Expiatory Rites in Keralite Tantra

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

This page relates ‘Expiatory Rites in Shaiva Texts (Introduction)’ 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.

1. Expiatory Rites in Śaiva Texts (Introduction)

In Vedic period expiatory rites are closely related to Yāga and Yajña. During the period of Sūtra literature it spread to the social life and it also formed as a social control system. Purāṇas acquired the features of both Vedic and non-Vedic cultures. Tantric expiatory rites are different from that of Vedic expiatory rites, although in the later period; Tantric texts have incorporated Vaidika, Smārta and Paurāṇika expiations.

Ajitāgama defines expiation as:

pramādaḥ prāya ityuktaḥ kṛtyakarmasu mantrataḥ |
kriyāyā dravyato vāpi kṛtastasya pratikriyā ||
cittamityucyate tasmāt prāyaścittamiti smṛtam ||

It is said here that a fault committed, in the course of rituals to be performed, in a Mantra, an action or in a material used, is called Prāya, the counteraction is called Citta. Therefore it is traditionally known as Prāyaścitta.

Rauravāgama gives another derivation of the word Prāyaścitta; the word Prāya means destruction and Citta means joining together (Sandhāna [sandhānam]):

prāyo vināśa ityuktaścittaṃ sandhānamucyate |
antakaraṇajādatra prāyaścittamiti smṛtam ||

In later period Śaiva Siddhānta treatises has shared enormous attempts and thoughts in the concept of sin and expiation. The Prāyaścittasamu-ccaya of Hṛdayaśiva and Prāyaścittasamuccaya of Trilocanaśiva are very significant.

Trilocanaśiva defines Prāyaścitta as the rites advocated by Śiva for the resolution of omissions or faults or breakage of laws in the duties of Sādhakas and others instructed by Śiva himself:

sādhakādyairanuṣṭheyaṃ ācāraṃ śivabhāṣitam |
tadviluptau tadājñāyā laṅghane vyayato yataḥ ||
teṣāṃ tatparihārārthaṃ prāyaścittaṃ śivo'vadat |

Here it can be seen that the Ajitāgama and Rauravāgma give various derivations of the word Prāyaścitta. The diverse meanings of the word Prāyaścitta resounds several similarities of the concept of expiation in Dharmaśāstra literature.[4] The earlier Siddhāntāgamas[5] like Mṛgendra, Mataṅga, Sārdhatriśatikālottara and Svacchanda have discussed little about Prāyaścitta.[6] The fathomless concept of expiatory rites can be seen in Kāmika, Ajitā, Kāraṇa, Kiraṇa, Raurava and Suprabheda Āgamas, as these texts largely deal with temple worship. Most of the Śaivāgamas deal with the Prāyaścittas of two kinds: Ātmārtha-Prāyaścitta and Parārtha-Prāyaścitta.[7] Ātmārthaprāyaścitta is related to individual rituals and Parārthaprāyaścitta is related to temple rituals.[8] In the history Tantric literature, the commencement of Prāyaścitta can be seen in Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā.

Footnotes and references:


Ajitāgama, 87.1-2.


Rauravāgma, Kriyāpāda, Paṭala, 56.1-2.


Prāyaścittasamuccaya of Trilocanaśiva, 3-4.


prāyaḥ pāpaṃ vinirdiṣṭaṃ cittaṃ tasya viśodhanam | Yājñavalkya-smṛti, 3.206.
prāyo nāma tapaḥ proktaṃ cittaṃ niścaya ucyate |
taponiścayasaṃyogātprāyaścittamiti smṛtam ||
, 22.1. Also see Āṅgirasasmṛti, 2.4.
prāyo vināśaḥ cittaṃ saṃdhānaṃ vinaṣṭasya saṃdhānamiti vibhāgayogena prāyaścittaśabdaḥ | pāpakṣayārthe naimittike karmaviśeṣe vartate | Prāyaścittamayūkha, p. 2. (quoted by Kane, P.V., History of Dharmasastra, pp. 58-59).


For the details of the Saiddhāntika scriptures and Saiddhāntika exegesis, See Sanderson, A., “The Śaiva Literature”, pp. 12-26.


The Kashmirian Saiddhāntikas like Bhaṭṭa Nārāyaṇakaṇṭha and Bhaṭṭa Rāmakaṇṭha have written lucid and elaborate commentaries of Mṛgendra, Mataṅga and Sārdhatriśatikālottara (first half of 10th century). For evidence of their date see Sanderson, “The Śaiva Literature”, p.16, fn.59. Tantric rituals occupy an important role in the life of Krama and Kaula followers of Kashmir. Even as in the Kashmir non-dualistic Pratyabhijñā, neither prescribes nor prohibits the performance of ritualistic practices. Although Sanderson points out that the Kashmirian Rājānaka Śitikaṇṭha includes expiation in his comprehensive Paddhati text, Gurupustikā or Gurupustaka (CE 1375-1425). “The Śaiva Literautre”, p. 45. Thus some earliest Śaiva texts such as Gaṇa-kārika and one Bhūtatantra text also discussed expiatory rituals. The twelfth chapter of Gaṇakārika deals expiation. The early Bhūtatantra taught by Mahāmāheśvara in 9th century AD, describes the fasting schemes for eliminating sins. According to it, the Prājāpatya, Kṛcchra, Tulāpuruṣaka and Cāndrāyaṇa destroys sins. Vide Diwakar Acharya, “Three Fragmentary Folios of a 9th Century Manuscript of an Early Bhūtatantra Taught by Mahāmāheśvara”, Tantric Studies-Fruits of a Franco-German Project on Early Tantra, ed. Dominic Goodall, Harunaga Isaacson, Institute Francise De Pondicherry, Ecole Francise D’ Extreme Orient, Dept. of Indian and Tibetan Studies, Asien-Afrika-Institute, Univerisitat Hamburg, Pondicherry, 2016, pp. 176-177.


About Ātmārthaprāyaścitta and Parārthaprāyaścitta Ute Husken notes: “Image worship is in general categorized in to worship ‘for oneself’ (Ātmārtha) and worship for others (Parārtha). Ātmārtha refers to the domestic rites, whereas Parārtha refers to temple worship”, See “Pavitrotsava: Rectifying Ritual Lapses”, p. 1, fn. 2. Vide https://www.academia.edu/6191892/Pavitrotsava_On_ Rectifying_Ritual_Mistakes.


Dominic Goodall, Śaiva Rites of Expiation: A First Edition and Translation of Trilocanaśivas Twelfth Century Prāyaścittasamuccaya (with a Transcription of Hṛdayaśivas Prāyaścittasamuccaya), ed. Satyanarayanan, R., Institute Francise De Pondicherry&Ecole Francise D’ Extreme Orient, Pondicherry, 2015, Introduction, p. 36-37.

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