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...

Evidence of Ajivika cult in Kashmir

[Full title: An insight into Mystical and Esoteric Aspects of Lakulisa-Pasupatas: Evidence of Ajivika cult in Kashmir and its possible connection with Lakulisa order]

Some early examples about the kind of cults and sects prevalent in Kashmir in early centuries of Christian era can be seen at Harwan (identified as Shadarhadvana by Stein[1] (grove of six saints), a locality mentioned in Rajatarangini.

These days, strenuous efforts are being made to project Harwan as an unproblematic Buddhist site and promote it as a destination for cultural tourism by linking it with the great Central Asian tradition. In this effort, scholars have deliberately underplayed facts and attributed all monuments found in the area to Buddhists, ignoring any other cultic possibility.

Immediately around the Buddhist stupa is a narrow fringe of figured tile pavement. Closer examination showed that nearly all pieces were fragmentary and no group of adjacent pieces completed a motif. Such incoherence is usually seen in monuments which are constructed using fragments of existing monuments, such as the Quwat-ulIslam mosque in the Qutb complex, made from the remains of 22 Jaina and Hindu temples. Though iconoclasts in their zeal to ravage whatever is left of the past try their best to eradicate proof of its existence, there are always some clues, some hints hidden at deeper levels, and it is for the discerning eye and questing mind to locate them.

The tile pavement thus raises interesting questions regarding the original monument to which the tiles belonged. Closer scrutiny of the hillside revealed that the ruins were arranged in level terraces, on each of which stood several buildings. On the highest terrace was excavated a large apsidal temple built in picturesque diaper-pebble style masonry. The temple consists of a spacious rectangular antechamber with a circular sanctum covered with a terracotta tiled floor with various motifs. The plan of the temple is very similar to Lomas Rishi cave in Barabar hills (Bihar) and the early chaitya at Kondivite near Bombay.

There is no trace of a stupa, while what remains at the site is a low section of the wall and original floor of the courtyard, which were faced with stamped terracotta tiles. The floor tiles were arranged to suggest the form of an enormous open lotus, possibly representing the cosmic lotus. The lotus symbology pervades all Indian art, whether Hindu, Buddhist or Jaina. Similarly, the motifs found on these floor tiles do not point towards any sectarian affiliation. That these tiles occupied exactly the position they were laid in by ancient workmen is borne but by the fact that each one bears a number in Kharoshthi script, the order of the tiles in a series being in strict accordance with their consecutive numeral order. The existence of Kharoshthi numerals also more or less allows one to tentatively date the tiles. According to R.C. Kak, by the 5th century AD Kharoshthi ceased to be the main language in the area and the fact that even a common labourer was expected to know the language points to the time when the language was at its peak popularity; hence he suggests 3rd-4th century as the date of the structure.[2]

Most curious and interesting are the tiles running all around the temple, depicting three naked ascetics in the central band with a row of geese holding half blown lotus in their bill in the lower band.

The upper band portrays figures conversing above a railing. The division of space as well as the conversing figures on the top band is very similar to Kusana Mathura sculptures from 2nd CE. On the basis of the script and style, the tiles can be dated to 3rd-4th century AD. The facial features resemble faces found at Ushkur and Akhnur regions.

Most interesting here is the posture and the nakedness of the ascetic figures–both unseen in Buddhist representations. Hence one cannot club them together with the stupa and vihara ruins. This shows that before the Buddhist monuments were constructed, a part of the site or the whole site was dedicated to some other sect or cult. The ascetics are shown seated in “kakasana” and seem to be in meditation.

Naked Ascetics seen sitting in Kakasana
[Illustration 27. Naked Ascetics seen sitting in Kakasana, Harwan, 3rd–4th CE, Kashmir]

Sastri[3] in his work on Ajivikas states:

“… The Ajivikas covered their bodies with dust and ate ordure of a calf. Other austerities they practiced were painful squatting on heels, swinging in the air like bats, reclining on thorns and scorching themselves with five fire (panchagni tapas). These mendicants roamed about the country propagating their mysterious themes… Their love of solitude, disdain of comfort, even of decencies, performing penances which almost broke their mortal frame attracted the society

The possibility of the monument being dedicated to Ajivikas seems probable, because the ascetic figure seems to fit the description of an Ajivika ascetic. Plan-wise also, it has similarity with Lomas Rsi cave which along with Sudama cave have been dedicated to Ajivika monks.

Unfortunately none of the original works of Ajivikas survives, though we know of their existence through various Buddhist and Jaina sources. Asoka’s Pillar Edict VII mentions Ajivikas, and Barabar hills have a dedicatory inscription clearly mentioning that the cave was dedicated to this sect.

It is believed the original Ajivika texts were written in an eastern Prakrit, perhaps similar to the Jaina Prakrit Ardhamagadhi. Quotations and adaptations from these texts appear to have been inserted into Jaina and Buddhist accounts of the Ajivikas. Makkhali Gosala is regarded as the founder leader of the Ajivikas, and one source of his teachings is the Buddhist Digha Nikaya.

Three Tamil texts, the Manimakalai of the Buddhists, the Nilakesi of the Jainas, and the Sivajnanasiddhiyar of the Saivites, all contain outlines of Ajivika doctrine. The stories of the origin of Ajivika leader Makkhali Gosala are to be found in the Bhagwati Sutra and in Buddhaghosa’s commentary on the Samanna-phala-sutta. As Basham[4] points out, both these texts clearly show dislike and scorn felt by both Jainas and Buddhists for Makkhali Gosala

Bhagvati sutra states that Gosala was a slave who, while walking over a patch of muddy ground holding a pot of oil, was hailed by his master with words “don”t stumble old fellow” (tata makhal iti). Despite the warning, he carelessly tripped and spilt the oil. Fearing his master’s anger, he tried to run away, but his master chased him and managed to catch the edge of his robe. Leaving his garment behind, Gosala escaped in the state of nudity and hence he became a naked mendicant and acquired the name of Mankhali. These and several other such statements clearly point towards an abhorrence of nudity, while on the other hand come across as fabrications of people who want to put down another cult or sect.

Jainas and Buddhists, considering Ajivikas their most dangerous rivals, show how popular the sect was, especially in the 5th -4th centuries BC when the different sects were forming. Asoka in his Seventh Pillar Edict ranks Ajivikas third in importance among the religious groups he patronized after Buddhists and Brahmans. They were thus ahead of the Jainas. After this period the Ajivikas declined and the main references to them are found only in Tamil literature; there is evidence they survived in South India until the fourteenth century.

Gosala started his ascetic life as a mankha, an ancient class of mendicants, whose symbol was the carrying of a bamboo staff. Scholars differ regarding the religious leanings of Ajivikas. Kern considers them a sub-division of Vaisnavas, worshipping Narayana. Bhandarkar[5] opines that the Ajivikas or a section of them were the predecessors of Lakulisa Pasupatas or even Sivabhagvatas of Patanjali.

This can be collated with the fact that Kalkacharya, a fifth century Jaina astrologer, calls Ajivikas as bhagvatas.

Danielou[6] goes further and calls Lakulisa an Ajivika ascetic.

It was an Ajivika called Lakulisa, one of those wandering monks who maintained the heritage of the ancient knowledge in an occult tradition, who judged the moment opportune to reveal it, causing a great revolution in society. This corresponds to the greatest period in Indian civilization, which was to last for more than a millennium. Lakulisa (the name means "Club-bearing Lord") restored an extraordinary impetus to Saivism, reestablished the pre-Aryan culture, and united, under the name of the Pashupata(s) (followers of Pashupati, Lord of Animals), the different sects that had survived in semi-secrecy for centuries.”

The similarities one comes across in the practices of Ajivika and Lakulisa-Pasupata order are too many to be just coincidence. To start with, ascetics following both orders carry a bamboo lance (danda), perform panchagni tapas, move around naked and resort to song and dance as a medium to reach ultimate reality. During his last years, Gosala observed a vow of silence (vacam pahaya) and lived in a state of trance. He practiced dance and drunkenness and like certain Saivite saints pondered upon the mysterious term “Halla”, to invoke the Supreme Being during ecstatic dances. All Ajivika(s) used music and dance as ecstatic media and knew the secret of the technique of resuscitating the dead by the transfer of their own vital energy, one of the Siddhi(s) (powers) obtained through Yoga. This power was called pautta parihara by the disciples of Gosala. Hence the connection of Ajivikas with Saivas seems quite plausible. Utpala too in his commentary on Brhajjataka says “Ajivika cshaivdandi” So Ajivikas are classified as nothing but danda holding Saivas, very much like Lakulisa.. If we go deeper in the history during the early centuries of Christian era we find that one of the principle characteristic mark of the Siva Bhagvatas was the carrying of an iron-lance.

Another very interesting proof is the the inscription from Barabar hills which clearly suggests that the caves were excavated for ascetics of various sects and the caves Lomas Rishi and Sudama were dedicated to Ajivika sect.

Interestingly Lomas Rishi is worshipped till today at Rewalsar in Mandi. He has another temple at Pekhri in Banjar Tehsil where he is considered as a great Saivite saint. According to locals it was at Rewalsar that Lomas Rishi propitiated Siva and acquired seven islands from the latter in form of boons. Two other temples of Bhutanath and Triloknath are also seen in its vicinity.

This Rishi has been mentioned in Ramayana in the episode where “Kakbhusandi” reveals to Garuda that he has heard the story of Rama from Lomas Rishi, who in return had learnt it from Lord Siva. Padma Purana Uttara khand too praises this ascetic and says that he has lots of hair (Lom) on his body. As one Kalp passes, one hair of his body falls, that is why his name is Lomash. He knows all about past, present and future and thus alludes to miraculous powers that the sage is supposed to have. Moreover a better known Pasupata saint Parasara has two temples dedicated to him at Mandi and Kulu district and Saura-panju in Bhadon and Kamandipor in Maghar two famous fairs which are till today held in his honor.

Temple dedicated to Lomas Rishi
[Illustration 28. Temple dedicated to Lomas Rishi, Rewalsar, Mandi, Himachal Pradesh

So Lomas Rishi so strongly connected with Siva on one hand and Ajivikas on the other provides the important connection to link this lesser known cult with Saivism This can be collated with the fact that Kalkacharya, a fifth century Jaina astrologer, calls Ajivikas as bhagvatas..This link has been discussed by Daneilou also who goes further and sees Lakulisa as nothing but an Ajivika ascetic]

The major importance of this order in North Indian hills in Medieval times can be seen in Jagesvara group of temples in Almora distric of present day Uttaranchal. There is no definite proof about the construction of Jageshwar group of temples but these are stated to belong to post-Gupta and pre-medieval era and are estimated to be about 2500 years old.These temples range in the period from 8th century (early Katyuri Dynasty to 18th century (Chand Dynasty).It is certain that these temples were renovated during the reign of Katyuri King Shalivahandev. There is an inscription of Malla Kings on the main temple premises indicating their devotion to Jageshwar. Katyuri Kings also donated some villages to the temple for its maintenance. Chand Kings of Kumaun were the great devotee and patron of Jageshwar temple.The local belief suggests that Adi Shankaracharya visited this place and renovated and reestablished many temples before finally departing for Kedarnath.

Lakulisa, Jagesvara, 7th-8th CE
[Illustration 29. Lakulisa, Jagesvara, Probably Katyuri dynasty, Almora Dist,Uttarakhand, 7th-8th CE]
Lakulisa, Jagesvara, 8th CE
[Illustration 30. Lakulisa, Jagesvara, Almora Dist, 8th CE]

Apart from being an important worship centre and a centre of Lakulisa-Pasupata order, Jageshwar had been the cremation ground of Chand kings.The term”Jagesvara” is nothing but a version of Siva Yogesvara. Apart from the Lakulisa images mentioned by Nautiyal, I came across some other representations of the saint teacher in various smaller shrines.Most of these shrines house a linga like any other Saiva temple but the strategic location of a Lakulisa image on the lalatabimb clearly hints at its Pasupata lineage. Moreover the other ancient complex, is known as Dandesvara and hence points at Siva being worshipped there in form of a Danda holding teacher. So indirectly this too points at its Lakulisa-Pasupata lineage though there is nothing at site to prove it to be so.

The iconogrphical connection with Jain Tithankaras is also pointed out by many scholars like Nautiyal and he suggests that the Jains wielded lot of power in the region and lot of Jain remains can be found from the area. To me it is the teaching-learning aspect which makes the iconographies of Jain tirthankaras,Buddha and Lakulisa seem alike. All three of them are shown in sermon giving mode and the last two are often depicted along with their desciples. The similarity in iconography rather than an “influence” can be seen as iconography associated with a great teacher who had tremendous impact on later followers.

Regarding the sudden disappearance of Lakulisa Pasupata order in Northern hills Nautiyal[7] observes:

The region of Kumaon abounds in Lakulisa sculptures. The reason for it may be that the sect probably obtained enough hold over the entire area. During the early medieval period and later it got itself absorbed with the “Kanphata”, class of Sadhus in Kumaon.”

Hence according to Nautiyal most of the customs and traditions of early LakulisaPasupatas were carried on by later Kanphata yogis who trace their lineage back to Goraksanahta and indirectly to Lakulisa himself.

Footnotes and references:


Stein M.A., “Kalhana’s Rajatarangini,” Vol. II, p. 455 & Vol. I, Book I, p. 31, Delhi 1989


Kak R.C “Ancient Monuments of Kashmir,”, Srinagar, Kashmir, 2002, p109-110


Sastri N., “Ajivikas (from Tamil Sources)”, Journal of Sri Venkatesvara Rao Institute,1941, p. 419-


Basham A.L., “History and Doctrine of Ajivikas; a vanished Indian religion,” 1951


Bhandarkar D.R., “Ajivikas,” Indian Antiquity,1912, p. 286-290


Daneilou A, “Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The tradition of Siva and Dionysus”, Inner Traditions Bear &Company, 1992 p.64


Nautiyal N.K, Journal of Oriental Institute of Baroda, 23 (1974-75) pp54-58

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