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Āgama (Hinduism)

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Yoga Vasistha


Agama (Sanskrit आगम) means, in the Hindu context, "a traditional doctrine, or system which commands faith".[1]

In Hinduism, the Agamas are a collection of Sanskrit scriptures which are revered and followed by millions of Hindus.

Significance

Agamas deal with the philosophy and spiritual knowledge behind the worship of the deity, the yoga and mental discipline required for this worship, and the specifics of worship offered to the deity. Each Agama consists of four parts. The first part includes the philosophical and spiritual knowledge. The second part covers the yoga and the mental discipline. The third part specifies rules for the construction of temples and for sculpting and carving the figures of deities for worship in the temples. The fourth part of the Agamas includes rules pertaining to the observances of religious rites, rituals, and festivals.

The Agamas state three essential requirements for a place of pilgrimage - Sthala, Teertham and Murthy. Sthala refers to the temple, Teertham, to the temple tank and Murthy to the deity(ies) worshipped. A temple may also be associated with a tree, called the Sthala Vriksham. For instance, the Kadamba tree at the Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple is the Sthala Vriksham. A lone banyan tree that adorns the spacious courtyard of the Ratnasabha at Tiruvalankadu is the Sthala Vriksham. The entire area is believed to have been a forest of banyan trees once.

Elaborate rules are laid out in the Agamas for Silpa (the art of sculpture) describing the quality requirements of the places where temples are to be built, the kind of images to be installed, the materials from which they are to be made, their dimensions, proportions, air circulation, lighting in the temple complex etc. The Manasara and Silpasara are some of the works dealing with these rules. The rituals followed in worship services each day at the temple also follow rules laid out in the Agamas.

Agama Traditions

The Agamas are one of the sources for yoga methods and instruction. The Shaiva Agamas revere the Ultimate Reality as Lord Shiva (Shaivism). The Vaishnava-Agamas (Pancharatra and Vaikhanasas Samhitas) adore the Ultimate Reality as Vishnu (Vaishnavism). The Shakta-Agamas (Tantras) venerate the Ultimate Reality as Shakti the consort of Shiva and Divine Mother of the universe (Shaktism). Each set of texts expands on the central theological and philosophical teachings of that denomination.

The Agama traditions have been one of the sources of early Yogic and Self Realization concepts in India. They have influenced thinkers and philosophers who sought an alternative to the excessive ritualism and sacrifices of the Vedic system of that time. Besides Hindu texts, early Jain and Buddhist scriptures are also called Agama texts.

The two main schools in the Vaishnava Agama are Pancharatra and Vaikanasa Agama. The Saiva Agama has led to the Saiva Siddhanta philosophy in South India and to the Pratyabhijna system of Kashmir Saivism. In the Malay languages the word Agama literally means religion. The Agamas are also known as Tantras.

Notes

References

See also


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