Expiatory Rites in Keralite Tantra

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

This page relates ‘Social Impacts of Impurity and Expiatory Rites’ 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.

6. Social Impacts of Impurity and Expiatory Rites

Concept of impurity is related to landlordism and Brahmanical hierarchy. It also proliferate the system of castes and sub-castes. Kerala caste system is different from that existing in other places of India. In North-India, caste system is based on the Cāturvarṇya (Four-fold caste) system. Nevertheless in Kerala, caste system originated on the basis of hierarchy and landlordism.[1] With regard to the temple culture and agricultural related occupations, various castes were emerged in Kerala. This type of caste system in Kerala leads to a special type of untouchability and inapproachability. The expiatory rites in Keralite Tantra are closely related to this caste system, untouchability and inapproachability.

Prayogamañjarī restricts the entering of outcastes, Caṇḍāla and lunatic person in to the temple.[2] For the entry of Patitas, Prayogamañjarī prescribes various expiatory rites. This strong restriction indicates the prevalence of untouchability and inapproachability in the Kerala society at the time of the composition of Prayogamañjarī Viṣṇu-saṃhitā also recommended various expiatory rituals for the entry of out castes, Vrātyās and Devalas.[3] Īśānaśivagurudevapaddhati strictly prohibited eating the food of Ārhatas, Śākyas, Pāśupatas and Kāpāliks and it is also considered that touching the left over’s (Ucchiṣṭa) of Antyaja and Śūdra is a sinful act.[4] Īśānaśivagurudevapaddhati generally follows the Śaivāgama rites, but the text has strictly prohibited the physical contact of Ārhatas, Śākyas and other Śaiva sects like Pāśupatas and Kāpālikas. It clearly shows the discontentment and intolerance towards the other Tantric sects. Sanderson observes the real cause of this intolerance of Saiddhāntikas as: “This is accordance with a tendency in South Indian Saiddhāntika works to align their adherents more closely with brahmanical orthopraxy by dissociating their tradition from those of non-Saiddhāntikas.”[5] Moreover theses intolerances have pointed out the effective influence of Brahmanism and Vedic culture on Tantra. In this context S.R. Goyal clarifies: “The main cause of this hatred seems to be their peculiar non-Vedic manners and customs. They cared little for the caste and Āśrama rules, admitted foreigners within their fold, allowed Śūdras and woman to have Dīkṣā and worship the deity, laid special stress on Saṃnyāsa for the practice of Yoga, and thus encouraged the breach of discipline in society.”[6]

The caste regulations and rules are the core concepts of Vedic religion and society. As S.K. Belvekar pointed out, Varṇadharma is the corner stone of Vedic culture.[7] Devasvam and Devadravya concepts in Īśānaśivagurudevapaddhati associated to Nirmālya are closely related to landlordism.[8] Devadravya and Caṇḍadravya concepts are the outcome of a diplomatic idea of Brahmanical priesthood. Īśānaśivagurudevapaddhati illustrates eating food of outcastes and people belonging to other Tantric sects. It is an evident result of casteism and untouchability.

After the Tantrasamuccaya phase, caste system and impurity increased in momentum. Tantrasamuccaya does not give the details of Patitas. Śaṅkara on his Vimarśinī indicates that Patita means fallen peoples like Caṇḍāla etc. It is a noticeable character that the caste system was attaining more power in the time of Vivaraṇā. The Pāpa concept has strongly affected in the Kerala Tantric expiations. The author of Vivaraṇa sturdily considered that Patitas are the major sinners in the society, as a result the Patitas are marginalized and they experienced untouchability and inapproachability, directly or indirectly. It is already observed that the Pāpa and Puṇya concepts are the seeds of Karma theory. In Kerala, the Karma-Punarjanma theory has led to the concept of Aśauca or impurity. It is the visible result of the practice of untouchability.

Kuḻikkāṭṭupacca of Maheśvaran Bhaṭṭatirippadu is the most important evidence for the caste based expiation. Kuḻikkāṭṭupacca considered that entering of Baudhhas, Europeans and other castes like Paṟaya, Pulaya, Maṇṇān, Kāṭar, Velan, Pāṇan, Kaṇiyān, Vāḷan, Cekon, Arayan, Kollan, Mūśāri, Āśāri, Veḷuttedan, Taṭṭān in to the temple or temple courtyard also lead to the impurity of temple and sanctum sanctorum.[9] In contrast to Pre-Tantrasamuccaya period the number of untouchables increased after the period of Tantrasamuccaya It indicates that the priestly class performed mainly for the expiation in the basis of caste system and impurity.[10] Some scholars argued that Śaiva-Vaiṣṇava conflicts are not seen in Kerala, but the words of Viṣṇu-saṃhitā and Īśānaśivagurudevapaddhati reveal some aspects of the Śaiva-Vaiṣṇava partialities and hostile attitudes. Kuḻikkāṭṭupacca represents a stage of highly developed casteism and impurity, it also highly promotes the Brahmanical priest hood. In Kerala, casteism is closely related to temple culture. Poduvāḷ, Vāriyar, Mārār, Kaimaḷ, Piṣāraṭi and Puṣpaka are servants of temples. So the temple related castes gained higher position in the society. The other castes like Kaṇiyā, Vela, Pāṇa, Paṟava, Īḻava and Pulaya are considered as the lowest castes of the community.[11] Hence it seems that the temple culture also prompted casteism and impurity in society.

Footnotes and references:


Gangadharan, T.K., Keralam Caritravum Saṃskāravum, pp. 256-257.


Prayogamañjarī, 21.22; 21.34.


Viṣṇu-saṃhitā, 25.3-14.


Īśānaśivagurudevapaddhati, 3.20.36; 3.20.38.


The author of Siddhāntaprakāśika says that the Gāruḍa, Dakṣiṇa, Vāma and Bhūta Tantras are lower streams. Aghoraśivācārya gives the prominent place only to Saiddhāntika Tantric Manuals. In this way Śivajñānabodhasaṅgrahabhāṣya declared that Vāma, the Pāśupata, the Lākulas and the Bhairava systems of religious practice are out of the Vedic religion. Albeit the Hṛdayaśiva jettisoning the Vāma theories in his text Prāyaścittasamuccya. See Sanderson, “The Śaiva Literature”, fn. 122 on p. 49 & fn. 358 on p. 88.


Goyal, S.R., “The Relation of Smārta and Epic-Paurāṇika Religion with the Vedic Tradition”, Vedic Culture and its Continuity, ed. S.R. Dube, Pratibha Prakashan, Delhi, 2006, p.76.




Puthusseri Ramachandran alludes that the Devasvam and Brahmasvam land ideas were formulated in the opening era of 10th century CE in Kerala. The Poṟaṅṅāṭṭiri inscriptions (CE. 910) at Kozhikode give the first information about Devasvam and Brahmasvam land system in Kerala. See, Keraḷacaritrattinte Aṭisthānarekhakaḷ, State Institute of Languages, Kerala, Trivandrum, 2015, pp. lii-liii. Also see, South Indian Inscriptions, VII, No. 171, and M.G.S. Narayanan, Perumals of Kerala, p. 441. The Cembra document (No.1) considers that the stealing of Devasvam property is equal to deem the sin as one who marriages his mother. Moreover most of the temple agreements in Kerala strictly restricted the trespass and stealing of Devasvam property. See Keraḷacaritrattinte Aṭisthāna-rekhakaḷ.


Kuḻikkāṭṭupacca of Maheśvaran Bhaṭṭatirippadu, Panchangam Pustakashala, Kunnamkulam, 2005, p. 297-299.


See Appendix IV for a list of untouchables mentioned in expiatory portions of pre-Tantrasamuccaya and post-Tantrasamuccaya texts of Kerala.


Kochu, K.K., Keraḷaṃ Caritravuṃ Samūharūpīkaraṇavuṃ, Kerala Language Institute, Trivandrum, 2012, pp. 183-185 and pp. 276-280.

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