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Prāṇa in the Sūtra Literature of Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni: A Reading in the Context of Tantrasāra


The name of Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni (1878-1936), inseparably associated with Śrī Ramaṇa Maharṣi in the popular awareness, is synonymous with pre-eminence in śāstra and kāvya. Besides the collected poetic works by Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni which run into four volumes, there is also a corpus of works by him in the aphoristic sūtra genre running into two volumes. The sūtra corpus of Gaṇapati Muni is encyclopaedic in range (including Nyāya-śāstra, Yoga-śāstra, Vedānta-śāstra and Dharma-śāstra) and contains works meriting classification under Tāntrika literature. The Tāntrikasūtra literature of Gaṇapati Muni includes works that channel teachings from Tantra-śāstra on the nature and worship of deities (e.g., Mahāvidyāsūtra, Rudrakuṭumbasūtra), and those that present Yoga disciplines in the light of Tantra-śāstra (e.g., Rājayogasārasūtra). The focus of this study is the treatment in Gaṇapati Muni’s sūtra literature of Prāṇa, a topic of fundamental importance in Tantra as well as in Yoga and Vedānta.

Prāṇa in Indic darśana-s and sampradāya-s

Prāṇa is familiar in the popular discourse on Yoga, especially in the context of Prāṇāyāma. Sometimes used synonymously with ‘breath’ in informal settings, it is understood as the basis of all breathing practices, of breath, and of life itself. Indeed, in many Indian languages, Prāṇa refers to “life” or “that by which a living being lives”. A common term for “living being” is Prāṇī, literally, “endowed with Prāṇa”. In Vedānta, utterances in the Upaniṣad-s are interpreted as casting Prāṇa as a representative of the Ātman or Self. In the Pātañjala Yogasūtra, there is no formal definition of Prāṇa, but this does not detract from Prāṇa being an indispensable basis of Yoga practice (any more than the importance of Citta is diminished by the absence of a formal definition in the text). In Tantra as distilled in the Tantrasāra of Abhinavagupta, Prāṇa is a basis of those means of liberation that are designated as Āṇavopāya, which have the individual being, namely, the Paśu (synonymous with Prāṇī in usage) as the basis. The treatment of Prāṇa in Vedānta, Yoga and Tantra schools can be read as complementing rather than contradicting each other, with differences largely being in how explicitly Prāṇa is associated with the physical phenomenon and practices of breathing on one end, and with a transcendental or supreme being on the other.

Sūtra literature of Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni

The encyclopaedic range of the Sūtra literature of Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni allows a rare opportunity to study in a single-author corpus how a concept like Prāṇa is treated in multiple darśana-s. Most Sūtra works by Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni fit into one of two categories: works primarily centred on a specific śāstra/darśana (e.g., Pramāṇaparīkṣā in Nyāya-śāstra, Yoga-vyākhyāna in Yoga-śāstra, Manīṣāsaṅgraha in Vedānta-śāstra, Vivāhadharmasūtra in Dharma-śāstra, Mahāvidyāsūtra in Tantra-śāstra), and works synthesizing principles and teachings from multiple śāstra-s (e.g., The Viśvamīmāṃsā series on the origin and course of Creation). This classification is not mutually exclusive, in that there is a spirit of synthesis even in works nominally devoted to one Śāstra. Prāṇa, as a basis of disciplines and devotion, is covered in both of the above types of Sūtra works of Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni in multiple instances including:

  • Association of the Chāndogyopaniṣad’s prāṇa-centred Saṃvarga-vidyā with the Mahāvidyā Kālī, in the Mahāvidyāsūtra.
  • Association of devatā-s with corresponding Śakti-s with various aspects of Prāṇa in the Rājayogasārasūtra.
  • Description of the cosmic role of Prāṇa (also identified with Cit or Consciousness) in the fifth portion of the Viśvamīmāṃsā.


The primary source for the sūtra texts of Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni in this study consists of Volumes 5 and 6 of Collected Works of Vasishtha Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni published by Sri Ramanasramam in 2006.

In Collected Works of Vasishtha Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni, there are 63 sūtra texts in all, published in Volumes 5 and 6. The texts quoted for the study of Prāṇa in this paper are listed below with the abbreviated name used in the paper, and the number of sūtra-s they contain, in the order in which they appear in the collected works.

Mahāvidyāsūtra (MVS), 705

Rājayogasārasūtra (RYS), 103

Indreśvarābhedasūtra (IAS), 37

Caturvyūhasūtra (CVS), 162

Rudrakuṭumbasūtra (RKS), 42

Sṛṣṭisūtra (SS), 33

Siddhāntasārasūtra (SSS), 42

Gaṇapatidarśana (GD), 95

Viśvamīmāṃsā (5), VM5, 205

Following is the list of sūtra texts not directly pertaining to the study of Prāṇa, but consulted and quoted here for context, comparisons and gaining familiarity with the author’s sūtra composition style.

Īśvaramīmāṃsā (IM), 65

Manīṣāsaṅgraha (MS), 120

Gāyatrīvyākhyāna (GV), 48

Yogavyākhyāna (YV), 48

Viśvamīmāṃsā (1), VM1, 30

Viśvamīmāṃsā (2), VM2, 32

Viśvamīmāṃsā (3), VM3, 328

Tattvānuśāsanasūtra, TAS, 18

Devatāmīmāṃsā (1), DM1, 104

To the best of this researcher’s knowledge, neither commentaries in Sanskrit by Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni or others, nor complete translations into English or other languages, are currently available in print for these published sūtra texts. However, some internal guidance is available courtesy of Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni himself at the start of Viśvamīmāṃsā (1) and Viśvamīmāṃsā (2), where he establishes the convention for labelling sūtra-s in different steps in an adhikaraṇa format (i.e., pūrvapakṣa, āpatti-pradarśana, pūrvapakṣakhaṇḍana-upasaṃhāra, siddhānta-pakṣa etc.) and sūtra-s containing quotes from different sources (i.e., Saṃhitā-s, Brāhmaṇa-s, Upaniṣad-s etc.). Perusal of the sūtra texts of Gaṇapati Muni also reveals other textual and conceptual patterns employed in multiple instances by the author, of which a suggestive list is presented here.

  1. Declaration of equivalence or identity of entities referred to by two distinct names, is indicated via the phrase “na atiricyate” (“does not extend beyond” i.e., “does not differ from”).
  2. Listings of different designators of the same entity are provided in triads consisting of a masculine, feminine and neuter gender noun in Sanskrit.
  3. The pattern of organization for a body of knowledge, programme or institution is a four-fold vyūha (like the vyūha of heya-hetu-hānopāya-hāna, i.e., ill-cause-remedy-resolution seen presented in the Pātañjala Yogasūtra by commentators).

Given the unavailability of bhāṣya-style commentaries placing Gaṇapati Muni’s sūtra texts in the context of primary Tantra literature, alternative interpretational aids are desired. The approach adopted in this study is to examine the sūtra-s within the didactic framework for Tantra provided by Abhinavagupta in his Tantrasāra. Specifically, the sūtra-s on Prāṇa by Gaṇapati Muni are placed in the context of the fifth and sixth chapters of the Tantrasāra, which are devoted to the aspects and activities of Prāṇa in a practitioner. Editions of the Tantrasāra referred to in this study include the Rudra Press edition from 2012 with English translation by H N Chakravarty, and the Chaukhamba edition from 2002 with Hindi translation by Paramhansa Mishra.

Review Summary

First, the sūtra literature of Gaṇapati Muni is surveyed for coverage of Prāṇa in two aspects, as a metaphysical category, and as a basis for practical disciplines. This survey is then reviewed in the light of the treatment of both these aspects in the Tantrasāra of Abhinavagupta.

Treatment of Prāṇa in Gaṇapati Muni’s Sūtra texts

Prāṇa appears with varying degrees of centrality as a topic in different Sūtra works of Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni. The degree of importance and detail accorded to the characterization of Prāṇa in Viśvamīmāṃsā (5) stands out. Viśvamīmāṃsā (5), as the name itself suggests, is world-encompassing in its scope, with its purview not centred on Tantra texts. However, the systematic exposition of Prāṇa in Viśvamīmāṃsā (5) is compatible and consistent with the references to Prāṇa in Sūtra texts with more of a Tantra emphasis. In a Sūtra text ostensibly pertaining to Yoga, namely the Rājayogasārasūtra, the coverage of Prāṇa seems informed more by Tantra literature than by the Pātañjala Yoga-darśana itself. An especially palpable influence of Tantra literature on the Sūtra literature of Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni is in the association of Prāṇa and associated practices with presiding and embodying devata-s, both in texts explicitly on devata-s like the Mahāvidyāsūtra and in texts about philosophy such as Viśvamīmāṃsā (5).

Metaphysics of Prāṇa

The review of the metaphysics of Prāṇa here begins in a Nyāya-śāstra-inspired format of uddeśa and lakṣaṇa (‘designation’ and ‘definition’), which the relevant sūtra texts of Gaṇapati Muni lend themselves to even if not follow explicitly. Following the typical organization of Śāstra discourse on the three-fold basis of Īśvara (deity), Jīva (individual being) and Jagat (world), the coverage of the metaphysics of Prāṇa here is also considered correspondingly on the ādhidaivika, ādhyātmika and ādhibhautika levels.

Uddeśa and lakṣaṇa

That which is referred to by the name Prāṇa in the masculine gender, is in Viśvamīmāṃsā (5) said to have other names such as Sat and Brahman in the neuter gender, and Parāśakti and Parādevatā in the feminine gender (VM5 1.1.5). Another instance of such nomenclature across three genders for the same entity, can be seen given by Gaṇapati Muni in the Gāyatrīvyākhyāna, where it is declared that it is one entity to whom belong names in masculine (Savitṛ), feminine (Gāyatrī, Sāvitrī, Sarasvatī) and neuter (Bhargas, Sat) genders, despite the entity itself not being reducible to any one gender (GV 1-18). The names of Prāṇa in the feminine gender identify a Śakti (who is Herself also understood as being inseparable from a symbolically male deity, whose names too apply to Prāṇa) and carry special ādhidaivika or ‘theological’ significance which will be elaborated in the next sub-section.

In the broader Śāstra tradition and especially in Vedānta, it is customary to provide two kinds of lakṣaṇa-s or defining characteristics of the primary object of study: taṭastha-lakṣaṇa-s which characterize an object in terms of its relationship with other objects, and svarūpa-lakṣaṇa-s which characterize an object in terms of its inherent properties. Both types of lakṣaṇa-s for Prāṇa are given by Gaṇapati Muni in Viśvamīmāṃsā (5).

A taṭastha-lakṣaṇa for Prāṇa is given in the sūtra “prāṇo viśvasyādiḥ” i.e., “Prāṇa is the origin of the universe.” (VM5 1.1.2). This is similar in form to “janmādyasya yataḥ”, the taṭastha-lakṣaṇa for Brahman from the Brahmasūtra. The very next sūtra states that Prāṇa is abhautika or non-material, which also can be taken as a taṭastha-lakṣaṇa in that it is statement on Prāṇa’s relation to the world of matter (VM5 1.1.3). Another taṭastha-lakṣaṇa given for Prāṇa, is that Prāṇa is that which becomes expansive via Tapas (VM5 1.1.9). The process of Tapas which leads to ‘expansion’ of Prāṇa will be discussed further here in an ādhyātmika context.

A svarūpa-lakṣaṇa for Prāṇa is given in the sūtra “anādiranantā vibhuḥ svānubhūtyaikarasā cit prāṇaḥ” i.e., “Prāṇa is that Cit or Consciousness which is beginningless, endless, all-pervading and has for its sole essence the experience of self.” (VM5 1.1.7). As a svarūpa-lakṣaṇa statement, this is similar to “satyam jñānamanantam brahma” for Brahman in Taittirīya Upaniṣad 2.1.1. The association of Prāṇa with Cit, as elaborated later in Viśvamīmāṃsā (5), has ādhyātmika significance in Vedānta and ādhidaivika significance in Tantra.

Ādhidaivika level

In the sūtra literature of Gaṇapati Muni, Prāṇa is identified with deities via two modalities:

  1. As a Śakti or Vibhūti (‘power’) which is part of a (mostly four-fold) Vyūha or ‘assembly’ of Śakti-s/Vibhūti-s of a primary deity
  2. Directly with a primary deity

The above modalities are not mutually exclusive. A Śakti or Vibhūti is sometimes identified as no different from a primary deity, that is, identified wholly rather than partially with a primary deity. Vyūha-s or assemblies are sometimes metaphorically expressed as “families” of deities. Also, Vyūha-s as characterized in multiple traditions are held by Gaṇapati Muni to be fundamentally equivalent and differing only in name (CVS 7.1-15). Deities and their families thus appearing in the sūtra literature of Gaṇapati Muni include both deities prominent in the Veda and those prominent in the Purāṇa-s and Tantra-s. Variations in deity identities and family relations in the source texts are also acknowledged in several instances by Gaṇapati Muni.

Prāṇa is said to be part of the Vyūha of Śakti-s or Vibhūti-s of the deity called Indra, along with three other Śakti-s called Dyauḥ (Space), Kāla (Time) and Sūrya (the Sun) in the Caturvyūhasūtra (CVS 1.4) and Siddhāntasārasūtra (SSS 2.25). Whereas the place of Prāṇa in this Vyūha is taken by Vaidyutāgni in the listing of the Caturvyūhasūtra, the same text also establishes a close association Prāṇa from Vaidyutāgni (CVS 3.7, 3.21-25). While establishing this association, the highest Prāṇa is referred to both by the name of Praṇava and Rudra, and said to be the father of all subsequent variants of Prāṇa (CVS 3.7, 3.21-25). The Indreśvarābhedasūtra also declares the highest Prāṇa to be verily Rudra (IAS 25). More fundamentally beyond the Vyūha level, Indreśvarābhedasūtra identifies even the primary deities Indra and Rudra (also called Śiva and Īśvara) with each other, declaring them to be the same deity referred to by these names by Vaidika-s and Yogī-s respectively (IAS 1, 34, 36).

In the Rudrakuṭumbasūtra, a family is described of Rudra, consisting of Himself, His consort Rudrāṇī, and their three sons whose Tāntrika names are Gaṇapati with the Vaidika name of Brahmaṇaspati who corresponds to the Ākāśa or Space element and the śabda-tanmātrā (RKS 22-25), Bhairava with the Vaidika name of Vāyu corresponding to the wind element and the sparśa-tanmātra (RKS 26-34), and Guha with the Vaidika names of Agni and Sūrya who corresponds to the fire element (RKS 35-39). The association of Rudra (who is associated with the highest Prāṇa) with the element of wind in this scheme has ādhibhautika significance as well.

A more direct formulation than that of a vyūha or family of Rudra, namely, the formulation of Rudra and Kālī as an inseparable pair, has special significance in Tantra, both in theory and practice. In Viśvamīmāṃsā (5), the relation between Rudra and Kālī is laid out as follows: Rudra has for his body the subtle sound called Praṇava, which gives him the name ‘Rudra’ itself associated with the sound of a cry (VM5 1.4.6-8). It is this Rudra who also has the name Kāla (VM5 1.4.6-8), whose feminine form that is non-different from him is Kālī (VM5 1.4.4, 1.4.11). That which is called Rudra when manifest as svaraṇa or ‘sounding’ within all beings, is called Kālī when manifest as pacana which is literally ‘cooking’ but can be taken to mean any process of ‘changing’ or ‘transformation’ of all beings (VM5 1.4.14-15). In the Kālīpaṭala of the Mahāvidyāsūtra too, Kālī is called the feminine form of Kāla (MVS 1.9) and is associated with ‘cooking’ or ‘transformation’ of all beings (MVS 1.8,1.10). Kālī is called the Śakti that is the evolutionary force operative in both the destruction and creation all beings and worlds (MVS 1.17-18), and the Kriyā that is also the Tāṇḍava or cosmic dance of Mahākāla (MVS 1.15-16). Most significantly, Kālī has been identified with the Śakti of causation that underlies both the cosmos and individual beings (MVS 1.24) and is in flow within all of us as Prāṇa (MVS 1.27). That Kālī is the Śakti of causation underlying the cosmos and all beings, and is in flow within us as Prāṇa is also reiterated concisely in the Gaṇapatidarśana (GD 3.1.1-12) consistent with the expositions in Viśvamīmāṃsā (5) and the Mahāvidyāsūtra.Kālī, who is clearly identified with Prāṇa in the Mahāvidyāsūtra and Gaṇapatidarśana, is in these texts also associated with the contemplative practice from the Upaniṣad-s called Saṃvarga-vidyā, which will be discussed further in the section on “Prāṇa in practice”.

The Rājayogasārasūtra presents a scheme where Prāṇa with the śakti of gati (movement) is recognized as Vāyu, with the śakti of tejas (brilliance) named Indrāṇī is recognized as Indra, and with the śakti of svara (sound) called Gaurī is recognized as Rudra (RYS 1.1.1-10).

For completeness, it must be noted here that Prāṇa has also been associated by Gaṇapati Muni with the Vaidika deity called Aditi also addressed as Parā in Viśvamīmāṃsā(5) (VM5 1.38-40) and Devatāmīmāṃsā (1) (DM1 1.35-41). The association of Prāṇa with Aditi is not elaborated further in this study, as it has a less significant and direct influence on Tantra theory and praxis than the association of Prāṇa with Kālī.

Ādhyātmika level

Besides sūtra-s identifying Prāṇa with Rudra and Kālī at the ādhidaivika level, Gaṇapati Muni has also given sūtra-s identifying Prāṇa with the individual soul or the Ātman at the ādhyātmika level. We recall here that Prāṇa has been identified as the origin of the universe in Viśvamīmāṃsā (5) (VM5 1.1.2). With this primordiality of Prāṇa as a premise, along with another axiomatic premise that the Ātman is eternal, it is concluded that Prāṇa is not separate from the Ātman (VM5 1.1.30). Other sūtra texts which make primordiality the grounds to recognize Prāṇa as non-separate from the Ātman, are the Manīṣāsaṅgraha which declares that the Ātman expresses as Prāṇa (MS 1.1, 1.4-5),the Īśvaramīmāṃsā which declares the Ātman as the ‘Prāṇa of Prāṇa’ (IM 2.1.1-3), and the Sṛṣṭisūtra which declares Prāṇa to be verily the ‘body’ of the Ātman (SS 1).

We recall here also that Prāṇa is identified with Cit or Consciousness in the Viśvamīmāṃsā (5) (VM5 1.1.7). The Viśvamīmāṃsā (5) also declares that the faculty of knowledge called Buddhi is non-different from Prāṇa (VM5 1.2.18) on the grounds that both Prāṇa and Jñānam (knowledge) are not limited by space and are in this sense coterminous. What is Prāṇa when the object of awareness is Cit or Consciousness alone (VM5 1.2.20), is verily what is Buddhi when the object of awareness is an external distinct object in the world (VM5 1.2.21). This is also restated in equivalent ādhidaivika terms, by saying that Cit has the form of Prāṇa when in absorption with Mahendra, and is in the form of Buddhi while experiencing the world (VM5 1.2.21-23). Such a relation between Prāṇa and Cit is also reiterated in the Rājayogasārasūtra (RYS 2.1-11).

Prāṇa as Cit has for its sole essence the experience of the self (VM5 1.1.7) and ‘develops’ through Tapas (VM5 1.1.9). Tapas is given a definition in Viśvamīmāṃsā (5) as a specific kind of pāka or transformation which arises from sustained natural abidance in the experience of one’s own self (VM5 1.1.10).

Ādhibhautika level

An ādhibhautika association of Prāṇa with the gross element or mahābhūta called Vāyu or air, is indicated in the Rudrakuṭumbasūtra (RKS 26-34).

In the Rājayogasārasūtra, Vāyu is said to be the name of Prāṇa who is endowed with gati-śakti, which can be read as implying both the ability to move, as well as the ability to move other things. The movement of Prāṇa is said to simultaneously have the nature of both stillness and motion, and has been likened to waves which express motion in an ocean that is stationary overall. (RYS 1.1-2). A movement of Prāṇa, expressed in the movement of the breath, supplies the basis of a key Yoga discipline discussed further in the next section on ‘Prāṇa in practice’.

Prāṇa in practice

The relevance of the metaphysics of Prāṇa to a practitioner can be recognized on one end at the ādhibhautika level as the mechanical basis of the breathing-related practices of Yoga, and on the other end at the ādhidaivika level as an object of veneration in the contemplative practices of Vedānta and Tantra.

Loci and course of Prāṇa

Prāṇa in the Rājayogasārasūtra is spoken of as the subtle, sustaining essence of all beings, which has the hṛdaya (‘heart’) for its seat (RYS 2.1-2). “Hṛdaya”, as defined in Viśvamīmāmṣā (3), refers to the seat of a knowledge not accessed by the senses and mind (VM3 155-173). Such knowledge, or hārda knowledge, is associated with a kind of perception that is available only to accomplished Yogī-s, called Yogi-pratyakṣa (VM3 184).

Prāṇa in the ādhibhautika view has the property of movement, and the five characteristic movement variants that Prāṇa is said to have (designated as Prāṇa, Apāna, Vyāna, Udāna and Samāna) are listed in the Gaṇapatidarśana (GD 3.1.14) and the Rājayogasārasūtra (RYS 3.1). These movement variants are called taraṇga-s (“wave patterns”) in the Gaṇapatidarśana, and kriya-vibhūti-s (“powers of action”) in the Rājayogasārasūtra. The powers of action designated as Prāṇa (inhalation and exhalation), Apāna (evacuation), Vyāna (circulation), Udāna (expression) and Samāna (digestion), are listed in the Rājayogasārasūtra (RYS 3.2-6). Anticipation of, in the sense of keeping attention directed towards, the processes of Prāṇa, Udāna and Vyāna is said to constitute varieties of Tapas as well as Upāsanā in the Rājayogasārasūtra (RYS 4.1-5). Tapas and Upāsanā can be taken to correspond in a practical sense to austerities and worship respectively. Keeping attention directed towards the movements of inhalation and exhalation is a form of Upāsanā that has been accorded special importance, and is discussed further here in the context of Saṃvarga-vidyā.

Yoga practice

In the Rājayogasārasūtra, specific upāsanā-s corresponding to deities with whom Prāṇa has been identified, are listed. Upāsanā for Vāyu is to be done by observation of the movements of exhalation and inhalation (RYS 1.3). Upāsanā for Indra, who is distinguished as being endowed with the śakti of tejas (brilliance), is to be done by observation of the special experience of heat arising in the nāḍī-s (RYS 1.5-7). Upāsanā for Rudra, who is distinguished as being endowed with the śakti of svara (sound), is to be done by observation of the subtle inner sound that is called Praṇava in Vedānta (RYS 1.9-11). It is apt to recall here that the Indreśvarābhedasūtra declares Indra and Rudra as fundamentally one and bearing these two designations only to function as objects of worship by Vaidika-s and Yogī-s respectively, and the Caturvyūhasūtra gives the same list of four vibhūti-s in Aindra, Vaiṣṇava, Śaiva and Śākta versions.

Gaṇapati Muni in the Rājayogasārasūtra has presented the most readily and widely recognized component of Prāṇa-centred disciplines, namely, breathing, in a triad along with inner heat (associated with Tapas) and inner sound (verily Prāṇava, the signifier of Īśvara and basis of japa in the Yogasūtra itself in sūtra-s 1.27-28). This presentation itself facilitates a Prāṇa-centred conceptual unification of Tapas, Svādhyāya and Īśvarapraṇidhāna said to constitute Kriyāyoga in Yogasūtra 2.01.

Vedānta practices

The presentation of Prāṇa-centred disciplines in the Rājayogasārasūtra not only unifies multiple aspects of Yoga-sādhanā, but also fits within the scheme of Upāsanā-s in the Upaniṣad-s. In fact, a sūtra in the Yogavyākhyāna declares Yoga, Tapas and Upāsanā as synonyms (YV 1.2). Upāsanā-s can be understood as practices intended to lead to ‘closeness’ with the Supreme Being, called Brahman in Vedānta, by means of objects (e.g., Praṇava) that ‘represent’ Brahman. The Praṇava of Vedānta is presented as a basis of Upāsanā in the Rājayogasārasūtra (RYS 1.11).

Some Upāsanā-s are designated as Vidyā-s. Gaṇapati Muni gives a list of definitions of Vidyā-s from the Upaniṣad-s in the Manīṣāsaṅgraha (MS 6.1-15), including the Chāndogyopaniṣad’s Saṃvarga-vidyā, which he defines here as “observation of the movement of Prāṇa” (MS 6.6). Definitions of Saṃvarga-vidyā also appear in the Gaṇapatidarśana, as “the practice of observation of the exhalation and inhalation” (GD 3.1.19), and in the Tattvānuśāsana, as “contemplation upon the Prāṇa-vāyu by means of observing its movement and stillness” (TA 8.4). In the Kālīpaṭala of the Mahāvidyāsūtra, it is declared that it is veneration of the MahāvidyāKālī which is spoken of in the Saṃvarga-vidyā (MV 1.73). “Knowledge of breathing” is declared as pure Upāsanā of Kālī (MV 1.66). Prāṇa-vidyā and Mukhyapraṇodgītha-vidyā are given as synonyms of Saṃvarga-vidyā (MV 1.74-75).

Gaṇapati Muni’s treatment of Prāṇa in a Tantrasāra context

Prāṇa in the Tantrasāra of Abhinavagupta receives a detailed metaphysical treatment in the sixth āhnika, and is treated mainly as a basis of meditative practice in the fifth āhnika. The metaphysical and practical complements of the treatment of Prāṇa in Gaṇapati Muni’s sūtra literature, are studied comparatively with these āhnika-s of Tantrasāra.

Metaphysics of Prāṇa

In the Tantrasāra’s fifth āhnika, a distinction is made between Sthūla or gross Prāṇa (which is variegated and operative as Prāṇa, Apāna, Vyāna, Udāna and Samāna) and Sūkṣma or subtle Prāṇa (denoted by syllabic sounds). The latter aspect of Prāṇa, as the source of a sound called Nāda associated with seed syllables called bīja-s, is what receives the most emphasis in the Tantrasāra. In the sūtra-s of Gaṇapati Muni reviewed here which do refer to the svara-śakti called Gaurī of Prāṇa as Rudra (e.g., RYS1.8-10, VM5 4.6-8), there is no further accompanying elaboration of the relation of Nāda or sound with Prāṇa with the sort of detail found in the Tantrasāra.

At the start of the Tantrasāra’s sixth āhnika, Kālī is identified with a śakti of the Supreme Being corresponding to the power of causation and transformation manifesting as Time and in the movement of Prāṇa. The exposition here is consonant with Gaṇapati Muni’s consistent description of Kālī in his Mahāvidyāsūtra (MVS 1.8-27), Viśvamīmāṃsā (5) (VM5 1.4.4-15) and Gaṇapatidarśana (GD 3.1.1-12) summarized earlier in this article.

Prāṇa in practice

Prāṇa features in the list given in the Tantrasāra’s fifth āhnika, as one of the means of purification of vikalpa (or discursive thought constructs) suggested to an aspirant in need of such purification. Along with Prāṇa, this list includes the Buddhi, the body (referred to in this context as karaṇa), and external objects in the world such as pots and the like (referred to in this context as liṅga-s). Details of practices specific to each item in this list are not provided in this āhnika, and what follows instead is instruction of Dhyāna and of Uccāraṇa (the process of upwardly directing the subtle or sūkṣma Prāṇa). Therefore, guidance for practices directly pertaining to Sthūla or gross Prāṇa, such as that provided by Gaṇapati Muni in the Rājayogasārasūtra (RYS 4.1-5), is not provided in this āhnika of the Tantrasāra.

The instruction for Dhyāna that follows in the Tantrasāra’s fifth āhnika, requires one to meditate in the heart of one’s consciousness upon the supreme reality beyond the distinctions of knower and known and knowing. This instruction for Dhyāna appears similar in its emphasis on one’s own consciousness, to how Tapas (which leads to ‘development’ of Prāṇa) is defined in Gaṇapati Muni’s Viśvamīmāṃsā (5) (VM5 1.1.7-10). However, while the Dhyāna prescribed in the Tantrasāra has pre-requisites of a certain level of purification of vikalpa to be reached, no explicit mentions of eligibility criteria appear in Gaṇapati Muni’s sūtra texts accompanying the descriptions of Tapas (VM5 1.1.7-10, RYS 4.1-5).


Whereas Abhinavagupta’s project in the Tantrasāra is to compile a digest of Tantra literature, Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni’s endeavour has a more ambitious scope of a grand unified framework including all śāstra literature from the Veda onwards, all the way till the teachers of his time to whom he accorded an ārṣa status. Such an endeavour tends to favour comprehensiveness in ensuring representation of diverse formulations, accepting some risk to the overall coherence of the new Sūtra corpus. The coverage of Prāṇa in the sūtra literature of Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni also seems to do more justice to representation than to systematization.

Among works from polymaths from eras preceding Gaṇapati Muni, we typically find texts exclusively dedicated to one darśana even from authors who have written texts on multiple darśana-s (like in the Nyāya, Yoga and Vedānta commentaries of Vācaspatimiśra). The sūtra corpus of Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni can convey the impression of being the work of an author who had evolved a distinct darśana in his own right, in the exposition of which he freely drew on his encyclopaedic knowledge of earlier darśana-s. Multiple sūtra works of Gaṇapati Muni are designated in their titles as mīmāṃsā-s (examinations) and vyākhyāna-s (expositions), and accordingly present an examination or exposition of a topic that freely traverses traditional demarcations, with no qualms about recapitulating what may have appeared in another sūtra text by the same author. Whether a given exposition was primarily meant as a teaching aid for beginners, or as a refresher for the initiated is in general hard to confidently determine. However, traditional restrictions about varieties of esoteric knowledge to kept from the uninitiated seem to be adhered to in the expositions that draw on Tantra-śāstra (even though there is no explicit statement about what is withheld, like the statement by Abhinavagupta regarding entry into samāveśa by a Yogī, in the fifth āhnika of the Tantrasāra).

Noting that the Tantrasāra was composed with economy as a consideration, and that there is a preference for comprehensive representation in the sūtra corpus of Gaṇapati Muni examined here, it is not unexpected that a greater variety of descriptions of deities was found in the latter. However, aphoristic statements like Gaṇapati Muni’s which liken certain qualities and phenomena to deities, can be found in a Kāśmīra Śaiva work in the sūtra genre, Vasugupta’s Śivasūtra-s, which has sūtra-s like “Udyamo bhairavaḥ” and “Icchāśaktirumā kumārī”.

While the sources for the current study were limited to Gaṇapati Muni’s Sūtra works, his corpus of Kāvya works abounding in Stotra-kāvya-s is also potentially informative for studies like this one where deities feature prominently. The ādhyātmika treatment of Prāṇa intimately associating Prāṇa with Consciousness and the Self in sūtra works like Viśvamīmāṃsā (5), Manīṣāsaṅgraha and Rājayogasārasūtra, reads like an aphoristic counterpart of the poetic instruction in verses 11, 12, 16 and 23 of the Upadeśa-sāra, which was held by Śrī Ramaṇa Maharṣi as containing the distilled essence of all spiritual teaching.

The current study on Prāṇa is a proof of concept, intended to motivate similar studies of how the works of Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni treat other topics fundamental across Śāstra-s and especially central to Tantra-śāstra, such as Mantra and Cit.


Prāṇa in the Sūtra literature of Kāvyakaṇṭha Gaṇapati Muni is treated in a way that illuminates the continuity from disciplines to deities, and also the deeper continuity of Tantra-śāstra with Yoga and Vedānta underneath differences of terminology and emphasis.


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Tantrasāra: Part 01 (Chapters 1-7) (P. Mishra, Trans.). (2002). [Internet Archive]. Chaukhamba Surabharati Prakashan.

Tantrasāra: Part 02 (Chapters 8-22) (P. Mishra, Trans.). (2002). [Internet Archive]. Chaukhamba Surabharati Prakashan.

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