Shaivism is the second largest religious community in cotemporary India.
It has several distinct and important branches, and is commonly associated
with asceticism. Lord Shiva himself is often depicted as a yogi sitting in
meditation in the Himalayas. Shaivism includes the principle of avatar, but
the concept is less developed than in Vaishnavism. Shiva has important forms
as Rudra (in a fierce and angry mood), Nataraja (the King of Dance), and the
Linga. Shiva's followers often consider him the Supreme deity, above all others.
at a temple in Wembley London, pour milk on the linga. It represents Shiva
as the male, creative principle.
The roots of Shaivism are anchored in pre-historic India. Evidence of the worship of Shiva has been found in ancient archaeological sites, such as Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. In the Rig Veda, he is referred to by the name Rudra.The oldest story about Shiva concerns his destruction of the sacrificial arena of Daksha after Shiva's wife (Sati) voluntarily gave up her life upon being insulted by her father, Daksha.
Between 700 and 1000 CE there lived sixty-three Nayanmars (singer-saints)
whose poems are still recited today. Thereafter, Shaivism became the prominent
religion of India, particularly in the South. The rulers of many major kingdoms
became Shaivites and patronised its representatives. Magnificent temples were
built in Shiva's honour and many impressive sculptures were inspired by him.
Shiva is mentioned in the four Vedas, and particularly the Svetashvatara Upanishad,
the Shaivite equivalent to the Vaishnava Bhagavad-gita. There are numerous
references to Shiva in the epics and Puranas. Most Shaivite theology though,
derives from later scriptures, particularly the Agamas.There are five main
traditions, shown below.
- Svetashvatara Upanishad
- Shiva Purana
- The Agamas
- Tiru-murai (poems)
- Shiva drinks poison
- Shiva destroys the three cities of the demons
- Killing Andhaka and other demons
- Daksha's sacrifice
The Main Traditions
Perhaps the oldest school within Shaivism. The school of Shaiva Siddhanta
(below) is a continuation of this tradition.
Followed by many intellectuals. It has a personal doctrine, stressing
the plurality of souls (as opposed to the advaita idea that all souls
and God are ultimately one).
Almost defunct today. Its most prolific writer is Abhinavagupta (c. 960 –
1020). The goal of this movement is to "become Shiva "and regain
one's universal nature. It is also called Shiva-advaita.
Virashaivism (the Lingayats)
Closely associated with the twelfth-century reformer, Basava. It opposed
caste differences. Followers wear a small Shiva-linga round the neck.The
present community is centred round Karnataka.
Shaiva has long been connected with rigorous asceticism. Well known are the
naked Nagas. Many yogis are Shaivites. Prominent are the Nathapatnis, followers
of Gorakhnatha, and the Aghori who deliberately contravene moral norms.