Evolution of Tantra

Historical Accounts
It is Mahabharata which makes the mention of the Pashupata  (the Shaivist) and Pancharatra (Vaishnavite) schools for the first time. Even  though the early canonical literature of Pancharatra is lost, we have one text  Satvata Samhita which describes the tantrika system as Rahasymnaya - a secret  method of Sadhana. However, Pancharatra School remained restrained in its  development and it was Shaivism which provided more prominent ground for  development of tantras.

The Mahabharatha says that the Pashupata doctrines were  first preached by Shiva-Srikantha. But this Srikantha must have been a human  teacher in all probability. This opinion is strengthened because; the old  manuscript of tantric text Pingalamata preserved in Nepal speaks of Bhagavat  Srinkanthanatha as its author. Lakulisa was probably his disciple. And this  Lakulisa and his disciples are mentioned in an inscription of Chandragupta  II.  From the information present in this  inscription, Lakulisa has been dated to be a contemporary of Patanjali, who incitingly  speaks of Shiva-Bhagavatas in his Mahabhashya.

From this we can conclude that, Pashupata was the oldest  form of Shaivism prevalent in North India. They could be also called as  Agamanta Shaivism. The Agamas (the texts) belonging to this school are 18 in  number according to one tradition and 28 according to another. The eighteen  agamas also called “Shiva tantras” and are: Vijaya, Nisvasa, Svayambhuva,  Vatula, Virabhadra, Raurava, Makuta, Viresha, Chandrahasa, Jnana, Mukhabimba,  Prodgita, Lalita, Siddha, Santana, Sarvodgita, Kirana, and Parameshvara. Among  them, the three agamas, viz Nishvasa, Kirana and Parameshwara are still  preserved in Nepal in manuscript form belonging to the 8th and 9th  centuries.

The next phase is development of tantras is represented by  the class of literature called Yamala. There are 8 Yamalas: Rudra, Kanda  (Skanda), Brahma, Vishnu, Yama, Vayu, Kuvera and Indra. The 8 Yamalas are  communicated by 8 Bhairavas: Svacchanda, Krodha, Unmatta, Ugra, Kapalin,  Jhankara, Shekara and Vijaya. What is interesting to note is, the Original  Shiva tantras represents the Rudra or Sada-shiva tradition and the Yamalas  represents the Bhairava tradition. Also, it should be noted that, Bhairavas  were human teachers who had attained complete union and had become Shiva. The  two other old texts that belong to Yamala group are: Jayadhrata Yamala, the  supplement to Brahma Yamala and Pingalamata is supplement to Jayadhrata Yamala.

The importance of these Yamala's is in the fact that for the  first time they described the various tantric traditions and introduced cults  of new gods and goddess. They gave a well developed Tantric pantheon.

Brahma Yamala gives a nice account of transmission of  tantrika knolwedge. Ishvara (Shiva) first communicated it to Srikantha, who  passed it to various disciples. One of the recipients was Bhairava who passed  it to Krodha, Kapila and Padma, And Padma to Devadutta and Devadatta to 14 of  his disciples. Further, Yamalas mentions different tantric traditions based on Srotas  (Currents). The three currents are Dakshina (Sattva), Vama (Rajas) and Madhyama  (Tamas). Among the few important teachers who promulgated these tantras are  Usanas, Vrihaspati, Dadachi, Lakulisa and Sanat kumara.

Returning to the two supplements of Yamalas mentioned  before. Jayadratha Yamala and Pingalamata refer to a much greater variety of  tantras and sadhanas. Pingalamata mentions two classes of tantras: Kamarupi  (being in Assam) and Uddiyani (North west-Swat valley). The Jayadhrata yamala  mentions large number of Shakti cults, like cults of Kalika, Shankarshani,  Charchika, Gahaneshwari, Vajravati, Bhairavadakini, Saptakshara, Siddhilakshmi  etc.
These supplements indicate a very important development in the  evolution of Tantras. It indicates the new orientation in tantric culture, viz  Sadhanas of Agamas assume in them a more pronounced character of Shaktism. Now,  the tantrika system seemed to be developed through two different paths the  exoteric, which continued as pure Shaivism and Esoteric which continued as  Shaktism. Whereas the goal of Shaivism was only Liberation, the goal of Shakta  was not just Liberation. They wanted to gain ascendancy over the forces of  nature and to carry on experiments in order to gain a detailed knowledge of  working of the Cosmos. In a sense, salvation became too small a goal for them.  But, this is not to suggest they did not pursue Moksha. They pursued other  things too. These supplementary literature shows that Tantras became Shakti in  character from that time.

Buddhism also developed its tantric aspect by this time.  According to Tibetan evidence, Buddhist Tantras came into existence after the  time of Dharmakirthi. Their origin as distinct class of literature and mode of  Sadhana may be placed in 7th century. They developed in three  different forms viz Vajrayana, Sahajayana and Kalachakrayana. From about 10th  and 11th centuries, there began a very complicated period of  development of tantras. The Brahmanical and Buddhist sects merged and mixed  with each other to some extent as Buddhism declined and all that remained was a  mystic form similar to Shaktism in essence. This fusion gave birth to new forms  of esoteric religion.

The detailed picture of the Brahmanical tantras of this  period are given by Sammohana tantra. It speaks of nine kinds of KaLikas. Also  about many special cults, one of Jaya, three cults of Sudnari, two cults of  Tara, three of KaLi, one of Chinnamasta, two of Dhumara and Matangi and two of  Sidhavidya. It further mentions two cults of Vaishnavas, two of Sauras and five  cults of Ganapatyas. The text also speaks about Amanyas and Geographical  classification of tantras. They divide it into 4 classes viz Kerala, Kahsmira,  Gauda and Vilasa. The six amanyas that are mentioend are Purva-eastern,  Dakshina-south, Pashchima-western, Urdhva-upper and patala-nether. It also  divides tantras into three classes viz Divya, Kaula and Vama according to  nature of sadhana (whether Sattva, rajas or tamas) and each of it has two  sects: Bahya-external and Harda-intenal.

The Sammohana tantra text also gives number of principal and  subsidiary tantras in various regions: China: 100 principal, 17-subsidiary;  Dravida: 20, 20; Jaina: 18, 20; Kashmira: 100, 10; Gauda: 27-principal,  16-subsidiary. It further mentions various Vidyas or cults. Some of the  goddesses in these cults mentioned were: Aindri, Gayatri, Brahmavidya,  Ardhanarishvari, Matrika, Sarasvati, Tripura-Bhairavi, Shulini, Mahavidya,  Chamunda, Raja-rajeshwari, Srividya, Kalika, Tara, Chinnamasta, Dhumavati etc.

Therefore the Sammohana tantra presents a picture which is  very much different from the one present in Shiva tantras of Agamanta Shaivism.  It clearly establishes that tantras had assumed a complete Shaktic character,  assimilated a very large number of cults of various origins and thus  established a well developed and complicated pantheon of goddesses (All  representing different aspects of Shakti). This state of things must have been  attained by 14th century, when this Sammohana tantra seems to have  attained its final form. From here, the later tantras compiled just added to  the number of vidyas, mantras and mandalas and many of the old cults were  either forgotten or discarded.

Now coming to the division of tantras into Divya, Kaula and  Vama. Some definite information is available about the origin of Kaulas. According  to Kaulajnananirnaya (which is a very old text), the Kaula class was introduced  by Matsyendra Natha, even though strictly speaking he founded only one school  of Kaulas called Yogini-Kaula of Kamarupa. The text also mentioned other Kaula  schools: Vrsanotta, Vahni, Kaulasadbhava, Padorrishtha, Mahakaula, Siddha,  Jnananirniti, Siddhamrita, Sristi, Chandra, Shaktibedha, Urmi and Jnana kaula.  By eleventh century, Kaula schools had firmly established themselves comprising  number of sects.

It is interesting to note that Yogini Kaula of Matsyendra  Natha had a syncretic character. This resulted in growth of two esoteric sects:  Nath sect that had a tinge of Shaivism and Sahajiya that had a tinge of  Vaishnavism.  Matsyendra Natha was  himself, the founder of Nath sect. He  also founded Hatha Yoga and is also regarded as first of the Siddhas by  Buddhists under the name Lui-pada. It is believed that, he learned  everything from the First Guru, Adinatha - Lord Shiva himself. Two other sects  originated in this period, Avadhuta and Bhaul.

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