Āgama (Hinduism)

For other uses of the term Agama, see Agama.

The Agamas (Sanskrit: आगम) are a collection of scriptures of several Hindu devotional schools.[1][2] The term literally means tradition or "that which has come down", and the Agama texts describe cosmology, epistemology, philosophical doctrines, precepts on meditation and practices, four kinds of yoga, mantras, temple construction, deity worship and ways to attain sixfold desires.[1][3] These canonical texts are in Sanskrit[1] and in south Indian languages such as Tamil (written in Grantha script and Tamil script).[4][5]

The three main branches of Agama texts are those of Shaivism (Shiva), Vaishnavism (Vishnu), Shaktism (Devi).[1] The Agamic traditions are sometimes called Tantrism,[6] although the term "Tantra" is usually used specifically to refer to Shakta Agamas.[7][8] The Agama literature is voluminous, and includes 28 Saiva Agamas, 77 Shakta Agamas (also called Tantras), and 108 Vaishnava Agamas (also called Pancharatra Samhitas), and numerous Upa-Agamas.[9]

The origin and chronology of Agamas is unclear. Some are Vedic and others non-Vedic.[10] Agama traditions include Yoga and Self Realization concepts, some include Kundalini Yoga,[11] asceticism, and philosophies ranging from Dvaita (dualism) to Advaita (monism).[12][13] Some suggest that these are post-Vedic texts, others as pre-Vedic compositions.[14][15][16] Epigraphical and archaeological evidence suggests that Agama texts were in existence by about middle of the 1st millennium CE, in Pallava dynasty era.[17][18]

Scholars note that some passages in the Hindu Agama texts appear to repudiate the authority of the Vedas, while other passages assert that their precepts reveal the true spirit of the Vedas.[2][19][20] The Agamas literary genre is also found in Buddhist and Jaina traditions.[21][22] Bali Hindu tradition is officially called Agama Hindu Dharma in Indonesia.[23]

Etymology and nomenclature

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".[1]

Agama literally means "tradition",[1] and refers to precepts and doctrines that have come down as tradition.[8] Agama, states Dhavamony, is also a "generic name of religious texts which are at the basis of Hinduism and which are divided into Vaishnava Agamas (also called Pancaratra Samhitas), Saiva Agamas, and Sakta Agamas (more often called Tantras).[8]


Developing physical and mental discipline with Yoga is one of four recommendations in Agama texts.[12] Above a Yoga posture statue from Kashmir, India, a center of monistic Agama texts.

Agamas, states Rajeshwari Ghose, teach a system of spirituality involving ritual worship and ethical personal conduct through a precepts of a god.[24] The means 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.[24] Symbols, icons and temples are a necessary part of the Agamic practice, while non-theistic paths are alternative means of Vedic practice.[24] Action and will drives Agama precepts, while knowledge is salvation in Vedic precepts.[24] This, however, does not necessarily mean that Agamas and Vedas are opposed, according to medieval era Hindu theologians. Tirumular, for example, explained their link as, "the Vedas are the path, and the Agamas are the horse".[24][25]

Each Agama consists of four parts:[12][24]

  • Jnana pada , also called Vidya pada[12] – consists of doctrine, the philosophical and spiritual knowledge, knowledge of reality and liberation.
  • Yoga pada - precepts on yoga, the physical and mental discipline.
  • Kriya pada - consists of rules for rituals, construction of temples (Mandir); design principles for sculpting, carving, and consecration of idols of deities for worship in temples;[26] for different forms of initiations or diksha. This code is analogous to those in Puranas and in the Buddhist text of Sadhanamala.[12]
  • Charya pada - lays down rules of conduct, of worship (puja), observances of religious rites, rituals, festivals and prayaschittas.

The Agamas state three requirements for a place of pilgrimage - Sthala, Tirtha and Murti. Sthala refers to the place of the temple, Tīrtha is the temple tank, and Murti refers to the image of god (usually an idol of a deity).[citation needed]

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.[26] 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.


Temple design (Shore temple) and iconography such as the Nataraja (Dancing Shiva) are described in the Agama texts.[27][26]

The Agama texts of Hinduism present a diverse range of philosophies, ranging from theistic dualism to absolute monism.[13][28] This diversity of views was acknowledged in Chapter 36 of Tantraloka, the 10th century scholar Abhinavagupta.[13] In Shaivism alone, there are ten dualistic (dvaita) Agama texts, eighteen qualified monism-cum-dualism (bhedabheda) Agama texts and sixty four monism (advaita) Agama texts.[29] The Bhairava Shastras are monistic, while Shiva Shastras are dualistic.[30][31]

A similar breadth of diverse views is present in Vaishnava Agamas as well. The Agama texts of Shaiva and Vaishnava schools are premised on existence of Atman (soul, self) and the existence of an Ultimate Reality (Brahman – called Shiva in Shaivism, and Vishnu in Vaishnavism).[32] The texts differ in the relation between the two. Some assert the dualistic philosophy of the individual soul and Ultimate Reality being different, while others state a Oneness between the two.[32] Kashmir Shaiva Agamas posit absolute oneness, that is God (Shiva) is within man, God is within every being, God is present everywhere in the world including all non-living being, and there is no spiritual difference between life, matter, man and God. The parallel group among Vaishnavas are the Shuddhadvaitins (pure Advaitins).[32]

Scholars from both schools have written treatises ranging from dualism to monism. For example, Shivagrayogin has emphasized the non-difference or unity of being (between the Atman and Shivam), which is realized through stages which include rituals, conduct, personal discipline and the insight of spiritual knowledge.[33] This bears a striking similarity, states Soni, to Shankara, Madhva and Ramanujan Vedantic discussions.[33]

Relation to the Vedas and Upanishads

Main articles: Vedas and Upanishads

The Vedas and Upanishads are common scriptures of Hinduism, states Dhavamony, while the Agamas are sacred texts of specific sects of Hinduism.[8] The surviving Vedic literature can be traced to the 1st millennium BCE and earlier, while the surviving Agamas can be traced to 1st millennium of the common era.[8] The Vedic literature, in Shaivism, is primary and general, while Agamas are special treatise. In terms of philosophy and spiritual precepts, no Agama that goes against the Vedic literature, states Dhavamony, will be acceptable to the Shaivas.[8] Similarly, the Vaishnavas treat the Vedas along with the Bhagavad Gita as the main scripture, and the Samhitas (Agamas) as exegetical and exposition of the philosophy and spiritual precepts therein.[8] The Shaktas have a similar reverence for the Vedic literature and view the Tantras (Agamas) as the fifth Veda.[8]

The heritage of the Agamas, states Krishna Sivaraman, was the "Vedic peity maturing in the monism of the Upanishads presenting the ultimate spiritual reality as Brahman and the way to realizing as portrayed in the Gita".[34] David Smith remarks, that "a key feature of the Tamil Saiva Siddhanta, one might almost say its defining feature, is the claim that its source lies in the Vedas as well as the Agamas, in what it calls the Vedagamas".[35] This school's view can be summed as,

The Veda is the cow, the true Agama its milk.

— Umapati, Translated by David Smith[35]


Saiva Agamas

The Shaiva Agama traces its origins from Shiva as,

Shivena devya datham, Devya dathamthu Nandhine, Nandhina Brahmana Datham, Brahmana Rishi Dhathakam, Rishinaam Maanusha Datham, Athyethe agamodhbavam

From Shiva to Devi, From Devi to Nandhi, From Nandhi to Brahma, From Brahma to Rishi, From Rishi to human beings

— Shaiva Agama,[citation needed]

The Saiva Agamas are found in four main schools - Kapala, Kalamukha, Pashupata and Saiva—and number 28 in total as follows:

  1. Kamikam
  2. Yogajam
  3. Chintyam
  4. Karanam
  5. Ajitham
  6. Deeptham
  7. Sukskmam
  8. Sahasram
  9. Ashuman
  10. Suprabedham
  11. Vijayam
  12. Nishwasam
  13. Swayambhuvam
  14. Analam
  15. Veeram
  16. Rouravam
  17. Makutam
  18. Vimalam
  19. Chandragnanam
  20. Bimbam
  21. Prodgeetham
  22. Lalitham
  23. Sidham
  24. Santhanam
  25. Sarvoktham
  26. Parameshwaram
  27. Kiranam
  28. Vathulam
Parts of the Nihsvasatattvasamhita manuscript from Nepal, reproduced in 1912 from a palm-leaf original, linking Shaiva Agama to esoteric Tantra.[36]

Saiva Siddhanta

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 Shaivism

The Agamas of Kashmiri Saivism is also called the Trika Shastra.[37] 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.[38] 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.[38] 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.[37][38] 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.[37]

Shakta Agamas

The Shakta Agamas deploy Shiva and Shakti, and a unified view as the foundation for spiritual knowledge.

The Shakta Agamas are commonly known as Tantras,[8][9] and they are imbued with reverence for the feminine, representing goddess as the focus and treating the female as equal and essential part of the cosmic existence.[39] The feminine Shakti (literally, energy and power) concept is found in the Vedic literature, but it flowers into extensive textual details only in the Shakta Agamas. These texts emphasize the feminine as the creative aspect of a male divinity, cosmogonic power and all pervasive divine essence. The theosophy, states Rita Sherma, presents the masculine and feminine principle in a "state of primordial, transcendent, blissful unity".[39] The feminine is the will, the knowing and the activity, she is not only the matrix of creation, she is creation. Unified with the male principle, in these Hindu sect's Tantra texts, the female is the Absolute.[39]

The Shakta Agamas are related to the Shaiva Agamas, with their respective focus on Shakti with Shiva in Shakta Tantra and on Shiva in Shaiva texts.[39] DasGupta states that the Shiva and Shakti are "two aspects of the same truth – static and dynamic, transcendent and immanent, male and female", and neither is real without the other, Shiva's dynamic power is Shakti and she has no existence without him, she is the highest truth and he the manifested essence.[39]

The Shakta Agamas or Shakta tantras are 64 in number.[9] Some of the older Tantra texts in this genre are called Yamalas, which literally denotes, states Teun Goudriaan, the "primeval blissful state of non-duality of Shiva and Shakti, the ultimate goal for the Tantric Sadhaka".[40]

Vaishnava Agamas

Main article: Pancharatra

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 classified into three: Divya (from Vishnu), Munibhaashita (from Muni, sages), and Aaptamanujaprokta (from writings of trustworthy men).[1]

Vaikhanasa Agama

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.[41] 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.[41]

The extant texts of vaikhānasa Agama number 28 in total and are known from the texts, vimānārcakakalpa and ānanda saṃhitā, both composed by marīci which enumerate them. They are:[42][43]

The 13 Adhikaras authored by Bhrigu are khilatantra, purātantra, vāsādhikāra, citrādhikāra, mānādhikāra, kriyādhikāra, arcanādhikāra, yajnādhikāra, varṇādhikāra, prakīrṇādhikāra, pratigṛhyādhikāra, niruktādhikāra, khilādhikāra. However, ānanda saṃhitā attributes ten works to Bhrigu, namely, khila, khilādhikāra, purādhikāra, vāsādhikāraṇa, arcanādhikaraṇa, mānādhikaraṇa, kriyādhikāra, niruktādhikāra, prakīrṇādhikāra, yajnādhikāra.[citation needed]

The 8 Samhitas authored by Mareechi are Jaya saṃhitā, Ananda 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.[citation needed]

The 3 Kandas authored by Kashyapa are Satyakāṇḍa, Tarkakāṇḍa, Jnānakāṇḍa. However, Ananda Saṃhitā attributes the satyakāṇḍa, karmakāṇḍa and jnānakāṇḍa to Kashyapa.[citation needed]

The 4 tantras authored by Atri are Pūrvatantra, Atreyatantra, Viṣṇutantra, Uttaratantra.[citation needed] However, Ananda Saṃhitā attributes the pūrvatantra, viṣṇutantra, uttaratantra and mahātantra to Atri.[citation needed]

Pancharatra Agama

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.[44]

Soura Agamas

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.

Ganapatya Agamas

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.[7]

History and chronology

The chronology and history of Agama texts is unclear.[18] The surviving Agama texts were likely composed in the 1st millennium CE, likely existed by the 5th century CE.[18] However, scholars such as Ramanan refer to the archaic prosody and linguistic evidence to assert that the beginning of the Agama literature goes back to about 5th century BCE, in the decades after the death of Buddha.[8][18]

Temple and archaeological inscriptions, as well as textual evidence, suggest that the Agama texts were in existence by 7th century in Pallava dynasty era.[17] However, Richard Davis notes that the ancient Agamas "are not necessarily the Agamas that survive in modern times". The texts have gone through revision over time.[17]

See also


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  2. ^ a b Julius Lipner (2004), Hinduism: the way of the banyan, in The Hindu World (Editors: Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby), Routledge, ISBN 0–415215277, pages 27-28
  3. ^ Mariasusai Dhavamony (2002), Hindu-Christian Dialogue, Rodopi, ISBN 978-9042015104, pages 54-56
  4. ^ Indira Peterson (1992), Poems to Siva: The Hymns of the Tamil Saints, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-8120807846, pages 11-18
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  10. ^ PT Raju (2009), The Philosophical Traditions of India, Routledge, ISBN 978-8120809833, page 45; Quote: The word Agama means 'coming down', and the literature is that of traditions, which are mixtures of the Vedic with some non-Vedic ones, which were later assimilated to the Vedic.
  11. ^ Singh, L. P. (2010). Tantra, Its Mystic and Scientific Basis, Concept Publishing Company. ISBN 9788180696404
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  13. ^ a b c Richard Davis (2014), Ritual in an Oscillating Universe: Worshipping Siva in Medieval India, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0691603087, page 167 note 21, Quote (page 13): Some agamas argue a monist metaphysics, while others are decidedly dualist. Some claim ritual is the most efficacious means of religious attainment, while others assert that knowledge is more important..
  14. ^ Guy Beck (1993), Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound, University of South Carolina Press, ISBN 978-0872498556, pages 151-152
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  19. ^ For examples of Vaishnavism Agama text verses praising Vedas and philosophy therein, see Sanjukta Gupta (2013), Lakṣmī Tantra: A Pāñcarātra Text, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120817357, pages xxiii-xxiv, 96, 158-159, 219, 340, 353 with footnotes, Quote: "In order not to dislocate the laws of dharma and to maintain the family, to govern the world without disturbance, to establish norms and to gratify me and Vishnu, the God of gods, the wise should not violate the Vedic laws even in thought – The Secret Method of Self-Surrender, Lakshmi Tantra, Pāñcarātra Agama".
  20. ^ For examples in Shaivism literature, see T Isaac Tambyah (1984), Psalms of a Saiva Saint, Asian Educational Services, ISBN 978-8120600256, pages xxii-xxvi
  21. ^ Helen Baroni (2002), The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Zen Buddhism, Rosen Publishing, ISBN 978-0823922406, page 3
  22. ^ Tigunait, Rajmani (1998), Śakti, the Power in Tantra: A Scholarly Approach, Himalayan Institute Press. ISBN 9780893891541. LCCN 98070188
  23. ^ June McDaniel (2010), Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia as a New Religious Movement: Hinduism Recreated in the Image of Islam, Nova Religio, Vol. 14, No. 1, pages 93–111
  24. ^ a b c d e f Ghose, Rajeshwari (1996). The Tyāgarāja Cult in Tamilnāḍu: A Study in Conflict and Accommodation. Motilal Banarsidass Publications. ISBN 812081391X. [2]
  25. ^ Thomas Manninezhath (1993), Harmony of Religions: Vedānta Siddhānta Samarasam of Tāyumānavar, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120810013, page 135
  26. ^ a b c V Bharne and K Krusche (2012), Rediscovering the Hindu Temple: The Sacred Architecture and Urbanism of India, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, ISBN 978-1443841375, pages 37-42
  27. ^ Archana Verma (2012), Temple Imagery from Early Mediaeval Peninsular India, Ashgate Publishing, ISBN 978-1409430292, pages 150-159, 59-62
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  29. ^ Mark Dyczkowski (1989), The Canon of the Śaivāgama, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120805958, pages 43-44
  30. ^ JS Vasugupta (2012), Śiva Sūtras, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120804074, pages 252, 259
  31. ^ Gavin Flood (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521438780, pages 162-167
  32. ^ a b c Ganesh Tagare (2002), The Pratyabhijñā Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120818927, pages 16-19
  33. ^ a b Jayandra Soni (1990), Philosophical Anthropology in Śaiva Siddhānta, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 8-120806328, pages 178-181, 209-214
  34. ^ Krishna Sivaraman (2008), Hindu Spirituality Vedas Through Vedanta, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120812543, page 263
  35. ^ a b David Smith (1996), The Dance of Siva: Religion, Art and Poetry in South India, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521482349, page 116
  36. ^ Teun Goudriaan (1981), Hindu Tantric and Śākta Literature, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447020916, page 36
  37. ^ a b c Singh, J. (1979). Śiva Sūtras: The Yoga of Supreme Identity : Text of the Sūtras and the Commentary Vimarśinī of Kṣemarāja Translated Into English with Introduction, Notes, Running Exposition, Glossary and Index. Motilal Banarsidass Publications. ISBN 9788120804074. LCCN lc79903550. [3]
  38. ^ a b c Sharma, D.S. (1983). The Philosophy of Sādhanā: With Special Reference to the Trika Philosophy of Kashmir. State University of New York Press. ISBN 9780791403471. LCCN lc89027739 [4]
  39. ^ a b c d e Rita Sherma (2000), Editors: Alf Hiltebeitel and Kathleen M Erndl, Is the Goddess a Feminist?: The Politics of South Asian Goddesses, New York University Press, ISBN 978-0814736197, pages 31-49
  40. ^ Teun Goudriaan (1981), Hindu Tantric and Śākta Literature, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447020916, pages 39-40
  41. ^ a b SrI Ramakrishna Deekshitulu and SrImAn VaradAccAri SaThakOpan Swami. SrI VaikhAnasa Bhagavad SAstram [5]
  42. ^ Vaikhanasa Agama Books
  43. ^ Venkatadriagaram Varadachari (1982). Agamas and South Indian Vaisnavism. Prof M Rangacharya Memorial Trust.
  44. ^ Awakened India, Volume 112, Year 2007, p.88, Prabuddha Bharata Office.