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Ritual practices

*Statue of the Tantric goddess Kali from Dakshineswar, West Bengal, India; along with her Yantra.

Because of the wide range of communities covered by the term tantra, it is challenging and
problematic to describe tantric practices definitively. Avalon (1918) does provide a useful
dichotomy of the "Ordinary Ritual" [22] and the "Secret Ritual" [23].

Ordinary ritual

The ordinary ritual or puja may include any of the following elements:

Mantra and yantra

As in other Hindu and Buddhist yoga traditions, mantra and yantra play an important part in
Tantra. The mantras and yantras are instruments to invoke specific Hindu deities such as Shiva
and Kali. Similarly, puja may involve focusing on a yantra or mandala associated with a deity.[24]

Identification with deities

Tantra, being a development of early Hindu-Vedic thought, embraced the Hindu gods and
goddesses, especially Shiva and Shakti, along with the Advaita philosophy that each represents
an aspect of the ultimate Para Shiva, or Brahman. These deities may be worshipped externally
with flowers, incense, and other offerings, such as singing and dancing; but, more importantly,
are engaged as attributes of Ishta Devata meditations, the practitioners either visualizing
themselves as the deity or experiencing the darshan (vision) of the deity. These Tantric practices
used to form the foundation of the ritual temple dance of the devadasis, and were preserved in
the Melattur style of Bharatanatyam by Guru Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer.

Secret ritual

Secret ritual may include any or all of the elements of ordinary ritual either directly or substituted
along with other sensate rites and themes such as a feast (food, sustenance), coitus (sexuality,
procreation), charnel grounds (death, transition) and defecation, urination and vomiting (waste,
renewal, fecundity). It was this sensate inclusion that fueled Zimmer's praise of Tantra as having
a world-affirmative attitude:

In the Tantra, the manner of approach is not that of Nay but of Yea ... the world attitude is affirmative ...
Man must approach through and by means of nature, not by rejection of nature.[25]

In Avalon's Chapter 27: The Pañcatattva (The Secret Ritual) of Sakti and Sakta (1918),[26] he
states that the Secret Ritual (which he calls Panchatattva,[27] Chakrapuja and Panchamakara)

Worship with the Pañcatattva generally takes place in a Cakra or circle composed of men and women...
sitting in a circle, the Shakti [or female practitioner] being on the Sadhaka's [male practitioner's]left.
Hence it is called Cakrapuja. ...There are various kinds of Cakra -- productive, it is said, of differing fruits
for the participator therein.

In this chapter, Avalon also provides a series of variations and substitutions of the Panchatattva
(Panchamakara) "elements" or tattva encoded in the Tantras and various tantric traditions and
affirms that there is a direct correlation to the Tantric Five Nectars and the Mahābhūta.[28]

Sexual rites

Sexual rites of Vama Marga may have emerged from early Hindu Tantra as a practical means of
generating transformative bodily fluids.[29] These constituted a vital offering to Tantric deities.
Sexual rites may also have evolved from clan initiation ceremonies involving the transaction of
sexual fluids. Here the male initiate was inseminated or insanguinated with the sexual emissions
of the female consort, sometimes admixed with the semen of the guru. He was thus transformed
into a son of the clan (kulaputra) through the grace of his consort. The clan fluid (kuladravya) or
clan nectar (kulamrita) was conceived as flowing naturally from her womb. Later developments
in the rite emphasised the primacy of bliss and divine union, which replaced the more bodily
connotations of earlier forms. Although popularly equated with Tantra in its entirety in the West,
sexual rites were practiced by a minority of sects. For many practicing lineages, these maithuna
practices progressed into psychological symbolism.[30]

When enacted as enjoined by the tantras, the ritual culminates in a sublime experience of infinite
awareness, by both participants. The Tantric texts specify that sex has three distinct and separate
purposes—procreation, pleasure, and liberation. Those seeking liberation eschew frictional
orgasm for a higher form of ecstasy, as the couple participating in the ritual, lock in a static
embrace. Several sexual rituals are recommended and practiced. These involve elaborate and
meticulous preparatory and purificatory rites. The act balances energies coursing within the
pranic ida and pingala channels in the subtle bodies of both participants. The sushumna nadi is
awakened and kundalini rises upwards within it. This eventually culminates in samadhi wherein
the respective individualities of each of the participants are completely dissolved in the unity of
cosmic consciousness. Tantrics understand the act on multiple levels. The male and female
participants are conjoined physically and represent Shiva and Shakti, the male and female
principles. Beyond the physical, a subtle fusion of Shiva and Shakti energies takes place
resulting in a united energy field. On an individual level, each participant experiences a fusion of
one's own Shiva and Shakti energies.[31][32]


[22] Shakta Sadhana (The Ordinary Ritual)". Retrieved on


[23] The Pañcatattva (The Secret Ritual)". Retrieved on 2007-


[24] Magee, Michael. The Kali Yantra

[25] quoted in Urban (2003), p. 168

[26] "The Pañcatattva (The Secret Ritual

[27] Panchatattva has a number of meanings in different traditions. The term "panchatattva" is also employed by
the Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Rosen, Steven J. Sri Pancha Tattva: The Five Features of God 1994 ISBN 0-9619763-7-3
Folk Books, New York

[28] Avalon, Arthur. Sakti and Sakta, ch. 27

[29] White (2000)

[30] White (2000)


[32] Woodroffe (1959)

Hindu tantra Buddhist tantra Other related topics

• Dakshinachara • Anuttarayoga Tantra • Ganachakra

• Kaśmir Śaivism • Dakini • Ananda Marga
• Panchamakara • Shingon Buddhism • Great Rite
• Shakti • Tibetan Buddhism • Karezza
• Sri Chakra • Vajrayana • Sex magic
• Vamachara • Tantra techniques (Vajrayana) • Taoist sexual practices
• Vasugupta • John Woodroffe
• Yoga

Further reading
• Avalon, Arthur (1928). The Serpent Power. Ganesh and Co. ISBN 81-85988-05-6.
• Bagchi, P.C.; Magee, Michael (trans.) (1986). Kaulajnana-nirnaya of the School of
Matsyendranath Varanasi: Prachya Prakashan.
• Davidson, Ronald M. (2003). Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric
Movement. Columbia University Press. ISBN 81-208-1991-8.
• Davidson, Ronald M. (2005). Tibetan Renaissance : Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of
Tibetan Culture. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-13471-1.
• Feuerstein, Georg (1998). Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy. Boston: Shambhala. ISBN 1-
• Guenon, Rene (2004). Studies in Hinduism:Collected Works (2nd ed.). Sophia Perennis.
ISBN 978-0900588693.
• Gyatso, Geshe Kelsang (2003). Tantric Grounds and Paths. Glen Spey: Tharpa
Publications ISBN 978-0-948006-33-3.
• Gyatso, Geshe Kelsang (2005). Mahamudra Tantra. Glen Spey: Tharpa Publications
ISBN 978-0-948006-93-7.
• Gyatso, Tenzin (14th Dalai Lama); Tsong-ka-pa, Jeffrey Hopkins (1987). Deity Yoga.
Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 0-937938-50-5.
• Kane, Pandurang Vaman. History of Dharmashastra (Ancient and Mediaeval Religious
and Civil Law). Poona:Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.
• Magee, Michael, tr. (1984). Yoni Tantra.
• Mahendranath, Shri Gurudev (1990). The Scrolls of Mahendranath. Seattle: International
Nath Order.
• McDaniel, June (2004). Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in
West Bengal. New York: Oxford University Press.
• Mookerji, Ajit (1997). The Tantric Way: art, science, ritual. London: Thames and
• Rao, T. A. Gopinatha (1981). Elements in Hindu Iconography Vol 1. Madras: Law
Printing House.
• Urban, Hugh (2002). "The Conservative Character of Tantra: Secrecy, Sacrifice and
This-Worldly Power in Bengali Śākta Tantra". International Journal of Tantric Studies 6
• Walker, Benjamin (1982). Tantrism: Its Secret Principles and Practices. London:
Acquarian Press. ISBN 0-85030-272-2.
• White, David Gordon (2003). Kiss of the Yogini : "Tantric Sex" in its South Asian
Contexts. University Of Chicago Press.
• White, David Gordon (1998). The Alchemical Body : Siddha Traditions in Medieval
India. University Of Chicago Press.
• Woodroffe, John. Mahanirvana Tantra (Tantra of the Great Liberation). Retrieved on 2007-05-17.