Tamil Yoga Siddha Research
The Basic Difficulties (Part 2)
by Dr. T. N. Ganapathy, Ph D
Director of the Tamil Siddha Yoga Research Project
The following article, the second
in a series, is excerpted from our forthcoming book, "The
Yoga of Tamil Siddha Boganathar" by Dr. T.N. Ganapathy. In
the previous article, the basic difficulty, the term "Siddha"
itself, was discussed. The present article discusses other difficulties
involved in studying the works of the Siddhas.
2. The absence of reliable editions, the poetic
form and the language used by the Siddhas.
The main problem in the study
of the Tamil Siddhas is the absence of reliable editions of the
Tamil Siddha poetry. There are still thousands of unpublished
manuscript texts of Siddha poetry. To add to our difficulty we
have a large number of cheap prints going under the name of Siddha
poetry. Even with the available editions, there are numerous variations,
corruption, and interpolations. One of the chief difficulties
is the continuing process of corruption and interpolation in the
Siddha texts. Later editions have a tendency to tamper with the
original works. Even if one is a great scholar he has no freedom
or license to alter even a single letter of the original Tamil
There are only a limited number
of works and articles on the Tamil Siddhas, with little value
to the researcher. They do not provide adequate material for a
basic understanding of the Siddhas in their true perspective.
All along there has been only a fragmentary and superficial study
of the Tamil Siddhas and a brusque way of the presentation of
their philosophy by some of them. Since Siddha poems express experiences,
which have been lived through, it is difficult to comprehend them
The views of the Tamil Siddhas
are couched in a poetic form and belong to a sphere between philosophy
and poetry. In Tamil Siddha poetry we find a medley of views not
crystallized into well-defined doctrines. Further the literature
under the common name "The Writings of the Tamil Siddhas"
spans many centuries. These things make it impossible to explain
the teachings of the Tamil Siddhas in terms of one historical
line or metaphysical doctrine. Any attempt to do so commits the
logical error of reductionism.
The basic source of the Tamil
Siddha poetry and philosophy is in the spoken language of the
people. What we have as Siddha poetry today has been handed over
from generation to generation in the form of "oral transmission".
In Tamil literature such an oral transmission is called vaymoli
or eludakkilavi. This explains why in Siddha poetry there is looseness
in construction, noticeable repetitions, inconsistent verses,
and difference in emphasis on the same subject dealt with in various
places. To facilitate oral transmission the Tamil Siddhas used
only the common words spoken by ordinary people–unpolished,
crude, offensive, indecent and colloquial expressions. This use
of the common speech of the people produces a powerful effect
whenever we read Siddha poetry, even though there is no trace
of conscious poetic calculation in the songs of the Tamil Siddhas.
Although the Siddha poems are in the common language of the people,
the meaning of the poems operates at two levels - one the exoteric
and the linguistic and the other esoteric and the symbolical.
The esoteric meaning is explained only to and understood only
by the tested and the worthy. This paradox of language is the
special difficulty, which a researcher meets in understanding
and deciphering Siddha thought. Due to a lack of systematic and
coordinated study, some of the writers, after a superficial reading,
have highlighted the overtly negative features of the Siddha poems.
This is a highly one- sided interpretation. People have fallen
prey to this one-sidedness, which is always an evil due to misrepresentations
and misreadings of Siddha poetry by vested interests. Patanjaliar
Suttiram-50 regrets that without going deep into the verses, people
have interpreted the Siddhas poems according to their own imagination.
A serious and sincere researcher has to steer clear through such
misreading of Siddha poetry. Our extreme inadequate sources of
the knowledge of the Siddhas and their poetry should not give
us freedom, or shall we say license, in elucidating their doctrines
or making hasty judgements. As yogi Ramaiah says: " We, human,
with our pigeon intellects, cannot sit in judgement over the cosmic
consciousness of the Siddhas." In the midst of such uncertainty
and meagerness of decisive material it is necessary to present
the question with a proper regard to the available data and avoid
hasty conclusions or statements on insufficient basis. Since Siddha
philosophy drew upon any source that was available to it, such
as the folk lore of Tamilnadu, the Tantras, the Vedas, the mysticism
of the age, the Buddhist rebellion against rituals, etc. one who
wants to understand it has to take all these factors into consideration.
The symbolic and secret language
used by the Siddhas, called sandhya — bhasa or sunya sambashanai,
has been one of the causes of deep mistrust of their doctrines
by the other classical systems of philosophy and religions in
India. People who opposed the Siddha doctrines have highlighted
only the seemingly obscene and obscure elements of language used
by the Siddhas and have not gone deep into their purport. The
homology between the bliss enjoyed by the sadhaka at the supreme
state and the enjoyment in sexual union is a common feature found
in all mystical expressions; and the Siddha language is not an
exception to this.46 The seeming vulgarity of the Siddha poems,
their esoteric teachings, their intentionally obscure language
and symbolism–all have contributed to a lack of coordinated
approach to the sources and their philosophy till this day.
In a study of the Tamil Siddhas
it is important to make a note of the symbolic and secret language
used by them. The language of Tamil Siddhas is suggestive and
paradoxical. It is called sandhya bhasa or twilight language,
which literally means that the ideas may be explained either by
the light of day or by the darkness of night. It is also known
as sunya sambhasanai or the conversation about the void. Sandhya
bhasa has been variously translated as "enigmatic language",
"hidden sayings", and "intentional language".
This mystical language of the Tamil Siddhas is characterized by
deceptive simplicity. The Jnanabodhakam speaks of the dual meaning
of the language of the Tamil Siddhas as "the treachery of
the Siddhas". It calls that language as a "merciless
language" since in it the Siddhas conceive one thing and
express another. It warns people not to take the language of the
Siddhas at its face value. The essential characteristic feature
of the language is its polysemantic nature, its multivalence,
and its capacity to express at the same time a number of meanings
both at the level of ordinary experience and at the level of transcendence.
The suggestive, epigramatic and enigmatic nature of the language
itself is mystical in nature, where the highest is clothed in
the form of the lowest. The Tamil Siddhas make free use of typology,
wordplay, paradox, repetition, and metaphor to convey to the listener
the richness of the reality hidden in the visible terms and symbols.
The paradoxical expressions and their explanations are accessible
only to the initiated. Probably the Siddha poems themselves function
as an initiation.
The twilight language of the
Siddhas is a language for preaching esoteric, mystical doctrines.
Most of the Tamil Siddha songs are written in veiled language,
paribhasa. It is a secret language in which the numerals, ordinary
words and symbols are deprived of any immediate, naturalistic
meaning and endorsed with a much wider and spiritually richer,
inner, mystical significance. The use of numerals to denote mystical
experiences is a favorite device of the Tamil Siddhas and an authentic
pattern of Tirumular, a Tamil Siddha par excellence. Alphabet
symbolism is also a common technique that we find in Tamil Siddha
poetry. We can safely say that the monosyllables that we find
in Tamil Siddha poetry are no longer gibberish. They have a meaning
and a message.
The poems of Tirumular abound
in technical terms conveying mystical experience. The symbolic,
twilight language of the Tamil Siddhas has the advantage of precision,
concentration, secrecy, mystery and esoteric significance in that
the symbols are objective short cuts to the subjective states
of bliss. The symbols, at the hands of the Siddhas, become a form
of artistic expression of the inexpressible. The use of the symbolic
language is not merely a protection against profaning the sacred
by the ignorant, but also suggests that language, however enriched,
is incapable of expressing the highest experience of the spirit.
Indeed, language is but a broken lamp. In Sufi terminology, any
attempt to convey the inner meaning of one’s spiritual experiences
in conventional language is like "sending a kiss to the beloved
by a messenger". In short, the twilight language of the Siddhas
is, in essence, profoundly mystical in nature and contains a "numinous
aura" and "existential revelations for the man who deciphers
their message". The essential difficulty is that to understand
the twilight language requires a total hermeneutic of reading,
an awareness, in fact, of the total religious and philosophical
structures, which infuse into it. It also requires one to enter
deep states of meditation wherein the verse serves as a key, which
reveals a higher meaning to the initiate.
3. The nature and number of siddhis
According to the Tamil Lexicon
"siddhi" means "realization", "success",
"attainment", "final liberation." A siddhi
is an accomplishment on the psychic plane. Siddhi may also mean
mysticism in Tamil. In the Tevaram "siddhi" means "success"
in attaining God48. The real meaning of the word "siddhi"is
best expressed by words as "attainment", or "accomplishment"
connected with the super-physical worlds. In Zen Buddhism we come
across the term "satori" which may be translated as
"enlightenment" which is very near to the Hindu concept
of "siddhi". Siddhi amounts to an actual surpassing
of the human condition and may be likened to an "ontological
mutation". In the words of Mircea Eliade, by attaining siddhi,
"one is trying to break down the structures of the "profane"
sensibility" to make way for extra sensory perception as
well as an unbelievable control over the body." A siddhi,
in short, is an effort directed to the "death of the profane
man" and a state of consciousness cosmic in structure.
Traditionally siddhis are eight
in number known as asta siddhi. Asta Siddhi is of three orders,
two siddhis of knowledge (garima and prakamya), three siddhis
of power (isitva,vasitva and kamavasayitva) and three siddhis
of the body (anima, mahima and laghima). The Hindu thought generally
recognises eight siddhis, though occasionally eighteen and twenty-four
siddhis are also acknowledged. In the Uddhava Gita twenty-three
siddhis are enumerated50. The Tirumantiram speaks of sixty-four
siddhis. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, sixty-eight siddhis
are classified. In Jnanavettiyan-1500 and in Agasthiyar Jnanakaviyam-1000
mention is made of sixty-four siddhis. Verse 337 of Bogar Karpam
300 speaks of eighty-four siddhis. Saint Ramalinga Swamigal also
says that there are sixty four siddhis.. In the Yogattava Upanisad
we find certain details about siddhis. In Tamil literature a list
of the siddhis is to be found in Paranjoti’s Tiruvilaiyadar
Puranam, in Tayumanavar’s Tejomayanandam, and in Siddharganam,
in Pambatticcittar’s songs, in Saint Ramalingam’s
the Tiruvarutpa and Tirumular’s the Tirumantiram. It is
said that one who has attainted siddhi "can hear the grass
as it grows". Pambatticcittar and Tayumanavar have sung about
the unlimited capabilities of the Siddhas. Siddhis emerge due
to several causes.
It is unfortunate that siddhis
have always been considered more a hindrance to spiritual development
than as yogic attainments. Saint Ramalingam, who has discussed
the siddhis in detail, refers to the attainment of siddhis as
"pichu" or "childish play" (Pillai vilayattu).
According to Patanjali siddhis are perfections in the waking state
(vyutthana) but represent obstacles in the state of samadhi, and
allows them no importance for the attainment of deliverance. Patanjali
drew attention not only to the danger of exhibiting siddhis, but
to the dangers that they present to the possessor; for the yogin
is in danger of yielding to the temptation of magic, of being
content to enjoy the siddhis instead of sticking to his spiritual
task of obtaining final liberation. Pattinattar calls siddhi as
"bitter sugarcane" (kasakkum karumbu) to indicate its
dual nature. The desire for attracting popular notice through
a display of siddhis shows immaturity. As Pambatticcittar says
"those who have attained self realization will not exhibit
it and those who have not attained self realization are those
who exhibit it." But to the true Siddha, who is a genuine
kundalini yogin, these siddhis are of immense value, for they
indicate that he is in the process of deconditioning himself from
the laws of nature and from karmic determinism forever and breaking
down the structures of the profane sensibility. Siddhi expresses
the quality of mystic experience attained by the Siddha. The real
siddhi consists in inner conversion, an inner world of oneness,
an entering into the stream of liberation. What is prohibited
is not the attainment of the siddhis but their exhibition to others.
4. The use of the tantric yoga as a method of
The Tamil Siddhas practised
tantra yoga. There was a popular belief that the Tantras discarded
asceticism and were an unsavoury mixture of mysticism, occult,
pseudo-science, magic and erotica couched in strange and often
There has been a strong prejudice
against tantra yoga, the method adopted by the Tamil Siddhas.
Further the doors of tantric yoga have ever been open to all classes
of people, and some of the Siddhas are from the lower strata of
society. This led people to hold the view that tantras were meant
for the degenerate and the fallen and it was considered to be
in vogue among the low class people. To add to all these, the
science of healing, to which a number of Tamil Siddhas are devoted,
was relegated to the class of avidya or false knowledge. What
is the need of medicine when disease is caused by the karma of
the past life? According to the karma theory there is a karmic
connection between the act done intentionally and its consequent
result of suffering from a disease. A human being will suffer
from diseases if he does any or many of the following acts. Plucking
the tender leaves and cutting the plants without any purpose;
taking the living beings out of water and putting them on earth
under the sun, disturbing the mobile and crawling creatures out
of their normal way of movement, hitting the birds by stones and
catapults, having intercourse with a person older than oneself
and also with a lady during her period of menstruation, excessive
drinking of toddy, taking food at irregular periods, during day
or night, excessive indulgence in all things, insulting and showing
disrespect to yogins and elders, walking alone in the mid of night
and doubting one’s own atmasakti (the power of one’s
own self) and the like, all these will lead one to suffer from
fever, malaria, giddiness, piles, arthritis, leprosy, diabetes,
asthma, ulcer, anemia, jaundice, typhoid, kidney failure, etc.
The more heinous acts of karma we do, more and more varieties
of diseases will be added on to this list. Therefore one has to
suffer these diseases and there is no point in treating the diseases
by using medicines. Medicines can neither prevent nor cure diseases
caused by karma. This was the argument put forward by the upholders
of Vedic knowledge.
5. Identification of the Siddhas with the alchemists.
In Tamil nadu the Siddhas are
identified with the alchemists. The traditional science of alchemy
is considered to work not only on the matter under transmutation,
but also on the soul. The Tamil Siddhas considered yogic sadhana
as a sort of internal spiritual alchemy. Very often people confuse
the analogy between the Siddha and the alchemist who is treated
as a miracle man or a magician who turns base metals into gold.
In Tamil language since the alchemist turns brass(pithalai) into
gold (adakkam), he is called Pithalattakaran (a man who turns
brass into gold). This word also means a trickester in Tamil.
Unfortunately as the Siddha is compared to an alchemist, he got
the unsavoury epithet that he is a trickster not to be depended
upon i.e. a pithalattakaran. Alchemy is not to be looked up on
as merely eulogistic of the metal gold. It stands for the conservation
of the body, a means to the highest liberation. In Rasesvara Darsana
it is said that mercury can make the body undecaying and immortal.
If we analyze further we shall understand the analogy between
the alchemist and the Siddha. Just as the alchemist works on base
metals and turns them into gold, the Siddha transmutes his psycho-physical
life into a free autonomous spirit. In India gold symbolizes immortality.
Viewed in the above sense, every Siddha is a spiritual alchemist
par excellence and his sadhana is kayasadhana, that is, cultivation
of the body or transformation of the body into immortal essence.
The yogins call their technique sadhana which is a sort of internal
spiritual alchemy. Mircea Eliade has made a comparison between
the yogin and the alchemist:
The yogi works on his own physiology.
Through ascesis practised on his own body he achieves a refinement
of matter exactly comparable with the alchemist who "tortures"
metals — that is the expression used — and purifies
them in his laboratory. In both cases a state of complete spiritual
autonomy is reached in the end, because the spirit is no longer
conditioned by psycho-physiology or by the external material world.
Sometimes for the Tamil Siddhas,
alchemy was merely an outer cover, husk or seal for something
far more profound. It was a code for protection against unwary
Siddha Research Project Part 3
Copyright. Babaji's Kriya Yoga and Publications. 2002
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