Hinduism, one among the oldest practised religions of the World, with no single founding father, is the third largest religion on this planet. It never started as an organized religion and has no founding father. It was more of a lifestyle, which hailed from the Indus Valley Civilization. As people started migrating from one place to another and traders started mixing traditions and cultures, the present day Hinduism began shaping up.

SHAIVISM, or the worship of Lord Shiva is one of the most widely followed sects in Hinduism. Some claim that it is the oldest school of worship within Hinduism. In Different parts of South Asia, Lord Shiva is worshipped in different forms, creating different schools within Shaivism. Few common practices, like use of Vibhuti (aka Bhasam) or the Sacred Ash is one such. But the most interesting aspect is that the popular image of Lord Shiva was not constituted in a single day. It rather took several centuries of intermixing of faiths, that popular adaptations were derived. Till then, and even now, Lord Shiva is worshipped as different forms of Ishwar (eg Bhooteshvar, Chandeshvar, Bageshvar etc.). Shiva today is commonly denoted as a God holding a Trident (Trishul), a cobra (Vasuki) around his neck, the third eye of destruction on his forehead, adorning a crescent, river Ganga flowing through his hairlocks and sitting on Kailash Hill wearing a loincloth.  It is said that these icons were developed with time and is a composite of different deities/powers. Shiva is commonly identified with host of deities including Rudra, Agni, Indra, Vayu, Purusha and others. Shiva is one of the three supreme gods of Hinduism and is responsible for maintenance and destruction.

Earliest forms of Shaivism were found in the Indus Valley Civilization (2500-2000 BC).  The Pashupati Seal and Shivlings has been found across Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa and other related sites. There are claims that the Crescent (Half Moon) on Shiva’s head is an echo of the Bull’s Horn, adapted from Pashupati (Lord of Animals), a form of Shiva. Later, more organized forms of Shaivism started appearing. The form of Shaivism as we understand today began shaping up somewhere before 200 BC. Śvetāśvatara Upanishad (400 – 200 BCE) is the earliest known textual exposition of Systematic philosophy of Shaivism. Even Patanjali and Panini talk about Shiva worship in their legendary work.

During the Gupta Dynasty (320-500 AD), Puranic Shaivism started spreading rapidly. Singers, Narratives, Travellers, Merchants and settlers took it to across South Asia. Although Vaishnavism and other sects also started developing around this time, Shaivism held its unique position. The 16 Puranas were also developed during this period and Lord Shiva can be seen as the central deity in Shiva Purana, Linga Purana, Matsya Purana, Kurma purana, Skanda Purana, and Agni Purana. The Puranic corpus is a complex body of materials that advance the views of various competing cults.

When Huen Tsang, the famous Chinese traveller visited India in 7th century, he noticed Shiva being worshipped across the country. He describes major Shiva Temples in Kannauj, Karachi, Malwa, Kandhar and Banaras. Shiva is also considered the chief patron for the Arts, Yoga and Tantra.   Shaiva Siddhanta became popular in Southern India and spread with Tamils to Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and neighbouring countries. It provides the normative rites and theological categories of Tantric Shaivism. The tradition was once practised across South Asia, however the Muslim subjugation of North India restricted it to South, where it spread through the Bhakti Poetry of Nayanmars. These were traditional poet saints, who sung devotional poems.

Major schools of Shaivism are:

Pashupata Shaivism: This is the oldest ‘named’ Shaivite group. While it was practised in all major areas with Shaivism influence, it spread majorly in the region of Gujarat, Nepal and Kashmir. In south, its influence was weakened after Shaiva Siddhanta was introduced. This form was also dominant in Mahabharta Epic. Lakulisa, who is credited with the development of instructions for Pashupata Shaivism told his followers to bathe thrice in sand and lie in ashes daily, while singing devotional songs of Lord Shiva.

Shaiva Siddhanta: This is the normative Tantric Shaivism. It spread across Tamil regions and lays the basis for Tantric forms of worship.

Kashmir Shaivism: It is the household religion, based strongly on Bhairav Tantra’s monistic interpretation. Practices within Kashmir Shaivism, which became popular in the Kashmir region of South Asia were derived from Shaiva Siddhanta and they even claim to have superseded the Shaiva Siddhanta. This also proves the presence of Shaiva Siddhanta in northern regions.


Nath Siddh Sidhanta: Established by Matsyendra Nath and expounded by Guru Gorakhnath. Gorakhnath is also considered as the Yogic incarnation of Shiva himself. Gurkhas of Nepal get their name from Guru Gorakhnath. Guru Gorakhnath also finds reference in South Indian practices of Shaivism and has temples in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam and Odisha. The Bengali Yogi Brahmins (aka Rudraja Brahmins) also take their name from Guru Gorakhnath. The major spread of Nath Tradition is in Nepal, UP, Bihar and Bengal.

Lingayatism: This form is Shaivism is also popular by name Veera Shaivism. It rejects the authority of Vedas and Caste system. It was founded in 12th century by sage Basava in Karnataka region. The followers are strictly vegetarian and do not consume alcohol. They wear a small Shivling known as Ishta-Linga, which remains with them before birth, till after death. What makes Lingayatism most different than rest of the Hinduism is that instead of cremating, the disciples are buried in a meditating position with their Ishta Linga in their left hand. This form of Shaivism is popular in Karnataka and some parts of Andhra Pradesh & Telangana.

There is so much to write about Lord Shiva and his forms. A two-page article can never justify the beliefs and practices. From Nataraja (Patron of Dance) to Rudra (The ferocious), Shiva has many forms. Somewhere he is depicted with 5 heads, representing the 5 elements. His blue throat, Ganga running out from his hair lock, Matted Hair, Tiger Skin, Trident and every other symbol wore by him has a story associated with it and a message for society.


Vikramjit Singh Rooprai

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