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...

Nisvasasamhita and Saiva Initiation of the kings

[Full title: The Nexus between Pasupata ascetics and Royalty: Nisvasasamhita and Saiva Initiation of the kings]

While exploring the tantric angle I came across a body of work tiltled under Nisvasasamhita. This work which appears in all lists of the Saiddhantika Saiva canon of scripture as one of the eighteen Raudra tantras, survives in a single palm leaf manuscript preserved in the Nepalese National Archives in Kathmandu. Though it is not dated its being written in Nepalese “Licchavi” script assigns it approximately to 850-900 CE. Sanderson[1] has found an earlier version of one of the texts” Nisvasakarika” from South India and hence believes the work to be of an earlier date and possibly one of the earliest Siva Sidhhanta scriptures belonging to a formative period.

Regarding this early corpus which he considers as an important connecting link in the Saiva studies Sanderson writes:

It shows a greater awareness of Pre Agamic Saivism than other texts of this tradition; it contains a striking number of features that it shares with that Saivism and it shows elements of non dualistic practice that suggest the dichotomy beween Saiddhantika and Non Saiddhantika Agamic Saivism where the former is strictly dualistic in this sense and the latter more or less non dualistic had yet to develop.”

He further writes:

Perhaps it was for these very reasons that it soon fell into obscurity in India. By the time of the first commentaries in the late 10th CE the text seems to have been no longer in the front line. It was cited sparingly time to time but received no commentary and was not taken as the basis of ritual, observance or doctrine.”

Sanderson believes that two teachers of Siva Sasana as mentioned in TA by Abhinavagupta as Srikantha and Lakulisa followed Agamic and Pancarthika Pasupata systems respectively and regarding the position and nature of the order in the intermediate period between appearance of these two masters he observes[2] :

Given the very different characters of the two kinds of Saivism that are known to us through surviving texts and the evidence that there might be as many as four or five centuries separating their emergence, one is bound to wonder whether there were not intermediate developments of which all evidence is lost or the evidence for which has not yet been examined and correctly evaluated

The importance of the text comes across as a passage of Varaha Purana equates the appearance of the Siddhanta in the Kali Age with the revealation of Nisvasasamhita. What is of tremendous importance to us is the fact that this corpus seems to have served as the point of reference and source of various expositions taught by Svacchanda Tantra, hence connecting it with Siddha Yogesvarimata.

Interestingly these authoritarian texts were in use by Khmers for Saiva Initiation ritual from at least 10th CE. To quote an example an inscription of the reign of the Khmer king Rajendravarman (944-968CE) tells us that a certain Sivacarya who was a”hotar” not only of Rajendravarman himself but also of his royal predecessors had become a celibate Saiva officiant through initiation into the Mandala of Siva taught in this scripture.

The inscription of Sdok Kak Thom[3] mentions the mystic cult of Devaraja alongwith some tantrik texts used in Cambodia during the reign of king JayavarmanII who came to the throne in 802CE.Jayavarman II came from Java to rule over Kambuja and a new Saiva cult was introduced shortly after his ascent to the throne of Kambuja. Interestingly it is the story of this Saiva cult that is told in this inscription. The officiating high priest of Jayavarman was Siva Kaivalya, who inherited a piece of land in the kingdom which was given by kings of Bhavapura who ruled 6th CE onwards. Siva Kaivalya was the guardian priest of a Sivalinga called Devaraja installed in a temple in the village. After coming to the throne Jayavarman got the temples of Devaraja built in his new capital Mahendra Parvata (Phnom Kulen) and Siva Kaivalya was appointed the royal Chaplain. Interestingly the deity was moved to the new capital Hariharalaya (late Angkor)when the capital was shifted which points at its importance.

Devaraja is a Sanskrit word which could have different meanings such as "god-king" or "king of the gods". In context of Khmer the term was used in the latter sense, but occurs only in the Sanskrit portion of the inscription. It taught that the king was a divine universal ruler, a manifestation of the god Shiva, whose divine essence was represented by the linga (or lingam), a phallic idol housed in a special mountain temple. The king was deified in an elaborate and mystical ceremony, The inscription of Sdok Kak Thom of the eleventh century is an important record of the formation of Angkor. Its description of the proceeding during the coronation of Jayavarman II, allows us to have some insights about the cult of Devaraja itself. Performed by the Angkorian chief priest of the same family descended from the Brahman Sivakaivalia, the Devaraja's rituals proclaimed an Angkorian monarch as the protégé of a God King. It became the crowning ceremony to be performed faithfully at the Angkorian court. The inscription was erected by the last member of the family, during the reign of king Udayavarman II. Besides providing a complete list of Devaraja kings, the inscription provides other valuable information about how it was acquired and performed during the coronation of a Cakravatin Monarch.

To reinstate the cult, Jayavarman II had to invite an Indian priest from abroad to perform and teach the local priest Silvakaivalia to carry on the tradition.

Inscription[4] states:

There was a Brahman named Hiranyadama, learned in the "siddhi" science, came from Junapada at the king's invitation to perform a ritual designed to ensure that the country of Kamboja would no longer be dependent on Java and that its sovereign would become the only one cakravartin.”

The Brahman Hiranyadama who performed the rituals of Devaraja was quoted to be from India, most likely from Magadha.

This Bhraman performed the ceremony by Vinasikha, and finished by the Nayottara, the Sammoha, and the Siraccheda. He showed from beginning to end in order to be written down to Lord Sivakaivalia and ordained Lord Silvakaivalia to perform the ritual of the Devaraja. The king and the Bhraman Hiranyadama took an oath to assign the family of Lord Silvakaivalia, and not others, to conduct the tradition of the Devaraja. The Lord Sivakaivalia, the chief priest, assigned all his relatives to the task.”

After the ceremony, the crowned king became a protégé of the God King and proceeded to fulfill his obligation as a Cakravartin Monarch. His earned merit and prestige was used to enable him in becoming another god king after his death and received a posthumous name. According to the concept of Devaraja, the posthumus name was conceived to allow Brahmans to invoke his spirit, when needed. As a divinity in Saiva folklore, the Devaraja kings may reincarnate among the line of their descendants. Strict conformity of the tradition allows us with certainty to trace back the ancestors of a Deva king from the identity of his lineage. For instance, the god king Bhadrasvara was the common ancestor of all descendants from the first Bhadravarman whom was identified as Kaundinya or Sivanandana which as the name suggests might have been a Pasupata guru.

The close relationship between Saivism and royalty goes back to Kusana time. Among the early rulers the Kusanas, Bharasaivas, Vakatakas and Kalacuri can be considered as ardent patrons of Saivism and Saivite art. But it is in medieval times that these Acaryas started to assume an extremely important position.

Significantly enough Copper Plates from Bagh[5] which record the land grants given by the kings of Valkahas, is one of the earliest explicit epigraphical reference to such a close nexus between kings and the Saivite ascetics orders. At the same time they are the earliest example of copper plate grant recording endowments for temple worship mentioning Pasupatas as the recipient of this grant.The inscriptions are datable from the mid 4th CE. Seven copper plates in total in this collection refer to Pasupatas as recipients of grants for the performance of worship in temples (Nos. III, V, VI, IX, X, XII, XIV). What these grants show is that not all Pasupatas followed the rigorous ascetic system of Kaundinya, but that there were others who served the needs of a larger, lay Saiva community.

One of the grants (no. X) also records:

that a shrine to the Mothers (matrsthanadevakula) had been established by the Pasupatacarya Lokodadhi in the village of Pincchikanaka.”

So it seems by 5th CE the order had made inroads in the society and the nexus between royalty and Pasupata acaryas had started to form and interestingly this is the time when we start witnessing a hoard of Lakulisa images simultaneously from all parts of the country.

According to Sanderson[6] four major aspects of the interaction of Saiva Gurus with royalty evidenced in inscriptions and/or reflected in te Saiva literature.

These are:

1. The Creation, Empowerment and Supervision of the royal temples

2. The performance of fire rites(agnikaryam homa) for Siddhis the accomplishment of super natural results of protection, attraction, expulsion, weather control, destruction and the like for the benefit of royal patrons wishing to secure the prosperity of their realm and the confounding of their enemies.

3. Development of an apparatus of rituals enabling Saiva gurus to take over the traditional role of a brahmanical royal chaplain (Rajapurohita)

4. The practice of giving Saiva Mandala initiation to the king as a key element in the ceremonies that legimitated his office and added to his regal lu

That from the early 7th CE onwards in India and from 10th CE onwards among the Khmers of mainland South East Asia royal Saiva initiation was a well established conventions in those kingdoms the majority, in which Saivism was the principal recipient of royal patronage.

That Royal initiation was conflated by the Saiva officiants with the Brahmanical royal consecration ceremony (rajyabhiseka) so moving from the private is to the civic domain

That in reference to it outside the technical literature it was cut adrift from its theologically defined function to be openly promoted as a means of sanctifying royal authority and enhancing royal power.

The dominance of Saivism is also manifest in the fact that the other main bidders for royal patronage, Buddhism, Pancaratrika Vaisnavism, and Jainism, as well as the earlier forms of Saivism itself, were fundamentally revised or expanded along the lines of the Saiva Mantramarga as they sought to maintain their hold on the sources of patronage. As for the other two cults that held the allegiance of kings during this period, those of the Goddess and the Sun-God, the former was progressively subsumed within Saivism, and the latter, though once equipped with its own canon of scriptures, suffered a similar fate."

In his article Sanderson argues from ample textual and epigraphic evidence that Saivism rose to its position of dominance by expanding and adapting its repertoire to contain a body of rituals and normative prescriptions that legitimated, empowered, or promoted the key elements of the social, political and economic process that in its various regional adaptations characterized the working of the state in the early medieval period

In this form it was indeed a powerful means of propagating the religion. It was rewarded through the daksina paid to the officiant who performed the ceremony with a lavishness that enabled the Saiva monastic network to spread out into new regions and raised the leading pontiffs to an authority that reached far beyond the confines of a single kingdom. This nexus can be most strongly seen and studied in the relation between kings and Kalamukha subsect of Lakulisa-Pasupata order.

Footnotes and references:


Sanderson A, Laakulas: New Evidence of a system intermediate between Pacarthika Pasupatism and Agamic Saivism,




The inscription of Sdok Kak Thom Pathak p. 23






Sanderson Alexis, “Initiating the Monarch: The Adaptation of a Saiva practice for the propagation of Esoteric Buddhism in India, Inner Asia and Far East, Lecture Handout,Dec 16 2004

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