by Dr. B. N. Pandit
The Pancastavi is a collection of five hymns sung in the praise of Mother Goddess Tripura, the personified absolute Godhead of the lord. God is Siva in his ever static transcendental aspect. He is the theistic Absolute reality of Saiva monism. He is Himself Sakti, the absolute divine power of Godhead in His ever dynamic immanent aspect. Both Siva and Shakti are thus one and the same reality. Such two concepts of Sivahood and Shaktihood, known under the two names are worked out with respect to the ultimate absolute reality just for the sake of the perfectness of understanding on the part of seekers of the truth. God is to be realized by them in both His static and dynamic aspects. He remains ever pure, even while appearing in the forms of numerous creations and dissolutions of countless universes containing all sorts of beings, objects, sin, piety, etc. To create, to preserve and to dissolve the phenomenal existence as well as to conceal the real nature of subjective beings and to reveal it to them are the five divine activities of God and that is His Godhead which is His very essential nature. Had He not possessed such nature of Godhead, He alone would have existed: no other subject or any object would at all, have appeared and that would have meant a dreadful nihility, without any charm about it. All charm lies in the divine activities of God. The highest degree of charm lies in recognizing and realizing one's own self as none other than Almighty God Himself. No recognition is possible without forgetting, because recognition is a kind of recollection of some previously known but subsequently forgotten, particulars of a person or a thing. God, pushing playfully His nature of Godhead into oblivion, appears as a finite being and He, revealing it again to such a being, recognizes His own nature of Godhead. Fire is realized to be fire only through the realization of its powers to illuminate, to give heat, to bum and so on.
We put our fingers inside the ashes in our "Kangri" to examine if there is fire in it. If we feel sufficient warmth we become sure about the existence of fire. God is realized through the realization of the powers of Godhead. When an adept practitioner of spiritual sedhana feels actually his powers to create, to dissolve, to make and to unmake things at his free will, he realizes himself as none other than God Discussions and debates without such realizations are futile. Parrots also can conduct such discussions, if trained to do so. A Spiritual aspirant has to realize all divine powers in him. For such purpose he has to meditate and contemplate upon the dynamic aspect of the Absolute and that is its Sakti aspect. The worship of higher and superior deities help in the attainment of such realization and all such deities, right up to lord Sadasiva, are different types of outward manifestations of the Godhead of God. Therefore any worship, that is ever performmed by any spiritual aspirants, is in fact the worship of the Godhead of God. Sakti alone is thus the real object of spiritual worship. Therefore the worship of Sakti becomes an essential element of the sadhana of Saiva aspirants. Bhatta Kallata, Bhatta Pradyumna and Abhinava Gupta were staunch worshippers of Sakti. Hymns sung in praise of the absolute Godhead of God, the Divine Mother of the whole universe, are therefore accepted as part and parcel of Saivism. Pancastavi is thus a beautiful Saiva Sastra composed in poetic form. It is as good a Saiva Sastra as the "Sivastotravli" of Utpaldeva and is practically as much popular with the Saivas of Kashmir as the latter. For the sake of conducting the divine drama of the five divine activities of Godhead and also for the sake of the fulfillment of the longings of worldly beings, God appears in the universe in the form of numerous divine beings, belonging to both male and female sexes, assisting each other in their duties in the divine administration. All such forms of God become objects of worship for aspirants desirous of attaining worldly, heavenly and spiritual aims of life. Female deities are very often much more suited to human beings having still some human weaknesses in them because the approach of such female deities towards them is very much motherly in its character. Such an approach on their part does not ignore the human weaknesses of their devotees and therefore these deities direct worldly souls, step by step, towards upward ascent to higher stages of spiritual evolution. Such deities do not resent the passionate longings of worldly beings for the attainment of sensual enjoyments. Granting such enjoyments to them through right means, these motherly deities carry them steadily and slowly to some higher spiritual states and finally lead them to the highest state of perfect liberation from all bondage and to the actual attainment of perfect Sivahood, that is the position of absolute Godhead. It is on this account that Tantric Saivism and Saktism attach greater importance to the worship of God in His female aspect, the aspect of His absolute motherhood and Pancastavi contains religio-philosophic lyric poetry of a very high standard eulogising such female aspect of God. Therefore it has become very popular with the Saivas of Kashmir.
The first one among the five hymns of Pancastasvi bears several commentaries in Sanskrit. lt alludes to several doctrines of the Tantric worship of mother Goddess through the use of the bijamantras and has therefore attracted the attention of commentators, well- versed in Tantric sadhana. One of the commentators names the hymn as Tripura-bhaiyavistava. All the five hymns can be counted among the best examples of the most beautiful religio-philosophical lyrics. Many esoteric doctrines of Sakta-sadhana and Tantric yoga, described through the medium of poetry, can be found in all the five hymns in abundance. The principles of Saiva-Sakta monism also have been expressed likewise at many places. The similarities in the poetic style, the views on the methods of sadhana, the expression of the doctrines of philosophy and the general literary character of all the five hymns prove it beyond doubt that all of them are the works of one and the same philosopher-poet. A spontaneous rise of the poetic inspiration, capable of creating charming poetry, has been counted among the signs of a devotee on whom God bestows His forceful divine grace.
Thus says Malinivijaya
Tatraitat prathamam cihnam Rudre Bhaktih suniscata, Kavitvam pancamam ineyam salankaram manoharam. (M V T. II 14 to 16)
The author of Pancastavi was surely one among such philospher poets. He has not said anything about his personal history except that the Mother Goddess had been pleased to grant him all the worldly pleasures through honest and respectable means. He says thus about it.
Yace na Kancana na kancana Vancayami
Seve na Kancana nirasta - samasta - dainyah.
Slaksnam vase madhuram-admi bhaje varastrim
Devl hrdi sphurati me kula-kama-dhenuh.
( P.Sh. III-19)
The highest thing prayed for by the poet is a constant engagement in the worship of the Mother Goddess by means of the activities of all his senses and organs. He says about it:
Tvad-rupaika - nirupana-pranayita-bandho drsos tvadguna - Grama Karnana ragita sravanayos tvat samsmrtis cctasi,
Tvat padarcana - caturi karayuge tvat kirtanam vaci me kutrapi tvadupasana vyasanita me Devi ma samyatu,
Pancastavi is highly popular with the pandits of Kashmir who sing it regularly at the time of their daily worship at their homes and especially at the religious places of the Mother Goddess. On account of such popularity of the poem in Kashmir, many articles of Kashmirian writers have been appearing from time to time on Pancastavi at Srinagar and Delhi. Many things about the hymns and their author have thus come to light. But some important facts which have escaped the attention of the writers of such articles are being brought to light in the paper at hand. Pancastavi has been enjoying popularity in Kashmir from ancient times, as its verses have been quoted as examples by Mammata- Acharya in his Kavyaprakasa in the twelfth century. On account of this popularity of the poem, writers in Kashmir have been tempted to believe that its author lived in the valley. An oral tradition is prevalent in Kashmir which says that the work was composed by Abhinavagupta on the occasion of his discussions on Saktism with Sankaracharya, the great Vedantist teacher Sivopadhyaya, an eighteenth century author and renowned teacher of Saivism, refers to the meeting of the two great philosophers in his Srividya, a small work aiming at a mutual reconciliation between Tantric Saivism and Upanisadic Vedanta. He says that a boy disciple of Abhinavagupta getting just an indication from his preceptor, stood up and in order to impress the importance of Saktis on Sankaracharya, uttered Laghustava as a spontaneous flow of poetry coming out of the speech of an "Asukavi". Many other similarly wonderful but fantastic things about the meeting of the two great teachers are still being heard from old pandits of Kashmir.
There is a gap of at least two hundred years between the times of these two great teachers of monism. All the traditional tales about their meeting are therefore based on mere fiction. Such tales do not establish any historical fact. The tradition of writing such fictitious accounts of the lives of great religio-philosophic teachers is based on the policy of the authors of the later Puranic mythology. One of its fresh traditions was laid down by Madavacharya in the fourteenth centuly. He wrote an extensive poetical work name 'Sankra-digvijya' after about five hundred years from the time of Sankaracharya. While doing so he did not adhere to the account of the religious activities of that great teacher as given by Anantanandagiri in his Sankaravi Jaya-Kavya which was written after only about a hundred years from the time of Sankaracharya. Madavacharya wrote his poem only on the basis of his poetic imagination and personal devotion. It contains many fictitious stories and hardly any correct historical accounts. About ninety percent of it is mere fiction with just about ten percent of history in it.
Such tales about the life of Sankaracharya, as had been recorded by Madavacharya, and as had been built upon further by his followers, were imported to Kashmir in the later part of the fifteenth century by some such pandits of Kashmir that had been earlier driven out of the valley by Sikandar butshikan and were later invited back and rehabilitated in the valley by Sultan Zainulabadin. They had picked up devotion for Sankaracharya while wandering in the plains of India. But these of the pandits of Kashmir, who were highly devoted to teachers like Abhinavagupta followed the policy adopted in Sankaradivijya and fabricated, likewise, many fantastic stories of the opposite type through that very power of poetic imagination, which had been used by Madhavacharya. It is a wonder that most of the research scholars of today do not at all care to examine the authenticity of such imaginary accounts and go on quoting Sankaradigvijaya as an authonty on the history of Sankaracharya. Madhavacharya says at one place that Abhanivagupta, a Sakta commentator of Brahmasutra, living in Assam (Kamarupa) was a Tantric sorcerer who applied sorcery to Sankaracharya with the result that the latter developed a dangerous disease name bhagandhara in his lower intestine. There is no evidence that can establish the existence of any scholar under the name Abhinavagupta other than the great Saiva author of Kashmir. The story is thus purely imaginaly in character. The description of the temple of Sarda, as given by Madhavacharya, is also based mostly on poetic imagination. Similarly the stories prevalent in Kashmirian tradition are also mere fiction. The account of Laghustava, as having been uttered by a boy disciple of Abhinavagupta, is also based on oral tradition of an imaginary character. Its having been composed by some Lagvacharya is the imagination of the commentator. There is neither any internal nor any external evidence to prove the correctness of any such thing.
Nityanada, an ancient commentator of some tantric works, says that Laghustava was composed by a poet named Dharmacharya. This fact has been corroborated by Vidyaranya, a fourth degree disciple in the line of Sankaracharya, in his Srividyamavatantra. Referring to the "Maya-Kundalini" verse, he says that a particular theological doctrine had been indicated by Dharmacharya through the verse concerned in this Laghustava: Satu Sri-Dharmacarya varyaih svakiye Laghustave "mayakundalini" ityadi-slokena sucitah. (V.T.Ch. 31 P.654) The author of that Tantra appeared after about one hundred years from the time of Sankaracharya and Dharamcharya preceded him. As all the five hymns appear to be the works of one and the same author, the whole of Pancastavi was composed by him.
As far the domicile of Dharmacharya, the author, he appears to have been a southerner belonging probably to Kerala. The facts given below strengthen such view:
i. Pancastavi resembles Saundaryalahari of Sankaracharya, a Keralite, in its technique and also in its theological as well as philosophic contents.
ii. It alludes to the importance of Sabari as the most favourite form of the Divine Mother goddess worshipped by her devotees. Worship of Sabari holds such position in the Kerala tradition of Tantric Sadhana, but not in the Kashmirian tradition.
iii. Pancastavi does not contain even the slightest mention of any of the kali deities popularly worshipped by Saivas of Kashmir, especially by Somananda, Abhinavagupta and Jayaratha.
iv. The Yoga system that has been mostly and highly praised in Pancastavi is neither the Trika Yoga nor the Kaula Yoga, the two systems which were highly popular among the Saiva/Saktas of Kashmir. The hymns allude to the highest importance of Kundalini Yoga, which does not enjoy any prominent position in the Kashmirian tradition but is highly popular in the south as its highest importance has been accepted in both Tamilian and Canaries works on Siddhanta Saiva and Virasiava respectively. But Kashmir Saivism does not give much importance to Kundalini Yoga. There it can be included in Karanayoga of the Trika System and such yoga has been assigned there the third step in the descending order in the third type of yoga named Anavobaya. Saundaryalahari of Sankaracharya also describes kundalini-yoga as the means of unity with the Absolute.
v. There is not even the slightest allusion to the Sambhavayoga or even to any special variety of Sakta yoga of the Trika system in any of the five hymns of Pancastavi.
vi. Some practices of Kriyayoga have been alluded to in it, but any specific type of Anavayoga, like Uccara, Karana etc. of the Trika system has not been at all hinted at in Pancastavi.
vii. Abhinavagupta and Siddhanatha (alias Sambbhunatha) have eulogized special deities of Kramanya in accordance with the Sadhana of Saktopaya, but such deities do not find any place either in Pancastavi or in other stotras like Saundarya Lahari and Subhagodaya of the south.
viii. Pancastavi follows thus a typically Kerala tradition of theology rather than the Kashmirian tradition.
ix. Pancastavi does not resemble even the Tattuagrabha-Stotra, a hymn to Mother goddess by Bhatta Pradyamna, the chief disciple of Bhatta Kallata. The resemblance with Saundary-Lahari is on the other hand, immensely remarkable.
x. The only important common element between the Sadhanas of the Trika system and Pancastavi is the worship of Tripura with the help of three bijamantras named Vagbhava, Kamaraja and Saktibija but that is one of the highest common factors of nearly all the Tantric systems of Saiva/Sakta theology.
xi. The Philosophic principle of absolute and theistic monism is also a common element of all monistic Saiva/ Sakta traditions and cannot lead to any specific conclusion.
It is thus clear that Pancastavi does not follow the Kashmirian tradition of Sakta theology but follows the Kerala one. Acharya Amrtavagbhava, a highly advanced practitioner of Saiva/Sakta theology, has also recorded such facts about Pancastavi in the introduction of the work published through his efforts and instructions. As for its highest popularity in Kashmir, that cannot lead to any definite conclusion. Makundamala by Kulasekhara Alvara of Tamilnadu also enjoys such popularity in Kashmir and stories about this author also have been heard by the present writer in his boyhood. Poetic imagination has always been a strong element in the character of Kashmiri brain and Kashmiris were ever since used to such creation of fiction that looked as history. In fact this tendency also existed in some lower or higher measure In all literary writers of India, Madhavacharva is typical example of such poetic writers. Being himself a Kashmiri, the present writer would also like that a beautiful poetic work like Pancastavi were attributed to the pen of some Kashmirian author, but the facts mentioned above do not allow him to think in such terms.
There is however no doubt in the fact that Dharmacharya, the author of Pancastavi, was a master of Saiva/Sakta monism and belonged to the whole of India from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and from Kamarupa to Dwaraka.
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