A blog by NARAYANAN NAMBOODIRI dedicated to Kerala Tanthra and temple worship

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Thanthra Yoga and Kerala tantra sastra

Hinduism is a multi-culture. But an average hindu lives in and knows only a single culture, the culture  which he was born into. He does not even know much about the culture of his neighborhood. For example, a Kerala Hindu does not know anything about Rajasthani or Bengali hindu culture or a Rajasthani does not know much about shaktism and its different sections like Kashmiri Tanthra or Kerala Thanthra. He may know many things about English or American culture but is totally ignorant of the culture of his neighboring states. It becomes more pathetic and sometimes even dangerous when he thinks that the culture in which he was born and brought up is the right and only possible culture of Hinduism.

Hinduism is so diverse that one system of Hinduism sometimes seems to be contradictory to another system. It becomes very difficult for an average hindu to take another culture which seems to be contradictory to his own system as part of Hinduism. How can a Saivite take Vaishnavism which considers Rudra as a secondary God in the hierarchal order of Gods as part of his religion? Similarly, how can a Vaishnavite take Saivism which takes Vishnu as subordinate to Siva as part of his religion? How can a Dwaiti take an Advaiti as a co-traveler in the spiritual journey of life? Seems impossible, doesn’t it?

Many people take this diversity as a curse of Hinduism. They suggest some kind of standardization as a remedy for it. Standardization means destroying the diversity of Hinduism and making everything similar. If that happens, Hinduism will be another tyrannical religion. Those who argue for standardization don’t realize that this kind of standardization is the seed from which ideologies like fascism and Nazism usually sprout.

Every religious practice is symbolic. Practicing a religion means practicing some kind of symbolism. Hinduism is very much diverse and so is its symbolism. Understanding those different sects of symbolism is essential to understand Hinduism. For that purpose, I think, people from different sects of Hinduism should present their frame of symbolism before other sects and there should be a deep understanding of those symbolisms.

Thanthra Yoga

      The word Thanthra is a confusing word for many people. For some, this word suggests Black magic. For an average westerner, it suggests some esoteric ways through which one can strengthen one's sexuality. For the followers of Rajnessh, it means the process of purifying and sublimating one's sexual urges.  For a person from Kerala, this word suggests temple worship. Similar to the word hindusim, which mean different things to different people, the word Thanthra also mean different things to different people mainly because like Hinduism, Thanthra also comprises diversified practices in it.

        Similar to Vedas, the origin of which we are completely in ignorance, the origin of Tanthra also remains  a mystery. we don't know much about when and where the tantric practices started. Some scholars think that some kind of tantric practices were in existence even at Vedic period. They claim that the Tantric texts like Rudra Yamala are even older than Vedas. Some other historians say that Hindu Tantra is an offshoot of Budhist Tantric practices. Since we can not reach a definite answer, it is better to skip the question itself.

       Traditionally Tanthra has been divided into three, namely Samayaachara, Misraachaara and Kaula. Samayaachaara is an inner saadhana or spiritual practice, hence, it does not use any external rituals. Because of this fact that it is purely an inner practice, the practitiioners of Samayaachaara claim that it is the highest form of Tanthric pracitce and it is meant for the advanced practitioners. 'Upaasana of Srividya' is an integral part of Samayaachaara.

      The last one, Kaula maarga, uses external rituals and hence it is an external Sadhana [spiritual practice]. The practitioners of Kaula maarga focus on Mooladhara chakra and try to get control over their lower desires. Kaula Maarga can again be divided into two, namely Dakshina Maarga {right hand path] and Vaama Maarga {left hand path]. Dakshina Maarga uses Satwic rituals while Vaama marga uses more Raajasik and Taamasik rituals which include the 'Panchamakaarams' to activate and control the inner energy which is known by the name "Kundalini". The famous Panchamakaarams that are used as a part of Vaama Maarga practices are Madyam [wine], Malsyam [fish], Maamsam[Flesh or Meat], Mudra [Parched grain or cereal], and finally Maidhunam [Copulation].

      The second one, Misra Marga, uses both external and internal practices. That is why it has got the name Misra maarga [misra means mixture].

      The tibetan brach of Buddhism has also developed a highly advanced brach of tantra which is known as Tibetan Tantra.

      Depending upon the geographical area, Tantra can be divided into four namely, Kashmeeri Tantra, Tibetan Tanthra, Vanga Tanthra and finally Kerala Tanthra.  The first three deal with individual salvation and the last one, Kerala Thanthra is concerned more about the salvation of the entire society. Hence the concentration of Kerala Thanthra is on temple worship and the rituals related to it. So in this article I am going to use Thanthra to denote the Kerala branch of Thanthra. Whenever I say Thanthra, please take it as Kerala branch of Thanthra.

Principles of Tantra worship

Thanthra does not believe in the hierarchy of gods; i.e., one god is supreme and all the others are inferior to him. According to Thanthra, God [Parama Purusha] is beyond form and name; It is the essence and totality of existence. It can not be invoked or installed in its wholeness. When we invoke or install it, it becomes a Deity [Vishnu, Siva, Durga, Ayyappa etc] showing some characteristics of God depending upon the nature of the mantras used and the ‘sankalpas’ the persons who performed them had at the time of consecration.

In the opening chapter of ‘Tanthrasamuchaya’ – the basic book of Kerala Thanthra- author explains the fundamental principle of temple worship in clear terms. He says, “I am going to explain the ritual system of the Supreme Lord who is known in different forms and by different names like Vishnu, Siva, Durga, Kali, Sastha [Ayyappa], Subramanian, Ganapathy….”

Like all ritual systems, Thanthra is also combined in it all the four yogas (Raja yoga, Bhakthi yoga, Karma yoga and Njana yoga). But unlike other Agama systems, which give more importance to Bhakti Yoga, Thanthra borrows its principles and practices chiefly from Raja yoga and Hatha yoga.

The chief contribution of Raja yoga and Hatha yoga to humanity is that it made us aware of our innate Divinity and for the first time in the history of Mankind, prescribed some clear and practical steps to realize that innate Divinity which remains dormant in most of us. Raja yoga declares that the essence of the Brahmanda (universe) can be seen in the Pindanda (man). In a Sidha Purusha or in a yogi, this essence, Divinity manifests in its most purified and powerful form. Such a yogi works as a power house. Whatever comes near him gets purified and charged.

Thanthra takes this principle from yoga and applies it to temple worship. Thanthra tries to make the temple a place where everything that comes in gets purified and charged. Like the founders of all systems, the founders of Thanthra were great seers. They knew that if we could make a graphical representation of the body of a Sidha Purusha, we could make the Divinity manifest through it. They knew the details of the subtle layers of the body of a Sidha Purusha and how to make a graphical representation of it. By building a temple, Thanthra tries to make a graphical representation of the elevated and purified body of a Sidha Purusha.

Vedanta divides human body horizontally into five sheaths. 1. Anna Maya kosa(Physical sheath), 2. Pranamaya kosa(Psychic sheath), 3. Manomaya kosa(Mental sheath), 4.Vijnanamaya Kosa(Intellectual sheath), 5.Anandamaya kosa(Causal sheath). In the temples of Kerala, we can find the ‘Panchapraakarams’ to represent these five sheaths of human body.

Yoga Sasthra divides the human body vertically into six charkas or power centers. They are 1. Mooladhara chakra, 2.Swadhishana chakra, 3.Manipoora chakra, 4.Anahata chakra, 5.Vibhooti chakra, 6.Anjnja chakra. Above these shad-chakras (six power centers), is the Sahasrara Padmam. These chakras are supposed to be situated in the Sushumna Nadi which is situated in the subtle body of man. (Lalitha sahasranamam gives a beautiful, poetical description of these chakras.)

Before the erection of the sanctum sanctorum of a temple, a hole is made in the place where the Deity is going to be installed. That hole represents Sushumna Nadi of a Sidha Purusha. In that hole, 1.Aadharasila, 2.Nidhikumbham, 3.Padmam, 4.Koormam, 5.Yoganalam, 6.Napumsaka Sila are installed with elaborate poojas in order to make them similar to the six chakras in the body of a Sidha Purusha.

Into this graphical representation of the pure body of a Sidha Purusha (here temple), the omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God is invoked in the form of a Deity. We can explain this with the help of an analogy. Air is everywhere, but when it comes in the form of wind through a tunnel, it becomes more conceivable. Likewise, God is everywhere, but when it is channeled in the form of a Deity, it becomes more conceivable to human being.

At the time of Pratishta (installation ceremony), using mantras and rituals particular to that Deity, Thanthri invokes God in that particular form. For example, while doing the consecration ceremony of a Vishnu temple, Thanthri uses one set of mantras and rituals to invoke God in the form of Vishnu. While doing Pratishta of a Siva temple, he uses another set of mantras and rituals to invoke God in the form of Siva. In modern language, we can say that through the complex rituals of Pratishta (Installation ceremony), a powerful and a particular field of God’s vibration is created.

Incarnations like Rama and Krishna are the manifestations of Divinity in the human form. In the same way, a temple is the manifestation of Divinity in the three-dimensional graphic form. Thanthra declares in crystal-clear language that different Deities are different vibratory fields of the same god.

(I wrote this article when I was a priest at Meenakshi Temple, Houston. Non-malayalee devotees of that temple found it a bit difficult to understand the Thanthric Pooja system because Thanthric rituals are slightly different from other Agama systems. This article was written then in order to help them understand the Thanthric pooja system and its principles)


  1. found this very interesting. didn't we have a "SAKTEYA TRADITION" of worship in the household itself, without the intervention of Brahmin practitioners? I remember that in our household, there used to be "SAKTEYAM" once every year. the children and the women were excluded from the rituals. goats and cocks would be killed, and alcoholic liquor drunk ritually. A strict guard would be placed round the place of worship and all outsideres strictly kept out. it was not pancha makaram, because women were also kept out. could you offer any clarifications? thank you

  2. Excellent information. Especially with Malayalees getting exposed and influenced by neighbouring state practices. All these ages Agamic principle from east coast have been kept at bay.

  3. nice blog..thanks for sharing it..

  4. information regarding tantric tradtion of kerala is good.namboothiries should discuss the meaning behind each pooja in temples.instead of become a mere spectator in temples if the meaning and purpose of pooja is known the temple goer will get good satisfaction for the pooja.poojas for attainment of worldly things should also be made public.

  5. Namskara Nambudri Ji,
    I am mayank sharma a yajurvedi brahmin from kashi swami I want to learn shri vidya plz guide me in this regard and suggest me how I can attain this vidya in kerala style.

    1. Avdhoot shivanand is the only Living guru in this universe, who can give you Advait Srividya


  6. Thanks for the valuable information from your Experience.
    It will be useful for a new generation people who are interested like us.

  7. Hi, the information on Thanthra Yoga is very interesting. I was not at all aware of all these practices !! Thanks for sharing such a useful information !! Please keep up the good work by posting such learning posts !!

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  8. Information regarding tantra is always incomplete without discussion of Kamrupi tantra shakha. The way of tantra spreaded from Kamrup to keral with the travel of parashuram. After killing his mother Renuka he came to Kamrup (Assam) and got relief from the sin. He took kamrupi brahmins along with him and the new land of kerala was formed. This is the reason the dressing of women in keral & Assam are nearly same & we share nearly the same culture beside a long geographical distance. Kindly add Kamrupi tantra because it is the mothrrland and cradle of tantrik art.
    Dr. Shekhar

    1. Sir which places in kerala tantric puja done

  9. Information regarding tantra is always incomplete without discussion of Kamrupi tantra shakha. The way of tantra spreaded from Kamrup to keral with the travel of parashuram. After killing his mother Renuka he came to Kamrup (Assam) and got relief from the sin. He took kamrupi brahmins along with him and the new land of kerala was formed. This is the reason the dressing of women in keral & Assam are nearly same & we share nearly the same culture beside a long geographical distance. Kindly add Kamrupi tantra because it is the mothrrland and cradle of tantrik art.
    Dr. Shekhar

    1. Can you suggest book to refer it all this things?

  10. The noble approach of Kerala Tantric Hindu system is the divine call for the wellbeing of society and universal values .

  11. It encompasses almost all the spiritual practices of the Hindus – like Pooja, Stotra, Mantra, Yantra, Yoga, Meditation etc.

  12. I want learn ayyappa pooj form you its possible

  13. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post . It is important and very useful, and the articles are nice to share everyone.
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  14. Sir am in very dangerous situation don't know what is happening to me.need tantrik help.pls SMS contact number sir. My number 9626884684

  15. Hi, I'm Anand Pls help me find best tantra vidya school

  16. Hi, I'm Anand Pls help me find best tantra vidya school

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  18. Really interesting. Thantra is always misunderstood and misrepresented.Sri. Nambudiri has given an excellent description.In my home shakthipooja is carried out every month in a MADHYMA system.In north kerala Moosad and Yogi families are offering such poojas.No panchmakaaram.We use cock flesh and alcohol once in a year.
    Wish more informations. Thanking all. Om mahadevye namah.

  19. Sir. What does tantra feel about temple structures? Agamas do talk extensively about the structures and I am eager to learn what tantra says about conservation.

    Please guide me. Thank you

  20. Hi sir

    Some of them are coming using parakaya Pravesh
    They are talking continuously and harassing

    How to stop them how to protect from them

    Is there any mantra or tantra to know who is coming
    His name and where he is

    They are harassing so many people pls help us

    The mantra is from rudrayamala tantra pls refer the book is there any mantra to protect from parakaya Pravesh

    I refered the book in telugu there is no any information about parakaya pravesh

  21. Hi my name is omPrakash looking for best tantrik school in Mumbai

  22. The left hand path of tantra has origins in Assam(Kamakhya), actually the land spread from Assam to Tibet had left hand path of devotion. Story of Vashishtha proves it as he encountered it first time in Kamakhya. ... This story is given in Kalika Puran

  23. This is very informative and can clear people's negative impression about the Tantra Shastra which is mostly considered as Ghor Vashikaran etc. As Tantric ritual mostly considered as Black Magic specially in Kerala Tantric Rituals. People literally are scared of Trantics due to the same reason and prefer to stay away from them. This article diminishes all those beliefs. Thank you Guruji.