23.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Shaivism is one of the main religions of Hinduism. It is based on the worship of the god Shiva and is widespread in Nepal, Sri Lanka, India and beyond.

Indologist Ramchandra Narayan Dandekar has claimed that Shaivism is older than all modern religions.

The name derives from the Sanskrit word “shaiva”, that is, “descended from Shiva”, “related to Shiva”. Supporters of this religion are called Shaivites or Shaivs.

In Shaivism, the following movements exist: Pashupata-Shaivism, Shaiva-Siddhanta, Kashmir Shaivism, Siddha-Advaita, Shiva-Advaita, Virashivism, Kapalika, Aghori, Kaumara, Ganapatya, Trika, Kubjikamata, Inchegiri-Sampradaya.


Shaivism in the pre-aryan period

This period covers ancient times up to 1500 BC. Ramchandra Narayan Dandekar, Mircea Eliade and many other historians claim that artefacts found in northwest India and Pakistan indicate the existence of a cult of Shiva and his wife Shakti. Lingam and the Pashupati Seal are two of the artefacts.

Some scholars believe that yoga, the roots of which go back to the pre-Aryan period, was associated with the worship of Proto-Shiva. The oppositionists of the theory of the pre-Aryan origin of Shaivism adhere to the Theory of an exodus from India. It says that the Aryans did not emigrate to India, and the Indus civilization and the cult of Proto-Shiva were Indo-Aryan.

Scholars have not supported the theory that Shaivism was Proto-Indian.

Shaivism in the vedic period

This period includes the years between 1500 BC and 600 BC.

In one of the oldest Indo-Aryan texts of the Rig Veda, lingam-worshippers are condemned. Quotes include: “Let phallus worshippers not penetrate our sanctuary!” and “When, meeting no resistance, in a changed form he took possession of the Property, killing lingam-worshippers”. But at the same time, in various hymns, the Rig Veda refers to Rudra about 75 times (a deity and one of the forms of Shiva associated with death, hunting, thunderstorms, wind, and healing). It is to him that 3 (or 4) hymns are dedicated:

  1. I, 43. – To Rudra (and Soma)
  2. I, 114. – To Rudra
  3. II, 33. – To Rudra
  4. VII, 46. – To Rudra

In Yajurveda, one of the four Vedas, more hymns are dedicated to Rudra, and in the Maha-mantra, ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ is mentioned for the first time. Many more hymns are found in the Hindu sacred text of the Atharvaveda.

During the formation of the Vedic creed, some elements of Shaivism turned to Shraman, and denied the authority of the Vedas. Other Shaivist offshoots used the skull of a murdered Brahman (Vedic priest) as a ritual prop.

Followers of Vedic Brahmanism do not revere Rudra-Shiva, but on the contrary, ask him to depart and not cause harm.

Shaivism in the upanishad period

This period includes the years from 600 BC to 300 AD.

For some reason, the Vedic religion began losing its authority during this period. People expressed dissatisfaction with the complex Brahmin rites, the isolation of castes and the impossibility of saving persons who did not belong to the Brahmin caste.

This lead to a decisive transformation in Hinduism. Some branches denied the Vedas (Buddhism, Ajivika). Others strengthened their positions in Vedic beliefs with the help of the Upanishads—additions to the Vedas.

Scholars believe that the Shvetashvatara Upanishad is the oldest text regarding the principles and worldview of Shaivism.

According to Dandekar, the importance of the Shvetashvatara Upanishad for the Shaivites is comparable to that of the Bhagavad-gita for Krishnaites. However, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad appeared much earlier and became the foundation for the Bhagavad-gita.

Shaivism in the period of puranas

The Puranic religion and Shaivism became widespread in the Indian subcontinent during the reign of the Indian Gupta dynasty (320–500 AD).

The main denominations of shaivism

The main denominations of shaivism

Shaivism includes various denominations, differing from each other in their views, principles, the geography of their distribution and the time of origin. The American Shaivite teacher, writer and preacher Shivaya Subramuniyaswami classified the movements of Shaivism as follows:

1.    Pashupata shaivism

This is the famous ancient sect of itinerant hermit monks. Walking down the street, they would knock on the ground with tridents of iron or solid sticks. They would twist their hair into rings or knots and wrap their thighs with deer skin or bark. Their eyes reflected obedience to God. The Pashupatas rejected the Vedic environment. At that time, the incidents of religious unrest in India increased, due to the clashes between Buddhism and Shaivism. Around the time of Lakulisi (200), a school of Bheda-Abheda, combining monism and theism, arose. According to it, Shiva is the supreme cause and ruler of the spiritual and physical world. The liberated soul remains individual until the complete reunion with God, which is compared to the fading out of stars.

Modern Pashupatas or ascetic monks, inhabit northern India and Nepal and their supporters are in every country.

2.    Shaiva siddhanta (siddhantism)

This is an ancient, widespread movement of Shaivism with millions of followers in modern times. Currently, the school has thousands of temples and many active strict traditions. However, its history as an all-Indian religion is underexplored. The modern Siddhaanta can be compared to its Tamil form common in southern India. The term Shaiva Siddhanta means “the last or recognized conclusions of Shaivism”.

Its worldview is described in twenty-eight Shaiva Agamas. Maharishi Nandinatha of Kashmir (circa 250 BC) became the first Shaiva Siddhanta guru. The ancient Indian linguist Panini wrote in his grammar book about Maharishi Nandinatha as the mentor of the sages Patanjali, Vyaghrapada and Vasishtha.

Twenty-four poems about the ancient teachings in Sanskrit from the writings of Maharishi Nandinatha have survived. Because of Nandinatha’s monistic views, researchers consider him a proponent of the Advaita Vedanta school.

3.    Kashmir shaivism

The Shaivite philosopher and saint from Kashmir, Vasugupta (about 800) was the founder of the movement. This school adhered to moderate theism and extreme monism. It was known as Pratiabhijna-Darshan. The followers believe that the creation of the soul and the world is the radiation by Shiva of his dynamic primary impulse. Shiva is internal and incomprehensible, real and spiritual, he is the Creator, the Guardian, and at the same time—the Destroyer.

The school of Kashmir Shaivism is considered the most logically monistic of all. It notes the importance of accepting the existing unity of Shiva and man.

Kashmir Shaivism originated in the 9th century in a feudal-fragmented state in the north of India. The Maharajas patronized different religions, such as Buddhism, Tantric Shaktism and others. But in the 6th century, Shaivism began a period of revival, then Shiva became the most popular of all the gods of Hinduism. Although Kashmiri Shaivism had many famous gurus, it had few supporters because of the geographical location of the Kashmir Valley and the Muslim conquest. Not so long ago, researchers re-published the surviving writings of Kashmiri Shaivism.

Shortly before modern times, the original succession was represented by the mystic and scholar Swami Lakshman Joo.

Although the exact number of followers is unknown, this denomination is very influential in India. Most Kashmiri Shaivites fled the Kashmir Valley due to fighting and they settled in Jammeh, New Delhi and northern India. Shaivite loyalty ensured the spread to other territories.

In Kashmiri Shaivism, there is a term “Trika” which is the threefold phenomenon of the Divine—Shiva, Shakti and Anu—which manifests itself at all levels.

4.    Siddha siddhanta (natha)

This originated from ancient ascetic Indian orders. The founder of the Natha tradition was a disciple of the patron saint of Nepal, Matsyendranath Gorakshanath, who lived presumably in the 10th century. Researchers associate the movement of Gorakshanath with the movement of the Pashupatas and their successors, Siddha Yoga and the development of celibacy. Followers of Gorakshanath believe that Shiva passed on Shaivite wisdom to Matsyendranath. The Natha school founded Hatha Yoga.

Today, the Nath tradition is reflected in the Sadhu Gorakshanath and other widespread monastic communities of the Himalayas. Followers renounced the world in search of the “self”. The Svatmaramas and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika are the most famous texts, which are the basis for many adherents.

Almost all countries of the world have schools of yoga, which do not preach Hinduism but tell people of different religions about gurus, karma and ubiquitous energy. These schools teach meditation and converse about pranayama, Ayurveda, astrology and different ways of holistic healing. Thanks to such activity, the tradition of Natha continues to exist in the modern world.

5.    Shiva advaita

This is the teaching of Sricanth described in the Brahma Sutra Bhashya, a Shaivite commentary on the Brahma Sutras (circa 500–200 BC). The Brahma Sutras are a collection of 550 short poems by Badarayana, summarizing the Upanishads. The Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma Sutras and the Upanishads are authoritative texts in all movements of Vedanta. The Indian philosophers Shankara, Ramanuja, and Madhwa compiled commentaries upon these writings, and also identified three different philosophies: non-dualism, limited non-dualism, and dualism. Everyone considered this interpretation as the only correct one. Shankara was a follower of monism and believed that worshipping God was less important. Ramanuja and Madhva, on the other hand, argued that the veneration of Vishnu was the highest way. No Vedanta school extolled the worship of Shiva in the same way. Sricanth sought to change this. Thus arose the teaching called Shiva Vishishta Advaita, similar to Ramanuja’s non-dualism.

Currently, Shiva Advaita has no explicit adherents. It exists as a union of Vedanta and Siddhanta. Thanks to it, in the 16th century, Appayya Dikshita participated in the formation of Shaivism.

6.    Veerashaivism (lingayata)

This is today’s active Shaivite school. It gained its fame with the help of a Brahmin from South India, Sri Basavanne. The origins of this teaching go back to the ancient rishas. The Veerashaivas are also called Lingayats, for they always wear the Linga in a medallion around their necks.

Nowadays, Veerashaivism is very strong in its native places such as Karnataka in southern India. The population of this area is about 40 million people and 25% of them are followers of Veerashaivism.

As soon as a  Lingayat couple has a child, he/she is immediately initiated into the faith. Jangama puts a Lingam in a medallion on the child that must be worn throughout life.

7.    Kapalika

This is an Ancient tantric movement in Shaivism. Kapalikas live in places where the dead are brought for burning on a funeral pyre (shmashanah). They revere Shiva and his more terrible guises: Kapaleshwara (Lord of Skulls), Bhajrava (Terrible), Mahakala (Great Time) and Kapalabhrita (Skull-Bearing). Kapalikas conduct terrible rites, associated with death, burial, and corpses. Often they prepare bodies for burning on the pyre. The practices of Kapalikas are associated with death, for example, the top of the human skull is used as a bowl for offerings, a rosary is made of human bones, etc.

8.    Aghori (aghora)

This is a denomination that separated from Kapalika in the 14th century. A large number of Hindus consider Aghori to be non-Hindu. The reason for this is the conduct of forbidden rituals by the Aghori school. Aghori revere Shiva but they perform ritual cannibalism, drink alcohol, use human skulls in their rituals and meditate at burial sites and shmashans.

9.    Kaumaram

One of the main denominations in Shaivism, this is common in southern India and Sri Lanka. The followers revere only the son of Shiva, the god of war and love Kumar (Skanda, Murugan). In southern India, Kumara has become a national god.

10. Ganapati

This is the cult of Ganesha, which at first was part of Shaivism, but in the 6th-9th centuries became isolated. In the 10th century, Ganapati was at its peak. In those days, the famous temples of Ganesha were built.

Common features of the schools of shaivism

Schools differ from each other, but there are also some things which unite them:

  • Ash—Bhasma or Vibhuti—is used in all denominations. Ashes are from from different rites conducted with the use of fire. The ashes of Shmashans are the most revered. The application to the body, forehead, chest, neck or hands means renunciation of the world and the finiteness of being in the world of Maya.
  • Rudraksha—the “Eye of Rudra”—evergreen trees with wide leaves. These are revered in all denominations of Shaivism. Amulets, rosaries and jewelry are made of them.
  • The lingam is the main non-humanoid symbol of Shiva, and its basis and main form. Usually it is round but less often—square. It is a symbol of Yoni.

Lingayats do not equate lingam and yoni.

Shaivism is very diverse. Followers of its denominations worship a variety of forms of Shiva—from the Creator and Guardian to the Destroyer and the image of death. The religion of Shaivism helps its supporters to understand the world and their place within it.