What do you understand by Agama Shastras? What role do they play in religious practices in India? Discuss.
The religious literature of Hinduism is broadly divided into two parts viz. Shruti and Smriti. Shruti makes the central canon of Hinduism and included Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. Smriti, which literally means “that which is remembered” in the entire body of post Vedic classical literature. It includes Vedanga, Shaddarsana, Puranas, Itihasa, Upveda, Tantras, Agamas, Upangas. The term Agama is used for religious scriptures in Buddhism, Jainism as well as Hinduism.
Agama Shastra refers to a collection of ideas pertaining to matters like construction of temples, idol creation and conduct of worship of the Deity. For example, South Indian idols are made in black stone as per the Agama Shastra, which stipulates that idols be made from black stone.
Agamas also contain details about who is allowed to perform temple rituals, and who is entitled to worship and from which portion of the temple. They are the guiding principles for many people of the Hindu faith. The compendium is a result of assimilation from various sources over a number of years. As a whole they cannot be dated; some of them belong to Vedic times and some other belongs to post Vedic period. The collections of Sanskrit scriptures are revered as shruti. Each of the major denominations viz. Saiva, Vaishnava and Shakta has their unique Shastra. Some of the Agamas incorporated the necessity of performance of the Poojas by priests belonging to a particular and distinct sect or denomination.