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...

Rise of Tantric Elements in Lakulisa-Pasupata order

Ananta lineage:

[Siddhayogesvarimata and affiliation with the Kula cult of Samskarikas:]

Siddha yogesvarimata, an Agamic tradition also comes across as one where Lakulisa is mentioned as an important teacher The continuation of Lakula doctrine through his disiciple Ananta is clearly indicated in Tantraloka[1] and the ascetics of this line belonged to Ananta gotra.(Refer Table). Hence this tradition traces the lineage of Lakulisa to Swacchandanatha and back to Bhairavi and Bhairava like any other pure Tantric tradition.Regarding the importance of Siddhayogesvari Tantra, Tantraloka meantions that the original version of the Malinivijayottara seems to have been composed by a number of Siddhayogis of the Siddha-sampradyaya who explained and elaborated the practices of yoga because of which it was called Siddha yogesvari mata. The fact that Lakulisa was mentioned as an important personality in this lineage points at the affiliation of LP order, atleast one branch of it (Ananta gotra) to the later developments in monistic Saivism of Kashmir on one hand and the Siddha cult on the other, both of considerable importance.

The Harsha Stone Inscription of Vigrahapala Chahamana[2] V.S 1030 records the guru Visvarupa who belonged to the Pancharthika order of the Lakulas in Ananta gotra to have flourished in “the tradition of Kula” while his disciple’s disciple Allata or Bhavarakta (refer table) is described as originators of the Kula cult of the Samsarikas.(Refer Chart). This information is of vital importance as it shows the affiliation of Kula school with the Lakulas.

The contention is further substantiated with a passage given in Kularnava tantra[3] which while talking about a Kula Yogi suggests:

A Kula yogi may dwell anywhere, disguised in any form, unknown to anybody. Such yogins in diverse guises, intent on the welfare of men, walk the earth unrecognized by others.They do not expend their self knowledge at once. In the midst of men they live as if intoxicated, dumb, dull…..Adepts in Kaula yoga speak in the manner of the uncivil, behave as if ignorant; appear like the lowly. They do so in order that men may ignore them and not flock to them; they talk nothing at all…Such a yogi lives in a way that this world of men may laugh, feel disgust, revile and seeing, pass at a distance leaving him alone. He would go about in different guises, at times like one worthy, at times like one fallen, at times like a ghost or a demon.”

Significantly these practices of Kula yogis are quite similar to injunctions given in Pasupata-sutra in third chapter dealing with subsidiary practices for an LP aspirant.It encourages the ascetic aspirant to court dishonor and live with the insults and abuses showered on him.It seems to be the test of the patience and humility that one can muster after observing severe penance and is a manner of internal purification, cleansing of soul, getting rid of the narrow “I”.

Avamatah (Pasupata-sutra 3.3)


…The wise Brahmana should not covet for praises as for ambrosia and should hate praise like poison. The ascetic lies happily beign insulted and disconnected with all…

Paribhuyamanas-charet (Pasupata-sutra 3.5)

[He should wander while being assaulted]

It means that he should remain in the utterance of abuses, that is he is condemned in the acquisition of dharma and in the performance of his duty.

The PABbh clearly suggests that the assault here is the physical assault with sticks and fists. It means the yogi is supposed to encounter the wrath of the people, rather ask for it and then bear it too, a sure shot method for testing ones physical endurance. One has to remember that this stage comes after a long time and after attaining the miraculous powers. Once such siddhis are accomplished the aspirant is warned to keep his ego and false pride in check. Hence such situations are created so that one can purify oneself of base feelings of pride and power.Real test of a yogi is to remain calm and collected even on being insulted and assaulted by common people. It should be understood as a sincere and serious step towards high form of self discipline.

Physical movements like trembling, swooning,limping faking sleep, amorous gestures too are prescribed in Pasupata-sutra.(3.12-3.15)

Kratheta va (Pasupata-sutra 3.12)

[Or he should pretend to be asleep while awake]

Spandeta va (Pasupata-sutra 3.13)

[Or he should tremble]

Manteta va (Pasupata-sutra 3.14)

[Or he should walk limping]

Sringareta va (Pasupata-sutra 3.15)

[Or he should practice wooing]

And the result of all these practices well performed in public is given in sutra 3.19 which says:

Paribhuyamano hi Vidvan krtsna-tapa bhavati (Pasupata-sutra 3.19)

[Being assaulted he becomes learned and a performer of all penances]

He is called learned who attains the senses of the words and who knows the measures of gain and loss (of merit and demerit) by reasoning. The term “krtsnam” means enough of the attainment of practices and not of that of delight due to miraculous powers (harsa)

Svachchanda Tantra[4] , the authoritarian text of this tradition, clearly talks about two types of worshippers, the first one who is always engaged in path of knowledge recitation of mantras and meditation and the second one who follows the path of the world and performs “Ista” and “Purtta” activities. While “Ista” activities consisted of Vedic studies, agnihotra, asceticism, maintainance of guests and Vaisvadeva puja, the latter Purtta activities were excavations of wells, tanks and other kind of water reservoirs, the construction of temples and monasteries and the establishment of charity homes and rest houses.

That these Purtta activities became very important by medieval times is proved by the Tewar Stone Inscription of Gayakarna[5] which clearly states that the final deliverance of the ascetic is attained by Purtta which is Nivartaka activity and knowledge. Bhavabrahma, a Saivite guru therefore desired salvation by building a temple of Siva.

Now it is evident that the ascetic for whom Pasupata-sutra was written was not supposed to have access to the kind of wealth which would make such Purtta activities possible. This aspirant was supposed to live majorly on alms given and live a frugal life. But somewhere in the course of history these followers of Lakulisa’s tenets had attained wealth as well as power mainly due to their nexus with the royalty and that is what changed the entire approach and outlook of the order in later times.

The dynastic patronage to early Lakulisa-Pasupatas can be seen clearly at cave temples of Jogesvari, Elephanta, Manddapesvar and later at Ellora.These activities points at the time when the followers of this order starting gaining favor with the royalty and started indulging in Purtta activities. Probably it is here that one sees a shift from a strict Ati Marga Saivism to much more widely accepted form of Saivism.

Western Indian Caves dedicated to Lakulisa-Pasupata order:

[Jogesvari Cave Temple:]

In the light of above information we can locate the Jogesvari Cave temple near Amboli in the lineage of Ananta gotra.The fact that the cave is dedicated to Lakulisa and is of Pasupata origin has been established by scholars. Earlier the cave was supposed to have been dedicated to a goddess Yogesvari and Rau as Collins[6] writes was of the opinion that there are footprints of the goddess in natural stone but the fact that there are four images of Lakulisa centered on the lintels above entry and shrine doors proves undoubtedly that it was a Lakulisa-Pasupata site. As seen above the tradition itself “Siddha Yogesvari mata” came to be personified as a feminine deity.Evidence for such personification is provided by a late copper jar discovered in a cistern in the west wing of Elephanta. The dedicatory engraving says the jar was made in Samvat year 1143 (1086CE) in the district of Sripuri of the goddess Jogesvari.

In 1967 Walter Spink[7] published a chronological treatise, “Ajanta to Ellora”. Herein he gave some cultural background for the Kalachuris and proposed that they were responsible for creating the cave-temples at Jogesvari, Mandapesvara and Elephanta between 520 CE to 550 CE.Mirashi too opines that Kalachuris are the most likely patrons of these caves. On basis of comparision of Elephanta sculptural panels with those found at Badami he dates the former to 550-600 CE. He suggests that Kalacuris were fervent devotees of Mahesvara and were followers of Pasupata sect as seen by their land grants and they seem to have been the only dynasty during that period which could afford the carving of grand scale cave temples. Huntington[8] too suggests that these caves were excavated during the reign of Kalacuri kings in Western Deccan. Breakthrough came with the discovery of some 31 coins of Kalacuri king Krsnaraja at Elephanta and Shobna Gokhale’s contention that these low value coins were probably distributed as wages for the workmen during the excavation of the Elephanta cave.Similar coins were also found at Ellora cave 21 (Ramesvara)complex and interestingly iconographically too one can draw parallels between Jogesvari, Elephant and Ramesvara caves.

Spink mentions the composite nature of Jogesvari cave temple and its apparent movement away from a Buddhist vihara prototype as found in Ajanta.Interestingly he remarks on its peculiar “confusion of focus’ caused by a long, primary east-west axis at odds with the brightly illuminated south façade wall, even though the main enterance is in the east. This confusion was felt very much by me during my multiple trips to the cave complex. The problem of axis seen also at Elephanta assumes a humongous proportion here and leaves the visitor completely confused.

Regarding this confusion Kramrisch[9] observes:

The immediate antecedents of the great cave temple at Elephanta, the cave temples of Yogesvari and Mandapesvar close to Bombay, both show tentative assemblages of excavated space.The plan of the Yogesvari temple is ambitious in combining a protracted east-west orientation with an emphatic north-south one, but fails to create a unified interior space.”

This so called problem of axis can be studied as an architectural manifestation of Lakulisa-Pasupata ritual of anti-clock wise circumambulation. The half pradiksina too becomes a rule in this tradition hence demanding a structure which would allow such complex rituals. Collins has done an indepth study of rituals conducted at Elephanta caves and has explained the visual pun seen in sculptural panels there.

Hence in this context both the plan and the sculptural panels seen at Jogesvari can give important information about the order. Unfortunately most of the sculptural panels here are heavily damaged yet they reveal a well thought and probably a ritualistically inclined set of narratives which find exact parallels in important Siva cave temples. Descending a flight of stairs on the east, a panel depicting “Ravana shaking Kailasa” is seen above the first doorway leading into a gallery.Side chapels, set off by rows of four columns, flank this east gallery, very much similar to Elephanta east wing. On the right (north) wall in separate niches are the images of Mahisasurmardini, Ganesa and Kartikkeya and facing these deities on the south wall one can see a Matrka panel interestingly consisting of eight seated matrkas flanked by Virabhadra and Ganesa.A second doorway leads into the apparently unfinished and open east court, where one can only see a Natraja figure accompanied by ganas above the doorway. The doorway leading to the main hall is highly sculpted and has figures of dwarpalas and their attendants. On the lintel of this main doorway we find the image of Lakulisa in the centre flanked by four disciples. On the upper right side are Siva and Parvati on Mt. Kailasa and on the upper left is a panel depicting Kalyanasundaramurti. Importance of Lakulisa in the entire iconographical schema can be gleaned by the presence of a Lakulisa image on the lintel of both east and west doors leading to the shrine in the main hall

Again another figure of Lakulisa can be seen depicted in the vestibule to the west side of this main shrine accompanied by a Natraja figure in the adjacent shrine.The large south wall of the hall becomes a façade with three doors and two windows. Above the centre doors are figures in balconies with an ekamukhalinga in the center; above the left window is a panel showing Andhakasuravadhamurti and a Durga.

The need for describing the position theme and placement of these panels is felt because it is in this arrangement of space and themes that one can find the possible order to which the religious heads of this cave belonged and also the themes which were favored by them. Moreover by tracing these iconographical depictions in other monuments I will try to ascertain the spread and influence of Lakulisa-Pasupata order.

The prominence given to Lakulisa figures here point at a Lakulisa-Pasupata lineage beyond doubt but the somewhat haphazard and tentative placement of the sculptural panels point at the novelty of the tradition and regarding them Spink[10] observes;

they appear in all shapes and sizes, with no apparent program as far as their placement or even their purpose in concerned.”

This idea of having no apparent program can be easily contested. The repetation of more or less the same themes at Elephanta, Ellora 21, Ellora 14, Ellora 29 and also points at a definite purpose and an iconological sequence. Interestingly the lesser known and explored Saiva caves at Takali Dhokesvar also depict same themes pointing at importance of Lakulisa-Pasupata order at this site too.

Lakulisa, Jogesvari
[Illustration 19. Lakulisa, Jogesvari, Kalacuri, 6th CE, Maharashtra]

During my visit to these sites I found extreme similarity between the iconographical structure of Mahadeva cave at Takale Dhokesvara and Elephanta main cave.. Though the sculpture has badly been eroded, yet one can see the remnants depicting similar themes as that in Elephanta.

Mahesvara Cave at Takale Dhokesvara
[Illustration 20. Mahesvara Cave at Takale Dhokesvara, Maharashtra, Probably Kalacuri, 6th -7th CE]

A comparative study of these panels from various sites focusing on myths and style will be undertaken in the next chapter. The table given below gives an idea about the main themes which are seen repeated in each of these monuments and which are closely connected to the philosophy of Lakulisa-Pasupata order.

Table 1

[Important Scuptural Panels seen at Western Indian Lakulisa-Pasupata Caves]

  Jogeswari Mandapesvara Elephanta Ellora 21 Ellora 29 Takali Dhokesvara
Lakulisa P P P P P P
Kalyanasun Daramurti P P P P P P
Ravana shaking Kailasa P   P P P P
Nataraja P P P P P P
Andhakavadha P   P   P  
Saptmatrka P   P P P  

Regarding the ancillary deities and the possible pantheon of Lakulisa-Pasupata order Shah[11] observes:

The pantheon of this sect is not known from literature but can be inferred from figures carved on temples such as the Parasuramesvara, the Sisiresvara and the Rajarani at Bhubaneswar that probably belonged to the Lakulisa sect. Images of Skanda Karttikeya, Aja-Ekapada and of Sapta or Astamatrkas were included from an early stage in the pantheon. Parvati performing pancagni tapas believe that such images may either have been introduced by this sect or a tleast were favorites.”

Significant information in this regard can be gleaned through the doctoral work by Dr Judith Torzsok[12] on Siddhayogesvarimata, a text which was popular among atleast one of the branches of Lakulisa-Pasupata order.As the name itself suggests the focus of the text is on feminine element and it advocates a certain Tantrik ritual methodology to be followed by its adherents.

Interestingly it concludes that the cult of the three mantra goddesses includes elements of archaic worship of the so called seven mothers or Saptamatrkas,. fusing it with with cult of Saraswati, the goddess of learning. Sculptures of Sapta Matrkas are seen in almost all the earlier Lakulisa-Pasupata sites.Their importance is gleaned through the fact that usually a separate shrine is attributed to them, as is the case in Elephanta The text while talking about Initiation focuses on these three points:

1. Rules of conduct to be observed by Initiates which have tremendous similarity with the ones to folbe lowed by Lakulisa-Pasupata initiates.Torzsok says:

this tradition teaches observances associated with the ancillary mantras to be performed before starting a ritual to obtain super natural powers-The observances are reminiscent of Pasupata and Lakula ones

2. The manner in which a worshipper has to transform his body into the deity, points towards its Tantric nature and focuses on the strict regimen of behavior, not unlike the one prescribed in Pasupata-sutra. Moreover Ch 31 explains the mantras are awakened by the laughter of Bhairava and thus they become effective. This again reminds one of the mad loud laughter that a Pasupata aspirant in supposed to practice. The fact that it is only the laughter of someone who has become a Bhairava which can activate the mantras point at extreme esoteric importance of such rites on one hand and connects the injunctions given in Pasupata-sutra with this Tantric text.The importance of Bhairavahood is hinted in various traditions. Abhinavagupta is supposed to have attained to Bhairavahood after entering a cave in his last days on this earth. As explained earlier also this was a stage very much within reach of the practicing yogis.

3. The structure of universe whose different levels are governed by various groups of goddesses like Mothers and hence she sees the representation of these female deities as the personified representation of Macrocosm, somewhat like a later Mandala.

Overall Torzsok studies the growth of importance of feminine aspects in various systems and sees it as a significant step in popularizing a certain cult or order. Thus this association with feminine deities close to people’s heart played a major role in popularizing the various cults and orders and significantly in making Lakulisa-Pasupata order from an ascetic’s faith to the faith of laity. She writes[13]

As we ascend through these levels from Mantrapitha to the Yamala tantras and thence to the Trika and the Kali cult, we find that feminine rises stage by stage from subordination to complete autonomy.”

The Saiva mainstream was, as one might expect, focused on Siva. This is so in the earliest forms of the religion, which later Saivas would call the Atimarga, practised by such Saiva ascetics as the Pancarthikas, Lakulas, and Somasiddhantins, and it continued to be so in the Siddhanta, the core tradition of the Mantramarga that emerged out of the Atimarga from about the fifth century onwards, first in the corpus of Nisvasa scriptures and then in a number of others Tantric sources.

It is this Tantrik form of Lakulisa-Pasupata order that we come across very strongly from Eastern part of the country and maximum evidences can be seen from Orissa.

Footnotes and references:


(Jayaratha’s commentary on TA (TA comm., xii,p383) Pathak V.S p.11 Bhairavadbhairvim praptam siddhayogesvari matam, Tatahswachhanddeven swachhandallakulen tu Lakulisadnanten anantadaghanashipim.)


The Harsha Stone Inscription of Vigrahapala Chahamana7 V.S 1030,EI Vol 1,p.122 Maharajavali chasau sambubhaktigunodaya,Shriharsah kuldevasyastasmadivyah kulakramah Anantagocare srimanpanditautresvarah,Pancarthalakulamnaye visvarupobhavadguru


Kularnava Tantra, Introduction by Arthur Avalon (Sir John Woodroffe), Readings M.P Pandit, Sanskrit Text: Taranatha Vidyaratna, MLBD, Delhi1965.p.67-68


Swacchanda Tantra with commentary by Ksemaraja,edited by Pandit Madhusudan Kaul Shastri, Bombay 1921


Tewar Stone Inscription of Gayakarana, EI,


Collins, C.D, “The Iconography and Ritual of Siva at Elephanta”p.13


Spink Walter, “Ajanta to Ellora” 1967


Huntington Susan, “Art of Ancient India”p.75


Kramrisch Stella, “The Great Cave of Siva in Elephanta: Levels of meaning and their form, DOS Ed Meister p.1


Spink Walter, “Ajanta to Ellora”,1967


Shah U.P “Lakulisa, Saivite Saint” in DOS Ed by Micheal Meister p.96


Torzsok Judith, “The Doctrine of Magic Female Spirits, A Critical edition of selected chapters of the Siddhayogesvarimata (tantra) with annotated translation and analysis”, 1999



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