- Shaivism is the formal name for the group of tradi-tions that worship SHIVA as the supreme divinity. A person who worships Shiva will be called a Shaiva in India or a Shaivite in academic parlance. This loose sect, which encompasses by far the large majority of Hindus, probably began to form around the fifth or fourth century B.C.E. Worship of Lord Shiva is mentioned in both the RAMAYANA and MAHABHARATA epics.The first Shiva LINGAM authenticated archaeo-logically dates from about the first century C.E., but it is likely that this type of worship was already many centuries old. Scholars often point to a very ancient Indus Valley seal showing a seated fig-ure with a water-buffalo-horned headdress and, apparently, an erect penis, both evocative of Shiva. It is called the Pashupati figure, “Lord of the Ani-mals,” which is also a later designation of Shiva. However, there is no other evidence to indicate worship of a Shiva-like being in the INDUS VALLEY CIVILIZATION. Some even discern a “yogic” seating posture in the figure, although Indians do tradi-tionally sit in that cross-legged pattern.The Shiva lingam is actually a sexual symbol showing the coitus of the divine male with the female. The sexual organ of the GODDESS is found in the surrounding circular stone that almost always encases the lingam. It is probably because of this primordial association of Shiva with the goddess that from his first appearance in mythol-ogy he is seen with a wife, SAT I, who tragically dies. She is afterward reincarnated as PARVATI. At times Shiva is also associated with DURGA and KALI. With Parvati the divine family develops with an older son, the elephant-headed GANESHA, and a younger son, KARTTIKEYA.The first formal Shaivite text may well be a Tamil text relating the worship of the younger son of Shiva, Murugan, another name of Karttikeya, dating from approximately the third century C.E. The first known Shaivite saint, a female ascetic, Karaikkalammaiyar, dates from around the fourth century. Not long after, stone temples were built to Shiva in South India, around the sixth century. As later all around India the central shrine was almost always a Shiva lingam.In a challenge to the Jains in Tamil Nadu, a group of great Shaivite saints began to wander from shrine to shrine and temple to temple sing-ing the praises of Lord Shiva. The three great saints associated with the Tamil Shaivite scripture TEVARAM date to the sixth to eighth centuries. They helped make Shaivism the most influential tradition in the region. The pattern repeated itself farther north in later centuries, as poet-saint devo-tees spread the word of Lord Shiva and popular-ized devotional worship.Shaivite puranas were first written in SANSKRIT around the sixth century. They told extraordinary stories of the ascetic-erotic Lord Shiva, the chaotic Lord, who resisted household life and children and made trouble for the world and the gods. These puranas form the Sanskrit backbone for the Shaivite cult.By the 12th century Shaivism (as had VAISH-NAVISM) in the Tamil country had fully assimilated the Sanskritic tradition of the north into the local traditions. Thus Shaivism developed a clear sense of continuity with northern Vedic Brahminism. Both Sanskrit and Tamil were honored as holy languages. Shiva undoubtedly had a northern Indian provenance. All the shrines that the south-ern Shaivite saints frequented were originally associated with local divinities, whom the saints recognized as forms of Shiva.Farther north, the VIRASHAIVA tradition devel-oped in the 12th century in Karnataka. The Viras-haivas did not accept icons and eschewed Vedic worship entirely. They were devoted only to Shiva as a formless indefinable divinity. Each Virashaiva would simply wear a lingam around the neck to show devotion. Caste was outlawed and women were made equals to men in the tradition. Their path was devotional, and their desire was to real-ize the divine truth that was Shiva.Shaivite icons and temple artifacts appear much later in the north than in the south, but Shaivism was flourishing earlier nonetheless. Smaller shrines with Shiva lingams were appar-ently the norm, places where mendicants gath-ered, often to smoke hashish and sing the praises of the Lord who was everywhere.Between the eighth and 12th centuries the NAT H YOGIS became prominent among the Shaivite wandering mendicants. Famed among these was the great GURU GORAKHNATH. These wild, ascetic mendicants were antisocial and often frighten-ing in appearance, carrying begging bowls made of skulls and smearing themselves with human ashes to mimic the chaotic Lord himself. They practiced alchemy in an attempt to achieve immortality. When in the south an organized literature, liturgy, and temple culture had already emerged, North India Shaivism seemed to move along different lines. The Shaivite temple cult began to develop in North India around the ninth or 10th century, but truly dramatic temples were not built until some 600 years after they had appeared in the south.In the 12th century the great ABHINAVAGUPTA wrote his texts outlining KASHMIRI SHAIVISM, a TANTRIC tradition that relied on personal transfor-mation and ritual to realize the total oneness of Shiva, rather than on a temple culture. His texts were no doubt based on traditions that had been maturing for centuries.Further reading: C. V. Narayan Ayyar, Origin and Early History of Saivism in South India (Madras: University of Madras, 1936); R. G. Bhandarkar, Vaisnavism, Saivism, and Minor Religious Systems (New York: Garland Pub-lishing, 1980); R. Nagaswamy, Siva Bhakti (New Delhi: Navrang, 1989); Moti Lal Pandit, Saivism, a Religio-Philosophical History (New Delhi: Theological Research and Communication Institute, 1987); S. Shivapadasun-daram, The Saiva School of Hinduism (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1934).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.