Saiva Agamas Digitization Project

Kauai Aadheenam Digitizes Rare Collection of Saiva Scriptures at the French Institute of Pondicherry

Acharya Arumugawami sets up the team in December, 2008, as Dr. S. Sabharathanam, expert on Saiva Agamas, looks on

Kauai Aadheenam's interest in the Saiva Agamas dates back decades to Gurudeva's insistence that they be identified and made available for study and use. These ancient texts are the key scriptures defining the Saiva denomination of Hinduism. The Agamas are the authoritative texts on temple construction and worship. But they contain much more, from cosmology to the intricacies of the guru-disciple relationship, to initiations and instructions for meditations on the nature of Lord Siva. This knowledge has remained mostly inaccessible, hidden within thousands of palm leaf manuscripts scattered throughout India.

Once state-of-the-art technology, the palm leaf manuscripts were painstakingly recopied every hundred years or so to preserve them. But this process stopped in the 19th century. Well cared for, palm-leaf manuscripts last for hundreds of years, but if neglected they can be destroyed by nature within a short time. Fortunately, in the 1950s and 60s, Jean Filliozat and Pandit N.R. Bhatt of the French Institute of Pondicherry set out to collect and preserve these manuscripts, with a focus on the Saiva Agamas. The result of their work is the 8,000+ bundles now preserved at the Institute.

Shown on the left: Two heavily damaged leaves; a pair of typical leaves from the bundle of Sukshma Agama; side view of the Sukshma Agama; and top view of wrapped Sukshma Agama bundle

Early efforts to copy and thus preserve the manuscripts were thwarted by the cost and complexity of microfilm. It is only recently, with the advent of high resolution digital cameras, that efficient and economical methods became available.

In 2005 Bodhinatha approached the French Institute with a proposal to digitize the Saiva-related bundles--about half the collection. But once he saw the precarious condition of the rare manuscripts, which could easily have been destroyed completely by fire, tsunami or other natural disaster, he offered to digitize and thus protect the entire collection.

The Institute is owned by the French Government, and getting permission to digitize the collection was a slow process. Experts in ancient manuscripts and photography were consulted, and a simple system using Nikon cameras tethered to Macintosh computers was set up at the Institute. Starting in December 2008, four young men were hired to do the work and process the photos. They took 2,000 photos daily and completed the collection (save 200 heavily damaged bundles) on January 1, 2011. Altogether, they took 775,261 photographs. These have been assembled into PDF files, one for each bundle, and will soon be available for download on the Institute's website. This is possibly the first of India's ancient manuscript collections to be entirely digitized.

Until now, anyone wishing to view a bundle had to go to Pondicherry and physically inspect it. If he wanted a copy, he had to make it by hand, perhaps damaging the brittle leaves in the process. Such obstacles impeded the study of the Agamas, and only a few have been put into print (most in Sanskrit, with no translation). Now, further deterioration is no longer an issue and anyone in the world can download a manuscript in minutes.

The Aadheenam's long-term plan is to create a collection of excerpts from the Saiva Agamas, translated into English, on key concepts of Saiva Siddhanta, such as the inner meaning of temple worship and the function of the guru. Now, only succinct summaries of Vedanta philosophy, such as from the Upanishads, exist in many languages. The scriptural basis of other aspects of Hinduism, as found in the Agamas, should be equally available.

Dr. Ganesan, Acharya Arumuganathaswami, Dr. Sabharathanam and Dr. Abhiramasundaram at the French Institute of Pondicherry, December 2010

Having photographed a million palm leaves recording hundreds of scriptures in a dozen languages produced over the last several centuries, what do we do with them? Kauai Aadheenam's interest from the outset has been the Saiva Agamas, the 28 principal Agamas and 128 subsidiary ones, most of which are present in the French Institute's collection in Pondicherry, South India. They cover a vast range of information: temple construction and worship; town planning and house construction; how to die in a high state of consciousness; personal worship and observances; meditation and God Realization.

Consider leaf 125 of bundle RE10831, below, verses 13 to 16 of Sarvajnanottara Agama, Chapter 2:

"Siva is different from me. Actually, I am different from Siva." The highly refined seeker should avoid such vicious notions of difference. "He who is Siva is indeed Myself." Let him always contemplate this non-dual union between Siva and himself.

With one-pointed meditation of such non-dual unity one gets himself established within his own Self, always and everywhere. Being established within himself, he directly sees the Lord, who is within every soul and within every object and who presents Himself in all the manifested bodies. There is no doubt about the occurrence of such experience.

Acharya Arumugawami and Yoginathaswami with head priest Sundaramurthy Sivam at the Veda Agama Samskrutha Maha Patashala, Bengaluru

He who is declared in all the authentic scriptures as unborn, the creator and controller of the universe, the One who is not associated with a body evolved from maya, the One who is free from the qualities evolved from maya and who is the Self of all, is indeed Myself. There is no doubt about this non-dual union.

Such profound thought is usually associated with the Upanishads and Vedanta, the philosophy most well-known in Indian society. Vedanta is even more prominent outside of India, where it is often mistakenly regarded as the sole expression of Hindu metaphysics. Here, in the Agamas, we find not only the most profound expressions of Advaitic oneness with God, but an expression melded with the metaphysics of temple worship.

On the left: French Institute of Pondicherry's 276-leaf, 8-inch wide bundle cataloged as RE10831 and labeled "1008 Names of Siva, etc.," contains, among 20 other scriptures, a copy of the profoundly mystical Sarvajnanottara Agama.

The common Vedantic view regards temple worship as a beginner's practice, and does not offer worship much philosophic support. Hence, temple worship is left adrift philosophically, especially in the countries of the diaspora, even though temples are the most conspicuous manifestation of Hinduism in these countries.

The profound revelations and insight present in the various Agamic scriptures also include the importance of the guru-disciple relationship. But these scriptures are little known outside a small community of priests and scholars. Indeed, key Agamic scriptures are hardly available to the general public, while the Upanishads have been available in many languages since the 19th century.

On the right: These two leaves begin with verse 12 of chapter 2, "The Direct Blissful Experience of Absolute Oneness with Siva."

Obviously, then, the next step is to get these scriptures transcribed, edited, translated and published. To this end, Kauai Aadheenam is enlisting the help of the entire Sivachariyar community of Tamil Nadu, the original guardians of the Agamas.

The Agama Project: What's Next?

Artist Samdar Singh Khangarot's depiction of the transmission of the Agamas, beginning with (upper left), Lord Siva handing the leaves to Goddess Parvati who, in turn (upper right) conveys them to Nandi. He gives them (middle left) to one of the rishis, who hands them to Sivasri Pitchai Gurukkal (middle right), who, representing the entire community of Sivachariya priests, presents them to mankind (bottom).

The immense collection of scriptures held by the French Institute of Pondicherry were collected in the 1950s and 60s from the Sivachariyar community of South India and other priests who have been the guardians and exponents of these scriptures for thousands of years. The precious and irreplaceable manuscripts were thus preserved, and for many years N.R. Bhatt and other scholars at the institute painstakingly labored to create critical editions of the key Agamas. They completed Rauravagama, Ajitagama, Mrgendragama, Matangaparameswaragama, Sardhatrisatikalottaragama and Diptagama. Recently, the first chapters of Suksmagama were published.

While the critical editions are an essential step in the process, by themselves, they actually don't help much as a distribution channel for the knowledge. They are not translations and the Sanskrit text is Devanagari script while most of the Sivachariyar community only easily read Sanskrit in the old Grantha script--the script on the leaves themselves.

Recently the project of photographing all the manuscripts was completed by Kauai Aadheenam, making the texts widely available and preserving them from further decay. Three large priest training schools expressed their interest to Bodhinatha in taking on the preparation of critical editions in Devanagari and Grantha and translations in Tamil and English. They are the Veda Agama Samskrutha Maha Patashala of Sivasri A.S. Sundaramurthy Sivam in Bengaluru, the Shri Karpaga Vinayaga Veda Agama Vidhyalaya of Sivasri Pitchai Gurukkal in Pillaiyarpati, and the Sri Skandaguru Vidyalayam of Kartikeya Sivam at Tiruparakundram Temple in Madurai. The work would be incorporated in the curriculum for the older students and done under the guidance of expert scholars, including Dr. Sabharathanam and Dr. Abhiramasundaram of Chennai.

A July, 2011, meeting in Chennai with Bodhinatha was planned to discuss the details of the project. In broad strokes, it is thought to have each gurukulam take up one Agama.

Each of the gurukulams is funding its own work, while the Aadheenam is sponsoring a complete English translation of Kamika Agama by Dr. Sabharathanam which is expected to be completed in about two years. Dr. Sabharathanam is also translating selected portions of the yoga and jnana padas of other Agamas which contain important philosophic discourses.

Kauai Aadheenam's ultimate goal is to produce an anthology of the Agamas, akin to the collection of Vedic scriptures such as the Upanishads, which will provide a solid basis for Saiva Siddhanta theology and practice.

Agama Digitization Project Is Completed

July, 2011 update: In Chennai leading Sivacharyas, in appreciation for Bodhinatha's efforts to save our scripture, present a poem in Sanskrit that lauds the work

October 15, 2011: Muthu Vaduganathan reports, "This mail is regarding our updating the work of "typing and publishing" the agamas that we was initiated through your digitalization of all available manuscripts and handing over to the Shaiva community in the presence of His Holliness Bodhinatha Veylanswami and his team." The Sri Skandaguru Vidhyalayam Thiruparankundram is typing the "Swayambhu Agamam." There are 54 palm leaf manuscripts and many scanned pages from various books with reference to the Swayambhu Agamam. We are aspiring to publish the entire Swayambhu Agama in June of 2012.


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