Some notes on khecharI mudra

A sagittal section through the head of a normal human.

Hy-hypothalamus;Pi-pituitary; Po-Pons; Me-Medulla oblongata; T-tongue; kh-khaM, the place where the tongue should press in the khecharI mudra; rd- rAja danta.

Having performed vyomayAna we translocated to the most beautiful city of ratnapura on the shores of the paschima mahodadhi and occupied a room on the samudrataTa. There, while watching the purple sunset draped by the Russian volcano, we performed our saMdhyopAsana by pouring water from the raging waters of the sAgara as arghya. We then curled up to watch a remarkable documentary by a jaTAdhArI English baron called Jim Mallinson, which was recommended to us by Sharada. In the documentary Mallinson shows a temple of the sapta-bhagini from the ancestral regions of Sharada and R, but the actual icons in there are nine in number. Since we had done some investigation of the sapta-bhaginI cults in the regions around the city of our youth, Sharada asked us about the extra two images. But we got sidetracked by something else. Sir Mallinson seems to be a pretty interesting guy as he stated in the documentary that he was both a paraglider and the student of a text which I understood to mean the khecharI-vidyA. Checking him out on the web showed that he had indeed written a work on the khecharI vidyA that appears to be out of print now. We shall record some notes on the khecharI mudra here rather than talk about Mallinson’s documentary or the sapta-bhaginI cult and its evolution.

The khecharI mudra is a yogic practice of great antiquity emerging in late vedic stratum first represented in the maitrayaNIyopaniShad the only surviving portion of the maitrAyaNIya brAhmaNa in both manuscript and a precarious oral tradition. In this text the khecharI mudra is expounded by shAkAyanya to the magadhan king bR^ihadratha along with proto-“kuNDalini” yoga (MaiU 6.20-21). The khecharI mudra here is described as the great practice by which one has the experience of brahmaivAhamasmi, a key teaching of vedAnta. The practice was incorporated into the early classical yoga of epic period. Subsequently, it was acknowledged by the tathAgata as a means of achieving the state of a muni. It is clear that in one his sutta-s known as the nAlaka sutta (verse 38), in the mahAvagga of the suttanipAta, the tathAgata expounds the khecharI mudra just as in the upaniShad as the means of achieve the state of knowledge i.e. that of the muni. Thus, it becomes clear that khecharI was already well established in the yogic circles by the time of the tathAgata. Hence, it is not surprising that it continued in its popularity with the emergence of the shaiva mantra-mArga. That it was present in the common ancestor of shaiva mantra mArga is clarified by the fact that it is described in the archaic text of the kula system the kaulaj~nAna nirNaya as well as the saiddhAntika tantra-s.

But it was in the kaula streams the khecharI evolved into a distinct practice under that name with miraculous properties. In the kaulaj~nAna nirNaya it is described as a yoga which destroys diseases. Here for the first time the meditation on a multiplicity of gustatory sensations while performing the mudra is alluded to: when the yogin perceives a sweet taste he is able to reverse graying of hair and wrinkles; when he perceives the taste of milk he becomes amartya; when he perceives ghee he becomes svarAT. In the trika kaula system we find that it is described in greater detail incorporated into a meditation on the central trika goddess parA. Here too it is a means of destroying disease and decrepitude. The 21’st chapter of the mAlinIvijayottara states that the tAntrika invokes parA devI in the middle of a 16-spoked chakra, with the disc of he moon as its hub, in the midst of the void of the upper oro-nasal cavity – this is what is precisely meant by the term khaga in MVUT:
ShoDashAre khage chakre chandra-kalpita-karNike |
svarUpeNa parAM tatra sravanIm amR^itaM smaret || MVUT 21.2

Thus we see that the term khecharI comes from the fact the tongue moves to the kha the space of the upper oro-nasal cavity. The tantra goes on indicate that in the initial practice of the mudra the sAdhaka experiences a salty or iron taste (That this is default state can be easily verified by even merely moving the tongue backward in a regular person when having a clean mouth). By repeated practice the mudra he perceives a sweet taste and drinks that. Once he achieves the sweet taste he can perceive the tasting of all kinds of fluids he meditates upon, like blood, liquor, animal fat, ghee and milk.

In the subsequent yogic literature the khecharI mudra is even described as a means of holding of retas. It is said that a yogin who practices it does not have an outflow of shukra even when he is in coitus with a beautiful woman:
tenaiShA khecharI nAma mudrA siddha-namaskR^itA |
khecharyA mudrayA yasya vivaraM lambikordhvataH ||
binduH kSharati no yasya kAminyAli~Ngitasya cha |
yAvad binduH sthito dehe tAvan mR^ityu-bhayaM kutaH ||
dhyAnabindu 83-84
Further, from the shaiva stream, the khecharI also appears to have been transferred to the yoga of the pA~ncharAtra vaiShNava system (See below).

The classical standalone khecharI system came into its own relatively late, resting on the foundations of the shrIkula and the pashchimAmnAya tantra-s. The khecharIvidyA states that shiva first taught this system in various tantras such as the mahAkAla saMhitA (pashchimAmnAya), the glorious yoginIjAlashambara (shrIkula) and vishuddheshvara tantra-s. Then shiva adds that though these tantra-s cover the matter in different levels of details, it is the khecharIvidyA text which would provide a devoted description of the procedure. The holy nityAShoDashikArNava of the shrIkula again states that amongst the preceding tantra-s before the “arNava-ization” in the shrIkula stream were the YJS and ViSh. Thus, the khecharIvidyA in its classical form is an offshoot of the procedure proclaimed in the foundational kaula texts. It is here that the important mantra of the melaka is taught, which is supposed to be combined with the actual yogic practice of khecharI:
hrIM bhaM saM ShaM [paM] phaM saM kShaM ||
As per the khecharIvidyA the practice of the mantra is a must for attaining khecharI siddhI – this point is repeatedly mentioned and the mantroddhAra is given before the yogic procedures. The mantra itself of the form given above was current amongst my coethnics who practiced it in Thanjavur. However, I have seen a variant form which replaces the ShaM with a paM. This might also correspond to a variant uddhara, which I have seen, but was not able to completely comprehend due to the lack of clarity in the varga being indicated.

Then the khecharIvidyA text goes on to expound the practice of the khecharI mudra itself. Here we encounter the version that involves cutting of the frenulum linguae, something not found in the earlier texts. The text states that after having cleaned the palate for week by rubbing the yogin incises frenulum by a hair diameter using a sharp scalpel shaped like a snuhI leaf. He then rubs the area with a mixture of rock salt and the pathyA plant. He repeats the procedure after 7 days and it is said that in 6 months he cuts of the frenulum. After that he wraps his tongue’s tip with a cloth and stretches it. After carrying out this exercise for 6 years he would have stretched his tongue long enough for the mudra. The text warns that he should do it very gradually and if he rushes with it he destroys his organ. Then he practices the entry of tongue behind the soft palate into the oro-nasal cavity of the pharynx. With 3 years of practice he is able to press the wall of the cavity well above the anterior arch of the atlas vertebra and reach the base of sphenoidal sinus. The yogin then may practice manthana. If he has siddhi of the khecharI mantra then he does not need churning, but if he can combine both then it is even better. In this he inserts a metal wire with a capsule at the end into to the nasal cavity with a thread and performing hR^idya prANAyAma he churns the capsule gently while focusing on the center of his eyebrows. He does this once a month. Then keeps pressing with his tongue the base of the sphenoidal sinus and licking the surface with his tongue in the act called the drinking of amR^ita. He focuses on the hypophysis and apparently stimulates it with the action of his tongue. When he tastes the amR^ita he gradually attains the siddhi-s of khecharI over several years of practice. These are described in hyperbolic terms: freedom from decrepitude, life stretched to 1000s of years, mastery of shAstra-s, knowledge of buried treasures and underground caves, dUradR^iShTi and dUrashravaNa, strength of 10000 elephants, success in chemistry and ability to repel abhichAra prayoga-s.

The vaiShNava version of khecharI that I have encountered is from the yoga section of the shANDilya saMhitA. In this text the khaM in the upper pharyngeal cavity is described as the seat of viShNu. The yogin meditates on it and performs the khecharI mudra largely as described in the khecharI vidyA text. In this consideration of shANDilya, the khecharI mudra contains a mention of the cutting of the frenulum linguae as in the more mature shaiva texts. It also uses yoga terminology relating to the chakra-s and the meditation of viShNu in the sushumNa typical of the yoga of the shaiva tantra-s. We see an evolution of the khecharI and the associated yoga system within the shaiva tantra-s, but I have not encountered a parallel evolution in the pA~ncharAtra texts. So it seems that khecharI was transferred to the vaiShNava system relatively late from the shaiva system. However, I must stress that more careful examination of earlier vaiShNava saMhitA-s might change this picture.

To the outsider the hyperbole surrounding the khecharI mudra appears to give the impression of the whole thing being bogus. Some others say it has nothing to do with regular anatomy, but some kind of perceived or “yogic” anatomy. Hence they argue that its effect should not be considered in terms of regular anatomy. While I have nothing to say of the great siddhi-s mentioned in connection with the mudra, I am aware of yogin-s both vaiShNava and smArta (practicing shrIkulA tantra-s) who have practiced it, albeit without cutting their frenulum linguae. It is of central importance for their practice along with the triple bandha and is the basis for entering the state of chidAnanda or some say samAdhI. While I cannot speak for myself in this case, the reliable experience of the yogin-s suggests that the mudra has a very definitive physiological effect. These effects suggest that, though it might seem rather unbelievable, the khecharI mudra might stimulate parts of the brain that are adjacent to where the action takes place. This I suspect might account for the experiential aspects of their practice. More controversially it is conceivable that somehow the practice stimulates the hypophysis to release lutenizing hormone. I have not tested this hypothesis in anyway, but one cannot rule it out. In conclusion I believe that the khecharI is a real discovery of the Indo-Aryans that has been preserved as a central element of the tradition of yoga, while being refined through the ages. I must add that some practitioners of it do display some baffling capabilities (which insiders are well aware of) although none of this tested in any controlled way.

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