Shaivism is the branch of Hinduism that worships Shiva as the supreme deity. It is one of the major branches of Hinduism. The followers of Shaivism are called Shaivas. They believe that Shiva is the ultimate being and supreme god. According to them he is the creator, destroyer, preserver, concealer and revealer. It is one of the oldest and one of the four major sects in Hinduism. It is popular in most of the south Asian countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and Indonesia. It is the most prominent in India. Many significant rulers of ancient India such as the Kushanas, the Guptas, the Barasivas, the Satavahanas and the Cholas were ardent worshippers of Shiva. They played an important role in preserving the traditions of Shaivism and spreading it.


Concepts of Shaivism

  • Pati- Pati means the husband or the lord of this entire creation. He performs the five important functions as the creator, destroyer, concealer, revealer and preserver. He is responsible for casting the net of Ma or illusion upon the occupants of the world he has created.
  • Pasu- Pasu means animals. It includes every animal and life form including humans that live in this world. These beings or Jivas are subject to three kinds of impurities that are egoism, delusion and attachments. These beings are bound to the world they liv in by their desires and attachments.
  • Pasa- Pasa signifies or refers to the attachments formed by living beings to other objects. These attachments are formed through inner desire and repeated contact with the objects. This bounds the living being to their world and is the reason for their suffering. In order to attain liberation and true freedom, one must detach themselves from worldly desires and attachments.
  • Prakriti- Prakriti or nature is considered to be a part of Shiva as well as an independent deity called Shakti. It is responsible for manifesting parts of itself into this world to create and change it. It is considered to be the cause of creation.

There are many sub sects of Shaivism. These sects differ on the basis of the following-

  • modes of worship
  • nature of Brahman
  • the nature of individual soul
  • the relationship between the two
  • the nature of reality
  • the means to liberation.

Out of all the sub sects of Shaivism, there are five prominent sects that are popular and have huge followers.


Shaivism Sects and Beliefs

Pashupata Shaivism

The Pashupata are the oldest Shaivist group made of ascetic monks. The name is derived from the word ‘Pashupati’ which means lord of animals. It is said that the members of the Pashupata Shaivism wandered across the country, making the dust of the roads rise, having with them their iron tridents or solid cans, their hair oiled and wild, or kept in a loop, their faces burning with intense devotion, and having keen eyes that see Shiva more than the surrounding world. They wore deer leather or bark on their hips. The philosophy of the Pashupata sect was systematized by Lakulish (also called Nakuliśa) in the 2nd century A.D. The main texts of the school are Gaṇakārikā, Pañchārtha bhāshyadipikā and Rāśikara-bhāshya.

They were the devout bhakts of Lord Shiva and were considered to be his white magicians estranged from priest dominated Vedic society. The Pashupata accepted members from any cast but preferred Brahmin caste over any other. Their path was tough and blessed the members with karunya or Lord Shiva’s grace. The sadhana they performed usually begun with the deepening of an ethical code, the accent being laid on brahmacharya, ahimsa and tapas. It was a means of self-purification, of removal of the ego, of elimination of the need to be accepted in society, and to implant into the subconscious the idea that liked or disliked, good or bad, all the opposites are equivalent if ones love for Shiva is truly powerful. This stage of the practice was designed to break the ties with the society and their own self.

Haradattacharya, in Gaṇakārikā, explains that a spiritual teacher is one who knows the eight pentads and the three functions. The eight pentads of Acquisition (result of expedience), Impurity (evil in soul), Expedient (means of purification), Locality (aids to increase knowledge), Perseverance (endurance in pentads), Purification (putting away impurities), Initiation and Powers are –

Acquisitionknowledgepenancepermanence of the bodyconstancypurity
Impurityfalse conceptiondemeritattachmentinterestednessfalling
Expedientuse of habitationpious mutteringmeditationconstant recollection of Rudraapprehension
Localityspiritual teachersa caverna special placethe burning groundRudra
Perseverancethe differencedthe undifferencedmutteringacceptancedevotion
Purificationloss of ignoranceloss of demeritloss of attachmentloss of interestednessloss of falling
Initiationsthe materialproper timethe ritethe imagethe spiritual guide
Powersdevotion to the spiritual guideclearness of intellectconquest of pleasure and painmeritcarefulness

Kashmiri Shaivism

Kashmiri Shaivism originated in the northern parts of India between 700 to 1100 c.e. Kashmir was the spiritual, cultural, and intellectual centre for some of the most sophisticated spiritual practitioners of the time. Kashmir Shaivism arose from the experience of these dedicated Trika Yoga practitioners, who also happened to be skilled in expressing their experiences. The inspired writings and commentaries by these philosophers, poets, and artists represents much of the work that we today identify as the embodiment of their rich culture.

According to the traditions of Kashmir Shaivism, Lord Siva originally set forth sixty-four systems, or philosophies, some monistic, some dualistic and some monistic theistic. Eventually these were lost, and Siva commanded Sage Durvasas to revive the knowledge. Sage Durvasas’ “mind-born sons” were assigned to teach the philosophies: Tryambaka (the monistic), Amardaka (the dualistic) and Shrinatha (monistic theistic). Thus, Tryambaka at an unknown time laid a new foundation for Kashmir Saiva philosophy.

Then, it is said, Lord Siva Himself felt the need to resolve conflicting interpretations of the Agamas and counter the encroachment of dualism on the ancient monistic doctrines. In the early 800s, Shri Vasugupta was living on Mahadeva Mountain near Srinagar. Tradition states that one night Lord Siva appeared to him in a dream and told him of the whereabouts of a great scripture carved in rock. Upon awakening, Vasugupta rushed to the spot and found seventy-seven terse sutras etched in stone, which he named the Siva Sutras. Vasugupta expounded the Sutras to his followers, and gradually the philosophy spread. On this scriptural foundation arose the school known as Kashmir Saivism, Northern Saivism, Pratyabhijna Darshana (“recognition school”), or Trikashasana (“Trika system”). Trika, “three,” refers to the school’s three-fold treatment of the Divine: Siva, Shakti and soul, as well as to three sets of scriptures and a number of other triads.

Kashmir Saivite literature is in three broad divisions: Agama Shastra, Spanda Shastra and Pratyabhijna Shastra.

36 tattvas in Kashmir Shaivism
36 tattvas in Kashmir Shaivism

The followers of Kashmiri Shaivism came to view the world as absolute Consciousness, which they called Shiva. They emphasized on the inner self. This Consciousness was considered to be the fundamental I, or divine self as it was both one and free, creative and self-reflective. They considered reality of the highest form as pure consciousness. According to them existence was the boundless energy of Consciousness and a celebration of the creative power in every individual and the recognition of every person’s power of free choice.

The Consciousness is considered to be both inert and dynamic. This is because life is not only stillness, but also motion and vitality. The Kashmiri Shaivists believe God is a dynamic stillness.

Gorakhnath Shaivism

Gorakhnath Shaivism was founded by Gorakshanatha (Gorakhnath) who lived about 10th century AD. He was said to be a disciple of Matsyendranatha who was from in Nepal. The followers of this sect believe that knowledge of their tradition was given by Matsyendranath directly from Shiva himself. Gorakshanatha is credited with such works as Siddha Siddhanta Paddhathi and Viveka Martanda. He also created 12 monastic orders across Northern India in an effort to preserve the Adinatha tradition.

This sect adapted many practices of the Pasupatha sect. It also had Muslim followers in the past that became head of the sect. This sect discovered secrets of hatha yoga, kundalini yoga and Samadhi which made them popular. They also indulge in occult sciences and siddhis or super natural powers.

The followers believed that one could increase their lie span and become immortal by performing yogic practices. Only those in the sect knew of these practices. They also believe that Shiva is the cause of creation and that after liberation the soul would return to Shiva. Also, they could attain oneness with Shiva in deep state of Samadhi. Oneness with Siva can be experienced by serious practitioners of yoga in a deep state of Samadhi.

This sect is still active in many parts of India and abroad and its followers range from mendicants and street magicians to the most obscure ascetics living in the Himalayas. The popularity of hatha yoga, pranayama, kundalini yoga, holistic medicine, astrology and ayurveda in the modern world can be attributed to this tradition.

Vira Shaivism

Vira Shaivism is prominent in Karnataka. It was founded by Sri Basaveshvara (1105-67). The Vira Shaivists started a movement that rejected Vedic authority, caste hierarchy, the system of four stages of life, and veneration of a multiplicity of gods. They considered Shiva as the supreme god and worshipped him through linga. The main purpose of Vira Shaivism was to attain oneness with Lord Shiva through the linga. This was called linganusandhana or the internal penetration of Shiva though the linga. Due to this they were also called Lingayats (bearers of the linga).

Vira Shaivists condemn worshipping of Shiva in any form other than the linga. The guru also supplies the pupil with the eight emblems of faith which stand the devotee in good stead in his spiritual life. These eight aids to spiritual life are obedience to the guru, worship of the linga, reverence for the jangama or Vīraśaiva teachers, wearing of the sacred rudraksa (rosary), use of the holy ash sacred to Shiva, partaking of the guru’s prasad, purification through holy water called tīrtha, and repetition of the six-lettered mantra Om Namah Shivaya, meaning ‘Obeisance to Shiva’.

The philosophy of the Vīra Shaivism is called the Sat-sthala Siddhanta. Its essence is the acceptance of the sat-sthalas, which is a six-stage path of devotion and surrender which leads to oneness with Shiva-

  • bhakta-sthala (devotion)
  • mahesa-sthala (selfless service)
  • prasadi-sthala (seeking Shiva’s grace)
  • pranalingi-sthala (experience of all as Shiva)
  • sarana-sthala (egoless refuge in Shiva)
  • aikya-sthala (oneness with Shiva).

Each phase brings the seeker and Shiva closer, until they fuse together in a final state of perpetual Shiva-consciousness, as rivers merging in the ocean.

Saiva Siddhanta

The Saiva Siddhanta originated from the 28 Saiva Agamas, the devotional works of several saints of Saivism, and the writings of several thinkers and scholars. The first guru of Saiva Siddhanta tradition was Nandinatha, who lived around 250 BC in the present day Kashmir. He left behind a compilation of twenty-six Sanskrit verses called the Nandikesvara Kasika, in which he laid down the basic tenets of Saiva Siddhanta school. The next prominent personality of this tradition was Tirumular, who composed Tirumandiram in Tamil and introduced the Nandinatha tradition 1 of this school to the people of southern India. He played an important part in spreading Shaivism.

The Saiva Siddhanta considered Shiva to be the supreme being and lord of all creation. He was responsible for casting Maya in this world and keeping the beings disillusioned. According to them true liberation could be attained by the means of charya, kriya, yoga and jnana.

  • The path of charya involves serving Lord Shiva in a temple or religious place by performing such tasks as cleaning, cooking, carrying water, gathering flowers etc. This is called dasa-marga or the path of the servant. By this path one gains entry into Kailas or the world of Shiva.
  • The path of kriya involves performing devotional tasks such as worshipping the idol of Shiva, singing devotional songs, reciting the mantras, narrating stories about Shiva. This is called sat-putra-marga or the path of a good son. By following this path one gains close proximity to Lord Shiva.
  • The path of yoga involves practicing yoga exercises and meditation and contemplation. By following this path one gets an opportunity to live constantly in the company of Siva and become his spiritual companion. Hence this path is called sakha-marga or the path of friendship.
  • The path of knowledge is the fourth path. On this path, jnana or knowledge is the means. It is called sat-marga because it takes the jivas closer to Sat or Truth and makes it possible for them to experience or become aware of their true Siva consciousness.

After liberation, the liberated soul knows that it is the same as Shiva but not Shiva or the Supreme Self. It experiences some form of duality, while enjoying the true consciousness released from all bonds.

The important temples of Shiva that are mentioned in the Shivpurana are-

  • The Somnath temple
  • The Mallikarjuna temple at Srisailam
  • The Mahakaleswar temple at Ujjain
  • The Omkareshwar temple at Omkareshwar
  • The Kedarnath temple in the Himalayas
  • The Bhimashankar temple in Maharashtra
  • The Kashivishwanath temple at Varanasi
  • The Triambakeshwar temple at Naski
  • The Baidyanath temple at Deogarh
  • The Nageshwar temple in Dwaraka
  • The Ramalingeshwar temple at Rameswaram
  • Grishneshwar temple near Ellora caves


Shiva Mantras

Other Lord Shiva Articles You May Like

Temple Purohit is a one-stop destination for all your spiritual needs - Get in-depth information on Spiritual topics, temples across India, have in-depth discussion on topics such as Astrology, Spiritual developments & meditation.

More Interesting Articles on Hinduism For You

Leave a Reply