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Tripura Tattvas


In Sri Vidya texts, the names Tripura (Tripurasundari), samvit and citi (para citi) are used interchangably to indicate the highest reality – pure, unalloyed consciousness. In the Nityasodasikarnava for example, Tripura is described as samvit – identical to atman; identical to existence, satsvarupa and consciousness & bliss – cidandarupa. She is called tripura as she is both the source of, and is transcendent to, the three cities. She transcends the various triplicities such as jnana, iccha & kriya; the three bodies; the three states, etc.

There are two related doctrines – Abhasavada (also Pratibimba Vada) and Sakti Parinamavada – which expound the relationship between Tripura and the world. In Abhasavada samvit is likened to a mirror, and the universe is like a reflection appearing in it.However, whereas a physical mirror only reflects external objects, Tripura contains the whole universe inside Herself, yet through her intrinsic power of autonomy – svatantryasakti – makes everything appear as though it is outside Her.

Like other nondual doctrines, Abhasavada does not hold with the idea of the universe being seperate citi or samvit. But if the universe is inside, rather than external to the mirror, what is the relationship between samvit and the world? Sri Vidya texts deal with this relationship with the concept of samavaya sambandha – a relationship in which two different things (such as dravya – substance and guna – attribute) appear so unified that they represent a whole – i.e. neither cannot exist without the other. Hence the universe is one with citi (consciousness).

In Sakti Parinamavada the universe is a transformation or manifestation of Tripura.

“Just as before germination, a sprout, stem, leaves, flowers and fruits substantially exist in the seed,
likewise, before its manifestation, the universe exists in Tripura.”

Here, Tripura and the phenomenal world are two different states of the same truth. In the Parinamavada doctrine as expounded by Sankhya, the world evolves from prakrti. When the equipose of prakrti’s three intrinsic essences – the Gunas – is disturbed, prakrti becomes the world – the result of distortion or contamination. However, in the Sakti Parinamavada, citi manifests as the phenomenal world without losing her pristine or pure nature. This occurrs due to Her power of unlimited sovereignty – svasvatantryena.

In both the Abhasavada and the Sakti Parinamavada doctrines, there is only one reality and the universe as we know it is either a reflection or a transformation of Tripura. The world does not exist apart from Sakti. Tripura is the Highest Sakti. She is the cause of the three worlds. She is also the one within whom all the tattvas exist inseperably, just as a tree, in its unmanifest form, exists in the seed. Tripura is both the Unmanifest – saktyavastha and the Manifested universe – prapancavastha. Tripura is ekaiva (“only one”) and parama (“Absolute”).

Laksmidhara’s Tattva Schema

The following is an attempt to explicate the Tattva schema of Laksmidhara, from his commentary on the Saundaryalahari (“Flood of Beauty”). Laksmidhara is an exponent of the Samayacara division of Sri Vidya (as opposed to the Kaulacara division). Laksmidhara, in his commentary to the Saundaryalahari opines that Kaula means taking delight in external worship and condemns it. The Samaya (“convention”) approach to Sri Vidya prioritises internal worship, is Vedic-friendly, and somewhat puritan. Samayacarins tend to argue against Kaula practices without necessarily taking on board what Kaula practitioners actually do and say – the argument seems to be more concerned with rejecting the “revolting practices” associated with Kaula (from the conservative perspective of Laksmidhara and his followers).

Laksmidhara uses a twenty-five tattva schema, as opposed to the thirty-six tattva schema, (or the Fifty-one tattva schema given in the Vayaviya Samhita – one of the “books” of the Siva Purana) both of which he refutes. The 51-Tattva schema uses the 36 principles and adds seven dhatus (primary bodily constituents), five pranas and the three Gunas.

In order to explicate this, he subsumes the 51 principles into his schema:

The 25 Tattvas, according to Laksmidhara, are:

There is also a 26th tattva – sadakhyakala – formed from the union of suddhavidya and sadasiva – Laksmidhara says that sadakhyakala is entirely different from the union of the two principles that form it. sadakhyakala is also the paramatman – the supreme soul.

Suddhavidya & Siva

Laksmidharas’ category of suddhavidya subsumes the three Gunas, Buddhi, Prakrti, Niyati, Vidya and Sakti. He says that suddhavidya is the “knowledge which grants freedom”. Suddhavidya “possesses” all the powers and potentials apart from that of illumination, which is attributed to Siva. The siva tattva is that which is “pure and awakened”.


“it is Suddhavidya herself who, joined with Sadasiva is known as sadakhyakala. Atah, therefore (or after this point), Bhagavati, Suddhavidya, transcending the twenty-four tattvas, unites with sadasiva, the twenty-fifth, and becomes the twenty-sixth, known as Paramatman, the Supreme Soul. In other words, when united with the twenty-fifth tattva (sadasiva), sadakhyakala becomes the twenty-sixth. This union is an entirely different tattva.”

It is from Sadakhyakala that the primordial principles of creation-maintenance-destruction emerge. This Sadakhya (or Samaya) is the nondual reality – both identical with the world she emanates and transcendent to it – including all categories, mantras, devas, vidyas, saktis, gunas etc.

Putting it into Practice

Laksmidhara’s schema is, by itself, probably only of cursory interest. However, he goes on to relate it to the minutia of Sri Vidya sadhana – giving great detail to how the various cakras, mantra-forms, devas and the practitioner relate to Samaya’s manifest and transcendent forms. His aim is to demonstrate that Samaya/Sadakhya can only be approached or known through Internal Worship and that this involves the Sahasrara cakra – which he states is “beyond” the human body-complex.

the Cakras

Laksmidhara states that the tattvas that give forth the manifest universe are in the human body. The six Cakras – Muladhara, Svadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Visuddhi and Ajna – are the centers of Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Space and Mind. Each of the first five cakras (Muladhara to Visuddhi) include the corresponding tanmatras – hence they are the “centers” of smell, taste, form, touch, and sound. The Ajna cakra is the center of the ten Indriyas and the mind. These six cakras are the manifest world and “contain” 21 of the Tattvas. The seventh cakra – Sahasrara – is the transcendent Samaya and is both the source of, and transcends, the other six cakras. According to Laksmidhara, the Sahasrara is beyond the Universe, and it is within the Sahasrara that Suddhavidya and Sadasiva are “eternally” united – their unitary state being the Samaya or Sadakhya.

Laksmidhara further divides the six cakras of the manifest world into three divisions: Agneyakhanda (fiery division) Saurakhanda (solar division) and Somakhanda (lunar division) each containing two cakras. These three divisions are centred in three Granthis (“knots”) – Rudragranthi, Visnugranthi and Brahmagrnathi – in short, Fire, Sun and Moon – which “pervade individual bodies as well as the universe.”

It is the Brahmagranthi which “contains” the tattvas of maya, suddhavidya, mahesvara and sadasiva. These four tattvas are not, he states, part of the manifest world, yet they are not totally transcendent either, as they are involved in the process of creation-maintenance-destruction. Rather, they are the “forces” which govern and direct all worldly phenomena. The Brahmagranthi is located in the human body between the Ajna and the Sahasrara. Laksmidhara explains the status of these four tattvas using the imagery of the anthropomorphic Tripurasundari. A meditation on Tripura describes her residing on an island made of gems in the centre of an endless ocean of nectar. She resides in a mansion, formed out of wish-fulfilling gems, and sits in splendour on a royal couch in the mansion’s innermost chamber. Tripura is Sadakhya, and the four tattvas (maya, suddhavidya, mahesvara and sadasiva) form her couch (see Saundaryalahari v8).

Laksmidhara states, in familiar tantric fashion, that the cakras, sriyantra, mantra, the deva, and one’s own self as identical.

the 360 rays

This manifest universe, Laksmidhara states, is created by the 360 rays of Kalasakti. The 360 refers to the 360 days of the solar year. From the Samaya, which resides in the transcendent Sahasrara (also candrakalackara) there pours forth innumerable rays. Sun, Moon and Fire “collect” 360 of these rays, from which is created the manifest world and the human body. These rays fall into three divisions mentioned above – Agneyakhanda (108) Saurakhanda (116) and Somakhanda (136).

Maya, Suddhavidya, Mahesvara, Sadasiva and Samaya remain apart from the 360 kalas.

Laksmidhara equates the 360 rays with the 50 letters of the sanskrit alphabet, and the fifteen kalas of the lunar fortnight.