A brief hagiography of aghorashiva deshika

The saiddhAntika tradition or the Urdhvasrotas of the shaiva mantra-mArga has an extensive exegetical tradition that covers a variety of topics. Of these the doctrinal sections are mainly of interest to the practicing shaiva insider. This material has some historical value in terms of understanding the origin of the mantra-mArga from earlier pAshupata traditions of the ati-mArga variety. The mantra praxis and yoga are of wider interest for they even inform the smArta ritualist in this regard. The temple ritual and installation of the saiddhAntika-s is again of considerable general interest. Another point of interest are the philosophical leanings and vaidika scholarship among the early saiddhAntika-s of both northern and southern India. In particular the saiddhAntika-s appear to have continued the tradition of the pAshupata-s in terms of their leanings towards the vaisheShika and nyAya systems. In light of all this it is fruitful for a smArta to study the works of the learned saiddhAntika exegetes. The saiddhAntika-s had a prolific line of tAntrika-s starting from the early sadyojyotis and bR^ihaspati and including the Kashmirian school, mahArAja bhojadeva paramAra and the south Indian school with aghorashiva as its luminary (we have briefly discussed this before). Here we shall attempt to provide a brief hagiography of aghorashiva deshika.

The primary source on the life of aghorashiva is a text called the gotrasantati which is not very well preserved. It appears to have to been intended as a biographical appendix to his magnum opus, the 7 volume kriyAkramadyotikA. As per this text he finished this work in 1157 CE. Tradition holds that he was born in a family of shaiva brAhmaNa-s near Madurai or Naraiyur or in Chidambaram itself in the Tamil country, which followed the taittirIya shAkha and belonged to the kaunDinya pravara of the vasiShTha gotra. He was born under the name parameshvara and received his saiddhAntika dIkSha from the noted shaiva tAntrika hR^idayashambhu, who was his paternal great-grandfather’s brother’s son and thus assumed the dIkSha name aghorashiva. In this preceptorial lineage were the famous shaivas: 1) somashambhu who was active in Varanasi and in the haihaya kingdom at Dahala. He composed the famous somashambhu paddhati and was also a scholar of the bhairava tantra-s of the dakShiNa srotas. 2) dhyAnashiva, was from Bengal and a preceptor of the sena rulers. 3) shrIkaNTha-shiva, who was known as the va~Nga-vR^iShbha and a famous scholar from Varendra. 4) sarvAtma-shiva who was an AchArya stationed in the Elephanta cave. 5) vidyAnta-shiva. 6) pUrNa-shiva; both the preceding AchArya-s were rAja-guru-s of the kalachuri-s at Varanasi. 7) brahma-shiva who was an Acharya from Gujarat. 8) uttu~Ngashiva who was originally from the somanAtha pITha in Gujarat but settled in Kalyani in Karnataka and wrote a tAntrika ritual manual, which aghorashiva refers to in his own works. This lineage of saiddhAntika was known as the Amardaka (auNDhA nAganAtha in modern Maharashtra) after its original maTha founded by one of the great early saiddhAntika-s of that name. This maTha was close to that of the glorious center of the kApAlika-s, namely chaNDikAshrama, founded by tApasa. One of Amardaka’s students was the famous purandara who founded the Mattamayura lineage whose AdimaTha was in the Punjab. The Amardaka lineage spread to the south, especially in the Konkan, Andhra and TN and in the east in Bengal. aghorashiva was also a doctrinally inclined towards the works of the Kashmirian school of saiddhAntika-s of bhaTTa rAmakaNTha’s lineage. He calls bhaTTa rAmakaNTha-II the mahAkaNTha kaNThIrava, whose leonine roar is supposed to defeat the rival philosophies in debate. aghorashiva became the head Acharya of the Amardaka lineage’s maTha in Chidambaram during the reign of the choLa king kulottu~Nga-I. The location of this maTha is in the suburbs of the modern Chidambaram and the current structure that is present at this spot appears to have been rebuilt after the Mohammedan invasion of Maliq Kafur. His students hailed him as a second shiva and there was a tradition that the founder of the shaiva tantra-s, durvAsas himself arrived in Chidambaram to crown him as the AchArya of the maTha. He was supported in his endeavors by the fierce Tamil warrior naralokavIran, who led the choLa armies into the Godavari delta and captured Orissa, and supported many shaiva and vaiShNava temples. A statue of aghorashiva along with those of several other AchArya-s in his parampara is found in the rAjarAjeshvara temple in Darasuram complex of Kumbhakonam.

aghorashiva and his students state that that he had deeply studied the grammatical tradition, nyAya-vaisheShika and the vaidika texts and had written on them but, to my knowledge, we do not have any of those works. He was also a notable Sanskrit poet who composed secular poems such as AshcaryachAra on a magical journey and kAvyatilaka, a play named the abhyudaya and a polemical poem titled the pAShaNDApajaya that had some thematic similarity to the play of jayanta-bhaTTa.

His doctrinal shaiva work is encapsulated in his 8-volumed work, the aShTaprakaraNa-vR^itti, which are commentaries on 8 shaiva works:
1) The tattva-prakAsha of mahArAja bhojadeva paramAra
2) The tattva-saMgraha of sadyojyotis
3) The tattva-traya-nirNaya of sadyojyotis
4) The nAdakArikA of bhaTTa rAmakaNTha-I
5) The bhogakArikA of sadyojyotis
6) The ratna-traya-parIkShA of sadyojyotis
7) The mokSha-kArikA of sadyojyotis
8) The paramokShanirAsa-kArika of sadyojyotis
aghorashiva’s commentaries on the last two works do not survive.

His work on the tantra-s themselves include a dIpikA on the vR^itti of the mR^igendra tantra by bhaTTa nArAyaNa kaNTha of the Kashmirian school. He wrote his own vR^itti-s on the dvishatikAlottara, sarvaj~NAnottara and mohashUrottara Agama-s. The complete dhyAna of sadAshiva, the highest devatA of the saiddhAntika system with his retinue of devatA-s is provided by aghorashiva in his pa~nchAvarNa stava that we have discussed earlier. After these come his greatest work, the kriyAkramadyotikA, whose clarity in the exposition of ritual and mantra practice reaches delectable heights on occasions. Its seven volumes were:
1) nityakarman; 2) naimittika-karman, pavitrAropaNa and damanakotsva; 3) dIkSha, abhiSheka and antyeShTi; 4) shiva-pratiShTha-vidhi; 5) subrahmaNya-pratiShThA-vidhi; 6) mahottsava-vidhi; 7) prAyashchitta-vidhi. So definitive was this work that to this date we see the rituals in any shiva temple in South Indian being performed as per its prescriptions. In this the memory of aghorashiva lives on, even if all we see is a pale reminder of the choLa glory.

As a concluding remark, I would like to point out that in aghorashiva’s ritual system shAstA was also being absorbed into the shaiva realm and was worshiped along with skanda and vinAyaka. The worship of shAstA appears to have followed the ajita-mahAtantra, but sadly a part of the shAstA section of this tantra is lost in the surviving versions of the text.

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