While Madras HC lays down rules for temples, the abstruse world of ‘Agamas’ remains a mystery to many
The Madras High Court on Monday ordered the Tamil Nadu government to set up a five-member panel to identify temples that have been built according to the ‘Agamas’. Following this, the appointment of Archakas (priests) would be governed accordingly and in accordance with the judgment of the Supreme Court on the matter, said First Bench Chief Justice M. N. Bhandari and Justice N Mala.
Having a batch of petitions from All India Adi Saiva Sivacharyargal Seva Sangam, by its General Secretary BSR Muthukumar and 14 others, the bench upheld certain provisions of the 2020 Employees of Hindu Religious Institutions TN Rules (Terms of Service), issued under an order of September 3, 2020 from the Department of Tourism, Culture and Religious Endowments.
The petitions sought to rescind the said provisions and thereby prevent the relevant authorities from appointing or selecting Archakas and other Agama-related personnel in temples, in violation of the Agamas, as found by the Supreme Court in the Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal Nala Sangam against the Tamil State. Nadu and another case. The questioning of these provisions, all relating to the conditions of selection and service, promotion and seniority, is not tenable, declared the magistrature in its judgment of 93 pages.
What is an Agama?
The religious literature of Hinduism is broadly divided into two sections: Shruti and Smriti. Shruti forms the focal group of Hinduism and incorporates the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. Smriti means “that which is remembered” throughout the collection of post-Vedic classical literature. It incorporates Vedanga, Shaddarsana, Puranas, Itihasa, Upveda, Tantras, Agamas and Upangas. The term “Agama” is used for sacred writings in Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism.
The Agamas are the essential source and authority for yoga techniques and guidance, according to this comprehensive description. The Shaiva Agamas respect ultimate reality as Shiva (Shaivas). The Vaishnava-Agamas (Pancharatra and Vaikhanasas Samhitas) worship Ultimate Reality as Vishnu (Vaishnavas). The Shakta-Agamas (Tantras) pay homage to Ultimate Reality as Shakti, the partner of Shiva and the Divine Mother of the universe (Shaktas). Each arrangement of texts develops the central religious and philosophical teachings of this division.
The agamas also contain information about who is permitted to perform temple rituals, and who is qualified to worship, and from which part of the temple. These are the core values of some people of the Hindu faith.
Pancharatra and Vaikanasa Agama are the two primary schools of Vaishnava Agama. The Shaiva Agama led to the Shaiva Siddhanta philosophy in South India and the Pratyabhijna system of Kashmir Shaivism. The Smartas recognize the Agamas but do not necessarily adhere to them, relying mainly on the Smriti texts. In the Malay languages, the word Agama literally means religion. Agamas are also sometimes known as Tantras.
The philosophy and spiritual knowledge underlying the worship of the deity, the yoga and mental discipline necessary for this worship, and the specifics of the worship offered to the deity are all topics covered in Agamas. Each Agama consists of four parts. The first part includes philosophical and spiritual knowledge. The second part covers yoga and mental discipline. The third part specifies the rules for the construction of temples and for the carving and carving of figures of deities for worship in temples. The fourth part of the Agamas includes rules relating to the observance of religious rites, rituals and festivals.
The Agamas for Silpa (the art of carving) contain detailed regulations that specify the standards for the locations where temples should be built, the types of images that should be installed, the materials used to create them, as well as the images’ dimensions and proportions, airflow, lighting and other factors. The Manasara and the Silpasara are among the works dealing with these rules. The rituals followed in worship services each day at the temple also follow the rules laid down in the Agamas.
The Agamas lay down three essential conditions for a place of pilgrimage: Sthala, Teertham and Murthy. Sthala refers to the temple, Teertham to the temple reservoir, and Murthy to the worshiped deity(ies). A temple can also be associated with a tree, called the Sthala Vriksham. For example, the Kadamba tree of the Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple is the Sthala Vriksham. A solitary banyan tree that adorns the Ratnasabha’s spacious courtyard in Tiruvalankadu is the Sthala Vriksham. It is believed that the whole area was once a forest of banyan trees.
Types of Agamas
Like the Upanishads, there are many Agamas. They can be broadly divided into three sets:
- Vaikhanasas Samhitas – worship God as Lord Vishnu
- Shaiva Agamas – worship God as Lord Shiva
- Shakta Tantras – worshiping God as a mother goddess
There is no Agama for Lord Brahma (God of creation). The Saktiates recognize 77 Agamas. I am not sure of the actual number of Vaishna Agamas. Vaishanavates consider Pancharatra Agamas as one of the most important agamas. Each Agama understands philosophy, mental discipline, temple building rules and religious practices.
The Smartas recognize the Agamas but do not necessarily adhere to them, relying mainly on the Smriti texts.
The Vaishnava Agamas are grouped into four categories namely Vaikhanasa, Pancharatra, Pratishthasara and Vijnanalalita. Of these, the Vaishanavites regard the Pancharatra Agama as the most important. These Agamas are believed to have been revealed by Narayana himself. The Pancharatra Agama is further subdivided into seven sub-Agamas: Brahma, Shaiva, Kaumara, Vasishtha, Kapila, Gautamiya and Naradiya.
According to the Pancharatra Agamas, devotion to Vishnu is the surest path to enlightenment, and he is the Supreme Lord of the Universe. According to another opinion, the Vaikhanasagama is the oldest and most important Agama, and all the Agamas practically and literally copied all their information from this sacred Agama. Tradition says that the Vaikhanasa Agama was originally compiled under the guidance of the sage Vaikhanasa in the early Vedic period. Sri Madhavacharya held the Pancharatra texts in high esteem and equated them with Vedas and epics, while Sri Shankaracharya held a different opinion.
There are two hundred and fifteen such Vaishnava texts. Isvara, Ahirbudhnya, Paushkara, Parama, Sattvata, Brihad-Brahma and Jnanamritasara Samhitas are the most important.
The Shaivates have 28 main Agamas and 108 Upa Agamas (minor Agamas). Some of them date back to the 2nd century. These texts are followed by different Shaiva schools, including the Shaiva Siddhantha school (the Southern Shaivas), Tamil Shaivas, the Pratyabhijna system (Kashmiri Shaivas) and Vira Shaivas, who also regard the Agamas as their main source of authority in more of the Vedas. The most important Agama text in Shaivas is the Kamika. These texts view Shiva as the supreme ruler of the universe, the highest Self, the conscious principle, while Shakti is seen as the unconscious or natural principle that is the cause of bondage. The union of Shakti with Shiva at the highest level leads to the liberation of the pasu (inner Self) from Pasa or attachment.
Adherents of Saktas follow 27 Agamas also called Tantras. The Saktas regard Shakti (the World Mother) as the Supreme Self and relegate Iswara, the Divine Father, to a secondary position. In Saktas, the Divine Mother is both the cause of illusion (maya) and the source of liberation.
They focus on the Shakti (energy) aspect of God and offer a variety of ritual practices of worship for the Divine Mother. There are seventy-seven Agamas. These are very similar to the Puranas in some respects. The texts are usually in the form of dialogues between Shiva and Parvati. In some of them, Shiva answers the questions asked by Parvati, and in others, Parvati answers, with the questioning of Shiva. Mahanirvana, Kularnava, Kulasara, Prapanchasara, Tantraraja, Rudra-Yamala, Brahma-Yamala, Vishnu-Yamala and Todala Tantra, are important works.
The Agamas teach several occult practices, some of which grant powers, while others grant knowledge and freedom. Shakti is the creative power of Lord Shiva. Shaktas are truly a complement to Shaivism.
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