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Āgama (Hinduism)

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Āgama (Hinduism)

The Agamas are a collection of Sanskrit,[1] Tamil and Grantha[2] scriptures chiefly constituting the methods of temple construction and creation of murti, worship means of deities, philosophical doctrines, meditative practices, attainment of sixfold desires and four kinds of yoga.[1]

The Agamic religions are also called Tantrism, although the term "tantra" is sometimes used specifically to refer to Shakta Agamas. The origin and chronology of Agamic religions remain contentious. The tantras are considered innumerable with various sects.[3] Some popular agama-based religions are those of Shaiva, Vaishnava, Shakta, Ganapatya, Kaumara, Soura, Bhairava, and Yaksha-bhutadi-sadhana. There exist 28 Saiva Agamas, 77 Shakta Agamas and 215 Vaishnava Agamas, and their upa-agamas.[2]

The Agamas are non-vedic in origin [4] and have been dated either as post-vedic texts [5] or as pre-vedic compositions.[6] In the Malay language the word Agama literally means 'religion'. Agama traditions have been the sources of Yoga and Self Realization concepts in the Indian subcontinent, including Kundalini Yoga [7] and encompass traditions of asceticism. Tantrism includes within its fold Buddhist and Jaina tantras suggesting that Hindu, Jaina and Buddhist tantrism developed separately after arising from common sources of Tantric elements.[8] The Agamic tradition, in general, has been dated to the pre-Mauryan period as references to the tradition are found in later vedic literature of Atharvaveda.[9]

The agama tradition is often contrasted with the nigama tradition; the latter possibly a reference to the unchanging vedic tradition. The Hinduism of today is in many way a blending of agama and nigama approaches.


Agama (Sanskrit आगम) is derived from the verb root गम (gam) meaning "to go" and the preposition आ (aa) meaning "toward" and refers to scriptures "that which has come down".[1] It also means "a traditional doctrine, or system which commands faith".[10]


Agamas deal with the philosophy and spiritual knowledge behind the worship of the deity, the yoga and mental discipline required for this worship, and the specifics of worship offered to the deity. The ritualistic pattern of worship in the Agamic religions differ from the Vedic form. While the Vedic form of yajna require no idols and shrines, the Agamic religions are based on idols with puja as means of worship.[11] The Agamic deities are pinned to a specific spot and assume the nature of a territorial deity.

Each Agama consists of four parts:[11][12]

  • Kriya pada - consists of rules for construction of temples; for sculpting, carving, and consecration of idols of deities for worship in temples; for different forms of initiations or diksha.
  • Charya pada - lays down rules for daily worship (puja), observances of religious rites, rituals, festivals and prayaschittas.
  • Yoga pada - concentrates on yoga and the mental discipline.
  • Jnana pada - consists of philosophical and spiritual knowledge, knowledge of reality and liberation.

The Agamas state three essential requirements for a place of pilgrimage - Sthala, Tīrtha and Murthy. Sthala refers to the temple, Tīrtha, to the temple tank and Murthy to the deity(ies) worshipped. A temple may also be associated with a tree, called the Sthala Vriksham. For instance, the Kadamba tree at the Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple is the Sthala Vriksham. A lone banyan tree that adorns the spacious courtyard of the Ratnasabha at Tiruvalankadu is the Sthala Vriksham. The entire area is believed to have been a forest of banyan trees once.

Elaborate rules are laid out in the Agamas for Silpa (the art of sculpture) describing the quality requirements of the places where temples are to be built, the kind of images to be installed, the materials from which they are to be made, their dimensions, proportions, air circulation, lighting in the temple complex etc. The Manasara and Silpasara are some of the works dealing with these rules. The rituals followed in worship services each day at the temple also follow rules laid out in the Agamas.

Saiva Agamas

The Shaiva Agama perceives its texts were generated from Shiva as meaning,

The Saiva Agamas are found in four main schools - Kapala, Kalamukha, Pashupata and Saiva—and number 28 in total as follows:

  • Kamikam
  • Yogajam
  • Chintyam
  • Karanam
  • Ajitham
  • Deeptham
  • Sukskmam
  • Sahasram
  • Ashuman
  • Suprabedham
  • Vijayam
  • Nishwasam
  • Swayambhuvam
  • Analam
  • Veeram
  • Rouravam
  • Makutam
  • Vimalam
  • Chandragnanam
  • Bimbam
  • Prodgeetham
  • Lalitham
  • Sidham
  • Santhanam
  • Sarvoktham
  • Parameshwaram
  • Kiranam
  • Vathulam

Saiva Siddhanta and Kashmiri Shaivism

The Saiva Agamas led to the Saiva Siddhanta philosophy in Tamil-speaking regions of South-India and gave rise to Kashmir Saivism in the North-Indian region of Kashmir.

Kashmiri Saivism is also called the Trika Shastra.[13] It centers mainly on the Trika system of mAlinI, siddha and nAmaka Agamas and venerates the triad Shiva, Shakti, Nara (the bound soul) and the union of Shiva with Shakti.[14] The trika philosophy derives its name from the three shaktis, namely, parA, aparA and parApara; and provides three modes of knowledge of reality, that is, non-dual (abheda), non-dual-cum-dual (bhedabheda) and dual (bheda). The literature of Kashmiri Shaivism is divided under three categories—Agama shastra, Spanda shastra and Pratyabhijna shastra.[14] Although the Trika Shastra in the form of Agama Shastra is said to have existed eternally, the founder of the system is considered Vasugupta (850 AD) to whom the Shiva Sutras were revealed.[13][14] Kallata in Spanda-vritti and Kshemaraja in his commentary Vimarshini state Shiva revealed the secret doctrines to Vasugupta while Bhaskara in his Varttika says a Siddha revealed the doctrines to Vasugupta in a dream.[13]

Shakta Agamas

The Shakta Agamas or Shakta tantras are 64 in number and grouped into Dakshina marga (right-hand) and Vama marga (left-hand).

Vaishnava Agamas

The Vaishnava Agamas are found into two main schools -- Pancharatra and Vaikhanasas. While Vaikhanasa Agamas were transmitted from Vikhanasa Rishi to his disciples Brighu, Marichi, Atri and Kashyapa, the Pancharatra Agamas are considered to be revealed and handed down in three ways --

  • divya, directly revealed by Lord Narayana,
  • Munibhaashita, handed down to sages such as Bharadvajasamhita, Parameshvarasamhita, etc.,
  • Aaptamanujaprokta, those written by men whose word is trustworthy.[1]

Vaikhanasa Agama

See main article Vaikhanasa

Maharishi Vikhanasa is considered to have guided in the compilation of a set of Agamas named vaikhānasa Agama. Sage Vikhanasa is conceptualized as a mind-born creation, i.e., Maanaseeka Utbhavar of Lord Narayana.[15] Originally Vikhanasa passed on the knowledge to nine disciples in the first manvantara -- Atri, Bhrigu, Marichi, Kashyapa, Vasishta, Pulaha, Pulasthya, Krathu and Angiras. However, only those of Bhrigu, Marichi, Kashyapa and Atri are extant today. The four rishis are said to have received the cult and knowledge of Vishnu from the first Vikahansa, i.e., the older Brahma in the Svayambhuva Manvanthara. Thus, the four sages Atri, Bhrigu, Marichi, Kashyapa, are considered the propagators of vaikhānasa śāstra. A composition of Sage Vikhanasa's disciple Marichi, namely, Ananda-Samhita states Vikhanasa prepared the Vaikhanasa Sutra according to a branch of Yajurveda and was Brahma himself.[15]

The extant texts of vaikhānasa Agama number 28 in total and are known from the texts, vimānārcakakalpa and ānanda saṃhitā, both composed by marīci which enumerate them. They are:[16][17]

The 13 Adhikaras authored by Bhrigu

  • khilatantra
  • purātantra
  • vāsādhikāra
  • citrādhikāra
  • mānādhikāra
  • kriyādhikāra
  • arcanādhikāra
  • yajnādhikāra
  • varṇādhikāra
  • prakīrṇādhikāra
  • pratigṛhyādhikāra
  • niruktādhikāra
  • khilādhikāra

However, ānanda saṃhitā attributes ten works to Bhrigu, namely, khila, khilādhikāra, purādhikāra, vāsādhikāraṇa, arcanādhikaraṇa, mānādhikaraṇa, kriyādhikāra, niruktādhikāra, prakīrṇādhikāra, yajnādhikāra.

The 8 Samhitas authored by Mareechi

  • jaya saṃhitā
  • ānanda saṃhitā
  • saṃjnāna saṃhitā
  • vīra saṃhitā
  • vijaya saṃhitā
  • vijita saṃhitā
  • vimala saṃhitā
  • jnāna saṃhitā

However, ānanda saṃhitā attributes the following works to Marichi—jaya saṃhitā, ānanda saṃhitā, saṃjnāna saṃhitā, vīra saṃhitā, vijaya saṃhitā, vijita saṃhitā, vimala saṃhitā, kalpa saṃhitā.

The 3 Kandas authored by Kashyapa

  • satyakāṇḍa
  • tarkakāṇḍa
  • jnānakāṇḍa.

However, ānanda saṃhitā attributes the satyakāṇḍa, karmakāṇḍa and jnānakāṇḍa to Kashyapa.

The 4 tantras authored by Atri

  • pūrvatantra
  • ātreyatantra
  • viṣṇutantra
  • uttaratantra.

However, ānanda saṃhitā attributes the pūrvatantra, viṣṇutantra, uttaratantra and mahātantra to Atri.

Pancharatra Agama

See main article: Pañcaratra

Like the Vaikhanasa Agama, the Pancharatra Agama is centered around the worship of Lord Vishnu. While the Vaikhansa deals primarily with Vaidhi Bhakti, the Pancaratra Agama teaches both vaidhi and rAgAnugA bhakti.[18]

Soura Agamas

The Soura or Saura Agamas comprise one of the six popular agama-based religions of Shaiva, Vaishnava, Shakta, Ganapatya, Kaumara and Soura. The Saura Tantras are dedicated to the sun (Surya) and Soura Agamas are in use in temples of Sun worship. One of the earliest agamic texts of Jains, the Jaina Souraseni, is said to have derived from the Soura tantric element.

Ganapatya Agamas

The Paramanada Tantra mentions the number of sectarian tantras as 6000 for Vaishnava, 10000 for Shaiva, 100000 for Shakta, 1000 for Ganapatya, 2000 for Saura, 7000 for Bhairava, and 2000 for Yaksha-bhutadi-sadhana.[3]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Grimes, John A. (1996). A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy: Sanskrit Terms Defined in English. State University of New York Press. ISBN 9780791430682. LCCN 96012383. [1]
  2. ^ a b Nagalingam, Pathmarajah (2009). The Religion of the Agamas. Siddhanta Publications. [2]
  3. ^ a b Banerji, S. C. (2007). A Companion To Tantra. Abhinav Publications. ISBN 8170174023 [3]
  4. ^ Mudumby Narasimhachary (Ed) (1976). Āgamaprāmāṇya of Yāmunācārya, Issue 160 of Gaekwad's Oriental Series. Oriental Institute, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.
  5. ^ Tripath, S.M. (2001). Psycho-Religious Studies Of Man, Mind And Nature. Global Vision Publishing House. ISBN 9788187746041. [4]
  6. ^ Nagalingam, Pathmarajah (2009). The Religion of the Agamas. Siddhanta Publications. [5]
  7. ^ Singh, L. P. (2010). Tantra, Its Mystic and Scientific Basis. Concept Publishing Company. ISBN 9788180696404. [6]
  8. ^ Tigunait, Rajmani (1998). Śakti, the Power in Tantra: A Scholarly Approach. Himalayan Institute Press. ISBN 9780893891541. LCCN 98070188. [7]
  9. ^ Drabu, V. N. (1990). Śaivāgamas: A Study in the Socio-economic Ideas and Institutions of Kashmir (200 B.C. to A.D. 700). Indus Publishing Company. ISBN 9788185182384. LCCN lc90905805. [8]
  10. ^ Siva sutras: The Yoga of Supreme Identity By Vasugupta, Jaideva Singh
  11. ^ a b Ghose, Rajeshwari (1996). The Tyāgarāja Cult in Tamilnāḍu: A Study in Conflict and Accommodation. Motilal Banarsidass Publications. ISBN 812081391X. [9]
  12. ^ Vaikhanasa Agama
  13. ^ a b c Singh, J. (1979). Śiva Sūtras: The Yoga of Supreme Identity : Text of the Sūtras and the Commentary Vimarśinī of Kṣemarāja Translated Into English with Introduction, Notes, Running Exposition, Glossary and Index. Motilal Banarsidass Publications. ISBN 9788120804074. LCCN lc79903550. [10]
  14. ^ a b c Sharma, D.S. (1983). The Philosophy of Sādhanā: With Special Reference to the Trika Philosophy of Kashmir. State University of New York Press. ISBN 9780791403471. LCCN lc89027739 [11]
  15. ^ a b SrI Ramakrishna Deekshitulu and SrImAn VaradAccAri SaThakOpan Swami. SrI VaikhAnasa Bhagavad SAstram [12]
  16. ^ Vaikhanasa Agama Books
  17. ^ Venkatadriagaram Varadachari (1982). Agamas and South Indian Vaisnavism. Prof M Rangacharya Memorial Trust.
  18. ^ Awakened India, Volume 112, Year 2007, p.88, Prabuddha Bharata Office.


  • Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (November 2003) [1979]. "Glossary". Dancing with Shiva, Hinduism's Contemporary Catechism (Sixth Edition ed.). Kapaa, HI: Himalayan Academy. p. 755.  
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