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...

Overall Structure and Methodological considerations

Before embarking on a chapter wise detail it is necessary to mention how the outlook of the study changed within the course of my research.Though the initial intention of this thesis was to study the dichotomy between ritual and philosophy but the examination of varied data led to interesting revelations which prove that the dichotomy is only apparent and does not really exist. On closer observation one finds that this idea of dichotomy with which I started emerges out of ignorance and lack of understanding of the system. The so called “wild and horrid practices” possess a logic of their own and are not “Pre Aryan” aberrations as many scholars would like us to believe. As I tracked the antiquity of such practices interestingly while on one hand I was directed to various tantric texts it also led to various Vedic texts too. Same is true also for the inquiry into the nature of Siva-linga which again lead to Vedic precedents. This knowledge has greatly contributed to my understanding of the said system and also opened up various novel possibilities of looking into the system with renewed interest.

The section on “The Historical Context” largely employs text-historical method comprising of textual, iconographical and archeological analysis. In the first subsection titled “Re-reading the history of Saivism” an effort is made to reread and re-interpret the history of Saivism as presented in important textual and visual sources. The data is presented in a chronological manner with a focus on the development of the concept of bhakti or to be precise jnanottar-bhakti which finds favor in seminal texts like Svetasvatara Upanisad and in later text like Atharvasiras Upanisad. The contention that it is this concept of Bhakti which paved a way for the popularization of Saivism and transformed it from an order of ascetic aspirants to religion of a common man, or which changed the nature of “Ati-Marga”, esoteric form of Saivism to a more acceptable religion is discussed in detail.

Forging of close links with the institution of kingship and thereby with the main source of patronage did a great deal in popularizing the order in the subcontinent and beyond. By occupying the position of a Raja-guru (royal preceptor) and giving Saiva diksa (Saiva initiation) to the king followed by a specially modified version of the Saiva consecration ritual (abhisekah) as an empowerment to rule, the Saivite ascetics assumed a very powerful and economically viable position in the society y by medieval times. These Saiva officiants assumed the power to legitimize a dynasty by various rites and rituals and then by constructing Siva temples and installing a Sivalinga bearing the name of the ruler as its first half.Now this practice of installing a Sivalinga reminds one of the Acarya Udita’s(Lakulisa-pasupata lineage) establishing of two Sivalingas in the honor of his teacher Upamita and teacher’s teacher Kapila bearing the name of Upamitesvara and Kapilesvara[1] . This same practice was extended to the royalty. Apart from being the royal teachers and priests these officiants also performed various protective, therapeutic and aggressive rites bordering on black magic, hypnosis and witch craft. Such practices made their presence formidable to a kingdom and this added to their power and indispensible nature. These priests were given big chunks of land on which they could collect taxes thus forming a parallel government in the system.

Though Svetasvatara Upanisad does not have any overt sectarian connotations it does contain the germs of the doctrine of later Pasupata school as the most elevated concept of Rudra-Siva is established here.Gonda[2] dates the text around 5th -6th B.C.E. The theory of monotheism and that of the impersonal Brahman of the earlier Upanisads are blended together in Rudra-Siva and the deity is considered one without a second. This sort of philosophical thought paves way for Bhakti i.e. Individual devotion to one god. The second chapter of SU reveals the process of Yoga which purifies the nature of the individual soul and unites it with the supreme soul. Rudra here is seen possessing the threefold power to create, protect and destroy everything. It is interesting to note that Rudra has been eulogized as the only God, and by knowing whom one is freed of all bondages.

The expression: Jnatva Devam muchyate sarva-pasaih” is repeated many a times thus pointing at the importance of this text in development of later Pasupata order.The work overall lays stress on meditation and Yoga.

Bhandarkar[3] rightly observes:

The Svetasvatara Upanisad, therefore stands at the door of the Bhakti cult and pours out its loving adoration on Rudra-Siva instead of Vasudeva-Krsna as the BhagavadGita did in later times when the Bhakti doctrine was in full swing”.

In this context it is quite interesting to see that Linga Purana mentions Lakulisa the 28th avatara of Siva to be contemporaneous to Vasudeva Krsna and we do come across the reference to Siva Bhagvatas as early as in Patanjali’s Mahabhasya.. As the study progressed it was realized that the concepts of Incarnation (Avtaravada) and Bhakti, both generally associated with Vaisnavism were intrinsic to Saivite thought and probably their seeds were sown in Saivite literature. The contention is substantiated by Bhandarkar’s observation that when Vasudeva-Krsna emerged as an important deity, his human character appealed to people and thus the germs of bhakti were speedily developed and transferred from Rudra-Siva to Krsna.

The development will be further traced in Epic and Puranic literature and enough evidences furnished to present another hypothesis that the earlier form of Saivism mentioned in these important texts seems to be of Pasupata nature. Probably one can go further and suggest that the Pasupata Saivism was the beginning of Saivite thought. These speculations will be looked into in detail in appropriate chapters. Here it would suffice to mention that the major early textual references that one finds for Saivism have a strong tilt towards Pasupata philosophy and practice.

The hypothesis is further substantiated with early archeological, numismatic and artistic evidences.

The next section is titled as “Locating Lakulisa in the context of Pasupata History”. Various textual and visual evidences will be furnished to prove that Lakulisa was a human being and an acarya who systematized a certain existing system and his disciples and followers were responsible for its later propagation and popularity in various forms.

Footnotes and references:


Mathura Pillar Inscription of Chandragupta II, E.I, XIX,


Gonda, J.,Visnuism and Saivism, A Comparision, New Delhi, 1976


Bhandarkar R.G “Vaisnavism and Saivism and Minor Religious Systems”,Poona, 1928, p 110

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