Hindu Pluralism

by Elaine M. Fisher | 2017 | 113,630 words

This thesis is called Hindu Pluralism: “Religion and the Public Sphere in Early Modern South India”.—Hinduism has historically exhibited a marked tendency toward pluralism—and plurality—a trend that did not reverse in the centuries before colonialism but, rather, accelerated through the development of precolonial Indic early modernity. Hindu plur...

Hinduism, in its own words, is a religion thoroughly permeated by difference. Even on the eve of V. D. Savarkar’s coining of the term Hindutva—the specter of a unified and hegemonic Hindu nation underlying the Hindu nationalist movement—many of Hinduism’s own spokesmen prided their religion for what they saw as an innate propensity for internal pluralism.

And yet, whereas Balagangadhar “Lokamanya” Tilak, as we have seen, centers his definition of Hinduism explicitly on its “multiplicity of ways of worship / and lack of restriction on the divinity that one may worship,” nineteenth-century Orientalist scholarship advocated a different model of Hindu difference, one that threatened to fragment the ostensive original unity of India’s golden age. It was this fractious and divisive form of Hinduism that Oxford’s own Sir Monier MonierWilliams described, perhaps for the first time, as Hindu sectarianism—that is, the worship of Śiva or Viṣṇu as supreme deity.

Scholarship on Hinduism to this day has exponentially expanded our corpus of knowledge on the history of Vaiṣṇavism and Śaivism but, perhaps not unpredictably, has left Monier-Williams’s definition virtually intact. Indeed, the word sectarian, in the vast majority of monographs, serves as a virtual stand-in for the conjunction of “Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism.” Our historical archive, however, tells a very different story: sectarianism, as it emerged in the late-medieval and early modern period, was not a fragmentation of original unity but a synthesis of originally discrete religions that gradually came to be situated under the umbrella of a unified Hindu religion in the early second millennium. To be a Hindu, at the earliest moments of the religion’s internal coherence, was by definition to be a “sectarian”—that is, to be a Śaiva or Vaiṣṇava adherent of a particular lineage and community. Indeed, at those very moments in history when the shadow of a unified Hinduism can be glimpsed in the writings of pioneering intellectuals, Hindu religious communities on the ground took great pains to signal their fundamental independence from one another.

Take the following verse, for instance, extracted from a hymn of praise, inscribed in 1380 c.e. on the walls of the Cenna Keśava Temple, a Vaiṣṇava center of worship in Belur, Karnataka:

The one whom Śaivas worship as “Śiva,” Vedāntins as “brahman,”
The Buddhists, skilled in the means of valid knowledge, as “Buddha,” the Logicians as “Creator,”
Those with a mind for the Jaina teachings as “Arhat,” Mīmāṃsakas as “Ritual”—
May he, Śrī Keśava, always grant you the results you desire.[1]

Although we may not know its exact circumstances of composition, this verse captures a pervasive motif of Hindu religious thought: one particular God, revered by a community of devotees, encapsulates in his—or her—very being the entire scope of divinity. Although in situ the inscription also served the purpose of praśasti, or “royal encomium,” of a local ruler by the name of Keśava, this verse circulated widely, accruing variants here and there, as a fixture of devotional liturgy across communities. Nevertheless, the standard of comparison (the viṣṇupakṣa of the śleṣa) of the pun sends an unambiguous message: in the eyes of his fourteenthcentury Vaiṣṇava worshippers, it was Śrī Keśava who came to subsume the deities of competing traditions, both those that were generally understood as heterodox, or nāstika—Buddhists and Jains—and those we would consider “Hindu,” or āstika—such as Śaivas or Vedāntins. Implicit in this verse is an argument not for irenic tolerance or universalist pantheism, nor for the essential unity of all Hindu traditions, but for, literally, the supremacy of Vaiṣṇavism and of the god Viṣṇu as the telos of all religious practice.

This phenomenon is of course not unique to Vaiṣṇava theology. In fact, we find its mirror image in one of the most celebrated of Śaiva hymns, which to this day remains a cornerstone of Śaiva liturgy across the subcontinent, the Śivamahimnaḥ Stotram.[2] In this case, the Śivamahimnaḥ enshrines Śiva himself as the ultimate goal, objectively speaking, of practitioners of all religious systems, irrespective of the personal sentiments of the devotees who follow those diverse paths.

From the mouth of its ostensible author, Puṣpadanta, a gandharva seeking to regain favor with Śiva, we hear the following:

The Vedas, Sāṅkhya, Yoga, the Pāśupata doctrine, and the Vaiṣṇava:
Where authorities are divided, one says, “This is highest,” another, “That is beneficial,”
Due to such variegation of the tastes of men, who enjoy straight or crooked paths.
You alone are the destination, as the ocean is the destination of the waters.[3]

By describing Śiva alone as the destination of all religious practitioners, the Śivamahimnaḥ elevates the deity of one “sectarian” tradition—that of the Śaivas—above the otherwise level playing field that encompasses all other branches of what we typically categorize within Vaidika “Hinduism.” The very category of “Hinduism,” however, when applied indiscriminately to Puṣpadanta’s proclamation, allows the most obvious import of the above verse to escape our grasp. Certainly, followers of all the traditions mentioned by name in this verse have habitually been circumscribed within the overarching category of Hinduism, on the grounds that each one of them, to some degree, subordinates itself to the canonical authority of an overarching Brahminical religion.[4] Such an argument has been phrased perhaps most eloquently by Brian K. Smith, in his Reflections on Resemblance, Ritual and Religion (1989). Adopting the Vedas themselves as the iconic authority to which all of Hinduism must adhere, even if only in name, Smith proposes the following definition for Hinduism as a unitary religion: “Having reviewed the analytically separable (but in actuality usually conflated) types of definitions Indologists have constructed for the construct called Hinduism—the inchoate, the thematic, and the social and/or canonical—I now wish to offer my own working definition, locating myself firmly within the camp of the canonical authority as constitutive of the religion: Hinduism is the religion of those humans who create, perpetuate, and transform traditions with legitimizing reference to the authority of the Veda.”[5]

On the basis of Smith’s definition, one would be hard pressed to defend the case that the Śaivism espoused by the Śivamahimnaḥ is, strictly speaking, a branch of Hinduism. To argue, as Smith does, that Hinduism consists primarily of those traditions that invoke the authority of the Vedas suggests that individual Hindu communities, or philosophical schools, subordinate themselves to a set of Vaidika values, which serves as a linchpin for theological legitimacy, or at least seek to legitimate themselves through seeking out a Vaidika semiotic stamp of approval. And yet the Śivamahimnaḥ reverses this polarity entirely, subordinating the Vedas themselves (trayī) to yet another overarching category, a canonical authority in and of itself—the category of Śaivism. Much of what survives of early Śaiva literature corroborates Puṣpadanta’s declaration that Śiva—and Śaivism—transcend the Vedas themselves, rather than falling within their purview. Sociologically speaking, in fact, this is no hollow rhetorical gesture. By the middle of the first millennium of the Common Era, Śaivism, rather than Hinduism or Brahminism, could justifiably be described as the dominant religion of the Indian subcontinent.

Such is the case that has been made by Alexis Sanderson in his monographlength study, “The Śaiva Age” (2009). Sanderson argues, in essence, that during the medieval period—roughly from the fifth century to the thirteenth century—Tantric Śaiva knowledge systems both replaced their Brahminical counterparts as the primary ritual technology of ruling kings and served as the model par excellence for religious practice in public temple worship and in elite soteriological paths. Other major religious communities, such as the Buddhists and Pāñcarātrika Vaiṣṇavas, began to make bids for royal patronage through a wholesale adoption of Śaiva models of ritual and textuality, thus becoming colonized, so to speak, by the cultural idiom of Tantric Śaivism. Śaiva theologians, as a result, approached the traditional knowledge systems of Vaidika Brahminism with a thoroughgoing skepticism, either rejecting outright the validity of the Vedas or relegating Vaidika theology to the status of a stepping-stone for reaching the higher truths of Śaivism.

It is the latter group of Śaivas, naturally—those who creatively co-opted the models of Brahminical religious practice in service of a transcendent Śaiva religion—who attained the highest visibility, not to mention political clout, within the social order of medieval South Asia. In the domain of ritual in particular, Brahminical models were often recycled wholesale, laminated with a Śaiva inflection that marked them as belonging to the new soteriological systems of Śaivism. Śrāddha rituals, or oblations for the deceased ancestors, for instance, remained a standard observance for Śaiva initiates, and Śaiva ascetics adopted many of the daily protocols of their Brahminical counterparts, down to the minutiae of prescriptions for brushing one’s teeth.[6] Likewise, in the domain of theology, Śaiva exegetes regularly subordinated entire Vaidika philosophical traditions to their commentarial agendas. One has only to consider the example of the Śaiva tattva systems, the hierarchical mapping of “levels of reality” known best from the Sāṅkhya and Yoga schools of Brahminical theology. Śaiva theologians, quite simply, recycled the entire paradigm of the twenty-five Sāṅkhya tattva s, adding an additional, superior, set of eleven tattva s by a process of philosophical agglutination.

And yet we would lose something fundamental to our knowledge of the history of South Asian religion were we to simply reduce the early period of Śaivism to a theme and variation on early Brahminical religion. Despite their careful cooption of the classical Indic past, Śaiva exegetes rarely lost sight of the fundamental paradigm shift they perceived as separating themselves from their Brahminical predecessors. Our earliest extant Śaiva literature exhibits a remarkably ambivalent stance toward Vedic revelation, paying outward respect to the institutions of Vedic learning while elevating the Śaiva community to a hierarchical plane above the baseline of the Brahminical tradition. In essence, in these early strata of Śaiva textual culture, Śaivism was something fundamentally distinct from, and ultimately superior to, Vaidika “orthodoxy.” It was Śaivism that subsumed Vedicism under its overarching umbrella of authority, rather than Vedicism subsuming Śaivism as one “sect” within an ostensive “Hindu” whole.

Take, for instance, the Śivadharma,[7] our earliest surviving example of Śaiva Dharmaśāstra literature. While its generic conventions are modeled on the classical tradition of Brahminical Dharmaśāstra, the Śivadharma lays out a code of conduct distinctive to Śaiva initiates, and great pains have been taken to emphasize the vast gulf separating Śaiva religious practice from analogous Vaidika observances:

Therefore, a hundred times the merit is accrued from giving a clay vessel to Śiva
Than would be accrued from giving a gold vessel to one who has mastered the Vedas.
Fire oblations, the Vedas, sacrifices, and abundant gifts to the teacher:
All of these, even by the crore, are not equivalent to the worship of the śivaliṅga.[8]

In the minds of its exegetes, then, early Śaivism condoned Vedicism while superseding its confines by orders of magnitude. In very much the same manner, an existing Vaidika ritual technology became thoroughly subordinated to Śaivism over the course of this paradigm shift that Sanderson has called the Śaiva Age. Such can be observed, for instance, in one of our earliest accounts of Śaiva-specific ritual procedures: the installation of the liṅga, or the liṅgapratiṣṭhānavidhi. Our textual exemplars for this procedure date back to the earliest surviving Śaiva Siddhānta scriptural corpus—specifically, the Niśvāsaguyhasūtra.[9] In this account, much of the process of installing and consecrating a śivaliṅga is pervaded by a self-conscious Vedicization. Specific Vedic mantras are prescribed for Ṛgveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda, and Atharvaveda priests, each of which is conceptually equated with one of the four directions. And yet we must not lose sight of the fact that the very goal of this procedure is, after all, the installation of a śivaliṅga, an aniconic representation of the god Śiva, without whom the ritual would be meaningless.

Other passages, in contrast, exhibit an even more hostile stance toward Vedicism, completely rejecting the authority of the Vedas themselves, let alone Śrauta ritual and its auxiliaries. The more ostensibly antinomian traditions, inhabiting the fringes of the Śaiva cosmopolis, were particularly likely to incorporate an outwardly anti-Vedic rhetoric. Among scriptures of the Kaula Mārga, the Kulasāra (c. seventh century c.e.), for instance, essentially classifies those learned in the Vedas as nāstika s, equal to Jains and Buddhists in their fundamental inability to grasp the true state of affairs.[10] In other instances, Śaiva partisans have been known to advocate the wholesale abandonment of the Vaidika cultural heritage.

The following passage from the circa-seventh-century Śivadharmottara illustrates with characteristic vehemence just how pointed the anti-Vaidika strains within the Śaiva fold had become:

Purāṇa, the Mahābhārata, the Veda, and the great śāstras: all of these, expansive tomes meager in dharma, surely waste one’s life.”[11]

The Śaivism of the Śaiva Age, in short, defies any attempts to classify it as a sect of Hinduism or Brahminism. Indeed, the most wildly influential Śaiva traditions—those of the Śaiva Mantramārga, or Āgamic Śaivism, generally speaking—diverged so thoroughly from the Brahminical past in theology, ritual, and scriptural canon that whatever one may describe as the substantively “religious” building blocks of the new Śaiva world order were for all intents and purposes transformed beyond recognition. To cite a singularly poignant example, the traditions we refer to broadly as Tantric Śaivism—or the Śaiva Mantramārga, in the words of Alexis Sanderson—structured their soteriology around a single provocative claim: Śaiva initiation (dīkṣā) is the effective cause of liberation. And the implications of this assertion—that a mere ritual, in and of itself, possesses the means to sever the bonds that tie the individual soul to transmigratory existence—radically recast the sociological implications of elite Indic religion. In fact, Śaiva initiation in many traditions offered the promise of completely eradicating one’s intrinsic caste identity, transforming all initiates into Brahmins without the need for renunciation. As a result, even the more socially normative branches of early Śaivism effectively circumvented the strictures of varṇāśramadharma, providing both kings and Śūdras with access to liberation.

The following rhetoric, for instance, reappears frequently in early Śaiva literature, subordinating caste difference to the inclusivity of Śaiva initiation, a theme that would emerge centuries later as a cornerstone of bhakti religiosity, best known for its appearance in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa:

I am not partial to either a Caturvedī or a Dog-cooker, if he is my devotee.
One may give to him and take from him; he should be worshiped as I myself.[12]

That such caste-blindness was enforced in practice in Śaiva circles, moreover, is expressed eloquently in the following passage from the Svacchanda Tantra, modeled after an earlier exemplar from the Niśvāsa corpus. Here, Śaiva initiates are said to accrue impurity not from mixing castes, as the strictures of varṇāśramadharma would suggest, but rather for failing to be caste-blind—that is, for importing Brahminical normativity where it does not belong:

Those who have been initiated by this very procedure, O BeautifulFaced One,
Brahmins, Kṣatriyas, Vaiśyas, Śūdras, and others likewise, O Dear One,
All of these have the same dharma—they have been enjoined in the dharma of Śiva.

They are all said to bear matted locks, their bodies smeared with ash.
All Samayins should eat in one line, O Beautiful-Faced One.

There should be one [line] for Putrakas, one for Sādhakas likewise,
And one for Cumbakas—not according to one’s prior caste.

They are remembered in the smṛti s as having only one caste: that of Bhairava, imperishable and pure.
Having had recourse to this Tantra, one should not mention someone’s previous caste.

Should a man mention the prior caste of a Putraka, Sādhaka,
Or of a Samayin, he would require expiation, O Goddess.

He burns in hell for three of Rudra’s days, five of Keśava’s days,
And a fortnight of Brahmā’s days.

Therefore, one must not discriminate, if he wishes to obtain the supreme goal.[13]

Speaking of the soteriological as well as the social, Śaiva religious practice was no mere translation of Brahminism, preserving the religious paradigm of an earlier age under the auspices of an alternative social order. After all, Śaiva initiates kept no sacred fires in their homes, rarely pursuing training in Śrauta ritual officiation—in short, entirely spurning the ritual duties incumbent on elite members of Brahminical society. The Vedas themselves faded into the background, as Śaiva extracted their essence in the form of the Śatarudryīya, the hymn to Rudra found in the Taittirīya Saṃhitā of the Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda, and the Gāyatrī mantra, abandoning large-scale Vedic recitation as such. In its place, a new ritual technology emerged with the Śaiva Mantramārga, irreducible to its historical antecedents in the Brahminical period, that fundamentally transformed the face of elite religious practice across religious boundaries. An entirely new corpus of scriptures emerged over the centuries, establishing new canons for public temple worship as well as the individual soteriological practice of householders and ascetics. The individual practitioner, for instance, adopted elaborate disciplines of the body, ritually purifying the constituents of his being (ātmaśuddhi and bhūtaśuddhi) and investing his hands—the instruments of ritual—and the remainder of his body with elements of the divine in the form of mantras (sakalīkaraṇa, nyāsa).[14] The goal of such bodily disciplines is, quite simply, to achieve liberation or supernormal powers by transforming the initiate into Śiva himself. It is this soteriological goal—the transformation of the adept into Śiva, a Śiva on earth, or his deity of choice, through Tantric ritual practice—that most definitively shifted the para digms of Indic religious practice and theology for centuries to come.[15]

Early Śaivas, in essence, (1) rejected the authority of Vedic scripture, (2) disregarded the social hierarchies of varṇāśramadharma, often dismissing them as mere “custom” with no divine sanction, and (3) engaged in core religious practices that bore minimal resemblance to Brahminical custom. As a result, the Śaivism of the Śaiva Age can scarcely be described as a sect of Brahminism. Nor can the Vaiṣṇava or Buddhist communities that rapidly conformed to the fashions of the Śaiva Mantramārga. Śaivism, during this formative period, was functionally independent from any parent religion we may wish to describe as “Hinduism,” charting its own course in defiance of the religious norms that preceded it. It was the centuries following the Śaiva Age, however, that witnessed the incorporation of Śaiva traditions under the umbrella of a new Vaidika orthodoxy, which, arguably, we may for the first time describe as Hinduism, as Śaiva theologians hastened to justify their longstanding traditions according to the standards of Vedic normativity.

Footnotes and references:


yaṃ śaivāḥ samupāsate śiva iti brahmeti vedāntino bauddhā buddha iti pramāṇapaṭavaḥ karteti naiyāyikāḥ | arhaṃś ceti ha jainaśāsanamatiḥ karmeti mīmāṃsakāḥ so ‘yaṃ vo vidadhātu vāñchitaphalaṃ srīkeśavas sa[rva]dā || Rice, Epigraphical Carnatica, 5:99.


The Śivamahimnaḥ Stotram is included in the vast majority of ecumenical, Śaiva, and Smārta modern collections of Sanskrit devotional hymns and has been the subject of dozens of commentaries, though only Madhusūdana Sarasvatī’s has been published. See Śivamahimnaḥ Stotram, edited by W. Norman Brown (1965), for edition and translation. Most likely produced by a community of Śaivas who adhered neither to the Śaiva Siddhānta nor to the older traditions of the Pāñcārthika Pāśupatas, the text was certainly extant and in circulation by 985 c.e., when we find it inscribed on the walls of the Amareśvara temple in Omakareshwara in central Madhya Pradhesh.


Śivamahimnaḥ Stotram, v. 7: trayī sāṃkhyaṃ yogaḥ paśupatimataṃ vaiṣṇavam iti prabhinne prasthāne param idam adaḥ pathyam iti ca / rucīnāṃ vaicitryād ṛjukuṭilanānāpathajuṣāṃ nṛṇām eko gamyas tvam asi payasām arṇava iva.


In fact, to the best of our knowledge, most Pāśupatas, such as Kauṇḍinya, author of our earliest surviving scholastic work of the tradition, did not accept the authority of the Vedas at all, despite the fact that Pāśupatism is typically considered to be a “Hindu” tradition.


B. K. Smith (1989, 13–14). Emphasis in original.


For more detail on Śaiva postmortuary rituals, see Sanderson (1995) and Mirnig (2009). Acharya (2010) offers an edition and translation of a Pāśupata postmortuary ritual manual. The procedures for the brushing of the teeth, dantadhāvana, in most Śaiva handbooks, or paddhati s, recapitulate the core discussion of the matter in Manu, often with more elaborate systematization. See, for example, Brunner-Lachaux (1963, 1985) for richly annotated discussions of the routine Śaiva purification practices to be performed in preparation for worship and their intertextual relationship with the Dharmaśāstras.


Consisting of eight major works composed over the course of the first millennium of the Common Era, the Śivadharma corpus offers us unparalleled insight into the practices and theology of lay Śaivas as well as into the social practices and institutional culture of transregional Śaiva communities in the first millennium. The subject of several forthcoming studies, as well as an ongoing collaborative research project headed by Peter Bisschop and Florinda de Simini aimed at producing critical editions of the texts, most of the scholarship on this subject remains unpublished. Important exceptions include two early surveys by R. C. Hazra (1985) of the Calcutta manuscripts of the Śivadharma and Śivadharmottara—which offer some conjectures on the dates of the work—as well as an additional survey of the Śivadharmottara by Paolo Magnone (2005), which provides some useful insight but offers an implausible chronology and context for the work’s origin. Jason Schwartz (2012) offers a concise but significant reading of the contempt that the texts display toward Vaidika religions, as well as a treatment of their devotional theology. Finally, Alexis Sanderson’s (2009) theorization of the Śaiva Age is deeply informed by this corpus, and citations from these texts are presented without much comment in his most recent essays. Peter Bisschop has noted that the Śivadharma is likely a work of the early fifth century and the Śivadharmottara probably was largely composed in the seventh or early eighth century (personal communication, New Delhi, 2012). A transcript of the Śivadharma, misidentified as Śivadharmottara, has been published on the web by the Muktabodha Indological Archive. Another key text of the corpus, erroneously identified as the Śivopaniṣad, was included by Adyar in Unpublished Upaniṣads (1933). Finally, Yogi Nara Hari Nath, the Nāth Maṭhādhipati of Mṛgasthalī in Nepal, published a handwritten transcription, accompanied by his own learned commentary in mixed Sanskrit and Nepali, of five works of the corpus (1979).


tasmāc chataguṇaṃ puṇyaṃ śive mṛtpātradānataḥ / hemapātrantu yad datvā puṇyaṃ syādvedapārage // agnihotrāśc a vedāś ca yajñāś ca bahudakṣiṇāḥ / śivaliṅgārcanasyaite koṭyaṃśenāpi no samāḥ (Śivadharma 5.88, 7.2). Likewise, the following verse presents us with a theme and variation on the above message, seemingly extolling Vaidika religious practice while in fact strictly distinguishing the community of Śaiva devotees, Śivabhaktas, from non-Śaiva Brahminical practitioners: “Śiva is the Veda; the Veda is Śiva. The one who studies the Veda is Sadāśiva. Therefore, the devotees of Śiva ought to give charitably to one learned in the Vedas, according to capacity.” vedaḥ śivaḥ śivo vedaḥ vedādhyāyī sadāśivaḥ / tasmād vedavide deyaṃ śivabhaktair yathābalam (Śivadharma 4.12).


The Niśvāsa corpus (of which the first volume has been recently published by the Institut français de Pondichéry) includes the earliest foundational texts of the Śaiva Siddhānta and seems to provide the textual foundation for Tantric religion in general, as the corpus has come to serve as the primary resource for the redaction of quintessential Bhairava Āgamas, such as the Svacchanda Tantra, as well as key works of the Trika, such as the Malinīvijayottara. The first work in the corpus, Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā (c. fifth century c.e.) was likely composed in western Gujarat and displays some evidence of a textual relationship with the Śivadharma. Dominic Goodall, working in collaboration with a team of Indologists trained by Alexis Sanderson, has produced critical editions of at least four of these texts, which have been made available to me by Somadeva Vasudeva. During my stay in Pondicherry, I had the privilege of reading with Dominic Goodall selections from the Niśvāsaguhya—a heterogeneous work with a number of distinct strata, with the Niśvāsaguhya comprising the latest strata—including some interpolations from as late as the eighth century. The first volume of the Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā, edited by Dominic Goodall and a number of his colleagues, has recently been released (2015). The Niśvāsa has also been discussed in Sanderson (2006), Goodall and Isaacson (2007), Vasudeva (2012), and the dissertation of Hatley (2007).


For instance: vedasiddhāntaśāstrāṇāṃ bauddhārahaṃtavādināṃ | advayaṃ kathitaṃ teṣām na te jānanti mohitā || Note that the Aiśa register of the Kūlasāra often fails to conform to the strictures of Pāṇinian grammar.


purāṇaṃ bhārataṃ vedaḥ śāstrāṇi sumahānti ca | āyuṣaḥ kṣayaṇāḥ sarve dharmo ‘lpo granthavistaraḥ ||


Śivadharma 1.36: na me priyaś caturvedī madbhaktaḥ śvapaco ‘pi vā | tasmai deyaṃ tato grāhyaṃ sa saṃpūjyo yathā hy aham || Compare this with the ubiquitous rhetoric of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, extolling the Dog-cooker who has become a devotee of Viṣṇu. This very same verse reappears regularly in later Śaiva literature and was adopted by Vaiṣṇava bhakti theologians as well (cf. Gopāla Bhaṭṭa, Haribhaktivilāsa, 10.127). See Schwartz (2012).


anenaiva vidhānena dīkṣitā ye varānane || brāhmaṇāḥ kṣatriyā vaiśyāḥ śūdrāś cānye ‘thavā priye | sarve te samadharmāṇaḥ śivadharme niyojitāḥ || sarve jaṭādharāḥ proktā bhasmoddhūlitavigrahāḥ | ekapaṅktibhujaḥ sarve samayinas tu varānane || putrakāṇāṃ bhaved ekā sādhakānāṃ tathā bhavet | cumbakānāṃ bhaved ekā na prāgjātivibhedataḥ || ekaiva sā smṛtā jātir bhairavīyā śivāvyayā | tantram etat samāśritya prāgjātiṃ na hy udīrayet || putrakāṇāṃ sādhakānāṃ tathā samayinām api | prāgjātyudīraṇād devi prāyaścittībhaven naraḥ || dinatrayaṃ tu rudrasya pañcāhaṃ keśavasya ca | pitāmahasya pakṣaikaṃ narake pacyate tu saḥ || avivekī bhavet tasmād yad īcched uttamāṃ gatim | Svacchandatantra, 4.539–545. Cf. Niśvāsakārikā 12.161ff.


While these practices are treated in great detail in most Tantric literature, Flood (2006) offers a particularly clear overview of their function in Tantric ritual.


Much as will later be the case in regard to the interpretation of the Vedānta Sūtras, various early Tantric communities, while sharing a common reference point in the form of these practices, differed drastically in their interpretation of the philosophical and ontological implications of what it means for us to say that the practitioner “transforms himself into the god” in order to perform ritual actions, and what the implications of this are for our understanding of human nature. The early Pāśupatas seem to have been ontological pluralists, believing that an originally distinctive human practitioner replaces the substances that constitute his body with the substance that makes up Śiva, thereby becoming logically identical with him. Śaiva Siddhānta theologians, in contrast, being strict dualists, believed that, at best, a liberated practitioner becomes transformed into “a Śiva,” remaining logically and ontologically distinct from Śiva himself, if for no other reason than the fact that his liberation took place within historical time, and thus he, unlike the Lord, has a point of origin.

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