In discussions with R and some others a few topics have repeatedly come up. While I am tempted to delve into them in depth, I feel my study of the data on these matters is inadequate to present as definitive a view as I would like. But I still cannot hold back the temptation to place few points here, despite my incomplete study. The main topics in question are:
1) What is the origin of shrIvidyA and what were the original forms of the shrIvidyA mantra-s? The pa~nchadashI and its derivative were definitely not the earliest forms, and we have briefly discussed pre-pa~nchadashI shrIvidyA and bAlA which were earlier. In a sense the initiation pattern starting with bAlA and going to higher pa~nchadashI derivatives actually mirrors history. The now declined tripura-bhairavI form of shrIvidyA with 9 nityA-s (e.g. as in shArada-tilaka) was an intermediate element in historical development. This is true of many tantric traditions where ritual and initiation patterns follow historical development (as in biology we observe ontology following evolution). abhinavagupta in developing anuttara-trika from the existing trika systems actually consciously follows this pattern. The roots of shrIvidyA lie in the early kula texts, which also spawned other kula traditions like kAli-kula, samayA-kula and the poorly studied tvaritA.
2) Is prapa~nchasAra’s shrIvidyA the pa~nchadashI? While the commentarial tradition might hint the tripura-bhairavI form, the root tantra itself seems to primarily follow the bAlA mantra.
3) Was mokSha the original goal of shrIvidyA? It was just one of the many goals generally acknowledged by kaula systems.
4) Was advaita vedAnta connected to shrIvidyA from its inception? Is the mahApaduka mantra a “genuine” aspect of shrIvidyA? Are sha~Nkara and gauDapAda really connected to shrIvidyA?
advaita vedAnta has its origins in one set of the diverse ideas presented by philosophers from the vedic period. Its subsequent development stood on the great philosophical exegesis of sha~Nkara’s school. Tradition also connects sha~Nkara’s school with a certain form of shrIvidyA, which tends to ignore or remove the kula doctrines and this is certainly the form of shrIvidyA practiced by modern initiates affiliated with sha~Nkara’s tradition. But there are some issues amongst these initiates: 1) Many of the modern initiates while very knowledgeable about their paddhati-s and mantra prayoga-s have a relatively poor understanding of the root sources: the diverse kula texts including the root tantra-s of shrIvidyA. 2) Many aspirants as well as lay devotees actively practice texts like lalitA-sahasranAmaM and saundaryalaharI but do not recognize or in some cases deny the kula doctrine at their core. 3) They pay tremendous importance to the mahApaduka mantra which incorporates upaniShadic mahAvAkya-s [*1]. There is no evidence that the mahApaduka mantra was central to any kula teaching. But it does resemble the ene-mene-dapphe-daDapphe [*2] of bauddha-s being incorporated as a mantra.
From early times the brAhmaNa-s migrated out of their smArta baseline to develop new systems of philosophy or knowledge. In some cases they converted entirely to these systems, like the nAstIka-matas, or in other cases created versions that spanned a spectrum from purely smArta to something which might contradict smArta norms[*3]. Likewise, in shrIvidyA’s development from early on there were forms in line with smArta norms (e.g. prapa~nchasAra and shAradA-tilaka) as well as those transgressing smArta norms (e.g. parashurAma kalpa sUtra-s; though from the very adoption of a mImAMsaka style is indicative of the brahminical origins of the PKS), both systematized by Brahmins of ultimately smArta origin. The pa~ncha-makara might not necessarily be adopted by those who remain smArta because their norms are violated by the 5 ma-s, but the principle of kAmakala worship and the ShaT-chakra-s, both of which are drawn plainly from the original kula doctrine, are retained at the heart of shrIvidyopAsana by even these smArta-s. But nowhere in any of their early sources do we find the mahApaduka and upaniShadic statements. Now the smArta-s appear to have created another set of Agama-s much closer to their own pattern of worship – the shubhAgama pa~nchaka. But interestingly these hardly have any popularity compared to the root tantra-s which follow the unadulterated kula doctrine. Now I have only seen fragments of these and these are clearly later in provenance than the early kula texts.
advaita of the early kaula-s of matsyendra’s successors does not mean the same as the vedantic advaita. There a-dvaitam appears (at least to me) to be interpreted as the lack of duality in worship – thereby allowing the more kaula elements (the pure-impure distinction breaks down). So the vedantic advaita does not in anyway appear to be inherent to the kula doctrine.
So, in conclusion, I believe the evidence favors the advaitins of the sha~Nkara tradition have only secondarily adopted shrIvidyA and are behind the creation of the mahApAduka mantra. They have even gone to the extent of claiming that one can get the guru-status or a higher level mantrAdhikAra only with this mahApAduka dIkSha. My personal opinion is that every one is entitled to their own tradition. So, if some one is affiliated with a sha~Nkara maTha they may follow their maThAdhipati and Acharya-s, but the claims regarding mahApaduka are not binding on all tAntrIka-s.
[*1] praj~nAnaM brahma; tat-tvam-asi; ayaM AtmA; brahma aham brahmAsmi; .
[*2] dharmatrAta rendering the words of the tathAgata in devabhASha states in the udAnavarga: ene mene tathA dapphe daDapphe cheti | sarvasmAd viratiH pApAd duHkhasyAnto niruchyate || 26.18
[*3] Thus we see Brahmins of originally smArta origin diversifying in their practice into, for example, non-mantra mArga pa~nchAyatana shivopAsana with otherwise purely smArta norms, smArta mantra-mArga shivopAsana (as in prapa~ncha-sAra), lAkula-s (and their kAlAmukha successors) who observed smArta norms but additional unique forms of shivopAsana, saiddhAntika-s who followed shivadharma in addition to all the smArta norms (though considering shivadharma primary) and bhairavAchAra mantra-mArgin-s who transgressed smArta norms. Thus, in these diverse movements the scholastic tradition emerged from the smArta ranks.