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An Introduction to Tantra

An Introduction to Tantra

Tantra: "Scripture by which knowledge is spread".

In this post I will give an introduction to Tantra, which is a scared system of religion and philosophy, and an integral part of Hinduism.

What Tantra Is

First let us be very clear on what Tantra is and is not.

Trantra/ Agamas are a broad class of religious Hindu works. They are mostly based on the Vedas and accept the authority of the Vedas. They contain philosophical speculation as well as concrete practices to apply the philosophy. The practices are quite elegant and elevating in many instances. However in some cases, and not all, these practices have taken hideous forms as those mentioned above. But the essential philosophy is more or less in harmony with the Vedic World View. The difference with respect to Vedas lies in some of the methods and subtle points of differences in philosophy.

In terms of applicability to ages of Hindu thought development, they follow the sequence:
1. Sruti for the First Age
2. Smriti for the Second Age
3. Itihasa-Puranas for the Third Age
4. Tantra/ Agamas for th Current Age (Kali Age).

Read my 5 part Series on Tantra in IndiaFacts called "Demystifying Tantra"
1. Place of Tantra in Hinduism
2. Subject Matter of the Tantras
3. Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava Tantras
4. Shakta tantras, Kaula tantras, Mantrashastra and Nibandhas
5. Magic, Sex, Distortions and Divinity 

What Tantra Is Not

There is a misconception among people that Tantra is all about "bad things" like black-magic, animal sacrifices, sexual excesses and drinking liquor and that it is something distinct from daily Hinduism. The word "Tantra" in fact carries a negative overtone which is why a lot of people do not take up its study. An average Hindu has very little, in fact, no idea what Tantra is all about and thinks that Tantra has no relevance to his daily Hindu duties.

While it is true that sexual excesses, graveyard practices, black magic etc are a part of Tantric practices, they are but a small part of certain sects of the various Tantric schools, in the same way that animal sacrifices and drinking of Soma were a common aspect of the Vedas. Any region or philosophy has its good sides as well as bad sides. However in the case of Tantra unfortunately the focus has been primarily on these negative aspects.

 Tantra is therefore not only black-magic and erotic practices. It is much much more.

Tantra is in fact an essential part of Hinduism and pervades almost all aspects of the life of an average Hindu in ways he or she cannot even being to comprehend.

Tantra and Hinduism

Hinduism as we know today is essentially Tantric in nature built upon a Vedic super-structure. The daily Puja's that we do at home - practices like Bija Mantra, Anga Nyasa, Kara Nyasa - all these are Tantric concepts. The dhyana mantras that we use during Pujas - many of them are derived from Tantric texts. The fact that a person could meditate on God at home and did not require an expensive Yagna is a Tantric concept. Allowing all caste access to meditate on God has been a Tantric initiative.

On the other hand, a Yagya is a pure Vedic concept. The only practice among Hindus that is more or less purely Vedic is the Aryan-Hindu marriage ceremony.

Tantra is not a unitary system like the Vedas or any of the Hindu philosophies. It is an accumulation of practices and ideas of the Hindus since prehistoric times. Its birth is rooted in the Vedas; its development proceeded through the Upanishads, Itihasas, Puranas, and Smritis; and its luxuriant growth has been fostered by Buddhism, various minor Hindu sects, and also foreign influences. The vitality and elasticity thus acquired made tantra enter every house and temple of India and it also made powerful inroads into every country where Indian thought went. What obtains as Hinduism in India and the West, is essentially tantra packaged to suit the need of a particular community or individual.

Introduction to Tantra Hinuism Puja

Age of Trantric Texts
  1. Various purANas themselves we find mention made both of the vaidiki and tAntriki forms of worship.
  2. Buddha himself condemned the tAntric worships of brahmA, indra, viShNu, kAtyAyanI, gaNapati and others.
  3. After Buddha, we find Buddhists themselves began to have their own innumerable tantras. They veritably began to worship innumerable deities such as Adi buddha, prajnA pAramitA, manjushrI, tArA, Arya tArA and so on.

Thus the roots of Tantric practices are definitely pre-Buddhistic as well as pre-Puranic, that is their origination happened much earlier than ~ 500 B.C.E although many texts have been written later than that.

The Tantric World View
The Tantric world view comprises three broad classes of works - Tantra, Agama and Yamala.

A typical Tantric-oriented world view involves:
  1. recitation of mantras or bijas
  2. construction of geometrical cosmic symbols (maNDala)
  3. the making of appropriate gestures (mudrA)
  4. the assignment (nyAsa) of powerful sounds or syllables on the body
  5. meditation on the deity (dhyAna)
  6. worship (pUjA)
In short Sadhana is a key feature of Tantric practices.

Tantra vs Agama
As far as texts are concerned, there are differences between texts called Agama and those called Tantra, although they both belong to the broad grouping of Tantric texts:

a. In Agamas:
 - The emphasis is on Kriya or chArya
    i. construction of temples
    ii. installation of images
    iii. temple worship etc
 - The focus on theoretical and esoteric matters is rather low.
 - Shaiva Agamas have a dualistic viewpoint or intermediate between a monistic and dualistic standpoint.

b. In Tantra texts
 - the focus is on
    i. philosophical specultaions
    ii. cosmogony
    iii. how to communicate and handle mantras
    iv. contruction of and initiation into maNDalas
    v. Ritual aspects
 - The Tantra world view is decidedly monistic

The Advaitist - Tantra Agama Darshana

Classfication of Tantra Works
Classification of Tantric/ Agamaic works are rather difficult. There are major differences between
a. early and late
b. Shaiva and Shakta
c. Shrikula and Kalikula
d. texts of Yogic and those of magic orientation
e. original Tantras and secondary Nibandhas

One classification is based on Sects. Thus there are broadly 4 sects:
a. Shaiva - Shiva
b. Shakta - Female Divinity (Devi)
c. Vaishnava - Vishnu
d. Ganapatya - Ganapati

Very often however, if the term "Tantra" is used, the reference is to an ordinary type of Shakta text in the Kaula tradition.

Another classification is geographical:
a. Kerala
b. Kashmira
c. Gauda
d. Vilasa

Tantric Texts
a. Sahiva
     - Two schools
          - Southern Shaiva school - Shaiva Siddhanta
          - Northern School - Kashmiri Shaivism
    Southern Shaiva Agama
     - kAmikA
     - yogaja
     - chintya
     - kAraNa
     - ajitA
     - diptA
     - suxmA
     - aMsumAna
     - suprabheda
     - vijaya
     - niHshvAsa
     - svAyaMbhuva
     - vIra
     - raurava
     - makuta
     - vimala
     - chandra GYAna
     - bimba
     - lalita
     - santAna
     - sarvokta
     - pArameshvara
     - kiraNa
     - vAtula
     - shiva GYAna bodha
     - anala
     - prodgItA

Shaiva Tantra
An Introduction to Tantra - Shaiva

1. Amritesha Tantra, or Netra Tantra
2. Netragyanarnava Tantra
3. Nishvasa Tattva Samhita
4. Bhairavi Shikha Tantra (lost)
5. Vina Shikha Tantra (lost)
6. Vinamani Shikha Tantra (lost)
7. Sammohana Shikha Tantra (lost)
8. Damara Shikha Tantra (lost)
9. Atharvaka Shikha Tantra (lost)
10. Kabandha Shikha Tantra (lost)
11. Shirascheda Tantra (lost)
12. Nandi Shikha Tantra (fragmentary)
13. Bharga Shikha Tantra (fragmentary)
14. Kabandha Shikha Tantra (fragmentary)
15. Kalottara Tantra
16. Sarva Gyanottara Tantra
17. Kriya Kala Gunottara Tantra
18. Lingarchana Tantra

b. Shakta
 - Kali Tradition
     - Yonigahavara (Recess of the Womb)
     - kAlIkulArNava tantra
     - kaNkAlamAlinI tantra
     - jhaMkArakaravIra
     - mahAkAlasaMhitA by AdinAtha
     - kAlI tantra
     - kAlaGYAna tantra
     - kumArI tantra
     - toDala tantra (refers to the 10 mahAvidyA)
     - siddhalaharI tantra
     - niruttara tantra (contains Dakshinakali's sahdana)
 - Kali-Vishnu Tradition
    - kAlIvilAsa tantra (also contains Vishnu & Krishna mantras)
    - utpatti tantra
    - kAmadhenu tantra
    - nirvANa tantra
 - Kali Kamakhya Tradition
     - kAmAkhyA tantra
     - yoginI tantra (one of the most readable Tantras)
 - Kali Tara
    - tArA tantra
    - kaula tantra
    - matsya sUkta/ tArA kalpa (Vaishna influence)
    - samayA tantra (kAlI as kAla)
 - Other Forms of Devi in Kali Kula
    - muNDamAla tantra (refers to the 10 mahAvidyA)
    - nIlA tantra (nIlA)
    - nibandha tantra (nIlAsarasvati)
    - vIra tantra (tArA & daxinAkAli)
    - mAyA tantra (bhUvaneshvarI)
    - sAMkhyAyana tantra (8 mAhAvidyAs a.k.a bagalA mukhI)
    - kAtyAyani tantra (durgA)
    - kAlAnalatantra (siddhilaxmI)
    - vArAhI tantra (Varahi)
Introduction to Tantra Mantra Kavacha Stotra - Kali

 - Shrikula Tradition
    - vAmakeshvara tantra (nityAShodashikArNava & yoginIhRRidaya - discusses shrIchakra & shrIvidyA) one of the best works
    - tantrajA tantra / kADimata tantra - an excellent work
    - gYAnArNava tantra
    - shaktisaMgama tantra
    - vidyArNava tantra
    - AnandArNava tantra
    - Ananda tantra (of South Indian origin)
    - paramAnanda tantra
    - kuloDDIsha tantra
    - gandharva tantra

c. Vaishnava Agamas
  - Vaikhanasa
  - Pancharatra
      - laxmI tantra
      - bRRihadbrahma saMhitA
      - nArAda pA~NcharAtra
      - gautamIya tantra (Krishna worship)
      - mAheshvara tantra
      - sAtvata tantra
      - rAdhA tantra
      - agastyasaMhitA (rAmA worshippers)
      - dAsharathIya tantra
      - vaiShNava IshAnasaMhitA
      - UrdhvAmnAya saMhitA
      - vishvasAra tantra
  - Pratishthasara
  - Vijnanalalita

d. Surya
    - saura saMhitA / saura tantra
    - sUrya pAtAla of devI rahasya

e. Shiva-Shakti or Yamalas / Bhairava Tradition
    - The term yAmala denotes the primeval non-dual state of Shiva and Shakti. Achievement of this Unity is the ultimate goal of the Tanntric sAdhaka.
    - Yamalas can be distinguished from other works based on certain characteristics:
        a. most Yamalas were typically Bhairava-tantras characterized by the development of Shakta tendencies within Shaivism
        b. While Yamalas in principle describe the bi-polarity of Shiva and Shakti, the Shakta Tantra focus on a particular Shakti
        c. The subjects described in the Yamalas as well as their tone is markedly different from those of the general Shaiva Agamas
    - The yAmaLa tradition believes in a huge pantheon of gods and goddesses; the tAntric sAdhana here is open to all castes.

1. Brahma Yamala
2. Vishnu Yamala
3. Rudra Yamala
4. Skanda Yamala
5. Svachchanda Yamala
6. Ruru Yamala
7. Jayadhrata Yamala
8. Siddha Yamala
9. Atharvana Yamala
10. Yama Yamala
11. Vayu Yamala
12. Uma Yamala
13. Devi Yamala
14. Vetala Yamala
15. Kubera Yamala
16. Indra Yamala
17. Lakshmi Yamala
18. Ganesh Yamala
19. Chandra Yamala
20. Shakti Yamala

f. Other Non-sectarian (although Shakta oriented in terms of conversation style)
    - kulachUDAmaNi tantra (promulgation of Kaula cult - a Nigama text)
    - kulArNava tantra (a very important work)
    - gupta sAdhana tantra
    - matRRikAbheda tantra
    - mahAnirvANa tantra (a very late work but an excellent one)
    - brahmaGYAna tantra
    - GYAnasaMkalinI tantra
    - GYANasaMkulI tantra
    - mRRityuMjaya tantra (Yoga of Tantric variety)
    - chintAmaNI tantra (discusses kuNDalinI yoga)
    - bhUtasuddhi tantra ( discusses necessary preparations for Tantric worship)
    - sarasvatI tantra (mantras and japas of female deities)
    - gAyatrI tantra (discusses the Vedic Gayatri)
    - guru tantra (discusses the importance of Guru)
    - shivatANDava tantra (construction/ application of ritual diagrams)
    - shivanRRitya tantra (construction/ application of ritual diagrams)
    - kaivalya tantra (ritual performance of the 5 makAras)
    - vimalA tantra (on kula duties of the initiated)
    - samayAchAra tantra
    - yoni tantra

g. Magic/ Supernatural/ Alchemy/ Astrology Tantras
    - phetkArI / phetkArINi tantra (graveyard worship, gory sacrifices etc)
    - pichchilA tantra
    - shalaya tantra (Supernatural faculties as well as ShaTkarman)
    - dattAtreya tantra (ShaTkarman rites)
    - kaxapuTa tantra / rasaratnAkara
    - AscharyayogamAlA
    - bhUtaDAmara tantra (ShaTkarman rites)
    - uDDAmara tantra
    - uDDIsha tantra/ rAvaNoDDisha / vIrabhadra tantra
    - bRRihatshAbara tantra
    - kAlarudra tantra
    - kAkachaNDeshvarImata (one of the oldest works on achieving immortality)
    - suvarNa tantra (on prodcution of pure gold by distillation)
    - yuddhajayArNava (Means to ascertain victory in battle)
    - chandronmIlaNa
    - kriyAkAlaguNottara tantra (how to tackle poisining)
    - kumAra tantra(understanding and counteracting demon attacks)
    - tantrasArasaMgraha of nArAyaNa of Kerala (cure of poisoning) 
      Digests/ Compendiums
    - kAmyayantroddhAra by parivrAjakAchArya   
    - haramekhalA
    - ShaTkarmadIpikA by kRRiShNAnanda vidyAvAgisha (an important work)
    - kAmaratna / kAma tantra/ siddha DAkinI ( a popular treataise on ShaTkarman)

h. Compendiums / Digests/ Mantra Shastras / Nibandhas
 - Mantra Shastra
    - prapa~nchasAra or prapa~nchasAra tantra (the most important Mantra Shastra)
        - vivaraNa by GYAnasvarUpa
        - vivaraNa by padmapAda
        - sambandhadIpikA by utaamabodha
        - TIkA by jagaduru
        - tattvapradIpikA by nAgasvAmin (South Indian)
        - viGYAnoddyotinI
    - shAradAtilaka (another very important work)
        - padArthAdarsha by rAghavabhaTTa
        - shabdArthachintAmaNi by premanidhi pant
        - guDhArthadIpikA by trivikramaGYa
        - guDhArthadIpikA by mAdhava
        - mantrayantraprakAshikA by shIrapANi
    - mantramuktAvalI by paramhaMsa pUrNaprakAsha
    - mantramahodadhi by mahIdhara
        - naukA
        - padArthAdarsha by kAshinAtha
        - mantrAvalI by ga~NgAdhara
    - mantradevaprakAshikA by viShNudeva
    - mantrakamalAkara by kamalAkara bhaTTa (mostly Rama worship)
    - mantraratnAkara by yadunAtha chakravartin
    - mantrachandrikA by kAshinAtha bhaTTa
    - mantraratnAvalI by vidyAdhara sarman
    - mantraratnAvalI by bhAskara mishra
    - mantrakalpadruma (of Nepal)
    - tantrasAra by kRRiShNAnanda of Bengal (very important work for Bengal)
    - siMhasiddhAntasindhu by shivAnanda gosvAmin of Bengal

 - Nibandhas
    - kriyAkalpataru by shaktinAtha kalyAnakara
    - kaluAvAlInirNaya by GYAnAnandagiri paramhaMsa
    - shAktAnandataraMgiNI by brahmAnanda giri of Bengal
    - shAktakrama by pUrNAnanda giri of Bengal
    - shrItattvachintAmaNi by pUrNAnanda giri of Bengal
    - AgamakalpalatikA by yadunAtha (worship of 10 mahAvidyAs)
    - AgamatattvavilAsa by raghunAtha tarkavAgIsha of Bengal (has extensive bibliography)
    - tantrachintAmaNi by navamIsiMha (of Nepal)
    - kulamuktikallolinI by navamIsiMha (of Nepal)
    - kulasarvasva / kulamata by kavishekhara (Shakta Nibandha)
    - kaulikArchanadIpikA by jagadAnanda (Shakta Nibandha)
    - sarvollAsa tantra by sarvAnandanAtha of Bengal/ Tripura
    - prANatoShaNi by rAmatoShaNa vidyAlaMkAra of Bengal (1820s)
    - shAktapramoda by rAjA devAnanda siMha (1890s)

1. Arthur Avalon / Sir John Woodroffes works
2. Kamakotimandali blog
3. A History of Indian Literature - Teun Guodriaan
4. History of Indian Philosophy - Surendranath Dasgupta
5. Prabuddha Bharata, Vol 115, No 4

--- END  ---

That's it. Thank you for reading An Introduction to Tantra. You may also like the following.

Prapanchasara Tantra
Sarada Tilak Tantra
Differences between Hinduism and Abrahamic Religions
Purpose of Hindu Philosophy 
Books on Vedas 

Thank you for reading An Introduction to Tantra. Please leave your comments and feel free to share with your friends and family.  


  1. good compilation.

  2. I need padathadarsha of Raghava Bahtta on Sharada Thilaka Thanthra. Kindly, if possible get me the link or soft copy of it


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