Śaivism is the religion and philosophy of those who believe that god Śiva is the Supreme Being.
Whether Rudra the Terrible, of the Vedas and Śiva, the Auspicious One, of the ‘non-Vedic’ (‘non-Āryan’) ‘Draviḍian’ cults battled for centuries and then blended to emerge as one deity of compromise—Śiva-Mahādeva, the Auspicious Great God—is a moot point. As the Indus Valley civilisation, which had once been believed to be pre-Āryan, non-Vedic or Draviḍian, came to be accepted as a continuation of the Vedic civilisation itself, in fact its later phase, scholars had to concede that Śiva as depicted on some of the seals with a trident and a bull, was very much a Vedic deity even as the Mother Goddess was.
Being the god of destruction and dissolution of the world, as delineated in later literature, Śiva had to be Rudra, the Terrible. Hence supplications to him to be propitious to one’s children (vide Ṛgveda 7.46.2), descendants, cattle and property (ibid., 1.114.8) are quite in order. However, he also has a benign form (Śambhu, the beneficent one), is the heavenly physician who cures one’s diseases and protects one’s cattle.
By the time of the Atharvaveda and the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (1.10; 3.2; 4.12,21,22; 3.14; 4.10), the concept had further evolved to indicate him as the supreme or the highest God.
Along with the development of the concept of Rudra-Śiva, there had also been an evolution of the concept and symbology of the liṅga as the chief emblem of Śiva. The liṅga resembles a pillar with a semispherical top. Being a rounded surface in all directions, it is, perhaps, the closest approximation to a god considered as beyond all names, forms and attributes. Whereas some scholars find in it the remnants of phallic worship of aboriginal tribes, others feel it is a metamorphosed form of the Vedic yūpastambha (sacrificial post) as the yāgaśālā (sacrificial shed) gradually evolved into the now common Hindu temple. Even if a phallic origin is admitted, a third section of savants argue, there is nothing wrong in it since it represents the generative principle of God, the creator.
Though Śaivism might have started as a simple faith and a mode of worshipping Lord Śiva as the Supreme Being, over the centuries, it branched off into several varieties of sects and cults. Six of these have left their imprint on the religious history of India though two or three only are surviving and thriving. These may now be considered by arranging them in the English alphabetical order.
Based on the fierce descriptions of Rudra in the Vedas, some bizarre cults emerged in course of time. The Kālā-mukhas and the Kāpālikas are two such sects worshipping Rudra-Śiva as Bhairava and Caṇḍī.
The Kālāmukhas were so called, probably because they were defacing their faces with black marks and symbols (kāla = black, mukha = face).
Scholars of Śaivism consider this sect as a branch of the Pāśupata cult of Lakulīśa, also spelt as ‘Nakulīśa’.
These Kālāmukhas (sometimes called ‘ekkoṭi-munis’) had some connections with the descendants of a Devavrata Muni of Kashmir. They were quite powerful during the period A. D. 700-1200 in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Kedāreśvara temple of Baḷḷigāve (in the Shimoga district of Karnataka) and the temple town of Śrīśaila (near Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh) were their strongholds. Edicts of the Cāḷukyan kings (11th cent. A. D.) speak of royal patronage to this cult. One of their gurus—Sarveśvara Śaktideva—was the master of 77 temples. They were also well-known for austerity and scholarship.
However, some horrendous practices of theirs, like drinking wine in human skulls, smearing the body with the ashes of crematories, cannibalism and loose morals, made them outcastes in the society.
The teachers of this sect were divided into two groups: Rāśi and Śakti.
Rājarājaguru (circa A. D. 1370), a well-known Kālāmukha teacher, was a contemporary of the sage Vidyaraṇya (14th century A. D.).
Members of a powerful Śaiva sect, the Kāpālikas, were christened as such because they were using a kapāla or human skull, as their begging bowl. They were also wearing a garland of human skulls. They were quite active and powerful during the period 7th century onwards for about 500 years in Śrīśaila (Andhra Pradesh) and some parts of Tamil Nadu like Kāñcīpuram, Tiruvoṭriyūr, Melpāḍi and Koḍumbāḷūr. Worship of Bhairava and Caṇḍī, drinking wine, eating human flesh and ash, arming themselves with a mace and promiscuous sex were common among the members of the sect.
According to a work called Śabara-tantra 24 teachers, starting with Ādinātha and ending with Malayārjuna, have been mentioned. They were fiercely anti-Vaiṣṇava.
Though Śaivism is an old religio-philosophical system prevalent in many parts of India, certain erudite and enlightened teachers from Kashmir developed a special brand of the same. This came to be popularly known as ‘Kashmir Śaivism’ in the annals of philosophical literature of later periods. However, a more technical and acceptable title has been ‘Pratya-bhijñādarśana’.
Although the basic literature of Kashmir Śaivism is some of the āgamas like the Svacchanda, the Netra and the Vijñānabhairava, a new class of cardinal works was produced by the later writers. Among them, the following are the principal ones: Śivasūtras (revealed to Vasu-gupta) (9th century A. D.), Spandasūtra of Vasugupta, Spandasūtravṛtti of Kallaṭa (chief disciple of Vasugupta), Śivadṛṣṭi of Somānanda (9th century A. D.) and Īśvarapratyabhijñā of Utpala (A. D. 900).
Abhinavagupta (A. D. 950-1000) was the most brilliant of the later writers whose Vṛtti on the Īśvarapratyabhijñā of Utpala, and his own independent works Tantrāloka and Paramārthasāra have made him immortal in the chronicles of Kashmir Śaivism.
Kṣemarāja (A. D. 975-1025), Bhāskara and Varadarāja were the other noted writers who have enriched this literature.
This system puts forward 36 tattvas or fundamental principles out of which the whole creation has evolved. They are divided into three main groups:
Śuddhatattva, Śuddhāśuddhatattva and Aśuddhatattva.
The Śuddhatattvas (pure principles) are five: Śivatattva, Śaktitattva, Sadāśiva-tattva, Īśvaratattva and Śuddhavidyā-tattva.
The Śuddhāśuddhatattvas are six: māyā, kāla, niyati, rāga, vidyā and kalā.
The Aśuddhatattvas are twenty-five. They are: puruṣatattva, prakṛtitattva, buddhi, ahaṅkāra, manas, the five jñānendriyas, the five karmendriyas, the five tanmātras and the five bhūtas.
These tenets appear to be similar to the ones described in the Advaita Vedānta and the Sāṅkhya systems. But there are some basic differences.
These tattvas or principles may now be taken up one by one.
The fundamental tattva of this system is Śivatattva, generally described as Parasaṁvit or the highest (and pure) consciousness, the same as the Nirguṇa Brahman of the Advaita Vedānta. However, as against the two aspects there—the Saguṇa and the Nirguṇa aspects—there are five in this system.
This Parasaṁvit is the original primeval tattva from which all the other tattvas have emerged. It is eternal and ineffable.
The Śaktitattva is primarily the prathama-spandana or first vibration-product (if we can use such a word) of Parasaṁvit. Ānanda or bliss is its chief characteristic. It is the primary source of all movement in further creation and the rise of ‘ahaṁ’ or ‘I-consciousness’.
Then comes the Sadāśivatattva, a further evolution of the Parasaṁvit, wherein there is an awareness of ‘ahaṁ’ (‘I’) and ‘idaṁ’ (‘this’), the former being more prominent. Since ‘idaṁ’ (creation) is still in an extremely subtle state, Sadāśiva may also feel ‘ahaṁ idaṁ’ identifying himself with the creation about to be projected.
In Īśvaratattva, the fourth, the consciousness ‘idaṁ’ (creation) becomes equal in prominence to ‘ahaṁ’ (‘I’).
In Śuddhavidyātattva, the fifth form of Parasaṁvit, ‘idaṁ’ (creation) becomes more prominent. This is the starting point of the actual process of creation or evolution or projection.
These five principles have been named ‘Śaktyaṇḍa’.
The next six principles are called ‘Māyāṇḍa’.
Māyā, the first, is the unique power of Śiva, which can make the impossible possible. It is not an illusory power responsible only for ignorance as in Advaita metaphysics. It is the real power by which Śiva envelops himself, producing bheda (differences), nāma (names), rūpa (forms) and so on, where they did not exist.
This māyā gives rise to the ‘pañca-kañcukas’ or five coverings that apparently limit the powers of Śiva and make him appear as the jīvātman (individual soul), subject to kāla (time), niyati (cause and effect relationship, law of karma), rāga (desire and attachment), vidyā (limited knowledge, or avidyā, ignorance) and kalā (limited powers of action).
The next group of principles beginning with prakṛti is called ‘Prakṛtyaṇḍa’. Prakṛti is the matrix of the three guṇas (sattva, rajas and tamas) in a state of balance. When this balance is upset, the products that gradually emerge are: buddhi (discriminative faculty), ahaṅkāra (ego-sense, sense of individuation and separation), manas (mind, general power of thinking, feeling and willing), the five jñānendriyas (organs of perception, viz., eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin or the sense of touch), the five karmendriyas (organs of action viz., speech, hands, feet and the two organs of evacuation) and the five tanmātras (the five subtle elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether or space).
The tanmātras, by their combination, produce the five mahābhūtas or gross elements. Further creation proceeds from them. This group is called ‘Pṛthivyaṇḍa’.
The significant points to be noted in this system are:
Since the created world is an evolute of Śiva, it is not different from him. But, it also appears to have its own separate identity. Hence, this system accepts the theory of bhedābheda (both difference and non-difference) between God (Śiva) and his creation.
Similarly, the jīvātman (the individual soul) who is called ‘paśu’ (bound soul) is also Śiva himself. By practising pratya-bhijñā (remembrance of his real nature as Śiva himself) the jīva can get rid of all āvaraṇas (coverings) and become one with Śiva. This is his mukti or liberation.
However, this can be secured only by service to the guru (spiritual teacher), listening to the teachings of the śāstras (holy books), reflection on them and the practice of yoga. But, the final deliverance can come only by śivānugraha (grace of Lord Śiva), technically called ‘śaktipāta’ (descent of Lord’s power).
Ultimately, as per this system, it is Śiva who covers himself and becomes the jīva, the bound soul. It is Śiva, again, who recognises his real nature and ‘regains’ it as it were.
Thus self-forgetfulness (svātma-vismaraṇa) and self-remembrance (svātma-pratyabhijñā) are two scenes in the world-play of Śiva!
The cult of Paśupati or the Pāśupata cult seems to be an ancient one. The use of words ‘pati,’ ‘pāśa,’ and ‘prasāda’ in the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (1.11; 6.9; 3.20), worship of Śiva as liṅga, the practice of tying the Śivaliṅga on the arm as per the stone edict of the king Pravarasena (A. D. 428), Śivaliṅgas discovered in Cambodia (now Kampuchia) and assigned to the period A. D. 550—all these confirm this belief.
The Pāśupata cult is based mainly on the Śaivāgamas, certain purāṇas and a few minor Upaniṣads of the post-Vedic period. Some of the āgamas are: Kāmika, Ajita, Aṁśumān, Suprabheda, Svāyam-bhuva, Raurava, Mṛgendra, Pauṣkara and Vātula. The purāṇas are: Vāyu, Kūrma and Śiva. As for their authoritative nature, they have been considered equal to the Vedas, the Vedāṅgas, the Mahābhārata and the dharmaśāstras.
The period of the āgamas ranges from the first century to the fourteenth. They are prevalent mostly in South India, that too in Tamil Nadu. Whether they—some of them at least—were originally composed in Tamil and later rendered into Sanskrit, or were directly written in Sanskrit itself, opinion seems to be divided.
The topics dealt with in the Pāśupata literature are technically called Pañcār-thas, the five basic subjects. They are: kāraṇa, kārya, yoga, vidhi and duḥkhānta.
Kāraṇa, the primeval cause, is Śiva, called ‘Pati’ (Lord) here. Some of his other names are: Rudra, Śaṅkara, Kāla, Bala-vikaraṇa, Aghora, Sarva, Śarva, Tatpuruṣa, Īśāna, Īśvara and Brahmā. He is anādi (without beginning or origin), avyaya (indestructible) and the cause of creation, sustenance and dissolution of the world. He is transcendent as well as immanent. He is compassion unlimited. Praṇava or Oṁ is his best symbol.
Unlike the Vedāntic systems, Śiva or Īśvara is only the nimittakāraṇa (efficient cause) of creation and not the upādāna-kāraṇa (material cause). Though the jīvas (individual souls) and the world have a separate existence, they are completely under his control. It is due to him that the world and the jīvas undergo changes. However, being a prasādi (one who bestows grace), he is ever compassionate to the jīvas. That is why they can get liberation by meditating on him.
It may not be out of place to mention here that the Pāśupata system is very much akin to the Dvaita Vedānta system of Madhva (A. D. 1197-1276). The only difference is that Śiva has taken the place of Viṣṇu, in this case.
Kārya is the second of the five basics mentioned above. Kārya is defined here not as an effect, but as that which is asvatantra or dependent, kāraṇa being that which is svatantra or independent. In this sense, Īśvara or Śiva alone is the kāraṇa, the jagat (world) and the jīvas being kāryas since they are dependent upon him.
Though Īśvara is the kāraṇa, the jīvas, being prodded by him, can also be the kāraṇas in the further process of creation. So also prakṛti or pradhāna which is responsible for further evolution of the world. Hence these two have been called ‘kārya-kāraṇa’.
Evolution of the world from the prakṛti is the same as in the Sāṅkhya philosophy.
One thing has to be noted here. Īśvara as the original kāraṇa never gets affected by the evolution of the world whereas prakṛti which is a ‘kārya-kāraṇa’ does. Two examples can make this concept clear. Lotus blooms when the sunlight falls on it. Iron filings move in the vicinity of a magnet. In these cases, neither the sun nor the magnet is affected though the lotus and the iron filings are. So also, Īśvara remains unaffected by the evolution of the world through the prakṛti (and the jīvas).
Among the kāryas, the jīvātman (individual soul) is the most important. He has been called ‘paśu’ since he is subject to ‘pāśa’ (bondage) and sees (‘paśyati’) himself as the body-mind complex forgetting that he is the spirit, whereas Śiva has been declared as ‘Paśupati’ (Lord of paśus).
The paśu or the jīva is eternal, all-pervading and possesses the powers to see (dṛkśakti) and to act (kriyāśakti).
The paśus, depending on their spiritual evolution, are classified into two groups: sāñjana (those attached to the body, the senses and the mind) and nirañjana (the free souls).
The pāśas or bonds that bind the paśu are called malas or impurities. They are three: āṇavamala, māyīyamala and kārmamala.
The impurity that makes the paśu (or jīva) get identified with the limited body though he is really infinite, is āṇavamala. The bondage that has been brought about by māyā (the power of Īśvara) is māyīyamala. Limitations that arise due to past karmas are kārmamala.
With the help of yoga, the paśu is able to cleanse himself of all these malas and attain the duḥkhānta state (destruction or cessation of all sorrow and suffering).
This takes us to the next subject, viz., yoga. Yoga is defined as the saṁyoga (union) of ātman (paśu) and Īśvara (Paśupati). It consists in detachment from the comforts and pleasures of the life here and looking upon Īśvara alone as the sole aim of one’s life. This yoga can be achieved either through the grace of Īśvara or through total surrender to him as the only refuge for a paśu.
Yamas like ahiṁsā (non-violence), brahmacarya (celibacy), satya (speaking the truth in a way that helps living beings), asaṅgraha (non-accumulation of things) are useful sādhanas in yoga. So also the niyamas viz., akrodha (conquest of anger), gurusevā (service to the guru), śauca (cleanliness), mitāhāra (moderation in eating) and jāgarūkatā (vigilance).
‘Vidhi’ is the fourth in the pañcārthas. It means activities like bhasmasnāna (pouring the holy ash on one’s body), upahāra (deliberately acting in a way that people in general will shun the company of the sādhaka), japa (repetition of Śiva’s mantra) and pradakṣiṇā (circumambulation of the Śivaliṅga).
Duḥkhānta is the last of the pañcārthas. It means cessation of all sorrow and suffering, the same as mukti or liberation. It is achieved by withdrawing the mind from all objects and directing it towards the Lord Paśupati only. This will result in total surrender to him and living near him (samīpa prāpti). In this mukti, there is no ‘living alone’ (kaivalya, as in the Sāṅkhya-Yoga systems) or total merging (aikya as in Advaita Vedānta). The paśu will then be in the eternal company of Paśupati.
It is interesting to note that the Pāśupata texts describe the attainment of psychic powers like clairvoyance or clair-audience as a part of duḥkhānta. But they also discourage the yogi from paying attention to them since they can prevent him from attaining liberation in the ultimate sense.
Though the word ‘Śaiva-siddhānta’ means the doctrine of Śaivism in general, it has come to be particularly identified with the brand of Śaivism that has been prevalent in the Tamil country over the last thousand three hundred years. It is more a religion of devotional mysticism than a systematic and speculative philo-sophy, based on the compositions of the Nāyanmārs or Nāyanārs who were 63 in number and lived during the period 7th to 12th centuries A. D.
The canonical literature of Tamil Śaivism as redacted by Nambi Āṇḍār Nambi (A. D. 1000) can be given as follows:
|Sl. Nos.of the books||Authors||Period A. D.|
|1, 2 and 3||Tirujñāna Sambandhar||7th cent.|
|4, 5 and 6||Tirunāvukkarasar||7th cent.|
|7. 1||Sundarar||9th cent.|
|8.||Māṇikkavācagar (Works—Tiruvācakam andTirukkovai)||3rd or 9th cent.|
|9.||Nine different saints (Works—Tiruviśaippā and Tiruppallāṇḍu)||900-1100|
|10.||Tirumūlar (Work— Tirumandiram)||6th cent.|
|11.||Miscellany of poems by saints Pattinattār, Karaikkāl Ammaiyyār and others.|
|12.||Sekkilar (Work—Periyapurāṇam)||12th cent.|
The first attempt at a systematic presentation of Tamil Śaivism was by Meykaṇḍār (13th cent. A. D.) in his well-known work Śivajñānabodham, a short treatise of 12 aphorisms. It seems to be a translation in Tamil, of a sanskrit original.
Next in importance, considered a classic in Tamil Śaivism, is the work Śivajñāna-śittiyār by Aruṇandi, a disciple of Meykaṇḍār. This work along with its numerous commentaries is most widely read even now. The Śivajñānabodham mentions and defines the three basic concepts—Pati, paśu and pāśa—deals with the sādhana for the paśu to realise Pati and the phala or spiritual fruit that accrues to him.
The philosophy of Śaivasiddhānta is very similar to that of the Pāśupata cult, the only difference being that the former accepts 36 basic principles (like Kashmir Śaivism) whereas the latter only 25.
Vīraśaivism, also known as the Liṅgāyata Religion or Sect, is a variant of Śaivism found mostly in the Karnataka region of South India. Though the more orthodox sections claim that it is an ancient religion originating from some mythical teachers like Revaṇārādhya, Maruḷārādhya, Paṇḍitārādhya and others, there are others who are inclined to treat it in a figurative sense. For all practical purposes, Basaveśvara (d. A. D. 1168), also known as Basavaṇṇa or Basava, who was the prime minister of the king Bijjaḷa (who ruled from A. D. 1157 to 1167) was the chief organiser and reformer (if not the founder) of this sect.
A galaxy of saints (numbering more than 300) of this sect like Allama Prabhu and Cannabasavaṇṇa, and women-saints like Akkamahādevī have enriched the Liṅgāyata Movement. They revolutionised the religio-social fabric of their times.
A special feature of Vīraśaivism is the supreme importance, reverence and worship given to the Śivaliṅga or liṅga as the sole emblem of God Śiva. Hence the appropriateness of the name ‘Liṅgāyata’ (‘a religion that considers the liṅga as the chief support or basis’). After receiving it from a qualified guru in dīkṣā or initiation, it should be worn on the body always, thereby purifying every part of the body.
The chief tenets of this faith are: Śiva is the Supreme God. The liṅga is his chief symbol or emblem. The pañcākṣarī-mantra, namaśśivāya, is the redeeming spiritual formula. Pañcācāras and aṣṭā-varaṇas are the main code of conduct. Śaktiviśiṣṭādvaita is the philosophy behind this system.
As for the process of evolution of the world, the same 36 tattvas or principles given by Kashmir Śaivism have been adopted here also.
But for the three malas or impurities (viz., āṇavamala, māyīyamala and kārma mala explained earlier), the jīva or paśu (the individual) would have been as wise as Śiva, the Pati. In order to get rid of these malas, the individual has to take dīkṣā (initiation) from a duly qualified guru. Dīkṣā is a simple ritual in which the guru worships a liṅga and then ties it round the neck of the disciple which will hang like a necklace. The liṅga is usually encased in a small silver casket. By this process, the guru gives the mantra (namaśśivāya) and also transmits his spiritual power.
Women also are entitled for dīkṣā in this cult.
One who is thus initiated is expected to practise the five disciplines known as pañcācāras and also protect himself with eight ‘coverings,’ the aṣṭāvaraṇas, stipulated by the system.
The pañcācāras are:
The aṣṭāvaraṇas are:
Since the five ācāras and the eight āvaraṇas purify a vīraśaiva (or liṅgāyata) by burning up all his impurities, there is—theoritically—no need for him to observe sūtakas (ceremonial impurities) or cremate his body after death. Hence it is buried.
Like the viśiṣṭādvaita of Rāmānuja (A. D. 1017-1137), the viraśaivas also accept a viśiṣṭādvaita philosophy, which, however, is a little different. In Rāmānuja’s system, Brahman is advaita (one without a second), but qualified (viśiṣṭa), since he has prakṛti (acit) and the jīvas (cit) in himself, as inseparable entities. However, in Vīraśaivism, the viśiṣṭatva (being ‘qualified’) is confined only to his Śakti or power, with the help of which creation, sustenance and dissolution of the world take place. Brahman or God and his Śakti are non-different, even as heat is from fire or light from the sun. And, Brahman is always conscious of his power. Thus here, viśiṣṭatva implies only vimarśa or self-consciousness of the inherent power. Hence the name śakti-viśiṣṭādvaita for this system.
In Vīraśaivism, Śiva or Brahman or God is called ‘Sthala’. He is ‘Sthala’ because he, like the sky or space (sthala = space) is limitless or infinite. Also the word ‘sthala’ can, etymologically, mean that from which the world emerges and evolves, in which it is stationed and into which it gets dissolved (stha = being stationed; la = getting dissolved).
According to the doctrine ‘Ṣaṭsthala-siddhānta,’ Śiva divides himself into two aspects, liṅga and aṅga, the former being himself and the latter, the jīva. Both these, again, divide themselves into three further aspects; liṅga into iṣṭaliṅga, prāṇaliṅga and bhāvaliṅga; aṅga into tyāgāṅga, bhogāṅga and yogāṅga.
When the jīva renounces his attachment to worldly objects, he is called ‘tyāgāṅga’ and the liṅga given to him by his guru at the time of dīkṣā or initiation is the ‘iṣṭaliṅga’ which is the means of his upāsanā or worship. When due to the upāsanā of the iṣṭaliṅga he is purified, then he enjoys the things of the world as the grace of Śiva, becomes ‘bhogāṅga’ and experiences the ‘prāṇaliṅga’ (Śiva’s presence in his heart). When he progresses further, to very high states of consciousness in the sahasrāracakra, he is called ‘yogāṅga’ and enjoys highest bliss by his identity with Śiva, now called ‘bhāvaliṅga’.
Vīraśaivism, rooted in the ancient Śaivism, was nourished by a galaxy of saints. Its active propagation of social equality, its stress on work—not only as a social obligation but also as a part of one’s spiritual evolution—earned for itself a large number of followers. Even though the social revolution part of it has gradually fizzled out (mainly due to the rigidity of the caste system that still has a sway over the Hindu society), the other aspects of its religio-philosophical system have certainly enriched Hinduism.
Like the two important cults of Viṣṇu and Śakti (or Devī), the cult of Śiva (or Śaivism) also has contributed significantly to the ethos and spiritual grace of Hinduism. Rooted in the Vedas and nourished by the secondary scriptures like the āgamas and the purāṇas, Śaivism has grown into a widely accepted and popular religious system, well-integrated with other systems, sects and subsects within Hinduism.