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. 

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