Expiatory Rites in Keralite Tantra

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

This page relates ‘Concept of Impurity in Dharmashastras and Kerala 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.

5.1. Concept of Impurity in Dharmaśāstras and Kerala Tantra

Dharmaśāstras have deeply rooted in Indian culture and society and its impact can be seen in the even contemporary society and beliefs. Most of the Sanskrit literature texts directly follow the laws and customs of Dharmaśāstras. The migrant Brahmins of Kerala very much follow the Vedic and Smārta traditions. They have tried and succeeded in remolding the religious and ritualistic life of Kerala in tune with their customs. It is observed that the reason for the peculiarities of Kerala temple rituals may be that the Vedic Brāhmiṃs, migrated and settled in Kerala, followed Śāṅkarasmṛti for setting up their life pattern in Kerala. The untouchability, inapproachability and other peculiar customs instructed by Śāṅkarasmṛti should have been the causes for the aloofness or distinction of Kerala temple customs from those of the other places of India.[1] Scholars have clearly attested that the Kerala Brahmins followed Śāṅkarasmṛti, Āpastambadharmasūtra and Baudhā-yanadharmasūtra. Vadakkumkur pointed out that the Kerala Namputiris pursue various laws and customs of Ekaśvāsa, Prāyaścittavimarśini, Prāyaścitta-saṅgraha and Āśaucadīpikā, which are the prominent Dharma related treatises of Kerala.[2] And the remarkable point is that the Śāṅkarasmṛti is the codified form of Manusmṛti and Yājñvalkyasmṛti. The study of Dharmaśāstras and Tantric literature reveal that in various aspects the influence of the former is strongly affected in Tantric expiations. Herein the concept of impurity is very important. Most of the Tantric expiations performed purificatory rituals in various situations of impurities affected in temples. In other words, most parts of the Tantric manuals of Kerala recommend purificatory rituals as expiations.

Here the influence of Dharmaśāstra and Vedic culture in Keralite Tantra is clearly visible.

For instance, Īśānaśivagurudevapaddhati says:

sarveṣāṃ duṣkṛtānāmanuktānāmapi tat pāpaśuddhyarthaṃ vratopavāsakṛcchracāndrāyaṇa tattaddoṣagauravānuguṇaṃ dharmaśāstroktāni vidheyāni |[3]

Tantrasamuccaya and Puṭayūrbhāṣa recommend that the people well versed in Vedas, Smṛtis and other juridical texts should be consulted for judging the right manner expiation in the case of fault regarding the temples.[4]

The concept of impurity is closely related to the Brahmanical social life and to their socio-religious literary texts like Dharmaśāstra scriptures.

Johannes Bronkhorst significantly alludes thus:

“Brahmanism was much concerned with the image it projected of itself. Its representatives, the Brahmins, had to live exemplary lives, especially in terms of ritual purity, which become a major issue. This affected almost all aspects of a Brahmin’s life, and included purity of descent: with few, precisely specified exceptions, the only way to become a Brahmin are through birth from parents who are both pure Brahmins.”[5]

Considering this notion the composers of Dharmaśāstras gave much importance to the concept of impurity. In course of time, these concepts are passed to the Tantric manuals and thus gradually exist in the temple Tantric customs of Kerala.

Footnotes and references:


Vide Govindan Namboodiri, V., Śrauta Sacrifices in Kerala, Publication Division, University of Calicut, 2002. p. 60ff.


Vadakkumkur Rajarajavarmaraja, Keralīyasaṃskṛtasāhityacaritraṃ, Vol. I, Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady, 1997, p. 24.


Īśānaśivagurudevapaddhati, 37-38.


ukteṣvanukteṣvapi copaghāteṣvālocya tajjaiḥ saha sādhakendraḥ |
śrutismṛtinyāyaparaiḥ prakuryātanniṣkriyāṃ puṣkalatā tathaiva || Tantrasamuccaya
, 10.105.
uktadoṣaṅṅaḷil pinne anuktaṅṅaḷiluṃ punaḥ śrautasmārttācārakarmatālparyajñaissahaiva tu nirūpicciṭṭu ceyyeṇaṃ prāyaścittasya pūrttaye āgamaścaiva tadyuktyā labhiccillannirikkilo smṛtiyuktikalorkkaṇaṃ śrutiyuktikaḷuṃ tathā // Puṭayūrbhāṣa, 10.552-553.


Jhohannes Bronkhorst, “The Historiography of Brahmanism”, History and Religion: Narrating a Religious Past, ed. Bernad-Christian Otto-Susanne Rau et.al, Berlin-Boston, Walter de Gruyter, 2015, pp. 27-44.

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