Expiatory Rites in Keralite Tantra

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

This page relates ‘Causes of Impurity in Dharmashastras’ 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.

5.2. Causes of Impurity in Dharmaśāstras

Touch of outcastes and Caṇḍāla is the major cause of impurity in Dharma legal literatures. Manu considered that the Saṃsarga or Saṃyoga (association) of a Patita leads to impurity.[1] He also says that the touch of a Bauddha, Pāśupata, an atheist (Lokayatika or Nāstika) is a sinful act causing impurity.[2] Most of the Dharmaśāstrakāras firmly restricted the physical contact of a Caṇḍāla, as they considered him as a Sarvadharmabahiṣkṛta, and he is equally to be ranked with a dog.[3] Like this, Gautama and Yājñavalkya also restrict entering of a Caṇḍāla in ritual ceremonies and social worships.[4] It is pointed out that the Caṇḍāla is the lowest among the human beings.[5] Moreover, the legal authorities like Manu, Viṣṇu and Atri believe that the presence of semen, blood, marrow, urine, faeces, mucus of the nose, earwax, phlegm, tears, rheum of eyes etc. cause for impurity.[6] Accordingly death and birth also cause impurity.[7] They furthermore discussed the relation between sin and impurity. Religious authorities believed that purificatory rituals remove all sins.[8]

Another impurity is related to the menstruation of woman. The majority of the Dharma authorities appraises that menstruation of woman is a severe contamination.[9] They have also ordered that birth and death is an impurity.[10] Dharmaśāstras also considered that purity leads to liberation. So the priestly class gives very much importance to the purity of their body. Dakṣasmṛti proclaims that purity is the base of a Brahmin, if a Brahmin is devoid of their purity, all his acts will be useless.[11] Then the Brahmins attributed the concept and practice of purity to every action. Strikingly, the South Indian Brahmins follow the rules of Āpastamba and Baudhāyana besides the other Smṛti treatises.[12] The authorities of Dharma literatures laid down large strain on impurity. So, the followers of Smārta and Vedic tradition of Kerala have screwed the concept of impurity into the Tantric manuals of Kerala. The expiatory rituals in the earlier Śaivagamas, evidently prove that they do not accept the views of Dharmaśāstras to a large extent. Even though the influences of these Āgamas were clearly seen in Kerala Tantric texts, they often follow Vedic and Smārta ritual actions and rules. Most of the Tantra manuals of Kerala were written in the medieval age, by this time, the influence of most of the Dharma literatures has been largely recognized all over India. Each and every Tantric manual of Kerala indicates the same causes of expiatory rituals that found in the Dharmaśāstras. According to the ritual manuals of Kerala, the occurrence of birth, death, presence of urine, blood, termite soil and worms in sanctum sanctorum and the entering of Caṇḍāla, lunatic person, dog, out castes (Patitas), Vrātyas and Devalas in to temple, worship using heretic Mantras, touch of Bauddhas, Jainas, Pāśupatas, Kāpālikas and other downtrodden Śaiva sects and the use of impure substances are impurities leading to expiatory rituals.[13]

The above discussion reveals that the notions and cause of impurity of both literatures are identical. It is observed that this idea of purity and impurity is the basis of hierarchy in ancient India.

Patrick Olivelle clearly comments:

“The caste system, according to the currently prevalent view, is based on purity, each caste being located on hierarchical gradation of purity. [….] It has generally been assumed that purity is the basis of hierarchy in ancient India.”[14]

In Kerala the Karma-Punarjanma theory has also led to the concept of Āśauca or impurity. It is the visible result of the Brahmanical concept of the social impurity. It clearly shows that temple culture also prompted casteism and impurity in society.

Footnotes and references:


Manusmṛti, 11.180.


Manusmṛti, 5.84. In this context Sanderson has proficiently said: “Any claim that tolerance of religious diversity is at the heart of Hinduism must overlook the view of the Vaidikas, whose theoreticians flatly denied the validity any religious practice that was undertaken on the authority of texts lying outside the Veda (Vedabāhyānī), that is to say, outside the Vaidika scriptural corpus of Śruti and such secondary literature (Smṛti) as was accepted to derive from it.”, “Tolerance, Exclusivity, Inclusivity, and Persecution in Indian Religion During the Early Medieval Period”, p. 159.


Āpastamba-dharmasūtra, 2.4.9; Gautama-dharmasūtra, 15.25; Manusmṛti, 4.61; Yājñavalkya-smṛti, 1.10. And see Chāndogyopaniṣad, 5.10.7.


Gautama-dharmasūtra, 1.20; Yājñavalkya-smṛti, 1.93.


Manu proclaims that the Caṇḍālas and Śvapākas should live outside the village, they are made as Apapātra (Sinner) and their wealth should be dogs and donkeys. Vessels used by them cannot be used by others. Their clothes should be the garments of the dead and they should take their food in broken vessels, their ornaments should be made with iron, and they must continuously roam from place to place. Manusmṛti, 10.51-56.


Manusmṛti, 5.135; Atri. 31; Viṣṇusmṛti, 22.81.


Manusmṛti, 6.62.


Bhaṭṭācārya as the earlier Dharmaśāstra writer, significantly notes Śuddhi as a tool for the removal of sin: śuddhiśabdārthastu pāpakṣayaḥ śuddhidharmayogatvameva vā iti bhaṭṭācaryokto draṣṭavyaḥ | pāpakṣayaḥ sapiṇḍādau janane maraṇe vā tatsambandhādyathā vyutpannasya pāpaviśeṣasya kṣayaḥ | dharmayogatvaṃ dānādidharmānuṣṭhānādṛtvam | Āśaucakāṇḍa, p. 2.


Manusmṛti, 5.62. Vasiṣṭha restricts the Rajasvalā woman from sleeping on the floor, touching the fire, brushing her teeth, eating meat and looking at the planets. Vide Viṣṇu-dharmasūtra, 5.7. Āpastamba and Aṅgirasa called Rajasvala as a Caṇḍālī in her first day of menstruation, second day she is Brahmagni, third day she is Rajakī. See Aṅgirasa, 38 and Āpastambasmṛti, 7.7.


Manu, 5.58; Gobhilasmṛti, 3.60, 63 and 48; Dakṣasmṛti, 6. 2.


Dakṣasmṛti, 5. 2.


Narayanan, M.G.S., Perumals of Kerala, p. 228, fn. 91.


See the expiatory Chapters of Prayogamañjarī, Viṣṇu-saṃhitā, Īśānaśivagurudevapaddhati, Tantrasamuccaya and Kuḻikkāṭṭupacca Some Smṛtikaras also share this same view. The commentary of Yājñavalkya-smṛti, attributed to Aparāditya (the twelfth century Śilāhāra ruler of North Konkan), says that if one comes in to physical contact with Buddhists, Pāśupatas, materialists, deniers (of life after death, the validity of the Veda and the like), or Brahmins engaged in improper employment, one should bath fully clothed. Yāñjavalkyasmṛtitīkā, p. 923. In this way, the Āgamaprāmāṇya (2.9-7) proclaims that the Pāñcarātras, Śaiva-Mantramārgin, the Pāśupata, the Kāpālika, Baudha’s and Jainas are out of the Vedic religious order.


Olivelle Patrick, “Caste and Purity: A study in the Language of the Dharma Literature”, Tradition Pluralism and Identity, in the Honour of T. N. Madan, ed. Veena Das et.al, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1999, p. 47.

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