(Last Updated on : 20/01/2011)
Well known for their crude and gruesome religious practices, the Kapalikas were people who worshipped Siva. A 'kapalin' is a person who bears a skull and the Kapalikas always carried a skull as a begging bowl.
The Kapalikas drank liquor as part of their rituals as well as for the enjoyment of intoxication. They besmeared their bodies with the ashes of a corpse and always carried a trishula or trident and indulged in trantric practices. All the literary sources which mention the Kapalikas state that these people worshipped the deity Bhairava-Siva and his consort. They were also known as the Maha Vratins as they undertook many severe vows
It is generally believed that the cult of the Kapalikas originated in the Deccan area or in South India. The Sanskrit drama Mattavilasa Prahasana by the Pallava king, Mahendra Varman (600-630 A.D.) mentions the Kapalikas in his capital city Kanchipuram (75 km from Chennai, Tamil Nadu). The lead character in this farcical play is a Kapalin who lives in the Ekamreshwar: (Siva) temple in Kanchipuram. Appar.
The Buddhist work, Manimekhalai also makes a brief reference to these ascetics. Much information about the Kapalikas is seen from the biographies of the illustrious Advaita teacher Adi Sankara. Sankara's meeting with the Kapalika named Ugra Bhairava is mentioned in some of these works. By the 8th century A.D., the Kapalikas existed throughout the Deccan area. Their important centres were, besides Kanchi, in Mysore, western and central Maharashtra, Ujjain, the Gwalior region of Madhya Pradesh, Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. The Sriparvata area in Kurnool district appears to have been the headquarters of this sect.