By Jatindra Bimal Chaudhuri
Printed at Calcutta Oriental Press, Calcutta - 1956
Read book online:
The Position of Women in the Vedic Ritual
By Jatindra Bimal Chaudhuri
Printed at Calcutta Oriental Press, Calcutta - 1956
Read book online:
The Todala Tantra
This Hindu tantra is a brief but often quoted work of ten patalas or chapters. It is referred to, for example, in the Matrikabhedatantra. It also contains the daily pujas of Tara, Kali and Shiva, as well as information about yoga.
Patala one deals with the ten Mahavidyas, a subject which is returned to in chapter 10 of this tantra.
These major forms of the goddess are described in the Todala Tantra as Kali, Tara, Sundari, Bhuvaneshvari, Cchinnamasta, Bhairavi, Dhumavati, Bagala, Matangi, and Kamala. According to Alain Danielou’s Hindu Polytheism, these ten aspects of Shakti are the epitome of the entire creation. Chapter 10 also outlines their consorts, although Dhumavati, the widow form, is not allocated a consort. At the close of the chapter comes the essential tantrik view that Shiva, as the witness is not involved in creation, maintenance or withdrawal.
Many tantras, particularly those associated with Bengal, speak of ten major aspects of the goddess, the Mahavidyas. Vidya means knowledge but in the tradition this word is synonymous with both a Devi and her mantra form. Mantra is divinity in its purest form as sound, yantra is divinity represented as diagram and the dhyana, or meditation form, is considered to be the grossest representation. But these forms are given as ways of concentrating the mind easily.
The Mahavidyas are, in order, Kali, Tara, Sodashi (Tripurasundari), Bhuvaneshvari, Cchinnamasta, Bhairavi, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamala. Each, except Dhumavati, who is a widow, has her own form of Shiva.
Seated on a corpse, greatly terrifying, laughing loudly, with fearful fangs, four arms holding a cleaver, a skull, and giving the mudras bestowing boons and dispelling fear, wearing a garland of skulls, her tongue rolling wildly, completely naked (digambara – clad in the directions), thus one should meditate on Kali, dwelling in the centre of the cremation ground.
2. Tara –
Akshobhya. Seated in the pratyalidha asana, seated on the heart of a corpse, supreme, laughing horribly, holding cleaver, blue lotus, dagger and bowl, uttering the mantra Hum, coloured blue, her hair braided with serpents, the Ugratara.
4. Bhuvaneshvari. Like the red rays of the rising sun, with the moon as her diadem, and with three eyes, a smiling face, bestowing boons, holding a goad, a noose and dispelling fears, thus I hymn Bhuvaneshi.
6. Bhairavi. Her head garlanded with flowers, she resembling the red rays of 1,000 rising suns, smeared with red, holding milk, book, dispelling fears and giving boons with her four hands, large three eyes, beautiful face with a slow smile, wearing white gems, I worship Bhairava.
The colour of smoke, wearing smoky clothes, holding a winnowing basket, dishevelled clothes, deceitful, always trembling, with slant eyes, inspiring fear, terrifying.
Three eyes, wearing yellow clothes and gems, moon as her diadem, wearing champaka blossoms, with one hand holding the tongue of an enemy and with the left hand spiking him, thus should you meditate on the paralyser of the three worlds.
Dusky, beautiful browed, her three eyes like lotuses, seated on a jewelled lion-throne, surrounded by gods and others serving her, holding in her four lotus-like hands a noose and a sword, a shield and a goad, thus I remember Matangi, the giver of results, the Modini.
With a smiling face, her beautiful lily-white hands hold two lotuses, and show the mudras of giving and dispelling fear. She is bathed in nectar by four white elephants and stands upon a beautiful lotus.
“Shri Devi said: Lord of the world, lord of all knowledge, tell of the worship of the mahadevas in the three worlds. On the right hand side of each are various forms. Mahadeva, speak of each one separately.
“Shri Shiva said: Listen, beautiful one to Kalika’s Bhairava. On Dakshina’s right, worship Mahakala, with whom Dakshina is always in love union. Worship Akshobya on the right of Tara. Devi, the kalakuta poison produced by the churning of the ocean caused great agitation to all the gods and their consorts.
“Because he destroyed the agitation caused by the deadly yellow poison, he is known as Akshobya. Thus Tarini, the Mahamaya, always delights in her consort.
“On the right hand side of Mahatripurasundari, worship Shiva in his five-faced form with three eyes in each of the faces, O lady of the gods. She always delights in sexual union with her consort, O Mahadevi. For this reason, she is known as the famous Pancami. On the right side of Shrimad Bhuvaneshvari, who in the heavens, on earth, and in the underworlds is known as the Adya, worship Tryambaka.
She makes love with Tryambaka in these places, it is said. He and his Shakti are mentioned and worshipped in all tantras. On Bhairavi’s right side is Dakshinamurti. By supreme efforts, one should certainly worship that five faced one.
“On Cchinnamasta’s right side, worship Shiva-Kabandha. By worshipping him, one becomes lord of all siddhi. The Mahavidya Dhumavati is a widow. Seated on the right of Bagala is the Maharudra, with one face, who dissolves the universe. On Matangi’s right side is Shiva Matanga, similar to Dakshinamurti, the form of cosmic bliss. He who worships Sadashiva, the Vishnu form, on Kamala’s right side becomes perfect, there is no doubt about this.
“On Annapurna’s right hand side, worship Brahma, the giver of great liberation, the god with ten faces, the Maheshvara. On the right side of Durga, worship Narada. The letter Na causes creation, the letter Da maintenance, while the letter Ra causes dissolution. So he is known as the famour Narada. Worship the Rishi who “gave birth” to the other vidyas on their right hand side.”
(Todala, chapter one)
Shiva, in the second chapter, tells Shakti of yoga and describes the body as resembling a tree. There is no difference between the macrocosm or the microcosm. The supreme mantra is hamsa, equivalent to 21,600 breaths in a day. The letter Ha is Shiva while the letter Sa is Shakti. According to ancient texts, breath is time. An individual inhales once every four seconds and exhales once every four seconds. One is a solar breath and one a lunar breath.
In chapter three, the different forms and mantras of Kali are described, along with the sandhya (twilight) mantras of both Kali and Tara. These are the four tantrik twilights of dawn, midday, sunset and midnight, when the currents of pranayama change direction and the sadhaka can do his or her puja knowing he is close to the in-betweenness which is the essence of tantra. Kali’s daily rites are detailed.
The fourth chapter deals with Tara’s puja, giving a beautiful meditational image of her as situated in the centre of a lovely island, seated on a lion throne under a jewelled pavilion. Chapter five turns to Shambhunatha (Shiva).
In this yuga, sadhakas should not worship his form known as Nilakantha, an aspect of Shiva. At the churning of the milk ocean, at the beginning of time, Shiva swallowed the poison which stained his throat a deep blue. It is unclear, however, why this tantra prohibits his worship. One should never worship Shakti unless Shiva is first worshipped, preferably with a clay linga.
In chapter six, Shiva gives the vasana or inner meaning of Kali and Tara mantras Krim and Strim. The different letters of the mantras are placed on separate parts of the human body. The seventh chapter speaks of yoga and of the seven islands and of their locations in the body. Kamarupa is in the muladhara cakra. Other sacred centres are also situated in the body.
The 51 letters of the alphabet are the sacred pithas within the body, each associated with one of the parts of the Devi which fell to earth when sliced by the discus of Vishnu.
Chapter eight continues the previous topic. The body is permeated with millions of nadis and the elements have their place there too. In chapter nine, Shiva speaks of the Sundari mantra.
Even though Shiva has already spoken of it in the Nitya Tantra, Shakti asks him to reveal its true meaning. Shiva says that 21,600 is the head of the letters of the alphabet and the true rosary in the thousand petalled lotus. Details of the rosary follow. Using tantrik methods, sadhakas can be both liberated and enjoy.
The last chapter equates Vishnu’s ten incarnations with the ten Mahavidyas. Durga is the Kalki, the last of the avatars of Vishnu. He is yet to come, and when he does he will be born in Shambhala. He will ride a white horse and hold a sword which blazes like fire, bringing back to the planet harmony, according to the Agni and other Puranas. Kali’s consort is Krishna.
“Shri Devi said: Lord of gods, guru of the universe, tell me of the ten avatars. Now I want to hear of this, tell me of their true nature. Paramesvara, reveal to me which avatar goes with which Devi.
“Shri Shiva said: Tara Devi is the blue form, Bagala is the tortoise incarnation, Dhumavati is the boar, Cchinnamasta is Nrisimha, Bhuvaneshvari is Vamana, Matangi is the Rama form, Tripura is Jamadagni, Bhairavi is Balabhadra, Mahalakshmi is Buddha, and Durga is the Kalki form. BhagavatÌ Kali is the Krishna murti.” (Todala, chapter 10)
Thanks to Mike Magee
The Yogini Tantra is a voluminous work held in high regard by practitioners of Vamachara. In a total of 28 chapters divided into two parts, it outlines every topic familiar to the Kaula and Vama traditions. What follows is an abstract of the first nine patalas or chapters.
This opens with a familiar tantrik scene on Mount Kailasa where Shiva is addressed by Parvati. She says she has heard exposition of tantras before on Shri Shaila mountain, in Varanasi, in Kamarupa and in Nepal. Now she wants to hear more from Shiva, the world guru. In answer, Shiva says he will declare the great Yogini Tantra, the giver of both wealth and liberation. It is to be concealed and is unknown to all the devatas, to the asuras, to the yakshas and others but he will declare it out of love for Parvati.
He starts by eulogising the goddess as the cosmic mother (Vishvamata), dark as a thunderstorm, wearing a garland and waist-band of skulls, with dishevelled hair, completely naked (digambaram).
She has a rolling tongue, makes a terrifying roar, three reddened eyes, and has a wide open mouth. She wears a moon digit on her forehead, has the corpses of two boys as her earrings, and is adorned with various gems, which are of the brightness of the Sun and the Moon. Laughing loudly, she has two streams of blood pouring from her mouth, while her throat is red with blood. In her four arms she holds cleaver, head, and makes mudras dispelling fears and granting boons. She, the supreme Nitya, is seated in reverse (viparita) intercourse with Mahakala upon the corpse of Shiva. The whole scene is set in the cremation ground.
After this detailed dhyana of Kali, Shiva begins to outline the tantra, declaring that he is Parvati’s slave.
He starts with the characteristics of the guru, who he describes as the root of all shastra, the root of this world and the very self of Parabrahma and the essence of Shiva. The guru can save a disciple where even gods and goddesses cannot intercede. The guru’s family is to be considered as identical with the guru. There follows a dhyana of guru in the palace of wish-fulfilling gems on Mount Kailasa, surrounded by hosts of Bhairavas. The palace is surrounded by the seven oceans.
The guru is one with Mahakala Adinatha and knows all mantras, whether they be Shakta, Vaishnava or Ganapatya. The greatness of the guru is hymned in all the shastras.
Devi asks Shiva to speak of Kali and Tarini. Shiva says that Kalika is the greatest of the great vidyas, supreme and giving nirvana and liberation to people. Her disciples are Brahma, Vishnu and himself. If a sadhaka recites the Kali mantra, he becomes her son. Kali, Tara and Cchinna are the mahavidyas.
One successful in Kali becomes similarly successful in the others. Shiva begins to speak of initiation. He says that the rosary to be used in the puja should be made of human skullbone for long-lasting success.
A sadhaka or sadhika may also use crystal or ruby rosaries. A full rosary should have 108 beads. The meru, or bead to mark the beginning and the end of the mala, should be made of a king’s tooth. Shiva proceeds to outline the number of times the mantra should be recited holding the rosary and the way the fingers should count.
He speaks of the nature of other rosaries including pearl, tulsi (basil) when worshipping Vishnu, ivory for Ganesha, and rudraksha or red sandalwood for Tripura. Dhattura growing in a cremation ground is used for Dhumavati. He then describes ritual accessories to be used in the puja and the times in bright and dark fortnights of the moon which are favourable and unfavourable as well as other restraints due to time as well as suitable places for the rite.
Devi asks how catastrophes including war and fever can be warded off. In reply, Shiva recites a kavacha or armour which can be used to protect against malefic influence. It is not to be revealed lightly. He then speaks of a way to subjugate the world (jagadvashyakara). Sage Narada also asked Shiva to speak of this of old.
Shiva says that when she is imagined as a naked Devi, Kali is the deludress of the world. He then gives the Trailokya Mohana Kavacha (armour bewildering the three worlds). Kalabhairava is the rishi of the mantra, anushtubh is the metre, Shmashana Kali is the devata.
After giving the armour, Shiva describes how to make it. It should be written on bhurja (birch) bark and worn round the person. It should be written on the eighth day of the bright fortnight and placed inside a golden container. Wearing it on different parts of the body gives different results. On the head, it destroys disease. On the right shoulder, it gives whatever is desired. Vishnu now chimes in and says Narada achieved the desires he wanted by employing this kavacha
The Devi now wants to know of other prayogas to give dominion, knowledge and wealth. Shiva mentions the Phetkarini Tantra and the Nila Tantra as sources. One process is to draw a hexagon with the mantra of Tara within plus the sadhya (the object). Devi asks about the satkarmas, six magical acts. Shiva says these are pacifying, subduing, causing enmity, driving away, uprooting (uccatana) and causing death. He says there are six Shaktis appropriate to these acts. The Padmini is suitable for pacifying and Sankhini for subjugation. He then outlines the mantras appropriate to the six acts.
Shiva describes a great sadhana in the cremation ground, involving the fifteen Kali Nityas. This sadhana can also be performed in a desert, by the side of a river, on a mountain, at a crossroads, at the root of a Bilva tree, at a place where there is a single lingam, at a place where there are no people as well as in the cremation ground.
Devi asks about the different classes of sadhaka. Shiva says they are divided into the divya (divine), vira (heroic) and pashu (herdlike) categories. The meditation for the divya should be concealed, Shiva speaking of vira meditation. He says a vira should meditate on the three bindus in the form of a 16 year old woman.
The first is as bright as 10,000,000 dawn suns,extending from the head to the breasts.
The second extends from the breasts to the hips and the third from the yoni to the feet. This is the Kamakala form, the very essence of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
The vira and the divya may employ madya, mamsa, matsya, mudra and maithuna (the five ‘m’s) in their worship. According to Shiva, the rishis, the vasus, the daityas all became great through this puja. Shiva speaks of this worship for the four Hindu divisions (varnas) and also for the Avadhuta. Much of this material is repeated in the Yoni Tantra. He says the great nectar flows from Kundalini when it has risen to the top of the head. This is the great wine. She is the supreme Shakti within the body.
Devi asks Shiva to tell her of Devi Svapnavati (she who moves in sleep). He gives the mantra. Shiva says: ‘This Svapnavati Vidya is very hard to obtain in the three worlds. It is the cause of great miracles, declared by Mahakala.’ It should be recited 108 times then Svapnavati visits in sleep always. A sadhaka who masters the mantra sees everything in his dreams he wishes. The god then speaks of the Mritasanjivani vidya. This appears to give the power of bringing back the dead to life. He describes other vidyas including Madhumati and the Trilokyakarshi vidya. This attracts whatever a sadhaka desires in the three worlds. Maidens will cross oceans and mountain ranges to get to him. Shiva goes on to give vidyas of Padmavati, the Vashikarani vidya. He then returns to the topic of Svapnavati. This appears to involve awakening while in the dream state (lucid dreaming?). The mantras should be concealed and given only to the devoted, the unstained otherwise hosts of Dakinis consume a person.
Shiva speaks of the Yoginis. They look terrifying, with blazing eyes and 50 lakhs of faces. The daitya Ghora then recites a hymn to Devi, celebrating her victory over the Daityas. Shiva chimes in, praising her greatness in battle. Towards the end of the patala, Shiva gives a meditation image of Shakti as Kali.
Shiva starts this lengthy chapter by speaking of the Devi as the Brahmanda, the macrocosm. In this guise, she has an immense form, with millions upon millions of arms and heads. She is the sum of everything, containing puranas, vedas, smriti and vedas. As such she is of the brilliance of millions upon millions of suns and moons and fires, consisting of all knowledge, all paths, all dharma, all bliss, all shastra, all veda and all worlds, in short, everything. Then follows a meditation on Shakti as being present in the different parts of the body. Shiva closes by saying that Kali is the form of consciousness (citrupa), the impartite absolute.
The Yogini Hrdaya Dipika
Historical Perspective of Sati
By Shrikanth Krishnamachary
Published in Indic Today on January 14, 2019
The custom of Sati is among the widely cited and the most reviled of Hindu practices, despite being more or less extinct for nearly 190 years. Long after its ban in 1829, Sati remains in public discourse by virtue of being a polemical weapon.
Whenever there is a defense of any tradition, the common heard retort is –
“Oh…what about Sati? Was that not also a tradition? Did we not get rid of that?”
More often than not, this weapon is used rather liberally in contexts where it is out-of-place. Recently the journalist and political commentator Rajdeep Sardesai used Sati as a polemical weapon while arguing in favor of changing the rules of admission at the shrine of Shri Ayappa at Sabarimala.
Sati remains alive not just in Indian public discourse, but also continues to fascinate the West, some 300 years after modern Europeans first encountered the practice. It is used as a polemical tool by some to denigrate the rituals and culture of Santana Dharma.
For some outsiders of a feminist persuasion Sati is a convenient stick to critique the “treatment of women” in traditional India. For others of a more religious disposition, it is a stick to critique Indian religion, and make a case for the superior “Christian” civilization.
In the West for much of the past 300 years, Sati has been mis-translated as the practice of “widow burning” – implicitly suggesting murder. This is despite the fact that Sati for the most part was a voluntary act. The great Harvard political philosopher, Harvey Mansfield, once invoked Sati in an interview with the Harvard review of Philosophy in 1993, while critiquing multi-culturalism in the West.
Here’s what he said –
“To appreciate another culture one should really try to see where it disagrees with ours, and why it does so. For example, why did the Hindus burn widows on the funeral pyre? It’s not enough to simply reject that out of hand as an oddity…Why did they do that? What was the reasoning behind that? …. In other words, what are the arguments on its behalf?”
To be perfectly honest, Mansfield’s questions are valid.
However the Hindu response to these questions has been somewhat confused, often defensive, and sometimes resigned, with the odd exception. Among Indian progressives / liberals, the responses have tended to border on self-flagellation. Among the more right-wing Hindus, the responses go typically like this –
Response 1: “Oh…Sati was an incredibly rare practice, exaggerated by missionaries and dishonest East India officials”
Response 2: “Oh. Sati was non-existent in Ancient India. It is a medieval practice that arose in reaction to Muslim depredations among certain royal houses”
While it is true that Sati was a rare occurrence and that its incidence increased in medieval India, these responses are not entirely honest. Firstly there is a tendency to conflate the medieval practice of Jauhar in north-west India with Sati, a much older practice that predates it by many centuries. Secondly these somewhat defensive responses do not acknowledge the long history of Sati in India and the several arguments both for and against it within the Hindu tradition over the past two millennia.
The Indian liberal reaction in contrast is one of self-flagellation. This response has its own problems. It doesn’t acknowledge the relative rarity of the practice. It is oblivious to the numerous critiques of Sati within the Hindu establishment for much of the past 1500 years. So Indian responses have mostly disappointed.
There are some exceptions like the early 20th century historian Anant Sadashiv Altekar, whose work – “The Position of Women in Hindu civilization” published in 1938, remains a classic and is well worth reading to understand Sati, among other things. This essay is an attempt to trace Sati as a practice over the past 2000+ years. While I have referred some primary sources, many of the pointers are taken from Anant Altekar’s fine work.
Widows in Vedic literature
The practice of the widow sacrificing her life upon her husband’s death is not unique to India. It has been observed among Thracians by Heredotus, Manchus in China in later times, and also among ancient Scandinavians. But these were not very widespread practices. It is quite likely that the practice was more prevalent among the warrior class and arose from the belief possibly that the departed may require all their “possessions” in the next life.
In an Indian context, what strikes us is the total absence of Sati in the Vedic period. There is neither an intellectual justification of widow self-immolation in any of the Vedic texts, nor a narrative reference to an actual occurrence. In Rig Veda, Mandala 10.18.7/8 in fact implicitly exhort the widow to live on
इमा नारीरविधवाः सुपत्नीराञ्जनेन सर्पिषा संविशन्तु
अनश्रवो.अनमीवाः सुरत्ना आ रो हन्तु जनयोयोनिमग्रे
उदीर्ष्व नार्यभि जीवलोकं गतासुमेतमुप शेष एहि
हस्तग्राभस्य दिधिषोस्तवेदं पत्युर्जनित्वमभि सम्बभूथ
Translation – Ralph Griffith
“Let these unwidowed dames with noble husbands adorn themselves with fragrant balm and unguent. Decked with fair jewels, tearless, free from sorrow, first let the dames go up to where he lieth. Rise, come unto the world of life, O woman: come, he is lifeless by whose side thou liest. Wifehood with this thy husband was thy portion, who took thy hand and wooed thee as a lover”
So clearly there is no explicit encouragement to the woman to ascend the funeral pyre here. In the Atharva Veda (Book 18), there is another hymn, which is even more unambiguous in encouraging the widow to have a family. Here is the verse
इयं नारी पतिलोकं वृणाना नि पघत उप त्वा मर्त्य प्रेतम ।
धर्मं पुराणमनुपालयन्ती तस्यै प्रजां द्रविणं चेह धेहि ॥
Translation from Hindi (Ram Sharma Acharya)
“O Dead man. This lady who cares for your lineage to continue, is practicing her Swadharma, and is now going to come near you. But let her in future have kids, grandkids, and prosperity”
This suggests that while the lady was present near the pyre and lay beside her husband in a symbolic way, after the funeral she was encouraged to live on and even remarry if necessary. So it is clear that at least in the early to middle Vedic period, there was no mention of Sati, nor was it likely practiced.
Even the later layers of Vedic literature like the Brahmanas and Upanishads do not mention Sati or anything even approaching it. In the Asvalayana Grihya Sutra, we have this verse, which in the latter part interestingly cross-references the Rig Veda verse we have already encountered.
तामुत्थापयेध्येवरः पतिस्थानीयोऽन्तेवासी जरध्यासो
“उधीर्षःव नारि अभि जीवलोकम्” इति
Translation (Hermann Oldenberg)
“After the wife lies beside the corpse at the funeral, her brother-in-law, being a representative of her husband, or a pupil of her husband, or an aged servant, should cause her to rise from that place with “Arise, O wife, to the world of life”.
What’s interesting is that the Rig Vedic injunction referred to earlier in the thread (Arise to the world of life) is invoked in this Grihya Sutra verse many centuries later. This shows the consistency of thought at work over a very long period of time.
Rig Veda Mandala X probably belongs to an epoch that is definitely some centuries preceding 1000 BCE. While Asvalayana Grihya Sutra is a much later text probably belonging to 600-700 BCE. Yet you see a verse in the latter referencing the former, to drive home the same positive point.
In roughly the same epoch, in the Taittareya Āranyaka text, we come across this verse –
धनुर्हस्तादाददाना मृतस्य श्रियै क्ष्त्त्त्रायौजसे बलाय
अत्रैव त्वमिह वयँ सुशेवा विश्वास्स्पृधो अभिमातीर्जयेम
Translation (paraphrasing Altekar’s):
“On returning from the funeral pyre, the widow brings back with her the husband’s instruments like bow, jewels, etc. We hope the widow and her relatives can lead a prosperous life”
The early Buddhist literature (Pali canon) does not discuss Sati either. So it is clear that Sati was most likely non-existent in the centuries succeeding Buddha (5th to 3rd century BCE). Sati is not mentioned by Megasthenes and Kautilya (~300BCE). Nor is it prescribed in the early orthodox Smritis of Manu and Yajnavalkya (dated variously between 300BCE and 300CE).
Niyoga in pre-classical India
In fact right up to the beginning of the Common Era, widows were not just encouraged to live on, but there was also the practice of Niyoga wherein a relative of the dead husband could potentially be authorized to have a kid with the dead man’s wife if he died childless. But post 300BCE criticisms started brewing in orthodox Hindu society against Niyoga – a practice admittedly liable to great misuse.
Here’s Manu on Niyoga. He first describes Niyoga but also condemns it, which suggests that even in his time, the practice was not totally extinct.
देवराद् वा सपिण्डाद् वा स्त्रिया सम्यक्नियु क्तया ।
प्रजेप्सिताऽऽधिगन्तव्या सन्तानस्य परिक्षये ॥ ५९ ॥
Translation (Ganganath Jha):
“On failure of issue, the woman, on being authorized, may obtain, the desired offspring, either from her younger brother-in-law or a ‘Sapiṇḍa’ “
विधवायां नियुक्तस्तु घृताक्तो वाग्यतो निशि ।
एकमुत्पादयेत् पुत्रं न द्वितीयं कथं चन ॥ ६० ॥
“He who has been authorized in regard to a widow shall, anointed with clarified butter and with speech controlled, beget, at night, one son,—and on no account a second one”
But notice Manu here –
विधवायां नियोगार्थे निर्वृत्ते तु यथाविधि
गुरुवत्च स्नुषावत्च वर्तेयातां परस्परम्
“When the purpose of the ‘authorization’ in regard to the widow has been accomplished, the two should behave towards each other like an elder and a daughter-in-law”
But Manu was not happy with Niyoga, and positively discourages it
ततः प्रभृति यो मोहात् प्रमीतपतिकां स्त्रियम्
नियोजयत्यपत्यार्थं तं विगर्हन्ति साधवः
“Whenever anyone, through folly, ‘authorizes’ a woman whose husband is dead, to beget children,—him the good men censure”
While the discussion on Niyoga may seem like a digression in a Sati thread, it is important to understand it. It clearly suggests that the whole idea of widow self-immolation would have been anathema in a society that was worldly enough to explore Niyoga to keep the lineage alive.
Earliest literary instances of the practice: Sati in the two Itihasas
In the two epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana, Sati is extremely rare. In Ramayana, there is one case of Sati in Uttara Kanda, but not in the main epic. In Mahabharata we have the famous case of Pandu’s second wife Madri who becomes a Sati. Even in the case of Madri, at least in some recensions, the sages and well-wishers urge her against Sati. But Madri is adamant as she regards herself as responsible for Pandu’s death and is suffused with guilt. So it is perhaps closer to a guilt-driven suicide than a case of Sati
While Madri is no doubt a very early Sati case in the history of Indian literature, she is an exception and not the rule. Even in Mahabharata, there is no other widow who undertakes Sati, though this is a story of warrior widows.
In contrast Niyoga still is prevalent in the Mahabharata epic. Most famously we have the instance of Vichitravirya’s wives – Ambika and Ambalika (and their maid), bearing sons through Veda Vyasa, who was Vichitravirya’s half-brother.
So right up to 400 CE or so, when the epics were finally set in their present form, Sati was hardly known in much of India. Nor was there a single intellectual justification or argument in its favor in the very vast corpus of Vedic literature and Dharma texts.
Earliest historical instances of Sati
We have discussed the earliest instance of Sati in “literature” which is most likely that of Madri in Mahabharata. But what is the earliest historical occurrence of Sati that we know of? The earliest historical occurrence is widely acknowledged to be that of the wife of the Hindu general Keteus who died in 316BC fighting against the Greek Antigonus. Keteus had 2 wives. As with Pandu’s wives, both of Keteus’ wives were eager to die but the younger one got her wish.
But this is a very early instance of Sati, which seems a bit out of place, as the literature of that period is totally ignorant of Sati. Post this instance, we don’t get to hear about Sati for a long while except for the Madri exception in Mahabharata.
Gradual rise in Sati’s popularity
But in the first few centuries of the Common Era, there is change in the air. Ideals of asceticism have become increasingly popular in society, and this is reflecting in the literature of the time.
Poets and dramatists of the classical period (200AD to 600AD) are gradually becoming aware of Sati. And this is reflecting in their writings. Most notably Bhasa, Vatsyayana, Kalidasa and even Shudraka.
In Bhasa’s Urubhanga and Duta Ghatotkacha, we see the dramatist deviating from the older Mahabharata epic. In these plays we see the wives of Abhimanyu, Duryodhana and Jayadratha committing Sati, unlike in the Mahabharata epic.
This is also the time when we see more historical occurrences most notably that of King Harsha’s mother (circa 7th century AD). She commits Sati even before her husband’s death (Harsha’s father) as there is no chance of his recovery from poor health. Around this time, we also note the emergence of a new generation of Dharma texts that are more sympathetic to the practice, though they don’t necessarily mandate it, most notably Vishnu Smriti, and Parāśara Smriti – two very late Dharma texts of the second half of the 1st millennium CE
In Parāśara Smriti, we come across this verse –
तिस्त्रः कोट्योडर्धकोटी च यानि रोमारि मानुषे
तावत्कालं वसेत्स्वर्गे भर्तारं यानुगच्छति
“If a woman follows her departed lord, , she will dwell in heaven for as many years as there are hairs on the human frame- which will reach the number of 3 crores and a half”
So there is a change in climate at work here. Practices like Niyoga are now clearly a thing of the very ancient past. While the reform on that front was perhaps desirable, there was overcompensation in the other direction. Sati now did become idealized as a remarkable religious act of great merit. Nevertheless it was still extremely rare, and hardly obligatory.
Critiques of Sati in the tradition
But this change in climate was also greatly opposed by other contemporary thinkers (E.g.: Medathithi, Bana). So it did not result in any major increase in the incidence of Sati. Medhathithi was among the earliest commentators on Manu Smriti. He is usually placed after 8th century CE. His writings show that this inclination towards Sati among some Smriti writers was vociferously opposed by others like himself. In his commentary on Manu, Medhathithi argues –
“As in the case of men, even for women suicide is forbidden. As for what Aṅgirasa has said—‘they should die after their husband’,—this also is not an obligatory act, and so it is not that it must be done”
The poet Baṅa, who lived in the 7th century was horrified by the emergence of Sati
“To die after one’s beloved is most fruitless. It is a custom followed by the foolish. It is a mistake committed under infatuation. It is a mistake of stupendous magnitude”
Tantra literature also is very clear in opposing the emerging trend of Sati (albeit voluntary in character) “The Woman is the embodiment of the supreme goddess and if a person burnt her with her husband, he is condemned to eternal hell” (Source: Mahanirvana Tantra)
Sati in Medieval times
But Sati grew in popularity particularly in Kashmir, where several historical occurrences of the same are documented in Kalhana’s history (Rajatarangini – the great 12th century work). It remained rare everywhere else. In fact the oldest Sati stone in Rajputana dates only to 838AD
Rajatarangini of Kalhana documents several Satis as well as aborted Sati attempts. Most notably the Kings Kalasha and Utkarsha were followed in death by their wives as well as concubines. The famous Kashmiri queen Didda of 10th century avoided Sati by bribing a minister to come to the cremation ground and dissuade her from getting on the pyre. An intriguing strategem.
Sati cases are also common in the 11th century work Kathasaritasagara – possibly written in Kashmir. But outside of Kashmir, Sati remains extremely rare, notwithstanding the tacit support for it in some late Smriti works of the time like Parāśara Smrti and Angirasa Smrti.
In the coming few centuries, Sati did become fairly prevalent among ruling Rajput families. This was also the period of the rise of Jauhar. But it remained barred for Brahmins. Even as late as 15th century, it was primarily a Kshatriya practice. In the Deccan, Sati was an outlier event and extremely rare.
In medieval times, we hear more about Sati from the travels of Europeans. When Ajit Singh of Marwar died in 1724, 64 women mounted the pyre. However when Shivaji died, just one of his wives became a Sati. But notwithstanding the rise in incidence, there is little to suggest that the practice had lost its voluntary character
There is an 11th century inscription in Karnataka that tells of a lady named Dekabbe who would not listen to her parents and insisted on mounting the pyre. Much later in 18th century we have the instance of the great Ahilyabai Holkar’s own daughter Muktabai, who became a Sati in 1792, despite the entreaties against the same by her great mother.
Tavernier, a 17th century traveler, tells of an instance where a girl of 22 went to Patna to show the ruler there that she was a willing party by burning her hands till they were reduced to ashes.
In terms of the rarity of the practice, Altekar estimates that even at the peak of its prevalence in the medieval period, perhaps one in thousand Indian widows became a Sati. Though he also speculates that the percentage was way higher among Rajput rulers (possibly 25% in his words).
Sati in 19th century
Now let us fast forward to East India Company rule in early 19th century. This was when we started collecting more concrete numbers on Sati cases, often through missionary organizations. Here are the number of Sati occurrences from Bengal between 1815 and 1828.
Place # Sati cases : 1815 to 1828
Now the numbers collected in early 1800s strike us as odd, in part because of the very high concentration in Bengal – a region not hitherto associated with Sati. This is surprising, given that historically the practice was far more prevalent in Kashmir and Rajputana than in Bengal.
Though a total volume of under 10,000 cases over a 13 year period may not be very big. But there is definitely room to be sceptical about these numbers, as argued in Meenakshi Jain’s fine work on the subject.
The final blow to Sati came in 1829 when William Bentinck banned it all over British India. But this was for the most part received well by Indians. In fact many Indian rulers had already taken measures against Sati before Bentinck’s ban.
Had it been a practice with very wide support, there definitely would have been far greater opposition to the ban placed on it than what was observed in the 1830s. Some thinkers like Radhakanta Deb (of the conservative Dharma Sabha) opposed the ban as they felt it was an interference in Indian matters by a foreign hand. But these were anomalous reactions without serious popular backing.
That brings us to the conclusion of the piece. While Sati has a long and checkered history, it has been banned for over 190 years. It is very much a thing of the very distant past, and we have no living memory of it. It was always a marginal practice. Nevertheless studying its history teaches us a lot about Indian intellectual history.
AS Altekar’s Position of Women in Hindu civilization
Rig Veda translation- Ralph Griffith translation
Atharva Veda Samhita translation : Ram Sharma Acharya
Manu Smrti – Ganganath Jha
Painting; gouache, Sati Ceremony, Tanjore, 1800
Credit : Copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The Garbha Upanishad: How Life Begins
By Professor Subhash Kak / Rare Book Society
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॥ गर्भोपनिषत् ॥
यद्गर्भोपनिषद्वेद्यं गर्भस्य स्वात्मबोधकम् ।
शरीरापह्नवात्सिद्धं स्वमात्रं कलये हरिम् ॥
Whence are living beings born?
What is life and how does it begin? How does awareness dawn in the developing fetus? These are questions that Sage Pippalāda asks in this astonishing text. Pippalāda is also credited with the answers in the Praśna Upaniṣad, which is one of the primary Upanishads and one of the oldest. The six questions in the Praśna Upaniṣad are:
1. Whence are living beings born?
2. How many devas (powers) uphold and illumine a living being?
3. Whence does life come into the body? How does it abide? How does it go out of the body? How does life interface with the external world? How is it connected with the Self?
4. What powers are quiescent when one sleeps, and what powers are awake? Who sees the dreams? Who experiences happiness? In whom are all these established?
5. If one were to meditate on the symbol “Om” until death, what would one obtain by doing so?
6. Who is the person with sixteen parts? (This is a question about the different modes of the Self.)
These are the deepest questions of life and remain as urgent now as they were three or four thousand years ago. My objective is not to revisit these questions but only to focus on Pippalāda’s answers provided in the Garbha Upaniṣad, which is a companion text with deeper responses to some of these questions.
There is no unanimity about the date of the Garbha Upaniṣad. Since it is ascribed to Pippalāda, we need to determine this sage’s place in the Vedic tradition, although it is believed that the text may not be as old as the sage. Pippalāda is also the author of the Atharvaveda śākhā named after him (Paippalāda śākhā). If the Ṛgveda is to be taken to be no later than 2000 BCE as suggested by hydrological evidence related to the drying up of the Sarasvatī River that the Ṛgveda celebrates as flowing from the mountains to the sea, then as a principal arranger of the Atharvaveda, Pippalāda should be assigned to at least the middle of the second millennium BCE. But there are some Western scholars who believe these dates are a thousand years too long and the Garbha Upanisad should be assigned to 600 BCE or so.
According to the Purāṇas, Pippalāda was the disciple of the Ṛṣi Vedasparśa, and he instructed Yudhiṣṭhira in the significance of the Aṅgāravrata, which is based on a dialogue between Śukra and Virocana.
The physiological knowledge in the Garbha Upaniṣad is consistent with that found in the oldest Upaniṣads. Like the other texts, it speaks of recursion, but it doesn’t list as many channels (veins and nerves) as some other texts do. This indicates that this Upaniṣad may be older than has been assumed.
Pippalāda’s six questions in the Praśna Upaniṣad are reminiscent of the six darśanas that touch upon six different aspects of reality: logic (nyāya), lived life (mīmāṃsā), origins (sāṅkhya), devas within (yoga), overarching reality (vedānta), and modifications (vaiśesika). This is not an argument for the lateness of the Praśna Upaniṣad, but rather for the remote antiquity of six bases to reality, which mirror the six directions.
For a proper understanding of the Garbha Upaniṣad it is essential to understand the subtle ideas of recursion, physiology and consciousness, channels in the body, and causal chain and birth.
Like other sages of the Upaniṣads, Pippalāda is systematic and rational. The physical basis of life, and the sequence following the development of the embryo, is clearly defined. He describes the basis of life mystically in categories that go, in sequence, from 2 to 7. In the body emerge 8 natures and in it arise 16 modifications that are similar to the tattvas of Sāṅkhya and the modes indicated in Praśna Upaniṣad 6.4.
The embryo is taken to have become jīva (conscious self) in the seventh month, and in the eighth month, it becomes complete in every sense. This gives the time the fetus becomes a person, with attendant legal rights. It is not explained how the jīva comes to be attached to the body.
Although other passages indicate that the jīva resides in the heart’s recess, it also suffuses the entire body; furthermore, its identity with the Puruṣa means that, mysteriously, it is one with the entire universe. The distinction also implies the existence of the subtle body (liṅgam). In the Sarvasāra Upaniṣad 7, the subtle body is defined as created out of the mind and other subtle elements that reside in the knot of the heart. The consciousness within this subtle body is called the “knower of the field” (kṣetrajña).
The body is an instrument of the heart, but for it to be able to do what it can, the kṣetrajña must be free: this is mokṣa or mukti.
Recursion, the mirroring of the cosmos at several levels, including at the level of the body, is one of the central ideas of the Upaniṣads. It is clearly stated, for example, in the Chāndogya Up. 8.1.1 and 3, where we are told that within the heart is this small place with the heaven, earth, sun, moon, and stars where the lights of the universe shine.
अथ यदिदमस्मिन्ब्रह्मपुरे दहरं पुण्डरीकं वेश्म दहरोऽस्मिन्नन्तराकाशस्तस्मिन्यदन्तस्तदन्वेष्टव्यं तद्वाव विजिज्ञासितव्यमिति ॥ ८. १. १ ॥
यावान्वा अयमाकाशस्तावानेषोऽन्तर्हृदय अकाश उभे अस्मिन्द्यावापृथिवी अन्तरेव समाहिते उभावग्निश्च वायुश्च सूर्याचन्द्रमसावुभौविद्युन्नक्षत्राणि यच्चास्येहास्ति यच्च नास्ति सर्वं तदस्मिन्समाहितमिति
॥ छान्दोग्योपनिषद् ८. १. ३ ॥
There is in this city of Brahman (the body) the mansion in the shape of a lotus and in it the small inner ākāśa (sky). What lies there that should be sought, which one should seek to understand?’
As large indeed as is this ākāśa, so large is that ākāśa in the heart. Within it are contained both heaven and earth, both fire and air, both sun and moon, lightning and stars; whatever there is of him (Self) in this world and whatever is not, all that is contained within it. (Chandogya Up. 8.1.1 and 8.1.3)
This recursion is also expressed across time, and it leads to a variety of paradoxes that, the Vedas tell us, cannot be explained away by language. It is described most clearly in the last (fifth) section of the Garbha Upaniṣad in which the body itself is seen as the ground of the sacrifice.
Speaking of recursion, one must also mention hiraṇyagarbha, the golden womb out of which, the Veda tells us, the universe emerged. In an abstract sense, creation at the cosmic level is to be understood in a sense similar to that at the individual level.
Physiology and consciousness
Now we consider the most interesting assertion that the body consists of 107 marmas (weak spots), 180 sutures or junction points, 109 snāyu (sinews), 700 veins, 500 majjā (muscle), 360 bones, and forty-five million hairs.
The numbers 180 and 360 are obviously astronomical and related to the number of days in the civil year. Their occurrence is the assertion of the mirroring of the cosmos in the body.
The numbers 107 and 109 are also, but less obviously, astronomically related. I have shown elsewhere (see References 1 and 2) that the Vedic Ṛṣis characterized the universe by the measure of 108, for it represents the distance to the sun and the moon from the earth, in multiples of their respective diameters. If the body mirrors the universe, it will have 108 parts, with 107 vulnerable joints (marmas), and 109 lashes to hold them together (snāyu).
Other Upaniṣads (e.g. Aitareya 3.3) speak of four kinds of life: born alive, born from egg, born from moisture (insects), and born from germ (plants).
बीजानीतराणि चेतराणि चाण्डजानि च जारुजानि च स्वेदजानि चोद्भिज्जानि चाश्वा गावः पुरुषा हस्तिनो यत्किञ्चेदं प्राणि जङ्गमं चपतत्रि च यच्च स्थावरं सर्वं तत्प्रज्ञानेत्रं प्रज्ञाने प्रतिष्ठितं प्रज्ञानेत्रो लोकः प्रज्ञा प्रतिष्ठा प्रज्ञानं ब्रह्म ॥ ऐतरेय उपिनषत् ३.३ ॥
[These all] are born of eggs, of wombs, of moisture, and of sprouts, namely horses, cattle, men, elephants, and all creatures that there are that move or fly and those that do not move. All these are guided by consciousness and supported by consciousness; the basis is consciousness. Consciousness is Brahman. (Aitareya Up. 3.3)
Consciousness is not taken to exist only in the human, but in all life.
Channels in the body (Nāḍis)
The count of 700 channels does not go to the usual details that are to be found in other Upaniṣads. Thus Pippalāda instructs Āślavāyana in Praśna Upaniṣad 3.6:
अत्रैतदेकशतं नाडीनं तासां शतं शतमेकैकस्या द्वासप्ततिर्द्वासप्ततिः प्रतिशाखानाडीसहस्राणि भवन्त्यासु व्यानश्चरति ॥ प्रश्नोपनिषत्/तृतीयः प्रश्नः ३.६ ॥
Here there are one hundred and one channels;
each of these has one hundred more;
each further has seventy-two thousand branching channels;
through which the vyāna (breath) courses. (Praśna Up. 3.6)
This means that the total number of channels (veins, nerves) equals: 101 + 101×100 + 101×100×72,000 = 727,210,201. Of these, the most significant channel is the suṣumnā.
Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 2.1.19 speaks of how the Self returns to the body along the 72,000 hitā channels, which branch off from the heart to all parts of the body. This together with a further description of these nerves of four colors is described well in the Kauṣītaki Brāhmaṇa Upaniṣad:
तं होवाचाजातशत्रुर्यत्रैष एतद्बालाके पुरुषोऽशयिष्ट यत्रैतदभूद्यत एतदागाद्धिता नाम हृदयस्य नाड्यो हृदयात्पुरीततमभिप्रतन्वन्ति तद्यथासहस्रधा केशो विपाटितस्तावदण्व्यः पिङ्गलस्याणिम्ना तिष्ठन्ति । शुक्लस्य कृष्णस्य पीतस्य लोहितस्येति तासु तदा भवति । यदा सुप्तःस्वप्नं न कञ्चन पश्यत्यस्मिन्प्राण एवैकधा भवति तथैनं वाक्सर्वैर्नामभिः सहाप्येति चक्षुः सर्वै रूपैः सहाप्येति श्रोत्रं सर्वैः शब्दैः सहाप्येतिमनः सर्वैर्ध्यातैः सहाप्येति स यदा प्रतिबुध्यते यथाग्नेर्ज्वलतो सर्वा दिशो विस्फुलिङ्गा विप्रतिष्ठेरन्नेवमेवैतस्मादात्मनः प्राणा यथायतनंविप्रतिष्ठन्ते प्राणेभ्यो देवा देवेभ्यो लोकास्तद्यथा क्षुरः क्षुरध्यानेऽवहितः स्याद्विश्वंभरो वा विश्वंभरकुलाय एवमेवैष प्राज्ञ आत्मेदंशरीरमात्मानमनुप्रविष्ट आ लोमभ्य आ नखेभ्यः ॥ १९ ॥
तमेतमात्मानमेतमात्मनोऽन्ववस्यति यथा श्रेष्ठिनं स्वास्तद्यथा श्रेष्ठैः स्वैर्भुङ्क्ते यथा वा श्रेष्ठिनं स्वा भुञ्जन्त्येवमेवैषप्राज्ञात्मैतैरात्मभिर्भुङ्क्ते । एवं वै तमात्मानमेत आत्मानो भुञ्जन्ति । स यावद्ध वा इन्द्र एतमात्मानं न विजज्ञे तावदेनमसुरा अभिबभूवुः । सयदा विजज्ञेऽथ हत्वासुरान्विजित्य सर्वेषां देवानां श्रैष्ठ्यं स्वाराज्यमाधिपत्यं परीयाय एवैवं विद्वान्सर्वान्पाप्मनोऽपहत्य सर्वेषां भूतानां श्रैष्ठ्यंस्वाराज्यमाधिपत्यं पर्येति य एवं वेद य एवं वेद ॥ कौषीतकिब्राह्मणोपनिषत् ४. २० ॥
The nerves of the heart named hitā extend from the heart of the person towards the surrounding body. Fine as a hair divided a thousand-fold, they stand full of thin essence of various colors, white, black, yellow, and red. In these one remains when sleeping and sees no dream, becoming one with the prāṇa alone. Then speech with all names goes to it, the eye with all forms goes to it, the ear with all sounds goes to it, and the mind with all thoughts goes to it. And when he awakes, then as from a blazing fire sparks proceed in all directions, thus from that self the prāṇas proceed, each towards its place, from the prāṇas the gods (the senses), from the gods the worlds. And as a razor might be placed in a razor-case, or as fire in the fire-place, even so this conscious self enters the body to the very hairs and nails.
On that self depend other selves, as the men follow the chief, or as his own people are of service to the chief, even so these other selves are of service to that self. So long Indra did not understand this self, the Asuras defeated him. When he understood this, striking down and conquering the Asuras, he attained pre-eminence among all gods and all beings, sovereignty and supremacy. And thus also he who knows this obtains pre-eminence among all beings, sovereignty, supremacy — he who knows this, yes, he who knows this. (Kauṣītaki Brāhmaṇa Upaniṣad 4.19–20)
Causal chain and birth
In Section 4, the Upaniṣad speaks of how the newborn forgets the causal chain at the moment of birth. This echoes the Bhagavad Gītā:
इच्छाद्वेषसमुत्थेन द्वन्द्वमोहेन भारत ।
सर्वभूतानि सम्मोहं सर्गे यान्ति परन्तप ।। ७.२७ ।।
By the rising together of desire and envy by the confusion of duality, all beings, when born, fall into the state of forgetting. (Bhagavad Gītā 7.27)
By doing this, it is able to fit the individual’s embodiment in the womb that is consistent with the idea of rebirth.
The Text of the Garbha Upanishad
ॐ सह नाववतु ।
सह नौ भुनक्तु ।
सह वीर्यं करवावहै ।
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om! May we be protected; may we be nourished; may we act together with energy; may our study be vigorous and effective; may we not mutually dispute. Om! śāntiḥ, śāntiḥ, śāntiḥ.
ॐ पञ्चात्मकं पञ्चसु वर्तमानं षडाश्रयं
तत्सप्तधातु त्रिमलं द्वियोनि
चतुर्विधाहारमयं शरीरं भवति ॥
The body is fivefold in nature (the five elements), existing in the five, depending on the six supports (tastes of food), connected with the six qualities, [consisting of] seven dhātus (tissues), three impurities, having two yonis (sexes), and [nourished by] four kinds of food.
पञ्चात्मकमिति कस्मात् पृथिव्यापस्तेजोवायुराकाशमिति ।
शरीरे का पृथिवी का आपः किं तेजः को वायुः किमाकाशम् ।
तत्र यत्कठिनं सा पृथिवी यद्द्रवं ता आपो यदुष्णं
तत्तेजो यत्सञ्चरति स वायुः यत्सुषिरं तदाकाशमित्युच्यते ॥
How is it pancātmakam (five-fold)? Because of the five: earth, water, fire, air and ether. In this five-fold body, what is earth, what is water, what is fire, what is air, and what is ether? It is said that what is hard is earth, what is fluid is water, what is warm is fire, what moves is air, and what is space is ether.
तत्र पृथिवी धारणे आपः पिण्डीकरणे तेजः प्रकाशने
वायुर्गमने आकाशमवकाशप्रदाने । पृथक् श्रोत्रे
शब्दोपलब्धौ त्वक् स्पर्शे चक्षुषी रूपे जिह्वा रसने
नासिकाऽऽघ्राणे उपस्थश्चानन्दनेऽपानमुत्सर्गे बुद्ध्या
बुद्ध्यति मनसा सङ्कल्पयति वाचा वदति ।
There the earth is to support, water is to consolidate, fire is for light, air is for movement, and ether is to provide space. Separately, ears are to receive words, the skin for touch, eyes to see form, tongue for taste, and nose for smell. The genitalia are for pleasure and apāna for evacuation. One cognizes with the intellect (buddhi), envisions with the mind (manas), and speaks with words (vāk).
कस्मात् मधुराम्ललवणतिक्तकटुकषायरसान्विन्दते ।
इष्टानिष्टशब्दसंज्ञाः प्रतिविधाः सप्तविधा भवन्ति ॥ १॥
How is the six-fold support? It is said to be the six tastes [of food]: sweet, acid, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. And ṣaḍja, ṛṣabha, gāndhāra, pancama, madhyama, dhaivata, niṣāda, together with agreeable and disagreeable sounds and prayer, make seven categories (or ten categories, प्रणिधानाद्दशविधा भवन्ति, which is a variant reading):
शुक्लो रक्तः कृष्णो धूम्रः पीतः कपिलः पाण्डुर इति ।
सप्तधातुमिति कस्मात् यदा देवदत्तस्य द्रव्यादिविषया
जायन्ते ॥ परस्परं सौम्यगुणत्वात् षड्विधो रसो
रसाच्छोणितं शोणितान्मांसं मांसान्मेदो मेदसः
स्नावा स्नाव्नोऽस्थीन्यस्थिभ्यो मज्जा मज्ज्ञः शुक्रं
शुक्रशोणितसंयोगादावर्तते गर्भो हृदि व्यवस्थां
नयति । हृदयेऽन्तराग्निः अग्निस्थाने पित्तं पित्तस्थाने
वायुः वायुस्थाने हृदयं प्राजापत्यात्क्रमात् ॥ २॥
It has white, red, black, smoky gray, yellow, tawny and pale as the colors. What are the seven dhātus (tissues) when Devadatta (any person) desires enjoyment of objects? From the proper combination of qualities, six types of taste (rasa) emerge. From relish of food, blood is created, from it flesh, thence fat, bones, marrow, semen. By the combination of semen and blood the embryo (garbha) is born, and its growth is regulated by the heart (mother’s heartbeat as well as the embryo’s).
[The seven dhātus] are in the heart where there’s inner fire; at the place of the fire is pitta (bile); at the pitta-organs is movement (vāyu); and at the vāyu-place is the heart, all growing in order according to the law (Prajāpati).
ऋतुकाले सम्प्रयोगादेकरात्रोषितं कलिलं भवति
सप्तरात्रोषितं बुद्बुदं भवति अर्धमासाभ्यन्तरेण पिण्डो
भवति मासाभ्यन्तरेण कठिनो भवति मासद्वयेन शिरः
सम्पद्यते मासत्रयेण पादप्रवेशो भवति ।
When ready, on the joining [of the male and female], [the embryo] after [a day] and night is in a mixed (semi-fluid) state; after seven days it becomes a bubble; after a fortnight, a solid mass, and in a month, it hardens. In two months, it develops the head; in three months, the feet grow.
अथ चतुर्थे मासे
जठरकटिप्रदेशो भवति । पञ्चमे मासे पृष्ठवंशो भवति ।
षष्ठे मासे मुखनासिकाक्षिश्रोत्राणि भवन्ति ।
In the fourth month, belly and hip are formed; in the fifth month, the backbone is formed; in the sixth month, nose, eyes and ears are formed.
सप्तमे मासे जीवेन संयुक्तो भवति ।
अष्टमे मासे सर्वसम्पूर्णो भवति ।
In the seventh month, [the embryo] comes to have the jīva (conscious self), and in the eighth month, it becomes complete in every sense.
पितू रेतोऽतिरिक्तात् पुरुषो भवति । मातुः
रेतोऽतिरिक्तात्स्त्रियो भवन्त्युभयोर्बीजतुल्यत्वान्नपुंसको भवति ।
If the father’s seed is more potent, it becomes male; if the mother’s seed is stronger, it becomes female. If the seeds are equal, it becomes an intersexual (napuṃsaka, neither male, nor female).
व्याकुलितमनसोऽन्धाः खञ्जाः कुब्जा वामना
भवन्ति । अन्योन्यवायुपरिपीडितशुक्रद्वैध्याद्द्विधा
तनुः स्यात्ततो युग्माः प्रजायन्ते ॥
If [at the time of impregnation] the parents are agitated [that is the seeds of the parents are not in a normal or healthy state], the child will be blind, crippled, hunch-backed or stunted. If the vital air moves around, the seed enters in two parts, resulting in twins.
पञ्चात्मकतेजसेद्धरसश्च सम्यग्ज्ञानात् ध्यानात्
अक्षरमोङ्कारं चिन्तयति । तदेतदेकाक्षरं ज्ञात्वाऽष्टौ
प्रकृतयः षोडश विकाराः शरीरे तस्यैवे देहिनाम् ।
Enabled by the five-fold self, the intelligence of the five elements emerges, and he meditates on the imperishable syllable Om. With the knowledge of the syllable, he understands the eight natures [five sense organs, the mind, intellect and ego] and their sixteen modifications belong to the self-residing in the body.
अथ मात्राऽशितपीतनाडीसूत्रगतेन प्राण आप्यायते । अथ
नवमे मासि सर्वलक्षणसम्पूर्णो भवति पूर्वजातीः स्मरति
कृताकृतं च कर्म विभाति शुभाशुभं च कर्म विन्दति ॥ ३॥
Whatever is consumed or drunk by the mother passes through the nerves and vessels to the child, becoming the source of his satisfaction. During the ninth month, all outer signs attain completeness. And he is reminded of his previous birth, and recounts the good and bad deeds committed.
नानायोनिसहस्राणि दृष्ट्वा चैव ततो मया ।
आहारा विविधा भुक्ताः पीताश्च विविधाः स्तनाः ॥
जातस्यैव मृतस्यैव जन्म चैव पुनः पुनः ।
अहो दुःखोदधौ मग्नः न पश्यामि प्रतिक्रियाम् ॥
यन्मया परिजनस्यार्थे कृतं कर्म शुभाशुभम् ।
एकाकी तेन दह्यामि गतास्ते फलभोगिनः ॥
He thinks: I have seen thousands of wombs, eaten several kinds of food and sucked many breasts. Born and dead again and again, I am immersed in grief but see no remedy. Thinking of my good and bad deeds, I am suffering alone, although the bodies that enjoyed the fruits are gone.
यदि योन्यां प्रमुञ्चामि सांख्यं योगं समाश्रये ।
अशुभक्षयकर्तारं फलमुक्तिप्रदायकम् ॥
यदि योन्यां प्रमुञ्चामि तं प्रपद्ये महेश्वरम् ।
अशुभक्षयकर्तारं फलमुक्तिप्रदायकम् ॥
When I get out of this womb, I will take refuge in Sāṅkhya-Yoga, which destroys misery and yields liberation; when I get out of this womb, I will take refuge in Maheśvara, who destroys misery and grants liberation.
यदि योन्यां प्रमुञ्चामि तं प्रपद्ये
भगवन्तं नारायणं देवम् ।
अशुभक्षयकर्तारं फलमुक्तिप्रदायकम् ।
यदि योन्यां प्रमुञ्चामि ध्याये ब्रह्म सनातनम् ॥
When I get out of this womb, I will take refuge in Nārāyaṇa, who destroys misery and grants liberation. When I get out of this womb, I will meditate on the eternal Brahman.
अथ जन्तुः स्त्रीयोनिशतं योनिद्वारि
सम्प्राप्तो यन्त्रेणापीड्यमानो महता दुःखेन जातमात्रस्तु
वैष्णवेन वायुना संस्पृश्यते तदा न स्मरति जन्ममरणं
न च कर्म शुभाशुभम् ॥ ४॥
When he reaches the birth canal and comes out of it with great difficulty, he is touched by an all-pervading movement [Māyā] that causes him to forget previous births and the good and the bad deeds performed therein.
साक्षादग्नयो ह्यत्र श्रियन्ते ज्ञानाग्निर्दर्शनाग्निः
कोष्ठाग्निरिति । तत्र कोष्ठाग्निर्नामाशितपीतलेह्यचोष्यं
पचतीति । दर्शनाग्नी रूपादीनां दर्शनं करोति ।
ज्ञानाग्निः शुभाशुभं च कर्म विन्दति ।
Why the body is called śarīram. It has three fires — namely, jñānāgni, darśanāgni and koṣṭhāgni. Of these, koṣṭhāgni is that fire which enables the digestion of what is eaten; darśanāgni is the fire that gives the power of seeing forms; jñānāgni is that fire of knowledge which enables one to distinguish between good and bad actions.
स्थानानि भवन्ति हृदये दक्षिणाग्निरुदरे गार्हपत्यं
मुखमाहवनीयमात्मा यजमानो बुद्धिं पत्नीं निधाय
मनो ब्रह्मा लोभादयः पशवो धृतिर्दीक्षा सन्तोषश्च
बुद्धीन्द्रियाणि यज्ञपात्राणि कर्मेन्द्रियाणि हवींषि शिरः
कपालं केशा दर्भा मुखमन्तर्वेदिः चतुष्कपालं
शिरः षोडश पार्श्वदन्तोष्ठपटलानि ।
They have three places. At the heart is the dakṣiṇāgni, in the belly is the gārhapatya, in the mouth is the āhavanīya. The ātman is the yajamāna (sacrificer); the mind is the Brahmā (the doer); greed and so on [anger, jealousy] are animals [of sacrifice]; mental strength is the vow; contentment and the organs of intellect are the instruments of the yajña (sacrifice); the action organs are the sacrificial objects (comparable to the havis or the rice); the head or the skull is the utensil; the hair thereon is the darbha (the dried grass used in homa); the mouth is the inner altar, the head are the four cups, and the two rows of teeth are the sixteen cups (kapāla) [of the sacrifice].
सप्तोत्तरं मर्मशतं साशीतिकं सन्धिशतं सनवकं स्नायुशतं
सप्त शिरासतानि पञ्च मज्जाशतानि अस्थीनि च ह
वै त्रीणि शतानि षष्टिश्चार्धचतस्रो रोमाणि कोट्यो
हृदयं पलान्यष्टौ द्वादश पलानि जिह्वा पित्तप्रस्थं
कफस्याढकं शुक्लं कुडवं मेदः प्रस्थौ द्वावनियतं
[The human body] consists of 107 marmas (weak or sensitive spots), 180 sutures or junction points, 109 snāyu (sinews), 700 channels, 500 majjā (muscle), 360 bones, and forty-five million hairs. The heart weighs 8 palas and the tongue weights 12 palas. It has one prastha of pitta (bile), one āḍhaka of kapha, one kuḍava of śukra, and two prasthas of fat. The measure of the urinary or solid excretions is dependent on the intake. [1 pala = 45.5 grammes; 1 prastham = 728 grammes; 1 āḍhakam = 2,912 grammes; 1 kuḍava = 182 grammes] (The conversion ratios are from Paul Deussen’s book The Philosophy of the Upanishads, Dover, 1966, page 285.)
परिसमाप्तं पैप्पलादं मोक्षशास्त्रं परिसमाप्तमिति ॥
This Mokṣaśāstra was enunciated by the sage Pippalāda. This Mokṣaśāstra was enunciated by the sage Pippalāda.
ॐसह नाववत्विति शान्तिः ॥
इति गर्भोपनिषत्समाप्ता ॥
Note: This is a reformatted version of the translation that was published in 2006.
S. Kak, The Wishing Tree (3rd edition). Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi, 2015.
S. Kak, The Astronomical Code of the Ṛgveda (3rd edition). Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi, 2016.
S. Kak, The Circle of Memory. Mt. Meru, Mississauga, Canada, 2016. [For a non-technical introduction to modern science and the problem of consciousness.]
S. Kak, Matter and Mind. Mt. Meru, Mississauga, Canada, 2016. [To see the parallels in the consideration of consciousness by Kaṇāda.]
© Subhash Kak, सुभाष काक, 2006, 2020
Mother Goddess and Child 600 CE/ Simon Norton Museum
When East India Company governor Warren Hastings had Maharajah Nandakumar hung in public, the event caused a huge uproar not only in Bengal but all across India.
The orthodox laws of this nation forbid killing of a brahmana , a woman and a cow. Capital punishment was not applicable to a brahmin because back in those times a brahmin was a teacher philosopher who guided and educated the society. In today's context it would be equivalent of awarding capital punishment to a intellectual thinker of the society.
Hastings had a personal grudge against Nandakumar and had him fabricated in a false court case which was being adjudicated by his own friend Sir Elijah Impey. Nandakumar was hung in public at khidirpore in Calcutta . Indians were outraged at Brahma hatya and resentment against company rule continued right upto the revolt of 1857.
Nandakumar, like many other royals of his time was deeply religious and is said to have discovered the image of guhya Kaali buried in earth through a miraculous divine intervention. He had her installed in a temple in Akalipur village.
Fables say that when maharajah Nandakumar was hung, a thunderbolt struck down on the temple causing it to crack .
This is perhaps the only existing image of Guhya Kali.
Thanks to Halley Goswami
Kundalini aspects of Parvati differ according to each of her manifestations. Durga is a fierce form Mother Parvati and she goes on to manifest as the more fierce and terrible Kali.
She is worshiped as Mahakali, Dakshina Kalika, Shmashanakali, Bhadrakali, Kamakali, and Guhyakali, amongst many others.
Kashmir Shaivism identifies twelve forms, whereas Southern Shaivism has innumerable variations.
Mother Guhya Kali is not the same as the Shmashan Kali form of Parvati.
Guhya Kali, meaning Secret Kali, manifests in eight different forms, with eight different mantras, worshipped by eight great seers.
These forms of Kali appear with 100, 60, 36, 20, 10, 5, 3, 2 and a single face.
In Kali Yuga, the 16-lettered mantra for the ten-faced form of Guhya Kali consists of fifty-four hands.
She was worshipped by Bharata, Sri Rama’s brother.
In his then circumstances, Bharata dedicated his sadhana to Guhya Kali.
Rama is said to have prayed to Guhya Kali with a vidya of seventeen letters. These vidyas are held to be secret. Unlike Dakshina Kali, Guhya Kali represents both Srsti and Samhara equally.
While tantric practice of Guhya Kali remains and is to remain secretive unless instructed by a tantric guru and strict observance of tantric mandates, brief description can be made of this Mother and tantric literature.
These are found in Guhyakalika, Secret Kali Kanda of Mahakala Samhita.
This is in the form of a discourse in which Mahakala responds to questions posed by his spouse Mahakali. His answers gives us a picture of Guhya Kali shred in mysery and utmost secrecy. Mahakala commences the kanda by his willingness to reveal meditation forms being dhyana and rules for Guhya Kali worship. He also reveals eighteen mantras and yantras.
Guhyakali, he says, has forms with 100, 60, 36, 30, 20, 10, five, three, two and one faces. Different mantras correspond to these different forms, which he then reveals, using the usual codes for the different letters of the Sanskrit alphabet employed in other tantras.
Mahakala commences the discourse if Guhyakali in simhasana, on her lion. She gives the dikpala or guardians of the directions to the five great corpses of Shiva on which she sits.
He is the sixth pitha, described as black complexioned with four arms. Bhairava appears terrifying and he is the cause of fear. He is five faced, each with three eyes. There is a khatvanga staf and scissors in his hands. He also holds a skull and damaru. Garland of skulls adorn the fanged Bhairava.
He is on an eight petalled lotus. Four petals of the major directions symbolize dharma, jnana, vairagya and aishvarya. Varigya is dispassion and aishvarya means dominion. Shiva, above Bhairava is clothed in tiger skin. He is two-armed and holds a skull-staff and a trishula.
TEN FACED FORM:
Mahakala then describes the twenty-seven eyed, ten-faced form of Guhyakali and her animal aspects represented by each of her faces. Dvipika: a leopard or possibly a panther; Keshari: a white lion; Pheru: black jackal; Vanara: red moneky; Riksha: purple bear; Nara: cochineal colored woman; tawny Garuda; Makara: turmeric color crocodile; Gaja: gold color elephant; Haya: dark or shyama color horse.
Jagadambika, Mother of the Universe has a terrible lolling blood dripping tongue. Her laughter is sharp and shrieking. Both her garlands and earrings are skulls. She has fifty-four arms. In Her right hands she has rosary, scissors, goad, a rock, a danda, a jeweled pot, a trishula, five and arrows, a discuss, a bamboo stave, a fire hearth, a barbed hook, a man’s skeleton, young corpse and threatening mudra. She holds a bhindipala- a sling and shataghni- club studded with metal nails.
Guhyakali is the darker form of Mother Tripura. She has three major forms corresponding to creation, maintenance and destruction. Thus Guhya Kali is the sum total of Mahavidya tantric practice.
Guhyakali dwells within the centre of eight cremation grounds. These shmashans are:
Her worship honours the Vetalas or vampires, eight tridents, vajras, jackals and corpses, Bhairavas, dakinis, Chamundas, Kshetrapalas, Ganapatis and other denizens of the cremation ground.
Mahakala instructs eighteen yantras. Her one letter mantra is ‘Phrem’. The first Yantra consists of a bindu, a triangle, a hexagon, a pentagon, a circle, 16 petals, eight petals and four doors, adorned with tridents and skulls.
Shiva known as Shrikantha ‘the one with the beautiful throat’. Shiva and Shakti are in Kamakala or gods in copulation. Shakti in her Guhyakali form, has worked her kundalini upwards Shiva’s spine. This energetic depiction represents Shiva’s form dancing in ecstasy as he copulates with his consort Guhyakali. This also seems to be the Buddhist version except that the art form differs here and there.
In this depiction, Shiva’s bull and Shakti’s lion are found by their sides to identify them as Shiva and Shakti. Shiva is dancing in the pratyalidha pose, trampling on two demons lying beneath his foot.
He holds his primary hands in varahamudra and abhamudra, his remaining eight hands radiating around him and holding attributes including a trishul, triatna, danda, mala and pushtaka. Devi is depicted with twelve arms and six heads, her left leg wrapped around Shiva’s waist, and her right foot trampling on a demon or lesser god, who is lying on her vehicle the lion. She holds a kapala, ghanta, capa, kartika, sara and trishula.
Would not be discussed here. If interest prevails, please take it up with a tantric guru in person.
Thanks to Mike Magee - I can now see much of the above was copied from your web site ??
Shri Guhyakali DeviHa-Sa is the pathway breath takes in living creatures. This mantra exists in the form of exhalation and inhalation, dearest one. Just as clouds cannot exist without wind, and just as the sky is without limit, so the world cannot exist except by (this) Shri Paraprasada mantra. The world of immovable and moving things comes from the Shri Paraprasada mantra - Kularnavatantra III
The Devi Kali has many forms. Kashmir Shaivism speaks of twelve Kalis, while in other parts of India she is and was worshipped as Mahakali, Dakshina Kalika, Shmashanakali, Bhadrakali, Kamakali, and Guhyakali, amongst many others.
The Guhyakalika section (khanda) of Mahakalasamhita is a voluminous work, comprising many thousands of shlokas (verses) and with Guhyakalika (Secret Kalika) as its focus. But the work also covers a number of other tantrik topics in equally great detail, and along the way also includes subjects rarely referred to in other published tantras.
The work follows the usual tantrik formula, with Mahakala answering questions posed to him by his spouse, Kali.
Mahakala opens the Guhyakali section of the Mahakalasamhita by saying he will reveal the mantra, yantras, meditation forms (dhyanaand rules of worship relating to Guhyakali, which, he says, have been previously hidden. There are eighteen Guhyakali mantras, he says.
Guhyakali, he says, has forms with 100, 60, 36, 30, 20, 10, five, three, two and one faces. Different mantras correspond to these different forms, which he then reveals, using the usual codes for the different letters of the Sanskrit alphabet employed in other tantras.
Mahakala starts to talk about Guhyakali when she is on her lion seat (simhasana), and gives meditations for the guardians of the directions (dikpala), and the five great corpses, forms of Shiva, upon which she sits. There is a sixth pitha, Bhairava. He is described as black in colour, with four arms, terrifying and the cause of fear. He has five faces, each with three eyes. In his left hands he holds a skull staff khatvanga and scissors, and in his right a skull and the hourglass shaped damaru.
He is adorned with a garland of skulls, and is fanged. Lying, on an eight petalled lotus above Bhairava is a two-armed form of Shiva, clothed in tiger skin and holding a skull-staff and a trident. The four petals of the major directions represent dharma (duty), jnana (knowledge), vairagya (dispassion) and aishvarya (dominion).
The 10-faced form of Guhyakali is then described. She has 27 eyes, with some faces having two, and other three, eyes. Each of her faces represents a different female animal aspect of Guhyakali and is of a different hue. For example, her upper face is called Dvipika (a leopard or possibly a panther), then comes Keshari (a lion) which is white, Pheru ( jackal) which is black, then Vanara (a monkey) which is red, Riksha (a bear) which is purple, Nara (a woman) which is of a cochineal colour, Garuda which tawny, Makara (a crocodile) which is turmeric colour (yellow), Gaja (elephant) which is of a golden colour, and Haya (horse) which is of a dark or dusky (shyama) colour.
The human face is on Guhyakali's shoulders. To the left of that face is the crocodile, above that the horse and above that the bear. To the right of her face is the Garuda, the elephant, and the monkey. On the top of her head is the monkey face, above that the lioness face, and above that the leopardess.
Guhyakali's human face has great, fierce sharp fangs, she laughs very loudly, while streams of blood pour from her mouth. She has a rolling tongue and is adorned with garlands of skulls, with earrings also of skulls. The mother of the universe (jagadambika) has 54 arms each of which holds a weapon. Her right hands hold a jewelled rosary, a skull, a shield, a noose, a shakti missile, a skull-staff, a bhushundi weapon, a bow, a discus, a bell, a young corpse, a mongoose (?), a rock, a man's skeleton, a bamboo stave, a serpent, a plough, a fire hearth, a damaru, an iron mace, a small spear (bhindipala -- it could mean a sling), a hammer, a spear, a barbed hook, a club studded with metal nails (shataghni). Her right hands hold a jewelled rosary, scissors, make the gestures (mudra) of threatening, a goad, a danda, a jewelled pot, a trident, five arrows and so forth.
In the same work there is a nyasa specifically for the 10 faces of this form of the goddess. Here, the faces are related to the 1,000 petalled lotus, the mouth, the right eye, the left eye, the right nostril, the left nostril, the right cheek, the left cheek, the right ear and the left ear.
Guhyakali has three major forms, corresponding to creation, maintenance and destruction, a little like a very much darker form of Tripurasundari.
Chapter five of the Guhyakalikhanda describes 18 yantras of the Devi, corresponding to the 18 separate mantras mentioned earlier.
The first consists of a bindu, a triangle, a hexagon, a pentagon, a circle, 16 petals, eight petals and four doors, adorned with tridents and skulls. This relates to Guhyakali's one letter mantra, which is Phrem (see above left).
Guhyakali dwells within the centre of eight cremation grounds (shmashans), whose names are Mahaghora, Kaladanda, Jvalakula, Chandapasha, Kapalika, Dhumakula, Bhimangara, and Bhutanatha.
Her worship honours the Vetalas (vampires), eight tridents, vajras, jackals and corpses, Bhairavas, dakinis, Chamundas, Kshetrapalas, Ganapatis and other denizens of the cremation ground.
Thanks to Mike Magee
Sangita Ratnakara Of Sarangadeva
Chapter On Dancing
Translated By K Kunjunni Raja and Radha Burnier
Published by The Adyar Library and Research Center, Madras - 1976
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The Sangita-Ratnakara, literally "Ocean of Music and Dance", is one of the most important Sanskrit musicological texts from India. Composed by Śārṅgadeva in the 13th century, both Hindustani music and Carnatic music traditions of Indian classical music regard it as a definitive text. The author was a part of the court of King Singhana II (1210–1247) of the Yādava dynasty whose capital was Devagiri, Maharashtra.
The text is divided into seven chapters. The first six chapters, Svaragatadhyaya, Ragavivekadhyaya, Prakirnakadhyaya, Prabandhadhyaya, Taladhyaya and Vadyadhyaya deal with the various aspects of music and musical instruments, while the last chapter Nartanadhyaya deals with dance. The medieval era text is one of the most complete historical Indian treatises on the structure, technique, and reasoning on music theory that has survived into the modern era, and is a comprehensive voluminous text on ragas (chapter 2) and talas (chapter 5).
The text is comprehensive synthesis of ancient and medieval musical knowledge of India. The text has been frequently quoted by later Indian musicologists in their music and dance-related literature. Significant commentaries on the text include the Sangitasudhakara of Simhabhupala (c. 1330) and the Kalanidhi of Kallinatha (c. 1430).
Sangita Ratnakara was written by Sarangadeva, also spelled Sarngadeva or Sharangadeva. Sarangadeva was born in a Brahmin family of Kashmir. In the era of Islamic invasion of the northwest regions of the Indian subcontinent and the start of Delhi Sultanate, his family migrated south and settled in the Hindu kingdom in the Deccan region near Ellora Caves (Maharashtra). Sarangadeva worked as an accountant with freedom to pursue his music interests in the court of King Singhana II (1210–1247) of the Yadava dynasty.
The text is a Sanskrit treatise on Sangita or music-related performance arts tradition.Sangita is stated by the text as a composite performance art consisting of Gita (melodic forms, song), Vadya (instrumental music) and Nrtta (dance, movement).
The 13th-century Sangita Ratnakara classifies Sangita into two kinds: Marga-sangita and Desi-sangīita. Marga refers to the classical techniques taught by Bharata in Natya Shastra. Desi Sangita refers to regional improvisations that may not follow the classical rules and structure for the music and performance arts.
The text has seven chapters:
Svaragatādhyāya (sound system)
Prakīrņakādhyāya (performing practice)
Prabandhādhyāya (compositions, poetic meter)
Vādyādhyāya (musical instruments)
The first chapter has eight sections. It opens with reverential verses to the Hindu god Shiva, who is called the "embodiment of sound, sung about by the entire world" and the one delighting according to the Vedas.The author pays homage to his ancestors, then to ancient scholars such as Bharata, Matanga, Dattila and Narada, as well as major gods and goddesses of Hinduism in first section of the first chapter. In the second section, there is hardly any mention of music or dance, rather Sarngadeva presents his metaphysical and physiological beliefs, as well as credits the origin of music to the Samaveda. He presents musical topics and definitions of musical concepts starting with section three of the first chapter, with frequent mentions of Shiva and the Hindu goddess Saraswati.
According to Sarngadeva's verses 27-30 of the section 1.1, song is everywhere, in the cry of a baby, in the beats of nature, in the pulse of life, in every human act of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. The sections 3 through 8 of the first chapter describe nada (sound), svara (tone), śruti (microinterval), gramas (primary scales), murcchanas (derivative scales), varna (color), jati (mode), alankara (embellishment), giti (singing styles), meters and other basic musical concepts.
The suddha (pristine) svaras are those in the Sama Veda, states the text.
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