Membership, Community, Diversity

Who are the Shaivites?

At least six sub-denominations make up Shaiva Hinduism. As with Vaishnavism, their views on the nature of the divine-human relationship set them apart. A major sect in south and southeast Indian region called Tamilnadu is known as Shaiva Siddhanta (“Truth about Shiva”). Tracing its roots to Rishi Turmular (c. 200 C.E.), the group’s central teaching is a blend of theism and monism: individual souls seek God, and devotees and worshippers in this life ultimately will merge totally with Shiva. Pashupata Shaivism, founded by Lakulisha (c. 200) and popular in far northeast, north, and western-central India, holds a variation on that teaching. Souls finally merge with God but maintain individuality somewhat, just as stars still shine, but are lost as discrete bodies in the infinite night sky. Also found in the northern state of Kashmir is a distinctive Shaiva sect founded by Vasugupta (c. 800 C.E.). The Kashmiri school is monistic, teaching the complete and perfect oneness of all reality in Shiva. A major sect in northeast India is called Siddha Siddhanta, with roots in the teaching of Rishi Gorakshanatha (c. 950 C.E.). Blending theism and monism, this school says all individual things are eventually reabsorbed into Shiva as bubbles arise in water. A minor group still influential in southern India is called Shiva Advaita. Its first teacher, Shrikantha (c. 1050), preferred a qualified theism in which the worshipper participates in divinity without losing identity. Finally, a major sect in southwest India is known as Virashaivism. Members are sometimes referred to as Lingayats because many carry with them in a small case a miniature Shiva-linga. A major poet called Basavanna (1105-1167) remains an influential source of the sect’s teaching of qualified theism, according to which God is like the sun, souls its rays.


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