History of Shaivism

History of Shaivism


Shaivism (also spelled "Saivism"), refers to the religious traditions of Hinduism that focus on the deity Shiva. [Flood (1996), p. 149.]

The worship of Shiva is a pan-Hindu tradition, practiced widely across all of India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. [Flood (1996), p. 17] [Keay, p.xxvii.] Shaivism has many different schools showing both regional variations and differences in philosophy. [For an overview of the Shaiva Traditions, see Flood, Gavin, "The Śaiva Traditions", in: Flood (2003), pp. 200-228.] Shaivism has a vast literature that includes texts representing multiple philosophical schools, including non-dualist (abheda), dualist (bheda), and non-dual-with-dualism (IAST|bhedābheda) perspectives. [Tattwananda, p. 54.]

It is very difficult to determine the early history of Shaivism. [Tattwananda, p. 45.] Axel Michaels explains the composite nature of Shaivism as follows:

Like IAST|Vişņu, IAST|Śiva is also a high god, who gives his name to a collection of theistic trends and sects: IAST|Śaivism. Like IAST|Vaişņavism, the term also implies a unity which cannot be clearly found either in religious practice or in philosophical and esoteric doctrine. Furthermore, practice and doctrine must be kept separate. [Michaels, p. 215.]



Some people believe that artifacts from Mohenjo-daro, Harappa and other archaeological sites of northwestern India and Pakistan indicate that some early form of Shiva worship was practiced in the Indus Valley. These artifacts include lingams and the "Pashupati seal" that has been the subject of much study. The Indus Valley civilization reached its peak around 2300-2000 BCE, when trade links with Mesopotamia are known to have existed, was in decline by 1800 BCE, and faded away by 1500 BCE. [For dating as fl. 2300-2000 BCE, decline by 1800 BCE, and extinction by 1500 BCE see: Flood (1996), p. 24.]

A seal discovered during excavation of the Mohenjo-daro archaeological site in the Indus Valley has drawn attention as a possible representation of a "proto-Shiva" figure. [Flood (1996), pp. 28-29.] This "Pashupati" (Lord of Animals, Sanskrit "IAST|paśupati") [For translation of "IAST|paśupati" as "Lord of Animals" see: Michaels, p. 312.] seal shows a large central figure that is surrounded by animals. The central figure is often described as a seated figure, possibly ithyphallic, surrounded by animals. [For a drawing of the seal see Figure 1 "in": Flood (1996), p. 29.] Sir John Marshall and others have claimed that this figure is a prototype of Shiva, and have described the figure as having three faces, seated in a "yoga posture" with the knees out and feet joined. Semi-circular shapes on the head are often interpreted as two horns. Gavin Flood characterizes these views as "speculative", saying that while it is not clear from the seal that the figure has three faces, is seated in a yoga posture, or even that the shape is intended to represent a human figure, it is nevertheless possible that there are echoes of Shaiva iconographic themes, such as half-moon shapes resembling the horns of a bull. [Flood (1996), pp. 28-29.] [Flood (2003), pp. 204-205.]

Vedic Rudra

:"For information on the history of the deity, see the articles for Rudra and Shiva"

Shaivism, also known as the Shaiva cult, is devoted to worship of the god Shiva. [Tattwananda, pp. 43-44.] The Sanskrit word IAST|śiva (Devanagari _sa. शिव) is an adjective meaning kind, friendly, gracious, or auspicious. [Apte, p. 919.] [Macdonell, p. 314.] As a proper name it means "The Auspicious One", used as a euphimistic name for Rudra. [Macdonell, p. 314.] In simple English transliteration it is written either as "Shiva" or "Siva".

Over the course of time, many regional cults were amalgamated into the figure of Shiva as we know him today. [Keay, p. xxvii.]

Emergence of Shaivism

The documentation of formal religious history, as opposed to archaeological evidence or scriptural mentions, is marked by Gavin Flood's remark that:

The formation of Śaiva traditions as we understand them begins to occur during the period from 200 BC to 100 AD. [Flood (2003), p. 205.]

The two great epics of India, the Mahabharata [For analysis of references to Shiva in the Mahabharata, see: Sharma (1988), pp. 20-21.] and the Ramayana, deal extensively with stories of both Shiva and Vishnu, [Tattwananda, p. 46.] and there are references to early Shiva ascetics in the Mahabharata. [For references to Shiva ascetics in the Mahabharata see: Flood (1996), p. 154.]

The "IAST|Śvetāśvatara Upanishad" (400 - 200 BCE) [For dating to 400-200 BCE see: Flood (1996), p. 86.] is the earliest textual exposition of a systematic philosophy of Shaivism. [For IAST|Śvetāśvatara Upanishad as a systematic philosophy of Shaivism see: Chakravarti, p. 9.] As explained by Gavin Flood, the text proposes:

... a theology which elevates Rudra to the status of supreme being, the Lord (Sanskrit: IAST|Īśa) who is transcendent yet also has cosmological functions, as does Śiva in later traditions. [Flood (1996), p. 153.]

In the grammarian Patanjali's "Great Commentary" (Sanskrit: "IAST|Mahābhasya") on Panini's Sanskrit grammar (second century BCE), he describes a devotee of Shiva as clad in animal skins and carrying an iron lance as the symbol of his god, perhaps a precursor of Shiva's trident. [For Patanjali's description of the Shiva "bhakta" see: Flood (1996), p. 154.] [For mention of a Shaiva sect by Patanjali see: Bhandarkar (1913), p. 165.]

Pauranic Shaivism

It is with the Puranas that Shaivism spread rapidly, eventually throughout the subcontinent, through the singers and composers of the Puranic narratives. [For the Puranic period as important to the spread across the subcontinent, see: Flood (1996), p. 154.] The Puranic literature has its origins in the later Gupta period (6th century) and develops during ca. the 8th to 11th centuries. [For dating of Gupta Period as c. 300-500 AD see: Keay, pp. 129-154; For dating of Gupta dynasty as 320-500 AD see: Flood (1996), p. 110.] along with Smarta brahmin forms of worship. [Flood (2003), p. 205.] The convergence of various Shaiva and Vaishnava trends, as well as their growing popularity, may have been partly the outcome of dominant dynasties like the Guptas assimilating the resources and cultural elements of their conquered territories. [For the geopolitical analysis that Shaiva and Vaisnava consolidation may have been due to Gupta empirical consolidation see: Keay, p. 147.]

The bulk of the material contained in the Puranas was established during the reign of the Guptas, with incremental additions taking place to the texts up to later medieval times. [Flood (1996), p. 110.] There are eighteen major Puranas, and these are traditionally classified into three groups of six each, with Shiva considered to be the central deity in the Shiva Purana, Linga Purana, Matsya Purana, Kurma purana, Skanda Purana, and Agni Purana. [Flood (1996), p. 110.] However this traditional grouping is inexact, for while the Shiva Purana is strongly sectarian in its focus on Shiva, others are not so clearly sectarian and include material about other deities as well, particularly Vishnu. [For the inexact nature of the traditional group of six, see: Flood (1996), p. 110.]

The Puranic corpus is a complex body of materials that advance the views of various competing cults, as Gavin Flood explains:

Although these texts are related to each other, and material in one is found in another, they nevertheless each present a view of ordering of the world from a particular perspective. They must not be seen as random collections of old tales, but as highly selective and crafted expositions and presentations of worldviews and soteriologies, compiled by particular groups of Brahmins to propagate a particular vision, whether it be focused on IAST|Viṣṇu, IAST|Śiva, or IAST|Devī, or, indeed, any number of deities. [Flood (1996), p. 111.]

For example, the Vishnu Purana (4th century CE) presents a Vaisnava viewpoint in which Vishnu awakens, becomes the creator god Brahma to create the universe, sustains it, and then destroys it as Rudra (Shiva). [For dating of 4th century CE and synopsis of Vishnu Purana see: Flood (1996), p. 111.]

Shaiva theism was expounded in the Agamas, which number two hundred including the Upagamas (the "Lesser" Agamas), which were composed before the 7th century AD. [Tattwananda, p. 45.] In the 7th century AD, Banabhatta included the worship of Shiva in his account of the prominent religious sects of that time. [Tattwananda, p. 45.]

In the 7th century AD the great Chinese traveller Xuanzang (Huen Tsang) toured India and wrote in Chinese about the prevalence of Shiva worship at that time, describing Shiva temples at Kanoj, Karachi, Malwa, Gandhar (Kandahar), and especially at Varanasi (Benares) where he saw twenty large temples dedicated to Shiva. [For Huen Tsang's account see: Tattwananda, p. 46.]

Adi Shankara

Smartism is a denomination of Hinduism that places emphasis on a group of five deities rather than just a single deity. [Flood (1996), p. 17.] The "worship of the five forms" (IAST|pañcāyatana pūjā) system, which was popularized by the philosopher Adi Shankara (also known as IAST|Śaṅkarācārya) (between 650 and 800 AD, traditionally 788 – 820 CE) [For traditional dating of 788-820 see: Keay, pp. 62, 194; and for broad dating of 650-800 AD see: Keay, p. 62.] among orthodox Brahmins of the Smārta tradition, invokes the five deities Shiva, Ganesha, Vishnu, Devī, and Sūrya. [Dating for the pañcāyatana pūjā and its connection with Smārta Brahmins is from Courtright, p. 163.] [For worship of the five forms as central to Smarta practice see: Flood (1996), p. 113.] This system was instituted by IAST|Śaṅkarācārya primarily to unite the principal deities of the five major sects on an equal status. [Grimes, p. 162.] The monistic philosophy preached by IAST|Śaṅkarācārya made it possible to choose one of these as a preferred principal deity and at the same time worship the other four deities as different forms of the same all-pervading Brahman.

Shankara's Dig-vijaya mentions six Shaivite sects that were in existence at his time, but their existence in an organized way is not clearly established. [Tattwananda, p. 73.]

aiva Siddhanta

Rishi Tirumular, like his satguru, Maharishi Nandinatha, propounded a monistic theism in which Shiva is both material and efficient cause, immanent and transcendent. Shiva creates souls and world through emanation from Himself, ultimately reabsorbing them in His oceanic Being, as water flows into water, fire into fire, ether into ether.

The Tirumandiram unfolds the way of Siddhanta as a progressive, four-fold path of charya, virtuous and moral living; kriya, temple worship; and yoga—internalized worship and union with Parā Shiva through the grace of the living satguru—which leads to the state of jñana and liberation. After liberation, the soul body continues to evolve until it fully merges with God—jîva becomes Shiva.

Affirming the monistic view of Shaiva Siddhanta was Srikumara (ca 1056), stating in his commentary, Tatparyadîpika, on Bhoja Paramara’s works, that Pati, pasu and pasa are ultimately one, and that revelation declares that Shiva is one. He is the essence of everything. Srikumara maintained that Shiva is both the efficient and the material cause of the universe.

A new Siddhanta

It was in the twelfth century that Aghorasiva took up the task of amalgamating the Sanskrit Siddhanta tradition of the North with the Southern, Tamil Siddhanta. As the head of a branch monastery of the Åmardaka Order in Chidambaram, Aghorasiva gave a unique slant to Shaiva Siddhanta theology, paving the way for a new pluralistic school. In strongly refuting any monist interpretations of Siddhanta, Aghorasiva brought a dramatic change in the understanding of the Godhead by classifying the first five principles, or tattvas (Nada, Bindu, Sadasiva, Èsvara and Suddhavidya), into the category of pasa (bonds), stating they were effects of a cause and inherently unconscious substances. This was clearly a departure from the traditional teaching in which these five were part of the divine nature of God. Aghorasiva thus inaugurated a new Siddhanta, divergent from the original monistic Shaiva Siddhanta of the Himalayas.

Despite Aghorasiva’s pluralistic viewpoint of Siddhanta, he was successful in preserving the invaluable Sanskritic rituals of the ancient Ågamic tradition through his writings. To this day, Aghorasiva’s Siddhanta philosophy is followed by almost all of the hereditary Sivacharya(saiva-brahmins) temple priests, and his paddhati texts on the Ågamas have become the standard puja manuals. His Kriyakramadyotika is a vast work covering nearly all aspects of Shaiva Siddhanta ritual, including dîksha, saµskaras, atmartha puja and installation of Deities.

A dualistic development

In the thirteenth century, another important development occurred in Shaiva Siddhanta when Meykandar wrote the twelve-verse Sivajñanabodham. This and subsequent works by other writers laid the foundation of the Meykandar Sampradaya, which propounds a pluralistic realism wherein God, souls and world are coexistent and without beginning. Siva is efficient but not material cause. They view the soul’s merging in Siva as salt in water, an eternal oneness that is also twoness. This school’s literature has so dominated scholarship that Shaiva Siddhanta is often erroneously identified as exclusively pluralistic. In truth, there are two interpretations, one monistic and another dualistic, of which the former is the original philosophical premise found in pre-Meykandar scriptures, including the Upanishads.

Saiva Siddhanta Today

Today Shaiva Siddhanta has sixty million [citation needed] Tamil Shaivites in South India mainly in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. (See Hinduism in Sri Lanka) Prominent Siddhanta societies, temples and monasteries also exist in a number of other countries.

There a number of Aadheenams which are involved in maintaining and propagating Shaiva Siddhanta in Tamil Nadu. The most prominent are

1. Dharumai Aadheenam (Dharmapuram) 2. Tiruvaavadudurai Aadheenam (Tiruvaavadudurai) 3. Turupanandal Adheenam (Turupanandal) 4. Madurai Aadheenam (Madurai) and 5. Perur Adheenam (Perur)

These Aadheenams are headed by Acharyas. They are also the hereditary trustees of almost all the Siva/Sakthi/Subramanya temples of Tamil Nadu. The rituals in these temples are conducted as per the Agama Sasthras.

The United States island of Kauai, a part of Hawaii, is home to the Saiva Siddhanta Church, an organization that promotes the union of worldwide Hindus, Shaivites and others, through a publication called Hinduism Today.

This was founded by Maharishi Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (1927-2001) one of the greatest exponents of Hinduism of this century.


By the seventh century CE, the Nayanars, a tradition of poet-saints in the bhakti tradition developed in South India with a focus on Shiva by the comparable to that of the Vaisnava Alvars. [For emergency of the Nayanmars by 7th c. CE and comparison with Vaisnava Alvars see: Flood (1996), 131.]

Tirumular, also spelled (IAST|Tirumūlār or IAST|Tirumūlar) the author of the "Tirumantiram" (also spelled "Tirumandiram") is considered by Tattwananda to be the earliest exponent of Shaivism in Tamil areas. [Tattwananda, p. 55.] Tirumular is dated as 7th or 8th century AD by Maurice Winternitz. [Winternitz, p. 588, note 1.] The "Tirumantiram" is a primary source for the system of Shaiva Siddhanta, being the tenth book of its canon. [For the Tirumantiram as the tenth book of the Shaiva Siddhanta canon see Brooks, Douglas Renfrew. "Auspicious Fragments and Uncertain Wisdom", in: Harper and Brown, p. 63.]

The devotional poems of the Nayanars are divided into eleven collections together with a Tamil Purana called the "Periya Puranam". The first seven collections are known as the "Thevaram" and are regarded by Tamils as equivalent to the Vedas. [For eleven collections, with the first seven (the "Thevaram") regarded as Vedic, see: Tattwananda, p. 55.] They were composed in the 7th century CE by Sambandar, Appar, and Sundarar. [For dating of Sambandar, Appar, and Sundarar as 7th century CE see: Tattwananda, p. 55.]

The "Tiruvacakam" by Manikkavacagar is an important collection of hymns of which Sir Charles Eliot wrote, "In no literature with which I am acquainted, has the individual religious life, its struggles and dejections, its hopes and fears, its confidence and its triumph received a delineation more frank and more profound." [Quotation from Sir Charles Eliot's Hinduism and Buddhism, volume II, p. 127, is provided in: Tattwananda, p. 56.] The "Tiruvacakam" praises Siva as belonging to the southern country yet worshipped by people of all countries. [Thiruvachakam 4 (Potri Thiruvakaval); lines 164, 165.]

Tamil areas

There are numerous Siva temples in Tamilnadu, most located in the Thanjavur region which was a major part of the Chola empire between 800 and 1200 A.D. A particular branch of Shaivism, the philosophy of Siddhanta Saivam, is particularly popular in southern India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and every other country where Tamils are living.Fact|date=June 2007

V.S. Pathak, in his book "Shaivism in Early Medieval India as known from Archaeological Sources: Rajendra Chola" writes that Rajendra saw the best of the Shaivas in northern India when he went to worship at the Ganges, and brought them to settle in his own country in Kanchi.Fact|date=May 2007

ee also

*Shaiva Siddhanta



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