Category Archives: b. Saivism

The Skanda Purana

Skanda on Peacock Mount Kdei Ang, Cambodia. VI or VII century Musee Guimet, Paris
Skanda on Peacock Mount
Kdei Ang, Cambodia.
VI or VII century
Musee Guimet, Paris

The Puranas are a genre of smrti literature in India. The Puranas literally mean “tales of old” or “ancient,” which adheres to the idea that they are the sourcebooks for Hindu mythology (Rodrigues 290). Historical information is blended with pseudo-history and myth to create the legends found in the Puranas. It can be argued, like E. H. Rick Jarow does in his encyclopedic article on the Puranas, that they are the core texts of Hindu religiosity as some provide the cornerstones of particular devotional traditions, templates for institutions, social observations, and traditions of secular knowledge (Jarow 7497). They are sometimes described as being the narrative portion of Vedic sacrifice; a kind of fifth Veda (Jarow 7497). The Devibhagavata says “Sruti and smrti are the two eyes of dharma but the Purana is its heart” (Jarow 7499, XI.1.21). The Puranas are usually identified as having five characteristics (pancalaksana). These are creation (sarga), re-creation of the universe after its dissolution (pratisarga), genealogies of the gods, sages, kings, and patriarchs (vamsa), cyclic ages of humanity presided over by Manu, the father of humanity (manvantara), and royal dynastic histories (vamsanucaritam) (Jarow 7497). However, these characteristics make up only a small percentage of the vast and diverse narratives that cause the Puranas to be so difficult to define and comprehend. There are eighteen Mahapuranas (Great Puranas) in total. The thirteenth Purana is the Skanda Purana, which is the largest of the major eighteen Puranas as it contains the most number of verses. The Skanda Purana consists of doctrines and worship of Siva, as well as legends about Siva and his son Skanda (Tagare 1992: xvii). It is an expansive text, spread out over several books that address general topics of interest including social, cultural, political, historical, geographical, and religious themes (Tagare 1992: xvi). Through the description of narratives included in the Skanda Purana, the different legends presented about the worship of Siva and Skanda, as well as legends derived from specific regions in India, are what make this an influential smrti text in the Hindu tradition. The Skanda Purana, and the Puranas in general, are a tool for the modern historian of ancient India as they provide considerable help in reconstructing the past history as a major literary source containing such aspects of ancient Indian life listed above.

The Puranas are a genre of smrti literature in India. The Puranas literally mean “tales of old” or “ancient,” which adheres to the idea that they are the sourcebooks for Hindu mythology (Rodrigues 290). Historical information is blended with pseudo-history and myth to create the legends found in the Puranas. It can be argued, like E. H. Rick Jarow does in his encyclopedic article on the Puranas, that they are the core texts of Hindu religiosity as some provide the cornerstones of particular devotional traditions, templates for institutions, social observations, and traditions of secular knowledge (Jarow 7497). They are sometimes described as being the narrative portion of Vedic sacrifice; a kind of fifth Veda (Jarow 7497). The Devibhagavata says “Sruti and smrti are the two eyes of dharma but the Purana is its heart” (Jarow 7499, XI.1.21). The Puranas are usually identified as having five characteristics (pancalaksana). These are creation (sarga), re-creation of the universe after its dissolution (pratisarga), genealogies of the gods, sages, kings, and patriarchs (vamsa), cyclic ages of humanity presided over by Manu, the father of humanity (manvantara), and royal dynastic histories (vamsanucaritam) (Jarow 7497). However, these characteristics make up only a small percentage of the vast and diverse narratives that cause the Puranas to be so difficult to define and comprehend. There are eighteen Mahapuranas (Great Puranas) in total. The thirteenth Purana is the Skanda Purana, which is the largest of the major eighteen Puranas as it contains the most number of verses. The Skanda Purana consists of doctrines and worship of Siva, as well as legends about Siva and his son Skanda (Tagare 1992: xvii). It is an expansive text, spread out over several books that address general topics of interest including social, cultural, political, historical, geographical, and religious themes (Tagare 1992: xvi). Through the description of narratives included in the Skanda Purana, the different legends presented about the worship of Siva and Skanda, as well as legends derived from specific regions in India, are what make this an influential smrti text in the Hindu tradition. The Skanda Purana, and the Puranas in general, are a tool for the modern historian of ancient India as they provide considerable help in reconstructing the past history as a major literary source containing such aspects of ancient Indian life listed above.

In Chapter 36, in the third book (Brahma-Khanda) and second section (Dharmaranya-Khanda) of the Skanda Purana, we get the narrative of King Ama of Kanauj/Kanyakubja. Puranic evidence clearly indicates that King Ama was an influential monarch well known both to the Jaina and Brahmanical traditions and that he ruled from Kanauj as his capital appears now to be a well founded fact (Agrawala 112). P. Agrawala’s article “New ‘Skanda Purana’ Evidence on King Ama of Kanauj” says that this section of the text is extremely rich in cultural and ethnological material (110). During the Kali Age is when King Ama is on the throne. The Kali age is described in the Skanda Purana as an age of people that are full of lustfulness, greed, and destruction. The people of the Kali Age reject the Vedas and the class distinctions, so that all four castes are mixed. “Subjects became inclined to commit sins” under King Ama’s rule and Jainism was adopted instead of their Brahmanical tradition that follows the Vedic literature closely (Tagare 1996: 191, III.ii.36.34-38). This chapter’s explanation of the tendencies of the people from the so-called Kali Age is an example of the text’s richness in cultural and social material. It describes the relations between people of the same and different social castes that reflects the change in religious following from the traditional Hinduism to Jainism. The plight of the Brahmana class is what brings the Vedic tradition back. King Ama promises them if they bring Hanuman to him, he will restore their power and livelihood in his kingdom. However, when the Brahmins bring proof of Hanuman, the packet of hair from his left armpit, to King Ama, he went back on his word and expelled them, saying he will never give them anything (Tagare 1996: 210, III.ii.38.16-21).. The Brahmanas threw down the hair and when they departed the whole place was ablaze with flames of fire. In this episode of the burning of Kanauj by the Brahmanas, we presumably have a reference to some historical incident of incendiary destruction at Kanauj during King Ama’s reign (Agrawala 113). By Chapter 40, the legend of King Ama and the struggle of the Brahmanas to reinstate Vedic tradition during the upheaval of the Kali Age finishes with the reasoning behind why it is important to listen to this Purana. It outlines what the Vedas bring to society and what the Brahmanas are responsible for. The restrictions and regulations are laid out so “He who wants to do what is beneficial to his sons” is clear about how to do that (Tagare 1996: 239, III.ii.40.36-38). This legend in the Skanda Purana is an example of how particular legends of this smrti text can be used historically to situate the religious beliefs into the social (through the struggles of the Brahmana caste), the cultural (in the behavior of the people under the influence of Jainism with the rejection of the Vedas), and the political (with the emphasis on what King Ama does during his reign) history of ancient India.

The Skanda Purana’s also offer geographical and local information on the sites where the legends take place. In R. Mehta’s “Two Legends from the ‘Skanda Purana” – Study” she uses the legend of the goat-faced daughter of Bharata’s son in the Kaumarikakhanda and the legend of the woman with the deer’s face in the Vastrapathamahatmya to explain how these Skanda Purana texts can be used to eulogize the power and sanctity of a local tirtha (sacred place, usually destination of pilgrimages, that is associated with a deity or saint) (208). The legend of the girl with the head of a goat relies on the local flora and fauna as well as local geographical features of the Cambay region (Mehta 208). Migrating herds of cattle, sheep, and goat are an annual phenomenon (Mehta 208). Therefore the motif of the goat is an outcome of the local peculiarities of this site. The goat-faced girl’s voyage to Cambay after her realization of her previous birth relates to the fact that Cambay is a well-known medieval port (Mehta 208). Also, the legend’s praise of Siva indicates the Saivite learning of the legend, which adds to the site’s holiness (Mehta 208).

In the legend of the girl with the face of a deer, the girl narrates to King Bhoja of Kanyakuba the history of her seven births.A well-known motif in Indian literature is the relationship of two individuals through a series of birth, which is clearly an inspiration for this legend of the Skanda Purana (Mehta 208). The death of the deer in her sixth birth by a lion relates to true events in the Gir forests. The Gir forest is a sanctuary for lions even today, and their natural food includes the deer (Mehta 208). This region is also populated with a variety of deer (Mehta 208). As a result of these two facts about the geographical location of the legend, the local experiences are weaved into the narration of the legend. Another part of the legend that leads to this belief in the influence of local phenomenon on the Skanda Purana narrations is the legend’s disclosure of knowledge of the pervious births due to the intervention of Sarasvata, the best of the Brahmins (Mehta 209). The term sarasvata might refer to a tantrika or to a Brahmin from the Sarasvata caste (Mehta 209). While human speech by animate and inanimate objects is a widespread motif in Indian literature, the belief in the tantrika powers, which would make an animal speak in human tongues proposed in this legend, emphasizes the power of Sarasvata (Mehta 209).

While the studies of these two legends, outlined by Mehta, seem to reflect legends that explain local phenomenon in their stories, this is only one way to define the Skanda Purana. The title of this section of the Puranas, “Skanda,” is the name of Siva’s son Kartikeya, also called Skanda. The beginning of the Skanda Purana tells the tale of Skanda’s birth, starting with the narration of Siva’s marriage first to Sati and then to Parvati (Sharma 126; 128-129). The demon Tarakasura was tormenting the deities and could only be killed by a child. It was believed that only Siva’s son could kill Tarakasura (Sharma 128). Agni (the God of Fire) consumed the semen Siva discharged on the earth and Parvati cursed the earth for preventing her sexual intercourse with Siva and her ending her desire to have a son (Mani 747). Agni could no longer hold Siva’s semen as it was diminishing his powers, so Ganga (the river goddess) asked Agni to throw the semen into her waters, where it remained for nearly five thousand years (Mani 747). The semen, however, became a burden to Ganga as well, so the Brahma told her to take the semen to a forest in the Udaya mountain and deposit the semen on a particular kind of grass and after ten thousand years a male child would be born (Mani 747). When the child was born, called Subrahmanya, he let out a cry that brought the six Krttikas to provide him with breastfeeding (Mani 747). Since Subrahmanya looked at all six Krttikas, one after the other as it nursed, it developed six faces (Mani 747). After the birth of this child was known, the question of ownership of the child came up between Agni, Ganga, Parvati and the Krttikas (Mani 748). As the child had six faces, Siva said that it should be the Krttikas’ son under the name Karttikya, Ganga’s son under the name Kumara, Parvati’s son under the name Skanda, Agni’s son under the name Mahasena, and his own son under the name Guha (Mani 748). Siva declared this son would be a great yogi that will be known under all of these names (Mani 748). At his coronation, Siva’s son was crowned the army-chief, and as such the God of War. Skanda eventually defeats Tarakasura and takes a vow of celibacy that leads to his more humane treatment of women by looking upon them as equal to his much respected mother, Parvati (Mani 748).

The legend of how Skanda came to be born is important for the cult of Siva worship the Skanda Purana emphasizes. The locations of Siva’s semen deposits are considered holy sites and are used as sites of pilgrimage for believers of the Hindu tradition, especially the holy Ganga river. The emphasis on both the worship of the great Lord Siva and on specific localities within the legends included in the Skanda Purana make it an important text that deals largely with places of pilgrimage and therefore worship (Jarow 7498).


Jarow, E. H Rick (2005) “The Puranas.” Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones.

Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 7497-7502.

Mani, Vettam (1979) Puranic Encyclopedia. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Mehta Rn, Kantawala Sg (1978) “Two Legends from the Skanda Purana.” Journal of

Indian History 56 (August): 203-211.

Minkowski, Christopher (2002) “Nīlakantha Caturdhara’s Mantrakāśīkhanda.” Journal of

American Oriental Society 122, no. 2 (April-June): 329-344.

Pk, Agrawala (1976) “New ‘Skanda Purana’ Evidence on King Ama of Kanauj.”

Quarterly Review of Historical Studies 15, no. 2: 109-114.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online.

Sharma, P.R.P. (2007) Encyclopaedia of Puranas Vol.2. New Delhi: Anmol Publications.

Tagare, G.V. (1992) Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology: Puranas in Translation –

The Skanda Purana Part I. Delhi: Mistilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Tagare, G.V. (1996) Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology: Puranas in Translation –

The Skanda Purana Part IX. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Related Topics











King Ama


The “Gir Forests”

The Kali Age

Laws of Manu


Websites Related to Skanda Purana

Written by Tianna Stevenson (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Ekadanta: The Single Tusked One

Ganesa, the son of Lord Siva and the Goddess Parvati, is known to Hindus as the Remover of Obstacles. He is the much loved, elephant headed, pot bellied deity with a penchant for sweets. He is one of the gods propitiated by students seeking assistance with their studies. Ganesa is known by many other names: Ganapati (Lord of the Multitudes), Vinayaka (Remover of Obstacles), Ekadanta (Single-Tusked One) and Gajanana (Elephant-Headed One) (Grimes, 41) just to name a few. He was Vyasa’s scribe when Vyasa dictated the epic The Mahabharata. He is best known as the guardian of Parvati’s private chamber, where his duties resulted in his receiving his elephant head. It was in a similar situation that his tusk was broken too, while he was guarding the door to his parents’ private chamber.

While there are a few stories of how Ganesa’s tusk came to be broken or severed, the most common one says that Ganesa received his broken tusk during a fight with Parasurama (one of Visnu’s avataras), while he was guarding the door for both of his parents, who were inside making love (Courtright 74). Parasurama was a great warrior of Siva’s, and had just returned victorious from war, having fought successfully against the demons, using an axe bestowed upon him by Siva. Siva had given Parasurama the axe with the caveat that it not be used in vain. When his attempt to enter the palace and the bedroom of Siva and Parvati was rebuked by Ganesa, Parasurama grew angry and the two exchanged words. Parasurama’s words were angry, while the words of Ganesa, as set out in the Brahmanda Purana and the Brahmavairvarta Purana, were even toned and matter of fact. Ganesa simply informed Parasurama that his parents Siva and Parvati were inside engaging in intercourse and that the entry by anyone would be most improper. Parasurama, offended at being reminded of the applicable dharmic obligations of the situation, grew more and more angry, and attempted to push past Ganesa, dismissing him. Ganesa jumped in front of him, blocking his way.

Further argument ensued at this point, and Parasurama raised the axe as if to throw it at Ganesa. Ganesa, seeing this, seized Parasurama with his trunk, “lowering him down through the seven regions of the world and finally down to the ocean at the innermost part of the earth until Parasurama became so frightened he wanted to die” (Courtright 75). Ganesa then raised Parasurama back up and set him back down on the ground. Due to his very frightening experience, Parasurama mistakenly thought Ganesa had defeated him. When he realized that he was standing once again before Ganesa in front of Siva’s palace, he flew into a rage and threw Siva’s axe at Ganesa. Ganesa, not wanting the axe to be thrown in vain, took the blow of the axe blade in his left tusk, severing it and causing it to fall to the ground. When the severed tusk struck the ground “all the worlds shattered and trembled with fear” (Courtright 25). The God Skanda (Ganesa’s brother), who had been sitting guard along with Ganesa when Parasurama had approached, as well as others present during this altercation, had created such a commotion that their noise in addition to that of the falling of the tusk drew Siva and Parvati from their chamber. Parvati, protective of her son whom she noticed had been injured, provided Siva with an angry redress for not immediately jumping to Ganesa’s defence, accusing him of having a preference for Parasurama over that of his own son. She seethed at Siva that “virtuous people take better care of their slaves than you do of me” (Courtright 76). At this, Siva said nothing. Parvati then took her children and left, still angry that Siva has once again rejected his own child.

Ekadanta (Giant Ganesha image displaying his broken tusk, near Kolhapur, India)
Ekadanta (Giant Ganesha image displaying his broken tusk, near Kolhapur, India)

Parvati’s anger at Siva, and Siva’s quiet acceptance of that anger may provide some insight into the ideal that women are posses their own power in Hinduism. This would fall in line with other power-possessing Goddesses such as Kali, Tara or Sakti.

Another story of how Ganesa lost his tusk begins with Ganesa receiving many modakas (sweet, steamed coconut-poppy seed dumplings) from his devotees one evening. He ate so many of them that his belly grew very large and bloated. As Ganesa set off home, riding his mouse mount (musika), a snake slithered across his path. At the sight of the snake, Ganesa’s mount drew back in fear, causing Ganesa to fall to the ground where his sweet-filled belly broke open and all the sweets rolled out onto the ground. Ganesa got up, picked up his scattered sweets, and placed them back in his belly. He then killed the snake and used it to tie his belly closed.

While all this was going on, the moon was watching, amused. When Ganesa’s belly split open and the sweets rolled out all over the place, the moon laughed out loud at Ganesa’s predicament. Ganesa, one must remember, is often viewed as a child deity. Therefore, given his childlike status, it should come as no surprise that Ganesa grew angry, throwing a temper-tantrum at being the subject of the moon’s laughter, so angry in fact, that he plucked out his tusk and speared the moon through, causing darkness across all the land. It was not until the gods pleaded with Ganesa to restore the light of the moon that he did so, however, “only on the condition that the moon gain and lose its light by waxing and waning each month” (Courtright 81).

Ganesa’s removal of his own tusk is not restricted to just the story of his anger with the moon, he also removed it in his occupation as scribe to Vyasa. While he was transcribing the Mahabharata for Vyasa, his writing instrument broke, and without hesitation, he broke off one of his tusks and continued writing in accordance with the deal between the two that Ganesa would be Vyasa’s scribe so long as he would write without ceasing, and that Vyasa would dictate continuously (Grimes 76).

There has been some speculation by anthropologists and others, which suggests that Ganesa’s tusk is possibly representative of a lingam, especially so due to Ganesa’s paternity from Siva, who’s virility is embodied in his phallic emblem (Courtright 111). Further, it has also been suggested that it was an agent of Siva (or even Siva himself), who removed Ganesa’s tusk for the purposes of quasi-castration in order to jealously prevent Ganesa from approaching Parvati in an incestuous fashion, the quasi-castration having left Ganesa sexually ambiguous (Courtright 117). This would not be entirely unreasonable given the theme of Ganesa and Parvati’s close relationship throughout the myths. If it were the case then, that Siva was attempting to prevent Ganesa getting too close to Parvati by making him asexual, it would serve to further support the apparent continual denial of Ganesa by Siva which is evident throughout a great deal of the Ganesa myths. Siva is seen to act in either indifference or violence toward Ganesa, for example, by cutting off his head at the entrance to Parvati’s chamber, demanding, “don’t you know who I am?” or seemingly taking Parasurama’s side when he cuts off Ganesa’s tusk with the axe Siva had bestowed upon him.

One cannot help but feel sorry for Ganesa while reading his stories as he always seems to be on the receiving end of one misfortune or another, such as being beheaded by his father, having his belly split open and all his sweets falling out, or losing his tusk to a great warrior who is favoured by his father over him. However, given the necessity of balance in Hinduism, Ganesa likely must experience his obstacles before he can remove them.

Scholar and author John Grimes eloquently summed up Ganesa when he said: “Ganapati is a child, a god, an elephant, a siddha, four armed, and an enigma. He does exactly as he pleases. He is free. He is seen, but he is the seer. He sees what cannot be seen. He can be known, but he is the knower. He knows, but he knows nothing. His secret is that he is himself. His secret is that he is you. His secret is tat tvam asi” (Grimes 63).

References and Recommended Readings:

Brown, Robert L (1991) Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God. Albany: State University of New York

Courtright, Paul B. (1985) Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings. New York: Oxford University Press

Grimes, John A. (1995) Ganapati: Song of the Self. Albany: State University of New York Press

Krishan, Yuvraj (1999) Ganesa: Unravelling an Enigma. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited

Michael, S.M. (1983) The Origin of the Ganapati Cult. Asian Folklore Studies, 42 no 1 1983, p 91-116

Seth, Kailash Nath. (19–) God & Goddess of India. New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books Pvt. Ltd.

List of Related Terms:

Brahmanda Purana

Brahmavairvarta Purana


Ganesa Gita

The Mahabharata





Siva Purana



Noteworthy websites related to the topic:

Written by Stacy Hill (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Saiva Siddhanta

Saiva Siddhanta is a bhakti (loving devotion) tradition. This system is a dualist (this is somewhat problematic but will be discussed in the section on philosophy) form of Saivism that has ancient roots in north India, though is most popular now in southern Tamil regions of India (Prentiss 1996). The goal of this system is ultimately liberation (moksa) from the cycle of rebirth, achieved through the Lord (Siva).

Hillary Rodrigues translates Saiva Siddhanta to mean “the ultimate goal of Saivism” (Rodrigues 270). In a definition that expands from a literal translation to one more anchored in the Indian philosophical system, Dr. S.C. Nandimath tells us that Saiva Siddhanta “means a system of Saivism, the doctrines of which are logically proved and are accepted as true” (Nandimath 80). The portion about being “logically proved” will come up again when we turn to Saiva Siddhanta philosophy. In the past, Saivism and even Saiva Siddhanta had a very strong presence and development in northern India (Gwalior state for example), though now it appears to be most influential in southern Indian Tamil regions and Sri Lanka (Prentiss 1996).

Saiva Siddhanta is an ancient system that has an equally long textual tradition. Tracing its history through its literature we see that Saiva Siddhanta seems to have gone through earlier phases to later become the influential tradition it is now. According to the tradition the Saivagamas are the original works, but according to Nandimath “available copies are very corrupt; therefore an attempt to determine their age on linguistic evidence must be abandoned at present” (Nandimath 80). This is important because it directs us towards a more historical study, as does Nandimath’s approach to Saiva Siddhanta literature. In the earliest phases the literature appears to be somewhat ambiguous. The tradition appears to be found in inscriptions as early as 6th or 7th (Nandimath 80) century with the Pallava king Rajasimha. Nandimath also tells us that there is a very important link with the Saivacayas. He argues that the Saivacaryas became prominent around 900 CE (Nandimath 82) and had links with Saiva Institutions (mathas). It is through monasteries, and mathas that Saivism, and particularly Saiva Siddhanta was spread through out India. According to Nandimath the Saivacaryas were not simply Saivites; many were followers and teachers of Saiva Siddhanta. Vairocani and Srikanthasiva are said to significant Saivacarya teachers of Siddhanta doctrine. This demonstrates that as early as the 6th or 7th century, Saiva Siddhanta existed in some form and that it was spreading and still popular nearly one-thousand years later. This has been a short history of a massive amount of literature of Siddhanta Saivism produced over around two-thousand years of existence.

Ultimately, all Saivism sects directly trace their lineage back to the sage Durvasa. Somananda wrote that there was a time in which all rsis, the Saiva Sastras and their knowledge disappeared. This seems to have been heralded as a particularly spiritually bleak time. As mythic accounts tell, Siva took pity on the mortals and went to a particularly chaste sage named Durvasa, and charged him with spreading the sastras (Nandimath 83). Durvasa in kind “charged [his three sons]… with establishing spiritual order and of teaching men again the…Saiva faith and doctrine in their three aspects of Unity, Diversity, and Diversity in Unity” (Nandimath 83-84). Tryambaka is the immediate ancestor (after Durvasa) of Somananda, who is held to be responsible for establishing Kashmiri Saivism. There is disagreement as to which branch of Saivism was originally established by Somananda in Kashmir. Dr. S.C. Nandimath argues that because Tryambaka was charged with teaching the aspect of Diversity (here the dualist or rather the pluralist Saivism), it is most likely that Somananda and his ancestors also taught the dualist version of the Trika; “Trika refers to the triad of God, souls, and bonds, with which the philosophy deals” (Rodrigues 566). This is problematic because Trika generally is used in reference to a non-dualist philosophy, and has for some time. Rohan A. Duniwala states that Amardaka was “one of the reputed founders” (Dunuwila 26) of the pluralist Saiva Siddhanta. The issue here is on the specific roots and founders of Saiva Siddhanta. The position that Nandimath takes is based on an interpretation of the mythic account of the origin of Saivism (in which Somananda (descendent of Tryambaka) actually taught a dualist version of the trika), where as the argument that Dunuwila makes is based on tracing the history of literature (Dunuwila 27).

Saiva Siddhanta is a dualist tradition, though in reality this tradition appears to be pluralistic. The simile most often evoked to explain the basic elements of Saiva Siddhanta is that of the pot (Nandimath 145). Here Saiva Siddhanta claims “three important eternal entities” (Ibid). The three eternal entities are explained in terms of the evolution of the universe; here the name Siddhanta is evoking the logic previously mentioned. To start Saiva Siddhanta does not deny the reality of the material world. In fact, the existence of the material world is crucial to understanding Saiva Siddhanta. The three basic elements are the Lord (Siva), Matter (the world) and the Soul. These elements are eternal and are eternally different. In this system Siva “is both transcendent, yet immanent in all aspects of creation” (Rodrigues 270). To better understand what the above quote means we can think of the evolution of the universe as being conceived in this way: the Lord creates a pot (Lord and Matter), and only creates a pot for the use of a consumer (soul)(Nandimath 145-146). Through this simile we again see that all is dependent on the Lord and yet is distinct from him. Liberation, as is implied, is achieved through the Lord. The critical distinction in Saiva Siddhanta (that distinguishes it as pluralistic) is that once a soul becomes liberated and realizes it is like the Lord, the soul does not then become (or become united with) the Lord after liberation (i.e. “three eternal distinct entities” and “the Lord is immanent and yet transcendent”). While caught in the cycle of rebirth the soul is completely dependent on the Lord as the source of all knowledge and especially of liberation. By saying that the soul realizes it is like the Lord the system is recapitulating the idea that makes this system dualist; it is saying that the soul is intelligent like the Lord and also is liberated like the Lord. The important piece of information here is that the soul is like the Lord and is never equated with the Lord as per the three eternal entities. This is a major point of philosophical difference between Saiva monists and dualists, as both take Siva to be the immanent factor in the world. The point is that for monists once liberation is achieved the soul is no longer distinct from the Lord (in this system the only reality is Siva), while for dualists (or more appropriately pluralists) the soul and Siva are eternally different.


Dunuwila, R. A. (1985) Śaiva Siddhānta Theology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

Nandimath, S. C. (2001) Theology of the Saiv¯agamas : a survey of the doctrines of Saiva Siddhanta and Veerasaivism. Thiruvananthapuram : International School of Dravidian Linguistics

Prentiss, Karen Pechilis (1996) Tamil Lineage for Saiva Siddhānta Philosophy. History of Religions, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Feb., 1996), pp. 231-257. Published by: The University of Chicago Press

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The eBook an Online Introduction. Published by: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Related Terms:









Siva in Srikantha form

Matta-Mayura matha



Saiva Siddhanta Church:

Vedic Books (a good source for books on a variety of topics relating to Hindu religion/spirituality)

A general google search that has a lot of promising websites:

Written by Calvin Gee (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.


Siva has been recognized as an omnipotent creator deity, the Lord of the Dance, a deity of destruction and the maintainer of the universe. Part of the Hindu trinity, Siva is accompanied by Brahma and Visnu; however, Siva’s true devotees view him as the supreme Lord who creates, maintains and destroys the cosmos (Flood 150). Siva “contains all opposites within him and is even described as being half male and half female (ardhanarisvara)” (Flood 151). An example of these opposing virtues is that he is the destroyer and the regenerator of life, he is also claimed to be a great ascetic but also the symbol of sensuality (Ghosh 17). Siva’s physical appearance is rather interesting, his naked body is smeared with ash, and he is usually depicted with four arms. Siva’s nudity is particularly important because it exposes the linga. Many sages were upset by this exposure and spoke words that made Siva’s linga fall to the ground. Consequently, the three worlds were dishevelled, until Devi took the form of the yoni to hold the linga. Siva has three eyes, two eyes which witness the past, present, and future; the third eye, the inner eye, “…is responsible for higher perception, turning transcendental” (Ghosh 18). This eye is believed to have been the result of Parvati carelessly covering Siva’s two eyes. Siva wears a garland of skulls and necklace of snakes; this combined with the ashes on his forehead and body, represent detachment (Merchant 1). Siva is known to hold a trident in his hand; this trident represents the Hindu trinity. It also represents the nature of each person (creation, preservation, and destruction) (Ghosh 19). Matted hair and a crescent moon on his head top off the appearance of Siva, the crescent moon is said to represent perfect mind control (Ghosh 18). Siva possesses characteristics of three gods: Rudra, Indra, and Agni. Rudra is the god of destruction, and it is that destructive aspect which Siva takes on from Rudra. Siva is sometimes referred to as Rudra in the Puranas. Indra passes on to Siva “his phallic and adulterous character” (O’Flaherty 83). A similar characteristic between Indra and Siva is that they both have three eyes. From Agni, the God of fire, stems the intensity of asceticism and passion (O’Flaherty 83). He is worshipped and iconographically depicted typically in four main forms. The first depiction, The Lord of Yoga, touches on the appearance previously discussed as he mediates atop Mount Kailasa (or Kailash) in the Himalayas. The second depicts Siva as family oriented, with Pavarti and their two sons at his side. Siva’s third form is represented as a linga and the last depiction is of Siva Nataraja, the Lord of Dance (Flood 151).

Large statue of Siva in Bhaktapur, Nepal
Large image of Siva in Bhaktapur, Nepal

In western society Nataraja is the best known form of Siva. Nataraja translates to ‘King of Dancers’. “Nataraja dances, his right foot supported by a crouching figure, his left foot elegantly raised. Of his four arms, one swings downwards, pointing to the raised foot; another with palm held up signals, ‘Do not Fear!’ In his other hands he holds aloft a drum and a flame. The river Ganga sits in his hair. A cobra uncoils from his lower right forearm, and the crescent moon and a skull are on his crest. He dances within an arch of flames.” (Smith 1) This dance is the Dance of Bliss (anandatandava). This dance is of particular importance to Siva devotees because it is viewed as eternal, that is, having no beginning or end (Smith 1). The Cidambaram temple is considered by some the most important of all Siva temples. Cidambaram is said to be where the dance originated. Other temples dedicated to Siva always have a Nataraja shrine, or image next to the Siva linga shrine (Smith 1). It is said that Nataraja’s left foot is raised so those can bow before it, he grants all wishes, and is said to free one from rebirth if worshipped (Smith 2).

Parvati is Siva’s wife and the mother of his sons Ganesa and Skanda. Siva did not want a son nor did he need one as he never dies. Despites Siva’s opposition, Parvati insisted on having a child, explaining that she would take care of the son and Siva could be a yogi as he wished. This desperation further complicated Siva’s roles as an ascetic and householder, conflicting roles which some say make Siva a poor husband (O’Flaherty 211). Siva did not give into Parvati’s demands; however Ganesa was born from the unnaturally shed seed of the yogi (O’Flaherty 212). Parvati and Siva’s relationship is often contrasted to that of Rama and Sita in the Ramayana (Caughran 514). Rama and Sita are known for their love and devotion to one another, a mutual respect. Parvati, on the other hand commonly interrupts Siva’s meditation, she also argues and mocks him; however, Siva does not kill her as promised, though he does occasionally abandon her (O’Flaherty 211). Parvati questioned why she loved such an unusual god, one who indulged in activities that may repulse some such as the consumption of hemp. However, despite this, she not only loves him she is obsessed with him (O’Flaherty 236). As previously stated, Siva and Parvati’s dysfunctional marriage is often compared with Rama and Sita’s marriage. Siva and Parvati, however, allow one to reconsider Rama and Sita’s marriage as being ideal. The renowned quarrels between Siva and Parvati may enhance their sexual relationship, and their distance from one another can also be seen as strengthening their love (O’Flaherty 233).

Saivism is a faith based on the teachings of Siva; followers worship Siva or sometimes his consort Sakti. It was in India and Europe that symbols pertinent to Saivism first appeared. Symbols included the bull, the phallus, the ram, the snake and the Lady of the Mountains (Danielou 32). Although there was a wide spread of these symbols across the Asia and Persia, India is the only place to maintain traditions of Saivism. There are six branches of Saivism: Kalamukhas, Kapalikas, Kashmiri Saivism, Pasupata Cult, Saivasiddhanta, and Virasaivism (Ghosh 73). Kalamukhas and Kapalikas worship the destructiveness of Siva; they are known for their odd cult practice which is thought to draw on the descriptions of Rudra. They wore garlands made of human skulls, and their practices of cannibalism horrified some (Ghosh 75). The Kalamukhas were powerful during 700 AD – 1200 AD, and the Kapalikas during the seventh century. The opposite of the previous two branches Kashmir Saivism was Saivism at its finest. Its followers are monotheistic, viewing Lord Siva as the supreme and only reality. This branch is credited with being very scientific and logical (Ghosh 75). The fourth branch is the Pasupata Cult which state Siva “is without beginning or anadi, and cause of creation, sustenance, and dissolution of the world. He is both transcendent as well as immanent” (Ghosh 77). Saivasiddhanta is similar to the Pasupata Cult in regards to philosophy; the only difference is that the Pasupata Cult accepts thirty-six basic principles of the evolution of the world whereas Saivasiddhanta accepts only twenty-five. The last branch, Virasaivism, is characterized by its emphasis on the worship of Siva Linga (Ghosh 78). “Lingayata signifies the religion that considers the linga as the prime support or basis” (Ghosh 78).

Siva is without a doubt one of the main components of the Hindu tradition. He is a very complex god, exemplified by his multitude of forms. One main form of particular importance is the Nataraja, the dancing Siva. His struggle between asceticism and householder, resulting in conflicting values, furthers this complexion. His wife Parvati is completely in love with Siva, but this does not stop him from abandoning her occasionally in his pursuit of becoming a yogi. A highly developed creed developed around Siva, and cumulated in the monotheistic worship of Siva as the High God. Siva has been everlastingly worshipped and will continue to be worshipped by many.


Caughran, Neema (1999) “Shiva and Parvati: Public and Private Reflections of Stories in North
India” The Journal of American Folklore 112, No.446 (September): 514-516

Daniélou, Alain (1992) Gods of Love and Ecstasy : the traditions of Shiva and Dionysus. Vermont: Inner Traditions / Bear & Company.

Flood, Gavin D (1996) An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ghosh, Mandira (2007) Shiva and Shakti in Indian Mythology. Haryana: Shubhi Publications.

Merchant, Vasant V (2003) “Siva-Nataraja: The lord of dance, drama and music Siva—the cosmic dancer, transformer, liberator” International Journal of Humanities and Peace 19.1 (Annual 2003): 3(2)

O’Flahery Doniger, Wendy (1981) SIVA The Erotic Ascetic. London: Oxford University Press.

Smith, David (1998) The Dance of Siva. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation


Bhairava the Terrible









Siva Siddhanta


The Trinity


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Rachel Davis (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

Nataraja: Lord of the Dance

Since the seventh century, Cidambaram has been the center of worship of Nataraja, the captivating iconic representation of Siva as Lord of the Dance (Smith 1). Although a very well known depiction of Siva, the Nataraja image is not very widespread. Most images of Siva as Nataraja are found in southern India (Gaston 47).

The term ‘Nataraja’ refers to the dancing posture of Siva. There are many different dances of Siva, one hundred and eight of which are sculpted on either side of the east and west gopurams (ornate, monumental towers) of the Nataraja temple at Cidambaram (Natarajan 84). The ananda-tandava is the cosmic dance of bliss; one of the many dances of the great Hindu god. It is in this pose that Siva is primarily worshiped in both the Golden Hall and the Hall of Consciousness in the Cidambaram temple. Earliest forms of dancing Siva date back to the fifth century (Smith 1). The sculptures of Siva dancing the ananda-tandava, however, only date back to the tenth century (Kaimal 397). The ananda-tandava is the particular dance, according to Hindu mythology, that Siva performed in the Golden Hall of Cidambaram, or Tillai as it is also known, at the request of his devotees (Gaston 47, Natarajan 84).

In south India there are five sacred places, each with a linga associated with one of the five elements: earth, water, fire, wind, and ether (air). The Cidambaram temple is famous for its akasa lingam, Siva as the formless space or ether (Natarajan 2). Siva is predominantly worshiped in the form of the linga, not in an anthropomorphic form such as the Nataraja. This is what makes the dancing Siva so unique. Siva dancing the ananda-tandava is the most celebrated and beloved of the Nataraja figures. There is extensive symbolism embedded within each element of the elaborate posture. It should be noted that, the degree to which the Nataraja images have always held this meaning is questionable. The significance of the images has likely evolved, and changed over the years, and there is little evidence surviving from medieval South India to decipher their original meaning (Kaimal 391). That being said, I believe that the following description of Siva as Nataraja is just a small insight into what the icon means to people today.

Unmai Ulakham, a Tamil text, eloquently begins to describe the ananda-tandava: “Creation arises from the drum; protection proceeds from the hand of hope; from fire proceeds destruction; from the foot that is planted upon Muyalahan proceeds the destruction of evil; the foot held aloft gives mukti…..” (Klostermaier 162). Usually in the form of a statue, Siva has four arms and stands on his right leg. One right hand holds a drum shaped like and hourglass that symbolizes creation. The other is raised, palm up, in the sign ‘do not fear’ (abhaya) with a serpent wrapped around the wrist. One left hand holds fire, the symbol of destruction, and the other points downwards towards the raised foot of liberation. His hair is braided and jeweled, and the lower locks whirl in the dance (Coomaraswamy 86). His matted or braided hair refers to the ascetic nature of Siva. Often, there is a cobra, a skull, a crescent moon, or the river goddess Ganga entrapped within his hair. Siva integrates male and female attributes by sometimes wearing a man’s earring in the right ear, and a woman’s in the left. He is adorned with an abundance of jewlery, and a long piece of cloth is tied around his waist. The majority of Nataraja icons will also have a third eye. Underneath Siva’s right foot is a dwarf, or demon. This is to represent his victory over ignorance. Finally, Siva in a perfect balance between creation and destruction, is encircled by a ring of fire which not only represents the universe, but also consciousness.

This dance of Siva is also thought to represent his 5 activities: Shrishti (overlooking, creation, evolution), Sthiti (preservation, support), Samhara (destruction, evolution), Tirobhava (veiling, embodiment, illusion, giving rest), and Anugraha (release, salvation, grace) (Coomaraswamy 87). Siva is part of the Hindu Trinity, with Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Siva as the destroyer. However, in the context of Siva as Nataraja, he becomes a fusion of the three. The dance of Siva symbolizes the action of cosmic energy in creating, preserving, and destroying the universe (Natarajan 86). The dance of Siva has also been called a synthesis of science, religion, and art (Natarajan 2).

The legend of the Cidambaram temple incorporates the popular Pine Forest myth of Siva. It begins with Siva disguised as a handsome, naked, wandering sage. Accompanied by Sesa, and Visnu disguised as an entrancing woman, the three go to the Pine Forest to test the sages and the fidelity of their wives (Coomaraswamy 85, Smith 33). With their negative magical power, the sages were stealing the forces of creation. The rsis attempted to destroy Siva for the intrusion by means of their sacrificial fire and incantations. The first of their attempts was a tiger. Siva peeled off its skin and wrapped it around himself. The second was a snake, which also failed. Siva began to dance as Nataraja, and the furious sages set a dwarf monster upon him. Siva placed his foot on the dwarfs back, breaking it, and resumed the ananda-tandava. Sesa, entranced by Siva’s dance, begs for another opportunity to behold the dance. Siva promised to dance again in Tillai, the center of the world (Natarajan 85).

Numerous legends exist surrounding Siva’s many dances. One tells of a competition between Siva and Kali, during which Siva dances the urdhvatandava, the High Tandava pose (Smith 24). Other dances of Siva include the evening dance in the Himalayas, and the dance performed in cemeteries and on burning grounds (Coomaraswamy 98).

Chola bronze depicting Siva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja), his iconic form at Cidambaram Temple in Tamil Nadu
Chola bronze depicting Siva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja), his iconic form at Cidambaram Temple in Tamil Nadu

The bronze Nataraja is housed at the innermost place in the Cidambaram temple, the cit sabha, or the Hall of Consciousness. The kanaka sabha, or the Golden Hall, is directly in front the cit sabha. This is where the rituals of worship are performed. In this courtyard there is also a shrine to Visnu, known as Govindaraja. The famous akasa linga resides in the next surrounding courtyard. The third surrounding courtyard is immense, containing various shrines, halls, and the temple tank. It has four gateways or gopurams, one leading in from each direction (Smith 5). Most of the buildings have been significantly renovated and none are older than 1070, but the existing buildings were likely built in the images of their predecessors (Kaimal 398). The cit sabha is thought to be a copy of the oldest, original shrine, which would have been built before the tenth century (Kaimal 399).

It is interesting that this specific dance of Siva has gained so much prominence over all the others. In doing so it has become encompassed by a vast amount of symbolism, and is of great significance to many people of southern India. One explanation is the prestige that was given to the Nataraja image from the tenth to thirteenth centuries by the Cola dynasty. Some scholars believe that the Nataraja actually represented a victory dance ancient Tamil warrior chieftains would perform, over the bodies of their dead enemies. The Cola kings expanded their dynasty through military aggression, therefore, it seems reasonable to suspect that the early Cola kings saw the Nataraja as a perfect emblem because of its warrior connotations (Kaimal 405). Secondly, it is thought that the Nataraja icon was catalyzed into fame by priests and kings in an attempt to attract pilgrims and bring the town spiritual prestige. Through this process a mythic identity was generated for the icon to identify it more with Siva, and less with local, malevolent deities. It was also around this time that the name of the city was changed from Tillai to Cidambaram (Kaimal 406).

Many festivals are held at the temple of Cidambaram such as Brahmotsavam, Ani Thirumanjanam, Thai Poosam, Natyanjali and Arudra Darsanam. The bronze Nataraja and the icon of his consort are decorated with flowers and paraded around the city during the ten-day festival of Arudra Darsanam (Natarajan 137). Natyanjali is a dance festival that coincides with the auspicious day of Maha Sivaratri, the Great Night of Siva. The celebration lasts for five days between February and March, during which people come from all over India to dance at this holy site (Pintchman 194).

Although the ancient history of the Nataraja image is obscure, and the original meaning of the icon may be lost forever, it has been reborn to a new life full of legend, worship and celebration.




Coomaraswamy, Ananda (1991) The Dance of Shiva: Fourteen Indian Essays. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Gaston, Anne-Marie (1982) Siva in Dance, Myth and Iconography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kaimal, Padma (1999) “Shiva Nataraja: Shifting Meanings of an Icon.” The Art Bulletin 81, no. 3 (September): 390-419.

Klostermaier, Klaus K. (1984) Mythologies and Philosophies of Salvation in the Theistic Traditions of India. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Natarajan, B. (1974) The City of the Cosmic Dance: Chidambaram. Delhi: Orient Longman.

Pintchman, Tracy (2007) Women’s Lives, Women’s Rituals in the Hindu Tradition. Oxford: Oxford Univesity Press.

Smith, David (1998) The Dance of Siva: Religion, art and poetry in South India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Related Readings


Davis, Richard H. (1999) Lives of Indian Images. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Fuller, Christopher J. (2004) The Camphor Flame: Popular Hinduism and Society in India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Related Research Topics


Pine Forest Myth

Cola dynasty

The 5 sacred lingas


Ani Thirumanjanam

Thai Poosam


Arudra Darsanam


The evening dance of Siva

Siva’s dance on the burning grounds

Rudra Tandava


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Written by Cheyenne Conrad (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Goddess Parvati

The goddess Parvati is worshiped in the Hindu tradition for her affection and beauty. Her name denotes “she who dwells in the mountains.” (Kinsley 41). Parvati is one of the many consorts of Siva, a powerful Hindu god who resides in the mountains. There are many different identities depicted of the goddess. People who view Parvati as the auspicious goddess, call her “Sarvamanagala” (Smith 50). Parvati is also represented as “Ambika”, which refers to her role as a mother, and as “Girija”, the daughter of the Himalayan mountain deity. She is also referred to as Kali, a goddess who is known as “the dark one”. This is because Parvati has a dark complexion (Kinsley 42). As well as the diverse names that describe Parvati, there are many songs, stories, stone carvings, and Pahadi paintings of the goddess.

The mythology of Parvati is largely based on her relationship with Siva. Her association with Siva is described as essential in order for cosmic reproduction to occur, which entails the preservation of the world (Kinsley 41). Sanskritic manifestations derive from the Vedas, which are developed in the Puranas. Dravidian manifestations draw from Tamil country origins, which describe distinct characteristics of the mythology of Parvati. Lastly, autochthonous tradition, also known as the folk tradition, includes legends and folk stories about Parvati (Dehejia 12). Although diverse, together, these traditions formulate a good interpretation of the goddess and describe Parvati as a “dedicated and loving wife.” (Dehejia 39).

Bronze masterpiece depicting the goddess Parvati, consort of Siva; 14th century, Thanjavur Palace Museum
Bronze masterpiece depicting the goddess Parvati, consort of Siva; 14th century, Thanjavur Palace Museum

In the Sanskritic tradition, as described in the Puranas, Parvati is a reincarnation of Sati (Kinsley 37). The goddess Sati was the first wife of Siva who takes her own life in a yajna sacrifice. The gods were concerned with Siva’s state of isolation from others. Thus, they felt that Parvati was destined to marry Siva (Dehejia 16). Himalaya, the father of Parvati, stated that in order for Parvati to become the wife of Siva, she must complete penance. However, Parvati had difficulty performing penance which led to her father asking Kama, the God of love, for assistance. Kama shot arrows at Siva, which in return, angered him. Siva burned Kama to ashes and this deeply hurt Parvati. Parvati escaped to the mountains where she performed austerities (Dehejia 19). These austerities were so frequent and intense that Siva became allured by Parvati’s physical appearance. The marriage of Siva and Parvati is subsequently arranged. Their marriage and family status is described as peaceful and pleasant. Siva and Parvati spent their time sitting on Mount Kailasa, while conversing about Hindu philosophy and engaging in sexual activity (289). However, there were times when the marriage was a challenging endeavor. Parvati and Siva would quarrel and offend each other. At times, Siva behaved so poorly that Parvati would leave him. Siva would often make comments about Parvati’s dark skin, and gave her the nickname “blackie”. Parvati removed herself from the household and settled in the forest, where she performed austerities (Kinsley 44). The legend, the Varaha Purana, states that the devi did this until Brahma granted her wish of changing her complexion from dark to golden.

Regarding the family life of Parvati and Siva, Parvati wanted and eventually gained a son to protect her from intruders coming into her apartment (Kinsley 44). At one point, however, her son would not let Siva enter the apartment. This angered Siva, who spoke of the lack of auspiciousness in Saturn, which led to the beheading of the child. The child’s head was later replaced with the head of an elephant and was named Ganesha. Parvati had two more children, Kartikaya and Andhaka. In the Sanskritic tradition, Parvati is described as being a devoted wife and mother to her sons (Dehejia 25).

Parvati's austerities (tapas) and her worship of Siva are depicted on this pillar at Darasuram Temple in Tamil Nadu
Parvati’s austerities (tapas) and her worship of Siva are depicted on this pillar at Darasuram Temple in Tamil Nadu

Parvati, in the Tamil tradition, is similar to the Sanskritic tradition because it places an emphasis on the bond between Parvati and Siva. In the 4th century, the Tamil region was ruled by Jains, and the Hindu tradition arose in the 5th century (Dehejia 26). This mythology is largely derived from the Silappadikaram and Manimekalai epics from Sangam literature. Like the Sanskritic tradition, the marriage between Siva and Parvati is an important component in both traditions; however, Tamil mythology is mainly based on Parvati and her manifestations. In the Sanskritic tradition, Siva is characterized as being powerful figure and Parvati is known as his loyal consort (Dehejia 28). In the Tamil tradition, Parvati has a split personality. There is the southern goddess, who is depicted as being dark and violent, and then there is the northern version of the devi, who is romantic and quiet (Dehejia 34).

The folk tradition includes the adivasis group. This tradition includes characteristics of Sanskritic and Tamil, but still possesses some differences. For example, instead of worshipping one particular god, the folk worship Parvati is a mixture of the 4 other consorts of Siva. Thus, the folk tradition views one goddess as having many notable features, such as affection, power, and beauty. According to the folk tradition, Khandoba and his consort Mahalsa are the equivalent to Siva and Parvati in the Sankskritic tradition. Khandoba is a deity known as the “killer of demons” and like Siva, this god is associated with the mountains (Dehejia 35). Mahalsa is a reincarnation of Mohini, whom Khandoba was deeply drawn too.

Parvati is adored by painters, poets, and musicians for her divine beauty. The goddess is worshiped in images both with and without Siva (Smith 52). Literature such as the Puranas is known to be one of the earliest and most popular depictions of Parvati. In this script, her life and relationship to Siva are expressed (Dehejia 43). The poet Kalidasa wrote Kumarasambhava, which describes the alluring devi. Along with literature, there are many songs written about Parvati that are mainly sung by women (Dehejia 57). Many women sing about the time in her life when the goddess left the home she was born in to her home in Kailasa. Along with literature and songs written about Parvati, there are also many images depicted of the goddess that are highly valued pieces of work. Temple images of Parvati and her consort Siva are worshipped four times a day (Smith 51). There exists special festivals in honor of Parvati. For example, in a temple once a year, the marriage of Siva and Parvati is re-enacted (Smith 52). The most popular marriage re-enactment occurs during the Caitra month (April-May). Another festival that honors the goddess occurs throughout nine days. This gathering, known as Navaratri, occurs in Asvayuja (October-November), and is said to be “her” time (Smith 51).

There are various images depicted of Parvati. Many images express the bond between Parvati and Siva. Some icons portray Siva as the possessor of Sakti (cosmic power), known as saktiman and Parvati as Sakti. One well known image of Parvati and Siva is the Ardhanarisvara. This image was developed in the 10th century and is made of sandstone (Dehejia 73). It depicts a half male and half female being, which accentuates the interdependent relationship between the goddess and her consort (Kinsley 50). Another icon of Parvati and Siva is known as the Wedding of Siva and Parvati, which was created in the 17th century and is made of ivory (Dehejia 82). In the image, Parvati is offering her right hand to Siva during their wedding ceremony. This icon represents the feelings of bliss and anticipation that were experienced during this festive day. Along with the many images depicted of Parvati and her unification with Siva, other illustrations relate to stories and songs in the Puranas, the Hindu culture, and other festivals and rituals (Dehejia 62).

Although Parvati has little responsibilities as a goddess, she has gained respect and adoration throughout India. The devi is a devoted mother and wife. She is worshiped for her exquisite charm and the love she shares with others (Kinsley 41). Thus, Parvati deserves recognition for representing all that beautiful, both physically and spiritually.


Dehejia, Harsha (1999) Parvati: Goddess of Love. New Jersey: Grantha Corporation

Foulston, Lynn (2002) At the Feet of the Goddess: The Divine Feminine in Local Hindu Religion. Portland: Sussex Academic Press

Kinsley, David R (1986) Hindu Goddesses: visions of the divine feminine in the Hindu Religious tradition. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press

O’Flaherty, Wendy Dowger (1973) Siva: The Erotic Ascetic. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Pintchman, Tracy (1994) The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press

Smith, Daniel H (1991) Handbook of Hindu Gods, Goddesses and Saints. New Delhi: Ashish Singhal for Sundeep Prakashan

Related Topics for Further Investigation:

  • Agni
  • Arjuna
  • Devi
  • Durga Puja
  • Dyaus- pitr
  • Ganesa
  • Indra
  • Kali
  • Rg Veda
  • Sakti
  • Siva
  • Soma
  • Surya
  • Mahabharata
  • Varuna
  • Vayu

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic:

Article written by: Genna Barsky (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

Siva (Erotic Nature)

Siva at South Indian Temple

Siva’s name has been derived from the Dravidian term for “red” and can also be translated as “auspicious” (Rodrigues 296). He is believed to have shared common characteristics with the Vedic god Rudra who was known to have a “shining exterior and a dark interior” (O’Flahertry 1969b:1). Along with sharing some characteristics with Rudra, Siva is also thought to share characteristics with the Vedic gods Indra and Agni because Indra is thought to be the phallic god of fertility and Agni is believed to be the god of heat [Agni is accurately referred to as the god of fire, however, Siva uses heat as energy therefore “heat” is used in this case to characterize Agni instead of fire (O’Flaherty 1969b:3)]. Siva is regarded as the destroyer (Clooney and Long 2). Therefore, by encompassing the features of a destroyer, Siva is identified as part of the trimurti or the Hindu Trinity [on the trimurti see Woodburne 1925. The trimurti is also comprised of Brahma (the Creator) and Visnu (the Preserver)]. As the destroyer, Siva is often depicted in images as being dressed in animal skins with long matted hair from which the goddess Ganga flows (Rodrigues 296).

According to the Puranic myths, Siva is an intense ascetic generating tremendous inner heat to the point where ash is said to be flowing through him (Rodrigues 296) [the Puranas are a composition of many “Sanskrit verses dealing with every subject under the Indian sun” (O’Flaherty 1973: 1)]. Along with having ash flow through him, Siva has been able to create tapas through his extreme yogic practices. Tapas can be defined as a potentially destructive or creative heat that can be derived through severe ascetic practices (O’Flaherty 1969a: 301)]. The Puranic myths of Siva, however, reveal that Siva in fact displays dualistic characteristics (Rodrigues 296). Along with being an ascetic, Siva is also revealed to be an erotic lover (Rodrigues 296 and O’Flaherty 1973: 5). However, since Siva is most commonly depicted as an ascetic, this article will focus on Siva as the erotic lover.

A common value in Hinduism is renouncing from all material and pleasurable things and surrendering to God (Rodrigues 155). On the other hand, begetting offspring as a householder in order to ensure that one’s lineage is carried on is also a crucial element of Hinduism. Clearly attending to both of these requirements is unattainable. Consequently, a compromise between the two has to be made and according to the Puranic myths, Siva does just that (O’Flaherty 1969a: 301).

Siva is referred to as being “ithyphallic “because he is often depicted with an erect phallus (Rodrigues 296). This erection is in fact the result of his “creative power.” Thus Siva is often worshiped by devotees in the form of the phallus (linga) (Rodrigues 296). The erect phallus typically symbolizes chastity and not eroticism because Siva is able to retain his semen. This ensures that there will be future creation. (O’Flaherty, 1969a: 311).

Siva embodies two types of heat according to O’Flaherty (1969b:5). One is tapas and the other is kama – the heat of desire [the Vedic god Agni is often personified as Kama]. Many myths about Siva are a combination of tapas and kama (O’Flaherty 1973: 90). It is said that Siva was the enemy of Kama because Kama was the opposite force of Siva. In one variation of a Puranic myth, it was said that the sage Himalaya attempted to coerce Siva to marry his daughter

Parvati, and Siva responded by saying that an ascetic, or a yogi should never come into contact with a woman because it conflicts with his chastity (O’Flaherty 1973: 141, 1969: 309). Another Purana says that in order for Siva to marry, Kama shot arrows into Siva’s heart that caused him to develop a desire for Parvati and this then lead to the many lustful feelings that Siva began to develop (O’Flaherty 1973: 145).

A very common myth surrounds Siva in the Pine Forest; however there are innumerable variations of this myth. In the Pine Forest, lived seven sages and their wives (O’Flaherty 1973: 172). Siva entered this forest naked with an erect phallus (O’Flaherty 1973: 172). There are many variations as to why Siva had entered the forest with an erect phallus, but in order to accent his eroticism, only one will be examined. It has been said that Siva entered the forest in guise of an ascetic when in fact he was truly aroused by the wives (O’Flaherty 1973: 173). O’Flaherty (1973: 173) wrote that Siva had entered the forest naked because he was not being sexually satisfied by his wife Parvati and therefore he wanted to seduce the wives. A similar version outlines that upon noticing that Siva was arousing the seven wives, the sages announced that Siva’s penis was to fall off (O’Flaherty 1973: 178). After the penis had fallen off, it began to burn everything in sight. The gods then asked Parvati to take the form of a vagina to hold the penis in place so it could be worshiped by all, and this in turn lead to the formation of the linga [for an in-depth look into the curse made upon Siva see O’Flaherty 1980]. These examples demonstrate that Siva is in fact highly erotic, and the use of the phallus is eminently prominent (O’Flaherty 1973, 1980).

Another Purana tells the myth of Siva seducing Mohini. Visnu had taken the form of a beautiful woman named Mohini in order to retrieve the soma (am intoxicating plant (Rodrigues 67)) from the demons (O’Flaherty 1973: 228). After retrieving the nectar, Visnu was approached by Siva and Parvati, and Siva had asked Visnu to show him the disguise of Mohini. Upon showing him the disguise, Siva became aroused and by embracing Mohini, his semen fell to the ground (O’Flaherty 1973: 228). It seems evident that Siva is not ashamed or withdrawn about his sexuality even with the presence of his wife.

Having an erotic god would seem like a problem because brahmacarya (celibacy) plays a large role in the lives of many Hindus [On the role that brahmacarya plays, see Rodrigues 132). It has been theorized that Siva is worshiped by Hindus all around the world because he is able to occupy contradictory roles (O’Flaherty 1973: 3). Siva is able to remain chaste in order for world creation to carry on and he is also able to play the role of the erotic lover to demonstrate that everyone has sexual urges and finding the right balance in between is the key. Even though Siva’s roles are truly contradictory, he is still seen as “whole” to his devotees (O’Flaherty1969a:301).



Clooney, Fred W. And J. Bruce Long (1983) “Introduction to the Religious Experience in Saiva

Thought and Literature” in Experiencing Shiva, edited by F. Clooney and J. Bruce Long,

Missouri: South Asia Books.

O’Flaherty, Wendy D. (1969a) “Asceticism and Sexuality in the Mythology of Siva: Part 1.”

History of Religions 8: 300-337.

O’Flaherty, Wendy D. (1969b) “Asceticism and Sexuality in the Mythology of Siva: Part 2.”

History of Religions 9: 1-41.

O’Flaherty, Wendy D. (1973) Siva: The Erotic Ascetic. London: Oxford University Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy D. (1980) “Dionysus and Siva: Parallel Patterns in Two Pairs of Myths.”

History of Religions 20: 81-111.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The eBook. An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist

Ethics Online Books.

Woodburne, A.S. (1925) “The Idea of God in Hinduism” Journal of Religion 5: 52-66.

Related Topics for Further Investigation









Pine Forest myths




Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Ashika Singh (April 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Mahasivaratri (Great Night of Siva Festival)

Maha Sivaratri is a Hindu festival of devotion to the diety Siva. It is celebrated by Hindus who worship Siva as their primary deity. Maha Sivaratri mans “the Great Night of Siva” and it is the fourteenth lunar night (Chaturdasi) of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Phalgun. This typically falls between February and March. There are a number of myths regarding the origin of Sivaratri and most of the stories can be found in the Puranas.

Siva has been worshiped in India since ancient times. He has been worshiped in the form of the Sivalinga or jyorti-linga symbolically representing the jyoti or flame of fire. “Siva is the one of the highest gods of the Hindu pantheon” (Mukherji, 35). Although Siva is known as a destroyer he has numerous other characteristics. His names include Mahadeva, “The Great God” and the name Siva means auspicious God. “Among the Hindu triumvirate, Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver and Shiva is considered the destroyer (Thakur and Roa, 01).

The date of origin of Mahasivaratri is as anonymous as the origin of the Hinduism. The word Sivaratri appears in the Mahabharata and in certain Puranas such as Garuda, Padma, Skanda and Agni Puranas (Welbon and Glenn, 192).

According to the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, which is believed to be apocryphal, the Sivaratri vow was put into the Bhishma’s mouth. “Bhishma was the octogenarian leader of the Kuru forces in the great battle of Kurukshetra.” “According to the legend thus put into the mouth of the dying hero, the fast of Sivaratri was first publicly observed by King Chitra Bhanu” who was the king ruling over the whole of Jambu-Dwipa(ancient name of India) (Mukherji, 39).

As King Chitra Bhanu was on a holy fast on the day of Sivaratri, one of his sages, Ashta-Bakra came on a visit and questioned his abstaining. He told Ashta-Bakra that in his previous life he was a hunter by the name Suswar. He made his living by hunting and killing animals and selling them in the markets to feed his family. On one occasion as he wandered through the forest, he failed to realize that darkness had rolled around and he was unable to go back home. In order to shelter himself he climbed up the bilva (wood-apple) tree. He had hunted a deer that day but he could not take it home to feed his family. He thought of his hungry family and wept. His tears along with the leaves of the bilva tree landed on the linga (Lord Siva). Lord Siva regarded this as an offering from one of his devotees. The next morning as he returned home he bought some food by selling the deer that he hunted in the previous day. A stranger appeared at his doorstep and begged for food before he could eat any himself. Suswar then fed the stranger before he was going to break his own fast. Unknowingly Suswar accomplished the proper observance that Sivaratri requires, a day of fasting and serving food to a Brahman. Suswar lived many years without any idea of the spiritual gain that he attained by accomplishing the Sivaratri Vrata (Ascetic observance on the Night of Siva). When the afterlife came, he learned that he had been blessed and was rewarded with a grand life. According to the Mahabharata, Suswar lived in Siva loka(realm of Siva) for thousands of years and also lived in Indra loka or (realm of Indra)- the heaven, and Brahma loka or (realm of Brahma) the higher heaven. Finally he was promoted to Vaikunda-the realm of the highest heaven (Mukherji, 43).

In the Puranic accounts, Siva married the golden Parvati and tells her that this day is remarkably valued him. Therefore, those who perform the prescribed ascetic observance on this day will be freed from all sins. According to the myths of the Siva Purana, the gods Vishnu and Brahma wanted to know who between them the superior power was. This let them to fight each other Siva intervened as a jyoti (Flame of fire) to make them realize the futility of their fight (Thakur and Roa, 01).

According to another legend in the Siva Purana, during Samudra Manthan(the churning of the ocean) by the Asuras and the Devas, Halalak (a highly toxic poison) came out from the ocean and it was capable of destroying the entire creation. Visnu advised the Devas and the Asuras to prey to Siva for their lives. Siva drank the poison and it lodged in his throat; thus Lord Siva is known as Nilakantha (the Blue Throated). In order to dissipate the poison Siva had to stay awake the whole night.The Devas and Asuras prayed the whole night in the vigil. Pleased with their devotion, Nilakantha declared that whoever worshiped him on that day would have their wishes fulfilled.

Celebration of Mahasivaratri

The celebration of Sivaratri differs from place to place, and actual practices also differ depending on the circumstances (Welbon and Yocum 203). For example, in Chennai (Madras) people usually limit themselves to fasting, keeping awake, and listening to stories of Mahasivaratri. However in other places such as Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh Mahasivaratri is celebrated as their royal family festival and their rites of worship are more elaborate (Thakur and Roa, 04). “In certain parts of India people still drink a concoction called bhang, prepared by pouring water over hemp leaves and adding almonds, rose leaves, opium etc (Welbon and Yocum, 204)”. They believe that this is the favourite beverage of Siva.

On Sivaratri day, devotees awake at sunrise and purify them with a bath in the Ganga River or in the sacred water at their local temple. Purification is not only for their body, but also it involves a mental, moral, and spiritually by cleansing by calming certain qualities within them (Manohar 200). During the day devotees will fast; the types of fasting differ from person to person according to their circumstances. Some devotees will fast the whole day and others will get one light meal (vegetarian food mostly fruits and milk). They may spend their day repeating mantra (japa of Om namo sivaya) and Meditation. At night they conduct a Vigil and rites such as offering bilva (wood apple) leaves, water, and milk. The rituals involved abhiseka (bath to the Sivalinga), and offering of Puspa (flower), dhupa (incense), dipa (flame), naivedya (food). The next day devotees must entertain a stranger or guest with offerings of food and gift. This is said to accomplish the custom of Mahasivaratri and devotees believe they will receive blessing from Siva himself.

Fasting, Vigil, and Puja

Fasting, vigil, and puja (Prayer) are the most important religious observance among the devotees of Sivaratri. In order to achieve the successful outcome of Sivaratri, the devotees must prepare themselves physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually by cultivation of certain merits such as ten set of injunction in the Kalanirnaya of Madhva(Patmury, 1994);

1. Ahimsa (non-violent), it is a rule of conduct that prevent the killing or injuring of living beings. “It is closely connected with the notion that all kinds of violence entail negative karmic consequences (Wikipedia)”.

2. Satya (Truthfulness) which includes refraining from false witness. It is a term of power due to its purity and meaning.

3. Akrodha (freedom from anger) keeping the mind free from feelings of anger, jealous and hatred (Patmury, 1994).

4. Bramacarya (Celibacy) is true love of God, its include being celibacy in mind. Body and mind should wander from though of God (Patmury, 1994).

5. Daya (compassion) is being sympathy. It means ‘suffering in the suffering of all beings’

6. Ksama (forbearance) is being patience, forgiveness or quietude.

7. Santatman (calmness of mind) is being peacefulness and surrender to the God. Accepting happy and pain equally or accepting victory and defeat equally.

8. Krodhahina (Devoid of fits of passion) mind and thoughts completely focuses on God.

9. Tapas (Austerities) fasting, wakefulness, and concentration (Patmury, 1994).

10. “Drohahina (free from malice) destroying all corrupting influences (Patmury, 1994)”.

According to Sivapurana (a legend of Siva), Upavasa (fasting the whole day) is the most important worship of deity Siva, and there is a special significance of the six essential items are used in the worship of Siva in the festival of Sivaratri puja.

1. Ritual bathing of Sivalinga with water, milk, honey, and bilva (wood apple) leaves.

2. The vermilion paste applied on the Sivalinga

3. Offering of fruits symbolizes long life and indulgence of desires.

4. Burning of incents sticks surrender the wealth.

5. The lighting of the lamp symbolizes attainment of knowledge

6. Offering of betel leaves marks satisfaction with worldly pleasures.

“The fasting and keeping vigilare symbolic of the control of the senses so that they may be restrained from wandering in search of deluding objects (Patmury, 1994)”. Keeping vigil also means waiting for the self-revelation of the Lord. It is also means that awaken from the darkness. Awake from the darkness is believed to be the attainment of self- realization (Atman).


Mahasivaratri unifies the many different life and experience in the life of Hindus, not only in the community but also in the relationship between God and worshippers. As we know, in the Hindu tradition, Brahmin worships the God representing the entire community of worshipers. Though, in the festival of Sivaratri all men and women gain permission to perform the ritual rites from the brahmins regardless of their class or caste system. It symbolizes that all human being are equal. Further, by undergoing preliminary purification rites of physical and spiritual purification with “holy water” and “sacred mantras” the relationship between god and devotees even become closer. Man became a giver and God become a receiver of devotees’ offerings, which open up the channels of power and mutual relatedness between God and Men. The channel between God and men blocked the selfish desire and false notation. Finally, the miserable forces of sin and guilt are destroyed by the production of auspicious forces.

The festival of Sivaratri begins with the grave vow and accomplishes with the prayers, request for compassion and thanks giving. Devotees of Siva believe that pure love of God is a way of achieving moksa (self-realization).

According to J.H.M. Yinger’s definition of religion, “Religion, then, can be defined as a system of beliefs and practices by means of which a group of people struggles with these ultimate problems of human life. It expresses their refusal to capitulate to death, to give up in the face of frustration, to allow hostility to tear apart their human association… the quality of view implies two things: first a belief that evil, pain, bewilderment and injustice are fundamental factors of existence; and second, a conviction that man can ultimately be saved from these facts (Patmury, 1994)”.

According to the Hindus believe, as a destroyer, deity Siva destroys the bad sins, and provide welfare for the worshipers who accomplish the vow of the Sivaratri; thus, devotees live more peaceful, more loving with giving and sharing. Therefore, celebrating the festival of Mahasivaratri helps human lives become more peaceful and joyful, and it leads to have a healthful life, which means festivals are not only the believes of particular society, they are the way of life to being part of the world.


Welbon, Guy and Yocum, Glenn (1982) Studies on Religion in South India and Sri Lanka, Volume 1: Religious festivals in South India and Sri Lanka. lucknow: Perm Printing Press.

Mukherji, A.C (1989) Hindu Fasts and feasts .New Dhelhi: India. Efficient offset Printers.

Thakur, Anita and Rao, Nalini (2000) Maha Sivaratri: A Study in South Asian Woman’s forum

Vanlaltlani, T and Patmury, Joseph (1994) Sivaratri: An Indian festival of Repentance. Doing theology with the festivals and customs of Asia, Singapore. pp 59-68


Written by Saga Perinpasivam (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Trika Saivism

Trika Saivism is a sect that developed in Kashmir around 8th-9th century, but it is not certain that it had its origins there. Prior to the 8th century, Kashmir has been an important Buddhist cultural center. In this region, many Asian religions intersected and impacted each other over the years. Political expansion and cultural consolidation made Kashmir fertile for Saivism in the 8th and 9th century. Saivism in the area was reconsolidated and took two main directions: one led by Vasagupta, focusing on the “vibration” of Siva and his consciousness; and the other, led by Somananta dealing with the idea of “recognition”. These two traditions taken together are referred to as Trika. In the 10th and 11th centuries, right before Kashmir came under the influence of Muslims, Trika Saivism reached its peak under Abhinavagupta. (see Larson* 372-3)

As its name indicates, the god that is worshiped in this religious philosophy is Siva. Although Kashmir Saivism is often equated with the Trika School, there are actually several Siva schools that developed in Kashmir. (see Benard 372). Trika is a school of monistic idealism, which refers to Consciousness being the one and only reality. It teaches that one can find Siva’s omnipresence at the intersection between any two states of awareness, no matter how opposite they appear to be. The concept of Siva as Consciousness is a critique of Advaita Vedanta and other Vedic traditions. It draws from teachings from srutis such as the Bhairava Tantra [tantras on meditation], the Siva Sutras [also known as Mahesvara Sutras, revealed to Panini by Siva in his sleep; probably one of the most important texts of Kashmir Saivism] and Gitartha Samgraha [this translation of Bhagavat Gita helps explain its external meaning and the effects it has on the individual’s inner well-being]. The primary god in Trika Saivism is Paramasiva, which means “Supreme Auspiciousness”, which also has an active and creative

side, named Sakti. Siva, through his many functions, liberates polluted souls by making them pure and able to achieve moksa. (see Good 281).

Eastern sages focus on certain crucial functions of consciousness: sustenance, reabsorption, creation, concealment and revelation.Absolute Consciousness or Siva is interpreted as active and dynamic, rather than a passive and non-interfering entity, such as found in Buddhism or other philosophical systems. For instance, the positive outcome that Siva has on our consciousness and livelihood , contrasts with the concepts of “emptiness” and “illusion” found in Buddhist metaphysics. Kashmir Saivism expands on the two concepts of “vibration” and “recognition”. Siva resonates through all of our activities and we must eventually “recognize that our nature and the whole world is nothing else than the Absolute Consciousness or Siva(see Larson 259). Abhinavagupta taught that Absolute Consciousness or Siva is reflected in our every action and leads to a fuller and more concrete understanding of the meaning of our life. In context, the Advaita school uses language to move one towards a more abstract understanding of consciousness (see Larson* 383)

Vasagupta wrote out the Kashmiri philosophies a few centuries after Sankara formed his Advaita Vedanta school. Although both are non-dualist and similar at a first glance, after a closer examination we can find several key distinctions. Trika Saivism focuses on the Absolute as all encompassing beings (i.e, Siva), rather than on Brahman which is uncharacterizable. They also perceive everyday experiences as real, not as maya or illusion, as according to Advaita Vedanta. The textual authorities in Trika Saivism are the Saiva Agamas, not the triad of the Vedanta Sutras, the Upanisads and the Bhagavagita, like in the case of Sankara’s school. Because Kashmir Saivism is a non-dualist school, they focus more on internalized contemplation and not as much on external dsplays of devotion (see Davis 425).

The founder of Trika Saivism was Vasugupta and the most influential teacher was Abhinavagupta whose writings include the Tantraloka. These were only some of the sages who developed the “Philosophy of Recognition”, also known as the Pratyabhijna Darsana. They perceive Siva not as the destroyer god, as he is known by most people, but as a presence that is within all of us and in everything we do. According to Abhinavagupta, the main reason for human suffering is our own ignorance, which is not an “illusion” as it is understood in Buddhism and Vedanta teachings. Trika Saivas refer to ignorance as incomplete knowledge. We need to expand our consciousness to understand the cause for our ignorance in order to surpass it. Once a person gains insight and is one with Siva, only then can he or she achieve moksa, or ultimate liberation. This is liberation not only from the world, but also from one’s own limited nature, freeing one to reflect the intentions of Siva through their own actions. In order to gain universal knowledge and leave behind one’s selfish nature, Abhinavagupta offers four paths together with certain tantric rituals that accompany these(see Wulff 675-6).

The Tantraloka expands on all three branches of non-dual Kashmir Saivism: Agama, Spanda and Pratyabhijna, but in a synthesized form. Although Vasagupta played the key role in developing the basic tenents of Trika, his follower, Abhinavagupta is generally recognized as the more influential figure in Kashmir Saivism. Though centuries of development, the non-dualist Kashmir Saivism increasingly focused on Siva, rather than all the other deities in the Hindu pantheon. Research does not uncover a linear progression of Siva groups, making it difficult to trace their historical development.

There have been no rituals or traditions found in any form of text left behind from these Saiviste groups. The only inscriptions left behind have been the ones on temples or the Siva symbol itself, seen as a influential and frightful figure.

Although it rejected the world view of other influential traditions at the time, such as Buddhism, for example, Trika still incorporated some aspects into its rituals or beliefs. Many of the texts that they drew their concepts from were dualistic, so Trika reinterpreted them in a non-dualistic manner and then incorporated them into Saivism.

In Kashmir, there was more than one form of Saivism. Among these were: Trika, Kula and Krama. Trika and Kaula are Siva-oriented, whereas Krama is Sakti oriented. Kula and Krama are both tantric systems giving them a mystical aspect and making Saivism be understood as monistic. To them the subject of reality relative, hence taking a dualistic or non-dualistic stance is irrelevant. Kula and Trika seek immediate self-realization which make it harder to achieve, according to Krama supporters.

Trika Saivism originally was a cremation cult, with monistic basis which appealed to the Brahmans and they reinterpreted it in a non-dualistic way according to Hindu main traditions.


Davis, Richard (1990) The Doctrine of Vibration: An Analysis of the Doctrines and Practices of Kashmir Shaivism”. History of Religion

Good, Anthony (2002) “Congealing Divinity: Time, Worship and Kinship in Souoth Indian Hinduism”. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Larson, Gerald James (1976) “The Aesthetic (Rasasvada) and the Religious ( Brahmasvada) in Abhinavagupta’s Kashmir Saivism”. Philosophy East and West

Larson, Gerald James(1997) “Kashmir Saivism: The Central Philosophy of Tantrism”. Philosophy East and West.

Wulff, Donna M. (1986) “Religion in a New Mode: The Convergence of the Aesthetic and the Religious in Medieval India”. Journal of the American Academy of Religion.

Related Topics for Further Investigation:

Advaita school


Bhairava Tantras



Websites related to topic

Written by Ana Mosoi (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content

Skanda (The God of War)

Skanda (Karttikeya), 5th century, Gupta Period (Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi)
Skanda (Karttikeya), 5th century, Gupta Period (Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi)

Also known as Kumara, Subrahmanya, and Murukan, Skanda “has been hunter, warrior, philosopher… He is teacher… He is the eternal child as old as time itself” (Clothey 2005b:1). Obeyesekere writes that Skanda is viewed as possessed of having six faces, twelve arms, and riding a peacock (382). Throughout Skanda’s history, he has been worshipped for several different reasons. He has been worshipped “as a god of hill and hunt… and avenger of ananku and cur, malevolent spirits of the hills” (Clothey 2005a:6240). During the Cankami period of Tamil India “Murukan was known … as the lord of the hunt” (Clothey 2005b:36). According to Clothey, he has also been worshiped in South India as the son of Siva (Clothey 2005a:6240). Through this several other deities related to vegetation and hunting embodied the name Murukan (Clothey 2005b:36). Clothey also writes that the name Murukan has become commercialized with an array of different industries using his name, for songs and films (Clothey 2005b:1).


Skanda’s origin comes from several different epics, most prominently from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The story of Skanda in the Mahabharata is quite long and can be summarized as follows. Indra, god of lightning and thunder and general of the devas, rescued a damsel named Devasena, who wanted a husband that could protect her. Indra felt the Agni, god of fire, had the ability to generate a son suitable to be Devasena’s husband. Agni went to Brahma, the creator god, for his help. While with Brahma and through the aid of seven rsis, seers, thought to compose the Vedas, Agni fell in love with the rsis wives. Svaha, a nymph, loved Agni. She tricked him by assuming the form of six of the rsis wives. After each session of intercourse with Agni, Svaha turned into a garuda bird and carried his semen to Mt. Sveta, where she deposited it into a golden pot, in a place covered with sara reeds. Kumara (Skanda) was born and was strong enough for battle within six days. The gods fearing Kumara would become more powerful than Indra, enticed Indra to slay him. Indra, trying to slay Kumara with his vajra [thunderbolt], managed to only cut off a portion of Kumara’s right side. Through this side of Kumara, Visakha was born bearing a sakti [lance], which causes Indra to surrender. The gods are pleased with how fearless Kumara was. Through the same piece of Kumara that Visakha was born, several more children were then born coming forth to serve Skanda’s army (Clothey 2005b:51-53).

Clothey writes that “Skanda thus comes to be known as a father, and persons wishing children are exhorted to worship him” (Clothey 2005b:52). The story continues with Skanda declaring Svaha to be his mother, and with Brahma’s advice, identifies Rudra “the howler” as his father. Rudra along with Indra, Varuna, the god of the heavens and water, and Yama, the god of death, come to welcome Kumara in a procession. As Kumara is leaving a Deva – Asura, god and demon, battle begins. Mahisa, the chief of the Asuras was causing the Devas to flee, and is about to crush Rudra’s chariot when Kumara comes to his aid and kills Mahisa with his sakti. This story also shows events in a span of Skanda’s life. He is conceived on the first day, visible on the second day, takes form of a child on third day, grows limbs and becomes the general of the army on the fourth day. He bears Siva’s bow, and is regarded by the devas as the one to save their cosmos on the fourth day, and he takes his emblems of war on the sixth day (Clothey 2005b:51-53). This is one account of the origin of Skanda. The author Vyasa, is represented to be the composer of the Mahabharata.

Another foundation of Skanda’s beginning comes from Valmiki’s Ramayana. Valmiki tells the story to Rama and Laksmana, two young princes. His telling of the story encourages the young princes to heroic aspirations (Clothey 2005b:53). The summary of the story is as follows. Rudra marries Uma, daughter of Mt. Himavat. One hundred years pass and no son is born to them. The devas like it this way, and fearing that a son born to Rudra would be more powerful then them, they plead with Rudra to not have a son. Rudra’s seed however remains on the ground. Dhara, the earth, can bear his sons. Because of this, the devas ask Agni and Vayu, the wind god, to enter Rudra’s seed. Through Rudra’s seed Mt. Sveta is created, and on Mt. Sveta, in the forest, Kumara is born (Clothey 2005b:53-54).

A variation to the story above, also in the Ramayana, begins with Rudra retiring as the general of the army. With no one left to lead, Brahma asks Agni to give his seed, along with the waters of the Ganga River to Uma to bear a son. Unable to contain the power of the waters a flood of golden seed escapes from Uma. This golden flood turns everything in its path into gold. In a golden forest Kumara is born (Clothey 2005b:53-54).

The Ramayana epic also tells how those who worship Skanda will “attain long life, happiness in the family, and ultimate union with the god” (Clothey 2005b:54). How Skanda received some of his names is also recorded in this epic. One of his names Gangeya was given to him because he came from the Ganges water. He gets the name Karttikeya because he was raised by the Krttikas (Clothey 2005b:54).

One of the books of the Mahabharata depicts who Skanda would embrace as a father. Vyasa writes that Rudra, Parvati, she of the mountain, Agni, and Ganga each claim to be Skanda’s parent. In order to embrace all these gods Skanda assumes four forms: Sakha, Visakha, Naigamaya and Skanda. Sakha embraces Ganga, Naigamaya to Agni, Visakha to Parvati, and Skanda to Rudra. The devas give Skanda gifts. He receives a dart and banner from Indra, an army of 30,000 warriors from Siva, a cloth from Uma, a garland from Visnu, along with several other gifts from other gods (Clothey 2005b:55). These accounts of Skanda in the epics are but a few of the rich and varied myths telling of Skanda origins.

The worshipers of Skanda in Tamil India celebrate a festival in October or November called Skanda-Sasti. It is celebrated for seven days reenacting the six day cycle of the gods vocation. Sasti is the sixth day of the lunar cycle, representing the sixth day of the god. Sasti is also important because according to the myth of Skanda, he is born on the night of a new moon. Sasti is also the name of Skanda’s wife. She is known “as the giver of lingering (yapya) disease” (Clothey 2005a:242). Clothey writes that the event takes place through “rhythmical patterns” (Clothey 2005a:242). Some of these patterns are repeated daily. Priests preside over each ritual on each day of worship. One such ritual is the lighting of oil lamps. These lamps represents the “the emergence of the god and the cosmos from primordial darkness” (Clothey 2005a:244). Another daily ritual is the reciting of Skanda’s 1,008 different names. Reciting his names reenacts the words that were uttered at the beginning, thus bringing the divinity of Skanda into current time. One of the high points in the festival is the ornamenting the sacred symbol of Skanda. This is known as vastram. The next step is adorning the symbol. This can be done through offerings of song, holy ash or vermillion. These rhythmical steps occur once to twice a day during the Skanda-Sasti festival.

Skanda is the most popular deity in Tamil Nadu , a state in South India. “Three of the six busiest and wealthiest temples in Tamil Nadu are dedicated to Murukan” (Clothey 2005b:1). Gananath Obeyesekere conducted research in Tamil Nadu which shows that the Skanda deity is the most popular in that area. He found that a total of 1,956 of 2,670 worshipers went to the Skanda shrines over the next three most popular shrines (Obeyesekere 379). Obeyesekere’s research also shows that “for every one person visiting the Visnu and Pattini shrines there are five and six persons respectively, visiting the Skanda shrine” in Tamil India (Obeyesekere 379). His research shows that the popularity of Skanda has been on the rise, and continues to rise.

References and Further Recommended Readings

Clothey, Fred (1969) Skanda-Sasti: a Festival in Tamil India. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Obeyesekere, Gananath (1977) Social Change and the Deities: Rise of the Kataragama Cult in Modern Sri Lanka. London: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

Clothey, Fred (1987 and 2005a) Murukan. Detroit, Macmillan Reference USA

Clothey, Fred (2005b) The Many Faces of Murukan. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

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Written by Matt Marchesin (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.