Shiva

Shiva and Shaivism: The essence from Vedic literature to the modern world

Culture Education Interesting

The Vedic people were unaware of Shiva as we know him now. They were familiar with a kind of Shiva that was distinct from the Shiva worshipped elsewhere on the Indian subcontinent. In a strange land surrounded by hostile tribes and an adverse environment, they worshipped a deity who reflected their worries and concerns.

We know Shiva as a Trinity member, as a Kailash inhabitant, as the yogi reclining on top of a snowy mountain someplace in the Himalayas, his inner eye seeing the worlds above and below. We know him as the source of all knowledge, skills, and crafts, as well as the life energy that descends from the skies in the shape of an unending river, with which all our karmas are neutralized when we come into touch. He is well known as the father of Lord Ganesha and Kumara, the husband of both Parvathi and Ganga, and as the rider of the bull Nandi. We adore him in both image and symbol form as a Shivalinga. We ritually value him, proclaiming his merits and summoning him by his thousand titles.

However, the old Vedic people were not as closely identified with Shiva as we are now. They were well aware of a different manifestation of Shiva. They worship a god representing their worries and concerns in a strange land surrounded by hostile tribes and a homely natural environment. At first, they believed of him as the God of wrath, death, and destruction, and simply saying his name was regarded as inauspicious and required for ceremonies.

However, he surpassed other Vedic gods throughout time, became the most powerful God, and was regarded as the destroyer. Before then, however, Vedic people did not worship Shiva in the same way that people from other communities did, particularly among the Chenchus and Malavans who reside in distant parts of South India.

Before his integration into the Vedic religion, Lord Shiva mainly was worshipped outside of Vedic civilization by individuals with whom they were unfamiliar. Lord Shiva is very popular among many old Indian tribes, such as the Chenchus and the Malavans. They dwell in isolated parts of South India and see Shiva as a hunter and a forest god and as their ancestor.

The integration might have occurred due to cultural integration, which could have happened due to rulers who used to worship different deities and implemented a religious tolerance policy. Saivism also developed a culture among them since they adopted many of Saivism’s rituals and customs, such as image worship, puja, worship with incense, water, smoke, food, and many more.

Shiva In the Vedic Literature

Shiva and Shaivism


Shiva is described as the frightening and vindictive Rudra in three hymns in the Rigveda. He is the deity of illness, death, devastation, and misfortune. His very name frightened the Vedic people. They felt that seeking protection from himself via appeasement was the most incredible way to prevent difficulties since only Rudra could rescue them from Rudra’s anger. So they begged him not to damage anybody, not to endanger pregnancies, not to denigrate the dead, and not to kill their combat heroes.

The Satarudriya invocation of the Yajurveda is the most studied song. It presents him as both terrible and pleasing: saving them from his wrath and bringing health and wealth to humanity. It is part of an incantation to the deity Agni to appease and soothe him once he becomes Rudra. The song portrays him as both menacing and endearing. The prayer is presented to Rudra for him to deliver the people health and prosperity as a divine healer and spare them from his own anger. He is characterized as both a dwarf and a giant. According to some researchers, the Satarudriya hymn was likely part of a series of invocations transferred from prevalent Saiva literature into the Vedas, or it was part of a much larger hymn, the most of which was lost to us.

Rudra is mentioned eight times in the Satapatha Brahmana. In one location, he is referred to as Rudra- Shiva. In certain circumstances, he is also linked to Agni. Here we learn how Shiva obtained the name Rudra. As Manyu or fury, it was because he stuck to the Prajapathi after the latter was killed while all other divinities fled. He stayed within and sobbed, and millions of Rudras were born from the tears that streamed from him. They were terrified when the gods beheld Rudra as a deity of hunger and anger, with numerous heads and a powerful bow and arrow. The same Brahmana also mentions his association with animal sacrifices and snakes.

According to the Svetasvatara Upanishad, the sage who penned it raised Lord Shiva to the position of Brahman after seeing Shiva as the Absolute and Supreme. In the writings, he is even referred to as the God who holds the power of Maya, the deception by which he controls the universe.

Lord Shiva appears throughout the Epics and Puranas

Shiva is referenced in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. He is referred to as Sitikantha, Mahadeva, Rudra, Trayambaka, Pasupathi, and Shankara in the Ramayana. We may also discover allusions to him during the Daksha sacrifice, his marriage to Parvati. Also, the narrative of how he swallowed the most dangerous poison during Samudra Manthan, the slaying of the demon Andhaka, and the destruction of three towns with the assistance of Lord Vishnu.

The demon king Ravana is depicted as a devoted admirer of Lord Shiva, and the Ramayana is represented as Shiva’s narrative to Parvathi. Anjaneya, who played an essential role in discovering Sita and defeating numerous demons, is simply the son or an avatar of Shiva, born under unusual circumstances as part of the plan related to Lord Vishnu’s birth as Sri Rama.

More specific allusions to Lord Shiva may be found in numerous chapters of the Mahabharata. Lord Shiva introduced Lord Krishna into Shiva bhakti, or devotion to Shiva, according to the Anusasana Parva. The Santhi Parvan establishes that Hari and Hara are the same people. We see specific Shiva epithets included in the enumeration of Vishnu’s thousand names in the same chapter. According to a narrative version in the epic, Lord Shiva offered Arjuna a strong sword for use in the epic fight after a short but passionate meeting with him in a forest.

Three distinct worldviews

Saivism predates both Brahmanism and Jainism. Its origins may be traced back to prehistoric times. Reincarnation, karma and Maya are three doctrines shared by Saivism, Brahmanism, and Jainism. These ideas were alien to Vedic culture and were only subsequently assimilated via Shaivism.

According to academics, the seal discovered in the Indus Valley reveals that the Indus people worshipped a god comparable to Lord Shiva regarding his connection with animals and his proclivity for meditation and yoga.

Saivism’s Fundamental Philosophy

Saivism portrays an absolute God who is both pure awareness and soul consciousness and actively passive and unconditionally dynamic. It represents a picture in which both individual and divine will have a role. However, it does not see destiny as a fundamental aspect of our lives. Man creates his own fate or destiny via his ambitions and his deeds. Karma is the stringent rule that makes the free choice a gift and a burden. According to its teachings, Divine will is the inviolable rule that generally emerges as Shiva’s grace. It can negate individual karmas and release souls from birth and reincarnation. However, this would only happen in extreme circumstances, generally via the intervention of an enlightened master or guru who has become one with Shiva’s awareness.

Shaivism holds that one creates himself by his goals and deeds. However, karma is always present. It is an example of how a person’s free will can be a gift and a punishment. According to its teachings, the divine will is an inviolable rule that grows in Shiva’s favor. The power is excellent: it can cancel particular karmas and release souls from birth and reincarnation.

After manifesting the worlds with His dynamic energy, He stays in the background as a knower of the past, present, and future, observing events develop and letting things pass. Shiva is present for mortals, yet he is not present. He is both with us and not with us. He is both the same and different. Beyond the senses, the intellect, and the objective world, He conceals Himself behind a thick curtain of ignorance. Shiva willingly allows Prakriti or Shakti to accomplish her job. He is the ruler of the planets, yet He follows His own rules for the purpose of order.

Shiva also has knowledge of the past, present, and future (Trikaal Darshi). He is the same, yet not the same. Shiva is present, yet not present. He delegated Prakriti’s tasks, he has his own set of rules that he adheres to. And if it means breaking the law, he’s prepared to do it.

Thus, according to Saivism, this cosmic universe transcends time and place.

During the Vedic Period, a school of thought was known as Shaivism.

There are grounds to think that Lord Shiva or his aspects were worshiped by populations outside India, such as the Mediterranean, Africa, Central Asia, and Europe, throughout the ancient Vedic period.

When we examine old Celtic gods like Norse Odin and Celtic Cernunnos, we can’t help but see certain parallels with Shiva. Some researchers see links between Saivism’s Tantric activities and the magical-religious traditions of the Mexican, American Indian, Inuit, and Australian Aboriginal peoples. The similarities are probably because ancient societies’ religious beliefs evolved primarily from prehistoric fertility rituals and father god and mother deity traditions.

Shaktism, Samkhya, Yoga, and Tantrism are also considered old traditions notions. They only eventually make their way into post-Vedic Indian culture.

Having said that, Shiva was not worshipped by the main Vedic tribes back in the day. Instead, the Sibis and other outliers of Vedic civilization worshipped Shiva, and the tribe remained incomprehensible to Vedic people. According to the Mahabharata, Pasupathas is Saivism’s most ancient and hidden sect. Then there were the Kapalikas and Ajivikas, who were notable Shiva devotees.

Saivism Throughout History

In his work Indika, Megasthanese mentioned Shiva devotion. He believed that the deity worshipped by Indians was Dionysus, a Greek divinity who had specific attributes with Shiva. According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, representations of Shiva were undoubtedly used for religious devotion. There are allusions to Shiva Bhagats, an old Saiva cult, in Panini’s Ashtadhyayi. According to Haribhadra, Gautama, the author of the Nyaya Sutras, and Kanada, the Vaisheshika school of thought that developed atomic theory, were both worshippers of Lord Shiva.

During the pre-Christian period, there was a renowned devotee called Lakulisa, who was instrumental in revitalizing Shaivism under the banner of Pasupatha, the way of an animal. There are few facts about his works and reports, although it is speculated that he may have belonged to the Kalamukha sect before founding Pasupatha Shaivism. He was, however, hostile to Jainism, Buddhism, and Ajivaka due to their opposing viewpoints. The resurgence started during his reign.

In the post-Mauryan period, the Satavahanas dominated a massive region in the south for about 400 years. They were followers of the Vedic faith and worshipped several gods, including Shiva and Skanda. People worshipped Shiva as Shiva, Mahadeva, Bhava, and Bhutapala, among other titles. They also worshipped his chariot Nandi and his son Skanda as separate deities and in conjunction with Shiva. Foreign dynasties that established their dominion in the Indian subcontinent, including the Sakas, Pahlavas, and Kushanas, often converted to Saivism. The Kushanas worshipped various local and foreign gods, including Shiva and Skanda. Kadhaphises II of the was a Shiva devotee. Kanishka, his successor, worshipped Shiva and Skanda. In his later years, he turned to Buddhism.

Satavahanas governed a vast region in the south for 400 years during the Mauryan period. They supported the Vedic faith and worshiped several gods, including Shiva, Mahadeva, Bhava, and Bhutapala. They also revered Nandi and his son Skanda, also known as Lord Kartikeya. Shaivism was adopted by the Sakas, Pahlavas, Kushanas, and other foreign kingdoms that dominated the Indian subcontinent. Kushanas and Kadhaphises were also Shiva devotees.

Even though many monarchs, such as Harshavardhana, continued to favor Buddhism, Saivism flourished throughout the post-Gupta era. However, there were pockets of Hindu influence, such as the Chandelas of Bundelkhand (9th century AD), who constructed 30 or more temples dedicated to Shiva and other deities at Khajuraho. During the same period, Rajput monarchs erected several temples to worship Shiva and Shakti.

After the post-Gupta era, Saivism flourished. Then, in the south, the Chalukyas, Pallavas, and Cholas constructed many Shiva temples. Sudnaramurthy restored the Saiva tradition, and Kanchi (Kanchipuram) rose to prominence as a center of religious instruction, where royal families sent their children.

Extended Sectarian Movements

Between the 9th and 13th centuries, a new movement known as Kashmiri Shaivism arose. Kashmiri Shaivism grew fast due to the teachings of people such as Vasugupta, Somananda, Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta, and Kshemaraja. They adhere to the ideology of monism. It considers Shiva to be the Supreme Lord and the only reality attained via moksha. Many people were drawn to Kashmiri Shaivism throughout the medieval era because it stressed a master-disciple connection, the awakening of kundalini energy, the doctrine of Pratyabhigna, or the awareness of Shiva as one’s hidden self.

Another Saiva school that rose to prominence in southern India as Saiva Siddhanta. It was influenced by the works of the Nayanars and others, such as Manikkavachakar, author of the renowned Tiruvachakam (10th century), and Mekyandar, composer of Shivajnanabodhanam (13th century). The Saiva Siddhanta school of thought adheres to dvaita or dualism. It considers Shiva the Supreme Lord of all but recognizes a clear separation between the Supreme Self and the individual selves. Individual selves, according to it, do not merge with Shiva when they are freed from the chains of karma, egoism, and misconception. They achieve Shiva’s level of awareness and continue to exist as free spirits in perpetuity.

Another Shaiva school, known as the Virasaiva movement, grew in prominence in Karnataka, and it was inspired by the Bhakti movement that spread over the nation during the medieval era. The great religious leader Basavanna started the movement in the 13th century. Virasaivism emphasizes the significance of a guru, lingam, jangama, God’s grace, holy ash, Rudraksha, and the sacred chant Om Namah Shivaya. Even now, Virasaivism has a strong following in the south.

In the Modern World, Shiva and Saivism

Although Saivism is the most ancient of all schools of Saivism and has made significant contributions to the formation of the body of Hindu rituals observed in the majority of Hindu temples, it is not as popular as Vaishnavism. According to some estimates, about two-thirds of Hindus practice Vaishnavism and revere Vishnu or his numerous incarnations and attributes. Many Hindus indeed worship several gods and goddesses. They will, however, have confidence in one family deity (kula devata) or favorite God even if they worship multiple deities (ishta devata). For many, it is Vishnu or one of his numerous incarnations.

Lord Shiva has a massive following among the general public. In contrast, he ranks second, with a dedicated following that is likely less than one-fourth that of Lord Vishnu. One might take heart that his situation is better than that of Brahma, who is not worshipped in Hindu temples and has just a few temples dedicated to him. Lord Shiva is still a well-known god. He has a huge fan base that spans the length and width of the Indian subcontinent. A significant number of temples have been built in his honor. His progeny, Lord Ganesha and Kumaraswami, and his companion deities have a considerable following and are pretty famous among the general people.