By editor - 24.1 2020


The Agamas (Sanskrit: आगम) are a collection of scriptures of several Hindu devotional schools. The term literally means tradition or “that which has come down”, and the Agama texts describe cosmology, epistemology, philosophical doctrines, precepts on meditation and practices, four kinds of yoga, mantras, temple construction, deity worship and ways to attain sixfold desires. These canonical texts are in Sanskrit .

The three main branches of Agama texts are those of Shaivism (Shiva), Vaishnavism (Vishnu), Shaktism (Devi). The Agamic traditions are sometimes called Tantra, although the term “Tantra” is usually used specifically to refer to Shakta Agamas and sometimes Shaiva Agamas (Bhairava tradition). The Agama literature is voluminous, and includes 28 Saiva Agamas, 77 Shakta Agamas (also called Tantras), and 108 Vaishnava Agamas (also called Pancharatra Samhitas), and numerous Upa-Agamas.

The origin and chronology of Agamas is unclear. Some are Vedic and others non-Vedic. Agama traditions include Yoga and Self Realization concepts, some include Kundalini Yoga, asceticism, and philosophies ranging from Dvaita (dualism) to Advaita(monism). Some suggest that these are post-Vedic texts, others as pre-Vedic compositions. 

Smartas recognize the Agamas, but don’t necessarily adhere to them, relying mainly on the smriti texts.

Scholars note that some passages in the Hindu Agama texts appear to repudiate the authority of the Vedas, while other passages assert that their precepts reveal the true spirit of the Vedas. The Agamas literary genre may also be found in Śramaṇic traditions (i.e.Buddhist, Jaina etc.). Bali Hindu tradition is officially called Agama Hindu Dharma in Indonesia.

In Visnu Yamala it is stated:
In Satya Yuga the path was to follow the Srutis, in Treta the Smrtis, in Dvapara the Puranas and in Kali the Agamas. (quoted in Haribhaktivilasa 5.4)


Agama (Sanskrit आगम) is derived from the verb root गम (gam) meaning “to go” and the preposition आ (aa) meaning “toward” and refers to scriptures “that which has come down”.

Agama literally means “tradition”, and refers to precepts and doctrines that have come down as tradition. Agama, states Dhavamony, is also a “generic name of religious texts which are at the basis of Hinduism and which are divided into Vaishnava Agamas (also called Pancaratra Samhitas), Saiva Agamas, and Sakta Agamas (more often called Tantras).


The means of worship in the Agamic religions differ from the Vedic form. While the Vedic form of yajna require no deity and shrines, the Agamic texts are based on deity worship. Symbols, icons and temples are a necessary part of the Agamic practice, while non-theistic paths are alternative means of Vedic practice.


Each Agama consists of four parts:

Jnana pada, also called Vidya pada – consists of doctrine, the philosophical and spiritual knowledge, knowledge of reality and liberation.
Yoga pada – precepts on yoga, the physical and mental discipline.
Kriya pada – consists of rules for rituals, construction of temples (Mandir); design principles for sculpting, carving, and consecration of idols of deities for worship in temples; for different forms of initiations or diksha. This code is analogous to those in Puranas and in the Buddhist text of Sadhanamala.
Charya pada – lays down rules of conduct, of worship (puja), observances of religious rites, rituals, festivals and prayaschittas.

The Agamas state three requirements for a place of pilgrimage – Sthala, Tirtha and Murti. Sthala refers to the place of the temple, Tīrtha is the temple tank, and Murti refers to the deity.

Elaborate rules are laid out in the Agamas for Silpa (the art of sculpture) describing the quality requirements of the places where temples are to be built, the kind of images to be installed, the materials from which they are to be made, their dimensions, proportions, air circulation, lighting in the temple complex etc. The Manasara and Silpasara are some of the works dealing with these rules. The rituals followed in worship services each day at the temple also follow rules laid out in the Agamas.


The Agama texts  present a diverse range of philosophies, ranging from theistic dualism to absolute monism for different people of different qualifications and samskaras based on their mode(Goodness , Passion , Ignorance).

In Shaivism alone, there are ten dualistic (dvaita) Agama texts, eighteen qualified monism-cum-dualism (bhedabheda) Agama texts and sixty four monism (advaita) Agama texts. The Bhairava Shastras are monistic, while Shiva Shastras are dualistic.

Sakta agamas worship Devi as the Moola Prakriti and is ultimately  Impersonal

Vaishnava Agamas are purely Non Advaita and talks about Personal God as the Supreme Brahman situated in his abode along with his eternal associates.

The Agama texts of Shaiva and Vaishnava schools are premised on existence of Atman (soul, self) and the existence of an Ultimate Reality .. The texts differ in the relation between the two. Some assert the dualistic philosophy of the individual soul and Ultimate Reality being different, while others state a Oneness between the two. Kashmir Shaiva Agamas states absolute oneness, that is God (Shiva) is within man, God is within every being, God is present everywhere in the world including all non-living being, and there is no spiritual difference between life, matter, man and God. In Bhairava sadhana one becomes Bhairav and his partner becomes Bhairavi. Ultimately Both Saiva and Sakta agamas / tantras  are impersonal in its epitome except some agamas which are dualistic (dvaita).  Only Vaishnava agamas are purely Non Advaita.

So in a nutshell two types of liberation is talked about in the agamas. Personal Liberation(Vaishnava) and Impersonal Liberation (Others)

The Vaishnava Agamas clarifies both the similarity and difference between the Atma and Parmatma and His detailed description.


Agama scriptures: 
Saiva Agamas

The Shaiva Agama traces its origins from Shiva as,

“Shivena devya datham, Devya dathamthu Nandhine, Nandhina Brahmana Datham, Brahmana Rishi Dhathakam, Rishinaam Maanusha Datham, Athyethe agamodhbavam”

From Shiva to Devi, From Devi to Nandhi, From Nandhi to Brahma, From Brahma to Rishi, From Rishi to human beings.


— Shaiva Agama,

The Saiva Agamas are found in four main schools – Kapala, Kalamukha, Pashupata and Shaiva—and number 28 in total as follows:


Shakta Agamas:


The Shakta Agamas deploy Shiva and Shakti, and a unified view as the foundation for spiritual knowledge.

The Shakta Agamas are commonly known as Tantras, and they are imbued with reverence for the feminine, representing goddess as the focus and treating the female as equal and essential part of the cosmic existence.The feminine Shakti (literally, energy and power) concept is found in the Vedic literature, but it flowers into extensive textual details only in the Shakta Agamas. These texts emphasize the feminine as the creative aspect of a male divinity, cosmogonic power and all pervasive divine essence. The theosophy presents the masculine and feminine principle in a “state of primordial, transcendent, blissful unity”. The feminine is the will, the knowing and the activity, she is not only the matrix of creation, she is creation. Unified with the male principle, in these Hindu sect’s Tantra texts, the female is the Absolute.

The Shakta Agamas are related to the Shaiva Agamas, with their respective focus on Shakti with Shiva in Shakta Tantra and on Shiva in Shaiva texts. 

The Shakta Agamas or Shakta tantras are 64 in number. Some of the older Tantra texts in this genre are called Yamalas, which literally denotes, states Teun Goudriaan, the “primeval blissful state of non-duality of Shiva and Shakti, the ultimate goal for the Tantric Sadhaka”.

Vaishnava Agamas :

The Vaishnava Agamas are found into two main schools — Pancharatra and Vaikhanasas. While Vaikhanasa Agamas were transmitted from Vikhanasa Rishi to his disciples Brighu, Marichi, Atri and Kashyapa, the Pancharatra Agamas are classified into three: Divya (from Vishnu), Munibhaashita (from Muni, sages), and Aaptamanujaprokta (from writings of trustworthy men).

Vaikhanasa Agama:

Maharishi Vikhanasa is considered to have guided in the compilation of a set of Agamas named Vaikhānasa Agama. Sage Vikhanasa is conceptualized as a mind-born creation, i.e., Maanaseeka Utbhavar of Lord Narayana. Originally Vikhanasa passed on the knowledge to nine disciples in the first manvantara — Atri, Bhrigu, Marichi, Kashyapa,Vasishta, Pulaha, Pulasthya, Krathu and Angiras. However, only those of Bhrigu, Marichi, Kashyapa and Atri are extant today. The four rishis are said to have received the cult and knowledge of Vishnu from the first Vikahansa, i.e., the older Brahma in the Svayambhuva Manvanthara. Thus, the four sages Atri, Bhrigu, Marichi, Kashyapa, are considered the propagators of vaikhānasa śāstra. A composition of Sage Vikhanasa’s disciple Marichi, namely, Ananda-Samhita states Vikhanasa prepared the Vaikhanasa Sutra according to a branch of Yajurveda and was Brahma himself.

The extant texts of vaikhānasa Agama number 28 in total and are known from the texts, vimānārcakakalpa and ānanda saṃhitā, both composed by marīci which enumerate them. They are:

The 13 Adhikaras authored by Bhrigu are khilatantra, purātantra, vāsādhikāra, citrādhikāra, mānādhikāra, kriyādhikāra, arcanādhikāra, yajnādhikāra, varṇādhikāra, prakīrṇādhikāra, pratigṛhyādhikāra, niruktādhikāra, khilādhikāra. However, ānanda saṃhitā attributes ten works to Bhrigu, namely, khila, khilādhikāra, purādhikāra, vāsādhikāraṇa, arcanādhikaraṇa, mānādhikaraṇa, kriyādhikāra, niruktādhikāra, prakīrṇādhikāra, yajnādhikāra.

The 8 Samhitas authored by Mareechi are Jaya saṃhitā, Ananda saṃhitā, Saṃjnāna saṃhitā, Vīra saṃhitā, Vijaya saṃhitā, Vijita saṃhitā, Vimala saṃhitā, Jnāna saṃhitā. However, ānanda saṃhitā attributes the following works to Marichi—jaya saṃhitā, ānanda saṃhitā, saṃjnāna saṃhitā, vīra saṃhitā, vijaya saṃhitā, vijita saṃhitā, vimala saṃhitā, kalpa saṃhitā.

The 3 Kandas authored by Kashyapa are Satyakāṇḍa, Tarkakāṇḍa, Jnānakāṇḍa. However, Ananda Saṃhitā attributes the satyakāṇḍa, karmakāṇḍa and jnānakāṇḍa to Kashyapa.

The 4 tantras authored by Atri are Pūrvatantra, Atreyatantra, Viṣṇutantra, Uttaratantra.  However, Ananda Saṃhitā attributes the pūrvatantra, viṣṇutantra, uttaratantra and mahātantra to Atri.

Pancharatra Agama


Like the Vaikhanasa Agama, the Pancharatra Agama is centered around the worship of Lord Vishnu. While the Vaikhansa deals primarily with Vaidhi Bhakti, the Pancaratra Agama teaches both vaidhi and Raganuga bhakti.

Details about Pancharatra Agamas

Other  Agamas:

The Soura or Saura Agamas comprise one of the six popular agama-based religions of Shaiva, Vaishnava, Shakta, Ganapatya, Kaumara and Soura. The Saura Tantras are dedicated to the sun (Surya) and Soura Agamas are in use in temples of Sun worship. One of the earliest agamic texts of Jains, the Jaina Souraseni, is said to have derived from the Soura tantric element.

The Paramanada Tantra mentions the number of  tantras as 6000 for Vaishnava, 10000 for Shaiva, 100000 for Shakta, 1000 for Ganapatya, 2000 for Saura, 7000 for Bhairava, and 2000 for Yaksha-bhutadi-sadhana.