Category Archives: b. Saivism

Siva Nataraja Bronzes (Origins)

Shiva (Siva) Nataraja: Re-examining the Origins of Nataraja Bronzes

Bronze masterpiece of Siva Nataraja (King of the Dance). 11th century CE, Government Museum, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.

One of the most recognizable Hindu icons, both inside and outside India, is the standardized depiction of Shiva Nataraja (Shiva king of dance) seen in places as far apart as Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu and the CERN nuclear research center in Geneva, Switzerland. This particular standardization of Shiva Nataraja seems to have arisen under the rule of the Chola queen Sembiyan Mahadevi, as the first fully three dimensional stone carvings in this style appeared during her reign, though questions have been raised about earlier origins (Srinivasan, 434). This standardized form is distinctive and easily recognizable in several ways. First, this particular style of Shiva Nataraja is distinct from not only depictions of other deities, but also other depictions of Shiva as cosmic dancer, by the raised left leg held high across the body at the level of the hip with the foot at knee level (Srinivasan, 433). The supporting right leg, and indeed all the limbs save the lower left arm, are deeply bent giving an appearance of movement paused in a single frame (Kaimal, 392-3). Though held straight, the left arm does faintly bend at the wrist and the hand is held in a relaxed gesture known as gajahasta or “elephant hand” (Kaimal, 393). His lower right hand is held, just above the wrist of the lower left, in abhayamudra, a gesture of fearlessness seen frequently in Indian and Indian-influenced art (Kaimal, 393). The two upper arms hold a damaru drum (right) and a flame (left) (Srinivasan, 433). The foot of the supporting right leg rests on a dwaf, Apasmara, the demon of ignorance (Srinivasan, 433). Finally, in the bronzes, though not in the stone depictions commissioned by queen Sembiyan Mahadevi, Shiva is surrounded by a ring of flames (Srinivasan, 433). The popularity of this image has far outlasted the Chola dynasty, and inspired many speculative interpretations of the iconography present.

Detail of a Siva Nataraja or Natesa (Lord of the Dance) image, with his four arms holding the drum and fire, and displaying the fear-not (abhaya) mudra and the gajahasta (elephant hand) mudra.

Origin of the Image

It is generally accepted that the style of bronze Nataraja we see today originated, or at least rose to prominence, during the reign of queen Sembiyan Mahadevi of the Chola dynasty during the tenth century (Dehejia, 209). Mahadevi was a great patroness of the arts, she commissioned numerous pieces of art and even engaged in the refurbishment of several brick temples, rebuilding them in stone (Dehejia, 209). Mahadevi made the job of archeologists in our own time somewhat easier by re-inscribing previous information about donations and patrons in the temples she refurbished, providing a rich historical record (Dehejia, 209). Notable in regard to the Nataraja image is that it seems to have appeared first in bronzes and stone carvings during her refurbishments (Dehejia, 209). While the similarity of these Nataraja images to present depictions in this style is undeniable, the peculiar raised foot and four armed form being present, doubts have been raised recently about a definitively Chola origin (Srinivasan, 432).

There are certainly examples of images and sculptures which could have contributed to the present Nataraja image exemplified at sites like Chidambaram and CERN, so a pre-Chola origin is not out of the question. One of the earliest possible ancestors of the Chola-era Nataraja is a stone figure from the Harappan civilization, which shares the raised leg posture with the Chola-Nataraja (Dehejia, 32). Granted, a single oddity from a civilization that died thousands of years before the Chola rose is a tenuous connection at best, but Srinivasan points to numerous other examples which may indicate a continuous line of artistic evolution culminating in the Nataraja images we see today.

One of Srinivasan’s suggested precursors is a Satavahana statue, of Shiva as Lakulisa the ascetic, from Andhra Pradesh in southeastern India, the statue is dated to around the first or second century B.C.E. (Srinivasan, 434). What is remarkable about this statue is that, already as early as the first or second century B.C.E., we see the theme of Shiva trampling a dwarf which appears not only in Chola-era Nataraja images but in Pallava depictions as well (Srinivasan, 434).

The Pallava dynasty, in fact, is where Srinivasan asserts that the image of Shiva Nataraja we are familiar with today rose to prominence. Prior to the Chola overthrow of their dynasty around 850 C.E., the Pallavas ruled in the Tamil regions of south India from about 550 C.E., themselves having risen from the older Andhra dynasty (Srinivasan, 434-5). When the Pallava king Mahendravarman Pallavan converted from Jainism to Shaivism a burst of Hindu art in stone was produced (Srinivasan, 435). We can surmise that these stone icons were probably a distinctly Pallava innovation in the Tamil region by inscriptions at Mamallapuram praising Mahendravarman for building in “neither brick, nor timber, nor mortar.” (Srinivasan, 435).

What is interesting about these Pallavan stone icons is that the depictions of Nataraja among them show the four-armed Shiva with the raised leg and dwarf, of which there are no prior examples outside the Tamil region in stone or metal (Srinivasan, 435). Examples of Shiva Nataraja from outside the Pallava-controlled Tamil region show Shiva in the chatura tandava posture with both feet touching the ground and knees splayed outward, as opposed to the bhujangatrasita karana posture in which one leg is raised at hip level across the body which we see in the Chola bronzes (Srinivasan, 435). In addition, the dwarf is not present in any of these chatura tandava examples (srinivasan, 435). The number of arms also differs from the four-armed depictions seen in the Pallava and Chola examples, we see eight arms in Gupta examples from the Sirpur region of central India dating to the fifth century, and sixteen arms in a Chalukyan example from Badami in south-west India dated to the sixth century (Srinivasan, 435).

The earliest clear approximation of the Chola style Nataraja we see is on a Pallava pilaster from a cave temple at Siyamangalam, dated to the seventh century (Srinivasan, 436). This icon stands in the bhujangatrasita karana posture, although with the right leg raised, his lower right hand is in abhaya mudra with his upper right hand holding a lamp or bowl with a flame (Srinivasan, 435-6). This statue does differ additionally from the Chola examples in that its lower left arm extends out away from the body rather than across the body, though it retains the gajahasta gesture (Srinivasan, 435-6). Furthermore, the upper left hand holds an ax and the dwarf is not present under the foot of the supporting leg (Srinivasan, 435-6). This is paralleled in an eighth century cave painting from Ellora in Maharashtra, attributed to the Rashtrakuta dynasty, as well another Pallava stone icon in the Tirukkadaimudi Mahadeva temple in Tirucchinampundi (Srinivasan, 436).

While evidence seems to suggest that, in the cave temples constructed by Mahendravarman stucco and wood images are most likely to have been the norm, a seventh century verse by the poet Appar mentions Shiva’s “sweet golden foot raised in dance”, so we can not rule out bronze processional icons (Srinivasan, 436). In addition, the mention of Shiva holding a drum in the image worshipped at Tillai (now Chidambaram) from the same seventh century verses by Appar seems to indicate that this aspect of the standardized Nataraja icon was already incorporated during the Pallava dynasty (Srinivasan, 436).

Hindu bronzes have not often been attributed to the Pallavas, due largely to a lack of inscriptions on the bronzes themselves, however there is no definite way to date solid metal artifacts with any known method (Srinivasan, 436-8). What we can do, however, is group metal artifacts by shared ore sources based on lead isotope content (Srinivasan, 437). There are some metal artifacts which have been attributed to the Pallavas, for instance a bronze of Shiva dancing in the urdhvajanu pose found in Kuram (Srinivasan, 440). This bronze is attributable to the Pallavas in part because of the forward facing dwarf, as opposed to the sideways facing dwarf in the Chola Natarajas, in addition it shares a metallurgical profile with other artifacts from the reign of Paramesvaravarman Pallavan I (Srinivasan, 440).

This Pallava metallugical profile becomes interesting in regard to two Nataraja bronzes previously attributed to the Chola dynasty, which share the lead isotope content of the Pallava bronzes and the left legged bhujangatrasita karana posture and four armed form of the Chola bronzes, with the hands of each arm bearing the same gestures and implements (Srinivasan, 440). The first, from Kunniyur, differs from Chola images in that it lacks the flying locks of hair found in the Chola bronzes, though the ring of fire is surprisingly present, a date around 850 C.E. is suggested (Srinivasan, 440-1). The second, a small bronze from the British Museum, differs in several ways; the raised leg does not cross the body, the dwarf faces forward, and both the flying locks and circle of flame are not present (Srinivasan, 440-1). This second bronze has been dated to around 800 C.E., making it the oldest known Pallava bronze of Shiva Nataraja (Srinivasana, 440-1). This may indicate that the ring of flame was the latest addition to the Nataraja icon.

It may be that these two Pallava images show an evolution from wood carvings of Shiva Nataraja due to their compactness and lack of flowing locks, both indicative of the limits of wood’s tensile strength, we see these same limits in modern wood carvings of Nataraja (Srinivasan, 440). This may explain the increasingly flared out and circular nature of the icon in Chola times as the tensile strength of bronze was understood to allow for these stylistic changes.

These issues of tensile strength may also indicate that properly three dimensional stone carvings of this style of Nataraja came later than the bronzes and were, in fact, modelled on pre-existing bronzes. We see the emergence of three dimensional stone Natarajas in this style during the reign of Sembiyan Mahadevi, and these images bear the signs of a struggle to represent the style found in the bronzes in a medium with lesser tensile strength (Srinivasan, 441). For instance, in the stone Nataraja from Manavalesvarar temple at Tiruvelvikudi, we see a strut disguised as clothing supporting the lifted leg and crossed left arm to allow for a more expansive image which would make more sense in a bronze casting (Srinivasan, 441-2). The lifted leg of an eleventh century Chola sculpture at the Gangaikondachalapuram temple is propped up by a rough basal strut, while in several other examples the lifted leg is completely broken off (Srinivasan, 442). These struts may even have been inspired by the runners which facilitate lost-wax casting, though they are usually removed from the finished product (Srinivasan, 442). All of this seems to indicate that the style of Nataraja statue attributed to the Chola dynasty was already well developed as such, and likely in bronze, during the Pallava dynasty.

Iconographic Interpretation

An influential, and enduring, interpretation of the Nataraja icon was offered close to one hundred years ago by Ananda Coomaraswamy in “the Dance of Shiva” (Kaimal, 390). While Coomaraswamy’s interpretation is certainly compelling, and likely responsible for the popularity of the Nataraja icon in the west and its interpretation by Western scholars for the last hundred or so years, there is some reason to doubt its accuracy in reflecting the way that the Pallavas and Cholas interpreted this icon when they developed it (Kaimal, 391). Kaimal offers three fairly compelling reasons for questioning Coomaraswamy’s interpretation. First, the question of if it is even possible to properly recover the original meaning of these objects, given the fragmentary evidence from medieval India (Kaimal, 391). Second, Kaimal questions whether a single interpretation is sufficient, noting that objects of art take on different meanings during different times and in fact live multiple symbolic ‘lives’ (Kaimal, 391). Finally, Kaimal draws attention to the fact that Coomaraswamy based his interpretation on texts written several centuries after this style of Nataraja rose to prominence (Kaimal, 391). On this last point, Kaimal also reminds us that there is no simple equivalence between text and sculpture, both mediums have their own “spheres of eloquence” which do not always overlap entirely (Kaimal, 391).

Kaimal is cautious not to completely reject Coomaraswamy’s interpretation however, as it does reflect the significance of the icon to devotees in the thirteenth century and later (Kaimal, 392). While elements of the thirteenth century interpretation could have, and in all likelihood did, derive from earlier interpretations, Kaimal offers three different interpretations which may reflect the meaning of this icon for devotees in the tenth century and possibly earlier (Kaimal, 392). The first interpretation, that Nataraja was used as a kind of emblem of the Chola dynasty is certainly compelling and well argued by Kaimal. Though, while it could serve as the subject of a book in its own right, this interpretation does not tell us much about the symbols within the icon or their origin, which are the primary foci of this paper.

Kaimal’s second interpretation deals with the origin, or synthesis, of this Nataraja icon in Chidambaram (previously Tillai). When Appar wrote about Tillai in the seventh century, it was already an ancient and well established center of many sects, including sects devoted to Vinshnu and the goddess (Kaimal, 391). Kaimal points to earlier interpretations of Nataraja from Tillai which see the tandavam as a dance much more associated with Shiva’s destructive aspects than with the lofty philosophical interpretation of Coomaraswamy (Kaimal, 401).

Many of the less obvious symbols built into the Tamil Nataraja sculptures do indeed point to an association with the destructive aspects of the creative cycle, and many of these symbols appear on depictions of other wrathful aspects of Shiva all over India (Kaimal, 401). For instance, the skull often present in the hair of Nataraja icons and the serpents which encircle his limbs often receive special emphasis in images of Shiva’s destructive aspects, such as the ‘enraged’ face on the giant three-faced Shiva at Elephanta (Kaimal, 402). These often indicate Shiva as Aghora, associated with cremation grounds and destructive ecstasy, as well as drawing an association with similarly adorned goddesses such as Kali, Chamunda, and Nishumbhasudani (Kaimal, 401). These wrathful goddesses also share the characteristics of deeply bent supporting legs and multiple arms splaying out in an explosive and energetic fashion (Kaimal, 402). That these symbols were present in earlier forms of Shiva and other gods/goddesses may indicate that they were redeployed to allow this icon to participate in a symbolic conversation which was already ongoing, and this interpretation would fit nicely with a gradual evolution of the form from the Pallava dynasty through the Chola standardization (Kaimal, 404).

The association with goddesses is interesting in regard to another possible origin of the icon. One of the origin myths laid down in the Chidambaramahatmya, a tenth century text reflecting the Sanskritization of the Tamil cult at Tillai into a pan-Indic cult, tells of a dance competition in which the goddess already resident at Tillai, Tillai Amman, resented Shiva’s encroachment and challenged him to a dance competition (Kaimal, 407). Shiva won the competition by taking a raised leg posture, which modesty prevented the virginal goddess from copying (Kaimal, 407). This loss split the goddess in two, the wrathful virginal aspect retreated to a shrine outside the temple walls, while her benign aspect became Shiva’s wife and remained in the temple where her worship continued. This may reflect an earlier tradition being replaced by, or syncretized into, a more pan-Indic cult rooted in Upanishadic Hinduism rather than the local Tamil culture. This Sanskritization of a local cult may reflect political or social changes brought about as a result of empires growing larger and larger which had to unify disparate belief systems without abolishing them.

Another myth, also presented in the Chidambaramahatmya support the hypothesis that symbols present in the Nataraja icon derive from earlier cults which where absorbed in, and Sanskritized by, the Nataraja cult. The “Pine Forest myth” relates the story of Shiva visiting several sages who were living in a pine forest to punish them for their devotional inadequacies (Kaimal, 406). Shiva arrives in the form of a nude and mirthful ascetic, Bhikshatana, who was sexually irresistible to the wives of the sages, he was accompanied by Vishnu in his female form, Mohini, who proved distracting to the sages themselves (Kaimal, 406). When the sages realized their humiliation they became infuriated and attacked Shiva with various objects which he incorporated into his dance (Kaimal, 406). After incorporating the objects hurled at him by the sages, Shiva’s dance intensified until it encompassed all of creation (Kaimal, 406). As the sages saw this dance they became enlightened by the cosmic proportions of Shiva’s true form and instituted the worship of Shiva in an aniconic form as the linga, which we see carried on at Chidambaram today (Kaimal, 406).

It is the particular items thrown at Shiva, and their incorporation into his dance, which interest us here. The items were: a skull, which Shiva wears in his hair; serpents, which adorn Shiva’s limbs and hair; a dwarf, which he tramples underfoot; a tiger, to which are attributed the shredded appearance of Shiva’s flowing garment; and the fire and drum which we see in Shiva’s two upper arms as well as the flaming ring within which he dances (Kaimal, 406). It certainly is not out of the question to see this legend as a possible reference to earlier Tamil cults, represented by the items, being displaced by and absorbed into the cult of Shiva as a pan-Indic god. This interpretation would further support the idea of a unification of disparate local cults as the empire grew to incorporate, and accommodate, more cultural groups. This is by no means the last word on the origins of the Nataraja icon, but it may indicate that a reappraisal is in order.

Works Cited

Dehejia, Vidya. Indian Art. Phaidon, 2011, London.

Kaimal, Padma. “Shiva Nataraja: Shifting Meanings of an Icon” in The Art Bulletin, 81, 3. College Art Association, 2009, New York.

Srinivasan, Sharada. “Cosmic Dancer: On Pallava Origins for the Nataraja Bronze” in World Archaeology, Vol. 36, No. 3. Taylor & Francis, 2004, Abingdon.

Article written by Logan Page (Dec. 2018), who is solely responsible for its content.

Saivism

Saivism is known to be the oldest and the most dominant sect of Hinduism sect alongside with Vaisnavism, they are centered on the two supreme deities (Rudra-Siva and Visnu) respectively who are recognized in most established, significant Hindu literature (Gonda 64). In Saivism, the worship of the deity Siva maybe traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization (Rodrigues 212). However, in the Rg Veda, there was no mention of Siva; instead, he was first introduced as Rudra the “Howler.” Rudra-Siva is known as the God of Storms, destroyer of cattle and human beings (Rodrigues 212). Siva is worshipped through a linga (phallic emblem) that could be traced to the 1st century BC and is mentioned in the Mahabharata; however, in the Ramayana, there were less encounters with Siva compared to Visnu. Siva’s powers are often viewed by how destructive he is during battle. The deity is often referred as a Lord, master and many-sided (Gonda 13).

The sect emphasises the worship of Siva. Going more into depth, Siva is regarded by many as the Supreme Deity in Hinduism realm. Rudra was first introduced as the chief of an indefinite host of manifestation of a deity (Gonda 4). Siva is considered to be a complex deity throughout the Rg Veda. Both Visnu and Siva are known to be ambiguous figures based on their background. On one hand, Siva demonstrates strong heroic attributes and represents as a Supreme Deity; however, on the other hand, he is looked at as a deva (powerful demon) and the God of Storms. This demonstrates that both deities embody divine like qualities (Gonda 12). As mentioned before, Siva is a complex deity because of the different identities he holds. Throughout history, the deity is claimed many different names during different periods; for example, in the earliest school, Pasupatas, Siva is claimed to be Pasupati (Lord of the Cattle). Throughtout the Rg Veda, Siva was first regarded as Rudra. However, the name Siva is commonly used throughout different texts and literature.

Saivism is still a huge sect in Hinduism today. Temples and shrines are still placed in India today to worship deity Siva. Over time, there have been many schools that have developed. Visnu and Siva are often compared to another based on their placements in the Epics. Siva is perceived in many different forms, making him known as many-sided; however, Siva is regarded as one of the most important deity and Supreme being. The linga is a key symbol in this sect, as it appears in many temples and shrines. The linga is a representation of a male presence; the representation of Siva could be depicted through many different interpretations. The sect can be broken down too many different branches, such as the trantic groups Kalamukha and Kapalikas, that are no longer present, but made an impact in modernity. Saivism is dominant even to this day and is one of the most popular sects in Hinduism.

The worship of Siva takes place throughout temples and shrines made at home containing different images (Flood 151-152). The temples are most sacred to many Saivites, and different blessings radiate from the emblem depending on the location of the temple. Most temples, shrines, and sanctuaries contain different symbols and images; however they all worship the Supreme Deity, Siva. As mentioned before, the Saiva temples are consistent in Siva being worshipped through the form of a linga and in association yoni (womb) which is the female association; though the meaning of the symbol is up to interpretations (Holm 92). The symbol is usually depicted through temples and a linga and also what seems to be the face of Lord Siva represented with four or five faces. The five different faces are to represent the five elements of the universe. In some cases, the linga represents a “fiery column of light” (Holm 92-93). Every manifestation is presented through the linga making this emblem extremely important to the worship of Siva. It would be rare for a shrine or temple not to have one present. Linga was more commonly known with the non-Aryans, however throughout history and time, more and more individuals started to use the phallic emblem. As the worship of Siva has become more common throughout India, there are many festivals where worshippers sing and chant and offer devotions. Siva is depicted with his animal, Nandi, the Bull that symbolises fertility (Holm 93).

There are many schools of Saivism, but the earliest is a bhakti group known as the Kalamukha that derived from one of the first schools, the Pasupatas (Rodrigues 213). The Pasupatas maybe traced back to the 2nd century. Pasupati can translate to Pati (lord) of Pashus (cattle). As many schools and sects of Hinduism, each have their own set of stages in life. The Pasupatas stage of life starts with a period of moral development: this stage requires a devotee to gain a guru to have initiate them and to guide. The action of smearing ashes on their bodies thrice daily. Throughout this stage, the action of smearing ashes on their bodies thrice daily, as this is a ritual. Next, is their change of behaviour in the public sphere, which includes different speech and crude behaviour. Finally, they reached seclusion: this stage focuses on extreme mediation and is believed to have a final union with Rudra before the recognition of Siva being Rudra (Flood 156-159). The movement was influential in South India, however it gradually faded away as more Siva worshippers disagreed with some of their early rituals.

The Kalamukha “Black Face” first explored the realm of bhakti and ascetic (severe self-discipline) in some extreme form (Flood 154-156). They are considered to be extreme devotees of Siva. As mentioned before, modern Saivites do not agree with the old rituals of the Kalamukha. The Kalamukha emphasised the need for sacrificial rituals that contain both animals and humans. Their name of “Black Face” is most likely derived from their process of renunciation, where a black streak of ash is prominent on the individual’s forehead. Most of these devotees were found near temples where women stayed to attend to the offer patron deity and to a temple prostitution (Stefon 1). The earliest set of devotees of Siva, they are no longer present and gradually faded away as their rituals were not accepted by the majority of Saivites.

As modernity began to spread throughout India and the different major sects of Hinduism, more schools and comparisons began to pop up. Visnuism and Saivism are often compared to one another (Gonda 1). Another devotee group would be the Kapalikas known as “skull bearer”; they were also known for their very extreme rituals, such as cannibalism. This group of people worshipped Bhairava-Siva which led them to becoming a Saivite sect. They are known for eating from a skull bowl and worshipping the gods through a pot of wine (Lorenzen 8). Similar to the Kalamukhas, they covered themselves in funeral ashes. Both of these sects was shown hostility because of their crude practices. Both of these Saivite devotees are considered to be a tantric group (Lorenzen 37).

Most sects worshipping only one god are regarded monotheistic. There are divine figures that are worshipped to maintain good fortune and merit (Gonda 62); individuals come together to worship a deity in hopes of gaining both fortune and merit. There are many cult practices that contain higher deities which includes Siva. Siva urges the need for Saiva diksa (initiation into a Siva order) (Gonda 64). Most sects each share the similarity of trying to reach the final goal, which is final liberation. In order to reach this, the individual must initiate through a guru that is classified as a Brahman. All finalized initiation is considered to be a manifestation of Siva himself (Gonda 64). Gurus are an important role when reaching final liberation as they help their mentee with mantras (sacred utterances) through their process. After learning the mantras, the individual is now entitled to perform certain ritual rites. Reaching full purification is another life goal many want to achieve (Gonda 65). These stages are achieved through different ways, depending on the path the individual decides to take. Some achieve Brahman which is a key aspect to Saivism. Brahman is the supreme existence or the absolute reality one wants to achieve. Saivism explores the deity of Siva and many Hindus today follow this sect as it dominates throughout India today.

 

Bibliography

Flood, Gavin (1996) An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gonda, Jan (1996) Visnuism and Sivaism. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Holm, Jean (1994) Picturing God. London: Printer Publishers.

Lorenzen, David Neal (1968) “The Kaplikas and Kalamukhas Two Lost Saivite Sect” The Australian National University 1-325. Accessed October 22, 2018.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2005) Hinduism The ebook: An Online Introduction Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Visnuism

Visnu

Indus Valley Civilization

Rg Veda

The Epics

Ramayana

Mahabharata

Kalamukha

Kapalikas

Pasupatas

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://academic-eb-com.ezproxy.uleth.ca/levels/collegiate/article/Shaivism/64982

https://iskconeducationalservices.org/HoH/practice/303.htm

https://iskconeducationalservices.org/HoH/tradition/1202.htm

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Kapalika_and_Kalamukha#Kalamukhas

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaivism

https://www.hinduwebsite.com/siva/sivaindex.asp

http://www.religionfacts.com/shaivism

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Shaivism

 

Article written by: Jacqueline Paule (November 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

Mahanirvana Tantra

The Tantras are texts that deal with an assortment of ritual methods used to control and manipulate the cosmic powers, belonging to the literature of the Saktas. The Tantras deal with a wide variety of subject matter such as yoga practice, dharma behavior, the prescribed stages of life, the realms of heaven and hell, and importantly, worship ritual. The Mahanirvana Tantra was composed in the 18th century and is the most well-known Tantra in the west (Payne 53-55). It is regarded as the revelation of Siva, the destroyer of the world and god of the Yogis, to his wife, Parvati, at the summit of Mount Kailasa.

It was on Mount Kailasa that Parvati found her husband, Siva, described sitting silently on the mountain surrounded by a beautiful landscape. The text begins with Parvati asking Siva a question relating to the liberation of beings. Siva’s answer to Parvati is then answered in the chapters of the Mahanirvana Tantra. Siva begins the first four chapters by relating the importance of worshiping Brahman, the ultimate reality. Siva explains when good is done to the universe, He will be pleased, as He is the soul of the universe and it depends on Him (Avalon 3). Siva tells her that by worship of Brahman, there will be no need for any other religious observances (Avalon 4). Due to Siva’s strong affection to Parvati, he tells her more about the Supreme Brahman, and the secrets of worshiping Him by prescribed mantra to attain siddi, the enlightenment and understanding possessed by a siddah, or accomplished one. Siva states that liberation “does not come from the recitation of hymns, sacrifice or a hundred fasts… man is liberated by the knowledge that he is Brahman himself” (Payne 10). Pleased by what Siva has bestowed on her, Parvati asks another question concerning worship of Supreme Prakrti in union with Supreme Brahman. This delights Siva and he spoke unto Parvati how everything in the universe owes its origins and manifestations to the Supreme Prakrti and Supreme Brahman in motion with each other (Avalon 5). He relates the Supreme Prakrti to the Deva herself, informing her that she is everything in all forms and manifestations, and everything is her. Siva explains that success is solely achieved by Kaulika worship, the most supreme doctrine, and the merit achieved by honoring a Kaulika, is enough to protect one from all the harm the Kali Age has to offer (Avalon 5).

In the fifth chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra, Siva speaks to his wife of the formation of mantras, composed of single letters, syllables, a word, or an entire phrase to make a sacred sound (Feuerstein 191) and the preparatory acts to be done each day. Mantras are creative forces that act upon one’s consciousness when empowered and communicated to a disciple (Feuerstein 191). Siva explains to Parvati that there are countless mantras for worship, presented in the various Tantras but he only states twelve of them, because these twelve are for the pleasure and benefit of all humanity (Avalon 6). After presenting the twelve mantras to Parvati, he moves on to explain worship of Sakti by the five elements, wine, meat, fish, grain, and union of man and woman to attain the position of vira (Bhattacharyya 121). After which he describes placing of the jar, which is called a kalasa, because Visva-karma, son of Brahma, composed it from various parts of each of the Devatas (Avalon 6). He explains the measurements in fingers, and that it is to be made of gold, silver, copper, metal, mud, stone or glass free from any imperfections and on the left side a hexagon enclosed by a circle, enclosed by a square. In detail Siva speaks of the proper worshipping and mantras to be recited important in all power of creation, preservation and destruction of the universe.

The sixth chapter of the text Parvati asks Siva about the Pancha-tattvas and the appropriate worship of the Deva. The Pancha-tattvas, or five elements, are given in sacrifice to propitiate the Deva (Avalon 7). Siva declares that there are three kinds of wine, made from molasses, rice, or the juices and flowers of plants, that are first tattva and no matter how it has been made, is equal in the worship of the Deva. The second tattva is meat from three kinds of animals, those of the earth, sky and water. Siva explains that to please the Deva it does not matter where or by whom the animal was killed, so long as the animal being decapitated is male and not female (Avalon 7). The third tattva is three kinds of fish, ranked in superiority and quality due to their bones. Fish with the most amount of bones, considered inferior, must be well fried before being offered to the Devi. Parched food is the fourth tattva and contains three categories. Superior food is white rice, barley and wheat all fried in butter, the middle being a fried paddy, and the most inferior food consists of any fried grain that is not contained in the superior category (Avalon 7). After explaining the first four features, Siva looks unto Parvati and says “O Great Devi! when the weakness of the Kali Age becomes great, one’s own Shakti or wife should alone be known as the fifth tattva”(Avalon 7). Thus, making sexual union between man and women the fifth and final Pancha-tattva. Before revealing the mantras to Parvati, Siva warns her that man who offers these sacrifices to the Devas without proper purification will not please the gods and one will go to hell for it (Avalon 7).

The seventh chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva addresses the Goddess Kali as the supreme yogini, for at the end of time she devours Siva, the devourer of time himself (Feuerstein 35). Kali, who’s name relates to the words “time” and “death”, is the dark goddess and the Destroyer. Siva recites a hymn to Parvati, containing the Hundred Names of Kali, all beginning with the letter Ka, entitled Adya-Kali-Svarupa. By worshiping Kali and repeating her Hundred Names, one will enjoy a happy life and becomes suffused with the presence of the Devi (Avalon 8). Only when one is in the presence of the Goddess, does he reach the hearts of women, attain his desires, conquer his enemies, master his caste and enjoy good fortune. For once she suffuses him “there is ever victory, and defeat never” (Avalon 8).

Parvati asks Siva in the eighth chapter to hear of the castes, the prescribed stages in life, and the mode they should be observed in, having just heard the different dharmas and union with the Supreme. Siva tells her in the Kali age, there are five castes, Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra and Samanya (Avalon 9) and each of these castes has two stages of life. He begins first by describing the householder stage, with devotion to Brahman. He tells Parvati the importance of pleasing one’s mother and father, raising obedient and educated children, being kind to neighbors and cherishing his wife, so she will be ever devoted to him. Siva after explains the exclusive mantras to be performed only by the twice-born, and the other mantras to be used for the lower castes. Siva relates to Parvati the duties of the king, that he is to watch his subjects and protect his people and describes the manner in which he should present himself. The king is to be the courage of his warriors, highly knowledgeable, discriminatory, and honorable, but never arrogant, when awarding both reward and punishment (Avalon 8). Agriculture and trade, are only appropriate for the vaishya class and all acts of negligence, laziness, untruthfulness and deceit should be avoided. Finally, servants should be clean, skillful, alert and careful, they should treat their master with the uttermost respect as the servant should be aspiring for happiness in this world and their next incarnation.

In the ninth chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva explains the ten kinds of Purificatory Rites, or sangskaras to Parvati. He tells her that each caste has their own specific rites that need to be performed to purify the body. These ten ceremonies deal with the events of conception, pregnancy, birth of the child, naming of the child, the child’s first view of the sun, its first eating of rice, tonsure, investiture and marriage (Avalon 10). Following the introduction of the events for the ceremonies, Siva recites all the sangskara mantras to Parvati. After listening to the mantras, she inquires about the rites dealing with funerals, Vriddhi Shraddha and Purnabhisheka, thus beginning the tenth chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra. Siva informs Parvati of the importance of offering Pinda, a cooked ball of flour, butter and seeds, along with repeating the mantras to please the ancestors. The Vriddhi Shraddha is the ritual performed during special occasions to get the blessings of the ancestors, and the Purnabhisheka is the rite of initiation (Avalon 11). Siva presents the funeral rites and mantras to Parvati, explaining the period of uncleanliness dependent on the caste system. Brahmanas are unclean for ten days, Kshatriyas twelve days, Vaishyas a fortnight, Shudras and Samanyas are unclean for an entire month (Avalon 11).

In chapter eleven Siva introduces the expiatory rites, and explains to Parvati the types of sins and their accompanying punishments. Siva tells her that there are two types of sin, both which lead to pain, sorrow and disease. The first sin is one that leads to injury of one’s own self, and the second being one which leads to injury of others. Siva informs Parvati that men who sin and who are not purified by the form of punishment or expiation will be doomed to hell, and will not be incarnated into the next world (Avalon 12). In this chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva recites no mantras to Parvati, alternately he explains each sinful act one could perform and the accompanying punishment for each caste. The twelfth chapter entitled “An Account of the Eternal Immutable Dharmma” is the outline for the regulations which deal with property, inheritance and wealth. Siva explains to Parvati of the inheritance hierarchy, and how it is to be distributed among the living members of the family or the spouse’s family. Siva tells her of the rules in agriculture, mercantile transactions and other monetary dealings so that they may be deemed Dharmmic (Avalon 13). At the close of the chapter, to enforce the greater purpose of the accounts of Dharmma, Siva claims “The Lord protects this universe… Therefore should one act for the good of the world” (Avalon 13).

In the final two chapters of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva reveals the installation and worship of the Devata and Shiva-linga. Siva tells Parvati that all beings have qualities of the goddess Kali, and to worship Kali one must form images in adherence to her. Siva says that there are two types of men, those who act with a view to the fruits of action, and those who act without a view to the fruits of action and the latter will attain final liberation (Avalon 14). He recites the mantras of this chapter to Parvati, dealing with the worship and meditation of Vastu and Dhyana. Siva concludes the thirteenth chapter by telling Parvati that by worshipping the gods with immense devotion and act, without a view of reward, will be released from rebirth (Avalon 14). In the final chapter, Parvati asks Siva to tell her of the distinct features of the four classes of Avadhutas. There are two kinds of Shaivavadhutas and Brahmavadhutas, either purna or apruna, meaning perfect and imperfect, respectively. The first three classes practice yoga, have enjoyment, and are liberated. The fourth chaste is known as the hangsa, and does not touch metal nor women (Avalon 15).

The Mahanirvana Tantra is described as noble work, probably produced in the latter half of the eighteenth century in Bengal, and belongs to the left hand school (Payne 55). Until the twentieth century, the Tantras had not been seriously studied or translated in the west, and there was little access to the religious materials in them. The Mahanirvana Tantra was translated to English by Arthur Avalon in 1913, and has since gained much more recognition in western cultures. The Mahanirvana Tantra is known as the Great Tantra because it contains all the Dharmmas, while the others deal with one subject only. The Lord Siva tells Parvati in the conclusion of the Tantra that man who knows the book, knows also the three worlds of past, present and future, and by worship of the Tantra will be liberated (Avalon 15). “What further shall I tell Thee of the greatness of the Mahanirvana Tantra? Through the knowledge of it one shall attain to Brahma-nirvana” (Avalon 15).

Bibliography

Avalon, Arthur (2010) Mahanirvana Tantra of The Great Liberation. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing.

Avalon, Arthur (1918) Shakti and Shakta. London: Luzac & Company.

Bhattacharyya, N.N. (1987) History of the Tantric Religion. New Delhi: Manohar Publications.

Feuerstein, Georg (1998) Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Payne, Ernest A. (1997) The Saktas: An Introductory and Comparative Study. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Woodroffe, John (1980) Introduction to Tantra Sastra. Madras: Ganesh & Company.

Related Readings

Avalon, Arthur (2010) Mahanirvana Tantra of The Great Liberation. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing.

Hugh B. Urban (2001) “The Path of Power: Impurity, Kingship, and Sacrifice in Assamese Tantra.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Vol. 69, No. 4 pp. 777-816. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Pechilis, Karen (2016) “Bhakti and Tantra intertwined: the explorations of the Tamil Poetess Karaikkal Ammaiyar.” International Journal of Dharma Studies 4: 2. doi:10.1186/s40613-016-0024-x

Related Research Topics

  • The Saktas
  • Hindu God Siva
  • Hindu Goddess Parvati
  • The Tantras

Related Websites

www.hinduwebsite.com

http://hinduonline.co

http://yoniversum.nl

This article was written by: Emily Sim (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for this content

Demons defeated by Siva

In this article we examine myths of various Asuras defeated, by Siva and Rudra “The Howler, Roarer and the Terrible,” a fierce form of Siva. (Williams 248). Asuras are demons, and not every demon is evil. In the past, the Aryans believed demons not to be evil but that they opposed Devas. Siva is known to “encompass three seemingly contradictory planes of truth: Beauty, Wisdom, Power” (Williams 267). To define Avesta, which translates to demons, is known as daeva also known as deva in sanskrit (Bhattacharyya 10). It was seen at first that both Devas and Asuras had similar traits, but it wasn’t till after their fall, Asuras had come to be the evil demons (Kramrisch 394).

The first demon Siva defeated was Andakha. Andakha was Siva and Parvati’s son. Siva and Parvati were married. Andakha is defined as blind, he was created when Siva called Parvati’s skin colour dark, which caused her to leave her home and, that would have been the time the demon entered her (Kramrisch 384). The Asura then became blind when “Parvati placed her hands over Siva’s eyes in jest, only to throw the universe into total darkness. But her touch heated Siva so that a drop of sweat fell from his brow and became an angry, deformed, dark demon…” (Williams 54). The demon named Hiranyanetra practiced austerities to win a boon from Siva, and asked him for a heroic son. Siva granted Hiranyanetra, his own son Andakha. Andakha then started to desire Parvati, and decided to abduct her. He made his way to Mount Mandara, where Parvati was at the time while Siva was away. Andakha attempted to molest Parvati; Siva then appeared and impaled Andakha with his trident (Williams 54).

Adi was another demon that was defeated by Siva. This Asura was Andakha’s son and wanted to avenge his father’s death. To do so Adi performed austerities to be granted a boon, which he received. He asked for invincibility in battle. What led to Adi’s ultimate destruction by Siva was the way he had asked for the boon. Adi then went to Siva, and transformed into a serpent form. Siva is known as lord of all creatures, he is a friend to all snakes (Williams 45). Once Adi had entered the palace via snake form, he changed into the form of Parvati. Parvati was Siva’s wife at the time, and had left Siva to come back with renewed austerities. Siva recognized that this in fact was not Parvati, but rather an Asura. This was due to his realization that Parvati wouldn’t come back without fulfilling her purpose, and he also noticed the demon (in form of Parvati) did not have her mark of a lotus. To kill the demon Adi, Siva then put a thunderbolt on his penis, which “rendered ineffective the strong sharp teeth that Adi had put into the vagina of his Parvati disguise” (Kramrisch 385). This was possible because Adi was in a different form at the time, which meant he wasn’t invincible (Williams 45). “Siva administered death to the demon by means of sex, a method the demon had meant to practice successfully on Siva” (Kramrisch 386).
As noted in the beginning, many Asuras aren’t always bad. We look at Daksa, who started out as “the right thumb of Brahma”(Williams 105). Daksa was once a positive figure that became a negative figure, as he attempted to humiliate Siva. Daksa does not approve of his daughter Sati’s relationship with Siva, even though they are married, because Siva was not Vedic and it would pollute Daksa’s ritual (Williams 106). Sati then sacrificed herself and became Sati. Siva became angered at this, which resulted in two Asuras to be created, named Virabhadra and Bhadra-Kali who then killed Daksa. As noticed, it was through demons, which Siva produced to be able to defeat Daksa (Williams 106).

Siva defeats the demons through Parvati, by using her beauty as bait for the Asuras. At one time, Parvati was playing ball, and the demons that saw her became excited as they watched her play. The demons that watched Parvati full of lust were named Vidala and Utpala. Parvati then threw the ball at and was able to hit both of the demons at the same time, in which case the demons collapsed, as if being struck by a thunderbolt and then the ball changed into Siva’s linga (Kramrisch 388). “The thunderbolt power of Siva’s linga directed against demons by Parvati’s hand protected Parvati’s chastity” (Kramisch 388).

In the legend of the Tripura, the three different demons whose names differ throughout the stories represent the coordination of the Asura clan in three cities. “The legend had it that the demons were destined to be exterminated when under special circumstances the three puras or forts would be joined together and pierced by a single shaft” (Bhattacharyya 144). Siva was the one to ultimately destroy the Tripura, by piercing it (Bhattacharyya 144).

This article was written by: Avneet Sidhu (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.

Bibliography:

Primary sources:

Kramrisch, Stella (1981) The Presence of Siva. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

William, George (2003) Handbook Of Hindu Mythology: Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio Inc.

Bhattacharyya, N.N. (2000) Indian Demonology: Delhi: Replika Press.

Related reading:

Hackin, J., Huart, Clement., Linossier, H., Wilman-Graabowska, De., Marchal, Charles-Henri., Maspero, Henri., Eliseev, Serge., Couchoud, Paul-Louis (1994) Asiatic Mythology: A Detailed Description and Explanation of the Mythologies of All the Great Nations of Asia: London: George G. Harrap & CO. Limited.

Doniger, Wendy, (1976) The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology: Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Article written by: Avneet Sidhu (Spring 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

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.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READINGS

Agrawala, R. C. (1958) “Some Interesting Sculptures of Lakulisa from Rajasthan.” In Artibus Asiae, Vol. 21, No. 1: 42-46.

Atler, Joseph S. (2006) “Yoga and Fetishism: Reflection on Marxist Social Theory.” In The Journal of the Royal Anthological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 12, No. 4: 763-783. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

Bisschop, Peter (2010) “Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series.” In Saivism in the Gupta-Vakataka Age, Vol. 20, No. 4: 477-488. Cambridge: Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

Chitgopekar, Nilima (1998) Encountering Sivaism: The Deity, the Milieu, the Entourage. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Collins, Charles Dillard (1988) The Iconography & Ritual of Siva at Elephanta. New York: State University of New York Press.

Donaldson, Thomas E. (1986) “Bhiksatanmurti from Orissa“, in Artibus Asiae, Vol. 47, No. 1: 51-66. Artibus Asiae Publishers.

Feuerstein, Georg (1987) “Journal of Indian Philosophy.” In The Concept of God (Isvara) in Classical Yoga, Vol. 15, No. 4: 385-397. Springer.

Fleet, J. F. (1907) “Siva as Lakulisa.” In The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland: 419-426. London: Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

Hara, Minoru (1994) “Wiener Zeitschrift fur die Kunde Sudasiens / Vienna Journal of South Asian Studies.” In Pasupata Studies 2: 323-335. Austrian Academy of Sciences Press.

Ingalls, Daniel H. H. (1962) “The Harvard Theological Review.” In Cynics and Pasupatas: The Seeking of Dishonor, Vol. 55, No. 4: 281-298. Cambridge: University Press on behalf of the Harvard Divinity School.

Joshi, Maheshwar P. (1989) “Sankaracarya, Lakulisa-Pasupatas and Uttarakhanda.” In Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vol. 70, No. ¼: 266-272. India: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

Srinivasan, Doris Meth (1990) “From Transcendency to Materiality: Para Siva, Sadasiva, and Mahesa in Indian Art.” In Artibus Asiae, Vol. 50, No. ½: 108-142. Zurich: Artibus Asiae Publishers.

Trivedi, R. D. (1972) “East and West.” In Visnu and His Incarnation in the Works of Kalidasa, Vol. 22, No. ½: 51-62. Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente.

Williams, Joanna (2000) “Chachaji: Professor Walter M. Spink Felicitation Volume.” In The Eponymous Elephant of Elephanta: 51-58. Freer Gallery of Art, The Smithsonian Institution and Department of the History of Art. University of Michigan.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Auspiciousness

Bhasya

Brahma

Brahmacharin

Elephanta

Ganakarika

Ithyphallic

Kalacuris

Kayavatara

Kusana

Mahesvara

Moksa

Pasupata

Siva

Tithra

Vasudeva

Visnu

Visvakarmavatar

Yoga

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to Lakulisa

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakulish

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=5764116&jid=JRA&volumeId=39&issueId=02&aid=5764108

http://indiatemple.blogspot.ca/2008/01/lakulisa-founder-of-pasupata-shaivism.html

http://travel.bhushavali.com/2014/04/lakulisa-temple-vadodara-gujarat.html

http://www.rossirossi.com/classical/exhibitions/masterpieces-of-himalayan-art/lakulisa-with-brahma-and-vishnu

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pashupata_Shaivism

http://sourashtri.blogspot.ca/2011/10/lakulisa-shiva-temple-of-pasupata.html

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/244

 

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

 

 

Ardhanarisvara

ARDHANARISVARA

The Lord Who is Half Woman

 The deity Ardhanarisvara is depicted as Siva in half female form, otherwise known as “the Lord who is half woman”. In Hinduism, Siva is the personification of the Absolute and goes by many names [see Yadav 18-19]. Siva is regarded by some scholars as the most ancient of the gods, originating in pre-Vedic and non-Aryan times, perhaps even from the age of the Indus Valley Civilization (Yadav 5). Ardhanarisvara is one of the most popular and distinguished forms of Siva (Nataraja being the most popular). Confirmation of this is found in the large number of Ardhanarisvara sculptures available to us from all over India. The earliest images of Ardhanarisvara can be dated back to the late Kusana period or early Gupta era (320-550 CE), first noticed in Mathura (Yadav 33). Another one of the early Ardhanarisvara images appeared in South India between the late Chola period (9th-13th century) and early Vijayanagara period (mid-17th century). The Chola period artists depicted Ardhanarisvara as a slim, willowy figure covered with intricate ornamentation. The Vijayanagara period however, transformed Ardhanarisvara into a large, dense figure that appeared more chivalrous (Seid 2004).

Ardhanarisvara image (Airavatesvara temple, Darasuram, Tamil Nadu)
Ardhanarisvara image in the Chola style
(Airavatesvara temple, Darasuram, Tamil Nadu)

Ardhanarisvara is the manifestation of Siva combined with his spouse: the right half of the deity being Siva and the left half devoted to Parvati or Sakti. Evidence of the duality is shown in the name Ardhanarisvara itself, which is a composition of three words: ardha, nari, and isvara. These are recognized to mean “isvara (i.e., Siva) with the nari (i.e., Parvati) and his ardha (i.e., half)” (Yadav 9). The half male and half female aspects of duality have also been found in Egypt and Greek myths [see Neeta Yadav 10-14]. From a philosophical perspective, Ardhanarisvara is the idea that male and female concepts are entangled and forever bound together in cosmic union. It is believed that this image came into being as a symbol of a “Supreme Being” that is capable of doing all things singly.

Ardhanarisvara is “the name given in Indian Mythology to one of the forms in which Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati appear together as one body — half male and half female” (Kumar 109-110). The Ardhanarisvara form of Siva resembles two essentially contrasting cosmic forces, named prakrti and purusa. They are continually drawn together to envelop and combine with each other, but are detached by an intervening axis. One of the oldest and most common representations that is based on the duality of male and female principles is the concept of Father heaven and Mother earth. The concept of the universe beginning with a union between a female and a male is more thoroughly discussed in Vedic texts, which discuss the union of husband and wife, or Heaven (dyaus) and Earth (prthivi) (Yadav 131). There is a philosophical concept behind this notion of duality, which can be found in the Sankhya philosophical system. That system teaches the existence of eternal spirits called “the self or male on the one side and eternal productive force or prolific germ on the other, and the union of the two was believed to be indispensable before any creation could result” (Yadav 131).  A notable attribute of the image of Ardhanarisvara and its duality connecting male and female is the flawless balance of Siva and Parvati. They each preserve their own identities while being dependent on each other but neither outshining the other. In some works Siva is exemplifies the extreme of austerities and Parvati symbolizes a more extravagant or lavish lifestyle. Their marriage is seen to symbolize stability and unity through merging these two urges of humanity and all other living beings (Kumar 109-110).

In a general sense, analysis of the distinguishable features of Ardhanarisvara imagery testifies that the standard “bipolar” human body of the deity is differentiated along a central vertical axis, dividing it into male and female sides (Goldberg 2002:12). Siva is often found in two forms, a human form and the form of a phallic symbol. Ardhanarisvara however is a saumya and santa (peaceful) aspect of Siva. These depictions evolved from early iconic motifs that existed long before the clarification myths were created (Yadav 6-14). If you look at the images associated with Ardhanarisvara from top to bottom, they are generally depicted as having only one face, but other variations exist.

The male right half of Ardhanarisvara can include the following variations: a head-dress formed from matted hair (jatamukuta) decorated with a crescent and ornamented with snakes; be in company of the goddess Ganga; may or may not be decorated in jewels; have a smaller right eye; and include all or multiple combinations of the following: male figure, flat chest, half moustache, broad shoulder, wide waist with less curvature, and a large thigh (Goldberg 2002:12). In the right ear is an earring in the shape of either a shark or a crocodile (makara-kundala, sarpakundala or any other kundala) often symbolizing the Supreme. The female side earring is called valika and is worn on the left side (Goldberg 2002:12). Earrings are one of the most obvious and primary identification symbols that separate the male and female duality. The entirety of the right side should be embellished in ornaments specific to Siva, as well as garments that cover the body from the waist and down to the knee, usually made of either silk or tiger’s skin (Yadav 20). Unusually, the right side should also be covered in ashes that are red in color. The right side of the image of Ardhanarisvara may have 2-4 arms, each in different poses [see Yadav 19], usually holding a weapon, most commonly a trident. Siva’s right leg should be bent and resting on a lotus (Yadav 19).

The female left side of Ardhanarisvara includes the head as having a karanda makuta or dhamilla, which is a braided hairstyle or bun, sometimes embellished with jewels or other ornaments (Goldberg 2002:14). On the female forehead is half a tilaka mark or dot (bindu) that adjoins with the half eye on the forehead of Siva (right Ardhanarisvara). There are different variations of the bindu on the forehead of Parvati such as either being placed in the center of the forehead or no bindu at all but instead a shared third eye between the two halves in the middle of the forehead (Goldberg 2002:14). The left eye should be painted with collyrium and should be slightly larger and more elongated than the right eye. When a color is stated for the left side, it is commonly the whole body painted in either saffron or parrot-green, but is very rarely seen in practice. Nose ornamentation is also very rare in the earlier depictions of Ardhanarisvara but it appears to be progressively gaining popularity in current depictions (Goldberg 2012:14). The images of the female side usually vary in the number of arms shown, and for each variation there are different poses for the hands and often an assortment of objects being held [see Yadav 20]. A fundamental characteristic of the left half is a woman’s breast that is particularly large and round. The waist appears smaller and the hip appears more voluptuous than that of the male half. Embellishment of the female half includes jewels, earrings, draped silk cloth to the ankles, saffron body powder, various jewellery, and red henna coloring on the left foot or hand (Goldberg 2002:14).

There are a number of overlapping shared characteristics between the male and female sides. They include ornaments on the chest, upper arms, wrists, ankles, neck, fingers and waist. They share an ellipsoidal shaped halo, which frequently lights up the entire deity figure from behind its head. A “sacred thread” (yajnopavita) worn by the twice-born class appears on this deity from the Gupta period forward and is sometimes seen on Ardhanarisvara in the appearance of a serpent (naga yajnopavita) across the upper torso of both the male and female halves. The body of the Ardhanarisvara image is seen in various poses, most prominently, the tribhanga pose where the body is seen in three bends, the head (leaning to the left), torso (it leans to the right), and in the right leg (displaying the voluptuous left hip) (Goldberg 2002:13).

As mentioned above, the earliest verified image of Ardhanarisvara was found in Mathura, displayed in the form of a stone sculpture of a torso. It was dated to the late Kusana period or the early Gupta era and can be found in the Mathura Museum. [See Yadav 33 for other evidence of early sightings of Ardhanarisvara and its locations]. The roughness of the stone sculpture gives evidence that it could have been located underwater for a great deal of time. The body of the sculpture found in Mathura has the appearance of being half male and half female. Ardhanarisvara has been featured on many coins directly dating back to the Kusana period; one of the very first mentioned is the Coin of Kaniska III. It has the king facing right on one side and Ardhanarisvara on the reverse; the coin was made of gold and round in shape. Ardhanarisvara has been documented as being shown on coins, seals and other iconographic motifs (Yadav 35-36). [See Yadav 37-112 for specific dated pieces, illustrations and locations where the art was prominently found and its variations].

Ardhanarisvara worship, often associated with Siva in literature, frequently occurs in the Puranas. It develops out of the conception found in Rgvedic mythology, of creation beginning with the merging of male and female principles. The creative process of one dividing into two is found in the Rgveda and Puranic cosmology, and expressed in a variety of ways, including as father and mother, husband and wife, man and woman. In Rgvedic texts, Dyaus and Prthivi are the universal parents. They mostly appear as a pair of deities in the Rgveda and are rarely mentioned individually (Yadav 113). [Yadav 114-130 explains this concept in greater detail].

The Ardhanarisvara form developed over time, changing from a benign to a fierce aspect and in the interim the conjugal and erotic aspects also evolved. The erotic symbolism, often only seen in temples of an erotic nature, gradually merged with forms of Tantricism. Tantricism is the belief in a transcendental duality of Siva and Sakti. Conjugal love is often found throughout poetic representations of Ardhanarisvara in Hinduism. There are cases where the literature views Siva as “a lifeless corpse” without wisdom and physically immobile without the strength of Siva’s power (Sakti). Males must worship both the wisdom and the power principles (male and female), making the two deities “inseparable” (Yadav 127).

A new line of interpretation promoted by some scholars suggests that the images and texts associated with the concept of duality (male and female) offer evidence of inequality surrounding Ardhanarisvara imagery. Ellen Goldberg (1999) addressed this issue noting that even the name “Ardhanarisvara” devalues the female aspect of this duality. It does not translate as “half male half female” but “the Lord who is half woman”; this is seen as an inequality despite their conjoined figures. Another point Goldberg (1999) addresses is the deliberate placement of the female on the left side and the male on the right side, diminishing the female status when compared next to Siva. In Hindu culture, deities are known for their extravagant number of arms in association with the power or strength that they possess. In the Ardhanarisvara image it is very common that the male half is shown with more arms than the female half, supporting Goldberg’s (1999) notion of inequality. The male half of Ardhanarisvara is usually depicted as holding weapons in its multiple arms whereas the female half is usually holding (if anything) a flower or other devalued motif. As mentioned above, Ardhanarisvara is typically depicted as having a divided symbol on the forehead, which can be seen as a sign of privilege. The female side typically has a bindu or dot on the forehead, which is a clear indicator of marital status in Indian culture. Males, however, have a third eye which attests to Siva’s divinity or transcendence, creating another controversial imbalance of power in the Ardhanarisvara image. Unless identifying marks, as mentioned above, are present it is rather difficult to distinguish the male side from the female side. If female vertical indicators are not present in the deity (left breast, full hip, earring, etc.), other secondary supporting features are not enough to establish the identity of Ardhanarisvara. Hence, the female side of Siva or Parvati may be implicit and not obvious but when paired with the Lord Siva the female features then become explicit. This creates an androcentric ideal of Ardhanarisvara, based on the assumption that male is viewed as the norm and female is viewed as an exception (Goldberg 1999).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Courtright, Paul B. (2005) “Review: The Lord Who Is Half Woman: Ardhanarisvara in Indian and Feminist Perspective by Ellen Goldberg.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Vol. 73, No. 4: 1215-1217.

Goldberg, Ellen (1999) “Ardhanarisvara in Indian Iconography: A New Interpretation.” East and West (Vol. 49, No. 1/4: 175-187.)

Goldberg, Ellen (2002) The Lord Who Is Half Woman: Ardhanarisvara in Indian and Feminist Perspective. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Harsh, Kumar (1983) “Review: Mantra, Ardhanarisvara, Parinior by George Anca.” Indian Literature (Vol. 26, No. 3: 109-111.)

Seid, Betty (2004) “The Lord Who is Half Woman (Ardhanarishvara).” Notable Acquisitions at The Art Institute of Chicago, p. 48,49+95.

Yadav, Neeta (2001) Ardhanarisvara in Art and Literature. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Aryan

bindu

dhamilla

Dyaus

jatamukuta

karanda makuta

kundala

kusana

makara-kundala

Mathura

maya

naga yajnopavita

Nataraja deity

padmapaitha

Parvati

prakrti

prthivi

Puranas

Puranic cosmology

purusa

Rgveda

rsis

rudra aspect

sakti

Samkhya

santa

saumya

Siva

tilaka

trubhanga pose

valika

Vedic text

vijaynagar

yajnopavita

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ardhanarishvara

http://www.ishafoundation.org/blog/yoga-meditation/demystifying-yoga/ardhanarishvara/

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/33339/Ardhanarishvara

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/ardhanarisvara

http://www.dollsofindia.com/library/ardhanarishvara-symbolism/

http://www.exoticindiaart.com/article/ardhanarishvara

 

Article written by: Miranda Payne (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

The Kapalika Tradition

The Kapalika tradition

There is a group of tantric saivites that are called the skull-men or kapalikas. They are called this because they carry a cranium begging bowl and a staff with “a banner made of a skull”. The kapalikas are one of the more radical sects to have existed. They slept in the woods, corrupted those in contact with them, and were known to cover themselves in cremation ashes and perform rituals using sexual fluids, alcohol, and blood; completely disregarding vedic purity rules and caste restrictions. The kapalikas strive to imitate their god Siva to gain his power instead of more traditional methods of worship. Their history is in many ways lost and open to conjecture. The kapalikas are often associated with the mahavrata or “great observance” (Lorenzen 73). There is a mahavrata referenced in various earlier works that contains elements of the tradition. However it is unlikely that it would be brought back for use centuries after it was abandoned and dead with no context to give reason for its resurrection (Lorenzen 73). There is a penance that is referred to in most law books that fits the general behaviour of the kapalikas. It is specifically called the mahavrata in the Visnusmrti (Jolly 157).

This penance indicates what is required of those who have [unintentionally] killed a brahmana or other high caste person. While versions across law books differ by specifics the generalities remain fairly consistent. The bhrunahan, or one who kills a learned “must make a hut of leaves in a forest and dwell in it” (Jolly 157). Some versions go so far as to specify that it must be built on burial grounds. He must “bathe and perform his prayers three times a day … collect alms, going from one village to another, and proclaiming his own deed; And let him sleep upon grass” (Jolly 157). The only food the bhrunahan is allowed is that which he receives from begging. Some versions allow entering villages only to beg and proclaim, and for nothing else. Others go further and limit the number of houses visited to seven per day (Olivelle 117). The bhrunahan is to cloth himself in the skin of a dog or ass, hair turned out or a plain linen loin cloth reaching from the navel to knees. Some also require the carrying of a human skull as a drinking vessel and a khatvanga staff mounted with a skull. Versions including a khatvanga as part of the penance require the skull to be that of the brahmana that was killed. This is required of the bhrunahan for at least 12 years (Jolly 157).

Chief penances described in the Dharmasutras are also very reminiscent of kapalika history. They require the building of a fire, and the offering of eight oblations cut from the bhrunahan’s own body: hair, skin, blood, flesh, sinews, fat, bones, and marrow (Olivelle 119). This is to be offered with sayings of the form “I offer my hair to Death, I feed Death with my hair” (Lorenzen 76). This is reminiscent of kapalikas selling of fresh flesh cut from their own bodies. It can be suggested that these traditions were chosen by the kapalikas because they were the payment for the worst of all crimes, the killing of a brahmana or a king. If one is guiltless and paying penance for the worst of all crimes, the payoff in religious karma must be fantastic. The hope is that this unprecedented gain in religious karma might result in magical powers; specifically powers attributed to Siva. This creates a contrast between the kapalika mimicking the lowliest of criminals in order to be ascetics of the highest order (Lorenzen 77).

The explanation of the kapalikas only using the mahavrata is lacking the obvious element saivism that is present. The origin of saivism in the tradition can be found initially in the story of the beheading of one of Brahma’s heads by Siva. Siva, filled with anger, severs Brahma’s fifth head. The head magically attaches itself to Siva and he is made to travel to earth’s tirthas to remove it. He first travels to Narayana, a form of Visnu, and asks for alms. Narayana slits his own side and lets the blood flow in to a great stream for a thousand divine years, but it can not fill the skull. Siva then tells Narayana the story of the beheading and is told to travel to all other tirthas. Siva tries visiting many famous tirthas with no luck until he tries the great resting place Avimukta and the skull establishes itself there (Lorenzen 77). This story allows the kapalikas to attach their practices to Siva, who is paying a similar penance for killing. It is unknown whether this story is the origin of the kapalikas’ traditions or if it was adopted at a later date to provide divine background to the practices.

Buddhism and tantric buddhism in particular have deep ties with the kapalikas and their tradition. Both tantric practices and the use of khatvanga were adopted into tantric buddhism (Davidson 178). Evidence suggests that the interaction between the two runs much deeper than simple imitation. It is possible that a model of mutual sharing where interaction flourished in certain areas and hostility in others. This would account for influence being constant over stretches of time (Davidson 218). While it is true that kapalika tradition played a large role, it is true that other saivism and vaishnavism played a large role in tantric buddhism as well. Kapalika sites by and large were fairly rare.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Lorenzen, David N. (1972) The Kapalikas and Kalamukhas: two lost Śaivite sects. Berkely: University of California Press.

Davidson, Ronald M. (2002) Indian Esoteric Buddhism: a Social History of the Tantric Movement. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publ.

Jolly, Julius (1965) The Institutes of Vishnu. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publ.

Meiland, Justin (2006) Mahabharata: English & Sanskrit. New York: New York University Press.

Sharma, P.R.P (2007) Encyclopaedia of Puranas. New Delhi: Anmol Publications.

Olivelle, Patrick (1999) The Dharmasutras: The Law Codes of Ancient India. New York: Oxford University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kalamukha tradition

Tantra

Buddhism

Tantric Buddhism

Saivism

Siva

Rama Ravana

Brahma

Visnusmrti

Mahabharata

Puranas

Bhairav Tantra

Dharmasastra

khatvanga

jayadrathayamala

mahavrata

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kapalika

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaivism

http://spokensanskrit.de

Article written by Brian Robertson (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

Ganesa Chaturthi (Ganesh Chaturthi)

Ganesa Chaturthi

Ganesa Chaturthi is an annual festival celebrating the birth of the god Ganesa. It is celebrated on the chaturthi, or the “fourth day” after the new moon, in August/September (Hinduism Today 196). Ganesa is an elephant headed, short, pot-bellied god who is the immortal son of Siva and Parvati [Also known as Shakti]. Ganesa is said to have only his right tusk, as his left one was chopped off. For this he is known as Ek Danta (one-toothed) (Verma 44). Ganesa is believed to be the destroyer of obstacles (Vighna Vinashaka); the harbinger of happiness and joy (Sukha Kartha); the absorber of sorrow and misfortune (Dukha Hartha); and one who makes wishes come true (Siddhi Vinayaka) (Bhalla 18).

Ganesa is usually seen sitting on a padma lotus flower. He has four arms, each holding a different weapon. He carries around an axe (parasu), lasso (pasa), hook (ankusa) and a lotus flower. On his left side sits his vahana (that which carries) a mouse (Musakavahana). This mouse is usually seen eating a modak (sweet dumpling). His trunk is usually curved to the left and he is wearing a dhoti (cloth wrapped into pants). His head represents atman and his corpulent body the things of the earth (Brockman 226). He is the supreme lord of dharma and we pray to him for guidance and direction of our lives.

There are two myths on how Ganesa was born. The most common one suggests that “ disliking Lord Siva’s surprise visits during her baths, Parvati formed a human figure out of clay and water into a man’s figure and gave it life” (Verma 43). This figure had come to be known as Ganesa. Ganesa’s mother, Parvati, then put Ganesa on guard as she went to go bathe. Oblivious he had a father, Ganesa, came upon an Aghori-like man holding a trident. This man was none other than his father, Siva. Upon Siva’s arrival from samadhi, he tried to enter the house to see Parvati, but Ganesa would not let him in. Siva enraged, takes his trident and cuts off Ganesa’s head. As Parvati returns from her bath she sees her son headless. She questions Siva as to what had happened and explains to him that Ganesa was their son.

To ease Parvati’s grief, Siva promised to cut off the head of the first living thing he would see and attach it to Ganesa’s body (Bhalla 18). The first thing Siva came upon was an elephant, therefore, Ganesa has an elephant’s head. Ganesa was thus restored to life and rewarded for his courage by being made lord of new beginnings and guardian of entrances (Bhalla 18).

The second myth is about Parvati and Siva having a son together. Every god had come to see this new born except one, Sani (Lord of Saturday). Sani desisted from it because he was under the curse that, whomsoever he had beheld will be burnt to ashes (Verma 44).  Parvati had thought that if everyone came to see Ganesa, then Sani should have to. Sani then agreed to see Ganesa, but as soon as he did, Ganesa’s head burnt and fell off. Parvati, being short-tempered, was starting to give Sani a shraap (curse). But Brahma interrupted and said that if they had found a head, it would not be to late to reattach it. So Visnu set forth on his Garuda [Vishnu’s mount who has the body of a bird and the head of a human] in search of it and the first creature he found was an elephant sleeping beside a river. He cut off its head and it was fixed on Ganesa’s body (Verma 44).

People who are starting a new beginning worship Ganesa, because he is known as the “Lord of new beginnings” and “Lord of Obstacles”. Ganesa Chaturthi is a festival that many people are engaged in before they start their new beginnings. Ganesa Chaturthi is a festival that lasts 10 days. Initially a private celebration, it was first turned into a public event by the Indian leader Lokmanya Tilak who used it as a means of uniting people in the freedom struggle against British rule (Bhalla 18).

Two or three months before the Chaturthi, people start making idols of Lord Ganesa. These idols can range from three quarters of an inch up to 25 feet. They then bring the idol to their house and set it on an elevated platform. The murti (idol) is then placed facing east in the padma (lotus flower) with uncooked rice underneath. The priest then invokes life into the idol amidst the chanting of mantras. This ritual is called pranapratishhtha (Bhalla 18). Followers of Ganesa then decorate their house to make it appealing to the lord. Author of Loving Ganesa states, “we decorate the temple and home shrine with banana leaves, sugarcane and strings of mango leaves, making it look like a small forest” (Subramuniya 300). Pandit Arunachalam notes,

“In Karnatak, India, young people make a ritual of seeing 108 Vinayakas on this occasion, so they go about visiting their friends’ and relatives’ houses on this day…the worship of Ganesa on this day is supposed to confer advancement in learning to the young student and success in any enterprise undertaken” (Festivals of Tamil Nadu, p.110-121)

Right after the devotees bring food, fruits, and sweets to offer to Ganesa. Modak (sweet dumpling) is often offered to Ganesa, for it is Ganesa’s favorite thing to eat. During this time special pujas (prayers) are done. The idol is anointed with red unguent (rakta chandan). Throughout the ceremony, Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda and Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, and Ganesa stotra from the Narada Purana are chanted (Bhallah 18). One popular chant is “Ganapati Bapa Moriya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya” (Oh father Ganesa, come again early next year). Devotees of Ganesa usually fast during this ten-day period if they have a wish to ask for.

The Ganesa Visarjana (a Sanskrit word meaning “departure”) takes place after the 10 days of the Ganesa Chaturthi. In some places, the Visarjana is done on the same day as the Chaturthi. The clay idol is taken from the house to the river and then it is submerged. In bigger cities, idols up to 25 feet are taken to the sea while chanting “Ganapati Bapa Moriya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya.” They then immerse the idol into the water. “We honor His departure with a grand parade, as we carry Him on a palanquin bedecked with flowers and accompanied by puja, music, dancing and celebration” (Subramuniya 301).

The Ganesa Chaturthi has started to become a global festival. In 1988 Ganesa broke new ground in his public relation when Visarjana was held in the United States. It was the first large scale interdenominational public Hindu festival held in US history (Subramuniya 303). In San Francisco, California almost 2000 people had come together on September 25 to celebrate Ganesa Chaturthi. The idols were submerged into the Pacific Ocean. Following this, places like Sydney, Australia had started celebrating as well.

The Ganesa Chaturthi is a very important festival in the Hindu religion. It signifies the birth of Lord Ganesa and it is not only celebrated in India, but it is celebrated worldwide. From the early ages up till now, the deity Ganesa has been known as the Lord of Obstacles. He is the one who is always worshiped at the beginning, and ending of a prayer. Ganesa Chaturthi is a very beautiful event that everyone should one day be a part of. It is very enjoyable and to sum it up into a sentence: It is a ceremony of fond farewell to a beloved god (Subramuniya 301).

Bibliography

Bhalla,  Kartar Singh   (2005)   Let’s Know Festivals of India.   New Delhi:   Star Publications.

Gupte,   B.A   (1994)   Hindu holidays and ceremonials. New Delhi:   Asian Educational Services.

Editors of Hinduism Today   (2007)   What Is Hinduism: Modern Adventures Into a Profound Global Faith. India: Himalayan Academy Publications.

Subramuniyaswami,   Satguru Sivaya   (2000)   Loving Ganesa: Hinduism’s Endearing Elephant-Faced God.   India: Himalayan Academy Publications.

Brockman,   Norbert C.   (2011)   Encyclopedia of Sacred Places.   USA: ABC-CLIO.

Verma,   Manish   (2007)   Fasts and Festivals of India.   Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd.

Related topics for further investigation

Ganesa

Siva

Parvati

Vinayaka

Modak

Parsurama

Brahma

Vishnu

Trident

Musakavahana


Article written by Ajay Parekh (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

Mahadevyakka

Mahadevyakka was a twelfth century female mystic/saint within the Virasaivism movement.  Mahadevyakka renounced her life and devoted herself to the worship of Siva.  From her experiences she composed poetry in which she conveyed her stories and her love for Siva, whom she believed to be her husband (Blake-Michael 363).  Mahadevyakka is also known for her rebellions against social norms of the time.

Mahadevyakka was born in Udutadi, a village in Sivamogga (Ramanujan 111).  Mahadevyakka’s religious devotion began as a young girl.  At a young age she became a Siva-worshipper and continued to grow up as a devout worshipper of the Lord.  The form of Siva that she worshipped in his ascetic form as Cennamallikarjuna, translated as “the Lord White as Jasmine” (Ramanujan 111).  It is said that Mahadevyakka’s beauty caught the attention of King Kausika who wanted to marry her.  It is debated by scholars as to whether she did marry him or if she rejected his proposals.  One story claims that she married the King against her will.  Mahadevyakka was very upset about the marriage because the King was a follower of Jainism (Blake-Michael 362).  She asked him to convert but he refused.  One evening, after rejecting his sexual advances, Mahadevyakka left the palace naked, covered only by her braids (Ramanujan 111).  This began her spiritual journey in pursuit of spiritual union with Siva.  She would wander to different towns and areas in search of union.  Mahadevyakka believed that she was already the wife of Siva and would not marry any other man.  In her journey Mahadevyakka found herself in Kalyana, which was a central city for Virasaivism at the time.  She was, at this point, accepted into the group of saints after being questioned by the other saints (Blake-Michael 363).  The dialogue between Mahadevyakka and Allama, a guru of the school, has become a famous legend.  In this legend Mahadevyakka won over Allama and joined the group as a result of her powerful and convincing words.  She was able to prove to Allama that she has complete devotion to Siva as a good wife to her husband (Blake-Michael 363).  After many years in Kalyana, Mahadevyakka decided to continue on her spiritual journey and left Kalyana.  Her journey ended in her late twenties when she reached Sri Saila, a holy mountain.  It is recounted that it was here that she found union with Siva (Ramanujan 113).  A union of this variety cannot be expressed and only experienced, although Mahadevyakka used her poetry as an attempt to express her love for Siva and her pains of separation from his union.  Her poetry and her opposition to social norms made her a revered saint of her time.

Mahadevyakka was a member of a Saiva sectarian movement called Virasaivism, which was founded in the twelfth century in South India by a man named Basava (Basavanna).  Virasaivism translates as “heroic Saivas.”  They still flourish today and are known as Lingayats, “wearers of the Linga” (Olson 409).  This group, which has been referred toas a protest movement, rejects many of the social constructs of the time period.  This group rejects the caste system and the marriage of children.  They also allow widows to remarry and the dead are buried rather than cremated.  Finally, they declare the sexes equal and that temple worship, sacrifices and pilgrimages are unnecessary.  Virasaivis devotees believe in the equal access of salvation for everyone (Blake-Michael 361).  With these protests to the social constructs of society of her time, Mahadevyakka became known as a rebellious woman but at the same timean important figure in the anti-Brahminical and anti-caste movement.  Unlike the other female saints within Virasaivism, Mahadevyakka was viewed as even more rebellious than other devotees.  This was because she chose to wander naked and was unmarried.  One half of the other female saints within Virasaivism at the time were married (Ramaswamy 43).  The marriage status of these women was important in the explanation of their spirituality.  Mahadevyakka remained independent from male domination.  Her spiritual quest was different than that of the married housewives of Virasaivism because she did not rely on guidance from any male figures; she only trusted in her devotion to Siva.  According to traditional Virasaivism, one was to work and be self reliant, and Mahadevyakka represented a paragon of self reliance (Ramaswamy 52).  Typically, both presently and in the past, Virasaivism female saints who were married, were thought to collaborate with their husbands in their spiritual quests (Ramaswamy 22).  Studies indicate that Mahadevyakka was criticized by other female saints for not wearing clothing.  Her nakedness was seen as an ultimate defiance and thus Mahadevyakka is not paid homage to in any of the other female saints’ writings (Ramaswamy 43).  As a result of the anti-Brahminical and anti-caste beliefs of Virasaivism, Mahadevyakka became symbolic of rebel and female saint.

Mahadevyakka chose to reject the traditionally prescribed roles of a Hindu woman.  Traditionally, it was believed that only high caste men were able to become renouncers.  Hindu society identified women with family and sexual pleasures, and thus were not seen to possess the ability to become ascetics.  Mahadevyakka disagreed with the power of the Brahmins.  As a rejection of the traditional roles of men and women, Mahadevyakka strove to transcend her gender through her spiritual practices.  As she described in her poetry, she is female in form, but is the male principle (Ramaswamy 14).  Through this sentiment Mahadevyakka was able to dissolve the notions of women as untrustworthy and temptresses.  Sexual transcendence was seen as a higher stage of spirituality. The gender boundaries were erased and the saint becomes asexual.  As Mahadevyakka expresses:

Transcending the company of both,

I have attained to peace.

After forgetting this cluster of words,

What if one lives

An integral life?

Once I am joined

To Lord Cennamallikarjuna,

I do not recognize myself

As anything. (Olson 498)

It is at this point that the saint becomes naked.  For male saints this does not represent any social disturbance, yet for female saints this was seen as even more freeing due to the prohibitions placed on females within society (Ramaswamy 40).  Mahadevyakka renounced her family and her clothing and freed herself from any social conventions.  She had but her braids to cover her private body parts to decrease the temptation of others (Ramaswamy 41).  For Mahadevyakka and many other saints, she viewed her body as an aide to her self realization and spirituality.

A further act of rebellion by Mahadevyakka was that she remained unmarried physically to a man.  This resulted in society viewing her as ‘deviant’ (Ramaswamy 27).  Within Hindu society, unmarried women are largely viewed as temptations to men yet Mahadevyakka believed that she was married to Siva and that he was her groom (pati) (Ramaswamy 34).  She also journeyed with no male escort.  In conventional society, this would be viewed as a very dangerous act for a woman.  Mahadevyakka believed she had transcended gender and caste and thereby believed that she could take part in living as any of the other male ascetics and saints.  Through Mahadevyakka’s poetry it is clear that her spiritual quest is for union with Siva.  Her poetry exemplifies her beliefs and quest for union with Siva, while she opposed society’s views and presented the independent strength of the female saint.

The poetry of Virasaivism was passed on orally for centuries prior to being collected into what is called Sunyasampadane.  The type of poetry that Mahadevyakka composed was medieval bhakti (devotion) poetry called vacanas or sayings of their saints.  Mahadevyakka’s poetry consists of what can be interpreted as the three forms of love: love forbidden, love during separation, and love in union (Ramanujan 113).  Her poetry expresses her quest to find love and union with Siva, while wandering:

O swarm of bees

O mango tree

O moonlight

O koilbird

I beg of you all

one

favour:

If you should see my lord anywhere

my lord white as jasmine

call out

and show him to me. (Ramanujan 122)

In her poetry Mahadevyakka refers to Siva as “…my lord white as jasmine,” or, as in the previous poem, “Lord Cennamallikarjuna”.  Through her poetry, Mahadevyakka also expresses her emotions of being torn between being female and at the same time as being human.  Her yearning is expressed by her desire to transcend the boundaries placed on her as female and human to achieve true union with Siva.  As she states with reference to gender limitations:

As long as woman is woman, then

A man defiles her;

As long as man is man,

A woman defiles him.

When the mind’s taint is gone, is there room for the body’s taint?…

(Ramaswamy 15)

Further study of Mahadevyakka’s poetry reveals her life story.  One can follow Mahadevyakka’s life through her poetry with respect to her marriage to Siva.  Her poetry begins with King Kausika, her rejection of the world and ends with her final union with Siva through whom she escapes the human world.  Her final union with Siva is described in her vacana:

Hear me, O Father Linga:

This feeling has become my life…

Mark you, Cennamallikarjuna:

Worshipping Thee with all my heart,

My wheel of births has ceased! (Olson 495)

Mahadevyakka’s metaphors of human love are expressions of her mystic journey. She is revered as the most poetic saint among the Virasaiva saints (Ramanujan 113).

References and Further Recommended Reading

Blake Michael, R. (1983) “Woman of the Śūnyasampādane: Housewives and Saints in Virasaivism.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 103, No. 2.

Olson, Carl (2007) Hindu Primary Sources.  New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Oxtoby, Willard G. (2002) World Religions: Eastern Traditions.  Oxford: Oxford

University Press.

Ramanujan, A.K. (1973) Speaking of Śiva.  Hollingsworth : Penguin Publishing.

Ramaswamy, Vijaya ( 1996) Divinity and Deviance: Women in Virasaivism.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Female mystic

Saint

Guru

Virasaivism

Lingayats

Linga

Basava (Basavanna)

Female Pollution

Bhakti

Siva

Saiva Devotionalism

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.indiayogi.com/content/indiangurus/female-saint-mahadeviyakka.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akka_Mahadevi

http://sacred-songs.blogspot.com/2007/06/mahadeviyakka.html

Article written by: Virginia Williams (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its contents.

Bhairava

Bhairava, the fierce form of Siva, has many monikers. He is Siva’s form of terror and transcendency (Kramrisch 471). He is Siva in his entirety, yet displays ugly characteristics unbecoming of an all-powerful god. Bhairava is known to have eight names and representations: Kala Bhairava (that which time is afraid of), Kalaraja (lord of time and death) Kapaline (skull carrier), Asitanga (one with black limbs), Sahara (destruction), Ruru (storm) Unmatta (raging) the Supreme Beggar, and Rudra (Knappert 49) [literature consistently discusses his 8 names, but rarely does one source list them all]. His name is derived from the Hindu word bhiru, meaning timid or fearful. Bhairava’s physical description is controversial at best, for there is not one stock image of what he should look like – no single image can truly personify the fearful mystery that is Bhairava. Some say he is emaciated and ghoulish looking, others believe he is stern and bloated, with long, black matted hair, occasionally surrounded by flames, and as black as Kala, with a coy smile of his face (Kramrisch 297). Still other sources indicate he has flaming hair with a necklace of skulls and a viper coiled around his neck (Knappert 49). The differing arsenal of physical traits of Bhairava is a testament to his enigmatic, mysterious presence. Some similarities between literary descriptions of Bhairava are his general lack of clothing, be it nakedness or filthy rags emphasizing his nakedness, and fangs that glint whenever he smiles (Kramrisch 297). He is armed with a pasha (noose), trishula (trident), damaru (drum) and a skull in his left hand (Knappert 49). It seems bizarre that a holy deity such as Siva could have such a dark side. The myth explaining the creation of Bhairava will untangle the complexities and seeming idiosyncrasies of this mystery.

Prajapati and Brahma are the successive names of The Creator in Hindu mythology, each name representing the same entity in a different eon (Kramrisch 251). Prajapati, in the form of an antelope, lusted after his daughter and was shot by Rudra-Siva in disgusted anger. The head of the dead antelope flew into the sky and became a constellation. In a gesture of compassion, Prajapati-Brahma was revived and given four heads, one for each cardinal direction (Kramrisch 252). Four heads did not prove enough though. Once again overcome with lust for his daughter, the lust from which his four heads had been created, Brahma sprouted a fifth head to gaze at her as she ascended towards heaven.

Brahma refused to accept the testimony of the Vedas, which declared Siva the Ultimate Truth of the Universe, and scolded Siva for his sexual activities: ”‘How could the Brahman [i.e.; Siva], free of all attachment, lustily sport with his wife in the company of his troops of deformed churn goblins?’” (Visuvalingam 160). In a rage, Siva appeared as an infinite column of fire. Not heeding this warning, Brahma lied, saying he had gone and seen the top of the fire-linga, further inciting Siva’s wrath. Brahma then reminded Siva that he was, in fact, created from the forehead of Brahma, and patronized him further by calling him ‘son’ and offering him protection.

Out of Siva’s rage Bhairava was then created, in a human form. Bhairava, or Kala-Bhairava, is called the ‘Lord of Time-Death’ and was created of the most terrible, horrifying features, inconceivable to even the most imaginative dreamer. Time itself is afraid of Bhairava. With a subtle movement, Bhairava decapitated Brahma’s fifth head with the fingernail of his left thumb, or, in other versions of the origin myth, with the nails of the fingers of his left hand, or after a great battle (Kramrisch 261). The skull instantly became melded with Bhairava’s left hand, and could not be dislodged. In penance for his crimes, Siva ordered Bhairava to wander the earth as a renouncer with the skull as his begging bowl (Visuvalingam 161). The Brahmanicide would be absolved once Bhairava reached the holy city of Kasi.

Bhairava, through his wanderings, eventually came upon the Deodar forest. Here he stumbled upon a group of sages (rsis) and their seven wives. His stark, naked, erotic presence and kingly aura attracted the women and infuriated the seers (Kramrisch 288). Bhairava was castrated after sleeping with the wives of the rsis who were helplessly attracted to his god-aura. His severed linga created a momentous event as it fell to the earth, erupting into a fiery pillar without beginning or end that traversed the universe, much like the pillar from which he was created (Kramrisch 288). The sages fell and worshipped the linga, and Siva vanished. It was during this incident in the Deodar forest where Bhairava became known as the Supreme Beggar (Kramrisch 288). After wandering further, Bhairava came upon the house of Visnu to find the entrance blocked by the doorkeeper, Visvaksena. Bhairava impaled him on his trident and walked into Visnu’s abode with the guard dangling limply from the weapon. Unphased, Visnu attempted to fill the skull with blood from a vein on his forehead, but it was unquenched and would not fill, not even after one thousand years [other sources merely cite ‘eons’] of Visnu’s pouring blood (Kramrisch 293). Visnu agreed that Bhairava must proceed to Varanasi [referred to as Kasi or Banaras in other literature], the holy city. Upon finally reaching Kasi, Bhairava must have been a sight to behold, a naked wanderer with a skull in his left hand and an impaled body on his trident. Once within the limits of the holy city, Bhairava sank into the ground, the skull falling from his left hand. He had been freed from his Brahmanicide. The holy ground upon which he is said to have sunk into is known as Kapalamocana (Visuvalingam 161).

Bhairava (c. 10th century); Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore 2006

The origin myth is an extremely detailed, rich story recalling the creation and journey of Bhairava as he attempts to absolve himself of the most unholy of sins, Brahmanicide. As with all things Hindu, symbolism and meaning abound in Bhairava’s myth. In this section, I will delve into some of the major motifs and symbols used in the origin myth and explain their significance as it relates to modern Hinduism.

The origin myth is permeated throughout by transgressions from different gods, in many different situations. The origin of transgression derives from the creation of Brahma’s fifth head. The fifth head is often described as having the long hair and unkempt appearance of an ascetic. Representing an outgrowth of uncontrolled desire, the fifth head is used as a symbol for transgression across India (Kramrisch 255). The head was said to have brayed like an ass, proposed incest to Brahma’s daughter, directed evil sounds towards Siva and even to lie (Visuvalingam 170). It is the fifth head of Brahma that lead to his beheading by Siva. Just as Prajapati in past eons had singled himself out for Rudra’s arrow by consorting with his daughter, Brahma’s fifth head likewise displayed an unnecessary lust, and once again provoked Siva; indeed, only Siva of all the gods had five heads, and Brahma’s fifth head of transgression negated all that which Siva’s fifth head had symbolized (Kramrisch 255).  Bhairava’s theme of transgression is obvious, due to the nature of his very creation, and continues with his naked appearance and erotic persona. Bhairava is often shown with a dog or as a dog, the dog being one of Hinduism’s least auspicious animals (Knappert 49). The murder of Visvaksena, Visnu’s doorkeeper, further increases his deviance. The use of his left fingernail to decapitate Brahma, an inauspicious side, further stresses his negativity (Visuvalingam 165). On the human side, even the rsis, whose wives Siva lures into his clutches, commit a heinous sin by castrating Bhairava.

Yet, in modern Hinduism, there is celebration, worship, and even festivals of Bhairava [to be explained further in the reading]. How did such a ‘bad’ god and transgressive myth become associated with joyous festivities? The key is that all of these transgressions are eventually appeased – Brahma is punished with decapitation, Siva is forced to make Bhairava wander to Kasi for absolution, and even the seers are repentant after Siva exposes himself as a fire-linga to them. It is in this pursuit of ‘forgiveness’ from their transgressions that the characters become holy and sanctified, and from this pursuit comes the empathy of Bhairva’s worshippers. The condemnation of Bhairava as a heretic for the decapitation is simultaneously accompanied by his worship for truly valourizing Brahma by serving out his punishment in due course (Visuvalingam 166). Had he not cut off Brahma’s fifth head, he would not have achieved his infamy nor his fame. Through his act of transgression he achieved Brahman. From night came day, and from fire came water. The origin myth is sacred and good because even throughout the inauspiciousness, it preserves the dharma inherent in the universe.

It is interesting to note that there is no force stronger than Siva that could oblige him to comply with the Brahmanical law, in other words, no ‘deity police’, per se, which could punish Siva for his Brahmanicide. It seems as though Siva makes Bhairava comply with the Brahmanical laws only out of due respect for Brahma; in a sense, trying to seem apologetic for his deeds. “Visnu venerated him as the Supreme Being, untainted by sins like Brahmanicide, and acknowledged that [Bhairava’s] degradation and dependence were a mere fancy.” (Visuvalingam 161). This quote, from a conversation between Bhairava and Visnu in his forested home, indicates that even Visnu realizes that there is nothing keeping Bhairava on earth to continue his plight other than goodwill from Siva. This realization that Siva-Bhairava is adhering to Brahmanical law and striving for auspiciousness further reinforces the positivity and worship associated with Bhairava in modern Hinduism, and has also earned him the name of Sin-Eater (Visuvalingam 169).

The first and most important temple dedicated to Kala Bhairava was located on the banks of the Kapalamocana Tirtha river, where the Sin-Eater waited permanently to devour the past wrongdoings of pilgrims and devotees (Visuvalingam 163).

Bhairavastami [alternatively called Bhairav Ashtrami], the festival of Bhairava, is a temple festival derived from the Brahmanicide myth. It is held on the eight night of the waning moon in the month of Margasirsa (Visuvalingam 159). The transgressions of Bhairava can be seen symbolized in the inauspicious setting of the festival. Those who fast all day and stay awake all night during Bhairavastami are freed from great sins (Visuvalingam 161). If one performs ablutions at Kapalamocana (the holy site where the skull fell from Bhairava’s hand) they become absolved of Brahmanicide. During Bhairavastami, various large vegetables such as pumpkins, jackfruit, watermelons or coconuts are used as sacrificial human heads and placed at a stake within the temple. Some sources state it is likely that in much earlier times real human sacrifices were made (Visuvalingam 169).

Bhairava is also honoured during the cosmogonic New Year festival in Bhaktapur (Nepal). He is symbolized in linga form as two large poles crossing over each other, with the earthen holes holding them in place being the yoni. Bhairava is said to come and witness/supervise the ritual death of two snakes during this festival (Visuvalingam 184).

It is not surprising that, being the Time-Death god, Bhairava is associated with Hindu funeral procedure. His occasional moniker ‘Lord of Ghosts’ illustrates the extent to which he is associated with death (Visuvalingam 178). Pilgrims on their way to Gaya to pay respects to their deceased ancestors (pitr) and can give offering to Bhairava enroute (Visuvalingam 178).

Certain sects of Hinduism worship Bhairava at a higher level than the average Hindu. The Kaulas, or Kapalika-Bhairava, are an offshoot of Hinduism which advocate impurities such as transgressive sexual union, excessive consumption of meat and wine and other inauspiciousness. (Visuvalingam 196). They have adopted Bhairava as “a symbol of reality more ultimate than even the Brahman of Sankara” (Visuvalingam 159). Kapalikas are also known to take up a skull and staff of a Brahman in order to do a pilgrimage in Bhairava’s footsteps (Visuvalingam 164). Bhairava is held so closely to them because his transgressions, impurity and eroticism match up very well with the beliefs of Kashmir Saivism. The Kapalikas will also participate in human blood sacrifice in order to please Siva-Bhairava and truly display their dedication to the impure god (Visuvalingam 164).

On a less extreme level, Bhairavic worship is still very common in modern day Hinduism. On special days of worship the Brahman priests will offer patrons meat, wine and fish, and occasionally devotees will perform an animal sacrifice on special days (Visuvalingam 206). The Kala-Bhairava temple is still the most popular temple to the deviant god, offering regular goat sacrifices and ‘head’ sacrifices (pieces of fruits as explained above) to please Bhairava. In Nepal, Bhairava is honoured by the royal community (the Newars) in their entirety at the Bhairavi Rath Jatra festival. It culminates in the sacrifice of multiple buffaloes and goats, whose outpouring of blood symbolically feeds the eternally empty skull-begging bowl (Visuvalingam 208). Criminals in Nepal testify in front of the police-magistrate of Kasi (Bhairava) are swear an oath while touching the foot of Bhairava. It is said that any liars will be killed on the spot (Visuvalingam 210).

Bhairava has permeated throughout Hindu religious practices in many convoluted ways. Much of the lore concerning him has been lost over generations, but the central theme of his transgressions and their absolution has remained as a reminder as to just how important he is. Bhairava is a great example of the ways in which Hindu mythology contains ethical transgressions, such as decapitation of a god, and uses these issues to explain the universal truths with realistic emphasis. Elizabeth Visuvalingam states this concisely at the end of her chapter:

“Although much of the symbolism surrounding Bhairava is no longer understood even by his most ardent devotees and the cult itself is being rapidly effaced, one only has to replace those symbols in their original context to recognize the transgressive mode of sacrality that inspires them.” (210)

References

Knappert, Jan (1991) Indian Mythology: An Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend. Michigan: University of Michigan Aquarian Press (Harper Collins).

Kramrisch, Stella (1981) The Presence of Siva. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press

E. Visuvaligam (1989). Bhairava’s Royal Brahmanicide: The Problem of the Mahabrahmana. In Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees: Essays on the Guardians of Popular Hinduism. Hiltebeitel, Alf (ed.). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Related Readings

Eck, Diana (1999) Banaras: City of Light. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lorenzen, David (1972) The Kapalikas and Kalamukhas, two lost Saivite sects. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Stientencron, Heinrich von (2005). Hindu myth, Hindu history: Religion, Art, and Politics. Delhi: Permanent Black.

Topics for Further Investigation

Kasi/Banaras

Kapalamocana

Bhima

Bhairavastami

Animal vehicles – the dog, the donkey

Kala

Visnu

Brahma

Linga – religious importance

Blood sacrifice

Transgression in Hinduism

Noteworthy Websites Related to Bhairava

http://www.svabhinava.org/TSHT-old/index.php

http://www.philhine.org.uk/writings/tt_wrathful.html

http://www.shivashakti.com/bhairava.htm

http://www.experiencefestival.com/bhairava

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Bhairava

Article written by: Adrian Tomei (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.