Hindu Pluralism

by Elaine M. Fisher | 2017 | 113,630 words

This thesis is called Hindu Pluralism: “Religion and the Public Sphere in Early Modern South India”.—Hinduism has historically exhibited a marked tendency toward pluralism—and plurality—a trend that did not reverse in the centuries before colonialism but, rather, accelerated through the development of precolonial Indic early modernity. Hindu plur...

Ardhanārīśvara Dīkṣita and the Birth of Samayin Śrīvidyā

[Full title: When Tantra becomes Orthodoxy: Ardhanārīśvara Dīkṣita and the Birth of Samayin Śrīvidyā]

Among the various compositions attributed to Śaṅkarācārya over the years, by far the most numerous are his assortment of stotra s, or hymns, widely recognized and recited today by Smārta Brahmins in all regions of India. For many, Śaṅkara’s corpus of hymns includes a set of stotra s to the goddess known as the Pañcastavī (Five hymns), which in the seventeenth century were attributed instead to the genius of Kālidāsa, understood then as now as one of the fountainheads of the Sanskrit literary tradition. Śaṅkara’s most widely recognized Śākta hymn, however, is the Saundaryalaharī, or “Waves of Beauty,” a work of high kāvya popular enough to have accrued over the centuries several commentaries and an abundance of variant readings. Among such attested variants, one in particular caught the eye of early modern Smārta readers and is preserved today in the commentary on a hymn of the Pañcastavī: the Ambāstava (Hymn to the mother)[1] by Ardhanārīśvara Dīkṣita,[2] brother of the celebrated literary theorist Rājacūḍāmaṇi Dīkṣita of the court of Tanjavur, and son of Ratnakheṭa Dīkṣita of the court of the Cenji Nāyakas.

In his critical edition of the Saundaryalaharī, Norman Brown reconstructs verse 102 as follows:

Your chest bearing the weighty breasts arisen from it, your gentle smile,
The love in your sidelong glance, figure resplendent like the blossomed kadamba flower:
Intoxicating Cupid has created [janayām āsa madano] an impression of you in the mind of Śiva.
Such is the highest fulfillment, O Umā, of those who are your devotees.[3]

Ardhanārīśvara Dīkṣita’s rendering, on the other hand, preserves a crucial variant in the second half of this verse, one that has proven foundational to a certain school of interpretation, not only of the Saundaryalaharī itself, but also of Śaṅkarācārya’s oeuvre as a cohesive theological enterprise:

Samayins meditate in the mind [janayantaḥ samayino] on your deception of Śiva.
Such is the highest fulfillment, O Umā, of those who are your devotees.[4]

Although this variant may result in a rather less plausible or aesthetically satisfying verse, it provides our commentator with an ideal textual foundation for his exegetical project: a defense of a particular subschool of south Indian Śrīvidyā exegesis typically referred to as the “Samaya” school, of which the locus classicus is the sixteenth-century Saundaryalaharī commentary of Lolla Lakṣmīdhara.[5] A term that defies succinct English translation, samaya most literally denotes a mode of conventional behavior or a contractual agreement, from which usage it came to signify a set of social conventions adopted by initiates in many Śaiva traditions.[6] In Lakṣmīdhara’s idiosyncratic appropriation, however, the term becomes meaningful only when paired with its antithesis, Kaula: whereas Kaula Śrīvidyā, in theory, accepts without reservation the use of objectionable ritual elements such as the notorious pañcamakāra s, or five impure substances,[7] Samaya Śrīvidyā constrains its ritual observances in accordance with the strictures of Vaidika orthodoxy. In fact, Lakṣmīdhara even suggests that ideal Samayins must eschew any external ritual worship altogether in favor of strictly mental observance. Hence, the reading “Samayins visualize in the mind.”

Although one might expect Lakṣmīdhara’s Samaya school to have attracted a fair following among the ranks of Brahminical orthodoxy, to date scholarship has discovered negligible textual attestation that such a “school” in fact ever arose in response to his programmatic essay. In fact, the Samaya doctrine is often depicted as confined exclusively to Lakṣmīdhara’s Saundaryalaharī commentary itself. South Indian Śrīvidyā today leans heavily in favor of a reformed version of the Kaula mata as expounded by Bhāskararāya, whose popularity among contemporary initiates has all but eclipsed Lakṣmīdhara’s legacy. In this light, Ardhanārīśvara Dīkṣita’s Ambāstavavyākhyā is a particularly intriguing textual artifact, one of the few surviving texts known to systematically advocate the Samaya position.[8] And yet, not only does Ardhanārīśvara accept the category of Samaya as expounded by Lakṣmīdhara, but he also stages his commentary as an explicit defense of the Samaya doctrine, signaled with little ambiguity in the title chosen for his commentarial essay: “Enlivening the Doctrine of the Samayins” (Samayimatajīvana). Evidently for Ardhanārīśvara, the Samaya doctrine was indeed a real entity and one of imminent relevance to his contemporaries, thus calling for a certain commentarial “enlivening.”

By enlivening the school promulgated by his predecessor Lakṣmīdhara, who himself “enlivened” the sixteenth-century court of Vijayanagara, Ardhanārīśvara is not engaged in a mere scholastic mimesis of a forgotten work of scholarship. His Samayimatajīvana does, in fact, deliberately invoke Lakṣmīdhara’s Samayācāra commentary, down to the very details of commentarial mechanics. It is the gap between Ardhanārīśvara’s work and its prototype, however, that reveals the hidden seams of the sectarian community that Ardhanārīśvara and his contemporaries were in the process of constituting. In the intervening generation or two, we observe a vast gulf in the self-constitution of Samaya Śrīvidyā both through a conscious redaction of its scriptural corpus and through its public image as an esoteric wing of orthodox Smārta-Śaivism. As we have seen, Ardhanārīśvara’s generation witnessed the emergence of an unprecedented alliance between Smārta intellectuals and ascetics of the Śaṅkarācārya monastic orders, a trend in which his family is known to have participated. Lakṣmīdhara’s Samaya doctrine, then, initiates an equally unprecedented doxographical revisioning of the lineage’s purported founder, Śaṅkarācārya, here understood as the original exponent of a domesticated, Vedicized form of esoteric Śākta ritual practice. At the same time, by attributing the Ambāstava itself to Kālidāsa, Ardhanārīśvara advances this project a step further, claiming Kālidāsa, as well, as a foundational figurehead in the emerging hagiography of Smārta-Śaivism. In essence, the Ambāstavavyākhyā lays an intellectual foundation for the self-understanding of Smārta Śrīvidyā initiates as active participants in the ongoing legacy of both Śaṅkarācārya and Kālidāsa, a sectarian community at once entirely Vaidika and entirely Śākta.

First, let us consider the evidence that Ardhanārīśvara’s Samayimatajīvana does indeed systematically recapitulate the doctrinal position of Lakṣmīdhara. Not once during his commentary does Ardhanārīśvara quote Lakṣmīdhara or refer to him or his work by name. And yet, from the nuts and bolts of commentarial practice to the social values, doctrines, and works cited, the Samayimatajīvana is unmistakably a direct imitation of Lakṣmīdhara. Take, for instance, his commentarial mechanics: Ardhanārīśvara co-opts piece by piece the structure of Lakṣmīdhara’s verse analysis, beginning with a painstakingly literal gloss of each word (for example, the rather rudimentary gloss amba! mātaḥ! occurs often in both), and ending with a prose restructuring of the word order (both authors introduce this section with the phrase atra itthaṃ padayojanā rather than with a more common term such as anvaya) and a brief diagnosis of literary ornaments in the verse.[9] Stylistics aside, however, the most striking point of comparison is the authors’ shared canon of textual sources. Ardhanārīśvara, for his part, makes no secret of the authority underlying his work.

After showcasing his family credentials with the traditional benedictory verses, he declares that two Śrīvidyā treatises in particular constitute the doctrinal foundation of his commentary:

Having reflected again and again, with discrimination, on the two treatises written by Śaṅkarācārya,
Known as the Saubhāgyavidyā and Subhagodaya, may I compose this text according to their path.[10]

In this succinct encapsulation of his tradition’s theological heritage, Ardhanārīśvara confidently attributes to Śaṅkarācārya himself a pair of Śākta theological tracts claimed to defend the reformed Vaidika Śrīvidyā popular among seventeenth-century Smārta intellectuals. No manuscripts have yet been located matching the description of the Saubhāgyavidyā or Subhagodaya,[11] although both Ardhanārīśvara and Lakṣmīdhara provide substantial quotations, suggesting that the pair of works were readily accessible in the seventeenth century. That these two Śrīvidyā treatises had come to be routinely acknowledged as the works of Śaṅkarācārya is confirmed by Rājacūḍāmaṇi Dīkṣita in his Śaṅkarābhyudaya.

While depicting Śaṅkarācārya’s completion of his education, he provides a resume of the young prodigy’s scholastic endeavors, including the two works in question:

At the command of Guru Govindapāda, who was a treasury of virtue,
He first set forth the commentary on the thousand names of Viṣṇu.

Having churned the great ocean of Mantra and Āgama with the churning stick of his intellect,
He extracted the nectar that was the treatises beginning with the Prapañcasāra.

He measured out the Saubhāgyavidyā as well as the ritual handbook, the Subhagodaya:
Two jewel boxes for depositing the meaning of the science of mantra.

To those of lesser eligibility, singularly attached to awareness of brahman with qualities,
He granted favor, bestowing hymns to Hari and Hara.

He granted treatises based on the nondual nature of the self,
As well as hundreds of further hymns, foremost being the Saundaryalaharī.

He drew out the commentary on the Upaniṣads, which, arrayed with recurring floods of virtues,
Made manifest the nondual truth of the Self in the palm of one’s hand dispelling primordial, infinite delusion....

At the age of twelve, having reflected there upon the essence of the scriptures with the Brahminical sages absorbed in meditation,
He effortlessly composed the auspicious commentary, deep and mellifluous, on the collection of sūtras of Śrī Vyāsa, crest jewel among preceptors.[12]

While these two works, the Saubhāgyavidyā and Subhagodaya, do not typically figure in hagiographies or popular memory of Śaṅkara’s legacy, the Subhagodaya in particular is the foremost authority cited by Lakṣmīdhara and Ardhanārīśvara in defense of the very notion of a Samaya school of Śrīvidyā. Indeed, for Lakṣmīdhara, the Samayamata is no less than the central theological project of Śaṅkarācārya, “the knower of the truth of the Samaya doctrine” (samayamatatattvavedinaḥ), who, he claims,[13] crafted the entire Saundaryalaharī as a covert but systematic exposition of the doctrine. Thus, it is unsurprising that both commentators accept his attributed theological works as a central pillar of their analysis, including the Saundaryalaharī, the Saubhāgyavidyā and Subhagodaya, and even the Saubhāgyacintāmaṇi, a third Śrīvidyā treatise attributed by Ardhanārīśvara to the pen of Śaṅkara.[14]

In addition to Śaṅkara’s Śrīvidyā oeuvre, Lakṣmīdhara invokes a second group of source texts as a mainstay of his exegetical project, one that Ardhanārīśvara in turn implements enthusiastically in service of the Samaya doctrine. Known collectively as the Śubhāgamapañcaka (The five pure scriptures), these five Śrīvidyā “Saṃhitās”—undoubtedly referred to as such to evoke a Vedic resonance—bear the names of the mythological Vedic sages to whom their authorship is attributed: Vasiṣṭha, Sanaka, Śuka, Sanandana, and Sanatkumāra.[15] According to Lakṣmīdhara, Śākta upāsaka s have often strayed from the Vedic fold by accepting the more transgressive Tantras without proper reservation, failing to discriminate between those intended for orthodox Vaidikas and those appropriate only for Śūdras.[16]

After providing a systematic inventory of the sixty-four Tantras listed in the Vāmakeśvarīmata, delimiting those eligible to adopt their teachings, he concludes that with few exceptions, Vaidika practitioners of Śrīvidyā should restrict themselves to the precepts of the Śubhāgamapañcaka, which he considers the foundational scriptural authority for Samaya practice:

In the Śubhāgamapañcaka, the array of ritual practices is examined in accordance with the Vedic path alone. This path, examined by the Śubhāgamapañcaka, was set forth by the five sages Vasiṣṭha, Sanaka, Śuka, Sanandana, and Sanatkumāra. This alone is what is conventionally referred to as “Samaya conduct.” In just the same way, I also have composed this commentary according to the views of Śaṅkara Bhagavatpāda precisely by taking the support of the Samaya doctrine in accordance with the Śubhāgamapañcaka.[17]

In this extended digression, Lakṣmīdhara constructs an impeccable claim to Vedic orthodoxy, one that offered a considerable appeal to a new generation of Śākta intellectuals who held a vested interest in maintaining the orthodox reputation of their families and literary societies.[18] Breaking from the textual sources of the earlier Kashmiri Śrīvidyā tradition, he promotes in its place an entirely Vedicized scriptural canon that seems to have gained little currency in south India before his influence. Decentering the Kashmiri exegetes and all early Śākta Tantras aside from the Vāmakeśvarīmata, he supplements his core canon with liberal citations from the Ṛgveda, texts of the Taittirīya Śākhā of the Kṛṣṇayajurveda, early Upaniṣads, the classics of Sanskrit court literature from the Mālatīmādhava to the Naiṣadhīyacarita, and, of course, the Śākta hymns attributed to Kālidāsa. Ardhanārīśvara Dīkṣita, in turn, follows closely in Lakṣmīdhara’s footsteps, adopting as his core canon the Saubhāgyavidyā, Subhagodaya, Saundaryalaharī, Śubhāgamapañcaka, the hymns of Kālidāsa, and the Vāmakeśvarīmata, interspersed with the best sellers of courtly literary theory such as the Kāvyādarśa, Kāvyaprakāśa, Alaṅkārasarvasva, and Candrāloka.

In short, Ardhanārīśvara Dīkṣita’s Ambāstavavyākhyā not only mimetically replicates the textual practices of Lakṣmīdhara’s commentary but also expands upon its larger project of repackaging Śrīvidyā upāsanā to suit the needs of a more Vedicized and Vedicizing audience.[19] When it comes to the doctrinal innovations of the Samaya school, however, Ardhanārīśvara proves himself an even more meticulous advocate of its principles than Lakṣmīdhara himself. Where Lakṣmīdhara makes bold and seemingly unfounded assertions about Samaya doctrine, Ardhanārīśvara painstakingly documents the textual support underlying Lakṣmīdhara’s claims, demonstrating their fidelity to the position taken by Śaṅkarācārya in the Subhagodaya. After all, for Ardhanārīśvara, the Samaya school is by no means the invention of Lakṣmīdhara, seeing as he nowhere credits him as the source on which his commentary was modeled. Rather, his ambition is to communicate unambiguously that the Samaya is nothing less than the central teaching of Śaṅkarācārya—through the words of Śaṅkarācārya himself.

Take, for instance, the two central contentions of the Samaya doctrine: first, that Samayins ought to perform worship of the Śrīcakra through interior visualization rather than with external implements; and second, that whereas Kaulas typically perform such worship by concentrating on the lower two cakra s, or subtle yogic centers, of the body, Samayins worship only in the brahmarandhra at the crown of the head. Both of these points are fervently championed by Lakṣmīdhara, who is able to inform us—with remarkable clarity on the material culture of Śākta worship—that Kaula practitioners of Śrīvidyā worship a Śrīcakra inscribed on birch bark, cloth, gold, silver, or some similar surface.[20] Nevertheless, during his extended digression on the Samaya-Kaula division, which spans several pages of the printed edition, nowhere does he adduce a single piece of unambiguous evidence in support of his views from the works of Śaṅkara.

In fact, his lack of evidence often leads him to a precarious position. In one instance, instead of supporting his own argument, he remarkably selects a verse from the Subhagodaya that seems to state precisely the opposite, necessitating a series of replies to his anticipated objections:

As it is stated in the Subhagodaya: “The qualified adept should meditate on the goddess Tripurasundarī, seated in the middle of the orb of the sun, bearing in her hands the noose, goad, bow, and arrows. He may quickly infatuate the three worlds, along with flocks of the best of women.”...

Now, some may argue that because external worship is prohibited to Samayins, it is prohibited to worship [the goddess] as seated in the orb of the sun. That is not correct.[21]

Rather than convincingly establishing the intended thesis, the remainder of the passage takes on something of an apologetic tone, engendering a sharp divide between scripture and commentary. The tenor of the verse he cites bears no particular resemblance to the literary aesthetic or values of the sixteenth-century Samaya school, evoking instead the archaic language of early Śrīvidyā scripture, such as the Vāmakeśvarīmata, which contains numerous such references to the efficacy of Śrīvidyā as essentially a sex-magic technology (“He may quickly infatuate the three worlds, along with flocks of the best of women”). Lakṣmīdhara seems, moreover, to have intentionally misread the phrase “the orb of the sun” (sūryamaṇḍala) in his Subhagodaya citation, as the phrase more often refers to a location in the subtle body around the region of the navel—a sense that would certainly do no service to his argument. It is no wonder that, throughout the argument, he prefers to cite one of his own works, a certain Karṇāvataṃsastuti (Hymn to the earrings [of the goddess]),[22] which proves much more amenable to his desired conclusion.[23] Succinctly, on the basis of his thoroughgoing hesitancy, one is tempted to suspect that Lakṣmīdhara did not have access to a citation that would unambiguously ground the Samaya doctrine in the words of Śaṅkara;his only clear evidence for the connection of the Samaya to Śaṅkarācārya is his creative exegesis of the Saundaryalaharī itself.

Ardhanārīśvara, on the other hand, suffers from no lack of textual exempla. Unlike Lakṣmīdhara in his abortive attempt to attribute his thesis to Śaṅkara, Ardhanārīśvara assembles a number of lengthy and detailed passages from the Subhagodaya that bear an astounding, and in fact rather suspicious, resemblance to the core doctrines of the Samaya school:

Because external worship is prohibited to Samayins, they are to perform worship only internally.... As is stated in the Subhagodaya, in the chapter on the instruction of Kaulas:

Some heretics, chiefly Kaulas and Kāpālikas, devoted to external worship,
Are scorned by the Vedas, because their precepts are not supported by scripture.
My doctrine is that they are fallen due to practicing what is prohibited.
Therefore, the worship of the throne [pīṭha] and so forth does not apply to Vaidikas.
The sages Vasiṣṭha, Sanaka and others, being devoted to internal worship,
Obtained their desired attainment. Thus, internal worship is superior.
Now, if one objects that rituals for ground preparation, installation of deities,
And so forth, as described by the Āgamas and Atharvaṇas, would be prohibited—
This is true. Those are stated in accordance with individual eligibility.
Those desiring liberation have no eligibility for such worship.
Thus, Samayins perform worship and so forth only in the inner cakras.[24]

Intriguingly, Ardhanārīśvara’s Subhagodaya seems to say precisely what a Samayin intellectual would like to hear. By the time of Ardhanārīśvara’s Ambāstavavyākhyā, the ambiguity of source material and argument we witness in Lakṣmīdhara’s commentary has given way to perfect symmetry between source text and conventional theological wisdom. Further still, Ardhanārīśvara’s Subhagodaya establishes its own authority by appealing to the Śubhāgamapañcaka by describing the sages Vasiṣṭha, Sanaka, and the others as the prototypical practitioners of Samaya Śrīvidyā. Had Lakṣmīdhara inherited a version of the Subhagodaya so faithful to his own views, it seems highly unlikely that he would have resisted supplying the citations. The fact that he did not—and that Ardhanārīśvara had access to such passages in abundance—strongly suggests that in the intervening decades, the Subhagodaya itself was heavily redacted to conform to newly emerging understandings of the social role of Śrīvidyā and of Śaṅkarācārya’s legacy.[25]

In short, Ardhanārīśvara’s generation had witnessed, in a surprisingly short time frame, a thorough redaction of the core scriptures of Samaya Śrīvidyā—suggesting not only a shift in religious values but also, more importantly, a community of initiates responsible for the redaction. It was during the decades between Lakṣmīdhara and Ardhanārīśvara, then, that the foundation was laid for the acceptance of Samaya Śrīvidyā as a cornerstone of Smārta-Śaiva religiosity.

Indeed, Ardhanārīśvara introduces two substantial modifications to our previous knowledge of the Samaya school, as attested by Lakṣmīdhara’s work alone, both of which illustrate the diffusion of Samaya values across a wider community of Smārta Brahmin practitioners. First, Ardhanārīśvara expands Lakṣmīdhara’s efforts to categorize the religious ecology of Śrīvidyā practitioners in south India. Where Lakṣmīdhara adopts an analytic distinction between “Former” and “Latter” Kaulas[26] in order to reconcile the apparent doctrinal inconsistencies between two verses of the Saundaryalaharī,[27] Ardhanārīśvara proposes an expanded typology of three types of “former” and four types of “Latter” Kaulas, along with a delineation of multiple categories of Samayin initiates. And yet, that Ardhanārīśvara is able to produce a precise and definitive list of seven types of Kaulas illustrates a process of conceptual reification, whereby Lakṣmīdhara’s speculation has been elevated to the level of a scripturally authenticated model for navigating the sectarian landscape of seventeenth-century south India. In fact, the non-Samayin Śāktas he enumerates—worshippers of the transgressive and ferocious goddesses Mātaṅgī, Vārāhī, Bagalamukhī, and Bhairavī—were genuine participants in the religious economy of Ardhanārīśvara’s day, from whom Samayin Smārta Brahmins wished to strictly demarcate themselves.

Second, and by no means less consequential, is the Vedicization of types of worship previously forbidden to Smārta Brahmins under Lakṣmīdhara’s strictures.

Samayins, for their part, are fourfold: (1) those intent on worship according to Vedic procedures of external images of the Śrīcakra fashioned out of gold, etc., (2) those intent on both internal and external worship, (3) those intent on external worship only, and (4) those lacking in any worship. Among these, those adepts who have not acquired experience in yoga worship the goddess in images of the Śrīcakra according to Vedic precepts. Those who have become somewhat established in yoga worship externally and internally, those who are established in yoga worship the goddess only internally, and as for those who have obtained purity of mind, their manner of worship has been expounded previously.[28]

While Lakṣmīdhara forbids the external worship of any Śrīcakra image to Samayins, Ardhanārīśvara clearly accepts the worship of gold Śrīcakra icons as socially normative within Smārta religious culture. Based on historical evidence, in fact, Ardhanārīśvara’s pronouncement appears to accurately capture the devotional practice of seventeenth-century Samayins: Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita’s lineage descendants, most notably, proudly display in his samādhi shrine an image of the Śrīcakra they believe to have been his personal object of worship.[29]

Three Puja Images

FIGURE 3. The three pūjā images pictured in fig. 2 have been handed down in Nīlakaṇṭha’s family and are believed to have been worshipped personally by Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita. As the Tamil caption clarifies, the image on the right is Nīlakaṇṭha’s personal śrīcakra, the Śrīvidyā yantra. This black-and-white photograph is mounted in Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita’s samādhi shrine in Palamadai, near Tirunelveli in southern Tamil Nadu. All three pūjā images are now in the possession of Jagadguru Bhāratī Tīrtha Svāmigaḷ of Sringeri. I have personally seen two of them on his public pūjā; unfortunately, the Jagadguru’s attendants deny any knowledge of the śrīcakra’s location.

But while speaking volumes about ritual practice and scriptural redaction among Śrīvidyā initiates, Ardhanārīśvara’s work, by virtue of its commentarial project, joins that of Atirātra and his contemporaries, who crafted a hagiographical past for the Smārta-Śaiva community. By selecting Lakṣmīdhara’s template as the structural principle for an entirely different commentary, Ardhanārīśvara transposes the authority behind the Samaya doctrine from the purported author of the Saundaryalaharī, Śaṅkarācārya, to the perceived author of the Ambāstava, Kālidāsa. Echoing the sentiment of Atirātra Yajvan expressed at Madurai’s Cittirai Festival, Ardhanārīśvara reshapes Kālidāsa’s identity into a fusion of celebrated mahākavi and loyal servant of the goddess Kālī (“Kālī-dāsa”),[30] merging both of these attributes in the author of the Ambāstava, an orthodox Samayin’s expression of personal devotion. With no less a figure than Kālidāsa representing the power of orthodox Śāktism, it is little surprise that Śrīvidyā offered seventeenthcentury Smārta intellectuals a meaningful paradigm for integrating various facets of their ideal personas: Smārta Brahmin, devotee of the Śaṅkarācārya lineage, and not least, poet-celebrity. Śākta devotionalism and literary genius were, for many of these poets, causally interrelated and functionally inextricable from each other. This is expressed perhaps most eloquently by Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita himself in the benediction to his Śivalīlārṇava (The sacred games of Śiva), evoking a pair of commonly cited legends linking the poetic aptitude of two south Indian poets—the Tamil bhakti saint Ñānacampantar and the Sanskrit poet Mūkakavi—to their unmediated contact with the goddess’s grace.

In his own words:

One became a poet through the breast milk of the Mother, another through her tāmbūla spittle.
Desiring to achieve even greater elevation [unnati], I served the more elevated [unnata] corner of Her eyes.[31]

Footnotes and references:


The Ambāstava is at least old enough to have been quoted by Maheśvarānanda in the Mahārthamañjarī, TSS ed., pg. 107.


Although we are able to locate historically a number of Ardhanārīśvara Dīkṣita’s immediate family members, much less is known about his life and work. Brother of Keśava Dīkṣita and Rājacūḍāmaṇi Dīkṣita, he is believed to have educated his younger brother Rājacūḍāmaṇi in the śāstra s. Other (now lost) works attributed to his name include the Pārijātaharaṇa, Vivaraṇasāra, Satyāprīṇana, and Sāhityasarvasva.


samudbhūtasthūlastanabharam uraś cāru hasitaṃ kaṭākṣe kandarpaḥ kusumitakadambadyutivapuḥ | harasya tvadbhrāntiṃ manasi janayām āsa madano bhavatyā ye bhaktāḥ pariṇatir amīṣām iyam ume ||


samudbhūtasthūlastanabharam uraś cāruhasitaṃ kaṭākṣe kandarpāḥ katicanakadambadyutivapuḥ | harasya tvadbhrāntiṃ manasi janayantaḥ samayino bhavatyā ye bhaktāḥ pariṇatir amīṣām iyam ume ||


Lakṣmīdhara appears to have spent his early years at the court of Gajapati Pratāparudra in Orissa, shifting later to the Vijayanagara court of Kṛṣṇadevarāya after the latter’s defeat of the former, presumably circulating his Saundaryalaharī commentary among southern intellectual circles at this time. See Gode (1944).


Take, for instance, the Śaiva Siddhānta distinction between samaya dīkṣā, the first level of initiation, through which initiates are bound to adopt a certain samaya, or code of conduct, beyond that of external social convention, and nirvāṇa dīkṣā, a higher level of initiation that grants access to a more sophisticated soteriological technology.


The pañcamakāra s, a list of five traditionally impure substances that each begin with the letter mmadya (wine), māṃsa (meat), matsya (fish), mudrā (typically translated as “parched grain”), and maithun a (sexual intercourse)—is a common trope in many Tantric traditions.


The only other author identified as closely conforming to Lakṣmīdhara’s views is one Rāmānanda, who composed commentaries on the Tripurā Upaniṣad and Tripurātāpinī Upaniṣad. See Brooks (1992a, 221n64). Rāmānanda likely postdates our generation of Smārta-Śaiva intellectuals, as none show any awareness of either of these Upaniṣads.


A number of additional structural phrases, such as “atra idam anusandheyaṃ” and “X-tamaśloka-vyākhyānāvasare vakṣyate,” also appear quite regularly in both commentaries.


paśupatipāñcarātragaṇanāthakumāraśivāgamair mahitaḥ | viśvajidādikratukṛt sa ratnakheṭādhvaripuṅgavo jayati || śrī śrīnivāsamakhinas tasya putra mahāyaśāḥ | kāmākṣītanayaḥ śrīmān ardhanārīśvaraḥ sudhīḥ || tasmād adhītya śāstrāṇi pitus sarvāṇi sadguroḥ |ambasatavasya vyākhyānaṃ kurute gurusammatam ||... śrīśaṅkarācāryakṛtau prabandhau saubhāgyavidyāsubhagodayākhyau | punaḥ punaḥ sādhu vicintya buddhyā tadadhvanā ‘haṃ karavai nibandham ||


No text has yet been located bearing the name Saubhāgyavidyā. A number of Śrīvidyā works have been given the title “Subhagodaya” over the centuries, including a Subhagodayastuti attributed to Gauḍapāda, believed to have been the “grand-guru” of Śaṅkarācārya, and a much older work attributed to the Kashmiri Śrīvidyā theologian Śivānanda, cited by Amṛtānandanātha in his Dīpikā on the Nityāṣoḍaśikārṇava and Maheśvara in his Mahārthamañjarīparimala.


Ś A 1.57–62, 64. guror govindapādasya guṇarāśer anujñayā | viṣṇor nāmnāṃ sahasrasya vyatānīd bhāṣyam āditaḥ || mantrāgamamahāmbodhiṃ mathitvā buddhimanthataḥ | prapañcasārapramukhaprabandhāmṛtam ādade || saubhāgyavidyām api tāṃ subhagodayapaddhatim | nirmame mantraśāstrārthanikṣepamaṇipeṭike || saguṇabrahmabodhaikasaktān mandādhikāriṇaḥ | anugṛhṇann athātānīd asau hariharastutīḥ || atantanīt prakaraṇāny advaitātmaparāṇi saḥ | saundaryalaharīmukhyāḥ stutīr api paraḥ śatāḥ || karatalakalitādvayātmatattvaṃ kṣapitadurantacirantanapramoham | upacitam uditoditair guṇaughair upaniṣadām ayam ujjahāra bhāṣyam || sa dvādaśe vayasi tatra samādhiniṣṭhair brahmarṣibhiḥ śrutiśiro bahudhā vicārya | śrīvyāsadeśikaśikhāmaṇisūtrarāśo bhavyaṃ gabhīramadhuraṃ phaṇati sma bhāṣyam |


Lakṣmīdhara, commentary on the Saundaryalaharī (LDh), v. 1: iha khalu śaṅkarabhagavatpūjyapādāḥ samayamatatattvavedinaḥ samayākhyāṃ candrakalāṃ ślokaśatena prastuvanti.


The attribution of a Saubhāgyacintāmaṇi to Śaṅkarācārya is not attested elsewhere, to my knowledge. Another Śrīvidyā work titled the Saubhāgyacintāmaṇi, apparently distinct from the one quoted by Ardhanārīśvara Dīkṣita, is attributed to the sage Durvāsas and plays a central role in the liturgy of the Kāmākṣī temple in Kanchipuram.


None of these texts appear to be extant today, although the names Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā and Sanatkumārasamhitā have been claimed by other works, including a treatise on astronomy; a text titled the Sanatkumārasaṃhitā belongs to the corpus of Pañcarātra Āgama. That Rājacūḍāmaṇi Dīkṣita, as well, accepts the set of five Saṃhitās as authoritative is suggested in his Śaṅkarābhyudaya: sanakasanandanadhyeyā ghanakabarī bhātu śailarājasutā (v. 7.78).


LDh, v. 39, pgs. 77–78. śūdrāṇāṃ catuḥṣaṣṭhitantreṣv adhikāraḥ | evam adhikārabhedam ajānānāḥ amīmāṃsakāḥ vyāmuhyanti|


LDh, v. 39, pg. 78. śubhāgamapañcake vaidikāgameṇaiva anuṣṭhānakalāpo nirūpitaḥ | ayaṃ śubhāgamapañcakanirūpito mārgaḥ vasiṣṭhasanakaśukasanandanasanatkumāraiḥ pañcabhiḥ munibhiḥ pradarśitaḥ | ayam eva samayācāra iti vyavahriyate | tathaivāsmābhir api śubhāgamapañcakānusāreṇa samayamatam avalambyaiva bhagavatpādamatam anusṛtya vyākhyā racitā |


A metanarrative central to the history of Śākta discourse in general is the steady sublimation, at least in public settings, of overtly Kāpālika-inflected practices often occurring at the same time that a community is engaged in co-opting conceptual and ritual technology integral to these systems, such as formulations of Kuṇḍalinī yoga and the newly conceived role of the ascetic Avadhūta, an unmarked naked ascetic who derives his identity from engaging in such practice. Though debuting in Picumatabrahmayāmala, both of these formulations become mainstays of early modern Brahminical ascetic traditions. Thus for example, references in the Tantras originally intended to allude to the Brahmayāmala’s navākṣarī mantra “Hail to the ferocious female skull bearer!” (hūṃ caṇḍe kāpālini svāhā) are reinscribed as alluding solely to the Purāṇic mantra, associated with the Devī Māhātmya (oṃ aiṃ hṛīṃ klīṃ cāmuṇḍayai vicche), providing a public face for other forms of Śāktism. Close inspection of the scriptural sources of the Kādi invoked by our authors, however, call into question how much of this shift is dissembling, for Kāpālikainflected mantras, as well as deities, continue to be transmitted even in these orthodox sources. See for example Rājacūḍāmaṇi’s invocation of the wine-quaffing Mahākāla and Mahākālī in the next section.


Work remains to be done on the social position of the Devīmāhātmya among North Indian intellectuals of this same period, a number of whom, such as Nagojī Bhaṭṭa, composed commentaries or practical manuals for its recitation (prayogavidhi). In Nepalese Śrīvidyā traditions, and most likely in north India as well, the Devīmāhātmya remained a cornerstone of liturgy even after it had been overshadowed by the Lalitāsahasranāma and associated scriptures in the South.


LDh, p. 16. viyatpūjyatvaṃ dvividhaṃ, daharākāśajaṃ bāhyākāśajaṃ ceti. bāhyākāśajaṃ nāma bāhyākāśāvakāśe pīṭhādau bhūrjapatraśuddhapaṭahemarajatādipaṭṭa le likhitvā samārādhanam. etad eva kaulapūjety āhur vṛddhāḥ. (LDh, v. 41, p. 116). śrīcakrasthitanavayonimadhygatayoniṃ bhūrjahemapaṭṭa-vastrapīṭhādau likhitvā pūrvakaulāḥ pūjayanti.


LDh, v. 41, pg. 122. yad uktaṃ subhagodaye—sūryamaṇḍalamadhyasthāṃ devīṃ tripurasundarīm | pāśāṅkuśa-dhanurbāṇahastāṃ dhyāyet susādhakaḥ || trailokyaṃ mohayed āśu varanārīgaṇair yutam ||... atra samayināṃ bāhyapūjāniṣedhāt sūryamaṇḍalāntargatatvena pūjanaṃ niṣiddham ity āhuḥ tan na.


This hymn seems not to be extant. The concept of a hymn to the goddess’s earrings may reflect the practice in Tamil Śaiva temple culture of installing Śrīcakras in the place of the earrings on the temple mūrti, best exemplified by the case of Akhilāṇḍeśvarī of the Jambukeśvara temple near Srirangam.


For instance, Lakṣmīdhara cites the following verse from the Karṇāvataṃsastuti in support of his claim that Samayins are to worship in the upper cakra s of the body: ājñātmakadvidalapadmagate tadānīṃ vidyunnibhe raviśaśiprayatotkaṭābhe | gaṇḍasthalapratiphalatkaradīpajālakarṇāvataṃsakalike kamalāyatākṣi ||


Ambāstavavyākhyā (ASV): samayināṃ bāhyapūjāyāḥ niṣiddhatvād antar eva pūjā kartavyā... subhagodaye kaulaśikṣāpaṭale—bāhyapūjāratāḥ kecit pāṣaṇḍā vedaninditāḥ | kaulāḥ kāpālikā mūlam āgamair avidhānataḥ || niṣiddhācaraṇāt pātaḥ teṣām iti hi me matam | tasmāt pīṭhārcanādīni vaidikānāṃ na vidyate || antaḥpūjāratāḥ santo vasiṣṭhasanakādayaḥ | vāñchitāṃ siddhim āpannās tasmād adhikam āntaram || atha cet karṣaṇādīni pratiṣṭhādīni cāgamaiḥ | ātharvaṇair athoktāni bādhitārthāni tāni kim || satyaṃ tāni tathoktāni svādhikārānuguṇyataḥ | mumukṣūṇāṃ na tatrāsti kiṃ pūjāyām adhikriyā || tasmāt samayinām antaścakreṣv evārcanādikam |


Even more tellingly, we meet with a number of striking rhetorical similarities between Ardhanārīśvara’s improved Subhagodaya and the prose of Lakṣmīdhara’s commentary. Take, for instance, the imagined opponent in the above passage, who questions the place of non-Smārta ritual procedures within the corpus of orthodox scripture, particularly rituals of ground preparation (karṣaṇa) and the installation of deities (pratiṣṭhā): “Now, if one objects that rituals for ground preparation, installation of deities, and so forth, as described by the Āgamas and Atharvaṇas, would be prohibited...” This very subject matter is raised by Lakṣmīdhara himself while delimiting the scriptures suitable for Samayin Śrīvidyā adepts, mentioning karṣaṇa and pratiṣṭhā specifically by name. Thus, not only does the seventeenth-century Subhagodaya explicitly and vehemently promote Lakṣmīdhara’s notions of Samaya orthodoxy, but it also recycles language from disparate locations in his commentary. Evidently, the redactor of the Subhagodaya was quite familiar with Lakṣmīdhara’s work and eager to respond to the more contentious points he raised.

Procedures for karṣaṇa rituals are a particular feature of South Indian Śaiva Siddhānta Āgama, a fact that Lakṣmīdhara as well seems to have noted, given that he attributes these procedures in particular to the Vātula, Vātulottara, and Kāmika Āgamas: LDh, v. 21, p. 76. vātulaṃ, vātulottaraṃ, kāmikaṃ ca tantratrayaṃ karṣaṇādipratiṣṭhāntavidhipratipāda kam. tasmin tantratraye karṣaṇādipratiṣṭhāntā vidhayaḥ ekadeśe pratipāditāḥ | sa caikadeśo vaidikamārga eva. avasiṣṭhas tu avaidikaḥ.


ASV: śāktāḥ prathamo dvividhā. kaulāḥ samayinaś ceti. tatra kaulā dvividhāḥ. pūrvakaulā uttarakaulāś ceti. tatrāpi pūrvakaulās trividhā. mūlādhāraniṣṭhāḥ svādhiṣṭhānaniṣṭhā ubhayaniṣṭhāś ceti. uttarakaulās tu caturvidhāḥ mātaṅgīvārāhībagalamukhībhairavītantrasthāḥ. tad uktaṃ subhagodaye kālībhaṅgapaṭale—mūlādhāre svādhiṣṭhāne ca bhajanti kecaneśinīm | anyatarasmiṃs cānye tenaite pūrvakaulās trividhāḥ || mātaṅgīvārāhīkālāmukhībhairavītantrāntarasthitāḥ | āntarapūjārahitā uttarakaulāś caturvidhāḥ jñeyāḥ || eteṣāṃ saptavidhānāṃ kaulānāṃ vigītācārāṇāṃ smaraṇam api pratyavāyahetuḥ kiṃ punas teṣām ācārapradarśanaṃ. ataḥ prakṛtānupayuktatvāc ca nātra vistaraḥ kriyate.


Lakṣmīdhara glosses Saundaryalaharī v. 34 as an encoded representation of the doctrine of the Pūrva Kaulas, and v. 35 as that of the Uttara Kaulas.


samayinas tu caturvidhāḥ. bahiḥsvarṇādiracitacakravigrahādiṣu vaidikena vidhānenārcanaratāḥ, antarbahiścārcanaratāḥ, antar evārcanaratāḥ, arcanarahitāś ceti. atra ye asaṃjātayogābhyāsāḥ sādhakās te cakravigrahādau devīṃ vaidikair vidhānair ārādhayanti, ye tv īṣajjātayogasiddhayas te ‘ntarbahiś ca pūjayanti, ye tu siddhayogās te ‘ntar eva devīm arcayanti, ye tu prāptacittaśuddhayas teṣāṃ pūjāprakāraś ca pūrvam eva pratipāditaḥ.


This Śrīcakra is said to have been in possession of the family in Nīlakaṇṭha’s agrahāra in Palamadai near Tirunelveli until about two decades ago, at which point it was donated to the personal pūjā of Jagadguru Bhāratī Tīrtha of Sringeri. When I visited Sringeri in August of 2011, I was able to observe the Gaṇeśa and śivaliṅga also pictured in this photo on the Jagadguru’s public pūjā, but I was not permitted to see the Śrīcakra. This is unfortunate, as a great deal could be learned from the iconographic features of the Śrīcakra were a more precise image available.


ASV: iha khalu kālidāso mahākaviḥ sarvamaṅgalāprasādalabdhasarvavidyādhi pa tyas tām eva sarvamaṅgalām ekatrimśatā ślokair abhiṣṭauti. ASV: atha “ekatvam anekās tāḥ śaktayo yānty upādhitaḥ” ity uktarītyā layādinā śaktīnām abhedaṃ pratipādayan svasya kālidāsatvāt svābhimatāṃ kālīmūrtim abhiṣṭauti.


Ś LA 1.3: stanyena kaścit kavayāmbabhūva tāmbūlasāreṇa paro jananyāḥ | ahaṃ tato ‘py unnatim āptukāmaḥ seve tato ‘py unnatam akṣikoṇam || Nīlakaṇṭha here puns on the words unnati and unnata, suggesting that he will obtain even greater literary aptitude by worshipping the corners of the goddess’s eyes, which are spatially elevated above her breasts and mouth. Ñānacampantar is famously said to have been breast-fed by Pārvatī as a young child when he wandered away from his parents while on pilgrimage, and Mūkakavi, as his name suggests, is believed to have been deaf and dumb before partaking of the tāmbūla spittle of the goddess. Little is known about the historical persona of Mūkakavi or about the origin the Mūkapañcaśati attributed to him, a set of five centuries on the goddess widely read in Tamil Nadu even today but rarely circulating in other regions.

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