Lakulisa: An incarnation of Siva

Lakulisa, the holder of the club (Chitgopekar 138) and 28th incarnation of yogic lord Siva, was particularly worshipped in South and Southeast Asia.  The fabricator and leader of the Saivic Pasupata cult, Lakulisa is known to be an object of worship in iconic ithyphallic representations in temples. Dependent on age and region, Lakulisa is characterized as an ithyphallic figure, seated in padmasana posture, with two or four arms, generally holding a club or staff in his left hand, and a citron in his right (Collins 107); although this is controversial due to damaged artifacts. Scholars may emphasize the importance of seated or squatting posture, as to not confuse depictions of Lakulisa with Siva, who is usually standing. The club is an reoccurring characteristic, that is understood to have been a threat tactic to rival cults, such as the Jains. Lakulisa is considered to have been a prominent human figure and after believed to be an incarnation of Siva due to historical iconography depicting him with two arms, rather than four like Siva (Chitgopekar 139). Notably, D. R. Bhandarkar’s theorizes that a human teacher named Lakulisa was identified with Siva due to his yogic persona, and was later regarded as Siva’s 28th incarnation (Fleet 424).

Differentiation in Lakulisa imagery depends on the Pasupata sect and school common to India and Orissa during the Gupta period. Known as the yogic incarnation of Siva, Lakulisa and his sculptural depictions became particularly important among the Pasupata practitioners (Agrawala 43). Much of Lakulisa’s Saivic history has been transformed into sculptural art, which originates in the northern territory of the Kusana Dynasty, spreading to Kasmir and Gujarat before being discovered at Elephanta. Elephanta existed between the 6th and 9th centuries with little evidence of when it thrived and who inhabited it. The mysterious culture was influenced by surrounding cultures and sculpture of the deity Lakulisa such as the Kalacuris culture and iconography (Collins 4-5). Elephanta temples in the 1st century CE possessed subtle inscriptions and artwork of Lakulisa, typically found above entrances and doorways.

The carvings found at Elephanta are described as being difficult to recognize due to damage and corrosion, but most depictions maintain the image of a deity seated in padmasana pose, handling a club. Within the Linga, and Vayu Puranas there are further portrayals of Lakulisa’s image by suggesting the surrounding of Lakulisa by his disciples with one hand in the air explicating his doctrine. Continued writings such as Visvakarmavatara Vastusastrain (Collins 107) and the Karvan Mahatmya (Collins 109), provide further depictions of Siva’s reincarnation and accentuate Lakulisa’s erect phallus and his wielding of a citron in his right hand.

Aside from original carvings discovered at Elephanta, other depictions of Lakulisa appear in temples in Naudeval, Bhuvaneshwar and Jageshwar, where the Lakulisa Pasupata sect was said to be situated (Joshi 268). Among these sculptures are mundane characteristics that can be dated back to the 4th century CE, of an erect phallus, two to four arms, seated in lotus posture, surrounded by his sons, while possessing a club or staff, and a citron, which are mentioned in a variety of Puranas.  In excavation accounts including the Mrtyunjaya temple (Joshi 269-271), Dag and Ekalingaji (Agrawala 43-44), and temples in Karvan (Srinivasan 131-133), Lakulisa is accompanied by figures other than his disciples and acquiring articles other than the typical club and citron.

In a temple at Mrtyunjaya, Lakulisa is accompanied by a Katyuri King and Queen who represent the royal patronage to the Lakulisa Pasupata sect in the 13th century at Uttarakhanda which began to deteriorate after a misunderstanding concerning Visnu (Joshi 271). In the representation of Lakulisa in Dag, he bears four arms. The first pair of arms wields a staff and citron and the other pair acquires a lotus flower and documentation (Agrawala 43-44). In regards to this four-armed depiction of the yogic figure, another sculpture in Ekalingaji (Agrawala 43-44) possesses four arms, yet bears a serpent and wears a headdress in the company of Brahma and Visnu. In the Linga Purana, Siva discusses his numerous incarnations with Visnu, most importantly his incarnation into Lakulisa. Western regions put emphasis on artistic depictions of this incarnation as a result of Karvan’s association with the incarnation of Siva in the 6th and 7th centuries. Temples in Karvan depict carvings of Lakulisa along with Brahma on his right hand, and Visnu to his left.  A controversial depictions of Lakulisa is found at Uttarakhanda (Joshi 268) where he is accompanied by two attendants who cannot be identified as his disciples due to their raised seated stature to their teacher, going against Hindu tradition.

Within Saivism, the Pasupata sect is most often overlooked. It should be credited for its distinction from other Siva worshipping sects, in that it regards Siva’s many incarnations. Siva takes on the role of a yogin with emphasis on knowledge through the Sayujya yoga (Collins 123-124). In the Pasupatas, the goal of moksa, as D. H. H. Ingalls suggests (1962), can be obtained through the nature of Rudra Siva; the end of suffering (Collins 124). Credited Scriptures of Lakulisa emerge from the Pasupata sect in Elephanta, known as the Lakulisa Pasupata, are separated into two influential texts known as the Ganakarika and Pasupata Sutra (Collins 121). The Pasupata Sutra was more relevant for its practitioners, being the oldest and most original of the two texts; many scholars relate it to the Pasupata Sastra and the Pancartha Vidya. The Pasupata Sutra was translated by Minoru Hara (1966), Professor Daniel H. H. Ingalls (1962), and Haripada Chakraborti (1970) and is concerned with education and rituals, but occasionally dabbles in philosophical theory (Collins 122).  The Ganakarika, is described as being less insightful and lacking in symbolism and is involved with proper time, ritual, material unity, and initiation. It amplifying the importance of the Pasupata sutra, while exercising the importance of reverence one must pay to their teacher (Collins 133). The Ganakarika makes reference to obtaining the goal of the Pasupatas through bathing in ashes, praying, making offerings, and spreading the doctrine (Collins 137). Together both the Pasupata sutra and Ganakarika discusses proper action and forms of worship through laughter, song, dance, sacred sound, inner worship, and prayer. Through these rituals one activates the mouth, body, and mind in worship (Collins 138).

The reincarnation of Siva into Lakulisa is discussed in the Vayu as well as the Linga Purana, although no two sources are identical in their accounts. In the Pancartha bhasya, (Collins 122) the origins of the incarnation of Lakulisa takes place in the Kayavatara sanctuary were Siva descends into a dead man’s corpse through Yogamaya. Lakulisa then lives on an altar of ash, surrounded by his disciples Kusika, Garbha, Mitra, and Kaurusya; who are born free of impurities (Collins 49), and follows the path of Pasupati (Collins 123). This myth is also referred to in the Kurma and Linga Puranas. There is a lot of ambiguity around the role of Lakulisa’s disciples, and many scholars refrain from going in depth. Atler (2006), referencing Feuerstein’s work (1987), describes the followers of Lakulin, or Lakulisa, as displaying animalistic characteristics in the way they speak and walk.

In another description of the incarnation, Siva descends and takes the form of a Brahmacharin after entering into a dead body. He is then referred to as Lakulisa, a Brahmin teacher, after which his ascetic sons are born with knowledge of Mahesvara yoga (Fleet 421). In the Visvakarmavatar, a unique interpretation makes reference to Lakulisa raising his hand to teach a mudra to his disciples after he enters a dead body (Collins 109). Another source talks of Visnu’s incarnation into Vasudeva (Collins 49) where Lakulisa is mentioned again. Siva states that he will reincarnate as Lakulisa by entering a dead body within the holy cave Meru, later known as Kayavatara (Collins 49-50). Within the reincarnation episodes of Lakulisa, speculations arise concerning its origination and authenticity. An early account in the Kurma Purana, states that Lakulisa is a reincarnation of Siva, but as a tirtha to Siva, a statue that can free one from sin during worship.

There is also a great deal of emphasis on Vedic, Puranic, Epic, and Secular literatures. Within the ten reliefs of Pasupata literature, it is interesting to note the counter clockwise direction they appear, starting with the Mahabharata relief and ending with the Kalidasa which ties into the Lakulisa Pasupata’s emphasis on ritual and auspiciousness (Collins 41).

Siva’s reincarnation of Lakulisa and the Lakulisa Pasupata are excellent examples of an under appreciated historical culture that once flourished, but slowly faded out to extremes where most individuals of Saivism rarely appreciate or understood the importance of its literature and yogic essence. It is difficult to understand the spiritual nature of the Lakulisa Pasupatas and the variety of characteristics they use, depending on location, to identify Lakulisa due to loose strands within literature and destruction of artifacts. This Saivic culture can be taught and understood through the analysis of artistic depictions of Lakulisa and his followers. Examining Lakulisa Pasupata’s reliefs and literature gives a mythological description of its founder, but without excavations of temples and caves throughout history, those stories would be inapplicable.  The values and rituals within the Lakulisa Pasupata are emphasized, and reoccur in all aspects of their culture. There is an intertwining facet within the Lakulisa Pasupata sect’s beliefs, literature, and artwork that upholds a general census of the tradition regardless of the time period or location. Although this culture is almost forgotten, the deep rooting of traditions within each other is what continues to keep it alive.



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Article Written by: Courtney Nibogie (2015) who is solely responsible for its content.