The word Agama means tradition. The
Agamas are a body of ancient Indian texts dealing with all rituals and ceremonies to be
observed in temples. The Agamas deal with rules as to how each iconic representation of
divinity (archa murthy) is to be conceived, constructed and worshipped.
Agamas refer to three essential requirements for a
pilgrimage town - Stala, theertham and murthy.
Stala refers to the temple, theertham, to the temple
tank murthy, the deity worshipped. A temple may also be associated with
trees - stala vriksham. The Kadamba tree for instance is the stala
vriksham at the Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar
temple, and the banyan tree, the stala vriksham at Tiruvalankaadu.
A lone banyan tree adorns the spacious courtyard of the Ratnasabha at Tiruvalankadu, which
is believed to have been a forest of banyan trees once.
Elaborate rules have been laid out in the Agamas and
in the Silpa Sastras (the science of sculpture) describing the quality requirements of the
places where temples are to be built, the kind of images to be installed, the materials
from which they are to be made, their dimensions, proportions, air circulation, lighting
in the temple complex etc. The Manasara and Silpasara are some of the
works dealing with these rules. The rituals followed in worship services each day, also
follow rules laid out in the agamas.
Thus, the Agamas deal with the philosophy and
spiritual knowledge behind the worship of the deity, the yoga and mental discipline
required for this worship, the rules for constructing temples and sculpting images, and
the rules pertaining to conduct of worship services and festivals.
The Saiva Agama has led to the Saiva Siddhanta
philosophy in South India and to the Pratyabhijna system of
Kashmir Saivism. The two main schools in the Vaishnava Agama are Pancharatra
and Vaikanasa Agama. The Shakta Agama lays down the rules of worshipping Shakti
the consort of Shiva.