[The following essay formed part of a thesis written by Nicol Macnicol for the Degree of Doctor of Letters of the University of Glasgow. The enlarged version of that thesis appeared in the form of a book entitled “Indian Thesism From The Vedic To The Muhammadan Perdiod” in 1915. The author would have revised his work thoroughly if he had the opportunity of perusing R.G.Bhankarkar’s Vaishnavism, Saivism, and Minor Religious Systems (1913). In fact the author had expressed his regret for not having done so. Even in 1913, Nicol Macnicol had sent his work to the press.
The author had endeavoured to grasp the tenets of Saivism. He could have succeeded substantially if only he had shed his prejudices. The work is therefore marred by errors and misinterpretations. These notwithstanding, the work is not without its value.
Nicol Macnicol, the author of a number of treatises on Hinduism, was a Protestant Missionary. Ed.]
Of all the deities of the Hindu pantheon, Siva seems the one least likely to attract a theistic devotion. A large portion of the materials that have gone to his making has its source in the darkest fears and superstitions of the savage. The fact that even about this ghoulish god, more devil than deity, who battens upon corpses, and smears himself with ashes from the burning-ground, has gathered a gracious affection that has been able to remould an object so repulsive nearer to its heart’s desire, is in itself a remarkable testimony to the strength in the Indian peoples of the theistic instinct, That Vishnu and Krishna have attracted to themselves a spiritual worship, and that they have been the means of awakening such a worship in those who gather to their temples, does not seem to surprising. There is comparatively little to repel in them. They were bright gods, gods of light and life and hope, deliverers, if not yet fully moralized, yet capable of moralization. But the human spirit has surely seldom found material harder to sub-due to its purpose of devotion that was Siva. It is one of the most amazing facts in Indian religion-a religion full of strangeness-that our of the dry ground of Saivism has sprung a root that has borne the blossom of the devotion of the South Indian Saivite saints. Though Theism in India has in the end proved so ineffectual, thoug adverse influences in soil and spiritual climate have rendered it on the whole an abortive growth, yet, with the evidence of its transforming power that these poet saints afford us, we cannot question its depth and its reality within the Indian spirit, nor refuse to hope for it, under more favourable circumstances, results greater and more enduring.
There can be no question that Siva is in the main not Aryan but aboriginal. That name is nowhere a proper name in the Rig or the Atharva Veda, but is applied as an epithet, ‘the auspicious’- to Rudra, the nearest of kin to him among the Vedic deities. From this god of the storm Siva inherited many characteristics which helped to exalt the malignant demon to something less unworthy of an Aryan’sworship.1 The adoption of this euphemistic name is itself an indication of an attempt _______ pg 29_______ 1. With the development of the Rudra-Siva god-idea compare the development of Enlil in Babylonian religion, astrow’s Religious Belief in Babylonia and Assyria, pp.68 ff. to civilize a deity always terrible, but not always worthy ofreverence. His aboriginal name may have been Bhairava and fearful’ o some similar designation. Siva, as a matter of fact, like most of the Indian gods, is a very composite product, but one which more than most is made up of widely diverse, and even irreconcilable elemetns. It need not indeed, surprise us greatly to find that pantheistic speculation was able to make use of this deity even more, perhaps than of Vishnu as the symbol of the ultimate Brahman. Moral attributes, or the lack of them, in its god, mattered neither more nor less to a doctrine in which the god wasdafter all only a label and a superfluity. Siva by his very force and fury was fitted, not inaptly, to represent that power in the universe which causelessly destroys and causelessly creates. When the conflict arose in South India between Buddhists and Jains, on the one hand, and the adherents of Siva, on the other, the arguments against the existence of this god that the unbelievers urged were much the same as those which, when we consider the character attributed to him, appear to us today so power. The Jains and Buddhists represent the claims of the moral sense, and they ask, ‘How can this demon be the life of the soul of all?’1 But these arguments made little impression on the Saivite philosophers. Their doctrine, as we find it in the polemic carried on in the South against those opposing systems, was a philosophy closely approximating to the Advaita Vedanta, and in consequence those objections carried little weight which were based upon the character of a deity that was to them secondary and, indeed, superfluous. After all, Siva was like enough to the wild moods and unmoral 1 Pope’s Tiruvsagam, p. 177 activities of nature. It may quite possibly be the case that Sankaracharya belonged, as is alleged, to this sect. To the schools of the philosophers Siva was as good a name for an otiose deity, as good a label for the deceiving world processes as any other.
It is far more surprising to find the name of Siva, even in the period of the Upanisads, associated with other and more ethical streams of tendency. We have already seen how theistic currents that we discover moving with scanty and uncertain flow through the speculations and intuitions of these books precipitate themselves at last in richer volume into the religion of the Bagavadgita. There these doctrines gather about the names of Vishnu and of Krishna. A similar place to that of the Gita in Vaishnavism is held in Saivism by the Svetasvatara Upanisad.
In this Upanisad along with much that, just as in the Gita, seems irreconcilable with an ethical Theism, ther are certain elements which indicate that the influences at work in that direction in Vaishnavism were not absent from the doctrine and the worship of the rival cult. If we find in this Upanisad the names maya and mayin they have not yet their Advaita significance1. Always in Saivism, even more than in Vaishnavism, there is implied a sense of the world’s unreality in comparison with the reality of spirit, a feeling which is indeed, universal in Indian thought – while at the same time to a still greater degree there is implied a sense of the divine transcendence. Already, indeed, in the Rig Veda, Rudra is the great Asura 1. Svet. Up IV.9. pg 31 of heaven2, and, as such, he is the ‘possessor of occult power’ (maya)3 . In the Svetasvatara he has definitely assigned to him the role, which, in later times, was generally associated with the name of Siva, of the deity of agnosticism. ‘No one has grasped him above or across, or in the middle. There is no image of him whose name is Great Glory.4 This, as well as other things in this Upanisad, reminds us of the attitude of Buddhism. As in the case of Buddhism the state of deliverance, ‘when the light has risen’, is a state alike ‘beyond existence and non-existence.5 At the same time the theistic note is distinctly struck in the designation of the all-pervading Atman as not only Siva, but Bhagavat,6 and in the emphasis that is placed, on the one hand, upon his perception by the heart as well as by the mind,7 and on the other, upon man’s need, if he would perceive him, of the grace of the Creator8. But especially significant is the explicit declaration in the final verse of this Upanisad that, in order that the truths there enunciated may ‘shine forth indeed”, they must be told ‘to a high-minded man who feels the highest devotion (bhakti) for his guru as for God”. Here for the first time in connection with Saivism the claims of theistic religion – are authoritatively affirmed. However indistinguishable in its phraseology the teaching of this Upanisad may seem at times to be from that of those that
2. R.V.II 1.6. 3. Macdonell’s Vedic Mythology, p.156 4. Svet. Up. IV,19 5. Ibid, IV. 18 6. Ibid, III. 11 7. Ibid., III 13; IV.20. 8. Ibid., III. 20 9. Ibid, VI.233
Present a pure Advaita doctrine, this affirmation definitely demonstrates that its face is turned to another direction. WE may not have there the fully articulated bhakti of the later theologians, but we have enough to indicate that the supreme spirit is for it a personal Being who wins the worship of the heart.1 This Upanisad, it is true, like the Gita, speaks with a double tongue, and its philosophy is really at Variance with its religion; but, with whatever inconsistency, the glow of the heart which it demands of the disciple, and which it prescribes as necessary for his attainment of immortality, proclaims it as a theistic scripture.
In the Mahabharata there is a little to indicate the place that Siva was to obtain in the worship of South Indian saints of a later day. We find his name extolled by the sectary in opposition to that of Vishnu; we find him claimed as the manifestation of the All-god, in echo of a like claim made by the adherents of the rival deity. But there is little that is of religious value or interest in such conflicts of the sects. These things are the doings of the priest or of the philosopher, and may have little enough of faith behind them. Two passages of the Epic may, however, be referred to as indicating the character of Siva-worship in its more inward aspect, apart from its more philosophic doctrines on the one hand, and its orgiastic ritual on the other. In one passage Siva, in agreement with the view suggested already in the Svetasvatara, and referred to above, is described as the inconceivable one, who is ‘beyond the comprehension of all gods’.2 1. S.B.E.XV, p.xxxiv. 2. Bh. Vii. 2.2: 79.71. The fact that this agnostic attitude has persisted down to modern times among the worshippers to Siva is indicated by the existence of those Saivite sects that are called Alakhnamis or Alakhgirs, as those who ‘call upon the name of the Unseable.’1 Such a conception would at once help to exalt the god, and at the same time would hinder the development of his worship into a truly ethical Theism. It would be easier to associate so vague a deity with the Advaita doctrine, as indeed Siva frequently was associated, than with a worship which requires love and obedience. To love God and to trust Him it is necessary that one in some measure at least should know Him. Further on, in the same passage of the Mahabharata, which designates Siva as the Unknowable his ‘form’ is said to be the linga.2 Perhaps the adoption of this symbol, which may be much more ancient than this passage for a god of whom ‘there is no image’3 may have been due to an attempt to express the inexpressible. Repulsive as the phallic emblem may appear to us, and as it no doubt was in its religious origin, it is possible that we have it here made use of as the medium of a protest-which we see later repeating itself in the case of the Lingayats against idolatry,4. But the half may prove the enemy of the whole. The symbol was unworthy enough at best, and was too easily adopted as a mere fetish by the ignorant.
1. See E. R. E. I, p.276, s. v. Valakhnamis. 2. Mbh. VII. 202: 94,97. 3. Svet Up. IV. 19.
4. Compare the worship of Ashur in Assyrian religion under the form of a winged disk and the advance that this implied towards a more spiritual religion. Jastrow’s Religious Belief in Babylonia and Assyria. Pp. 51, 52.
But it was in South India that Saivism entered most fully into its own, and it is there that it has disclosed itself at its best, and also, perhaps, at its worst. That this should be the case is not surprising, if Saivism is the most largely aboriginal of the Indian cults, since a larger aboriginal element has survived in the South than in any other part of India. The old Dravidian worship, which was probably for the most part offered to demonic powers, was never here completely overthrown. The Aryan victor was, indeed, ultimately vanquished and his bright gods driven from the field by those old deities or demons of the underworld. When Brahmanic influences began to make themselves felt in this part of India it was with the name of Rudra-Siva that this demonolatry could most easily be assimilated. If the conjecture that the Heracles of Megasthenes was, not Krishna, as has been generally supposed, but Siva, be well founded then ti would appear that already in the fourth century B.C. this religion was established throughout South India. It is possible that we have in the same connexion an indication that the Pandyan dynasty was originally Saivite, as certainly the Chola dynasty was at a later date. In the third century B.C. Buddhism was also introduced by Buddhist missionaries, while Jainism appears early in the Christian era already widely spread throughout the South, and later numbered the Pandya kings among its adherents. By the seventh century A.D., when Hiuen Tsang travelled in India, Buddhism was rapidly disappearing, while Saivism, and especially Jainism, were the popular faiths in the is region. In the struggle for predominance between these rivals, which continued for several centuries, the victory rested with Saivism. It was, in fact, a conflict between the religious and the non-religious spirit, and, however, able and erudite the Jain champions might be, the strength of religion in the Hindu heart was too great for them. Whether it was Vaishnavism, now also established among the cause of faith, the wordly wisdom of the Jain was sure to be ultimately worsted. This was made the more certain in the case of Saivism by two reinforcements that came to it, and strengthened it in different and complementary ways. These were, on the one hand, the formulation of its doctrines in the system of the Saiva Siddhanta, and, on the other, a great revival of devotion within its borders due to a remarkable group of saints and apostles.
At times of controversy, especially, it is a great strength to any faith to have the support of an articulated system. It is then able, in opposition to its rival, to appeal to reason. A philosophy or a formulated theology brings along with it to any religion an immense enhancement of prestige. Its emergence generally implies besides that the cult in question, which may have begun as a movement in the hearts of the common people, perhaps as an effort of revolt from the established Church, has now won a place among the more cautions and the more reflective. Saivism, indeed, as the existence of the Svetasvatara reminds us, had long ago found an entrance among the thinkers. But that was in more northern regions. In South India it had to begin anew from the beginning-purifying itself as best it might from gross superstition, building itself up to better things upon the foundation of a sincere devotion. When it was able to appropriate to itself a doctrinal system it obtained it, in the opinion of some scholars from Saivite thinkers whose home was in the far north of India. Just as, later, Ramananda was to bear from the South a torch of devotion that was to spread its heat and light far and wide throughout the North, so it may be that at this earlier period by a gift from the north to the south this debt was any anticipation repaid. It was a different gift-one of the intellect, whereas the other was the heart but its effect was similar, for it helped to secure for theistic religion the victory in the struggle with Jainism.
If this view is well founded it was from Kashmir that South Indian Theism received this reinforcement. The links in the connexion of the Saivite theology of that far northern province with the religion that was struggling for its life in the south it is impossible now to discover. The founder of the Kashmir school of Saivism, which, in all probability, owed much to the Svetasvatara, is said to have been Vasugupta. Between the ninth and the eleventh centuries of the Christian era various teachers of Saivite doctrine arose, representing, no doubt, different shades of approximation to the orthodox Advaita. Of these one of the most famous is Abhinavagupta who flourished at the end of the tenth and the beginning of the eleventh centuries, and whose teaching is said to be ‘in all essentials identical with the orthodox Siddhantam of the Dravidian South.’1 In the opinion of Dr. L.D.Barnett geographical route, filtered down southwards’ till they reached Kanara where, thus reinforced, the old Saivite religion rose in revolt against the dominant Jainism, and in the middle of the twelfth century brought its supremacy to an end. pg-37 1. L.D. Barnett in Le Museon, X, p.272, This is supposed to have taken place in the time of Basava, minister about 1160-70 to the Kalachuri king, Bijjala of Kalyanpura. The effect of this revolt was the establishment in Kanara of the Lingayat faith, but the influence of the Kashmir doctrine did not end here. The new energy that it awakened in Saivism in Kanara spread still further south, and produced in the Tamil country that Saiva Siddhanta , which is claimed by Dr. Pope, even as Vaishnavism is claimed by other students, ‘as the most elaborate, influential and undoubtedly the most intrinsically valuable of all the religion of India.’1
We need not suppose, even if this very doubtful debt were proved, that this religious philosophy was altogether borrowed from those northern theologians. There are said to have been twenty-eight Agamas, which contained the principles of Saivism;2 and if, this tradition is at all reliable, the inference is that, however the Saiva Siddhanta may have been reinforced from the north, it had already arisen independently in the south, and had for some generations been engaging the minds of Dravidian thinkers. Of these Agamas, which are said by Manikka-vasagar, who lived in the tenth or eleventh century, to have been caused to appear by the grace of Siva, little or nothing is known. The systematic account of the Saiva Siddhanta, which Meykandar gives in his Siva-nana-bodham, composed about the beginning of, the thirteenth century, is however, a paraphrase of a dozen Sanskrit stanzas alleged to form part of Rauragam.’2 pg 38 1. Pope’s Tiruvasagam, p.Ixxiv. 2. We need not, however accept the tradition that the total number of verses in them was 20, 100, 010, 193, 884, 000, as Nija-guna-siva-yogin is said to allege. The Search after God (Brahma Mimasa), p. 10. From these documents, as well as from the works of Arunandi and Umapati, who belong to the fourteenth century, and from the commentary on the Brahma Sutras, by Srikantha, who is said to have been Sri Sankaracarya’s ‘senior and contemporary’3 we can judge of the theistic character of this doctrine, and how far it was able to free itself from the Advaita influences so strong in the north.
Pg. 39 1. Or Siva-Jnana-bodha. 2. L.D. Barnett in Le Museon, X, p 272.
3. The Search after God (Brahma Mimamsa), p, 24. This is a translation of part of a commentary on Nilkanta’s Bhashya on the Vedanta Sutras.
4. Abhinavagupta’s Paramarthasara, translated by L.D. Barnett in J.R.A.S., July 1910.
5. Umapati in Pope’s Tiruvasagam, p. Ixxvii.
Whether in Kashmir, or in the Tamil south, the Saiva system centres round a trinity of names, Pati, the Lord, pasu the flock, and pasa the bond. These names carry us back to the ancient sources of the religion, reminding us that Rudra in the Vedic Hymns is pasupati, and reminding us also of what is of better promise for an ethical Theism that in the same poems Varuna, as the moral Governor, is said to lay fetters (pasa ) upon the sinner. Siva is the Lord, ‘exalted above the Abyss’- that is, above all that partakes of maya- and yet ‘abiding in all that moves and all that moves not’4 ‘That souls may reach his state, his Sakti gathers them in. Our Lord is, nevertheless, one and indivisible.’5 The Supreme Divinity manifests himself and operates in the universe through his energy, which is to Siva as light is to the sun. Thus, as so often in other systems, it is sought by a doctrine of emanation to bridge the gulf between the infinite and the finite. The ‘flock’ consists of innumberable souls, who are under the bondage of a three-fold fetter – anavam or darkness, mayam, which to the southern Saivite, at least, is generally, not illusion but matter, ‘the material of all embodiment’1 and karma. ‘As an earthen vessel has the potter as its first cause, the clay as its material cause, and as its instrumental cause the potter’s staff and wheel, so the universe has maya for its material cause, the sakti of Siva for its instrumental cause, and the Lord Siva Redeemer of souls’.3 According to the teaching of Abhinavagupta there are three classes of those who have obtained deliverance, the para muktas, who are ‘assimilated to the supreme Siva’, the apara muktas’ united to him in his manifested phase, and the jivan muktas, who are still in the body.4 ‘Redemption (moksha)’, says this teacher, ‘is the revelation of the powers of Self when the bond of ignorance is burst.’ ‘There is nothing distinct from the redeemed to which he should offer praise or oblation’. He worships with the pure substance of reflection on the Self the blessed deity who is the supreme reality.’5 In its formulation in the South more emphasis seems to have been laid upon the fact that in the state of emancipation there is ‘conscious full enjoyment of Siva’s presence’1 that in the northern doctrine. ‘In supreme felicity’, says Umapati, ‘thou shalt be one with the Lord.’ But, he goes on, ‘the soul is not merged in the Supreme, for if they become one, both disappear; if they remain two there is no fruition; therefore there is union and non-union’2
The difference between the doctrine of the Kashmir thinkers and that of the Saivite philosophers of the south seems to be similar to that which we find to separate this colder thought of the Upanisads from later theistic speculation. This difference is due in both cases, no doubt, to the atmosphere in which the philosophy took shape. In the midst of the fervour of devotion of the southern saints the speculations of the thinkers found a new warmth and colour. More emphasis was laid on the personality tof the Supreme Deity and on the conscious bliss of those who attain to deliverance. This is especially seen in the large place that is given in the southern religion, and in its theology to the thought of the grace of Siva. ‘In the Siddhanta’, says Dr. Pope, ‘very great stress is laid upon the idea that all embodiment, while it is painful and to be got rid of as soon as possible is yet a gracious appointment of Siva, wrought out through sakti for the salvation of the human soul, through the destruction of deeds, which are the root of all evil to mankind3. In this system, as, we have seen, he is elsewhere also, Siva is the Unknowable, ‘whom the heavenly ones see not’.4 But he manifests himself in his gracious, emancipating sakti.
Pg—41 1. Pope’s Tiruvasagam, p.xIiv.
2. Op.cit., p.Ivii.
3. Op. cit. p.254.
4. Umapti in op.cit, p.Ixxix..
Only by the grace of the great Guru does the soul see and seeing, ‘hide itself in the mystic light of wisdom.’ ‘The fainting soul will resort to the shadow of Grace of its own accord.’1 ‘To those draw not nigh, he gives no boon: to those who draw night, all good: the great Sankara knows no dislike.2 This doctrine of trace supplies the chief incetive to devotion in this system, and corresponding to it is the response of bhakti on the part of the worshipping soul. We have seen that in the Svetasvatara Upanisad the attitude of bhakti is prescribed as necessary to a right understanding of its teaching and still more is this recognized as necessary in this later system. ‘The soul gives sight to the eyes; he who gives sight to the soul is Siva; therefore one should worship in supreme love him who does kindness, to the soul.’3
But the doctrine of the Saiva Siddhanta alone could hardly have obtained for southern Saivism so complete a victory over Buddhism and Jainism. Alongside of this intellectual reinforcement there sprang up about this time a remarkable spirit of devotion which, through the great saints and poets of this period, gave to Saivism, one cannot doubt, more than anything else did, the strength by which it prevailed over its cold and sterile rivals ‘No cult the world’, says Dr. Barnett, ‘has produced a richer devotional literature or one more instinct with brilliance of imagination, fervour of feeling, and grace of expression.’4 The exact period of this efflorescence of the South Indian religious spirit is extremely doubtful. It cannot be determined within more definite limits than the seventh to the eleventh centuries. This was a time, not only of Saivite, but of Vaishnavite revival. The sixty-three Saiva saints of tradition had as contemporaries, it is probable, some of the Vaishnavite Alvars, and that, apparently, without any keen antagonism being aroused between them. That antagonism came later when their common enemy, the Jain, had been overcome. The greatest of the post-saints who have exercised so enduring an influence upon this South Indian faith is Manikka-vasagar, whose Tiruvasagam or ‘Sacred Utterances’ is full of the most intense religious feeling. Here we have the doctrines of the Saiva Siddhanta fused into passionate experience in the heart of a worshipper of Siva. Their author is said to have been prime minister to a Pandyan king, and probably flourished in the tenth or eleventh century of the Christian era, though Dr. Pope seems sometimes inclined to place him as early as the seventh or eighth century. He went, the story goes, like Saul, to seek, not his father’s asses, but horses for the king, but, like Sault, he found instead a kingdom, through in his case a great company of this saints, revealed himself to him in the form of ta venerable guru, and the errand was forgotten, and the world renounced. ‘He has gone from the Council, and put on the shroud’, and he journeys in pilgrimage from town to town, worshipping at every shrine, and composing songs in celebration of the various seats of Siva worship and their god. ‘The success of Manikka-vasagar in reviving Saivism’, says DR. Pope,1’which seems to have been then almost extinct, was immediate, and we may say permanent ……. Pg- 43 1. Pope’s Tirvasagam, p. xxxiii. From his time dates the foundation of that vast multitude of Saiva shrines which constitute a peculiar feature of the Tamil county.’
In the legend of Manikka-vasagar’s conversion, the divine Guru, t is said, held in his hand a book which proves to be the Siva-nana-bodham of Meykandar. As a matter of fact, this manual of the Saiva Siddhanta did not come into existence for at least two centuries after the time of the Saivite saint and poet. The period of inspiration precedes the period of reflection; the experience of the saint furnishes the material for the doctrinal system of the theologian. Already in his poems we find expressed in the language of the heart those views of the relation of the soul to God and to the world that the schoolmen formatted later into a religious philosophy. For Manikka-vasagar, as for so many saints, the central point in his religious life to which he the central point in his religious life to which he continually returns for a renewal of his inspiration is his conversion. It is a continually recurring theme for praise throughout his hymns, a constantly recurring source of encouragement when he falls into despair. Throughout his poems there is such an accent of humility and adoration, such a sense of his unworthiness and of the divine grace, as seems to bring him very near indeed to the spirit of the Christian saints. No doubt there are, at the same time, deep differences, which the common ardour of expression hides. How far the sense of his unworthiness springs solely from a moral root, how far the greatness of his god is a purely moral supremacy, how far the sense of the divine presence is spiritual or largely sensuous-these questions need not here be considered, may be, detract greatly from the deep affinity of saints, apparently so alien from each other in many respects. Again and again we find Manikka-vasagar giving utterance to such experiences as are common to all devout souls who have sought God sincerely and have in some measure found Him.
‘These gods are gods indeed’,-‘These others are the gods,’ men wrangling say; and thus False gods they talk about and rant and rave upon this earthly stage. And I No piety could boast: that earthly bonds might cease to cling, to him I cling. To him, the god of all true gods, go thou, and breathe this praise, O humming-bee.1
Dr Pope in his translation of the Tiruvasagam, by the headings he places to paragraphs of the poem indicates how close he finds the affinity to be between these utterances of a sincere devotion, and those of the Christian religious experience. ‘Longing for grace alone’, ‘without thy presence I pine’, ‘Deadness of soul’, ‘God all in all’, ‘I am thine, save me’, ‘His love demands my all’- these are a few taken at random, and they are sufficient by themselves to indicate that with all the strange mythology that weaves its fantastic forms across the poems, and that perplexes and repels a Western reader, we have here the essential note of a deeply devout and a truly ethical Theism. Pg -45 1. Pope’s Tiruvasagam, pp.143,144.
We have seen that a note of Saivism has always been the unknowableness of God. The Vaishnavite followers of the bhakti marga often affirm this no less strongly, but like Tulsi Das they argue that, just because God is beyond reach of thought and act and speech, the one way of salvation for men is in the worship of such an incarnation of the Supreme Deity as Rama. Similarly, though Saivism has ha no place for such incarnations as we find within the rival system, Manikkavasagar is never weary of claiming that Siva has come near to him in his grace as the guru and revealed himself.
Mal (Vishnu), Ayan, all the gods and sciences divine His essence cannot pierce. This Being rare drew near to me: In love he thrilled my soul.1 Again, The ‘Mount’ (Siva) that Mal knew not and Ayan saw not-we can know.2 There is no limit to the ecstasy with which he describes the effect of this revelation of grace. Sire, as in union strict, thou mad’st me thine; on me didst look, didst draw me near; And When it seemed I ne’er could be with thee made one-when naught of thine was mine- And naught of mine was thine-me to thy feet thy love In mystic union joined, Lord of the heavenly land, - ‘Tis height of blessesdenss.3 Pg-46 1. Pope’s Tiruvasagam,p 157. 2. Op. cit., p.106. 3. Op. cit., p. 72,
It his hardly necessary to multiply illustrations of the fervent spirit of this worshipper of Siva. It is a constant marvel to note how the heat of his devotion is able to transmute to its purposes of adoration even the repellent aspect of the god. His descriptions of him seem at times to touch the very brink of all we hate. This is he who ‘wears the chaplet of skulls’; he is the ‘maniac’;
A dancing snake his jewel, tiger-skin his robe,
A form with ashes smeared he wares.1’
A favourite epithet is ‘the black-throated one’. But this epithet, as a matter of fact, strange as it seems to us, is what especially suggests to his devotee the grace of Siva, and it constantly recurs in his poems as a motive to praise and worship. What to the Vaishnavite are the ‘three steps’ of Vishnu, that to the Saivite is the story of how this god drank the halahala poison and so made his throat for ever black. In both cases the story has been laid hold of by the instinct of the devout heart as a symbol of the divine grace that saves. In order that he might deliver the gods, when as stream of black and deadly poison flowed forth at the churning of the Sea Milk, Siva of his own will drank it up and gave to them instead the ambrosia that followed. Thus the Saivite worships with gratitude and adoration a god who has suffered for others, and the black throat is for him a constant reminder of his grace.
Thou madist me thine; didst fiery poison eat, Pitying poor souls, That I might thine ambrosia taste – I, meanest one. Pg- 47 1. Op.cit,p.195.
By the help of such a thought as that the South Indian worshipper has been able to transform the strange appearance of this pre-Aryan divinity, so demoniacal in many of his aspects, into a gracious being whom his heart can love. It is at least a testimony to the amazing power of the religious passion surging up within these southern saints, a passion impossible to content with less in God than the grace that condescends and suffers, with less than a love correspondent to the love that moves itself. When ‘the Brahman’ represented to this seeker that ‘the way of penance is supreme’, or when the ‘haughty Vedant creed unreal came’, he turned always unsatisfied. The, he says, ‘lest I should go astray he laid his hand on me’.2 This testimony to a real spiritual experience, a real movement of the divine love to meet the human, is expressed again and again throughout these lyrics with a manifest sincerity. The ‘law of trusting love’3 finds its fulfilment and ‘this love that fails not day by day still burgeons forth’4 Certainly these poems, with all that is strange and repellent in the symbols that are employed in them to represent the deity, seem to echo a theistic experience as a genuine as it is intense. Pg 48- 1. Pope’s Tiruvasagam, p.195,
2. Op cit., pl 34 3. Op. cit, p.33. 4. Pope’s Tiruvasagam, p.35
The victory of Saivism over both Buddhism and Jainism is thus mainly to be attributed to two converging lines of reinforcement, one intellectual, coming, perhaps, ultimately for the Kashmir Saivite philosophers, the other indigenous, issuing from the sense of their own religious needs. Another influence in the same direction which the Saivite shared with the Vaishnavite is that of the Bhagavadgita. ‘The influence of the Gita’, says Dr. Pope, ‘upon South India as a doctrinal manual and as a great and inspiriting poem has been and is incalculably great.’1 He finds traces of this influence in every part of Manikka-vasagar’s poems. We even find in one of the philosophical books of Saivism a quotation from the Gita so linked on to one from a Saivite scripture that the teaching of the former as to the Paramatman-Vaishnavite as it in reality is-is directly associated with the name of Siva.2 Thus the Gita, even in this alien environment, vindicates itself as the greatest and most influential of all Indian theistic scriptures.
Pg -49 1. Op.cit., p Ixvi, note.
2. Appaya’s commentary in The Search after God, pp.49, 50
3. L.D.Branett’s Heart of India.p.92.
Manikka-vasagar was an orthodox Saivite and represents at its highest the Saivite bhakti of Southern India. There were others, whomever, who, outside the dominant Church, cherished and proclaimed an inward and monotheistic faith. In the Siva-vakyam, a collection of ‘Siva speeches’ by various poets, there are some remarkable expressions of such a religions experience. In one of these the poet turns away from idols and from temples to another shrine, ‘the mind within his breast’. ‘And thus,’ he says, ‘where’er I go, I ever worship God.’3 Another example may be quoted of this devotion that revolts from ritual tradition and othrodoxy and finds its way by its own fervour to the feet of God.
When thou didst make me thou didst know my all: But I knew not of thee. ‘Twas not till light From thee brought understanding of thy ways That I could know. But now where’er I sit, Or walk, or stand, thou art for ever near. Can I forget thee? Thou art mine, and I Am only thine. E’en with these eyes I see, And with my heart perceive, that thou art come To me as lightening from the lowering sky. If thy poor heart but choose the better part, And in this path doth worship only God, His heart will stoop to thine, will take it up And make it his, One heart shall serve for both.1
As one reads these stanzas, as has been remarked by Dr. Barnett ‘one is tempted to wonder whether “Siva-vakyar” was not a worshipper at the local Christian church.
1. Barnett’s Heart of India, p.92, pg- 50
Along with these more spiritual movements there occurred in the northern district of Kanara a religious revolt, less pure probably in the motives that inspired it, certainly less worthy in its results. Mention has already been made of Basava, minister of King Bijjala of Kalyana, who was the leader in a Saivite revival which did much to overthrow the power of Jainism, hitherto dominant in that region. He flourished in the latter part of the twelfth century. Associated with him in this religious reformation there seems to have been another Brahman called Ramayya who, in a inscription dated about 1200, is called ‘Ekantada Ramayya’, because he was an ardent and devoted worshipper of Siva’.1 ‘Basava was the Luther, Ramayya the Erasmus’ of the new cult. It is not easy to form any certain estimate of the religious character of this Vira Saivite or Lingayat movement, as it was called. It was, no doubt, in its inception something worthier than it appears to-day. Its followers now form only another distinguish them from the rest except their strong opposition to Brahman privilege. They also permit widow-remarriage and are opposed to child-marriage. Lingayats acknowledge Siva alone and place upon the linga, his symbol, a faith that in the case of the most of the modern adherents of the sect leaves little room for spiritual worship. One can see, however, in their ejection of the efficacy of sacrifices, penances, pilgrimages, and fasts, indications that in its origin this may have been a movement towards a purer and more inward faith. If it is the case that the Vira Saivites were a ‘peaceful race of Hindu Puritans’, they probably in the spirituality of their worship and its ethical character represented-to begin with at least-a theistic religion, such as was the Siva bhakti of the further south, but less emotional and devout. It was as such, no doubt, that this sect contended wit and overcame the dominant Jainism. At the same time it was the more likely to become corrupt and to fall to the common level of Hindu formalism and superstition because of its lack of the fervour of bhakti which gave such warmth and energy to the faith of Manikkavasagar. To the Lingayat salvation seems to have meant absorption into, or attainment of an impersonal union with, the deity. In this respect this movement seems to have been even from the beginning non-theistic, and a theist may discover in that fact the secret of its religious barrenness in contrast with the Saivism of the Tamil land, as well as the explanation of the rapidity and completeness with which it appears to have fallen into decay.
1. Thuston and Rangachari’s Castes and Tribes of South India, s.v. Lingayet. Pg-53
In this sect and to a less extent in the religion of the Saivite saints of the Tamil land we find those spiritual and ethical instinct which are generally associated with Theism engaged in a conflict with anti-theistic influence everywhere powerful in India and always in the end victorious. Of these one is the tendency to formalism and superstition, which everywhere, as soon as the first fervour of a movement of religious revival has begun to fail, bears down to earth again the human spirit, and which seems to press upon the religious life of India especially with a weight heavy as frost and deep, we may say, even as death. Another antagonist is the influence, peculiar to India, of a philosophy invincibly hostile to personal religion and to moral ardour and extraordinarily tenacious of its grasp upon the Indian spirit. It is evident that the Lingayat reform movement made little headway against these adverse forces and soon succumbed to them.
The tides of Vedantism and of superstition soon reduced this region too to the of superstition soon reduced this region too to the normal level of Indian religious life, and only a point of rock projecting here and there above the waste of waters – its spirit of antagonism to Brahman claims, for example remains to mark the place where once there was a real insurgence of the conscience and the heart. Its work was done when it helped in the overthrow of Buddhism and of Jainism. The devotion of the Tamil saints has had a more abiding influence, for the reason that its roots went deeper into the heart, and that, as a result, it found expression in poetry which continue to bear its witness to later generations and to find a response in other hearts. But here too the subtle Vedanta doctrine in the end prevails. The fervour of devotion is able for an ardent moment to preserve the equilibrium of being and non-being in mukti, of absorption and bliss. It can rejoice in ‘the way which is neither single nor two-fold’.1 But when the emotion passes, the logic of the understanding makes its claims. Then, as regards its goal at least, the doctrine of the Saiva Siddhanta becomes indistinguishable from that of the Vedanta. The grace of Siva remains and the Great Lord is still a personal deity, but the individual self attains deliverance by being absorbed into the Supreme and Selfless One. ‘Where the soul stood before, Siva stands there in all his glory, the soul’s individuality being destroyed’2. Thus here as everywhere in India the ‘haughty Vedanta creed’3 seems in the end to triumph and the Theism that was once so ardent pales to an ineffectual spectre.
1. Sivan Seyal, translated by Clyaton in Madras Christian College Magazine, vol. xvii, p.308.
2. Tiruvanthiar (Commentary ) in Siddhanta Deepika, vol. VIII, p.190
3. Pope’s Tiruvasagam, p.33.