The Pāśupatas were possibly the earliest, and certainly one of the most influential, of the Hindu religious sects dedicated to the god Śiva. The probable founder of this sect was called Lakulīśa, meaning "the lord [īśa ] with the club [lakula ]." According to several of the Purāṇas, and other sources as well, Lakulīśa was an incarnation of Śiva, who entered a human body in the village of Kāyāvataraṇa or Kāyārohaṇa, located in western India near the city of Broach. He had four disciples named (with variants) Kuśika, Gārgya, Kauruṣa, and Maitreya. Each of them established an important genealogy of religious preceptors. An inscription from Mathura of 380 ce mentions a Śaiva guru who was tenth in descent from Kuśika. Assuming that this Kuśika was his direct disciple, Lakulīśa must have lived in about the first half of the second century.
The Pāśupata sect seems to have died out by about the end of the fifteenth century. Nonetheless, its doctrines and practices are reasonably well known from two surviving Pāśupata texts: the Gaṇakārikā, attributed to Haradatta, with a commentary attributed to Bhāsarvajña (tenth century), and the Pāśupata Sūtra, with the commentary of Kauṇḍinya. Both of these texts are cited by Sāyaṇa-Mādhava (fourteenth century) in the chapter on this sect in his Sarvadarśanasaṃgraha. The influence of the Pāśupatas is evident in several Śaiva Purāṇas and in the late Atharvaśiras Upaniṣad, but the Pāśupata doctrines and practices described in these works differ considerably from those of the Gaṇakārikā and Pāśupata Sūtra.
The Pāśupatas were quite influential over much of South India from about the seventh to fourteenth centuries. The Kālamukhas, a closely related sect that also traced its foundation to Lakulīśa, controlled many temples and monasteries in the Karnataka region of the South during much of the same period. The ascetics of both sects actively participated in the revival of Śaivism that virtually eliminated Jainism and Buddhism from South India and competed successfully with the rival Hindu Vaiṣṇavas as well. As a result, even today Śiva remains the principal god of the Hindus of this region.
According to the Pāśupata Sūtra, the doctrine of the sect is based on the analysis of five major topics: effect (kāraṇa ), or the created universe; cause (kārya ), namely God; union (yoga ), the purposeful association of the individual soul with God; observance (vidhi ), ascetic and devotional practice; and end of sorrow (duḥkhānta ), or salvation. The Gaṇakārikā describes five different stages (avasthā ) in the adept's spiritual progress, each connected with a particular place, strength, impurity, purification, procedure, attainment, and aspect of initiation. In the first, "marked" (vyakta ) stage, the adept stays with his guru in a temple. In an act typical of Śaiva ascetics he daily "bathes" in ashes and offers six different acts of worship dedicated to Śiva. In the second, "unmarked" (avyakta ) stage, he leaves the temple to live among ordinary people and engages in the curious practices called "doors" (dvāra ), the aim of which is to earn the active contempt of the uninitiated populace. These practices include walking about as if sick or crippled, making "amorous" gestures toward women, and acting and talking as if without any wits. The ascetics thereby pass their own bad karman to their unsuspecting revilers while at the same time absorbing these revilers' good karman. The remaining three stages are basically progressive levels of spiritual enlightenment unrelated to external behavior.
As in the possibly related doctrine of the Saiva Siddhantins, the Pāśupatas make an ontological distinction between the individual soul (paśu ), God (pati ), and the fetters of this world (pāśa ). Their basic metaphysical position is thus both dualist and monotheistic. The grace of God is believed to be essential for salvation, which is conceived of as an intimate association of the soul with Śiva (Rudrāsayujya ). Several Pāśupata theologians were renowned as logicians (naiyāyika s).
A documented review of modern scholarship on the Pāśupatas is found in my study The Kāpālikas and Kālāmukhas: Two Lost Śaivite Sects (Berkeley, Calif., 1972). See also The Pāśupata-sūtram with Pañchārtha-Bhāṣya of Kauṇḍinya, translated by Haripada Chakraborti (Calcutta, 1970). The critical translation by Minoru Hara of the Pāśupata chapter of Sāyaṇa-Mādhava's Sarvadarśanasaṃgraha in Indo-Iranian Journal 2 (1958): 8–32, is excellent on Pāśupata doctrine and practice.
Hara, Minoru. Pasupata Studies. Publications of the De Nobili Research Library v. 30. Vienna, 2002.
David N. Lorenzen (1987)