Expiatory Rites in Keralite Tantra

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

This page relates ‘Expiatory Rites in Brahmayamalatantra’ 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.

1.2. Expiatory Rites in Brahmayāmalatantra

The term Yāmala literally represents a group of very early Tantric texts. The word Yāmala denotes the worship performed by a couple in union.[1] Traditionally it is believed that Yāmala’s are eight in number, they are: Rudrayāmala, Skandayāmala, Brahmayāmala, Varuṇayāmala, Yamayāmala, Vāyuyāmala, Kuberayāmala and Indrayāmala.[2] Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata is one of the oldest Śaiva Tantra treatises originated in seventh century CE.[3] Shaman Hatley observes that the origin of this text is in Orissa.[4]

But Csaba Kiss has put forward another view point that the original place of Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata is Prayāga. Kiss notes thus:

“[…] the centre of the initiation Maṇḍala of the Brahmayāmalatantra is Prayāga may have some weight, and may lead us to the supposition that the birth-place of the text should not lie extremely far from Prayāga, modern Allahabad. In support of Prayāga being the place of the origin of the text, one could also refer to Brahmayāmalatantra 1.27-28, in which Sattikā, the Goddess herself, is said to be incarnated in Kaṇavīra, a village near Prayāga.”[5]

The forty-fifth chapter of Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata illustrates three types of Sādhakas; Tālaka, Miśraka and Carubhojin.[6] They are also called Śuddha, Aśuddha and Śuddhāśuddha. As term Śuddhi is closely related to physical or mental purity, these names of Sādhakas are closely related to the concept of Karmic Purification. Hence Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata recommends expiatory rituals for destructing the Karmic bondage of previous life. And it also interestingly notes that the Śuddha type of Sādhaka used cow flesh as well as sexual rituals.[7] According to the orthodox Brahmanical views, the sexual observances were considered as sinful and impure actions. Other earliest Tantras also significantly record the usage of flesh and observances of sexual rituals.[8] Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata suggests expiatory rites mostly for the Sādhakas, who do not get purified merely by initiation (Dīkṣā),[9] Some of them are given below: Svayonidarśana Ritual: It is a kind of ritual process also called as vision on one’s previous life, which should be practiced for the destruction of Karmic bondage of a Sādhaka in his three past lives. The practitioner performs these rituals with a Dūtī or Śakti. The Mantric installation, Sarvayāga (entire pantheon worship), Tarpaṇa (libation) to Agni, food offerings to the deity, Homa, Japa, sexual rituals with the female partner, worship of Pīṭha, Hṛdyāga are the part of this worship. At the end of this ritual, the Sādhaka constructs a throne on the ground and the Śakti sits down there, then the Sādhaka kisses and embraces the vagina (Pīṭha) of the Śakti, and get the female Dūtī to an orgasm and taste the fluid, and the Sādhaka again worships the pantheon. The Sādhaka spends three days in this way. He strictly follows the dreams in sleeping related to past Karmas and previous births. Afterwards the practitioner starts the performing of expiatory rituals for the removing of past Karmic impurities of his Ātaman (Soul). It can be noticed that the Sādhaka is performing all expiatory rituals in the presence of a female partner.[10] The expiatory rituals are followed for purifying the past Karmas of all Sādhakas.

Recitation of Mantras: Accordingly Japa atonement is the most important remedy of Karmic bondage of a Tantric practitioner related to his previous birth. The recitation is to be used in two contexts (1) previous births as birds and animals, (2) Previous births as Kṣatriya, Vaiśya, Śūdra and as men of other outcastes. Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata recommends hundred and eight times of recitation of Mantras for purifying the previous births of the Sādhakas as a deer, bird, cat, cow, dog, jackal, rabbit, porcupine, iguana, wolf, turtle, and crocodile. A Sādhaka should recite Mantra eight thousand times in the case of previous birth as elephant, horse, donkey, rhinoceros, tiger, yak, the gayal ox, lion, and bear.[11] According to Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata the number of recitation is five thousand if he is a Kṣatriya in his previous life. Ten thousand if the birth is as Vaiśya, fifteen thousand if it is as Śūdra. If the birth is as a member of outcastes like fisherman, hunter, Caṇḍāla, shoemaker, cooker, Śvapāka, oil-miller, Śaucaka, deer-hunter, butcher, barber, blacksmith, goldsmith, shepherd and as the son of a prostitute, Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata recommends ten thousand times of recitation. The birth as a Bukasa, Bhilla, Śabara, Pulinda, Māla etc. demands expiation of five thousand recitations.[12]

In the concluding part of this Svayonidarśana ritual Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata significantly notes that the ascetic observances (Vratas), initiation (Dīkṣā) and the post initiatory rules like Samaya would provide deliverance from previous Karmic bondage. It can be seen another Svayonidarśana ritual in Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata for purifying seven past lives of a Tantric practitioner. In this similar way Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata describes various Svayonidarśana rituals in four days, five days etc.[13]

The impact of the Karma theory and caste system is clearly seen in expiatory rites of Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata According to this system, purity of Sādhaka is appraised to the previous births. It profusely says that a Tantric practitioner can remove his past Karmans only by the purificatory rituals: anena prāktanaṃ karma śodhayitvā viśudhyati.[14]

Expiatory rituals for Sādhaka: Carubhojin is a special type of Sādhaka. Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata strictly restricts the usage of meat, alcohol and sexual rituals of a Carubhojin.[15] At the same time other rituals are granted to this impure Sādhaka. Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata recommends expiatory ritual to an impure Sādhaka if he engages in transgressive rituals, if he touches the substances like meat and alcohol etc. Sexual dealings with a woman, physically or mentally, are harmful acts concerning a Carubhojin. It strictly directs the retention of semen by a Carubhojin.[16] If an impure Tantric practitioner performs these types of transgressive rituals, Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata says that he would experience diseases, terrible poverty and at last he would be subdued by death.[17] Reciting Mantra is the very expiation prescribed in Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata in all types of sinful acts of a Carubhojin. It is interesting to note that Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata recommends expiatory rituals for a Tālaka too, who omits meat, alcohol and sexual rituals.[18] Reciting Mantra is the main expiation for a Miśraka too, mostly if he eats from an uninitiated person’s house.[19]

Expiation using the flame: The forty fifth chapter of Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata discusses expiations using a flame, which indicates that the tradition of Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata strongly believes in Nimitta and Śakuna concepts. It is a method of predicting the auspicious and inauspicious results of the rite considering various visible features of the flame of fire used for Homa. These predictions based on the flame in Homa were absolutely related to the concept of Nimitta and Śakuna.

The evident features of flame, which might cause to different impacts if proper expiation is not done, are clarified into various types.

They are:

  1. smoke coloured flame,
  2. smokeless flame,
  3. lapis and lazuli coloured flame,
  4. flame colour resembling a feather from the tail of a parrot,
  5. crackling flame,
  6. sparks emitting flame,
  7. harsh dirty colour flame.[20]

It is believed that the smoke coloured flame leads to illness, the lapis lazuli colour flame causes for injury by weapons, the crackling and parrot feather coloured fire causes for the death of a Tantric practitioner, the flame which arises with a spark destroys the powers of the Sādhaka. Here Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata prescribed Mṛtyujñaya Mantra for all types of illnesses and diseases, and in these various causes only the number of repetition of Mantra is merely changed.[21] And the remarkable matter is that, the smooth and auspicious flame leads to a positive result which fulfills the desires.[22] It is believed that the smooth one intimates the attainment of liberation, but Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata proclaims that it does not help to reach the enjoyment of desires. So as to remove one’s illness, a desirer should perform eight thousand fire sacrifices and ten thousand recitation of Mantra as an expiatory rite.

Footnotes and references:


dampatyoḥ pūjā yāmaleti nigadyate | Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 33.25.


Recently Jayadrathayāmala, Brahmayāmala and some folios of Umāyāmala are discovered. See, The Āgama Encyclopedia, Vol. II, pp.137-38.


See Alexis Sanderson, “The Śaiva Age -The Rise and Dominance of Śaivism in the Early Medieval Period”, The Genesis and Development of Tantrism, ed. Shingo Einoo, Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, 2009, pp. 41-349. Judit Torzosok considered that Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata is an early Śākta Tantra treatise. Vide “Women in Early Śākta Tantras: Dūti, Yoginī and Sādhakī”, Cracow Indological Studies, ed. Marzenna Czerniak-Drozdzwicz and Ewa Debika-Boreka, Vol. VI, Jagiellonian University, Institute of Oriental Studies, 2014. p. 340.


Hateley, Shaman, The Brahmayāmalatantra and Early Śaiva Cult of Yoginīs, PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2007, pp. 228-236.


Csaba Kiss, The Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation, Institute Francise De Pondicherry, 2015, Introduction, p.16.


For more details of Sādhakas in Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata See, Csaba Kiss, op.cit., pp. 35-53.


Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 45.208 & 45.220.


Cf. Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 45.277-279; Tantrālokā, 5.93-95, 5.121 & 29.106. For details vide Ernest Furlinger, The Touch of Śakti -A Study in Non-Dualistic Trika Śaivism of Kashmir, D.K. Print world, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 209-210.


In an Āgama corpus initiation is very important ritual, most of the Tantric systems strictly follows initiatory rituals, because an initiation released from all bondage of Karma of Sādhaka and it leads to the liberation. Sanderson rightly observed thus: “the Tantric rituals of initiation (Dīkṣā) were held to destroy the birth regenerating power of the individual’s past actions (Karma) in the sphere of Veda-determined values, and to consubstantiate him with the deity in a transforming infusion of divine power.” See Sanderson, A., “Śaivism and Tantric Studies”, The Worlds Religions, p. 660.


Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 45.529-561.


Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 45.562-567.


Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 45.568-572.


śaktiṃmāditaḥ kṛtvā ṣaṭnāryāṃścāparāṃstathā |
adhikāriṇyastaiḥ sārdhaṃ snātvā devagṛhaṃ viśet ||

paripāṭyā tathā kṣobhyā āhnike āhnike kramāt || Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 45.574-589. According to Csaba Kiss, the word Paripāṭya is indicating orgasm one by one in all women at present. Csaba Kiss, op.cit., p. 35.


Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 45.596.


madyāni na spṛśenmantrī naivedyāya na kalpayet |
viparītāni karmāṇi na kadācitsamācaret ||

anyathā kurute devi sādhako jñānavarjitaḥ |
homaṃ arghastathā sparśaṃ prāyaścittaṃ samācaret || Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata
, 45.444-446.


avagrahaṃ na moktavyam | Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 45.483, 490, 497.


Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 45. 448-49.


Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 45.498-500.


nādhikārigṛhe bhuktvā mantrasyāṣṭaśataṃ japet |
niyamaṃ vā yathā kuryānna bhoktavyaṃ kadācanaḥ || Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata
, 45.516. Also see Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 45.515-17.


Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 45.133-135.


Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 45.125-143.


Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata indicates that the auspicious flames are (1) Flame in auspicious direction (2) the golden coloured flame (3) nice and white flame (4) the yellow coloured flame (5) flame resembling jasmine and vermilion and (6) flame with deep sound. According to this, the smooth flame is an intimation to bestow liberation, golden colour flame mentions to bestow enjoyments (Bhukti), the flame resembling jasmine and vermilion is a hint to bestowing all powers (Siddhi), the smooth and white colour flame gives a hint to the achieving of the inferior Siddhis, the yellow flame gives a clue for the ordinary enjoyment of a Tantric practitioner. Brahmayāmalatantra or Picumata, 45.125-128.

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