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...

Locating the Lakulisa-Pasupata rites in the world of Saivite rituals

The extremely important body of literature which can throw major light on the ritualistic practices and modes of worship in Saivism are the Saivagmas with their threefold categorization viz. dualistic, dualistic cum monistic and monistic. This Agamic literature, deriving its essence from practioners of Saiva Sadhana comprises of a well organized body of thought with its own intrinsic logic and rationale.

To summarize in short all the three categories mentioned above focus on the concept of 36 tattvas and Parama Siva, the ultimate principle is described as the 37th tattva. This 37th tattva is conceived of as purely undifferentiated transcendent consciousness which is beyond the purview of the rest of the 36 elements. His “Svatantra Sakti” roughly “free will” is considered responsible for all the creation which is nothing but his evolution in the world of multiplicity, his lila (sport). By this logic every created being has a Siva tattva in him/her and it’s by bypassing the rest of the elements and by realizing Siva in oneself that a spiritual aspirant seeks the higher realm. The arcane secrets which guide the aspirant on various paths leading to Siva are codified in various Tantric and Agamic texts.

Derived from the root “gam” the word Agama means coming near or approaching and would literally convey the sense of achievement on coming nearer to lord. Broadly speaking the Agamas can be subdivided into two main portions the first being the philosophic section and second dealing with various practices and rituals. They talk about various pooja paddhatis (methods of worship) and also throw major light on the temple building and temple art. Rather than standing for any particular book or treatise they stood for a system of thought and a body of practices which were verbally transmitted from guru to his disciple and committed to the memory. Thus here the knowledge seems to have been essentially a confidential affair between the initiated practitioner and his master. Later when these Tantric and Agamic texts were penned down then too the language used was so cryptic and symbolic that one had to be in the lineage of the disciples to understand the actual meaning of the text.

Literal reading of such texts can be an extremely futile and many a times misleading exercise and in Drabu’s words:[1]

They are written in a language which can be read by all but understood by few”.

The actual import of these words was understood by me when I started going through the text of Pasupata-sutra considered and emphasized as a Tantra by Kaundinya. It made absolutely no sense in the beginning and I realized if we didn”t have access to Kaundinya’s Bhasya which contextualize these sutras, they would be totally obscure. Following the same order as Lakulisa the commentator had access to the verbal injunctions that go with the sutras and hence he could throw light on the discussions which were accompanied while transmitting these sutras.

The first aphorism of the fourth chapter describing the vidhis goes on as:

Gudha-vidya tapa-anantyaya prakasate (Pasupata-sutra 4.1)

The literal translation would be:

“Learning, when concealed becomes penance and leads to the state of the infinite”

Now in itself the literal meaning does not suggest much and it is only by referring to the commentary that one can better understand the aphorism.

Explaining the sutra Kaundinya writes[2] (p136-38)

Guhu” means “to preserve”. It should be preserved, that means it should not be disclosed. Concealment means not disclosing. Learning, mentioned before manifests (discloses) itself and others like the lamp. Concealed learning means that it should not be brought to light by the marks of the aspirant. Now the question is–what is the result, attained by the concealment of vidya by the Sadhaka? So the answer is “Tapa anantyaya prakasate (penance leads to the stage of infinite) this is the reading. Or “kuravonmahitavat tapo”nantyaya prakasate-this is the alternative reading. So here that itself is a penance. Its etymology is mentioned earlier. “An” (the state of the infinite) is also taken to be a particular Yoga in the shape of remaining firm. That is the effect of penance like the states of “Atigati” and “Sayujya” (complete identification of the Sadhaka with Mahesvara). Now is the word “anantyam” used to mean the limited or the unlimited or both the limited and the unlimited? The answer is–this word “anantya” is used in the senses of both the limited and the unlimited, for all pervasiveness in the unlimited and in also in both of them. This word of “anantya” is in the sense of His states, good and bad because it is said- “And these are not my only forms”.

From here the commentator goes on to enumerate the various forms of unlimited Brahman and ways and means of keeping the penance hidden from public.The Tantric Sadhana is claimed to lead an aspirant to spiritual “siddhi” and “mukti”.The LakulisaPasupata system seems to amalgamate the orthodox vedic teachings with more esoteric meanings and symbolism of tantras.

Regarding the system Pathak[3] observes,

Vedic Saiva school appears to be same as Lakulisa-Pasupata…It may however be noted that even Lakulisa-Pasupata is originally Agamic but it is described in Puranas as Vedic because it is comparatively more orthodox and in the beginning it recognized the Vedic institution of Varna.

Seeing tantric systems as opposed to Vedic system again is a very reductive way of looking at things. We have various examples to show give and take between both tratditions. Vedas too had its esoteric sections full of symbolic meaning and the practices which are usually associated with tantras. AV is full of such rites and rituals.

On the other hand practioners of tantras use various Vedic mantras besides the ones composed in Tantra shashtra itself. The use of Bija Mantras and mantras associated with mystical syllable forming part of a mantra used as an amulet (kavaca), the heart (hrdaya) and mentally assigning and invoking various parts of the body to tutelary deities (Nyasa) to attain various siddhis is the root followed by tantric aspirants. They envisage the entire macrocosm in their own bodies and the practices of Nyasas, various Mudras, Yantras and Mandalas are nothing but invoking the divine presence and extending the limited physical body into limitless macrocosm. To achive these ends Tantras lay stress of external factors like the place, time and instruments used for the sadhana. The deities are invoked with hand gesture and finger manipulation (Mudras) and particular position of the hand on different parts of the body to render it fit for adoration.

As Drabu[4] observes

Basic to both yantra and mantra is the belief that these operate both within the gross physical body and the subtle body, which was to be organized as to promote the goal of yoga by a process of reintegration of rituals, symbolic and suggestive.”

Thus all the paraphanalia associated with Tantric exegesis is primarily to focus the individual’s concentration and make him/her aware of the divinity residing inside the body, a form of “yoga” union of the micro and macro-cosm. In short tantras provided a practical discipline of the mental and psychological Vedic side.

As Sanderson[5] observes the reference of Agamic tradition can be found as early as in Atharvaveda and its ancillary tract known as Atharvaveda parisista is filled with mention of Saiva practices and Ucchusmakalpa (Parisista 36) talks in detail about the fire sacrifice to achieve supernatural ends that invoke Ucchusma Rudras with esoteric Saivite mantras Major importance here is paid to the Pasupata vow to which a whole Parisista is dedicated (Parisista 40: Pasupatavrata). The literature of the Agamic Saivas is dominated by the prescription of rituals through which the Saivas initiated candidates into their religious discipline (Diksa), consecrated successors to office (Abhisekah), installed images and other objects of worship (Pratistha) and performed the reapeated services of worship (yagah) and propitiation (Mantrasadhana).

By studying such literature realted to Lakulisa-Pasupata system, which extends from spiritual texts claiming the authority of divine revealation eg Pasupata-sutra to commentaries and treatises on these texts eg (Pacarthabhasya) to manuals (Paddhatih) of both transregional and local reach eg (Ganakarika, EklingaMahatmaya, Vishvamitri Mahatmaya) we can make out a detailed picture of comparative analysis and arrive at some understanding to how these model rituals changed overtime, were adapted in different regions and were related to those of the similar systems of ritual seen in the literature of Pancaratrika Vaisnavas, Mantrayan or Vajrayana Budhhishts and ascetic sects like Ajivikas.

The active ascetic initiates of this order seem to have been few in number yet throughout the history of subcontinent Saivism has exerted a tremendous influence on the religious life of common people and as Sanderson[6] observes:

.. there can be no doubt that for several centuries after 6th CE it (Saivism) was the principal faith of the elites in large parts of the Indian subcontinent an in both mainland and insular South East Asia….only Mahayana Buddhism was able to rival-the popularity of Saivism and that too in its “Mantramarga” way, a system to ritual, meditation and observances in which Buddhism itself borrowed heartily, if not in essence but atleast in form and style from Saivism.

The fact that by 6th CE Saivism had become a very important and powerful mainstream religion followed by royalty as well as commoners points towards an interesting shift from the essentially Atimarga Saivism to Mantramarga one, from a faith and set of beliefs associated largely with ascetic sects to a popular religion of a householder. While the more escoteric and difficult practices were restricted to the initiates, the support of a wider community of uninitiated lay followers was sought.Sanderson refers to an unpublished corpus of texts comprising principally the Sivadharma and Sivadharmittara which contain observances recommended to the laity.

Moreover he believes that inclusion of lay followers by simplifying the religious system was to counter the popularity of Buddhism and its wide appeal to general people:

…following the example of the Buddhists the Saivas had propagated a lesser religion of merit gathering that centered on the support and veneration of the persons and institutions of the relgion proper, promising that those who followed it would be rewarded in death by a period in paradise of Siva (sivalokah, rudralokah) before returning to the world in the most desirable of rebirths.[7]

Footnotes and references:


Drabu V.N, “Saivagamas: A Study in the Socio-Economic Ideas and Institutions of Kashmir, Delhi 1990


Pasupata Sutra with Panchartha Bhasya of Kanundinya Trans. by Haripada Chakraborti, Academic Publishers, Calcutta, 1970, p. 136-138


Pathak, V.S. History of Saiva Cults in Northern India (from inscriptions 700 AD to 1200 AD). Varanasi: Tara Printing Works,1960 p.14-15


Drabu V.N, Saivagamas, A study in Socio Economic Ideas and Institutions of Kashmir, Delhi, 1990 p.89-90


Sanderson Alexis, Atharvedins in Tantric Territory:The Angirasakalpa Texts of the Oriya Paippaladins and their connection with the Trika and the Kalikula, From


Sanderson A, Religion and the State: Saiva officiants in the territory of the kings Brahmanical chaplain.



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