Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bhairava and the Tantras

From what we know of history, the Tantric corpus revealed by Shiva was truly mammoth, consisting of millions of verses of written literature in hundreds of texts. There were, traditional wisdom tell us, five streams (srotas or amnayas) of Tantras arising from the five faces of Sadashiva -- the Bhuta, Vama, Garuda, Dakshina (Bhairava), and Siddhanta Tantras. So far as the evolution of Shaivism, its theology, ritual, philosophy and ontology are concerned only the Siddhanta and Bhairava Tantras are of importance.

Both the Siddhanta and Bhairava Tantras numbered in the hundreds of texts although most have been lost to time. Within the Siddhanta stream we have the Shiva and Rudra divisions, which consist of ten and eighteen primary tantras, respectively. Thanks to the multitude of sources related to Saiva Siddhanta, the names of the twenty-eight primary Siddhanta Tantras are well known.

Our focus here is on the mysterious Bhairava Tantras. Per tradition, there are sixty-four primary texts in this stream. The number sixty-four is purely idealized, as it is the square of eight (the number of directional Bhairavas). The actual number of primary and secondary texts within the Bhairava canon is, no doubt, much larger. It is relevant to mention here that there is no one or no source that can tell us unequivocally what the names of sixty-four texts are. But why is that so?

As a mystical exercise, one may use the imagery of Shiva, Rudra and Bhairava to intuit the answer. While Shiva teaches with meditative calmness and Rudra with piercing depth, Bhairava teaches with tremendous power and a fierceness previously unknown. The intensity of Bhairava’s Tantric revelations swept over the great Siddha masters and disciples and resulted in the outpouring of hundreds of texts in a relatively short period of time. The writers and redactors who wished to provide a gloss over the growing body of the Bhairava canon could not keep up with the writings, the array of teachings, or even the names of the texts.

We do have, nevertheless, several sources that attempt to list the sixty-four primary Bhairava Tantras with some success. Here again, an attempt is made to provide the names of these primary sixty-four Bhairava Tantras. The list below is compiled from a book by V. N. Drabu (1) and crosschecked with a list published elsewhere referencing the Srikanthi Samhita (2) and the Agama Encyclopedia (3) .

The primary classification of the Bhairava Tantras is in ashtakas (groups of eights). Therefore, there are eight groups of eights within the Bhairava canon. The eight divisions are called:

1. Bhairava Ashtaka
2. Yamala Ashtaka
3. Matakhya (Mata) Ashtaka
4. Mangala Ashtaka
5. Chakra Ashtaka
6. Shikha Ashtaka
7. Bahurupa (Ruru) Ashtaka
8. Vagesha Ashtaka

The texts within each division are listed below:

The Bhairava Ashtakas:
1. Svacchanda Bhairava
2. Bhairava Yamala
3. Chanda
4. Krodha
5. Unmatta
6. Asitanga
7. Mahotsusma
8. Kapalisha

The Yamalas:
1. Brahma Yamala (Picumata)
2. Vishnu Yamala
3. Rudra Yamala
4. Svacchanda Yamala
5. Ruru Yamala
6. Atharvana Yamala
7. Vetala Yamala
8. Not listed - Devi Yamala or Skanda Yamala (?)

The Matakhyas:
1. Rakta
2. Lampata
3. Mata (or Vimbada?)
4. Lakshmi
5. Chalika
6. Pingala
7. Utphullaka
8. Vishvadya

The Mangalas:
1. Bhairavi (Tantrabhairavi)
2. Picutantrabhairavi
3. Tantra Mangala
4. Brahmi Kala
5. Vijaya
6. Chandra
7. Mangala
8. Sarvamangala

The Chakras:
1. Mantrachakra
2. Varnachakra
3. Shaktichakra
4. Kalachakra
5. Binduchakra
6. Nadachakra
7. Guhyachakra
8. Khachakra (Purnachakra)

The Shikhas:
1. Bhairavi
2. Vina
3. Vinamani
4. Sammoha
5. Damara
6. Atharvaka
7. Kabandha
8. Sirascheda

The Bahurupas (Rurus):
1. Andhaka
2. Rurubheda
3. Ajatantra
4. Mulatantra
5. Varnabhantaka
6. Vidanga
7. Jvalin
8. Matr-rodana

The Vageshas:
1. Bhairavi
2. Chitrika
3. Hansa
4. Kadambika
5. Hrtalekha
6. Chandralekha
7. Vidyutlekha
8. Vidyumana

With the flow of tradition, many of these texts got copied, redacted, or their essence extracted into newer books. So many of the books that we may be familiar with are not found in the list of above sixty-four. For example, Jayadratha Yamala and Pingalamata both belong to the Yamala group. However, the Jayadratha Yamala is a subsidiary of the Brahma Yamala, and Pingalamata is supposed to be a subsidiary to the Jayadratha Yamala (4). Therefore, the Brahma Yamala is the base Tantra. Many other times, the base Tantra for a given text remains unknown.

Similarly, the original Rudra Yamala is supposed to have been very large and voluminous, but what remains is a fragment of the original (1)(5). The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, the Paratrishika, and Shadakshara Stotra are said to be extracted from that text. None of these appear in the presently available Rudra Yamala fragment.

Finally, note that the Tantras said to be central to Kashmir/Trika Shaivism such as Malinivijayottara, Siddhayogeshvarimata, Tantrasadbhava, Netra, etc. do not appear on this list, even though they are connected to the Bhairava canon*. This is not to say that texts that don’t appear on this list are not important or central, but rather that a complete listing of all the texts in this stream and their complex relationship with one another (redaction, extraction, subsidiary position) has never been fully elucidated. Sadly, since many of these texts are no longer in existence, a full picture of the Bhairava canon may never be known.

Many many Tantras may have been lost, but the divine teachings revealed by Bhairava are eternal. It is through His teachings that Bhairava again realizes Himself. May Bhairava impel us!

Aum Namah Shivaya.
Agnideva © 2013. All rights reserved.

(1) V. N. Drabu. Śaivāgamas: A Study in the Socio-economic Ideas and Institutions of Kashmir. 1990, Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi, India. 
(2) Vishnu Arya. List of Sixty four Non-Dual Bhairav-Agams [Saiva Tantras] of Kashmir Shaivism. Published at:
(3) S. K. Ramachandra Rao. Agama-Kosha (Agama Encyclopedia). Vol II. 2005, Sri Satguru Publications, New Delhi, India. 
(4) T. Goudriaan and S. Gupta. Hindu Tantric and Śākta Literature. 1995, Otto Harrassowitz Publishers, Wiesbaden, Germany.
(5) H. Bhattacharya. The Cultural Heritage of India: The religious. 1956, Ramakrishna Mission, Calcutta, India. 

*Note: Some claim that the Trika Tantras (Siddhayogeshvarimata, Tantrasadbhava, Malinivijayottara, etc.) are part (purvamnaya) of the Kaula Tantras that were later Shaivized, and loosely associated with the Bhairava canon. However, it has been successfully argued that the Trika Tantras represent a phase of tantric works that are pre-Kaula. It must also be mentioned here that there is no solid line dividing the Bhairava and Kaula traditions, and there is a great deal of overlap and interconnection. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

O Bhairava!

O Bhairava of mercy infinite!
May we be devoted to Thee,
Who art our selves, the very Self of our selves. 
May we express our love for Thy glory,
Who shines within the glory of our realization. 
May we worship Thy holy feet,
Which tread every path we walk upon in Thy quest. 
May we experience Thy consciousness,
Which manifests as the worlds and universes. 
May we again and again recognize Thee, 
Who art all manifestation, all existence, the sole reality. 


Agnideva © 2013. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Five Spheres and Four Eggs

In the beautiful and wonderfully complex world of Shaivite cosmology, we have what are known as the Six Paths (Shad-Adhvans). The paths are not so much paths to tread on, but paths through which one intuits the cosmos from the gross down to the subtlest of levels. These Six Paths are divided into two categories - the subjective (vachaka) and the objective (vachya). 

From the subjective side, we have three paths known as the Path of Words (Pada-Adhvan), Path of Syllables (Mantra-Adhvan) and Path of Phonemes/Letters (Varna-Adhvan). To understand fully the subjective paths, one has to comprehend the Theory of Sound/Speech as elaborated in the Tantras and the Upanishads. Suffice it to say here that going from words to syllables to phonemes, we're going on paths one more subtle than the other.

Similarly, on the objective side, which is what we discuss here, the paths go from gross to subtle to subtlest. On the gross level, there is the Path of the Worlds (Bhuvana-Adhvan) consisting of hundreds of worlds in higher and higher planes of existence. On a more subtle level, there is the Path of Categories (Tattva-Adhvan) consisting of the 36 Tattvas. The thirty-six Tattvas are a familiar feature of Shaivite and Shakta ontology. The various worlds exist at different levels, so to speak, along these categories. Finally on the most subtle level, there is the Path of Divisions (Kala-Adhvan) consisting of the five Kalas. The Kala-Adhvan encompasses the whole of the objective reality envisaged as five concentric spheres going inward each sphere consisting of tattvas within, which themselves hold the various worlds. 

On the outermost and grossest level is the Prithivi Tattva encompassed by the Nivritti KalaThe next level inward consists of twenty-three tattvas from Apas to Prakriti, and is encompassed by Pratishta KalaThe next level inward consists of seven tattvas from Purusha to Maya, and is encompassed by Vidya KalaGoing further inward are the four tattvas from Shuddhavidya to Shakti, which are encompassed by Shanta KalaThe highest of these spheres is not a sphere at all and consists only of the Shiva Tattva, which is nothing but Parashakti, and is called the Shantatita Kala

The four Kalas going outward from Shantatita can also be envisioned as concentric eggs (andas) - named after the highest tattva within:

  • Shanta Kala is called the Shakti Anda (Egg of Shakti)
  • Vidya Kala is called the Maya Anda (Egg of Maya)
  • Pratishta Kala is called the Prakriti Anda (Egg of Prakriti)
  • Nivritti Kala is called the Prithivi Anda (Egg of Prithivi), which is synonymous with Brahmanda (Egg of Brahma)
To know the five spheres and the four eggs is to know the entire objective reality existing within the Shiva Consciousness. 

Because of the abundance of glory and magnificence in His own Shakti, this group of four eggs is manifested by the Lord - Shakti, Maya, Prakriti and Prithivi. In this manifold universe flow continuously the worlds, organs of sense, and bodies. And in that reality, Shiva alone having assumed the state of a limited embodied being (Pashu) is the Enjoyer.
~ Acharya Abhinavagupta's Paramarthasara, Verses 4-5.

The Shiva Purana has somewhat simplified this concept. Envisaging the entire objective reality as the body of Shiva, the Shiva Purana says that Nivritti Kala goes up to His knees, Pratishta Kala up to His navel, Vidya Kala up to His throat, Shanta Kala up to His brow, and Shantyatita beyond. 

Aum Hrim Namah Shivaya. 
Agnideva © 2013. All rights reserved.

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