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...

Early Textual References

Vedic Sources:

Coming to the Vedic texts we have Rg Vedic[1] Rudra, the mighty power behind the dreadful and destructive phenomenon of nature like storms,thunderbolts, wild fire and the epidemics, a malignant deity constantly in a need to be appeased. On being propitiated by prayers and offering the same fearful deity becomes Siva. The term ‘Siva’ (auspicious) here is used as an adjective to qualify the noun Rudra. On being duly appeased the wrathful god become Pasupa (literally the protector of cattle but if taken in a more philosophical sense then it can be read as the protector of the individual soul).

The concept is further developed in Satarudriya[2] section of Krishnayajurveda Taittiriya Samhita where the hundred names of Rudra manifestboth his benign and terrible aspects hence attributing a dual character to the deity. The names like Sambhu, Sankara and Siva which occur at the end of the list show his benevolent aspect. Here he is called the son of Usas and Prajapati conferred eight names on him. Out of these eight names seven are same as the ones given in Athravaveda viz., Rudra, Sarva,Ugra,Bhava, Pasupati, Mahadeva and Isana. The eighth one is Asani (the thunderbolt). Sivaramamurti[3] sees the section as one justifying the Visvarupa of Siva and traces all later Saivite iconography to this section.

Regarding the development of the concept of Rudra-Siva Bhandarkar observes:

Thus the terrible and the destructive God became,when he was propitiated by men in a variety of ways, a benignanat God and attained to the whole majesty of he godhead by the time of the YV and AV.”[4]

It is on this majestic form of the god that the theosophic speculations of Svetasvatara Upanisad16, are based. Svetasvatara Upanisad which does not have any overt sectarian connotations does contain the germs of the doctrine of later Pasupata school as the most elevated concept of Rudra-Siva is established here. Gonda[5] dates the text around 5th -6th BCE. 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 ie. 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[6] (By knowing this Lord one is freed of all bondages) is repeated many a times thus pointing at the importance of this text in development of later Pasupata order which focuses on the aspect of pasa.and release from it. The work overall lays stress on meditation and Yoga..

Bhandarkar 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.[7]

Thus this important treatise contains the theistic ideas of Upanisad in quite a mature form and concocts an idea of a distinctly personal god to whom the devotee surrenders completely,which is further elaborated in Epic and Puranic texts.

The writings of Panini[8] and Patanjali[9] also furnish additional information about RudraSiva. Panini refers to him as Rudra,Bhava,Sarva and Mrda (iv,1,49), the names we come across also in Vedic literature. He mentions the name “Siva” in a Sutra (4,1,112) which starts with words “Sivadibhyo….’suggesting the presence of Siva worshippers as early as 5th B.C.E.. Patanjali mentions both Rudra and Siva and has refered to an animal sacrifice in connection to Rudra. Reference to Rudra’s medicines which are found highly effective is also found in Mahabhasya. He further mentions Siva as an important god and refers to the images of Siva seen along with those of Skanda and Vishaka usually made of precious metals being worshipped.

Interestingly Siva is also mentioned in the contemporary Buddhist literature. The Chullavagga and the Samyukta Nikaya mention Siva as Deva or Deva-putta. Isana is also mentioned along with Vehnu in Digha Nikaya. “Deva” mentioned in a list of divinities in Niddesa in all probablility seems to be the Mahadeva, an epithet of Siva..

A Saiva sect known as “Siva-bhagavatas’ covering their bodies with animal skin and carrying in hand an iron lance as an emblem of the deity is also distinctly mentioned in the Mahabhasya.Moreover Sivapura, Udichya grama or Saivapura are mentioned by Patanjali as a village of the northern country. Thus we can envisage a group of followers, and most probably ascetic followers who were solely dedicated to the worship of Siva and who were his bhaktas, pointing at the one point devotion to a personal god. The fact that the aspect of Bhakti which became a very important concept in later Vaisnavism and gave a real boost to its propagation was initially seen in the ascetic followers of Siva. Chakraborti[10] is of the opinion that these ascetic followers belong to the Pasupata order mainly because of their carrying a danda which can be identified with Siva’s staff seen on various coins found from Ujjain and Taksasila belonging to 3rd -2nd BCE. This staff is variously designated as Brahmadanda, Bilwadanda and Kaladanda and is an important component in Lakulisa’s iconography and till present day occupies a very important place in rituals followed by Dandin Swami order.

The sectarian aspect becomes absolutely clear in Atharvasiras Upanisad, a late but highly important text.Here we can see Rudra being identified with Vedic gods like Brahma, Prajapati, Indra,Agni,Soma,Varuna etc on one hand and on the other with Puranic deities like Skanda, Vinayak etc.

The text says:

He who is Rudra, is Bhagavat, and also is Brahmadeva, a bow to him

The commentary by Samkarananda elaborates on the Pasupata vow (vrata) mentioned in detail in the text and hence making it extremely crucial for our study.

For the knowledge of Rudra one should use moderate food, devote himself to reading (Sravana), thinking (Manana)etc. become a Paramahamsa or a single minded devotee and spend his time thus. One should undertake the Pasupata vow which is of the following nature.Greed and anger should be given up. Forgiveness should be realized. The muttering of Om should be practiced and meditation resulting in Avagati,or perception should be resorted to…..Then follows a guideline to besmear the body with ashes by repeating the words:

The ash is fire, the ash is water, the ash is earth, everything is ash, the ether is ash, the mind,the eyes and other senses are ash

This is the Pasupata vow (vrata) enjoined for removal of the noose with which the Pasu or the individual soul is tied.The expression “Pasupasavimoksana” which means the loosening of the noose tied round the necks of beings is achieved when one is blessed by Pasupati himself.

Epic Sources:

Among the Epics, Mahabharata sheds quite some light on the worship of Siva and carries the seeds of development for later Saivite mythology.The story of “Kirata Arjuna” in the Vanaparvana narrates the fight between Arjuna and Siva in form of a Kirata (hunter)[11] . On being vanquished Arjuna builds an altar,puts flowers on it and prays to Siva. After sometime he sees the offering of flowers on Kirata’s head and recognizes his rival as Siva and completely surrenders to him. Siva thus propitiated asks him for a boon and he asks for the weapon presided over by Pasupati (pasupatastra) which possess the power of destroying all dreadful enemies.

Kiratarjuniya, Pallava
[Illustration 3. Kiratarjuniya, Pallava, 8th CE, Kailashnath temple, Kanchipuram]

This story suggests both the prevalence and importance of Pasupata order.The importance of Pasupatastra can be gauged by another myth in the Dronaparvan[12] where again the attainment of the Pasupatastra (this time mentioned as a bow and arrow) by Arjuna is narrated. In this story there is no fight between Siva and Arjuna instead Krsna and Arjuna are seen bowing down to Samkara to propitiate him and ask him for the Pasupatastra whence they are directed to a lake where they see two venomous serpents which assume the form of he desired bow and arrow.

In Sauptikaparvan[13] (chap 7) Asvatthaman is mentioned to have propitiated Samkara and obtained a sword from him with which he managed to create havoc in the Pandava camp. The text mentions that Siva himself entered the body of Asvatthaman and attributed him great strength and invincibility.The Castration myth occurring in the same chapter provides a great impetus for development of later Saiva mythology especially the myths related with linga worship which I have elaborated on in Ch 4.

Story of castration was narrated by Krsna on being asked by Yudhisthira the secret of Asvatthaman’s strength. The story goes on as follows:

Once Brahmadeva asked Siva to stop his creation and so he hid under water for years to meditate. When again the need for creation was felt Brahmadeva created Prajapati who in turn created a large number of beings. On seeing this new creation Samkara got angry and cut off his phallus and stuck it into the ground and went away to perform austerities. What is of interest to us here is the fact that similar incident is repeated in Vayu Purana (chapter 10). In the latter text after stopping creation it is mentioned that Siva performed hard austerities and resorted to Pasupata yoga. The incident seems to be an interesting link between the beginning of linga worship and its connection to Pasupata order which will be discussed in detail in a separate section.It seems whenever creation ceases the yogic austerities begin,probably this can explain the naked celibate Pasupata aspirant who were advised to shun women.Hence both creative and yogic aspects are like two sides of the same coin.

It is in the same chapter that we can see the preliminary aspects of myth of Daksa yagna[14] which establishes the supremacy of Siva on other godheads and also which assumes a very important position in later Saiva mythology. But it is the myth of Upamanyu[15] narrated in Anusasanaparvan (ch 14) which truly ascertains the importance of Siva and hints at significance of linga worship.

Krsna tells Yudhisthira that when god created the rite of sacrifice and assigned no oblation to Rudra, the latter was full of wrath and destroyed the sacrifice; whereupon the gods assigned him a portion.

In the Anusasanaparvan (chapter 14) Krsna is again seen narrating the glories of Mahadeva. Desiring to have an efficient son by his wife Jambavati he went to Himalayas. On the way he met Upamanyu, a great devotee of Lord Siva and entered into a long discourse with him on benignant nature of Siva once he is propitiated by austere practices.Even a Daitiya Sakalya was granted a boon to be a great author and his son was blessed to be a composer of Sutras. Hence Siva appears here in a role of a knowledge giver deity which fits well with the tradition of Pasupatas. Interestingly it is mentioned that Upamanyu started his austerities on the behest of his mother.When Siva came to him in disguise of Indra and offered him boons,he refused to accept them and boldly declared that he would have boons from Samkara alone and that he would become a worm or a butterfly at the command of Samkara but did not desire even the sovereignity of the three worlds given by Indra. In the course of his narrative, Upamanyu says that Mahadeva was the only god whose organ of generation (linga) is worshipped by men.He and Uma were the real creators of animals,as these bear the marks of the two, and not discus or the conch-shell or marks of any other god.Hence this discourse with Upamanyu clearly seems to be valorizing Siva as well as justifying and ennobling the linga worship which must surely have been prevalent at that time. Here Krsna, one of the main protagonists also is seen deep in meditation and practicing harsh austerities to gain boon from Siva. Thus here Siva comes across as a powerful yet generous deity who can go to any length to fulfill the desire of a true bhakta who propitiates him with meditations and austereties, a quality which till present day is associated with the deity and the name “Bholenath” (easily pleased lord) being a common epithet for him.

One thing we can glean from all these stories in the fact that the kind of Saivism and Saivite practices which are mentioned in the Epic are of Pasupata nature. Or 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, which is the core hypothesis of my study.

Footnotes and references:


Rgveda-Samhita (text in Devanagari) English Translation, Notes and Indices by H.H Wilson, Ed. W.F Webster, Nag Publisher, Delhi, 1990, Various hymns from book 1


C.Sivaramamurti,Satarudriya, Vibhuti or Siva’s Iconography, New Delhi, 1976 pg 3


C.Sivaramamurti,Satarudriya, Vibhuti or Siva’s Iconography, New Delhi 1976 pg 3


R.G Bhandarkar,’Vaisnavism, Saivism and Minor religious systems’,New Delhi, 1983, p.4316 Svetasvatara Upanisad, Venkatesvara Press, Bombay, 1910


Gonda, J. Visnuism and Sivaism: A Comparison. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1976


Svetasvatara Upanisad, Venkatesvara Press, Bombay, 1910, 1.11


Bhandarkar’Vaisnavism, Saivism and Minor religious systems’,New Delhi, 1983 pg 110


Chakraborti Haripada, ‘Pasupata Sutra with Pancarthabhasya of Kaundinya, Translated with an Intoduction on the history of Saivism in India, Calcutta, 1969,p.4




Ibid. p.6


Mahabharata, Book III Vanaparvan, Kirataparva, Section XXXIX


Mahabharata, Drona Parvan, KirataArjuniya


Mahabharata, Sauptika Parvan, ch. vii


Mahabharata, Sauptikaparvan,



Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: