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Soundarya Lahari
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A Short Note On Sakta Cult

The authorship of Soundarya Lahari goes to Sri Shankara, one of the most versatile philosophers especially in Sakta cult. Besides numerous commentaries and hymns, Shankara propounded advaitha (non-dualism) philosophy which paved the way to the revival of Hinduism. Born at Kaladi, a small pastoral village in Kerala, in a Namboodiri family he was excommunicated from the community by orthodox elders as he did not tow in their lines. It is said that they even boycotted the funeral of his mother.  He mastered Sanskrit which is considered as the language of Devas and in which all Vedas and Upanishads are written and acquired profound knowledge in different fields that led to his ascension to Sarvanjnapeedham, the Throne of Supreme Knowledge.

 

There is a school of thought that the authorship of Soundarya Lahari is quasi-divine and gives Shankara the credit of transmitting this wonderful work to mankind only. The story goes like this. Shankara, during his stay in Varanasi, transported himself to Kailasa, the abode of Lord Siva and on the walls he found this highly esoteric hymn was written. As he began to read the poem, Ganesha, son of Lord Siva began to erase from below as this hymn was too holy to be publicised among mortal and the great saint could read only first forty one verses. Shankara added another fifty nine verses to it to make a collection of 100 verses. There is marked difference between the two sets of verses. The first forty one verses, generally referred to as Ananda Lahari, deal exhaustively with mantra, thantra, and yantra and are highly philosophical and mystic in nature. The latter 59 verses which form the actual Soundarya Lahari (Inundation of Beauty) describe the form of Mother utilising almost all figure of speeches in Sanskrit literature. The entire 100 Slokas are referred as Soundarya Lahari.

 

There are, of course, some differences of opinion regarding the authorship of this Text. But the metaphysical incongruity which runs through out 100 Slokas of Soundarya Lahari gives no room for suspicion of great Shankara’s authorship of this divine text. There are more than 35 commentaries in Sanskrit on Soundarya Lahari by eminent scriptural exegetics. And it is amply evident from this fact that the text originated from universally venerated and accepted authority.  

 

Like Lalitha Sahasra Naama and Durga Saptha Sati, Soundarya Lahari also full of mantras with attached yantra. Every mantra is for the attainment of a particular wish, for example, verse 17 is for acquisition of knowledge, etc. The ritual recitation of the verse converts it to a very potent mantra. Therefore, among Kaulas, Soundarya Lahari is an important Text. (By the way, there are two variations in Sakti worship, namely, Kaula and Saamayin. Kaulas worship Mother on Sri Chakra and other symbols and do external Pooja where as worship of Saamayika is internal (daharaakaasa) raising Kundalini from Moolaadhaara to Sahasra Dala Kamala. Both type of worships are acceptable, as there references to these in Lalitha Sahasra Naama (samyaachaarathtpara, kaulamargathatpara sevitha)

 

Contents

 

I can give only skeletal account of contents of Soundarya Lahari as a detailed one covers at least a thousand pages and still at loss of words. As told earlier, first forty one verses cover the detailed account of internal worship of the Mother which Saamayins follow. It consists of systematic exposition of the concept of kundalini, Sri Chakra, mantras (verses 32, 33). This depicts the Supreme Reality as non-dual but with a distinction between Siva and Sakti, the power holder and Power, Being and Will. In Sakta philosophy, the Power, that is, the Mother or Maha Tripura Sundari becomes the dominant factor and the power holder or Siva becomes a substratum. The first verse itself clearly describes this idea. “United with Sakti, Siva is endowed with power to create; or otherwise, he is incapable even of movement.” The same idea is brought out in verse 24, “Brahma creates the universe, Vishnu sustains, Rudra destroys, and Maheswara absorbs every thing and assimilates into Sadasiva. On receiving mandate from thy creeper like brows, Sadasiva restores everything into activity as in the previous cycle.” Such dominance of the Mother can be cited in verses 34 and 35 also.

 

This dominance is very conspicuous in Uttara Kaula image of Kali where Sakti is shown as very symbol of power and energy, where Kali stands on the chest of inert form of Siva as the destroyer and consumer of whole universe. In contrast, in Soundarya Lahari, the Mother assumes purely creative role in the form of Maha Tripura Sundari, the supreme Divine Beauty of Three Puras or Bindus. See the verse 8: “Fortunate indeed are the few , who adore Thee, the Inundation of Bliss-Consciousness as abiding on the mattress that is Paramasiva spread on a couch, which is again an aspect of Siva, paced in a chamber of wish yielding gems amidst a Nipa pleasure-garden in Manidweepa situated in Nectar Ocean fringed by rows the celestial Kalpaka Trees”. The four legs of the couch are Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, and Iswara and Siva himself the couch. The four along with Siva are called Pancha Pretha, i.e., Five Inert.

 

We were speaking about the dominance of Sakti over Siva in Soundarya Lahari so far, but there are certain verses which clearly show the equality of Prakrithi and Purusha that is Sakti and Siva in certain verses as per Saamayika worship. This can be cited in 6 verses starting from 36th where meditation of Mother in six plexus (kundalini) is detailed: Parasambhunatha and Chit Paraamba in Ajna Chakra, Hemeswara and Hemeswari in Anahatha Chakra, Vyomeswara and Vyomeswari in Visudhi Chakra samavatheswara and Samayamba in Swaadhistaana Chakra, Megheswara and Soudamini in Manipoora Chakra, and Adinath and Lasyeswari in Muladhara Chakra.

 

We have already discussed the Saamayin and Kula systems of worship earlier. Soundarya Lahari encourages both types with a tilt towards the former. But Laxmidhara, a noted votary of Saamayikaachaara strongly refutes Kaula System on the basis if Verse 31 which runs like this:” Siva deceived and deluded the world by giving out 64 other Tantras, which expound practices of  conferring only one or another of the various psychic powers and worldly fulfilments.  So on Thy special insistence He revealed this, Thy own Thantra, to world independent of all others and capable of conferring all the Purusaharthas- Dharma, Arttha, Kama, and Moksha, by itself on the votaries”. Laxmidhara holds that all 64 Tantras are intended to acquire some particular powers only, unclean and cruel practised by Kapalikas, Digambaras, Kshapanakas, etc and only Vamakeswara Thantra is to be put in to practice. This view is strongly condemned by many weighty authorities on the ground that Laxmidhara’s views are prejudiced.

 

Further, there are certain mantras like Verses 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 in Soundarya Lahari which are used for attracting opposite sex. One may wonder how such mantras are incorporated to such a mystic and philosophical treatise. We have already seen the Mother as maya or avidya and the same is one her aspects. In Soundarya Lahari, we visualise her as the creator. She bestows all purusharthas and kama or desire is one of them. First and second verses of the text reveal the Mother’s all pervading and omnipotent form as Maha Tripura Sundari. Verses 3,4,5,6, 7, 8, 20, and 22 explain sagunopasana (external worship) which Kaulas adopt. 27th verse reveals the internal worship (nirgunopasana) which accomplished devotees do. Details of worship on Sri Chakra in 11th, with mantras in 31st, 32nd and 33rd verses, kundalini in 9th, 10th, 14th and 21st verses, Sri Devi Mahaathmyam in verses 12th, 24th, 25th, 26th, 28th and 29th verses. Verses from 36 to 41 give a clear and explicit picture of Samyaachara worship. Among these verses, some authorities are of the opinion that verses 1, 2, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 21, 26, 27, 31 to 41 are the most important mantras in Soundarya Lahari. Of course, these mantras are very important, but the rest of them are not less important in potency.

 

Philosophical and metaphysical treatise is abundant in Soundarya Lahari, especially in first 41 verses which make this text more than a hymn. Apart from this, Soundarya Lahari is a veritable conglomeration of poetic tendencies. So beautiful they are, each verse will convert your heart and mind into a receptacle of noble ideas and thoughts caress your sense and sensibilities. Sri Shankara has put his versatile genius in every verse, like a sculptor carves out tiniest details of an image.  See some examples:

 

“Bhavaani thwam daase mayi vthara dristim sakarunaam…….” Verse 22

 

“Japo jalpah shilpam sakalam api mudraa virachana………… ” Verse 27

 

Dadaane dinebhyah sriyam anisam aasaanusadrisim”………  ” Verse 90

 

You have to read each verse yourself. If you are not familiar with Sanskrit, get a good detailed translation. Study only two Slokas a day. Churn them in your in your heart. Your mind will be immersed in indefinable divine pleasure. Experience it yours self and lead yourself to immense spiritual bliss. Every thing is there you wanted to know.  

 

References: 1. ‘Principles of Tantra ‘ by Arthur Avlon

                    2. ‘ Kathyayani Tantra’

                    3. ‘Soundarya Lahari’ (Inundation of Beauty) Published by Sri   

                         Ramakrishna Math, Madras

                    4.  Various Translations of Soundarya Lahari in English, Malayalam,     

                          Kannada and Hindi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nama Chandikaye: