Tamil Yoga Siddha
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 There are still thousands of unpublished manuscript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 Siddha poems.
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 fully.
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 Siddhas
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 filthy language.
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
5. Identification of the Siddhas with the
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 intruders.
(to be continued)
Copyright. Babaji's Kriya Yoga and Publications. 2002