Pañcatattva (Panchatattva) means five true things. There are two ways interpreting pañcatattva (Panchatattva). The first interpretation refers to five principle elements such ākāśa, air, fire, water and earth. These five elements arranged from subtle to gross as explained in Taittirīya Upaniṣhad. The Upaniṣhad says, “From the Self comes ākāśa, from ākāśa comes air, from air comes fire, from fire comes water, from water comes earth, from earth comes plants and food and from food comes man.” Therefore, basically pañcatattva is the foundational principle of our very existence. In external worship, ākāśa, air, fire, water and earth are represented by application of sandal paste to the idol that is worshiped, offering flowers to the deity, offering fragrance to the deity, offering dipārādhana and food offerings. These five offerings represent pañcabhūta-s (five principle elements).

As per Tantra śāstra-s, pañcatattva (Panchatattva) is the source through which a practitioner worships Parāśakti. Though certain Tantric practices are frowned upon, there are deeper sense of reality, which leads to normal way of living with associated procreation, preservation and dissolution of beings. Out of the three, man makes immense efforts during the time his life (sustenance) to attain Brahman for the purpose of liberating himself from the clutches of transmigration. Though the purpose is always the same, the path pursued is different; the path could be Vedic or Tāntric. Though the role of Guru is important in both these paths, in the case of Tāntric path, Guru should be highly qualified and well versed with all types of practices. Any minor deviation could cause havoc on the aspirant. This path is to be treaded with great caution and under the direct supervision of a Guru.

According to Tantra śāstra-s, pañcatattva (Panchatattva) means five M-s, (pañcamakāra-s) as all the five objects of worship begin with the letter M. They are madya (wine), māṁsa (flesh), matsya (fish), mudrā (parched grains) and maithuna (carnal activities). Following these five M-s is known as kaulācāra or left hand worship. Kulārṇava Tantra deals with this subject in detail, apart from dealing with mantras and yantras. For example, different methods are prescribed for preparation of wine, which is called as kuladravya. Shape of the vessels (three, four or six sided or circular vessels) is different for different purpose. Vessels are made out of gold, silver, shell of tortoise, skull, barks of certain trees, etc. To cite a few examples, vessels made out of pearl bestow love for Her; when skulls are used as vessels, certain siddhis (supernatural powers) are attained. Śiva explains to Śakti in detail about the vessels, how wine is to be prepared, how long wine should be allowed to fragment, etc. For example all ingredients are prepared and poured into the cavity of a thick bamboo and should be buried deep into the earth for a period of 48 days for the purpose of fermentation. There are certain types of wines that are liked by all gods and men alike. Preparation and ingredients are also explained in detail.

As in the case of wine, there are three types of flesh. Animals are killed and flesh taken from their bodies. There are mantras for destroying sins arising out of killing animals for the purpose of sacrifice. One of the mantras goes like this. “O! Animal! Your body is being cut by Śiva and hence you attain Śivatva (oneness with Śiva). You are Śiva for me...” By saying, ‘your body is being cut by Śiva’ clearly indicates that such acts should be done by a Self-realized person and should not be done without observing tapas and consequent realization of the Self. However, there are other interpretations also. If one is hesitant to kill an animal for the purpose of sacrifice, it is permitted that he can use either garlic or ginger. Without flesh or ginger or garlic, worshiping Parāśakti becomes useless, says Śiva. This does not mean that this is the only way of attaining Śiva. This type of practice is followed only by certain cult, who have highest spiritual bent of mind, who have a Self-realized Guru, who should be conversant with elaborate procedures and effects thereof. Śiva also explains that Brahmā (god in charge of creation) resides in the water of flesh; Viṣṇu in the smell of flesh and Rudra in other fluids (such as blood, etc) of the flesh. Therefore, flesh does not mean merely flesh but the entire process of creation, sustenance and destruction.

It is categorically said that no offerings should be made without wine, flesh and fish and any worship made without these three goes in complete vain. Śiva says to His Consort Devi, “Those with devotion offers to both of us, flesh and wine which produces pleasure in us. Such a person is loved most by us and he alone is real kaulika (follower of the left-hand Śākta ritual).”  It is said that surā (spirituous liquor, which is referred as wine) is Śakti and māṁsa (flesh) is Śiva. One who consumes both these becomes Bhairava Himself. The union between surā and māṁsa induces spiritual Bliss, which is known as Emancipation. Emancipation is the result of union between Śiva and Śakti. But merely resorting to drinking of wine and eating flesh do not yield anything, except accrual of sin. Wine (prepared as stated above) and flesh are to be purified my mantras and should first be offered to the concerned deity and then to Guru. Only after this, they can be consumed by the practitioner. Further, wine, etc can be consumed only at the time of worship and consuming them otherwise is considered as sin. Śiva clearly says this to Devi, “Taking intoxicants like fish, flesh and wine, etc at any time other than occasion of sacrifice is a sin. Only after understanding the purport of kula śāstra-s from a Guru, one should resort to five M-s. Otherwise, he meets his downfall.” The role of Guru is very important in kula śāstra-s. However, true Kula Guru are extremely rare to find.

Though, five M-s are interpreted in a grosser way, scholars have interpreted them in subtle way. The subtle interpretation is like this. Wine refers to secretion of nectar or spirituous liquor when kuṇḍalinī ascends from mūlādhāra (base chakra) to brahmarandra at sahasrāra. This phenomenon is explained in Lalitā Sahasranāma 105 and 106. This is known as samayācāra worship. Worshipping Her through the chakras of Kuṇḍalinī, beginning from mūlādhāra is called samayācāra. Both the planet moon and cit-candra-mandalā (cit means foundational consciousness) at sahasrāra represent Śrī Chakra as both have similar qualities. Both produce nectar.  Her lotus feet are deemed to shine in the moon region of Śrī Chakra.  Moon is the master of all medicinal herbs that are said to ooze spirituous liquor known as nectar or ambrosia (amṛtavarṣini).

Killing the animal instincts (animalism) with the sword of knowledge and merging individual consciousness with Supreme Consciousness is known as flesh. It is called flesh because it talks about killing animal instinct inherently present in a human being and make the inherent animal instinct dead. Animal instinct can be killed only with higher spiritual knowledge.

Controlling sense organs is represented by fish. If activities of sensory organs are controlled, the mind becomes free and the aspirant makes efforts to merge with Supreme Consciousness, Śiva, who is also known as flesh as discussed earlier in this article. Fishes have the capacity to purify the water in which they reside.

Maithuna does not mean copulation. It refers to the union of individual self with the Supreme Self. When the individual consciousness is firmly united with Supreme Consciousness, it causes Ānanda or Bliss, wherein Śakti manifests in Her full glory. There is no difference between Ānanda and Śakti. The union of individual soul with the Supreme Soul is maithuna. But according to Mahānirvāṇatantra, copulation is permissible only between husband and wife. The text says (IV.104), “By her body, soul and words satisfies her husband by always doing acts of pleasing him, and attains the state of Brahman (liberation).” This cleanly proves that by this sacred union, wife is liberated and nothing is mentioned about liberation of her husband. It is said that in Kali Yug, maithuna refers only two things. First is the union of individual soul with the Self and second is the bodily union between husband and wife, during which Bliss is experienced which ultimately leads to liberation. As far as mudrā is concerned there is no subtle meaning as this refers to offering of grains to Her as naivedya.

There are many references about Tantric initiation through erotic methods. During such initiations, either a well trained man or a well trained woman acts as an initiator or a teacher. During this process one is made to experience Bliss. At this time, the teacher kindles the fire of kuṇḍalinī in his or her sex chakra and with further practice the kuṇḍalinī is made to ascend to higher chakras. Finally, kuṇḍalinī enters crown chakra wherein She (Śakti) unites with Her Lord Śiva. When this Divine conjugation happens, he or she is liberated.

In this article, only basic facts are covered. There are enough materials available with different interpretations. But, this path is too dangerous without proper guidance from highly learned Gurus, who are very rare to find in the present world. This concept is often misinterpreted, misunderstood and misused.

A question may arise as to which path is the right one for liberation, either vāmācāra (Tantric practices as discussed above or left hand worship) or dakṣinācāra (it is also a Trantic practice, but devoid of five M-s discussed above; this is known as right hand or upright worship)? This question can be answered in two ways. Pursuing vāmācāra is dangerous in the absence of a highly learned Guru. Secondly, while pursuing vāmācāra one has to be perfectly pure in his or her mind as otherwise, the path could be terribly self destructive in nature. Dakṣinācāra is safe path, but it is a circuitous route and could take slightly a longer period for realising the Self. But this process is safe and secure. In the present day world, vāmācāra should not pursued for the simple reason that they are not followed in proper perspective and secondly due to the lack of qualified Gurus.

The contents of this article can be carried forward with proper and healthy comments, so that we can understand the advantages and disadvantages of vāmācāra and dakṣinācāra.

Further Readings:

Distance Initiation

Guru and Mantra Initiation

Panchatattva and Tantric Initiation