Shaivism (also spelled Śaivism) refers to a cluster of religious schools and traditions in Hinduism devoted primarily to the worship of the god Shiva, who is one of the principal gods of the Hindu religion. Shaivism is practiced widely throughout India, and has many distinct regional variations in both philosophy and practice. Its followers are referred to in English as Shaiva(s), or sometimes Shaivite(s). The most commonly worshiped symbol for Shaivites is the linga, a phallic column representative of Shiva's paradoxical virility and chastity.
- 1 History
- 2 Orders and Lineages
- 3 Symbols
- 4 Worship
- 5 Significance
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Credits
Indus Valley Civilization
It is very difficult to determine the precise origins of Shaivism. Artifacts from excavations of archaeological sites from the Indus Valley Civilization have been interpreted to suggest that the earliest form of Shiva worship was practiced between 2800 B.C.E. - 1500 B.C.E. These artifacts include numerous lingas carved on rock surfaces, as well as the "Pashupati seal" found at Mohenjo-daro, which has been the subject of much study. An engraving upon this seal depicts a horned male figure with an erect phallus, the emblem of Shiva. This image appears to represent a prototype of the Vedic deity Pashupati, the "lord of the creatures," who would become an aspect of Shiva. The central figure is seated in a yogic posture and is surrounded by animals, perhaps foreshadowing the associations with meditative asceticism and wildlife that Shiva, and his early precursor Rudra, would take on.
With the dissolution of the Harrapan culture, religion in the Indus Valley region and India at large changed dramatically. The Rig Veda (c. 1200 B.C.E.), saw the initial proto-Shiva figure develop into Rudra, a terrifying, capricious deity who held jurisdiction over disease and the wilderness. Although only four of the Rig Vedic hymns are dedicated exclusively to this character, he plays an important mythological role in the Vedas in his association with the fire god Agni and the sacrificial beverage Soma. Not unlike Shiva, Rudra is connected with wildlife in his role of "lord of the cattle" (pasunam patih) and "wearer of the animal hide." As a proper name, Shiva means "The Auspicious One," and may have originally been used as a euphemistic epithet for Rudra. In fact, Shiva and Rudra are viewed as the same personality in a number of Hindu traditions today, and are often referred to mutually as Rudra-Shiva by scholars.
In the later Vedas, Rudra-Shiva is venerated as a supreme, monotheistic figure for the first time. In the Svetsvara Upanishad, for instance, a text possibly dating back as far as the sixth century B.C.E., Rudra-Shiva is proclaimed to be the primordial creator. Furthermore, this text ultimately describes Rudra-Shiva as Brahman, the monistic essence of the universe. As a result, Rudra-Shiva came to be perceived to be protector and creator of all things, and had begun to resemble Shiva as he is known today.
The Epics and The Puranas
By the year 150 B.C.E., Shiva seems to have garnered a strong cult following. During this time, the grammarian Patanjali notes in his "Great Commentary" on Panini's Sanskrit grammar that devotees of Shiva are typically clad in animal skins and carry with them iron lances as the symbol of their god. This lance may be a precursor of Shiva's trident. The two great epics of India, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, also indicate Shiva's burgeoning significance, dealing extensively with stories of his exploits. Specifically, the Mahabharata suggests that an important Shaivic cult, the Pasupatas, may have been dedicated to the god around the beginning of the Common Era. Shiva was also featured on coins during the Kushan period (300-550 C.E.) suggesting his sustained popularity.
It is with the rise to prominence of the Puranas during the Gupta dynasty (c. 320-500 C.E.), however, that Shaivism spread most rapidly throughout the Indian subcontinent. Gupta emperors sponsored Shaivite temples despite their own Vaishnavite stance, while kings of the Vakataka and the later Maukhari dynasties were fully Shaivite. By the seventh century C.E., Shaivism replaced Jainism and Buddhism as the dominant religious affiliation of South India.
At this time, numerous texts were also touting Shiva to be the supreme deity. Shiva himself is distinguished as the central deity in the Shiva Purana, as well as the Linga, Matsya, Kurma, Skanda, and Agni Puranas. In these texts, Shiva is portrayed as the supreme god, a suggestion of monotheism that was put into practice by contemporaneous Shaivite sects such as the Kapalikas, the Kalamukhas, the Pasupatas, and the Shaiva Siddhantins. Here Shiva comes to the fore and acts independently to create, preserve, and destroy the world. Also presented in these texts are some myths central to the definition of Shiva's later character. One particularly important story tells of incidents that transpired when Shiva entered a pine forest, in the typical dress of the ascetics who lived there. In the forest, Shiva took the time to seduce the wives of the ascetics. Angry with Shiva's licentious behavior, and not knowing his true identity, the ascetics castrated the destroyer god and fixed his severed genital organ in the ground. This legend provides mythological explanation for the worship of the linga as it is performed today.
Shankara and beyond
Shankara (788-820 C.E.), one of the foremost Hindu philosophers, was a devoted Shaivite and composed several important hymns to Shiva. As such, Shaivism has often been linked with Shankara's Advaita or non-dual thought. By the ninth century, Shaivism had come to prominence in the North with the development of the Trika school, located primarily in Kashmir. This sect drew heavily upon Shankara's monistic philosophy, as well as that of Tantra. Such Tantric influences had been prominent in Shaivism from the Gupta period onward. 
Shaivism continued to thrive in South India during medieval times. Between approximately 500 and 700 C.E., the 63 Nayanars, a group of Shavite saints, spread Shaivism through the Tamil speaking regions of South India. The Nayanars were among first proponents of the bhakti movement, which centered upon intense emotional devotion to a personal deity as the highest religious ideal. Although the Pasupata, Kapalika, and Kalamukha sects faded to extinction during this time period, they laid the foundation for the Virashaivas, also known as the Lingayats, a reformist Shaivite sect formed along the border regions of Maharashtra and Karnataka in the mid-twelfth century.
Shaivite influences had also spread beyond India and into Southeast Asia. In eighth century Cambodia, elements of Shaivism were synthesized with those of Mahayana Buddhism, leading to the formation of the cult of Lokeshvara, a bodhisattva who fused elements of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and Shiva. This Shaivite influence eventually faded away, though it would rise again in the thirteenth century resulting in severe persecution of the Buddhist community. Shaivite worship also had influence on the Champa in what is today south Vietnam, and legitimized several ruling dynasties such as pre-Islamic Malaya and the Majapahit empire in early medieval Indonesia.
During the later medieval period, the bhakti movement went on to become the most popular form of Hindu religious practice. Although this movement was typically favored by worshipers of Vishnu, many bhaktins would devote themselves exclusively to Shiva. Most of these followers were and are not, however, devoted exclusively to Shiva. Regardless, millions of Hindus appear at temples in order to worship Shiva today. For example in Banares, the holy city of Shiva, the temple of Siva Visvesvara remains one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in contemporary India.
Orders and Lineages
Shaivism has many different schools showing both regional variations and differences in philosophy. Shaivism has a vast literature that includes texts representing multiple philosophical schools, such as the non-dualist (abheda), dualist (bheda), and non-dual-with-dualism (bhedābheda) perspectives. A summary of some of the major schools of Shaivism follows.
The ascetic Pashupatas (Sanskrit: Pāśupatas) are one of the oldest named Shaivite sects. The most likely founder of this group was Lakulisa, "the lord of the club," who lived around the early part of the second century C.E. Each of his four major disciples, Kaurushya, Garga, Mitra, and Kushika, established important lineages of their own. The Pasupatas wielded great influence over South Indian Shaivism from the seventh to fourteenth centuries, mainly in its connection to the Kalamukhas. Together these sects revived Shaivism in this region, ensuring that Jainism and Buddhism declined there. Pashupata influence also spread to more northern regions such as Gujarat, Kashmir, and Nepal.
Although the Pashupata movement seems to have died out by the late fifteenth century, its precepts are still well known because of two surviving texts, the Ganakarika, and the Pasupata Sutra. The Ganakārikā delineates five stages in progress towards spiritual union with god, each of which involves a specific procedure. This process begins with time spent in the temple along with a guru and progresses to the outside world, where the adept attempts to generate a loathing of the general populace. Finally, the ascetic draws his religious behavior inward in order to attain full union with Shiva. The Pasupata Sutra, meanwhile, describes in detail the five major theological concerns of the sect. They were: 1) kārya, the created universe, 2) kārana, God, cause of the universe, 3) yoga, the union of the individual soul with god, 4) vidhi, or observance, which includes devotion and ascetic practice, which leads to 5) duhkhāntha, the "end of suffering." In both texts, the dualistic distinction between souls (pashu), God (pati) and the physical word (pāsha) was made, a worldview that would live on in Shaiva Siddhanta.
Kapalikas and Kalamukhas
Two medieval Shaivite sects often paired together in scholarly opinion are the Kapalikas and Kalamukhas. Little is known about either sect, since no compositions belonging to either group are extant. Information on the Kapalikas (or "skull-bearers") gleaned from outsider commentaries, most notably Shankara's biographies, suggests that the group centered around bhakti devotion to Bhairava - Shiva in his most terrifying form. In order to accumulate merit, members of the Kapalika sect apparently undertook the Mahavratin, an extremely austere ritual of penance performed as punishment for the murder of a Brahmin. As their name would suggest, members of the Kapalika sect became famous for their association with human skulls, which doubled in function as a begging bowls and drinking cups. Accordingly, the Kapalikas were linked with any number of other horrifying practices, including meat-eating, intoxication, orgies, and even cannibalism, though these accusations were probably based largely upon polemical descriptions of the groups by outsiders.
The Kalamukhas (or "black-faced"), meanwhile, were more closely associated with the Bramanical tradition. Information on this sect, culled mostly from epigramatic inscriptions on temples, suggests that the Kalamukhas existed in mathas, monastic organizations centered around a temple. The Kalamukhas were apparently influenced by the Pasupatas, sharing many of their traditions and identifying numerous sages from their fold with Lakulisa. The high regard for the linga and the prominence of the Kalamukhas in the Karnataka region between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries C.E. suggests that Virashaivism may represent a reformation of the Kalamukha tradition. However, contemporary scholars, most notably David N. Lorenzen, have been more hesitant to link the Kalamukhas as closely to the Kapalikas as they have been in the past.
Among the first proponents of the vernacular bhakti tradition in Hinduism were the Nayanars, an exalted group comprised of sixty-three poet-saints that developed in South India during the seventh century C.E. These saints came from all levels of the social strata, promoting selfless, loving devotion as well as a spiritually equalitarian ethic. Among the most prominent of these figures are Nancampantar (c. 650 C.E.), Tirunavukkaracar (580-760 C.E.), Cuntaramurtti (c. seventh-eighth century C.E.), and Manikkavacakar (c. ninth century), the four primary poet saints. The latter is responsible for the Tiruvacakam, an important collection of texts that praise Shiva as a figure worthy of worship by all people, though ultimately belonging to the southern country. It is the Nayanar Tirumular (seventh or eighth century C.E.) who is considered to be the earliest proponent of Shaivism in Tamil areas. His Tirumantiram is a primary source for the system of Shaiva Siddhanta, and is considered the tenth book of that tradition's canon.
The hymns penned by these saints communicate deep emotional love for Shiva in his personal form. They are divided into eleven collections together with a Tamil Purana called the Periya Puranam. The first seven collections, composed in the seventh-eighth century C.E. by Nancampantar, Sambandar (c. seventh century C.E.), and Sundarar (eighth century C.E.), are known as the Thevaram and are considered by Tamil Shaivites to be tantamount to the Vedas in spiritual importance. All throughout the corpus of their hymns, the Nayanars drew upon many aspects of Tamil culture so as to provide their works with distinct local color. Not only are the songs of these saints still sung by Tamil worshipers today, but their images are also widely worshiped as divine.
Shaivism in the northern Indian region of Kashmir involves a number of influential sects, which thrived during the second half of the ninth century C.E. Among these groups were the dualistic Shaiva Siddhantas and the monists, comprised of the Trika and Krama traditions. The Shaiva Siddanthas maintained what they held to be a "pure" form of Shaivism, which was compatible with the orthodox Brahmanical philosophy and practice. They were led primarily by Narayanakantha (c. 950-1025 C.E.) and his son Ramakantha, who composed the Naresvaraparkisaprakasa.
Some of the initial movements in Kashmiri monism were made by Somananda, who formulated what would come to be known as the "Pratyabhijna" somewhere around the ninth century C.E. Pratyabhijna placed an early focus upon consciousness as the essence of the universe as well as the will and the self. Monist opposition to Shaiva Siddhanta continued in this direction, being officially codified by Vasugupta (ca 800 C.E.) and carried on by his student Kallata (850-900 C.E.), culminating in the works of Abhinavagupta, who further elaborated Pratyabhijna thought. These monists considered Shiva to be the substrate of a ubiquitous self that existed between all persons. This transpersonal self attributed Shiva with the characteristics of both immanence and transcendence, rendering Him a real but also wholly abstract creator-preserver-destroyer. In accordance with Tantric influences, the Trika tradition claimed that the initiated Saiva householder was able to experience the power of transcendence for himself by offering meat, wine, and sexual fluids to eight mother goddesses and their embodiments, called yogini. The Kramas, meanwhile, followed similar influences, dressing in skulls, frequenting cremation grounds, and propitiating the goddess Kali with meat and acts of caste-free sex in hopes that she would "possess" them. Needless to say, these practices were abhorred by the more orthodox Shaiva Siddhanta sect.
Trika non-dualism eventually was absorbed by the Kaula cult, which sought erotic, mystical union with the goddess Srividya, and came to prominence in Kashmir during the eleventh century. Precepts for worship of Srividya superceded those of the Trika cult, due in no small part to their dissemination by figures like Jayaratha (c. 1225-1275), Sahib Kaula (b. 1629) and Harabhatta (1874-1951). Trika came to be strongly influence by the Krama, eventually adopting several of the Krama deities into its pantheon. In contrast to the Trika, the Krama thrived for a number of centuries due in no small part to texts such as Nityasvatantra's Mahanayaprakasa, wherein Krama ritual is connected to the yearly Shivaratri festival. The Krama also enjoyed popularity outside Kashmir in the cult of the goddess Guhyakali; liturgical texts of this group still circulate in the Kathmandu Valley today.
The aforementioned non-dualist sects have traditionally been identified as Kashmir Shaivism proper, though Shaiva Siddhanta was the more popular group in this region during the tenth and eleventh centuries. In fact, the foremost of all the Shaiva cults in Kashmir during this time was actually that which worshiped Svacchandabhairava and his wife Aghoresvari. Although nondual Shaivism and meditational techniques are still employed by some Brahmins in the Kashmir region, the influx of Muslim influence forced the Tantric ritualism of the nondualists into obscurity.
Not only is the medieval Shaiva Siddhanta tradition one of the most popular and persistent Shaivic philosophies, it has also provided the fundamental basis for the ritual and theology of many other Shaiva groups that followed it. The tradition seems to have originated as early as the sixth century C.E. in Kashmir and central India, although it also flourished in South India. Between the eleventh or twelfth centuries C.E. Shaiva Siddhanta was well-established in South India, particularly in Tamil Nadu. Shaiva Siddhanta upholds the older Pashupata distinction between three eternal substrates: souls, God, and the physical world. Shiva, the supreme divine being, is the efficient cause of the universe and the volitional souls within it, while his Shakti provides the instrumental cause. Souls are bound to the material state because of ignorance, karma, and maya, the illusory aspects of reality. Shiva, however, provides the soul with the ability to obtain empirical knowledge, which in turn leads to action that is either good or evil.
This philosophy is put into practice as an intense devotional monotheism, wherein the most profound experience of god is held to be of the personal and loving variety. Shaiva Siddhanta allows for three paths of salvation, service (carya), worship (kriya), and meditation (yoga). No matter which path a devotee chooses to follow, they must keep their mind fixed lovingly upon Shiva in every aspect of their lives in order to attain salvation. Such devotion alone supersedes asceticism, scriptural understanding, and external ritual in importance. Liberation in this tradition entails the dispensation of divine knowledge (patijnana) directly from Lord Shiva, the precursor for eventual realization of inseparability from (although not identity with) the single god.
In addition to the Vedic Samhitas, Upanishads, and the 28 Saiva and Rudra Agamas, the canonical texts for this group include the Tirumura and Meykantasastras, texts written in the vernacular Tamil. The Tirumurai (c. tenth century C.E.) includes devotional songs of a mystical nature attributed to the poet Nampi Antar Nampi, while the Meykantasastras (c. thirteenth-fourteenth century C.E.) are doctrinal explanations composed by theologians. Due in no small part to its connection with the vernacular Tamil, Shaiva Siddhanta survives as the most normative form of Shaivism in South India today, with a large following in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.
The Virasaivas (or "heroic Shaivas") are a reformist Shaivite sect with approximately six million adherents located in the South India state of Karnataka. The movement originated along the border regions of Karnataka and Maharashtra in the mid-twelfth century. As is evident by their alternative moniker, the Lingayats ("bearers of the linga"), the linga represents the most important religious symbol for this group. The founder of this movement is traditionally thought to be Basava (1106-1167 C.E.), although his contemporary, Ekantada Ramayya, may have been the principal reformer. Basava/Ekantada Ramayya rejected traditional elements of the mainstream Brahmanical religion such as temple worship and caste domination. As such, the literature of this group, consisting mainly of vacanas (or aphoristic sayings of the Virashaiva saints), is largely written in the vernacular Kannada.
Virashaivas follow a system of qualified nondualism, which accepts both difference and nondifference between soul and God. Shiva and the cosmic force are one, yet Shiva is beyond His creation, which is real and not illusory. Shiva acts by way of his Shakti, which divides itself into God who is manifested in the linga and the guru. Because of this, every Virashaiva must be guided by a guru, who is held in high esteem. Members are required to wear a linga around their neck or arm, which is fastened in a tube as a constant reminder of Shiva's presence. Virashaivas must pay homage to this linga at least twice every day. Liberation is said to result from six phases of devotion, the culmination of which is union with Shiva.
One of the primary symbols of Shaivism is the linga (also known as "Lingam"), a phallic shape which represents Shiva by embodying both his regenerative capability as the destroyer and reproducer of the universe, and his persistent ascetic restraint from sex. As such, the ever-erect phallus of Shiva is his infinite creative potentiality writ large. The linga has become the definitive mark of Shaivism, allowing a devotee to recognize and identify with followers of the group. The linga is commonly found in proximity to a yoni, the vulvular symbol of Shakti.
The linga is also the focal point of worship throughout India in both temples and family shrines. In Shavite temples, worship of the linga is performed with offerings of fresh flowers, water, sprouts of grass, fruits, leaves, and sun-dried rice. In the home, Shaivites often collect natural linga-shaped stones to which they perform ablutions and food offerings. Lingas used in worship are of two varieties: those sculpted by humans and those that occur naturally, such as the ice Lingam located at the Cave Temple of Lord Amarnath in Kashmir. Additionally, the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines, where Shiva is worshiped in the form of a Jyotirlingam (or "Lingam of light) are among the most esteemed worship sites in the Śaivite tradition.
The tilak is a Hindu sectarian mark worn on the forehead, which varies in shape according to the different folds of Hinduism. The Shaivite tilak typically appears as three horizontal lines, also known as tripundra, drawn upon the forehead with ashes. Ash used for this purpose is held to be holy and is referred to by the Sanskrit terms bhasma and/or vibhuti, both of which can be translated as "sacred ash." Shiva-worshippers also wear this type of ash upon various other parts of the body. Some sects such as the Kapalikas, are said to have covered themselves in the funerary ashes of cremated corpses.
There are innumerable Shaivite temples and shrines throughout India. These temples usually enshrine a linga that resides deep within the temple compound, inside the sanctum sanctorum. Typically, only the guru may enter this sanctum sanctorum.
Many shrines to Shiva are accompanied by images and icons dedicated to those closely related to Shiva in his mythology, including Ganesha and Skandha, his sons, and Shakti, his consort. Shiva and Parvati are often depicted together in devotional images as Ardhanarishvara, "the Lord whose half is woman"—an androgynous deity, who is half Shiva and half Parvati.
Shivacharyas ("teachers of Shiva") conduct Shiva worship services. The usual service proceeds with the anointing of the image of the deity with oil, water, milk, ghee, honey, curd, sandalwood paste, and a number of other substances before being showered with blossoms. The idol is then adorned with jewels and flower garlands. Incense is burned, and then a food offering is made, usually of a rice preparation. Camphor and lamps of various designs are lit and presented to the image of the deity. The burning camphor is then carried to the congregation. The worshipers reverentially place their palms over the flame before placing them over their eyes; some say this gesture signifies that the devotion is as precious to the worshiper as his or her own sight. Finally sacred ash and kungumam (powdered turmeric mixed with slaked lime) are distributed into the upraised palms of the worshipers, who touch this mixture onto their foreheads. The worshipers then progress along the path of circumambulation around the deity at least once before prostrating in prayer to the sanctum sanctorum, singing and reciting verses from the holy texts. These services are held daily, with as many as six occurring each day depending on the resources and the popularity of the temple.
The fourteenth day of the waning moon in the month of Falgun (occurring between February- March) is considered Shiva Ratri, the night of Lord Shiva. This day marks the most important festival dedicated to the god. On this day, Shaivite Temples are elaborately decorated, with hordes of devotees lining up to offer obeisances to Lord Shiva. In honor of Shiva's benumbed and non-plussed attitude toward the phenomenal world, for this occasion devotees (usually male) become intoxicated by a drink called Thandai made from cannabis, almonds, and milk. This beverage is consumed as prasad while singing devotional hymns and dancing to the rhythm of the drums. Maha Shivaratri is especially popular in Nepal, particularly at the Shaivite temple of Pashupatinath in the eastern part of the Kathmandu valley which welcomes upwards of 100,000 worshipers during this festival.
Shiva is also the focus of smaller, more regionally-specific events. One example is the Pooram feast, which is held at the Shaivite temples located in Trichur, Kerala during April or early May. In a grand procession, elephants are led through the streets in battle formation, a spectacle that attracts millions of spectators. From dawn until dusk, musicians beat drums, smash cymbals, and blow bugles.
Shaivism stands with Vaishnavism and [Shaktism]] as the most influential branches of devotional Hinduism today, with almost 200 million worshipers throughout the world. Although Vaishnavites outnumber Shaivites, some scholars argue that Shaivism remains the more coherent and unified of the two monotheistic schools. Broadly speaking, the strength of this collection of traditions, sects, and schools devoted to Shiva suggests the continued importance of a personal deity in the religious consciousness of Hinduism. Shaivism generally spurned the more abstract conceptions of the Absolute put forth in the Upanishads. Through devotional practice, Hindus have been able to express their own worship through their chosen deity. Therefore, Shaivism continues to provide a comprehensive sadhana (religious path) for many practitioners of Hindu bhakti (devotion).
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