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Shaivism (शैव धर्म) names the oldest of the four sects of Hinduism. Followers of Shaivism, called "Shaivas," and also "Saivas" or "Saivites," revere Shiva as the Supreme Being. Shaivas believe that Shiva is All and in all, the creator, preserver, destroyer, revealer and concealer of all that is. Shaivism is widespread throughout India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, mostly. Notable areas of the practice of Shaivism also include parts of Southeast Asia like Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.



It is very difficult to determine the early history of Shaivism.[1] The Śvetāśvatara Upanishad (400 - 200 BCE)[2] is the earliest textual exposition of a systematic philosophy of Shaivism.[3] As explained by Gavin Flood, the text proposes:

... a theology which elevates Rudra to the status of supreme being, the Lord (Sanskrit: Īśa) who is transcendent yet also has cosmological functions, as does Śiva in later traditions.[4]

During the Gupta Dynasty (c. 320 - 500 CE) Puranic religion developed and Shaivism spread rapidly, eventually throughout the subcontinent, spread by the singers and composers of the Puranic narratives.[5]

General features

Sacred ash came to be used as a sign of Shaivism. Devotees of Shiva wear it as a sectarian mark on their foreheads and other parts of their bodies with reverence. The Sanskrit words bhasma[6] and vibhuti[7] can both be translated as "sacred ash".

Ganja is not only offered to Shiva, but also consumed by Shaivite yogis. Charas is smoked by some Shaivite devotees and cannabis itself is seen as a gift ("prasad," or offering) to Shiva to aid in sadhana.[8]

Major schools

Shaivism has many different schools reflecting both regional and temporal variations and differences in philosophy.[9] Shaivism has a vast literature that includes texts representing multiple philosophical schools, including non-dualist (abheda), dualist (bheda), and non-dual-with-dualism (bhedābheda) perspectives.[10]

Alexis Sanderson's review of Shaivite groups makes a broad distinction into two groups, with further subdivisions within each group:[11]

  • Vedic, Puranic.
  • Non-Puranic. These devotees are distinguished by undergoing initiation (dīkṣa) into a specific cult affiliation for the dual purposes of obtaining liberation in this life (mukti) and/or obtaining other aims (bhukti). Sanderson subdivides this group further into two subgroups:
  • Those which follow the outer or higher path (atimārga), seeking only liberation. Among the atimārga groups two are particularly important, the Pāśupatas and a sub-branch, the Lākula, from whom another important sect, the Kālāmukhas, developed.[12]
  • Those which follow the path of mantras (mantramārga), seeking both liberation and worldly objectives.

The following are concise summaries of some of the major schools of Shaivism, along with maps showing what are popularly believed to be the primary areas of origin or present-day influence and concentration of each school in areas of the Indian subcontinent.

Pashupata Shaivism influence in India

Pashupata Shaivism: The Pashupatas (Sanskrit: Pāśupatas) are the oldest named Shaivite group.[13] The Pashupatas were ascetics.[14] Noted areas of influence (clockwise) include Gujarat, Kashmir and Nepal. But there is plentiful evidence of the existence of Pāśupata groups in every area of the Indian subcontinent. In the far South, for example, a dramatic farce called the Mattavilāsanaprahasana ascribed to a seventh-century Pallava king centres around a Pāśupata ascetic in the city of Kāñcīpuram who mistakes a Buddhist mendicant's begging bowl for his own skull-bowl. Inscriptions of comparable date in various parts of South East Asia attest to the spread of Pāśupata forms of Śaivism before the arrival there of tantric shools such as the Shaiva Siddhanta.[15]

Kashmir Shaivism influence in India

Kashmir Shaivism: Launched, perhaps, by Vasugupta (ca 800), this abheda--intensely monistic school—known as Pratyabhijna Darshana, explains the creation of soul and world as God Shiva's shining forth in His dynamic first impulse. As the Self of all, Shiva is immanent and transcendent, a real but abstract creator-preserver-destroyer. Another Kashmiri, Abhinavagupta was an important figure in this school. The label Kashmir Shaivism, though unfortunately now widely adopted, is really a misnomer, for it is clear that various quite different schools of Shaivism flourished together in Kashmir throughout most of historical time, prominent among them being the dualist school known as the Shaiva Siddhanta, whose classical theology was systematised by tenth-century Kashmiri exegetes such as Bhaṭṭa Nārāyaṇakaṇṭha and Bhaṭṭa Rāmakaṇṭha II.[16]

Shaiva Siddhanta influence in India

Shaiva Siddhanta: In Rishi Tirumular's monistic theism (sometimes dated as early as 200 BC and sometimes as late as 1300 AD), Shiva is material and efficient cause, immanent and transcendent. The soul, created by Shiva, is destined to merge in Him. In Meykandar's pluralistic realism (ca 1200), God, souls and world are beginningless and eternally coexistent. Shiva is efficient but not material cause. Highlighted are Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Thirugnana Sambanthar, Thirunavukkarasar, Sundaramoorthy Nayanar and Manikkavasagar are sometimes today considered the gurus of Shaivism, but whether they would have thought of themselves as belonging to the Shaiva Siddhanta is moot. The hymns sung by the first three are collected into a book called the Thevaram (Tēvāram). These books are reverentially worshipped and recited by devotees. The first three are included among the 63 Nayanmars, legendary staunch devotees of Siva whose sculpted images are to be found in many South Indian Śaiva temples. Nayanars (or Nayanmars), saints from Tamil Nadu, and the Vira Shaivas or Lingayats from Karnataka lead a multi-caste mass movement of devotional Shaivite worship in early medieval South India. But although the hymns of the Thevaram are today considered by some as belonging to the Shaiva Siddhanta, there is rather little evidence that they were so considered in their own time. As in the case of so-called Kashmir Shaivism, the often asserted association of this school with one particular area of the sub-continent, the Tamil-speaking South, is misleading. Sanskrit works of the Shaiva Siddhanta were written in the North too, and a range of inscriptions of the seventh and eighth centuries from many different parts of the sub-continent attest to the wide spread of this school in the early medieval period.[17] The earliest surviving manuscripts that transmit works of the Shaiva Siddhanta are Nepalese, which is of course further evidence that it is only in recent centuries, and certainly after the twelfth, that the Shaiva Siddhanta came to be associated exclusively with the Tamil-speaking South.

Siddha Siddhanta influence in India

Siddha Siddhanta: Expounded by Rishi Gorakshanatha (ca 950), this monistic theism is known as bhedabheda, embracing both transcendent Shiva Being and immanent Shiva Becoming. Shiva is efficient and material cause. The creation and final return of soul and cosmos to Shiva are likened to bubbles arising and returning to water. Influential in Nepal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.

Vira Shaivism influence in India

Lingayatism: Made popular by Basavanna (1105-1167), this version of qualified nondualism, Shakti Vishishtadvaita, accepts both difference and nondifference between soul and God, like rays are to the sun. Shiva and the cosmic force are one, yet Shiva is beyond His creation, which is real, not illusory. God is efficient and material cause. Influential primarily in Karnataka.

Shiva Advaita influence in India

Shiva Advaita: This monistic theism, formulated by Srikantha (ca 1050), is called Shiva Vishishtadvaita. The soul does not ultimately become perfectly one with Brahman, but shares with the Supreme all excellent qualities. Appaya Dikshita (1554-1626) attempted to resolve this union in favor of an absolute identity—Shuddhadvaita. Its area of origin and influence covers most of Karnataka state.

Shaiva temples

Mahadeva Temple at Itagi (1112 CE) in Koppal district, Karnataka - dravida articulation, nagara superstructure

There can be found almost innumerable Shaivite temples and shrines, with many shrines accompanied as well by murtis dedicated to Ganesha, Lord of the Ganas, followers of Shiva, and son of Shiva and Parvati.

The twelve Jyotirlinga shrines in various parts of India along with the Pashupatinath Temple in Nepal are among the most esteemed in Śaivism.[18]

Banalinga, called the Svayambhu Linga, is an aniconic form of worship among the shaivites and smartha brahmins.

There are many temples in Tamil Nadu dedicated to Shiva, but the holiest of all Siva shrines is Chidambaram's famous Nataraja Temple. Shiva's consort, Parvati is also worshipped in temples to Shiva, along with his sons Ganesha and Murugan.

The Agamas are a set of twenty-eight books, written in Sanskrit. Each temple follows its own Agama. The architecture and layout, the locations of the images, and directions for methods of worship are all prescribed, and no deviation is allowed. Shiva temples have a tall multi-storied gopuram at the entrance and are enclosed in a high wall. The lingam resides deep within the temple compound of buildings, courtyards and gardens. The lingam and the special structure that houses it are placed in such a way as to face the compound entrance directly; only the sivacharya may enter this sanctum sanctorum but worshippers gather around to witness the rituals of ablution, decoration and offerings, to pray and sing, and to receive the ceremonial blessing. Around the sanctum sanctorum every Siva temple has at least one circumambulatory path, and a procession around this path is part of the devotional service. A stone statue of Siva as Teacher, the Dakshinamurthy faces south. Dakshinamurthy literally means "on the southern part of an outer perimeter path of the sanctum sanctorum".

"Shivacharyas" conduct Shiva worship services. Only the sivacharyas may enter the sanctum sanctorum, while worshippers gather at the entrance to watch. Unlike Catholic priests, sivacharyas are dedicated solely to worship and do not perform marriages or other civil rites of passage. In Chidambaram and a few other places adhisaivas are allowed to perform the ceremonies. Services are held daily, as many as six each day depending on the resources and the popularity of the temple. The usual service consists of the following: first, the figure of the deity is anointed with oil, water, milk, ghee, honey, curd, various juices, sandalwood paste, and others before being showered with blossoms. Then Lord is dressed in the traditional way of Tamil Nadu, adorned with jewels and flower garlands. Incense is burned, followed by a food offering (usually a rice preparation). Beautiful lamps of various designs are lit and presented to the image of the deity. Camphor is lit and presented. The burning camphor is then carried to the congregation. The worshippers reverentially show their palms over it before placing their palms over their eyes, some say this gesture signifies that the devotion is as precious to the worshipper as his or her own sight. Finally sacred ash and kungumam are distributed into the upraised palms of the worshippers, who touch it onto their foreheads. The worshippers then process along the circumambulation at least once before bowing low in prayer before the sanctum sanctorum, singing and reciting verses from the Vedic hymns, the Thevaram and others.

Home worship

People also worship Shiva at home. They have natural lingam-shaped stones to which they perform ablution flower-worship and Nivedyam, a type of food-offering.

It is also common to have small shrines or altars dedicated to Lord Shiva, with images of his sons Ganesha or Skanda, other household deities, or his consort.However,many Shaivas just worship Shiva as their main god,along with other deities such as Krishna, Durga, Ganesha, Saraswati, Hanuman e.t.c.

Beyond India

Shaivism left a major imprint on the intellectual life of classical Cambodia, Champa in what is today south Vietnam, Java, Kashmir and the Tamil land. The wave of Saivite devotionalism that swept through late classical and early medieval India redefined Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Shaivite worship legitimized several ruling dynasties in pre-modern India be they the Chola, the Rajput or tribal. A similar trend was witnessed in early medieval Indonesia with the Majapahit empire and pre-Islamic Malaya.[19][20] Nepal is the only country of the world where Shaivism is the most popular form of Hinduism.

See also


  1. ^ Tattwananda 1984, p. 45.
  2. ^ For dating to 400-200 BCE see: Flood (1996), p. 86.
  3. ^ For Śvetāśvatara Upanishad as a systematic philosophy of Shaivism see: Chakravarti 1994, p. 9.
  4. ^ Flood (1996), p. 153.
  5. ^ For Gupta Dynasty (c. 320 - 500 CE) and Puranic religion as important to the spread across the subcontinent, see: Flood (1996), p. 154.
  6. ^ Apte, p. 714.
  7. ^ Apte, p. 866
  8. ^ "Starting The Day With The Cup That Kicks". Hindustan Times. HT Media Ltd. 2007-11-04.  
  9. ^ For an overview of the Shaiva Traditions, see Flood, Gavin, "The Śaiva Traditions", in: Flood (2003), pp. 200-228. For an overview that concentrates on the Tantric forms of Śaivism, see Alexis Sanderson's magisterial survey article Śaivism and the Tantric Traditions, pp.660--704 in The World's Religions, edited by Stephen Sutherland, Leslie Houlden, Peter Clarke and Friedhelm Hardy, London: Routledge, 1988.
  10. ^ Tattwananda 1984, p. 54.
  11. ^ For overview of Sanderson's method of grouping, see: Flood (2003), p. 206.
  12. ^ For the classifiction of Sanderson into atimārga and mantramārga, and characterization of the Pāśupatas, Lākula, and Kālāmukhas, see: Sanderson (1988) and Flood (2003), p. 206.
  13. ^ For the Pāśupatas as the oldest named Śaiva group, see: Flood (2003), p. 206.
  14. ^ For Pāśupata as an ascetic movement see: Michaels (2004), p. 62.
  15. ^ See Alexis Sanderson's Śaivism among the Khmers Part I, pp. 349--462 in the Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient 90--91 (2003--2004).
  16. ^ For the lineage, date and works of Bhaṭṭa Rāmakaṇṭha, see Dominic Goodall's Bhaṭṭa Rāmakaṇṭha's Commentary on the Kiraṇatantra, volume I: chapters 1--6, Pondicherry: Institut français de Pondichéry/Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient, 1998, pp.ix--xxvii.
  17. ^ See, e.g., Dominic Goodall's The Parākhyatantra, A Scripture of the Śaiva Siddhānta, Pondicherry: Institut Français de Pondichéry/Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient, 2004, pp.xix--xx, fn.17.
  18. ^ For a list of the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines, and mention of them in the Śiva and Skanda Puranas, see: Chakravarti 1994, pp. 139-140.
  19. ^ Sastri, K.A. Nilakanta. "A Historical Sketch of Saivism", in: Bhattacharyya (1956), Volume IV pages 63 -78.
  20. ^ For more on the subject of Saivite influence on Indonesia, one could read N.J.Krom, Inleiding tot de Hindoe-Javaansche Kunst/Introduction to Hindu-Javanese Art, The Hague, Martinus Nijhof, 1923


  • Bhandarkar, Ramakrishna Gopal (1913). Vaisnavism, Śaivism, and Minor Religious Systems. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. ISBN 81-206-0122-X.   Third AES reprint edition, 1995.
  • Bhattacharyya (Editor), Haridas (1956). The Cultural Heritage of India. Calcutta: The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture.   Four volumes.
  • Chakravarti, Mahadev (1994), written at Delhi, The Concept of Rudra-Śiva Through The Ages (Second Revised ed.), Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0053-2
  • Flood, Gavin (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43878-0.  
  • Flood, Gavin (Editor) (2003). The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.. ISBN 1-4051-3251-5.  
  • Keay, John (2000). India: A History. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3797-0.  
  • Tattwananda, Swami (1984), written at Calcutta, Vaisnava Sects, Saiva Sects, Mother Worship (First Revised ed.), Firma KLM Private Ltd.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

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  1. A sect comprising the worshipers of the god Siva.

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