Agama (Sanskrit: आगम, "that which has come down") i.e., that which has been handed down to the people of the present from the past — are an enormous collection of Sanskrit scriptures which, are revered as are revered as shruti (revealed scripture). The Agamas are the primary source and authority for ritual, yoga and temple construction. Each of the major denominations — Saiva, Vaishnava and Shakta — has its unique Agama texts. Smartas recognize the Agamas, but don't necessarily adhere to them and rely mainly on the smriti texts.


The Agamas are the primary source and authority for yoga methods and instruction. The Shaiva Agamas revere the Ultimate Reality as Shiva (Shaivas). The Vaishnava-Agamas (Pancharatra and Vaikhanasas Samhitas) adore the Ultimate Reality as Vishnu (Vaishnavas). The Shakta-Agamas (Tantras) venerate the Ultimate Reality as Shakti the consort of Shiva and Divine Mother of the universe (Shaktas). Each set of texts expands on the central theological and philosophical teachings of that denomination.

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. Smartas recognize the Agamas, but don't necessarily adhere to them, relying mainly on the smriti texts. In the Malay languages the word Agama literally means religion. The Agamas are also sometimes known as Tantras.

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.

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.

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.

Divisions of the Agamas

They are a group of scriptures worshiping God in particular form and they describe detailed courses of disciple for the devotee. Like Upanishads there are many Agamas. They can be broadly divided into three sets of Agamas.

Vaikhanasas Samhitas – worship God as Lord Vishnu
Shaiva Agamas – worship God as Lord Siva
Shakta Tantras – worship God as Mother Goddess.

There is no Agamas for Lord Brahma (God of creation). Saktiates recoganizes 77 agamas. I am not sure about the actual number of the Vaishna Agamas. Vaishanavates consider Pancharatra Agamas as one of the most important agamas. Each Agama consists of Philosophy, mental discipline, Rules for constructing temples and Religious practices.

Smartas recognize the Agamas, but don't necessarily adhere to them, relying mainly on the smriti texts.

Vaishnava Agamas

The Vaishnava Agamas are grouped into four categories namely the Vaikhanasa, Pancharatra, Pratishthasara and Vijnanalalita. Of these, the Vaishanavites consider the Pancharatra Agama as the most important. These Agamas are believed to have been revealed by Narayana Himself. The Pancharatra Agama is again subdivided into seven sub agamas namely, the Brahma, Saiva, Kaumara, Vasishtha, Kapila, Gautamiya and the Naradiya. The Naradiya section of the Santi-Parva of the Mahabharata is the earliest source of information about the Pancharatras. Narada-Pancharatra says: "Everything from Brahman to a blade of grass is Lord Krishna." This corresponds to the Upanishadic declaration: "All this is, verily, Brahman—Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma."

The Pancharatra Agamas consider Vishnu as the Supreme Lord of the Universe and devotion to Vishnu as the sure path to liberation. According to another opinion, the Vaikhanasagama is the most ancient and most important Agama and all the Agamas practically and literally copied all their information from this sacred Agama. Tradition says that the Vaikhanasa Agama was originally compiled under the guidance of sage Vaikhanasa during the early Vedic period. Sri Madhavacharya held Pancharatra texts in high esteem and equated them with the Vedas and the epics, while Sri Shankaracharya had a different opinion.

There are two hundred and fifteen of these Vaishnava texts. Isvara, Ahirbudhnya, Paushkara, Parama, Sattvata, Brihad-Brahma and Jnanamritasara Samhitas are the important ones.

Saiva Agamas

Saivates have 28 principal Agamas and 108 Upa Agamas (minor agamas). Some of them date back to 2nd Century AD. Various schools of Saivas such as the Saiva Siddhantha school (the Southern Saivas), Tamil Saivas, Pratyabhijna system (Kashmiri Saivas) and Vira Saivas follow these texts and base their religious activity upon them and regard these Agamas as their authority, besides the Vedas.. The most prominent agama text in Saivas is the Kamika. These texts consider Siva as the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, the Highest Self, the Conscious Principle while Shakti is regarded as the unconscious or the natural principle who is the cause of bondage. The union of Shakti with Siva at the highest level leads to the freedom of the pasu (inner Self) from the Pasa or the attachment.

Sakta Agamas

The Followers of Saktas follow 27 Agamas also called Tantras. Saktas considers Sakti (the World-Mother) as the Supreme Self and relegates Iswara, the Divine Father, to a secondary position. In Saktas the Divine Mother is both the cause of delusion (maya) and the source of liberation.

They dwell on the Sakti (energy) aspect of God and prescribe numerous courses of ritualistic worship of the Divine Mother in various forms. There are seventy-seven Agamas. These are very much like the Puranas in some respects. The texts are usually in the form of dialogues between Siva and Parvati. In some of these, Siva answers the questions put by Parvati, and in others, Parvati answers, Siva questioning. Mahanirvana, Kularnava, Kulasara, Prapanchasara, Tantraraja, Rudra-Yamala, Brahma-Yamala, Vishnu-Yamala and Todala Tantra are the important works. The Agamas teach several occult practices some of which confer powers, while the others bestow knowledge and freedom. Sakti is the creative power of Lord Siva. Saktas is really a supplement to Saivism.

Books on the Agamas

Among the existing books on the Agamas, the most famous are the Isvara-Samhita, Ahirbudhnya-Samhita, Sanatkumara-Samhita, Narada-Pancharatra, Spanda-Pradipika and the Mahanirvana-Tantra.


1. The Dhaarmic Traditions of Hinduism, Edited and Compiled by Kosla Vepa PhD, Indic Studies Foundation


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