Shaivism is Closely Related to Shaktism

Shaivism (शैवसम्प्रदाय) is one of the major Hindu traditions that worships Shiva as the Supreme Being. One of the largest Hindu denominations, it incorporates many sub-traditions ranging from devotional dualistic theism such as Shaiva Siddhanta to yoga-oriented monistic non-theism such as Kashmiri Shaivism. It considers both the Vedas and the Agama texts as important sources of theology. Both devotional and monistic Shaivism became popular in the 1st millennium CE, rapidly becoming the dominant religious tradition of many Hindu kingdoms. It arrived in Southeast Asia shortly thereafter, leading to the construction of thousands of Shaiva temples on the islands of Indonesia as well as Cambodia and Vietnam, co-evolving with Buddhism in these regions.


Shaivite theology ranges from Shiva being the creator, preserver, and destroyer to being the same as the Atman (Self) within oneself and every living being. It is closely related to Shaktism, and some Shaivas worship in both Shiva and Shakti temples. It is the Hindu tradition that most accepts ascetic life and emphasizes yoga, and like other Hindu traditions encourages an individual to discover and be one with Shiva within. The followers of Shaivism are called “Shaivites” or “Saivas”.

Saivism or Shaivism - Basic Concepts
Major Hindu Tradition of Shaivism

Shaivism Overview

The reverence for Shiva is one of the pan-Hindu traditions found widely across India predominantly in Southern India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. While Shiva is revered broadly, Hinduism itself is a complex religion and a way of life, with a diversity of ideas on spirituality and traditions. It has no ecclesiastical order, no unquestionable religious authorities, no governing body, no prophet(s) nor any binding holy book; Hindus can choose to be:

  • Polytheistic,
  • Pantheistic,
  • Monotheistic,
  • Monistic,
  • Agnostic,
  • Atheistic, or
  • Humanist.

Shaivism is a major tradition within Hinduism with a theology that is predominantly related to the Hindu God Shiva. Shaivism has a vast literature with different philosophical schools ranging from nondualism, dualism, and mixed schools.

Origins and history of Shaivism

The origins of Shaivism are unclear and a matter of debate among scholars, as it is an amalgam of pre-Vedic cults and traditions and Vedic culture.

Indus Valley Civilisation

Some trace the origins to the Indus Valley civilization, which reached its peak around 2500–2000 BCE. Archeological discoveries show seals that suggest a deity that somewhat appears like Shiva. Of these is the Pashupati seal, which early scholars interpreted as someone seated in a meditating yoga pose surrounded by animals, and with horns. This “Pashupati” (Lord of Animals, Sanskrit paśupati) seal has been interpreted by these scholars as a prototype of Shiva. 

Other scholars state that the Indus Valley script remains undeciphered, and the interpretation of the Pashupati seal is uncertain. According to Srinivasan, the proposal that it is proto-Shiva may be a case of projecting “later practices into archeological findings”. 

Vedic elements

The Rigveda (~1500–1200 BCE) has the earliest clear mention of Rudra in its hymns 2.33, 1.43, and 1.114. The text also includes a Satarudriya, an influential hymn with embedded hundred epithets for Rudra, that is cited in many medieval era Shaiva texts as well as recited in major Shiva temples of Hindus in contemporary times. Yet, the Vedic literature only presents scriptural theology but does not attest to the existence of Shaivism.

The Shvetashvatara Upanishad, likely composed before the Bhagavad Gita about the 4th century BCE contains the theistic foundations of Shaivism wrapped in a monistic structure. It contains the key terms and ideas of Shaivism, such as:

  • Shiva,
  • Rudra,
  • Maheswara,
  • Guru,
  • Bhakti,
  • Yoga,
  • Atman,
  • Brahman, and self-knowledge.

Emergence of Shaivism

According to Gavin Flood, “the formation of Śaiva traditions as we understand them begins to occur during the period from 200 BC to 100 AD.” Shiva was originally probably not a Brahmanical god but eventually came to be incorporated into the Brahmanical fold. The pre-Vedic Shiva acquired a growing prominence as its cult assimilated numerous “ruder faiths” and their mythologies, and the Epics and Puranas preserve pre-Vedic myths and legends of these traditions assimilated by the Shiva cult. Shiva’s growing prominence was facilitated by identification with a number of Vedic deities, such as:

  • Purusha, 
  • Rudra, 
  • Agni, 
  • Indra, 
  • Prajāpati,
  • Vāyu, and among others. 

The followers of Shiva were gradually accepted into the Brahmanical fold, becoming allowed to recite some of the Vedic hymns.

Patanjali’s Mahabhaṣya

Patanjali‘s Mahābhāṣya, dated to the 2nd century BCE, mentions the term Shiva-Bhagavata in section 5.2.76. Patanjali, while explaining Panini’s rules of grammar, states that this term refers to a devotee clad in animal skins and carrying an ayah sukkah (iron spear, trident lance) as an icon representing his god. The Shvetashvatara Upanishad (late 1st mill. BCE) mentions terms such as Rudra, Shiva, and Maheshwaram, but its interpretation as a theistic or monistic text of Shaivism is disputed. The early centuries of the common era are the first clear evidence of Pāśupata Shaivism.


The Mahabharata mentions Shaiva ascetics, such as in chapters 4.13 and 13.140. Other evidence that is possibly linked to the importance of Shaivism in ancient times is in epigraphy and numismatics, such as in the form of prominent Shiva-like reliefs on Kushan Empire-era gold coins. However, this is controversial, as an alternate hypothesis for these reliefs is based on Zoroastrian Oesho. According to Flood, coins dated to the ancient Greek, Saka and Parthian kings who ruled parts of the Indian subcontinent after the arrival of Alexander the Great also show Shiva iconography, but this evidence is weak and subject to competing inferences.

The inscriptions found in the Himalayan region, such as those in the Kathmandu valley of Nepal suggest that Shaivism (particularly Pashupata monism) was established in this region during the Mauryas and the Gupta’s reign of the Indian subcontinent, by the 5th century. These inscriptions have been dated by modern techniques to between 466 and 645 CE.

Puranic Shaivism

During the Gupta Dynasty (c. 320–500 CE) the genre of Purana literature developed in India, and many of these Puranas contain extensive chapters on Shaivism – along with Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Smarta Traditions of Brahmins, and other topics – suggesting the importance of Shaivism by then. The most important Shaiva Puranas of this period include the Shiva Puranas and the Linga Purana.

Post-Gupta development of Shaivism

Most of the Gupta kings, beginning with Chandragupta II (Vikramaditya) (375–413 CE) were known as Parama Bhagavatas or Bhagavata Vaishnavas and had been ardent promoters of Vaishnavism. But following the Huna invasions, especially those of the Alcon Huns circa 500 CE, the Gupta Empire declined and fragmented, ultimately collapsing completely, with the effect of discrediting Vaishnavism, the religion it had been so ardently promoting. 

The newly arising regional powers in central and northern India, such as the Aulikaras, the Maukharis, the Maitrakas, the Kalacuris, or the Vardhanas preferred adopting Shaivism instead, giving a strong impetus to the development of the worship of Shiva. Vaisnavism remained strong mainly in the territories which had not been affected by these events: South India and Kashmir.

Chinese Buddhist pilgrim

In the early 7th century, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang (Huen Tsang) visited India and wrote a memoir in Chinese that mentions the prevalence of Shiva temples all over the North Indian subcontinent, including in the Hindu Kush region such as Nuristan. Between the 5th and 11th century CE, major Shaiva temples had been built in central, southern, and eastern regions of the subcontinent, including those at:

  • Badami cave temples,
  • Aihole,
  • Elephanta Caves,
  • Ellora Caves (Kailasha, cave 16),
  • Khajuraho,
  • Bhubaneswar,
  • Chidambaram,
  • Madurai, and
  • Conjeevaram.

Adi Shankara of Advaita Vedanta

Major scholars competing for Hindu traditions from the second half of the 1st millennium CE, such as Adi Shankara of Advaita Vedanta and Ramanuja of Vaishnavism, mention several Shaiva sects, particularly the four groups:

  • Pashupata,
  • Lakulisha,
  • Tantric Shaiva, and
  • Kapalika.

The description is conflicting, with some texts stating the tantric, Puranik, and Vedic traditions of Shaivism to be hostile to each other while others suggest them to be amicable sub-traditions.

Some texts state that Kapalikas reject the Vedas and are involved in extreme experimentation, while others state the Shaiva sub-traditions revere the Vedas but are non-Puranik.

Kedarnath shrine to get Adi Shankaracharya's 12-feet tall statue | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
Adi Shankara of Advaita Vedanta

South India

Shaivism was the predominant tradition in South India, co-existing with Buddhism and Jainism before the Vaishnava Alvars launched the Bhakti movement in the 7th century, and influential Vedanta scholars such as Ramanuja developed a philosophical and organizational framework that helped Vaishnava expand. Though both traditions of Hinduism have ancient roots, given their mention in the epics such as the Mahabharata, Shaivism flourished in South India much earlier.

Mantramarga of Shaivism

The Mantramarga of Shaivism, according to Alexis Sanderson, provided a template for the later though independent and highly influential Pancaratrika treatises of Vaishnava. This is evidenced in Hindu texts such as the:

  • Isvarasamhita
  • Padmasamhita, and 
  • Paramesvarasamhita.

Along with the Himalayan region stretching from Kashmir through Nepal, the Shaiva tradition in South India has been one of the largest sources of preserved Shaivism-related manuscripts from ancient and medieval India. The region was also the source of Hindu arts, temple architecture, and merchants who helped spread Shaivism into southeast Asia in the early 1st millennium CE.

Shiva is the primary deity

There are tens of thousands of Hindu temples where Shiva is either the primary deity or reverentially included in the anthropomorphic or aniconic form (lingam, or svayambhu). Numerous historic Shaiva temples have survived in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, parts of Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. 

Certain regions have a greater density of Shiva temples, such as in the Thanjavur region of Tamil Nadu, where numerous Shaiva temples were built during the Chola empire era, between 800 and 1200 CE. Gudimallam is the oldest known lingam and has been dated to between the 3rd to 1st-century BCE. It is a carved five feet high stone lingam with an anthropomorphic image of Shiva on one side. This ancient lingam is in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh.

Southeast Asia

Shaivism arrived in a major way in southeast Asia from south India, and to a much lesser extent in China and Tibet from the Himalayan region. It co-developed with Buddhism in this region, in many cases. For example, in the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, a few caves include Shaivism ideas.

The epigraphical and cave art evidence suggest that Shaiva Mahesvara and Mahayana Buddhism had arrived in the Indo-China region in the Funan period, that is in the first half of the 1st millennium CE. In Indonesia, temples at archaeological sites and numerous inscriptions evidence dated to the early period (400 to 700 CE), suggest that Shiva was the highest God. This co-existence of Shaivism and Buddhism in Java continued through about 1500 CE when both Hinduism and Buddhism were replaced with Islam, and persists today in the province of Bali.

Shaivist and Buddhist traditions

The Shaivist and Buddhist traditions overlapped significantly in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Vietnam between the 5th and the 15th century. Shaivism and Shiva held the paramount position in ancient Java, Sumatra, Bali, and neighboring islands, though the sub-tradition that developed creatively integrated more ancient beliefs that pre-existed. 

In the centuries that followed, the merchants and monks who arrived in Southeast Asia brought Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and Buddhism, and these developed into a syncretic, mutually supporting form of traditions.


In Balinese Hinduism, Dutch ethnographers further subdivided Siwa (Shaivites) Sampradaya” into five – Kemenuh, Keniten, Mas, Manuba, and Petapan. This classification was to accommodate the observed marriage between higher caste Brahmana men with lower caste women.

Beliefs and practices of Shaivism

Shaivism centers around Shiva, but it has many sub-traditions whose theological beliefs and practices vary significantly. They range from dualistic devotional theism to monistic meditative discovery of Shiva within oneself. Within each of these theologies, there are two sub-groups. One sub-group is called Vedic-Puranic, who use the terms such as “Shiva, Mahadeva, Maheshvara and others” synonymously, and they use iconography such as the Linga, Nandi, Trishula (trident), as well as anthropomorphic statues of Shiva in temples to help focus their practices. 

Another sub-group is called esoteric, which fuses it with abstract Sivata (feminine energy) or Sivatva (neuter abstraction), wherein the theology integrates the goddess (Shakti) and the god (Shiva) with Tantra practices and Agama teachings. There is considerable overlap between these Shaivas and the Shakta Hindus.

Vedic, Puranik, and esoteric Shaivism

Scholars such as Alexis Sanderson discuss Shaivism in three categories:

  • Vedic,
  • Puranik, and
  • Non-Puranik (esoteric, tantric).

They place Vedic and Puranik together given the significant overlap while placing Non-Puranik esoteric sub-traditions as a separate category.


The majority within Shaivism follow the Vedic-Puranik traditions. They revere the Vedas, and the Puranas and have beliefs that span dualistic theism style Shiva Bhakti (devotionalism) to monistic non-theism dedicated to yoga and meditative lifestyle sometimes with renouncing householder life for monastic pursuits of spirituality. The Yoga practice is particularly pronounced in nondualistic Shaivism, with the practice refined into a methodology such as four-fold upaya:

  • Being pathless (anupaya),
  • Iccha-less,
  • Being energy (saktopaya, kriya, action-full), 
  • Desire-less),
  • Being divine (sambhavopaya, jnana, knowledge-full), and
  • Being individual (anavopaya).


These are esoteric, minority sub-traditions wherein devotees are initiated (dīkṣa) into a specific cult they prefer. Their goals vary, ranging from liberation in current life (mukti) to seeking pleasures in higher worlds (bhukti). Their means also vary, ranging from meditative atimarga or “outer higher path” to those whose means are recitation-driven mantras. The atimarga sub-traditions include Pashupatas and Lakula.

According to Sanderson, the Pashupatas have the oldest heritage, likely from the 2nd century CE, as evidenced by ancient Hindu texts such as the Shanti Parva book of the Mahabharata epic. The tantric sub-tradition in this category is traceable to post-8th to post-11th century depending on the region of the Indian subcontinent, paralleling the development of Buddhist and Jain tantra traditions in this period. 

Introducing Kashmir Shaivism: An Ancient Oral Tradition - Stillness Speaks
Vedic, Puranik, and Esoteric Shaivism

Shaivism versus other Hindu traditions

Shaivism sub-traditions subscribe to various philosophies, and are similar in some aspects and differ in others. These traditions compare with Vaishnavism, Shaktism, and Smartism as follows:

Comparison of Shaivism with other traditions
Shaiva Traditions Vaishnava Traditions Shakta Traditions Smarta Traditions References
Scriptural authority Vedas, Upanishads, and Agamas Vedas, Upanishads, and Agamas Vedas and Upanishads Vedas and Upanishads [5][98]
Supreme deity god Shiva god Vishnu goddess Devi None (Considers Parabrahman to be so) [99][100]
Creator Shiva Vishnu Devi Brahman principle [99][101]
Avatar Minor Key concept Significant Minor [5][102][103]
Monastic life Recommends Accepts Accepts Recommends [5][104][105]
Rituals, Bhakti Affirms Affirms Affirms Optional [110]
Ahimsa and Vegetarianism Recommends, Optional Affirms Optional Recommends, Optional [111][112]
Free will, Maya, Karma Affirms Affirms Affirms Affirms [99]
Metaphysics Brahman (Shiva), Atman (Self) Brahman (Vishnu), Atman Brahman (Devi), Atman Brahman, Atman [99]
1. Perception
2. Inference
3. Reliable testimony
4. Self-evident
1. Perception
2. Inference
3. Reliable testimony
1. Perception
2. Inference
3. Reliable testimony
1. Perception
2. Inference
3. Comparison and analogy
4. Postulation, derivation
5. Negative/cognitive proof
6. Reliable testimony
Philosophy Dvaita, qualified advaita, advaita Vishishtadvaita, Dvaita, qualified advaita, advaita Shakti-advaita Advaita, qualified advaita [117][118]
Videhamukti, Yoga,
champions householder life
Bhakti, Tantra, Yoga Jivanmukta, Advaita, Yoga,
champions monastic life

Shaivism Texts

Over its history, Shaivism has been nurtured by numerous texts ranging from scriptures to theological treatises. These include the Vedas and Upanishads, the Agamas, and the Bhasya. According to Gavin Flood – a professor at Oxford University specializing in Shaivism and phenomenology, Shaiva scholars developed a sophisticated theology, in its diverse traditions. 

Among the notable and influential commentaries by dvaita (dualistic) theistic Shaivism scholars were the 8th-century Sadyajoti, the 10th-century Ramakantha, and 11th-century Bhojadeva. 

Vedas and Principal Upanishads

The Vedas and Upanishads are shared scriptures of Hinduism, while the Agamas are sacred texts of specific sub-traditions. The surviving Vedic literature can be traced to the 1st millennium BCE and earlier, while the surviving Agamas can be traced to the 1st millennium of the common era. 

The Vedic literature, in Shaivism, is primary and general, while Agamas are special treatises. In terms of philosophy and spiritual precepts, no Agama that goes against the Vedic literature, states Mariasusai Dhavamony, will be acceptable to the Shaivas. According to David Smith, “a key feature of the Tamil Saiva Siddhanta, one might almost say its defining feature, is the claim that its source lies in the Vedas as well as the Agamas, in what it calls the Vedagamas”. This school’s view can be summed as,

The Veda is the cow, the true Agama its milk. — Umapati, Translated by David Smith

The Śvetāśvatara Upanishad (400–200 BCE) is the earliest textual exposition of a systematic philosophy of Shaivism.

Shaiva minor Upanishads

Shaivism-inspired scholars authored 14 Shiva-focussed Upanishads that are called the Shaiva Upanishads. These are considered part of 95 minor Upanishads in the Muktikā Upanishadic corpus of Hindu literature. The earliest among these were likely composed in the 1st millennium BCE, while the last ones were in the late medieval era.

The Shaiva Upanishads present diverse ideas, ranging from bhakti-style theistic dualism themes to a synthesis of Shaiva ideas with Advaitic (nondualism), Yoga, Vaishnava, and Shakti themes.

Shaivism Upanishads
Shaiva Upanishad Composition date Topics
Kaivalya Upanishad 1st millennium BCE Shiva, Atman, Brahman, Sannyasa, Self-knowledge
Atharvashiras Upanishad 1st millennium BCE Rudra, Atman, Brahman, Om, monism
Atharvashikha Upanishad 1st millennium BCE Shiva, Om, Brahman, chanting, meditation
Brihajjabala Upanishad Late medieval, post-12th century Shiva, sacred ash, prayer beads, Tripundra tilaka
Kalagni Rudra Upanishad Unknown Meaning of Tripundra (three lines tilaka), Ritual Shaivism
Dakshinamurti Upanishad Unknown Dakshinamurti as an aspect of Shiva, Atman, monism
Sharabha Upanishad Unknown Shiva as Sharabha
Akshamalika Upanishad Late medieval, post-12th century CE Rosary, Japa, mantras, Om, Shiva, symbolism in Shaivism iconography
Rudrahridaya Upanishad Unknown Rudra-Uma, Male-Female are inseparable, nondualism
Bhasmajabala Upanishad Late medieval, post-12th century Shiva, sacred ash, body art, iconography, why rituals and Varanasi are important
Rudrakshajabala Upanishad After the 10th century Shiva, Bhairava, Rudraksha beads, and mantra recitation
Ganapati Upanishad 16th or 17th century Ganesha, Shiva, Brahman, Atman, Om, Satcitananda
Pancabrahma Upanishad About 7th century CE Shiva, Sadashiva, nondualism, So’ham, Atman, Brahman, self-knowledge
Jabali Upanishad unknown Shiva, Pashupata theology, the significance of ash and body art

Shaiva Agamas

The Agama texts of Shaivism are another important foundation of Shaivism theology. These texts include Shaiva cosmology, epistemology, philosophical doctrines, precepts on meditation and practices, four kinds of yoga, mantras, meanings and manuals for Shaiva temples, and other elements of practice. These canonical texts exist in Sanskrit and in south Indian languages such as Tamil.

A diverse range of philosophy

The Agamas present a diverse range of philosophies, ranging from theistic dualism to absolute monism. In Shaivism, there are ten dualistic (dvaita) Agama texts, eighteen qualified monism-cum-dualism (bhedabheda) Agama texts, and sixty-four monism (advaita) Agama texts. The Bhairava Shastras are monistic, while Shiva Shastras are dualistic.

The Agama texts of Shaiva and Vaishnava schools are premised on the existence of Atman (Self) and the existence of an Ultimate Reality (Brahman) which is considered identical to Shiva in Shaivism. The texts differ in the relation between the two. 

Shaivism Traditions

Shaivism is ancient, and over time it developed many sub-traditions. These broadly existed and are studied in three groups:

  • Theistic dualism,
  • Nontheistic monism, and
  • Those that combine features or practices of the two. 

Sanderson presents the historic classification found in Indian texts, namely Atimarga of the Shaiva monks and Mantramarga which was followed by both the renunciates (sannyasi) and householders (grihastha) in Shaivism. Sub-traditions of Shaivas did not exclusively focus on Shiva, but on others such as the Devi (goddess) Shaktism.

Sannyasi Shaiva: Atimarga

The Atimarga branch of Shaivism emphasizes liberation (salvation) – or the end of all Dukkha – as the primary goal of spiritual pursuits. It was the path for Shaiva ascetics, in contrast to Shaiva householders whose path was described as Mantramarga and who sought both salvation as well as the yogi-siddhi powers and pleasures in life. The Atimarga revered the Vedic sources of Shaivism and is sometimes referred to in ancient Indian texts as Raudra (from Vedic Rudra).

Pashupata Atimargi

Pashupata is the Shaivite sub-tradition with the oldest heritage, as evidenced by Indian texts dated to around the start of the common era. It is a monist tradition, that considers Shiva to be within oneself, in every being, and in everything observed.

The Pashupata path to liberation is one of asceticism that is traditionally restricted to Brahmin males. Pashupata theology, according to Shiva Sutras, aims for a spiritual state of consciousness where the Pashupata yogi “abides in one’s own unfettered nature”, where the external rituals feel unnecessary, where every moment and every action becomes an internal vow, a spiritual ritual unto itself.

The Pashupatas have been particularly prominent in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Kashmir, and Nepal. The community is found in many parts of the Indian subcontinent. In the late medieval era, Pashupatas Shaiva ascetics became extinct.

Lakula Atimargi

This second division of the Atimarga developed from the Pashupatas. Their fundamental text too was the Pashupata Sutras. They differed from Pashupata Atimargi in that they departed radically from the Vedic teachings, and expected no Vedic or social customs.

He would walk around, for example, almost naked, drank liquor in public, and used a human skull as his begging bowl for food. The Lakula Shaiva ascetic recognized no act nor words as forbidden, he freely did whatever he felt like, much like the classical depiction of his deity Rudra in ancient Hindu texts. However, according to Alexis Sanderson, the Lakula ascetic was strictly celibate and did not engage in sex.

Grihastha and Sannyasi Shaiva: Mantramarga

“Mantramārga” (मन्त्रमार्ग, “the path of mantras”) has been the Shaiva tradition for both householders and monks. It grew from the Atimarga tradition. This tradition sought not just liberation from Dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoriness), but special powers (siddhi) and pleasures (bhoga), both in this life and next. The siddhi was particularly the pursuit of Mantramarga monks, and it is this sub-tradition that experimented with a great diversity of rites, deities, rituals, yogic techniques, and mantras. 

Both the Mantramarga and Atimarga are ancient traditions, more ancient than the date of their texts that have survived, according to Sanderson. Mantramārga grew to become a dominant form of Shaivism in this period. It also spread outside of India into Southeast Asia’s Khmer Empire, Java, Bali, and Cham.

Shaiva Siddhanta

The Śaivasiddhānta (“the established doctrine of Shiva”) is the earliest sampradaya (tradition, lineage) of Tantric Shaivism, dating from the 5th century. The tradition emphasizes loving devotion to Shiva and uses 5th to 9th-century Tamil hymns called Tirumurai.

A key philosophical text of this sub-tradition was composed by 13th-century Meykandar. This theology presents three universal realities: the pashu (individual Self), the pati (lord, Shiva), and the pasha (Self’s bondage) through ignorance, karma, and Maya. The tradition teaches ethical living, service to the community and through one’s work, loving worship, yoga practice and discipline, continuous learning, and self-knowledge as means for liberating the individual Self from bondage.


By the 7th century, the Nayanars, a tradition of poet-saints in the bhakti tradition developed in ancient Tamil Nadu with a focus on Shiva, comparable to that of the Vaisnava Alvars. The devotional Tamil poems of the Nayanars are divided into eleven collections together known as Tirumurai, along with a Tamil Purana called the Periya Puranam.

The first seven collections are known as the Tevaram and are regarded by Tamils as equivalent to the Vedas. They were composed in the 7th century by Sambandar, Appar, and Sundarar.

Tantra Diksha traditions

The main element of all Shaiva Tantra is the practice of Diksha, a ceremonial initiation in which divinely revealed mantras are given to the initiate by a Guru.

A notable feature of some “left tantra” ascetics was their pursuit of siddhis (supernatural abilities) and Bala (powers), such as averting danger (santih) and the ability to harm enemies (abhicarah). Ganachakras, ritual feasts, would sometimes be held in cemeteries and cremation grounds and featured possession by powerful female deities called Yoginis. The cult of Yoginis aimed to gain special powers through esoteric worship of the Shakti or the feminine aspects of the divine. The groups included sisterhoods that participated in the rites.

Kashmir Shaivism

Kashmir Shaivism is an influential tradition within Shaivism that emerged in Kashmir in the 1st millennium CE and thrived in the early centuries of the 2nd millennium before the region was overwhelmed by the Islamic invasions from the Hindu Kush region. The Kashmir Shaivism traditions became nearly extinct due to Islam except for their preservation by Kashmiri Pandits.


Nath: a Shaiva subtradition that emerged from a much older Siddha tradition based on Yoga. The Nath considers Shiva as “Adinatha” or the first guru, and it has been a small but notable and influential movement in India whose devotees were called “Yogi” or “Jogi”, given their monastic unconventional ways and emphasis on Yoga.

Nath theology integrated philosophy from Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism traditions. Their unconventional ways challenged all orthodox premises, exploring dark and shunned practices of society as a means to understanding theology and gaining inner powers. The tradition traces itself to 9th or 10th-century Macchindranath and to ideas and organizations developed by Gorakshanath. They combined both theistic practices such as worshipping goddesses and their historic Gurus in temples, as well as monistic goals of achieving liberation or jivan-mukti while alive, by reaching the perfect (siddha) state of realizing the oneness of self and everything with Shiva.

आरती श्री नवनाथांची : Navnath Maharajanchi Arti : Marathi Unlimited
Navnath: Siddha Tradition


Lingayatism, also known as Veera Shaivism: is a distinct Shaivite religious tradition in India. It was founded by the 12th-century philosopher and statesman Basava and spread by his followers, called Sharanas.

Lingayatism emphasizes qualified monism and bhakti (loving devotion) to Shiva, with philosophical foundations similar to those of the 11th–12th-century South Indian philosopher Ramanuja. Its worship is notable for the iconographic form of Ishtalinga, which the adherents wear. Large communities of Lingayats are found in the south Indian state of Karnataka and nearby regions. Lingayatism has its own theological literature with sophisticated theoretical sub-traditions.

Shaivism Demography

Estimates vary on the relative number of adherents in Shaivism compared to other traditions of Hinduism. According to a 2010 estimate by Johnson and Grim, the Shaivism tradition is the second largest group with 252 million or 26.6% of Hindus. 

In contrast, according to Jones and Ryan, Shaivism is the largest tradition of Hinduism. Large Shaivite communities exist in the Southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh as well as in Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttrakhand. Substantial communities are also found in Haryana, Maharashtra, and central Uttar Pradesh.

Shaivism Influence

Shiva is a pan-Hindu god and Shaivism’s ideas on Yoga and as the god of performance arts (Nataraja) have been influential on all traditions of Hinduism.

Shaivism was highly influential in southeast Asia from the late 6th century onwards, particularly in the Khmer and Cham kingdoms of Indo-China, and across the major islands of Indonesia such as Sumatra, Java, and Bali. This influence on classical Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand continued when Mahayana Buddhism arrived with the same Indians.


The goddess tradition of Hinduism called Shaktism is closely related to Shaivism. In many regions of India, not only did the ideas of Shaivism influence the evolution of Shaktism, Shaivism itself got influenced by it and progressively subsumed the reverence for the divine feminine (Devi) as an equal and essential partner of the divine masculine (Shiva).

The goddess Shakti in the eastern states of India is considered the inseparable partner of the god Shiva. According to Galvin Flood, the closeness between Shaivism and Shaktism traditions is such that these traditions of Hinduism are at times difficult to separate. Some Shaiva worship in Shiva and Shakti temples.

Smarta Tradition

Shiva is a part of the Smarta Tradition, sometimes referred to as Smartism, another tradition of Hinduism. The Smarta Hindus are associated with the Advaita Vedanta theology, and their practices include an interim step that incorporates simultaneous reverence for five deities, which include:

  • Shiva,
  • Vishnu,
  • Surya,
  • Devi, and
  • Ganesha.

This is called the Panchayatana puja. The Smartas thus accept the primary deity of Shaivism as a means to their spiritual goals.


Vaishnava texts reverentially mention Shiva. For example, the Vishnu Purana primarily focuses on the theology of the Hindu god Vishnu and his avatars such as Krishna, but it praises Brahma and Shiva and asserts that they are one with Vishnu. The Vishnu Sahasranama in the Mahabharata lists a thousand attributes and epithets of Vishnu. The list identifies Shiva with Vishnu.

Reverential inclusion of Shaiva ideas and iconography are very common in major Vaishnava temples, such as Dakshinamurti symbolism of Shaiva thought is often enshrined on the southern wall of the main temple of major Vaishnava temples in peninsular India. Harihara temples in and outside the Indian subcontinent have historically combined Shiva and Vishnu, such as at the Lingaraj Mahaprabhu temple in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha.

Sauraism (Sun deity)

The sun god called Surya is an ancient deity of Hinduism and several ancient Hindu kingdoms, particularly in the northwest and eastern regions of the Indian subcontinent revered Surya. These devotees called Sauras once had a large corpus of theological texts, and Shaivism literature reverentially acknowledges these.

For example, the Shaiva text Srikanthiyasamhita mentions 85 Saura texts, almost all of which are believed to have been lost during the Islamic invasion and rule period, except for large excerpts found embedded in Shaiva manuscripts discovered in the Himalayan mountains. Shaivism incorporated Saura ideas, and the surviving Saura manuscripts such as Saurasamhita acknowledge the influence of Shaivism.

Yoga movements

Yoga and meditation have been an integral part of Shaivism, and it has been a major innovator of techniques such as those of Hatha Yoga. Many major Shiva temples and Shaiva tirtha (pilgrimage) centers depict anthropomorphic iconography of Shiva as a giant statue wherein Shiva is a loner yogi meditating, as do Shaiva texts.

Many Yoga-emphasizing Shaiva traditions emerged in medieval India, which refined yoga methods such as by introducing Hatha Yoga techniques. One such movement had been the Nath Yogis, a Shaivism sub-tradition that integrated philosophy from Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism traditions. It was founded by Macchindranath and further developed by Gorakshanath. The texts of these Yoga emphasizing Hindu traditions present their ideas in the Shaiva context.

Hindu performance arts

Shiva is the lord of dance and dramatic arts in Hinduism. This is celebrated in Shaiva temples as Nataraja, which typically shows Shiva dancing in one of the poses in the ancient Hindu text on performance arts called the Natya Shastra.

Dancing Shiva as a metaphor for celebrating life and arts is very common in ancient and medieval Hindu temples. For example, it is found in Badami cave temples, Ellora Caves, Khajuraho, Chidambaram, and others. The Shaiva link to the performance arts is celebrated in Indian classical dances such as Bharatanatyam and Chhau.


Buddhism and Shaivism have interacted and influenced each other since ancient times, in both South Asia and Southeast Asia. Their Siddhas and esoteric traditions, in particular, have overlapped to an extent where Buddhists and Hindus would worship in the same temple such as in the Seto Macchindranath.

Scholars disagree whether a syncretic tradition emerged from Buddhism and Shaivism, or it was a coalition with free borrowing of ideas, but they agree that the two traditions co-existed peacefully.


Jainism co-existed with Shaiva culture since ancient times, particularly in western and southern India where it received royal support from Hindu kings of the Chaulukya, Ganga, and Rashtrakuta dynasties. In the late 1st millennium CE, Jainism too developed a Shaiva-like tantric ritual culture with Mantra-goddesses. These Jain rituals were aimed at mundane benefits using japas (mantra recitation) and making offerings into Homa fire.

Shaiva-Shakti iconography is found in major Jain temples. For example, the Osian temple of Jainism near Jodhpur features Chamunda, Durga, Sitala, and a naked Bhairava. While Shaiva and Jain practices had considerable overlap, the interaction between the Jain community and the Shaiva community differed in the acceptance of ritual animal sacrifices before goddesses.

Jain remained strictly vegetarian and avoided animal sacrifice, while Shaiva accepted the practice.

Shaivism temples and pilgrimage

Shaiva Puranas, Agamas, and other regional literature refer to temples by various terms such as MandirShivayatanaShivalayaShambhunathaJyotirlingamShristhalaChattrakaBhavagganaBhuvaneshvaraGoputikaHarayatanaKailashaMahadevagrihaSaudhala, and others. In Southeast Asia, Shaiva temples are called Candi (Java), Pura (Bali), and Wat (Cambodia and nearby regions).

Many of the Shiva-related pilgrimage sites such as Varanasi, Amarnath, Kedarnath, Somnath, and others are broadly considered holy in Hinduism. They are called kṣétra (Sanskrit: क्षेत्र). A kṣétra has many temples, including one or more major ones. These temples and their location attracts pilgrimage called tirtha (or tirtha yatra).

Jageshwar Shiva Temple in Almora, Uttarakhand – Sanskriti - Hinduism and Indian Culture Website


Because of the above, I am confident that you have learned in-depth about Shaivism, Shaivites, overview, origin, the importance of Shaivism, texts, traditions, influence, temples, etc. Now, that you have become self-sufficient to practice and achieve the goal, hence it’s the right time to use your acquired knowledge for gaining numerous benefits for well-being.

After reading this article, how would you rate it? Would you please let me know your precious thoughts? 

Frequently asked questions

Before posting your query, kindly go through them:

Who are the Shaivites?

Shaivite theology ranges from Shiva being the creator, preserver, and destroyer to being the same as the Atman (Self) within oneself and every living being. It is closely related to Shaktism, and some Shaivas worship in both Shiva and Shakti temples. It is the Hindu tradition that most accepts ascetic life and emphasizes yoga, and like other Hindu traditions encourages an individual to discover and be one with Shiva within. The followers of Shaivism are called “Shaivites” or “Saivas”.

Who is known as Sauras?

The sun god called Surya is an ancient deity of Hinduism and several ancient Hindu kingdoms, particularly in the northwest and eastern regions of the Indian subcontinent revered Surya. These devotees called Sauras once had a large corpus of theological texts, and Shaivism literature reverentially acknowledges these.


What is Shaktism?

The goddess tradition of Hinduism called Shaktism is closely related to Shaivism. In many regions of India, not only did the ideas of Shaivism influence the evolution of Shaktism, Shaivism itself got influenced by it and progressively subsumed the reverence for the divine feminine (Devi) as an equal and essential partner of the divine masculine (Shiva).


Related Posts


  1. Wonderful article. Many of the things I was not knowing about. Well-defined and well explained.

    1. So kind of you, Madam. I’m pleased to have your precious words. Please take care and stay tuned!!

Comments are closed.