The next largest Hindu denomination after the Vaishnava sect is Shaivism, the sectaries who worship Shiva as the Supreme God. While the Vaishnava is Hinduism’s largest denomination, Shaivism claims to be the oldest, with archeological evidence suggesting a proto-Shiva worship in some form in prehistoric India.
The origins of Shiva worship is clouded in mystery. The name, “Shiva” refers to his “Auspicious” nature, but only appears in the Vedas as a title for a minor Vedic storm god, the ferocious and howling Rudra.
Rudra was a malevolent god, feared by the people for his terrible death-dealing wrath. However, Rudra also possessed aspects of a healer. There is an alternate theory which places the emergence of Shiva from an ancient non-Vedic phallic-worship background.
The Upanishads are Brahmin mystical and sacred texts written in Sanskrit that are commentaries on the Vedas assembled over a period from 800 BCE to 200 CE. During the time when the final Upanishads were being circulated, between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE, the figures of Rudra and Shiva were amalgamated by the various Shaiva cults emerging during this time, like the Pashupata
The ascetic Pashupata sect distinguished themselves by wearing their hair in knots, their penchant for magical ritualism and for chanting the holy syllable,”AUM.” These wandering ascetic monks renounced the world and desires by taking to carrying human skulls as begging bowls, living in the graveyards, And smearing ashes over their bodies three times a day.
The reputed founder was Lakulisha, a sage who lived approximately 200 CE in western India and later was considered by the sect as the 28th and last avatar of Shiva. The Pashupata also claimed that Lakulisha the creator of yoga. The Yoga Masters appeared at the end of the Fourth century and Bhakti, the devotional worship focused on a God considered the Supreme Deity, became popular, and the cults that were devotees of Shiva began to grow. Over time, Shaivism claimed adherents throughout the subcontinent, spread by the singers and composers of the Puranas, the sacred Sanskrit texts of legends and folklore.
As the centuries passed, Shiva grew in stature while his attributes and worship evolved. In the end, Shiva had been transformed from obscure non-Vedic origins, to a minor Vedic storm god, and finally, to becoming the Supreme Being of creation.
There are several sects within Shaivism but they all tend to believe that Shiva will save those who are devoted to him. Shiva is the creator, creation and the Divine Judge who will mercilessly destroy the wicked. Meditation on the properties of Shiva produces “yoga” a state of mental bliss and heightened awareness. Liberation of the soul is achieved thru fervent adoration of Shiva, and if successful, one’s soul becomes equal to Shiva. Shaivites consider the suffering existing in the world is caused by ignorance, thus knowledge is the only thing that can remove it. Purity of the mind is much more commendable than purity of the body.
The legends of Shiva are endless. It is said that he skulks around battlefields and crossroads, and is always surrounded by devas and demons. In devotional art, Shiva is generally depicted as a half-naked ascetic, or as the symbol called the Linga, or as the Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance.
Portraits of Shiva: the Ash-covered Yogi
The devotional art of Shaivism is heavy on the symbolism, and depicts this aspect of Shiva as the ascetic yoga master, covered in ash and dressed in a tiger skin which echoes the Lord of Creatures and the protector of life, Prajapati. Shiva sits in the lotus position for he is the Master of Yoga. His staff is a trident, which symbolizes Will, Action and Knowledge and the power to destroy evil and nescience. Serpents cover Shiva all over his body; he wears one around his neck, chest, arms and his hair, representing the endless cycles of time. Shiva’s matted hair is also dressed with the symbol of the crescent moon and the mighty Ganges River. Centered on Shiva’s brow is his Third Eye, symbolic of the power of knowledge. His right and left eyes appear half-open, because when Shiva opens his eyes completely, the universe comes into being. When Shiva’s eyes are closed, the universe is dissolved. Thus Shiva is the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer, who uncovers and conceals.
The worship of Shiva is done with the anticipation of attaining a place alongside him after escaping from the terrifying world of rebirth and suffering. According to the Law of Attraction – what you believe is what you receive. It is the state of one’s consciousness and the power of belief that determines one’s place in a consciousness-based existence.
Shiva as the Master Yogi, offers escape and salvation through the ascension of the mind. Renunciation, meditation, self-absorption and leading a morally pure life are among the tools of the yogi to counteract karma and achieve liberation.
Shiva: the Linga
The image of Shiva that is most widely worshipped, is that of the Linga: the cultic veneration of the abstract symbol of Shiva’s generative power and of Shiva himself. The linga is a rounded cylindrical pillar usually made of stone or some other material, its origins shrouded in the mist of history. Excavations of the Indus-Sarasvati Civilization has yielded what appears to be lingas made of stone standing two feet high or taller, indicating that some form of pillar-worship existed in pre-Vedic India. There is a long tradition of placing offerings of water, milk or clarified butter upon the linga. Shaivite devotees will have in their homes linga-shaped stones to which they perform ablution, flower-worship and offerings of food.
We do not know how Shiva became directly connected to the linga, but there are various legends of how Shiva-Linga worship was instituted. An interesting tale concerns Brahma and Vishnu busily arguing over who was the mightier god – when all of a sudden, an unknown enormous column of light appeared before them. The gods agreed whoever discovered the meaning of this mystery would be recognized as the Supreme Being. Vishnu shape-shifted into a boar and began to dig to find the bottom of the shaft, while Brahma changed into a goose to fly to the top. No matter how far the gods traveled to reach the end of the shaft of light, still farther the shaft extended. Eventually the two gods returned to the point where they began, and out of the endless shaft of light, Shiva walked out to meet them and both gods were forced to recognize that Shiva was the Supreme God.
Shiva: the Nataraja
The Nataraja symbolizes Shiva’s role as Lord of the Dance. This is cosmic dance of sublime and graceful energy which sustains existence. Shiva is shown standing atop a vanquished demon who symbolizes ignorance. In his upper right hand, Shiva holds a drum which symbolizes of the sound of creation. His upper left hand holds a flame, which is the destruction of the universe. Thus, the Nataraja reveals that existence as a rhythmic manifestation of cosmic cycles : time as a cyclic, endless procession of creation, preservation and the termination of existence. When existence becomes too damaging and unbalanced to the beings within it, Shiva’s Dance is the saving liberation for those suffering, trapped beings – and here again, the role of religious adoration and devotion provides a hope of compensation for living in a world of suffering.
Within the Law of Attraction, Shiva represents the Divine Plan, an active, cosmic force that rewards those who focus their devotion, hopes, desires and dreams, upon him. According to the Shaivites, without the foundation of cosmic consciousness, which stands as Shiva to reflect knowledge and morality back to the mind of the human being, one’s chance for escaping this world of sorrows would be non-existent.
Next: Śaṅkara’s Advaita: The Pure Brahman of Consciousness
“Shaivism.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 15 Jan. 2010 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/518556/Shaivism>.
“Pashupata.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 16 Jan. 2010<http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/446153/Pashupata>.
“A history of Indian Philosophy,” by Surendranath Dasgupta, Motilal Banarsidass Publ. 1991
“The Myths and Gods of India: The Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism,” by Alain Daniélou, Inner Traditions International, 1991.
“Perceptions of Shiva in Ancient India,” by Rohitha Easwer, What is India News Service, March 8, 2005
“Lord Shiva“by Bansi Pandit,
“Linga.” New World Encyclopedia. 7 Jul 2008, 01:15 UTC. 17 Jan 2010, 16:03
“Hindu Philosophy,” by Shyam Ranganathan, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
Encyclopaedia of Historiography, by M.M. Rahman, Anmol Publ. 2006