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 Dr. Ganapathy)
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.
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
(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
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.
Siddha Research Project Part 2
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