Tantra as its root meaning indicates, is a means of spreading or propagating knowledge –knowledge both spiritual and that which is conducive to worldly happiness. It is a means to attain chaturvarga-the four objectives of knowledge. Tantras claim equal sanctity and importance as Vedas; even Agmas speak about their greatness. Agama texts say that all the Arsha or Arya spiritual literature dwell in Maya and not fit for absolute knowledge. However Yantra-Mantra aspect of Vedic and Tantrik paths of spiritual practice comes to them from ancient ritualism found in pre-Vedic age. Pre-Vedic form of Tantrik practice still persist in Damar and various other minor forms of Tantras in which howling, crying; anything can be a mantra. Ancient form of Yantra is found in the form of Vedic Yajna-vedi and Mandala, perhaps, various forms of Yantras that have become universal in Tantra tradition would have been evolved from it.
Yantra according Indian metaphysics is geometric representation of energies. In Hindu Tantras, Mantra is said to be the rays of consciousness “Mantras chinmarichayah-Shiva Sutra” that Yantra represents figuratively. Indian seekers after truth believed that everything in this world represents the abstract energies of goddess, hence, every visual phenomena is a form of Yantra. Every visual form is a Yantra. Another scripture says that body itself is a Yantra in which cosmic energy manifests. Shaiva Agama beautifully describes Yantra as Mandala. Mantra is the first Mandala or Originary Mandala that Yantra represents figuratively in the geometric form. Yantras are Mantra bodies that Tantrik Gurus realized in their meditations. To be more precise, from Mantra point of view we can say that the garland that Matrika Vernas form is none other than a highest form of Yantra in which all mantras and Yantras are present in seed form. According to Tantras, The Matrika garland is not only the origin of all mantras but also the origin of all Yantras. SarvaVira Battaraka says:
मंत्रावर्णात्मकाः सर्वे सर्वे वर्णाःशिवात्मिका “All mantras are letters, all letters are Shiva (Goddess)”
Yantra as painted by Sneh Gangal
Highest Tantras like Sri Vidya doesn’t teach Mantra syllables like mystic Tantras rather Matrika itself as mantra and declares it sacred than the sacred,as for example the Sri Vidya mantra is nothing more than an arrangement of primary matrika letters. Varivasya Rahasya clearly writes “svarashch parmeshwari” that means Svara vernas itself are considered to be the body of Mantrika or body of the great goddess and in her meditation it is an instruction to do nyasa and japa of Matrika letters before any mantra sadhana. Yantras and mantras represent respective aspects of ascension of Sakti. In fact, Mantra is nothing more than an arrangement of Matrika letters that Yantra represents geometrically.
Literally Yantra means a machine or a mechanical aspect of some energy. Its meaning is ‘yamayate iti yantra’ that which sustains is called Yantra. A particular Yantra body sustains or holds in it the power of a particular Mantra which is the body of the deity. Yantras and Mantras are the body of Gods and Goddesses which are figurative and abstract respectively. Yantra manifests the Mantrika body of god or goddess in front of us so that in spite of meditating on physical forms like idols we could confront her subtle cosmic presence more spiritually and in a more refined way. Yantra opens us to the ultimate Shakti; it is a means of opening up to her cosmic body so that we could deconstruct our material form and embrace our cosmic form in her ultimate body. Shakti represented in the subtle Yantrik form is the means of material abundance as well as of liberation ‘शक्तिभोगमोक्ष स्वरूपाणाम् विश्वसिद्धिः”. She is the means and result both. In her Yantrik form Shakti manifests the world; it is itself a form of her expression. Manifestation and absorbtion are two aspects of Shakti and from these two aspects Yantras are constructed, for example -Sristi yantras ( the way shakti proceeds) and Samhar yantras ( the way Shakti dissolves) of various Tantras. If we go in to the detail of its representation we find that these two aspects are depicted from vachya and vachaka bheda that means philosophically universe consists of subjective and objective aspect and proliferate and absorb itself accordingly. Let us understand this from Mantra: Mantra has two aspects Tattva and Mantra, every mantra represents a Tattva. Mantra is the basic formula of Tattva: Tattva is the principle or source and origin of the subtle structural form which consequently manifests in an inferior form called pada and finally in the bhawan that is world or universe. Hence, it is cosmic body of Shakti mantra that is manifesting in various universes. Every form therefore represents the Mantra hence every form is a kind of Yantra. Since everything is a manifestation of Mantra hence everything represents it; our body too which is said to be the most refined Yantra in its Mantrika form created by Mantrarupini Goddess. We see how do Tantrikas allocate specific syllables in our body centers and suggest us to do body nyasa in the body to realize its Mantrika nature of which it is a manifestation.
Saying of Puranik Hindus that in our body all gods reside mean the same.
कराग्रे वसते लक्ष्मी, करमूलेमूले तु गोविन्द। “At the tip of the fingers reside goddess Laxmi, at the root Vishnu”
Or Shiva himself says :
सर्वदेवमयः कायस्तं चेदानी श्रृणु प्रिये “ O Devi, this body is all godly”
For this reason it is suggested to proceed one’s act of dissolution through the subtle and subtler constitutive principles in meditation. VijnaBhirva scripture speaks about the meditative aspect as follows, “If the yogi thinks deeply that the subtle and subtler constitutive principle of one’s own body or of the world are being absorbed in their respective causes, then at the end, para devi or the supreme goddess is revealed.”
In Yantra worship a Mantra Yogi meditates on its both aspects according to his needs for in it both aspects are fully established;liberation and desire both can be attained simultaneously. In Tantras Mantra should be meditated upon as consciousness itself not as gross letters. Tantras provide us with complete system of Mantra meditation; it is tougher and subtler than other available meditation forms. Mantra, Yantra, Nyasa (that has at least more than twenty aspects), knowledge of matras, lava, pada, kala etc. are very intricate and without an accomplished teacher it is not easy to grasp immediately. If I would explain just one aspect Yantra its intricacy would be clear to you that how intricate Mantra meditation is. Guru not only initiates the disciple in Mantra but also in Yantra because uultimately it s Mantra that is to be invoked in the Yantra’; both are used in unity in the Tantric practice-both are complementary to each other. Madhu Khanna rightly wrote in her Yantras that “The Yantra and the mantra are meant to substitute for each other and operate on a principle of modern science similar to the conservation of energy into matter and matter into energy”. Yantra and Mantra exist in union and produce desired result when worshiped together with proper scriptural injunction. Invocation of deities in the Yantra enclosure (Avarna) is one of the important aspects in Yantra worship.(Literally, power of the envelopment and concealment of the goddess, for every avaran of the yantra is her aspects of envelopment and concealment). In Yantra worship invocation of Yantra deities should be made according to the path-for example when 64 Yogini-s are invoked in Chamunda Yantra they are invoked through left hand path. Avarana of Yantras contains a metaphysical meaning, Adi Shankar speaks about Avaran and Vikshepa Shakti of lord’s Maya and about her Krishna says in Bhagvad Gita that “commanding her both powers I create the multiplicities of universes.” It is applicable on both macro and micro level for everyone individual, anyone can command it and can be the creator in his own right-this is what Tantra is about. Tantra makes you all powerful; it never says that you can’t do anything or that you are a slave. Ravana conquered many gods through his Tantrika meditative power and it is said in Agama texts that the large section of Tantras that humanity practices today has been taught by him. According to Agama texts Ravana is indirect Prameshti guru of Rama. Even the great sages revered in all the great Tantrik texts like Sanak, Sanandana, Saunaka were indirect disciples of Ravana and from them mantras descended to humanity.
Worship of Mantra and Yantra has two dimensions in Tantras; one is through devotion in which a Tantrik relies solely on Mother’s grace and another hatha melapak vidhi in which Tantrik enforces her to accept his devotion and grant him boon. Hathmelapak vidhi is said to be a dangerous means for in it deity could harm the devotee. Example to this is Shava Sadhana in which often Tantrik himself gets killed or becomes mad therefore it is advised not to command energy through enforcement technique. Yantra Sadhna becomes all wish fulfilling when it is done with delicacy with feminine heart. Feminine energy should be worshiped through feminine mind, body and heart. One should employ all means to please the goddess; in Tantrik worship devotion is the means.
Every thing in this world is non-different from our consciousness either objective meditation and generating specific result from it wouldn’t be possible. Every Yantra form is an embodiment of devata and represents his divine Mantra body. Yantra is a sacred dwelling place of a deity. Kularnava says that “Deity is Mantrika and if worshipper does not know the expansion of Mantra i.e. its vyapti ; his worship becomes futile. Yantra too is Mantrika and it is electrified with the divine energy of the deity”. Yantras have power to destroy all the three kinds of suffering hence one should worship it with proper scriptural injunction and only after having diksha or initiation. In Tantras initiation is of utmost importance; all the Agamic and Nigamic text begins with initiation. It is said to be the only way for the disciple to realize Mantra deity quickly, as in it teacher endows him with the mantra vibrations which awakens the shakti kundalini residing below in his muladhara. Awakening of Kundalini is necessary for one’s spiritual movement and realization of truth. Yantra worship is performed only by those who know its meaning, its deities together with its avrana (enclosure). If Yantra worship is performed without knowing its uddhar and its elements it brings evil to the worshiper.
Many English writers have written about Yantra that it reveals the totality of universe, it depicts whole universe in nut sell but it is not true for every Yantra. There is very few Yantras that reveal or depict universal truth in its totality. In majority of cases Yantras of particular god and goddesses depict only specific truth or power represented by the deity and his/her mantra. Only the Yantras of the primary Vidya deities are said to be representing complete truth- for example Sri Yantra or Yantras of Kauleshvari. Only common thing found in all yantras is the deities of outer avaran (enclosure) i.e. the four major deities on the four gates of the Yantra i.e. Ganesha etc. and ten deities of quarters namely ten dwarpals Indra etc. However according to traditions the number of Dwarpal varies tradition to tradition. In Shaiva-Tantrik tradition they are counted eight in number. Third commonality is that every Yantra is worshiped with Matrika Devi and it is common in every tradition except Shaiva tradition of Kashmir that follows another series of Matrika. Phetkarini Tantra too differs from Vedic Tankrik tradition in arrangement of Matrika vernas (letters).
–I wrote it in 2009 as a draft to work further on it but did not find time for it. Now I am putting it on my blog for my readers. enjoy.