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Rudra-Shiva and Shaivite Cults

Article · August 2013


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Siddhant Kalra
Foundation for Liberal And Management Education


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Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013



Shaivism is one of the most prominent belief systems within the religious milieu of Indian society.
Staying true to the tradition within „Hinduism‟ of being hard to fathom as one belief system, Shaivism
reflects the branching-out of sectarian ideas - and also those about Shiva himself - into various cults
and schools of thought. “Gavin Flood, aware of this discursiveness, mentions the distinction between
an indigenous and externalist understanding of tradition” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 201).
Scholars seem to always adopt externalist approaches to Hindu traditions. The reason for the existence
of the term „Hinduism‟ is probably this approach. The same treatment of „Saivism‟ would be
unjustified. This is so because the very essence of the tradition is built upon dualities. This paper will
attempt to elucidate these dualities as it progresses. At the same time, it will attempt to illustrate the
development of Rudra/Shiva as a deity and „Shaivism‟ as a tradition.

We know what we know about Shiva through various sources, beginning with The Vedas themselves.
Shiva being a major God, has his presence in scriptures right from the Vedas and the Brahmanas, to
the Upanishads, has Puranas dedicated to him and is the main subject matter of the Tantras. To a
modern day scholar, much of this literature is available; however ascribing a date to them is a dubious
task. Therefore, this paper will use scripture as chronological markers also. In particular, this paper
will be referring to Rig Veda, Atharva Veda, Sankhayayna and Kausitaki Brahmanas from the Early
Vedic period. The Upanishads form the basis of theology for all Hindu sects, including Shaivism so
the Svetasvatra Upanishad will also be refered to. Alongside, Patanjali‟s Mahabhyasa is a key work
due to its references to Shiva and Shaivism in this context. To study the different Saiva Sects and
forms of worship, The Purunas and the Tantras will be referred. The Puranas depict a time in which
Shiva had become an important deity and thus, are pivotal in this context. These are the Puranas
dedicated to Shiva: Shiva, Linga, etc are both Tajjas and Shaiva Puranas. Additionally,Padma Purana
and Vaman Purana, Rauravottara (Linga worship myth) will be sought. Finally, Svacchanda Bhairava
and Netra Tantric, Bhairava Tantras and Pasupata Sutra are all texts belonging to various sects and
will be mentioned in this study. This study has been divided into two parts: The Deity and The Cults.
It will attempt to illuminate the development of both over the years and finally reveal the multitude of
dualities mentioned in the preceeding section.


This section will attempt to firstly analyse the development of Rudre-Shiva‟s character from Early
Vedic times to later Puranic and Tantric times. Secondly, it will entail the iconographic identification
of some of the more popular Anthropomorphic/zoomorphic forms of Shiva and the Lingas associated
with the tradition of Linga Worship. This is an especially complex task as the character and worship
of Shiva has undergone centuries of transformation, during which some aspects have eroded and
others, augmented. Though, distant from exhaustive or comprehensive, the section will attempt to
encompass those aspects, secondary sources for which are readily available. The overarching purpose
of this section is to unveil links that will culminate in a cohesive understanding of Shiva‟s character
and the interpretation of iconographic features associated with idols of worship.
Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013


There is a theory that Shiva (or Rudra) and Durga made their way into the Hindu pantheon when the
Aryans made their way from Asia-Minor to India. The theory could be summarized as being based on
a rock-cut sanctuary in Yazilikaya, dated to the 13th century BC, centred on a God and Goddess,
seemingly a couple, who share the same vehicles with Shiva and Durga, namely the bull and a lioness.
Additionally, they are associated with the mountains and have a son, who is the God of war and
stands on a lion, like Kartikeya (Chaudhuri and Biardieu, 238). However, one might classify this
evidence as circumstantial and this paper intends on suspending judgement.

There is yet another theory for which evidence might be considered only circumstantial and thus
inconclusive. This is the „proto-Shiva‟ theory. This theory is centred on a seal dated to the Indus
Valley civilization and the figure depicted in it. This figure with horns, is shown seated with animals
around him/her/it. Scholars like Sir John Marshall maintain that the steatite seals found are suggestive
of a deity akin to Siva. He has claimed that this is a prototype of Siva as the yogin and Pasupati, the
Lord of animals. Asko Parpola has convincingly suggested otherwise; that the seal is in fact a seated
bull, almost identical to figures of seated bulls found on early Elamite seals of ca. 3000–2750 BC.
(Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 204). In the context of this paper, the focus will be restricted its
study of Rudra/Shiva‟s character to scriptural references. The origins of Shiva can however be traced,
to the Vedas with the name of Rudra, assuming they both refer to the same deity.

In the Vedas, Rudra is represented as discharging brilliant shafts which run about the heaven and the
earth and as possessing weapons which slay cows and men (Bhandarkar, 145 – 146). Rudra is prayed
to in the hope that he will protect the people from disease. Rudra was thus believed to have divine
power over disease. At the same time, he was also known to cure them “at the same time, cure them
as his prowess in medicine is unmatched” (Rig Veda - Book 1, Hymn 43, Stanza 4)1. The Vedas also
allude to his character of a God who hurls lightning bolts and is the leader of a group of warriors
named Maruts, who are also offered reverence. This is illustrated in the following stanzas from the
Rig Veda:

“Who are these radiant men in serried rank, Rudra's young heroes (Maruts) borne by noble steeds?”

(Rig Veda – Book 7, Hymn 57, Stanza 1)

“Ever victorious, through the Maruts, be this band of Heroes, nursing manly strength, Most bright in
splendour, flectest on their way, close−knit to glory, strong with varied power”

(Rig Veda – Book 7, Hymn 57, Stanza 6).

These aspects of Rudra‟s infant essence illustrate his ferocious nature, but also portray him as
powerful and capable of divine healing. This character of Rudra is developed more Satarudriya. His
benignant form (Siva tanuh) is distinguished from its opposite, the malignant. Epithets of lord of the
fields, Girisha (lying on a mountain) and Pasupati ameliorate and further develop this character. Just
like these epithets, in the Vedic texts of earlier strata, the word „Siva‟ is used as an epithet in the sense
of „auspicious‟ for various deities and not only for Rudra (Banerjea, 447).

It was one of the later Vedas, the Atharva Veda, that ascribe the epithet meaning the ruler of all two-
footed and four-footed beings to Rudra (Gupte, 37). He has also been described in the Brahmanical

To Rudra Lord of sacrifice, of hymns and balmy medicines,
We pray for joy and health and strength.
Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013

texts as the originator and the best exponent of various art forms and accomplishments such as music,
dance, medicine and yoga (Banerjea, 447). Both these references allude to the growing importance of
Rudra. However, up until this point, the identification of Shiva with Rudra is not clear.

“The Sankhayayna, Kausitaki and other Brahmanas use names such as Rudra-Shiva, Shiva, Mahadeva
and Isana” (Banerjea, 447). However, the first definitive link between Rudra and Shiva is found in the
Svetasvatra Upanishad. It is only in the later Vedic texts (primarily Atharva Veda) and especially in
the Svetasvatara Upanishad (a theistic text devoted to Rudra) that Siva is used several times as a name
of Rudra (Banerjea, 447). Later on there are plenty of references identifying Rudra with Shiva. For
example, Patanjali in his Mahabhyasa refers to Siva and Rudra several times. While Rudra is the god
to whom animals are sacrificed, the medicinal herbs of Rudra are described as Siva (Banerjea, 449).
Also, while “a famous hymn in the Rig Veda mentions the hundred names of Rudra (satarudriya), the
Mahabharata mentions one-thousand names of Shiva; Rudra being one of them” (Banerjea, 447). This
phenomenon of both Shiva and Rudra being epithets for each other at different times dispels any
doubt as to the link between the two.

In the Puranic period, the identification of Rudra with Shiva is hardly under contention. The same can
be said about Shiva‟s prominence during the period. “Gavin Flood notes that along with the
development of the Purunas, cults like the Smartha Brahmins and Pasupatas had begun emerging”
(Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 206). “The Purunas had turned Shiva into the Supreme creator
being” (Gupte, 36) and this is reflected in the cults around this period. “The Smartha Brahmins
viewed Shiva as the absolute Lord and sought liberation in Siva-Loka. Also, a trend in the Pasupata
and Lakulisa cults had elevated the Bhairava form of Shiva” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 205-
206). Up until this period, Shiva‟s character maintains two primary layers: Rudra and Shiva; and most
developments emerged within these attributes. It is almost as if Shiva‟s character comprised of a sort
of dialectic which conjured new forms. However, the Tantric period made several complex
augmentations to this binary dialectic, adding abstract layers to Shiva‟s personality. The Siddhanta
and Non-Siddhanta traditions project the opposing concepts of dualism and monism onto Shiva‟s
character. “The Siddhanta view Shiva as a numerically distinct Supreme being in the mild form of
SadaSiva, which is in a sense a subsidiary of MahaSadasiva (a form with 25 faces depicting the 25
principles of philosophy)2” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 210 – 211). On the other hand, the Non-
Siddhantikas adopt a monistic approach and perceive Shiva to be the pure consciousness that is
identical with the Universe. The more popular Svacchanda Bhairava and Netra Tantric tradtions
continue this tradtion. “Netranath is the form of Shiva that is worshipped by the Netranath (Lord of
the eye) cult. All their deities are emanations from Netranath.” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 216).

The journey of the dialectic Rudra in the Vedas and, to an extent the Purunas, to the variegated and
abstract Shiva is one that can be organized into a teleological structure. Beginning with the ferocious
Rudra, who was at the same time, also a healer in the Vedas, the first transition is into the possessor of
a multitude of epithets by the time of the Upanishads, where a definitive link between Rudra and Siva,
the auspicious can be drawn. „Rudra-Shiva‟ then acquires the status of the Supreme creator and
becomes Shiva of the Puranas, and consequently spawns the first Shaivite cults. It is at this stage that
the duality in his character that had been reconciled by incorporating Siva as an epithet of Rudra in
the earlier texts, inverts itself and it is Shiva who emerges as the entity, embodying Rudra among
many other epithets. The final step is the abstraction of Shiva into „concepts‟ like MahaSadasiva and

Gupte, Ramesh Shankar; Iconography of the Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains; D. B. Taraporevala Sons &
Company, 1972; pp – 69.
Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013

Supreme entities like „Netranath‟. In this manner, the teleological progression transitions from
simplicity to complexity.

A present-day archaeologist or iconographer would identify Shiva through his „essential‟ or most
common symbols or objects – “Staff (representing death), Shield (representing dharma), Trisula (the
three gunas), matted hair (the variegated Brahman, the absolute), digit of the moon (divinity), Nandi
the bull (Dharma and fertitiliy).” (Gupte, 38). However, this generalized association of Shiva with his
objects in a way undermines the array of forms (and the depicted aspects) that the deity can embody.
One of the most intriguing aspects about Shiva is this vivid and multi-faceted personality that he is.
Perhaps, a virtue of centuries, even millennia, of development and augmentation to his character, and
the consequent array of variations, or the creative prowess of the minds behind it, it is these layers that
make the deity a complex enigma and consequently, the subject of art spanning generations. There is
no doubt, however, why appreciation for and the study of these layers is possible even today. The
systematic and deliberate representation of Shiva in his different forms in numerous temples, caves
and scriptural descriptions culminate in a meticulous archive of Shiva‟s character and the myths
associated with them. This section will explore this meticulous archive under the purview of
iconographic deduction and hopefully culminate in a vivid exposition of the forms associated with the
worship of Shiva.

Anthropomorphic and Zoomorphic forms: Most of the forms entailed in this section are
Anthropomorphic with only a few exceptions, which are Zoomorphic. Each of these forms, most of
which have tangible sculptural representations, has a myth and distinct iconographic features
(including asanas, mudras, number of limbs, eyes, hair, weapons and other objects in hands, and
vehicles) associated with it dispelling any ambiguity that might hinder the identification of a
particular Shiva murti. Purely for the sake of structure, the various forms have been segregated into
„sub-forms‟ and „primary‟ forms. The „sub-forms‟ have been titled so because they depict an aspect of
Shiva‟s identity, whether an intrinsic characteristic or a function, which can be traced back to an
intrinsic characteristic or function that is a common denominator in numerous other representations,
and it is the summation of these sub-forms that describes the corresponding common denominator.
„Primary forms‟ are isolated representations of different aspects of Shiva‟s character and cannot be
reduced to a more general form. While sub-forms depict and pertain to numerically different forms,
inferring elements of Shiva‟s character from them requires assimilation with similar sub-forms. For
example, while all the Samhara forms enlisted below represent different forms of an enraged Shiva,
none of them alone wholly describe the destructive element in his character. To do so, a summation of
all of them is required. Thus, they would be considered „sub-forms‟. On the other hand,
Ardhanarishvara is a form which describes an essential characteristic of Shiva and cannot be
generalized further into a broader category. This classification and nomenclature is restricted to this
paper and its sole purpose is to represent and comprehend the different forms of Shiva in an organized
and lucid manner.

There are several „sub-forms‟ illustrated in sculptures which depict Shiva performing two common
functions: Anugraha (conferring grace) or Samhara (enraged or inflicting violence). Some of these
forms are as follows:

 Anugraha: Chandeshanugraha, Vishnuanugraha, Nandisanugraha, Vigneshvaranugraha,

Kiratarjunanugraha and Ravananugraha. The prefix in each of these names refers to the
recipient of Shiva‟s grace in various myths.
Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013

 Samhara: Andhakasuravhadha, Gajasuravadha, Kalarivadha, Sharbhesh (Zoomorphic),

Tripurantaka, Bhairava, Virabhadra and Kamantaka. The prefix in each of these names refers
to the subject of Shiva‟s violent rage. However, Sharbhesh (which is the beastly form Shiva
assumed to tame Narsimha), Bhairava (the form Shiva assumed while temporarily slaying
Brahma) and Virabhadra (this is not so much a form as much as an avatar; it refers to the
beast created by Shiva to destroy the sacrifice of his father-in-law, Daksha) are exceptions to
this nomenclature.

In Anugraha forms, Shiva is usually seen in a pacified disposition, with at least one of his hands in
Abhaya (protection) or Varada (boon-giving) mudras, while his devotees often assume the Anjali
(salutation) mudra. While in the Samhara forms, the iconography in inverted to the opposite end of
the spectrum. Shiva‟s hair is depicted as fluttering and his facial expressions assume an enraged,
almost demonic, disposition. The mudra associated with these forms is Tarjani (scolding someone) or
there is no mudra at all because of multiple weapons being carried in the hands. These have proven to
be the most common identifiers of these forms.

Apart from the forms based on the two functions described above, there are numerous representations
that illustrate other aspects of his character. The following list enlists the same along with the
corresponding myth and important iconographic features.

 Gangadhara-murti: This murti pertains to the myth in which Shiva receives Ganga in his
jata. “In the corresponding iconographic representation, Shiva has four hands. The right-back
hand, which holds a battle-axe, is seen touching the Jata that receives Ganga” (Gupte, 66).
 Ardhanarishvara: This half-male, half-female form is assumed by Shiva in an attempt to
explain the duality of gender principles required to procreate when Brahma fails to realize it
himself. “The representation involves a vertical demarcation of male (Right – Shiva) and
female (Left – Parvati) halves. The male half has a half-third eye on the forehead and a male
chest while the female half has a tilak on the forehead and a well-rounded breast” (Gupte,
 Nrittamurtis: These representations depict Shiva dancing. The most famous sub-form of the
Nrittamurtis is the Nataraja, “in which Shiva four arms. The Front left-hand is in Gajahasta
mudra, the back one carries Agni, the front Right-hand is in Abhaya mudra and the back one
is holding a damaru. The Right Leg is depicted as on the back of a disgusting creature
(symbol of ignorance), Apasmara-Purusa and Left one is lifted up and is across the Right. The
left half of Nataraja is Parvati (not in Bronze) and the jata are spread around the whole figure”
(Gupte, 63). There is strong symbolism associated with the elements of Nataraja. The drum or
damaru symbolises the sound or music of creation; the fire, destruction; Abhaya mudra,
protection or preservation; left-foot, salvation and the fire surrounding Shiva symbolises the
cycle of Transmigration or the sound Aum. On the whole, Nataraja symbolises the dance of
destruction, along with the creation of a new cycle of the cosmos through his movements.
Other Nrittamurti sub-forms are Urdhva Tandava and Lalatatilakam.
 Mahayogi: This form depicts Shiva in meditation. In the yogi element of his character, he is
the greatest teacher of yoga, vina, jnana and vyakhyana. He is depicted at peace and often in
Padma asana and Dhyana Mudra or with his hands on his knees, at rest.
 Kalyansundar Murti: This murti depicts the marriage of Shiva and Parvati, wherein Shiva is
on the left and Parvati, on the right pre-marriage. The reversal of positions indicates the
completion of the marriage ceremony.
Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013

 Ithy-phallic Shiva: The Ithy-phallic Shiva depicts him with an erect phallus. Identification
becomes simple as Shiva is the only Hindu god who is depicted nude.

Linga Worship: “The linga is regarded as the highest, undifferentiated (niskala) form of Siva in
contrast to the anthropomorphic form which is differentiated (sakala).”(Flood, “Blackwell
Companion”, 220). The myth most often associated with the Linga‟s power is the one that entails a
debate between Brahma and Vishnu aimed at determining the supreme deity. Mid-debate, a massive
pillar emerges which seems to continue without cessation and challenged both the deities to discover
the ends of this pillar. Brahma and Vishnu assumed zoomorphic forms and one headed to the top and
the other to the bottom, but neither could find a summit. Shiva emerged and thus proclaimed
superiority and the Linga, as the incessant pillar, became a symbol of supreme power. However, the
earliest possible reference to Linga worship is in the Rig Veda wherein a deity named Shishnadeva, a
phallic deity, is mentioned. However, there is also an attitude of irreverence associated with Linga
worship in the Rig Veda. The Puranas on the other hand offer explanations as to why Shiva is
worshipped in Linga forms, possibly alluding to a tradition of Linga worship already in place. The
Padma Purana contains the story of the curse of Sage Bhrigu, who upon his arrival in Siva-Loka, was
kept waiting by Shiva as he was otherwise occupied in his private quarters with Parvati.
Consequently, the Sage inflicted a curse upon Shiva which restricted his worship only to Lingas.
Another explanation is offered in the Vaman Purana which describes an incident after the death of
Sati. Shiva is described wandering in the forest in the form of a beggar, lost in sorrow, where his
naked body becomes the subject of desire of the wives of sages that inhabit the forest. Enraged, the
sages curse Shiva‟s phallus to fall off. Upon falling, the phallus turns into an infinite fiery pillar of
light. The sages realize that it is Shiva that they unwittingly cursed and begin worshipping the Linga.
The oldest Lingam discovered by scholars is the Guddimallam Lingam domiciled by Parasurmeswara
Temple in Andhra Pradesh. Scholars have dated this Lingam to around the 2nd – 1st century BCE.
However, there is a lot of debate around the political history of this Lingam. Iconographic
identification of this Lingam involves firstly, identifying the standing figure of Shiva protruding from
the Lingam and standing on Apasmara Purusa. The second key feature of this Lingam is the deliberate
resemblance of it to an erect human phallus, compared to later Lingas.

“There are different kinds of linga for different kinds of temple, and an elaborate typology is offered
in texts like the Rauravottara.” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 220). Below is a rudimentary list of a
few important lingas:

 Eka Mukha Linga: This type of linga is depicted with the face of Shiva on it. “An old
example of an Eka Mukha Linga is one from the 4th century AD in Udaygiri (depicted in the
picture)”3 . More recent and popular examples of this type are the Somnath (Gujarat) and
Omkareshwar (Madhya Pradesh) Jyotirlingas.

Indian Temples and Iconography; Significance of the Panchamukha Linga; Kavitha
Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013

Udaygiri Eka Mukha Linga. Source: <>

 Panchamukha Linga: This type of Linga depicts five aspects of Shiva, with four Shivas
facing the four directions and another one thought to be at the core or facing up. The five
„Shivas‟ may be faces or whole human figures. The five aspects depicted are: Tatapurusha
(east) – depicting Shiva as the original creator, Aghora (south) – depicting the wrathful and
destructive aspect of Shiva, Sadyajota (west) – the majestic and creative aspect, Vamadeva
(north) – the gentle and healing/preservative aspect and finally, Ishana – depicting the divinity
of Shiva as the eternal Ruler.
 Sahasra Linga: This type is unique in that it depicts Shiva through numerous small Lingas
(the name itself means a thousand Lingas) on top of a big one. There is also a special
pilgrimage in Karnataka where there are several Lingas carved on rocks in the Shalmala river.
 Chala Linga: The Chala Linga refers to a „movable‟ Linga, as opposed to an „achala‟
(immovable) Linga. These are portable and are usually made of clay, precious stones, wood,
metal or stone. They are mostly commonly used for home worship.
 Achala Linga: These Lingas are „immovable‟ and are found in nature. The famous
Svayambhu (self-existent) Linga is a type of achala Linga and Lingas of this type are said to
have manifested themselves. The most famous example of this is the Amarnatha Linga in
Kashmir. The self-existence associated with these Lingas hoists them to a divine platform,
which entails an extremely high degree of reverence.
 Lingodbhava Linga: “This Linga depicts Shiva emerging from a Linga (or fire) and makes a
direct reference to the famous myth in which Shiva asserts his superiority over Brahma and
Vishnu merely by taking the form of an insurmountable, incessant Linga.” (Gupte, 40). There
are other references to Shiva emerging from Lingas as well as seen in the myth of

The Lingas embody the essence of Shiva while at same time offering a unique form of worship which
is much more conducive for personal worship, as is exemplified by the chala Lingas. This is
illustrated in the Bhakti movement in the South (described in Part Two) wherein small Lingas were
used as symbols of devotion even though temple worship was refuted. Another illustration of this is
elucidated by the trend of the stylization of the Linga through the centuries, which is at once evident
upon a chronological study of Lingas. Compared to the earliest Lingas (the earliest of which is the
perfect example in the present context), which preserved the distinctive features of an actual human
phallus thereby bearing an unmistakable resemblance, the more recent ones reflect a progression of
stylization and simplification of the Linga into what was mistaken by the colonial British to be the
representation of a Stupa. This progression of stylization perhaps reflects the simplification that was
Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013

the result of „personal‟ Lingas being made by many without the necessary skills to incorporate all of
the features. Merely conjecture at this point, this idea is not wholly fallacious as the emergence of
such a trend is highly probable with the proliferation of a belief system.


Rudra-Shiva‟s rise to prominence from Early Vedic times to the Puranic Period has been
accompanied by firstly, Shaivism as a theistic system of worship of Shiva and secondly, a
proliferation of Shaivite cults and schools of thought therein. The enduring prominence of Shiva to
this day is the product of this proliferation. While the previous sections focussed on the journey of
Rudra form a feral Vedic deity, to the Supreme God of Puranic and Tantric texts, this sections will do
the same for the corresponding cults/sects and traditions.

Early Vedic and Puranic

Vedic Rudra, due to his ferocious nature, was to be worshipped out of town limits and out of fear
rather than reverence per se, and “the purpose of worshipping him was to hopefully convince him to
transform into Shiva, the auspicious” (Gupte, 36). While this and at least one reference to Rudra as
the harbinger of prosperity and the one who liberates (see Book 7, Hymn 59, stanza 12 – Rigveda)
suggest the possibility of worship of Rudra during the Vedic period, they don‟t, in any way imply his
superiority over the other deities in the Rigveda. In fact, the Vedas allude to the superiority of deities
like Indra, Agni and Vayu over Rudra. Thus, any notion of a theistic system based around Rudra is
non-existent. This trend continued till the period of the Smritis and the Dharmasutras. “Some scholars
explain the assimilation of Rudra into the main Pantheon through Rudra (assumed by these scholars to
be a non-Aryan deity) betrothing the daughter of the prominent Aryan deity, Daksha” (Gupte, 36).
Upon assimilation he was given the function of destruction. The first clear indication of a tradition of
a theism based on Rudra-Shiva is in the Svetsvatara Upanishad (one of the older Upanishads
dedicated to Rudra‟s glory). In the said Upanishad, he is described as the Supreme Being who is the
cause of the cosmos and at the same time transcends it. In the Atharvasiras Upanishad (a later
Upanishad devoted to Rudra‟s supreme nature) ascribe similar omnipresent, omnipotent and
omniscient attributes to him fortifying the theistic tradition.

“He who protects and controls the worlds by His own powers, He – Rudra – is indeed one only. There
is no one beside Him who can make Him the second. O men, He is present inside the hearts of all
beings. After projecting and maintaining all the worlds, He finally withdraws them into Himself.”

(Chapter 3, Verse 2 - Svetasvatara Upanishad)

Perhaps, this is suggestive of this Upanishad acting as an impetus to a monotheistic tradition within
„Hinduism‟ which is devoted to Rudra-Shiva or it is merely a reflection of a system already in place.
Either way, by the time of the Svetasvatara Upanishad (400 -200 BCE), a monotheistic understanding
of the cosmos was already in place or at least, had been instigated. The earliest unambiguous
references to Shaiva ascetics can be found in the Mahabharata. Also, there is a reference to „Shiv-
Bhagvata‟ in Patañjali‟s (thought to have lived in the 2nd century BC)4 commentary on the Panini

S. Radhakrishnan, and C.A. Moore, (1957). A Source Book in Indian Philosophy. Princeton, New Jersey:
Princeton University, ch. XIII, Yoga, p. 453
Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013

grammar. It can thus be concluded that the earliest reference to a Shaivite tradition is somewhere in
the period between 200BC – 100AD” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 205).

While there is room for doubt on the subject of the emergence of Shaivism during the Upanishads, the
Puranas refers directly refer to Shaivite material. Gavin Flood claims that the Puranas were developed
during the reign of the Gupta dynasty (ca. 320 – 550 CE), along with the Smarta Brahmin forms of
worship. The Shiva puranas entail contain standard material on genealogy, caste responsibilities, and
cosmology, along with specifically Saiva topics of installing the symbol (linga) of Siva in temples,
descriptions of the forms of Siva and material on early Saiva sects. The follower of the puranic
religion, the Mahesvara referred to by Sankara, would at death, having led a life of devotion and
responsible enactment of social duties, be transported to Siva-Loka and so be liberated. “The
Mahesvara was fully orthopraxic, adhered to the Smarta observance of social duties, the varnasrama-
dharma and performed Vedic domestic rites.” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 205). Thus, he was in
conformity with mainstream Brahmanical society. On the other hand, the Puranas also mention other
Shaivite groups which are on the edges of orthopraxy and do not exhibit the same level of conformity
to Vedic thought. The four most important of these groups are Pasupata, Lakulisa (closely related to
Pasupata), Saiva and Kapalika. While the Pashupatas and Saiva Saiddhantikas were within the Vedic
fold to a degree, groups like the Kapalika displayed complete non-conformity. Thus, the Puranic
worship of Shiva is suggestive of constant tension between Vedic and Tantric adherence, prompting
diversification of schools of thought in later Shaivism.

Cults pertaining to this period are distinct from both Puranic groups in several ways. There seem to
have been clear distinctions made in the transition from Smarta worship to Non-Puranic forms of
worship, both in conceptual and ritual observance. “The latter had to undergo an initiation (diksa) into
the cults of their affiliation for two main purposes: liberation in this life (mukti) and/or obtaining
magical powers to experience pleasure in higher worlds (bhukti)” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”,
206). Further classification is done into two categories: the higher (or outer) path (atimarga) and the
path of mantras (mantramarga). Followers of atimarga only seek liberation, while followers of
matramarga also seek bhukti. The Pasupatas, the Lakulas and the Kalamukhas are sects that follow

The Pasupata text is the Pasupata Sutra. This text was regarded as revelation by the Pasupatas. The
myth behind it is that Siva entered the corpse of a young Brahmin that had been cast into a cremation
ground and revived it as Lakulisa, the “Lord of the staff,” who then gave out the teachings contained
in the text to his four disciples. “Lakulisa is clearly referred to as a person in Puranic literature and
D.R Bhandarkar assigns him a date somewhere in the 2nd century AD” (Banerjea, 450). Inferring this
date to be in the period of the emergence of the first Shaivite sects (since Pasupata is the oldest known
sect) would be incoherent with the reference to „Siva-Bhagvata‟ in Patanjali‟s Mahabhyasa. Thus, it
can be inferred that Lakulisa was perhaps not the founder, but the main propagator of Pasupata
Shaivism. The fact that he‟s described as the 28th incarnation of Shiva in the Puranas leaves no qualms
as to his importance and popularity in early Shaivism.

The teachings present in Pasupata Sutra made the Pasupata an ascetic, as opposed to householder,
who was barely an orthopraxic Brahmin. However, this non-conformity wasn‟t extended to following
traditional mainstream practices of restricting asceticism to male Brahmins, discriminating against
both lower castes and women. “However, an area where this non-conformity did extend, was in the
modification of the varnasramadharma stages of life to involve a transcendent fifth stage (siddha), in
Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013

which the Pasupata reaches union with Shiva” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 207). An extreme
form of Pasupati religion was adopted by the Lakula. “The Lakula ascetic imitated the terrible form of
his god Rudra, carrying a cranium begging bowl, a skull-topped staff, a garland of human bones, ash
covered, with matted hair or shaved head” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 207). This form of praxy
is based on the Bhairava myth of Shiva‟s atonement for cutting off Brahma‟s fifth head. The goal of
the Lakula is to imitate Shiva‟s begging till he reaches Banaras (Kapalamocana). The Lakula sect
gave birth to yet another sub-sect called the Kalamukhas continuing the trend of sects and sub-sects
inspiring the emergence of more sub-sects. “This sect was especially popular in Karnataka during the
11th to 13th centuries and even gained political power.” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 208).

The Non-Puranic sects, in the progression and emanation of sub-sects display a tendency of moving
away from orthoprax Brahminical tradition, transcending it subtly as in the case of the Pasupata or
consciously refuting it as did the Lakulas and Kalamukhas. The Kalamukhas even gained popularity
along with political power, suggesting the wider acceptance of the seemingly extreme Non-puranic
cults. Additionally, the varying spectrum of ritualistic and theological nuances allude to differing
understandings of the essence of worshipping Shiva and the God himself, suggestive of a complex
and reflexive social and cultural milieu that had begun to surface within Shaivism.

The Tantras are a vast body of literature in Sanskrit, composed mostly between the eighth and
eleventh centuries AD, claiming to have the status of revelation and claiming to supersede the Vedas.
Most Saiva traditions of the mantramarga accept the Tantras, or rather different groups of Tantras, as
their textual basis. As concerns the subject matter of the Tantras, the majority of the content is
concerned with practice (sadhana) involving ritual and yoga undertaken after initiation (diksa) by a
guru. “Additionally, some Tantras also entail guidelines on temple building, architecture, and
occasional rites such as funerals.” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 209).

It is the sects that adhere to the mantramarga that are commonly associated with the Tantras. The
multitude of the mantramarga Tantric sects can be broadly divided into the teachings of Saiva
Siddhanta on one hand and the teachings of Bhairava of the Non-Siddhanta groups on the other. The
former is referred to as the right (dakshina) and the latter, the left (vama). This segregation is based on
theological criteria. The primary criterion is that while the right adopts a „dualist‟ tradition, the left
adopts a „monistic‟ or „non-dualistic‟ tradition. Dualism in the context of Tantric Shaivism refers to a
very particular belief that the individual soul is numerically distinct from Lord Shiva and can only be
equal (even in the sense of godly power) and not united with Shiva. On the other hand, the monistic
tradition maintains that there is no ontological distinction between the soul and Lord Shiva. Thus, the
devotee is liberated with the knowledge of the numerical non-distinction between his soul and

Another layer of ideal disagreement can be found in practice. “It can be inferred that while the right
accepts 28 dualist Tantras, which are in adherence Vedic orthopraxy, the left has adopted a heteroprax
tradition by adhering to Tantras which clearly refute Vedic orthopraxy” (Flood, “Blackwell
Companion”, 210). This multi-layered distinction is a recurrent theme in mantramarga Tantric
Shaivism, not only in modern scholarship and theology, but also in the schools of thought that the
traditions had transformed into. While scholars like Sadyojoti, Bhatta Ramakantha and Bhojadeva
argued for a dvaita (dualist) nature of existence for the right, theologians like Abhinavagupta argued
for an advaita (monistic) union. “For instance, all forms of practice in the monistic tradition are
Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013

supports of consciousness and means of purifying it to realize the oneness with Shiva and through this
theological deduction, justify their existence” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 222).

The Saiva Siddhanta is considered to be one of the most prominent Saiva cults, not only within the
mantramarga, but also in the collective Saiva tradition. This tradition probably emerged in Kashmir
and was firmly in place till around 9th and 11th centuries CE. As Gavin Flood remarks, “there was also
a dualistic Saiva tradition within Kashmir, theologically articulated in the Saiva Siddhanta, which was
displaced by a non-dualistic one somewhere between 9th and 11th century CE” (Flood, “Kashmir
Shaivism”, 225).

The Saiva Siddhanta is dualistic (dvaita), maintaining a distinction between the self and Siva and
claiming that there are three distinct ontological categories, the Lord (Pati), the self (pasu), and the
bond (pasa). The Siddhanta cult being primarily Tantric, also subscribes to older Vedic ideas of purity
and impurity. “Liberation is attained through the grace (anugraha) of Siva, through initiation (diksa)
by a teacher, in whose body Siva has become established (acaryamurtistha). Throughout his life, the
devotee must perform certain practices to purify his soul and finally, upon death, become an
ontologically distinct being on the level of Shiva with his powers and freedom from the cycle of life.

Tantric Shaivism of the left called Non-Saiddhantika Shaivism, bases its beliefs on the Bhairava on
the Bhairava Tantras. These texts are concerned with the Saivas who worshipped a ferocious form of
Siva called Bhairava and which originated in ascetics groups living in cremation grounds. These
groups are generally known as Kapalikas, the “skull-men” so called because, like the Lakula
Pasupata, they carried a skull-topped staff and cranium begging bowl. When compared to the
orthoprax Siddhanta, the Kapalika pays very little heed to Vedic tradition and consequently, about
ideas of purity and impurity. He must emulate Shiva‟s terrible forms and consequently “cover himself
in the ashes from the cremation ground, offer his gods with the impure substances of blood, meat,
alcohol, and sexual fluids from intercourse unconstrained by caste restrictions” (Flood, “Blackwell
Companion”, 212). In fact, these offering of impure substances were demanded by the deities in the
tradition. Several cults in this tradition have often been thought to be rather extreme. Even so, groups
like the Aghori of Banaras in the present period are a testament to the power of „leftist‟ Tantrism.

Within the „vama‟ or Kapalika (non-dualist) tradition in Shaivism, the Krama, the Kaula and the Trika
groups constitute the Kula ensemble of Kashmir. “Out of the Kula ensemble, it was the Trika tradition
that dominated Kashmir Shaivism for the most part.” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 212). At this
point it must be mentioned that it is a common misconception to refer to the Trika tradition, as
„Kashmir Shaivism‟. “It was with the publication of Jagdish Chandra Chatterji's book that the term
Kashmir Shaivism (which is incidentally also the title of the book in question) seems to have come
into general usage. However, this usage of the term implies incorrectly, that there was a single
tradition of Shaivism in Kashmir, whereas it is now well established that there were several varieties
which were deeply divided both doctrinally and ritually (particularly the Trika, Kaula, Krama and
Saiva Siddhanta). The ambiguity surrounding this problematic term must at once be dispelled as it
causes for an erroneous understanding of the Saiva milieu in Kashmir.

A non-dualistic understanding of the cosmos is the reason why the vama traditions, for the most part,
don‟t subscribe to the distinction between ritual purity and impurity, as has been argued for by authors
like Abhinavagupta (highly influential in both Krama and Trika traditions). This explanation of this
fact lies in another theological conflict between the left and the right. This conflict is over the status of
matter or rather the substrate of matter, maya. Both regard maya as that which constitutes the cosmos.
For the Siddhantas, “Maya is thus the material cause of the universe (upadanakarana) whereas Siva is
Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013

only the efficient cause (nimittakarana). For the left, by contrast, maya is not a substance, but is a
manifestation of pure consciousness” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 224). However, monism
entails that a manifestation is identical to the pure consciousness in question. This implies that there
can be no qualitative distinction between the manifestation and pure consciousness that is the

The conflict between different understandings of maya is also the reason between the different
definitions of liberation. For the Siddhanta, liberation is the removal of impure substance from the self
which, because it is a substance, can only be done through action (i.e. ritual action). For the Non-
Siddhantas, liberation is not the removal of substance but the recognition of the self‟s identity with the
absolute, and so is the highest knowledge and not action.

The Tantric Saiva traditions reflect the deviation from the orthoprax „Brahmanical-householder‟
Vedic tradtion that had already become popular in the Puranic cults. This evident in the overt non-
conformity displayed firstly in thought, with antithetical ideas about purity and caste, and also in
practice as a consequence of the former. This is not to say however, that the older Vedic ideas had
completely disappeared. The Saiva Siddhanta tradition, while maintaining the pervasion of their
Tantric texts (which were said to have been revealed by Lord Shiva himself) over Vedic rites, did
subscribe to the rituals of the Smarta Brahmins. However, The Tantric traditions also display
meticulous theological analysis and consequent justification of practice and worship on both the right
and the left sides. It was perhaps because of the duality of schools of thought that laid an impetus for a
platform for debate and reflection. However, this phenomenon of meticulous analysis to align oneself
with or against Vedic ideas wasn‟t as consistent in other, less „esoteric‟ cults.

Cults associated with texts like the Svacchandabhairava Tantra and the Netra Tantra became popular
because of the demanding and somewhat esoteric nature of the Kaula and Siddhanta cults. “These
tantras deal with rites of protection, exorcism and for desired goals (like seduction and harm to
enemies). Possession is a recurrent theme.” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 216). These cults also
exhibit shades of another trend; that is the trend of reconciling Siddhanta and non-Siddhanta ideas and
adopting this amalgamation as an unconventional form of worship. “For example, both the
Svacchanadabhairava and Netra cults conform to the ritual purity of the Saiva Siddhanta while also
containing impure forms of worship” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 215). This trend can also be
witnessed in the Isanasivagurudeva-paddhati cults (probably in Kerela). “While the text is essentially
„Saiddhantika‟, it seems to be unique in the tradition due to its unconventional content dealing
obsessively with possession and exorcism.” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 215). Also, this brand of
Shaivism adheres to Vedic ideas (varnasrama-dharma), but in practice, performs Tantric worship.
However, it is in the Saivism of the South (Tamil Nadu in particular) that the dichotomy of Vedic vs.
Tantric is transformed into a symbiosis of passionate devotion. Here, we find that Shaivism receives
royal patronage under the reign of the Cola dynasty (ca. 870-1280 AD)5, with the great temples at
Cidambaram, Tanjvur, Darasuram and Gangaikondacolapuram thriving and the famous Cola bronzes
being developed. This form of Shaivism, unlike most others, worships Shiva as Nataraja rather than as
the Linga. Interestingly, the icons of Nataraja at the great temples are also paraded at festivals rather
than just being stationary symbols of worship. In addition to being associated with royalty, Shaivism
of Tamil Nadu also aligns itself with Vedic orthopraxy. “The Brahmins that perform daily worship
However, Sharada srinivasan claims that Archaeometallurgical, iconographic and literary evidence discussed
shows that the Nataraja bronze, depicting Shiva's anandatandava or 'dance of bliss', was a Pallava innovation
(seventh to mid-ninth century), rather than tenth-century Chola, as is widely believed (Srinivasan, 432).
Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013

describe themselves as being strictly Vedic.” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 219). However, the
royal and Vedic elements of Tamil Shaivism co-exist with exactly the opposite within the same
tradition. The 63 Saiva saints, the Nayanaras, and their devotional songs augment the theology and
ritualism (or the lack of it) with passionate devotion and poetry. This aspect of Tamil Saivism
constitutes the Saiva Bhakti movement, which refutes caste distinction, asceticism and formal and
ritualistic temple worship, instead adopting a personal and immediate connection with Shiva. The
Bhakti movement developed in opposition to lower-caste oppression and was quite influential,
perhaps due to the personal freedom to connect with the Lord beyond the control of Brahmin
authority. “Some of the Nayaranas were themselves from the lower castes and the Otuvars, a lower
caste of singers, are known to have sung hymns to Nataraja icons, symbols associated with
Brahmanical royalty of the great temples, during festive processions.” (Flood, “Blackwell
Companion”, 218). This further illustrates the non-conformity to the royal and Vedic-orthopraxic
aspect of Tamil Tradition. Thus, a summation of both aspects points towards either an antithetical
dichotomy of two separate factions involved in a power struggle or a symbiotic existence of two
forms of worship with an established camaraderie based on a cosmic relationship between the two.

Tantric Saiva traditions not only permeated the subcontinent but became royal religions, along with
Buddhism, in South-East Asia and beyond to Java and Bali during the medieval period. Here kings
even modelled themselves on south Asian kings, Sanskrit became the sacred language, and Brahmin
priests officiated at rites of royal consecration. “In Java, for example, there are early Saiva
inscriptions (732 CE) and eighth-century Saiva temples seemed to have followed ritual patterns found
in the subcontinent of bathing the Siva linga.” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 210). Both Bali and
Indonesia are no different, with the latter having mixed Buddhist and Saivite Tantric texts.

Additionally, there are several Shiva temples outside India even today. “The Pashupatinath Temple in
Kathmandu, Nepal is said to have been built in 753 AD. Arulmigu Sri Raja Kaliamman Temple in
Johor Baru, Malaysia is an example of a much more recent temple. It was constructed in 1922, and is
one of the oldest temples located in Johor Baru. ” (Image of temples outside India, 2013).
Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013


The metamorphosis of Rudra into Shiva is a process of shifting essences interacting with each other to
conjure a new one. This metamorphosis challenges the whole idea of essences and consequently, the
concept of Shiva. What makes this possible is the multiplicity of essences attributed to Shiva by
ideologically distinct sects that worshipped him. For different sects, the essence of Shiva was
markedly different, implying different identities of Shiva, and yet there can only be one Shiva (as a
self). The different identities have been reconciled under the classification of the different forms of
Shiva, even though one sect might refute another‟s description of him. Consequently, it is natural to
scrutinize the lack of consistency that runs through the tradition when thought of as a coherent belief
system. However, this paper has culminated in the conclusion that such a treatment is itself fallacious.
“An indigenous understanding of the tradition is required rather than an externalist, Western
understanding” (Flood, “Blackwell Companion”, 201). Upon such treatment, it becomes clear that the
Saivite tradition is in fact dialectic in nature and domiciles a whole array of „dualities‟ in character,
ritual and theology.

Some of these dualities identified in this paper are: Rudra (ferocious) - Shiva (auspicious), Vedic -
Puranic or Tantric, Dualist - Monistic, Atimargic - Mantramarga and the dichotomy or symbiosis of
Royal Brahmanical worship and anti-worship Bhakti. The overarching theme of the Shaivite tradition
through the ages has been the reflection, disagreement and the consequent presence of dualities. Thus,
this paper culminates firstly, in the identification of these dualities and secondly, in the understanding
that in essence, the term „Shaivism‟ only entails one common feature in all „Saivite‟ cults. This
commonality is merely the fact that worship of or devotion to Lord Shiva. Apart from this element, all
the other elements may even contradict each other, thus failing Shaivism as a belief system. Thus, the
function of the term „Saivism‟ is as described previously; it is by no means a belief system. It is an
aggregation of the cults of Shiva.
Siddhant Kalra FLAME COLLEGE, PUNE August, 2013


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