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Srividya and Kashmir Saivism

by Dr. Haramohan Mishra
11th October 2016

Dharma as a pattern of life and sadhana as a higher quest for the meaning of life, in the Indian context, are the blending of two traditions, the Vedic and the Agamic. The Vedic tradition has two aspects the ritual and the spiritual which are not really contradictory. The Agamas, on the other hand, are considered to be the grammar of rituals from the exoteric point of view, but from an esoteric standpoint, they present a science of higher consciousness. In order to understand the Indian mind in its entirety one has to study both these traditions. The Agamas or the Tantras are remarkable for abundance of rituals, as well; they contain most sublime philosophical ideas. In some schools the emphasis is shifted to one side or the other. However, the most confusing factor is the numerous views, beliefs and practices, even incongruous, wild and absurd, which go by the name “Tantra”. The schools of Tantra are multifarious and manifold, from the most bizarre belief-system to the loftiest philosophy. However, their conspicuous character is their giving emphasis on the practical, notwithstanding their theoretical framework. Indeed, the Agamic pursuit is not merely speculative, it aims at an actual transformation and a tangible attainment in life.

Among the multiple schools, the Saiva and Sakta schools are more prominent, and of these, the most elevated are the schools of Kaula, Trika (including Krama school) and Srividya prevalent even now in the three extremities of India. In the eastern part (Bengal and around it) the Kaula marga is prominent , where as in Kashmir the Trika otherwise known as Kashmir Saivism and in the South Tripuragama or Srividya is prevalent. Different schools have developed their distinct characteristics. Traditional divisions based on amnaya, srotas, marga and the deities are confusing and are not clearly discernible. But their characteristics and their broad based divisions can be determined by a study of their texts. Of all the schools, Kashmir Saivism, the Krama and Srividya are so close to each other that their world view can be said to be one and the same, even though, in practice, the symbolism and expressions differ. Mahamahopadhya Pt Gopinath Kaviraj remarks- “The three cultural lines of Gauda, Kashmira and Kerala are familiar to students of the history of Agamic lore. The South Indian line was powerfully influenced by Kashmira, it is presumed that it has its reaction on the Kashmira school. When a descriptive history of the Saṃ̣vit Krama comes to be written much obscure ground will become clear.”1

Kashmir Saivism and Srividya represent the best in the Tantric traditions and, in some sense, can be said to be the highest attainment in the philosophical thinking and spiritual practice in India. They are based on the ancient Agama texts believed to be revelatory, supplemented with some interpretative works by later followers remarkable for their scholarship and sadhana. The revealed Agamic texts such as the Malinivijaya, Svacchanda, Vijnanabhairava along with the Sivasutras form the basis of the former school, where as the Nityasodasikarnava (otherwise known as Vamakesvara Tantra), Yoginihrdaya, Jnanarnava and Tantraraja form the basis of the later. A galaxy of scholars such as Somananda, Utpala, Abhinavagupta, Ksemaraja expounded the doctrines of the Trika and similarly Srividya was interpreted by some great exponents as Sivananda, Amrtananda, Punyananda and Bhaskararaya. The philosophical similarities between these two schools are so great that a portion of Amrtananda’s Saubhagyasudhodaya was mistaken by the Trika school as their own text by the name Sat trimsat tattva sandoha. Ksemaraja’s remark, while expounding the Trika world view, “atman is both immanent and transcendent according to Trika and others” is important. It is obvious that by the word “trikadi” he intends to include the cognate philosophical views such as the Krama and the Tripura schools.2

The Krama which stands in between these two partakes both of their character. The great Krama text Maharthamanjari written by Mahesvarananda draws freely from both these types of texts. Indeed, Mahesvarananda was the grand disciple of Sivananda (not to be confused with the Kaula Sivananda) one of the greatest exponents of Srividya whose Subhagodaya vasana was referred to by Mahesvarananda as Krama vasana.3 Jayaratha, the commentator of Tantraloka also wrote a commentary on the Nityasodasikarnava, a foundational Agama text of Srividya. The sutras of Pratyabhijnahrdaya, along with their commentaries are taken to be the work of Ksemaraja. But Bhaskararaya, the greatest exponent of Srividya, refers to these sutras as “Saktisutras” most probably an earlier Sakta work upon which Ksemaraja merely wrote the commentary.4 Abhinavagupta amalgamated the different non-dualistic trends of different Tantric schools such as Kaula and Krama with his main stream Trika view. He even wrote the Kramastotra, incorporating the ideas of this Sakta Advaita School prevalent in Kashmir. Another important krama text Mahanayaprakasa was written by Rajanaka Sitikantha who hailed from Kashmir and was prior to Abhinava. Mahesvarananda makes it clear that Mahartha (a branch of Krama) and Trika are not very different from each other.5 Mahesvarananda has the highest reverence for his grand teacher Sivananda, one of the great exponents of Srividya whose Kashmir link is conspicuous in his writings. Even today, srividya is popular among the Kashmir Pandits and is included in their daily rites.

The interaction between Tripuragama and Kashmira Saivagama as hinted at by Pt Gopinath Kaviraj is not only speculative it is clearly discernible in the texts. Sivananda, a great exponent of Srividya, in his commentary on Nityasodasikarnava, says that this sampradaya has its origin in Kashmir (sampradayasya kasmirodbhutatvat).6 Subhagananda, the commentator on Tantraraja, a Srividyagama, gives an interesting account in the conclusion of his commentary. He says that Srikanthesa, a learned Brahmin, the preceptor of the king of Kashmir came to see Ramasetu (Setubandha built by Rama) from whom he learnt the secrets of Nityas and thereafter wrote his Manorama commentary.7 In fact, we find different patterns of influence and trends of interpretation even in Srividya tradition if we, at least, compare three commentaries on one single foundational work, the Nityasodasikarnava. Sivananda’s Rjuvimarsini interprets it in the line of Pratyabhijna and quotes profusely from Kashmir Saivism texts to corroborate his views. Vidyananda’s Artharatnavali explains it in the line of Kaula and Krama schools. Bhaskararaya, in his Setubandha, criticizes both of them and explains more in the Vedantic line; his reverence for Sankaracarya is visible from his benedictory verse in the Guptavati, his commentary on Durgasaptasati, where he pays glowing tribute to the acarya.8

The basic philosophical stand points of both these schools are the same. Both Srividya and Kashmir Saivism expound their concepts and devise their sadhana in the consciousness-specific context or sambit paksa. The Self as atma-sambit is the sole referent in their interpretation. The Sivasutra begins with the line, “The Self is Consciousness” caitanyam atma.9 Abhinava says that the essential nature of all knowable or jneya is Siva who is prakasa or illumination as nothing can manifest nor can exist without being revealed by knowledge.10 Sivananda says that the name Mahatripurasundari stands for the Supreme Consciousness, Para Samvit, unlimited by space, time and form, filling the entirety conceived as triads, the Self, of the essence of cit and ananda, appealing and attractive to all.11 Amrtananda derives the meaning of “Yogini” as the all pervasive Supreme Consciousness who has yoga or inseparable contact with anything and everything of the world.12 Different divinities worshipped in the sricakra are known as samvit devyah, described variously as cinmaniprabha, citcandracandrika, cinmarici etc in the Subhagodayavasana of Sivananda.13 Elucidating kula prakriya Abhinava says that citi presiding over the kula conceived as a cakra comprising the vital forces and the senses in the body is known as Kulesvari.14 He makes it clear that the divinities conceived as such are innumerable; they are to be worshipped as specified or as suitable to one’s own conception. They are really the sparks or rays of Samvit whose number is not determinable.15Likewise, Sivananda likens the Devi to a great river, the river Parahanta, which is the confluence of the different streams of consciousness.16Nowhere in the other Tantric schools do we find such an interpretation. Even in the lofty Kaula marga where Advaita is the final truth, the deity is never considered as the Self though the duality is finally transcended.

It is to be noted that three schools are notable among the Indian philosophical traditions which hold that the ultimate reality is Consciousness. They are the Buddhist Vijnanavada (Yogacara), Advaita Vedanta and the Advaita Tantric schools of Trika, Krama and Tripura. However, their basic philosophical assumptions are different; they conceive Consciousness (Cit or Sambid) differently with different causal theories. The Vijnanavadins hold a sort of parinama vada according to which the objects are the modification of vijnana. The Advaita Vedanta holds vivarta vada according to which the objects are falsely superimposed on Brahman through avidya just as a snake on the rope. But Agamic schools mentioned above conceive the world as a reflection on Caitanya. Here, reflection is conceived in a unique manner, reflection without a separate object which is reflected. In the third chapter of the Tantraloka on the occasion of discussing Sambhavopaya, Abhinavagupta discusses this in details.

The generic Tantric works such as the Prapancasara attributed to Sankaracarya and the Saradatilaka of Laksmana Desika adopt the Sankhya paradigm intermixed with Vedanta and accept the twenty four or twenty five tattvas as fundamental. The Kaula schools more or less do the same and do not give importance to tattva vibhaga, though the Kularnava, belonging to this, once refers to the thirty six tattvas.17 However, in these two schools, the thirty six tattva vibhaga is a fundamental assertion. The former also identifies mula prakrti or avyakta with Sakti, where as in Kashmir Saivism and Tripura school Prakrti has a lower status than Sakti. For both these schools, prakasa and vimarsa, stand for Siva and Sakti respectively. The conception of three main Saktis, namely, para, apara and parapara or iccha, jnana and kriya, otherwise known as vama, jyastha and raudri as the manifestation of one Supreme Sakti, svatantrya, described in many different ways, is the common feature of both these schools.18 Corresponding to the three upayas, anava, sakta and sambhava in Trika, Srividya expounds sadhana in three different ways, sthula, suksma and para. Bhaskararaya says that corresponding to the three forms of the Mother, upasana is also of three types, the highest being the Parahanta which the worshipper realizes as his own Self.19 Like Advaita Vedanta, both these schools accept self knowledge or atma vidya as the summum bonum, but unlike the former, they uphold the view that the world is not false or mithya but the real manifestation of one supreme reality.
Though the philosophical framework of both these schools is the same, there has been no attempt to make a comparative study of them. The subtlest philosophical analysis and the loftiest path of sadhana enunciated in these two schools stand in need of deeper investigation and the common source of their concepts and practices is to be ascertained.

Haramohan Mishra
Ex-Director, Centre of Advance Research in Sanskrit,
Sri Jagannath Sanskrit Univerity, Puri


Foreword to Nityasodasikarnava, Sampurnananda, Varanasi,1968
Pratyabhijnahrdaya, comm. on sutra 8,
Maharthamanjari,p. 111, Sampurnananda, Varanasi,1992
Setubandha on Yoginihrdaya, p.13, Sampurnananda, Varanasi,1979
Manorama on Tantraraja,Ed. Arthur Avalon, London,1926
Guptavati on Durgasaptasati, benedictory verse 1
Tantraloka, 1.52
Rjuvimarsini, p.47
Dipika on Yoginihrdaya,p.5
Subhagodayavasana, with N.S, Ed. Sampurnananda, Varanasi
Tantraloka,29.46-47, Kashmir series, 1918
Yoginihrdaya,1.36-39, Also Tantraloka, 1.94
Setubandha on Nityasodasikarnava, Introduction, p.8-9, Anandashrama Ed

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