My previous article on Shiva describes the different forms and moods that are worshipped. This diversity is also reflected in the different philosophies associated with Shiva. Shiva, in various forms such as Rudra, and Pashupati, was worshipped perhaps even in pre-Vedic times. Shaivism has various practices that can be traced to the Vedas including the Upanishads and is also influenced by the Agamas, the Itihaas and the Puranas. Over time different theories related to spirituality were developed. Some of the philosophies were similar to Advaita where Shiva is equal to non-dual Brahman and has a nirguna form while others are similar to Dvaita where Shiva and the self are different with Shiva as the ultimate Ishavara.

The Shaiva Siddhanta was a collection of dualist theories prevalent in South India especially among Tamils. The main concepts were Pati (Shiva), Pashu (self) and Paasha (bonds with the world). The aim is for the Pashu to be released from the bounds of Paasha and reach Pati. Even when Pashu reaches Pati, Pashu and Pati are separate. That is, Pati and Pashu do not become one. Every Pashu needs Shiva to trigger the released from Paasha. The Shiva Agamas are also in the dualist tradition but have the following dimensions: jnana (knowledge), kriya (rituals) yoga (meditation) and charya (devotion).

Sadyojyoti, a defender of the Shaiva Siddhanta dualist theory. His aim was to make theory and practice consistent. He used the way people worshipped Shiva to define the philosophy. Hence all practices including the Agamas influenced the theory. The Shiva Agamas combine monotheism (focus on Shiva) with the path of knowledge. But according to the ritualists, jnana alone cannot lead be Moksha, one needs Anugraha (divine grace) from Shiva. One has to perform the various rituals before one can get Shiva’s Anugraha.

In contrast to the Shaiva Siddhanta, Kashmiri Shaivism developed an Advaita like (i.e., non-dual) theory. Kashmiri Shaivism was not a single school of thought and had different strands that were influenced by Agamic and Tantric philosophies. But in all them the ultimate aim is to be one with Shiva (or Brahman) as in Advaita.

Abhinavgupta, the main proponent of Kashmiri Shaivism, views were quite different from the standard Advaita theory. He wrote that one has to start with ritual but then one has to progressively start looking inward. A practitioner who starts looking inward becomes less and less dependent on the external rituals. Over time this introspection becomes deeper and will ultimately result in the direct experience of consciousness (also known as Brahman in classical Advaita or Shiva in Shaivism). During this process, there will be decline in the number of rituals that will be performed. Moksha is attained when Shiva is directly experienced. One could add meditation to this process. Meditation leads to churning of the mind such that both good and bad things will emerge. Shiva will then consume all that is bad as in the Samduramanthan. Once only pure things emerge from the mind, one has become one with Shiva.

Shaivadvaita popularised by Appaya Dikshita revived old commentaries on the Brahmasutras and related to Shiva. This enabled one to merge dualist Shaiva Siddhanta with Upanishadic thoughts. In the Shaktivishistadvaita, non-dual Shiva is qualified by Sakti who takes on the role of Maya. This is very similar with Ramanuja’s Vishistadvaita; but Shiva is the supreme God instead of Vishnu.

There is a theory that these different schools of thought were to get South Indians (mainly Tamils) to accept Vedantic ideas. Around 15th century CE, Kumarasvami argued that Tantric and Agamic beliefs were from the Vedas and related it Mimamsa. There was also an argument that as Shiva is the ultimate in everything, he has to be nirguna. Otherwise, if there is a guna associated with Shiva, then one can find a better guna and thus not ultimate. Note that the there is no ultimate guna.

The followers of Shiva were also classified based on their practices and philosophies. Some of them outlined here. The Pashupatas were divided into Kapalikas and Kalamukha. The Kapalikas are detached from the material world and have a skull as a begging bowl. The purpose of such extreme asceticism is to avoid the material world and become one with Shiva and attain immortality. Immortality ends all sorrows. Kalamukha, called because of black stripes on their face started in Kashmir and went south. But their exact beliefs are not clear as not much of their writings are available.

The Kaulas believe that Tantra equates the human body with the cosmos. The Shiva Tantra states that there are correlations between man, the universe, and the Gods. The Tantra tradition asserts that sacredness and divinity of human existence is present in all aspects of daily life. Moksha should be available to all (including householders) and not just ascetics. There are rituals for Bhoga (enjoyment) as the immediate goal is not Moksha. One cannot attain Moksha if one has pent up desires. The Kaulas do not ignore the material world nor torture the body to achieve enlightenment. So unlike the Kapalikas they do not believe in asceticism. Rather, they worship the body as a gift from Shiva. Consequently, the believe that this body is a tool to obtain enlightenment. Physical pleasures are part of God and should not avoided. Thus the Kaula practices are part of Tantra.

Another group called the Pancharthas have five main dimensions in their philosophy:

Karana: the cause of the world often called Rudra,
Karya: the result of Shiva’s action, which is the material world,
Vidhi: practices described in the Pashupata sutra that shows the path to Shiva
Yoga: deep thought meditation that can leads to Shiva and
Dukhanta: the end of all suffering.

Many Shaivites also have the following ideas:

Samavesa: immersion by worshipping Shiva as a deity. This was an important step for both dualist and non-dualist ideas.
Shaktipata: recognising Shiva’s Power which can result in spiritual awakening
Diksha: ritual initiation into the appropriate school of thought and
Anubhava: experience of Shiva which can be viewed as Moksha or fusion of self into God.

By devoting one’s action to Shiva and his power and grace, one can get salvation (or freedom from pain).

In summary, the various Shaivism schools combine ideas from the Puranas and the Vedas. It is thought that the different ideas arose from the interactions between the different styles of worship that influenced the philosophies. The diversity in Shiva’s forms is reflected in the different Shaivite beliefs.


  • L. Hannotte: Philosophy of God in Kashmir Saiva Dualism, 1987
  • S. Kalra: Duality: The Essence of Shavism, 2013
  • C. D. Wallis: To Enter, to be entered, to merge: The role of religious experience in the traditions of Tantric Shaivism, 2014
  • E. M. Fisher: Remaking South Indian Saivism: Greater Saiva Advaita and the Legacy of the Saktivisista Virasaiva Tradition, 2017