Saivism is known to be the oldest and the most dominant sect of Hinduism sect alongside with Vaisnavism, they are centered on the two supreme deities (Rudra-Siva and Visnu) respectively who are recognized in most established, significant Hindu literature (Gonda 64). In Saivism, the worship of the deity Siva maybe traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization (Rodrigues 212). However, in the Rg Veda, there was no mention of Siva; instead, he was first introduced as Rudra the “Howler.” Rudra-Siva is known as the God of Storms, destroyer of cattle and human beings (Rodrigues 212). Siva is worshipped through a linga (phallic emblem) that could be traced to the 1st century BC and is mentioned in the Mahabharata; however, in the Ramayana, there were less encounters with Siva compared to Visnu. Siva’s powers are often viewed by how destructive he is during battle. The deity is often referred as a Lord, master and many-sided (Gonda 13).

The sect emphasises the worship of Siva. Going more into depth, Siva is regarded by many as the Supreme Deity in Hinduism realm. Rudra was first introduced as the chief of an indefinite host of manifestation of a deity (Gonda 4). Siva is considered to be a complex deity throughout the Rg Veda. Both Visnu and Siva are known to be ambiguous figures based on their background. On one hand, Siva demonstrates strong heroic attributes and represents as a Supreme Deity; however, on the other hand, he is looked at as a deva (powerful demon) and the God of Storms. This demonstrates that both deities embody divine like qualities (Gonda 12). As mentioned before, Siva is a complex deity because of the different identities he holds. Throughout history, the deity is claimed many different names during different periods; for example, in the earliest school, Pasupatas, Siva is claimed to be Pasupati (Lord of the Cattle). Throughtout the Rg Veda, Siva was first regarded as Rudra. However, the name Siva is commonly used throughout different texts and literature.

Saivism is still a huge sect in Hinduism today. Temples and shrines are still placed in India today to worship deity Siva. Over time, there have been many schools that have developed. Visnu and Siva are often compared to another based on their placements in the Epics. Siva is perceived in many different forms, making him known as many-sided; however, Siva is regarded as one of the most important deity and Supreme being. The linga is a key symbol in this sect, as it appears in many temples and shrines. The linga is a representation of a male presence; the representation of Siva could be depicted through many different interpretations. The sect can be broken down too many different branches, such as the trantic groups Kalamukha and Kapalikas, that are no longer present, but made an impact in modernity. Saivism is dominant even to this day and is one of the most popular sects in Hinduism.

The worship of Siva takes place throughout temples and shrines made at home containing different images (Flood 151-152). The temples are most sacred to many Saivites, and different blessings radiate from the emblem depending on the location of the temple. Most temples, shrines, and sanctuaries contain different symbols and images; however they all worship the Supreme Deity, Siva. As mentioned before, the Saiva temples are consistent in Siva being worshipped through the form of a linga and in association yoni (womb) which is the female association; though the meaning of the symbol is up to interpretations (Holm 92). The symbol is usually depicted through temples and a linga and also what seems to be the face of Lord Siva represented with four or five faces. The five different faces are to represent the five elements of the universe. In some cases, the linga represents a “fiery column of light” (Holm 92-93). Every manifestation is presented through the linga making this emblem extremely important to the worship of Siva. It would be rare for a shrine or temple not to have one present. Linga was more commonly known with the non-Aryans, however throughout history and time, more and more individuals started to use the phallic emblem. As the worship of Siva has become more common throughout India, there are many festivals where worshippers sing and chant and offer devotions. Siva is depicted with his animal, Nandi, the Bull that symbolises fertility (Holm 93).

There are many schools of Saivism, but the earliest is a bhakti group known as the Kalamukha that derived from one of the first schools, the Pasupatas (Rodrigues 213). The Pasupatas maybe traced back to the 2nd century. Pasupati can translate to Pati (lord) of Pashus (cattle). As many schools and sects of Hinduism, each have their own set of stages in life. The Pasupatas stage of life starts with a period of moral development: this stage requires a devotee to gain a guru to have initiate them and to guide. The action of smearing ashes on their bodies thrice daily. Throughout this stage, the action of smearing ashes on their bodies thrice daily, as this is a ritual. Next, is their change of behaviour in the public sphere, which includes different speech and crude behaviour. Finally, they reached seclusion: this stage focuses on extreme mediation and is believed to have a final union with Rudra before the recognition of Siva being Rudra (Flood 156-159). The movement was influential in South India, however it gradually faded away as more Siva worshippers disagreed with some of their early rituals.

The Kalamukha “Black Face” first explored the realm of bhakti and ascetic (severe self-discipline) in some extreme form (Flood 154-156). They are considered to be extreme devotees of Siva. As mentioned before, modern Saivites do not agree with the old rituals of the Kalamukha. The Kalamukha emphasised the need for sacrificial rituals that contain both animals and humans. Their name of “Black Face” is most likely derived from their process of renunciation, where a black streak of ash is prominent on the individual’s forehead. Most of these devotees were found near temples where women stayed to attend to the offer patron deity and to a temple prostitution (Stefon 1). The earliest set of devotees of Siva, they are no longer present and gradually faded away as their rituals were not accepted by the majority of Saivites.

As modernity began to spread throughout India and the different major sects of Hinduism, more schools and comparisons began to pop up. Visnuism and Saivism are often compared to one another (Gonda 1). Another devotee group would be the Kapalikas known as “skull bearer”; they were also known for their very extreme rituals, such as cannibalism. This group of people worshipped Bhairava-Siva which led them to becoming a Saivite sect. They are known for eating from a skull bowl and worshipping the gods through a pot of wine (Lorenzen 8). Similar to the Kalamukhas, they covered themselves in funeral ashes. Both of these sects was shown hostility because of their crude practices. Both of these Saivite devotees are considered to be a tantric group (Lorenzen 37).

Most sects worshipping only one god are regarded monotheistic. There are divine figures that are worshipped to maintain good fortune and merit (Gonda 62); individuals come together to worship a deity in hopes of gaining both fortune and merit. There are many cult practices that contain higher deities which includes Siva. Siva urges the need for Saiva diksa (initiation into a Siva order) (Gonda 64). Most sects each share the similarity of trying to reach the final goal, which is final liberation. In order to reach this, the individual must initiate through a guru that is classified as a Brahman. All finalized initiation is considered to be a manifestation of Siva himself (Gonda 64). Gurus are an important role when reaching final liberation as they help their mentee with mantras (sacred utterances) through their process. After learning the mantras, the individual is now entitled to perform certain ritual rites. Reaching full purification is another life goal many want to achieve (Gonda 65). These stages are achieved through different ways, depending on the path the individual decides to take. Some achieve Brahman which is a key aspect to Saivism. Brahman is the supreme existence or the absolute reality one wants to achieve. Saivism explores the deity of Siva and many Hindus today follow this sect as it dominates throughout India today.



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

Gonda, Jan (1996) Visnuism and Sivaism. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Holm, Jean (1994) Picturing God. London: Printer Publishers.

Lorenzen, David Neal (1968) “The Kaplikas and Kalamukhas Two Lost Saivite Sect” The Australian National University 1-325. Accessed October 22, 2018.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2005) Hinduism The ebook: An Online Introduction Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online.


Related Topics for Further Investigation



Indus Valley Civilization

Rg Veda

The Epics







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Article written by: Jacqueline Paule (November 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.