Importance of the Saiva Agamas

This talk was prepared by Bodhinatha as an address to the conference of Adi Saiva priests in Bangalore, July, 2012, wherein the various Sivachachariya priests and heads of Saiva padasalas got together to discuss their progress and plans in the work of transcribing, editing and translating the digital collection of 8,000 manuscripts made by Kauai Aadheenam years before at the French Institute of Indology of Pondicherry which were then distributed to all the priests.

He shares his experience of visiting many Hindu temples in America and attending their Maha Kumbhabhishekams. He says that though the temples' architecture and rituals are based on the Saiva Agamas, not many Hindus are familiar with the Agamic texts. He explains that the message of the Saiva Agamas which details the process of communication with the Deity through the temple, needs to be shared more widely in the Hindu world.

Unedited Transcript:

Over the last few years as publisher of our magazine Hinduism Today I have had the privilege of attending kumbhabhishekams for: Siva temples in Perth, Australia and Atlanta, Georgia; a Venkateshwara temple in Central Florida; Lord Murugan temple in Montreal, Canada; BAPS Swaminarayan temples in Houston, Texas, Toronto, Canada and Delhi, India; a Bhairava temple in Karnataka, India; and Lord Ganesha in Phoenix, Arizona and Edmonton, Canada. The special ceremonies conducted on these occasions by an especially large number of well-trained priests are always exceptionally uplifting times.

On most of these occasions there is some interaction with the youth of the temple as a formal seminar, a lecture or simply an informal question and answer session. During one of the breaks, at one of the kumbhabhishekams, I was chatting with some of the older youth who were sons and daughters of the trustees and other key members. They were challenging me with the question: "Since God is omnipresent, what is the need to build large temples to worship Him. The cost of construction is quite large plus then you have the ongoing cost of monthly maintenance that has to be met. Couldn't all that money be spent in a better way?"

My answer went something like this. Since God is omnipresent, shouldn't we be able to experience Him equally everywhere? For example, God permeates this room. By looking intently at the room, shouldn't you be able to experience God? In theory you should. I then asked those present to look around. How many can see God permeating this room? All the youth present had to admit that they couldn't see God permeating the room. I then continued: "Practically speaking God's omnipresence is a very subtle form of consciousness, too subtle for most of us to experience unless we are quite skilled in meditation."

I then gave an analogy with other objects that are difficult to see. If we want to see a distant galaxy, we can go to an observatory and use a powerful telescope. To see into the nucleus of a cell, we can go to a laboratory and use an electron microscope. Similarly, to see God, there is a powerful tool we can use to enable us to be successful. In a similar way, we can go to the temple and through the sanctified murti experience God. Temples--and especially the murtis within them--have this ability because they are an especially sacred place for three reasons: construction, consecration and continuous daily worship.

Hereditary temple architects, known as sthapatis, are commissioned to design and construct the temple. By tradition, every stone is set in place according to the sacred architecture found in the Agamic scriptures. Consecration occurs through the powerful ceremony of kumbhabhishekam which involves a large number of priests performing elaborate ceremonies for days on end. Then begins the schedule of daily pujas that are held thereafter conducted by professional priests. The daily pujas sustain and gradually increase the sanctity set in motion at the kumbhabhishekam. In these three ways, the temple and the murtis within them are sanctified.

Though many temple rituals performed today including kumbhabhishekam come from the Agamas, the Agama texts are not well known. In fact, many lists of Hindu scriptures leave them out altogether. However, those lists that do include them consider them shruti along with the Vedas. For example, BAPS Swaminarayanan Sanstha makes the following statement in a recent book, Hinduism: An Introduction Part One:

The Agamas are considered to be revealed (shruti) like the Vedas and are thus held in equal importance and authority by their devout followers. They deal with God, sacred living, mode of worship, building of mandirs, consecration of images, yoga creation and philosophy. The three main groups of Hindu Agamas are: Vaishnava, Shaiva and Shakta.

In ancient Tamil literature the Tirumantiram puts forth the dual nature of shruti,

"Two are the scriptures that Lord Siva revealed--the primal Vedas and the perfect Agamas." ( Verse 2404):

In modern Tamil literature, the renown Saivite scholar of Sri Lanka, Arumuga Navalar, has a similar verse in his Saiva Vina Vidai. "What are the original scriptures vouchsafed by Siva Peruman for the sake of the souls? Vedas and Saiva Agamas are the two."

Some of the major temples in the US have a very clear understanding of the importance of knowledge of the Agamas. For example, the Hindu Community and Cultural Center, Livermore, CA, is a large Siva/Vishnu temple. On their website the trustees invite applications from qualified individuals for employment to priest positions. The candidates must have the following to qualify:

  • 1. Knowledge/proficiency in one or more Agamam:
    • Shaivagamam
    • Vaikhanasam,
    • and Pancharatram)
  • 2. Knowledge/proficiency in one or more Vedas
    • Rig,
    • Yajur
    • Sama
    • and Atharva

Skipping to the last requirement it is: High regard to devotee treatment and satisfaction, and ability to speak multiple Indian languages, including a working knowledge of English

This temple has ten priests:

  • 5 Smarta--trained in Krishna Yajur Veda
  • 3 Vaishnava--trained in Pancharatra Agama
  • 2 Vaishnava--trained in Vaikhanasa Agama

Note that as is common in the US, the temple does not have a priest trained on Saiva Agamas. The Siva puja is being done by a Smarta priest trained in Krishna Yajur Veda.

In the US, not counting our Hawaii temple, the only Agamic explanation of the sacredness of the murti is done in the Pancharatra tradition. The Venkateswara Temple in Pittsburgh, PA states: "Hindu devotees believe that divine power has manifested itself in the murti (icon/idol). Worshipping the Archa Avatara as Hari gives the devotees access to God and His Power."

This is idea is found in the Pancharatra Text, Satvata Samhita, chapter six, verse twenty-two: "When the perfectly designed image is systematically installed, He occupies the concerned image. By His gracious presence in that image, He gives concrete and visible expressions to all of His transcendental and imperceptible qualities."

A verse from the Saivite Agama Ajita states the Saivite equivalent: "Siva lingam puja is for the purpose of invoking the presence of Sadasiva in the lingam."

My guru also taught this principle: "We worship God Siva and the Gods who by their infinite powers spiritually hover over and indwell the image, or murti... which we revere as their temporary body. We commune with them through the ritual act of puja.

"We may liken this mystery to our ability to communicate with others through the telephone. We do not talk to the telephone; rather we use a telephone as a means of communication with another person who is perhaps thousands of miles away. Without the telephone, we could not converse across such distances; and without the sanctified murti in the temple or shrine we cannot easily commune with the Deity. Both are instruments of communication.

"The stone or metal Deity images enshrined in the temple are not mere symbols of God and the Gods. They are not mere inert idols but the forms through which divine love, power and blessings flood forth from the inner world of the Gods into this physical world. As we progress in our worship, we begin to adore the image as the Deity's physical body, for we know that He is actually present and conscious in it during puja, aware of our thoughts and feelings and even sensing the pujari's gentle touch on the metal or stone."

Clearly there is a need for the contents of the Saiva Agamas to be shared more through publications and websites. For these are the only scriptures which explain the temple worship of the Sivalingam and how God Siva's presence and blessings manifest in the temple. As mentioned in the story at the beginning, youth benefit immensely from having this knowledge which then increases their motivation for attending the temple. Also, hopefully more Adi Saiva's trained in Saiva Agamas will take up positions overseas to provide Siva pujas in more temples.

Photo of  Gurudeva
There is in much of the world the belief that life is a burden, a feeling of penitence, that it is good to suffer, good for the soul. In fact, spiritual life is not that way at all.