THE AGAMIC TRADITION AND THE ARTS
Pentadic Universe in the áaiv¡gamas
the integral vision of the Ëgamas
the world is seen to be composed of
consciousness (cinmaya), flooded
with light, made of light and permeated with light (prak¡¿a), but though being consciousness in essence a abstance is
seen and experienced as insentient. The question baffles us why being
consciousness in essence it is perceived as insentient. To this question
the answer given by the Ëgamas
is that the substance is apparently seen to be insentient in so far as it
does not have self-reflection of its own. Only because of the absence of
substances are considered insentient and are therefore relegated to the
level of matter but some others on account of self-reflection, are raised
to the highest excellence of spirit, the sentient beings. In Ëgama,
specially in the non-dualistic Ëgama,
no such dichotomy of spirit and matter exists, rather it sees it as an
integrated whole. The Ëgamas also do not like to classify the whole into asti,
bh¡ti, priya, n¡ma and r£pa, like
the Ved¡ntins stigmatizing the world of name and form to be negated,
conceiving it to be illusory while accepting only that aspect of Brahman
which is being, consciousness and bliss. But the ideal vision of the Ëgamas
is to see everything as the One, not many. It explains
sarvam of the UpaniÀad as
the entirety, not multiplicity (n¡n¡
] because in this integral vision there is no such diversity that is not
in essence light (prak¡¿apsrsm¡rtha).
the distinction of perspective the same thing appears to be different
according to the view of the onlooker. The one..., while remaining...,
shows innumerable aspects. Even then it does not lose its real nature of
fullness, for the very nature of the Full is such that it can assume any
form whatever it wills. There is therefore no question of any clash
against, the phenomenal view of the ordinary people who are accustomed to
see only the gross, for it is stated with firm conviction:
may seem to be outstepping toward that which is quite unknown to the
people of ordinary vision. Viewing everything as Siva is easy to speak but
perceiving it and then realizing it requires s¡dhan¡.
I under 85.
By means of contemplation thought of Siva as the medicine rightly applied in the mind, while it moves on, transmutes it into gold, like mercury, applied on a log of wood or the walls, transmutes them.
going to explain the matter fully we would like to quote an authority
here. Sri Abhinavagupta, thought it proper to say that bh£tas, the elements are existent because they are seen directly
through sense-organs, bh£t¡nyadhyakÀa
sidd¡ni (TËI, 1.190), adding further he says that bhutas (the elements) are known by all:
which are conceived by all as existing are indeed known as elements (The
element is indeed conceived by all as an existing being), for the group of
four (that is the earth, water, fire and air) is allowed by the void to
occupy a space in their specific temporal existence.
is no denial of the fact that all the perceptible objects are made of
elements, the number of which is five. It may categorically be stated that
the entirety of the universe though commonly known in Sanskrit vi¿va only appears to the seers as prapaµca (manifestation to be known, jµeya) extended in five-fold forms. The S¡Ækhya categories are twenty-five in number which is nothing but
the number five multiplied by five. In the Ëgamas
the accepted number of principles are thirty-six but even there the scheme
of grouping them into five divisions can be possible. So the Agamic
thinkers not only see the presence of five categories in the gross level
of their manifestation but also on the subtle level. Therefore, they
above five constitute the physical objects, known to all but it is not
known to all that they are the manifestation of consciousness. The Supreme
consciousness manifests itself or rather extends in five different ways.
These ways are five out-lets through which áiva, the supreme
consciousness expresses Himself though basically remaining as being
consciousness, bliss, knowledge and activity. These are known to the áaivas
as the five faces of áiva, the Lord.
process how consciousness expresses itself and becomes gross, is very
subtle and needs a detailed study itself, therefore, we can only give a
short hint here in order to clarify the background.
Abhinavagupta presents a clear picture of the concept in his
Par¡tr¢¿ik¡-Laghuv¤tti. We have summarized the whole in the lines
universe as it shines before us consists of two aspects - the one is
signifier called vacaka and the other is
par¡mar¿a, the process of cognition manifesting itself in the v¡cya, the signified
consciousness. The par¡mar¿a
is known to assume the form of the phonemes a,
a, I, u and so on to represent anuttara,
¡nanda, icch¡ and UnmeÀa.
The phonemes a and a representing anuttara
and ¡nanda are considered
to be his antara´ga (internal)
and the phonemes i and u representing iccha
and unmesa are considered to be the Lord's bahira´ga
(external) ¿aktis. As the
present paper is mainly concerned with the seed syllables ya, ra, va, la which are related to the elements air and so on it
seems relevant to explain how they can be the signifying agent to give
rise to the signified objects of earth and so on.
phonemes i and a give rise to ya,
while u and a joined together
give rise to va. Similarly the
phonemes ¤ and ½ give rise to r and
l. These four, that is ya, va,
ra, la, have the characteristics of vibration, illumination,
nourishing and supporting (spanda, prak¡¿na, ¡py¡yana, dh¡ra¸a) respectively.
in the external world, the sun and moon, which rule the day and night by
their expansion and contraction, move within these fifteen stations.
now occurs the appearance of knowable objects, which takes place in will (i)
and domination (¢), As knowable objects begin to appear themselves, begin to
separate themselves, there occur, on the gross level, the five gross
elements, and on the subtle level, the five subtle elements.
This result in ten principles, namely, earth, water, fire, air, space,
smell, taste, form, touch and sound. This is the manifestation of the
phonemes are cogitation (par¡mar¿ana) by nature characterized by
vibration which is nothing but dynamism abiding in the core of all
syllables, particularly in the
vowels, but externally when this power of
par¡mar¿a becomes involved in time, it assumes the form of the moon
and the sun causing the night and the day manifested by contraction and
expansion and thereby shine in the inner core of fifteen lunar days (tithis).
have mentioned earlier that in the sphere of icch¡ and ¢¿¡na the
knowables remain present in a very subtle way inseparable from the power
of cognition par¡mar¿a¿akti.
The emergence of the knowables occurs grossly as if separating itself from
it. It appears in the pentadic form of gross
bh£tas, the earth and so on, and subtle tanm¡tras.
The manifestation of gross and subtle bh£tas
in the form of knowables becomes possible through the instrumentality
of both internal and external sense-organs. The complete picture of the
knowable appears with the interaction and the relative evolution of mind,
intellect, egoism, primordial prak¤ti and
puruÀa. The self-knowingness (vedana)
born of the void, being manifest, the above group of five comes to the
view of puruÀa, the self.
Therefore, being knowable itself, it remains above them as the knowing
subject. In the absence of the self, known as
puruÀa, all the knowables do not carry any meaning. The knowing
subject called puruÀa, though
limited, serves a great deal for the understanding of knowables. The soul
remains bound with the bond of worldliness, attached to the object of its
desire, remains plunged in the depth of ignorance, wanders about to
perform deeds according to its limited power and becomes the knower of a
very little. These powers which are the binding forces are known as four ¿aktis,
the ¿aktis of earth, water,
fire and air. On account of its close relation with these ¿aktis, which keep the soul supported in the middle like the
legendary figure tri¿a´ku, it
remains between pure consciousness and insentient matter. As it remains
bound by the above. ¿aktis it
is unable to move upward in order to shine in its pristine glory of pure
consciousness, nor fall downward as an insentient log of wood. The power
of the void serves the soul in two ways. It makes the soul to shine in its
pure form consciousness free from, the touch of all knowables on one hand,
and on the other allows room for all knowables to shine with their
individual distinctions. This void is known as vimar¿a,
reflective consciousness internally inseparable from its very nature. The
state of knowableness gradually dwindles. The power known as
¡k¡¿a¿akti helps the limited self to become relieved of the
binding forces, with the result, the consciousness shines forth with
predominating brilliance. Even then the power of the subtle elements
continues to help the limited soul to realize manifestation of
consciousness followed by steadiness (dh¤ti),
nourishment (¡py¡yanam), union with its light (tatprak¡¿ayogaÅ), attainment of vibration characterized by
supreme freedom and pervasiveness with that.
is clear that the above ¿aktis which
function in the lower sphere as the gross bh£tas
remain present in this rarefied subtle region and function there as
áaktis. They are not only pervasive but are the cause to replenish
the very nature of the self (svar£pasya p£rakam).
With this idea in view the Ëgamas
conceive the five Brahmans that is Suddhavidy¡ Ìsvara, Sad¡¿¢va, áakti
and áiva to he the subtle forms
of earth, water, fire, air and the void, representing Sadyoj¡ta, V¡madeva,
Aghora, TatpuruÀa and Ì¿¡na, the Supreme Lord.
form of áiva consists of five specific divisions which are his head
(m£rdh¡), face (vaktra), heart (h¤daya),
the secret part (guhya) and
murti, the form itself. They are connected with the syllables
kÀa, ya, ra, va, la representing five elements respectively. The
faces of áiva that are indicated by them are Ì¿¡na, TatpuruÀa, Aghora,
V¡madeva and Sadyoj¡ta.
adds that ¡brahmaranshraÆ bhr£madhy¡t
santi paµcashar¡dayaÅ: Five Brahmans abide in the form of the earth
and so on in locations from the joint of the eyebrows to brahmarandhra.
the aspirant the form of Siva should first be conceived as a perpendicular
shaft (da¸·abha´g¢) consisting of five portions made of subtle
elements without having any characteristic distinctions. Then this form is
to be conceived as a panel of the door (kav¡¶abhang¢] having distinct
portions that is consisting of different directions of the east and so on.
Therefore, the face of áiva occupying the east is TatpuruÀa, south is
Aghora, west is V¡madeva, north is Sadyoj¡ta and the top is occupied by
the above context the five faces are conceived as integrated into one but
should not be conceived as separate from each other. The method by which
this integration is possible is shown below. The aspirant makes use of the
seed syllables of the elements thus:
OÆ laÆ "I make unification of Sadyoj¡ta face with that of V¡madeva
face uttering vaÆ." In this manner all the faces are unified with the face
of Ì¿¡na, the Supreme. Thus we see that the elements have their
of the body is performed by bathing in the water. This is known to us but
the eightfold bath with eight different materials is recommended by the Ëgamas.
This corresponds to the eightfold form of áiva. Bath with five gross
elements is considered essential for the worshipper to gain competency
for the worship of the deity. He makes use of clay, water, sacred
ashes, dust emerged from the feet of cows and the water fallen from sky,
but though they are considered to be essential for making the body pure,
yet they are not so efficacious if not charged with
mantra. Whatever may be the truth, the Ëgama
presents the view that the eight formed body of áiva (aÀ¶amyrti) who is known to have the five elements as his body
along with the sun, the moon and the self, plunging into the vast lake (mah¡hrada)
of consciousness one should conceive that verily the self is the Supreme
Lord where the entire universe is to be plunged and the aspirant should
think himself steadily established there. Thus the one that purifies and
the object that is purified become one. This is the highest mode of
Tantric literature bh£ta¿uddhi (purification
of elements) is considered to be a common practice generally performed
before creation of the pure ¿¡kta body
of the worshipper by means of various ny¡sn
(placement of syllables) in different limbs of the body of the worshipper.
physical body is made of elements intermixed with one another.
Purification of bh£tas is
nothing else than to separate one element from the contact of another
element. The procedure that is followed by the practitioner is pr¡¸¡y¡ma
associated with the seed syllable belonging to the respective element. Svacchanda
Tantra prescribes the method of udgh¡ta
(forced strike) with the vital air, pressing it to move upward. This udgh¡ta
for the purification of the earth is five, four for water, three for fire
and so on. Finally the worshipper finds himself well-established in the
pure elemental form by which the body of his is thought to be made of and
which enables him to worship his desired deity.
the method that is followed by the T¡ntric school is different from it.
The worshipper makes use of contemplation (bh¡vana)
first. He conceives a wall
of fire created by the seed syllable of fire after encirchng him with
water. Then seated in the lotus posture and keeping both of his palms on
his lap, the right over the left, he conceives the limited self (j¢v¡tman) like the flaming bud of fire abiding in the heart. He
leads it to m£l¡dh¡ra from where rises the coiled energy (k£¸·alin¢) and associating it (j¢v¡tman)
with her the worshipper passes through different centres of consciousness
through the channel of suÀumn¡ and finally arrives at the thousand
petalled lotus which faces downward. He then conceives that all the
principles beginning from the earth and ending with prak¤ti
have been dissolved there. Then he makes a pr¡¸¡y¡ma
with the seed syllable of the air by which he conceives that the physical body of his has totally been dried up.
Then with the seed syllable of fire it is burnt off along with the person
representing sin (p¡papuruÀa). Then
associated with the seed syllable of the moon a nectarine flow oozing out
from the joint of the eye-brows is to be conceived. The pure body of the
worshipper is conceived to be made of all syllables with pr¡¸¡y¡ma
by using the seed syllable of water and making it steady by the seed
syllable of the earth. From the above description it is evident that all
the seed syllables of the elements excluding the void are utilized for the
creation of the pure body.
essence of all the physical objects which are known as the earth and so
on, is the subtle elemental form. These subtle elements are called tanm¡tras
named gandha, rasa, r£pa, spar¿a and ¿abda
which are presided over by the Lord named differently as áarva, Bhava,
Pa¿upati, Ì¿¡na and Bh¢ma. They are not the passive superintendents
but the impelling agent to agitate the respective subtle elements through
which the gross forms of bh£tas come
dichotomy between the universe as matter and spirit as the knowing subject
is unknown to non-dual Ëgamas.
The considered opinion of the Ëgama
is that the universe composed of five elements is permeated by the
divine essence, not only that the basic mantra
of the divine is made of the divine essence of the deity. Therefore,
the Yogin¢- H¤daya commentary
quotes from an ancient source -
Mantra section, II.28
it is thought quite relevant to propitiate the desired deity at least with
five kinds of offerings, for these articles of offerings which are made of
elements have been made manifest by the will of the divine (bhagavadicch¡vij¤mbhit¡ni). When they are offered properly to
the deity assuming five subtle forms, the deity is believed to be
propitiated. One should offer gandha,
the sandal paste, conceiving it to represent the earth, flowers
representing the void, incense representing air, the lamp representing
fire, and food representing water.
these articles are first of all to be, conceived and realized as possessed
of sweet fragrance having attractive sound, delicate touch, beauty of form
and delightful to the taste. Then in the reverse way (pratya´gamutay¡) they are thought to rest in the subject, pram¡t¡.
highest form of sacrifice is that where all the articles expected to
be offered to the divine are to be collected in the receptacle of the
mind through different sense-organs. There they should be conceived, as
one's own. It is followed by the conception of oneness of the self with
the deity and then each article is offered separately to the deity. This
kind of ritualistic offering is really called
mah¡makha, highest form of sacrifice.
(quoted in YoH, III under verse 117)
know the existence of elements in the gross and subtle levels but beyond
them they exist as ¿akti or
energy and function in the same way as is seen in the gross and subtle
levels, but in the level of ¿akti they
function differently not to bind the self but helping it to attain
elements in their subtle forms are seen to present in m¡y¡ the delusory power to arrest the soul steadily in its
limitation. It acts there as the earth, while bindu nourishes the seeker of truth. Thus it is thought to be water.
N¡da is thought to be born of
air while ¿akti is predominantly of the nature of touch, hence it is born of
air. áiva is without any veil so it is nir¡bh¡sa.
read about the shapes and colours of bh£tas
in different texts. They are simply centres of consciousness. These
centres of consciousness visualized by the Yogin inside the body, are
considered to be made of five elements.
Yogini-H¤daya gives an account
of four p¢¶has designated by K¡mar¡p¡,
P£r¸agiri, J¡landhara and O··¢y¡na representing four elements with
their respective shapes and colours thus:
and circular associated with six dots, the shape of a half-moon,
tri-angular- these are the shapes in their respective order, that is, of
the earth, water, fire and air. The colours of them are yellow, smoky,
white, red and without any colour. The p¢¶has,
viz., K¡msp£pa and so on emerge from the principle bh£,
earth, Par¸agiri consists of the principle water, J¡landhara of
fire, O··¢y¡na of air. These p¢thas
are physically located in different parts of India on one hand, while
on the other they are meditated upon as located in
m£l¡dh¡ra and so on.
shape of the earth is stated to be square and its colour is yellow. The
water has white as its colour and its shape is half-moon attachcd with a
white lotus. Fire is red, triangular in shape attached with the mark of a svastika.
Air is hexagonal dotted with six bindus
black in colour while the void is
circular and transparent in colour if it is proper to call it a colour.
the context of ny¡sa, placement
of m¡t¤k¡s or m¡lin¢s the
body is conceived as consisting of five elements. This is done when paµcatattva ny¡sa are necessarily performed there. The body
according to the M¡lin¢vijaya
Tantra (chap. VI) measures eighty-four digits
(a´gulas). From the toe of the feet four digits above the earth
pervades, water pervades forty- a´gulas
above it, twenty-two a´gulas
above it is pervaded by fire. The air pervades twelve angulas above. Thus
the total comes to eighty-four. The void remains pervading all.
have discussed in short about bh£ta¿udhi.
The truth regarding purification of everything as given by ár¢
Abhinavagupta is quite different from that mentioned above. He says that
one should deeply contemplate everything as Siva.
To conclude we may say that the bh£tas are thought to be the basic elements of the world - the world of pain and pleasure. But to the Ëgamic thinkers they should be utilised in a different way in order to attain the ultimate goal of life. We have discussed earlier that the bh£tas have gross, subtle and the highest forms. To the aspirant the gross form is the base from which he starts his s¡dhana and tries to see the dynamic form of it everywhere in order to achieve his aim of Sivahood.
©1995 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi