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Tantra (rule) Special scripture containing rules of austere religious practices. One of the meanings of Trantra is the relief or liberation from this universe. Tantra is that form of scripture worshipping through which a devotee imagines to get relief or liberation from this universe. Tantra is the combination of theory and spiritual formulae adoring which can take one to a higher stage, according to the followers of Tantra doctrines. Tantra is called the fifth Veda as its knowledge is gained through audition.

It is held that Tantra came into existence as a means of relief or liberation for creatures in Kaliyuga as at that time the effectiveness of the Veda formulae had decreased considerably. Perhaps the point is that religious teachings, like forms of knowledge, also change as human needs and tastes change with the change of time. Besides, as per scripture, the life expectancy of human being decreased significantly, which made it almost impossible for them to worship in the way prescribed in the Veda. Therefore, as a substitute, the Tantra scripture emerged. The spiritual formulae of Tantra are held to be very effective. They are supposed to be equally applicable in all religious activities, including the practices of religious austerities and prayers. Therefore, the famous author of Sm'r'tish'a'stra, raghunandan bhattacharya (15th to 16th century) accepted the Tantra Xastra as proven.

On the basis of content, Tantra scripture can be divided into three groups; such as A'gam, Y'a'mal and Tantra. Agams are those tracts that contain information about creation, annihilation, the worship of deities, the seven symbols etc. Theories of creation, astrology, caste, daily rites, zeitgeist, the eight symbols etc are the content of Yamal. On the other hand, tracts on creation, annihilation, episodes on gods and goddesses, description of place of pilgrimage, duties of inmates of a hermitage, stories of purana, signs of male and female, duties of King, and zeitgeist etc, are included in Tantra. However, these divisions are not always maintained strictly. On the point of view of religion, Tanras again can be divided into two, Hindu Tantra and Buddha Tanta. Traditionally, the scriptures delivered by Lord shiva are called Hindu Tantra. It was first initiated in the N'r'singhat'a'pan'i'ya Upani's'ad in Atharva Veda. As Sankaracharya had annotated the Hindu Tantra, it is assumed that it was written even before the 7th century and that the Buddha Tantra was an imitation of the Hindu Tantra. A large number of Buddha Tantras were translated to the Tibetan language during the 9th to 11th century, proving that these were written about hundred to hundred and fifty years prior to those translations. Tantra literature was held in high esteem during the medieval period. Bhaskar Roy (18th century) was the most learned pundit of Tantra scripture. Several annotations of his valued work B'a'makeshvaratantra were published. The words 'Landraj';, 'Ebgrej'; etc used in some Tantras prove that Tantras were also written after the introduction of British rule in India.

Tantras originated in Bangladesh (Bengal), but eventually Buddhism became weak in Bengal. atish dipankar srijnan (980-1053), a noted Bengali scholar, went to Tibet and preached Tantric Buddhism there. Saints who attained perfection like Ramakrishna Paramahangsha Deva (1836-1886), Bamakshyapa (1837-1911), etc were famous Tantric devotees. A Bengali woman named Ardhakali (goddess half Kali) became famous as a devotee. Tantrics worship Kali, Tara or Bhairabi most fervently. In addition, Bengali Hindus worship different gods and goddesses according to the directives as prescribed in the Tantras.

Over time, initiation rituals prescribed by Tantric cults became indispensable for Hindus in Bengal, while initiation as prescribed by Veda doctrines was almost abolished. To emphasise its necessity, it is preached that a person without Tantric initiation goes to hell after death and, adoration, prayers and meditations go in vein. Worshipping a virgin as per Tantric cult is still in practice in some Temples and conservative families. It is a common belief that Tantra contains essential rituals required to gain wealth and happiness in practical life. In addition, bewitching and similar secret activities play an important role in Tantra.

Hindu Tantras are of three types, and based on three sects, such as Shaiva, Shakta and Vaishvava. Tantrics pursue sectarian rites according to their own form of Tantra. Though Tantra scripture details seven rites, B'a'm'a'ch'a'r and Dak's'i'na'ch'a'r are the most important a'ch'a'rs (scriptural rites). The Daksinachari Tantrics (Tantrics who follow Daksinachar) follow Veda based Tantra and do not eat/ drink fish, meat, wine etc, while Bamachari Tantrics act on anti-veda principles. Consumption of fish, and meat, wine, even physical relationship with woman is not illegal for them. During the ancient period, the Bamacharis were the only Tantrics, but they are now to be found among both Bamacharis and Dhaksinacharis.

Tantras are innumerable. The most important of them are: S'a'rad'a'tilaka, Yogin'i'tantra, B'a'r'a'h'i'tantra, Bishvas'a'ratantra, Durg'a'd'a'mara, Rudray'a'mala, Tantras'a'ra, Sarasvat'i'tantra, Kul'a'r'n'avatantra, K'a'm'a'khy'a'tantra etc. Some of the Buddha Tantras are: Hevajra, B'a'r'a'h'i'kalpa, Mar'i'chitantra, Udd'a'martantra, Kriy'a's'a'ra, Ma'v'jushr'i'tantra, Pramodamah'a'yuga, Kaulaj'va'nanir'n'aya etc. As the Hindu Tantra is said to be spoken by Shiva, the Buddha Tantras are narrated by Vajrasattva Buddha. It may be mentioned here that the Tantras were originally written in Sanskrit. But the Tantra-based puthis (books) preserved in different libraries, including the Dhaka University Library, are in Bangla. This indicates that as in other areas of the region, Tantras had become important in Bengal too. The oldest puthi (book) on Tantra preserved in the Dhaka University Library was written in 1439 on tree barks (No. 4608).

Some of the most famous composers of Tantra Sastra are: shilabhadra (7th century), Shantidev (Jahore/ Savar, 7th century), Kumarvajra (10th century), matsyendranath (Chandradwip/Sandwip, 10th century), abhayakar gupta (11th century), Mahamahopadhyay Parivrajakacharya (14th century), sarvananda (Mehar, 15th century), Krishnananda Agamvagish (Navadwip, first half of 16th century), Brahmananda Giri (16th century), Purnananda Paramahansa Parivrajak (Netrokona, 16th century), Gauriya Shankar (16th-17th century), and Haragobinda Roy (Srihatta, 19th century). [Dulal Bhowmik]

See also TANTRICISM. [Bhowmik, Dulal Professor of Sanskrit, Dhaka University]