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The Agamas are a collection of Sanskrit and Tamil (written in Grantha script and Tamil script) scriptures chiefly constituting the methods of temple construction and creation of murti, worship means of deities, philosophical doctrines, meditative practices, attainment of sixfold desires and four kinds of yoga.
The Agamic religions are also called Tantrism, although the term "tantra" is sometimes used specifically to refer to Shakta Agamas. The origin and chronology of Agamic religions remain contentious. The tantras are considered innumerable with various sects. Some popular agama-based religions are those of Shaiva, Vaishnava, Shakta, Ganapatya, Kaumara, Soura, Bhairava, and Yaksha-bhutadi-sadhana. There exist 28 Saiva Agamas, 77 Shakta Agamas and 215 Vaishnava Agamas, and their upa-agamas.
The Agamas are non-vedic in origin  and have been dated either as post-vedic texts  or as pre-vedic compositions. In the Malay language the word Agama literally means 'religion'. Agama traditions have been the sources of Yoga and Self Realization concepts in the Indian subcontinent, including Kundalini Yoga  and encompass traditions of asceticism. Tantrism includes within its fold Buddhist and Jaina tantras suggesting that Hindu, Jaina and Buddhist tantrism developed separately after arising from common sources of Tantric elements. The Agamic tradition, in general, has been dated to the pre-Mauryan period as references to the tradition are found in later vedic literature of Atharvaveda.
The agama tradition is often contrasted with the nigama tradition; the latter possibly a reference to the unchanging vedic tradition. The Hinduism of today is in many way a blending of agama and nigama approaches.
- Saiva Agamas
- Shakta Agamas
- Vaishnava Agamas
- Soura Agamas
- Ganapatya Agamas
- See also
Agama (Sanskrit आगम) is derived from the verb root गम (gam) meaning "to go" and the preposition आ (aa) meaning "toward" and refers to scriptures "that which has come down". It also means "a traditional doctrine, or system which commands faith".
Agamas deal with the philosophy and spiritual knowledge behind the worship of the deity, the yoga and mental discipline required for this worship, and the specifics of worship offered to the deity. The ritualistic pattern of worship in the Agamic religions differ from the Vedic form. While the Vedic form of yajna require no idols and shrines, the Agamic religions are based on idols with puja as means of worship. The Agamic deities are pinned to a specific spot and assume the nature of a territorial deity.
- Kriya pada - consists of rules for construction of temples (Mandir-a); for sculpting, carving, and consecration of idols of deities for worship in temples; for different forms of initiations or diksha.
- Charya pada - lays down rules for daily worship (puja), observances of religious rites, rituals, festivals and prayaschittas.
- Yoga pada - concentrates on yoga and the mental discipline.
- Jnana pada - consists of philosophical and spiritual knowledge, knowledge of reality and liberation.
The Agamas state three essential requirements for a place of pilgrimage - Sthala, Tīrtha and Murthy. Sthala refers to the temple, Tīrtha, to the temple tank and Murthy to the deity(ies) worshipped. A temple may also be associated with a tree, called the Sthala Vriksham. For instance, the Kadamba tree at the Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple is the Sthala Vriksham. A lone banyan tree that adorns the spacious courtyard of the Ratnasabha at Tiruvalankadu is the Sthala Vriksham. The entire area is believed to have been a forest of banyan trees once.
Elaborate rules are laid out in the Agamas for Silpa (the art of sculpture) describing the quality requirements of the places where temples are to be built, the kind of images to be installed, the materials from which they are to be made, their dimensions, proportions, air circulation, lighting in the temple complex etc. The Manasara and Silpasara are some of the works dealing with these rules. The rituals followed in worship services each day at the temple also follow rules laid out in the Agamas.
The Shaiva Agama perceives its texts were generated from Shiva as
|“||Shivena devya datham
Devya dathamthu Nandhine
Nandhina Brahmana Datham
Brahmana Rishi Dhathakam
Rishinaam Maanusha Datham
|“||From Shiva to Devi
From Devi to Nandhi
Saiva Siddhanta and Kashmiri Shaivism
The Saiva Agamas led to the Saiva Siddhanta philosophy in Tamil-speaking regions of South-India and gave rise to Kashmir Saivism in the North-Indian region of Kashmir.
Kashmiri Saivism is also called the Trika Shastra. It centers mainly on the Trika system of mAlinI, siddha and nAmaka Agamas and venerates the triad Shiva, Shakti, Nara (the bound soul) and the union of Shiva with Shakti. The trika philosophy derives its name from the three shaktis, namely, parA, aparA and parApara; and provides three modes of knowledge of reality, that is, non-dual (abheda), non-dual-cum-dual (bhedabheda) and dual (bheda). The literature of Kashmiri Shaivism is divided under three categories—Agama shastra, Spanda shastra and Pratyabhijna shastra. Although the Trika Shastra in the form of Agama Shastra is said to have existed eternally, the founder of the system is considered Vasugupta (850 AD) to whom the Shiva Sutras were revealed. Kallata in Spanda-vritti and Kshemaraja in his commentary Vimarshini state Shiva revealed the secret doctrines to Vasugupta while Bhaskara in his Varttika says a Siddha revealed the doctrines to Vasugupta in a dream.
The Shakta Agamas or Shakta tantras are 64 in number and grouped into Dakshina marga (right-hand) and Vama marga (left-hand).
The Vaishnava Agamas are found into two main schools -- Pancharatra and Vaikhanasas. While Vaikhanasa Agamas were transmitted from Vikhanasa Rishi to his disciples Brighu, Marichi, Atri and Kashyapa, the Pancharatra Agamas are considered to be revealed and handed down in three ways --
- divya, directly revealed by Lord Narayana,
- Munibhaashita, handed down to sages such as Bharadvajasamhita, Parameshvarasamhita, etc.,
- Aaptamanujaprokta, those written by men whose word is trustworthy.
See main article Vaikhanasa
Maharishi Vikhanasa is considered to have guided in the compilation of a set of Agamas named vaikhānasa Agama. Sage Vikhanasa is conceptualized as a mind-born creation, i.e., Maanaseeka Utbhavar of Lord Narayana. Originally Vikhanasa passed on the knowledge to nine disciples in the first manvantara -- Atri, Bhrigu, Marichi, Kashyapa, Vasishta, Pulaha, Pulasthya, Krathu and Angiras. However, only those of Bhrigu, Marichi, Kashyapa and Atri are extant today. The four rishis are said to have received the cult and knowledge of Vishnu from the first Vikahansa, i.e., the older Brahma in the Svayambhuva Manvanthara. Thus, the four sages Atri, Bhrigu, Marichi, Kashyapa, are considered the propagators of vaikhānasa śāstra. A composition of Sage Vikhanasa's disciple Marichi, namely, Ananda-Samhita states Vikhanasa prepared the Vaikhanasa Sutra according to a branch of Yajurveda and was Brahma himself.
However, ānanda saṃhitā attributes ten works to Bhrigu, namely, khila, khilādhikāra, purādhikāra, vāsādhikāraṇa, arcanādhikaraṇa, mānādhikaraṇa, kriyādhikāra, niruktādhikāra, prakīrṇādhikāra, yajnādhikāra.
- jaya saṃhitā
- ānanda saṃhitā
- saṃjnāna saṃhitā
- vīra saṃhitā
- vijaya saṃhitā
- vijita saṃhitā
- vimala saṃhitā
- jnāna saṃhitā
However, ānanda saṃhitā attributes the following works to Marichi—jaya saṃhitā, ānanda saṃhitā, saṃjnāna saṃhitā, vīra saṃhitā, vijaya saṃhitā, vijita saṃhitā, vimala saṃhitā, kalpa saṃhitā.
However, ānanda saṃhitā attributes the satyakāṇḍa, karmakāṇḍa and jnānakāṇḍa to Kashyapa.
However, ānanda saṃhitā attributes the pūrvatantra, viṣṇutantra, uttaratantra and mahātantra to Atri.
See main article: Pañcaratra
Like the Vaikhanasa Agama, the Pancharatra Agama is centered around the worship of Lord Vishnu. While the Vaikhansa deals primarily with Vaidhi Bhakti, the Pancaratra Agama teaches both vaidhi and rAgAnugA bhakti.
The Soura or Saura Agamas comprise one of the six popular agama-based religions of Shaiva, Vaishnava, Shakta, Ganapatya, Kaumara and Soura. The Saura Tantras are dedicated to the sun (Surya) and Soura Agamas are in use in temples of Sun worship. One of the earliest agamic texts of Jains, the Jaina Souraseni, is said to have derived from the Soura tantric element.
The Paramanada Tantra mentions the number of sectarian tantras as 6000 for Vaishnava, 10000 for Shaiva, 100000 for Shakta, 1000 for Ganapatya, 2000 for Saura, 7000 for Bhairava, and 2000 for Yaksha-bhutadi-sadhana.
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