Expiatory Rites in Keralite Tantra

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

This page relates ‘Devaprashna and Impact of Astrology in Tantric 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.

9.2. Devapraśna and Impact of Astrology in Tantric Expiatory Rites

Kerala is the land of astronomy, astrology and mathematics. Śaṅkaranārayaṇa, Haridatta, Mādhava of Saṅgamagrāma, Vaṭaśśeri Parameśvara are the most important astronomers in Kerala. At the same time, predictive astrology also existed. The astrologers used to prescribe the right Muhūrtta for the installation ceremony.[1] The role of astrology and its influence on expiatory rites are the most important change happened in the Post-Tantrasamuccaya scenario. Śaivāgamas like Ajitāgama, Rauravāgama, Mṛgendrāgama, Mataṅgaparameśvarāgama and Kiraṇāgama discussed various temple related and individual expiatory rituals. Kerala Tantric ritual manuals were composed by depending on these South Indian Āgamas, which also performed expiatory rites, but the impact of astrology is a main difference of Kerala temple rituals.[2] In Tamil Nadu, the Tantrins do not accept the prescription of astrologers for performing expiatory rituals to remove the impurity and bad effects of temple.

The Devapraśna is an activity of the astrologers of Kerala analyzing the zodiac signs for finding out the issues of temple and remedies for the same. It is not performed in Tamil Nadu and nearby regions for ascertaining the impurity happened in temples. In course of time, astrology strongly influenced the temple rituals of Kerala and related activities. At the time of Devapraśna, the astrologer prescribes various Prāyaścittas for the removal of impurity and bad effects of the idol, temple and temple compound. Currently, most of the temple authorities in Kerala seek the astrologers for Devapraśna. In the earlier period, Tantra scriptures used astronomy only for the ascertaining of right Muhūrtta for the installation ceremony.

Devapraśna and Tantric Expiation

Astrological texts like Praśnamārga and Praśnānuṣṭāna deal with the astrological practice of Devapraśna. Praśnamārga of Iṭakkāṭu Namputiri is a well-known text (CE 1650)[3] often used by the astrologers of Kerala for prediction, calculation and connected matters. Chapter 24 of Praśnamārga deals with Devapraśna, Rājapraśna and Yuddhapraśna. Praśnamārga primarily gives the causes that affect the temple or sanctum sanctorum. These causes are similar to that seen in Tantrasamuccaya.[4] In addition, Praśnamārga prescribes Devapraśna for finding the troubles and defects in temples. Praśnamārga strictly recommended Devapraśna, in the case of the incidents like various defects that affected the temple compound, omissions of Tantric rituals in temples, the presence of impediment in Utsava and the loss of money in Devasva.[5] At the end of Devapraśna, an astrologer gives a prescription of remedies for the defects and bad effects in the temple or the idol. Praśnamārga indicates Bhagavatiseva (a special worship of goddess), Gaṇapatihoma (fire ritual for Gaṇeśa) and chanting Mantras like Bhāgyasūkta and Aikyamatysūkta for the removal of misfortune in temples and also for the attainment of prosperity and wealth.

It also indicates anointment of Pañcagavya (five products of cow) for all types of contaminations affected in the temple or the idol:

sampatkarīdṛṣṭa ihārthanāśe kriyāśucau śuddhikarī vidheyā ||
devīniṣevā gaṇanāthahoma bhāgyaikamatyapradasūktajāpāḥ |
āpannivṛttyai dhanadhānyavṛdhyai gavyābhiṣekādikamatra śuddhyaiḥ

The Later notions of Tantric expiation aided by astrological predictions strongly influenced on Kerala culture and social circumstances. In course of time Jyotiṣa also helped for the popularization of expiatory rites in temples and for gaining more sovereignty.

Footnotes and references:


Tantrasamuccaya, 6.38.


The earliest Tantric manuals like Niśvāsakārika, Bṛhatkālottara, Picumata, Kiraṇa etc. used some astrological notions in Tantric rituals. The Niśvāsakārika-Dīkṣottara discuss the Kālottaraprakaraṇa in Paṭala 17, Sārdhatriśatikālottara referred the Saṃkrānti, as well as Bṛhatkālottara (Paṭala 34) and Kiraṇa suggests a Grahayāga. These reliable evidences point out the influence of astrology in early period. For further details see, Sanderson, A., “History through Textual Criticism in the study of Śaivism, the Pāñcarātra and Buddhist Yoginītantras”, fn. 15 on p. 16.


Tarabout, Gilles, “Sin and Flaws in Kerala Astrology”, Sin and Sinners. Perspectives from Asian Religions. eds. P. Granoffe et K. Shinohara, Leiden, E. J. Brill, 2012, p. 311.


Praśnamārga, 24.4-8, Also see, Tantrasamuccaya, 10.1-5.


kṣetrādīritapañcatādikamavijñātaṃ kimapyasti cet vaikalyādi ca pūjanotsavavidhau cūrṇādivāryāhitam | sāniddhyāpahṛdārthalābhavigamau vā jñātumityadikam devapraśna udīrito'nyadapi tattadbhāvajātaṃ phalam || Praśnamārga, 24.12.


Praśnamārga, 24.35-36

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