Alchemy is the study of transmutation of matter, conversion of base metal into gold and development of the elixir of immortality. I have heard that Tantra talks about alchemy and I wish to do some research on this topic. Can anyone recommend me the relevant texts dealing with alchemy?
Alchemy is known as rasAyana shastra in Indian tradition. It involves use of special herbs, metals, and minerals to transmute the properties of these. These are broadly classified into two viz,
Medicinal alchemy (used for health benefits, curing diseases)
Metallic alchemy (transmuting metals)
The processing of these ingredients also involves mantra and related processes. The products are also used for various spells.
The core of alchemy revolves around heavy metals , poisonous minerals, and rare herbs used individually or in mixture. The key factor for all the above is their processing and purification to the optimum percentage.
One of the widely used metal in rasAyana is mercury which is also known as Rasa (pArada). It is believed that it originated from Lord Shiva and hence Lord Shiva's name is also Raseshwara.
Rasa shastra is a part of ayurveda as well. We have universities providing education in rasa shastra. However, these are only done in a basic level for making of some herbal medicines. Deep secrets of Rasa shastra is almost extinct or hardly known to the public.
Rasa Shastra is an important branch of Ayurveda developed for achieving alchemical and therapeutic benefits from Mercury and other minerals and metals. Texts during and just following the period of Acharya Nagarjuna reveals that, the practice of metals and minerals for alchemical purpose were more developed than their use in therapeutics. But gradually with the passing of time alchemical use of materials decreases and their use in therapeutics take over. Rasa Hridaya Tantra is a unique text among a huge number of rasa literatures, which gives elaborate description of 18 special mercurial processing techniques (Astadasha parada Samskara). This manuscript is presented with a guideline, how to make Mercury competent for transmuting base metals into a noble one and to produce therapeutic benefits with them. This book serves as an important reference text for the researchers of traditional system of medicines for designing and development of new drugs, out of mineral sources, following the transmuting property of Mercury.
The methods of rasa shastra are contained in a number of Ayurvedic texts, including the Charaka Samhita and Susruta Samhita. An important feature is the use of metals, including several that are considered to be toxic in evidence-based medicine. In addition to mercury, gold, silver, iron, copper, tin, lead, zinc and bell metal are used. In addition to these metals, salts and other substances such as coral, seashells, and feathers are also used.
The usual means used to administer these substances is by preparations called bhasma, Sanskrit for "ash". Calcination, which is described in the literature of the art as shodhana, "purification", is the process used to prepare these bhasma for administration. Sublimation and the preparation of a mercury sulfide are also in use in the preparation of its materia medica. A variety of methods are used to achieve this. One involves the heating of thin sheets of metal and then immersing them in oil (taila), extract (takra), cow urine (gomutra) and other substances. Others are calcined in crucibles heated with fires of cow dung (puttam). Ayurvedic practitioners believe that this process of purification removes undesirable qualities and enhances their therapeutic power.
It is believed that if mercury is properly purified, processed, and energized, it can give miraculous health benefits and also can be used to transmute metals.
In order to purify mercury, it has to undergo several complex processes or samskAras out of which about 18 are known today,
The seed ideas of Indian alchemy, which made their appearance in the fifth-sixth centuries a.d., were at variance with the Hellenistic ones. For, its inspirational source was not in the West, but in the Far East, in the Chinese concepts and practices. Indian alchemy had social compulsions too. The Ayurvedic elixirs and rejuvenating treatment were reserved only for males of the upper castes, (women were excluded), as enjoined by both the Caraka and Susruta Samhitas. But, to live long in perpetual youth and to experience the best in life have been the goals of all human beings. Such dispositions as these react vehemently against rigid caste-structures and privileges of the few. They go out in search of systems which are conducive to the realisation of their goals. In India, the tantras offered such a system and, more importantly, admitted into their fold all — irrespective of caste, creed or sex in an esoteric, but ingenious manner. The tantric concept of siddhi evolved certain pathways for disciplined aspirants. And inherent in that concept was the attainment of bodily immortality with even supernatural powers (animadi astasiddhi). This was reinforced by the mythical male-female symbolism, the union sublime of immortality.
The Chinese male-female symbolism of Yin and Yang, mercury-sulphur union of cinnabar (mercuric sulphide) to which was attributed extraordinary powers of attaining immortality, found a congenial home in the Indian Tantric milieu. Buddhist pilgrims and the vajrayana seemed to have played a seminal role in this alchemical transmission.
Be that as it may, Indian alchemy of both Sanskritic and Tamilian traditions, developed a wide variety a chemical processes for the ostensible transmutation of metals and preparation of elixir of life, in which mercury occupied a prime position. The literature on Indian alchemy called the Rasasastra is perceptibly voluminous and methodical in the presentation of a variety of processes whose number is legion. Of these processes, eighteen samskaras or complex treatments, which were adopted for the potentiation of mercury, deserve special mention:
Briefly stated, the eighteen processes concerning mercury as the central element, are as follows:
Svedana: Steaming mercury with a number of plant substances, some minerals, alkalis and salts;
Mardana: Rubbing steamed mercury in a mortar along with some plant and acidic materials;
Murchana: Triturating mercury in a mortar with some more plant extracts till it loses its own character and form;
Uthapana: Steaming mercury again along with alkalis, salts, the three myrobalans, alum etc., and rubbing mercury again in sunlight so that the characteristics of mercury, freed from impurities, are brought into play again;
Patana: Three types, viz. urdhva (upwards); adhah (downwards); and tiryak (sideways); grinding mercury with alkalis, salts and others, and subjecting the product to distillation;
Rodhana: Mixing the distilled mercury with saline water in a closed pot to restore the ‘vigour or potency’ of mercury;
Niyamana: Continuation of the process by steaming mercury for three days with a number of plant products, alum, borax, iron sulphate, etc., to restrain the motility of mercury;
Sandipana: Steaming this product with alum, black pepper, sour gruel, alkali and some vegetables substances to ‘kindle’ the desire of mercury to attain the power of assimilation;
Grasa or Gaganagrass: Fixation and assimilation of the ‘essence’ of mica (gagana) to the desired extent;
Carana: Boiling this product with sour gruel, leaves of certain plants, alum and others for a week so that mica is fully assimilated;
Garbhadruti: Heating and treating mercury with the desired metallic substances so that the ‘essence’ of the latter becomes ‘liquified’ and the resultant, after cooling, passes through a piece of cloth;
Bahyadruti: Obtaining ‘essence’ of minerals or metallic substances also externally;
Jarana: Heating the mercurial product with the desired minerals or metals, alkalis and salts so that they are fully digested or assimilated;
Ranjana: A complex process involving the treatment of mercury with sulphur, gold, silver and copper as well as salts in such a way that mercury attains colour;
Sarana: Digesting mercury with gold or silver in an oil-base to increase its ability towards transformation;
Kramana: Smearing mercury with several plant extracts, minerals, milk, etc., and then heating it carefully with a view to enabling it to possess transmuting powers;
Vedhana: Rubbing the resultant mercury with a few select substances including oil so that it acquires the transmuting power;
Bhaksana: Consuming the prescribed quality of the mercurial product which has undergone the foregoing 17 processes, for the rejuvenation and longevity.
(This sequence was rigorously followed by Indian alchemists; but there were variations in the choice of plants and their extracts, salts, alkaline and acidic substances, minerals and other ingredients).
The important, through esoteric, concept which lay behind these extremely complex processes was that the mercurial product, after undergoing sequentially the seventeen processes, was believed to have all the powers of transmutation. At this stage, it was to be tested for its efficacy in transmuting base metals into gold and, if the test was positive, it was to be used for the eighteenth process. The final product, if consumed in prescribed quantity would, it was claimed, rejuvenate the body in such a way that it would make the body as resplendent and imperishable as gold. One could see the ideal of Philosopher’s Stone of the medieval European alchemy, in the mercurial product emerging out of the seventeen processes.
Ancient Tamil siddhas were known to possess exceptional knowledge of alchemy which helped them to attain "siddhis" and hence the name "siddhas". Because of this, the south Indian system of traditional medicine is called as "Siddha medicine".
The Nath yogis of the nAth sampradaya also are said to be knowers of rasayana shastra.
There are many tantras and related scripture which talk of alchemy (herbs, spells, medicinal, metallic etc) and related subjects, many of them are lost,
Siddha NAgarjuna tantra