Table of Contents

   Bilhana - The Minstrel
   Ksemendra, People's Poet
   Kalhana - The Chronicler
   The Serpentine Vitasta
   Panchastavi - A Brief Study
   Concept of "Maya"
   Lalleshwari - An apostle
   Habba Khatoon
   Abdul Ahad "Azad"
   Roopa Bhawani 
   Pilgrim Spots of Kashmir
   Kashmir Monistic Shaivism
   Mankha & "Sri Kanthacaritam"
   Nilamatpuranam and Kashmir
   The Nilamata Purana
   Shaivism & Pratyabhijna
   Sanskrit Chronicles
   The Social Set-up 
   Tantricism in Kashmir
   Kashmir Tantrism
   Vedanta & Kashmir Shaivism
   Later Hindu Periods
   Sanskrit Kaavya of Kashmir

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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir


Symbol of Unity


Tantricism in Kashmir

by Acharya Dina Nath Shastri

Nature has lavishly endowed Kashmir with certain distinctive favours whichAcharya Dina Nath Shastri hardly  find a parallel in any alpine land of the world. Set in the womb of the Himalayas and gifted with beautiful and inspiring natural scenery, it emerged as a highly advanced seat of learning from very early times, taking its place along with the famous Universities of Taksasila and Nalanda. Ramparts of high mountains and seclusion of the land helped her to preserve the life and conditions of early times which it is rather difficult to resuscitate in regard to other such mountainous regions. To the poets like Bilhana and others it was Sardadesh, the land of goddess Sarda; and it was even believed that goddess Saraswati actually lived here and hence the Sardapitha was also known as Sripeetha for conferring sarvajna degrees. Srichakra worship seems to have originated from this concept of the poets here regarding the characteristic learning of the land. It was only natural that the savants and rishis should indulge in exerises of the highest order of metaptiysical speculation.

The cultural heritage of Kashmir is, therefore, very rich and derives its inspiration and strength both from her natural environs and the rich literature and literary traditions alike. Usually, the literature of a country reflects the unique and most distinctive characteristic of her people and sheds light on the varied aspects of the numerous subjects developed in the language of that area. Thus with the growth of Tantra-sastra that forms one of the important branches of the general sastras like Kavya, Natya, Vyakarana and Vedanta, scholars have put forth their divergent opinions regarding the genesis and growth of this sastra. All are, however, agreed on the point that the Vedas are the source of all these sastras and that Sabda sastra or Vyakarna (grammar) is their expression and basic source material.

Along with the growth of a number of religious sects, numerous treatises were written to expound the basic tenets of a particular religion. The Tantra-sastras also were composed to solve the knotty riddles and secret esotericism of Dharma. There are many manual, of tantras on the diverse religious sects still extant, though some are no doubt lost to us. The date of composition of these manuals cannot be determined with any certainty. The internal evidence, however, reveals that these are anterior to the treatises on Indian philosophy and posterior to the Vedas. Some would, however, even attribute a much earlier date to tantras in comparison to the Vedas. It may safely be assumed that whatever was evolved in the form of religious literature seems to have been first developed in the form of Tantra-sastra. A few scholars would go even to the extent of saying that in view of the complexity of the issues and problems discussed therein, these hold a place alongside the Vedas. This is so because the essence of the mantras of the Tantra-sastra is not in any way inferior to those of the mantras or hymns found in the Vedas, Some of the religious principles of India are based upon the Principles of Tantra-sastra and in the Tantric-base there occur glimpses of philosophic doctrines. Among the extensively ramified aspect of India's speculation 'the Tantras are characterised by a catholicity of outlook and are free from all personal, communal or race restrictions'. They assign a very important place to women in religion and account for the growth of the Sakta cult. Justice Sir John Woodruffe (whose pen-name is Arthur Avalon) was the first to point out the philosophical and practical value of the Tantras and how the worship of Shakti as World Mother gradually displaced Vedic ritualism.

Bengal, Assam, Gujarat and Kashmir were prominent centres of Tantric cult and theories. Even in Buddhism Vajrayina Saktha had its basis in Tantra sastra. The Tantric cult was current in Tibet, and also in Kashmir. The Tantra is referred to in the works of acknowledged Vaisnava sastra; the Deve Bhagvata in the ninth skando speaks of it as a Vedanta and Saivism got asecndaney over Buddhism. The experiences gained in the Sakta cult and Saivism find a clear exposition and manifestation in treatises on Tantras. Most of these are now lost. Nevertheless, the rituals bear a clear imprint of these tantric influences. This is amply justified by Nilamata-purana where certain rituals and sacrifices are prescribed for all the people of the valley. Khitsari amavasya etc. are the case, in point. In fact, certain calamities in the post-Kushana period were attributed to the giving up of these practices and accepting Buddhist philosophy. The adherents of the Sakta and Saiva cult today are the direct descendants of the Tantric group of followers. With the decline of Buddhism, the Sakta cult came into prominence and even the Vajrayana branch of Buddhism found expression in Baudha-Tantra. It developed along with the Tantric cult which had already taken deep roots in the soil. This is supported by a study of Saivism itself, the rise of which is held by consensus to be the 6th century of the Christian era. The Baudha-tantra ( Vajrayana branch of Buddhism ) also flourished along with the Tantric principles in Kashmir. A study of the Saiva-sastra reveals that the Tiintric literature that had developed much earlier in the 6th century was based upon the main principles of Isvaraduyavada. These principles have been explained at length in different forms in Saivasastra and have been rightly characterised as Trika-sastra. it took the name of Trika as it included the elements of Agama, Pratyabhijna & Spanda Sidhanta. Agama Sastra is included in the Tantra-shastra which implies the description and analysis of a particular sectarian sastra. Etymologically it has its roots in 'tanu' with the termination : 'tra' and gives the exposition of a particular religious cult or esoteric character of the rituals. Agama-sastra was in use much earlier than Tantra-sastra and the noblest principles stated therein have found expression in a masculine form through the mouth of Lord Siva, whereas the Tantra-sastra confirms the expounded subject in the form of a male-female dialogne, viz. the akhyanas dialogue between Siva and Parvati. The Tantra sastra which concerns itself with the subject through Para-sakti is called Sakta-tantra and the same Para-sakti is known as Tripurasundari in Tantra-sastras. All that was regulated in the world in three different manifestations was called Tripura and the collective energy of Brahma, Visnu and Mahesh was known as Tripura or Sri Tripurasundari which is also variously known as Mahasaraswati, Mahalakshmi and Mahakali,

During the mediaeval period in Kashmir much stress was laid on Bhairava-yaga and Bhairava worship. These are closely related to Tantra sastra. But the texts dealing with them are now no longer available. Anandeswara, Mangalesvara, Hatkesvara, Purnaraja Bhairava, Turska-raja bhairava, Visvaksina, Jayakasina and Mahakala-the eight Bhairavas etc. and their worship was Tantric in nature. Bhairavayamal Tantra, Anandabairava Tantra, Utsusma Bhairava and Hatkesvara Samhita etc. that are known to us through stray references only and could confirm the prevalence of the eight Bhairava cults are also not available. The Rudrayamal grantha that deals with the source of hymns and thousands of names of the various gods ard goddesses is available only in a fragmental form. A fragmented but defective edition of this book has been published from Calcutta and a few incomplete Mss are preserved in the archives of Nepal, Varanasi and Kashmir. Like other Pauranic parvas (festivals), the Kashmiri Pandits had a number of Tantric parvas too which are now not existing. These included Bhairavparva, Matsybali, Vastusupatibali, Margasirsabali etc. A study of the Rajatarangini reveals that other tantras were also prevalent in Kashmir but the Pandits did not bold them in high esteem. The main subject of these was maaran (To kill), mohan (To hypnotize), uchhaTan (To apply witch craft). The Satakapala Akhyana of Chakropala of Akahara was Tantric in character.

The Tantric cult was in vogue in Kashmir before the spread of Buddhism, Savism and Vaisnavism. Its literature is now not procurable. There is no gainsaying the fact that even before the prevalence of the Vedic religion, the Tantra cult was a dominant creed and this explains the existence of Tantricism in the various activities of Vedic rituals. The sixth century saw the emergence of Siva philosophy watch had its roots in the contemporary Tantric literature and Baudha Tantras. In course of time it led to the development of a refined and highly evolved Saiva-advaitavada. The main Tantras which fall under the group af Agamas are: Svachhanda Tantra, Mainivijaya, Netra Tantra, Vamakesvari, Rudrayamal and Vijnana Bhairava. The subject matter of these is closely related to the exposition of the Trika cult. Of these the Svachhanda Tantra, Malinitantra, Netra Tantra, Mrgendra Tantra, Vijnana bhairava, Vamakesvara tantra have been published by the Kashmir Research Deptt. Besides tantraloka based on Advaita Saiva-sastra has also been published by the same department in 12 volumes. A brief description of the pubished tantras is given as follows. The unpublished Tantra literature preserved in the Kashmir Archives is : 1) Munimatamanimala (Vamadeva), 2) Subhagarcharatnam, 3) Agamakalpalata (Yadunath), 4) Siva-nrtya, 5) Kaula Kantahala, 6) Sakti-Sangam, 7) Yoga-ratnavali (Nag-arjuna), 8) Saubhagya Ratnakara. In Svchhanda Tantra a clear exposition of Tantra-sastra is given in all its aspects of 'diksa', 'asana' 'panchakrtya', 'panchamukhas', mandala rudra, bhuvana, nari, guru- disciple, mantra, sadadbvarnan etc. These are Agamika Tantra sastras which have been published in six volumes by the Kashmir Research Deptt. The contents of Agamika-tantra deal with Parmasivaswarupa Bhairava. Like Tantraloka, Svachhanda Sastra is an encyclopaedia of Saiva-sastra and is in itself a standard manual. Vidyarnava Tantra as written by Vidyaranymuni, the disciple of Pragalbhatacharya (the disciple of Vishnu sharma). Their tradition has come down to us from the Jagatguru Shankaracharya. Vidyarana Tantra was a composition of Vidyarana. A description of Tripura or Triporasundari is given therein: the three main activities of creation etc. Parmasiva has been eulogized and this represents the energy of Brahama, Visnu and Rudra. These, as mentined above, are manifested in Mahasaraswati, Mahalakshmi and Mahakali. Thus in the form of a 'male-female', dialogue a very apt description is given of Siva-Sakti worship. Tripurasundari is not only the Sundari of three worlds but is also the sole directing force of the activities of the Trinity and of the five different kinds of forces to the east, west, south and north and the higher regions in the form of Unmani, Bhogini, Kumbika, Kalika and Maha-Tripurasundari of the upper regions. The said 'grantha' is in the form of hymns in worship of Maha-Tripurasundari. It has too large sections dealing with the numerous mantras etc. in praise of Maha-Tripurasundari, in Her twenty different forms.

The date of composition of Vidyarana Tantra is fixed at 1130 of Vikrama era corresponding to 1073 A. D. It is a huge compendium which draws freely from the following tantras, most of which are not available now : Agastya-Sainhita, Phetakarini Tantra, Dakshinmurti-kalpa Yogasasta, Vamekesvar, Sarda, Kalimata, Tantra-raja, Dakshinamurti Saimhita, Bhairavi Tantra, Sidha-Saraswata Tantra, Uttar Tantra, Kularanva, Pingalamata, Sivayamala, Brahayamala, Rudrayamala, Kulaprakasa Tantra, Narada Pancha-ratra, Yogini Tantra, Vayani Samhita, Aksa-sastra, Sarada-Tilaka, Nila Tantra, Srikrama Narayaneya, Brhat Narayaneya, Satatapa-samhita etc, regarded as an encyclopaedia of Tantra-sastra and its literature. It was once published by the Kashmir Durbar but is n ow completely out of print. The original copy of it was available in the private library of Maharaja Harisingh and the MSS Library of Jammu Rughnath Mandir. I too had purchased a copy of it for the Research Library, Srinagar, under the kind patronage of Shri P.N. Pushp.

Devi Rahasya:

This is also a huge grantha of a kind of specific Tantra-sastra. Along with it has been published Udharkosa, a grantha for mantrodhara, quite unique as a type. The first half includes 25 patalas (paragraphs) and has been composed in the form of adhyayas (chapters) deal mainly with the bhijamantras of gods and goddesses, worship of the crematorium, madya suddhi purification of wine and madyapan vidhi, (drinking method) maesamskara etc. The other half known also as Rahasyayiya, contains 35 (adhyayas) chapters. Panchangas mentioned therein are: Jawalamukhi, Sarika, Maharajna, Bala, Tripura, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Tara, Bhvaneswari, Matangi, Bheda and the bijamantras related to these goddesses and six other mantras of other goddesses. These are : Bhadrakali, Turi, Chhinamasta, Dakshina, murti, Svama, Kalaratti. All these goddesses are included in the pantheon of the Hindu goddesses. In the third section Varahi, Vajra-yogini, Kameshwari, Gauri, Annapurna, Sarada etc. are included along with basic mantras and bjamantras. The mantras of Ganesa, Vatuka Kumara, Mrtyunjaya, Kartaviryarjuna, Sugriva, Hanumana, and those of navagrahas are also included. Similarly, the basic mantras of Varnamala and the mantras of navagrahas as also those of Bhvani, Baguemukhi, Indrakshi, Khechari too find a place therein. The dhyana-dharana of these goddesses and grahas are also included. It appears to be a large section of Rudryamala Tantra. Udharkosa is in the form of a dialogue between Daushinamurti and his disciple Akshyaya. It is a publication of the Kashmir Research Deptt. (1941)

Brhat Nila Tantra:

It is so called because it supplies every information in connection with the worship of Nila Sarasvati. The eleventh chapter of the Tantra describes at length how the Goddess of Wisdom became Nila (blue).

The Tantra is written in the form of a dialogue in which Mahakalabhairava appears is the speaker and Mahakali as the listener.

It contains twenty-four chapters. Contents of these are briefly mentioned in the first chapter. The Tantra is evidently later in composition than the Gandharva-Tantra to which it refers and the Durgasaptasati.

In this Tantra the Devi requests Dhairava to reveal the Nilatantra as promised at the time the Kalitantra was revealed. The Bhairava redeems the promise and declares that the Tantra which he is to reveal should be duly preserved and concealed, as that leads to many blessings. Firstly, he briefly mentions the important topics of the Tantra and then begins the description of Tara in all her forms with the way in which She is to be worshipped.

The mantra of Nila Saraswati, consisting of five syllables, reads Om, Hni, Stri, too, but of this Vasistha is the sage, Vrhati the metre, Nila Saraswati the deity and the object acquisition of poetic power. Practitioner of the mantra is advised to perform the bathing etc. in the right manner according to both forms, vedic and tantric.

This chapter describes the piya or worship of the Nila Sarawati. It is to be done in out-of-the-way places, such as deserts, cremation-grounds, jungles, hills and hillocks. Worship of the deities: Ganesa, Kshetrapala, Yogini and Vatuka with Bhaam, kshaam, yaam, vaam comes at the beginning. While entering the altar Brahma and Vastupurusha receive their worship. Devi is to be meditated upon as occupying the seat of jewels at the foot of the desire-granting tree. Water required for worship is to be purified with the mantra of <verse>.


It gives, with elaborate details, instructions in ritualistic worship purifications, mantras, yantras, mudras, asanas and the like. It also provides, in eleventh chapter, forms of meditations on Kundalini and prescribes Pranayama as almost the panacea of all ills. This Tantra is extremely rich and predominately Shakta in nature and philosophically of trika outlook.

Vijnana Bhairava Tantra:

This is commented on partly by Ksemaraja and partly by Shivopadbyaya. This is a text of the Tantra Shastra of Agamic nature being a conversation between Shiva as Bhairva and Shakti as Bhairvi. The theme of the text is explained by Shiva himself. Main typic of the text is 112 yoga dharamas; the forms of Dhyana are elaborately mentioned therein. It is based on the famous Rudrayamala Tantra.

Uddamareswara Tantra:

This Tantra is a book of magical formulas and practices and also prescribes a number of medicinal drugs.

Vamakeswari Mata Vivarana:

This is Agama Shastra. It deals with philosophical though as well as rituals, mainly the latter. It gives a clear explanation of Shakti as Triputa-Sundari, whose worship, in various forms, it prescribes.

Malini Vijaya Tantra:

This work belongs to Agama Shastra and according to Abhinavagupta is the most importaot Agama treatise for trika system of Shaiva philosophy. It is a conversation between Shiva and Shakti.

Malini Vijaya Vartikam:

This is a running commentary of above work by Abhinavagupta and is written ia simple Sanskrit in the Anuship meter.

Netra Tantra ( with a commentary of Kshemaraja ) is published in two volumes in a dialogue form between Shiva and Shakti. The conversation introduces a question from Shakti that all the eyes are full of water, how is that from Thine eye, Thou Divine lord, there sprang forth the great fire which burnt every thing ? The whole book is mainly an answer to this question.

Mrgendra Tantra:

It deals with an Agamic nature of Tantra. There is a dialogue between sage Aanta and his disciple. It is depicting to plurastic thought of Saiva School.


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