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My 1982 article on Tantra – publishing its HTML version so I can review my research

I took my IAS exam in 1981-82 while living in Pune for a couple of years after having given up my Masters studies in Maths from Central College, Bangalore (yes, the great C.V. Raman’s college).

In my view, a masters in Maths was irrelevant to the IAS exam. I therefore returned my National Science Talent Scholarship and spent most of 1980 and 1981 preparing for the IAS at home (no, I did not have any “coaching school”, just me and my books). This turned out to be the correct decision, since I qualified in my first attempt and secured one of the highest marks in Maths in India – although it turned out that taking Maths was not the best idea; I might have done even better by taking up sociology or some other dumb subject.

Nevertheless, this was a very fertile period for my intellectual development. My home was flooded with second hand books purchased from roadside stalls, cheap books on a range of subjects from Pune’s wonderful book shops and borrowed books from the British Council library and Deccan College. I read everything under the sun from history, philosophy (including Indian philosophy), sociology, economics and psychology to physics and maths. I carefully explored the archaeological exhibits at Deccan College and heard lectures from the world’s top-most archaeologists who visited this internationally eminent centre of learning (and yes, I personally met the great Sankalia in his home in Deccan College – he was retired but alive then – and he personally reviewed my article on Deccan College: that remains one of the highlights of my life). I almost became a de facto student of Deccan College, spending vast amounts of time in its library. My cousin, Arun Sabhlok, who recently retired as head of department of archaeology from Raipur University, was my mentor and guide in the field of archaeology.

During this period I wrote a number of articles for local newspapers and for the Caravan magazine. One was on Tantra, something that was a mystery to me, so I borrowed around 5 good books on the topic and read them from end to end, summarising my findings in this longish article. The original scanned image of the article is available here.  [ 1 | 2 | 3 ]

The reason I’ve read this work again is because I’m currently going through some detailed findings of Sanjay Sonawani on caste and wanted to refresh my memory in terms of his references to tantra.


Tantra – the cult of intuitive union

THE entire thrust of philosophical and mystical literature in India has been towards providing the seeker with a direct intuitive and definite contact with the Reality that pervades all existence. In this quest. Tantra has a unique and pre-eminent place of its own.

Till today, this whole subject remains largely an enigma to the public. And the few attempts that come into public awareness can hardly claim to have unravelled the mystery behind the enigma.

Could this be due to the intrinsic abstruseness of the subject? Of is it merely because the truth is usually submerged in obscure terminology? I think the latter case holds true. There is no reason why the layman should not know exactly what Tantra is. And once equipped with this awareness. each person can then decide whether or not to pursue this hoary quest.

What is Tantra?

Tantrism is not a religion in the ordinary sense of the term. Again, it is not a speculative or devotional stream of thought like the Vedic religion or the’ six metaphysical schools or orthodox Hindu philosophy. So, if Tantra is not this. and not that, then what is it? Tantra is best described as. a cult. It is a concrete and specific, if esoteric. system designed to achieve a profound union with the Reality. It is a way to see in a flash of awareness how the jive (individual) and the Param Siva (absolute Reality) are one: are contained in each other.

It is thus a sort of pantheism, but unlike Spinoza’s simple view of the attainment of the Reality through conscious awareness, Tantra believes that this is possible only through spiritual intuition, which is assumed to exist in ‘a dormant state in every person. To arouse this intuition. Tantra prescribes, a system of physical discipline.

The use of the body in a certain manner can expand the human consciousness: this is what Tantra means etymologically – it is derived from the Sanskrit root tan meaning to expand. When the body is mastered and used in the manner described in the Tantric texts, the individual’s awareness expands and he experiences liberation: Sa’ham –  I am She, or So’ham – I am He. There then remains no difference between the individual and any manifestation of of Reality. This Reality is called Tantric texts as the Param Siva. The individual (the Sadhaka) is said to have attained and realised the Absolute: such experience leads finally to salvation.

Historical Background

Before moving on to the actual discipline of Tantra: one will profit from a survey of its history.

All over the world, in pre- historic times, there developed complex systems and rituals designed to propitiate the imagined deities, and to gain occult powers from them. Sexual functions have played an important part in these rituals because of the prime importance of in the race or tribe. When calamities fell from unknown quarters and life was savage-like and brutally short-lived, there arose all over the world primordial models of the present-day Tantric rituals. But the indigenous Indians—the Dravidians of South and East India, as many as five thousand years ago, advanced and developed these primitive modes of worship and moulded them with intense speculation to produce Tantra – a system unique to India.

Among their most remarkable feats was the discovery of the Kundalini — the spiritual force present in the body of man. The legend says that it was a great ascetic — Siva by name — who give the basic outline of the Tantric system. This ascetic was then deified during his lifetime and his apotheosis to the level of Param Siva was only a matter of time.

Of this we are sure that by the time of the Indus Valley Civilization, the worship of Siva (whether ascetic or God) had progressed beyond the amoebal stage of evolution. We find images of the linga (phallus) and the yoni (womb): we find a god seated in a yogic posture with a snake’s hood on either side of him (possibly signifying the Kundalini-Sakti).

Naturally, these prevailing Dravidian deities had a great influence upon the Vedic Aryans: the Atharva Veda is ample testimony to this. The reverse effect also took place —the later Tantric schools moulded themselves to incorporate Vedic precepts and ideas into their cult.

But there has always remained a basic clash of interests between the Brahmanical system and that of the Tantras. The hostility between the two is partly an outcome of the repulsion the Aryans have felt for the cultured non-Aryans. Secondly. there has never been any scope in Tantrism for the practice of professional priests, for in it, each individual has to practice his “religion” himself.

Perhaps it was this lack of castes and priests in Tantrism that attracted the Buddha to Tantra. Though he did not give this cult much importance after his enlightenment, yet a few centuries after his death, this indigenous product of pristine longing caught up with the main-stream of Buddhism, and in the times of Asvaghosa and Nagarjuna, Buddhism was split up into the Mahayana and the Hinayana sects, with the former incorporating Tantra into its scriptures.

The Gupta period (300 – 650 A.D.) saw a remarkable growth in the Tantric practices. A mass of literature on Tantra was produced and many Tantric texts gained their final form in this period. Later periods till today have seen the steady development of Tantrism in India, along with the reduction of the prominence of its primitive occult practices: and with greater importance being given to its spiritual and benign aspects.

Principles of Tantra

We have seen that the Absolute in Tantra philosophy is Param Siva. The Param Siva has both the transcendental and immanent principles. The former is constituted by Siva, who is said to be the supreme consciousness, the knower, the unmanifested, and thus an inactive principle. He is equated in analogy’ to a corpse. In other words, he may have the desire to create the world, but he needs an active entity to put his desires into practice. This active force is supplied by Sakti who is the immanent principle of Param Siva. Sakti is the primordial force. It is due to her that Siva is metamorphosed into the finite forms and colours in this world.

But this does not mean, of course, that there is any difference between Siva and Sakti in any fundamental sense. They always coexist, and are indivisible, like salt and sea-water. Those who know the Einsteinian conception of matter and eneegy will at once recognise the resemblance between the two. Siva can be represented by matter, and Sakti by energy, but the basic unity of’ both these forms remains (E = mc2).

Param Siva cannot be conceived by the mind. He is beyond our ordinary questions of existence or non-existence: he is limitless and infinite: he is in permanent Bliss. Tantra thus says that intuition is the only path to the realisation of the Param Siva.

This intuition is to be awakened through constant meditation and esoteric practice. When the intuition is awakened the Sadhaka attains the state of eq:ial-mindedness. And that. finally, leads to salvation.

The Metaphysical Schools of Tantra

There are three metaphysical schools of Tantra. Where. these schools differ, they complement each other. But otherwise they are basically similar.

We mostly commonly mean the Sakta Tantra when we think of Tantra. The name of this school is derived from the Kundalini-Sakti which has to be awakened in man to achieve the union of Siva-Sakti. Vidya Devi, (a manifestation of Sakti), is said to have told Mahadeva, the god of gods. “My true form is that which the yogis realise in their pure awareness as absolute peace, tranquillity and fathomlessness of the ocean.” Identification with Sakti is the goal of this school.

The second school is Vaisnava Tantra, which is the devotional school of Tantra. This school derives its name because here Sakti is considered the immanent principle of Vishnu. When the Kundalini is awakened by the prescribed system, the Sadhaka starts enjoying great inner pleasure, and sheds tears, limps while walking, and laughs and dances with pleasure.

The last of these schools is Saiva Tantra. It maintains the omniscience and omnipotence of Siva. This school has been maligned through ‘the ages because it is associated with Kapalikas, who possess great occult powers. But otherwise, the goal of this school is similar to any other school of Tantra: the mystic union with Siva. However, to qualify for this school. the Sadhaka has to perform rigorous discipline which is aimed at creating an aversion to wordly fame. and honour. He may have to behave like a lunatic or a miscreant in order to attract the abuse of people. Only after he can face such abuse. is he eligible to perform the Tantric practices.

The Kundalini

The Kundalini (serpent power) represents Sakti. She is present, asleep and coiled up. in the body of the ordinary man. She is thus the dormant divinity in every Sadhaka. and is to be awakened through an esoteric discipline.

Kundalini yoga is this discipline. This is effected through a process called Sat-chakra-bheda or “the piercing of the six chakras”. The chakras are the spiritual centres of energy in man. Each of these chakras has its own colour, presiding deity, bija-mantras, and a number of lotus-petals, and each has a spiritual significance of its own. The names of these centres, in ascending order, are: Muladhara, Svadhishthana, Manipura, Anahata, Visuddha and Ajna. These are connected vertically through a channel called the Susumna which remains closed at the lower end so long as the Kundalini is not awakened.

The Kundalini-Sakti resides in the lowest of these — the Muladhara-chakra. This chakra is placed somewhere below the genitals, near the lowest nerve plexus. The Kundalini lies coiled up around the Svayambhu Linga in her abode, blocking the entrance to the Susumna.

But before the Kundalini can be awakened, the Sadhaka must fulfil three conditions. One of these is Mantra-dipini, or the inner and outer purification of the mind. The other two conditions are called Mantra-chaitanya and Mantraghata. The latter includes the incantation of certain mantras, such as the Ishta-Mantra. The Mantras produce acoustic vibrations which lead to a whipping effect on the Kundalini. With the awakening’ of the Kundalini, the Sadhaka starts losing the feeling of l-ness: the Kundalini rises in her madness of desire and rises to the higher chakras. Depending upon the discipline of the Sadhaka, she is able to pierce the higher chakras. The piercing of each higher chakras leads to the experience of a higher and higher state of bliss.

If the Sadhaka has mastered his practice well, the Kundalini manages to rise to the highest of the chakras — the Ajna, whence the end of the Susumna channel is reached and in a flash of lightning, dazzling the Sadhaka, she rushes to the abode of Siva — the Sahasrara. The Saltasrara, situated near the cerebral cortex, is described as a thousand-petalled lotus, and in this Siva lies dormant, waiting for Sakti. When both Siva and Sakti embrace each other the Sadhaka achieves his summom bonum —the union with Param Siva: and his consciousness expands to the realm of the infinite.

After this union has been reached, the Kundalini-Sakti is led back to her abode in a prescribed manner. Then, whenever desired, the whole procedure can be repeated again. It is to be noted that the technique described till here does not require the presence of any partner.

But there is another way to arouse the Kundalini — through ritual sexual intercourse in Tantric esotericism man represents Siva and woman Sakti. It must be mentioned, however, that the -man mentioned here is not the ordinary man of passions, but the archetypal man, the essential man. Similarly, the woman meant here is the extraordinary woman, the essence of Radha. It is only through discipline that an ordinary man rind woman can become fit to perform this kind of yoga. Certain yogic asanas, or postures, are then prescribed, which are to be maintained in a fixed, constant position for long periods of time, before the Kundalini is aroused.


A vital principle in Tantra is the belief in the mystic and metaphysical power of sound waves. Each and every letter is a living energy, and is considered the root of the sonoric manifestations of the cosmos. The Muladhara chakra is the birth place of all sound. Fifty letters are recognised by the Tantra: when these letters are arranged after the Tantric formulae, they become very powerful, and are used to cut asunder the trammels of Maya.


When a Mantra is pronounced properly, a corresponding form with its concomitant colour is manifested by its vibrations in the cosmos. These forms are usually geometrical compositions. When they are projected in the consciousness of the Sadhaka (an artist in this case) he is able to sketch the yantras: this leads to a very simple and effective art form. However, to the Sadhaka, these yantras are of special interest for they help to focus the concentration; they are also dynamic in character, and through them the creation and control of ideas and physical forces is said to be possible.

Tantra Sadhana

How is the cult of Tantra performed? What is the practical way to Bliss? For this various types of Sadhana have been prescribed depending upon the . propensities and capacities of the individual.

The first of these is Pasvacharya Sadhana, deriving its name from the word: Pasu (animal), except that in Tantra, this word is not used in the derogatory sense, but in recognition of the limitations of the common man. There is suggested a process of physical purification of the body and mind (the Hathayoga.) and a process of meditation by which the different tendencies of man are controlled, and then sublimated (the Rajayoga), It is through the latter that the Sadhaka is finally able to attain union with the Cosmic Mind. He then sees and feels the presence of Siva in every animate and inanimate object.

The second of these is the Viracharya Sadhan, which is the most aggressive of the lot, and is what we usually associate with Tantric practice. It is this Sadhana which yields occult powers, but the true Sadhaka is not lured by these powers and he remains steadfast in his spiritual quest. But to be eligible for initiation the individual must be completely free from material desires.

This freedom from material desires is not obtained by their repression (as in ordinary religions) but by their satiation, and in later stages through their sublimation. The prescribed rites for this purpose are called Panchamakara Sadhana (the Five M’s): when translated, these five M’s stand for wine, meat, fish, grain and copulation. The initiated Sadhaka is required to fulfil these desires through a ritual which includes the incantation of the proper mantras. But later, the usual meaning of these desires is transformed into a spiritual connotation. For example, wine no longer means liquor but the secretion of nectar when the spiritual union with Param Siva takes place in the Sahasrara. Similarly copulation now means the spiritual union of Siva and Sakti in the Sahasrara. But physical union is sublimated in stages. Initially, the Sadhaka has to learn to wait upon his wife (regarded as Kundalini-Sakti) and to awaken her, serve and enjoy her through the proper asanas, thinking of himself as Siva (Sivo’ham). This is how Viracharya Sadhana is per formed.

The last of the three (and the purest of them all) is Divyacharya Sadhana. It is the highest form of mysticism: only a very few exceptional persons are eligible to perform it. It relies greatly upon the incantation of certain Mantras.

In retrospect and summation, we see how admirably Tantra gears itself to suit various types of personalities: perhaps this is the secret of its perennial vitality.

Plus Ultra

With this brief survey of Tantra I do not in any way pretend to have covered the recondite depths of this fascinating subject. I have presented merely an introduction to it. But those interested in going further into this cult should look up books by scholars like Arthur Avalon, Lalan Prasad Singh and Ajit Mookerjee. After that only the Guru can guide and initiate the Sadhaka upon his quest. And then? …?



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Sanjay Sonawani’s further refutation of Mr VR Patil’s thesis that the Vedas originated in India

I had published Sanjay’s critique of material that VR Patil had sent me some time ago, here.

In the meanwhile Mr Patil sent me the following (download here): “Indirect Evidence In Rigved Indicating Avestan People Were Originally From Sapt-Sindhu Region”

I sent this to Sanjay to have a look. Sanjay has take the time to respond, thereby refuting once again the idea that the Vedas orginated in India. His views below:


Mr. Patil has confused Nahusha and Yayati with the namesake characters of Mahabharata. The geneology of Mahabharata obviously is fictitious, with some Vedic names used to bridge the missing links. However Mr. Patil conflates Mahabharata geneology with the Rig Vedic Nahusha and Yayati. This is why he connects names of the sons of Yayati (personal names) from Mahabharata with the Rigvedic five tribes of similar name. Every reader knows that the present edition of Mahabharata is heavily interpolated over the time.  Interestingly, the Battle of Ten Kings fame Sudasa and the account of that battle is absent in Mahabharata. Equating Samvarana with Sudasa has been proven to be entirely wrong because the account of Mahabharata does not match any way with the Rigvedic tale. Here, the suggestion that memories of that battle were obscured doesn’t come to rescue because Vedic account was already available, which was preserved with oral tradition.

There certainly are similarities in the language of Gatha and Rig Veda. However, the Vedic language appears modified. As Mr. Patil agrees, there is similarity between Avestan and Vedic religion, he forgots to mention that Avestan religion was throughout Asura-centric whereas the Vedic religion gradually shifted its base from Asura to Deva. The word Asura appears as a main epithet of the Vedic gods, especially Varuna, which later on was dropped and the meaning of Asura made opposite to its original. He has not given attention towards this drastic shift. Asura-Deva wars and their kinship is well recorded by Brahmana literature. This suggests that the Avestan religion was anterior to the Vedic religion and there were constant feuds between Avestan and Vedic people over political or religious supremacy. Still, Asuras were elder brothers to the Devas, with both performing a fire sacrifice of different nature and worshipping the opposing deities/forces. This only proves that both the societies lived in close vicinity, not in Greater Punjab but present Afghanistan itself.

While using Vamana myth, Mr. Patil has not checked how the myth has evolved in three stages. In the Vedic myth Vishnu (in the form of a sun) crosses the universe in three steps. The second stage –  Satapatha Brahman states that after Asuras won in a battle with Devas, they displaced them. Deprived of any share of the earth the Devas came back to the Asuras with a humble request to allot them a piece of land on which a dwarf Vamana could walk in three steps. Asuras agreed and the dwarf Vamana (who in fact was Vishnu) expanded his body and in three steps covered the earth and thus deceitfully deprived Asuras of their entire land (SB- Later on, this story was further interpolated adding king Bali to it. In fact the myth indicates deceitful conduct of the Vedics (Devas).

As far Puru is concerned, the name of Zarthustra’s father was Pourushaspa. ‘Pouru’ was a prefix of the many Avestan personal names, such as Pouru-Bangha, Pouruchista, Pouru-Dhakshiti, Pouru-Jira, Pouru-Dhakhsti, and many others. There is likely to be some possible connection between Puru of the Rig Veda and Pouru of Avesta. If one wants to stretch this similarity, one may easily infer that the Zoroaster belonged to the Puru tribe. Zoroaster in a same breath was Arya and Dasyu (Airyanam Dakhyunam).  The origin of the name Iran is Airyanam whereas many places in Iran and Afghanistan are named as Dahistan (land of Dasas). This indicates the real location of the Vedic people who had a love-hate relationship with Dasas and Dasyus. Many Rigvedic personalities bear dasa and dasyu as suffix to their names. It can be inferred that Avestan and Vedic people belonged to not only same region but same lingo-ethnic stock as well.

The five tribes, on which Mr. Patil stresses on, do not seem to have ever lived in close vicinity. The Rig Veda describes that the Yadu and Turvasus came from a long distance (RV 1.36.18, 7.45.1). Had the Vedics settled across the river Ghaggar, then the known region of at the least Yadus, i.e. Mathura, could not have been ‘far away’. In fact the Turvasa name suggests they belonged to the Tur region, now known as Turkestan. Only because there is similarity in name, Yadus of Mahabharata cannot be equated with Yadus of Rig Veda. Similar names are found in far-afar civilizations. For example the word ‘Puru’ also is found in Assyrian language. Would this suggest movement of Puru clan to Assyria?

The Parshu tribe name suggests they were ancestors of the Persian people. Turvasa were the residents of the Tur region. Zoroaster’s location is almost certain, i.e. Balkh, North Afghanistan. Most of the tribes mentioned in the Rigveda belong to ancient Iran and the original tribal identities have been preserved since then. Nothing in any scripture suggests movement of the people. The only movement recorded in Brahmana literature is the movement of Videgh Mathava from the banks of the Sarasvati River to Sadanira River via crossing Hindukush (Uttaragiri).

Celebrated tribes of Rigveda do not show that they all accepted the religion under formation at one go. Battle of Ten Kings must have taken place in early times when the Vedic religion was in the making.  Later on, from Manusmriti we find that the status of Sudasa was completely degraded by the Vedics. Also, Panchajana every time does not mean the five tribes that Mr. Patil thinks. The same confusion is with Sapta-Sidhava. It only does mean seven rivers and not necessarily Sindhu (Indus) and its tributaries. Avesta also mentions haptahindu but does not include any tributary of the Indus river while mentioning it. In all probability both the religions are referring to different river systems. They certainly didn’t belong to the Indus region though some bordering tribes like Pakhta (Pashtuns), Balochi (Bhalanas) and a few western tributaries to Indus river that originate in Afghanistan were known to them.

Nadistuti hymn cannot be used to prove Mr. Patil’s conjecture because this sukta, just like Purushasukta, is a very late addition to the Rig Veda. No archeological finding suggests Vedic religion and its deities were ever present in the Indus culture. Only because ten tribes were Indra-haters and fought Indra-lovers does not make them residents of the Indus region. The Avestan reference to Angra-Mainyu is as an abstract evil force and not any personified demon. Fundamental concepts in both the religions were originally same, i.e Asura centric, later on shifted in the vedics from Asura to Deva.

The tribal names and their still preserved identities only indicates ancient Iran being their original location. The rivers mentioned in Rig Veda and Avesta didn’t belong to the Indus region. There never was any Sarasvati flowing through Indus or adjoining regions. The myth associated with Sarasvati’s becoming invisible only suggests that the Vedics did not live across it anymore. Manusmriti also suggests a different geography of Sarasvati and Drishadvati (which Manu calls Brahmavarta) and Kuru-Panchal region (which to him was Brahmarshi Desa).

In a way this is an attempt to force new meanings on the obvious to draw a pre-conceived conclusion.

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Sanjay Sonawani’s forensic analysis of caste – something quite radical and unprecedented

Like all modern “elites” of India, I went through a convent school education for more than half my schooling (the rest in a Central School).

History was taught from Rawlinson’s Student’s History of India. The book taught the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT).

My later studies of history more or less supported the AIT, till around a few years ago, when I started reading material that rebutted the AIT.

In the context of my readings on this topic, I came across Sanjay Sonawani’s book on the Vedas and although poorly written, it was the most persuasive of all. See my blog post here, for instance.

Sanjay has also written a book on caste, but in Marathi. He is working on an English translation at the moment.

In the meanwhile someone sent me a questionnaire on caste, which I sent to Sanjay to respond. This has developed into a good summary of Sanjay’s theory.

Therefore I’m publishing the questionnaire and Sanjay’s response here.

Please download this (in Word).

As you go through it, you’ll find your “well-known” assumptions quashed and questioned. Sanjay is like Sherlock Holmes – he is forensic and detailed in his analysis and questions every “standard” approach. No sociologist, and not even Ambedkar, has come through unscathed.

I’m sure we’ll hear much more in the coming years about Sanjay’s theories of the Vedas and caste.




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A critique by Sanjay Sonawani of the paper “Rigvedic Aryans: An Example of “The Mistaken Identity”” – By VR Patil

A few weeks ago, one VR Patil of Pune sent me a 50 page PDF file (see this).

Unfortunately I’ve had no time to review it. I sent to Sanjay Sonawani for comment. This is his comment:

The whole exercise of Mr. Patil is to prove the indigenous Aryan theory. In this attempt, he goes to the extent in claiming that the “Asva” appearing in Rigveda was not the factual horse but an imaginary animal and that the word was later used to the actual horse when they came across it. This writing provides no new information but forced meanings of Rig Vedic verses are rampant in his text. he does not give proper attention to the tribes mentioned in Rig Veda and their geographies. Also, he should have referred Avesta before making his claims but very seldom and whenever convenient he has used it. He claims that Nahusa was the King of IVC and his other five tribes ruled adjacent regions. Also, he shows the movement of Vedic Aryans from east to west.

Given I’ve read Sanjay’s wonderful book, Origins of the Vedic Religion: And Indus-Ghaggar Civilisation, and have critiqued Talageri’s views here, I see no reason to allocate time to read the Patil book. Sanjay’s commentary is sufficient reason for me to move on.

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