means color, is basically the shade of sound that is produced. Varna mala is the set of basic elements of sound, from which all kinds of sounds emanate. There are seven basic varnas, “a”, “e”, “u”, “ae”, “o”, “am”, “aH”. These seven flavors are the primal variations of the nada that originates from muladhara as para vak. Of these “a” is the beginning, and is called “varnadi” or first of varnas. “H” form originates from above the others, and gets mixed with the “a” produced at muladhara, to make it “aH”. Hence these are called Sapta Matrikas. (They are Brahmi, Vaishnavi, Mahesvari, Indrani, Varahi, Kaumari and Camundi.) These are the basis for all forms of sounds. These do not need any intervention of tongue to be produced. The other vowel forms “ai”, “ou” are a combination of these.
Then various sound-roots are arranged in groups or “gana”s. These are based on how they are produced, when the tongue touches the different parts of the palette or teeth (dantika) or lips (ostha) or through movement of cheeks (talu). “ka”, “ca”, “Ta”, “ta”, “pa” are the sounds produced with tongue touches the front part of lobe above the tongue. “ga”, “ja”, “Da”, “da”, “ba” respectively, are produced right behind the above sequence. For instance “ga” is produced at a spot right behind “ka” and so on. Of all these, “ga” originates from the deepest part of the mouth from the back part of the lobe. Hence it is called “ganadi” or the first of all ganas. The leaders of different ganas are like “ka”, “kha”, “ga”, “gha”, “ya”.
The total varnas with all the ganas count to 64. These are called the 64 kalas or 64 yoginis that serve the Mother or Para Vak.
Language or Bhasha, is the composition of grammar and a set of words. Word-roots are representatives of natural phenomena, their names, and are inseparable from their meanings. Thus each sound is a representative of a natural phenomenon and vocabulary describes the universe. However unlike in the common usage of language, it is not the etymological meaning of the word that is important, but the sound itself is said to represent the phenomenon as well as imply meaning of that word.
For instance the bija that represents anger is “hum”. It is a common usage in some of the Indian languages to say that a person made “hum-kaara” to say he shouted in anger. Similarly the words like “phat-kaara”, “cheet-kaara”, “dhik-kaara”, “haahaa-kaara”, “jhan-kaara” and so on. This not only shows how closely beejas represent natural phenomenon, but how closely mantra Sastra and language are related, and also how a technical subject like mantra Sastra made into the daily life and common usage.
Mantra Beejas are composed by the same principle and that is how the qualities of Devata are determined by the beejas. For instance the vidyas having maya beeja as the central one are pleasant and smiling forms (Ex. Lalita, Bhuvaneswari). The vidyas having krodha (hum) are angry or ferocious forms. The various natural phenomena like happiness and auspiciousness (sreem, central in Kamalatmika/Sri), anger (hum, central in Chinnamasta), smoke (dhuum central in Dhumavati), fire (agni - ram), desire (kleem, central in Sri Krishna and Bala vidyas) form central letters of the vidyas. For the same reason alphabet is referred to in multiple ways in the description of Gods - Kali wearing 51 skulls, 64 yogini Ganas worshiping the Mother, seven Matrikas and so on. These "beejas" are found in common usage, not only in sanskrit but in regional languages too: one is said to make a "humkara" when angry, "Sri" is used as a sign of noble, and so on.
Sound and the meaning are inseparable, and one is invariably accompanied by the other. There is a verse that describes this – “vaagartha vipa sampruttau, vaagartha pratipattayet, jagataH pitarau vande parvati parameswarau”. Vak and artha are inseparable as Siva and Sakti are.
Vak-suddhi is about purifying language in a way that sound and meaning always go together. This is possible only when pronunciation, thought and speech all are perfected.
Each devata is associated with a beeja. The nature of the devata, powers, are known through the mantra of the devata, and especially the beejas.
In general all beejas of devatas end with anusvara(“M’) or visarga(“H”).
Ganapati is the primal devata and is worshiped ahead of any other devata in every occasion. “Gam”, is the beeja for Ganapati, much symbolic of His name. “Ga” is Ganadi, “a” is varnadi and “m” is anusvara. Thus He is the leader of all pramatha Ganas and qualifies to be worshiped first.
Sound is produced through contact, vibration and obstruction. This is called Ahata. However cosmic hiss if one can hear is eternal and existent. This is called Anahata. It is not produced by us but only heard. A yogi can hear this. In sadhana one makes the sound oneself (by doing mantra japa), in a rhythm, resonant with the vibrations of his nadis and his breath. Through this one will be able to discover the deeper vibration. This way of merging individual with cosmic is called mantra yoga.
It is based on the principle – Sabda is Brahman. And uttering sound in a methodical way is the way to realize the eternal sound.
In reality the same yoga is practiced and variedly called Mantra yoga, Laya yoga, Kundalini yoga. These forms are inseparable and lead to each other. Mantra yoga concentrates on nada to strike rhythm between individual and cosmic vibration, to activate the right nadis, to expose one into the cidakasa or daharakasa. Sabda is the tanmatra of mahabhuta Akasa. And through sabda one tries to turn his vision inwards from akasa to daharakasa, through chanting the mantra, by producing sound to slowly listening the anahata sound without producing it.
This is the reason why japa is graded in three steps: bahya, upamsu and antar japa. Chanting aloud, trying to do it with minimal sound and movement of lips, then doing it totally inwards mentally. However we should remember that this applies to individual sadhana and not vedic chanting. Vedic chanting is done aloud, and that will ensure its results.
Thus eventually when mantra yoga is achieved, one achieves laya yoga also, since his consciousness is directed to daharakasa where his devata resides.
There are three levels, gross, subtle and causal. While doing mantra sadhana, one will get mantra siddhi and will be able to see taijasic world – the devata will appear in subtle form, one will be able to enjoy subtle world instead of gross ones. Over time one will enter the karana-akasa or chidakasa. There the causal world is seen. And the causal being of the universe, Isvara will be realized. So basically it is the same devata, once seen as a taijasic being, is now realized as a causal being. Devata is in fact Brahman – only the sadhaka is realizing devata as subtle or causal as he is elevating in consciousness. Eventually, beyond this, he will achieve advaita-siddhi, and realize devata as Brahman.
The steps are more or less similar in laya yoga too.
Pranava or Omkara, is said to be the para nada, the essence of Veda, and verily Brahman. It is formed with three matrikas, “a”, “u” and “m”. These three are said to be symbolic of creation, sustenance and dissolution, and “aum” as a whole is Turiya or unmanifest Brahman. While chanting “aum” one begins nada with “a”, sustains it through “u” and concludes it with “m”, and this is said to be symbolic of creation, sustenance and dissolution of the universe too.
These three syllables variedly represent the three states – waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep, three functions, and three levels of consciousness and so on.
The variant of this, Devi pranava, is “Uma”, which is basically a reorder of the same roots as sustenance, dissolution and creation. Thus Devi’s primary role is sustenance and pervasion, much similar to Her sibling Vishnu.
Trimurty is a famous concept, where Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra preside over creation, sustenance and dissolution of the universe.
Triplet is a common theme of many concepts. The triputi of Sakta sadhana, three gunas, and three dehas, three avasthas, etc.
Triputi is visible in Veda, in the form of Agni-Aditya-Vayu representing Rajas-Satva-Tamas. This triplet is visible directly in older Sakta schools like Candi. In the more recent and refined version Sri Vidya, we find Vayu to be replaced with Soma. Both Vayu and Soma are aspects/epithets of Rudra. Vayu/Marut signifies power and this is visible in the combinations of Vayu-Rudra: Hanuman. Sri Rudram has 49 stanzas with Namakam and Camakam put together – these correspond to the 49 Maruts. Soma signifies beauty, bliss. And correspondingly, Candi whose triputi has Vayu, is an Ugra Rupa, and Lalita whose triputi has Soma, is a pleasant form. There is another reason why Soma formed a part in Sri Vidya triputi – Devi is said to possess all the Candra Kalas.
The three functions – creation, sustenance and dissolution can be seen in the context of triputi too. Triputi is common to mantra and kundalini yoga. The six centers are divided into three groups of two cakras each.
The bottom two – muladhara and swadhisthana associate with one granthi, the Brahma granthi. This will be Agni mandala. This is where kundalini, the Mother starts moving upwards – and this is the reason she is called Agni kunda samudbhava or Agni Sikha or Agni mandala vasini. This will be the beginning of the sadhaka’s spiritual life. These centers represent bhu and bhuvah lokas, or the anna maya and prana maya kosas – the gross and its link with subtle.
Manipura and anahata associate with Vishnu granthi. This will be Aditya/Surya mandala. Bulk of the sadhaka’s spiritual life is spent here, sustaining it. These centers represent swarga and mahar lokas, the mano maya and vijnana maya kosas – the subtle and its link with causal. At Anahata one can transcend the mind-life-matter triplet and reach the knowledge plane, and can see the cosmic instead of individual. This is the place where he can hear the cosmic hiss too.
Then visuddha and ajna cakras associate with Rudra granthi. This will be Soma mandala. This is the culmination of sadhana, and one achieves laya yoga here. The causal begins from here. Visuddha is the center of jana loka, or the ananda maya kosa. This is the world of existential bliss, or maaya. Ananda maya is still not beyond maaya.
(Isvara has two additional functions, apart from these three functions - tirodhana and anugraha or veiling and unveiling from maya respectively. They are not disjoint from the three functions – tirodhana is the cause for creation and anugraha causes complete laya. But these are separated more for clarity and for sadhaka’s convenience. So five functions in all – srsti, sthiti, laya, tirodhana and anugraha are the functions of divine, and in Saiva-Sakta parlance the presiding deities for these are Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Isvara and Sadasiva. Here Sadasiva is Brahman. Since the Mother rules over all the five, She is called Panca Krtya parayana. Panca brahmas or panca pretas that form Her seat are these five, with four as the legs of the chair and Sadasiva as the actual seat. Which is why She is called Panca brahmasana sthita, Panca pretasanaseena)
One will have the glimpse of what is driving the universe but not the reason for it. It is at ajna, when the consciousness totally gets merged in and one is roaming freely in daharakasa, that one gets to see the causal being or Isvara. This is tapo-loka. Isvara is in two forms, Sakala and Nishkala. Kala is His consort, the Mother. She is variedly called Kala, Kalavati. Maya emerges from Brahman and is inseparable. For the sadhaka, it is the Mother who subjects him and releases him from Her Maya. When the universe dissolves in the absolute, or when one can realize Brahman without Maya, it is called Para Nishkala. It is suddha pranava. Eventually between ajna and brahma randhra, one realizes this. In other words, at this stage one sees Maya to be dissolving into Brahman or the Mother uniting with the Lord. Thus at sahasrara one gets to see Siva-Sakti as eka rupa, and one gets advaita-siddhi or complete sayujya. This is satya loka. Depending on the taste of the sadhaka, he sees this as Satya loka or Kailasa or Vaikuntha.
The Family Representation
Sakti-Siva dualism derives from Agni-Indra dualism of the Veda. In Veda, Indra is the head deity while Agni is the central deity. And Agni tatva takes the form of Sakti in subsequent traditions – Tantra and Purana. And Indra, the “head” or Lordship, takes the form of Isvara – described as Siva in Saiva-Sakta and as Vishnu in Vaishnava.
Just the way husband is head of the family and wife is the center of the family, Siva and Sakti take the “head” and “center” role of the Universe. While He is the inspiration, She is the will, the pervasive power, the cause of all action. For any need in the family, kids approach the mother. For an external need, they approach father. Both can do both functions, but one is designated to one. So for bhava harana, approach the Lord. For bhava taarana, approach the Mother. Though both have the same goal, they differ greatly in approach. It is one thing to cut the riddle/knot of life, and another to open it loose, to live through it, while sailing in a ship instead of swimming. That is why the Mother is called “naveva sindhum duritatyagniH”. She is Bhava taarini.
The head of the family is usually nominal but for when a need comes. And with such a central person in the family to connect, manage and run it as Amba, the head can rest at peace. That is what He does blissfully. And anyone who worships Him, gets the same blissful state too.
Family concept is profound, and derives from divine definitions. The fundamental of a family is this: complementariness is spouse relation and similarity is sibling relation. Owing to the innumerable similarities between Devi and Vishnu, they are called siblings. And owing to complementary nature, Devi-Siva are wife-husband.
However Vishnu, is basically the tatva of Sakala Siva. He has same attributes as Siva, being vast, absolute, snake-adorned, etc. Then, He is not Nishkala but Sakala – Maya is not outside but inside Him. He is Himself Sakti too, and not the ruler of Sakti.
While Saiva-Saktas have worshiped Kala and Nishkala aspects, Vaishnava has not differentiated them much – and basically in total agreement with Saiva-Sakta traditions that Sakti and Brahman are inseparable, undifferentiated. While Saiva-Sakta show it in Ardha nareeswara, Vaishnavas show it differently – by putting both in the same being and not as deva-devi. That is the reason why in Vaishnava Lakshmi does not assume much of importance. She is there, but Lord is all-important.
While the Krita Yuga notion was of worshiping Vishnu, today Vishnu is not worshiped as Suddha tatva, the Para tatva at a popular level. His Sakti aspect is worshiped more than His Brahman aspect. And Vaishnavas do not hide this fact: they expressly say that the Lord is a personal deity and must be worshiped as Saguna and NOT as Nirguna. Thus, out of the Para-Antaryami-Arca-Vibhava-Vyuha forms, Para is the least worshiped. Antaryami is worshiped popularly, after Arca. This shows how strikingly similar Vaishnava and Sakta traditions are, since Sakti is worshiped in those same exact forms. We have already seen how Taraka beeja is common in Vaishnava and Sakta. And similar to Devi, Vishnu is worshiped as Bhava Taraka (Samsara Sagara Samuttaranaika…) more than Bhava Hara.
When one does upasana of Suddha Pranava, one observes that it begets detachment and not the immediate kind of bliss when one does upasana of mantras with Maya/Ananda beejas. Vishnu and His major forms Rama and Krishna, all have Maya beejas in them – and that makes Him Sakala.
The similarities in tatva between Devi and Vishnu can be seen more with more detail on Mantra Sastra, but just a quick list:
- Both are pervasive and sthiti karakas – infinite and hence black in color
- Both have Sakti-Maya-Ananda aspect
- Both are incarnation deities – they incarnate to eliminate Adharma
- Both have ten major forms of worship – avataras for Vishnu and maha vidyas for Devi. Both have 51 minor incarnations.
- Both have intimate relation with Manmatha. While Devi is Kama kala, Vishnu is the father of Manmatha.
- And so on.
We frequently come across the family representation of Siva – Siva, Sakti, Ganapati and Kumaraswamy. From the yoga margas of Kundalini and Mantra, Sakti is seen in two forms – Vak and Kundalini. These are the two sons of the Mother Ganapati and Skanda. This is clear from the fact that Ganapati is praised as “Catvaari vaak padaani”, “paraadi catvaari vagaatmakam”, “pranava swaroopa vakra tundam”. And Skanda is Shanmukha – the direct representation of Kundalini and shatcakras. He is the son of Sakti, fed and raised by Krittikas – the six matrikas or forms of Agni. And He is Subrahmanya the great serpent. These symbols are more elaborate, but it suffices here to see that they are the two forms of Sakti and subsets, hence Her sons.
Kumaraswamy is pravritti marga in the sense that He represents the growing consciousness, from muladhara to ajna cakra. Ganapati is nivritti marga, in the sense that He resides at muladhara in the form of para vak. Realizing Him is the other way round, from Vaikhari at vagbhava (throat center) to Para at muladhara. Thus, Skanda is pravritti and Ganapati is nivritti marga – these two are the two children of Siva and Para Sakti. Thus for a mantra yogi or nada yogi Ganapati is revered, and for a kundalini yogi Skanda is revered.
A bright example we have in the previous century was the pair Ramana Maharshi and Vasistha Ganapati Muni. Ramana is said to be an amsa of Skanda and Vasistha of Ganapati. And the correspondence is visible – Vasistha was a maha mantra vetta and Ramana was a yogi. Vasistha represents vak in many forms, through his panditya, mantra siddhi and the great mass of literature he produced.
Trimurty, Smarta and Tantra
The primary difference between smarta and tantra is that in smarta concentrating on muladhara is discouraged. Concentration begins from manipura or heart-center. In tantra, especially vamacara, they encourage concentration on the place where the journey starts – muladhara. Smarta discourages it because that is the origin and it is prone to travel in either direction – upwards or downwards. If the sadhaka cannot hold the downward movement it basically manifests as kama or mithuna. To be on the safe side smarta encourages concentration from manipura, so that by the time one realizes activated kundalini one is already sufficiently advanced.
This is the reason why out of Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra the worship of Brahma is prohibited. The story in Purana where Brahma and Vishnu compete, Siva turns into a jyoritlinga, Brahma tries to travel upwards and fails, then takes a false witness and is cursed, symbolizes this. Basically explicit concentration on Brahma granthi is not encouraged.
However this is indirectly encouraged through mantra sastra, the worship of Ganapati. The sadhaka is asked to concentrate on the origin of Nada or Vak (which is basically muladhara) and not of kundalini. This is because, realizing the origin of Vak is the same as achieving the higher state, while concentrating on the beginning of opening of kundalini can happen even before one elevates to the required states of consciousness.
However in tantra it is not discouraged. Vamacara tantra is also called Kaula, belonging to kula. Kula is basically coiled kundalini at muladhara. Kula marga is Her path through Brahma randhra. The Mother is both Kula and Akula. In fact Matangi is called Nakuli, which is basically Na-Kula.
The tantric interpretation is that the Mother is kamakala. The smarta explanation is that She is kamakala in Her ultimate form, beyond Manipura as She goes to unite with the Lord and not at muladhara. Siva is called “urdhva retas” for the same reason.
Kaulacara takes a different approach. It says that since atman=Brahman, the manifestation of different tendencies in man is basically the fulfillment of the Mother. So the panca makaras, including maithuna or sexual union are, if one is doing with due consecration, basically forms of worship.
(However, history offers sufficient evidence, that these tendencies are more prone in case of un-evolved beings as perversions than as divine practices. When man takes to socially unviable practices, about relations with people or about his practices like bali or sitting in burial grounds, it has not always done social good. To take one example, there is a village named “manava padu” by Alampuram, where it is said that the Goddess/Yogini used to roam and eat people of the village. Adi Sankara pacified Her and installed Sri Cakra. If we study the tantric practices of Kashmir or North-east we will get a fair idea of this. This is not relevant to the subject of mantra sastra but just a gloss over).
Smriti and Agama
The subjects of Smriti and Agama are different. While smriti is about practices for life, Agama is about practices for worship. Though this basic difference exists, they should have many common aspects in different languages – because in Hinduism all life is worship.
We can consider the quote relevant to the subject here. Agama says “kalau candi vinayakau”. The whole sloka if read, says that Vishnu gives best results if worshiped in Krita Yuga, Mahesvara in Treta, Indra-Agni devatas in Dvapara, Candi and Vinayaka in Kali Yuga. While there are many who interpret this according to theologies and their devotional loyalties, we should not forget that Agama is based on Mantra Sastra. Thus, what the text says has to be studied from that perspective.
If we look at what Hanuman tells Bhimasena in their meeting in Mahabharata, man gets liberation through natural yoga and tapas in krita, through tapas, sacrifices and austerities in treta (kamya is introduced), through austerities in dvapara (with Veda divided and knowledge available only in parts), and through mere remembrance in Kali. In Krita, everyone gets Mukti as they do their rites without any specific desire. In treta it needs tapas, since there is kamya. In dwapara it is sacrifice (isti, done for ista purti) as it is totally kamya. In Kali, remembering God will ensure mukti. Which is manana. Mananat-trayate is the definition of mantra. Thus it is mantra that gets mukti in kali.
Now looking at the Agamic instruction, we can understand that it is no different really – Para form of Vishnu in Krita gets mukti, as men are already in that state. In treta it requires sacrifices and tapas – the lord of sacrifices or Yajus is Siva. In dvapara it is basically isti, not yajna in the sense in which it applied in treta yuga. They are granted by Indra-Agni. In kali, it is Candi and Vinayaka, the Mother and the God who preside over mantra (as we have already seen). One form of mantra is nama, and nama smarana is thus recommended. In fact it is the subset of what is mentioned in a subtler way.
This is totally in accordance with what smriti says. Manusmriti says that though he cannot do panca yajnas and karmas, a dvija can become a dvija by doing mantra japa alone.
Thus in different languages, one of vidhi-vidhana and another of mantra sastra, smriti and Agama basically say the same thing.
Advaita and Sakta
Sri Vidya is a refined form of Sakta Tantra, both in Mantra and procedural aspects. This is courtesy Adi Sankara who popularized it. Sakta is primarily Advaitic in nature. There is a difference between Sankara Advaita and Advaita of Sakta Tantra.
There are three main schools that explain the relation between universe and Brahman. One is Arambha vada, which says universe has a beginning and an end. Nyaya and Vaiseshika follow this. The other schools hold that universe is eternal, its dissolution and next cycle of creation are linked with the continuity of the seed of creation. The second school is Parinama Vada, which says that the universe is a transformation of Brahman, emerges and dissolves in Brahman. The way a spider’s web comes from it, the universe comes from Brahman. Brahman is the essential substantial (upadana) cause for the universe. Sankhya, Yoga, Karma Mimamsa follow this. The third is Vivarta vada, which says that universe is a manifestation, an appearance over Brahman. Sankara Advaita comes under this. According to him, Brahman is the nominal (nimitta), substantial (upadana) and undifferentiated (abhinna) cause for the world. Sankara Advaita holds that Maya bounds and releases the being. World as it appears, appears because of Maya, and it is not what the world really is. The world, in reality, is Brahman only. Thus when one realizes Brahman and gets beyond the veil of Maya, then only Brahman remains, not the world. Sakta Tantra holds that Atman is same as Brahman, like other versions of Advaita, but the universe is real and eternal. It is not just an appearance that gets dissolved with realization. The Mother is primal rhythmic energy, Sakti and not Maya.
Sri Vidya is popularized by Sankara. The Vedic followers (who follow smritis and dharma sastras) of Sri Vidya go by Sankara Advaita. Atman is always liberated, but appears to be bound because of ignorance caused by Maya over the individual soul. Here Atman is to be called self. Soul is actually the subtle body that is constituted of subtle senses, mind and intellect. The Causal being of the universe, Isvara, associated with His consort Maya, rules the universe. The veil of Maya, is lifted through the grace of Sadasiva – and the individual being identifies its oneness with Atman which is beyond Maya.
The primary difference between Vedic and Sakta Tantra philosophies lies in the fact that in Vedic philosophy desire is seen to be transcended. Though desire is not sought to be suppressed by force, it is not seen as a means to transcendence – it is sees as something that is to be outgrown .
In Sakta, Nature, whether it is desire or natural tendency or instinct, is seen as a divine manifestation of the Mother Sakti. It is through fulfillment of it, with the sense that it is divine, as a form of worship of the Mother, that one seeks to please the Mother.
The Vedic practitioners of Sakta Tantra take a middle path, by praising the Mother as Maya who creates these tendencies to bind the being, seek to be liberated from these by Her grace.