By Swami Harshananda
The tantras are a special class of literature dealing mainly with the upāsanā aspect, meditation and rituals of the religion. One of the earliest and pre-eminent of these tantras is the Prapañcasāra or Prapañcasāratantra attributed to Ādi Śaṅkara. There is a well-known commentary called as Vivaraṇa by Padmapāda, one of the four chief disciples of Śaṅkara and the first pontiff of the Kālikāmaṭha at Dvārakā in Gujarat.
Whether this work deals with mantras, yantras and upāsanā of the various deities of the religious pantheon by a genuine composition of the famous Śaṅkara or someone else’s passed on as his, this work is the handiwork of a great genius undoubtedly. The work has 2470 verses distributed among 36 paṭalas or chapters dealing with various topics such as creation and dissolution, development of the human embryo and birth, letters of the alphabet, bījākṣaras or seed-letters, dīkṣā or initiation and also the mantras and rituals connected with the various deities.
A brief summary of this treatise is:
It has 104 verses which starts with the questions of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Rudra put to Lord Nārāyaṇa. Nārāyaṇa replies that they were brought forth by Akṣara. He then proceeds to describe the process of creation beginning with puruṣa and prakṛti. A detailed description of the concept of time starting with lava to the life of the four-faced Brahmā which is equal to 17,280 million human years has also been given here.
It has 67 verses which shows the development of the embryo within the mother’s womb and certain other topics of Āyurveda are dealt with in this chapter. Another subjects discussed here is that of bhāvas or sounds and several aspects of kuṇḍalinī.
It has 75 verses. The main theme of this chapter is the letter of the alphabet classified as saumya, saura and āgneya. How these letters are uttered by the working of the air, first through the suṣumnā canal and then through the vocal organ is also described. Incidentally, the names of 50 oṣadhis like candana, aguru and karpura have also been mentioned here.
It has 76 verses. This chapter deals mainly with the bījākṣara hrīm, variously called ‘nāda,’ ‘prāṇa’, ‘jīva,’ ‘ghoṣa’ and so on. It is identified with the devatā Bhuvaneśvarī, also known as Kuṇḍali. The Hañsamantra which is also called as ‘Mahāvākya’, finds a mention here.
It has 70 verses. Henceforward, this work deals mostly with rituals, normal to such tāntrik works. The topics dealt with here, are:
- Dīkṣā - initiation
- Mantra - sacred formula
- Vāstudevatā and also vāstubali
- Erection of a maṇḍapa for purposes of dīkṣā
It has 125 verses. The topics included in this chapter are:
- The ṛṣi - sage
- Chandas - metre
- Devatā - deity of a mantra
- Nyāsas - six or five
- Worship of the deity
- Establishing the kumbha
- Prāṇapratiṣṭhā - infusing life into the image or symbol
- Upacāras - special modes of offering
- Homa - fire- sacrifice
- Offering unto Brahman
- Praṇāma - obeisance
It has 70 verses. This chapter deals with the rules of sādhana concerning Sarasvatī, the goddess of speech. For her mantra, Brahmā is the ṛṣi, Gāyatri is the chandas and Sarasvatī herself is the devatā. The dhyānaśloka describes her form for meditation as having three eyes and of transparent brilliance. She is white in color and holds a rosary, a pot of nectar and a book in three hands, the fourth showing the cintāmudrā. Her nine attendants include the goddesses Medhā, Prabhā and Smṛti. Other details concerning japa and homa are also given.
It has 60 verses. The first part of this chapter deals with prāṇāgni-homa. In the mulādhāra-cakra five homakuṇḍas are imagined to exist and offerings of the letters of the alphabet are to be poured into them. The second part deals with the worship of Sarasvatī which includes the steps like nyāsa pujā and also a beautiful hymn on her.
It has 44 verses. This chapter is devoted to the worship of the goddess Tripurā. She is called ‘Tripura’ since she is the center of the trimurtis, the Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśvara. She is also the three Vedas and existed even before creation, filling all the space. Her bījas are aim and klīm. Other items dealt with are the dhyānaśloka, and her attendant goddesses like Vāmā and a cakra. The effects of worshiping her are also described.
It has 69 verses. Worship of Mulaprakṛti along with her mantra, homa, abhiṣeka, japa and also other allied subjects are discussed here. The dhyānaśloka describes her form with pāśa, aṅkuśa in two hands and exhibiting the abhaya and varada mudrās in the other two hands.
It is comprised of 70 verses. The same topic is continued here with some additional information about her yantra, Gāyatrīmantra and attendant goddesses. There is also a long hymn addressed to her in the end.
It has 65 verses. In this chapter, a detailed exposition of the worship of Śrī or Lakṣmī is given. For her mantra, Bhṛgu is the ṛṣi, nivṛt is the chandas and Śrī or Lakṣmī is the devatā or deity. The dhyānaśloka describes her as holding two lotuses in her two upper hands whereas the two lower hands exhibit the abhaya and the varada mudrās. Two elephants are also pouring ghṛta from two pots. After describing japa and homa, the text gives how her nine Śaktis are to be invoked round her pītha. She is also described as Ramā, and 32 Śaktis or aspects like Bhāratī, Pārvatī, Cāndrī are enumerated. Her worship leads to the attainment of purity, bodily perfection, beauty and intelligence.
It has 90 verses. Dealing with the goddess Triputā, this section gives the ṛṣi, chandas and devatā as Varāha, nivṛt and Dharaṇī. The japa of her mantra has to be done twelve lakh times. The other topics discussed are the mantra of the goddess Tvaritā, yantras with ten and twelve lines, mantra of the deity Nityā and associated rites.
It has 88 verses. This chapter deals exclusively with the goddess Durgā including her several aspects and Śaktis. Aspects of Durgā are Vanadurgā and Sulinīdurgā. Mantras of all these aspects and their methods of puraścaraṇa are also given. It is specially mentioned here that supplication to Durgā as Vindhyavāsinī can eradicate the effects of all kinds of poisons like those of snakes, scorpions, rats and dogs.
It has 65 verses. This chapter concerns Surya or the Sun-god and his four-lettered mantra. Aja is the ṛṣi for this mantra whereas gāyatrī is the chandas. Bhuvaneśī, an aspect of the Divine Mother, is the devatā. The dhyānaśloka, nyāsas, homa and other rituals have been described.
It has 65 verses. This chapter deals with the mantra of Candra or Soma, his worship and his nine Śaktis like Rohiṇī, Kṛttikā, Revatī and Bharaṇī. It also gives the mantra of Agni and his nine Śaktis such as Pītā, Svetā, Dhumrā, Rucirā and Jvālini.
It has 78 verses. This section deals with Mahā-gaṇapati. The mantra is a long one with 28 letters. Its ṛṣi is Gaṇaka, the chandas is nivṛt and the deity is Mahāgaṇapati. The dhyānaśloka describes him along with his śakti. He has ten arms holding pomegranate fruit, mace, discus, noose, his own tusk and so on. He has nine Śaktis like Tīvrā, Jvālini, Ugrā, Kāmarupiṇī and others. Other mantras including the Gaṇeśa-gāyatrī are also given here.
It has 54 verses. This is devoted to Manmatha, the god of love. For his mantra, Sammohana is the ṛṣi, gāyatrī is the chandas and Manobhāva is the deity. He has eight Śaktis to assist him, like Mohanī, Trāsī, Ākarṣiṇī and so on. Two mantras are given. The first is of a single letter. The second is called mālāmantra which has fifty letters. A mantra of Ratividyā consisting of 32 letters is also indicated. This section gives a long mantra of Śrīkṛṣṇa of 18 letters and the ways of using it.
It has 64 verses. The subjects dealt with in this chapter are:
- Praṇava - Oṅkāra
- Meditation on Viṣṇu
- The four Vyuhas of Viṣṇu
- Details concerning yoga like yama and niyama
- Five states of consciousness
- Different states of yoga
- Yogasiddhis like aṇimā
- Methods of utkrānti
- Entering into others’ bodies and returning
It has 61 verses. The aṣṭākṣarīmantra, the famous eight-lettered mantra of Nārāyaṇa, is the main subject here. Of this mantra, Sādhyanārāyaṇa is the ṛṣi, gāyatrī is the chandas and Paramātman is the devatā. Apart from giving the names of the ten avatāras which list omits Buddha but includes Balarāma, some aspects of rituals like arcana and japa are also dealt with at the end.
It has 60 verses. This chapter deals with the twelve yantras or diagrams of the twelve rāśis or signs of the zodiac. Bhānu or the Sun when associated with these twelve rāśis has twelve different names such as Dhātā, Aryamā, Mitra, Vivasvān, Puṣā and so on. Towards the end, a beautiful hymn addressed to Viṣṇu is also given.
It has 58 verses. The dvādaśākṣarī mantra of Lord Vāsudeva is the subject of this section. Prajāpati is the ṛṣi whereas gāyatrī is the chandas. Viṣṇu is the devatā. It is to be repeated twelve lakh times and is capable of giving mokṣa or liberation.
Three kinds of nyāsas named as saṅhāra-nyāsa, sṛṣṭinyāsa and sthitinyāsa leading to the destruction of doṣas, and the creation of good, and also gaining peace are also given. Incidentally, the mantra of Sudarśana and some associated rituals are also given here.
It has 72 verses. This chapter deals with the Puruṣottama aspect of Lord Viṣṇu. The names of his associated with twelve parts of the body for their ceremonial purification are also given.twelve aspects like Satyātman, Acyutātman and Apratirupa associated with twelve parts of the body for their ceremonial purification are also given. The ṛṣi, chandas and devatā are respectively, Jaimini, jagatī and Puruṣottama. Other mantras mentioned are those of:
- Sudarśanacakra - discus
- Pāñcajanya-śaṅkha - conch
- Kaumodakīgadā - mace
- Garuḍa - the eagle-mount
The gāyatrīmantra of Viṣṇu as Trailokyamohana as also the description of his extremely bewitching form are given towards the end.
It has 58 verses. Meditation and worship of Nṛsimha are the main topics here. The mantra is in the anuṣtubh metre. Nārada or Prajāpati is said to be its ṛṣi whereas anuṣtubh is the chandas and the devatā is Nṛsimha. He can be worshiped in two aspects: prasanna and krura. Garuḍamantra and Nṛsimhayantra are the other topics dealt with.
It has 66 verses. It deals with Viṣṇupañjarayantra, a mystical diagram that affords protection to the devotee. A mantra of sixteen letters of Vāsudeva, other mantras related to the weapons like the Sudarśanacakra and Sārṅgadhanus are also given. A mantra that integrates the śloka of the Gītā describing the lord’s Viśvarupa is also given with all the allied instructions.
It is 73 verses. This chapter is concerned with the prāsāda mantra, a mantra of Lord Śiva that helps the sādhaka to get what he wants by pleasing the Lord. Vāmadeva is the ṛṣi of this mantra. The chandas is paṅkti. Īśa is the devatā. The dhyānaśloka describes him as pañcavaktra, having five faces. These five faces or aspects are:
There is also an exquisite hymn on Śiva.
It has 55 verses. Dakṣiṇāmurti, an important aspect of Śiva, is the subject matter of this chapter. He is described as sitting under a vaṭavṛkṣa, white in complexion, with matted hair ornamented by the crescent moon. He has four hands, holding the paraśu and the mṛga in two hands. The third is showing the jñānamudrā and the last rests on his knee. For his mantra, a long one of eighteen letters, Śuka is the ṛṣi, anuṣtubh is the chandas and Dakṣiṇāmurti-Rudra is the devatā. The rest of the chapter deals with the connected rituals.
It has 46 verses. Umeśa and Ardhanārīśvara are the two aspects of Lord Śiva dealt with here. These descriptions are given in the respective dhyānaślokas. So also the rules for their japa and homa. Ardhanārīśvara can be propitiated for various purposes such as puṣṭikarma, śāntikarma and even ākarṣaṇa and also vaśīkaraṇa. The mantra of Caṇḍeśvara, a fierce aspect of Lord Śiva is also given along with his gāyatrī.
It has 73 verses. The special subject of this chapter is the famous Gāyatrimantra, along with the Praṇava, the three vyāhṛtis, the seven vyāhṛtis and the gāyatrī-śiras. A detailed meaning and significance of all these is also described. The three vyāhṛis are:
- Svah or suvah
The seven vyāhṛtis are:
The gāyatriśiras is:
om āpo jyoti raso’mṛtam bhurbhuvassuvarom.
It has 103 verses. This section gives the triṣṭubh-mantra of the goddess Kātyāyanī, an aspect of Pārvatī or Durgā. Actually it comprises the first four lines of the Durgāsukta which is a part of the Mahānārāyaṇa Upaniṣad. Marīcī-Kāśyapa is the ṛṣi of this mantra. Triṣṭubh is the metre whereas Jātavedas-Agni is the devatā.
Apart from the dhyāna of the goddess Kātyāyanī, this section also gives the names of her nine Śaktis like Jayā, Vijayā, Bhadrakālī and Durgā. As a part of the pujā of the deity, names of some more goddesses like Jāgatā, Vedagarbhā, Tapani and Dahanarupiṇī, associated with the letters of the mantra, are also given.
An interesting point made out here is that the repetition of the mantra in the reverse order makes it an astra or weapon capable of destroying all the defects in the ritualistic process undertaken. Divisions of the nakṣatras into three groups and certain magical rites like stambhana, vaśīkaraṇa, ākarṣaṇa and so on, are the other topics dealt with.
It has 64 verses. This section deals with the Lavaṇa-mantra, related to the goddesses Rātri, Durgā and Bhadrakālī. Aṅgīrā is the ṛṣi and the metres are anuṣtubh and also triṣṭubh. The dhyānaśloka of the Kātyāyanī form of Durgā describes her with three eyes and four arms holding:
- Cakra - discus
- Śaṅkha - conch
- Asi - sword
- Śula - spear
It has 72 verses. The anuṣtubh mantra of 32 letters is dealt with here. Vasiṣṭha is the ṛṣi, Rudra is the devatā and anuṣtubh itself is the chandas. A detailed description of Rudra is given by the dhyānaśloka. His 32 Saktis such as Ramā, Rākā, Sārā, Umā, Sāntā and Amoghā are also mentioned. The mantra of 100 letters formed by combining the letters of the three metres is mentioned here. These metres are:
Its repetition gives longevity.
It has 77 verses which deals with a number of rites that can bring about the following results:
- Cure of fever
- Controlling the minds of others
- Attracting others to oneself
- conquering of enemies
It has 22 verses. Prāṇapratiṣṭhā or infusing life into an image or a yantra is the subject matter here. Prāṇa or life force is considered as a deity and her description is given in a dhyānaśloka. She has three eyes. She is seated on a lotus situated in a boat. She is holding in her hands pāśa ikṣu- kodaṇḍa and pañcabāṇas and also aṅkuśa and asṛk-kapāla. Her companions are:
It has 63 verses. This concluding chapter starts with the condemnation of a person who does not have a son or sons, the reasons for the same and the remedies like the performance of a yajña. It also describes the qualifications of a guru such as:
- Competence in this science
- Capacity to bless or chastise
- Conquest of the six enemies like lust
- Deep knowledge of the scriptures
- Being devoted to the worship of God
- Infinite patience
- Compassion towards the disciples
- Capacity of good speech in order to teach well
The disciple too must deserve his grace by cultivating the following virtues:
- Devotion to the guru as if he is God Himself
- Service to him
- Observing truth and celibacy strictly
- Being controlled in eating, sleep and speech
- Deep interest in studies
- Eschewing calumny
The Prapañcasāra is a difficult work to understand since it contains an esoteric spiritual science. Such sciences used to be taught privately in the seclusion of forest monasteries or academies. That is why they were either in the form of sutras or couched in an apparently unintelligible language. Only those who could unearth their special terms or symbols could understand them.
Though the commentary Vivaraṇa of Padmapāda throws light on many aspects of this work, it still leaves much unsaid or unexplained, especially in the field of the various mantras. Since the tradition that these mantras were to be transmitted directly and secretly by the guru to the disciple was till very strong and inviolable during his time, Padmapāda must have played it safe by strictly following it. However, the work Prapañcasāra-sārasañgraha of Gīrvāṇendra Sarasvatī has made it simple and easier to understand and follow.
- He lived in A. D. 788-820.
- Akṣara is the Eternal-Imperishable or Brahman.
- Puruṣa means soul.
- Prakṛti means matter.
- Lava is a split-second.
- Saumya means lunar.
- Saura means solar.
- Āgneya means fiery.
- Oṣadhis means herbs.
- Candana means sandal.
- Aguru means fragrant aloe.
- Karpura means camphor.
- Bījākṣara means seed-letter.
- Devatā means goddess.
- Hañsamantra is ’ham ham sah'.
- Vāstubali means rites connected with the Vāstupuruṣa, a cosmic deity.
- Maṇḍapa means a small structure, a shed.
- Kumbha means pot.
- Chandas means metre.
- Devatā means deity.
- Cintāmudrā means the pose of knowledge or wisdom.
- Medhā means understanding.
- Prabhā means radiance.
- Smṛti means memory.
- The kuṇḍalinī rests on this cakra.
- Homakuṇḍas means pits for sacrificial fires.
- Nyāsa means ritual purification of limbs.
- Pujā means worship.
- Bījas means seed-letters.
- Dhyānaśloka means hymn of meditation.
- Cakra means diagram.
- Mulaprakṛti is also known as Bhuvaneśvarī or Bhuvaneśī also.
- Abhiṣeka means ritual bath.
- Pāśa means noose.
- Aṅkuśa means goad.
- Varada means offering protection and boon-giving.
- Ṛṣi means sage.
- Chandas means metre.
- Ghṛta means ghee or clarified butter.
- Japa means repetition of her divine name.
- Homa means fire-worship.
- Pītha means seat.
- Śaktis means the attendant deities.
- Puraścaraṇa means ceremonial repetition.
- Aja means Brahmā.
- Dhyānaśloka means for meditation.
- Soma means the Moon.
- Śakti means who is wearing shining ornaments and holding a lotus in her hand.
- Manmatha means Cupid.
- Ratividyā means Kāma’s consort.
- Aṇimā means the capacity to become small like an atom.
- Utkrānti means leaving the body through its various parts.
- Arcana means worship.
- Japa means repetition of the divine mantra.
- Dvādaśākṣarī means twelve-lettered.
- Doṣas means the faults.
- It is Lord Viṣṇu’s discus.
- Trailokyamohana means the one who enchants all the three worlds.
- Śrīkara means Lord Viṣṇu who produces wealth.
- Mahāvarāha means the Great-boar incarnation of Viṣṇu.
- Nṛsimha means man-lion incarnation of Lord Viṣṇu.
- Prasanna means benign.
- Krura means fearsome.
- Nṛsimhayantra means mystic diagram.
- Sudarśanacakra means the discus.
- Sārṅgadhanus means the bow.
- Gītā 11.36
- Viśvarupa means Cosmic Form.
- Īśa means Śiva.
- Dhyānaśloka verses 55 to 64
- Vaṭavṛkṣa means banyan tree.
- Paraśu means battle-axe.
- Mṛga means deer.
- Jñānamudrā means the posture of giving spiritual wisdom.
- Puṣṭikarma means the nourishment.
- Śāntikarma means offsetting the evil effects of inauspicious planets etc.
- Ākarṣaṇa means attracting others.
- Vaśīkaraṇa means gaining control over others.
- Praṇava means Om.
- Mahānārāyaṇa Upaniṣad 2.1-7
- Triṣṭubh is a Vedic metre of 11 letters in each of the four lines.
- Pujā means worship.
- This mantra is jātavedase sunavāma and so on.
- These three groups are daiva, āsura and mānuṣa.
- Stambhana means arresting.
- Vaśīkaraṇa means subjugating others.
- Ākarṣaṇa means attracting someone to oneself.
- Māraṇa means killing enemies.
- Vaśīkaraṇa means controlling a person whom we want.
- It is called as śatākṣaramantra.
- Yantra means geometrical diagram of a deity.
- Pāśa means noose.
- It means bow of sugarcane with five arrows.
- Aṅkuśa means goad.
- Asṛk-kapāla means skull-cup with blood.
- Yajña means sacrifice.
- Guru means spiritual preceptor especially the one who gives a mantra and gets all the rituals performed.
- Sāra means the essence.
- Prapañca means the world.
- Paripurṇatejas means Overfull or Perfect Light.
- Sutras are aphorisms.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore