Introduction To Shaivism And Its Main Practices, And Ideas

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Hinduism can be divided into three major sects, Brahminism worshiping Brahmin, Vaishnavism devoted to Vishnu, and Shaivism orientated towards Lord Shiva. While these three sects maintain their own beliefs and principles, followers recognize and worship these three deities as apart of Holy Trimurti. In that sense, the Holy Trimurti is the fundamental unifying characteristic of the major sects. Shaivism’s historical and philosophical roots can be traced back to India around the time of 2000 B.C.E. It originated soon after the Indus Valley Civilization came to light where the basis of Shaivism was introduced throughout the ancient Vedas. Shaivism is one of mainline branches of Hinduism that also believes in the attainment of Moksha, which is the ultimate goal of life.

This fundamental belief of Shaivism portrays that once a soul is liberated from the endless cycle of suffering it will unite with God becoming identical but not the same. In this case, every inanimate object and living organism has a soul that thrives to attain Moksha. For this reason, the concept of God is monistic as Lord Shiva is believed to the supreme Being and that there are multiple reincarnations which are depicted throughout numerous sacred texts. For one to attempt to completely understand Shaivism, some of the several topics that must be acknowledged are the history of Shaivism, sacred writings, experience of the sacred, beliefs, morality, symbols, rituals, traditions, family, and gender roles.

Shaivism is an ageless religion that is believed to be originated past any recorded dates. However, artifacts from the Indus Valley suggest the earliest form of worshipping Shiva was between 2000 to 1500 B.C.E (Subramuniyaswami, 2014). Predominantly practiced in Southern India, Shaivism prospered after the examination of multiple ancient texts such as the Rig Veda. Shiva at the time was known as Rudra, “mightiest of the mighty” where this initial figure of Shiva was portrayed to be a terrifying, capricious deity who would ultimately bring fatality to the universe. Later on, it was interpreted that Rudra was purifying the universe rather than, destroying it (Richard, n.d).

Throughout the sixth century B.C.E Rudra was recognized as the primordial creator in the Upanishads also describing him as Brahman, the monistic essence of the universe (BBC, 2009). For this reason, Rudra was perceived to be the protector and creator of the universe and began to resemble Shiva as He is known today. While Shaivism developed into its own unique religion alongside originated schools of Shaivism where different variations of intellectual philosophy and sub-traditions were taught. There are six different recorded schools, which are Saiva Siddhanta, Pashupatism, Kashmir Saivism, Vira Saivism, Siddha Siddhanta and Siva Advaita (Hughes,2018). The schools were significant institutions that brought light to the teachings and principles of the faith and aided those in need of guidance throughout the historical development of Shaivism. Shaivism arose initially from the Vedic Period in 1500 B.C.E and continued to flourish as Lord Shiva was recognized as the single supreme entity who is the creator of the universe (Hays,2017). Shaivism is currently also a thriving religion as it continues to grow in parts of India and Southern Asia.

Furthermore, Shaivism is a religion that is profoundly developed from its sacred texts. Within these sacred texts are the core beliefs, principles, and the stories of Lord Shiva’s journey. Lord Shiva is portrayed as numerous reincarnations, but the most well-known figure is Rudra in the ancient Vedas. Shiva is described to be the impulsive and unreasonable destroyer of the universe and the cosmos. However, this perspective changes throughout the Puranas, Sanskrit writings that explain His legends and stories, Upanishads, religious texts with philosophical nature and the Agmas literatures, tantric texts which influence various tantric traditions within Shaivism (Jayaram, n.d).

Throughout these texts Shiva is perceived as a supreme deity who purifies the universe and destroys it in order for there to be re-birth. The sacred writings do not only bring about the fundamental beliefs but also provide a way of living for its devotees. Currently there are 28 known Agmas that display paths to implement Shiva’s teachings into one’s daily life (RedZambala, n.d). To summarize, “The Agamas deal mostly with the philosophical and ritual aspects of Saivism, explaining the meaning, significance and symbolism of the various symbols, rituals, deities, temples and methods of worship” (Jayaram, n.d, p.3).

Most of these sacred texts were introduced at the time of Vedic period and were contextualized from then. In addition, the Vedic literature explains vital parts of Lord Shiva’s lifetime such as the birth, and the marriage to His eternal wife, Parvati. For instance, according to these sacred texts, Lord Shiva was born from a blazing fire during an argument between Vishnu and Brahma about who is more powerful. Once Shiva was born and appeared before the other deities, they could feel His power and cosmic presence which ended their argument over who is more superior (Sharma, 2018).

Shaivism is not only comprised of its sacred literatures but also by the devotion given from its worshippers. Shaivism heavily relies on faith and commitment shown towards God by Shaivites. This occurs when a mutual relationship is built between God and a devotee (Das, 2019). There are various paths a follower can choose to experience the sacred such as, meditation, prayer, or worshipping the one supreme entity. Often prayer amongst the community or oneself is the primary way of reflecting and communicating with God (RedZambala, n.d). Prayer consists of individual mantras where people praise and chant symbolic hymns for the Lord. “By singing devotional songs one can achieve inner peace and purity of mind. The mind becomes stabilized in God and practicing meditation becomes easier” (Jayaram, n.d, p.1). This could be done within the “Mandir”, a temple or at home apart of one’s daily routine with family members (Hays,2017).

Prayers are accomplished around shrines and the phallic symbol represented by the lingam. “In a Shaivite temple, the ‘linga’ is placed in the center underneath the spire, where it symbolizes the navel of the earth” (Das, 2019, para.9). The lingam is very significant as it brings about the presence and blessings of God. Offerings such as, gifts, oils, and flowers are commonly placed following right after the veneration as they are important in worship (Jayaram, n.d). Furthermore, meditation is greatly emphasized as Shiva is always represented in a yogistic pose. It is believed that yoga was originated by Lord Shiva to bring forth harmony and tranquility which provides a way for spiritual development (Hays,2017). Meditation aids in clearing one’s mind and allows the soul to connect with God. It is an essential part of bonding with God as calming the mind is one of Shiva’s greatest teachings.

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Shaivism consists of various beliefs that creates a path for an adherent to pursue a virtuous life and provide distinctions to acknowledge what is right or wrong. The fundamental belief that guides this religion and offers a basis for the faith is that God is the supreme entity and the creator of all. It is believed that Lord Shiva is the transcendence from time to time (Sharma, 2017). Shiva is accepted to be the destroyer of the universe so that there may be re-birth. His destruction is not seen as arbitrary but rather, constructive since re-birth is a part of the cycle of life. In addition, Shiva is believed to be the energy holder of this world as all of His power, “Shakti” is one with Himself (Lakshmanjoo, 2016).

It is accepted that the world is a manifestation of Shiva’s own nature and is created with His independent will thus, nothing can function or exist without His pure consciousness. (Hughes,2018). Furthermore, another core belief is that every inanimate object or living organism has a soul that thrives to attain Moksha (Sharma, 2017). Ultimately, the purpose of life is to attain liberation and to re-unite one’s soul with God (Himalayan Academy, n.d). It is to relieve and end cycle of suffering and to find enlightenment. Moksha is understood to be achieved through four natural occurring stages or “Padas” in life. The first stage is Charya Pada, virtuous living and selfless service which includes, attending temple regularly, serving the community and family, respecting holy men and elders. Then is Kirya Pada where the presence of the Divine is felt through rituals and prayers that are held because a devotee wants to, not because they have to. Next is the third stage of Yoga Pada and it is the uniting of the Divine with oneself by meditation with the Lord’s guidance.

Lastly, after achieving all the three stages comes, Jnana Pada where one reaches wisdom through self-realization (Hays, n.d). These believed stages share a commonality within the six different schools of Shaivism however, they vary in how they are taught (Himalayan Academy, n.d). The four stages are progressive and cumulative phases that allow for attaining Moksha and are the key moral percepts that must be preserved. These social responsibilities are significant as the good deeds and selfless service don’t only provide self-realization but consciousness of society as well. This goes hand in hand with the acceptance of the law of Karma. Karma is the belief that any positive or negative words, thoughts, or deeds that are put into the world will create the corresponding energy to return onto one self (Subramuniyaswami, 2014). Just and fair actions should always be carried out and never with any bad intentions when applying these teaching in one’s everyday life. The path to enlightenment is affected by the law of Karma as creating positive energy will bring an adherent closer to achieving enlightenment.

Similar to any other religion, Shaivism has its own set of religious rituals, traditions, and symbols. When understanding the importance of festivals, traditions, and rituals, people must understand the significance to the various symbols seen within Shaivism. Lord Shiva’s appearance Himself is a very symbolic representation as every physical aspect displays a meaning to something new. For instance, the snake around Shiva’s neck is a symbol for His energy that is present within the universe (Das, 2019).

His trident is the representation of good power and His third eye represents wisdom and insight, which is covered by white ashes called the Vibhuti that also represents His superhuman powers and wealth (Hays, n.d). Another depiction of Lord Shiva is the “Lord of Dance” where He uses the Tandav, a symbolic dance to destroy the universe (Lawrence, n.d). This dance can currently also be seen in multiple rituals to give praise to the Lord Shiva. Lastly, another main symbol seen within Shaivism is the Linga, which is the phallic statue that brings forth and symbolizes God’s presence when participating in traditions and rituals (BBC, 2009). Furthermore, a part of the wide range of traditions, Maha Shivratri is the festival most well-known amongst all Shaivites and is annually participated in. This festival is a day of honouring Lord Shiva and to venerate Him.

Traditionally, devotees fast for a day, sings hymns, and worship God (Calendars Labs, n.d). It is also custom to decorate with lively colours and to present various offerings to the Linga. It is a part of the ritual to offer substances such as, oils, cold water, and milk to the linga to show one’s appreciation. It is a day of happiness and pride. Moreover, a mutual ritual that also takes place within a Shaivite’s household is Puja. It is a ritual that takes occurs in one’s routine where God is worshipped at a shrine located at home or in the temple (Das, 2019). In addition, there is a ritual to bathe a symbolic figure during prayer in ingredients such as, honey, oil, or milk to begin the day with a pure mind. Milestones apart of a Shaivite life are relatively similar to those of a practicing Hindu (Lawrence, n.d). For instance, milestones such as Namkaran, the naming ceremony, upanayana, the tying of a sacred thread and death rituals where mantras are chanted in belief that the soul might re-unite with God.

Lastly, Shaivism emphasizes the value of family and maintaining equality throughout society. It is vital to practice and display unbiased approaches to everyone regardless of different genders, appearance, race, or ethnicity (Sharma, 2017). Women and men are believed to be seen equally in the eyes of God. Women ideally are seen tending to household chores and maintaining the family relationships however, this does not reduce the value of women to men (Sharma, 2017). Contrarily, men are often the ones to support and guide the family. Their responsibilities are passed down to other male figures within the family, but this does not label them to be superior. This message is conceived through the marital bliss of Lord Shiva and His eternal wife, Parvati. Their marriage is a positive image promoted that many strive to obtain. It is a relationship of transparency, trust and blind faith that is similar to the relationship one should posses with God (Sharma, 2017).

It is believed that one gender cannot exist without the other just as Parvati and Shiva exist as a whole. The concept of gender equality is also displayed through Lord Shiva’s appearance as He is presented as half woman and half man in images (Hays, n.d). The idea of treating men or women inferior or superior would contradict multiple teachings and principles of this faith. Furthermore, Lord Shiva’s family portrays a significant image of happiness and how family should exist within the faith’s life. Shiva’s family encompasses true, pure bonds between parents and children as well as God (Hays, n.d). It is only through the guidance of the parents and the Lord that children can succeed to becomes righteous followers of this faith. For this reason, it is accepted that the responsibility of sharing Shiva’s teachings can only come through parents.

Ultimately, Shaivism is a profound and unique religion that is orientated towards Lord Shiva, one of the members of the Holy Trimurti. His actions of destroying the universe are seen as a vital part to the cycle of rebirth. It is because of His constructive and purifying movements that allow for there to be recreation. Shaivism initially prospered from the Vedic era apart of the Indus Valley Civilization and it continues to grow in parts of Asia and Southern India. Similar to many religions, Shaivism possess its own monistic lifestyle and rituals and traditions slightly related to those of Hinduism. There are numerous ways to experience the sacred such as, meditation, prayer, and worship.

Furthermore, beliefs and morality are greatly emphasised within Vedic and Agmas literatures such as the Puranas and the Rig Veda. It is accepted that the ultimate goal of life is to obtain Moksha and to relieve one’s soul from the endless cycle of rebirth. This can only be done through good deeds and following the law of Karma. Shaivism also encompasses the value of family and equality amongst all. Women and men are portrayed as equal and all possess the same rights. Shaivism is not only comprised of its beliefs, morals, and sacred scriptures but also the relationship built between God. The true bond with God allows purity of the mind and calmness from within to occur. It brings devotees closer to attaining enlightenment and allows followers to practice the teachings of Shiva.

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