The use of drink in the Kula ritual of the TantrAloka of Abhinavagupta

John Dupuche dupuche at ONE.NET.AU
Sun May 10 09:14:26 UTC 1998

A few weeks ago, 10 March 1998, J. Hanneder raised the question about
the use of alcohol in Tantraloka ch.29 and especially in Jayaratha’s
viveka. He raised the question of the extent to which Jayaratha was
avoiding the extremes of ‘libertinage’ or Mimamsa.
        In response I would like the make the following comments.

I       The text Hanneder is referring to is found in the Motilal Banarsidass
edition, 1987, of the Tantraloka, vol.7, pp.3301-3302. A possible
translation follows. For convenience I have numbered Jayaratha’s
statements and the quotations.

Jayaratha 1             'Always' means ‘at the time of sacrifice’. Otherwise, if he
abstains from drinking wine even for a moment, sin would result.

Quotation 1     "If he stops drinking liquor for one day or half a day or
for a quarter [of a day] or, indeed, an [eighth of a day], he should
become a penitent."

Jayaratha 2             That [quote] is understood to refer just to the duration of
the sacrifice." By contrast [the statement]:

Quotation 2     "The best drink is every time. The medium drink is at the
'junctures'. The worst is only once a month. Beyond a month he becomes a
‘bonded animal’."

Jayaratha 3             etc., is made with respect to misfortune. On the other
hand, the statement (uktam): -

Quotation 3             "[Substitution] is made with sandal-wood for brahmans and
with saffron for warriors, liquid camphor for peasants, with spoiled
liquor for serfs, O Beloved."

Quotation 4             "[Alcohol is used] on the occasion of the initiation of a
brahman, during battle in the case of a warrior, at the peasant's ritual
of blessing the earth, at the funeral rite of a serf." -
Jayaratha 4             etc., refers the uninitiated [brahman], while in the
earlier [quotation 3] we made special reference to the case of a person
who is particularly faithful to the posthumous rite of ceremonial
libation. In any other  respect the division into castes would be
unjustified. 'On the occasion of the initiation': during the sautramani
etc. Therefore it is said:

Quotation 5             "Ever since and and from the moment when [drink] was
spoiled by a demon master, from that time on the separative designation
of the castes was taught. The use of drink is known [to occur] in the
sautramani sacrifice of the brahmans, as it is during a great battle in
the case of warriors, during farming in the case of the peasants, at
great family celebrations, and in the gathering of friends and at the
conclusion of the cremation ground [ritual] for the serfs, on the
occasion of a marriage, at the birth of a son. That limitation on [the
use of] drink, O Lovely One, belongs to deluded people [such as the
above]. Those, however, who have been initiated in the tradition of
Ça*kara and in the tradition of the goddess, who obey the guru's
command, who are discreet, engrossed in recitation and worship, skilled
in knowledge and discriminating knowledge, whose attitude is true, not
arising out of greed [for wine]: these twice-born bear no hostility to
always [using drink], O Beloved."

II      Jayaratha is commenting on the word sadA, ‘always’, in TÅ 29.13d,
since it is clearly open to misunderstanding.
        Jayaratha’s first comment is to limit the word to the kula ritual
context.  Jayaratha 1 and 2 and Quotation 1 refer in general terms to
the kula ritual and to the person who might be present at the ritual but
refuses to partake of the drink. This problem is broached in TÅ 29.99
and especially in Jayaratha’s commentary on that text where he considers
both the person who refuses to drink during the ritual and the person
who drinks outside the ritual:  both will go to the terrifying and
frightful hell.
        Next Jayaratha goes on to discuss some particular rituals. These have
been anticipated. That is, Tantraloka 28  provides the larger ritual
context for chapter 29.  In 28.6-8, twenty-three occasional rites are
listed.  Furthermore, Tantraloka 28.76b-78 lists the initiation of
brahmins and the posthumous rites as two of the occasions on which a
mUrti-yAga or cakra-yAga, i.e. ’a circle-sacrifice’, should be
performed. According to Tantraloka 29.99 the ‘circle-sacrifice’ is a
context in which the 3 M’s, madya-maµsa-maithuna, are used.
        Quotation 2, as Jayaratha 3 notes, refers to misfortune, Apad, i.e. to
occasional rite no. 11, ‘in time of misfortune’ vipat.
        Quotation 3, as Jayaratha 4 notes, refers to occasional rite no. 10,
the posthumous rite, s/raddha. The proper performance of the posthumous
rite, requires many libations. If a person is particularly devoted to
this ritual or has to do it for a number of persons, he would be
involved in an impossible program of drinking alcohol. Therefore
substitutes are allowed.
        Quotation 4 prepares the reader for Quotation 5. It makes the point
that all castes, even the brahmin, use alcohol.
        Quotation 5 sums up very well what Jayaratha considers to be the right
attitude. The last sentence in particular describes the attitude of the
true practitioner: ‘obedient to the guru etc. ... whose attitude is
true, not arising out of greed [for wine]’. Again, at the end of chapter
29, in  stanza 291, Abhinava states the ritual with the cup, which was
mentioned in 286-289, should take place at certain points in the
ceremony and should take place at the guru’s command. This is a far cry
from the Westernised attitude towards drink.
        At the end of Quotation 5 the word ‘always’, sadA reappears, as though
to conclude the discussion and give the real meaning to the word

III     Therefore the drinking is clearly ritualised and is not copious,
even if we are to take the statement ‘eighth of a day’ literally. On the
other hand the use of the word rasa in 29.11b clearly implies an
emotional impact caused by the alcohol. This does not amount to
‘libertinage’, although it has been interpreted in this way.
        The ritual use of alcohol does not have to mean ritualism in the sense
of mere ritual, as though ritual were by itself is effective. Chapter 29
is not suggesting a return to a desiccated Mimamsa.
        What then is the purpose of the drinking? The clue is found in 29.10
which defines the ingredient as ‘forbidden’, nisiddha. To drink alcohol,
as the legend referred to in Quotation no.5 recounts, is equivalent to
brahmanicide, the most serious of sins. In other words, the drinking of
alcohol is not out of a wish to get ‘high’ but out of a wish to
transcend, nirvikalpa, all the limits, vikalpa, of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, of
‘this’ and ‘that’, kalpa.
        The discussion has so far focussed on alcohol. It is important to
recall that other ingredients are employed. There are not to our taste,
and certainly not to a Westernised libertine taste. They consistute the
‘oblation’, caru, which consists of the ‘’five jewels’ or the ‘twelve
beautiful ingredients’, p.3306. These are too gross to name here but are
an important help to understanding the use of wine. Jayaratha’s comment
on 29.198cd-200 classes the eating of 'oblation' etc. as an indirect
means (parikaratvam) of the 'non-means' (anupAya), a sort of shock into
supreme consciousness.
        In short, the use of a forbidden ingredient in the ritual context
prepares a person to rise above injunctions, above taste and distaste.
There he may, perhaps, experience consciousness in all its freedom and
        This practice is clearly subject to abuse. For that reason Jayaratha,
on pp.3299-3303, provides one of the longest set of quotations in the
whole of chapter 29.
        I would welcome some discussion on this subject.

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