Expiatory Rites in Keralite Tantra

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

This page relates ‘Dynamics of Expiatory Rites in Keralite Tantra’ 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.

3. Dynamics of Expiatory Rites in Keralite Tantra

Kerala Tantric scriptures deal with many subjects akin to initiation, Kalaśa, Homa, Vāstu and Śilpalakṣaṇa. All Tantric manuals significantly discussed the Prāyaścittas, the atonement rites to be done for the removal of the effects of mistake crept in the course of rituals. The mistake may be due to a Mantra, an action or a substance or the impurity affected to the sanctum sanctorum or the temple courtyard or to the idol. For the removal of the bad effects or impurity caused by the undesired happening, Tantric manuals of Kerala have recommended various expiatory rituals.[1] These expiatory rites have a significant role in the evolution of the religious tradition of Kerala.

Domanic Goodall, the scholar of Śaiva Tantra asserts:

“The subject of rites of expiation or reparation (Prāyaścitta) is not central for the history of the Mantramārga (Tantric Śaivism), but it provides a fascinating angle from which to view the evolution of this broad religious tradition […..]”[2]

The thematic continuity and influence of Śaivāgamas can be evidently seen in Kerala Tantric ritual manuals. Īśānaśivagurudeva-paddhati and Prayogamañjarī are the best examples. Later in the period of Tantrasamuccaya, the Kerala Tantric ritual manuals mostly represent a synthesis of religious practices having the worship of different deities like Viṣṇu, Śiva, Durgā, Skanda, Sastṛ and Śaṅkaranārāyaṇa. Nevertheless the Śaiva ritualistic method is profusely used in Kerala, because of the influence of Temple Āgamas flourished in South India.

Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā, the existing most primitive Śāiva Tantra text has little to say about Prāyaścitta. Subsequent to the period of Niśvāsa, the number of expiatory rites seems enlarged. Prāyaścitta-samuccayas of Trilocanaśiva (Twelfth century) and Hṛdayaśiva (Eleventh century) are excellent examples. In the initial period, Śaivāgamas had little to say about expiatory rites, but in course of time the Tantric manuals began elucidating various expiatory rites, because of the influence of Dharmaśāstra.

Goodall rightly remarked thus:

“But the existence of such post-initiatory rules might not by itself have given rise to a complex code of penance rites without the strong influence of Brahmanical Dharmaśāstra.”[3]

All through the earliest period, Prāyaścitta was performed only for Ātmārthapūjā (as part of individualistic worship) and progressively it was performed for Parārthapūjā (worship for the social community performed in temples). In Kerala, Tantric systems used the Prāyaścitta for asserting Brahmanical hierarchy, casteism, landlordism and for gaining amassing wealth in the form of Dāna and Dakṣiṇā. As a result, Kerala Tantric expiations characteristically concentrated in the temple rituals.

Footnotes and references:


Prayogamañjarī, 21.22, 21.34; Viṣṇu-saṃhitā, 25.3-14, 25.16-17; Īśānaśivagurudevapaddhati, 3.20.1; Tantrasamuccaya, 10.1-6.


Satyanarayanan, R., ed., Śaiva Rites of Expiation, French Institute Pondicherry, 2015, Introduction by Dominic Goodall, p. 17.


Ibid., p. 27.

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