Chapter VI

Further account of Right-hand and Left-hand worship—The practices of the Vamis or Vamacharis—The rite of Mantra Sadhana—Ceremony of Sri Chakra—Claim of the priests to supernatural power—Legends.

With regard to what have been called right-hand and left-hand worship we proceed to develop a few further particulars on the authority of certain statements made in the Calcutta Review for 1848. When the worship of the Shakti is publicly performed, and in a manner quite harmonious to the Vaidik or Puranik ritual, and free from all obscene practices and impurities, it is termed the Dhakshina or right-hand form of worship; and those who adopt this pure ritual are termed Dhakshinacharis. The peculiarities of this sect were described at length, many years ago, in a work compiled by Kasinath, and entitled Dhakshinachara, Tantra Raja. According to this authority—the ritual declared in the Tantras of the Dhakshinacharis is pure, and conformable to the Vedas. Its leading parts are:—

1st.—Auchmana. The object of this, as well as some other ceremonies that follow, is the purification of the worshippers. It consists in taking up water from a copper vessel, with a small spoon of the same metal, by the left hand, and pouring a small quantity of it on the half-closed palm of the right hand: in sipping up this water thrice with the lips, and in touching with the fingers in rapid succession, the lips, the eyes, and other parts of the head, along with the repetition of proper formulæ. With respect to the quantity of water to be sipped, it is directed and strictly enjoined that it must be such as to run down the throat to the mouth of the œsophagus, and no further.

2nd.—Shasti Buchana. This part of the ceremony is performed with the view of rendering the result of adoration beneficial to the worshipper. Mention is now made of the month, the age of the moon, and the day in which the ceremony takes place, and then appropriate mantras are repeated, such as, like good omens, are believed to prognosticate happy results.

3rd.—Sankalpa. This is like the prayer part of a petition. In this the adorer discloses the immediate object of his worship, mentioning again by name the month, the fortnight, whether dark or {79} bright, and the age of the moon. He mentions also his own proper name and his gotra, which is always the name of some rishi or saint. A fruit, generally a betel-nut or a haretaki, is necessary, which is held in the water contained in the copper vessel called Kosha.

4th.—Ghatasthapana. or the placing of a pot. This consists in placing a pot or jar, generally made of earth, but sometimes of brass or any pure metal, on a small elevation formed of mud,—the mud of the thrice sanctifying Ganges is of course preferable to any other. The jar is filled with water, a bunch of mango leaves, with a green cocoanut, or a ripe plantain, is placed on its top, and the sectarial mark called the yantra is painted with red lead on its front. This is to serve for a temporary abode of the goddess, whose presence in it is worshipfully solicited.

5th.—Sámánya Argha Sthapana. This part of the devotion is opened by offering prayers to the ten cardinal points, which, according to the Hindus, are the East, South-east, South, South-west, West, North-west, North, North-east, the Zenith, and the Nadir, presided over by Indra, Agni, Yama, Nairit, Baruna, Bayu, Kubera, Isha or Mohadeva, Brahma and Ananta. After this, what is called an Argha, composed of a small quantity of soaked rice and a few blades of durva-grass, is to be placed on a dumb-conch shell, on the left side of the worshipper; and if, besides the worshipper, any Brahman, or Brahmans be present, a few grains of rice must be given to each of them, after which, they all throw the rice on the pot.

6th.—Ashan Suddhi, or literally the purification of the seat, but technically, of the posture in which the worshipper is to sit or stand while engaged in his devotion. This varies according to the immediate object of worship. The Tantras prescribe eighty thousand different sorts of postures. Some of these are impossible, others are very painful, all are more or less ludicrous.

7th.—Bhuta Shuddhi, or the purification of the body. It is called Bhuta Suddhi, for the body is believed to be composed of the five elementary substances called bhuta, viz., earth, water, fire, air, and ether. In this observance, the worshipper is to conceive, that his old body is consumed, and that a new and purified one is put on. It is declared that fire and nectar are deposited in every man’s forehead; and it is by this brain-fire that the old body is to be conceived to be reduced to ashes, on which nectar being mentally sprinkled over, a regenerated body must be conceived to come to existence by virtue of the mantras. {80}

8th and 9th.—Pránáyáin and Rishyádinyás. These are introductory prayers, inviting the presence of the goddess.

10th and 11th.—Matrikanyas and Barnanyas. These are singular rites, in which the worshipper repeats in order the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, each with the Anaswara combined, as ang, áng, kang, khang, gang, ghang, and so on with the rest. And as he repeats these letters, which are fifty in number, he touches fifty different parts of his own body, according to directions minutely laid down in the Tantras; and when an earthen image of the goddess is to be worshipped for the first time, the officiating priest touches also the corresponding parts of the idol.

12th.—Dyana. In this, the worshipper is required, by closing both his eyes, to form the image of his guardian divinity in his mind, and to fix his mental vision upon it for some time.

13th.—Abáhan, Chakshudán, and Pránpratisthá. When the worship is performed without an image of the goddess, she is invoked to vouchsafe her presence in the jar.

14th.—Pujah, or the presenting of offerings of rice, fruit, incense, etc.

15th.—Lelehi Mudra, or the performance of the gesticulation called Lelehi, which consists in putting the palm of the right hand upon the back of the left, and shaking the fingers. There are no less than sixty-four thousand different sorts of Mudra prescribed in the Tantras.

16th.—Abarana Pujah, or the worship of the attendants of the goddess.

17th.—Mahákála Pujah, or the adoration of Mahákála, a form of Shiva.

18th.—Balidan, or the offering of sacrifice, commonly a blood offering.

19th.—Kabajan Patheth. In praise of the exploits of the goddess.

20th.—Homa. Pouring clarified butter upon the consecrated fire, made for the purpose on a bed of sand about one foot square. The ashes are worn on the forehead, and the residue carefully deposited or buried in a corner of the house.

The Vamis, or the left-hand worshippers, adopt a form of worship contrary to that which is usual, and they not only worship the Shakti of Siva in all her terrific forms, but pay adoration to her numerous fiend-like attendants, the Yoginis, Dakinis, and the Sankinis.

The rites practised by the Vamis or Vámácháris are so grossly {81} obscene, as to cast into shade the worst inventions which the most impure imagination can conceive. “In this last mentioned sect (the Shaktas),” says a learned Sanskrit scholar, “as in most others, there is a right-handed and decent path, and a left-handed and indecent mode of worship, but the indecent worship of this sect is most grossly so, and consists of unbridled debauchery, with wine and women. This profligate sect is supposed to be numerous, though unavowed. In most parts of India, if not in all, they are held in deserved detestation; and even the decent Shaktas do not make public profession of their tenets, nor wear on their foreheads the mark of the sect, lest they should be suspected of belonging to the other branch of it.” Solitude and secrecy being strictly enjoined to the Vamis, they invariably celebrate their rites at midnight, and in most unfrequented and private places. They neither acknowledge their participation in these most scandalous orgies, nor, as we have already remarked, confess that they belong to any branch of the Shakta sect, although their reserve in this respect is becoming every day more and more relaxed, if not of all, at least, of many. Those, whose immediate object is the attainment of super-human powers, or whose end is specific, aiming at some particular boon or gift, are more strict on the point, lest they reap no fruits of their devotion. They never admit a companion, nor even one of their own fraternity, into the place of their worship. Even when they are believed by the credulous Hindus to have become Shiddas, that is, possessed of supernatural powers; or in other words, when they have acquired sufficient art to impose upon their ignorant and superstitious countrymen, and have established their reputation as men capable of working miracles, they take every care not to disclose the means through which they have attained the object of their wishes, unless revealed by some accidental occurrence or unlooked-for circumstance. Those whose object is of a general character, hold a sort of convivial party, eating and drinking together in large numbers, without any great fear of detection. But yet they always take care to choose such secluded spots for the scenes of their devotion, as lie quite concealed from the public view. They generally pass unnoticed, and are traced out only when we make it our aim to detect them by watching over their movements like a spy. At present, as their chief desire appears to be only the gratification of sensual appetites, they are at all times found to be more attentive to points which have a direct reference to the indulgence of their favourite passions, than to those minor injunctions which require of them secrecy and solitude. {82} These, however, they are obliged to observe, at least in part, for their own account; for the abominations which, under the name of religious rites, they practice, cannot but expose them to disgrace and reproach, even among the degenerate Hindus.1)

Guided by the same authority we present a brief summary of the principal rites observed by the above sect. The drinking of spirituous liquors, more or less, is with them, we are told, no less a habit than a religious practice. They will perform no religious ceremony without wine. In their various forms of daily worship, in the performance of all their ceremonial rites, in the celebration of all their public festivals, wine is indispensable. Every article of food which they offer to their goddess, is sprinkled over with the intoxicating liquor. Here it should be observed that the orthodox Vamis will never touch any foreign liquor or wine, but use only the country doasta, which they drink out of a cup formed either of the cocoa, or of a human skull. The liquor is first offered to their especial divinity in quart bottles or pints, but more frequently in chaupalas and earthen jars, and then distributed round the company, each member having a cup exclusively his own. If there be no company, the worshipper pours the liquor into his own cup and after certain motions and prayers, empties it at a single draught. They call themselves and all other men that drink wine, birs or heroes, and those that abstain from drinking, pasus, i.e., beasts. No sooner is a child born, than they pour into its mouth a drop or two of wine; at the time of its Sankára, called the Anna prásana, which takes place at the sixth moon from its birth, if it be a male, or at the seventh moon, if it be a female, they give it pieces of cork or shola dipped in wine to be sucked, so they habituate the child from its cradle, in the drinking of spirituous liquors. At the time of the principal initiation, or mantra grahana, that is, when the specific or Bij mantra is received from the Guru, he and his new disciple drink together, the former at intervals giving instructions to the latter as to the proper mode of drinking. Whenever the spiritual guide visits a Kaula family, all its members, men, women, and children, gather round him, and with great cheers and feasting, drink his health as he drinks theirs. The fact is, drinking is carried on to an infamous and degrading extent, their principle is said to be, drink, and drink, and drink again, till you fall flat on the ground; the moment you rise, drink again, and you shall obtain final liberation. {83}

In justice to some who are exceptions to this rule, we must observe that all Vámácháris are not drunkards, though they all drink. Some of the Tantras prescribe the exact quantity to be drunk. According to their prescription, the least dose to be taken is an ounce, and the largest not exceeding three ounces.

There is another variety of the Vámis who substitute certain mixtures in the place of wine. These mixtures are declared in the Tantras to be equivalent to wine, and to possess all its intrinsic virtues without the power of intoxication; such as the juice of the cocoanut received in a vessel made kansa: the juice of the water-lemon mixed with sugar, and exposed to the sun; molasses dissolved in water, and contained in a copper vessel, etc.

In all the ceremonies, which not only comprehend the worship of the Shakti, but are performed for the attainment of some proposed object, the presence of a female, as the living representative, and the type of the goddess, is indispensably necessary. Such ceremonies are specific in their nature, and are called Shádhanás. Some who are more decent than the rest of the sect, join their wives in the celebration of the gloomy rites of Kali. Others make their beloved mistresses partners in their joint devotion. Here the rite assumes a blacker aspect. The favourite concubine is disrobed, and placed by the side or on the thigh of her paramour who is in the same condition. In this situation, the usual calmness of the mind must be preserved, and no evil lodged in it. Such is the requisition of the Shastras, say the Vámis, when reproached for their brutal practices.

In this way is performed the rite called the Mantra Sádhaná. It is, as must be expected, carried on in great secrecy, and is said to lead to the possession of supernatural powers. The religious part of it is very simple, consisting merely of the repetition of the Mula mantra, which may or may not be preceded by the usual mode of Shakta worship. Hence it is called the Mantra Sádhaná, to distinguish it from other sorts of Sádhanás. After ten P.M., the devotee, under pretence of going to bed, retires into a private chamber, where, calling his wife or mistress, and procuring all the necessary articles of worship, such as wine, grains, water, a string of beads, etc., he shuts the doors and the windows of the room, and, sitting before a lighted lamp, joins with his partner in drinking. The use of this preliminary is obvious. When, by the power of the spirits, the veil of shame is withdrawn, he, making his wife or mistress sit in the manner already described, begins to repeat his mantra, and continues to do so till one, two, {84} or three o’clock in the morning. At intervals the glass is repeated, and the ceremony is closed in a manner which decency does not allow us to state.

We now come to the blackest part of the Vámá worship. Nothing can be more disgusting, nothing more abominable, nothing more scandalously obscene, than the rite we are about to describe. The ceremony is called Shi-Chakra, Purnábhisheka, the ring or full initiation. This worship is mostly celebrated in mixed societies, composed of motley groups of various castes, though not of creed. This is quite extraordinary, since, according to the established laws of the caste system, no Hindu is permitted to eat with an inferior. But here the rule is at once done away with, and persons of high caste, low caste, and no caste, sit, eat, and drink together. This is authorised by the Shastras in the following text:—“While the Bhairavi Tantra (the ceremony of the Chakra) is proceeding, all castes are Brahmans—when it is concluded they are again distinct.” Thus while the votaries of the Shakti observe all the distinctions of caste in public, they neglect them altogether in the performance of her orgies.

The principal part of the rite called the Chakra is Shakti Sádhaná or the purification of the female representing the Shakti. In the ceremony termed mantra Sádhaná, we have already noticed the introduction of a female, the devotee always making his wife or mistress partner in his devotion. This cannot be done in a mixed society. For although the Vámis are so far degenerated as to perform rites such as human nature, corrupt as it is, revolts from with detestation, yet they have not sunk to that depth of depravity as to give up their wives to the licentiousness of men of beastly conduct. Neither is it the ordination of the Shastras. For this purpose they prescribe females of various descriptions, particularly “a dancing girl, a female devotee, a harlot, a washerwoman, or barber’s wife, a female of the Braminical or Sudra tribe, a flower girl, or a milk maid.” Some of the Tantras add a few more to the list, such as a princess, the wife of a Kápali, or of a Chandal, of a Kulála, or of a conch seller. Others increase the number to twenty-six, and a few even to sixty-four. These females are distinguished by the name of Kula Shakti. Selecting and procuring females from the preceding classes, the Vamacharis are to assemble at midnight in some sequestered spot, in eight, nine, or eleven couples, the men representing Bhairavas or Viras, and the women Bhairavas or Náyikás. In some cases a single female personating the Shakti is to be procured. In all cases, the Kula Shakti is placed disrobed, but richly adorned with {85} ornaments on the left of a circle (chakra) described for the purpose, whence the ceremony derives its name. Sometimes she is made to stand, totally destitute of clothing, with protuberant tongue and dishevelled hair. She is then purified by the recitation of many mantras and texts, and by the performance of the mudra or gesticulations. Finally she is sprinkled over with wine, and if not previously initiated, the Bij mantra is thrice repeated in her ear. To this succeeds the worship of the guardian divinity; and after this, that of the female, to whom are now offered broiled fish, flesh, fried peas, rice, spirituous liquors, sweetmeats, flowers, and other offerings, which are all purified by the repeating of incantations and the sprinkling of wine. It is now left to her choice to partake of the offerings, or to rest contented simply with verbal worship. Most frequently she eats and drinks till she is perfectly satisfied, and the refuse is shared by the persons present. If, in any case, she refuses to touch or try either meat or wine, her worshippers pour wine on her tongue while standing, and receive it as it runs down her body in a vessel held below. This wine is sprinkled over all the dishes which are now served among the votaries.

Such is the preliminary called the purification of the Shakti. To this succeeds the devotional part of the ceremony. The devotees are now to repeat their radical mantra, but in a manner unutterably obscene. Then follow things too abominable to enter the ears of men, or to be borne by the feelings of an enlightened community; things, from which the rudest savage would turn away his face with disgust.

* * * * * *

Here the diabolical business closes.

The religious practices of the Shaktas being such as are believed to lead to the possession of supernatural powers, many persons of this sect, taking advantage of the religious blunders of the great mass of the people, practice the most barefaced impositions. The credulity of the Hindus becomes to many an inexhaustible source of wealth, especially to those who are at the head of any religious establishment, where any form of the Shakti is the presiding divinity. These priests who day and night attend on the goddess, and perform various mystical rites, gradually acquire the credit of having close intimacy and secret communication with her; and then gifts, presents, and votive offerings are incessantly poured on the altar. Under pretence of healing diseases of children, and {86} curing barrenness, mothers and young women are induced to join in the worship of Kali, when the worthy votaries of the black goddess, the priests, thank her for having fulfilled the object of their wishes. Offerings are presented, not only for receiving blessings, but also for personal safety. Life and death are said to be in the hands of these Shiddhas. They, if provoked, can sooner or later, kill the offender by the power of their mantras. This deadly ceremony is called Máranuchchátan. There is in one district, a temple dedicated to Shiddheswari, a form of Kali, the late attending priest of which was a man universally believed to be of no common rate. The belief yet prevails in the neighbourhood, that once in the height of indignation he caused the death of a rich native for having indirectly called him a drunkard. The story runs thus:—At a feast given to the Brahmans by this native gentleman, the priest of Shiddheswari was invited to his house,—the latter, on account of the manifold duties of the temple, was late in his attendance, on which the host, being displeased with his conduct, said to him as he entered the door, “Well, Bhattacharjya, now I believe the dimness of your eyes has vanished,” alluding to his known habit of drinking. At this raillery, the rage of the favourite of Kali knew no bounds. He instantly returned to the temple and closed its doors, strictly enjoining his servants not to disturb his meditation before flames from the funeral pile of the wretched host ascended to the skies. And, wonderful to relate, an hour had scarcely elapsed, before the sons of the host came to the priest with clothes around their necks, fell suppliant on their knees, and with folded hands implored his mercy, saying, “O! Sir, save us and our family.” The priest smiling, asked them what was the matter, to which they replied, weeping, “Our father is no more. No sooner had your holy feet left our doors, than on a sudden blood came out rushing from his mouth, he fell on the ground and expired. Save us, we entreat thee, and the rest of his family, for we have not offended against thy holy divinity.” On this, the wrath of the priest was pacified, and he spoke to them in an affectionate tone; “No fear, my children, you are safe, go home and perform your father’s funeral obsequies.”

Another marvellous anecdote is told of him, as well as of many others of similar character. When on one occasion he was bringing liquor concealed in a water-pot, a person whose object was to expose him, stopped him on the way and wanted to see what was in the pot. To this he calmly replied, nothing but milk. Saying this, he poured out the contents, and the liquor was found {87} converted into milk. Such persons, by taking advantage of the fears of the superstitious Hindus, extort money and other presents from them.

Much of the splendour of the Hindu idolatry consists in the celebration of the Shakta rites. The great festivals, which are annually celebrated in Bengal, such as the Durga Puja, the Jagaddhari and Kali Pujas, the Charak, the Basanti, Rutanti and Falahari Pujas, are all Shaktya observances, and for the most part performed by the worshippers of the Shakti. These festivals themselves, and the exhibitions that accompany them, exert a pernicious influence over the morals of the people. The spirit in which these religious days are kept, the splendid and fascinating ceremonies connected with them, and the merry exhibitions, including savage music and indecent dancing, that form a part of the worship, cannot but captivate and corrupt the heart and overpower the judgment of youth.

The Shakta processions are utterly abominable. One of them takes place after the blood-offerings at public festivals. Of a similar character are those which go before and follow the images, when carried to be thrown into the river or into a pond. On these occasions the Shaktas utter terms most grossly obscene, loudly and repeatedly, and make gestures the most indecent that can be imagined; and all this before their goddess and the public.

The habit of drinking wine, which prevails so widely among the Shaktas, produces baneful effects on the minds of the Hindus. Leaving the Kaulas as out of the question, since they themselves train up their children in the habit of drinking, the Shaktas in general are more forward in trying the qualities of the prohibited article than any other sect of the orthodox Hindus, and their example stimulates others to do the same. This is one of the reasons why the drinking of spirituous liquors, which was almost unknown among the Hindus of yore, has gradually become so prevalent among them, as at this day. The tenets of the Shaktas open the way for the gratification of all the sensual appetites, they hold out encouragement to drunkards, thieves and dacoits; they present the means of satisfying every lustful desire; they blunt the feelings by authorising the most cruel practices, and lead men to commit abominations which place them on a level with the beasts. The Shaktya worship is impure in itself, obscene in its practices, and highly injurious to the life and character of men.2)


Previous | Top | Phallic Miscellanies | Next

Religious Sects of India by H. H. Wilson.
See Calcutta Review for 1855.