Expiatory Rites in Keralite Tantra

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

This page relates ‘Ritual Gift as a Mode of Expiation’ 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. Ritual Gift as a Mode of Expiation

Dāna and Dakṣiṇā, the especially primordial ritual gift system, are also seen in Kerala Tantric ritual manuals. In Ṛgveda, various Dānastutis were found and these hymns show that the ritual gift system was performed in that age, mostly with an altruistic nature.[1] Vijay Nath has observed thus: “Dāna in Ṛgveda is generally found to be connected with munificent gifts made mostly by tribal chiefs to hymnodists and priests at Yajña performances to promote the group well being.”[2] In the post-Vedic period, the idea of Dāna became forcefully unified and linked to sin and expiatory rites. Brahmins endorse this ritual gift system for reinstating the divine concept of purity, but absolutely, it was a depraved way to achieve money and land.[3] Kerala Tantrism as well promotes Dāna and Dakṣiṇā for the confiscation of bad effects, impurities and blemishes of individuals and temple premises. A brief description of the same is given below.

1. Dāna and Dakṣiṇā in Prayogamañjarī

Ravi, the author of Prayogamañjarī has suggested different Dānas and Dakṣiṇās in connection with the expiatory rituals for the reparation of trembling and falling down of Liṅga[4] Prayogamañjarī recommended that different properties like silver, gold, pearls, brass vessels, goat, she-buffalo and cow are to be gifted to the Guru.[5] As the expiation of breaking up the Kalaśa, Prayogamañjarī also suggests giving of cow and food to the Guru.[6] This text significantly suggests that the gift should be appeasing and satisfying the Guru; on the contrary it is believed that the all Karmas will be futile.[7] It is noteworthy that the sometimes include even the female servant (Dāsī).[8] From the descriptions of the expiatory rites in Prayogamañjarī, it can be inferred that the money and other valuable materials are accumulated in the hands of Brahmanical priesthood through the concept and practice of expiation.[9] The untouchability, inapproacha-bility and concept of Dakṣiṇā are also related to landlordism and casteism.

2. Dāna and Dakṣiṇā in Viṣṇusaṃhitā

Viṣṇusaṃhitā also suggests the donation of gold, land, cow, clothes and ornaments to the priest as part of the expiation.[10]

Feeding of Vaiṣṇava Brahmin is the main expiation for impurities affected in the sanctum sanctorum and temple courtyard. For example,

….… viprān pāyasaṃ vaiṣṇavān bahūn ||
brāhmaṇān bhojayed ||
daśānāṃ pāyasenātra deyā śaktyā ca dakṣiṇā ||

Viṣṇu-saṃhitā mainly propagate the ideals of Vaiṣṇavism. So in Viṣṇu-saṃhitā the Dānas and Dakṣiṇās have a leaning towards the Vaiṣṇava Brahmins only.

3. Dāna and Dakṣiṇā in Tantrasamuccaya

Tantrasamuccaya depicts a variety of Dānas and Dakṣiṇās.

According to the author of Tantrasamuccaya, the nature of ritual gift is given as:

svarṇānāṃ śatakaṃ dadātu gurave sadya pratiṣṭhākṛte dātrādātṛmanaprasādajananī yā dakṣiṇā sottamā |
gobhūmyādisamarpaṇapramukhato'pyenaṃ samārāghnuyānmūrttīśānapi taddaśāṃśaparidatyanyaṃśca tadbhāgataḥ ||

Tantrasamuccaya recommends hundred gold coins, cow, land (Bhūmidāna), gems and silk cloth are gifted to the Guru. Tantrasamuccaya significantly state that the remuneration giving to the priest should be satisfying for both parties like the owner and priest. Besides it suggests one tenth of the remuneration given to the assistants, and other participants shall also be given a portion of the remuneration.[13]

4. Historical Evidence of Tantric Ritual Gift System in Kerala

A number of inscriptions and temple documents found and deciphered show that the practices of Dāna and Dakṣiṇā were profusely existed in Kerala temples.[14] Kollam Rāmeśvarattukoyil inscription (CE 1102) proves that Dānas in the form of expiations were performed in the early-medieval period. This inscription recorded that King Rāmavarma’s donations to the temple were an act of expiating his sin of hostile attitude towards the Brāhmaṇas.[15] The Tṛppaṅgode inscription of Kota Ravi shows that the original endowments of daily worship, sandal wood paste in the idol, incense (Tṛppuka), lighting of lamb (Tiruviḷakku), food offering to the god (Nivedya), daily sacrifice, procession and feeding the Brahmin are in the form of a Dāna.[16] Another evidence is that one of the Travancore royal king performed a Dāna including a vast area of land, a bunch of areca nut made of gold, seven and half elephants and hook and stick, used for controlling the elephant, made of gold to the Eṟṟumānūr temple as an expiation of his sinful acts of trespassing the temple compound with his army and breaking the temple sanctity.[17] The Kaviyūr inscription of 951 CE mentions that Maki«añceri Tevan made a land gift for the Tiruviḷakku, Tiruvamṛtu, Tṛppuka and Tṛccandanam in the temple.[18] Mārttāṇḍa Varma of Travancore performed a Tulāpuruṣadāna and Tṛppaṭidāna, which are very famous in Kerala History.[19]

5. Social and Economic Milieu of Dāna and Dakṣiṇā

In the socio-economic milieu of Kerala, the Dāna and Dakṣiṇā directly and indirectly encouraged the system of landlordism. The landlord structure has promoted the Brahmanical priest hood as well. The major part of the cultivable lands and housing lands were possessed by the Brahmins through the method of Bhūmidāna (donation of land). Prof. Ilankulam Kunjan Pillai records that, Namputiri Brahmins also gained land through the Janmī system.[20] The feudal social construction is intimately linked to landlordism. According to Vijay Nath: “[….] in the emergent feudal context, the role of a Dāna ideology as a mechanism of social control gained in importance. In a feudal ethos, Dāna ritualism, besides offering an extra economic sanction to the ruling class for surplus extraction, also became one of the forms of exploitation of the producing classes.”[21] The gifted property and material goods are divided in to two Devasvam and Brahmasvam. The Devasvam related to the temples and the Brahmasvam is directly under the possession of Brahmins. The Devasvam was also directly or indirectly controlled by the Brahmins. Under the Janmī system, the land owners were called as Ūrāḷar (Proprietors of the village), they give the land to the Kārāḷar (Lease holders of the land), in a rental fee system. However, the Kārāḷar were not directly engaged in farming, they entrusted the land to the ordinary peoples for farming.[22] It is observed that the Devasvam and Brahmasvam concepts were chosen by the Brahmins for gaining valuable properties and they precisely use these concepts to strengthen the prevailing of caste system.

The Bhūmidāna was fundamentally developed in the opening centuries of the Christian era, as the socio-economic organism was mainly related to the agriculture-based economy.[23] The land gradually gained much importance in the society. As an impact of this the ritual gift system made easy the handing over of the land to the Brahmins. Tiruvalla copper plate gives even the minute details of Dānas made to the temples.[24] For example there is description of an endowment of 100,000 Paṟa of paddy for feeding the Brahmins, 200,000 Paṟa paddy for the food offering of the deity and 1, 200 Paṟa paddy for offering ghee to the deity.[25] The Dāna and Dakṣiṇā were also given in temples for the removal of sin and for attaining Puṇya. As a consequence, a large amount of the money and land have come in the hands of the temple authorities, actually lead by the Brahmins. It paved the way for a new form of Brahmanical domination and social discrimination. S.A. Dange truly notes that Dāna in Ṛgvedic time was primarily in the sense of distribution and sharing.[26] Later in the medieval period the concept of Dāna and Dakṣiṇā were used by the aristocracy in a crooked way for attaining money, land and other priceless things. For justifying the discrimination and exploitation, the religious groups have used various authoritative scriptures and its concepts, and thus they perpetuated their social-economic power. The Brahmin-priestly class has incorporated the social customs and laws of Dharmaśāstras to the Tantric rituals as the most momentous supporting force.

Footnotes and references:


See Ṛgveda 1.125, 6.47.22-25, 7.18.22-25, 7.5.37-39 & 8.6.46-48.


Vijay Nath, Dynamics of Ritual Gift System, Manohar Publishers, Delhi, 2012, p. 46.


Vijay Nath observed thus: “the concept of ritual pollution was yet another development directly related to the tightening of Varṇa restrictions and Dāna to Brāhmaṇa as became the chief means of regaining purity. Thus Dāna during this period became central to most expiatory and penitentiary rites, and was, to a large extent, instrumental in augmenting Varṇa differentiation.” See Dynamics of Ritual Gift System, p. 51. Also Manu to inform respectfully the importance of Dāna expiation, according to this by confession by repentance, by penitential austerities, and Vedic study, a sinner is absolved of his sin; of a sin committed in time of distress one is absolved by gift making. Manusmṛti, 11.228.


Prayogamañjarī, 21.82.


dadhyād suvarṇaṃ gurudakṣiṇāñca |
……..…………pradadyānmahiṣīṃ gurośca |
…….…….. chāgañca dāsīṃ gurave pradadyād |
… pradadyādatha mauktikañca |
. dadyād guroḥ pittalabhājanañca |
… dadyācca dhenuṃ gurudakṣiṇāñca |
raupyaṃ gurave pradadyād | Prayogamañjarī, 21.83-86.


Prayogamañjarī, 21.76-79.


saṃsārārṇavatāraṇaikaśaraṇaṃ santoṣayedādarādācāryaṃ vasubhirmanobhilaṣitairnānāvidhairunnataiḥ |
ācāryaśśiva eva mānuṣamayīṃ mūrtiṃ dadhāti svayaṃ tatprītyai na dadāti yanna kurute yadvā dvayaṃ tadvṛthā ||


dāsīṃ gurave pradadyād | Prayogamañjarī 21. 84. Also, Prayogamañjarī, 18.22, 24. About the discussion of the term Dāsī, Jonathan Silk has shared an important view: “The most common Sanskrit word for slave is Dāsa, feminine Dāsī. In recent years interest in the study of the Devadāsī traditions of India has increased. Literally Devadāsī means “slave woman of Gods”, but in usage the term refers rather than the temple courtesans.” Cited in Śaiva Rites of Expiation, Introduction by Goodall, p. 42, fn. 58. The South Indian Śaiva Āgama, Uttarakāmika gives some valuable evidence of the term Gaṇika in the sense of a courtesan. Uttarakāmika also discusses the conception of Rudragaṇika or Rudrakanya, as daughters of Śiva; See Śaiva Rites of Expiation, pp. 38-46. Whereas various historical reference also attests that the system of Devadāsī was prevalent in early medieval Kerala. The Cokkūr inscription, (CE 898, for details of this inscription, see South Indian Inscriptions, VII, p. 72), Tiruvalla inscription (12th century, see Travancore Archeological Series, II, III, pp. 131-207) and Tirunantikkara copper plates (CE 892) evidently articulate about the existence of Devadāsī system in Kerala. Another inscription found at Vadukkunnātha temple at Trissur also gives a valuable information of Devadāsī system. (Travancore Archeological Series, Vol.VI, part. II, p. 194). Moreover, the two panels of Devadāsī sculpture in Tṛkkulaśekharapuram temple near Tiruvañcikulam (Kodungallur) has clearly pointed out that this system has existed in Kerala temples also in the early medieval period. See, Sampattum Adhikāravum Tṛśśūril Ninnuḷḷa Kāḻca, Venugopalan, T.R., Current Books, Trissur, 2012, pp. 98-99.


For more details vide Sangamesan, K.M., op.cit., pp. 231-232.


Viṣṇu-saṃhitā, 25.48-53.


Viṣṇu-saṃhitā, 25.20, 59 and 84.


Tantrasamuccaya, 6.85-87.


Idem. Also see Tantrasamuccaya, 5.133.


Most of the inscriptions found in Kerala largely deal with the Dāna details. See Tiruvalla copper plates, Tirunantikkara copper plates etc. Also See Travancore Archeological Series, Vol. III, Pt. I, No. 6 & 9; Vol. IV. pt. I, Nos. 4-6-2; Vol. V. pt. I, Nos. 16-7-19-24-39; Vol. VI. Pt. I, Nos. 21-24; Vol. VI. Pt. II, Nos. 81-88-96-97, 115-121 and Vol. VII, Pt. I, Nos. 4-7-14-20.


The Kerala Temple and the Early Medieval Agrarian System, p. 4.


paṭārar uṭaiya nāḷpaṅkiºukkun tiruccantanattinukkun nivedyattiºukkum oḷukka-vukkum paṭarippidippāºumtiruvakkirattiºukkum. See M.G.S. Naryanan, Perumals of Kerala, Cosmo books, Thrissur, 2013, p. 347.


Sreedhara Menon, A., Keraḷasaṃskāraṃ, D.C Books, 2015, p. 48.


Narayanan, M.G.S., Perumals of Kerala, p. 347, 476.


For details vide Sreedhara Menon, A., Kerala Caritram, D. C. Books, Kottayam, 2015, p. 280.


Vide Gangadharan, T. K., Keralam Caritrvum Saṃskāravuṃ, p. 253.


Cf. Vijay Nath, Dynamics of Ritual Gift System, p. 53.


Gangadharan,T. K., op.cit., p. 254-255.


Vijay Nath notes: “It was however, only from the opening centuries of the Christian era that the practice of making land grants actually gained the momentum. The development was largely the fallout changes occurring in the contemporary politico-economic field. By the fifth century AD, a flourishing market system had been effectively replaced by an agriculture based economy, which automatically catapulted land in to a position of being the most valued and coveted item not only of wealth but also ritual gift making”, Dynamics of Ritual Gift System, p. 37.


Tiruvalla copper plate mentioned the king Vīra Coḷa (Coḷa Parāntaka 907 CE to 955 CE) and his queen Ki«ān Aṭikaḷ. Also the king Manukulāditya (Cera king Bhāskara Ravi 962 CE to 1021 CE) is mentioned as a donor. The content of this copper plate reveals that it was composed in different periods and collected in later age. About the date of this record M.G.S. Narayanan comments: “The script and language suggest the middle of the 11th century. The absence to ‘accu’ which became popular by the middle of the 12th century would preclude the idea of the plates belonging to the later period.” Perumals of Kerala, p. 473.


See Travancore Archeological Series, Vol. II, Pt. III, pp. 131-207; Also see Kerala Society Papers series, 2, pp. 57-94; For detailed studies see Rajan Gurukkal, The Kerala Temple and the Early Medieval Agrarian System, p. 32-33.


Dange, S. A., India from Primitive Communism to Slavery: A Marxist Study of Ancient History in Outline, Delhi, 1979, Cited in the work of Vijay Nath, Dynamics of Ritual Gift System, p. 46.

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