Features of Saivism
- Padmaja Suresh, Bangalore
e-mail: padmajasuresh@hotmail.com

June 26, 2010

Saivism is a branch of Hinduism that worships Siva as the Supreme God (Brahman.) Followers of Saivism are called Saivites, Saivas and so on. The belief is that the entire creation is synonymous with the creator, both actually meaning that Siva is both immanent and transcendent. This concept contrasts with the religious traditions in which God is seen as fundamentally different from the creation and above the creation. Saivism acknowledges the existence of many other deities but these are all manifestations of the Supreme One. This type of spiritual view is called Monistic Theism. Saivites believe in the formless and hence, the devotees often worship Siva in the form of a lingam, symbolizing the entire universe. The anthropomorphic manifestation is NatarÄja, the Divine Dancer who dances with dynamism throughout boundless time and space to create, sustain and destroy the universe. Yet another benevolent, eloquent and meditative form is that of the south-facing Dakshinamurti, the silent teacher. The DhyÄna Mudra where the tips of the thumb and index finger touch each other, the mounds of GURU and SUKRA are joined, again symbolic of unity of male and female principles resulting in perfect balance and control over senses. There is also Hari-HarÄ, half-Siva and half-Vishnu; and Bhairava, who wields the trishula, the trident, symbolizing desire, action and wisdom. Siva can create the universe by His Sankalpa-penance. From the fifty-two sounds of Siva's Damaru [the hour-glass shaped instrument that He plays] were created the original sounds or bija-mantras which created the Universe. The entire Universe is NatarÄja's school and playground of dance. He is the dancer as well as the "spectator." When the dance begins, its sound accelerates the world's activity and when it stops, the world gets absorbed and He remains in ATMANAND.

It is relevant to note that the twelve Jyotirlingas' shrines in our country are among the most important for Saivites. Major theological schools of Saivism include Kashmir Saivism, Saiva Siddhanta and Virasaivism. It is believed that the greatest author on the Saiva religion writing in Sanskrit was Abhinavagupta, from Srinagar, Kashmir, c. 1000 CE who is acclaimed for his equally brilliant contributions to study of NÄtya SÄstra.

The rituals
According to Saivas, Siva is experienced in the Nirbij SamÄdhi state as the attributeless form, nirgunarupa i.e. - Parameswara Himself. Siva is the supreme God among the trinity - Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. His consort PÄrvati, his sons Ganapati and Murugan are also worshipped in the temples. One of the most famous hymns to Siva in the VedÄs is the Sri Rudram. The foremost Saivite Vedic Mantra is the five-syllabled "Aum Namah SivÄya." The sacred syllable Om is used during the worship profusely. The five syllabled word Na-ma-si-vÄ-ya is considered holy and devotees consider it their duty to repeat it several times. Certain portions of the VedÄs such as Rudram and Chamakam are adoratory to Siva. The sacred ash, Bhasma, forms an important part of worship. Siva is bathed in it. This is distributed to the devotees who wear it on their forehead and other parts of the body with reverence. The Tripundra refers to the three horizontal stripes of holy ash symbolic of knowledge, purity, penance and also the three eyes of Siva which are the sun, moon and fire. Wearing the RudrÄksha during meditation is another prominent feature in this school of belief. There are many temples dedicated to Siva. Their architecture, lay-out, the location of various idols, methods of worship, are all strictly prescribed by books called ÄgamÄs and the SaivÄgmÄs formed the roots of the treatise on dramaturgy.

Kashmir Saivism
This is idealistic and realistic in essence, strongly advocating a pragmatic approach to life. Like AdvaitavedÄnta, it is monistic, like Vaishnavism, it is theistic, like yoga, it is practical, like NyÄya, it is logical and also appeasing like Buddhism.

Modern physics explains matter as waves of differing lengths, without the presence of anything essentially solid, what can be called vibrations. The TrikÄsÄstra called it "spanda." TÄntric Saivism gives the complete matrix of energy, the physical reality being only one part. SpandÄ is the energy that permeates the Universe during its process of evolution from which all existence evolves. It is the dynamic aspect, the Sakti that pulsates, throbs with a myriad emotions and expressions.

TantrÄs have been revealed by Lord Siva through his five mouths namely IshÄna, Tatpurusha, Sadyojata, VÄmadeva, and Aghora. These very five mouths represent his five energies namely Chitsakti (consciousness), Anandasakti (bliss), IchhÄsakti (will), JnÄnasakti (knowledge) and KriyÄsakti (action) respectively. When these aforesaid five energies of Lord Siva unite with each other in such a way that each of these takes hold of the rest simultaneously, they reveal sixty four BhairvatantrÄs which are monistic. This is called Kashmir Saivism or TrikÄ philosophy.

It is strange that Abhinavagupta, the fountainhead of this philosophy, does not make any reference to Ädi Sankara who shows his approval of the basics of Ägamic principles in his philosophy of Advaita VedÄnta.

Saiva SiddhÄnta
The Tantra, Tirumandiram of Sri Tirumular contains certain chapters which describe the Dance of Shiva in such powerful, devotional and beautiful verses that we can well establish NatarÄja - the King of Dance as THE Causal Spirit WHO (giving a 'personal' touch to the 'impersonal') creates, controls, protects, sustains and dissolves/destroys to complete several three dimensional cycles. This yogi gave the famous dictum 'Anbe' Sivam, God is love. The religious and spiritual path of Tirumular came to be known as Saiva SiddhÄntam. Nurtured by the Nayanmars, it has played an important role in the development of Tamil culture and the dance form of BharatanÄtyam that evolved from the temples of Tamil Nadu. Central to this philosophy is the triangle of Pati or God, Pasu or individual soul and Pasa or bondage. The difference between the three entities is real in existence, but they are inseparable from supreme Reality in the concept of Tantra. Verses 411 to 420 say that Nandi supports everything in the world and verses 421 to 430 say that the Lord is the creator of mysteries. Tantra Nine seems to present a picture of the divine vision which is the ultimate aim. Verses 2649 to 2721 describe the super subtle sound manifestation in the five syllable panchakshara mantras and that darshan of the dancing posture of the Lord is the highest bliss. The dances are of many kinds and lead to jnÄnodayam (2813 to 2824), and sat-chit-Änanda (2825 to 2834). Saiva Siddhantha practices are highly systematized and deeply mystic. It seems the objective of Tirumular and all saints of the same order was to be able to see the dance of the Lord through deep penance, concentration and yogic postures and breathing, hand gestures and subtle communication with divinity. The height at which this dance is placed implies the purest devotion and a fine degree of practice indeed. Tirumandiram is an authoritative SutrÄ and SÄstra and has to be read, re-read and understood. This saint who is believed to have travelled actually from the north and then settled in the south before giving such a text is another example of a yogic scholar just like Abhinavagupta, practicing TantrÄ and simultaneously well aware of NÄtya.


Bharatanatyam dancer/teacher Padmaja Suresh has been trained by prominent gurus in dance, music, choreography and nattuvangam. She hails from a family of renowned artistes - her great-grandfather Kalamandalam Maddalam Vengichen and father Chakyar Koothu K K Rajan. She holds degrees in Commerce, Law, Diploma in Choreography from Guru Maya Rao's Natya Institute, a Masters in Philosophy. Her institution Kalpataru Kalavihar imparts training in classical dance and music and has a charitable wing Kalachaitanya for propagating arts for underprivileged children.