skanda sadbhAva: A distinctive kaumAra tantra?
Even though there are kumAra shrines ranking amongst the richest of the Indian temples, kaumAra worship can be generally characterized as being in the decline, especially in terms of the ancient forms. In South India the majority of priests at kaumAra shrines are actually saiddhAntika’s who have taken over the worship of kumAra within the saiddhAntika system. We have earlier touched upon this phenomenon and shown how the saiddhAntika mantra-s have been inserted and overlaid upon some basic kaumara mantra-s. Another smaller but still notable fraction of the kaumAra officiants in South Indian temples are mAdhva-s, who are vaiShNava-s in their personal practice. It is likely that they were originally kaumAra-s and were converted to the mAdhva-mata, but retained their role as kaumAra officiants. They are organized under some major subrahmaNya maTha-s and are very secretive about their rituals. However, direct observation suggests that their temple rituals are similar to what mAdhva-s perform with respect to the viShNu temples in their control. This raises the question as to whether in the kaumAra temple system there are any remnants of worship prior to the saiddhAntika and much later mAdhva influence.
The one text that we have found to throw some light on precisely in this regard is the obscure tantra named skanda-sadbhAva (saMgraha). To our knowledge the text has never been published and may currently only influence a minority of kaumAra shrines in the drAviDa and andhra countries. It does appear to be one of those major kaumAra tantra-s whose core shows minimal saiddhAntika or any other later form of influence. The text, as I have examined, has 18 chapters, and internally states that it is an abbreviation of the larger skanda-sadbhAva:
The frame of the Tantric narrative is set in kailAsa, where nandin asks maheshvara about the rare and pristine shAstra named skanda sadbhAva. In reply mahAdeva says:
shR^iNu loka hitArthaM me tantram etad asheShataH |
shlokair dvAdasha sAhasrair munInAM kathitaM purA ||
saMskShepAt tava vakShyAmi skanda-sadbhAvaM uttamam |
adhyAya-aShTa dashopetaM skanda-sadbhAva saMyutaM || 1.3-1.4 (the manuscript from which I entered this has no numbers of shloka-s; a very likely emendation of the unmetrical elements in above has been kindly suggested by the learned scholar Somadeva Vasudeva:
śṛṇu lokahitārthaṃ me & tantram etad aśeṣataḥ /
ślokair dvādaśasāhasrair & munīnāṃ kathitaṃ purā //
saṃkṣepāt tu pravakṣyāmi & skandasadbhāvam uttamam /
adhyāyāṣṭādaśopetaṃ skandasadbhāvasaṃyutam // )
Here, shiva in response to nandin’s query states that in the interest of the world he would narrate the tantra in totality. He mentions that earlier it was narrated to the muni-s in a form with 12000 shloka-s (a typical Tantric number for the older longer texts), but he is narrating it now in an abbreviated form, the skanda-sadbhAva (SS) in 18 chapters.
Then the text goes on to given an index of the 18 chapters: 1) saMgraha; 2) saMbhava; 3) mantroddhAra; 4) archana; 5) agnikArya; 6) dIkSha; 7) samayAchara; 8) prAsAda vidhi; 9) adhivAsa vidhi; 10) sthApana; 11) pratimA-lakShaNaM; 12) snapana vidhi; 13) utsava vidhi; 14) bali-karma; 15) prAyashchitta; 16) yAtrA; 17) pravesha; 18) samudAya.
From this it is clear that it follows the common place pattern of sthApana tantra-s seen in the saiddhAntika, vaikhAnasa and pA~ncharAtra realm. While such sthApana tantra-s are quite stereotypic in subject matter, it is precisely in the realm of sthApana that saiddhAntika influence has been dominant on the kaumAra system. Hence, the skanda-sadbhAva helps us to glean the elements of the kaumAra sthApana system outside of the saiddhAntika sphere.
The second chapter of the skanda-sadbhAva called saMbhava is of some interest in establishing its affinities and origins. It is a condensed purANa-like narrative, giving the kumAra-saMbhavaM, which follows the same general frame seen in several Sanskrit purANa-s and the itihAsa-s. Here, kumAra is said to be born in the himAlaya-s (gaurI-giri) from the tejas (euphemistically for retas) of shiva swallowed by agni and then cast into ga~NgA by him, and then by her into the shara-vana. Here he develops into 6 children who are then suckled by the kR^ittkA-s. Then he has the encounter with indra who is alarmed by this new being. This potentially disastrous encounter is stopped by brahmA and agni and finally skanda is taken by agni to rudra. Then he goes to war against tAraka, the great enemy of the gods and kills him in a fierce encounter with his shakti. While the narrative is common place, there are few points to note: 1) It entirely follows the popular account given in Sanskrit tradition and not the Tamil tradition. In the Tamil tradition the main enemy of the deva-s killed by kArttikeya is shUrapadma, with tAraka merely being an assistant of his. Amidst the saiddhAntika-s of the dramiDa country who took over the kaumAra system this Tamil tradition is widely adopted, even in their entirely Sanskrit liturgy. For example, forms of the shatru-saMhAra-trishati or the subrahmaNya bhuj~Nga prayAta stotra, which they use, refer to the killing of shUrapadma. This silence regarding the slaying of shUrapadma might place the SS in the realm of the classical Sanskrit paurAnic tradition. 2) The incident of the encounter with indra: indra seeing him blazing like the fire mercilessly strikes skanda with his vajra. Then he becomes two boys; upon the second strike he becomes 4 boys and upon the 3rd strike he becomes 6 boys. The six of them resembling lighting then wage war on indra. shAkha, vishAkha and nejamesha are not mentioned by name and this peculiar series of fission into 2-4-6 is unique to this narrative.
The 3rd chapter gives the kumAra mantroddhAra (shiva begins by stating: athaH paraM pravakShyAmi mantrodhAra vidhi kramaM). The manuscript I have examined has some lacunae destroying a few words in this section. Yet, it is complete enough to state that the entire mantroddhAra does not have any saiddhAntika overlay, such as incorporation of the shaiva pa~nchAkSharI or the pa~ncha-brahma mantra. The main mUla mantra it teaches is the celebrated skanda ShaDakSharI mantra that it extracts using the drawing of the mAtR^ika chakra (Shown below). Before the mantra the praNava is said to be appended. The mantra is the same as the one provided by the shAradA tilaka tantra (also known to chennas-nArAyaNa nambuthiri-pAD):
athaH paraM pravakShyAmi mantrANAM prasaraM punaH |
saptamasya chaturthaM tu tR^itIyAdyam athaH paraM ||
pa~nchame prathamaM bhUyaH kevalaM svara-varjitaM|
punaH ShaShThe chaturthamsyAt pa~nchama svara-saMyutaM ||
chaturthaM saptame bhUyaH svareNaikAdashena tu |
pa~nchamAntaM punar dadyAt ShaShTAntam sa-visargakaM ||
ayaM ShaDakSharo mantraH sAkShAt skandaH sanAtanaH | (SS 3.7-10ab)
Hence (applying sandhi): ||OM vachadbhuve namaH || the skanda ShaDakSharI
[Disclaimer: Though typically a 50 mAtR^ikA is used, I am simply illustrating the 51 mAtR^ikA form I have inherited in my tradition, because I use it for a number of purposes. The SS merely states akAradi-kShakArAntAM]
maheshvara then specifies the bIja-s of the mUrti mantra-s and says that they must be conjoined with their respective names. The names are not provided here, but are found in the 4th chapter on archana. Using them we can reconstruct these mantra-s as well as the directions in which these mUrti-s are placed in the petals of the kumAra maNDala:
saM sanatkumArAya namaH || (E)
skaM skandAya namaH || (S)
baM bANAya namaH || (W)
haM hemachUDAya namaH || (N)
bhaM bhadrasenAya namaH || (NE)
bhaM bhavaputrAya namaH || (SE)
daM devasenAyai namaH || (SW)
daM devayAnyai namaH || (NW)
Then shiva also goes on to give the following auxiliary mantra-s:
vAhana: maM mayUrAya namaH ||
dhvaja: kaM kukkuTAya namaH ||
dhUrtasena (a major kumAra gaNa in this system): dhaM dhUrtasenAya namaH ||
vighnesha (the receiver of the nirmAlya in this system): gUM gaNapatye namaH ||
Then shiva provides the uddhara of the second ShaDakSharI mantra – manuscript is somewhat lacunose here but one can easily read the essentials of he uddhara to extract the mantra:
OM namaH ShaNmukhAya ||
It also gives a distinctive kumAra gAyatrI of the form: OM shaktihastAya vidmahe ShaDAnanAya dhimahi | tan-naH skandaH prachodayat ||
The 8th chapter on kumAra temples states that they may be constructed in many places but specifically mentions the kadamba forest to be associated with a guhAlaya. This connection to the kadamba tree is an ancient one which even mentioned the mahAbhArata skandopAkhyAna of the AraNyaparvan. The following emblems of kumAra which are made of gold: mayUra (installed in the East); shakti (South); kukkuTa (West); vajra (installed in the N); elephant (middle). The loka-pAla-s are installed around the temple in the respective direction and two dvAra-palas at the door posts with fierce appearance, good dress and holding shakti-s and vajra-s. A distinctive feature of this tantra is the installation of vedic R^ishi-s in maNTapa-s at different spots of specified by the squares of the 64-squared vAstu-maNDala of the kumAra temple: a~ngirasa (bR^iSha), bhR^igu (vitatha), vasiShTha (bhR^i~Nga), atri (sugrIva), nArada (varuNa), gotama (shoShaNa, emended in original from shoSha), bharadvAja (mukhya), agastya (soma) and vishvAmitra (jayanta). Additionally smaller shrines are built for vighna (nirR^iti) and shiva-bhutAdhipati (roga), a fire-ritual altar (agni) and a store room for flowers (IshAna). A vajra is installed in the gopura facing the gates, a peacockis placed in front of the deity and beyond it is placed the balipITha. There after a copper-crested cock is placed atop a tall dhvaja-stambha.