The great chera magicians

The nambUthiri brahmins of the chera country are representatives of the earliest great wave of brahminical settlers of the deep Dravida lands. In the modern Tamil country their cousins, the choliars and the dIkShitas of Chidambaram represent small pockets of this wave of the early Aryans of South India. They are all members of the pUrvashikha class of brahmins, who wear their shikha in the front, and separated from the mainstream Aryan core anywhere around 500-300 BC and proceeded southwards. In the Tamil country these brahmins have been largely overrun by the two notable later brahminical migrations: the bR^ihatcharaNa or the great sect that established itself under the pallava patronage and subsequently the various lines of vaDamas or Northerners who came in starting in the choLa period and through the Reddi and Vijayanagaran regimes. Both of whom are also seen in the Andhra and karNATa countries and are aparashikha brahmins wearing their shikha at the back of the head. Amongst the nambUthiris there were great exponents of three vedic saMhitas, shrauta sacrifices and the tantra.

While the tantric traditions of the chera country show remarkable isolation and archaic preservation in certain directions, in the medieval period the chera tantrics acquired a pan-Indian renown and were part of the country-wide movement to systematize the shrikula tantric material. An example of this was the great kaula tantric puNyAnandanAtha, a nambuthiri of the lopAmudrA (or hAdimata) lineage of shrividyA who migrated to Kashmir and founded a major school there. He authored the famous text kAmakalA vilAsa which propounds one of the most powerful forms of shrividyA worship based on the yonIrUpa. However, our main objective here is to provide a brief account of the greatest medieval tantrics of the chera country, on account of whose systematization of the tantra the weakly educated smArtas of the Tamil country have gained a great fear of the chera tantrics, whom they refer to as the chera magicians.

The greatest of the chera magicians, chennas narAyaNan nambUthiripAD, a remarkable individual, was born in 1428 in the chennas household in the modern Malappuram county. He was an extraordinarily versatile brahmin who acquired knowledge on a variety of topics at a young age. Firstly, he mastered the vedic and tantric lore, especially digesting an enormous amount of tantric literature and prayogas of various streams, including shAkta, pA~ncharAtra, saptarAtra, bhUtatantras, kumArAgama and shaivAgamas. nArayaNan also acquired mastery of sanskrit poetry and composition and is noted as one the greatest 18 sanskrit poets of the chera country. It is said that he was once visited by uddaNda shAstrI, the famed smArta scholar from Kanchipuram, who asked him give him any topic and he would compose two sholkas on the same. The tale goes that nArayaNan gave uddaNDa an obscure astronomical topic on which uddaNDa could compose only 1.5 sholkas and was thus discomfited. It is also said that uddaNDa had defeated all the nambuthiris in sanskR^it debates and thoroughly shamed them by stating the he the tiger from Kanchi had put the nambuthiri elephants of bad poetry to flight. So the nambuthiris took refuge with nArayaNan, who laid an abhichAra on uddaNDa and uddaNDa was consequently defeated by his own young nambuthiri student.

In the 1440-50s nArayaNan carried out numerous detailed observations on Mars, Saturn and Jupiter which was critical for other great nambuthiri astronomer nIlakaNTha somayAjI to develop his planetary model. nArayaNan next contributed to the development of Hindu calculus providing the geometric form of the limit sin(x)/x=1: x->0. He used to show how the formula of the area of the circle may be formal derived as the area of a polygon n->infinity. He also extensively developed the use of a planar coordinate system equivalent to the Cartesian system in solving geometric problems. Here he was following the steps of vAchaspati mishra, first seen in the latter’s great work on vaisheShika explaining atomic coordinates. He also provided solutions for several trigometric problems concerning tantric yantra constructions and Agamic 3D constructions. These problems include finding the length of the longest diagonals of an octagon given its perimeter or constructing a regular hexagon having the same area as a given square. He summed up his work on pratical 3D geometry in a treatise the mAnava vAstulakShaNaM on construction of temples.

He then wrote his elaborate compendium of the tantra, the tantra sammuchaya, providing all details on tantric temple worship as well as rites. He was succeeded by his illustrious son sha~Nkaran nambUthiripAD who wrote another tantric treatise sheSha sammuchaya that covered all deities not covered by his father and the specialized rurujit shAkta temple protocols. These together became the basic manual for all chera magicians. In particular these renowned tantrics established highly secret dhUmAvatI, bhadrakAlI and bagalAmukhI prayogas that are transmitted only within their fold. Most poorly educated smArtas of the Tamil and the Telugu countries have hardly any defense against these prayogas and can be easily blown away. A chera tantric of the line of nArAyaNan and sha~Nkaran performed one of his mighty kaumAra prayogas for me, which can be considerably efficacious.

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