Lord Shiva

The History Of Shaivism In Southern India

By Sir Charles Eliot

This writing explains the rise of Shaivism in southern India in the backdrop of decline of Buddhism, the contribution of Adi Shankaracharya to the growth and popularity of the sect and the worship of Shiva and Lingam originally as a Dravidian tradition.


About the sixth century A.D. the decadence of Buddhism and the invigoration of Brahmanism were both well advanced. The Mahabharata existed as a great collection of epic and religious poetry and the older Puranas were already composed. Even at the present day authorities differ as to whether Śiva or Vishnu commands the allegiance of the majority and naturally it is hard to describe the distribution of sects in earlier times. The monuments of the Guptas (for instance the ruins at Eran) suggest that they were Vishnuites but a little later the cult of Śiva becomes more prominent. The Emperor Harsha (612-648) and his family were eclectic, honouring Śiva, the Sun and the Buddha, but it is not recorded that they worshipped Vishnu. Bâna who lived at his court indicates[511] that Śivaism was the predominant form of worship, but also mentions Buddhists and Bhâgavatas. Hsüan Chuang on the other hand holds him up as a devout Buddhist. Great Śivaite shrines in different parts of India such as the temple of Bhuvaneshwar in Orissa and the Kailas at Ellora were probably constructed in the seventh century and it is likely that in the defeat of Buddhism the worshippers of Śiva played an active part.

This conflict is connected with the names of Kumârila Bhatta (c. 725 A.D.) and Śankara Âcârya (c. 800 A.D.). It clearly represents forces which cannot be restricted to the character of individuals or the span of human lives. The elements which compose Hinduism had been vigorous long before the eighth century and Buddhism, though decadent, continued to exist in India later. But probably the careers of these two men are the best record of the decisive turn of the tide. It is often said that they revived Hinduism, but however much they insisted [207] on the authority of ancient tradition, the real result of their labours was not to re-establish the order of things which prevailed before the rise of Buddhism, but to give authority and solidity to the mixture of Brahmanism, Buddhism and popular beliefs which had grown up. Kumârila is said to have been a Brahman of Bihar who was a Buddhist monk but became a worshipper of Śiva and so zealous a persecutor of his former faith that he persuaded a king of his time named Sudhanvan to exterminate it from the Himalaya to Cape Comorin. This is a monstrous exaggeration but he was doubtless a determined enemy of the Buddhists, as can be seen from his philosophical works.[512] He taught little about metaphysics or the nature of God, but he insisted on the necessity and efficacy of Vedic rites.

More important both as a thinker and an organizer was Śankara. There is some discrepancy in the traditions of his birth, but he was probably born about 788 A.D.[513] in a family of Nambuthiri Brahmans at Kaladi[514] in the Cochin state. Kaladi occupies a healthy position at some height above the sea level and the neighbourhood is now used as a sanatorium. The cocoanut trees and towered temples which mark many south Indian landscapes are absent, and paddy fields alternate with a jungle of flowering plants studded with clumps of bamboos. A broad river broken by sandbanks winds through the district and near the villages there are often beautiful avenues of great trees. Not far distant is Trichur which possesses a Vedic college and a large temple, forbidden to Europeans but like most edifices in Malabar modest in architecture. This is not the land of giant gopurams and multitudinous sculpture, but of lives dedicated [208] to the acquisition of traditional learning and the daily performance of complicated but inconspicuous rites.

The accounts of Śankara's life are little but a collection of legends, in which, however, the following facts stand out. He was the pupil of Govinda, who was himself the pupil of Gaudapâda and this connection would be important could we be certain that this Gaudapâda was the author of the metrical treatise on philosophy bearing his name. He wrote popular hymns as well as commentaries on the Upanishads, Vedânta Sutras and Bhagavad-gîtâ, thus recognizing both Vedic and post-Vedic literature: he resided for some time on the Narbudda and at Benares, and in the course of the journeys in which like Paul he gave vent to his activity, he founded four maths or monasteries, at Sringeri, Puri, Dwârakâ and Badrinath in the Himalaya. Near the latter he died before he was an old man. On his deathbed he is said to have asked forgiveness for going on pilgrimages and frequenting temples, because by so doing he had seemed to forget that God is everywhere.

It is clear that his work both as an author and organizer was considerable and permanent, and that much of his career was spent outside Dravidian lands. His greatest achievement was his exposition of the Vedânta, of which I treat elsewhere. He based his arguments unreservedly on the Vedic texts and aimed at being merely conservative, but those texts and even the ancient commentaries are obscure and inconsistent, and it was reserved for his genius to produce from them a system which in consistency, thoroughness and profundity holds the first place in Indian philosophy. His work did not consist, as he himself supposed, in harmonizing the Upanishads. In this department of interpretation he is as uncritical as other orthodox commentators, but he took the most profound thoughts of the old literature and boldly constructed with them a great edifice of speculation. Since his time the Vedânta has been regarded as the principal philosophy of India—a position which it does not seem to have held before—and his interpretation of it, though often contested and not suited to popular religion, still commands the respect and to some extent the adherence of most educated Hindus.

In practical religion he clearly felt, as every Indian reformer still must feel, the want of discipline and a common standard.[209] Though the Buddhism of his day had ceased to satisfy the needs of India, he saw that its strength lay in its morality, its relative freedom from superstition and its ecclesiastical organization. Accordingly he denounced extravagant sects[515] and forbade such practices as branding. He also instituted an order of ascetics.[516] In doing this he was not only trying to obtain for Hinduism the disciplinary advantages of the Buddhist church but also to break through the rule prescribing that a Brahman must first be a householder and only late in life devote himself entirely to religion. This rule did the Brahmans good service in insuring the continuity and respectability of their class but it tended to drive enthusiasts to other creeds.

It does not seem that any sect can plausibly claim Śankara as founder or adherent. His real religion was Vedântism and this, though not incompatible with sectarian worship, is predisposed to be impartial. The legend says that when summoned to his mother's deathbed, he spoke to her first of the Vedânta philosophy. But she bade him give her some consolation which she could understand. So he recited a hymn to Śiva, but when the attendants of that god appeared she was frightened. Śankara then recited a hymn to Vishnu and when his gentler messengers came to her bedside, she gave her son her blessing and allowed them to take her willing soul.

This story implies that he was ready to sanction any form of reputable worship with a slight bias towards Vishnuism.[517] At the present day the Smârtas, who consider themselves his followers, have a preference for the worship of Śiva. But the basis of their faith is not Śivaism but the recognition of [210] the great body of Indian traditions known as Smriti. And that, next to Vedântism, was the essence of Śankara's teaching: he wished to regard tradition as a coherent whole, based on the eternal Veda but including authoritative Smriti to be interpreted in the light of the Veda, and thus he hoped to correct extravagant and partial views and to lead to those heights whence it is seen that all is one, "without difference."

The results of Śankara's labours may still be seen in the organization of southern Hinduism which is more complete than in the north. It is even said that the head of the Śringeri monastery in Mysore exercises an authority over Smârta Brahmans similar to that of the Pope.[518] This is probably an exaggeration but his decision is accepted as settling caste disputes, and even to-day the Śringeri math[519] is one of the most important religious institutions in India. The abbot, who is known as Jagadguru, is head of the Smârta Brahmans. The present occupant is said to be thirty-third in succession from Śankara and numbers among his predecessors Sâyanâcârya, the celebrated Vedic commentator who lived in the fourteenth century. The continued prosperity of this establishment and of other religious corporations in the Dravidian country, whereas the Mohammedans destroyed all monasteries whether Hindu or Buddhist in the north, is one of the reasons for certain differences in northern and southern Hinduism. For instance in northern India any Brahman, whatever his avocation may be, is allowed to perform religious ceremonies, whereas in the Deccan and south India Brahmans are divided into Laukikas or secular and Bhikshus or religious. The latter are householders, the name having lost its monastic sense, but they have the exclusive right of officiating and acting as Gurus and thus form a married clergy. [211]

It is possible that the influence of Śankara may have had a puritanical side which partly accounts for the degeneration of later Indian art. His higher teaching inculcated a spiritual creed which needed no shrines, while for those who required rites he recommended the old Brahmanic ritual rather than the modern temple cultus. The result of this may have been that piety and learning were diverted from art, so that architecture and sculpture ceased to be in touch with the best religious intelligence.

The debt of Śankara to Buddhism is an interesting question. He indited polemics against it and contributed materially to its downfall, but yet if the success of creeds is to be measured by the permanence of ideas, there is some reason for thinking that the vanquished led the conqueror captive. Śankara's approval both in theory and in practice of the monastic life is Buddhistic rather than Brahmanical.[520] The doctrines of Mâyâ and the distinction between higher and lower truth, which are of cardinal importance in his philosophy, receive only dubious support from the Upanishads and from Bâdarâyana, but are practically identical with the teachings of the Mâdhyamika School of Buddhism and it was towards this line of thought rather than towards the theism of the Pâśupatas or Bhâgavatas that he was drawn. The affinity was recognized in India, for Śankara and his school were stigmatized by their opponents as Buddhists in disguise.[521]


The reader will perhaps have noticed that up to the career of Śankara we have been concerned exclusively with northern India, and even Śankara, though a native of the south, lived much in the north and it was the traditional sacred lore of the north which he desired to establish as orthodoxy. Not only the older literature, Brahmanic as well as Buddhist, but most of the Purânas ignore the great stretch of Dravidian country which forms the southern portion of the peninsula and if the Râmâyana sings of Râma's bridge and the conquest of Lanka this is clearly an excursion into the realms of fancy. Yet the Dravidian [212] districts are ample in extent, their monuments are remarkable, their languages are cultivated, and Tamil literature possesses considerable interest, antiquity and originality. Unfortunately in dealing with these countries we experience in an unusually acute form the difficulties which beset every attempt to trace the history of ideas in India, namely, the absence of chronology. Before 1000 A.D. materials for a connected history are hardly accessible. There are, however, many inscriptions and a mass of literature (itself of disputable date) containing historical allusions, and from these may be put together not so much a skeleton or framework as pictures of ancient life and thought which may be arranged in a plausible order.

It may be said that where everything is so vague, it would be better to dismiss the whole subject of southern India and its religion, pending the acquisition of more certain information, and this is what many writers have done. But such wide regions, so many centuries, such important phases of literature and thought are involved, that it is better to run the risk of presenting them in false sequence than to ignore them. Briefly it may be regarded as certain that in the early centuries of our era Buddhism, Jainism and Brahmanism all flourished in Dravidian lands. The first two gradually decayed and made way for the last, although Jainism remained powerful until the tenth century. At a fairly early date there were influential Śivaite and Vishnuite sects, each with a devotional literature in the vernacular. Somewhat later this literature takes a more philosophic and ecclesiastical tinge and both sects produce a succession of teachers. Tamil Śivaism, though important for the south, has not spread much beyond its own province, but the Vishnuism associated with such eminent names as Râmânuja and Râmânand has influenced all India, and the latter teacher is the spiritual ancestor of the Kabirpanthis, Sikhs and various unorthodox sects. Political circumstances too tended to increase the importance of the south in religion, for when nearly all the north was in Moslim hands the kingdom of Vijayanagar was for more than two centuries (c. 1330-1565) the bulwark of Hinduism. But in filling up this outline the possibilities of error must be remembered. The poems of Manikka-Vaçagar have such individuality of thought and style that one would suppose them to mark a conspicuous religious movement. Yet some authorities [213] refer them to the third century and others to the eleventh, nor has any standard been formulated for distinguishing earlier and later varieties of Tamil.

I have already mentioned the view that the worship of Śiva and the Linga is Dravidian in origin and borrowed by the Aryans. There is no proof that this worship had its first home in the south and spread northwards, for the Vedic and epic literature provides a sufficient pedigree for Śiva. But this deity always collected round himself attributes and epithets which are not those of the Vedic gods but correspond with what we know of non-Aryan Indian mythology. It is possible that these un-Aryan cults attained in Dravidian lands fuller and more independent development than in the countries colonized by the Aryans, so that the portrait of Śiva, especially as drawn by Tamil writers, does retain the features of some old Dravidian deity, a deity who dances, who sports among men and bewilders them by his puzzling disguises and transformations.[522] But it is not proved that Śiva was the chief god of the early Tamils. An ancient poem, the Purra-Porul Venbâ-Mâlai,[523] which contains hardly any allusions to him mentions as the principal objects of worship the goddess Kottavai (Victorious) and her son Muruvan. Popular legends[524] clearly indicate a former struggle between the old religion and Hinduism ending as usual in the recognition by the Brahmans of the ancient gods in a slightly modified form.

We have no records whatever of the introduction of Brahmanism into southern India but it may reasonably be supposed to have made its appearance there several centuries before our era, though in what form or with what strength we cannot say. Tradition credits Agastya and Paraśu-râma with having established colonies of Brahmans in the south at undated but remote epochs. But whatever colonization occurred was not on a large scale. An inscription found in Mysore[525] states that Mukkanna Kadamba (who probably lived in the third century A.D.) imported a number of Brahman families from the north, [214] because he could find none in the south. Though this language may be exaggerated, it is evidence that Brahmans cannot have been numerous at that time and it is probable that Buddhism and Jainism were better represented. Three of Asoka's inscriptions have been found in Mysore and in his last edict describing his missionary efforts he includes "the kings of the Pândyas and Colas in the south" among the conquests of Buddhism. Mahinda founded a monastery in the Tanjore district and probably established Buddhism at various points of the Tamil country on his way to Ceylon.[526] There is therefore no reason to be doubtful of Buddhist activity, literary or other, if evidence for it is forthcoming. Hsüan Chuang in 640 A.D. deplores the decay of Buddhism and speaks of the ruins of many old monasteries.

According to Jain tradition, which some think is supported by inscriptions at Śravana-Belgola,[527] Bhadrabâhu accompanied by Candra Gupta (identified with the Maurya king of that name) led a migration of Jains from the north to Mysore about 300 B.C. The authenticity of this tradition has been much criticized but it can hardly be disputed that Jainism came to southern India about the same time as Buddhism and had there an equally vigorous and even longer existence.

Most Tamil scholars are agreed in referring the oldest Tamil literature to the first three centuries of our era and I see nothing improbable in this. We know that Asoka introduced Buddhism into south India. About the time of the Christian era there are many indications that it was a civilized country[528] which maintained commercial relations with Rome and it is reasonable to suppose that it had a literature. According to native tradition there were three successive Sanghams, or Academies, at Madura. The two earlier appear to be mythical, but the third has some historical basis, although it is probable that poems belonging to several centuries have been associated with it. Among those which have been plausibly referred to the second century A.D. are the two narrative poems Śilappadhikaram [215] and Manimêkhalai as well as the celebrated collection of didactic verses known as the Kural. The first two poems, especially the Manimêkhalai, are Buddhist in tone. The Kural is ethical rather than religious, it hardly mentions the deity,[529] shows no interest in Brahmanic philosophy or ritual and extols a householder's life above an ascetic's. The Nâladiyâr is an anthology of somewhat similar Jain poems which as a collection is said to date from the eighth century, though verses in it may be older. This Jain and Buddhist literature does not appear to have attained any religious importance or to have been regarded as even quasi-canonical, but the Dravidian Hindus produced two large collections of sacred works, one Śivaite the other Vishnuite, which in popular esteem rival the sanctity of the Vedas. Both consist of hymns, attributed to a succession of saints and still sung in the temple worship, and in both sects the saints are followed by a series of teachers and philosophers. We will take the Śivaites first.


Their collection of hymns is known as Tirumurai, and was compiled by Nambi-Andar-Nambi said to have lived under King Râjarâja (c. 1000 A.D.). The first portion of it, known as Devâram, contains the hymns of Sambandha, Appar and Sundara. These persons are the most eminent of the sixty-three saints[530] of the southern Śivaites and are credited with many miracles. Tamil scholars[531] consider that Sambandha cannot have lived later than the beginning of the seventh century. He was an adversary of the Jains and Appar is said to have been persecuted by the Buddhists. Of the other works comprised in the Tirumurai the most important is the Tiruvâçagam of Mânikka-Vâçagar,[532] one of the finest devotional poems which India can show. It is not, like the Bhagavad-gîtâ, an exposition by the deity, but an outpouring of the soul to the deity. It only incidentally explains the poet's views: its main purpose is to tell of his emotions, experiences and aspirations. This characteristic [216]seems not to be personal but to mark the whole school of Tamil Śaiva writers.

This school, which is often called the Siddhânta,[533] though perhaps that term is better restricted to later philosophical writers, is clearly akin to the Pâśupata but alike in thought, sentiment and ritual far more refined. It is in fact one of the most powerful and interesting forms which Hinduism has assumed and it has even attracted the sympathetic interest of Christians. The fervour of its utterances, the appeals to God as a loving father, seem due to the temperament of the Tamils, since such sentiments do not find so clear an expression in other parts of India. But still the whole system, though heated in the furnace of Dravidian emotion, has not been recast in a new mould. Its dogmas are those common to Śivaism in other parts and it accepts as its ultimate authority the twenty-eight Śaiva Âgamas. This however does not detract from the beauty of the special note and tone which sound in its Tamil hymns and prayers.

Whatever the teaching of the little known Âgamas may be, the Śaiva-Siddhânta is closely allied to the Yoga and theistic forms of the Sânkhya. It accepts the three ultimates, Pati the Lord, Paśu his flock or souls, and Pâśa the fetter or matter. So high is the first of these three entities exalted, so earnestly supplicated, that he seems to attain a position like that of Allah in Mohammedanism, as Creator and Disposer. But in spite of occasional phrases, the view of the Yoga that all three—God, souls and matter—are eternal is maintained.[534] Between the world periods there are pauses of quiescence and at the end of these Śiva evolves the universe and souls. That he may act in them he also evolves from himself his energy or Paraçatti (Sk. Śakti). But this does not prevent the god himself in a personal and often visible form from being for his devotees the one central and living reality. The Śakti, often called Umâ, is merely Śiva's reflex and hardly an independent existence.


The remarkable feature of this religion, best seen in the Tiruvaçagam, is the personal tie which connects the soul with God. In no literature with which I am acquainted has the individual religious life—its struggles and dejection, its hopes and fears, its confidence and its triumph—received a delineation more frank and more profound. Despite the strangely exotic colouring of much in the picture, not only its outline but its details strikingly resemble the records of devout Christian lives in Europe. Śiva is addressed not only as Lord but as Father. He loves and desires human souls. "Hard though it is for Brahmâ and Vishnu to reach thee, yet thou did'st desire me." What the soul desires is deliverance from matter and life with Śiva, and this he grants by bestowing grace (Arul). "With mother love he came in grace and made me his"; "O thou who art to thy true servants true"; "To thee, O Father, may I attain, may I yet dwell with thee." Sometimes[535] the poet feels that his sins have shut him off from communion with God. He lies "like a worm in the midst of ants, gnawed by the senses and troubled sore" ejaculating in utter misery "Thou hast forsaken me." But more often he seems on the point of expressing a thought commoner in Christianity than in Indian religion, namely that the troubles of this life are only a preparation for future beatitude. The idea that matter and suffering are not altogether evil is found in the later Sânkhya where Prakriti (which in some respects corresponds to Śakti) is represented as a generous female power working in the interests of the soul.

Among the many beauties of the Tiruvâçagam is one which reminds us of the works of St. Francis and other Christian poetry, namely the love of nature and animals, especially birds and insects. There are constant allusions to plants and flowers; the refrain of one poem calls on a dragon fly to sing the praises of God and another bids the bird known as Kuyil call him to come. In another ode the poet says he looks for the grace of God like a patient heron watching night and day.

The first perusal of these poems impresses on the reader their resemblance to Christian literature. They seem to be a tropical version of Hymns Ancient and Modern and to ascribe to the deity and his worshippers precisely those sentiments [218] which missionaries tell us are wanting among pagans—fatherly love, yearning devotion and the bliss of assured salvation. It is not surprising if many have seen in this tone the result of Christian influence. Yet I do not think that the hypothesis is probable. For striking as is the likeness the contrast is often equally striking. The deity described in words which almost literally render "Sun of my soul, Thou Saviour dear" is also the spouse of Umâ with the white breasts and curled locks; he dances in the halls of Tillai; and the line "Bid thou in grace my fears begone" is followed by two others indicated by dots as being "not translateable."[536] Nor can we say that emotional religion here uses the language of a mythology which it has outgrown. The emotion itself while charged with the love of god, the sense of sin and contrition, has in it another strain which jars on Europeans. Śiva sports with the world and his worshippers treat him with an affectionate intimacy which may be paralleled in the religion of Krishna but hardly in Christianity.[537] Thus several hymns have reference to a game, such as tossing about a ball (hymn vii), battledore and shuttlecock (xiv) or some form of wrestling in which the opponents place their hands on each other's shoulders (xv). The worshipper can even scold the deity. "If thou forsake me, I will make people smile at thee. I shall abuse thee sore: madman clad in elephant skin: madman that ate the poison: madman, who chose even me as thy own."[538]

Again, though in part the tone of these poems is Christian, yet they contain little that suggests Christian doctrine. There is nothing about redemption or a suffering god,[539] and many ideas common to Christianity and Hinduism—such as the incarnation,[540] the Trinity, and the divine child and his mother—are absent. It is possible that in some of the later works of the Sittars [219] Christian influence[541] may have supervened but most of this Tamil poetry is explicable as the development of the ideas expressed in the Bhagavad-gîtâ and the Śvetâśvatara Upanishad. Chronologically Christian influence is not impossible and there is a tradition that Mânikka-Vâçagar reconverted to Hinduism some natives of Malabar who had become Christians[542] but the uncertainty of his date makes it hard to fix his place in the history of doctrine. Recent Hindu scholars are disposed to assign him to the second or third century.[543] In support of this, it is plausibly urged that he was an active adversary of the Buddhists, that tradition is unanimous in regarding him as earlier than the writers of the Devâram[544] who make references (not however indisputable) to his poem, and that Perisiriyar, who commented on it, lived about 700 A.D. I confess that the tone and sentiments of the poem seem to me what one would expect in the eleventh rather than in the third century: it has something of the same emotional quality as the Gîtâ-govinda and the Bhâgavata-purâna, though it differs from them in doctrine and in its more masculine devotion. But the Dravidians are not of the same race as the northern Hindus and since this ecstatic monotheism is clearly characteristic of their literature, it may have made its appearance in the south earlier than elsewhere.

The Tiruvaçagam is not unorthodox but it deals direct with God and is somewhat heedless of priests. This feature becomes more noticeable in other authors such as Pattanattu Pillai, Kapilar and the Telugu poet Vêmana. The first named appears to have lived in the tenth century. The other two are legendary figures to whom anthologies of popular gnomic verses are ascribed and some of those attributed to Kapilar are probably ancient. In all this poetry there rings out a note of almost defiant monotheism, iconoclasm and antisacerdotalism. It may [220] be partly explained by the fact that in the south Brahmanism was preceded, or at least from early times accompanied, by Buddhism and Jainism. These creeds did not make a conquest, for the Dravidian temperament obviously needed a god who could receive and reward passionate devotion, but they cleared the air and spread such ideas as the superiority of good deeds to rites and the uselessness of priests. Even now verses expressing these thoughts are popular in the Madras Presidency, but the sect which produced them, known as the Sittars,[545] is entirely extinct. Caldwell attributes its literature to the seventeenth century, but the evidence available is small and it is clear that this theistic anti-brahmanic school had a long life. As in other cases, the Brahmans did not suppress so much as adapt it. The collection which goes by the name of Śiva-vâkyam contains poems of different ages and styles. Some are orthodox, others have no trace of Brahmanism except the use of Śiva as the name of the deity. Yet it would seem that the anthology as a whole has not fallen under sacerdotal censure.[546]

The important sect of the Lingâyats should perhaps be regarded as an offshoot of this anti-brahmanic school, but before describing it, it may be well briefly to review the history of orthodox Śivaism in the south.

By this phrase is not meant the sect or school which had the support of Śankara but that which developed out of the poems mentioned above without parting company with Brahmanism. Śankara disapproved of their doctrine that the Lord is the efficient cause of the world, nor would the substitution of vernacular for Sanskrit literature and temple ceremonies for Vedic sacrifices have found favour with him. But these were evidently strong tendencies in popular religion. An important portion of the Devâram and the Kanda Purâna of Kachiyappar, a Tamil adaptation of the Skanda Purâna, were probably written between 600 and 750 A.D.[547] About 1000 A.D. the Tirumurai (including the Devâram) was arranged as a collection in eleven parts, and about a century later Sekkilar composed the Periya Purâna, a poetical hagiology, giving the legends [221] of Śivaite saints and shrines. Many important temples were dedicated to Śiva during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

There followed a period of scholasticism in which the body of doctrine called the Śaiva Siddhânta was elaborated by four Âcâryas, namely Mey-Kanda-Devar,[548] (1223) Arunandi, Maraiñâna-Sambandhar and Umâpati (1313). It will thus be seen that the foundation of Śivaite philosophy in Tamil is later than Râmânuja and the first Vishnuite movements, and perhaps it was influenced by them but the methodical exposition of the Śaiva-Siddhântam[549] does not differ materially from the more poetic utterances of the Tiruvaçagam. It recognizes the three entities, the Lord, the soul and matter as separate, but it shows a tendency (doubtless due to the influence of the Vedânta) both to explain away the existence of matter and to identify the soul with the Lord more closely than its original formulæ allow. Matter is described as Mâyâ and is potentially contained in the Lord who manifests it in the creative process which begins each kalpa. The Lord is also said to be one with our souls and yet other. The soul is by nature ignorant, in bondage to the illusion of Mâyâ and of Karma, but by the grace of the Lord it attains to union (not identity) with him, in which it sees that its actions are his actions.

In modern times Śaiva theology is represented among Dravidians by the works of Śivañânar (1785) and his disciple Kachiyappar: also by the poems of Râma-linga. Śivaism in Madras and other parts of southern India is still a vigorous and progressive Church which does not neglect European methods. Its principal organ is an interesting magazine called Siddhanta-Dipika or the Light of Truth. In northern India the Śivaites are less distinct as a body and have less organization, but temples to Śiva are numerous and perhaps the majority of Brahmans and ascetics regard him as their special deity and read Śivaite rather than Vishnuite texts. But it is probably also true that they are not sectarian in the same sense as the worshippers of Krishna.

It is not easy to estimate the relative numbers of Śivaites and Vishnuites in south India, and good authorities hold [222] opposite views. The Śivaites are more united than the Vishnuites (whose many divisions and conspicuous sectarian marks attract attention) and are found chiefly among the upper classes and among ascetics, but perhaps there is much truth in an opinion which I once heard expressed by a Tamil Brahman, that the real division is not between the worshippers of Śiva and of Vishnu, but between Smârtas, those who follow more or less strictly the ancient ritual observances and those who seek for salvation by devotion and in practice neglect the Sanskrit scriptures. There is little hostility. The worship of both gods is sometimes performed in the same building as at Chidambaram or in neighbouring shrines, as at Śrîrangam. In south Kanara and Travancore it is generally held that the two deities are of equal greatness and in many places are found images representing them united in one figure. But the great temples at Madura, Tinnevelly and Tanjore are all dedicated to Śiva or members of his family. If in the philosophical literature of the Siddhânta the purity of the theism taught is noticeable, in these buildings it is rather the rich symbolism surrounding the god which attracts attention. In his company are worshipped Parvatî, Ganeśa, Subrahmanya, the bull Nandi and minor attendants: he is shown leaping in the ecstacy of the dance and on temple walls are often depicted his sixty-four sports or miracles (lîlâ). For the imagination of the Dravidians he is a great rhythmic force, throbbing and exulting in all the works of nature and exhibiting in kindly playfulness a thousand antics and a thousand shapes.


Another school of Śivaite philosophy flourished in Kashmir[550] from the ninth century onwards and is not yet extinct among Pandits. It bases itself on the Âgamas and includes among them the still extant Śiva-sûtras said to have been discovered as revelation by Vasugupta. He lived about 800 A.D. and abandoned Buddhism for Śivaism. The school produced [223] a distinguished line of literary men who flourished from the ninth to the eleventh centuries.[551]

The most recent authorities state that the Kashmir school is one and that there is no real opposition between the Spanda and Pratyabhijñâ sections.[552] The word Spanda, equivalent to the godhead and ultimate reality, is interesting for it means vibration accompanied by consciousness or, so to speak, self-conscious ether. The term Pratyabhijñâ or recognition is more frequent in the later writings. Its meaning is as follows. Śiva is the only reality and the soul is Śiva, but Mâyâ[553] forces on the soul a continuous stream of sensations. By the practice of meditation it is possible to interrupt the stream and in those moments light illuminates the darkness of the soul and it recognizes that it is Śiva, which it had forgotten. Also the world is wholly unreal apart from Śiva. It exists by his will and in his mind. What seems to the soul to be cognition is really recognition, for the soul (which is identical with the divine mind but blinded and obstructed) recognizes that which exists only in the divine mind.

It has been held that Kashmirian Śivaism is the parent of the Dravidian Śaiva Siddhânta and spread from Kashmir southwards by way of Kalyan in the eleventh century, and this hypothesis certainly receives support from the mention of Kashmiri Brahmans in south Indian inscriptions of the fourteenth century.[554] Yet I doubt if it is necessary to assume that south Indian Śivaism was derived from Kashmir, for the worship of Śiva must have been general long before the eleventh century[555] and Kashmiri Brahmans, far from introducing Śivaism to the south, are more likely to have gone thither because they were sure of a good reception, whereas they were exposed to Moslim [224] persecution in their own country. Also the forms which Śivaism assumed in these two outlying provinces present differences: in Kashmir it was chiefly philosophic, in the Dravidian countries chiefly religious. In the south it calls on God to help the sinner out of the mire, whereas the school of Kashmir, especially in its later developments, resembles the doctrine of Śankara, though its terminology is its own.

Before the advent of Islam, Kashmir was a secluded but cultured land. Its pleasant climate and beautiful scenery, said to have been praised by Gotama himself,[556] attracted and stimulated thinkers and it had some importance in the history of Buddhism and of the Pâncarâtra as well as for Śivaism. It is connected with the Buddhist sect called Sarvâstivâdins and in this case the circumstances seem clear. The sect did not originate in Kashmir but its adherents settled there after attending the Council of Kanishka and made it into a holy land. Subsequently, first Vishnuism and then Śivaism[557] entered the mountain valleys and flourished there. Kashmirian thinkers may have left an individual impress on either system but they dealt with questions which had already been treated of by others and their contributions, though interesting, do not seem to have touched the foundations of belief or to have inspired popular movements. The essential similarity of all Śivaite schools is so great that coincidences even in details do not prove descent or borrowing and the special terms of Kashmirian philosophy, such as spanda and pratyabhijña, seem not to be used in the south.

The Śiva-sûtras consist of three sections, describing three methods of attaining svacchanda or independence. One (the gist of which has been given above) displays some though not great originality: the second is Śâktist, the third follows the ordinary prescriptions of the Yoga. All Śivaite philosophy is really based on this last and teaches the existence of matter, souls and a deity, manifested in a series of phases. The relations of these three ultimates are variously defined, and they may be identified with one another, for the Sânkhya-Yoga doctrine may be [225] combined (though not very consistently) with the teaching of the Vedânta. In Kashmirian Śivaism Vedântist influences seem strong and it even calls itself Advaita. It is noteworthy that Vasugupta, who discovered the Śiva-sûtras, also wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-gîtâ.

The gist of the matter is that, since a taste for speculation is far more prevalent in India than in Europe, there exist many systems of popular philosophy which, being a mixture of religion and metaphysics, involve two mental attitudes. The ordinary worshipper implores the Lord to deliver him from the bondage of sin and matter: the philosopher and saint wish to show that thought is one and such ideas as sin and matter partial and illusory. The originality of the Śaiva Siddhânta lies less in its dogmas than in its devotional character: in the feeling that the soul is immersed in darkness and struggles upwards by the grace of the Lord, so that the whole process of Karma and Mâyâ is really beneficent.


As already mentioned Śivaism has an important though unorthodox offshoot in the Lingâyats[558] or Lingavants. It appears that they originated at Kalyan (now in the Nizam's dominions) at the time when a usurper named Bijjala (1156-1167) had seized the throne of the Chalukyas. Their founder was Basava (the vernacular form of Vrishabha) assisted by his nephew Channabasava,[559] whose exploits and miracles are recorded in two Purânas composed in Kanarese and bearing their respective names. According to one story Bijjala, who was a Jain, persecuted the Lingâyats and was assassinated by them. But there are other versions and the early legends of the sect merit little credence. The Lingâyats are Puritans. They reject caste, the supremacy of the Brahmans, sacrifices and other rites, and all the later Brahmanic literature. In theory they reverence the Vedas but practically the two Purânas mentioned are their [226] sacred books.[560] They are strict vegetarians and teetotallers: they do not insist on child marriages nor object to the remarriage of widows. Their only object of worship is Śiva in the form of a lingam and they always carry one suspended round the neck or arm. It is remarkable that an exceptionally severe and puritanical sect should choose this emblem as its object of worship, but, as already observed, the lingam is merely a symbol of the creative force and its worship is not accomplished by indecent rites.[561] They hold that true Lingâyats are not liable to be defiled by births or deaths, that they cannot be injured by sorcery and that when they die their souls do not transmigrate but go straight to Śiva. No prayers for the dead are needed.

Though trustworthy details about the rise of the Lingâyats are scarce, we can trace their spiritual ancestry. They present in an organized form the creed which inspired Pattanattu Pillai in the tenth century. About a hundred years later came Râmânuja who founded a great Vishnuite Church and it is not surprising if the Śivaites followed this example, nor if the least orthodox party became the most definitely sectarian.

The sectarian impulse which is conspicuous after the eleventh century was perhaps stimulated by the example of Mohammedanism. There was little direct doctrinal influence, but a religious people like the Hindus can hardly have failed to notice the strength possessed by an association worshipping one god of its own and united by one discipline. Syrian Christianity also might have helped to familiarize the Lingâyats with the idea of a god not to be represented by images or propitiated by sacrifices, but there is no proof that it was prevalent in the part of the Deccan where they first appeared.

The Lingâyats spread rapidly after Basava's death.[562] They still number about two millions and are to be found in most Kanarese-speaking districts. They are easily recognizable for all carry the lingam, which is commonly enclosed in a red scarf [227] worn round the neck or among the richer classes in a silver-box. It is made of grey soapstone and a Lingâyat must on no account part with it for a moment. They are divided into the laity and the Jangams or priests. Some of these marry but others are itinerant ascetics who wander over India frequenting especially the five Simhâsanas or Lingâyat sees.[563] They are treated with extreme respect by the laity and sometimes wear fantastic costumes such as plates resembling armour or little bells which announce their approach as they walk.

In doctrine the Lingâyats remain faithful to their original tenets and do not worship any god or goddess except Śiva in the form of the Lingam, though they show respect to Ganeśa, and other deities as also to the founder of their sect. But in social matters it is agreed by all observers that they show a tendency to reintroduce caste and to minimize the differences separating them from more orthodox sects. According to Basava's teaching all members of the community both men and women are equal. But though converts from all castes are still accepted, it was found at the last census that well-to-do Lingâyats were anxious to be entered under the name of Vîraśaiva Brahmans, Kshatriyas, etc., and did not admit that caste distinctions are obliterated among them. Similarly though the remarriage of widows is not forbidden there is a growing tendency to look at it askance.


[511] In various allusions to be found in the Kâdambarî and Harshacarita.

[512] The best known of these is the Tantravârttika, a commentary on the Pûrva-mîmâmsâ.

[513] This is the generally accepted date and does not appear to conflict with anything else that is at present known of Śankara. An alternative suggestion is some date between 590 and 650 (see Telang, I.A. XIII. 1884, p. 95 and Fleet, I.A. XVI. 1887, p. 41). But in this case, it is very strange that I-Ching does not mention so conspicuous an enemy of the Buddhists. It does not seem to me that the use of Pûrnavarman's name by Śankara in an illustration (Comm. on Vedanta Sut. II. i. 17) necessarily implies they were contemporaries, but it does prove that he cannot have lived before Pûrnavarman.

[514] Another tradition says he was born at Chidambaram, but the temple at Badrinath in the Himalayas said to have been founded by him has always been served by Nambuthiri Brahmans from Malabar. In 1910 a great temple erected in his honour was consecrated at Kaladi.

[515] His conflicts with them are described in works called Śankara-vijaya of which at least four are extant.

[516] They are called Daśanâmis which merely means that each ascetic bears one or other of ten surnames (Sarswati, Bharati, Tirtha, etc.). See for a further account of them Jogendra Nath Bhattacharya, Hindu Castes and Sects, pp. 374-379.

The order in all its branches seems to have strong pantheistic inclinations. They mutter the formula Sivo'ham, I am Śiva.

[517] I have been told by south Indian Pandits that they think Śankara was bom in a Bhâgavata family and that there is some evidence his kinsmen were trustees of a temple of Krishna. The Śâktas also claim him, but the tradition that he opposed the Śâktas is strong and probable. Many hymns addressed to Vishnu, Śiva and various forms of Durgâ are attributed to him. I have not been able to discover what is the external evidence for their authenticity but hymns must have been popular in south India before the time of Śankara and it is eminently probable that he did not neglect this important branch of composition.

[518] See Bhattacharya, Hindu Castes and Sects, p. 16.

[519] This math has an endowment of about £5000 a year, instituted by the kings of Vijayanagar. The Guru is treated with great respect. His palankin is carried crossways to prevent anyone from passing him and he wears a jewelled head-dress, not unlike a papal tiara, and wooden shoes covered with silver. See an interesting account of Śringeri in J. Mythic Society (Bangalore), vol. VIII. pp. 18-33.

Schrader in his catalogue of the Sanskrit MSS. in the Adyar Library, 1908, notices an Upanishad called Mahâmâyopanishad, ascribed to Śankara himself, which deals with the special qualities of the four maths. Each is described as possessing one Veda, one Mahâvâkyam, etc. The second part deals with the three ideal maths, Sumeru, Paramâtman and Śâstrâthajnâna.

[520] There is some reason to suppose that the Math of Sringeri was founded on the site of a Buddhist monastery. See Journal of Mythic Society, Bangalore, 1916, p. 151.

[521] Pracchanna-bauddha. See for further details Book IV. chap. XXI. ad fin.

[522] The old folk-lore of Bengal gives a picture of Śiva, the peasant's god, which is neither Vedic nor Dravidian. See Dinesh Chandra Sen, Bengali Lang. and Lit. pp. 68 ff. and 239 ff.

[523] J.R.A.S. 1899, p. 242.

[524] See some curious examples in Whitehead's Village Gods of South India.

[525] Rice, Mysore and Coorg from the Inscriptions, pp. 27 and 204.

[526] The early Brahmi inscriptions of southern India are said to be written in a Dravidian language with an admixture not of Sanskrit but of Pali words. See Arch. Survey India, 1911-12, Part I. p. 23.

[527] See Rice, Mysore and Coorg, pp. 3-5 and Fleet's criticisms, I.A.. XXI. 1892, p. 287.

[528] The various notices in European classical authors as well as in the Sinhalese chronicles prove this.

[529] Except in the first chapter.

[530] A complete list of them is given in Foulkes, Catechism of the Shaiva religion, 1863, p. 21.

[531] Tamilian Antiquary, 3, 1909, pp. 1-65.

[532] Edited and translated by Pope, 1900.

[533] Established opinion or doctrine. Used by the Jains as a name for their canon.

[534] Thus the catechism of the Śaiva religion by Sabhapati Mudaliyar (transl. Foulkes, 1863) after stating emphatically that the world is created also says that the soul and the world are both eternal. Also just as in the Bhagavad-gîtâ the ideas of the Vedanta and Sânkhya are incongruously combined, so in the Tiruvaçagam (e.g. Pope's edition, pp. 49 and 138) Śiva is occasionally pantheized. He is the body and the soul, existence and non-existence, the false and the true, the bond and the release.

[535] E.g. Hymn vi.

[536] Pope's Tiruvaçagam, p. 257.

[537] Yet I have read that American revivalists describe how you play base ball (an American game) with Jesus.

[538] Pope's Tiruvaçagam, p. 101.

[539] It does not seem to me that the legend of Śiva's drinking the hala-hala poison is really parallel to the sufferings of the Christian redeemer. At the most it is a benevolent exploit like many performed by Vishnu.

[540] Although Śiva is said to have been many times incarnate (see for instance Catechism of the Shaiva religion, p. 20) he seems to have merely appeared in human form on special occasions and not to have been like Christ or Krishna a god living as a man from birth to death.

[541] The lines which seem most clearly to reflect Christian influence are those quoted by Caldwell from the Nana nuru in the introduction to his Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian languages, p. 127, but neither the date of the work nor the original of the quotation is given. This part of the introduction is omitted in the third edition.

[542] Tamilian Antiquary, 4, 1909, pp. 57-82.

[543] Ib. pp. 1-57; Sesha Aiyer gives 275 A.D. as the probable date, and 375 as the latest date.

[544] The Śaiva catechism translated by Foulkes says (p. 27) that Śiva revealed the Tiruvaçagam twice, first to Manikka-Vaçagar and later to Tiru-Kovaiyar.

[545] Sanskrit, Siddha.

[546] Space forbids me to quote the Śiva-vâkyam and Pattanattu Pillai, interesting as they are. The reader is referred to Gover, Folk-Songs of southern India, 1871, a work which is well worth reading.

[547] The date of the Skanda Purâna creates no difficulty for Bendall considered a MS. of it found in Nepal to be anterior to 659 A.D.

[548] One of his maxims was adu, adu âdal, that is the mind becomes that (spiritual or material) with which it identifies itself most completely.

[549] It is contained in fourteen śâstras, most of which are attributed to the four teachers mentioned above.

[550] For the Kashmir school see Barnett in Muséon, 1909, pp. 271-277. J.R.A.S. 1910, pp. 707-747. Kashmir Sanskrit series, particularly vol. II. entitled Kashmir Śaivism. The Śiva sûtras and the commentary Vimar'sinî translated in Indian Thought, 1911-12. Also Srinivasa Iyengar, Outlines of Indian Philosophy, pp. 168-175 and Sarva-darśana-sangraha, chap. VIII.

[551] Among them may be mentioned Kallata, author of the Spanda Kârikâs and Somânanda of the Śivadrishti, who both flourished about 850-900. Utpala, who composed the Pratyabhijñâ-kârikâs, lived some fifty years later, and in the eleventh century Abhinava Gupta and Kshemarâja composed numerous commentaries.

[552] Kashmirian Śaivism is often called Trika, that is tripartite, because, like other varieties, it treats of three ultimates Śiva, Śakti, Anu or Pati, Paśu, Pâśa. But it has a decided tendency towards monism.

[553] Also called the Śakti or Mâtrikâ.

[554] See Epig. Carn. VII. Sk. 114. 19, 20 and Jour. Mythic Society, 1917, pp. 176, 180.

[555] To say nothing of Śivaite temples like the Kailas at Ellora, the chief doctrines and even the terminology of Śivaite philosophy are mentioned by Śankara on Ved. Sutras, II. 2. 37.

[556] In the Samyuktavastu, chap. XL. (transl. in J.A. 1914, II. pp. 534, etc.) the Buddha is represented as saying that Kashmir is the best land for meditation and leading a religious life.

[557] Chatterji, Kashmir Śaivism, p. 11, thinks that Abhinava Gupta's Paramârthasâra, published by Barnett, was an adaptation of older verses current in India and called the Âdhâra Kârikâs.

[558] See Thurston, Castes and Tribes of southern India, s.v. vol. IV. pp. 236-291 and Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, vol. XXIII. article Bijapur, pp. 219-1884.

[559] An inscription found at Ablur in Dharwar also mentions Ramayya as a champion of Śivaite monotheism. He is perhaps the same as Channabasava. The Lingâyats maintain that Basava merely revived the old true religion of Śiva and founded nothing new.

[560] They have also a book called Prabhuling-lila, which is said to teach that the deity ought to live in the believer's soul as he lives in the lingam, and collections of early Kanarese sermons which are said to date from the thirteenth century.

[561] The use of the Linga by this sect supports the view that even in its origin the symbol is not exclusively phallic.

[562] Their creed is said to have been the state religion of the Wodeyars of Mysore (1399-1600) and of the Nayaks of Keladi, Ikken or Bednur (1550-1763).

[563] At Kadur, Ujjeni, Benares, Śrîsailam and Kedarnâth in the Himalayas. In every Lingâyat village there is a monastery affiliated to one of these five establishments. The great importance attached to monastic institutions is perhaps due to Jain influence.

Source: Hinduism and Buddhism An Historical Sketch by Sir Charles Eliot.Vol II

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