A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 5

Southern Schools of Śaivism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1955 | 79,816 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of history and literature of vira-shaivism: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the first part in the series called the “vira-shaivism”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 1 - History and Literature of Vīra-śaivism

The name ‘Vīra-śaiva’ as applied to a particular Śaiva sect appears to be of a later date. Mādhava in his Sarva-darśana-saṃgraha of the fourteenth century A.D., who mentions the Pāśupatas and the Agamic Śaivas, does not seem to know anything about the Vīra-śaivas. Śaṅkara and Vācaspati and Ānanda-giri of the eighth and the ninth centuries do not seem to know anything of the Vīra-śaivas. Neither are they alluded to in any of the Śaivāgamas. The Vātula-tantra seems to have two editions (in manuscript), and in one of them the ṣaṭ-sthala doctrine is mentioned in the form of an appendix, which shows that this introduction was of the nature of an apocrypha. The doctrine of liṅga-dhāraṇa in the manner in which it is done by the Liṅgāyats of the Vīra-śaivas can hardly be traced in any early works, though later Vīra-śaiva writers like Śrīpati and others have twisted some of the older texts which allude to liṅga to mean the specific practices of liṅga-dhāraṇa as done by the Liṅgāyats.

There is a general tradition that Basava, a Brahmin, son of Mādirāja and Mādāmba was the founder of the Vīra-śaiva sect. From his native place Bāgevadi, he went to Kalyān near Bombay, at a comparatively young age, when Vijjala was reigning there as king (a.d. 1157-67). His maternal uncle Baladeva having resigned on account of illness, Basava was appointed as the minister in complete charge of Vijjala’s treasury and other administrative functions. According to another tradition Basava succeeded in deciphering an inscription which disclosed some hidden treasure, and at this, King Vijjala was so pleased that he gave Basava the office of prime minister. According to the Basava-purāṇa, which narrates the life of Basava in a mythical purāṇic manner, Basava, on assuming the office, began to distribute gifts to all those who professed themselves to be the devotees of Śiva. This led to much confusion and heart-burning among the other sects, and it so happened that King Vijjala cruelly punished two of the devotees of Śiva. At this, by the instigation of Basava, one of his followers murdered Vijjala. Bhandarkar gives some other details, which the present writer has not been able to trace in the Basava-purāṇa (the source, according to Bhandarkar himself)[1].

The Basava-purāṇa was written after the time of Śrīpati Paṇḍita. It is said there that at one time Nārada reported to Śiva that, while other religions were flourishing, the Śaiva faith was with few exceptions dying out among the Brahmins, and so it was decaying among other castes also. Lord Śiva then asked Nandi to get himself incarnated for taking the Vīra-śaiva faith in consonance with the Varṇāśrama rites[2]. If this remark is of any value, it has to be admitted that even after the time of Śrīpati Paṇḍita the Vīra-śaiva faith had not assumed any importance in the Carnatic region. It also indicates that the Vīra-śaiva faith at this time was not intended to be preached in opposition to the Hindu system of castes and caste duties. It has been contended that Basava introduced social reforms for the removal of castes and caste duties and some other Hindu customs. But this claim cannot be substantiated, as, in most of the Vīra-śaiva works, we find a loyalty to the Hindu caste order. There is, of course, a tendency to create a brotherhood among the followers of Śiva who grouped round Basava, as he was both politically and financially a patron of the followers of Śiva. The Basava-purāṇa also says that Basava was taken before the assembly of paṇḍits for the performance of the rite of initiation of the holy thread at the age of eight, according to the custom of compulsory initiation among the Brahmins. Basava, however, at that early age protested against the rite of initiation, on the grounds that the holy thread could purify neither the soul nor body, and that there were many instances in the purānic accounts where saints of the highest reputation had not taken the holy thread. We find no account of Basava as preaching a crusade against Hindu customs and manners, or against Brahmanism as such.

Basava’s own writings are in Canarese, in the form of sayings or musings, such as is common among the devotees of other sects of Śaivism, Vaiṣṇavism, etc. The present writer had the occasion to go through a large mass of these sayings in their English translations. On the basis of these it can be said that they contain a rapturous enthusiasm for the God Śiva, who to Basava appeared as the Lord Kudala Saṅgama. These sayings referred to Śiva as the supreme Lord, and to Basava himself as his servant or slave. They also contain here and there some biographical allusions which cannot be reconstructed satisfactorily without the help of other contemporary evidence. So far as can be judged from the sayings of Basava, it is not possible to give any definite account of Vīra-śaiva thought as having been propounded or systematised by Basava. According to Basava-purāṇa, the practice of liṅga-dhāraṇa seems to have been in vogue even before Basava. Basava himself does not say anything about the doctrine of ṣaṭ-sthala, and these two are the indispensably necessary items by which Vīra-śaivism can be sharply distinguished from the other forms of Śaivism, apart from its philosophical peculiarity. On this also Basava does not seem to indicate any definite line of thought which could be systematised without supplementing it or reconstructing it by the ideas of later Vīra-śaiva writers. Though the kernel of the Vīra-śaiva philosophy may be traced back to the early centuries of the Christian era, and though we find it current in works like Sūta-saṃhitā of the sixth century A.D., yet we do not know how the name Vīra-śaiva came to be given to this type of thought.

In the work Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi, written by Revaṇācārya some time between Basava and Śrīpati, we find the name ‘Vīra-śaiva’ associated with the doctrine of sthala, and this is probably the earliest use of the term in available literature. Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi refers to Basava and is itself referred to by Śrīpati. This shows that the book must have been written between the dates of Basava and Śrīpati. The Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi gives a fanciful interpretation of the word, ‘vira’ as being composed of ‘vi’ meaning knowledge of identity with Brahman, and ‘ra’ as meaning someone who takes pleasure in such knowledge. But such an etymology, accepting it to be correct, would give the form ‘vira’ and not ‘vīra.’ No explanation is given as to how ‘vi’ standing for ‘vidyā,’ would lengthen its vowel into ‘vī.’ I therefore find it difficult to accept this etymological interpretation as justifying the application of the word ‘vīra’ to Vīra-śaiva. Moreover, most systems of Vedāntic thought could be called vīra in such an interpretation, for most types of Vedānta would feel enjoyment and bliss in true knowledge of identity. The word ‘vīra’ would thus not be a distinctive mark by which we could distinguish Vīra-śaivas from the adherents of other religions. Most of the Āgamic Śaivas also would believe in the ultimate identity of individuals with Brahman or Śiva. I therefore venture to suggest that Vīra-śaivas were called Vīras or heroes for their heroic attitude in an aggressive or defensive manner in support of their faith.

We have at least two instances of religious persecution in the Śaiva context. Thus the Chola King Koluttunga I, a Śaiva, put out the eyes of Mahāpūrṇa and Kureśa, the Vaiṣṇava disciples of Rāmānuja, who refused to be converted to Śaivism. The same sort of story comes in the life of Basava where the eyes of two of his disciples were put out by Vijjala, and Vijjala got himself murdered by Basava’s followers. These are but few instances where violence was resorted to for the spread of any religion, or as actions of religious vengeance. I suppose that the militant attitude of some Śaivas, who defied the caste rules and customs and were enthusiasts for the Śaiva faith, gave them the name of Vīra-śaiva or Heroic Śaiva. Even the Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi refers to the view of Basava that those who decried Śiva should be killed[3]. Such a militant attitude in the cause of religion is rarely to be found in the case of other religions or religious sects. In the above context Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi points out in the ninth chapter that, though Vīra-śaivas are prohibited from partaking in the offerings made to a fixed phallic symbol sthāvara-liṅga, yet if there is a threat to destroy or disturb such a symbol, a Vīra-śaiva should risk his life in preventing the aggression by violent means.

So far our examination has not proved very fruitful in discovering the actual contribution to Vīra-śaiva philosophy or thought, or even the practice of ṣaṭ-sthala and liṅga-dhāraṇa, made by Basava. He must have imparted a good deal of emotional enthusiasm to inspire the Śaivas of different types who came into contact with him, either through religious fervour or for his financial and other kinds of patronage. It seems from the Basava-purāṇa that his financial assistance to the devotees of Śiva was of rather an indiscriminate character. His money was poured on all Śaivas like showers of rain. This probably made him the most powerful patron of the Śaivas of that time, with the choicest of whom he founded a learned assembly where religious problems were discussed in a living manner, and he himself presided over the meetings.

The present writer is of opinion that the kernel of Vīra-śaiva thought is almost as early as the Upaniṣads, and it may be found in a more or less systematic manner by way of suggestion in the writings of Kālidāsa who lived in the early centuries of the Christian era[4]. The Sūta-saṃhitā, a part of the Skanda-purāṇa, seems to teach a philosophy which may be interpreted as being of the same type as the Vīra-śaiva philosophy propounded by Śrīpati, though the commentator interprets it in accordance with the philosophy of Śaṅkara. The Sūta-saṃhitā gives a high place to the Āgama literature such as the Kāmika, and others, which shows that it was closely related with the Āgamic Śaivism[5].

But it is difficult to say at what time the Vīra-śaiva sect was formed and when it had this special designation. Vīra-śaivism differs from the Āgamic Śaivism and the Pāśupata system in its philosophy and its doctrine of sthala, the special kind of liṅga-dhāraṇa and also in some other ritualistic matters which are not quite relevant for treatment in a work like the present one. It is unfortunate that Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi, a work probably of the thirteenth century, should contain the earliest reference to Vīra-śaivism in literature. A small manuscript called Vīra-śaiva-guru-paramparā gives the names of the following teachers in order of priority:

  1. Viśveśvara-guru,
  2. Ekorāma,
  3. Vīreśārādhya,
  4. Vīra-bhadra,
  5. Viraṇārādhya,
  6. Māṇikyārādhya,
  7. Buccayyārādhya,
  8. Vīra-malleśvarārādhya,
  9. Deśikāradhya,
  10. Vrṣabha,
  11. Akṣaka and
  12. Mukha-liṅgeśvara.

In the Vīraśaivāgamama[6], eighth paṭala, it is said that in the four pīṭhas or pontifical seats, namely

  1. yoga-pīṭha,
  2. mahā-pīṭha,
  3. jñāna-pīṭha and
  4. soma-pīṭha,

there were four teachers of different priority,

  1. Revaṇa,
  2. Manila,
  3. Vāmadeva[7], and
  4. Paṇḍitārādhya.

These names are of a mythical nature, as they are said to be referred to in the different Vedas. But the names that we have quoted above from the Vīraśawa-guru-paramparā form a succession list of teachers up to the time of the teacher of the author of the manuscript[8]. On studying the succession list of teachers, we find that we know nothing of them either by allusion or by any text ascribed to them, excepting Vīra-bhadra, who has been referred to in the Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi[9]. We cannot say how much earlier Vīra-bhadra was than the author of the Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi. But since Vīra-bhadra is mentioned along with Basava in the same context, we may suppose that this Vīra-bhadra could not have been much earlier than Basava. So if we are safe in supposing that Vīra-bhadra lived somewhere in the twelfth century, we have only to compute the time of the three Ācāryas who lived before Vīra-bhadra. According to ordinary methods of computation we can put a hundred years for the teaching period of the three teachers. This would mean that Vīra-śaivism as a sect started in the eleventh century. It is possible that these teachers wrote or preached in the Dravidian tongue which could be understood by the people among whom they preached. This would explain why no Sanskrit books are found ascribed to them. Basava was probably one of the most intelligent and emotional thinkers, who expressed his effusions in the Kāunāda language.

But about our specification of the succession list of Vīra-śaiva teachers much remains yet to be said. It does not explain anything about the other lines of teachers, of whom we hear from stray allusions. Thus we hear of Agastya as being the first propounder of the Śaiva faith. We find also that one Reṇukācārya wrote the work, Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi based upon the verdict of other Vīra-śaiva works and giving us the purport of the mythical dialogue that took place between Reṇuka-siddha and Agastya some time in the past. The Reṇuka-siddha was also called Revaṇa-siddha, and it is supposed that he expounded the Vīra-śaiva Śāstra to Agastya in the beginning of the Kali age. We find at a much later date one Siddha-rāmeśvara, who was impregnated with the doctrine of Vīra-śaivism; it is in his school of thought that we have a person called Śiva-yogĪśvara, who gives us the supposed purport of the dialogue between Raṇuka and Agastya, as it had traditionally come down to him, supplementing it with the teachings of other relevant literature. In the family of Siddha-rāmeśvara there was born one Mudda-deva, a great teacher. He had a son called Siddha-nātha, who wrote a work called Śiva-siddhānta-nirṇaya containing the purport of the Āgamas. The other teachers of the time regarded him as the most prominent of the Vīra-śaiva teachers (Vīra-śaiva-śikhā-ratna) and Reṇukācārya, who called himself also Śiva-yogin, wrote the work, Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi. We thus see that there was a long list of Vīra-śaiva teachers before Reṇukācārya, who probably lived somewhere in the thirteenth century. Even if we do not take this into account, Reṇukācārya, the author of Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi says that he had written the work for the elucidation of the nature of Śiva by consulting the Śaiva Tantras beginning from the Kāmikāgama to the Vātulāgama and also the Purāṇas. He further says that the Vīra-śaiva Tantra is the last of the Śaiva Tantras and therefore it is the essence of them all[10].

But what is exactly the content of the Vīra-śaiva philosophy as explained in the Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi} It is said that Brahman is the identity of ‘being,’ ‘bliss’ and ‘consciousness,’ and devoid of any form or differentiation. It is limitless and beyond all ways of knowledge. It is self-luminous and absolutely without any obstruction of knowledge, passion or power. It is in Him that the whole world of the conscious and the unconscious remains, in a potential form untraceable by any of our senses, and it is from Him that the whole world becomes expressed or manifest of itself, without the operation of any other instrument. It implies that when it so pleases God, He expands Himself out of His own joy, and thereby the world appears, just as solid butter expands itself into its liquid state. The qualities of Śiva are of a transcendent nature (i aprākṛta). The character of being, consciousness and bliss is power (śakti). It is curious, however, to note that side by side with this purely ultra-monistic and impersonal view we find God Śiva as being endowed with will by which He creates and destroys the world. As we shall have occasion to notice later on, the whole doctrine of ṣaṭ-sthala, which forms the crux of Vīra-śaiva thought, is only an emphasis on the necessity on the part of every individual to look upon him and the world as being sustained in God and being completely identified with God. There are, indeed, many phrases which suggest a sort of bhedābheda view, but this bhedābheda or difference in unity is not of the nature of the tree and its flowers and fruits, as such a view will suggest a modification or transformation of the nature of Śiva. The idea of bhedābheda is to be interpreted with the notion that God, who is transcendent, appears also in the form of the objects that we perceive and also of the nature of our own selves.

The Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi was based on the Āgamas and therefore had the oscillating nature of philosophical outlook as we find in the different Āgamas. Thus in Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi, ch. v, verse 34, it is said that the Brahman is without any form or quality, but it appears to be the individual souls (jīvas) by its beginningless association with avidyā or nescience. In that sense jīva or the individual soul is only a part of God. Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi further says that God is the controller, the mover (preraka) of all living beings. In another verse it says that Brahman is both God and the souls of beings at the same time. In pure Śiva there are no qualities as sattva, rajas and tamas[11]. Again Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi oscillates to the Vedānta view that the individual souls, the objects of the world as well as the Supreme Controller, are all but illusory imposition on the pure consciousness or Brahman[12]. The Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi admits both avidyā and māyā after the fashion of Śaṅkarites. It is in association with avidyā that we have the various kinds of souls and it is with the association of māyā that Brahman appears as omniscient and omnipotent. It is on account of the avidyā that the individual soul cannot realise its identity with Brahman, and thus goes through the cycle of births and rebirths.

Yet there is another point to note. In the Yoga-sūtra of Patañjali, it is said that the nature of our birth, the period of life and the nature of our experiences, are determined by our karma, and that the law of the distribution of the fruits of karma is mysterious. But the effects of karma take place automatically. This view is only modified by the Pāśupatas and the Naiyāyikas who belong to their fold. It is interesting to notice that the Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi borrows this idea of karma from the Pāśupatas, who hold that the distribution of karma is managed and controlled by God. Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi thus seems to present before us an eclectic type of thought which is unstable and still in the state of formation. This explains the author’s ill-digested assimilation of elements of thought on Pāśupata doctrine, the varying Āgama doctrines, the influence of Sāṃkhya, and ultimately the Vedānta of the Śaṅkarites. This being so, in the thirteenth century we cannot expect a systematic Vīra-śaiva philosophy in its own individual character as a philosophical system in the time of Basava. It will be easy for us to show that Allama-prabhu, the teacher of Basava, was thoroughly surcharged with the Vedāntism of the Śaṅkara school.

In the Śaṅkara-vijaya Ānandagiri, a junior contemporary and a pupil of Śaṅkara gives a long description of the various types of the devotees of Śiva who could be distinguished from one another by their outward marks. Śaṅkara himself only speaks of the Pāśupatas and the Śaivas who followed the Siddhāntas or the Āgamas, in which God Śiva has been described as being the instrumental cause, different from the material cause out of which the world has been made. Vācaspati in his Bhāmatī, a commentary on the bhāṣya of Śaṅkara on the Brahma-sūtra II. 2. 37, speaks of four types of the followers of Śiva. Of these we have found ample literature of the Śaivas and the Pāśupatas, and had ventured to suggest that the Kāruṇika-siddhāntins were also the followers of the Āgamic Śaiva thought. But we could find no literature of the Kāpālikas or of the Kālamukhas referred to in the bhāṣya of the same sūtra by Rāmānuja. In the Sūta-saṃhitā we find the names of the Kāmika and other Āgamas, the Kāpālikas, the Lākulas, the Pāśupatas, the Somas, and the Bhairavas, who had also their Āgamas. These Āgamas branched off into a number of sections or schools[13]. In our investigation we have found that the Lākulas and the Pāśupatas were one and the same, and we have the testimony of Mādhava, the author of the Sarva-darśana-saṃgraha, to the same effect.

Sūta-saṃhitā was probably a work of the sixth century A.D., while Mādhava’s work was of the fourteenth century. Nevertheless, it seems that the Pāśupatas were earlier than the Lākulas. Neither Śaṅkara nor Vācaspati speaks of the Lākulīśas as being the same as the Pāśupatas. But some time before the fourteenth century the Lākulīśas and Pāśupatas had coalesced and later on they remained as one system, as we find them regarded as one by Appaya Dīkṣita of the sixteenth century in his commentary, Vedānta-kalpataru-parimala on Brahma-sūtra II. 2. 37. But there can be but little doubt that the Lākulas had their own Āgamas long before the sixth century A.D., which is probably the date of Sūta-saṃhitā. We find references to the Bhairavas, and the name Bhairava is given to Śiva as the presiding male god wherever there is the Śakti deity representing the limbs of Śakti, the consort of Śiva and the daughter of Dakṣa. But we have not been able to secure any Āgamas containing an account of the philosophical doctrine of this creed of Bhairavism, though we have found ritualistic references to Bhairava. The Sūta-saṃhitā also refers to the Āgamic ṛṣis such as Śveta, etc.; each of these twenty-eight ṛṣis had four disciples, thus making the number one hundred and twelve. They are also referred to in the Sūta-saṃhitā (Book iv, ch. xxi, verses 2-3), where they are described as smearing their bodies with ashes and wearing the necklaces of rudrākṣa. We have noticed before that Śiva-mahāpurāṇa also refers to them. The existence of so many Śaiva saints at such an early date naturally implies the great antiquity of Śaivism. These Śaiva saints seem to have been loyal to the Varṇāśrama dharma or duties of caste and the stages of life.

A later Āgama probably of the thirteenth century called the Vīra-śawāgama speaks of the four schools of thought, Śaiva, Pāśupata, Vāma and Kula. Śaiva is again divided into Saumya and Raudra. The Saumya is of five kinds including demonology and magic as antidote to poison. The Śaiva school is called Dakṣiṇa, and the cult of Śakti is called Vāma. The two can be mixed together as Vāma and Dakṣiṇa, and regarded as one school. The Siddhānta śāstra is called pure Śaiva belonging only to Śiva. There is, however, another sect, or rather three schools of a sect, called Dakṣiṇa, Kālamukha and Mahāvrata[14]. Bhandarkar has suggested that the Kāla-mukhas and the Mahāvratadhārins are one and the same. The Siddhāntas again are divided into three sects: Ādi-śaiva, Mahā-śaiva and Anta-śaiva. These subdivisions of Śaivism have sprung from the Pāśupata-śaivism. The writer of the Vīra-śaivāgama says that Śaivism scattered itself into infinite variety of schools of thought or bands of devotees and had a huge literature for supplementing their position[15]. All these sects have now practically vanished with their literature if they had any.

From the testimony of the same Āgama it appears that Vīra-śaivism was not a part of the older Śaivas, but it originated as a doctrinal school which accepted four liṅgas in the four pontifical seats, the worship of Śiva as ṣaṭ-sthala and their special rites and customs. This view may be correct, as we cannot trace the Vīra-śaiva as a system of thought in any of the earlier works on Śaivism. We have a number of Vira-śaivāgamas such as Makutāgama, Suprabhedāgama, Vīra-śaivā’-gama and the like in manuscript. But none of them, excepting the Basava-rājīya called also Vīra-śaiva-sāroddhāra (manuscript) with the bhāṣya of Somanātha, make any reference to Basava or even the Vīra-śaiva philosophy. The Basava-rājīya also speaks of Basava as being the incarnation of the bull of Śiva and the patron of Śaivas. But the author of the work does not say anything about the philosophical doctrine of Basava, but only describes the idea of ṣaṭ-sthala in an elaborate manner.

Professor Sakhare in his introduction to Liṅga-dhāraṇa-candrikā of Nandikeśvara quotes a passage from Svāyaṃbhuvāgama in which the mythical origins of Revaṇa-siddha from Someśa-liṅga, of Marula-siddha from Siddheśa-liṅga, of Paṇḍitārya from Mallikārjuna-liṅga, of Ekorāma from Rāmanātha-liṅga, and of Viśvārādhya from the Viśveśa-liṅga, are described. We have no further evidence of these teachers or the nature of their teachings. We do not even know if they called themselves Vīra-śaivas. This account does not tally with the description found in the Vīra-śaiva-guru-paramparā, or with the other Vīra-śaiva texts published or unpublished with which we are familiar.

The gotras and the pravaras of the Vīra-śaivas, given in the Suprabhedāgama as emanating from the unknown past, are quite fanciful and need not further be discussed. Such a discussion could shed no historical light on the origin and development of the Vīra-śaiva philosophy and dogmatics.

We have seen before that there is a tradition which links Agastya, Reṇuka or Revaṇa-siddha, Siddha-rāma and Reṇukā-cārya, the author of the Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi. Śrīpati mainly bases his arguments on the Upaniṣads and the Purāṇas, but he also refers to Agastya-sūtra and Reṇukācārya. He does not, however, refer to Basava and the contemporaries who were associated with him, such as Allama-prabhu, Cannabasava, Mācaya, Goga, Siddha-rāma and Mahādevī[16]. This seems to show that the Vīra-śaivism had two or more lines of development which later on coalesced and began to be regarded as one system of Vīra-śaiva thought. From Basava’s vacanas it is difficult to assess the real philosophical value of the faith that was professed by Basava. In the Prabhu-liṅga-līlā and the Basava-purāṇa we find a system of thought which, in the absence of other corroborating materials, may be accepted as approximately outlining the system of thought which was known as Vīra-śaivism in Basava’s time.

We find that the doctrines of sthala and liṅga-dhāraṇa were known to the author of the Prabhu-liṅga-līlā. But though in one place, where instruction was being given to Basava by Allama-prabhu, ṣaṭ-sthala is mentioned, yet the entire emphasis throughout the book is on the doctrine of unity of the self with Śiva, the ground of the reality[17]. In the above passage it is held that there are double knots associated with the gross, the subtle and the cause, in accordance with which we have the six sthalas in three groups of a pair of each. Thus the two knots associated with the gross go by the name of bhakta and maheśvara ; those with the subtle as associated with prāṇa are called prāṇa and prasāda-lingi sthalas; those with the cause are of an emotional nature, and are called śarana and aikya sthalas. In other works such as Basava-rājīya, Vīra-śaivāgama and Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi the names of sthalas extend to one hundred and one. But in none of those works is the idea of these different sthalas explained to show their philosophical importance. In Prabhu-liṅga-līlā we hear that Canna-basava knew the mystery of ṣaṭ-sthala, but we do not know exactly what that mystery was. In this connection guru, liṅga, caray prasāda and pādodaka are also mentioned. The whole emphasis of the book is on the necessity of realising the unity of the self and, indeed, of anything else with Śiva. Allama decries the external ritualism and lays stress on the necessity of realising the ultimate reality of the universe and the self with Śiva. He vehemently decries all forms of injury to animal life, and persuades Goga to give up ploughing the ground, as it would involve the killing of many insects. Allama further advised Goga to surrender the fruits of all his actions to God and carry on his duties without any attachment. As a matter of fact the Vīra-śaiva thought as represented by Allama can hardly be distinguished from the philosophy of Śaṅkara, for Allama accepted one reality which appeared in diverse forms under the condition of māyā and avidyā. In that sense the whole world would be an illusion. The bhakti preached by Allama was also of an intellectual type, as it consisted of a constant and unflinching meditation and realisation of the ultimate reality of all things with Śiva. This view of bhakti seems to have influenced Reṇukācārya, the author of Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi, who describes inner devotion (āntara-bhakti) in almost the same type of phraseology[18].

In his teachings to Muktāyī, Allama says that just as the sucking babe is gradually weaned from the mother’s milk to various kinds of food, so the real teacher teaches the devotee to concentrate his mind on external forms of worship and later on makes him give them up, so that he ultimately becomes unattached to all kinds of duties, and attains true knowledge by which all his deeds are destroyed. There is not much use in learning or delivering speeches, but what is necessary, is to realise the unity of all with Śiva[19].

In his conversation with Siddha-rāma and Gorakṣa, he not only demonstrates the non-existence of all things but Śiva, but he also shows his familiarity with a type of magical yoga, the details of which are not given and cannot be traced in the Yogaśāstra of Patañjali. In the instruction given by Allama to his pupil Basava, the former explains briefly the nature of bhakti, ṣaṭ-sthala and yoga. It seems that the restful passivity that is attained by yoga is nothing but complete and steady identification of the ultimate truth, Śiva, with all the variable forms of experience, and our life and experience as a complete person. This yoga leading to the apperception of the ultimate unity can be done by arresting all the vital processes in the nervous centres of the body at higher and higher grades, until these energies become one with the supreme reality, God Śiva. It is in this way that the cakras are traversed and passed over till the Yogin settle down in Śiva. The entire physical processes being arrested by the peculiar yoga method, our mind does not vaccilate or change, but remains in the consciousness of the pure Lord, Śiva.

The teacher of Basava, Allama, says that without a strong effort to make the mind steady by the complete arrest of the vital forces, the Vāyu, there can be no bhakti and no cessation to bondage. It is by the arrest of these vital forces or Vāyu, that the citta or the mind of the Vīra-śaiva becomes arrested and merged in the elemental physical constituents of the body, such as fire, water, etc. The māyā is a product of manas, and vāyu also is regarded as a product of manas, and this vāyu becomes the body through the activity of the manas. The existence of the body is possible only by the activity of the vital forces or vāyu, which keep us away from realising the unity of all things with Śiva, which is also called bhakti. The Vīra-śaiva has, therefore, to take recourse to a process opposite to the normal course of activity of the vāyus by concentrating them on one point, and by accepting the mastery of the vāyus over the different cakras or nerve plexuses (technically known as the control of the six cakras), which would in their own way be regarded as the six stages or stations of the process of the control of the vāyus, the ṣaṭ-sthalas[20]. It is thus seen that according to the description given in Prabhu-liṅga-līlā of the doctrine of ṣaṭ-sthala, the process of ṣaṭ-sthala is to be regarded as an upward journey through a hierarchy of stations, by which alone the unity with Śiva can be realised. The instruction of this dynamic process of yoga is a practical method of a semi-physiological process by which the ultimate identity of God and soul can be realised. In Śaṅkara’s monistic philosophy it is said that the realisation of the ultimate identity of the self with Brahman is the highest attainable goal of life. It is, however, said that such an enlightenment can be realised by proper intuition of the significance of the monistic texts such as “thou art that.” It refuses to admit any practical utility of any dynamic course of practice which is so strongly advised in the Vīra-śaiva doctrine of ṣaṭ-sthala as taught by Allama.

Allama had met Gorakṣa in one of his travels. Gorakṣa, who was also probably a Śaiva, had by his yogic processes attained such miraculous powers that no stroke of any weapon could produce an injury on him. He made a demonstration of it to Allama. Allama in reply asked him to pass a sword through his body. But to Gorakṣa’s utter amazement he found that when he ran through Allama’s body with his sword, no sound of impact was produced. The sword passed through Allama’s body as if it were passing through vacant space. Gorakṣa wanted humbly to know the secret by which Allama could show such miraculous powers. In reply Allama said that the māyā becomes frozen, as does the body, and when the body and the māyā both become frozen, shadow forms appear as real[21], and the body and the mind appear as one. When the body and the māyā are removed in the heart, then the shadow is destroyed. At this, Gorakṣa further implored Allama to initiate him into those powers. Allama touched his body and blessed him, and by that produced an internal conversion. As an effect of this, attachment vanished and with the disappearance of attachment, antipathy, egotism and other vices also disappeared. Allama further said that unless the self could realise that the association with the body was false, and the two were completely separated, one could not realise the true identity with the Lord Śiva, devotion to whom was the cause of all true knowledge. It is only by the continual meditation of Śiva and by the proper processes of breath control, that it is possible to realise the ultimate unity.

There is a subtle difference between the proper and practical adoption of the dynamic process of ṣaṭ-sthala and the realisation of unity as taught by the Śāṅkara Vedānta. In the Śaṅkara Vedānta, when the mind is properly prepared by suitable accessory processes, the teacher instructs the pupil or the would-be saint about the ultimate knowledge of the unity of the self and the Brahman, and the would-be saint at once perceives the truth of his identity with Brahman as being the only reality. He also at once perceives that all knowledge of duality is false, though he does not actually melt himself into the nothingness of pure consciousness or the Brahman. In the Vīra-śaiva system the scheme of ṣaṭ-sthala is a scheme of the performance of yogic processes. By them the vital processes as associated with the various vital forces and the nerve plexuses, are controlled, and by that very means the yogin gets a mastery over his passions and is also introduced to new and advanced stages of knowledge, until his soul becomes so united with the permanent reality, Śiva, that all appearance and duality cease both in fact and in thought. Thus a successful Vīra-śaiva saint should not only perceive his identity with Śiva, but his whole body, which was an appearance or shadow over the reality, would also cease to exist. His apparent body would not be a material fact in the world, and therefore would not be liable to any impact with other physical bodies, though externally they may appear as physical bodies.

A similar philosophical view can be found in the work called Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati attributed to Gorakṣa-nāth, who is regarded as a Śaiva saint, an incarnation of Śiva Himself. Many legends are attributed to him and many poems have been composed in vernaculars of Bengali and Hindi, extolling the deeds and miraculous performances of his disciples and of himself. His date seems to be uncertain. References to Gorakṣa are found in the works of writers of the eighth to fifteenth centuries, and his miraculous deeds are described as having taken place in countries ranging from Gujarat, Nepal and Bengal and other parts of northern and western India. One of his well-known disciples was called Matsyendra-nātha. Śiva is called Paśupati, the lord of animals, and the word gorakṣa also means the protector of the cattle. In the lexicons the word go means the name of a ṛṣi and also the name of cattle. There is thus an easy association of the word gorakṣa with the word paśupati. Gorakṣa’s views are also regarded as the views of Siddhānta. This reminds us of the fact that the Śaiva doctrines of the South were regarded as having been propounded by Maheśvara or Śiva in the Siddhāntas, an elaboration of which has elsewhere been made in this work as the Āgama philosophy of the Siddhāntas. Only a few Sanskrit books on the philosophical aspects of the teachings of Gorakṣa-nāth have come down to us. There are, however, quite a number of books in the vernaculars which describe the miraculous powers of the Kānphātā Yogis of the school of Gorakṣa-nāth, also called Gorākh-nāth.

One of these Sanskrit works is called Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati. It is there that the ultimate reality of the unmoved, and the immovable nature of the pure consciousness which forms the ultimate ground of all our internal and external experiences, are to be sought. It is never produced nor destroyed, and in that sense eternal and always self-luminous. In this way it is different from ordinary knowledge, which is called buddhi. Ordinary knowledge rises and fades, but this pure consciousness which is identified as being one with Śiva is beyond all occurrence and beyond all time. It is, therefore, regarded as the ground of all things. It is from this that all effects, for example, the bodies, the instruments or the karaṇas (senses, etc.), and the agents, for example, the souls or the jīvas, shoot forth. It is by its spontaneity that the so-called God as well as His powers are manifested. In this original state Śiva shows itself as identical with His śakti. This is called the sāmarasya, that is, both having the same taste. This ultimate nature is the original ego, called also kula, which shows itself in various aspects. We should distinguish this ultimate nature of reality, which is changeless, from the reality as associated with class concepts and other distinguishing traits. These distinguishing traits are also held up in the supreme reality, for in all stages of experience these distinguishing features have no reality but the ultimate reality, which holds them all in the oneness of pure consciousness. Since the distinguishing characteristics have no further reality beyond them than the unchangeable ground-consciousness, they ultimately have to be regarded as being homogeneous (sama-rasa) with ubiquitous reality.

The concept of sama-rasa is homogeneity. A thing which appears as different from another thing, but is in reality or essence the same, is said to be sama-rasa with the first one. It is also a way in which the bhedābheda theory of the reality and the appearance is explained. Thus a drop of water is in appearance different from the sheet of water in which it is held, but in fact it has no other reality and no other taste than that sheet of water. The ultimate reality, without losing its nature as such, shows itself in various forms, though in and through them all it alone remains as the ultimately real. It is for this reason that though the ultimate reality is endowed with all powers, it does not show itself except through its various manifesting forms. So the all-powerful Śiva, though it is the source of all power, behaves as if it were without any power. This power therefore remains in the body as the ever-awaking kuṇḍalinī or the serpentine force, and also as manifesting in different ways. The consideration of the body as indestructible is called kāya-siddhi.

We need not go into further detail in explaining the philosophical ideas of Gorakṣa as contained in Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati, for this would be to digress. But we find that there is a curious combination of Hatha-yoga, the control of the nerve plexuses, the idea of the individual and the world as having the same reality, though they appear as different, as we find in the lecture attributed to Allama in Prabhu-liṅga-līlā. It also holds a type of bhedābheda theory and is distinctly opposed to the monistic interpretation of the Upaniṣads as introduced by Śaṅkara.

The idea of ṣaṭ-sthala must have been prevalent either as a separate doctrine or as a part of some form of Śaivism. We know that there were many schools of Śaivism, many of which have now become lost. The name ṣaṭ-sthala cannot be found in any of the sacred Sanskrit works. We have no account of Vīra-śaivism before Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi. Descriptions of it are found in many works, some of the most important of which are Prabhu-liṅga-līlā and Basava-purāṇa. We also hear that Canna-basava, the nephew of Basava, was initiated into the doctrine of ṣaṭ-sthala. In Prabhu-liṅga-līlā we hear that Allama instructed the doctrine of ṣaṭ-sthala to Basava. We also find the interesting dialogue between Allama and Gorakṣa in the Prabhu-liṅga-līlā. We have also examined briefly some of the contents of Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati of Gorakṣa, and we find that the ṣaṭ-sthala doctrine preached by Allama was more or less similar to the Yoga doctrine found in the Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati. If we had more space, we could have brought out an interesting comparison between the doctrines of Allama and Gorakṣa. It is not impossible that there was a mutual exchange of views between Gorakṣa and Allama. Unfortunately the date of Gorakṣa cannot be definitely known, though it is known that his doctrines had spread very widely in various parts of India, extending over a long period in the Middle Ages.

The interpretation of ṣaṭ-sthala is rather different in different works dealing with it. This shows that, though the ṣaṭ-sthala doctrine was regarded as the most important feature of Vīra-śaivism after Basava, we are all confused as to what the ṣaṭ-sthala might have been. As a matter of fact we are not even certain about the number. Thus in Vīra-śaiva-siddhānta (MS.) we have a reference to 101 sthalas, and so also in Siddhānta-śikhāmaṇi. But elsewhere in Śrīpati’s bhāṣya, Anubhava-sūtra of Māyi-deva, and in Prabhu-liṅga-līlā and Basava-purāṇa we find reference to six sthalas only.

In the same way the sthalas have not been the same in the various authoritative works. The concepts of these sthalas are also different, and they are sometimes used in different meanings. In some works sthala is used to denote the six nerve plexuses in the body or the six centres from which the power of God is manifested in different ways; sometimes they are used to denote the sixfold majestic powers of God and sometimes to denote the important natural elements, such as earth, fire, air, etc. The whole idea seems to be that the macrocosm and microcosm being the same identical entity, it is possible to control the dissipated forces of any centre and pass on to a more concentrated point of manifestation of the energy, and this process is regarded as the upward process of ascension from one stage to another.

Footnotes and references:


See Bhandarkar’s Vaiṣṇavism and Śaivism, p. 132.


varṇācārānurodḥena śaivācaran pravartaya. Basava-purāṇa, ch. II, verse 32.


atha vīra-bhadrācara-basaveśvaracārani sūcayan bḥaktā-cāra-bḥedaṃ prati-pāḍayati

śiva-nindākaraṃ ḍṛṣṭvā ghātayed athavā śapet,
stḥānam vā tat-parityajya gacched yady-akṣamo bhavet.
ch. 9, verse 36.

It is further introduced in the context:

nanu prāṇa-tyāge durtnaraṇam kiṃ na syāt,
śivārthaṃ mukta-jīvaś cecchiva-sāyujyam āpnuyāt.


See author's A History of Sanskrit Literature, Vol. 1, pp. 728 et seq.


Sūta-saṃhitā, yajña-vatbhava-khaṇḍa, ch. 22, verses 2 and 3. See also ch. 20, verse 22; ch. 39, verse 23.


Madras manuscript


Another reading is Rāma-deva (eighth and sixteenth paṭalas).


asmad-ācārya-paryantāṃ bande guru-paramparām. (Madras manuscript.)


 Siḍdḥānta-śikḥāmaṇi. avataramkā of the 36th verse, ch. 9.


Siddhānta-śikḥamaṇi, ch. i, verses 31-2.


guṇa-trayātmikā śaktir brahma-niṣṭhā-sanātanī,
tad-vaiṣamyāt samutpannā tasmin vastu-trayābhidhā.
ch. v, verse 39.


bhoktā bhojyaṃ prerayitā vastu-trayamiclaṃ smṛtam,
akhaṇḍe brahma-caitanye kalpitaṃ guṇa-bhedataḥ.
ch. v, verse 41.


Sūta-saṃhitā iv, Vajña-vaibhava-khaṇḍa, ch. xxii, verses 2-4.


See Rāmānuja’s bhāṣya (Śrī-bhāṣya), II. 2. 37.


samudra-sikatāsaṃkhyās samayās santi kotiśaḥ.
(Madras manuscript).


Thus it appears from Śrīpati’s statement in the Śrīkara-bhāṣya II. 2. 37, p. 234, and hi. 3. 3, p. 347, that Revana-siddha, Marula-siddha, Rāma-siddha, Udbhatārādhya, Vemanārādhya were real teachers who had expressed their views or articles of faith in some distinctive works. But unfortunately no trace of such works can be discovered, nor is it possible to enunciate the actual views propounded by them. Whether Śrīpati had himself seen them or not is merely a matter of conjecture. He does not quote from the works of those teachers, and it is just possible that he is only making statements on the strength of tradition. In another passage (11. 1. 4) Śrīpati mentions the names of Manu, Vāmadeva. Agastya, Durvāsā, Upamanyu, who are quite mythical purānic figures along with Revana-siddha and Marula-siddha.


See Prabhu-liṅga-līlā, ch. 16, pp. 132-4.


liṅge prāṇaṃ samādhāya prāṇe liṅgaṃ tu śāṃbhavam,
svasthaṃ manas tathā kṛtvā na kiñcic cintayed yadi.
sābhyantarā bhaktir iti procyate śiva-yogibhiḥ,
sā yasmin vartate tasya jīvanaṃ bhraṣṭa-vījavat.
ch. 9, verses 8-9.

tataḥ sāvadhānena tat-prāṇa-liṅge,
samīkṛtya kṛtyāni vismṛtya matyā,
bhajed ātmano liṅga-tādātmya-siddhim.
ch. 16, verse 63.


See Prabḥu-liṅga-līlā, ch. 12, pp. 57-8.


Prabhu-liṅga-līlā, part in, pp. 6-8 (ist edition).


Ibid. p. 25 (ist edition).

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