Shaivistic and Bhakti Roots of Kashmiri Religion

Excerpts from:
The Poplar and the Chinar: Kashmir in a historical outline
by Subhash Kak
Louisiana State University Baton Rouge, LA 70803-5901
International Journal of Indian Studies, vol 3, 1993, pp. 33-61.

To understand the religious divide in the Vale it is necessary to go back to the Shaivite roots of the popular religion. It is important to note that this tradition fits squarely within the greater Indian tradition. The Rigveda presents a monistic view of the universe where an understanding of the nature of consciousness holds the key to the understanding of the world. This is further emphasized in the Upanishads, the six philosophical schools, Buddhist and Jain philosophy, the Shaivite and the Tantric systems. Of course this emphasis varies. And sometimes seemingly different terms represent the same central idea. For example the s unyata (void) of Madhyamika Buddhism and the brahman (universe) of the Upanishads are forms of the monistic absolutes. Two opposite metaphors thus represent the same central idea. Likewise the dualism of Sa m khya and of the Jains is correctly seen as projection of a monistic system of universal consciousness that manifests itself in the categories of the physical world and sentience. A grand exposition of the system, that explains how different perspective fit in the framework, is contained in the Bhagavad Gi ta . Even the Iranian religion of Zarathushtra may be seen as reformulation of the earlier Vedic tradition (Boyce 1975) in the same sense that Vaishnavism is.

Kashmir Shaivism, reached its culmination in the philosophy of Abhinavagupta and Kshemaraja (tenth to eleventh century AD) (Chatterji 1914, Dyczkowski 1987, Gnoli 1968, Kaw 1969, Pandey 1963, Jaideva Singh 1977, 1979, & 1989). Their trika (three-fold) school argued that reality is represented by three categories: transcendental ( para ), material ( apara ), and a combination of these two ( para para ) (Lakshman Jee 1988). This three-fold division is sometimes represented in terms of the principles s iva, s akti, an u or pati, pa s a, pas u . S iva represents the principle behind consciousness, s akti its energy, and an u the material world. At the level of living beings pas u is the individual who acts according to his conditioning, almost like an animal, pa s a are the bonds that tie him to his behaviour, and pati or pas upati (Lord of the Flock) is s iva personified whose knowledge liberates the pas u and makes it possible for him to reach his potential. The mind is viewed as a hierarchical (krama) collection of agents ( kula ) that perceives its true self spontaneously ( pratyabhijna ) with a creative power that may be viewed as being pulsating (spanda) . This last attribute recalls the spenta of the Zarathushtrian religion, where this word represents the power of creation of Ahura Mazda . Thus Kashmir Shaivism appears to have attempted a reconciliation of the Iranian religion with its Vedic parent.

The Pratyabhijn a (recognition) system is named after the book Stanzas on the Recognition of Ishvara or Shiva which was written by Utpala (c 900-950). It appears Utpala was developing the ideas introduced by his teacher Somananda who had written the earlier Vision of Shiva . In Shaivism in general, Shiva is the name for the absolute or transcendental consciousness. Ordinary consciousness is bound by cognitive categories related to conditioned behavior. By exploring the true springwells of ordinary consciousness one comes to recognize its universal (Shiva). This brings the further recognition that one is not a slave (pasu) of creation but its master (pati) . In other words, an intuition of the true nature of one's consciousness provides a perspective that is liberating.

For the spanda system the usual starting point is the Aphorisms of Shiva due to Vasugupta (c 800). His disciple Kallata is generally credited with the Stanzas on Pulsation . According to this school the universal consciousness pulsates of vibrates and this ebb and flow can be experienced by the person who has recognized his true self.

Abhinavagupta wrote a profound commentary on Utpala's Stanzas on Recognition. Shaivite philosophy may be said to have reached its full flowering with his philosophy. Abhinava also wrote more than sixty other works on tantra, poetics, dramaturgy, and philosophy. His disciple Kshemaraja also wrote influential works that dealt with the doctrines of both the schools of Recognition and Pulsation. Abhinava emphasized the fact that all human creativity reveals aspects of the seed consciousness. This explains his own interest in drama, poetry, and aesthetics.

According to the ancient doctrine of Sa m khya physical reality may be represented in terms of twenty-five categories. These categories relate to an everyday classification of reality where prakrti may be likened to matter, and purusa to mind. Kashmir Shaivism adds eleven new categories to this list. These categories characterize different aspects of consciousness.

Any focus of consciousness must first be circumscribed by coordinates of time and space. Next, it is essential to select a process (out of the many defined) for attention. The aspect of consciousness that makes one have a feeling of inclusiveness with this process followed later by a sense of alienation is called maya . Thus maya permits one, by a process of identification and detachment, to obtain limited knowledge and to be creative.

How does consciousness ebb and flow between an identity of self an an identity with the processes of the universe? According to Shaivism, a higher category permits comprehension of oneness and separation with equal clarity. Another allows a visualization of the ideal universe. This permits one to move beyond mere comprehension into a will to act. The final two categories deal with pure consciousness by itself and the potential energy that leads to continuing transformation. Pure awareness is not to be understood as similar to everyday awareness of humans but rather as the underlying schema that the laws of nature express.

Shaiva psychology is optimistic, scientific, secular, and liberating. At the personal level it emphasizes reaching for the springwell of creativity ( sakti ) and the schema underlying this creativity ( siva ). The journey leading to this knowledge may be begun in a variety of ways: through sciences, the arts, and creative social activities. But this exploration of the outside world is to be taken as a means of uncovering the architecture of the inner world. Shaiva psychology also reveals that the notion of bhakti, which has played a central role in the shaping of the Indian mind during the past millennium, may be given a focus related to a quest for knowledge.

The intellectual theories of Kashmir Shaivism were given popular expression by the great mystic Lalleshvari or Lalla (1335-1376). Her sayings, vakya , form the basis of much of the Kashmiri world-view that emerged later. But from Lalla onwards the emphasis did shift to the devotional aspects of Kashmir Shaivism (Temple 1924, Odin 1994). The notion of recognition of one's true self was exalted to the central role in the popular religion including Kashmiri popular Islam that views her va kyas and the sayings of her disciple Sheikh Nur-ud-din (1377-1438), Nanda Rishi , as sources of spiritual wisdom. Two of Lalla's va kya that have been adapted from Bamzai (1962) are given below:

I saw myself in all things
I saw God shining in everything.
You have heard, stop! see Shiva
The house is his, who am I Lalla.



Shiva pervades the world
Hindu and Muslim are the same.
If you are wise know yourself
Then you will know God.
"Lalla is as much a part of Kashmiri language, literature, and culture as Shakespeare is of English" is the assessment of Kachru (1981). Says her own pupil Nanda Rishi:
That Lalla of Padma npor-she drank
Her fill of divine nectar;
She was indeed an avata r of ours.
O God, grant me the self-same boon!
(Kaul 1973)
Nur-ud-din was followed by a large number of Rishis from both the Hindu and the Muslim communities. The Islamic Rishis provided the leadership to the popular religion of the Kashmiri Muslims.

By the end of the nineteenth century the Kashmiri Hindus were about seven percent of the population of the Vale. Within the community itself a two-fold division had taken place by this time. Those who specialized in the secular sphere, studied Persian and undertook administrative employment, became known as the karkuns ; others who did priestly duties requiring knowledge of Sanskrit were termed bhasha bhatta (Sender 1988, Madan 1989). In recent years this sub-division is disappearing and karkun values have become the dominant ethos of the community.

Kashmir Saivism

Hinduism Today: Issue 94-03

Kashmir Saivism, with its potent stress on man's recognition of an already existing oneness with Siva, is the most single-mindedly monistic of the six schools. It arose in the ninth century in Northern India, then a tapestry of small feudal kingdoms. Maharajas patronized the various religions. Buddhism was still strong. Tantric Shaktism flourished toward the Northeast. Saivism had experienced a renaissance since the sixth century, and the most widespread Hindu God was Siva.

According to the traditions of Kashmir Saivism, Lord Siva originally set forth sixty-four systems, or philosophies, some monistic, some dualistic and some monistic theistic. Eventually these were lost, and Siva commanded Sage Durvasas to revive the knowledge. Sage Durvasas' "mind-born sons" were assigned to teach the philosophies: Tryambaka (the monistic), Amardaka (the dualistic) and Shrinatha (monistic theistic). Thus, Tryambaka at an unknown time laid a new foundation for Kashmir Saiva philosophy.

Then, it is said, Lord Siva Himself felt the need to resolve conflicting interpretations of the Agamas and counter the encroachment of dualism on the ancient monistic doctrines. In the early 800s, Shri Vasugupta was living on Mahadeva Mountain near Srinagar. Tradition states that one night Lord Siva appeared to him in a dream and told him of the whereabouts of a great scripture carved in rock. Upon awakening, Vasugupta rushed to the spot and found seventy-seven terse sutras etched in stone, which he named the Siva Sutras. Vasugupta expounded the Sutras to his followers, and gradually the philosophy spread. On this scriptural foundation arose the school known as Kashmir Saivism, Northern Saivism, Pratyabhijna Darshana ("recognition school"), or Trikashasana ("Trika system"). Trika, "three," refers to the school's three-fold treatment of the Divine: Siva, Shakti and soul, as well as to three sets of scriptures and a number of other triads.

Kashmir Saivite literature is in three broad divisions: Agama Shastra, Spanda Shastra and Pratyabhijna Shastra. Agama Shastra includes works of divine origin: specifically the Saiva Agama literature, but also including Vasugupta's Siva Sutras. The Spanda Shastra, or Spanda Karikas (of which only two sutras are left), are both attributed to Vasugupta's disciple Kallata (ca 850-900). These elaborate the principles of the Siva Sutras. The Pratyabhijna Shastra's principle components are the Siva Drishti by Vasugupta's disciple, Somananda, and the Pratyabhijna Sutras by Somananda's pupil, Utpaladeva (ca 900-950). Abhinavagupta (ca 950-1000) wrote some forty works, including Tantraloka, "Light on Tantra," a comprehensive text on Agamic Saiva philosophy and ritual. It was Abhinavagupta whose brilliant and encyclopedic works established Kashmir Saivism as an important philosophical school.

Kashmir Saivism provides an extremely rich and detailed understanding of the human psyche, and a clear and distinct path of kundalini-siddha yoga to the goal of Self Realization. In its history the tradition produced numerous siddhas, adepts of remarkable insight and power. It is said that Abhinavagupta, after completing his last work on the Pratyabhijna system, entered the Bhairava cave near Mangam with 1,200 disciples, and he and they were never seen again.

Kashmir Saivism is intensely monistic. It does not deny the existence of a personal God or of the Gods. But much more emphasis is put upon the personal meditation and reflection of the devotee and his guidance by a guru. Creation of the soul and world is explained as God Siva's abhasa, "shining forth" of Himself in His dynamic aspect of Shakti, the first impulse, called spanda. As the Self of all, Siva is immanent and transcendent, and performs through his Shakti the five actions of creation, preservation, destruction, revealing and concealing. The Kashmir Saivite is not so much concerned with worshiping a personal God as he is with attaining the transcendental state of Siva consciousness.

An esoteric and contemplative path, Kashmir Saivism embraces both knowledge and devotion. Sadhana leads to the assimilation of the object (world) in the subject (I) until the Self (Siva) stands revealed as one with the universe. The goal-liberation-is sustained recognition (pratyabhijna) of one's true Self as nothing but Siva. There is no merger of soul in God, as they are eternally nondifferent.

There are three upayas, stages of attainment of God consciousness. These are not sequential, but do depend upon the evolution of the devotee. The first stage is anavopaya, which corresponds to the usual system of worship, yogic effort and purification through breath control. The second stage is shaktopaya, maintaining a constant awareness of Siva through discrimination in one's thoughts. The third stage is shambhavopaya in which one attains instantly to God consciousness simply upon being told by the guru that the essential Self is Siva. There is a forth stage, anupaya, "no means," which is the mature soul's recognition that there is nothing to be done, reached for or accomplished except to reside in one's own being, which is already of the nature of Siva. Realization relies upon the satguru, whose grace is the blossoming of all sadhana.

Despite many renowned gurus, geographic isolation in the Kashmir Valley and later Muslim domination kept the following relatively small. Scholars have recently brought the scriptures to light again, republishing surviving texts. The original parampara was represented in recent times by Swami Lakshman Joo. Today various organizations promulgate the esoteric teachings to some extent worldwide. While the number of Kashmir Saivite formal followers is uncertain, the school remains an important influence in India. Many Kashmir Saivites have fled the presently war-torn Valley of Kashmir to settle in Jammu, New Delhi and elsewhere in North India. This diaspora of devout Saivites may serve to spread the teachings into new areas.

Saivism is not a single, hierarchical system. It is a thousand traditions, great and small. In the broadest sense Saivism is life itself. Philosophically it may be understood as six major traditions with many similarities and a few differences.

In the search for peace, enlightenment and Liberation, no path is more tolerant, more mysticaL, more widespread or more ancient than Saivite Hinduism. Through history Saivism has developed a vast array of lineages and traditions, each with unique philosophic-cultural-linguistic characteristics, as it dominated India prior to 1100 from the Himalayas to Sri Lanka, from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. Here we seek to present the essential features of six major traditions identifiable within the ongoing Saiva con Saiva Siddhanta, Pashupata Saivism, Kashmir Saivism, Vira Saivism, Siva Advaita and Siddha Siddhanta.

It should be understood that this formal and somewhat intellectual division, however useful, is by no means a comprehensive description of Saivism, nor is it the only possible list. In practice, Saivism is far more rich and varied than these divisions imply. Our discussion of these six schools and their related traditions is based upon historical information. There are wide gaps in the record, but we do know that at each point where the veil of history lifts, the worship of Siva is there.

The Saiva Agamas form the foundation and circumference of all the schools of Saivism. The system of philosophy set forth in the Agamas is common to a remarkable degree among all these schools of thought. These Agamas are theistic, that is, they all identify Siva as the Supreme Lord, immanent and transcendent, capable of accepting worship as the personal Lord and of being realized through yoga. This above all else is the connecting strand through all the schools.

Philosophically, the Agamic tradition includes the following principle doctrines: 1) the five powers of Siva: creation, preservation, destruction, revealing and concealing grace; 2) The three categories, Pati, pashu and pasha-God, souls and bonds; 3) the three bonds: anava, karma and maya; 4) the three-fold power of Siva-iccha, kriya and jnana shakti; 5) the thirty-six tattvas, or categories of existence, from the five elements to God; 6) the need for the satguru and initiation; 7) the power of mantra; 8) the four padas: charya, kriya, yoga and jnana.

As we explore the individual schools and lineages within Saivism, keep in mind that all adhere to these doctrines. Our discussion necessarily focuses on the differences between one school and another, but this is not meant to obscure the overwhelming similarity of belief and practice among them.

Agamic philosophy and practices are conveyed to the common man through other channels, one of which is the Saiva Puranas. These oral collections of stories about the Gods are interspersed with Agamic philosophy.

A second channel is the Saivite temple itself, for the construction of the temples and the performance of the rituals are all set forth in the Agamas-in fact it is one of their main subjects. The priests follow manuals called paddhati, which are summaries of the instructions for worship contained in the Saiva Agamas, specifically the shodasha upacharas, or sixteen acts of puja worship, such as offering of food, incense and water. A third channel is the songs and bhajanas of the sants, which in their simplicity carry powerful philosophic import. A fourth is the on-going oral teachings of gurus, swamis, panditas, shastris, priests and elders.

Such matters of agreement belie the fact that Saivism is not a single, hierarchical system. Rather, it is a thousand traditions, great and small. Some are orthodox and pious, while others are iconoclastic and even-like the Kapalikas and the Aghoris-fiercely ascetic, eccentric or orgiastic. For some, Siva is the powerful, terrible, awesome destroyer, but for most He is love itself, compassionate and gentle.

For nearly all of the millions of Siva's devotees, Saivism is not, therefore, a school or philosophy; it is life itself. To them Saivism means love of Siva, and they simply follow the venerable traditions of their family and community. These men and women worship in the temples and mark life's passages by holy sacraments. They go on pilgrimages, perform daily prayers, meditations and yogic disciplines. They sing holy hymns, share Puranic folk narratives and recite scriptural verses.

Still, it is useful for us all to understand the formal streams of thought which nurture and sustain our faith. Now, in our brief description of these six schools, we begin with today's most prominent form of Saivism, Saiva Siddhanta.


  • Kashmir Shaivism
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