People tend to confuse the word spirituality with religion, and these terms are often used interchangeably. While religion has to do with various rituals, spirituality is all about the spirit or one's self. Anything you do for the advancement and growth of the spirit can be called spirituality. The two do not oppose. Rather, they stem from each other. Religion includes public rituals and it is more organized. Spirituality, on the other hand, is much more personal and private.
Both religion and spirituality are widely practiced in India. When it comes to spiritual study, there are different branches, which include Tantra. It has existed in the Indian spiritual culture since ancient times, dating back to 5th to 9th century AD. Despite having a significant amount of text devoted to this practice, Tantra is among the least studied branches as far as spiritual studies is concerned.
A lot of people still bear the misconception that Tantra is all about obscenities, and it is unfit for people with good taste. The practice is also accused of being a type of black magic. Tantra is, in fact, one of the most substantial aspects of Indian tradition, and it represents the practical aspects of Vedic tradition.
When it comes to religious belief, tantrik and Vedic followers have fundamentally the same attitude towards it. Many believe that the tantric traditions stem from the main Vedic tree. Vedic religion and its vigorous aspects evolved into tantra through continued development. Tantriks generally worship either Lord Shiva or Goddess Shakti.
The meaning of Tantra:
"Tantra" is a combination of two words - "tattva" and "mantra". "Tattva" refers to the science behind cosmic principles, and "mantra" is the science behind mystic vibrations and sounds. When cosmic sciences are applied with the objective of attaining spiritual ascendancy, it is called tantra. In other sense, tantra also refers to the scripture that is used for spreading the light of knowledge: "Tanyate vistaryate jnanam anemna iti tantram" "Nigama" and "Agama" are the two major schools of Indian scriptures. Nigama has to do with traditions, whereas Agamas are mainly revelations. Tantra is a part of Agama and that is why it is called "srutishakhavisesah". It means the branch of the Veda.
The main deities in trantrik practices are Shakti and Shiva. Animal sacrifice or "bali" is of great significance in tantrik culture. The strongest aspects of Vedic traditions evolved into a system of knowledge in tantras. The Atharva Veda, the last of the 4 Vedas, is known to be the one of the prime tantrik scriptures.
Terminologies and types:
There are a total of 18 "Agamas" and they are also known as Shiva tantras. In character, these are actually rituals. There are manly three distinct traditions in tantra - Madhyama, Vama and Dakshina. Each of them represents a power or "shakti" of Shiva. The three traditions are also characterized by three qualities or "gunas", "tamas", "rajas", "sattva".
Get in touch with a Tantrik in Kolkata if you want to know more about tantra and its various practices.