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...

Critical rereading of Pasupata-sutra

Reading Pasupata-sutra and Pancharthabhasya in the light of other schools of Indian philosophy one is struck by the similarities in various concepts and terminologies with Samkhya philosoply. As for the main text Pasupata-sutra, it comes across as a manual of rituals pertaining to Pasupata Saivism and the main philosophical discussions are presented in the commentary. Sutras as we shall see were small formulas, carrying a wealth of knowledge in them but only for the pupils who could manage to decode and expand the meaning. Reading Sutras without its commentary can prove to be an entirely futile attempt because meaning is quite cryptic. Unless one knows the context and the verbal instructions that are supplied along with these formulas one is at complete loss in making out any sense out of these aphorisms.

Pasupata-sutra is divided into five chapters and the nomenclature of this chapterisation is based on five mantras from Taitirriya Aranyanka viz. Sadyojata, Tatpurusha, Isana, Vamdev and Aghora. After offering obeisance to Pasupati, Kaundinya in Pancharthabhasya says that he is writing a commentary on this Sutra, according to the traditional knowledge he has acquired through the line of the pasupata acaryas. Kaundinya is identified with Rasikara the 17th acarya of Lakulisa-pasupata line starting from Lakulisa himself.

The first word of the very first sutra suggests that the knowledge of Pasupata-sutra was possibly carried verbally from guru to shishya through guru-shishya parampara. Detailed analysis of this first sutra gives some insight in the nature of the text as well as in some of its important contents.

Pasupata-sutra 1.1

Athatah Pasupateh Pasupatam Yogavidhim Vyakhyasyamah

The first word Athatah itself is the combination of two words:

Ath = Then;
Atha =Therefore;

“Then therefore we shall expound the Pasupata union and rites of Pasupati”[1]

Starting the text with words like “Then Therefore…” suggests that the material in the text is the continuation of some ongoing discussion or a dialogue. Probably these sutras were only theoretical part of an all comprehensive knowledge system comprising of various disciplines. Hence seen in isolation they yield no comprehensible meaning at all.

The use of word Pasupateh is in the sense of someone from whom all the knowledge in the said scripture was received and can be very well seen as the very first teacher. It is from this ultimate Acarya that all the knowledge emanates.

The focus on the teaching aspect is very vivid in almost all the Lakulisa sculptures one comes across around the country. The tedious word to word translation and analysis in Pancharthabhasya is justified by the author by giving an apt example. He says that words that we see employed in the Sutra have been used in a certain context with a separate sense than what one usually understands.

He further explains[2] ,

That is why it is said–as a man in not identified though his body is exposed, if his head is covered, so the sutra conveys no sense if its compound is not analyzed

The beauty of Indian texts and literature lies mainly in the kind of wonderful and appropriate examples the author furnishes to justify his argument. In Dhvanyaloka, the great aesthete Anandvardhana has discussed nearly 500 such examples at length to give his discussion a sharper edge. Anandvardhana and his commentators and others use these examples from Prakrit and Sanskrit literatures to isolate various properties of speech that facilitate poetic communication by concealing, negating, erasing of primary sense the mukhyartha.

Footnotes and references:


Pasupata Sutra with Panchartha Bhasya of Kanundinya Trans. by Haripada Chakraborti, Academic Publishers, Calcutta, 1970 p.10


Pasupata Sutra with Panchartha Bhasya of Kanundinya Trans. by Haripada Chakraborti, Academic Publishers, Calcutta, 1970p.12

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