Śaivism: Śaivism in Kashmir

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From the second half of the ninth century ce, Tantric Śaivism in Kashmir advanced in various forms into the front line of Brahmanical thinking. Learned authors superimposed upon roughly homogenous groups of scriptural traditions uniform systems of metaphysics and soteriology that could be defended not only against each other but also against the major non-Śaiva doctrines of the time. By the tenth century the Śaiva scene was dominated by the confrontation of two radically opposed schools: on the one hand, a group of nondualistic traditions, principally the Trika and the Krama, and on the other, the dualistic Śaiva Siddhānta. The nondualists, upholding the doctrine that the world and persons are no more than the play of the power of a universal consciousness-self, operated from within transgressive cults "tainted" by the Kāpālika culture of the cremation grounds and the erotico-mystical soteriology of the Kaulas. The Kashmirian Śaiva Siddhānta sealed itself off from these "impure," visionary traditions. It sustained a "pure" cult of Śiva, based on the twenty-eight gamas, with a soteriology that subordinated gnosis to the ritual praxis of indissolubly individual agents, claiming, moreover, that this praxis was entirely compatible with orthodox Brahmanical duty and caste purity.

The outstanding authors of this conservative Śaivism were Nārāyaakaha (fl. c. 9501025 ce) and his son Rāmakaha. The most outstanding work is the latter's Nareśvaraparīkāprakāśa. The rise of the nondualist theology that opposed the Śaiva Siddhānta began with Vasugupta and his pupil Kallaa (fl. c. 850900), was philosophically refined by Somānanda (fl. c. 900950) and his pupil Utpaladeva, and culminated in the monumental works of Abhinavagupta and his pupil Kśemarāja (fl. c. 10001050). This tradition also sought to accommodate orthodox life, but by a different route. While the dualists adapted Śaivism to the orthodox view of the castebound ritual agent, the nondualists offered the initiate an esoteric self concealed within his perceived individuality, a blissful, transindividual consciousness which, being the cause and substance of all phenomena, could be seen as freely assuming the appearance of his limitation by an "outside world" and its values, as though it were an actor playing a role. Behind this outer conformity the Śaiva householder initiated into the Trika could experience the power of transcendence through contemplative worship that involved not only consumption of meat and wine butin the case of the elite of vīra s ("heroes")sexual intercourse.

This nondualistic tradition with its relatively sect-neutral metaphysics has generally been called Kashmir Śaivism. This term, however, obscures the fact that in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the period of most of the existing Śaiva literature, it was the Śaiva Siddhānta that was the dominant Śaiva doctrine (jñāna ) in Kashmir, whereas the principal Śaiva cult in that region was then, as it has remained, neither that of the Śaiva Siddhānta nor that of the Trika or Krama. Rather it was the worship of Svacchandabhairava and his consort Aghoreśvarī, a form of Śaivism that falls between these two extremes. Naturally, the two schools competed for authority over this middle ground. The Śaiva Siddhānta had propagated a dualistic and socially conservative exegesis of its principal scripture, the Svacchanda Tantra, which Kśemarāja countered from within the newly consolidated nondualism in his own, subsequently authoritative commentary.

The new nondualism also entered the Kaula cult of the goddess Tripurasundarī, or Śrīvidyā, which rose to eminence in Kashmir during the eleventh century. This Kashmirian tradition of the Śrīvidyā, which by the twelfth century had spread to the Tamil country, came to be adopted in Trika circles with the result that the Trika became less a system of Tantric worship than a matrix of metaphysics and soteriological theory. Outstanding representatives of this Trika-based Śrīvidyā in Kashmir were Jayaratha (fl. c. 12251275), Sāhib Kaula (b. 1629), Śivopādhyāya (fl. c. 17251775), and Harabhaa (18741951). The cult of Tripurasundarī also permeated the worship of the local family goddesses of Kashmir (Jvālāmukhī, Śārikā, Rājñī, Bālā, etc.). Indeed, she was generally seen as the archetype and source of all the goddesses enshrined in the valley.

Although Trika ritual seems largely to have been replaced by that of the Śrīvidyā, that of the Krama retained its vigor, being preserved in such late texts as the Mahānayaprakāśa of Śitikaha, the Chummasapradāya, and the Śivarātrirahasya of Nityasvatantra, in which Krama ritual is seen to play an important role in the annual Śivarātri festival. It is also probable that a related tradition based on the Mādhavakula of the Jayadrathayāmala Tantra and worshiping Kālī as the consort of Narasiha, the man-lion incarnation of Viu, survived into the late Middle Ages. At present, nondualist Śaiva doctrine and some techniques of meditation continue to be accessible to the brahmans of the valley, but the tradition of Tantric ritual maintained by the priests (gōrini ) through the centuries of Muslim rule has declined to such an extent that it faces imminent extinction.

See Also

Abhinavagupta; Tantrism.


Abhinavagupta. Tantrāloka. Translated by Raniero Gnoli as Luce delle sacre scrittureTantrāloka. Turin, 1972.

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

Sanderson, Alexis. "Purity and Power among the Brahmans of Kashmir." In The Category of the Person, edited by Michael Carrithers, Steven Collins, and Steven Lukes. Cambridge, 1986.

New Sources

Dehejia, Harsha V. Parvatidarpana: An Exposition of Kasmir Saivism through the Images of Siva and Parvati. Delhi, 1997.

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

Pandita, Balajinnatha. History of Kashmir Saivism. Srinagar, Kashmir, 1989.

Alexis Sanderson (1987)

Revised Bibliography