Genesis of Tantrism

The Genesis of Tantrism in India is mysterious yet interesting. The incantations are found in the early Buddhist as well as in Brahmanical texts. But it may be traced to autochthonous aboriginal people associated with fertility cult. Tantrism in India was developed from 1 AD onwards.

One of the principal components of the Tantrism is ritual. Other significant components include mandalas, mantras, internal sexual yogic practices, fierce male and female deities, cremation ground symbolism, etc. According to one of the popular theories of tantrism is that all humans have a fundamental impurity (mala) that binds them to rebirth. This impurity can be removed by performing proper rituals which began with diksa [initiation] and end with moksha [death].

Hindu Tantrism:

The Genesis of Tantrism can be found in Upanishad, Brahmans, Puranas and Sastras. Tantrikas is seen as liberating from a divine and considered to be superior then the Vedas. The yogic element of Tantrism can be seen in Baṇabhaṭṭa’s Harshacharita and Daṇḍin’s Dashakumaracharita. In the text, instead of the term, ‘Tantra’ other words were referred such as agama, jnana, saṃhita, Siddhanta, vidya.

There are offshoots like Shaivism, Shaktism and Vaishnavism within Hindu tradition. Yajna is the form of tantrism where no idols, shrines, and symbolic art are used for worship.


Genesis of Tantrism


Shaktism and Shaivism:

Genesis of Tantrism among Shaktism and Shaivism is based on a bipolar, bisexual divinity that is equal parts male and female. The Yamalatantras worship Bhairava along with Kapalini [goddess of the skull]. The practice includes sexual rituals, sanguinary, liquor consumption and spirit possession. The similar practices are associated with goddesses Guhyakali, Kubjika, Lalita Tripurasundari, Sri Vidya and Kamesvari.

The Genesis of Tantrism is also discovered in Gangadhar inscription of 423 AD and Banabhatta’s Kadambari of 7th century. One school within Shaiva ascetics practised spirituality like dancing, singing, and smearing ashes. Shaiva text depicts uses of alcohol and free sex which were associated with terrifying female spirit-deities called yoginis and dakinis. It is believed that they possess the magical power of flight.

The Hala’s Gathasaptasati tantric practice states, Kapalika lover dies, and then he is cremated. She takes his cremation ashes and smears her body with it. The same incident is also mentioned in Varahamihira of 6th century. Few practices are overlapped and repeated in Shaiva Hinduism and Vajrayana Buddhism. It is difficult to say who influenced whom.  Matrikas or fierce goddesses are closely linked to Tantrism and appeared both in Hindu and Buddhist text between the 7th and 10th centuries.

Herewith we can find an image of Kuru Janapada coin and of Ahom dynasty. The symbolic representation of ‘Three Arrows’ and ‘Dotted circle in a symmetric arrangement on Kuru’s coin associates with Mandala. Kings of Ahom had worshipped spirit and issued a coin in its memory.


In Vaisnavism, tantra elements are found in Pancharatra. Unfortunately, most of the tantric texts are lost. The rites and rituals of Vaiṣṇava temples in South India are similar to the Shaiva’s Siddhanta. Sahajiya Tantrik Vaisnava tradition of Bengal flourished between the 16th and 19th centuries.

Buddhist Tantrism:

The practice of magical chants or incantations can be found in the early Buddhist texts as well as in some Mahayana sutras. They were used for protection and auspiciousness. The protection chants are called parittas which is part of Ratana Sutta. The spirit-deities like Yakṣas and Nagas were seen as guardians or protectors. In Lotus Sutras of Mahayana text includes a dialogue between the Buddha and a group of raksasis.

The Genesis of Tantrism among Buddhism is seen in Vajrayana, Secret Mantra, Mantrayana, Newar, etc. A Dunhuang manuscript of Chinese Buddhist canon also contains the element of Tantrism. Later, it spread to Korea and to Japan where it survives by the name Shingon.


Genesis of Tantrism


Common Practises:

The five common practises such as Yoga, Mantra, Meditation, Mandalas- Yantras, and Sex- Eroticism is seen in all school of Tantrism. Image 2: Nepal has issued a set of three different forms of Bhairav postage stamps. Bhairav is considered to be fierce forms of God Shiva

  1. Yoga: It is inseparable practise which makes use of a ‘mystic physiology’.
  2. Mantras: Mantras are the most common components of tantric practice. These are recited during meditation and yogic practices.
  3. Meditation: Here, tantrikas concentrate on a vision or on deity image. In another practice of meditations, tantrikas visualize deities are being inside their body.
  4. Mandalas and Yantras: These are mystical geometric diagrams which are used during meditation, yoga and while performing rituals. These are used to represent numerous tantric ideas and concepts as well as used for meditative focus.
  5. Sex and Eroticism: It is sexual union ritual where physical consort or an imagined deity. In Jaiminiya Brahmana, the Chandogya Upanisad, and the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad ejaculated semen after sexual intercourse is offered to the deities. It involves stimulation of the flow of negative energies. It could lead to moksha and nirvana.

In modern times and in western world Tantrism is mislead of its connection to sex and intoxicants but Genesis of Tantrism lies in the ‘the most reforming idea of spirituality, the most transgressive and violent path to be considered as sacred’ explained by the experts.

The Mintage World Team comprises of experts, researchers and writers from the field of Philately, Notaphily and Numismatics who try to shed light on some of the most interesting aspects of coins, banknotes and stamps from not just India but across the globe as well.

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