While Siddha‘s have an oral tradition that dates back millennia and still exist to date within Siddha monasteries and communities which are hidden from the public eye – very little is known about them. Here is a little information about 3 of the better known Siddha communities.
The 18 Tamil Siddha’s
Siddha (Sanskrit), Siddhar or cittar (Tamil), is a perfected individual, who has attained intellectual powers called siddhi by constant practice of certain cognitive, perceptual or physical disciplines.
Historically, Siddhar also refers to ancient wise, wandering, men and women who dominated ancient Indian teaching and philosophy. They were knowledgeable in astronomy, drama, dance, fine arts, literature, music, science, technology and warfare. They assisted all, from kings to common people, by providing solutions, curing their illness and advising them for their future. Many of their written works date from 300BC to 300CE, although their oral tradition exists for centuries before that.
In ancient South India, Siddha’s were saints, doctors, alchemists and mystics all in one. They wrote their findings in secret poems. These poems were written in Tamil script on palm leaves. These palm leaves were collected and stored in what are known as “Palm leaf manuscripts“. Although centuries old many of these palm leaf manuscripts are still owned by some families in Tamil Nadu and handed down through the generations. Some are kept in public institutions such as universities in India, Germany, Great Britain and the United States. The British Museum has a few in its archives.
Among other branches of a vast knowledge-system, Siddha’s developed what is now known as Siddha medicine. A rustic form Siddha medicine is still being practised by experienced elders in the villages of Tamil Nadu. It is believed that Ayurvedic Medicine – the world recognised Indian medical system, has its origins in Siddha medicine.
Siddha’s are the founders of Varmam or Marman. This is both – a martial art for self-defence and a medical treatment at the same time. Varmam, marman or marmani are specific points located in the human body which when pressed or pierced in different ways can give a variety of results. It can be used to disable an attacker in self-defence or to balance the body or release trigger points in order to resolve a physical ailments. It is also used as an easy first-aid medical treatment.
Tamil Siddha’s were also the first to develop pulse-reading (“naadi paarththal” in Tamil). This was used to to identify the origin of diseases using pulse to gage the bio-electric condition of the body. Some Siddha’s were so developed in this ability that they did not have to touch the patient but via simple observation they could determine the condition of the body.
The Siddhars achieved their immense knowledge through their daily yogic practices. They lived and believed in a holistic wellbeing and were in constant pursuit of perfecting themselves and their wisdom so they may assist and share this with people around them.
In the Tamil tradition, there are 18 siddhars who are considered as the pillars of siddha medicine. There is no consensus on when these Siddha’s lived – but much is known about them. They were all historical figures. Their names, contributions, peoms and place where they attained Samadhi (eternal consciousness) are well documented in Tamil literature from the 3rdcentury BC to present. To date there are Tamil Siddha’s in villages of Tamil Nadu. They are elusive – not much is know about their lives – but their healing abilities are well known and highly regarded.
The Tibetan Mahasiddha’s
In Tibetan tradition the Mahasiddha were great adepts who cultivated and embodied human perfection. The Mahasiddhas were known practitioners of yoga and tantra. They were also known as tantrikas. Their historical influence throughout the Indian subcontinent and the Himalaya’s was vast. Their wisdom was codified in their songs of realization and hagiographies, or namtars. Many of these have been preserved in the Tibetan Buddhist canon.
The Siddha communities of India and the Himalaya’s were like “Institutes of Advanced Studies”. The first Universities in the world were created or curated by them – Taxashilla (pre 600BC), Nalanda (500CE) and Vikramashila(700CE). These were research centres for highly cultivated, successful and graduated experts in various branches of Science and Inner Science (adhyatmavidya). Many of the teachers at these institutes were monastics and could move back and forth from university (vidyalaya) to monastery (patha). Many had taken vows of poverty, celibacy, and so forth, and were lived in the classical Indian sannyāsin or sādhu style. Robert Thurman called the mahasiddha’s “psychonauts”. He claimed that in “parallel with our “astronauts”, the materialist scientist-adventurers whom we admire for their courageous explorations of the “outer space” which we consider the matrix of material reality. Inverse astronauts, the psychonauts voyaged deep into “inner space”, encountering and conquering angels and demons in the depths of their subconscious minds.”
And what they shared with the world was their understanding on how to develop human ability. Some of the revered Siddha’s in the Tibetan tradition are Tilopa, Naropa, Niguma and Sukhasiddhi. The 6 Yoga’s of Naropa and the completion stage yoga or Niguma are practices based on Siddha wisdom.
The 84 Buddhist Siddha’s
The Buddhist schools that flourished from the 8-12 centuries borrowed from earlier records and developed a very systematic theory on the Siddha’s. According to Buddhist and Tibetan texts and a poem by the Sufi saint and poet Kabir – there were 84 Siddha’s. All of them were human teachers who who attained supernormal abilities through the practice of yoga. Many of these Siddha’s were women. All of these texts list the names and offer some details of the lives of these Siddha’s.
These authors of these medieval texts refer to earlier Indian texts that also detailed the lives of Siddha’s but many of these original texts are thought to be lost or hidden. The Siddha’s composed texts and mystical songs. These have been preserved mainly in their Tibetan translations. This is because when India was invaded in the 11thcentury many of the Indian Siddha’s fled into the Himalayan range with earlier works and these were shared with Tibetan students who translated the works into their language for safe keeping and posterity. Some of the original texts written by 11thcentury Siddha’s have been discovered – the Siddha’s songs are preserved in a collection known as Caryāścarya-viniścaya. The Siddha Tilopa, who was the teacher of Naropa, has part of his original writings preserved in one of his Dohākośa’s.
Theses mystical songs and text share experiences, insight and details of special types sadhana (spiritual practices) that the 11thcentury Siddha’s found effective in their development.
What was the special form of mysticism that the Siddha’s adhered to?
As much of Siddha literature is still unknown – details are pieced together from Tibetan translations and 11thcentury texts.
The teaching of Siddhācārya was esoteric. Nobody except a qualified guru was allowed to initiate a disciple into the mysteries. This is why even in modern times the few known Siddha students in Nepal are known as gurubhāju – followers of the guru. They distinguish themselves from followers of the Brahmanical faith who are called devabhāju – followers of God.
Concepts that are repeated in Siddha texts:
“The truth that is free from duality is thought by the Siddha”.
“By following the Siddha’s instructions with patience and persistent practice, the truth will be revealed to you.”
“The Siddha does not ask you to believe anything, the Siddha gives you the tools that enable you to experience reality for yourself.”
“The one who is open to the Siddha’s instructions becomes the Siddha”
Dr Nitasha Buldeo is an Integrated Medical Practitioner, Entrepreneur, Scientist and Yogi. She created I-Yoga & Organic Apoteke and is Director of the Centre for Exceptional Human Performance. She researches human potential and delivers programs that encourage you to live exceptionally. Nitasha believes that every one of us is striving to be the best we can. Her passion is bringing you experiences that inspire you. Her intention is for you to unlock your genius.