Śaivism: Śaiva Siddhānta

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Śaiva Siddhānta is an important medieval system of Śaiva thought. The term technically refers to a set of Śaiva theologies written in Sanskrit and Tamil in South India, although this classification need not be considered a rigid one. While Śaiva Siddhānta differs in many ways from the theologies presented by Kashmir Śaivism (most particularly in its assertion that the world and individual souls are real entities and that final release depends on the grace of Śiva, in contrast to Kashmiri idealistic and monistic ontologies and soteriologies), both schools accept as canon the Vedic Saitas and Upaniads as well as the twenty-eight Sanskrit Śaiva and Raudra gamas, which date to the seventh century ce. The Śaiva Siddhānta distinguishes itself from other Śaiva systems, however, in that along with these literatures it accepts as scriptural authority the twelve Tirumuai and the fourteen Meykaaśāstras.

The Tirumuai consist of devotional poems written in Tamil in South India by Śaiva mystics and gathered in the latter part of the tenth century by Nampi ār Nampi. The Meykaaśāstras are doctrinal works written in Tamil in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries by Śaiva theologians, the most influential of whom was Meykanta Tevar (Meykantar), a sūdra who lived to the north of Madras in the thirteenth century. Meykaa Tēvar's important work known as Civañaāpōtam (Instructions on the knowledge of Śiva) consists of Tamil translations of twelve sūtra s from the Raurava gama, a seventh-century Sanskrit Śaiva work, to which he added Tamil commentaries and analogic interpretations. The system he taught became known as the Śaiva Siddhānta, the "doctrine of the followers of Śiva."

The Śaiva saints portray a vivid personal experience of God (Śiva), the fundamental theme of which is expressed by Tirumūlar: "The ignorant say that God and love are different; when they know that love and God are the same, they rest in God's love." Elsewhere Tirumūlar writes, "They have no love for God who have no love for all mankind." Appar (seventh century) speaks of the man who has unshakable belief in God's mercy and love. Śiva indwells every creature in a subtle form and manifests himself to his devotees. All that is required to be saved is to attune one's mind to Śiva and to be intent on his love and service. Inward and spiritual worship is the essence of religion, according to Appar. Without love for Śiva, the knowledge of scriptures, external rituals, and asceticism are of no avail for salvation. Campantar (seventh century) and Cuntarar (ninth century) stress the need of bhakti (love of God) in order to be freed from fetters. The mystic formula "Namo Śivāya," which represents the essence of the four Vedas and the essence of Śiva's name, when pronounced with true devotion, saves even nonmystics. Māikkavācakar (ninth century) describes in his Tiru-vācakam the progress of a soul out of the bondage of ignorance and passion to the liberty of light and love. The main themes of this work are strong monotheism; infinity of bliss in Śiva alone; the purification, by grace, of the soul from delusion, as a preparation for eternal fellowship and communion with Śiva; prayers for forgiveness of sin; and enthusiastic love of God. Great prominence is given to the working of divine grace in Śaiva Siddhānta. Aru (grace) is the remedy against iru (ignorance). The illuminating grace takes the form of divine and mystical knowledge by which the soul, liberated from darkness, realizes its oneness with Śiva.

According to the Śāstras, there are three eternal and real substances: God (pati), souls (paśu ), and bondage (pāśa ). God (Śiva) is immanent in everything and yet transcends everything. He is pure being, pure consciousness, and pure bliss. He is the efficient cause, and his śakti, composed of knowledge, action, and desire, is the instrumental cause of the world and of souls. He stands in relation to the universe as the soul to the body. As eyes cannot see but for the light of the soul, the soul cannot know but for the light of God. God and souls are one in the sense that they cannot be disjoined; they exist and function together. Advaita means inseparability, not identity; hence souls preserve their distinct character even in the final state of liberation.

Souls are endowed with knowledge, volition, and the ability to act, but they are bound by the fetters of āava (ignorance), karman (the effects of action), and māyā (changing reality), and therefore they experience themselves as independent of God. Śiva imparts to the soul instruments of empirical knowledge when it is in the kevala state (the state of the soul only with āava ) and illuminating knowledge when it is in the sakala (embodied) state. Empirical knowledge leads to good and evil acts, and the result is the rebirth of the soul in different states. The three paths of salvation are those of service (caryā ), worship (kriyā ), and meditation (yoga ), all of which should be animated by the love of God. All these ways dispose the soul to receive gratuitously from Śiva divine knowledge (patijñāna ), by which is realized perfect union with Śiva in supreme love. This divine knowledge is imparted to souls either directly through intuition in the case of advanced souls or through a Śivaguru to the less advanced.

See Also

Māikkavācakar; Meykaār; Umāpati Śivācārya; Tamil Religions.


Devasenapathy, V. A. Śaiva Siddhānta as Expounded in the Śivajñāna-Siddhiyar and Its Six Commentaries. Madras, 1960.

Dhavamony, Mariasusai. Love of God According to Śaiva Siddhānta: A Study in the Mysticism and Theology of Śaivism. Oxford, 1971.

Nallaswami Pillai, J. M. Studies in Saiva Siddhanta. Dharmapura Adhinam, 1962.

Paranjoti, Violet. Śaiva Siddhānta. 2d ed. London, 1954.

Piet, John H. A Logical Presentation of the Śaiva Siddhānta Philosophy. Madras, 1952.

Schomerus, H. W. Der Çaiva-Siddhānta, eine Mystik Indiens. Leipzig, 1912.

New Sources

Gangadharan, S. Saiva Siddhanta with Special Reference to Sivaprakasam. Madurai, 1992.

Nandimath, S. C. Theology of the Saivagamas: A Survey of the Doctrines of Saiva Siddhanta and Veerasaivism. Thiruvananthapuram, 2001.

Schomerus, Hilko Wiardo. Saiva Siddhanta: An Indian School of Mystical Thought Presented as a System and Documented from the Original Tamil Sources. Delhi, 2000.

Singaravelu, C. N. Glimpses of Saiva Siddhanta. Madras, 1992.

Soni, Jayandra. Philosophical Anthropology in Saiva Siddhanta: With Special Reference to Sivagrayogin. Delhi, 1989.

Mariasusai Dhavamony (1987)

Revised Bibliography