By Prerna Dusija
A Foray into the Agamas of Hinduism
‘Agama’ literally means, that which has been bequeathed or ‘come down.’ They are an assemblage of scriptures of a gamut of Hindu devotional schools, with three main branches: Shaivism (of Lord Shiva), Vaishnavism (of Lord Vishnu) and Shaktism (of Adi Shakti). The Agama literature is very copious and includes: 28 Shaiva Agamas, 77 Shakta Agamas, which are also called ‘tantras’ (Hindu mystical texts), and 108 Vaishnava Agamas.
Most of the plenipotentiaries, such as, Sanjukta Gupta, of the Hindu tradition asserted that the maxims of these Agamas brought out the true spirit of the Vedas (ancient scriptures, meaning, ‘to know’ or to have knowledge of). Agamas teach systematic methods of spirituality that involve worship in the form of rituals, pujas (acts of worship) and yajnas (a ritual sacrifice with a particular objective), and also lay down the means to live the lifestyle of the Gods themselves – the Shivagamas especially stand for this.
In this discussion we focus on the Agama texts of Shaivism, which assert the Advaitic or non-dualistic truths, stating absolute ‘oneness’ and charting a course that leads to enlightenment.
Delving into the Sivagamas
Shaivism is one of the biggest branches of Hinduism and the available literature of the Shaiva system is abundant. The Shivagamas were directly delivered by Lord Shiva to Devi, to some of the sages and the adherents of the Shaivite order, such as Kaushika, Kashyapa, Agastya, Gautama, Narada, etc.
Each Shivagama upholds a particular set of instructions, be it for priests who want to conduct homas and pujas, or for people who want to live the lifestyle of Lord Shiva and who want to strengthen the connection with Him. These Agamas are also meant for those who strive for enlightenment, or simply for those individuals who wish to follow Lord Shiva’s dictums and live His very life.
There are per se ten Shivagamas that could be traced through the Himalayan Academy (but there are eighteen more) and these are translated into English by Dr. S.P. Sabharathanam Sivacharyar. The following are ten Sivagamas explained briefly:
- Kamika Agama Purva Pada (Part 1) – It is the fundamental Shaiva Agama. This Agama constitutes the ‘primary source’ for in-depth details on personal and daily worship, food, lifestyle, temple construction, practice of rituals, observance of auspicious times, examination of omens, etc.
- Kamika Agama Uttara Pada (Part 2) – This book or the second section of the Kamika Agama deals with directions for the following: worship of Shivalinga that is west or south facing, performing and celebrating daily and grand festivals, performance of pujas, and performance of Samaya and Vishesha initiations, etc.
- Kamika Agama (Grantha) – It is one of the longest Agamas followed by most temples in South India. It is indisputably looked upon as the feet of Lord Shiva. It deals with all rituals from turning the sod or mud to installation of deities. It is a complete manual for priests, the layman and the curious scholar who are interested in the details, significance and symbolism of Agamic worship, that is both private and public.
- Sarvajnanottara Agama Vidya and Yoga Pada – It is one of the prime Agamas and the key subjects tackled in this book (section of Agama) include, the Advaitic principles which explain how to connect with the divine. It talks about the “direct, blissful experience of absolute oneness with Shiva,” and the nature of the physical Self, inner Self, Self associated with tattvas (principles or truths), Self in the form of mantras (chants) and the nature of the Supreme Self.
- Raurava Agama Vidya Pada – This book or section of Agama tackles subjects that include Siva tattvas, transmission of scriptures, metaphysical path, significance of various kinds of initiation, departure and absorption of the soul, and different set of directions for: holding palms and fingers in different positions, performing the Nyasa of Shivakala Mantras (placing of the Shivakala mantras), and Yoga practice of Dharana (single-pointed concentration and focus).
- Pauskara Agama – With its roots firmly entrenched in philosophy, this book or section of the Agama deals with the nature of Shiva, Maya (delusion), the Soul, or the Soul that has been bound, Time or ‘Kaala,’ the nature of Subtle and Gross Elements, the revelation of the Agamas, etc.
- Mrgendra Agama Vidya Pada – It is one of the knowledge sections of the Agamas that deals with subjects, such as, ‘An Analysis of the Essential Nature of the Supreme Lord,’ in chapter five. Other areas that are observed are – On the Nature of Bonds, On the Absolute Lordship of Lord Shiva, An Inquiry into the Nature of Karmas, Descriptions of the Worlds Existing in Different Planes of ‘Bhuvana Adhva,’ and so on.
- Matanga Agama Vidya Pada – This section of Agama expounds profoundly on the Nature of Shiva and of liberation. It also covers, Ruminations on the Nature of Two Tattvas- Laya and Bhoga, and the Nature of Sadashiva Tattva.
- Kirana Agama or Kiranagama Mahatantra– This book or section of Agamas contains several sub-sections on Charya (spiritual performance or practice), Yoga (method of uniting with the divine), Kriya (action) and “…imparts the knowledge of pasu (individual soul), pasa (maya or illusion), pati (Lord), jnana (knowledge), and vichara (self enquiry).”
- Karana Agama (Grantha)– This is the Grantha version and was prepared by Mudaliar, probably in the early 19th century. The book was written in the Grantha script and is yet to be translated from archaic Tamil into English.
Bhagavan Paramahamsa Nithyananda aptly says, “Enlightenment is your birthright.” The Shivagamas are the stanchions of the Shaivite tradition and by strictly following any Agama, can lead one to enlightenment.
To know more about the Shivagamas, follow our articles in further issues of this magazine!
- Grimes, John A. (1996). A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy: Sanskrit Terms Defined in English. State University of New York Press. Pgs 16-17