Expiatory Rites in Keralite Tantra

by T. S. Syamkumar | 2017 | 59,416 words

This page relates ‘Diseases and Expiatory Rites’ of the study on Expiatory Rites in Sanskrit literature and ancient Indian religion and society, with special reference to Keralite Tantra. Further references to texts include those found in Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism as well as Dharmashastra literature. This study also investigates temple records and inscriptions of Kerala in order to demonstrate the connection between social life and expiatory rites and its evolution.

4.2. Diseases and Expiatory Rites

It was believed in very ancient times that diseases are the penalty of sins. The early writers on Dharma like Manu and Vasiṣṭa state that diseases and bodily defects that sinners suffer are the effects of their sins.[1] In Āyurvedic tradition, some incurable and hereditary diseases are due to the sufferer’s previous Karma. Carakasaṃhitā detained the belief that diseases are the consequence of actions done in previous births.[2] Vasiṣṭha-dharmasūtra says, a thief becomes a man with misshapen nails, a murderer of a Brahmin becomes a man with white leprosy, one who drinks liquor becomes a man with black teeth, and one who has sex with wife of his Guru becomes a man with skin diseases.[3]

Prāyaścittasudhānidhi, a work attributed to Sāyaṇa,[4] discusses 51 diseases and their remedies. The diseases are Rājayakṣma, Kārśya, Kuṣṭa, Visarpa, Dadru, Visphoṭa, Atisāra, Grahaṇī, Gulma, Mahodara, Viṣūcika, Apasmāra, Kāmila, Śūla etc. This text recommends various expiatory rites for the removal of these diseases. They are various types of Pūja, Homa, Dāna and Yajñas. For instance, the Prāyaścitta for Bahumūtraprameha is to gift a golden cow-icon to a priest and then to do fire-offerings.[5] The remedy for Rājayakṣma is vows for twelve years and the donation of all properties of the ailing person (Sarvatyāga) to a Brahmin and going for a long journey.[6] The expiatory rites for Kārśya disease is a gift of a golden icon to a Brahmin, and then perform Rudrapūja and Homa of Śiva. The concepts of diseases are related to the Karma and Punarjanma theory. By enticing and frightening the people, the priestly class always made use of this assumption to maintain their power in the society.

Footnotes and references:


iha duścaritaiḥ kecitkecitpūrvakṛtaistathā |
prāpnuvanti durātmāno narā rūpaviparyayam || Manusmṛti
, 11.48.
purā kālātpramītānāṃ pāpādvividhakarmaṇām |
punarāpannadehānāmaṅgaṃ bhavati tacchṛṇu ||
stena kunakhī bhavati śvitrī bhavati brahmahā |
surāpaḥ śyāvadantastu duścarmā gurutalpaga iti || Vasiṣṭha-dharmasūtra
, 20.43-44.


nirdiṣṭaṃ daivaśabdena karma yat pairvadehikam |
hetustadapi kālena rogāṇāmupalabhyate || Carakasaṃhitā
, Śarīrasthāna, 1.116.


Vasiṣṭha-dharmasūtra, 20.43-44.


The Name of this text is indicated there as Karmavipāka:
tena māyaṇaputreṇa sāyaṇena manīṣiṇā |
granthaḥ karmavipākākhyaḥ kriyate karuṇāvataḥ || Prāyaścittasudhānidhi


It is very interesting to note that the disease Bahumūtra is due to the theft of Brahmin’s gold:
brāhmaṇasvarṇaharaṇāt bahumūtrapramehavān |
vakṣyāmi tatpratīkāraṃ dānahomajapādikam || Prāyaścittasudhānidhi
, 6.1.


The causes of this Rājayakṣma are Brahmahatya, sex with wife of Guru, theft, use of harsh words and torrent of foul language. Prāyaścittasudhānidhi, 7.4-19.

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