As per Sanatana-Dharma (the Hindu religion), in the days of yore, people worshipped the divine reciting Vedic chants from the ancient scriptures in tune with the time of the day and seasons of the year. Quite often man worshipped the divine in the form of nature simply in ecstasy or in awe. Iconic worship, either individual or congregational, came later with the advent of agama sastra (liturgy) and tantric form of divine worship.
Nyasa comes from the root word, “to place,” meaning, to placing the tips of the fingers and palm of the right hand on various parts of the body, accompanied by particular mantra. The nyasa are of various kinds. Jiva-nyasa follows upon bhuta-shuddhi. After the purification of the old, and the formation of the celestial body, the sadhaka proceeds by jiva-nyasa to infuse the body with the life of the Devi. Placing his hand on his heart, he says the “so’hang” mantra. Known to “divinise,” the body of the worshipper, Nyasa is also used in effecting the proper distribution of the shaktis of the human frame in their proper positions so as to avoid the production of discord and distraction in worship. Nyasa as well as Asana are necessary for the production of the desired state of mind and of chitta-shuddhi (its purification). “Das denken ist der mass der Dinge.” Transformation of thought is Transformation of being. This is the essential principle and rational basis of all this and similar Tantrik sadhana.
There are many types of nyasa, with some being very complex and elaborate. One example of this is Mahashodha nyasa where a sadhaka or sadhvika places planets, constellations, sacred sites and other elements of Lalita’s (Tripurasundari) cosmology on her or his body. This demonstrates the identity of macrocosm and microcosm in the tantrik tradition. The Maha-shodhanyasa is a highly effective one and it is said that if you perform it even without knowing the significance, it bestows a lot of spiritual benefits.
The types of nyasa most often encountered in tantrika ritual are Rishi Nyasa, Kara (hand) Nyasa, Matrika Nyasa and Sadanga Nyasa. Every mantra has a Rishi or seer who first pronounced the mantra, thus giving birth to a line. According to many tantrik texts, using mantras which you take from books is fruitless, although this rule does not hold for Mahachinachara and, say some, the worship of Shri Shri Kali.
Matrika Nyasa is a form where the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet are placed on the body. As this is done, the practitioner uses various hand gestures (mudras), placing mantra sounds of the Sanskrit alphabet on various parts of the body especially on the petals of the chakras, aimed at consecrating the body to the various deities and purifying it to become Sattvic (pure, clean, holy), in preparation for mantra japa (mantra recitation) and puja (act of worship).
Sadanga Nyasa uses bijas (root mantras), connected with long vowels of the Sanskrit alphabet. The worship of different devatas introduces forms of Nyasa tailored to the particular divinity. For example, in the ritual worship of Bala, there are optional forms such as the Nine Yoni Nyasa, relating to the nine triangles in Her yantra and an Arrow Nyasa, related to the five flowering arrows She holds in one of Her hands.
In kara-nyasa, as the mantra is recited, each finger is touched by the thumb moving from base to the tip of the finger. Index finger is used in the case of movement along thumb. Lastly, one palm is used to swipe across the other palm and the palms are reversed. In anga-nyasa, the six parts are touched with various combinations of right hand fingers. The touch presumably improves sensitivity of touch through improved nerve conduction which is another area of research under nyasa.
And in the worship of Jvalamukhi, there is a very extended Nyasa which relates to the 21,600 breaths a human being takes in a day and a night. This is related to the position of the chakras within the human frame.
These Tantric Nyasa techniques consist of moving awareness from marma point to marma point. (A marma point is at the intersection of nadis (channels) through which prana flows), as well as visualisation and placing mantra sound on the specified marma points in the body.
If we look at the development of some of the modern-day techniques described as yoganidra practices, we see they are based on ancient Tantric Nyasa techniques. An example of this is Shava Yatra or 61 points, also known as pilgrimage through the body, in which either mantra is recited, or visualization of a blue star is performed on each of the 61 points.
In Hindu lore, Nyasa is a mandatory procedure that precedes every mantra japa (recitation). Let us remember that many Yoga practices that are done today originate from ritual. Yoga is an exact science, it is the science of Life and includes all aspects of life. Therefore ritual, mantra, asana, pranayama, yama, niyama, dharana, dhyana can all be verified and detailed and explained according to exacting measurements. The Sage Yajnavalkhya explains in “Yoga Yajnavalkya” chapter VI, the importance of daily rituals (nityakarma) to achieve union of the Self with the Divine.
Nyasa is the practice of (rotation of consciousness) retaining prana, which precedes the modern day “Yoga Nidra” practice of rotating consciousness to various parts of the body in order to consecrate the body to the divine. In modern day Yoganidra practices this term rotation of consciousness is used to describe a sequential manner of bringing the mind to focus on a particular point in the body and drawing in of the prana at that point.
The practitioners of tantra are well aware of the relevance of nyasa and application of it in the ritual. The Nyasa kramas are the best kept secrets without which a ritual will not attain completion or the person is not bestowed with siddhi, (mastery). But the scope of Nyasa based on the vedic rituals is limited in description. Both tantra and vedas accepts in unison that the external rituals are just a representation of the internal ritual. Vedic school categorizes this as antharyaga.
Nyasas are not only hand gestures or mudras, they inscribe the root mantras into the various aspects of the body, to invoke the divinity from deep within, gifting us the ability to stay in our supreme state, while honouring the divine within and without us. Nyasas are generally taught by Gurus in gurukuls and are a vital component for vedic priests, without which, it is said, that the recitation of mantras are merely vibrational and nothing more. For mantras to take effect, nyasas must be performed, invoking the Devi or the Deva of the particular mantra. Once the ritual is completed, the body must be returned to its original state and the mantras must be “freed,” otherwise, it would drain the body of the energy it needs to sustain itself for normal living.
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