The followers of Shaivism are called ‘Shaivas’ or ‘Shaivites’. They believe that Lord Shiva is the ultimate being and supreme God. According to the followers of Shaivism, Lord Shiva is the creator, destroyer, preserver, concealer and revealer. It is one of the oldest and one of the four major sects in Hinduism.
Scriptural Evidence of Shaivism
In the Rig Veda, Rudra is mentioned only in three suktas. He represents the destructive power of nature. He destroys men and animals but in the Rig Veda itself at some places he is described as a benevolent God. People pray to him for having children and being prosperous. In the Atharva Veda, the malignant aspect of Shiva is emphasized. He is called fearful and destroyer. He is described as having dark blue colour and is called the lord of animals. In the Yajur Veda, there are references to Rudra in two suktas i.e. Tryambaka-homa and Satarudriya.
In the Brahmanas, Rudra is called the chief of Gods i.e. Devadhipati, Lord Isana and the Great God Mahadeva. He is also called Bhutapati and is a dread figure who took over the dominion of Prajapati over all cattle. In the Svetasvatara Upanishad, Shiva is called the super God or Parabrahma and it is stated that with his power the Prakrti or Nature becomes active. In the Manavagrhya-sutra he is associated with the cremation ground. In the Apastamba Grhyasutra, Shiva is still classed among the minor Gods. In the Ramayana and the Mahabharata the full development of Shaivism can be seen.
Beliefs and Practices in Shaivism
Shaivism encompasses philosophical systems, devotional rituals, legends, mysticism and varied yogic practices. It has both monistic and dualistic traditions. Shaivites believe God transcends form, and devotees often worship Shiva in the form of a lingam, symbolizing the whole universe.
Sects of Shaivism
Major theological Schools of Shaivism include Kashmir Shaivism, Shaiva Siddhanta and Veerashaivism. While they all acknowledge Lord Siva as the Supreme Deity, they differ from one another in respect of other details such as the modes of worship, nature of Brahman, the nature of individual soul, the relationship between the two, the nature of reality and the means to liberation. These schools of Shaivism primarily fall under one of the three schools of Hindu philosophy, namely Advaita (monism), Vishishtadvaita (qualified monism) and Dvaita (dualism).
Spread of Shaivism
The Nayanars of southern India were poet saints who played an instrumental role between 6th and 8th century AD in popularizing the devotional worship of Lord Shiva among the rural people. Through devotional singing and public display of religious fervour, they preached the path of devotion to Shiva as an effective means to spread their message of divine love and surrender to God and inculcate among people the habit of religious worship and ethical living. The Shaiva tradition lists 63 Nayanars. Lakulisa, Vasugupta, Gorakhnath and Basavanna were some of the religious teachers, who played a prominent role in ensuring the continuation of Shaivism as a major religious sect in the Indian subcontinent.
Lord Shiva Temples in India
There are innumerable Shaivite temples and shrines. The 12 Jyotirlinga are among the most esteemed in Shaivism. Varanasi is considered the holiest city of all Hindus, especially Shaivites.