Lakulisha-Pashupata (Philosophy and Practice)

by Geetika Kaw Kher | 2012 | 86,751 words

This study discusses the dynamics between the philosophy and practice in the Lakulisha-Pashupata order. According to the cave temples of Elephanta and Jogesvari (Jogeshwari), Lakulisa was the 28th incarnation of Shiva, and Pashupata Shaivism his doctrine, of which the Pasupatasutra represents the prominent text detailing various ritual practices (v...

Brief Review of Scholarship

Important Primary Sources:

The first Sanskrit sources on the Pasupata system to be noticed by the scholars were the brief passages in the Brahmsutra commentaries, and the “Pasupata vow” of the Atharvasiras Upanisad. In 1940 R.A.Sastri published the newly discovered Pasupata Sutra, the central scripture of the Lakulisa-Pasupata school attributed to Lakulisa himself.

The five chapters of this sutra derive their name from five mantras of Taitiriya Aranyaka viz.

  1. Sadyojita,
  2. Vamadeva,
  3. Aghora,
  4. Tatpurusa,
  5. Isana

In 1st CE Kaundinya wrote a commentary on the Sutra which is called Pancarthabhasya. Tantraloka of Abhinavagupta dated to 10th CAD also talks in detail about the philosophy and tantrik aspect of the said system.

The extremely well articulated and researched articles by Peter Bisschop on “The Sutrapath of Pasupatasutra” and “Pancarthabhasya on Pasupata Sutra 1.37-39, recovered from a newly identified manuscript” opened up new vistas for research in this rather untouched field. His studies on the importance of Skanda Purana and Atharvaveda helped in understanding the early Saivite religion and mythology to quite some extent.

Ganakarika, is the only available ancient text of Lakulisa-Pasupatas. Though it consists of only eight karikas (verses) it puts forth succinctly the mystic theology of the said system.The Ratnatika (commentary) on it not only explains and elaborates the points mentioned in the text but also describes all the main principles and doctrines of the system. Dalal who edited the text attributes the work to a 10th C.AD scholar Bhasarvajna but scholars like Hara who has worked extensively on Pasupata philosophy believe that the above mentioned author has written the commentary while the text itself has been authored by one Haradatta who lived much earlier.

The Karvanmahatmaya appended to Vayu Purana relates the story of birth of Siva as Lakulisa and also describes some important rituals and pilgrimages.

Perhaps the most important and significant step forward in the brief modern day scholarship on Lakulisa was the contribution made by Bhandarkar, father and son duo. Dr. D.R.Bhandarkar has described in a startling manner the discovery of “Karvanmahatmaya” (a text dealing with the origin and genesis of Lakulisa-Pasupata system), which may have been lost but for his persistent efforts. Only after convincing the villagers at Karvan that the document would be used for scholarly purpose he was given access to one of the two existing copies of this valuable manuscript which was later translated in Gujarati by Hirabhai Shyamalbhai Patel in 1963.

D.R. Bhandarkar in his article in Annual Report of the Archeological Survey of India (1906-07) has tried to reconstruct the entire story of Lakulisa-Pasupata order from literature, epigraphs and historical data available to him. He also participated in the debate regarding the date of Lakulisa and also pleaded for latter’s human origin. After him his son R.G Bhandarkar in his informative and chronologically researched work “Vaisnavism, Saivism and minor Religious systems” (first published in 1913) talks at some length about the Pasupata order. He brought to attention another figure, Srikanthacarya who has been mentioned in Mahabharata and is considered as the founder figure of the Pasupata system. Such connections with earlier and later traditions help us to see Lakulisa-Pasupata system in a certain chronological context. Another very important work which throws considerable light on the connection between various Saivite orders and sects is a thorough work by V.S Pathak “History of Saiva cults in Northern India, from Inscriptions (700 CE to 1200 CE).The inscriptional data presented in his work draws our attention to both doctrinal and practical aspects of Saivism as practiced in medieval period.

It is rather difficult to determine the exact date of Lakulisa. All the scholars mentioned above after establishing him as a human teacher entered this intriguing debate. On the other hand based on epigraphic records and their analysis D.R Bhandarkar attributes 1st-2nd CE to Lakulisa. While R.G Bhandarkar,on the basis of his being mentioned as contemporary of Vasudeva Krsna in seminal text like Linga Purana, Vayu Purana and Kurma Purana believed Pancratra that traditionally the system was intended to take the same place in the Rudra Siva cult that the did in the Vasudeva Krsna cult, hence placing Lakulisa a century after Panchratra system i.e. 2nd BCE. This earlier date is also agreed upon by V.S Pathak and he counters senior Bhandarkar’s contentions by providing the alternative reading of the Epigraphic evidence from Mathura Pilaster.

Karvanmahatmaya found as an appendix to Vayu Purana and Siva Purana narrates the story of birth of Lakulisa and in the process reveals various interesting rituals and beliefs of the order.

That the system was popular in medieval times too is proved by inclusion of “Nakulisapasupata darsan” by Sayana Madhavacarya in his “Sarva Darshan Samgrha” compiled in 14th CE. This medieval text also refers to “Ganakarika” a cryptic document filled with mystic theology belonging to Lakulisa-Pasupata system. S.P Dasgupta’s work on philosophy succinctly captures the essence of “Nakulisa Pasupata darshanam”.

Thus we see that the difficult beginnings of modern scholarship on this tradition appears quite fragmentary and self contained. Unfortunately it hardly points outside or wherever it does it just stops there.

In various cases while dealing with the texts the critical edition is missing. This fact is lamented by the poignant scholar of Pasupata philosophy, Minoru Hara in his extensive work “Pasupata studies”. Hara has pointed out loopholes in translations of Pasupatasuta by H. Chakraborty and comparing and contrasting the sutras from P.S with the ones in Ganakarika has given a variant translation of the verses.

Fortunately there is a thorough hindi translation of the P.S the seminal text of Lakulisa Pasupata order done by Alokmani Tripathi. Comparing and contrasting all the three translations has proved to be a rewarding exercise. Both Chakraborty and Shastri have also translated the Pancartha Bhasya of Acarya Kaundinya (the commentary on P.S.) without which the sutras would have hardly made any sense to the people uninitiated or outside the pale of the order.

Tripathi’s well researched and comprehensive work also includes the commentary on Ganakarika by Acarya Bhasarvajna, Vayu Samhita of Siva Purana, Brahmasutrashankarabhasya, Sankardigvijaya and Nakulisapasupatadarsan section of Sarvadarsansamgrha of Madhavacarya. All these textual references help in a better understanding of this order and the focus of the work is to find the philosophical position of the Lakulisa-Pasupata system in the complex and vast world of Saivite philosophy.

The importance of Linga worship in the said system is beyond doubt. A detailed study of linga worship, types of lingas, chronological development of this symbol its manifestations and its presence in material art has not only been crucial to the entire study but has also tend to become the main focal interest of the study too. “Discourses on Siva” edited by Michael Meister with its multitude of well researched articles is a very good reference source for Saivism in general. The edition includes essays dealing with Lakulisa-Pasupata order and the ones with linga worship. The essence of the papers in this edition is best described in Meister’s own words, “Papers in this volume deal synchronically as well as diachronically with the problem of divine form; the struggle to give divinity a manifest image is both historical and ever present in India”

The first paper in the volume by Stella Kramrisch titled “The great cave temple of Siva in Elephanta: Levels of meaning and their form” completely justifies Meister’s claim. While on one hand the paper delves on various philosophical issues pertaining the manifestation of Siva in the cave, on the other it helps in understanding the architecture and sculptural design of Elephanta, a hugely important Pasupata site. She draws an interesting parallel between the esoteric concept of Mantra manifesting into an image and the image of “Sada Siva “being the embodiment of five such mantras (Brahmamantras as given in Taitirriya Aranyaka”)

The concept of linga and its manifestation in art form the subject of two interesting papers by Mitterwallner and Srinivasan. “Evolution of the linga” by Mitterwallner lays an archeological ground for discussion of Saiva images. For her “aniconic linga” is a symbol of cosmic creativity which has been given an explicit sexual interpretation. Moreover she compares this symbol of Siva with other pillar forms like Axis Mundi and so on.

A detailed study on “Significance and scope of Pre-Kusana Saivite Iconography” by Doris Meth Srinivasan explores the meaning of linga right from Vedic sources. She elaborates on important early Saivite images and has some interesting observations about mukhalingas as “Human parturition”.

N.P Joshi known for his excellent knowledge of Indian iconography in his “Early forms of Siva” examines early representations of Siva on coins, seals and sealings as well as in stone and terracotta. He studies all this visual material in the light of religious texts and Sanskrit literary texts.

All these three papers together offer a thorough understanding of Early Saivite iconography in general and evolution of linga form in particular.

A completely novel philosophical interpretation of Mukhalingas involving the process of parturition is given by T.X. Maxwell in his “Nand, Parel, Kalyanpur: Siva images as meditational constructs”. He suggests the use of such imagery as “meditational constructs” helping in raising the worshipper’s consciousness from the temporal to the transcendental.

The concept of Lakulisa as a Saivite teacher who was soon deified by his followers and ultimately recognized as an incarnation of Siva himself is dealt with directly in two papers in this valuable volume. The first one titled “Lakulisa, Saivite saint” by U.P Shah follows both the literary references and studies the various images and icons of Lakulisa.

The second one by Debala Mitra surveys the presence of Lakulisa images on temples in Orissa, an early Pasupata stronghold.

Both these papers help considerably in understanding the development of the iconography of Lakulisa.

Among the recent studies on the subject three works stand out and have been extremely useful for my study.

Lakulisa in Indian Art and Culture” by M.C Choubey is a thorough compilation of Lakulisa images almost from every part of the country. It also delves into the history and chronology of Lakulisa. Though it touches upon various intriguing and important issues like ritual, philosophy etc it doesn”t go beyond the factual compilation.

On the other hand a breakthrough research article by Alexis Sanderson, a renowned Saivite scholar titled “Laakulas: New Evidence” raised novel questions about who were Lakulas or the later followers of Lakulisa. An interesting and thorough investigation of various Sanskrit texts is undertaken by Sanderson to explain this enigma. Connection is drawn with later Kalamukha sect who has helped a lot in substantiating few of my contentions.

The extensive survey by Charles Dillard Collins titled “The Iconography and Ritual of Siva at Elephanta” surveys the pertinent Vedic, Epic and early Puranic literature as well as the contributions of Kalidasa for interpretation of the sculptural panels found at Elephanta caves. By alluding to various passages from P.S and GanakarikaK and trying to decipher the ritual worship mentioned there in he suggests that the caves were used by adherents of Lakulisa-Pasupata order. He focuses extensively on the counterclockwise circumambulation, an unusual practice but one which was practiced by followers of LP order and which also according to him seems to explain the position of various larger than life size sculptural panels.

Not underestimating the value of works done in hindi I must specially allude to Premlata Sharma’s hindi translation of “Ekalingamahatmaya”, a Puranic text which sheds quite some light on history as well as rituals followed by Lakulisa-Pasupatas. This text also helps in identifying the Saivite myths which were particularly focused on by the adherents of this order. The area is known to have been a stronghold of L.P order as the inscription found at Eklingji suggests so this text assumes considerably an important position in my study.

A thorough introduction to Agamas and Tantras is mandatory for understanding the Saivite thought and mythology in a proper perspective. N.N Bhattacharya’s “History of the Tantric Religion” is one such book which provided an entry point for me in such a complex and intriguing subject. This work studies the different aspects of Tantricism, its vastness and intricacies and also its heterogeneous and contradictory elements and last but not the least gives a historical perspective to the conglomeration of ideas and practices throughout Indian history.

Saivagamas: A study in the socio-economic ideas and institutions of Kashmir” by V.N. Drabu discusses important facets of ritualism like initiation, position of a guru, and son on in considerable detail. The book in general examines the philosophy behind the doctrines of Saivagama, a well organized body of thought with its own logic and rationale.

During the course of my research it was a pure pleasure to get acquainted with poignant writings of Pt. Gopinath Kaviraj, a stalwart of Indian religion and philosophy. His work “Tantrik Sadhana aur Siddhant” talks about his mastery on the said subject. He has written elaborately on Saiva, Shakta and Buddhist tantras in this valuable volume. His work has been extremely important in helping me draw connections between various sects and orders of Saivism. His extensive work on “Siddha tradition” also has proved to be a very important reference to the sect. The article “Some aspects of the history and doctrine of the Nathas” in short provide a thorough introduction to this obscure cult and its practices.

Apart from these very crucial references, I have refered to various general books and articles on Saivism, Iconography, Aesthetics and Philosphy. I would be quoting them in my footnotes as and when necessary. To name a few important works, “The Variegated Plumage:Encounters with Indian Philosophy Ed by N.B Patil and Mrinal Kaul”, “Gorakhnath and the Kanphata Yogis” by G.W Briggs, “The Triadic Heart of Siva” by Paul Muller Orgeta, “Elements of Hindu Iconography” by T.A Gopinath Rao, “Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva” by W.O’Flaherty.

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