Thursday, November 11, 2010

Understanding Hinduism: Sadhana


Nithin Sridhar


(This article was published in UDAY INDIA weekly on December 4th, 2010 in both internet and print editions. Link to internet article-

"Hinduism is not just a faith. It is the union of reason and intuition that cannot be defined but is only to be experienced. "
- Dr S Radhakrishnan (Bhagavad Gita)

Unlike monotheistic religions which speak about one God, one prophet and one book and lays stress on developing unquestionable faith in the theology, Hinduism lays stress on the individual’s journey towards truth. It is a way of life in the sense that it’s not confined to one thought, one ideology to which all must adhere to, but instead it speaks about the all pervading truth (Sat/Dharma) and how it is important for every individual to realize this truth first hand on his own. Hence, we find the Vedas boldly declaring, “Truth is one, paths many”1. Every individual must create his own niche and pursue truth in his own way is the essence of Hindu philosophy. For this very reason we find people practicing upasana (worship) of various deities (Devas), adhering to different schools of philosophy (Shakhas) and following the traditions and practices (Acharas) of different cults (Kulas) in Hindu tradition. But what is common to all Shakas, all Kulas, is the need of sadhana to progress through that path.

Sadhna, in general may refer to any effort/action (Karma) that is put to achieve a specific goal. But in many Hindu philosophical literatures, it specifically refers to any effort put to achieve a spiritual goal. Literally the word “Sadhana” is derived from root word “sadh” (to accomplish) and refers to any means or instrument to accomplish a desired objective. Swami Chidananda of Divine Life society defines sadhana as “the active effort to obtain that which is possible of being obtained through effort”.

It is interesting to note that, even though sadhana includes rituals and practices like mantra jap, havan, puja etc, it is usually assumed to be confined only to them. But it is not so. Sadhna may refer to any spiritual effort put by an individual. It may be a person deciding to speak only truth, to lead a non-corrupt life or to remain celibate throughout his life, all these are sadhna only. The key is, the effort must be put with sincerity and must be practiced relentlessly. Further, any activity practiced in harmony with surrounding nature and the entire cosmos constitute a spiritual sadhana.

Every sadhna is an action i.e. Karma, hence many argue that no amount of sadhna/karma can deliver enlightment as it can be attained only by the grace of God and hence by surrendering to him. But this grace of God is not randomly given; instead it dawns on only those who are Adhikaari (competent) to receive it. The absolute dedication and surrendering towards God does not come spontaneously to everyone. Sadhana helps an individual to develop this surrender and dedication and achieve the Adhikaara.

The goal of any spiritual sadhana is to increase concentration and make the mind still. It helps to make an individual detached and become Stitahprajna (stable/equilibrium). But this detachment is neither disinterest towards objects of outer world nor apathy towards people; instead it is pure selfless love for the whole cosmos without any discrimination or selfish attachment. What actually Sadhana does is to burn away the burden of past karmas that are blocking one’s journey towards the source. Hence, the ultimate end result of any spiritual Sadhana is Jnana (Enlightment) and complete merger with the Cosmos/God.

One may follow any paths (Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, Raja, Hatha etc), any methods (Vaidika or Tantrika), but in all of them, one must do sadhana in one form or the other to reach the highest truth. In Jnana marg, one may have to contemplate on saying of scriptures and practice tapas. In Bhakti marg, one may have to contemplate on deity, sing his praises and remember him. In Karma, one may have to perform selfless action in service and in Raja and Hatha yoga, one may have to train the body and mind, but all these are nothing but different kinds of sadhana. Both the Vaidika Yajna and Tantrika Puja are sadhana only.

In most traditions, it is mentioned that any sadhna should be done only after proper initiation from Guru. And this has made many people who have no Guru to shy away from doing any kind of jap or puja. But it must be remembered that proper initiation is required to only those people who do sadhana for achieving specific results or who do advanced practices. But common people who wish to express love for the divine and want to make progress in spiritual path need not worry about not having a guru. They may do any jap or puja or havan and surrender to the deity. Still if anybody has inhibition about doing sadhana without initiation, one may take Lord Shiva, the first guru as one’s guru and pray to him and continue with the sadhana. Ultimately, what matters most is devotion in the heart.

Finally, Sadhana is a medium to connect with the cosmos and to live life harmoniously with the surroundings. Further, it helps one to understand one’s life’s purpose and to realize the ultimate Truth.


1. Rig Veda (1.164.46):
सद विप्रा बहुधा वदन्त्यग्निं यमं मातरिश्वानमाहुः ||
“Truth is One, sages call it by various names like Agni, Yama, Mātariśvan”

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Evolution of Tantras


Nithin Sridhar


(This article was published in TATTVA, an online magazine in its November 2010 issue-

Last month, Sri Sri Ravishankar has been reported to have made statement that Self-Claimed Swami Nityananda, violated the rules of tantra for misusing it for fulfilling his pleasure. Further he is quoted as saying “"Only a house holder is entitled for tantric sex. Claiming to be a monk and using so many people for one's pleasure is unpardonable, He should have had one partner and announced himself as a tantric guru. It has caused damage to the faith of people in the institution and traumatized many.”.

Sri Sri Ravishankar is very right when he says that, Nityananda has violated the use of tantra. Because, The sexual rites are advised only for Vira (People in whom rajas dominates) and it is completely forbidden for Pashus, people in whom tamas dominates and are attached to sexual pleasures. Further, it is true that, Lata Sadhanas (sexual rites) should be practiced with one partner, may be a wife who has the same temperament and competency as him or with a Bhairavi, whom a sadhaka can take as Guru as she is well versed with tantrika practices and can teach him. On this matter Mahakalasamhita, a tantrika text clearly says “As is the competency of the sadhaka (male practitioner) so also that of the sadhika (female practitioner). Only by this is success achieved and not in any other way, even in ten million years”. This clearly establishes that, one cannot have multiple partners and call it as spiritual sadhana.

This issue leads us to a more serious question, Are tantras all about sex? It seems to be so if one simply browses through internet or media writings. But a straight and simple answer is a No. The tantric system is vast and complicated. It constitutes various branches and sub branches and various traditions. The use of meat, liquor and sex as part of Spiritual practices are suggested only for Vira sadhaks and that too only under Kulachara and Vamachara. And even among them, only a few can really benefit from them. But some of the simple Lata Sadhanas, like Shiva Lata Mudra can be highly helpful to married couples. It can help them to attain detachment and to control the vasanas slowly.

Kularvana Tantra clears all the confusions about the use of sex, meat and alcohol when it states: “Beguiled by false knowledge as propagated, certain persons, deprived of the guru-shishya tradition, imagine the nature of the Kuladharma according to their own intellect. If merely by drinking wine, men were to attain fulfillment, all addicted to liquor would reach perfection. If mere partaking of flesh were to lead to the high state, all the carnivores in the world would become eligible to immense merit. If liberation were to be ensured by sexual intercourse with a Shakti, all creatures would become liberated by female companionship."

To understand, Tantras clearly, one must also try to understand, how they evolved. But, this evolution of Tantras as a separate branch is a highly complicated subject. Many of the old works are not available in manuscript. Many of the tantrika texts has been lost. Moreover, the tantrika system is itself highly unorganized because the tantras developed indigenously in different parts of India and only later they were integrated. But due to this, the tantrika accounts are highly scattered. On one hand we have the Tantric tradition traces itself back to Lord Shiva. The tradition believes that Tantras were first communicated by Lord Shiva, the First Guru and then passed on as tradition and mention of tantrika sects in Mahabharata and on other hand even the oldest manuscripts do not go back more than 1500-2000 years. Most of the manuscripts or its copies available to us are of recent origin. One of the reasons for this is the fact that, old tantrika systems are discarded when they are no longer serve any purpose and at same time, new texts, new practices, new branches get added to the tantrika system continuously.

George Feuerstein, in his book Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy present's the ground reality in a nutshell, when he writes: "At one end of the Tantric spectrum we have highly unorthodox practices such as black magic that go against the moral grain of Hindu society (and that of most societies). At the other end we have Tantric masters who decry all doctrines and all rituals and instead applaud the ideal of perfect spontaneity (sahaja). Most schools fall between these two poles; they are typically highly ritualistic but infused with the recognition that liberation springs from wisdom, which is innate and therefore cannot be produced by any external means."

Position of Tantra with respect to Veda:

It is interesting to note that, contrary to the general view that tantra is opposed to Vedas; Tantra's place themselves on same platform as the Vedas. Tantras call themselves as “Agama” (Revealed) similar to Vedas (Sruti=Heard/Revealed). Further, Tantras are called as “Sruti-shakha-vishesha”, a special branch of Vedas. Some tantras like Matsyasukta mahatantra and Ghandarva tantra even go to the extent of stating that a practitioner of tantra must be well-versed in Vedas and should be ever attached to Brahman.

This view is held by both older and newer tantric texts. “Nishvasatattva samhita”, one of the very old tantrika texts available, mentions that tantras are the culmination of esoteric knowledge of Vedanta and Samkhya. This appears to be true because, tantrika system aims at achieving the Spiritual emancipation about which Vedanta and Samkhya speaks about. Pingalamata, another old tantric text says that, tantras are Agama with characteristics of Chandas (that is Vedas).

Among the tantrika texts of recent origin, we find various descriptions about the relationship of tantras and Vedas. Some texts mention mantras and mahavakya's from Vedas (like Prapanchasara Tantra) and some explicitly mention that tantras are part of Vedas (like Meru Tantra). Kularnava tantra says, that Kuladharma is based on Vedas. The same claim is repeated by Niruttara Tantra which calls tantras as fifth Veda and Kulachara the fifth ashrama.

Further, it can be seen that in philosophy and in religious attitude tantras and Vedas are fundamentally same. The goal of both Vedas and tantras seems to be same, viz Moksha. The goal of both Vedic rituals and tantrika sadhana is invoking of gods and achieving liberation. In fact many tantrika practices trace their origin to Atharva Veda. From this point of view, the Tantras emerged out of the Vedic religion and were then developed as a distinct type of esoteric knowledge. The Vedic religion in its essence has survived through the tantras.

Historical Accounts:

Now coming to the development of tantras as special class of literature and special mode of Sadhana we can see that, they are very closely connected to the rise of Shaivism and Pancharatra schools.

It is Mahabharata which makes the mention of the Pashupata (the Shaivist) and Pancharatra (Vaishnavite) schools for the first time. Even though the early canonical literature of Pancharatra is lost, we have one text Satvata Samhita which describes the tantrika system as Rahasymnaya- a secret method of Sadhana. However, Pancharatra School remained restrained in its development and it was Shaivism which provided more prominent ground for development of tantras.

The Mahabharatha says that the Pashupata doctrines were first preached by Shiva-Srikantha. But this Srikantha must have been a human teacher in all probability. This opinion is strengthened because, the old manuscript of tantric text Pingalamata preserved in Nepal speaks of Bhagavat Srinkanthanatha as its author. Lakulisa was probably his disciple. And this Lakulisa and his disciples are mentioned in an inscription of Chandragupta II. From the information present in this inscription, Lakulisa has been dated to be a contemporary of Patanjali, who incidentally speaks of Shiva-Bhagavatas in his Mahabhashya.

From this we can conclude that, Pashupata was the oldest form of Shaivism prevalent in North India. They could be also called as Agamanta Shaivism. The Agamas (the texts) belonging to this school are 18 in number according to one tradition and 28 according to other tradition. The eighteen agamas also called as “Shiva tantras” are: Vijaya, Nisvasa, Svayambhuva, Vatula, Virabhadra, Raurava, Makuta, Viresha, Chandrahasa, Jnana, Mukhabimba, Prodgita, Lalita, Siddha, Santana, Sarvodgita, Kirana, and Parameshvara. Among them, the three agamas, viz Nishvasa, Kirana and Parameshwara are still preserved in Nepal in manuscripts of eighth and ninth centuries.

The next phase is development of tantras is represented by the class of literature called Yamala. There are 8 Yamalas: Rudra, Kanda (Skanda), Brahma, Vishnu, Yama, Vayu, Kuvera and Indra. The 8 Yamalas are communicated by 8 Bhairavas: Svacchanda, Krodha, Unmatta, Ugra, Kapalin, Jhankara, Shekara and Vijaya. What is interetsing to note is, the Original Shiva tantras represent the Rudra or Sada-shiva tradition and the Yamalas represents Bhairava tradition. Also, it should be noted that, Bhairavas were human teachers who had attained complete union and had become Shiva. The two other old texts that belong to Yamala group are: Jayadhrata Yamala, the supplement to Brahma Yamala and Pingalamata is supplement to Jayadhrata Yamala.

The importance of these Yamala's is in the fact that they for the first time describe the various tantric Traditions and introduce cults of new gods and goddess. They give a well developed Tantric pantheon.

Brahma Yamala gives a nice account of transmission of tantrika knowledge. Ishvara (Shiva) first communicated it to Srikantha, who passed it to various disciples. One of the recipients was Bhairava who passed it to Krodha, Kapila and Padma, And Padma to Devadutta and Devadatta to 14 of his disciples. Further, Yamalas mentions different tantric traditions based on Srotas(Currents). The three currents are Dakshina (Sattva), Vama (Rajas) and Madhyama (Tamas). Among the names of Human teachers who promulgated these tantras, Usanas, Vrihaspati, Dadachi, Lakulisa, Sanat kumara are few important ones.

Now coming to the two supplements of Yamalas mentioned before. Jayadratha Yamala and Pingalamata mentions much greater variety of tantras and sadhanas. Pingalamata mentions two classes to tantras: Kamarupi (being in Assam) and Uddiyani (North west-Swat valley). The Jayadhrata yamala mentions large number of Shakti cults, like cults of Kalika, Shankarshani, Charchika, Gahaneshwari, Vajravati, Bhairavadakini, Saptakshara, Siddhilakshmi etc.

These supplements indicate a very important development in evolution of Tantras. It indicates the new orientation in tantric culture, viz Sadhanas of Agamas assume in them a more pronounced character of Shaktism. Now, the tantrika system seemed to be developed through two different paths the exoteric, which continued as pure Shaivism and Esoteric which continued as Shaktism. Whereas the goal of Shaivism was only Liberation, the goal of Shakta was not just Liberation. They wanted to gain ascendancy over the forces of nature and to carry on the experiments and exploring in order to gain the detailed knowledge of working of Cosmos. In a sense, salvation became a too small a goal for them. But, this is not to suggest they did not pursue Moksha, but only that they pursued other things too. These supplementary literature shows that, the Tantras became Shakti in character from that time.

Buddhism also developed its tantric aspect by this time. According to Tibetian evidence, Buddhist Tantras came into existence after the time of Dharmakirthi. Their origin as distinct class of literature and mode of Sadhana may be placed in 7th century. They developed in three different forms viz Vajrayana, Sahajayana and Kalachakrayana. From about 10th and 11th centuries, there began a very complicated period of development of tantras. The Brahmanical and Buddhist sects merged and mixed with each other to some extent as Buddhism declined and all that remained was a mystic form similar to Shaktism in essence. This fusion gave birth to new forms of esoteric religion.

The detailed picture of the Brahmanical tantras of this period is given by Sammohana tantra. It speaks of nine kinds of KaLikas. It also speaks about many special cults, one of Jaya, three cults of Sudnari, two cults of Tara, three of KaLi, one of Chinnamasta, two of Dhumara and Matangi and two of Sidhavidya. It further mentions two cults of Vaishnavas, two of Sauras and five cults of Ganapatyas. The text also speaks about Amanyas and Geographical classification of tantras. They divide it into 4 classes viz Kerala, Kahsmira, Gauda and Vilasa. The six amanyas that are mentioned are Purva-eastern, Dakshina-south, Pashchima-western, Urdhva-upper and patala-nether. It also divides tantras into three classes viz Divya, Kaula and Vama according to nature of sadhana (whether Sattva, rajas or tamas) and each of it has two sects: Bahya-external and Harda-internal.

The Sammohana tantra text also gives number of principal and subsidiary tantras in various regions: China: 100 principal, 17-subsidiary; Dravida: 20, 20; Jaina: 18, 20; Kashmira: 100, 10; Gauda: 27-principal, 16-subsidiary. It further mentions various Vidyas or cults. Some of the goddesses in these cults mentioned were: Aindri, Gayatri, Brahmavidya, Ardhanarishvari, Matrika, Sarasvati, Tripura-Bhairavi, Shulini, Mahavidya, Chamunda, Raja-rajeshwari, Srividya, Kalika, Tara, Chinnamasta, Dhumavati etc.

Therefore the Sammohana tantra presents a picture which is very much different from the one present in Shiva tantras of Agamanta Shaivism. It clearly establishes that tantras had assumed a complete Shaktic character, assimilated a very large number of cults of various origins and thus established a well developed and complicated pantheon of goddesses (All representing different aspects of Shakti). This state of things must have been attained by 14th century, when this Sammohana tantra seems to have attained its final form. From here, the later tantras compiled just added to the number of vidyas, mantras and mandalas and many of the old cults were either forgotten or discarded.

Now coming to the division of tantras into Divya, Kaula and Vama; some definite information is available about the origin of Kaulas. According to Kaulajnananirnaya (which is a very old text), the Kaula class was introduced by Matsyendra Natha, even though strictly speaking he founded only one school of Kaulas called Yogini-Kaula of Kamarupa. The text also mentioned other Kaula schools: Vrsanotta, Vahni, Kaulasadbhava, Padorrishtha, Mahakaula, Siddha, Jnananirniti, Siddhamrita, Sristi, Chandra, Shaktibedha, Urmi and Jnana kaula. By eleventh century, Kaula schools had firmly established themselves comprising number of sects.

It is interesting to note that Yogini Kaula of Matsyendra Natha had a syncretic character. This resulted in growth of two esoteric sects: Nath sect that had a tinge of Shaivism and Sahajiya that had a tinge of Vaishnavism. Matsyendra Natha was himself, the founder of Nath sect. He also founded the Hatha Yoga. Further, he is also regarded as first of the Siddhas by Buddhists under the name Lui-pada. It is believed that, he learned everything from the First Guru, Adinatha-Lord Shiva himself. Two other sects originated in this period, Avadhuta and Bhaul.

Geographical Account:

Now, coming back to the geographical division of tantras, Sammohana Tantra, as mentioned before, divides tantras into 4 classes viz Kerala, Kasmira, Gauda and Vilasa. Kerala is said to prevail in countries from Anga to Malava, the Kashmira class from Madra to nepala, Gauda from Silahatta to Sindu while Vilasa is found everywhere. Further, Mahasidhashastra tantra divides Bharata varsha into three areas viz Vishnu Kranta, Ratha kranta and Ashwa kranta. Shakti-mangala tantra says, land east of Vindhyas up to Java is vishnu kranta, land north of Vindyas upto maha-china is Ratha kranta and rest of place to west is Ashva kranta.

From the above accounts it becomes clear that, Kashmira, Kerala and Gauda (Bengal) are the three most prominent zones where tantras flourished. In Bengal, Tantrika system had always been prominent. And influence of Vedic culture had been minimal. But the tantrika system here is also very much different from that of Kashmira and Kerala. It is the center of Kulachara, with its seat at Kamarupapitha, where upasana of KaLi is pursued. So, in the region of Gauda, KaLi-kula is dominant. In the Kerala School, we have the worship of Tripurasundari, that is, Sri-Kula is dominant here. But in Kashmira School, both the forms of worship are in evidence. The philosophical aspect of Tantras dominates in Kashmira, the practical in Bengal, while in South we have a mixture of both.

No account of evolution of tantras is incomplete without mentioning about influence of tantras in other countries. Sammohana tantra, speaks of tantrika practices in countries like Bahlika, Kirata, Cina, Mahacina, Kamboka, Huna, Yavana, Gandhara, Nepala etc This does not mean, Indian tantras were present in all those places, (even though in some places they were indeed present), but just that some kind of esoteric practices similar to Indian tantras were present in those countries. This should give an idea about how tantrika system is vast and has integrated itself with every aspect of Hindu way of life.


1] Evolution of Tantras, by P.C.Bagchi, The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. 4: The Religions, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Calcutta, 1956

2] The spiritual heritage of India: Tantras by Govinda Gopal Mukherji, Studies on the Tantras, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata, 1989

3] Tantrika Culture among Buddhists by Benoytosh Battacharya, The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. 4: The Religions, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Calcutta, 1956

Spiritual evolution of Hinduism


Nithin Sridhar


(This article was published on 13 Feb 2010, in

When we browse through the philosophical concepts and spiritual manuals of various Hindu schools and sects, we can see that the spiritual evolution conception of God can be broadly classified into 3 stages.

First, the Vedic (which includes Veda Samhita, Aranyakas, Brahmanas and Upanishads). Second, the Agamic or tantric (which includes various tantric texts of various schools such as Shaivas, Shaktas, Vaishnavas and Ganapathyas). Although Aghoras, like Naths, form a separate category themselves, they can be clubbed in Tantras under Vamachara (Left hand Path). The third stage is the Puranas.

The usual division of Hindu philosophy (Astika schools) is into 6 schools: Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaishesika, Mimamsa and Vedanta. All of them can be traced back to the Gita, Upanishads and Itihasas. For one, Mimamsa and Vedanta take the Vedas as the ultimate authority. The ideas of Yoga and Sankhya are mentioned in the Upanishads and Gita. Yoga is a practical application of Samkhya. Mimamsa is ritualistic aspect of Vedic Knowledge. The Vedanta is based on the Prashtana Trayi (Upanishads, Gita and Brahma sutra). Thus, the Astika schools are just the extension and independent development from the Vedic stage.

In the Vedic stage, we first find the evolution of period of Mantra Samhita. The Samhita consists of Mantras that are the spiritual truths realized by rishis in meditation and expressed in human language. That is the reason that the Vedas are called “Apaurusheya” and “Drashtya.” Apaurusheya means divine origin, that is not created by humans. The rishis visualized these truths in meditation, hence they are called “Drashtya.”

It appears that, Rishi’s mainly worshiped 5 elements, Agni being most prominent. They attained highest realizations using upasana the 5 elements. In Rig vedic period, Agni is clearly the Internal Bhuta Agni. By Yajurvedic period, Agni seems to have materialized into external fire of Yagnya. This seems to suggest that spiritual methods were discovered and/or invented to help common people. These common people were not spiritually advanced enough to worship the Bhuta Agni, so external fire worship was conceptualized to help them spiritually advance to a stage where they could worship the internal fire directly.

The Brahmanas are detailed manuals for conducting Yagnyas. Every fire ritual includes Jap and Dhyan. Doing Jap and Dhyan in a fire ritual will purify the fire element in the body to begin with, whereas Pranayam purifies the air element in the body. This pranayam was codified and developed in the Yoga school in the later age. Doing a fire ritual not only purifies the Sadhak but also amplifies the effect of the Jap and Dhyan done.

The Upanishads sages concentrated more on laying down proper philosophical explanations for the various spiritual experiences mentioned in Samhita. Upanishad means “Near Guru”; they are teachings from Guru to Shishya. They give the meanings and interpretations of other aspects of Vedas.

The later development of Astika schools not only takes inspiration from the Vedas but can also be traced back to Upanishads and Gita. So we find a continuous development of Vedic thought and practice, even while they became less prominent day by day in practice, even though they dominated the Philosophy. Shankaracharya, the first person to codify Vedic thoughts and write commentaries on them, was also a SriVidya upasak, a tantric path of Maa Lalita Mahatripurasundari. Ramanuja and Madhava were proponents of Bhakti, derived from its Puranic version.

These clearly establish that even during the time of Adi Shankara, Vedic and Tantric methods were used in an integrated way. Some scholars believe that Tantra is contradictory to Vedas, but this claim is far from true. If we examine basic Tantric texts, we clearly see that they do not differ from Vedic thoughts. In fact, Tantric texts are mainly practical manuals. They explain different ways of attaining siddhis and realizations of spiritual truths.

The differences, if some do exist, are merely in the practical approaches and not in Spiritual truths between Veda and Tantra.

The Vedas were composed over a few millenia and have been passed down to the present age. The Agamas are of comparatively recent origin. Agamic texts are similar to Vedic texts in the sense that they are also collections of spiritual experiences of Sadhakas. They were also passed from Guru to Shishya. It appears that after the Upanishadic period, there was a need to expand the domain of spiritual practices and explore new ways and Siddis. This led to individual sadhakas pursuing deep sadhana to understand different aspects and tap different energies of the cosmos.

A simpler fire ritual - Homam - was designed. The Vedic mantras had given more importance to intonations. But Agamic mantras had more to do with intent than intonations. The spiritual diagrams, the Yantras, were conceptualized. Deities are nothing but personification of different energies. They represent different aspects of the cosmos. As the source of the whole Universe is the primordial sound OM (Shabda Brahman), mantras are mediums for tapping different energies of the universe.

Mantras are the subtle bodies of the deities. Every mantra meditated upon creates a particular visualization corresponding to that aspect of Cosmos. A sadhaka who does a jap of mantra first purifies his ego which will create a void in him. Then the deity of the mantra can fill him fully. His whole personality will be transformed. And hence, the Mantra is the subtle body of that deity. Similarly, we could invoke the deity either in fire (Homam) or in Yantras. During the Agamic period, Agni was not directly worshiped, but he was used as a medium where different cosmic energies can be invoked.

The third stage, the Puranas, appears to be compilations done specifically for the masses. The spiritual truths have been symbolized in the form of stories. Even the spiritual Sadhanas have been included inside the stories. These were composed specifically for people who are yet to involve themselves in sadhana. The latter day Bhakti traditions derive heavily from Puranic literatures.

The mantras, Yantras and the icons/idols are not only representations of deities but also the abodes of subtle bodies of deities. During the Vedic period, Mantras alone were enough to visualize and invoke the Deities (cosmic energies). But by the time of Agamas, Yantras were used along with Mantras in the process of Sadhana. It was only during Puranic age that personifications of cosmic energies were complete. The icons and human representations of divine energies were materialized during this age. What is important to note here is that the images and idols of deities are not products of whims and fancies of some superstitious people, but were representations of cosmic visions which genuine sadhakas had experienced.

One important conclusion can be derived from the evolution of representations of deities. It appears that people’s spiritual level in the Vedic period was more advanced than that during the Agamic or Puranic. And hence, with the Kali Yuga set in, and the spiritual level successively deteriorating, new methods and simler tools were introduced to assist the masses. And as a result, aids to help in Visualizations were successively introduced.

There is a lack of research in this direction. If more research is done in this aspect of “spiritual evolution,” many misconceptions about Hinduism will be cleared.

Making a secular hero out of Tipu Sultan

Nithin Sridhar

(This an old article published on 22 Jan 2010 in

The Three day International Conference on the Life and Achievements of Tipu Sultan concluded in Mysore on Monday, January 18. It was organized by Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Mysore.

Dr.B.Sheikh Ali, former Vice Chancellor of Mangalore and Goa Universities, speaking at the valedictory function said “Tipu Sultan practiced religious tolerance and was a revolutionary of his time.” Several people had the wrong notion that Tipu was not tolerant to other religions.
K.B.Ganapathy, Editor-in-Chief of the ‘Star of Mysore’, a local newspaper, while delivering his presidential address stated “There are misconceptions about Tipu Sultan among the masses that are under the impression that Sultan had initiated forcible religious conversion.” He added “If Tipu had initiated forcible conversions; he could have had the entire Kodagu populace converted to Islam during his rule over the region.” Earlier, on January 16th, while inaugurating the conference B R Jayaramaraje Urs, Secretary, Department of Kannada and Culture had also described Tipu as a secular-minded ruler.

However, these remarks are far from the truth. The new generation of scholars points to the correspondence between Sringeri Shankaracharya Paramahamsa Parivrajakacharya and Tipu Sultan during 1791-92 and 1798, and argues that Tipu was an upholder of secularism and respected Hindu religious heads and places of worship.

However if one goes through the letters and edicts issued by Tipu Sultan to his principal military commanders, the governors of forts and provinces, their argument falls apart. The letter of January 19, 1790, sent to Budruz Zuman Khan by Tipu himself says: "Don't you know I have achieved a great victory recently in Malabar and over four lakh Hindus were converted to Islam? I am determined to march against that cursed 'Raman Nair' very soon (reference is to Rama Varma Raja of Travancore). Since I am overjoyed at the prospect of converting him and his subjects to Islam, I have happily abandoned the idea of going back to Srirangapatanam now."

Previously, a letter dated March 22, 1788, to Abdul Kadir reads: "Over 12,000 Hindus were 'honoured' with Islam. There were many Namboodiris (Brahmins) among them. This achievement should be widely publicised among the Hindus. There the local Hindus should be brought before you and then converted to Islam. No Namboodiri (Brahmin) should be spared.” A letter dated January 18, 1790, to Syed Abdul Dulai says: "With the grace of Prophet Muhammed and Allah, almost all Hindus in Calicut are converted to Islam. Only a few are still not converted on the borders of Cochin State. I am determined to convert them also very soon. I consider this as Jehad to achieve that object."

The above clearly, shows the ‘secularism’ of Tipu Sultan. Further, these historians try to portray Tipu as a nationalist as he fought against the British. But the renowned historian, Dr. I.M. Muthanna, says in his ‘Tipu Sultan X-Rayed’ that Tipu was a traitor as he invited the French to invade India. The letter, dated April 21, 1797, written by Tipu and classified as No. 4 in the Persian File of Records reads: "Since I manifested my friendship in writing to you, my messengers have arrived with the following intelligence which will not be displeasing to you..I inform these events in order to prove to you that it is now the moment for you to invade India. With little trouble we shall drive the British out of India. Rely on my friendship.”

This shows the expansionist agenda of Tipu Sultan. According to the official report of Col. Fullarton of the British forces stationed in Mangalore (During the siege 1783), Tipu's soldiers daily displayed the cut off heads of many innocent Brahmins within sight from the fort for Zamorin and his Hindu followers to see. It is asserted that the Zamorin rather than witness such atrocities and to avoid further killing of innocent Brahmins, chose to abandon the Palghat Fort." Further he states, "It was not only against the Brahmins who were thus put in a state of terror of forcible circumcision and conversion; but against all sections of Hindus".

In August, 1788, a Raja of the Kshatriya family of Parappanad and also Trichera Thiruppad, a chieftain of Nilamboor, and many other Hindu nobles who had been carried away earlier to Coimbatore by Tipu Sultan, were forcibly circumcised and forced to eat beef.” The world-famous Portuguese traveler, Fr. Barthoelomeo, writes in his book ‘Voyage to East Indies’: “Tipu was riding on an elephant behind which another army of 30,000 soldiers followed. Most of the men and women were hanged in Calicut; first mothers were hanged with their children tied to the necks of mothers. That barbarian Tipu Sultan tied the naked Christians and Hindus to the legs of elephants and made the elephants to move around till the bodies of the helpless victims were torn to pieces. Temples and churches were ordered to be burned down, desecrated and destroyed. Christian and Hindu women were forced to marry Mohammedans and similarly their men (after converting Hindu men into Islam) were forced to marry Mohammedan women. Those Christians, who refused to be honoured with Islam, were ordered to be killed by hanging immediately.”

The propaganda that
Tipu Sultan was tolerant and fair-minded towards the Hindus in Mysore is also without any foundation, as explained in ‘History of Mysore’ written by Lewis Rice. According to Lewis Rice, during the rule of Tipu Sultan, only two Hindu temples inside the Sreerangapatanam Fort had daily pujas conducted while the assets of all other temples were confiscated.
Historian Gopal Rao says - "Muslims were exempted from all taxes. Even those who were converted to Islamic faith were also allowed the same concessions," The ‘Mysore Gazetteer’ says that the ravaging army of Tipu Sultan destroyed more than 8000 temples in South India.

Despite this overwhelming evidence to the contrary the myth of Tipu Sultan’s tolerance is being propagated in academic circles. It is high time to voice objection against the whitewashing of history by vested interests. We, the people of India should gather the courage to call a spade a spade.