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From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Āgamas literally means

  • arriving; coming forth; being manifested.
  • knowledge or wisdom that arrives.
  • the collective term for an enormous collection of scriptures, under several categories, that are regarded as authorities in diverse subjects such as: alchemy (chemistry), anatomy, architecture, art, astrology, astronomy, almanac, sacraments, āyurveda (medical science), bio-science, dance, economics, education, embryology, environmental science, ethics, geography, geometry, history, iconography, law, literature, magic, mathematics, music, philosophy, physics, physiology, psychology, political science, religion, sacraments, sculpture, sociology, symbolic science, image building, installation and consecration, sculpture, rituals, psycho-physiological disciplines and yoga[1]
  • In Buddhism, an āgama is a collection of early scriptures (discourses) numbering four, which together comprise the Sutra Piţaka.
  • In Jainism, āgamas are canonical texts based on the teachings of Mahāvīra which were orally compiled by his disciples into forty-five texts under six categories.

Āgamas are literature which forms the basis of many practices. Literally, the word means ‘that which teaches Truth from all aspects,’ "ā samantāt gamayati". Hence this literature denotes the Vedas. But in practice it is used to indicate the above-mentioned class of literature.

The āgamas deal elaborately with the deities Śiva, Śakti and Viṣṇu. They have elaborate discussions on their temples and rituals. The timing of their codification is unclear and continues to be debated but it can be definitely stated that some of the āgamas devoted to Viṣṇu were already in existence by the time of the Mahābhārata. The development of some of the āgamas might have continued till the 8th cent. A. D.

A typical āgama is generally divided into four parts known as ‘pādas.’

  1. Vidyāpāda: In the Vidyāpāda or Jñānapāda philosophical and metaphysical subjects are discussed.
  2. Yogapāda: In the Yogapāda details of yogic practices required to purify the body and mind are given.
  3. Kriyāpāda: In the Kriyāpāda, which is usually voluminous, temple architecture and iconography are dealt with.
  4. Caryāpāda: In the Caryāpāda, the details of spiritual sacraments and also the code of conduct expected of a novice are delineated.

According to the deity propitiated, the āgamas are further divided into three broad groups:

  • Śaivāgamas: The twenty eight Āgamas starting with Kāmikāgama and ending with Vātulāgama comprise the Saivāgamas. According to them, Śiva-the Supreme God is ‘pati’ (the Lord) and the jīvas or individual souls are ‘paśu’ (animal in bondage). The three kinds of malas or impurities (āṇavamala, kārmikamala and māyāmala) comprise the ‘pāśa’ (rope) by which the jīvas are bound. It is by the grace of Śiva, the Paśupati, that the paśus are able to get rid of their pāśas and get mokṣa or liberation.
  • Śāktāgamas: The Śāktāgamas, also known as tantras, are legion in number. They follow the Śaivāgamas very closely, the only exception being that Śakti or Devī (Power or consort of Śiva) gets the supreme place. The tāntric discipline has become divided into dakṣiṇācāra (the right-hand path) also known as ‘samaya,’ and vāmācāra (the left-hand path) also called as ‘kaula.’ The former conforms to the decent and accepted norms of spiritual practice whereas the latter seems to advocate the theory that even aberrations can be sublimated to the level of the spiritual practice resulting in the experience of the same supreme Truth.
  • Vaiṣṇavāgamas: The Vaiṣṇavāgamas, also called Sarhhitās, are divided into the Vaikhānasa and the Pāñcarātra schools. Both teach that Viṣṇu is the highest Truth and stress the importance of worship in temples.

Jainism also has its āgamas written in the Ardhamāgadhi language, and are divided into two parts:

  1. Śrutāṅgas
  2. Upāṅgas.


  1. Āgamas by Jit Majumdar
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore