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ABHINAVAGUPTA (fl. c. 9751025 ce), Kashmirian Śaiva theologian. Descended from Atrigupta, a brahman scholar brought to Kashmir from the Doab by King Lalitāditya (c. 724760 ce), Abhinavagupta was the son, conceived in Kaula ritual, of Vimalā and Narasihagupta. He lost his mother in early childhooda circumstance that he saw as the start of his spiritual progressand was trained by his learned Śaiva father in grammar, logic and hermeneutics. Later, when immersed in the study of the poetic arts, he became intoxicated with devotion to Śiva, and, giving up all thoughts of marriage and family, pursued the life of a student in the homes of numerous exponents of the various Śaiva traditions and their opponents.

Abhinavagupta's major works fall into four groups, treating the Trika, the Krama, the Pratyabhijñā, and aesthetics. In the field of the Trika his main effort went into the exegesis of the Mālinīvijayottara Tantra, which he saw not only as the fundamental scripture of the Trika but also as the essence of the entire Śaiva revelation in all its branches. In the Mālinīvijayavārttika he elaborated this claim, arguing for a "supreme nondualism" (paramādvayavāda ) that attributed to the Absolute as autonomous consciousness the power to contain both plurality and unity as the modes of its self-representation, and thereby demonstrated that the Trika, as the embodiment in revelation of this Absolute, transcends and contains the dichotomy between the orthodox (dualist) and heterodox (nondualist) directions in Saivism then confronting each other.

The monumental Tantrāloka, composed later, expounded all aspects of the Trika, theoretical, yogic, and ritual, while seeking to integrate within the catholic authority of the Mālinīvijayottara Tantra later, more heterodox developments, particularly the Krama-based cult of Kālī. Between these two works he composed the Parātriśikāvivaraa, in which he focused on the elite Kaula practices of the Trika. The Krama, strongly present in the Trika of Tantrāloka, was the object of independent study in his commentary on the Kramastotra (Krama Hymn) of the lineage of Jñānanetranātha. This either has not survived or has not yet come to light. Of Abhinavagupta's work on the Krama we have only his short Kramastotra and a quotation from an unnamed work in which he follows the Krama worship of the Devīpañcaśataka.

In the philosophical tradition of the Pratyabhijñā we have two masterly commentaries, the Īśvarapratyab-hijñāvimarśini on the Pratyabhijñākārikā of his teacher's teacher Utpaladeva, and the Īśvarapratyabhijñāvivti-vimarśinī on that author's lost auto-commentary on the same. Through the profound philosophical scholarship of these works the nondualistic tradition was fully equipped to justify its rejection of the dualism of the Śaiva Siddhānta, the illusionism of the Vedānta, and the lack of the concept of transcendental synthesis in the nondualistic idealism of the Yogācāra Buddhists, while seeing these positions as approximations to its own.

In the field of aesthetics Abhinavagupta achieved pan-Indian recognition for his commentaries on the Dhvanyāloka of Ānandavardhana, fortifying the latter's doctrine of the primacy of suggestion (dhvani ) in poetry, and on the Bharatanāyaśāstra. This second commentary, the Abhinavabhāratī, exhibits vast learning in the arts of drama, dance, and music, and is justly famous for its subtle theory on the nature of aesthetic experience as a distinct mode of cognition between worldly, appetitive awareness and the blissful interiority of enlightened consciousness. The study of aesthetics was traditional among the Śaivas of Kashmir, reflecting the importance of dance and music in their liturgies and the aestheticism of the Kaula mystical cults, which saw enlightenment not in withdrawal from extroverted cognition but in its contemplation as the spontaneous radiance of the self.

Abhinavagupta profoundly influenced the subsequent history of Śaivism in Kashmir, both directly and indirectly, through the simpler and more formulaic works of popularization produced by his pupil Kemarāja. The nondualistic doctrine which they expounded permanently colonized the cult of Svacchandabhairava, which was the basic Śaivism of the valley of Kashmir, and later it formed the basis of the Kashmirian cult of the goddess Tripurasundarī. This influence was not confined to Kashmir: Abhinavagupta's lineage established this tradition in Tamil Nadu, particularly at the great Śaiva center of Cidambaram, propagating the belief that Abhinavagupta was no mortal but an incarnation of Śiva himself. Many Sanskrit works by Tamils on the Trika, Krama, Pratyabhijñā, and Śrīvidyā (e.g. Kadāsa's Śivasūtravārttika and Parātriśikālaghuvttivimarśinī, the anonymous Īśvarapratyabhijñāvimarśinīvyākhyā, Maheś-varānanda's Mahārthamañjarīparimala, Tejānandanātha's Ānandakalpalatikā, Śivānanda's Nityāoaśikāravaju-vimarśini, Amtānanda's Yoginīh-dayadīpikā, and Śrīni-vāsa's Tripurārahasyajñānakhaavyākhyā ) maintained this tradition from the eleventh to the nineteenth century. Outside the Tantric Śaiva milieu the works of Abhinavagupta and Kemarāja provided the metaphysical infrastructure of the Ahirbudhnya Sahitā and Lakmī Tantra of the Pañcarātra Vainavas and inspired the Śaiva Vedānta of Śrīkaha, devotee of Śiva at Cidambaram.

See Also

Śaivism, articles on Krama Śaivism, Pratyabhijñā, Śaivism in Kashmir, Trika Śaivism.


Gnoli, Raniero, ed. The Aesthetic Experience according to Abhinavagupta. 2d rev. ed. Varanasi, 1968.

Pandey, Kanti Chandra. Abhinavagupta: An Historical and Philosophical Study. 2d ed., rev. & enl. Varanasi, 1963.

New Sources

Isaeva, N. V. From Early Vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism: Gaudapada, Bhartrhari, and Abhinavagupta. Albany, 1995.

Muller-Ortega, Paul Eduardo. The Triadic Heart of Siva: Kaula Tantricism of Abhinavagupta in the Non-dual Shaivism of Kashmir. Albany, 1989.

Alexis Sanderson (1987)

Revised Bibliography