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...

Samkaracarya and Kapalikas

[Full title: Kapalikas and the cult of body: Samkaracarya and Kapalikas]

A very violent and derogatory image of Kapalika has been created by hagiographical works on Sri Samkaracarya by his disciples and followers. Three incidents which mention Samkaracarya’s interaction with Kapalikas Ugra Bhairava, Kracaca and Unmatta Bhairava leave no stones unturned in mocking and ridiculing these ascetics who are seen ultimately defeated by Samkara’s knowledge of Vedanta. While going through the insightful works of Pt. Gopinath Kaviraj I came across a totally different version of Samkara’s encounter with Ugra Bhairava in the writings of famous Natha Siddha, Goraksanatha[1] which on one hand connects Kapalikas with Natha Siddhas and on the other shows the limitation of taking the written word at its face value.

Samkara’ s meeting with Ugra Bhairava seems to have occurred somewhere along the Krishna river; Lorenzen contends perhaps at a spot near Sri Sailam (Sriparvata) a site renowned since ancient times for Saivite worship.

Madhavacarya in his Samkara Digvijaya[2] writes how Ugra Bhairava tries to persuade Sankara to sacrifice himself by extolling great benefits of self sacrifice.

In offering your head you will acquire wondrous fame in the world and I will acquire Siddhi…You are indifferent to worldly desires and care nothing for the body…and so on….Men like Dadhyanci who abandon their transient bodies for sake of others, acquire an immutable body of fame (yasah sarira)”

It is further stated that Sankara to prove the greatness of Advaita Vedanta and illusory nature of physical world agreed to abide by latters’s decree. As Samkara assumed the Siddhasana and was ready to sacrifice his body for the sake of his belief, his disciple Padmapada realizing the fate of his guru assumed the form of Nrsimha and pounced on the Kapalika ascetic and killed him.

“Running up with great speed he tore open with his claws the breast of Kapalika who was striking with his trident”

This same incident is narrated in the Goraksa-Siddhanta-Samgraha belonging to the Kanphata tradition.The similarity of various traditions in both Kanphata and Kapalika is unmistakable. Here it is stated that god Sri Bhairava himself assumed the form of Ugra Bhairava in order to bring Sankara to test. In this form former requested Sankara’s head as an offering to Bhairava by alluding to Advaita Vedanta concept of Maya. Hereafter the GSS version follows the same narrative as SDV, till Ugra Bhairava gets killed by Padmapada.

After being stuck by Padmapada, Ugra Bhairava manifests his true identity as Bhairava and declared in a thunderous voice:

“Sir this is defeat for advaita, what has become of that which you said about friend and foe. As a wrestler causes his opponent to fall by falling himself, I have accomplished the ruin of my opponent’s doctrine through the loss of my body”[3]

Seeing his immanent defeat Samkara stood motionless and the Kapalika with the help of yogic power, (yogamaya) cut off the heads of Samkara and his four disciples which were afterwards revived and only from then onwards “true detachment arose”. Here the cutting of heads is a symbolic representation of cutting the pride and hence suggesting the defeat of an idea rather than the physical assault.

The favorable attitude of Natha Sampradaya towards Kapalikas also comes across through their belief that Kapalika doctrine was also revealed by Natha (Siva). The overlap between Kapalikas and NathaSiddhas can be seen in various Tantrik texts and according to Sabara Tantra[4] Goraksa himself was a disciple of a Kapalika.While explaining why Kapalika path was revealed, Goraksanatha narrates the story where some avtaras of Visnu had become obsessed with pride and power and were creating a havoc. To teach them a lesson Natha assumed the form of 24 Kapalikas who cut the heads of these avtaras, indirectly cutting their pride.

Collating the information about the distribution and dates of Kapalikas from available sources we find that they existed throughout most of Deccan plateau as early as 8th CE. They are connected specifically with Kanci, parts of Mysore, western and central Maharashtra, Ujjain,Gwalior and Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh. Some evidences of their presence in Orissa as well as Gujarat can also be seen. According to Bhavabhuti, Sriparvata in Kurnool district was a particularly important Kapalika center in his time. Also the legend of the kings Vikramaditya Harsa, Pravarsena II and Matrgupta narrated in Kalhana’s Rajatarangini identify the Kapalikas with Pasupatas and connect them both to Sriparvata. In one of these stories a Pasupata Siddha Asvapada is the central character ad he himself declares that he belong to the Kapalin sect. Lorenzen is of the opinion that this Kapalika sect was completely absorbed by other Saivite tantric orders such as Kanphatas and Aghoris by 14th CE

Footnotes and references:


Goraksa Siddhant Samgraha,Ed by Gopinath Kaviraj,


Lorenzen David, “p. 96


Goraksa Siddhant Samgraha,Ed. Gopinath Kaviraj, Princess of Wales, Saraswati Bhavana Texts No 18, Banaras,1925, p.17


Dowman Keith, Masters of Mahamudra,

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