Thursday, February 3, 2011

Performing rituals in the Srividya

Performing rituals as part of the Pooja or Upasana in the Srividya sampradaaya is a little more elaborate with a number of special sets of tasks peculiar to this cult.

To begin with, we have to understand the actual form that is accepted for worship in this Pooja. The generally accepted form for worship as Devi is an idol and a Chakra.
Srichakra represents the creation and dissolution of the universe starting from the Brahman, which itself is depicted as the Bindu in the center of the Chakra.

The second requisite is what is known as a mantra. Any mantra is considered as a zealously guarded secret. A mantra is a collection of letters, which on its face may not convey any meaning. By definition, mantra means that by repeatedly meditating upon which one is saved. It is the duty of every devotee of Srividya to constantly meditate upon his mantra and chant it repeatedly so that there result repeated vibrations in the astral centers of the individual. These are never to be uttered aloud and therefore even the Vedas hint at these mantras in a coded language only.

The prescribed mantra for Srividya worship is what is known as the Panchadashi. Literally translated, it means a fifteen-lettered mantra. Different seers have explained the meaning of this mantra in different ways. Nitya Shodashikarnava gives six different interpretations. Sri Bhaskararaya, in his magnum opus VarivasyaRahasya, gives fifteen interpretations. 

A Keralite scholar of this century, Perunkulam Veeraraghava Shastrigal has given more than 60 interpretations, which have received the approval of Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Nrisimha Bharati Mahaswamigal, the 33^rd distinguished occupant of the Dakshinamnaya Sringeri Sarada Peetham, who was universally recognized as the foremost scholar of his times. 

In essence, Panchadashi mantra is considered as equal to the Vedic Mahavakyas, which clearly indicate the true nature of Brahman and the true nature of the individual self.

invisible first step

The first qualification for a Upasaka to perform Pooja is obtaining Diksha from a competent Guru. the rite called Diksha is supposed to be destroying all the limiting factors of the individual self and facilitate his union with Shiva.

aIyate shivasAyujyaM kShIyate pAshabandhanam.
atha dIkSheti kathitaM budhaiH sacChAstravedibhiH ..

It is the Guru who, after testing the disciple's competence, initiates him into the Upasana by teaching him the mantra, the Devata Swaroopa and the methods of performing the rituals. Though the Sadhaka begins initially with external rituals, he should rise to the level of performing Antaryaga as set out in Bhavanopanishad.

The first step in Bahiryaga is the method of entering the room of worship. Next follows Tatva Achamana. This is a cleansing process carried out by ingesting drops of water four times or seven times, praying each time for the cleansing of the Anava, Mayika and Karmika Malas, which is accomplished by the usage of Bija mantras. This prepares the Sadhaka's mental frame and sets it ready for the Jnana swaroopa to shine. 

The next and the most important step is performing GuruPaduka Vandana. This involves paying one's respect to the lotus feet of the Guru. There is a special prescribed procedure for performing this. Guru's feet are supposed to be on the head of the Upasaka. Therefore, he has to worship with his hands locked in Mrigi Mudra, the sandals of the preceptor. 

This procedure calls for worshipping his own master (Guru), the Guru's Guru (Parama Guru) and his Guru (Parameshthi Guru). There are three separate mantras for each of these. The GuruPaduka mantras collectively connote the same concept as that of the Mahavakya – Tatvamasi. Actually, these syllables are represented one each by the three Paduka mantras.


The next step is ringing the bell. This is symbolic of referring to the evolution of the universe from Nada. By ringing the bell, the Devas are invited to the Pooja simultaneously warding off the evil thoughts and forces present in the vicinity. The actual part of the Pooja starts now with a declaration i.e. Sankalpa. This is done by
doing Pranayama – breathing in, holding the breath and breathing out, using the Panchadashi or Shodashi mantra, as taught by the Guru. Then, the time and place in which the Upasaka is performing the Pooja are narrated with the prescribed necessary time and space components. Accomplished Upasakas traditionally adopt the Ashtanga method ofnarrating the time, which is distinctive and unique to Srividya Upasana.

Next in the order comes the seat on which one should sit and perform the Pooja. The directions pronounced by Lord Krishna in Gita – `Having firmly fixed in a clean place, his seat, neither too high nor too low, and having spread over it the Kusha grass, a deer skin and a cloth one over the other', is adopted. One addition to this is the repetition of a certain mantra along with which water is sprinkled on the seat before being seated.

Then follows a procedure for guarding oneself against external influences by a process known as Deharaksha.

Then follows a Pushpanjali collectively to all the Devatas in the Srichakra and also obtaining from Sri Dakshinamurthy, the foremost guru in Dakshinachara and Samayachara, permission to proceed with Srichakra Navavarana Pooja.


Before actually invoking Sri Lalita Mahatripurasundari into the Srichakra, a minor rite called Prana Pratishtha is performed. This is actually fixing firmly the Yantra or Meru and energizing it before inviting the Devata to come and occupy it. The purporse is an expression of the fact that the power that is present in our heart is
brought out and conceived to be installed in the Chakra. Now, a series of small tasks, which are intended to bring into the Chakra the complete abode of Devi with all its components by naming each one and imagining its being made to be present in its appropriate position in the Srichakra.

In reality, Sridevi's abode which is called as Srinagara contains a large number of oceans, islands, copses, gardens, surrounding spaces, moats and a central splendorous palace, as set out in sage Durvasa's Arya Dwishati. All these are, item by item, visualized in the Srichakra by referring to their individual names. Thus, in effect, we have kind of reconstructed mentally the Srinagara before us to worship the occupant thereof. We then have to light and install two lamps on either side of the Pooja mandala.

Next step is to get the individual ready to stand before this divine presence and perform the Pooja. This in turn involves five tasks:

1. Bhuta Shuddhi which is a process of cleansing all the effects of the physical elements of the individual's body by a series of Pranayama steps, chanting special Bija mantras simultaneously.
2. The way we fix firmly the deity being worshipped by a prana Pratishtha, the individual must also fix himself firmly by performing Atma Prana Pratishtha.
3. The next step is to perform Pranayama to ensure concentration.
4. The fourth ingredient is a ritual to ward off all evil tendencies around us by a process called Vighnotsarana.
5. The last in this category is known as the Shikha Bandha, which tying up one's hair into a knot to take care to prevent the hair from getting loose frequently and interfering with the rituals connected with the Pooja. Today it is indeed rare to find a male individual with uncropped hair; hence the ritual, though a real one, has become imaginary.

The second major part of the Pooja rituals is what is known as Nyasa. In Upasana, Nyasa refers to touching the various parts of our body, chanting a mantra and visualizing the presiding Shakti of that mantra to be present in that part of the body being touched. There is a whole lot of different Nyasas with different mantras being used in varying orders.

In the Navavarana Pooja, the following main Nyasas are generally performed:

1. Matrika Nyasa (Antarmatrika and Bahirmatrika Nyasa). Actually there are 14 types of Matrika Nyasas prescribed namely, Bindumatrika, Visargamatrika, Binduvisargamatrika, Hrillekhadimatrika, Bijadimatrika, Kamadimatrika, Tribijadimatrika, Balasamputitamatrika, Parasamputitamatrika, Srividyayuktamatrika, Hamsamatrika, Paramahamsamatrika, Pranavakalamatrika and Ashtatrimshatkala Matrika Nyasas. In addition to these, if the Sadhaka is also initiated into the Vaishnava angas of Srividya, he should perform Keshava Matrika Nyasa, Srikantha Matrika Nyasa if initiated into the Shaiva angas and Prapanchayaga Matrika Nyasa if initiated into Maha Ganapathi mantra. Bhutilipi Nyasa gives raip Siddhi of the mantra.
2. Karashuddhi Nyasa
3. Atmaraksha and Balashadanga Nyasa
4. Chaturasana (or Shadasana) Nyasa
5. Antashchakra and Bahishchakra Nyasas
6. Mahakameshwaryadi Nyasa
7. Moola Vidya Varna Nyasa
8. Laghu Shoda Nyasa (which involves Ganesha, Graha, Nakshatra, Yogini, Rashi and Pitha Nyasas)
9. Maha Shodha Nyasa (which involves Prapancha, Bhuvana, Murti, Mantra, Daivata and Matrika Bhairava Nyasas)
10. Srichakra Nyasa (again of three types: Srishti, Sthiti and Samhara)

Before moving on to the next set of rites in this Pooja procedure, one will have to study and understand the implications of these various Nyasas, which are very important. Some similar kinds of Nyasas are also performed even when one is not performing Pooja but only does Japa. Every mantra to be chanted will have to be along with some elements of the Japa process and these are Rishi, Chandas, Devata, Karanyasa and Anganyasa.


We now move on to the fourth part of the Pooja procedure which is known as Patrasadanam, which literally means spreading out vessels between the devotee and the Srichakra in a prescribed manner and a ceremonious manner. The following vessels are recognized as obligatory in this regard:

1. Kalasha or Vardhani for keeping water for various sundry purposes.
2. Shankha or conch also known as Samanya Arghya Patra to contain water for certain special uses.
3. Vishesha Arghya Patra to contain a special liquid prepared for the Pooja.
4. Shuddhi Patra
5. Guru Patra
6. Atma Patra
7. Bali patra intended for offering Bali to the forces present around us as a reward for not interfering with the Pooja.

For each one of these Patras, there are fixed positions in the layout, a mandala of a particular design, a method of filling the patra with the appropriate content and a sequence of performing certain rites on each of them, chanting the relevant mantras. 

This part of the Pooja is a very elaborate one.
There is a set of apparent and esoteric meanings for each of these, which have to be fully understood. The contents of each of these vessels have specific application and disposal in the Pooja process. Yet another aspect of this is that these vessels and their contents symbolically represent the very same type of corresponding vessels with connected rituals in performing a Yagna or a sacrifice. It is this aspect that establishes a connection between this particular Pooja with the rituals connected with a Yagna, thereby bringing about integration between the karma and Bhakti paths. 

This is a very important and special feature of Srividya. Hence Srichakra Navavarana Pooja is also referred to as Yagna. At the end of the Pooja, there is a prayer, which says, "Jagat Yagnena Tripyatu".

At the end of these rites, the Kundalini Shakti, which is supposed to be Sridevi herself, is addressed with certain mantras and offerings. Ultimately to a person who keeps on performing this Pooja with great care and attention, the Kundalini which is normally dormant, gets kindled and starts moving upward along the Sushumna path towards the upper part of the head which houses the Sahasrara. After this commences the Pooja to all the deities who reside in the Srichakra.

Another difference to be recognized at this stage is that while other Poojas are done with flower alone, in this Pooja, offerings are made by both hands – flowers in the right and a piece of ginger held in a clasp in the left which is dipped in Vishesha Arghya and droplets thereof being offered simultaneously with the flowers. The utterance is thus `Pujayami and Tarpayami'.

The Pooja in this part begins with requesting Sridevi to present Herself in the Srichakra to enable us to perform the Pooja. This is called Avahana. The concept is to bring out the Devi present in your heart and install her in the Srichakra before you. This is not only done mentally but also physically using a mantra and Trikhanda Mudra.

Now, we have the divine element present in us installed securely in the external Srichakra. Then the
64 Upacharas are offered to Devi to please her and make her extremely happy. The detailed Aavarana Pooja starts with worshipping the Chaturayatana deities. These are Ganesha, Surya, Vishnu and Shiva. These four occupy the four corners of the square, which contains the Srichakra.


15 nithya pooja

First, the fifteen Nitya Devis are worshipped as the powers that rule the fifteen days in a fortnight. In the bright half of the fortnight, they are worshipped starting from Kameshwari whereas the Pooja begins with Chitra Nitya in the dark half. There is a sixteenth Nitya known as Maha Nitya, who is none other than Sridevi herself from whom these fifteen emerge. The purpose of this part of the Pooja is to comprehend that time itself has emanated from, and is subordinate to Sridevi. 
Then Pooja is offered to the Guru Parampara or the lineage of gurus. The Gurus are conceived as belonging to four separate groups: first is Paraugha and the rest are Divya, Siddha and Manavaugha. The first offering is to the highest Guru ruling over the present cycle of time known as Sri Charyanandanatha. Next in priority is Sri Dakshinamurthy. After that, the full lineage of Gurus is offered Pooja. Thirty-one Gurus are mentioned by name with Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada's as the thirty-second. These are then followed by the devotee's Parameshti, Parama and Swagurus.

The Pooja then moves over to the worship of the deities in the nine enclosures of Srichakra.
Pooja is offered next to five groups of Devis who are conceived to be located over the Bindu in Srichakra in a five-fold Peetha. These goddesses represent the stages through which the Sadhaka has to pass, in moving from Savikalpa Samadhi to Nirvikalpa state. After this, Pooja is offered to the deities of the Shanmatas and six Chakras.
There are four amnayas (six for Maha Shodashi Upasakas), each one containing a sizable number of individual Devatas.

These can be offered Pooja and Tarpana individually or in groups. 

After this, depending on the availability of time, archana is performed with Sahasranama, Trishati or Ashtottara. Trishati archana is always performed with Kumkuma. 

The concluding part of the Pooja includes Dhoopa, Deepa, Naivedya, Tamboola, Karpura Nirajana and Mantra Pushpa.

Arartikam and Kuladipam

At this point, it becomes necessary to mention two additional features, which are peculiar to Srividya Upasana. They are the Arartikam and Kuladipam. These are one set of nine lamps and a single lamp made out of wheat flour, sugar and ghee and lit. 

Suvasini Pooja

After this, Suvasini Pooja and Tatvashodhana are performed. Yet another special feature of this Pooja is that it is not only the main devotee who performs the Pooja but after he has finished, others also partake in the ritual by each one performing what is known as Samayika Pooja. it is practically a very short form of the principal Pooja so that everybody present also gets the satisfaction of having himself performed the Pooja. it is also a means of training the aspirant to acquire the competence to himself perform the Pooja in due course.

Pancha Makara pooja

In the context of Srividya Upasana, two more aspects remain to be explained. One of them is what is collectively known as Pancha Makara. These are five things representing the five physical elements, which are denoted through Madya, Mamsa, Matsya, Mudra and Maithuna. Of these, Madya refers to the principle of fire, Matsya to water, Mamsa to earth, Mudra to Vayu and Maithuna to ether. The use of these five in their real physical forms, though used by certain cults, is not prescribed for a Satvika Upasaka.
Adi Shankara has actually condemned the use of these and has practically banned Pooja performance with these things in their normal form. These articles are to be used by those at the lowest level of evolution. The intention is to curb and channel their natural propensity to use these, by prescribing elaborate rituals and procedures and sanctifying them.

For the evolved Sadhakas, these five connote the five Tanmatras, which are the five arrow of Mahatripurasundari. Madya is the ambrosia flowing from the Chit Chandra mandala, Mamsa means the control of tongue, the two Matsyas are the Ida and Pingala, Mudra refers to the center of Sahasrara and Maithuna is the union of Jivatman and Paramatman.

The Shastras have pointed out that the use of these articles in their literal form is like walking on the edge of a sword, embracing a tiger and wearing a snake.


As referred to earlier, every area of Srichakra contains a variety of Devatas. There are separately described procedures for performing Pooja for each of them. Each of these Devis is ruling over one or the other aspects of secular life like health, wealth, happiness, education, winning over rivals or competitors, achieving particular special powers etc. While the total worship pf Sri Lalita Mahatripurasundari through the Aavarana Pooja will grant everything in this world and the other and lead one to total liberation at the end, these particular literally lesser powers have the way of granting whatever is specifically asked for separately.

Besides, there are separate Aavarana Pooja procedures in regard to some of the Anga Devatas of Devi in Srichakra such as Maha Ganesha, Varahi, Shyamala, Chandi, Subrahmanya, Dakshinamurthy, and Swarnakarshana Bhairava etc.

Shadanvaya Shambhavi

In addition, there is one Pooja addressed to a particular form known as Shadanvaya Shambhavi which is in fact, a Pooja addressed to Devi in her form completely one with Kameshwara. This worship is considered to be ultimate because it even transcends the gender and takes one on to a single principle. A complete description of this together with all the necessary concepts is provided in the fourteenth Shloka of Saundaryalahari and in the detailed commentary thereon by several learned commentators.


The six principles referred to in these are of the five gross, physical elements, earth, water etc., together with the mind as the sixth element. Hence this is considered to be the ultimate to be pursued by the devotee who aspires for liberation from all the worldly attractions.

Although the detailed procedures are set out in this compendium, only the Adhikari should undertake this form of worship for this. The prerequisite is not only poorna Diksha with initiation into Maha Shodashi but also the higher initiation of Maha Shaambhava Diksha and the initiation into Shaambhava Maha Padukas and other secret mantras.

The three higher Saparyas – Shadanvaya Shambhavi, Dakshinamurthy Aavarana or Brahmavidya Mandala Pooja and the Guru mandala Pooja, these have to be performed only on Pancha Parvas by the above said Adhikari.

These five occasions are the birthday of Guru, Diksha day of Guru, Chitra Pournami, Guru Pournami and the Guru Kaivalya parva. Without complete guidance from the Guru, these procedures bring grave results to the Sadhaka.

Saubhagya Hridaya Stava gives more details about these procedures.

Chandi or Durga paddhati

Independent of all the above, there is in practice a procedure called Chandi or Durga paddhati. This is also considered as one of the Devi's forms that inhere in the Srichakra. However, there is not much mentioned about this in the popular Srichakra Pooja procedures.

There is a Smriti which says: Kalau chaNDI vinAyakau. This means in the age of kali, the two Devatas to be worshipped are Chandi and Ganapathi. The worship of these two will itself give the benefit of other forms of worship.

The basis for this Chandi Upasana is found in Devi Bhagavata as well as the Markandeya Purana, which contains the well-known Saptashati. This narrates the three tales of Sridevi fighting and destroying the evil forces in the forms of Madhu, Kaithabha, Mahishasura and Shumbha – Nishumbha.

These stories are narrated in thirteen chapters in the form of seven hundred stanzas or half stanzas. Each of these is considered as an independent mantra by repeating which one attains profound benefits.

In addition, the mantra prescribed for this is what is known as Navakshari, the nine-lettered mantra that has its basis in the Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, known as the Devi Upanishad
The reader who has read so far would have got an idea of the fundamental concepts of Srividya and the external Navavarana Pooja. The often-quoted saying -

YatrAsti bhogo na tatra mokShaH yatrAsti mokShaH na tu tatra bhogaG .
ShrIsundarI sAdhakapuMgavAnAM bhogashcha mokshashcha karastha eva ..

`Where there is worldly enjoyment, there is no salvation; where there is salvation, there is no worldly enjoyment. For the great worshippers of Sri Sundari, both worldly enjoyment and salvation are at hand' – will come alive with a new significance.

As the Phala Sruti of Sri Lalita Sahasranama says, only the person who in crores of births and deaths has sung the names of other deities will develop sincerity and interest in singing the names of Mahatripurasundari. Only in the last Janma, one becomes a Srividya Upasaka.

Those who have earned this through their Tapas in many Janmas, will enter this Upasana Marga

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