Siddha Research: The
By Dr. T. N. Ganapathy, Ph D
Director of the Tamil Siddha Yoga Research Project
(The following article is excerpted from
our forthcoming book, "The Yoga of Tamil Siddha Boganathar" by
There are certain basic difficulties, which
every writer on Tamil Siddhas has to encounter. The basic difficulties
1. The definition of the term "Siddha",
the classification of the Siddhas and their number;
2. The absence of reliable editions, the poetic form, and the language used
by the Siddhas.
3. The number of siddhis and views regarding the siddhis;
4. The use of tantric yoga as the method of the Siddhas;
5. Identification of the Siddhas with the alchemists.
6. The philosophy of the human body and
7. A trustworthy biographical account.
Let us discuss the above basic difficulties
1. The definition and classification of the
The basic difficulty of a study of the Siddhas
begins with the term "Siddha" itself which has several
inter-connected and often overlapping meanings without any
common accepted usage. It is a Sanskrit term meaning "fulfilled".
A Siddha is a "videgdha", "fully boiled",
i.e., perfect being. He stands for the Indian ideal of perfection.
The Tamils refer to four types of mukti or liberation. They
are salokya, the status of living in the world of God, samipya,
the status of being nearer to God, sarupya, the status of getting
the form of God, and sayujya, the status of being one with
the God. The Siddhas are those who have attained the last type
of liberation. The first three types of liberation are called
padamukti by Tirumular and the last one is called siddhi. Tirumular
says that one whose mind is serene and clear like an ocean
without waves is a Siddha. In Tamilnadu it is customary among
the Siddhas to trace their origin to Siva, who is also called
A Siddha is one who has realized the non-duality
of jiva and Siva. He is the one who has realized Siva in himself.
He is one who has attained Sivanubhava. Sivanubhava stands
for the state of experience where there is non-dualism or oneness
between the experiencing jiva and Siva, a jiva-Siva-aikya.
There is a Tamil saying "Sittan pokku, Sivan pokku" meaning
that a Siddha walks or follows the way of Siva.
A Siddha is a yogin. Saint Tirumular says
that those who live in yoga and see the divine power and light
through yoga are the Siddhas.8 He is an experimental yogin
who attains perfection by the method of self-effort.9 As yogins
the Siddhas are said to have the triple control - the control
of breath, the control of the seminal fluid, i.e. the control
of all passions and the achievements of desirelessness - and
the control of mind. A Siddha is one who has succeeded in stabilizing
these controls in oneself and maintains equanimity and a sense
A Siddha is one who has attainted siddhi,
a special psychic and supernatural power, which is said to
be eightfold in the science of yoga. The eight siddhis are
(i)anima, the ability to become as minute as an atom;
(ii)mahima, the ability to expand infinitely;
(iii)laghima, levitation or the ability to float through the air;
(iv)garima, the ability to reach every where;
(v)prakamya, freedom of will, or the ability to overcome natural obstacles;
(vi)isitva, the ability to create or control;
(vii)vasitva, domination over the entire creation; and
(viii)kamavasayitva, the gift of wish-fulfilment or the ability of attaining
everything desired or to attain the stage of desirelessness.
The term "Siddha" comes from the
word "siddhi" which means the experience of Siva.
Siddhisvara, God of Siddhis, is a name of Siva. Siddhis indicate
whether the practitioners of yoga have attained a stage to
reach the ultimate goal, namely, liberation. It is wrong to
think that the Siddhas are magicians or uncouth ascetics credited
with supernatural powers. They are not atheists or agnostics
as is commonly believed. They believe in God, but not a God
of this or that religion. For most of them there is a God,
a Siva, without any limitation or attributes, Siva is grammatically
and philosophically an impersonal conception. The real name
for "Siva" is "It" or "Atu" or "Thatness" or "Suchness".
A genuine Siddha is beyond atheism and faith (theism) alike.
A Siddha is a free thinker and a revolutionary
who refuses to allow himself to be carried away by any religion
or scripture or rituals. One Tamil Siddhas says: "A Siddha
is one who has burnt the sastras". This is to be interpreted
not in the literal sense but in the sense that for a jnanin, "the
Vedas are not Vedas". A Siddha is one who has attained
a stage of realization where he is not bound by the injunctions
of the sastras, and where he has gone beyond the Vedas. At
this stage sastras become irrelevant trifles. There is always
a gulf between words and the experience, which they stand for.
To seek enlightenment in words and ideas is like expecting
the sight of a menu card to reach and satisfy the inner processes
of a hungry man. A description can never in itself transmit
experience. All the sastras, Vedas, Puranas, and the various
religious sects turn humanity into conditioned animals. Truth
is felt experience and it cannot be translated fully in any
sastra. As a Doha song says: "Looking at the fruit in
the tree is not smelling it. Does the disease fly away at the
sight of the physician?" The Siddhas seem to be opposed
to the scriptures, but their temper is devout. They are "pious
rebels" inside the field of religion and as such they
are not atheists. Karai Siddhar draws a distinction between
a Siddha and a non-Siddha by saying that a Siddha points to
the path of the experience whereas a non-Siddha points to the
path of scriptures.
A Siddha is one who enjoys perfect bliss
even while he is in his physical body. The body is treated
by him as the best medium of realizing the truth. Similar to
the sacred rivers, temples, mountains, etc., the body is a
sacred passage to the ultimate Reality. Sivavakkiyar raises
a pertinent question: why should we go out to these places
when the threshold is in us. Siddhas know how to preserve the
body through light rays ("mani" in Tamil) sound waves
("mantra") and medicine ("marundu" or "ausadha" in
Tamil). The technique of the preservation of the body is called
kaya sadhana: it is an attempt to attain a perfect body called
Siddha deha. In short, one who has obtained the power of dematerializing
and spiritualizing the body, and knows how to transmute the
corruptible physical into the incorruptible superphysical basis
of life is a Siddha. A Siddha attains and possesses an eternal
spiritual body called the divya-deha and is one who finally
breaks out of the karmic cycle and attains deliverance from
time. Using the expression of Mircea Eliade we may say that
the Siddhas are those "who understood liberation as the
conquest of immortality".
A notable feature that we find among the
Tamil Siddhas is the total absence of any local cult of the
deity. They are not "henolocotheists", believers
in one local God. No genuine Siddha in Tamilnadu including
Tirumular, has sung in praise of any local God or deity or
personal God. This is a feature that distinguishes Siddhas
from other saints, especially Alwars and Nayanmars. We may
say that the chief characteristic feature, the differentia,
to determine a genuine Siddha from a non-Siddha is to find
out whether he/she has sung in praise of any local God or Deity.
According to Sivavakkiyar a Siddha does not worship any deity
in the temple. As a Baul sings: "the road to the Absolute
is blocked by temples, mosques and the teachers. Markendaya
Purana says that the knower of yoga should not participate
in pilgrimages to the shrines of gods. Pambatticcittar also
says that those who have built temples for local Gods and have
offered prayers are those who do not get at the feet of the
real Lord. Tirumular also refers to Siddhas as those who have
not tried the path of any (sectarian) religion. The Tamil Siddhas
do not belong to any religion or samayam. "Samayam" in
Tamil means "convention", "rule".
The songs of the Siddhas do not show any
trace of collective thinking; neither is there any suggestion
of preaching; they indicate only the direction. One can discern
certain common characteristics among the Siddhas, which make
them distinct from the "learned" poets on the one
hand and sectarian religious poets on the other. To be a Siddha,
sectarian affiliation is irrevelent. Their philosophy is enlightenment
as distinct from doctrine; it is not a theoretical and formalist
approach to problems. The Tamil Siddhas are not system-builders;
their whole technique is to jolt people out of their intellectual
ruts and their conventional, barren, morality. They laid before
their audience an abrasive, shocking, uncompromising message
exhorting them to shed their delusions, pretensions, and empty
orthodoxies in favour of an intense, direct, personal confrontation
with truth. They are the "untethered", non-conformist,
spiritual aspirants, yearning for a direct and natural approach
to, and a more intense experience of, the absolute truth. They
reject, the value and prestige of the scriptures, which remain
the privilege of the few in Hinduism. The Tamil Siddhas may
be considered as "scriptureless" or "bookless" or
nirgrantha school of Hinduism, as they are detatched from any
The Tamil Siddhas belong to a non-conformist, "counter-tradition".
What is meant by "counter tradition" is not that "which
opposes tradition". But the "tradition which opposes".
The Siddhas challenged many of the accepted beliefs and practices
of the Hindu society and thought. They denounced idol and ritualistic
worship and petitionary prayers as fetters holding back the
soul from liberation. Their language was as unconventional
as were their lives. This led many people to think that the
Tamil Siddhas were Buddhists in disguise, since Buddhism also
criticized vehemently the doctrines of the Hindus.
Siddha, sectarian affiliation is rather unnecessary
and irrelevant. Yet it is customary to classify Siddhas into
the above groups. The Hatha-Yoga Pradipika, a classical text
on hatha yoga, contains a list of Maha-Siddhas beginning with
Adinatha. Adinatha is the mystical name for Siva. The Siddhas
belonging to the school of Adinatha are called Natha Siddhas.
They are known as kan-phatta, because they have to pierce the
cartileges of their ears and pass a heavy ring, known as darsana,
around which by its weight cut longish slits upto their ear
lobes. Gautama Buddha was having this mark on him. The Natha
Siddhas originated in North India, and their literature contains
a number of hatha yogic texts of which the famous are the Hatha
Yoga Pradipika, the Gheranda Samhita and the Siva Samhita.
They had the agnomen of Natha added to their proper names.
The term "Natha" in its theological sense is restricted
to a Saiva preceptor just as the surname of gosain is confined
to the teachers of the Vaishnava faith. In this connection
it would be interesting to note the view that the term "Natha" is
derived from the Prakrit word "Nattha" meaning the
nose-string used for controlling an animal. This term probably
has been adopted by the Siddhas to refer to one who has controlled
his mind through yoga.
The concept of sacrifice is connected with
this number, and "eighteen" appears to be the symbolic
equivalent of man as sacrifice. According to the Chinese mythology
there are eighteen lohans(arhats). From the point of view alchemy
eighteen is an important number. In Rasesvara Darsana eighteen
modes of elaboration of mercury or eighteen modes of treating
quick silver are discussed. In the Ramayana the war took place
for eighteen days: and that there are eighteen Agamas, eighteen
consonants, etc. There is another view that the number "eighteen" may
also refer to the "eighteen" worlds of ordinary human
beings - the six sense organs, the objects of the six sense
organs and the six forms of consciousness of eye, ear, nose,
tongue, body and mind. The Siddhas are those who have gone
beyond, transcended these eighteen worlds of ordinary men.
Hence they are referred to as "eighteen Siddhas" i.e.
people who have conquered the "eighteen worlds".
In Siddha medicine number "eighteen" has a special
place. Macchamunmi says that there are eighteen important herbs.
In kundalini yoga "eighteen" is a significant number;
kundalini after reaching sahasrara has to cross further through
eighteen mahavidyas. That is eighteen energized subtle centres
encircling the sahasrara region, finally to unite with Siva,
in an act known as maithuna yoga In Sattaimuni Jnanam the Siddha
refers to the "eighteen" letters that are part and
parcel of valai, i.e. the kundalini sakti. In his work Padinen
Siddhar Yogakkovai Parayanappa, Yogi Ramaiah says that the
number "eighteen" represents eighteen different aspects
of yoga though he has not explained them. He also says that
out of the eighty four Siddhas, the most important are eighteen
and hence this tradition of yoga is called Padinen Yoga Siddha
Tradition. All these internal evidences from Siddha yoga and
medicine have been taken to show that "eighteen" in
the "eighteen Tamil Siddhas" does not refer to the
number of Siddhas (because Siddhas are innumerable) but to
the attainments of a Siddha. But it seems to the author that
the number "eighteen" refers to the eighteen siddhis.
The Siddhas are those who have attained the eighteen siddhis.
In short, the numeral "eighteen" is a holy number
among the Tamil Siddhas. There is a verse which says that Siddhas
know eighteen languages. Here language means siddhi. (to be
Kriya Yoga and Publications. December 2001