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 manikka-vachakar and shaiva siddhanta: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the third part in the series called the “shaiva philosophy in some of the important texts”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 3 - Māṇikka-vāchakar and Śaiva Siddhānta

We read in Śaṅkara’s commentary (II. 2. 27) that he mentions the name Siddhānta-śāstra written by Śiva Himself, and he gives us some specimen ideas of these which can be covered within two concepts: (1) that the Siddhāntas assume God to be the instrumental cause, against the Vedānta view that God represents the whole of reality and that there is nothing outside Him. He also (2) refers to the Śaiva doctrine which acknowledged three categories, the pati, paśu, and pāśa. Among the Śaivas he refers to the Mahā-kāruṇikas, Kāpālikas, etc. As I have often said, it is extremely difficult to discover with any exactitude the sort of Śaivism that Śaṅkara designates by the name Siddhānta, as also to define the characteristics of the systems that he wanted to refute. We have now before us a system of Śaivism which goes by the name of Śaiva Siddhānta and a whole lot of works regarded as the works of the Śaiva Siddhānta school. Much of it, particularly in the way of commentaries, is written in Tamil: some of it is available in Sanskrit. A sort of Śaivism very similar to this is found in the Vāyavīya section of the Śiva-mahāpurāṇa. It is said in those sections that the original doctrine of that philosophy was written in the Āgama works as composed by the successive incarnations cf Śiva. The same teachings are to be found also in Tamil Āgamas, which have the same authority and content. Pope says that the Śaiva Siddhānta system is the most elaborate, influential, and undoubtedly the most intrinsically valuable of all the religions of India. This seems to me to be a wild exaggeration. The fundamental facts of Śaivism are composed of Vedāntic monism and Sāṃkhya, and sometimes the Nyāya doctrines have also been utilised. This latter refers to the Pāśupata school of Śaivism, as has been noted elsewhere. It is also doubtful if it is peculiarly South Indian and Tamil, for we have similar doctrines in the Vāyavīya-saṃhitā and also in a somewhat variant form in the Northern Śaivism. There are many statements by Pope which seem to have no factual value, and if the present work had any polemical intention, it would be necessary to criticise him more definitely.

Some people say that the oldest form of Śaivism is the old prehistoric religion of South India, but I have not found any evidence to show the exact nature of an existent pre-Aryan, Dravidian religion which could be identified with what we now know as Śaivism. It is as yet very doubtful whether the pre-Aryan Dravi-dians had any systematic form of philosophy or religion differing from that of the kindred classes of other aborigines.

In our view the Pāśupata-sūtra and bhāṣya were referred to by Śaṅkara and were probably the earliest basis of Śaivism, as can be gathered by literary evidences untrammelled by flying fancies. We are ready to believe that there were ecstatic religious dances, rites of demon-worship, and other loathsome ceremonials, and that these, though originally practised for ancestor-worship and the like, were gradually accepted by the earliest Pāśupatas, whose behaviour and conduct do not seem to affiliate them with the Brahmanic social sphere, though holders of such Śaiva doctrines had to be Brahmins. Castelessness was not a part of the earlier Pāśupata Śaivism. In a separate section we shall try to give an estimate of the evolution of the concept of Śiva from Vedic times. The affirmation that one little Christian Church on the east coast of India exerted its influence on the dominant Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava faith in the country lacks evidence. We have found that as a rule those who held the Sanskritic culture hardly ever read even Pali texts of Buddhism, though Pāli is so much akin to Sanskrit. On this account we find that the reputed disputation of Māṇikka-vāchakar with the Buddhists is uninteresting, as it does not seem that Māṇikka-vāchakar or the Ceylonese knew much of each other’s faith. Pope’s statement, that Kumārila bhaṭṭa preached the doctrine of a personal deity in the South, is absolutely wrong, because the Mīmāṃsā view as expounded by Kumārila did not admit any God or creator.

Māṇikka-vāchakar, probably of the ninth century, was one of the earliest saints of the school of thought that goes by the name of Śaiva Siddhānta. Probably about a century later there arose Nāṇasambandhar and other devotees who developed the doctrine further. Their legendary tales are contained in the Periya-purāṇa. But it is peculiar that King Bhoja of Dhāra, who wrote a Śaiva work of great distinction called Tattva-prakāśa, does not take any notice of these Tamil writers. Similarly Mādhava, also in the fourteenth century, does not mention any of these Tamil writers. We are told that thereafter came fourteen sages, called Santāna-gurus (succession of teachers), who properly elaborated the system of philosophy known as the Śaiva Siddhānta. One of these was Umāpati, who lived in A.D. 1313. He was thus a contemporary of Mādhava, though Mādhava makes no reference to him.

The thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries were periods of great theistic enterprises in the hands of the Śaivas and the Śrīvaiṣṇavas. In interpreting Tiru-vachakam, Umāpati says that the real intention of all the Vedas is summed up in three mystic words: pati, paśu, and pāśa, the Lord, the flock, and the bond. These are the three categories of the Śaiva Siddhānta system. But we have already pointed out that there were no special peculiarities of the Śaiva Siddhānta; it was referred to by Śaṅkara in the eighth century and it formed the cardinal doctrine of the Pāśupata school of Śaivism, and also to the schools of Śaivism as we find them in the Vāyavīya section of the Śiva-mahāpurāṇa. The pati, paśu and pāśa are equally eternal, existing unchanged and undiminished through the ages. This pati is none else but Śiva, who is called by various names, such as Rudra, paśūnām-pati, Śiva, etc. Umāpati says that Śiva is the supreme Being, is neither permanently manifested nor unmanifested; He is without qualities or distinguishing marks, free from all impurities, absolute and eternal, the source of wisdom to innumerable souls, and not subject to any fluctuations. He is immaterial and of the nature of pure bliss. He is difficult of access to the perverse, but He is the final goal of those that truly worship Him. Śiva is thus described to be niṣkala, without parts, perfect in Himself, but is capable of manifestation, and in order to energise in souls the various constituents of that eternal aggregate of impurity which constitutes the bond, He assumes a sakala nature, that is, one composed of pieces of spiritual bodies. He is formless and has the form of wisdom. He creates, preserves, and consigns all to the power of māyā, but He is the ultimate refuge who never leaves us. He dwells everywhere and pervades all things as fire pervades all wood. He offers His boon only to those who approach Him for it.

Turning to the groups of animate beings called paśu, it is suggested that from beginningless time an infinite number of souls must have obtained their release. Generally there are three kinds of impurities—darkness, deeds (karma) and delusion. When delusion is removed, darkness may still continue. The souls can perceive objects through sense organs only when their functions are supplemented by some innate divine faculty. All beings are infested with original impurities. The threefold impurities which constitute the bond are directly known by Śiva.

Para-śiva or the supreme Lord and Parā-śakti are two in one. Śiva is pure intelligence (jñāna) and Śakti is pure energy (kriyā). Out of their union, evolves (1) icchā-śakti, which is a combination of jñāna and kriyā in equal proportion; (2) kriyā-śakti which is a combination of jñāna and kriyā with an excess of kriyā; and (3) jñana-śakti, which is a combination of jñāna and kriyā with an excess of jñāna, also called arul-śakti. The arul-śakti is the jñāna-śakti active at the time of the liberation of the souls, while as tirodhāna-śakti it is active at the time when the souls are fettered.

To sum up the position of the Śaiva Siddhānta as far as we can understand it from authoritative translations of Tamil works, and also authoritative studies of Tamil literature like Pope and Schomerus, we find that the souls which pervade the body are themselves inanimate, and the intellectual apparatus by which things are perceived are also unconscious. Conscious experience can only originate by the energy of Śiva. This energy, like a ray of sun, is the original śakti or energy which is indistinguishable from Śiva. The Śaiva Siddhānta school is in direct opposition to the Cārvāka school which denies the existence of any creator. The Śaiva Siddhānta school argues for the existence of a supreme Being who evolves, sustains, and involves the phenomenal universe. The whole universe, constituted of all beings, male and female, and those which are without life, but which come into phenomenal existence, subsists for a while and then subsides; but yet, as we have said before, this does not clarify our knowledge regarding the nature of the physical world and of the souls. It does not explain how beings became associated from the beginning with impurities called āṇava-mala. Even at the attainment of release the souls could not be united or become one with God. Other forms of Śaivism have attempted to follow slightly diverse lines to avoid these difficulties.

Though śakti is regarded as a part of Śiva—and this has led to many mystical aspects of Tantra philosophy—yet the relation of the individual devotees to God is one of servitude and entire selfsurrender. It has none of the amorous sides of rapturous love that we notice among the Vaiṣṇava saints, the Āḻvārs.

Tiru-vāchakam may in some sense be regarded as a spiritual biography of Māṇikka-vāchakar which records his experiences at different times of his life and explains. The work is full of his religious experiences and enthusiasm, showing different states of religious pathology. Thus he says:

What shall I do while twofold deeds’ fierce flame burns still out,—
Nor doth the body melt,—nor falsehood fall to dust?
In mind no union gained with the “Red fire’s honey”
      The Lord of Perun-turrai fair![1]

Shall I cry out, or wait, or dance or sing, or watch?
O Infinite, what shall I do? The Śiva who fills
With rapturous image,—great Perun-turrai’s Lord
Let all with me bending adore![2]

He filled with penury; set me free from ‘births,’ my soul
With speechless fervours thrilled,—blest Perun-turrai’s Lord,—
The Śiva in grace exceeding made me His; the balm
For all my pain, the deathless Bliss ![3]

Glorious, exalted over all, the Infinite,—
To me small slave, lowest of all, thou has assigned.
A place in bliss supreme, that none beside have gained or known!
Great Lord, what can I do for thee![4]

All ye His servants who’ve become, put far away each idle sportive thought;
Such refuge at the fort where safety dwells; hold fast unto the end the sacred sign;
Put off from you this body stained with sin; in Śiva’s world He’ll surely give us place!
Bhujaṇga’s self, whose form the ashes wears will grant you entrance ’neath His flow’ry feet![5]

Footnotes and references:


Tiru-vāchakam, p. 334.




Ibid. p. 336.


Ibid. p. 336.


Ibid. p. 329.

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