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Saivaism - A Study


Saivaism is one of the several systems of philosophy which we find expounded in the sacred books of India. Siva with whose worship the system has been closely associated, was regarded ever since the vedic times as the Lord of the Universe. Owing to its hoary antiquity, it has now come to be regarded as "one of …. Vastness, and its issues are of …. Immense importance in the history of both ancient and modern Indian religion and theology." Other systems have risen in modern times and thrown it somewhat into the background. Researches are now being made by scholars who are endeavoring to give a clear exposition of the system to the world. But the complaint remains: that "no serious attempt has been made by Europeans to trace the broad outlines of the system, to mark its points of agreement and disagreement with other and more familiar schools of Hindu thought, and to trace it back to its origins."

In the Rig which is regarded as the oldest Veda, there are several hymns addressed to Rudra. There he is regarded as 'the Lord of songs', 'the Lord of sacrifices', as 'the God possessing healing virtues'. The Veda praises him as 'accessible,' 'gracious', as 'He by whom life is conquered, as 'He whose command cannot be transgressed,' as 'Thou by whom prayers are readily received.' He is referred to as the 'Father of the world.' The Veda describes his form as being 'golden-formed,' and 'brilliant like the sun'. Rudra is the "long haired being who sustains the fire, water and the two worlds; who is, to the view, the entire sky and who is called this 'Light'. He is wind-clad (naked) and drinks Visha (water or poison).'

In the Yajur Veda, Rudra is described as being "Without a second.' He is the God of the Universe, pervading and transcending it. Siva, Sambhu, Pasupati, Mahadeva are a few of the names by which he is extolled in the Yajur Veda. The Veda calls Him Tripurasamhara, the destroyer of three cities, the word pure being also interpreted as meaning the bond with which the soul is enveloped. There are passages in the Mahabharata which show decidedly that the worship of Siva much prevalent in those days. "The mere fact that a poem in which Krishna plays throughout so prominent a part and which in its existing form is so largely devoted to his glorification, should at the same time contain so many passages which formally extol the greatness, and still more, which incidentally refer to a frequent adoration, of the rival deity, by the different personages, whether contemporary or of earlier date who are introduced – this fact, is I think, a proof that the worship of the latter (Mahadeva) was widely diffused, if indeed it was not the predominant worship in India, at the period to which the action of the poem is referred." The word Siva occurs in the Atharva Veda where he is spoken of, as the father of Maruts and as the Lord of life and death. The tantras which amplify the Vedic teaching in its practical form describe the several rites which should be observed in worshipping Siva either in the form of chakra or a cylindrical Linga. Amarasinha in his lexicon mentions the words Rudra and Siva as being synonymous.

It is considered that the symbols used in the worship of Siva gave rise to the Devanagiri character and, according to certain calculations, the inventor of the alphabet lived as far back as the 17th century B.C. This fact is regarded as evidence to prove that the worship of Siva must have prevailed in an age as far remote as 2000 B.C. In a later age about the 7th or 8th Century A.D., Siva was worshipped largely in Kashmir and there were in that country two Schools of Saiva theology called the Pratyabijna and the Spanda which teach practically the same doctrines and between which there exists no essential difference. Abhinavagupta belonged to the Pratyabhijna School and the system as expounded by him was codified and reached its culmination about the 10th century. "The doctrines formulated by Abhinavagupta are in all essentials exactly the same as those of the Tamil Siddhantam." So it is said that the Saiva cult, after it had been codified in Kashmir, came down to Southern India through many channels about the middle of the 12th century. This date synchronizes with the great upheaval which ended, in the Kanarese country, in the overthrow of Jainism and the setting-up of Saivaism for several ages. From the Kanarese country, it spread into the Tamil lands and reappeared at the beginning of the 13th century as the basis of Saiva Siddhantam.

But the devotional literature in Tamil, said to be written between the 8th and 9th centuries A.D. shows that the Saiva worship had a hold on the Tamilian much earlier than the 13th. It was, however, St. Meykandan who raised it to a system of Scholastic philosophy by composing his famous book Siva-jnanabodham in Tamil about 1223. This book is now regarded as an authority on the system by all Tamil Siddhantains.

The essence of Saiva Siddhantam is summarized in the words Pati, Pasu and Pasa. Pati is the Lord who is absolute, transcendent and in whom all Saktis or powers remain in potency, Pasu is the soul who is held in bondage which is to be broken. Pasa is the Prakriti which holds the soul in its envelope. The Soul, on account of his ignorance of Pati's eternal grace, is drawn into the coils of Prakriti, becomes subject to births and deaths which restrain him so long as he identifies himself with the worldliness about him. But when he realizes by dint of experience that Prakriti is a Pasa binding him to matter and standing in his way of obtaining eternal bliss, he gets Siva's grace and is released for ever from all material bonds.

Siddhantam recognizes three different kinds of matter each one of which is subtler than the one below it. The lowest or grossest of the three is the Mulaprakriti which is composed of the first twenty-four tattvas such as the five elements, the ten senses, five deceitful perceptions,' and four antahkaranas. "The ear perceives sound through Akas. The body perceives touch through the air. The eye perceives light through fire. The tongue perceives taste through water. And the nose perceives smell through the earth… The mouth speaks through the aid of Akas; the feet move through the aid of air; the hands work through the aid of fire; the anus excretes through the aid of water; the genital organs give pleasure through the aid of earth." Manas, Buddhi, Ahankara and Chitta which are the four antahkaranas, 'respectively perceive, reason, linger and reflect'. Subtler than the Mula-prakriti are what are known as Vidya-tattvas. They are Time, Niyati, Kala, Vidya, Raga, Purusha and Maya. "Time measures the past, gives enjoyment in the present, and contains new store for the future. Niyati tattva fixes the order and sequence of Karma. Kala-tattva induces action. Vidya-tattva induces intelligence. The Purusha-tattva induces perception of the four senses. And Maya induces doubt and ignorance." Subtlest are the Suddha-tattvas which are Suddha-Vidya, Isvara, Sadasiva, Sakti and Siva-tattvas. "Sudda-Vidya, induces more intelligence than action. Isvara-tattva induces more action than intelligence. Sadasiva-tattva induces them both in equal proportion. Sakti-tattva induces action and Siva-tattva induces Jnana alone."

In conformity with the three kinds of matter, there are three different categories of souls. The lowest are those which are sheathed in the grossest Mulaprakriti and are known as Sakalas. Under this category come creatures from the tiniest insect to the most exalted Trinity. They are subject to birth and deaths and become rulers of this Universe as they advance in spirituality. Some of them such as Rudra, Brahma and Vishnu are reputed to have acquired such tremendous powers as to be identified with the Supreme Being Himself. They are influenced by the three gunas – Satva, Rajas and Tamas. They are controlled by the four avasthas – Jagra, Svapna, Sushupti and Turiya. They are conditioned by the three impurities – 'the anava mala or illusion of differentiation in the Supreme Unity of Being'; 'the impurity of Karma' and 'Mayiya which arises from the presence in them of the material body.' To the second category belong Pralayakalas which are souls clothed in the Vidya-tattvas and are subject to a double impurity – the illusion of differentiation, and Karma. Owing to the latter impurity, they are drawn by desires to work and they incarnate. The Vijnanakalas are of the lightest order. They are immortal and beyond the influence of Gunas. Births and deaths are no longer for them. They live very near the Supreme Siva and become invested with almost Divine powers by virtue of which they become Lords of Universe. They are clothed in the Suddha-tattvas and are subject to only one impurity – the illusion of differentiation.

The system recognizes three entities. – The Supreme Being Soul and Matter. It is dualism inasmuch as it regards Soul Matter is only an instrument to execute the will of the Supreme. It is monism as it postulates the transcendency of One Supreme Being. It is thus eclectic inasmuch as it attempts to bring about a reconciliation among the several rival Schools of Indian Philosophy.

- C. A. N.

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