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Saivam or Shaivism or Saivism is one of the four most widely followed sects of Hinduism, which reveres Shiva as the Supreme Being. It is also known as śaiva paṁtha (Sanskrit: शैव पंथ; lit. "pantha associated with Shiva") and Saivam (Tamil: சைவம்). Followers of Shaivam are called "Shaivas" (also "Saivas", "Shaivites" or "Saivarkal"). They believe that Shiva is All and in all, the creator, preserver, destroyer, revealer and concealer of all that is. Shaivism, like some of the other forms of Hinduism, spread to other parts of Southeast Asia, including Java, Bali, and parts of the Southeast Asian continent, including Cambodia.

Shiva is sometimes depicted as the fierce God Bhairava. Saivists are more attracted to asceticism than adherents of other Hindu sects, and may be found wandering India with ashen faces performing self-purification rituals.[1][2][3] They worship in the temple and practice yoga, striving to be one with Shiva within.[4]

General features

Shaivism is devoted to worship of the god Shiva.[5] The Sanskrit word śiva (Devanagari शिव) is an adjective meaning kind, friendly, gracious, or auspicious.[6][7] As a proper name, it means "The Auspicious One", used as a euphemistic name for Rudra.[7] In simple English transliteration, it may be written either as Shiva or Siva.

The worship of Shiva is a pan-Hindu tradition, practiced widely across all of India, Sri Lanka and Nepal.[8][9] Shaivism has many different schools showing both regional variations and differences in philosophy.[10] 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.[11]

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[12] and vibhuti[13] can both be translated as "sacred ash".


The Development of the Saiva Traditions. Source: Gavinf Flood (1997), An Introduction to Hinduism, p.152.

Assimilation of traditions

The figure of Shiva as we know him today was built up over time, with the ideas of many regional sects being amalgamated into a single figure.[9] How the persona of Shiva converged as a composite deity is not well documented.[14] According to Vijay Nath:

Visnu and Siva [...] began to absorb countless local cults and deities within their folds. The latter were either taken to represent the multiple facets of the same god or else were supposed to denote different forms and appellations by which the god came to be known and worshipped. [...] Siva became identified with countless local cults by the sheer suffixing of Isa or Isvara to the name of the local deity, e.g., Bhutesvara, Hatakesvara, Chandesvara."[15]

Over the course of time, many regional approaches to the worship and understanding of Shiva would be reconciled.[16]

Indus Valley civilisation

1008 Lingas carved on a rock surface. Photograph is taken at the shore of the river Tungabhadra, Hampi, India

In the Indus Valley civilization, which reached its peak around 2500–2000 BC,[17] an early form of Shiva worship may have been practiced. Artifacts from Mohenjo-daro, Harappa and other archaeological sites of northwestern India and Pakistan, including lingams and the "Pashupati seal", have been interpreted as signd of Shiva-worship. The "Pashupati" (Lord of Animals, Sanskrit paśupati)[18] seal has been interpreted by some as a prototype of Shiva. 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.[19][20]

Emergence of Shaivism

According to Gavin Flood, "the formation of Śaiva traditions as we understand them begins to occur during the period from 200 BC to 100 AD."[21] Shiva's rise to a major position in the pantheon was facilitated by his identification with a host of Vedic deities, including Purusha, Rudra, Agni, Indra, Prajāpati, Vāyu, and others.[22]

The two great epics of India, the Mahabharata[23] and the Ramayana, deal extensively with stories of both Shiva and Vishnu,[24] and there are references to early Shiva ascetics in the Mahabharata.[25]

The Śvetāśvatara Upanishad (400 - 200 BC)[26] is the earliest known textual exposition of a systematic philosophy of Shaivism.[27] 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."[28]

In the grammarian Patanjali's "Great Commentary" (Sanskrit: Mahābhasya) on Pāṇini's Sanskrit grammar (2nd century BC), 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.[29][30]

Puranic Shaivism

During the Gupta Dynasty (c. 320 - 500 AD) Puranic religion developed and Shaivism spread rapidly, eventually throughout the subcontinent, spread by the singers and composers of the Puranic narratives.[31]

The Puranic literature has its origins in the later Gupta period (6th century) and develops during c. the 8th to 11th centuries.[32] along with Smarta Brahmin forms of worship.[21] 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.[33]

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.[34] 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.[34] 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.[35]

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 Viṣṇu, Śiva, or Devī, or, indeed, any number of deities.[36]

For example, the Vishnu Purana (4th century) 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).[37]

Shaiva theism was expounded in the Agamas, which number two hundred including the Upagamas (the "Lesser" Agamas), which were composed before the 7th century.[38] In the 7th century, Banabhatta included the worship of Shiva in his account of the prominent religious sects of that time.[38]

In the 7th century 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.[39]


Smartism is a denomination of Hinduism that places emphasis on a group of five deities rather than just a single deity.[40] The "worship of the five forms" pañcāyatana pūjā system, which was popularized by the philosopher Adi Shankara (also known as Śaṅkarācārya) (between 650 and 800, traditionally 788–820),[41] invokes the five deities Shiva, Ganesha, Vishnu, Devī, and Sūrya.[42][43] This system was instituted by Śaṅkarācārya primarily to unite the principal deities of the five major sects on an equal status.[44] The monistic philosophy preached by 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.

Tamil areas

There are numerous Siva temples in Tamil Nadu, most located in the Thanjavur region which was a major part of the Chola empire between 800 and 1200.

Saiva Siddhanta

A particular branch of Shaivism, the philosophy of Shaiva Siddhanta, is particularly popular in southern India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and every other country where Tamils are living.[45]

The tradition may have originated in Kashmir where it developed a sophisticated theology propagted by theologians Sadyojoti, Bhatta Nārāyanakantha and his son Bhatta Rāmakantha (c. 950–1000).[46] Considered normative tantric Saivism, Shaiva Siddhanta provides the normative rites, cosmology and theological categories of tantric Saivism.[47] Being a dualistic philosophy, the goal of Shaiva Siddhanta is to become an ontologically distinct Shiva (through Shiva's grace).[48] This tradition was once practiced all over India. However the Muslim subjugation of north India restricted Shaiva Siddhanta to the south,[49] where it merged with the Tamil Saiva cult expressed in the bhakti poetry of the Nayanmars.[50] It is in this historical context that Shaiva Siddhanta is commonly considered a "southern" tradition, one that is still very much alive.[50]


By the 7th century, the Nayanmars, 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.[51] The devotional poems of the Nayanmars 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.[52] They were composed in the 7th century by Sambandar, Appar, and Sundarar.[53]

Tirumular, also spelled (Tirumūlār or Tirumūlar) the author of the Tirumantiram (also spelled Tirumandiram) is considered by Tattwananda to be the earliest exponent of Shaivism in Tamil areas.[54] Tirumular is dated as 7th or 8th century by Maurice Winternitz.[55] The Tirumantiram is a primary source for the system of Shaiva Siddhanta, being the tenth book of its canon.[56] 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."[57] The Tiruvacakam praises Siva as belonging to the southern country, India, yet worshipped by people of all countries.[58]

Major schools

Shaivism Groupings. Source: Gavin Flood (2006), The Tantric Body, p.59.

Shaivism has many different schools reflecting both regional and temporal variations and differences in philosophy.[59] 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.[60]

Puranic and non-Puranic

A review of Shaivite groups makes a broad distinction into two groups, with further subdivisions within each group:[61]

  • Vedic, Puranic. Shaivism as a Vedic Origin and Science is the basis of this Religion. The Sections of "Smartha" Brahmins in South and North comprise the Shaivism Practise of Vedic Religion; the Sanatana Dharma. The Shiva Purana is the ultimate resource of the Historical Presence of Shaivism in Society of Modern India.
  • 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 that 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 Lakula, from whom another important sect, the Kalamukhas, developed.[62]
  • Those that follow the path of mantras (mantramārga), seeking both liberation and worldly objectives.

Pashupata Shaivism

Pashupata Shaivism influence in India

Pashupata Shaivism: The Pashupatas (Sanskrit: Pāśupatas) are the oldest named Shaivite group.[63] The Pashupatas were ascetics.[64] Noted areas of influence (clockwise) include Gujarat, Kashmir and Nepal.[citation needed] 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 schools such as the Shaiva Siddhanta.[65]

Shaiva Siddhanta

Shaiva Siddhanta influence in India

Shaiva Siddhanta: Considered normative tantric Saivism, Shaiva Siddhanta provides the normative rites, cosmology and theological categories of tantric Saivism.[47] There is a dualistic dimension to Shaivism, as expounded by Meykandar. The pure, or Shuddha Saivism,however, proclaimed by Rishi Thirumular and his paramparai (guru lineage), is strictly non-dualistic, and proclaims the soul to be at all times one with Shiva.[66] This tradition was once practiced all over India. For example, the theologians Sadyojoti, Bhatta Nārāyanakantha and his son Bhatta Rāmakantha (ca. 950-1000 AD) developed a sophisticated Siddhanta theology in Kashmir.[46] However the Muslim subjugation of north India restricted Shaiva Siddhanta to the south,[49] where it merged with the Tamil Saiva cult expressed in the bhakti poetry of the Nayanars(600 AD and 1100 AD).[50] It is in this historical context that Shaiva Siddhanta is commonly considered a "southern" tradition, one that is still very much alive.[50]

Kashmir Shaivism

Kashmir Shaivism influence in India

Kashmir Shaivism: Kashmir Saivism, a householder religion, was based on a strong monistic interpretation of the Bhairava Tantras (and its subcategory the Kaula Tantras), which were tantras written by the Kapalikas.[67] There was additionally a revelation of the Siva Sutras to Vasugupta.[67] Kashmir Saivism claimed to supersede the dualistic Shaiva Siddhanta.[68] Somananda, the first theologian of monistic Saivism, was the teacher of Utpaladeva, who was the grand-teacher of Abhinavagupta, who in turn was the teacher of Ksemaraja.[67][69] The label Kashmir Shaivism, though unfortunately now widely adopted, is really a misnomer, for it is clear that the dualistic Shaiva Siddhanta was also in North India at one point in time.

Siddha Siddhanta

Natha Siddha Siddhanta: Founded by Matsyendranatha (ca 800–1000) and expounded by Rishi Gorakshanatha (ca 950), this monism is known as Bhedabheda, embracing both the transcendent Shiva as well as the immanent Shiva. 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, also known as Vira Shaivism: 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 and some parts of Andhra Pradesh.[70]

Shiva Advaita

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.


Shaivism left a major imprint on the intellectual life of classical Cambodia, Champa in what is today southern Vietnam, Java and the Tamil lands. The wave of Shaivite 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, including the Chola and the Rajputs. A similar trend was witnessed in early medieval Indonesia with the Majapahit empire and pre-Islamic Malaya.[71][72] Nepal is the only country in the world where Shaivism is the most popular form of Hinduism.

Shaivite literature and texts

The Śvetāśvatara Upanishad (400 - 200 BC)[26] is the earliest textual exposition of a systematic philosophy of Shaivism.[27] The Shiva Rahasya Purana, an Upapurana, is an important scriptual text; another is Tirumurai.

See also


  1. "ISKCON". Retrieved 7 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Hindus in SA". Retrieved 7 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Dubois. Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies. Cosimo. p. 111.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "HimalayanAcademy". Retrieved 7 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Tattwananda, pp. 43–44.
  6. Apte, p. 919.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Macdonell, p. 314.
  8. Flood (1996), p. 17
  9. 9.0 9.1 Keay, p.xxvii.
  10. For an overview of the Shaiva Traditions, see Flood, Gavin, "The Śaiva Traditions", in: Flood (2003), pp. 200–228.
  11. Tattwananda, p. 54.
  12. Apte, p. 714.
  13. Apte, p. 866
  14. For Shiva as a composite deity whose history is not well documented, see: Keay, p. 147.
  15. Nath 2001, p. 31.
  16. Keay, p. xxvii.
  17. For dating as fl. 2300–2000 BC, decline by 1800 BC, and extinction by 1500 BC see: Flood (1996), p. 24.
  18. For translation of paśupati as "Lord of Animals" see: Michaels, p. 312.
  19. Flood 199, p. 28-29.
  20. Flood 2003, p. 204–205.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Flood (2003), p. 205.
  22. For Shiva being identified with Agni, Indra, Prajāpati, Vāyu, and others see: Chakravarti, p. 70.
  23. For analysis of references to Shiva in the Mahabharata, see: Sharma (1988), pp. 20–21.
  24. Tattwananda, p. 46.
  25. For references to Shiva ascetics in the Mahabharata see: Flood (1996), p. 154.
  26. 26.0 26.1 For dating to 400-200 BC see: Flood (1996), p. 86.
  27. 27.0 27.1 For Śvetāśvatara Upanishad as a systematic philosophy of Shaivism see: Chakravarti 1994, p. 9.
  28. Flood (1996), p. 153.
  29. For Patanjali's description of the Shiva bhakta see: Flood (1996), p. 154.
  30. For mention of a Shaiva sect by Patanjali see: Bhandarkar (1913), p. 165.
  31. For Gupta Dynasty (c. 320 - 500 AD) and Puranic religion as important to the spread across the subcontinent, see: Flood (1996), p. 154.
  32. For dating of Gupta Period as c. 300–500, see: Keay, pp. 129–154; For dating of Gupta dynasty as 320–500 AD see: Flood (1996), p. 110.
  33. For the geopolitical analysis that Shaiva and Vaisnava consolidation may have been due to Gupta empirical consolidation see: Keay, p. 147.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Flood (1996), p. 110.
  35. For the inexact nature of the traditional group of six, see: Flood (1996), p. 110.
  36. Flood (1996), p. 111.
  37. For dating of 4th century and synopsis of Vishnu Purana see: Flood (1996), p. 111.
  38. 38.0 38.1 Tattwananda, p. 45.
  39. For Huen Tsang's account see: Tattwananda, p. 46.
  40. Flood (1996), p. 17.
  41. For traditional dating of 788-820, see: Keay, pp. 62, 194; and for broad dating of 650-800, see: Keay, p. 62.
  42. Dating for the pañcāyatana pūjā and its connection with Smārta Brahmins is from Courtright, p. 163.
  43. For worship of the five forms as central to Smarta practice see: Flood (1996), p. 113.
  44. Grimes, p. 162.
  45. S. Arulsamy, Saivism – A Perspective of Grace, Sterling Publishers Private Limited, New Delhi, 1987, pp.1
  46. 46.0 46.1 Flood, Gavin. 2003. The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. Malden: Blackwell. pg. 210.
  47. 47.0 47.1 Flood, Gavin. D. 2006. The Tantric Body. P.120
  48. Flood, Gavin. D. 2006. The Tantric Body. P.122
  49. 49.0 49.1 Flood, Gavin. D. 2006. The Tantric Body. P.34
  50. 50.0 50.1 50.2 50.3 Flood, Gavin. D. 1996. An Introduction to Hinduism. P.168
  51. For emergency of the Nayanmars by 7th century and comparison with Vaisnava Alvars see: Flood (1996), 131.
  52. For eleven collections, with the first seven (the Thevaram) regarded as Vedic, see: Tattwananda, p. 55.
  53. For dating of Sambandar, Appar, and Sundarar as 7th century see: Tattwananda, p. 55.
  54. Tattwananda, p. 55.
  55. Winternitz, p. 588, note 1.
  56. 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.
  57. Quotation from Sir Charles Eliot's Hinduism and Buddhism, volume II, p. 127, is provided in: Tattwananda, p. 56.
  58. Thiruvachakam 4 (Potri Thiruvakaval); lines 164, 165.
  59. 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.
  60. Tattwananda 1984, p. 54.
  61. For overview of Sanderson's method of grouping, see: Flood (2003), p. 206.
  62. For the classifiction of Sanderson into atimārga and mantramārga, and characterization of the Pāśupatas, Lakula, and Kalamukhas, see: Sanderson (1988) and Flood (2003), p. 206.
  63. For the Pāśupatas as the oldest named Śaiva group, see: Flood (2003), p. 206.
  64. For Pāśupata as an ascetic movement see: Michaels (2004), p. 62.
  65. 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).
  66. Subramuniyaswami, Sivaya, Dancing with Siva, Merging with Siva.
  67. 67.0 67.1 67.2 Flood, Gavin. D. 1996. An Introduction to Hinduism. P.164-167
  68. Flood, Gavin. D. 2006. The Tantric Body. P.61
  69. Flood, Gavin. D. 2006. The Tantric Body. P.66
  71. Sastri, K.A. Nilakanta. "A Historical Sketch of Saivism", in: Bhattacharyya (1956), Volume IV pages 63 -78.
  72. 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


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External links