Hinduism

by Pathmarajah Nagalingam

 

Chapter 2

 

 

Agamas versus Vedas

Agamas and Siddhanta, a subject that has been much neglected or marginalized or obscured - and in a systematic manner - in much of the popular and scholarly discourse on Hinduism in the English language, where a depth of understanding that has surprisingly eluded and continues to elude hundreds of other scholars.

The agamas are written in the sanskrit language but in the tamil script grantham. One must know both sanskrit and tamil to read the agamas. This excludes most non tamils. This may explain why the agamas were not read outside of south India. Imagine the shastras of 95% of Hindus can only be read by the tamil speakers. So the rest of the Hindus turn to the vedas, upanishads, puranas and itihasas as it is in devanagiri, and their view of Hinduism is reflected through that prism. This sums up our Hindu scholars who for the last two hundred years have presented a distorted and lopsided view of Hinduism which the masses, especially the english educated, just swallowed. Most of the published books on Hinduism and itihasas have to be set aside, just to get a proper perspective of Hinduism today.

The agamas have their own philosophy that overrides the vedas and upanishads. It deals with worship and siddhanta philosophy, not societal relationships. The agamas don't deal with samhitas as the vedas has already comprehensively dealt with it. Additionally the agama being samhita free enables any bakti hymns to be incorporated in worship rituals. Besides, agama rituals does not require any samhitas as agama worship (murthis, mantras and mudras) is comprehensive and complete as it is. Samhitas, music and temple dancing are ancilliary and may be dispensed with.

The Pancaratras as practiced by Vaisnavas and expounded in the Narayaniya are Agamic. The Pancaratra agama, for example, acknowledges the existence of varnas and maybe shows respect to the Vedic tradition, but then it goes and replaces all the Vedic rituals with non-caste-based rites! The Pancaratras of the Narayaniya stress the equality of all and do not advocate svadharma. If not for the importance given to svadharma and varnashramadharma, the Gita would be mostly Pancaratra/Agamic. (Dr. Paul Kekai Manasala)

Here are some quotes about the origins of the vedas and agamas taken from the Tirumantiram (circa 200BCE).

GREATNESS OF VEDAS


51: Vedas Proclaim Dharma
No Dharma is, barring what the Vedas say;
Its central core the Vedas proclaim;
And the Wise ones ceased contentious brawls,
Intoned the lofty strains and Freedom's battle won.

52: Truth Of Maker
Brahma spoke the Vedas, but Himself not the goal supreme;
He spoke the Vedas only the great Maker (Siva) to reveal;
He spoke them for the Holy sacrifices to perform,
He spoke them, the True One to manifest.

53: Moving Mood
In the beauteous Veda, aptly named the Rig,
As the moving mood behind, He (Siva) stood;
In the trembling chant of the Vedic priests He stood,
Himself the Eye of vision Central.

54: Supreme Path
The Holy Path is naught but the Path Supreme,
Who muse on the Lord, Himself the Path Supreme,
As Material-Immaterial, as Guru Divine,
They reach Siva's Pure Path-so Vedantas all declare.

55: One In Several
Of the One, the Vedas chant in divisions six,
The One who yet in parts divisible does not be,
As divided parts they swam into their ken,
Then upgathered and swelled into the patterned whole.

56: Vedic Sacrifices
Uncaught in the world's web of woman, song and dance,
Such alone seek the holy sacrifice to perform;
But the unpracticed in austerities do but reach
Desire's Abode, misery to find.

THE GREATNESS OF THE AGAMAS

57: Agamas From The Fifth Face Of Siva
The Lord that consorts the blue-hued One
Has the Agamas twenty-five and three;
Bowing low, the six and sixty sought
The Fifth-Faced One the Agamas' deep import to expound.

58: Agamas Innumerable
The Sivagamas the Lord by Grace revealed;
In number a billion-million-twenty-eight
In them the Celestials the Lord's greatness gloried;
Him, I too shall muse and praise.

59: Agamic Truths In 18 Languages
In eighteen various tongues they speak
The thoughts which Pandits alone know;
The Pandits' tongues numbering ten and eight
Are but what the Primal Lord declared.

60: Agamas Deep In Content
The Agamas, the Lord by Grace revealed,
Deep and baffling even to the Gods in Heaven;
Seventy billion-millions though they be;
Like writing on the waters, eluding grasp.

61: Agamas Revealed
The Infinite revealing the Infinite Vast
Came down to earth, Siva's Dharma to proclaim,
The immortals, then, Him as Nandi adored,
And He stood forth the Agamas articulating.

62: Agamas Transmitted
From Siva the Infinite to Shakti and Sadasiva,
To Maheswara the Joyous, to Rudra Dev and Brahmisa,
So in succession unto Himself from Himself,
The nine Agamas our Nandi begot.

63: Nine Agamas
The Agamas so received are Karanam, Kamigam,
The Veeram good, the Sindam high and Vadulam,
Vyamalam the other, and Kalottaram,
The Subram pure and Makutam to crown.

64: Import Of Agamas
Numberless the Sivagamas composed,
The Lord by His Grace revealed;
Yet they know not the wisdom He taught;
Like writing on water, the unnumbered fade.

65: Revealed Alike In Sanskrit and Tamil
Devoid alike of rain and summer's gift of dew
Even the flashing lake had lost it's vernal bloom
Then did He in Sanskrit and Tamil at once,
Reveal the rich treasure of His Compassion to our Lady Great (Uma).

66: Key To Mystery Of Life
Life takes its birth, stands preserved awhile,
And then its departure takes; caught
In that momentary wave of flux, Him we glimpse,
The Lord who in Tamil sweet and northern tongue

Life's mystery revealed.

 

Here are excerpts from a book by a german scholar published in 1912.

Agamas versus Vedas: The Seeking for God
Macrocosm vs Microcosm

SAIVA SIDDHANTA: An Indian School of Mystical Thought

by H.W. Schomerus, translated by Mary Law(2000, 1979)
First Published in 1912 under the German title ‘Der Saiv Siddhanta’


Excerpts:

Do most Saivites base their thinking and feeling and willing on Vedanta, or on Saiva Siddhanta? There is at present no evidence by which to answer this question…….

The author of this book can claim to know only a very small part of the immense store of Indian riches. He has some knowledge of Tamil literature, but not of other non-Sanskrit writings, as a well-founded judgment would require. So he is in no position to decide whether Vedanta is in fact more influential than Saiva Siddhanta. But he would venture to say that for southern India the influence of Saivite Vedanta has been underrated. He is inclined to the view that Saiva Siddhanta is (at least in Tamil-speaking districts) a better key than Vedanta to an understanding of the Saivite mind……

……Saiva Siddhanta is not a single and definite system of thought, but rather a tendency, within Saivism, which includes several distinct systems of thought; just as we might speak of a Vedantic tendency which includes several systems differing on this point or on that…….. (p.4-5)


The Saivagamas, their Main Authority

Like all orthodox Indian schools, the school of Saiva Siddhanta recognizes the authority of the Vedas, but not as the only authority, or even the most important one. The Saivagamas stand next to the Vedas, or even above them, as their scriptural authority. There is no need for us to survey the Vedic writings, as there is a very substantial literature on this in German. The Saivagamas require a more detailed treatment, so as to explain the origin and significance of the Siddhantin schools……. to enable readers to evaluate the statement that the Saivagamas are a scriptural authority for Saiva Siddhanta.

A full treatment of the Agama literature is unfortunately not possible yet, as so little research has been done on it. There seem to be two reasons for this. From a sixth-century manuscript of the Sutasamhita (part of the Skanda Purana) found by Professor Bendall in Nepal, which discusses the relation of the Vedas to the Agamas, we discover that even at that early time many did not recognize the authority of the Agamas, and indeed were hostile to them. Unlike most works, the Agamas do not emphasise the supremacy of the Brahmins, so the Brahmins may well have opposed them, and
certainly did see to it that they were not widely known. Many Agamas disappeared, either being destroyed or not copied and circulated; and anyone familiar with the influence of Brahmins on Indian literature will readily suppose that their opposition was responsible.

It is notable that in southern India the guardian of the wisdom of the Agamas was and is a Saivite monastery led by non-Brahmins. The unsympathetic attitude of the Brahmins must, then, have been partly responsible for the Agamic literature being largely unknown even today.

But there is another and more important reason. The theological representatives of Saiva Siddhanta believe that
the Agamas, and the Saiva Siddhanta schools based upon them, lead souls to a still higher stage then do the Upanishads and Vedanta; on beyond knowledge to mystical experience. Like most mystics, they think the masses cannot climb that high, or even understand books about it. Only a few elect ones, they think, are capable and worthy of learning what the Agamas teach. According to Indian scholars with an English education, many manuscripts of Agamic works have fallen victim to the fears of monks that these teachings might fall into the hands of the uninitiated. Instead of being read and studied, they have been or will be destroyed by insects, as the monasteries have long ceased to be centres of learning.

A few of the Tamil manuscripts based on the Agamas have now been printed (against opposition) and so made accessible to the public at large. The detailed commentary on the Sivajnanabodha, the most important work of Saiva Siddhanta, was only after long and almost futile efforts allowed to be printed a few years ago, and then only in part (due to ants). A number of manuscripts that can give valuable information about the Agamas and about the systems built on them must still lie hidden in the libraries of monasteries, and there is no immediate hope of their being brought into the light of the day……

….. The word
‘Agama’ means ‘What was handed down’, suggesting that we are dealing with an ancient type of literature.

Legend tells that, after the creation of the world, Siva taught the twenty-eight Agamas by Srikantharudra to Nandiperuman. This revelation is supposed to have taken place in Mount Mahendra, i.e. in the Western Ghats, on the border between Travancore and Tinnevelly districts. D. Savariroyan, Secretary of the Tamil Archaeological Sociey, is of the opinion that the Agamas represent the oldest productions of Dravidian literature; that they were written in prehistoric times in the Dravidian (Tamil) tongue, that most of them were lost in the great flood which swept away a large area south of what is now Cape Comorin, the chief settlement of the old Dravidians; and that some part only of the old Agama literature was later translated into Sanskrit, and preserved in that form.

This theory is open to question. Perhaps, it is true in this, that the home of the Agamas is to be looked for in the Dravidian lands i.e. in southern India. From the south, they seem to have made their way to the north, and later returned to the south again, where they helped to expel Buddhism and Jainism, which had taken a hold in those parts. However, even if we grant that the Agama literature sprang from Dravidian sources, we must still admit that it fell very early under the influence of Sanskrit literature. The surviving Agamas, and their derivative writings, are clearly Sanskritic in character; for the Agamas themselves are all in Sanskrit, and those derivative systems which are not written in Sanskrit employ Sanskrit terminology…….. (p.6-8)


Significance of the Agamas

As is already clear,
the Agama literature is closely connected with the Sakta-, Siva-, and Vaishnava-sects, that is, with the sects most important in India. This suggests that the Agamas may open up a perspective on present-day Hinduism, which study of Vedas and Upanisads has failed to provide. And so many modern Indian scholars would claim.

Thus, P.T. Srinivasa Iyengar writes in the Introduction to his Outlines of Indian Philosophy (Theosophical Publishing Soceity, Benares and London, 1909), regarding the importance of the Agamas:

“Although the Hindu honours the Vedas as eternal, and, with much pride, calls himself a Vedantist, and has recently resolved to carry the light of Vedanta to the West, the living relgion of the Indian today is based on the Agamas, that is, on the Saiva, Sakta- and Vaisnavagamas ……..
Although discussion is for preference based on snippets of the Upanishads, the actual opinions and religious beliefs of the Hindu are taken entirely from the Agamas.”

In another part of the book he writes:

“The influence of the Agamas or (as they are more usually known) the tantra has become very deep in Indian life. The living religion of the Hindu of today is essentially tantric, from Cape Comorin as far as the furthest corner of Tibet. Even the few genuine Vedic usages that have survived, and which are thought to stem directly from the Vedas, the Sandhya, have been modified by adding tantric usages. The Agamas also influenced considerably the development of Vedanta philosophy. Samkara was a supporter of the Sakta sects, and his advaita interpretation of Vedanta, though clearly independent of the Sakta Agama, is influenced by tantric theories. And Ramanuja, who on Doctor Thibauts’ view presents a less extreme form of Vedanta, though one closer to the ideas of Badarayana, was a Vaishnavite, and regarded the Vaishnava Agama as an authority, although he seldom cites it in support of his exposition. Madhva stands so much under the influence of the Agamas that his Commentary (on the Vedanta Sutra) is just a catena of Agamic texts, with a few words put in here and there to connect them.”

Swami Vivekananda, the representative of Hinduism at the Congress of Religions in Chicago, gave a similar judgment at a Congress held in Madras:

“As to tantra and its influence, the fact is that apart from the srouta and smarta rites, all other rituals being observed from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin are drawn from the tantra, and they dominate the worship of the Saktas, the Saivites and the Vaishnavites and all the others.”


………. We can’t always be sure that a doctrine found in the Agama schools really came from the Agamas themselves. And where we do find similar teaching in the Upanishads, or in Nyaya, Samkhya, Yoga, etc.,
we still can’t work out which came earlier……..

Vedic religion is mainly magic. The Vedic minstrels sought to placate the gods (who were personifications of natural forces) by offerings of ghee or soma. The sacrifices were cast into the fire, which they regarded as the mouth of the gods, spiced with mantras or magic incantations. Many of the mantras were hymns of praise to the gods, but others were mere sound-combinations with no meaning, or inarticulate sounds ‘like the sound of the bull’……..

Seeking God in the microcosm
versus
Seeking God in the macrocosm


Seeing gods behind the forces of nature, they saw them also behind the spoken mantra and the powers of the soul, and identified these with the forces of nature, and finally gathered them together into Brahma, which the priest understood as the mantra (prayer) and the philosopher read as the soul of man………. This tendency in the literature of ancient India to seek God in the soul (the microcosm), and to worship him there produced the literature of the Upanishads, and reached its classic conclusion in the school of Vedanta, which sought God identifying the soul with God. But not every Indian thinker went looking for God within himself. Many continued to seek him in the macrocosm, his creation; in the forces of nature, which had led to the notion of gods, and to the idea of God. The attempt to understand all Being as a unity…. meant they could not rest content with the forces of nature, as the Vedic singers did, but drove on to seek an ultimate cause behind the many forces of nature, i.e. a natural force from which all the others derived, as from a mother. This one natural force, called Sakti, they then took for God. But as they did not find him there, any more than in the soul, they either took the Sakti as the immanent aspect of a hidden transcendent God (in myth, as the female aspect of divinity), or else just identified it with God. This tendency to seek God in the macrocosm found expression and champion in the Agama literature, and it lived on in the philosophical schools based on them. And it is here that the real significance of the Agama literature is to be found.

Some Indologists are familiar only with the development from Vedas to Upanishads, and look to understand all of Hindu speculation on that basis.
For them Idealism (God in the soul) is the essence of Hinduism, Samkara’s Vedanta is inevitably taken as its classic expression: more they cannot see. But Indian speculation has not all fallen prey to man-defying Idealism, though it is often so represented. Over the last thousand years a great number of sects have developed, sharing one point despite all their differences: they reject out-and-out idealism, and take the macrocosm as their starting-point. Scholars accustomed to tracing all Hindu speculation back to the ideas and initiatives of the Upanishads cannot with the growth of all these sects. Unable to accommodate them as off-shoots of the Upanishads, they treat them as revolts against genuine Hinduism, and brand them as apostate; or else trace them back to non-Indian and even to Christian influences. But this whole puzzle about the development of these anti-Vedantic, (no, anti-idealistic) sects and schools disappears once we bring the Agama literature to bear on our study of Indian thought……. (p.13-17)


HILEO WIARDO SCHOMERUS (1879 – 1945) was Professor of Religions and Mission Studies at Halle University.

 

 

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