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An insight into one of India’s largest religious sects: Shaivism

Shaivism is one of India’s major Hindu traditions, wherein followers worship Shiva, who is also known as Rudra. Along with Vaishnavism and Shaktism, Shaivism constitutes the main forms of modern Hinduism. Among the Hindu Gods, Shiva is one of the most popular Gods along with Krishna, Hanuman, Ganesha and Rama. 

Acquired from Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta customs, Shaivism is a fusion of pre-Vedic religions and traditions that were popularly present in the Southern part of India. During the process of Sanskritization and the development of Hinduism as a religion, these pre-Vedic traditions were associated with the Vedic God Rudra. In the Vedas, there are mentions of a mysterious, other-wordly God by the name of Rudra, Shiva later became an alias of Rudra. In the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, Shiva is treated as the supreme deity, and he is also an important deity in the Sanskrit epics - Mahabharata and Ramayana. The rise of the Pashupata sect brought on the emergence of organised sectarian worship, which eventually gave rise to temples being constructed and festivals being born in the name of Shiva.   

In traditional Hindu philosophy, Shiva is commonly depicted as both an annihilator as well as the God of yoga and asceticism. He is a highly contradictory deity, as he is aligned with both the forces of destruction as well the forces of creation. The ways in which individuals worship Shiva varies across the country, involving a vast range of forms and sectarian expressions. People have participated in popular devotional worship such as bhakti to more obscure methods of devotion such as the Kapalikas and the Tantrics, who willfully use transgressive elements like wine, meant and sexual intercourse. 

The rudimentary doctrines and treaties of most Shaivite sects are very similar to that of Hindu philosophy. Just like other Hindus, Shaivism presumes the laws of karma and reincarnation. The ultimate aim is to let go of the material world, which is perceived as an illusory and imaginative entity. The main difference with Shaivism is that Shiva is regarded as the central God of origin, cause and existence. 

Shaivism has various schools of thought that come under it, covering pluralistic realism to absolute monism. The Shaiva Siddhanta, a doctrine of this particular sect, identifies three principles - Pati, Shiva (the Lord), Pashu (the individual soul) and Pasha (the bonds that restrict the human soul to earthly existence). The paths that direct an individual to gain Shivatva (the nature of Shiva) are charya (external acts of worship), kriya (intimate devotion to God), Yoga (meditation) and Jnana (knowledge). 


Q1. How is Shaivism different from Hinduism? 

Both, worshippers of Shaivism and Vaishnavism follow the main concepts of Hinduism. However, they exercise their devotion to different Gods, Shaivism to Shiva and Vaishnavism to Vishnu. Shaivites worship while paying attention to the importance of Shiva, particularly, through the practice of Raja Yoga. 

Q2. Where is Shaivism most prominent? 

The Pashupatas have been noticed in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Kashmir and Nepal. Shaivites are extensively found in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. 

Q3. What role does Vishnu play in Shaivism? 

In Shaivism, the Brahman is Shiva, while Vishnu is a manifestation of him. In Vaishnavism, Vishnu is considered the Brahman while Shiva serves as an expression of him.