About the Book
Saundarya-lahari is a beautiful poem with spiritual, mythical and tantric principle intricately women into it. It consists of a hundred and three hymns in praise of the Goddess Tripurasundari. The first forty-one stanzas are referred to generally as the Ananda-lahari (the Ocean of Spiritual Bliss), while the second part gives its name to the whole book.
The highest forms of worship envisaged by the Vedic seers are far above the level of many. Therefore, other suitable forms of worship have been formulated. One such is the Sri Vidya, worship of the Supreme in its feminine aspect. In this text, Sri Samkaracarya expounds that worship in its pristine purity.
THE Saundarya-lahari, 'the Ocean of Beauty', eminently shares the characteristics of (i) a poem displaying the finest touches of poetical fancy, (ii) a Stotra, hymn, in praise of the Goddess Tripurasundari, (iii) a series of Mantra-s, mystic formulae, to be used by the Upasaka along with the corresponding Yantra-s, diagrams, wherein the Devi is to be conceived as abiding, and (iv) an exposition of the Agama-s and Tantra-s, bearing on the worship of the Supreme Being in Its aspect of the Sakti, Creative Energy, known as the Sri- vidya, embodying the underlying principles of Vaidika-dharma and as such having the sanction of the Veda-s. In its first forty-one stanzas it encompasses the Ananda-lahari, 'the Ocean of the Blissfully Sublime'. AS the very names and the design of the two parts indicate, it points, on the one hand, to the way of approach to the Paramatman, attainable only through true spiritual devotion and knowledge of the real nature of the Paramatman, supplemented by the successful accomplishment of the highest Yoga of Nirvikalpa-samadhi; on the other hand, it leads in effect to the merging of the Jivatman of the Upasaka into the non-differentiated Brahman, so exquisitely expounded in the Upanisad-s and other authoritative works dealing with the Monistic ideal of the Vedanta, through the worship of the qualified Brahman, so well portrayed in Stotra-s, Agama-s, Tantra-s, Purana-s and the Karma-kanda, thus typifying Nirgunopasana through Sagunopasana in essence. A unique feature or the Sanatana-dharma of the ancient Rsi-s of this Punya-bhumi of ours, which has enabled this time-hallowed system of theirs to endure through the ages, consists in the fact that it is elastic and comprehends systems adapted to the capacity, idiosyncrasy and stage of development attained by the various classes of persons owing allegiance to it, from individuals on the highest to the lowest rungs of the ladder of spiritual evolution. The highest forms of worship envisaged by the Vedic Seers of yore stand far above the ken of the vast majority, for whose delectation suitable forms of worship of Visnu, Siva, the Sakti and other Vedic deities have been elaborated by the large number of Agama-s, Tantra-s, Purana-s, Itihasa-s, etc., all within the ambit of the Vedic ideal. and these have cap- tured the imagination of these classes and continue to hold sway over their minds even to the present day.
One of such forms of worship is the Sri-vidya, the worship of the Supreme Being in Its feminine aspect of the Sakti. Creative Energy. which embraces two forms: (i) the Internal. meant for the more advanced. assuming the character of worship of the Supreme Being in the aspect of Siva conjoint with the Sakti, at the various centres of energy of the human body. passing through various stages on to the highest. eschewing all rituals and ceremonies; and (ii) the External. intended for the less evolved. assuming the form of worshipping Yantra-s inscribed on the Bhurja leaf. gold and other metallic plates. coloured linen or slabs. to the accompaniment of the repetition of particular Mantra-s made up of the Matrka-s. with appropriate gestures. postures. facing of particular cardinal points. offerings of Dhupa, Dipa, Naivedya, etc. - all with a view to acquiring special psychic powers. gratification of specific desires. etc. of the Upasaka, The former. known as the Samaya-marga, is based on the Samhita-s of the Subhagama-pancaka, the works of five great Seers, and does not in any way, run counter to Vedic principles. The latter, known as the Kaula-marga and dealt with in the sixty-four Tantra-s, although primarily intended for the worship of the Devi, has in course of time afforded scope for the inclusion of vulgar practices (Vamacara) smacking of Kapalika and Ksapanaka usages, appealing to the venal side of human nature and exercising a demoralizing influence on the votaries to an extent not countenanced by the Veda-s, These unwholesome features of the Sakta cult began to weigh on the minds of high-souled reformers of the type of Samkara-bhagavatpada, who soon opened a crusade against such practices by expounding the sublime truths of the Samaya-marga in their writings and preachings, with a view to uphold the beautiful methods of the Samaya doctrine and supplant the ugly features of the Kaula-marga, Hence this work is appropriately called the Saundarya-lahari, the Ocean of Beauty, washing out in its torrent the filth accumulated in the Kaula-marga and restoring the purity of the Sri- vidya in relation to its external forms and ceremonies. In this laudable attempt he seems to have been ably served, in a later generation, by Laksmidhara and Bhaskararaya, two celebrated scholars and stalwart mystics acquainted with the inner working of the worship of the Sri-vidya, in their commentaries on several works relating to it. Laksmidhara's zeal for the preservation of the Samaya-marga in all its purity and for the reform of the Kaula-marga is so great that he even steps beyond the province of a mere commentator and differs from the author of the original work in matters of detail, where he thinks his own personal experience of the recondite practices warrants him to do so.
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