Categories: Hindu Culture

Shaivism: Worship and Philosophy

Shaivism is one of the oldest and most prominent branches of Hinduism, focusing on the worship of Shiva as the supreme deity. It is a deeply philosophical and spiritual tradition, revered by millions of followers, known as Shaivas. They regard Shiva as the ultimate being, embodying the roles of creator, destroyer, preserver, concealer, and revealer. This tradition has a significant presence across South Asia, particularly in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, and Indonesia. Many ancient Indian dynasties, including the Kushanas, the Guptas, the Barasivas, the Satavahanas, and the Cholas, were ardent Shaivas who contributed to the preservation and propagation of Shaivism.

Lord Shiva

Core Concepts of Shaivism

Shaivism revolves around several key concepts that illustrate different aspects of existence and spirituality:

Pati: The Lord of Creation

Pati means the lord or master of all creation. In Shaivism, Shiva as Pati performs five essential functions:

Creation: Shiva creates the universe and all its beings.
Destruction: He destroys the universe at the end of each cycle.
Preservation: He maintains and preserves the universe.
Concealment: Shiva casts the illusion (Maya) upon the world, keeping beings unaware of their true nature.
Revelation: He reveals the truth to those who seek liberation (moksha).

Pasu: The Bound Beings

Pasu refers to all living beings, including humans. These beings are considered animals in the context of Shaivism and are subject to three impurities:

Egoism: The sense of individuality and separateness from the divine.
Delusion: Misunderstanding the nature of reality due to Maya.
Attachments: Desires and attachments that bind beings to the material world.
Pasa: The Bonds of Attachment
Pasa signifies the attachments that living beings form with various objects and desires. These attachments arise from inner desires and repeated interactions, leading to suffering. Liberation (moksha) is achieved by detaching from worldly desires and attachments.

Prakriti: Nature and Creation

Prakriti, or nature, is viewed as both a part of Shiva and an independent deity known as Shakti. Shakti manifests herself into the world to create and bring about change, serving as the cause of creation and transformation.

Major Sects of Shaivism

Shaivism is a diverse tradition with several sub-sects, each differing in their worship modes, concepts of Brahman, individual soul nature, relationship between the two, nature of reality, and paths to liberation. Here are five prominent sects within Shaivism:

Pashupata Shaivism

Origins and Philosophy: Pashupata Shaivism is the oldest Shaivist group, primarily composed of ascetic monks. The name derives from “Pashupati,” meaning lord of animals. Founded by Lakulish in the 2nd century AD, this sect’s main texts include Gaṇakārikā, Pañchārtha bhāshyadipikā, and Rāśikara-bhāshya.

Practices and Beliefs: Pashupatas emphasize strict ethical codes, including brahmacharya (celibacy), ahimsa (non-violence), and tapas (austerity), aiming for self-purification and detachment from societal ties. Their path involves deepening an ethical code and performing sadhana (spiritual practice) to break ties with society and self.

Kashmiri Shaivism

Origins and Philosophy: Kashmiri Shaivism emerged in northern India between 700 and 1100 CE, flourishing in Kashmir’s cultural and intellectual milieu. This sect emphasizes the unity of Shiva, Shakti, and the soul. Central texts include the Siva Sutras, revealed to Vasugupta in the early 800s.

Beliefs and Practices: Kashmiri Shaivism views the world as absolute Consciousness, or Shiva, stressing the inner self and recognizing each person’s power of free choice. The sect is known for its sophisticated spiritual practices and philosophical depth.

The 36 Tattvas: Followers of Kashmiri Shaivism recognize 36 tattvas (principles) that represent various stages of cosmic evolution, from pure consciousness to the material world. This system highlights the dynamic interplay between Shiva and Shakti, emphasizing both stillness and vitality.

Gorakhnath Shaivism

Origins and Philosophy: Founded by Gorakshanatha in the 10th century AD, Gorakhnath Shaivism incorporates practices from the Pasupatha sect and emphasizes hatha yoga, kundalini yoga, and Samadhi. The sect was influenced by Matsyendranatha, who is said to have received knowledge directly from Shiva.

Beliefs and Practices: The followers believe in attaining oneness with Shiva through deep meditation and yogic practices, seeking to increase lifespan and achieve immortality. They also engage in occult sciences and seek supernatural powers (siddhis).

Vira Shaivism

Origins and Philosophy: Prominent in Karnataka, Vira Shaivism was founded by Sri Basaveshvara in the 12th century. This sect rejects Vedic authority, caste hierarchy, and multiple gods, focusing solely on Shiva, worshipped through the shivling.

Beliefs and Practices: Vira Shaivism emphasizes a six-stage path of devotion and surrender, leading to oneness with Shiva. The sect promotes wearing the linga as a symbol of devotion and following a strict ethical code that includes obedience to the guru and worship of the linga.

The Sat-sthala Siddhanta: This philosophy outlines a six-stage path of devotion and surrender:

Bhakta-sthala: Devotion
Mahesa-sthala: Selfless service
Prasadi-sthala: Seeking Shiva’s grace
Pranalingi-sthala: Experiencing all as Shiva
Sarana-sthala: Egoless refuge in Shiva
Aikya-sthala: Oneness with Shiva
Each phase brings the seeker closer to Shiva, culminating in perpetual Shiva-consciousness.

Saiva Siddhanta

Origins and Philosophy: Originating from the 28 Saiva Agamas, Saiva Siddhanta was further developed by scholars like Tirumular. This sect views Shiva as the supreme being who casts Maya to keep beings deluded.

Beliefs and Practices: Liberation is achieved through four paths:

Charya: Serving Shiva in a temple, performing tasks like cleaning and gathering flowers (path of the servant).
Kriya: Performing devotional tasks like worshipping Shiva’s idol and reciting mantras (path of a good son).
Yoga: Practicing yoga and meditation to live in constant company with Shiva (path of friendship).
Jnana: Pursuing knowledge to experience true Shiva consciousness (path of knowledge).
Liberation and Duality: After liberation, the soul realizes it is identical to Shiva but retains some duality, enjoying true consciousness free from all bonds.

Significant Temples in Shaivism

Shaivism is associated with numerous sacred temples, each holding unique significance:

The Somnath temple: Located in Gujarat, the Somnath temple is one of the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines of Shiva.
The Mallikarjuna temple: Situated at Srisailam, the Mallikarjuna temple is another Jyotirlinga shrine.
The Mahakaleshwar temple: Located in Ujjain, the Mahakaleshwar temple is renowned for its lingam.
The Omkareshwar temple: The Omkareshwar temple is situated on an island in the Narmada River.
The Kedarnath temple: Nestled in the Himalayas, the Kedarnath temple is accessible only during certain months.
The Bhimashankar temple: The Bhimashankar temple is located in Maharashtra.
The Kashivishwanath temple: The Kashivishwanath temple is a major temple in Varanasi.
The Triambakeshwar temple: Situated near Nashik.
The Baidyanath temple: The Baidyanath temple is located in Deogarh.
The Nageshwar temple: The Nageshwar temple is situated in Dwarka.
The Ramalingeshwar temple: Located in Rameswaram.
The Grishneshwar temple: The Grishneshwar temple is near the Ellora caves.
These temples are revered pilgrimage sites, drawing devotees from across the world.

In conclusion, Shaivism is a rich and diverse tradition within Hinduism, encompassing various sects and philosophies that revolve around the worship of Shiva as the supreme deity. Through its profound spiritual practices and philosophical insights, Shaivism continues to influence and inspire millions of devotees worldwide.


Krishna Das is an experienced article writer. He writes about Hinduism in his spare time.

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